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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 never succeeded.

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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