There are tens of thousands of people dying without Christ in Colombia. There are billions and billions of people dying without Christ all over the world. There are very, very few people who are willing to share the Gospel with those who need to hear about Christ. Does this seem like a problem to you? It does to me.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God has seen us in our wretched state and decided to offer us a rescue from our fully deserved destruction. John 3:17 tells us, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus is offering us a way to be saved!! But of course, John 3:18 shows us the other side of the situation: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
The Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is only good news because of the alternative. If everyone was destined to go to heaven, then salvation wouldn’t mean much. But oh! There is a choice that is made in the heart of every man, a choice to follow one’s own heart or the heart of the Father. And the consequence of the first is the certain eternal torment of the soul. This is not theoretical!! The death of the unreached soul is a tragedy unequaled on this earth. Those without Christ are condemned to Hell. What shall we do to help?
The Lord said while he was on this earth: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” We are either the workers ourselves or we are praying for them and sending them out. Of course, everyone has the responsibility to proclaim the Good News at home to all those without Christ. But we also have a clear and divine commandment: ask the Lord to send workers out into the mission field. And we have the Great Commission, as well, which tells us to go and teach all nations. Are we going to best help make that mission happen by staying home, giving money, and praying? Or are we best going to make that happen by personally giving everything up in our precious home country and heading out to tell people about Christ over in the regions beyond?
No man can make that decision for you. But that decision must be made. It is a true dichotomy; there are precisely two choices. Either go… or send and pray. For the true Christian, ignoring the need is not an option. Which choice will you make?
First, it is indeed 100% essential for a missionary to speak the language. I, Matt, have been certified by the University of Central Florida as a Spanish-English interpreter, and I can tell you from my own personal experience that all interpreters fall short of getting the full message across. Professional interpreters often fail to correctly and fully convey the intended meaning of what the original language says—imagine someone without professional training and practice! They will miss part of the intended message, and “fill in the blanks” by guessing what the missionary might have said. More than once, I have seen a critical points in a sermon missed by an interpreter.
If a missionary is not comfortable with the Word of God getting muffled or confused, then that missionary has to learn the language of the people he’s trying to reach. That much is basically indisputable. But if God has put missions on your heart, should you only try to reach countries where you already speak the language? Not even close!! Adoniram Judson spent three long years learning Burmese; William Carey spent the first six years from his arrival in India learning Bengali and translating the New Testament. I doubt many would consider them to be ineffective missionaries!
Yes, if God is calling you to be a missionary, then you should be a missionary. And if you should be a missionary, then you should learn the language. But I, Matt, can say from personal experience that any language IS learnable. It IS doable. This is not something that only a select few can do. With a couple of years of hard work and dedication, anyone could learn a new language—and this isn’t even considering the fact that we have a Holy Ghost that we know will continue to perfect us and make us better for doing the work of God on this earth. If God has called you to missions, do not use the language as a cop-out! Be strong and courageous!
When Jesus left Capernaum, he said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore I am sent.” (Luke 4:43) We see that Jesus needed to go from one place to another to tell of the kingdom of God; after all, it would be a tremendous shame if the Son of God were restricted to one single location.
The residents of Capernaum had received an incredible amount of excellent teaching, they had received doctrine from God himself, they had seen the incarnate Son of God, they had access to God’s Holy Word, they had synagogues where they were taught on the Sabbath, and they were quite literally living in God’s country. They had every advantage possible. Jesus’ response at the time was to leave and go to other regions, where the Gospel had not yet been preached.
Capernaum was fairly near to Jesus’ childhood home of Nazareth; its culture was probably familiar to him, and its people certainly spoke the same language and had similar religious practices. Yet Jesus quickly moved from Capernaum to other parts of the country, knowing he had other people to reach.
Colombia is out there, and in most parts of it no one has had a chance yet to find out about Jesus. Like the rest of Israel, Colombia has heard something about God, but they don’t understand the need to repent and believe in the one who can save them simply by the blood he spilled, saving by grace through faith. Yes America needs the Gospel but America is only 4.4 percent of the world’s population. That means that out there is the other 95.6 percent that don’t know much or nothing at all about Jesus and what He did. Wow, I hope this helps you see that we need to send more missionaries to the world. Many people are dying and going to hell everyday all around the world.
I am not saying that America does not need more churches, of course we do but at the same time we must also send as many missionaries as we can to the world. Both should be of equal priority, to evangelize our home country and to evangelize the whole world.
