A Cycle of Sowing and Reaping
My parents, Theodore and Kathryn Bueno, went as missionaries
to Venezuela in 1928. In those days, missionary ministry consisted of
pioneering and, at times, persecution. Only through God’s mercy were my
parents’ lives spared. My father, especially, faced severe opposition. A priest
in one small town vowed to get rid of him. Though he tried several times, he
Church growth came slowly. My father said he preached for
three years to a congregation that oscillated between one and three — and
one of them was my mother! Yet together they patiently persisted, and
eventually a church was established. It still thrives today.
My parents’ experience in Venezuela was not unique. Similar
opposition and spiritual barrenness were evident all over Latin America. Early
pioneer missionaries faced severe persecution and bleak results, but God gave
them the strength to press on.
I believe that the great revival Latin America has
experienced in recent years is due to those pioneers who weathered the
difficult moments of persecution and stayed faithful in the responsibility of
seed-sowing. Revivals such as those we’re seeing across the region don’t just
happen; they are the result of people who willingly make sacrifices and are
faithful to the task, even when they don’t see immediate results.
In my travels across Latin America, I often say that we
stand on the shoulders of people who were stoned and suffered loss for the sake
of the gospel. Those times of seed-sowing offered little promise of a major
harvest. Today it’s thrilling to see the results of their efforts firsthand.
I’ve had a chance to participate in the revivals taking place in many countries
of Latin America. God is moving mightily in Paraguay, Uruguay and several
Caribbean nations where, for many years, we saw no measurable results.
In Paraguay, the country’s largest building — secular
or religious — is an Assemblies of God church. Its construction was paid
for almost entirely with indigenous funds.
Ecuador is another place where years of spiritual investment
are reaping dividends. In the mid-1980s, missionary Jerry Smith accepted the
challenge to minister in the city of Guayaquil simply because everybody told
him it was the most difficult to reach. The church he planted now has multiple
services and a school with at least 6,000 children. Out of sacrifice, a great
work has taken root.
The great growth of the church in São Paulo, Brazil, is not
a happenstance occurrence. Pioneers like missionary Gustav Bergstrom and others
spent years sharing the gospel with anyone who would listen. We now see the
results of their work in the thousands of believers across that great city.
Revivals don’t just happen. They’re preceded by much prayer
and the labor and tears of dedicated servants who are willing to persevere
through tough times.
Another major factor in Latin America’s rapid church growth
is training. Establishing a Bible school was among the first things a
missionary did. It may have been small and its resources meager, but it
symbolized the future of the church as national pastors were raised up. Today
at least one Bible school exists in every country in Latin America and the
Caribbean where we have a missionary presence. Students prepared at these
schools have gone on to lead the church beyond anything our early missionaries
could have imagined.
Traditionally, people think of South America as a Christian
continent because of the influence and strength of the Roman Catholic Church.
In reality, many areas are still strongly influenced by animism. Brazil’s
equivalent of voodooism is prevalent nationwide. In Guatemala, the teachings of
Catholicism and animism have blended together; the shell is Catholic, but at
the heart it is animistic. In Haiti, voodooism is still a major religious
force. Because of it, we have experienced opposition to establishing a viable
church. In places like Suriname, Trinidad, Guyana and parts of Venezuela,
strong Islamic or Hindu influences prevail. In Uruguay, atheism is strong.
So while we rejoice at the great harvest in Latin America
and the Caribbean, we must not forget that great need still exists. Spiritual
battles remain to be fought; more seed-sowing remains to be done. The days of
pioneering are not over as long as there are areas that remain unreached. May
we, as did the missionaries before us, dedicate ourselves to more prayer, more
perseverance and more reliance on the power of God to see the work accomplished.
L. John Bueno is executive director of AG World Missions.
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