Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Conference Report: Clade IV - Quito, Ecuador

Written by Pastor Herfst
From September 2 to 8 about 1,300 theologians, church leaders and missionaries gathered in Quito, Ecuador for the fourth Latin American Congress of Evangelization to study The Evangelical Testimony in the Third Millennium: Word, Spirit and Mission. The participants came from all of the Americas and beyond, reflecting the rich variety of cultures that make up the Latin American church. Amazonian Indians, pony-tailed Quechuas and other Indigenous folks from every country, articulate theologians, rural and urban pastors, women in various ministries, all met under the leadership of FTL (Fraternity of Latin American Theologians) to discuss issues that challenge the proclamation of the Gospel in the Latin American context. The sheer diversity of participants was impressive and gave something of a foretaste of that great multitude that will gather before the throne of God at the end of time.

Alejandro Ortiz and I attended as part of the Guatemalan delegation. It was one of those experiences that one never forgets. Some of the founding members of FTL were present and it was a privilege to speak with such Missionary Statesmen--Òold lionsÓ as they were affectionately called--RenŽ Padilla, Samuel Escobar, Pedro Arana, Emilio Nœ–ez and Tito Paredes. What made our stay in Quito even more enjoyable was the generous hospitality afforded us by Fred and Arlene Jonkman whose friendship we have cherished for many years.

The Congress was characterized by openness, a willingness to learn from one another and a passion to see the Church of Christ truly prosper in Latin America. There was some intense soul-searching, honest self-examination and confession that left us with our mouths open. One cannot but wonder if western churches would have the same courage and humility to submit to the close scrutiny of the Word in the presence of other believers.

The president of FTL, Dr. Israel Ortiz of Guatemala, set the tone of the Congress with his inaugural address. While rejoicing in the explosive growth in many parts of Latin America, he expressed some pressing concerns: the growth in many sectors of a church without roots that seeks to be a New Testament church while denying the importance of the Protestant Reformation; the challenge of the Ôgospel of prosperity,Õ the secularization of the pastorate that takes its role model from Ôpagan executivesÕ rather than the Paul-Timothy model of Scripture; the need to live out the Gospel in a world filled with injustice, corruption, spiritual decay, poverty and immorality, rather than privatize our faith; the tendency to replace the Word of God with human experience as our only authority for doctrine and ethics.

In agreement with the theme of the Congress, Israel Ortiz called for a return to Scripture. Avoiding a polarization between Word and experience, the president of FTL called for the need to place experience in its proper place within the life of the church. We do not want intellectual religion devoid of genuine experience, he urged. In calling the Latin American church to return to Scripture, Ortiz encouraged careful study and reflection on the Word in the concrete Latin American context and in dependence on the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit was the second major theme of the congress. Citing the close relationship between Spirit and Word (both as the Son of God and the written Word) that exists in Scripture, we were challenged to maintain this unity in the work of missions. Again, Dr. Ortiz was frank in his condemnation of the abuses (the manipulation of the gifts of the Spirit) so prevalent in many circles. On the other hand, he commented: ÒThe challenge in this Congress is to reflect upon and be seriously open to the ministry, presence and renovating power of the Holy Spirit.Ó Dr. Ortiz urged us to think of worship as a way of life. He challenged us Òto think of a liturgy that ministers to, informs, shapes and transforms the whole person of each believer.Ó At the same time, he emphasized the impact a transformed life should have in all areas of life--socio-political, economic, cultural and religious. Tied to this was the eschatological dimension of our hope that begins in the here and now, looks forward to the new heavens and new earth, and denounces every human attempt to build the Kingdom without God.

The third part of his address was a sober call to re-examine the Biblical basis for missions in the Latin American context. Once again he brought Word and Spirit together. Missions, he said, is as much denouncing sin wherever it appears as it is proclaiming the Good News. Dr. Ortiz especially called for a commitment to ÒholisticÓ missions, given the abject poverty that plagues Latin America.

FTL is to be congratulated for taking these themes seriously and for providing an open forum in which we could discuss and learn from each other. We had six days filled with worship, Biblical reflection, papers, panel discussions and workshops. We began at 8:30 a.m. and usually concluded at about 10:00 p.m. The workshops were held in the afternoon. They dealt with such topics as Holistic Missions and Poverty, Family in Latin America, Biblical Hermeneutics and Exegesis, ChildrenÕs Ministries, Indigenous Peoples, the Pastoral Ministry, Theological Education, Liturgy, Communications, Faith and Economy, Witness in the Business World, etc. It was obvious that the executive of FTL sought to provide clear leadership in an attitude of mutual respect that would not negotiate Truth.

