The goal of Free Methodist World Missions in Latin America is to fuel and sustain a biblical movement to reach Latin Americans for Christ. Many ways exist to approach such an immense challenge, but a clear and consistent sense of direction from the Lord provides focus: We develop leaders and plant churches.
As area director for Latin America, I concentrate my best efforts and continually challenge all teams I lead toward empowering and coaching national leaders. Missionary transitions may occur because of personal calling, family needs and local circumstances. National leaders, however, tend to live in their countries for life. Together, we invest our best in them, equipping them for the present and preparing them for the future.
The coaching and empowering of leaders take a variety of shapes:
There are many ways of catalyzing initiatives and partnerships to plant clusters of churches in strategic cities. Countless church planting techniques have been used. At a recent Latin America Mission District Leaders Summit in Medellín, Colombia, all gladly agreed that Community Church Planting is our official strategy moving forward. Community Church Planting is a biblical, grassroots strategy that embraces, trains and catalyzes church planters at multiple levels of spiritual and leadership development.
This mission and vision have been broadly owned. Leaders of different countries and at different levels of official responsibilities encourage each other, share best practices and openly cheer each other on. Missionaries work together with focus on the mission, vision and values contextualized to the countries they serve. Most Free Methodist missionaries minister in several Latin American countries, and all contribute meaningfully to the goal of fueling and sustaining a biblical movement to reach our continent for Christ.
All of this results in delightful teams throughout the continent serving God together with good ministry traction and fruitfulness. A sense of identity grows as the Free Methodist Church continues to move forward in Latin America across the broad diversity of countries and cultures where we are privileged to serve.
written by Dra. Delia Nüesch-Olver
We got in the car at 6:00am Sunday for a three-hour drive to a church in the interior of Paraguay where I was to preach. Pastor Ceferino said, “Let’s pray before we set off.” He prayed fervently for safety on the trip. Later, as he was passing a long line of traffic on a narrow two-lane highway with no side berm, I was really glad we had prayed!
Travel in other countries is a real trip! Although some places in Latin America have good highway systems – at least in and around the capital city – many roads are poorly designed and poorly maintained. Even international routes can be just two lanes. Roads are clogged with bicycles, motor scooters, pedestrians, and the occasional horse cart. Cars break down more often; accidents are frequent.
When requests are shared in church, people often ask prayer for friends or family members who are traveling. Drivers often pause to pray when they get behind the wheel before starting the car. It is a habit something like asking the blessing before eating a meal. The sense of danger heightens a sense of dependence on God. We really need His help and protection to get where we are going. I admit that some taxi rides in Latin America have been good for my prayer life!
The thing is I’m old enough to remember when people used to pray before driving in the U.S. Even though our transportation infrastructure needs an overhaul, the U.S. has made great advances in the quality and safety of our highways. There are many fewer old cars on the road; the reliability of cars has improved; breakdowns and accidents are not as frequent. The upshot is that we no longer need to depend on God for our safety. So we no longer pray before starting to drive.
The issue is not the design of the highway, but our sense of reliance on God. In our comfortable culture how many other things do we now take for granted that people used to ask God for? Let’s pause to pray before we set off on whatever we are about to do.
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. While you are at it, pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.... Pray that we will proclaim it clearly, as we should.” (Paraphrase of Colossians 4:2-4)
written by Paul Olver
That Latin American Leadership Summit was my first opportunity to see the region’s leadership first hand. I sat in the back next to JR Crouse, who was translating for me. My vantage point offered a prime position for observing the goings-on discreetly, and what I saw overwhelmed me with hope and possibility.
Remember the Burger King commercial from decades ago? Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun! These days my favorite drink at Starbucks is a grande, sweetened, shaken, iced, black tea lemonade. In each case, there is a particular order in which to place your order!
What we’re ordering up in Latin America is a healthy, autonomous, indigenous, reproducing, Free Methodist Church in each country.
That’s a mouthful and quite a string of adjectives. In English, adjectives come before the object; you start with the modifiers and wind up with the most important thing. Spanish grammar puts the most important thing first and the modifiers come after. Let me explain it in the order of Spanish grammar.
Church. Our primary goal is to establish local groups of believers who are committed to following Jesus and living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together. Church is not just one local group but also an organic interrelated network of groups and congregations. This is the most important thing: we are the Church, not an NGO.
