God’s Word Creates New Life in Barren Lands


Dear Partners,

What could be more barren and lifeless than a forgotten prison in a foreign land? Nothing.

What possibly could cause life to spring up in that spiritual desert? Only one thing: the Word of God!

Listen to Isaiah 55’s description of the life-giving nature of the God’s Word:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.   Isaiah 55:10-11

Like the nourishing effects of rain upon the earth, God’s Word accomplishes His purposes. Isaiah goes on to describe the transformative effects of the Word:

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.   12-13

This response is truly remarkable, especially when you remember Genesis 3 and the punishment God gave to humankind after sin entered the world: work would be painful and toilsome with the land bringing forth thorns and thistles.

According to Isaiah 55, God’s Word reverses the curse found in Genesis 3 by bringing a cypress tree instead of a thorn and a myrtle instead of brier, creating new life in a barren land. This is the response we are witnessing as God’s Word goes forth in the lives and ministries of those we train in the Philippines.

Take a woman named Cely, a woman suffering with stage four breast cancer, for example. She has been so changed by her pastor’s preaching that she said, “I’m going to sponsor your training on another island.” Her pain and discomfort from cancer didn’t stop her from taking a two-hour plane trip to join her pastor for training. And you might think that her unbelieving husband would oppose her investment of time and money, but his words to his wife say otherwise: “If the gospel can change you like this, than I need to entrust my money to people like them!”

Or listen to what God is doing through His Word in a Filipino prison after a handful of TNTers (Training National Trainers) began training hardened criminals with our materials. Three of these men who received training have been released from prison, and here is what they are up to:

  • One is being discipled and trained by a pastor for future ministry
  • Another is already planning on taking TNT into another prison
  • Jonathan, the third, has just taken on a pastorate with a church called New Life Churchhow appropriate!

We are seeing the truth of Isaiah 55 right before our very eyes!

God’s Word is not coming back void—God is turning thorns into cypress trees and bringing new life.

Praise God for His life-giving Word!

Your prayers and financial partnership are helping God’s Word water thirsty souls like Cely, Jonathan, and countless others in the Philippines and around the world.

From myself and everyone at LRI:

Thank you!

craig1Craig Parro



PS: Our work in the Philippines is flourishing, but our funding is not. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet found the partners that we had hoped for. We’re praying that the Lord might nudge you to meet this urgent need as we walk towards eliminating a current deficit!

PPS: Also join us in prayer for the salvation of Cely’s husband who has noticed his wife’s transformation. God is still bringing about new life!

When you donate, please choose “Other” under designation and enter “PHID 3/16” in the comments field.


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Challenges & Priorities for Ministry Leaders in Latin America (Part Two)

This is Part Two of an interview with Juan Sanchez on the state of gospel ministry in Latin America. Read Part One to hear Juan’s testimony and hear some ways God is at work in Latin America.

You can download the audio (right click) or listen to our conversation below.

Note: Part Two of the interview begins at 11:50.

Kevin: You’ve already mentioned some, but what are other major challenges or barriers currently facing gospel ministry in Latin America?

juansanchezJuan Sanchez: There are a lot of challenges. When the Protestant Reformation was taking place, Queen Isabella had a stronghold on Spain, and Spain was conquering lands. This is the time when the Reformation was taking place. You have the Spanish conquest of new lands, the Spanish inquisition, there’s persecution of Non-Catholics in Spain at the hands of Spain. It seems like the Protestant Reformation somewhat bypassed the Spanish-speaking world. Calvin sent missionaries to Argentina, that’s recorded history. There is some missionary work taking place, but essentially, the Reformation bypassed [Latin America]. What we have is, conquistadors going to New Spain (what we call Mexico), and the conquistadors are imposing their rule. Some priests were imposing Catholicism by force, some priests had good intentions of helping the indigenous people. Imagine a Catholicism imposed on indigenous peoples. What ended up happening is that since it was imposed by force, of course they said “yes”, but they maintained their folk religion and their animism, and their own perspectives underneath Catholicism. What you ended up having is a mixed Christianity, under which was all kinds of beliefs. In Cuba, you have Santería, in these places you have a veneer of Christianity, under which are animism, idolatry, all kinds of folk religions. There’s a mixture of theology and understanding—that’s a real challenge. People still hold to certain rituals. I don’t know if you saw recently that the Pope was just in Mexico. In Mexico, Catholicism has a real cultic hold on people. They will travel on their knees for a significant amount of time punishing themselves for the Virgin of Guadalupe. That’s a challenge.

