John’s recent visit to five South American countries reminds us that difficult circumstances don’t have to limit the advance of the gospel.View Transcript
–11 flights in 11 days to five different countries, and I’ve lost track of how many churches we’ve been in. Hola from Uruguay y Paraguay y Brazil y Peru y Colombia.
Many of us are aware that Latin America has been a key part of Alliance history since our very beginning. So much has been done over the last hundred-plus years that has resulted in some very strong ministries, and it’s joyful that we have been able to leave behind established churches that are now mission-sending churches.
But this is an opportunity for me to remind us that there’s still some places in Latin America that are still an important investment for us as a U.S. Alliance missionary sending movement, places like Uruguay that are this fascinating blend of European and Latin cultures, a place where secularism has been the chosen pathway for the government for a hundred years, removing all aspects of faith and religion and God from their culture. And as one of our own international workers there explained to me, it’s fascinating to be in a land where, as we make friends with nonbelievers and our children make friends with nonbelievers, we are the first Christians that these people have ever met. And so, there, with our C&MA team, I was delighted to get to hear the stories of how, in our few decades there, we have been able to establish all kinds of relational development opportunities through English classes and church-planting efforts—our team members personally getting involved in things like a volleyball league or playing handball or having 20 kids over to the house for a birthday party—just various ways of engagement. And so, as I preached to three churches that came combined for a single service, what a joy that was to see so many new believers worshiping and responding to the Word of God!
From there, we went on to Paraguay, another nation that has a new investment of The Christian Missionary Alliance in recent decades. Here, our strong emphasis has been on leadership development. The president of the Paraguayan church gave special thanks to The Christian Missionary Alliance of America as we have sent very prepared IWs, to use his words, “with missionary hearts,” and we see a stronger church as a result. And then he said, “Thank you for sending future missionaries.” I have been strengthened and encouraged in my own heart as I’ve watched our IW teams functioning in these places.
From there, we were on to Brazil for way too short a time; but one of the joys of this trip has been to be able to interact with my peers, other national church presidents: Jeremy Warden, a CMA MK that is now the president of the Church of Brazil, and the president of Chile I ran into at a meeting, the president of Colombia, and other places. So, it’s been a joy for me to engage with my peers, these national church presidents. I’ve been enlarged by these relationships.
And then it was off to Peru, where we had the joy of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lima Encounter with God, this profound ministry that I heard about when I was a boy that has led to the salvation of thousands and thousands of people and the establishment of a hundred churches almost in Lima itself, some of the largest churches of all The Christian Missionary Alliance worldwide are located in Lima. And the significance of that ministry, what impacted me as I heard stories and was able to actually preach, 12 hours after getting into Peru, I’m standing before 250 pastors and their wives, bringing the Word of God, and I was moved by the missional sending and passion of the Peruvian church.
The primary reason for our coming to South America was the hundredth anniversary of The Christian Missionary Alliance in Colombia. It was my great joy to stand before that assembly gathered at a church camp, joyful, exuberant, full of praise and testimony as they reflected on how God had protected them and led them through the decades. I was able to announce to that spirited crowd that they were among a group of quintuplets born in 1923, that Syria in the Middle East, Burkina Faso and Mali in Africa, and Cambodia in Asia, and Colombia all share the same birth year, 1923. Fascinating to me because Dr. Simpson died in 1919, and even though there’d been a global pandemic a few years before, and even though we were into the roaring ’20s and all the craziness of that, and even though the leadership transition between Dr. Simpson and Paul Rader was not that smooth, there was still a missional sending, there was still this advance, yet for the Colombian church, it wasn’t an intentional advance. An Ecuadorian missionary got driven out of the country by persecution and met a photographer on the Colombian side of the border who welcomed him to share the gospel, and that was the beginning. A moment of persecution was the beginning of the Colombian church. That odd beginning seemed to be a bit of a foreshadowing of what was to come.
I’ve asked our brother Mark Searing, who is here as a keynote speaker for this hundredth-anniversary event and also a third-generation Alliance missionary to Colombia, to give us some perspective of what these decades have been like.
