Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An observation about Latin American ministry

Today I received an invitation to a series of workshops / conferences (think big organisation, lots of speakers, big deal) aimed at gospel ministry in Latin America. The organisation was one I hadn't heard of, I won't be going, and I wish them well.

But - the invitation gave an interesting insight into what they, and I suspect many others think of when they say "ministry to latin america".

By definition, Latin America is the Spanish-speaking part of the Americas. It includes the rapidly growing hispanic population in the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America (although because of Portuguese, Brazil is sometimes left out.) Think from the US/ Canada border to almost the south pole. That is a lot of countries and a lot of people.

The interesting thing is, this organisation is holding 4 major events next year to "take the gospel to Latin America" but 3 of those 4 events are in the United States. The 4th is in Mexico City.

It is interesting because it demonstrates a perception (and I have no reason to object to the perception) that the centre of latin america is the United States. The thinking is, if you want to do something to impact the latino world, you do it in the United States - probably somewhere like Miami, Houston or Los Angeles.

This has an interesting implication for ministry and theological education.

It means that the tendency is to look north of the border for resources, training and funding. For example, a common model for US churches to be involved in the "mission work" of training pastors is to try and find a US institution that will offer a scholarship, coach the guy like crazy so his English is good enough, and bring him to seminary in the US away from his home country for 3 or 4 or 5 years.

At the end of that time, he may or may not return. There are plenty of churches in the US who want a well trained and well thought-out Spanish speaking pastor, and they are looking at these scholarship graduates. Remember that this is the guy who has won the scholarship and has got his English going  - so he is a good guy! But that creates a brain drain. The best and brightest often get taken away, and may never come back.

There are some that do, but they are the exception.

Its a tricky situation, because training institutions in Latin America that will do a good job of solidly preparing someone for word ministry are not common. A few exist, but they are not common. But a constant sucking away of the next generation of leaders and teachers is perpetuating that problem.

This is why in-country training, whether it be by distance or in a classroom is so important. It teaches people in their own context, it encourages them to serve in their own country once the training is over, and it builds the momentum of education and training in areas where it is needed.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Salty light

I'm preaching at our church this Sunday - always a daunting prospect in Spanish. Even more so this weekend, because the passage I've been give is Matthew 5:13-16 (you are the salt of the earth... you are the light of the world.)

Two things have come to my attention as I've worked on this passage and thought about how to explain and apply it.

1. The "you" is plural - is is "yous". Of course saying this in English makes you sound like a Collingwood supporter, but in Spanish there is a very normal plural you. Seeing this has made me think about the "corporate" aspect of what Jesus is saying here. He is not just addressing a whole lot of individuals as individuals - he is speaking to the group.

What that means is that the application questions "What does this passage mean for me?" changes slightly to "What does this passage mean for us?"

2. In the second image, which is the only one with an exhortation attached, we, being the light of the world, are told what to do with our light. No surprises here - we are to shine it.

But what was a little surprising for me, was the purpose for which the light should shine. It wasn't for us (the shiners), but for whom it shone upon (the shinees??)

The purpose of shining is the light is not so that we will be shiny, but so that those who are looking at the light will give glory to God.

Call me slow (thank you .... I heard that), but I hadn't really thought about that before. So often we want to concentrate our life on ourselves, how we can live better lives, be more godly etc, but here is an encouragement to do that so that others will benefit.

I like that.

Of course it is not some dazzling new theme in the Bible, Paul tells us to count others more significant than yourselves (Phil 2:3), but here is a great example of it.

Be salt, be light - so that others may glorify God.