Free Methodist. Although we partner with others and understand that the Kingdom of God is broader, we have a particular theology, heritage, and connection. We work with and through recognized leadership and submit to authority/accountability. While we may appreciate and borrow from other groups, our theology and polity determine our identity.
Reproducing. We multiply disciples, leaders, groups and churches. Every “mission field” also shares the responsibility to send missionaries and reach other people groups or regions with the Gospel. Reproduction is in our DNA.
Indigenous. Our communication of the gospel and the way we do church must be contextualized -- or tropicalized – to take root in local culture. Our message and our structures must be translated into each country and into the different ethnic groups, social classes, and geographic regions that make up each country.
Autonomous. We believe that decision-making should be moved to the lowest possible level so that church leadership comes from within. With appropriate training, coaching and guidance local leaders need to determine their own destiny.
Healthy. We do not want to foster dependency on outside resources or perpetuate dysfunctional patterns of relating. Our goal is to see churches and networks that are spiritually and emotionally clear and vibrant, whole and holy.
For years we’ve been saying our mission is to fuel and sustain a biblical movement to reach Latin America for Christ by developing leaders, planting churches, and creating healthy sustainable systems. That will result in a healthy, autonomous, indigenous, reproducing, Free Methodist Church in each country in Latin America. Others can debate which states our mission and which is our vision. However you slice it, this is what we are about.
This means whatever we do -- including sending missionaries or VISA groups, sponsoring ICCM children and giving to Extra Mile Projects – should contribute to fueling and sustaining a biblical movement to reach Latin America for Christ and should ultimately result in a healthy, autonomous, indigenous, reproducing, Free Methodist Church in each country.
Now would you like a grande, sweetened, shaken, iced, black tea lemonade to go with your two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun?
written by Paul Olver
Things grow wild in the tropics. The soil – often volcanic – is very fertile. Vegetation is lush and thick. There is an amazing variety of flowers and fruit.
The thing is, plants grow really wild if untended. A vacant lot left without care very quickly grows into a dense and tangled thicket – almost impenetrable. Flowering plants get choked out. Trees can be overwhelmed by vines or parasites. An army of leafcutter ants can disassemble and strip a tree, carrying off its entire foliage canopy in bite size pieces.
The Latin American Leadership Summit that was held in Medellin, Colombia focused on community church planting led by Bruce Bennett and pastoral formation under the leadership of Dra. Delia Nüesch-Olver, Dr. Paul Olver, Dr. Ricardo Gómez and Jason Morriss.
After the summit, Area Director Dra. Delia Nüesch-Olver asked the 28 leaders
who represented 9 countries to reflect on their experience.
The summit “strengthened the Latin American vision to plant community churches and fortified the new program for training and forming the next generation of pastors in our church.” – Pastor Dan, Creative Access Country X
J.R. Crouse, a missionary, said, “It was a time to forge relationships and encourage one another to fulfill God's calling on our lives.”
The delegation from Ecuador reflected on how the summit personally affected them. Pastora Eunice Alvarez said, “I was challenged to see beyond what I can imagine with regard to ministry in Ecuador…challenged to trust in the faithfulness and the will of God and to work where He is already working, even if I can’t see it with my own eyes.”
Her colleague, Pastora Mariana Mafla said, “I received many blessings in all areas: spiritual, physical and material. Most importantly, I confirmed that Jesus is interested in multiplication. A good seed placed in good earth will obtain a good harvest.” She went on to outline the many good things she took home to Ecuador with her from the Summit. Her list included:
“- The confirmation of God on my calling to plant community churches.
When asked what their next step in ministry would be based upon their experience, Pastora Eunice said it was to unite with the vision and infect the other leaders to work together in planting healthy community churches. She said she would meet with the national board in Ecuador to come up with a plan and the steps to follow in order to bring about God’s mission in Latin America. “After all,” she concluded, “with God it is easy!”
Hector Perez of Mexico said he would “raise and train leaders on all levels to become church planters and share the vision, passion, and recourses that I received [at the summit].” He concluded that he will restructure “everything that we do as a church in order to focus all of the spiritual, human and material resources we have on the priorities of the Kingdom of God to bring forth a great harvest…And we will gather it in the name and power of Jesus.”
Multiply those responses by 28 and sift in the contexts of 9 countries and you can see a glimpse of how the Free Methodist Church in Latin America is fulfilling the Great Commission.