It seems like the Protestant Reformation somewhat bypassed the Spanish-speaking world.

Then you have educational challenges, there are some countries where people are not well-educated, the literacy rates are low, and that becomes a problem to propagate the message of words. Then you have the gospel brought in through confusing evangelistic methods. Then you have a legalism that has come in through some denominations, some missionaries. Then this extreme hyper-Pentecostalism, neo-Pentecostalism, that really is kind of like a gateway to the prosperity movement. So you have a mixture of all of these things, and people are confused about what Christianity is. You have names like Cash Luna and Marcos Witt that are infecting the Spanish-speaking world with prosperity movement theology. And those are all challenges to a population that is very traditional in many senses, and thinks that they are Christian because of the Catholic conquest. In fact, there is great gospel need in the Spanish-speaking world.

…there is great gospel need in the Spanish-speaking world.

Those are some of the big challenges, and of course, you have the reality of resources—there aren’t a lot of resources in Spanish. One of our desires is to see Hispanic theologians raised up and trained so that we can have Spanish theologians, Spanish church historians, Spanish New Testament scholars, Spanish Old Testament scholars, people who are writing for the church from the population, so it’s not just things that are translated to Spanish but actual Hispanic theologians writing for the Spanish speaking world.

Kevin: It’s one thing to have a copy of Grudem’s Systematic Theology translated, it’s another thing to have a native hitting hard issues like syncretism and the prosperity gospel. That’s a great vision, and I’ll be praying for scholars and theologians to rise up and influence the Latin American church in a great way.

That being said, what should other priorities be for pastors and missionaries in Latin America as they minister toward a gospel-reformation?

Juan Sanchez: First of all, it is foundational to have a good theology, to know the Bible. Because a lot of people go into places (and this is missions in general), and the first things they see are some of the physical needs. For example, you see this in Cuba. What happens is, a lot of physical needs can be met, and people can be blessed. But the way I look at it is if I can spend a week in Cuba, my time is best spent with pastors training them and equipping them, learning from each other, because they are with their congregations 365 days out of the year, and I’m just there a few days out of the year.

It is important for us to think strategically—what are the most significant and strategic things we can be doing with the limited amount of time we will be in a specific place.

It is important for us to think strategically—what are the most significant and strategic things we can be doing with the limited amount of time we will be in a specific place. So, there’s a tendency to build buildings or bring humanitarian relief, and some of that may be necessary in some places, but the priority really needs to be…with national pastors, the people who are before the congregations. To make it a priority to equip them, to train them, to resource them, because if we can equip the pastors and help them understand how to multiply leadership, how to establish cultures of discipleship, then we are spending a lot of time with a small number of people, and that small number of people is going to multiply that ministry that we had with them.

Kevin: We are really like minded in that, because our training program in Latin America and around the world is called Training National Trainers, we will work with about 15-20 pastors over four years in biblical exposition and talk about Christ-centered ministry and launch them to train others and start a movement of God’s Word in those places.

What are some of the projects that The Gospel Coalition and Coalicion Por El Evangelio are undertaking to spread Gospel-centered ministry to Latin America?

Juan Sanchez: First of all, the translation of resources in Spanish is one. The works of John Piper, Tim Keller, and others are being translated into Spanish because there is such a dearth of resources. It’s a challenge because that’s not going to be a money-making operation for publishers. Publishers have to understand this is a ministry. Bill Walsh, with TGC-International Outreach does a great job of selecting helpful resources and then raising the funds for the translation. To address what he’s called the “Theological Famine Relief.” Every time we have a conference, people can give to bundle the books that will go to different parts of the world. Not just Spanish speaking, there’s translation in French, in different languages, whatever is needed. That’s one big piece of that.

