Getting a Handle on a Miracle (01/09)

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By Larry McNeill

It is not uncommon for us to become so absorbed in legitimate ministry demands that we, at least temporarily, forget the vastness and diversity of the missions enterprise in Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, we become so involved in our country of service that the others fade from our view. The Spanish-speaking countries occupy our attention to the extent that we may forget to pray for our colleagues serving equally rewarding ministries in Portuguese, English, French, Dutch or some other language group. Those of us in ministerial training may inadvertently overlook compassion ministries. Those participating in church planting may find themselves with so many time demands that they overlook the critical need to maintain ministerial education programs for the continuity and expansion of church planting efforts.

The Latin America Caribbean region is enormous and diverse. We are a region of 37 countries representing no one knows how many language groups! We often hear little about areas not directly related to our positions of service.

Try this one: What country in Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced such explosive church growth in the last 20 years that the ministerial education program, in that country alone, has grown from four students to 4,000 in only two decades? Twenty years ago they had no Bible institutes, no B.A. level programs and no master's degree level programs. Today it is all functioning phenomenally well.

Have you guessed the country?

If you said Cuba, you are right. The church in Communist Cuba is enjoying the favor of the Lord. Such vast church growth demands our most careful attention lest it fall into disarray.

Last week was one of the most significant highlights of my 14 years of participation in the work of the Lord in Cuba. Dee and I attended their General Council along with Dick and Cynthia Nicholson and several of our missionaries. While in the country we were invited to a 2-hour meeting with a high ranking government official—the Head of the Department for Religious Affairs of the Communist Central Committee. She and her staff received us cordially and addressed two issues: humanitarian efforts of the church and the training of new ministers.

She clearly expressed respect for the AG of Cuba whom, she remarked, make up 60% of the evangelicals. She added, "And you are growing like foam!" I was impressed by her comment, "You not only prayed, you preached hope!"  

They were sincerely appreciative of the humanitarian aid rendered by the churches, especially during the latest devastating hurricane season. They were amazed that the churches extended aid not only to members and relatives but to anyone affected by the storms. They asked us to continue helping in reconstruction efforts of 500,000 destroyed homes.

The head of the government department then paused and asked if anyone would like to make other comments. That’s when I totally surprised myself—I spoke up. I could hardly believe that I dared speak but I felt compelled. I said that I would like to address the issue of ministerial education. I commended them for the high quality of students who study with us in Cuba. I told them of our concern in the AG that our ministers receive a theologically sound training for ministry in a rigorous academic framework. They responded that this was of critical importance because the new ministers are the church of tomorrow. They expressed concern over "popcorn preachers made in the microwave." 

I told them that the AG shares a mutual concern over some ministers who are looking for a quick and easy way to obtain a degree without the rigor of having studied anything or very little. The Senior Associate of the government Department Head said that this deficiency is one of their chief worries. They encouraged us to continue our efforts. They expressed appreciation for the AG’s ministerial education program. May God help us to not let them down in this historic moment. I can hardly imagine the levels to which God is moving the great ministerial education program of the AG. How do you get a handle on a miracle?

The first several years I worked in Cuba I conducted pastors’ seminars and local church ministry at their request. Then, approximately eight years ago, the Cuban government authorized me to teach the Cuban AG’s first B.A. level course. Six months later, they authorized ISUM to conduct course work in Cuba. ISUM’s ministry has been tremendously successful in the country since that time. Then, five years ago the authorities permitted Facultad to begin our master’s degree program in the country.

We have 32 students at present in the master’s degree program. This is a sizeable enrollment from just one country. Nonetheless, due to the incredible growth of the church, the General Superintendent summoned me to meet with him at midnight a few months ago to present a new plea. I was not prepared for his urgency as he spoke passionately. “The need for trained pastors is enormous. We have a long waiting list of pastors all over Cuba wanting to study in your program. We are concerned about the future stability of many of our churches if you cannot double your program. Please do everything you can to help us!”

That night I could not see how Facultad could double its ministry in just one year, but the need was urgent and I knew that I had to act. Our facilities were inadequate, gathering food for such a large group is daunting, and transportation is complicated. I knew that God can convert the tough places into stages for Him to unveil a little of His glory that shines with unspeakable luminescence. In my rustic bedroom that night I prayed, “Lord, tonight I resolve that somehow, someway we will expand our ministry to these valiant people.”

Last week Cuba’s ministerial education leader informed me that he had acted on our faith. He has started pre-enrollment for our April Facultad courses. We will have 70 students in the master’s degree program! The most ever from any single country! Larger facilities have been secured. Plans are well underway. Cuba leads LAC in ministerial training!

Jesus’ words still resound, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

I want to shout and weep simultaneously!  God is sovereign and does what He wants to do. It is a comfortable feeling. Perhaps you get a handle on a miracle by putting your hand to the plow and not looking back.


Larry McNeill, D. Min., President
Latin America Theological Seminary

Facultad de Teología