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.

Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.