Saturday, February 02, 2008

Latin Arabia or Saudi America?

Which do you think sounds better; which do you prefer? We may not be at the point of renaming the region, but if forces currently at work continue unabated, the Islamification of Central and South America could become a reality. For the first time, leftist Latin American governments and encroaching Muslim schemers give credence to the concern that missionaries may one day not be able to live, travel, and minister openly in Latin America. Instead, Christian workers will have to enter on creative access platforms, utilize encrypted email services, and encode their prayer letters as their counterparts currently do in some of the most Gospel hostile areas of East Asia, the Pacific Rim, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The confluence of the three realities of devastated Latin American economies, leftist Latin American leaders, and wealthy U.S.-hating Middle Eastern powers has resulted in a perfect storm. It is without doubt a clear and present danger. As always, power and politics make for strange bedfellows. Why else would Catholic Latin America join forces with the Muslim Middle East? The leftist Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez uses petroleum to finance its formation of an anti-United States coalition in countries like Panamá, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Chavez is very chummy with Fidel Castro and often appears to be his closest confidant and ally. During Castro’s recent health crisis, Chavez seemed to get more updates on the ailing communist leader’s health than Fidel’s own government—let alone the Cuban people. Remember that Chavez has already kicked out the U.S.-based New Tribes Mission, one of the largest missionary groups working in Venezuela. “The leftist leader said the missionaries were "imperialists" and he felt "ashamed" at their presence in indigenous areas of Venezuela.” Of course, Christian mission activities in Cuba have been restricted since the communist take-over of the island nation, but nonetheless, Cuba officially immediately joined Venezuela in the restriction of NTM within its borders.

Chavez is not the only political leader who wants to hurt the U.S.A., Iran wants a share of the action. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has joined Iran in an anti-U.S. alliance with Venezuela. He appears in a BBC photo in a warm embrace with Chavez that stated, “President Chavez said the visit would strengthen the strategic alliance between the two states. The Iranian leader was earlier welcomed to the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, with full military honours. Iran and Venezuela have emerged as leaders of a growing anti-US front of developing countries.” The Iran-Venezuela anti-U.S. alliance even has its own Wikipedia page.

Venezuela and Iran have identified the poverty-stricken nation of Nicaragua as a likely ally and have begun throwing money at her. Both have made overtures of friendship that include vast amounts of cash as an incentive for loyalty. Many will remember Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as the Sandinista leader against the U.S.-backed Contras. Ortega is currently leading a country that needs all the economic help it can get. Iran wants to join Venezuela to provide a $350 million deep-water port for Nicaragua and recently established an embassy in Managua. The deep-water port will include pipelines across the country for a “dry canal.” Hugo Chavez has promised to build an oil refinery in Nicaragua from Venezuelan economic aid.

Time magazine reminds us that Iran had deep connections to Nicaragua twenty years ago during the conflict in a recent article entitled, “Iran’s Romance of Nicaragua.” The Washington Post said, “On his second trip to Latin America in four months, Ahmadinejad called Ortega, a former Cold War opponent of Washington and part of a growing wave of leftist presidents in the region, a symbol of justice in Nicaragua. ‘We have to give each other a hand,’ Ahmadinejad told reporters. ‘We have common interests, common enemies and common goals.’’ (Emphasis mine) These two Latin American countries are not alone in seeking close ties with anti-U.S. Iran. The BBC reports, “Some of Latin America's leftist leaders are also keen to expand ties with oil-rich Iran, correspondents say. This development has concerned Washington, which accuses Tehran of sponsoring terrorism and seeking to build a nuclear bomb, charges the Iranian government denies. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared, ‘The whole world knows that Nicaragua and Iran are together.’ The Bush administration is watching Mr Ahmadinejad's tour closely, says BBC Latin America correspondent Duncan Kennedy. As well as meeting Mr Chavez and Mr Ortega, Mr Ahmadinejad is also due to attend the inauguration of Ecuador's leftist new President Rafael Correa. It is also expected that the Iranian president will meet Evo Morales of Bolivia.” Chavez is calling in his Latin American favors already for an anti-U.S. military coalition to warn the USA.

While the coalition of anti-U.S. allies in such close proximity to the continental USA is certainly cause for alarm, many might dismiss the Muslim aspect of the relationship as irrelevant, maintaining that the strong Catholic sentiment of the region will keep Islam at bay. However, Catholicism has been losing its grip on the region. Additionally, everyone knows that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Unfortunately, the international growth of Islam is not a future threat; it is a present reality—especially in Latin America.

Worldnetdaily has reported that Islam is growing at an alarming rate in Latin America. “Islam is on the move in Mexico and throughout Latin America, making dramatic gains in converting the native population, increasing immigration, establishing businesses and charities and attracting attention from U.S. government officials who have asked their neighbors to the south to keep an eye on foreign Muslim groups.” Moreover, the Islam that is growing in the region includes some of the most radical adherents. One news agency reports, “In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the possibility of al-Qaeda infiltrating Latin America became a priority for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials. However, the most publicized incidents of radical Islamist activity in Latin America have not been linked to al-Qaeda but instead to the Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah, which is ideologically and politically close to Iran.”