–My grandparents came to Colombia in 1934 as Alliance missionaries. My grandfather began his ministry by selling New Testaments and Bibles and books at a little stand outside of their house. There were people who would meet with them and begin to get close, and they would lead ’em to Christ. And those people would head back up into the mountain areas and often would be persecuted for becoming believers. That was hard, but they persisted. They would invite my grandfather to go up to their communities along the mountainside. Small churches would be planted within those very rural areas, 9,000, 10,000 feet. In a river, they would be baptized. They would tie ropes around my grandfather, and they would tie a rope around the person who was gonna be baptized so that they wouldn’t get washed away in the river.
There was a lot of religious persecution during the 1940s, early 1950s. In the 1950s, then, it became basically political opposition to the gospel. They wanted to push the evangelicals out. The pastors that had been trained, they would often get beaten or stoned, their homes would be destroyed, and they would be forced to move away from their community. It became so dangerous to the point that there were pastors who were killed. Some missionaries were threatened and had to move. One of the missionaries, she was a single missionary and she lived on a side street in one of the smaller communities, and she left her window open, and she woke up and found under her bed a stick of dynamite had been thrown in through her window.
You know, that was a dangerous time. And that was the time when my parents finally came to Colombia as missionaries. I have stories from my parents. My dad and a very special friend who was a pastor, has been a pastor for years here, when they went out that morning, we prayed for them to go out. They were gonna go preach in a small town, and they went, and the religious leaders there stirred up the people and they smashed the car, and they beat my dad and they beat the Colombian pastor. And that evening, they didn’t come back the time they were supposed to. And so, late that night, they finally showed up. And my dad’s face was just a mess, and the Colombian pastor was even worse than my dad. You know, it was really hard to see that, that they had suffered for preaching the gospel. But in that place today, there’s a church. There’s an Alliance church, and I met the pastor here just a couple days ago, and he wanted me to know the seed that they planted is there and God is faithful. God is faithful.
So, you know, even though it can be hard, we came back too. My wife and I came to Colombia as Alliance missionaries. It’s about getting the gospel out, and it was rough, and persecution continued. Alliance pastors were killed by the guerillas and by the narcotraficantes in the ’80s and ’90s. So, it’s been almost 60 years of violence that this church has faced, and it’s persevered. And God has been faithful, and the church has persevered and been planted in the rural areas and in the cities. This is a strong church in that respect. Today, we’re celebrating a hundred years of The Christian Missionary Alliance in Colombia. And last night, as we celebrated with the national church, I was just overwhelmed as one of the Colombian senators presented to the national church a commendation for being here in Colombia and for the work that they’ve done and for standing for truth and presenting the gospel and being a community that impacts in a complete way, a holistic way, the communities that they’re involved in. And I can say, you know, after all of this, three generations, that it’s definitely worth it. All the pain, all the hurt, it’s been worth it.
–It felt so much to me like the Book of Acts as I heard the stories and actually walked the congregation last night in my message through what it was like to plant churches in the New Testament, the difficulties with government and religious leaders, the difficulties with illness, with difficult travel, with martyrdom, with, on the list goes. And yet, our circumstances do not need to limit the advance of the gospel. Seeing that lived out in this place and then seeing them have a missional passion. . . Colombia and many of the South American churches are missionary-sending churches.
And so, at about the four-hour mark of our service last night, a climactic point was the commissioning of three more missionaries being sent out by the Colombian church, two of them to a nation that has been very difficult for us as the U.S. Alliance to sustain a presence in. If you’ve heard Tim Crouch speak, you know that one of our Alliance emphases is gospel access for and from all people. And it was wonderful to see both expressions of that in this time. A 12-minute video, 11 days of travel in no way does justice to the work of God that He’s done in these five countries. But Alliance family, I agree with Mark Searing. It’s worth it. It’s worth it that we’ve invested. It’s worth it that we’ve sent, and it’s worth it that we continue to do so. May we not lose our missional passion.