I’m American, and I’m part of a team of pastors who’ve planted a church in Guatemala’s capital city. People here lovingly call me “gringo.”
When folks find out we’re ministering in Guatemala, many ask the same question: “Aren’t enough Christians there already?” Guatemala is a “reached” country, after all. If many Christians are there aready, why would a “gringo” like me go to do the work a local could?
But the question also makes me wonder—how many Christians is “enough”?
Before I explain why we chose to move to Latin America, one thing demands mention whenever missions in Latin America is discussed.
In the world of missions we often hear talk of “reached nations” and “unreached nations.” As a general rule, if 2 percent of a population is evangelical, the country is considered reached. The problem, of course, is the arbitrary nature of that number.
Additionally, determining the percentage of evangelicals doesn’t help if we don’t have a clear definition of what an evangelical is. For example, many studies say Guatemala City is 40 percent to 50 percent evangelical. According to the last study by Pew Forum, however, 90 percent of those evangelicals adhere to the principles of the prosperity gospel. If that’s the case, then the number of actual evangelicals—those who believe in the true evangel (“gospel”)—is dramatically lower.
When countries boast of high percentages of evangelicals, and the evangelicals are involved in heterodox movements, we should reconsider our use of the statistics in our missionary-sending strategy.
The Christian task is much more than the conversion of 2 percent of any population. Our task is to make disciples, teaching them all that Christ has commanded us. Until that task is completed, we should have missionaries deployed all around the globe for God’s glory.
I don’t mean to disparage movements that challenge us to go to the unreached—we absolutely should! The point is simply that statistics can be deceptive
Why Latin America?
Still, the question remains: why would a “gringo” go to Latin America?
1. God called us.
This may seem obvious, but it’s vital. In much of our decision-making as Christians, I think we the risk of merely rationalizing. So when faced the choice to serve in another country, my wife and I took out the map and began to prayerfully evaluate our options. We realized that in Latin America, especially Guatemala, there already were a good number of evangelicals. Those numbers did influence our decision.
Yet here was something more important than the numbers. We had an indescribable peace about serving in Guatemala. We spent much time in prayer alone and as a couple. We invited counsel from pastors and fellow church members. We dedicated our decision to God and sought his direction. If he wanted to send us to Iraq, we were willing. But God kept putting Guatemala in front of us.
2. We spoke Spanish already.
Practical factors influenced our decision too. My wife and I already spoke Spanish. In the book of Acts, Paul consistently took advantage not only of his gifts but also his dual citizenship and his language for the cause of Christ. When it was advantageous for him to be a Roman, he would be a Roman. When it was advantageous to be a Hebrew, he was a Hebrew.
Following Paul’s example, we evaluated our own personal inventory. What were our talents, abilities, and experiences? We wanted to be as useful as possible for Christ’s mission. I grew up in Mexico and have spoken Spanish since childhood. My wife was a Spanish teacher in the United States. She’d spent time studying abroad in Latin America. It became evident we could move to a Latin American country and easily get involved in what God was already doing there.
3. To make, mature, and multiply disciples.
Large parts of evangelicalism in Latin America remain theologically immature. Though much missionary effort has gone into converting people to evangelical Christianity, less has been done to mature those converts into multiplying disciples of Jesus who are anchored in healthy local churches.
Also, though much of Latin American evangelicalism has been hijacked by prosperity preaching, few seem to be sounding the alarm.
4. To help see the Guatemalan church mature.
We don’t want to make American disciples in Guatemala; we want to make Guatemalan disciples. We don’t want to export an American model of Christianity, in other words. Our purpose is to let the gospel—in all of its power and implications, through the power of the Holy Spirit—form disciples of King Jesus who express their Christianity in ways specific to their particular context. Obviously, there will be many similarities. And big differences.
We decided from the start that part of our task is to labor alongside and submit ourselves to Guatemalans for their help in fulfilling the mission of making, maturing, and multiplying Guatemalan disciples.
Since we didn’t come to a country where the gospel message is utterly foreign, we couldn’t begin to preach assuming all are lost. It has required patience on our part, a willingness to take time to listen to and learn from our Guatemalan brothers and sisters. We’ve had to be careful in how we talk about gospel concepts, lest we repeat the past centuries of imperialistic evangelism. At the same time, we’ve had to maintain a clear and unwavering commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ so that we can faithfully detect and avoid aberrations of the gospel.
Change of Perspective
What Latin America needs from foreign missionaries is a change of perspective. We don’t need missionaries with all the solutions. We need mature Christians gifted to strengthen others but also willing to listen, learn, and grow alongside those they’re serving.
As missionaries in Latin America, we must seek true friends in the context of a community where we’re not merely teachers but also a learners; where we’re not only observers but also participants in gospel proclamation. Latin America needs missionaries willing to come and live shoulder to shoulder with their national co-laborers.
Latin American needs missionaries willing to come and live shoulder to shoulder with their national co-laborers.
We didn’t come to Guatemala because we were indispensable or better than the locals, or because God is going to do something through us he couldn’t without us. We’re here because God has called us to be faithful to him in this community. We believe he will work in Guatemala—as everywhere else in the world—through faithful Christians who commit to the church, submit to the gospel, and proclaim it wherever they go.
Editors’ note: Register to hear Miguel Núñez speak on “Why Latin America Still Needs a Reformation” at TGC’s 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis. Through November 15, all gifts toward Coalición por el Evangelio will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000. To learn more about Coalición por el Evangelio, see their 2016 Ministry Report.
Ways to give:
1. Online. Click here to donate.
2. By Check. Checks can be made out to “The Gospel Coalition” with “Coalición – Spanish” in the subject line.
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