Gracia Sobre Gracia - La Nueva Reforma en el Mundo Hispano

Another thing that International Outreach is doing is taking part in original works in Spanish. Gracia Sobre Gracia was a TGC project, in partnership with Poeima, a Spanish publisher out of Medellin, Colombia. We were able to put that together pretty quickly and get that out through the help of all of these partners working together. Also, 9Marks has most of their works already translated into Spanish. Through International Outreach, we can put those books in the bundles going out to pastors and also producing original work. Jairo Namnun, who is the executive director of Coalicion, and Steven Morales, who is one of the editors for Coalicion, have put together a compilation of blog posts called Textos Fuera de Contexto (Texts Out of Context), and that will be out at Together for the Gospel here in April. I’ve just written 1 Peter for You with The Good Book Company, and that will come out in English and in Spanish at Together for the Gospel. Poeima helped us with the Spanish side, and International Outreach is helping us to give away copies to everyone who comes to the Spanish pre-conference. So that’s another piece. One piece is the production of resources in Spanish, whether translation or original works in Spanish, and a second piece is events.

1 Peter for You Juan Sanchez - The Good Book CompanyThe purpose of events is to bring together, in one place, leadership from the Spanish-speaking world to equip them and encourage them through conferences. We had our first one in April in Orlando last year, we had about 700 people who showed up, which was overwhelming for us, and this April we will have our second National Conference, in Louisville, KY the day before Together for the Gospel. Miguel Nunez will be speaking, Dr. Albert Mohler will be speaking, Dr. John MacArthur will be speaking, and I will be speaking, and then we will have some panels that will address some of the issues that the Spanish-speaking church is facing. The conference title is “Despierta: Una Llamada a Lideres de Latino America” [AWAKE! A Call to Latin American Pastors and Church Leaders]. We are calling for an awakening.

Also, this is a third piece, it will kind of be the umbrella under which these other things occur, is at The Gospel Coalition pre-conference, we will be publicly announcing for the first time Coalicion Por El Evangelio, which will be a coalition of Spanish-speaking pastors and ministry leaders that will function in a similar way as The Gospel Coalition right now. We are really excited about that, we will have our first official meeting in Louisville, KY the days before the pre-conference, and then we’ll have the pre-conference. We are looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do.

Kevin: That’s amazing. I have been personally blessed by a number of those resources you’ve mentioned and something you’ve mentioned is their website and the wealth of resources there in English and in Spanish that I know the Lord is really using around the world.

Juan Sanchez: That’s another piece, the Coalicion website. The traffic on there is off the charts. That’s one of the ways we can respond immediately as situations arise. As you can imagine, a book takes some time to put together, to edit, and to print, but the website allows us to immediately respond and address. Those are different pieces, kind of together. Through Coalicion, we are addressing some of the needs in the Spanish-speaking world. The next piece will be doing some events in different countries, particularly to try and be where people who can’t travel to the US can be.

Kevin: A number of those articles have helped me as a missionary to Latin America but stationed here in the US. I’m not always able to contextualize like I would prefer, only traveling down there a few times a year, but I know there’s a large number of people the website is really blessing.

Last question—a practical one for readers—how can we pray for this conference, and for the spread of the gospel among Spanish speakers?

Juan Sanchez: An awakening is a sovereign work of the Lord. We can’t concoct it, we can’t create it, no matter what we call an event, it’s a sovereign work of the Lord. First and foremost, we are praying for an outpouring of the Spirit on the Spanish-speaking world.

And also, we’re praying for partners who can help in this work. For example, here in the United States we have a lot of resources, and there are churches that can partner with Spanish ministries to provide these resources. Another way we can be praying is to ask God how you can help. It could be that someone reading this could be drawn, a desire in them could grow to visit a Spanish-speaking country or learn about Spanish-speaking ministry, or maybe they have Spanish-speaking skills that they can develop and utilize right where they are. One of the things about the United States is how quickly the Spanish-speaking population is growing. There are things that we can do here that will help reach the Spanish speaking world.

Also, pray that God would raise up faithful leaders in the Spanish-speaking world in Latin America, faithful young men who will give themselves to the Lord and give themselves to the church of the Spanish-speaking world to lead, to pastor, to teach, to be equipped in seminaries, to begin theological training ministries in the Spanish-speaking world. Those are big picture things: pray for an outpouring of the Spirit, pray for God to raise up leaders who will lead the church and train other workers, and pray how you personally can be a part of this.

Kevin: Thank you Pastor Juan for your service for the Kingdom and your time for this interview. See you at T4G!