We were living in South America on September 11, 2001. We well remember the search for the “most-wanted” Al Qaeda operatives throughout the region. Their pictures appeared in the papers for easier identification. No one can deny the burgeoning Muslim presence in Latin America. Islam in Latin America is very evangelistic and its methods are effective. Muslims are successful in convincing Latinos to become converts, or “reverts” as the Muslims call converts to Islam. They maintain that we are all Muslims and that when we join with them, we are reverting to the truth. One Hispanic Muslim website provides “reversion” testimonies and an explanation about their Latin American presence.

Christian missiologists consider Hispanics the best hope for winning Muslims to the Truth. In 711 AD, the Muslim Moors crossed the strait of Gibraltar and maintained a hostile presence in the Iberian Peninsula until 1492. The crowned heads of Spain and Portugal fought to oust them. The Roman Catholic Spanish Inquisition sought to maintain purity in the presence of “infidels.” However, almost 800 years passed before the Moors were forced out and a host of ideas, vocabulary, customs, food, medical knowledge, philosophy, and even DNA was shared in that time. For that reason, in comparison with traditional Anglo missionaries, it is easier for Hispanics to move among Arab Muslims—and for Arab Muslims to move among Hispanics.

Shared cultural, linguistic, and anthropometric traits among Hispanics and Arab Muslims are what make the porous border of the U.S. so problematic. If an “unfriendly” landed at JFK International Airport, the authorities would immediately seize and jail him. However, the border guards along the Rio Grande must deal with so many attempted crossings, that the poor Hispanics, or those pretending to be, are often turned around and made to return to Mexico—only to try again another day, maybe the next day, and the next, until entrance is successful. The danger of a porous border begins to take ominous shape, and even opponents of tightening the border begin to rethink their position when confronted with this threat.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that it is about Christian missions, not national border protection, foreign policy, or economics . Sadly, Evangelical Christians have exacerbated the clear and present danger to the church in Latin America by our own mission policy. I regularly meet missionaries and mission agency administrators in missions conferences, EMS meetings, and churches who tell me that their agency has all but pulled out of Latin America. “It is reached,” they say. “Latin America is a harvest field; let the national brothers bring in the harvest.” Most mission agencies and church-based missions efforts have left in droves. They went in search of fields where they could preach Christ where He has not been named. “Amen!” I say. Preaching where Christ has not been named is a worthy task, many should do so, and we should all pray for them and help them. However, in our zeal we have often turned Henry Blackaby upside-down and have looked to see where God is not yet working to beat him there.

Many areas of Latin America are still unreached with the Gospel, and many areas that we consider “reached,” are weak, saturated with aberrant doctrine, syncretism, and carnality. While many have considered the Latin American church on autopilot and hoped that the few reached ones would evangelize, disciple, educate, and bring in the hoped-for harvest, this is not the reality. The church in many places there is still weak, poor, hungry, and needy. And now, a new force has arrived on her shores with lots of money, lots of promises, and eager to join impoverished victims in laying blame toward the North. We can no longer afford to think of Latin America as a bunch of sleepy banana republics that do not need our help.

We need to turn our attention back toward Latin America. I do not mean that we should abandon other areas where we have gone and still need to go, but those agencies that pulled out altogether should encourage personnel to return and finish the task. I also plead with those who have lessened their strength to consider the new threat to a church that is hanging by a thread and consider the new births we brought about there. Think of post-Christian Europe and factor into that already dark scenario the desperate poverty, preliterate populations, and pervasive syncretism of ChristiAnimism that characterizes much of Latin America. As the post-Christendom phenomenon sweeps through Latin America, these challenges will amplify its effects exponentially. Brothers, it is not time to slacken our efforts in Latin America, it is time to redouble them. The Enemy is prowling.

If the forces at work continue to grow, they will walk into the house that we left clean and swept, and they will take up residence. And the end thereof will be worse than it was in the beginning.

3 comments:

GuyMuse said...

Thought provoking post that expresses many of the things that I too, as a missionary in Ecuador, am sensing all over the continent. Especially pertinent are your observations about missions agencies pulling out by the droves under the assumption that Latin America is "reached" and it is up to the church to bring in the remaining harvest. We need to be shouting that warning message from the roof tops.

What I would add to what you have written is that parallel to what you write, there is a surge of spiritual awakening, growth and harvesting taking place in LA like never before. Our own experience in just 2008 is almost more than I can fathom as to open doors, help solicited, evangelistic fervor, people expressing desire for discipleship and training, etc. It is like a giant tidal wave building and building. Eventually this wall of water will have to come ashore resulting in what I believe will result in LA becoming the new center of the Christian/Evangelical world.

Could this window of openness and opportunity possibly be our "last chance" to bring in the harvest before the winds begin shifting LA into the era you describe above?

It is for this reason that Satan is trying so hard to create your "perfect storm" of political, economic and Islamic forces coming together to offset what the Spirit of God is doing in these very same nations.

More than ever we need to be on our knees in prayer and out in the fields bringing in what could well be the final harvest. It will be interesting to see how things continue to take shape in the coming months. The church in LA is stronger than ever, but is she strong enough to weather the raging storm which is brewing as described in your article?

Family Bush said...

David,

I am sorry I didn't know you had a blog! I'll be giving the archives a run through in the next few days.

Also, your forthcoming book looks awesome. I look forward to reading it.

Finally, whose that good-looking guy in the second to last picture in the post? He seems like a pretty cool guy . . .

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