"It seems that to appreciate the work of God we have to observe it not only for a year, but for decades. If we continue in the same direction, imagine what we can see during the next 10 years." -- CL, UBA Consultant
by Karen Campbell, UBA Guest Editorstory photos; Iniciativas Misioneras slides
At the turn of the last decade, something began to stir among the Hispanic congregations of UBA. JC* was the UBA consultant serving Spanish-speaking pastors seeking church health. "Missional living" was the talk of the day. "Global/local" was an emerging term to describe those churches who saw God's heart for the nations and wanted to reach out internationally and in their own communities. Lots of conversations were taking place.
A decade later, "talk" has developed increasingly into "actions" with the following results evident among UBA Hispanic congregations: - 7 missionary conferences drawing hundreds of participants - 8 people trained as missions mobilizers - 19 churches represented on trips - 58 participants in trips - 20 pastors on trips - 1 project in Senegal - 6 nations visited - Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal
How did the churches move from talking about missions to actively participating in missions? A timeline researched by UBA consultant CL yields 10 key concepts.
1. Missions must be personal. In 2002, CL was pastor of Iglesia Bautista Horeb while JC served as a Church Consultant at UBA. CL took a trip to Morocco and returned to U.S. with a burden for the people there. A month later JC went to Ethiopia and participated in a workshop regarding sharing the Gospel in areas of persecution. He learned that due to skin color and cultural nuances, Hispanics might have a critical role in reaching Muslims. He too became burdened for sharing the gospel in a persecuted area and wondered how he could help birth that desire among more Hispanic pastors. Both pastors personalized missions by returning to lead their congregations on mission trips, one to Ecuador and the other to Egypt. The next year missions became even more personal as J & S responded to a call to serve in Egypt as missionaries on the field.
2. Prayer leads the way.As interest in trips began to increase, pastors spent much time in prayer. No action was taken without prayer coverings. Prayerwalks were sometimes the only means of outreach available when missions teams walked the streets of a closed, persecuted area. With eyes and hearts open, these seeming tourists served as prayer warriors.
3. Education and awareness multiplies those going and praying. One of JC's final acts as a UBA consultant before leaving for Egypt was to organize the first Impacto Misionero Mundial (IMM) in 2004. This missionary instruction for adults, youth and children continued through 2008, drawing hundreds of participants over the years, and provided a time of learning the biblical basis for God's heart for the nations. In subsequent years, the annual event has taken on various themes and forms but has continued to focus on expanding the vision of Hispanic congregations to reach beyond themselves into the world.
4. Risks must be taken. Each year interest among pastors and church members embracing the challenge of working in Egypt and Africa has grown; however, this has not been without risk. One UBA pastor, JG, who had made numerous overseas trips was finally detained by the police in Egypt for several hours and questioned extensively regarding his evangelistic activities. Then, during a trip in 2010, in spite of the care that had been exercised on previous trips, a group was met at the plane and escorted to their hotel by an armed police officer, ostensibly for their "protection." In Morroco, while more than 100 missionaries were asked to leave in 2010, a woman supported directly by Iglesia Bautista Horeb has chosen to remain.
5. Sometimes the next step is simple and obvious.There was a natural succession of leadership. After JC left UBA, the natural "go-to" person to continue to pursue the missional emphasis among Hispanic pastors was the very pastor who had traveled to Morocco the same year that JC caught the vision on his trip to Egypt. In 2006 CL joined the UBA staff. Commitment often follows experience. A team member who had travelled on a short-term trip with Iglesia Bautista Horeb to Morocco later returned to serve there as a missionary, supported by the church. Pastors - especially those who were learning about church health and transformation in Líderis Transformadores gatherings also led by CL - began participating in annual trips outside the borders.
6. Make adjustments along the way.With Egypt becoming more difficult to penetrate, obstacles increasing, and the key team leader refused re-entry, UBA pastors explored other locales. In 2007, CL had gone to Nigeria with three pastors and returned with a project idea for starting a simple church in a small village. But finances for a return trip were limited and the plans were eventually put on hold. However, during the same year, JG, the pastor detained by police in Egypt, shifted his focus to Senegal. There he met a missionary who was investing in creating disciple-making disciples among the young people. After several more trips involving additional pastors, JG proposed a strategy to create a chicken raising business to provide local income and food. At this time, CL began to encourage a missional focus on one area. Ending his relationship with Nigeria, he too began to travel to Senegal.
7. Investing in people offers a great return. When trips to Egypt were still happening, GL led a group of all women. One of the participants had no money to go, prayed for finances, and received sufficient funds from her mother's workplace. When she came back from Egypt, she enrolled in the university for the next semester and discovered everything was paid for. Now a graduate, she is on staff at the Mission Centers of Houston and enrolled in seminary with plans to eventually serve on the international mission field. The small investment in to the chicken project in Senegal has expanded to a larger emphasis called Project Macedonia involving a couple who visit two villages every week distributing medicine, showing the Jesus film, and preaching. One of the initial interpreters for the Houston pastors and his wife are the two who travel to the villages. They are looking for a place to plant a church.
8. Discovering what works requires understanding the culture. While some might wonder how a "chicken house" can be used for missional purposes, the link is easy for Hispanic pastors to make. Many Spanish-speaking pastors in UBA are leading congregations while holding down other jobs as well. The chicken farm will be self-supporting and self-sustaining as the project includes not only the building but a well.
9. Cultural interpreters open doors to new strategies.The first trip to Senegal netted a long-term relationship with a missionary especially suited to work with the growing number of Hispanic pastors coming his way. During his beginning days in the country, he would go out to the villages, make friends and would open his house for children who couldn't afford to go to school. After five years he has seen 11 teenagers graduate from high school and all are now Christians. Three of them speak Spanish, and they can preach. They have become the UBA interpreters there. These 11 teens live in a house 500 meters from the missionary's home. He has 27 more children in his home - boys and girls. He continues to produce new disciples.
10. Global leads to local which feeds back into global.After observing the impact of this missionary in Senegal, CL became burdened once again for Houston. Recognizing the enormous number of ethnic groups here in Houston, he began to explore how to reach them. Soon he discovered a Hispanic missionary - MG -- who works with refugees, and they introduced "10/40 Window Houston". Referencing once again the area of the world hardest to reach with the Gospel, the name presents a challenge to Hispanic pastors to create a relationship between Hispanics with a particular group - the Bhutanese. Inaugural activities includes providings shoes, prayerwalking, sharing the gospel, and prayer with individuals.
As UBA continues to look to the future, AO, a missionary who served in Mauritania and is not permitted to return, provides another example of global/local/global cycle: Drawing on his experiences in Mauritania, he will now pursue a new role, working with the people from North Africa and the Middle East here in Houston.
"In the last decade, the Hispanic churches have started to look outside and not in toward themselves. The basic change is that ten years ago 'missions' was giving a couple of dollars for the Lottie Moon offering. Now they are doing more than that. They have the thought that 'we are sent.' The lesson is that we need to keep doing what we are doing and with time pastors and churches learn. Maybe we cannot produce an immediate revolution, maybe we are only part of a long process." - CL
*No names are used in this article due to the sensitive nature of outreach in the mission fields. While the individuals themselves may not be at risk, the risk is much greater for those whom they know who remain on the closed mission fields.
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