Editor’s Note: Juan Sanchez will be speaking at the Spanish pre-conference at Together for the Gospel (AWAKE! A Call to Latin American Pastors and Church Leaders) this April.

Leadership Resources will also be there and have representation at the Awake pre-conference and the main T4G conference (April 11th-14th). Contact us if you would like to learn more about how your church can equip pastors in biblical exposition in Latin America and around the world.

Ministering Toward a Gospel-Reformation in Latin America: Interview with Juan Sanchez (Part One)

Gospel Reformation in Latin America - Juan Sanchez of The Gospel Coalition

Did the Protestant Reformation largely bypass Latin America?

That is what many people say, including Pastor Juan Sanchez (@manorjuan), Senior Pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, TX. Juan will be speaking at this year’s Together for the Gospel Conference (and Spanish Pre-Conference) in Louisville, Kentucky. This year’s T4G theme is We Are Protestant: The Reformation at 500.

t4g_2016promo_slideI recently had the privilege of interviewing Pastor Juan on the state of gospel ministry in Latin America. Some points covered in the interview:

  • An overview of some of the trends and movements taking place in Latin America
  • Priorities for pastors and missionaries serving in Latin America
  • Specific ways to pray for the spread of the gospel in Latin America

You can download the audio (right click) or listen to our conversation below.

Note: Part One of the interview ends at 11:50.

Kevin Halloran at Leadership Resources: I first heard your testimony in the book Gracia Sobre Gracia that The Gospel Coalition put out. Can you briefly share your testimony with readers and your path toward ministry?

Juan Sanchez: I grew up in the Catholic church and was born in Puerto Rico. My dad was involved in politics, and that was pretty heated, as it still is in Puerto Rico. But in 1973, he moved us to Central Florida. We went to a Catholic church there in Avon Park, Florida. I became an altar boy and, unlike my parents, I was pretty devout as a Catholic. I heard the gospel the first time when I was 15 years old when we were vacationing in Colorado Springs, visiting my dad’s sister. All I remember of the preacher is that he was preaching Christ, and at that time in my own warped understanding, I was confused as to why he was talking so much about the Son when the Father is who is most important in the Trinity. I didn’t have a real good theology, but that is how I felt. I left feeling angry.

A friend of mine invited me to lifeguard at a camp that next summer, and so I heard the gospel a second time because it was a Christian camp. I heard the gospel every night, and I went to my friend and rationalized the gospel. I told him we believe the same things; I went through the apostle’s creed, reciting it, and everything that I believed, he believed. So I left there having rationalized the gospel.

A year later, 1983, my last year in high school, some friends invited me to play softball for their Baptist youth team. And so I had to go to church once a month, but it wasn’t an issue for me. I was going to their youth group meetings and ended up going every week, hearing the gospel there, hearing the testimonies, and I realized that I knew a lot about God—I was devout and believed orthodox theology, generally speaking, Nicene theology—but I didn’t know God personally. That to me was a realization, it wasn’t a dramatic testimony, I wasn’t wandering away, I was seeking God, and knew a lot about God but didn’t know Him personally. That’s when I came to realize I needed Christ, that I was sinful, and that I needed forgiveness for my sin. That’s when I became a Christian. I graduated from high school shortly thereafter, my best friend’s mom discipled me for a few weeks before I went into Navy boot camp.

I was devout and believed orthodox theology, generally speaking, Nicene theology—but I didn’t know God personally.

And so, I became a Christian, was discipled a few weeks and was right into the world, so to speak, Navy boot camp. We didn’t have many privileges, but one of the privileges we had was reading. I read a lot of the Bible during that time. I didn’t necessarily have the desire for ministry [at the time], but I served at a church in San Diego, then went to the University of Florida and got a scholarship there with the NAVY. I was in the Navy ROTC, I wanted to fly for the Marines.

I started working at a church when I was 19 years old and realized this is what I wanted to do with my life. Again, nothing very dramatic, but the Lord was directing the desires of my heart. So, I relinquished my scholarship and I went back, finished my enlistment contract, finished a music degree, a music education degree—that was the fastest way for me to get out of college. My last semester of college I started my seminary work.

Kevin: You took quite the leap of faith leaving your chosen career path to serve the Lord. You are currently Senior Pastor at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, TX. What are some of the other ministries you are involved with?

