The story of more than 40 years of our life with Latin Americans came together in a very special way in 2017.
During the second half of the year, I learned important lessons. Those lessons reminded me that we don’t walk through life alone. This story would not have happened without you:
In 2017, I received two special recognitions — first in Bogotá, Colombia, and then, close to São Paulo, Brasil. Both times, I was left speechless at the current impact of movements that I helped support in their early years. I cannot take credit for what they are accomplishing, or how they re-map the direction and extent of Christian growth. But I do embrace my participation in each as an “unfinished project”.
The first of the two special recognitions came at the COMIBAM Congress in Bogotá last September.
COMIBAM IV was a big celebration that drew 1850 people to Colombia from 55 countries around the world for a whole week. There they marked 30 years since 3000 Latin American evangelicals met in São Paulo to first announce the birth of a new missions movement. Until that time, Latin Americans, as we did, thought of their countries as mission fields.
In the early 1990’s I worked in COMIBAM to transform an idea into a continent-wide organization capable of supporting this new movement. Under the leadership of Rudy Girón, we laid a foundation to coordinate the growth of this new movement in each of the 25 countries of the Latin world as they began to send cross-cultural missionaries to the rest of the countries of the world.
A month later, I received another special recognition, this time from AMTB in Brazil.
Though some might say Brazil is included in Latin America, Brazilians speak a different language and were formed by a very different history. Brazil has its own missions movement that predates COMIBAM. Lois and I moved to Brazil as new missionaries 40 years ago. At that time, Brazilian evangelicals were just beginning to think about sending missionaries to other parts of the world, and we got involved.
I ended up at the founding meeting of the Brazilian Transcultural Missions Association (AMTB) and was elected to be on the first AMTB Board. So, in 2017, a month after COMIBAM in Bogotá, AMTB celebrated 35 years since its founding—at the CBM (Brazilian Congress on Missions) near São Paulo—and they gave special recognition to the 1982 founding board, including me. Both recognitions meant a lot to me. I have been far from both organizations for several years.
I exited AMTB before our work actually produced the results we aimed for. Back then, there wasn’t a lot we could actually do except pray. And we did a lot of that. Our work focused more on “potential” than on actual productivity. We could only hope that Latin Americans and Brazilians would eventually live up to that potential and find ways send their missionaries, bless the nations, and extend the invitation to follow Jesus in new cultural contexts.
I embraced the idea that AMTB and COMIBAM were “unfinished projects” at a meeting one afternoon at COMIBAM. Dr. Juan Martinez (my Ph.D. mentor at Fuller) and I met for coffee across the street from the convention center. It was the first time we sat down since when I told him I would not be finishing my Ph.D. That afternoon, Dr. Martínez challenged me to find ways to write up, publish or teach based on the work I had done. The time had not been wasted. I had learned something useful that others could build upon and he suggested that this didn’t need to be an “unfinished project.” And that played with my sense of guilt!
The guilt lifted when we started talking about what was going on across the street at COMIBAM! There, another of my “unfinished projects” was showing a lot of life. The work that some of the young people were doing there promised to produce so much more! New alliances between them and shared visions they will follow, combined with a skill level beyond the improvisation we relied on, promises to bring great blessing to the world.
In Brasil, AMTB, another of the projects I left “unfinished” also continues to grow and be fruitful 35 years after I didn’t finish what I started.
Don’t get me wrong. I admire and aspire to emulate people who start projects and carry them to completion. We need a lot more people like that. But this last year gave me perspective regarding things I didn’t finish.
- My projects, being unfinished, connected with movements that produced more than I could.
- Movements produce great outcomes precisely because they are aren’t finished yet.
- Shared prayers and dreams are great ways to align a movement with God’s promises, and participate in their fulfillment.
- I am involved today in another new project that I will not finish.
- I was in the right place to receive these honors because I accepted an invitation from Brazil to work in Martureo. Martureo is how I connect today with the answers to our prayers and dreams from 40 years ago.
- You are participants in this story with us.
- On a personal level, I owe it to you that I have been able to show up over these years.
- Your participation in these new movements has led to an important new chapter in the story of the human family through the gospel.
In Martureo, the Brazilian Center for Missiological Reflection, our prayers, and dreams, are that we can create a space for a new generation of Brazilian leaders to use for thinking together, in decades after we are gone, about how to enter the world from Brazil in light of the gospel.
We were pretty limited 40 years ago. We didn’t have much in our bag of tricks to assist Brazilians and Latin Americans or help them get off to a good start. But prayers and hopeful actions did the trick. As I continue to work in Martureo for a few more years, prayers and actions based on the hope of the gospel continue to have the best chance of making this last unfinished project fruitful.
Thank you for your continued participation. If you wish to contribute you can do so here.