I enjoy Latin American culture. It is complicated, unique, fascinating. Latinos are known as warm, vibrant, and gracious people. As a Texan, where Anglos have ceased to be a majority and three out of every ten Texans speaks Spanish,[ref]http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/01/24/in-2014-latinos-will-surpass-whites-as-largest-racialethnic-group-in-california/[/ref] I feel a greater connection to my Latino friends than maybe those not from the Southwestern United States. Indeed, our “national” food in the Lone Star State is a marriage between cultures: Tex-Mex. I’ve even begun to teach myself Spanish over the last few years. I not only find it a beautiful language but one that better connects me to my Latino friends. So, when I was asked to go to Central America to connect with potential church planters, I jumped at the chance.
Last week I had the privilege of being a part of Plantadores, the first Acts 29 Network Conference held in Spanish-speaking Latin America. The conference was hosted in Guatemala City at Casa de Libertad, an Acts 29 member church led by Pastor Francisco Bendfeldt. He and Jay Bauman, an Acts 29 pastor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, are co-directors of the fledgling Acts 29 Latin American region. In my two days spent at the conference, I was blown away by what I experienced.
The first thing I noticed was the passion Francisco and his team at Casa de Libertad had for planting gospel-centered churches all throughout Central America. It’s been said that much of Latin America is experiencing a wave of Protestantism unseen in a history dominated by colonial Catholicism. Today, Latin American countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and others boast of a population that surveys itself as 40 to 50% Christian. But these numbers can be somewhat misleading. The predominant Christian influence is Pentecostalism and, from what one hears, most is of the dangerous prosperity gospel. For example, I was told that 90% of Guatemalans who identify themselves as Christians believe that the ‘health/wealth’ message of the prosperity movement is sound biblical, Christianity. This notion was affirmed in many other conversations with Hondurans, Venezuelans, and other Latin American pastors at the conference. This only served to deepen the resolve of Francisco and his team to develop and commission church planters from Casa in addition to raising the call to Central and South Americans to plant gospel-centered churches.The vibrancy of Christianity, which had been located in North America for the last few centuries, is now shifting to places like China, Africa, and the countries of Central and South America. This should call us to greater fervency to see gospel-centered works planted in these regions (and others) – even more so when we see the Spirit stir up men young and old who desire to plant churches in these areas. To wait is to allow other works to hamstring new converts through things like prosperity theology, the chains of legalism, or other harmful teachings. To enjoin the Acts 29 church planting movement (among others) is to be a voice for gospel-centrality, the sovereignty of God in salvation, and the multiplication of local churches. And with around 50% of all Hispanic adults in the US being foreign born,[ref]http://www.pewhispanic.org/2014/04/29/hispanic-nativity-shift/[/ref] helping plant churches in Latin America may be a chance to impact the United States for the gospel in the future.
It is for reasons like these, that my gratitude only deepened for Francisco, Jay, and the other men and women gathered for the purpose of planting gospel-centered congregations from Mexico to Argentina. It’s also why it felt, from an Acts 29 Network point of view, somewhat an historic moment to conclude the conference with an invitation for my fellow Latin American brothers to not only plant churches but to do so with Acts 29. From what I’m seeing and hearing from my Latin America friends, it seems like something really hopeful may be afoot. Oh that the Spirit of God would not only stir up a movement of church planters committed to planting healthy churches but believers in the United States and elsewhere who would be willing to give aid to that cause for the good of Christ’s church and the glory of God.