Juan Sanchez: Presently, I serve on the council of The Gospel Coalition. It is a great privilege to serve with other pastors as well. I’m on the Executive Board at this time for The Gospel Coalition. One of the things I really enjoy doing is meeting with pastors and encouraging and equipping pastors. I get to do that with 9Marks out of Washington, DC, trying to build healthy churches, and most of the work that I do with 9Marks is in the Spanish-speaking world. I also get to do that with the Charles Simeon Trust, out of Chicago mainly, but their team is scattered. I do that in English and in Spanish. I enjoy meeting with pastors for a few days, working through different books to sharpen our skills on expositional preaching that points to Christ and is applied appropriately to the people. Those are the two main things I enjoy doing as far as equipping pastors is concerned, formally. I also serve on the board of a ministry in Cuba called Equipo Impacto, which is kind of like a sister organization to the Simeon Trust. The brother that I work with over there was trained by Proclamation Trust, he went to Cornhill and studied there. Very similar, training in expositional preaching. We get to train pastors. I travel to Cuba at least once a year and we train on the island and work with pastors and help them hone their skills in expositional, Christ-centered preaching. It’s a great joy to be able to do that.

Kevin: Excellent. Leadership Resources, our organization, was heavily influenced by Proclamation Trust also, and we even had David Jackman come and lead training for staff sometime last year. [Watch a short clip of David Jackman answering the question, “Who is in the driver’s seat of your church?” or an interview with him on expository preaching and and training.]

Juan, you have a pretty unique view of Latin America having lived in Puerto Rico, southern Florida, and still ministering in Latin America. What are some of the notable things God is currently doing among Spanish-speakers in Latin America and the US?

Juan Sanchez: There are different contexts, and one of the things we have to be careful of is thinking monolithically. For example, asking, “What is God doing in the United States?” There are lots of things that God is doing in different places through different ministries and different churches and in different people groups and language groups. It’s the same in the Spanish-speaking world. What God may be doing in Cuba is not the same as what He might be doing in Puerto Rico, for example.

One of the things that I’ve learned is that there seems to be a movement that is embracing the gospel more and more in the Spanish speaking world. That’s one great big umbrella idea we can talk about. We might call it a “Gospel Awakening”—and we’re praying for that. In the Dominican Republic, there are some very strong gospel churches that have reformation theology and their influence is being felt throughout Latin America.

One of the things that needs to take place is the training of the national pastors to rightly handle the word of God.

In Cuba, the gospel is spreading rapidly. It’s interesting to know that there are a lot of people and a lot of ministries working in Cuba presently. As you can imagine, the gospel is spreading, but it’s spreading at different speeds and in different depths. One of the problems in Cuba is that the gospel is spreading rapidly, but it is wider than it is deep.

One of the things that needs to take place is the training of the national pastors to rightly handle the word of God. A lot of people come with different agendas with different methods. You can see all kinds of things going on. The encouraging thing about Cuba is that you can see the people are very well educated, generally speaking. They love to read, they love to be equipped, they love to train, they love to study. Then you go to Puerto Rico, and it’s a different context. The gospel work is not really strong there, from what I’ve seen. Others may have seen better work there than I have. But the political and economic situation in Puerto Rico make it hard for people to live and it makes it hard for young people to even stay on the island. You have a lot of flight of the younger generations because Puerto Ricans are born United State citizens, they can just come to the United States and find a job—get educated in Puerto Rico, and then leave. That’s hurting the churches. It’s difficult to encourage even pastors to stay there or plant churches to go there because it is very difficult ministry. So there are some good works in Puerto Rico, but it is a very different context. Mexico is very different. The Dominican Republic is very different, it’s strong, it’s flourishing, there are large churches there preaching the gospel. Then you have different work in different parts of the world. In Argentina, in Cordova, there’s strong work there in a seminary there that’s training up pastors. So, it’s very different depending on where you go and the culture.

Part Two of our conversation discusses obstacles to ministry in Latin America, priorities for pastors and missionaries, and ways we can pray for the spread of biblical ministry in Latin America. Read Part Two.

Leadership Resources will have representation at the Awake pre-conference and the main T4G conference as well (April 11th-14th). Contact us if you would like to learn more about how your church can equip pastors in biblical exposition overseas.

Together for the Gospel 2016 Spanish Pre-Conference Awake

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