Latin America and the Caribbean: Past, Present and Future
A conversation with Regional Director Richard Nicholson
Randy Hurst: What is one of the greatest challenges you see
in Latin America and the Caribbean?
Dick Nicholson: One of the greatest challenges is
effectively reaching the region’s major cities. Many of them are hard to
penetrate — especially among the upper and upper-middle classes.
Montevideo, Uruguay, for example, is one of the most unevangelized cities in
the Americas. A very modern European city with a large Jewish population, it is
spiritually resistant, secular and well-to-do.
Uruguay has the only atheistic constitution of any country
in our region, so it’s a challenge to go to places where people have been
closed to the gospel for decades. Still, we are seeing some success in that
respect. Other challenging cities — including Santiago, Chile; Buenos
Aires, Argentina; Lima, Peru; and Quito, Ecuador — stand in need of a
RH: Why did early Pentecostal missionaries tend to focus on
rural areas instead of cities?
DN: First of all, in the early days there were more rural
areas than urban, so the primary emphasis was on starting outstations in
villages. However, with the move toward urbanization, the population centers
have shifted to the cities. Secondly, land on the outskirts of town was cheaper
to purchase. A few hundred dollars bought a piece of property. While that’s
still true in some rural areas, in the major cities property can sell for a
million dollars or more.
RH: Is this an area in which we can help some of our
national churches get a foothold in the cities?
DN: Absolutely. One of the benefits we bring to the table is
our ability to combine resources from our missionary family and from churches
around the world to help national churches reach untouched, expensive urban
areas. Because we have done this, we now have growing churches in Latin America
that are now able to make that kind of effort themselves. My wife, Cynthia, and
I just visited a church in Asunción, Paraguay, that has paid its own way and
now has a building for 10,000 people. Churches are becoming able to do things
that weren’t possible even a decade ago.
RH: Are there still people groups that have never had a
DN: Latin America and the Caribbean includes vast
geographical areas and inaccessible places. In the jungles and high mountain
regions, there are hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples who are
challenging to reach because of their location.
RH: Talk about the revival and explosive church growth in
Latin America. What are the challenges we face in training pastors?
DN: Training and resourcing our leadership is the number one
challenge. Currently, churches outnumber available pastors. Bible schools are
booming and reaching out in every way possible. Night schools, Saturday
schools, day schools, seminars and two- or three-day workshops are some of the
ways we can put more tools in the hands of national workers. If we fail in this
endeavor, everything else we do will be weakened.
The key to effective training is finding what works within a
specific context and making it happen. In some areas where we minister,
illiteracy is a major obstacle. We’re working hard to help them learn to read.
If the culture is predominately oral, we need to find ways to reach the people
through a method they will accept. We have all kinds of methodology available;
the challenge is to find what works in a specific culture. Not every method
fits every circumstance. People are coming up with new, innovative approaches,
and that’s encouraging. They refuse to accept that something can’t be done.
RH: Do you feel it’s our responsibility to “reap where the
harvest is ripe”?
DN: One of the great principles J. Philip Hogan expounded on
during his years as AGWM executive director was that you need to follow the
Holy Spirit’s leadership. Hogan stressed that the Holy Spirit knows better than
anyone where the opportunities are right. Strategy involves being heavily
dependent on the Holy Spirit and employing resources and human strategies that
are Spirit-inspired. We have to go through doors that are open, because those
doors may not open again. We risk losing many golden opportunities if we’re not
sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is doing.
RH: What are some of the challenges in reaching children and
DN: Some of our national brethren have told me: “We like the
good things you bring from North America, but not the negative things. Don’t
send them our way.” The kinds of products that come out of Hollywood are
tantalizing and tempting to youth and bring out a negative element to the
To counter this, we are making every effort to reach Latin
American youth with truth. As a result, we are seeing God do amazing things. In
Venezuela a youth congress drew about 20,000 young people. In places like
Argentina and Mexico, huge outreaches are having an eternal impact on young
people’s lives and futures. There’s a genuine flow of the Spirit that is
resulting in a new generation of on-fire young people and children.
Historically, I don’t think the national church understood the need to include
young people and children as much as they do today. Our missionaries have been
involved in changing that outlook, and the results are thrilling.
RH: How is the increasingly tragic issue of sex trafficking
and exploitation affecting your region?
DN: The phenomenon of sex trafficking and exploitation
baffles me. It’s happening in tranquil places — Costa Rica, for example
— that had no history of it. In some places, people come for sex tours.
Old men hire young girls, even though they are warned they will be jailed for
doing so. In Argentina, about 500,000 girls are abused or exploited sexually,
emotionally or physically. Mexico is another prime site for this kind of thing.
I’m thankful that God is raising up men and women with a vision to reach into
that lurid and negative subculture with the answer: Jesus Christ.
RH: Which countries in Latin America would you say are in
the forefront in developing their own missions outreach?
DN: I would say Argentina, El Salvador and Costa Rica
— probably in that order. Venezuela is also becoming very strong. About
20 countries in the region have missions departments.
One of the most recent nations to rise up and take on the
missions challenge is Cuba. About a year and a half ago, church leaders said,
“Our time has come. We’re tired of sitting around, and we really believe it’s
our time.” At the national conference in January, they commissioned a leading
pastor as a missionary to Spain with full support by the national church.
This focus on world missions is an extension of the Cuba
fellowship’s church planting emphasis in their nation. In the last 17 years the
church in Cuba has grown from 317 congregations to more than 9,000. Their
objective is to plant a church in every village and town. House-to-house
personal evangelism is taking place throughout the island, and in eight years
believers canvassed 4 million homes. Coupled with a tremendous surge of
Pentecostal revival, this outreach is reaping incredible results.
We thank God for what is taking place, but we also realize
that life is not easy in Cuba. I’m told that the nation’s divorce rate is about
98 percent. The church is doing its best to counteract this trend by
reaffirming marriage and teaching Christian marriage principles. We’re praying
that as the Holy Spirit works to reverse the patterns of the past five decades
we will see changes in marriages and strong family units built up.
RH: What is your message to the American church?
DN: These are days of huge harvest — not only for
bringing in the lost, but also for multiplying our effectiveness. We’re motivating,
discipling and training believers to take His message to the farthest corners
of the earth. In recent years, a wave of several hundred missionaries has
fanned out from Latin America across the globe. Many churches today are
passionate for missions and extending the kingdom of God. We must make the most
of these open doors by reaching those who have never heard, training those whom
God has called, and letting God direct our work so He will receive the glory.
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