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By Dick Nicholson
Just a couple of weeks ago John Bueno arranged to have the entire Executive Committee of AGWM go to El Salvador for our Special Executive Committee meeting. He included tours of projects. One was in quite a rural area, and as we rode along in the bus, John rehearsed for us all the beginnings of the work in El Salvador citing the huge contribution of men like Ralph Williams and Melvin Hodges.
When I returned from the trip, I Googled “Melvin Hodges El Salvador” to see what I could find and was intrigued to discover our own iFPHC Podcast [Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center] which highlighted a 28 minute interview in 1985 in which Dr. Gary McGee (AGTS) talked with Dr. Melvin Hodges about the beginnings of the work in El Salvador, as well as how he came to write the book “The Indigenous Church.”
I think you would find that interview to be fascinating as Melvin Hodges, our Field (now Regional) Director in LAC in the early years, talks about the need for teaching, the missiological (indigenous church) principles that guided the work, and the priority of Pentecostalism in missions then and now.
Dr. Hodges talks about how chief pastors of the fledgling work in El Salvador wrote a letter to our headquarters asking for missionaries and one of the first ones sent was Ralph Williams, who was in Mexico at the time. Williams “found that the great need was for teaching” in El Salvador, so he started a bible school. A few years later in 1936, Hodges began a second bible school.
During our trip into the rural areas of El Salvador, Brother Bueno mentioned some aberrant practices that had already crept into the work and which pointed to the obvious need for biblical teaching. I later heard Hodges, in the podcast interview, explain how this felt need resulted in Ralph Williams literally taking out an envelope and scratching out on the back of it a few notes along the lines of “A Believer Should Be . . .”
Those hastily written notes later became the “Standard of Christian Doctrine and Practices,” or the now widely-known “Reglamento Local,” a guidebook used for teaching new converts throughout much of Latin America even to this day.
What is obvious from this historical account is this: teaching is fundamental to the growth of the Church everywhere! Without sound doctrine and effective teaching, dangerous practices can and will develop. You never outgrow your need for teaching and training. The classroom and the pulpit are the battleground for the hearts and the minds of the believers God gives into your trust. We need you to engage in that battle!
A number of years ago, at a meeting of our superintendents in the Caribbean Area (CFAGE), in a round table discussion about legalism, in referring to how off-the-mark practices begin, the statement was made by one of the superintendents, “These issues [like legalism] began in the pulpit; they will have to be changed from the pulpit.” In a very real sense, preaching and teaching are about warfare, spiritual warfare if you please.
Is it easy? Rarely. Success in our bible schools, extension or distance education programs, or Sunday Schools for that matter, is a battle in itself, before the teaching even begins. John Lemos, one of our oldest missionaries (84 years old and still going strong!), recently wrote this in his newsletter:
“Another year has begun here in the Bible School of Pindamonhangaba [Brazil]—our 49th year! We look back to the day we founded this bible institute in 1958 and see how God has blessed it from its very beginning. There was so much opposition to the school by many national leaders of the Assemblies of God that many times we wondered if we could hold out. God always came to the rescue, defending us and His work, defeating plans to destroy this ministry. Now, with several thousand graduates in full-time ministry around Brazil and the world, we can only thank and praise Him for His deliverance and blessings, for truly all glory and honor belong to Him. For more than 30 years now the school has had the backing and blessing of our National Convention.”
As John has discovered, the proof is in the thousands of graduates who have themselves gone out to do the work of the Lord, engaging in the battle for the hearts and minds of others. It was and is worth the effort.
Why not consider, like so many of your own colleagues, getting involved in teaching? I was a church planter, but I taught in the bible school in Lomas de Zamora, Argentina, during our 11 years there, and I would not trade that experience of helping mold young lives for anything!
As Ralph Williams discovered back in his day, “There is [still] a great need for teaching today.”
I invite you to engage in the battle to implant God’s truth in the hearts and minds of those in the growing church in Latin America and the Caribbean.