Identifying the missing links of mobilisation in Latin America.
A recent Mission Mobilisators Conference organised by the Ibero-American Missions Cooperation (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana, COMIBAM), gathered representatives from organisations and churches from 19 different countries in Ecuador. A recurring conversation topic was the need to make missionary mobilisation more effective, as we have only been able to summon a small number of persons.
Leaders and attendees reached the same conclusion: our message, our events, and our language –oftentimes with unnecessary terminology– only appeal to a small sector of the Church. The problem: the world and all its diversity demand the participation of the whole body of Christ, not only of a small number of Christians.
The story of the first verses in Acts 8 has always grabbed my attention. Luke tells us that, due to persecution, they all scattered to Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. It also tells us that those that were spread out would share the gospel everywhere they went. The advance of the gospel in the first centuries was thanks to those anonymous, ordinary Christians, who shared the message despite the persecution as they scattered.
Likewise, Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, gives him the task of entrusting to “faithful men” what he had learned from him, so that they would continue teaching. It is like a chain, where every link is crucial for the work of the Gospel to continue—Paul taught Timothy, who in turn taught faithful men, who also continued with the task.
Who is left out of this link? How do we engage the whole church –as in Acts 8–to respond to the Lord’s mission and mandate?
At the end of the COMIBAM Mobilisers Meeting, it was clear that three groups of people are being left out of our mobilisation, and that we urgently need to include:
1. We need professionals and workers
The mission does not just advance with full-time Christian ministers and workers. Just as the first Christians preached the message while they were scattered in Judea and Samaria, today the gospel must also advance with the students, workers and professionals who live their faith in their places of study and work.
We are living in a unique moment in the Latino church: we had never had so many professionals in our ranks, each one with unique job opportunities. We must be capable of accompanying and encouraging each lay person to be a witness of the Gospel in his or her workplace. We must renew our understanding to put aside the separation between ministry and the workplace and in so doing, understand that what we do in the temple and in the office has the same impact on the kingdom.
A key moment for the global church in recent decades was the meeting of more than 4,000 Christian leaders from around the world in Cape Town, South Africa, under the Lausanne Movement. Guidelines were defined in this historical event that continue to direct and influence missionary trends, with mission in the workplace at the centre of the call to action:
“We urge church leaders to understand the strategic impact of ministry in the workplace and to mobilize, equip and send out their church members as missionaries into the workplace, both in their own local communities and in countries that are closed to traditional forms of gospel witness.”
Today, as the professional and lay worker that I am, I take these words and continue to encourage Latin American church leaders to understand the strategic impact of including workers and students as a link in the link.
2. We need the new generations
I met the mother of Pablo Andrés at the COMIBAM Mobilisers Conference; he is a 10-year-old boy who had heard the story of Hudson Taylor and was so impacted by it that he dreams of continuing his missionary work in Asia. With excitement in her eyes, she told me about her son’s passion and how he longs to grow and serve God.
Only a couple of weeks ago, my 7-year-old niece expressed her desire to be a part of the missions committee in our local church. Her parents have taught her since she was little about the needs of the world and the importance of fulfilling the mandate to make disciples of all nations, so her question did not surprise me. But these short exchanges let me to question whether we are prepared to bring on board the new generations.
The phrase, “Children are not the future of the church, they are the church today” is becoming more common. Yet, we do little to live out this truth.
During the meeting in Ecuador, Juan David Echeverri, the OM leader in the Andean Region, pointed out the need to learn to listen to the new generations to approach them with the right opportunities. Our strategies and work models are less and less relevant for the vision of today’s girls, boys, and adolescents.
According to figures from the United Nations, there are close to 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24, which represents 16% of the world’s population! Those who speak their language and understand their questions are the youth of our own congregations. Sure, they need to learn and mature, but let’s not leave them out of the conversation—let’s seat them at the table.
3. We need pastors
Yes! Pastors! It is sad and embarrassing to admit that pastors in Latin America have been one of the most difficult “ethnicities” to reach. If you were to ask mobilisers what their greatest challenge is they would likely include dealing with pastors in their answer.
We are not singling anybody out nor are we finding who is to blame for the mistakes of the past, but if we want to move forward with the whole church towards the mission, we must be able to collaborate with pastors, work with them, support them, and encourage them. The task will be completed with them when they participate actively in sending and in the mission.
Every link is necessary. Those that carry out more “classical” roles, like missionaries and church planters, as well as those that have been left on the margins.
It is inevitable to think about the diversity of beliefs and realities characterising East Asia. But, if as OMF we long to share the good news of Jesus Christ in all its fullness with the people in East Asia, we need all the Latino church—families, children, professionals, ministers. Everybody.
This is by no means a comprehensive nor a definitive list, but it helps us to rethink our work as mobilisers. We are responsible for responding to today’s challenges and this is a good place to start.
By Verónica López
OMF New Horizons Mobiliser in Latin America