Joining God's Work in Latin America
by Juan Sarmiento
When thinking of Latin America, it is easy to see it simply as “our neighbor to the south.” In reality, there are twenty-one countries in the American continent for which Spanish or Portuguese is the majority language, each one of them with very distinct cultural identities and national characters. Along with English and Mandarin, Spanish is among the top three most widely spoken languages in the world. The Outreach Foundation currently facilitates partnerships between churches in the United States and five of those countries. Those partnerships have an effect on several other countries in the region and beyond.
The primary ways in which The Outreach Foundation is involved in Latin America are through joint efforts around the following areas:
Development of New Congregations
Latin America is home to a very rich and dynamic tradition of Christian faith. It contains the two countries with the largest Roman Catholic population in the world (Brazil and Mexico) and birthplace of Jorge Mario Bergoglio who would become Pope Francis, the first non-European pontiff. In the twentieth century, the Protestant population there grew from fifty thousand to sixty-four million people. It is estimated that evangelical churches receive eight thousand new members every single day. Currently, twenty percent of the population describe themselves as Protestant. Amid all the dynamism, our partners are busy developing new congregations among indigenous peoples and the growing unchurched segment of the population. The Outreach Foundation is coming alongside their work in ways that help us learn from how they go about sharing the message of Christ in word and deed resulting in the gathering of God’s people.
Approximately eighty percent of pastoral leaders in the region have not undertaken formal theological training. Although among Presbyterians those percentages tend to be lower, elements of authoritarianism, prosperity theology and sectarian hostilities affect the pastoral practice across denominations. The Outreach Foundation is working to enhance a scholarship program in several seminaries and Bible schools with the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (the largest Protestant group in the country). We are also developing a mentoring network for spiritual formation among pastors in Brazil, strengthening a theological program in the Ketchi Maya language of Guatemala and sponsoring holistic mission seminars in Costa Rica and the region.
Cross-Cultural and Global Mission
Three decades ago, many Latino churches started taking seriously the possibility of moving beyond being a “mission field” and towards becoming a “mission force.” The vibrant faith of the churches in Latin America has resulted in the sending of thousands of Latino missionaries to serve among the diverse indigenous populations and also in other continents. A Mexican Presbyterian elder started a mission organization that has grown to have more than 120 missionaries serving in majority Muslim contexts. Two Middle Eastern partner churches of The Outreach Foundation report that they enjoy receiving Latinos to serve with them. We are exploring ways of incentivizing and learning from Latinos as they too respond to God’s call to stand with the suffering church and share the message of Christ among those with the last access to it.
A significant dimension of my ministry with The Outreach Foundation has to do with helping congregations in the United States discern, deepen and expand mutually enriching relationships between churches in the United States and Latin America. With that in mind, please:
- Pray for our partners in Latin America often dealing with realities of pronounced socio-economic disparities and significant governmental corruption and unfair transnational systems. The countries where I was born (Venezuela) and went to college (Brazil) have faced severe political upheaval in recent months.
- Pray for our Outreach Foundation friends preparing to join me in visits to Colombia and Brazil in August and Costa Rica in November.
- Consider joining an Outreach Foundation on a trip to Southern Mexico that I will be co-leading in January of next year.
Whether you have been involved in ministering with Latin Americans or exploring the possibility of doing so, I will be glad to make myself available for consulting with you and your congregation about how you may be led to join in the work of witnessing to Christ’s transforming grace in and from Latin America.
Juan J. Sarmiento
Associate Director for Mission
Click HERE for more information about these trips.