I have just returned from a summer of ministry in Latin America. It was both exhausting and exhilarating. The travels started with the blessing of being able to go and minister with Mary to the students at The Spanish Language Institute in Costa Rica. The beauty of that country and the warm hospitality of the folks at the school was a joy for us. We spent our free time reminiscing about our time there in language school. After that week, we returned and I spent a week teaching a doctoral class at SBTS.
Then I headed to Cusco, Peru for two weeks with a team from SBTS. I taught them Chronological Bible Storying in the historic heart of the Inca Empire. We learned about the Incas, toured museums, and climbed around some of the ruins they left behind. The second week of the trip we actually went out to the community of Ancahuasi where the students storied the Bible from creation to the resurrection. It was a wonderful experience to watch many of these people hearing Bible stories for the first time in their lives. Then, I waved goodbye to the Peru team at the Lima airport and sent them back to the USA.
I then boarded a plane for Quito, Ecuador where I met Mary and Molly who brought the Ninth and O team down to work with Joselito and his family in Calderón. It was fun to be back ministering in Ecuador with my family and going to our old stomping grounds in Quito (El Jardín, Quicentro, Crepes and Waffles, etc., etc., etc.!) We led in a VBS during the day and evangelistic services at night. Working with Candelaria Baptist Church, Joselito, and Anita, we launched efforts to begin a new Baptist church in an area where there is no evangelical work. It was an exhausting week but very rewarding. In addition to the great team of Jay, Liz, Katherine, Maggie, Raymond, Meghan, Rebecca, Mary, and Molly, we were blessed to have Greg Hooper with us. Greg and his wife Sara Lu were our best friends on the mission field—they were with us at appointment, in orientation, two doors down in language school, and went to Ecuador with us on the same plane. Our kids were about the same age and were great friends, too. I had not seen Greg since both of our families left Ecuador in 1996. As good friends do, we picked up right where we left off and relished our time back together. I was just sorry that his better half could not be with us (like me, Greg was married by grace and got a lot more than he deserves).
After our time there, I went to Colorado Springs for some meetings, and then to Atlanta to teach at a training conference. After one day at home, I headed to Panamá. I was invited down to the Canal Zone to preach in the 100th anniversary of the First Baptist Church Balboa Heights. That is the beautiful church on the lawn of the Panamá Canal Administration building. I also was able to go out to preach in a community called Chorrera and meet with some brothers out in the countryside.
In all these travels, I had the opportunity to preach, teach, story the Bible, counsel, encourage, and challenge. I was discouraged to see the same story over and over in every country. In fact, the same theme was so common that the names and faces began to blur together.
In Costa Rica, a missionary told me of his burden to train pastors. He told me that he had mentioned his vision to a pastor in San José. Without a moment’s hesitation that pastor told him that he could name twenty-five men off the top of his head who were pastoring without any training and who would jump at the chance to learn.
In Peru, a large denomination lacks pastors for 90% of its churches. In the area where our church works you can ride down the Pan-American highway for hours passing town after town where there are no evangelical churches. Last year I told the story of the elderly sister in Christ who thought she could not go to heaven when she died because she could not read or write. That story broke many of our hearts. This year the story from Peru that broke my heart regards another leader.
The former pastor of the little church that meets in the community where we are working had to step down years ago because his wife took the kids and ran off with another man. Even though he resigned as pastor, he has continued to lead in many ways—including leading small groups that meet in several communities around that area. In one of our last evening services, he stood and announced that he was thankful to the Lord because he and the girl he had been living with were falling in love. He then introduced her to the church since he said they did not know her. I thought I just did not understand his Spanish, so I investigated. Unfortunately, I had understood perfectly. He was living with a girl who was not his wife. I talked to him privately and explained to him that the Bible condemned such behavior, rebuked him, and told him to get out of any leadership role while he was in sin. He defended his sin and even stated that they had been getting counsel from another pastor who thought their living together would be a good way to get to know each other and test compatibility. I preached on 1 Corinthians 5 at our church the next night and explained Matthew 18. It is sad that a leader would live in open sin and praise God for it at church. It is sadder that no one at the church knew what God’s Word had to say about that. It is sadder still that many missionaries’ efforts focus on starting more churches, not training, and they justify it by saying that these people have a Bible and the Holy Spirit and He will lead them into all truth without any training.
In Ecuador, we spent the week trying to start a new church where there is no evangelical work of any kind. Who will be the leader? Where will he be trained? Without a trained leader, what will become of the ones who prayed to receive Christ during our week of ministry?
In Panamá, a place where Southern Baptists have worked for over 100 years, they told me that 70% of the 200+ churches do not have a pastor – and there are only about ten pastors in their seminary. Moreover, most of what passes for pastoral training there consists of some purpose-driven-book that seemed to work in the USA. I learned of homosexual pastors and atheological professors. Yet, by God’s grace, I also sat in the glow of some who were trying to shine light in dark places.
I came back from the Latin American tour refreshed, reflecting, repenting, resolved, recharged, responsible, and ready. I came back both discouraged and determined. I was discouraged that we have let our Southern Church brothers and sisters wallow in ignorance for so long, but determined that under God I am going to make a difference. Of course, I realize that I am nobody and that I cannot change anything, but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. These problems did not get in such terrible shape overnight and a few folks won’t fix them in just a few days. Still, I am resolved to reach and teach as much as I can for the advance of the kingdom and the glory of Christ. Who will join me?