By Dave Godzwa
Following the 2017 Summit, ACLAME underwent a restructuring process to more adequately accomplish its mission of connecting and encouraging LAC missionaries as they disciple, teach, mentor, and train others for ministry. As a part of that restructuring, the ACLAME Leadership Team listed the values that would guide our mission. In the January 2018 article titled, “Added Value,” those values were listed as advocacy, diversity, relationship and service.
In the months that followed, different members of the Leadership Team spent time defining and illustrating those values. Miguel Morales undertook the task of explaining the value of advocacy in his May 2018 article and webinar on the subject. Allen Martin discussed relationship in his July 2018 article, and I described service in my October 2018 article. An additional value, that of discipleship or the multiplication of ministry was expounded upon by Rod Boyd in his article titled “Make Disciple-makers” published in March of that same year. In this article, we will look at our remaining value, that of diversity.
The Charismatic Missionary
In the article, “Added value,” we described diversity as the multiplicity of backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and approaches that shape both the individuals and cultures among which we work. Such diversity seems to be the idea which the apostle Peter is expressing in this verse:
The sense here is that there are distinct and unique individuals from different backgrounds who have each been given one or more of the various of spiritual gifts or charismata. These charismatashould not be understood as a compelling attractiveness or charm as the word charisma is understood today. They are rather concrete ways that the Spirit manifests himself in the believing community, granting them gracious bestowments to meet their various needs.
The apostle Paul explains this idea in his first letter to the believers in Corinth. He writes,
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.
So it was with the Gentile believers who were the original recipients of Peter’s words, a cyclical letter sent to the churches of Asia Minor. According to Scot McKnight they were marginalized laborers from disparate communities, spread across Asia Minor, isolated due to their social status within society but unified through their shared Christian experience. It was among these “aliens and strangers” in the world that the Spirit of God was working.
Does not this appropriately describe the charismatic missionary? Have we not been called by Christ from our own unique environment to work as disenfranchised laborers in a society that may question the legitimacy of our residence as much as the validity of our message? But, although as missionaries we respond to our own individual calling, equipped by the Spirit with a unique set of gifts, we are called as well into a community, a Christian fellowship, where our uniqueness serves now, not to set us apart, but to display for all to see the wisdom of God in gathering together, in one body, such a disparate group. In other words, it is when our uniqueness, our diversity, is submitted to Christ and exercised within His body that it becomes an asset.
While our individual calling may produce in us a passion for the work, our unique giftings may equip us for the task, and our special resources may fund our ministry, without drawing near to the culture in which we live with a desire to serve, without partnership with the national church, the body of Christ expressed in that culture, our effectiveness will be severely limited. Our passion, instead of serving as a catalyst, may provoke conflict. Our giftings, instead of being a support, may arouse suspicion and our resources, and, instead of advancing the work, may alienate us.
Nevertheless, the correct expression of this charismatic ministry, although encouraged by our identification with Christ, aided by our shared experience of His love, and facilitated by the fellowship, which comes from the Spirit, is not automatic. It is, rather, intentional. It is the result of practicing the attitude of Christ, of drawing near to those unlike ourselves and submitting our gifts for their service, with the objective of their edification.
The Calling/Connectedness Matrix
Still, even the above image from Philippians 2 begs the question, how should this all lay out? How does our diversity lead to a more perfect unity? Perhaps the use of a matrix could help us visualize the task and reflect on our progress. The figure to the right is a grid consisting of four quadrants. This grid is separated by a vertical axis which represents our sense of calling (and could be substituted by giftings, resources, etc.) and a horizontal axis which represents connectedness. Sense of calling increases in scale from bottom to top, while connectedness increases from left to right. Starting at the lower right of the page in quadrant 4, we see that a low sense of calling, but a high connectedness can lead to conformity, a being carried away by the host culture in which we live. Continuing clockwise to quadrant 3, we find, however, that a low sense of calling and a low connectedness leads to apathy, the lack of the means or the motivation to seek change. Still, even the high sense of calling in quadrant 2 isn’t enough to avoid the inevitable frustration that comes with low connectedness, which is often a product of running ahead with a vision that has not been clearly communicated and whole-heartedly adopted. It is only in quadrant 1, the place of a high sense of calling coupled with an increasing degree of connectedness, where we achieve innovation, the point at which our charismatic ministry is empowered to find the creative solutions to the modern ministry problems we all face.
Charismatic success stories
While the matrix above may be a helpful tool for our visualization of the goal and the evaluation of our respective efforts, stories may be an even more effective way to promote best practices when it comes to the utilization of our diversity for body ministry. The following paragraphs highlight just a few of these charismatic success stories among our LAC missionary family.
How do you reach 30 million people?
Having served in Mexico City for more than 12 years, Peter and Delia Breit understand the challenge that is the metropolis of Mexico City. El Distrito Sur, their place of service, is set to reach a population of nearly 30 million people by 2030, Yet, in 2015, only 200 Assemblies of God (A/G) churches existed to evangelize that population. Given that the average size of an A/G church in Mexico is 60 congregants, each church member faced the task of evangelizing nearly 2,500 people!
Peter and Delia were stirred to make a difference. They had also been inspired by the reports of the effectiveness of church planting movements they heard at a convention put on by the ministry, Red de Multiplicación, and they had been resourced by CEPI, the Evangelism and Church Planting Commission of FRAHMAD, the World Hispanic Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. But, viewing the enormity of the task, they knew that going alone was not an option.
Peter shared his burden with then district superintendent, Humberto Corral. He asked him, “How many churches do you think would need to be planted to begin to make an impact in Mexico City’s current situation? Humberto responded saying that it would take perhaps 2000 new churches to reach a tipping point. That was precisely the number that the Lord had placed in Peter’s spirit. It was at that point that the church planting program Visión 20/20 came into being.
