LATIN AMERICA / CARIBBEAN
The Assemblies of God in Latin America and the Caribbean is growing despite political uncertainty, economic instability and social unrest. Researchers refer to the expansion among Pentecostal churches as “the most successful social movement of the past century.” The growth is attributed to the absolute priority of emphasizing the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Whatever is accomplished is by God’s power and through His might.
As word spread of the spontaneous outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Azusa Street in 1906, groups of hungry believers gathered in cities and towns to experience an infilling. Many of the newly baptized sensed God’s leading to evangelize overseas, and some felt specifically called to Latin America. By 1910, fervent Pentecostal missionaries had established churches in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
These fellowships grew through door-to-door witnessing, evangelism crusades and church planting. Signs and wonders confirmed God’s Word, and many people came to faith in Christ. Still, persecution was strong. New believers suffered ridicule and were ostracized, and missionaries were sometimes forced to flee to other locations. But the church continued to grow.
Faithful missionaries emphasized the work, power and personal infilling of the Holy Spirit. They believed, practiced and taught indigenous missions principles that helped to establish foundations for national fellowships that have withstood political upheavals, natural disasters and doctrinal extremes. As they mentored relationships and established resident and extension Bible schools, they strengthened the church and prepared national believers for leadership positions.
“Church growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is directly attributable to a Spirit-revealed strategy of missions born in the hearts of humble, faithful Assemblies of God missionary pioneers like Alice Luce, Ralph Williams and Melvin Hodges,” says Regional Director Richard Nicholson.
Rapid church growth and church planting efforts intensified as verifiable miracles influenced people to attend mass evangelism events where thousands committed their lives to Christ. Several media outreaches also played significant roles in spreading the gospel. By 2000, large segments of the population in several Latin American countries attended Assemblies of God churches.
“Impressive church growth in Latin America demonstrates that God is helping missionaries and national believers fulfill His mandate to release the power of the gospel in every corner of every urban center, barrio and village of our region,” says Nicholson. Nearly 27.3 million people now attend more than 198,000 Assemblies of God churches in the region.
Cuba is one of the great church growth testimonies in the history of the Assemblies of God. Missionaries laid the foundation for growth in 1920. Many came to faith in Christ as the Word of God was confirmed with signs and wonders. When political unrest prompted missionaries to leave in 1963, the Fellowship consisted of approximately 42 organized churches, 248 preaching points and 4,100 believers. During the difficult years that followed, the church suffered loss and experience a time of stagnation. But a sovereign move of God began in the mid-1980s. By 1990 the Fellowship numbered 12,000 people in 90 churches. As revival spread, thousands of people came to faith in Christ and hundreds of healings took place. Today 550,000 Cubans hear the gospel each week in more than 8,300 registered churches, house churches or cell group meetings.
The Assemblies of God in Argentina continues to show phenomenal growth. More than 934,000 believers worship in 1,154 churches. Twenty-five years ago, not one AG church had more than 700 members. In Buenos Aires today, three churches have more than 20,000 believers each. While large evangelism outreaches account for much of the church growth, the Fellowship also emphasizes relationship development and discipleship —primarily through cell groups, witnessing, training for ministry, church planting and missions. More than 140 Argentine missionaries are ministering abroad, and eight serve as home missionaries.
Church growth in the Brazil Assemblies of God is overwhelming. Nearly 21.5 million believers worship in more than 148,000 churches and preaching points, and the national fellowship is committed to reaching the entire nation for Christ. In other areas, megachurches with more than 10,000 members in Managua, Nicaragua; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras, are meeting community needs with evangelism and discipleship programs, schools, and compassion ministries.
Although large churches seem at times to be at the forefront, people’s lives also are changed as the gospel is preached in jungle villages and remote communities. Thousands of believers attend small, vibrant churches where faithful pastors endure hardship to minister where modern conveniences are minimal.
UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS
Missionaries to Latin America and national believers have embraced the challenge of reaching the 100 million indigenous, almost forgotten, people throughout the region. Together, they are teaching national believers to be missionaries to their own people. Missionaries provide the missing link to meeting the needs of national churches by supplying ideas, recruiting building teams and resources, and offering the manpower needed to get the job done.
Some people would claim that Mexico, which is 14 percent evangelical according to government statistics, has been effectively evangelized. But the combined percentage of believers in six states of central Mexico is only 2 percent, and in one of those states — Querétaro — only one-quarter of 1 percent is evangelical.
About 5 percent of Brazil, the nation with the most Pentecostals in the world, claims to be disciples of Alan Kardec, a 19th-century French spiritualist. Thousands of others mix traditional folk religion with other forms of worship. Researchers claim that about 50 tribes scattered along the Brazil-Peru border have not only never heard a clear presentation of the gospel but also have never had contact with the outside world.
One 200-village area of Guatemala has no form of gospel witness, and an indigenous tribe in Venezuela still has never heard that Jesus died for their sins and came to bring them life. Other largely unreached groups include these:
- Garifuna of Guatemala
- Toba of northern Argentina
- Macá of Paraguay and Bolivia
- Caribs of Dominica
- Maroons of Jamaica
- Colorados of Ecuador
- Aymaras of Bolivia
- Thousands of tribes in the jungles of Brazil, the Andes Mountains and Central America.
- Muslims and Hindus of the Caribbean
One missionary said, “Everyone, whether corporate executive or Amazon aborigine, must be given a chance to hear the story of Jesus in a way he or she can understand.”
Missionaries and church leaders face several challenges in Latin America. The enemy always seeks ways to divide the church and lead people away from the pure gospel. The apostle Peter warned that false teachers would introduce doctrines contrary to the Scriptures. But God has raised up trained national church leaders in Latin America who are faithfully standing for truth.
Several governments have shifted their political ideologies, and government representatives have warned of upcoming changes. Religious freedom is threatened in some areas, and in one nation it is nonexistent. The incidence of HIV/AIDS is increasing at an alarming rate in the Caribbean. Unemployment and underemployment is growing, with Haiti reporting fewer than 350,000 of the nation’s 8.6 million people gainfully employed.
Crime, including kidnapping, is so rampant in Guatemala that even small businesses employ armed guards. Violence and abuse of women and children plague domestic life in Nicaragua and northern Argentina. Colombia’s government officials report that small towns and rural areas are extremely dangerous because of narcoterrorism. Poverty, unemployment and the machismo image contribute greatly to these problems.
ADDRESSING THE NEEDS
For those outside of Christ, the problems seem overwhelming. But every difficulty is creating open doors of ministry for missionaries and national believers. Thousands are finding Christ, and lives are being changed through
- Radio and television ministries, such as A Message to the Conscience and Unsión Television
- Latin America ChildCare
- Children of Brazil Outreach
- Youth ministries, including King’s Castle ministries
- HealthCare Ministries and medical clinics
- Convoy of Hope outreaches
- Ministries to prisoners and their families, police officers, people affected by HIV/AIDS, and the abused
- Teen Challenge International centers
- Evangelism outreaches
- Resident and extension Bible schools
- Children’s ministries, including Missionettes and Royal Rangers
HOW TO PRAY
While much has been accomplished for God’s kingdom in Latin America and the Caribbean, struggles continue on many fronts.
- People to find Christ and be baptized in the Holy Spirit
- Political and financial stability in the region
- Freedom to preach the gospel in unreached areas
- Favor with government officials
- Safety for missionaries and national believers in high crime areas
- Open doors in areas where indigenous people groups live
- God’s provision for new outreaches
- Missionaries and national church leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean eagerly anticipate all that God will do. They believe the coming years will be the region’s finest. Expectations are high as God continues to change lives.
(Source: Assemblies of God World Missions)
CCC Regional Directors
Matt & Dawn Clarey