Not all the papers were of equal quality. If the strength of the congress was its openness, this openness was its weakness on a number occasions. A paper on the Relationship of Men and Women in the Biblical Perspective was sadly devoid of serious exegesis and threatened to undermine much of what previous speakers presented. Thankfully, the panelists presented an alternative view. Some of the more outstanding papers were: Objectivity and Subjectivity in Christian Experience by Juan Caste–ada, a Neo-Pentecostal from Guatemala, who stressed the objective Truth as the basis and standard for interpreting the subjective; Spiritual Warfare, by Esteban Voth of Argentina, who debunked a lot of the hype of the so-called spiritual warfare; Spirituality in the Life and Mission of the Church, by RenŽ Padilla of Argentina; The Church as an Alternative Community in Society by Omar Cortes of Chile, who argued for a return to community and diaconal ministry of the local church within the world; and Witnesses in the Power of the Holy Spirit to the Ends of the Earth, by Rachell Perobelli, a Brazilian missionary working in Bolivia. Perhaps the most outstanding paper was presented by a Brazilian Presbyterian pastor, Roberto Barbosa, entitled: Christian Spirituality and Contemporary Spirituality. He argued for a theology that is more spiritual, and a spirituality that is more theological. He defined this as spirituality that is trinitarian, Christo-centric, lived in community, centered in the Word of God and missionary in focus.

In addition to the formal sessions, we were privileged to meet with brothers and sisters from all over the continent. We were encouraged by the presence of Reformed brothers and sisters from Brazil, Cuba, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica and Venezuela. We heard testimonies by Christians from different parts of the Latin world and were painfully reminded of the violence and difficulty facing the churches here. One sister told of her experiences as a hostage on board the airplane captured by the guerillas in Colombia. Another brother told of the impressive growth among churches in Cuba. It was moving to worship with these dear brothers and sisters, who, living in countries plagued by violence, poverty and corruption, could still celebrate the grace of God, the hope we have--and life--in Latin American song. Times of prayer sought GodÕs blessing upon this troubled continent.

If, upon arrival we were impressed by the diversity of the Latin American church, by the end of the week of intense study and mutual sharing, we were overwhelmed by the profound unity expressed in so many ways. It will take some time to digest everything we heard and saw. However, we come back to Guatemala with some very real goals of strengthening the awareness within our churches of our calling and mission within a society that desperately needs to hear the Gospel clearly articulated and lived out in a concrete way. The challenge is to present the Word faithfully in the power of the Spirit so that the church will be what God calls us to be. Furthermore, we have established a network to help churches engaged in Holistic Mission (the workshop I attended) in an effort to continue searching for Biblical answers and workable models that seek to present the whole Gospel to the whole person.

Local Challenges
Lay Pastor suspended

It was with profound sorrow that we as a consistory found it necessary to suspend one of our lay pastors from office for making sexual advances to a sister of the congregation in Patuy. This is a severe blow to us as the brother involved was one of our most promising young men. We urge the North American churches to uphold our lay pastors in prayer. This is especially difficult for the young congregation in Patuy.

Opposition in Chivaquito
For a number of years now, our team of lay pastors has been targeting Chivaquito, one of the larger communities in the area North of Chixoy River. It has a strong Roman Catholic presence and has been resistant to the Gospel. Until very recently, our efforts were unsuccessful. As an evangelism team we pondered concentrating our efforts elsewhere. However, just as we came to the end of our efforts, God sovereignly began to work. We now have about 5 families. Among them is a converted catechist.

The community is now alarmed at our presence and is asking us to leave them alone. They have had a number of community meetings to deal with us. We value prayer for the local lay pastors as we continue to preach in this area. Persecution is being stepped up. Slander is the preferred method and in a culture where oneÕs name is valued highly, the temptation to withdraw is strong.

Earlier in the year, our translators attended workshop offered by Wycliffe Bible translators. We have restructured the process and re-activated the revision committees: one deals with content and the other deals with reading and comprehension. We prepared the revisionists via workshops and thankfully, there is a spirit of co-operation and a desire to produce a translation that is clear, readable and accurate. Changes imposed by the government regarding a new alphabet have presented a unique challenge, but Achi readers are beginning to understand the reason for the new alphabet.

One member of the translation team is working on the second stage of an Achi literacy program. The first phase is currently being used by about 100 Achi speakers. In addition to working on the Bible, our translators continue to refine our song book and a dictionary-grammar book. The latter will help to standardize vocabulary and expressions. Translation is slow work. Please pray for these brothers.

At the moment the translators are working on some of the historical books. We are in the final stages of revising Ruth. It has been a most rewarding experience and we trust that before long, many of the Achi Òwill come to find refuge under the wings of YahwehÓ (Ruth 2:12).

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