Still, even after that “God moment” of confirmation, there was work to be done to communicate and coalesce around the vision of planting churches. Peter and Humberto took four months to tour the district, building a consensus around church planting as the answer to the challenge of reaching the city and introducing the resources which would guide the program. That additional time paid off. Not only was the program adopted by the district, district leadership stepped up to assist in its implementation. Peter was elected the evangelism president to help guide the process.
Since that time, two generations of church planters have been trained. In the first generation, 14 churches were planted. The second cycle saw an additional 15 planted, with 14 more preaching points established. Certainly, the challenge is yet to be met, but systematic, sustained progress is being achieved as Peter and Delia couple their charismatic ministry with a willingness to serve the national church. Together they’re working to foster innovative solutions to the challenge of reaching Mexico City.
Respect for leadership provides opportunity for meaningfulMinistry
Miguel and Maria Morales are third term missionaries in Panama. When they arrived in Costa Rica for their first term, the national church was recovering from a leadership and organizational crisis that had weakened national ministry structures. God used their strong relational skills and a willingness to serve to help rebuild the national Christian education and discipleship efforts.
The Morales moved to Panama for their second term, joining the Resource and Advisory Center that serves Bible schools in the Spanish-speaking countries of the LAC region, now leading this ministry since early 2018. They quickly connected with the international SEC (Servicio de Educación Cristiana) team and are currently serving as assistant coordinators.
Miguel and Maria have endeared themselves to the church in Panama serving as advisors to the national Christian education department and as members of the executive presbytery. Because of their desire to serve and respect for leadership, they provided wise counsel and strong leadership to launch new Bible schools for indigenous groups as well as integrating youth and missions training efforts using new modalities in the Bible school system. The Lord has used them at an historic time in the national church to guide healthy leadership transitions and important structural changes to the Christian education department.
Miguel and Maria are examples of apostolic missionaries with a clear call, high respect for national and international leadership and structure, and effective teamwork that God is using to mobilize his Church in the LAC region.
Making disciples among oral learners
Efrain and Catherine Figueroa have been serving in Oaxaca, the most ethnically complex of Mexico’s states, for over 12 years. With a population of about 3.5 million, at least a third speak one of the over 120 indigenous languages of the region. Because of extremely limited education beyond elementary school, about half of those over 15 years of age have not finished primary school.
Upon arriving, they discovered a great need for pastoral training that addresses the needs of students with low levels of literacy from indigenous oral traditions. Efrain and Catherine found themselves using the same teaching strategies that they used as English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers in California. Their experiences prior to missionary appointment were particularly beneficial in addressing the challenges in training oral learners for ministry.
The Figueroas have developed modified training methods that are serving indigenous pastoral students. They have introduced orality and modified teaching methods, using audio recordings of books and giving student the option to be evaluated through informal assessments.
The Indigenous Bible School in Oaxaca (Centro de Adiestramiento Para Ministros en las Etnias or C.A.M.E.) originally started as an idea to help indigenous Christian workers that felt a call to minister in their local villages in their native tongue. The program was adopted in 2011 by the local district leadership, and the local Bible institute extended their coverage so the program would count toward credentials.
During the same year the national coordinator of indigenous outreach choose C.A.M.E.as the national pilot program. After three successful graduating classes, the national mission department (Departamento Nacional de Misiones or D.N.M.) decided to adopt the program as an official training school of the department. At that point, the missions department also sought the endorsement and approval of the national Christian education department (Departamento de Educación Cristiana or D.E.C.). Currently C.A.M.E. operates as a school of the D.N.M. with the approval of the D.E.C. Classes are locally validated by three Bible institutes in Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla.
Thirty-three pastoral students from different ethnic groups have graduated from the Indigenous Bible School in Oaxaca. Recently, the school has expanded into other areas of the region and now has eight study centers. Efrain and Catherine’s vision is to continue training pastors among this ethnically diverse population by starting more study centers utilizing these creative training methods. Also, they are hopeful that in the next two years the school would be granted full Bible institute status.
As charismatic missionaries then, we recognize our diversity: our unique calling, our vision, our giftings, and the resources at our disposal to accomplish the ministry that we have set out to do. These are assets. These are blessings that we celebrate. Still, we must also recognize that, if we are to be effective in that ministry, that diversity must be directed toward the body and serve its edification. The work, then, for each of us, is to undertake our own evaluation. Where do we fall on the Calling/Connectedness Matrix? Then, having taken the assessment, we should ask ourselves, “What steps could we take to foster innovation in our context of ministry?” Feel free to share your suggestions.
Miguel Morales, “Advocates for education and training,” ACLAME—Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators. http://aclame.net/blog/index.php/2018/05/advocates-for-education-and-training/ (Accessed May 1, 2019).
Miguel Morales, “Missionaries as Advocates for education and training.” ACLAME—Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators. https://www.dropbox.com/s/0mjgo8s60gmv3ps/Missionaries%20as%20Advocates%20for%20education%20and%20training%20-%20ACLAME.mp4?dl=0 (Accessed May 1, 2019).
Allen Martin, “The Value of Relationships,” ACLAME—Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators.http://aclame.net/blog/index.php/2018/07/the-value-of-relationships/ (Last accessed May 1, 2019).
David Godzwa, “Practicing our Serve,” ACLAME—Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators. http://aclame.net/blog/index.php/2018/10/practicing-our-serve/ (Accessed May 1, 2019).
Rod Boyd, “Make Disciple-makers… A Look at Teaching through Four Missionary Lenses,” ACLAME—Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators. http://aclame.net/blog/index.php/2018/03/make-disciple-makers/ (Accessed May 2, 2019).