One of the toughest things a missionary has to deal with on the field is the distance between the missionary and the loved ones. While modern-day missionaries do not have to deal with the same lack of communication with the home front that the likes of William Carey had to, it still is a sizable burden that many of their friends and families may not understand.
Living overseas, everything is different. The people are different, the language is different, the climate is different, the culture is different, the food is different, and your dynamic with your family is different. The one thing you count on to have stayed the same is your God in heaven and His Word, who never ever changes. Other than Him, yes, nearly everything else will have changed.
Some missionaries do already speak the language, so their initial culture shock will be lessened. I also speak Spanish, so when I get to Bolivia for my five-month internship, I will have a slightly easier time than the normal. But our parents won’t be there. Our friends we’ve loved for a lifetime won’t be there. Our siblings won’t follow us. Nor will our old jobs, our church, our pastors, our community. Colombia is different. Especially to Mariangela, who has no blood ties to Colombia, everything about it will scream at first: “You are not home.”
One constant that missionaries count on is the love and friendship of the “home front”–Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, and friends. There is simply nothing like getting to spend an hour chatting with someone from back home. What a blessing that is for the man who has had a hard time making friends out on the field. What peace that can bring a woman who’s having a hard time communicating with anyone around her. We as humans were made to be in relationship with people! When those relationships are coming slowly in the new situation, it can be nerve-wracking.
Sometimes, people on the home front think that they’re annoying the missionaries if they reach out to them. That really couldn’t be further from the truth in almost every case! I have NEVER heard of a missionary lamenting getting too much of a connection from home. Instead, they tend to wish people back home had reached out more. They tend to feel FORGOTTEN. When I was in Spain (non-mission reasons), I had only a couple of friends who reached out to me regularly… they meant the world to me. A half-hour call with a family member would make my entire day! The apostle Paul seemed to think communication with the people he loved was important, too—he sent and received many letters, and though he had many important doctrinal points to teach and theological matters to clarify, he took the time to emphasize personal connections (read 2 Timothy 1!) as well as connections with the churches.
If you are not going to the field as a missionary, you’ve probably heard several times that it’s your duty to give money and to pray for them. I’m reminded of Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees in Luke 11:42—yes, the financial support is great, and prayer is necessary, but sometimes all someone needs is a friend. Please, befriend a missionary if you at all can. Support them with your finances if God leads you that way, but certainly support them with your heart. Especially once they’ve reached the mission field, communicate with them! Most every missionary yearns for connection with the homeland. Could you reach out to a missionary?
Colombia beckons, with its tens of millions of people with no chance at salvation through their own merit. Colombians need to hear about the Lord Jesus Christ; churches need to be preaching the Gospel, and church members need to be reaching out to their neighbors.
How do missionaries fit into the dynamic? While there are various strategies for missionary work, the one that our dear Apostle Paul used is the one that a missionary will strive to follow: plant churches, preach the Bible, make disciples, and trust the men you’ve trained to continue the work so you can start it all over again in another location.
Immediately after arriving in Colombia, a missionary must look for a place to live. Within a short, short period of time, they will also be looking for a place to worship. Most missionaries have to attend someone else’s church while learning the language; if the missionaries already speak fluent Spanish, they will be able to skip this phase. Because of this, they may be able to start a church service of their own within the first few months! Depending on where they live, they will almost certainly need one car, and might need two. Again, knowing the language helps a lot, but there are intricacies to foreign law that may be difficult to navigate. They’ll need to buy furniture (sleeping on the floor isn’t going to cut it), get phones, set up bank accounts, register for utilities, fill out paperwork, and put the house in order. And this is assuming everything goes according to plan!
Before very long, they will start to seek out people who are interested in the Gospel. Various strategies have been tried in different Latin American countries. Some missionaries have started free English classes to get the attention of the local people; some have done surveys to “find out what people believe”, using that information to pique people’s interest in the Gospel; some have simply knocked on doors, telling those who answer about the Good News of Jesus. The missionary will find out what methods work best for them in the city they are in, and strive to reach as many lost people as they can. They’ll gather together regularly on Sunday morning and Sunday night and at a midweek service, and build relationships with the nationals to invite them to church to give them the opportunity to follow Christ.
The final goal will be for the missionary to train men and see them discipled into leaders. Like Paul discipled Timothy and Moses discipled Joshua, the missionary will begin discipling men to begin taking over aspects of the ministry. This will be done relationally (life-on-life), with the foundation being the Bible. In roughly four years, the missionary will take a furlough—a trip to the United States to reconnect briefly with family, friends, and supporting churches. The plan will be for nationals to take over the preaching in the church that will have been planted; the missionary can then turn his attention to starting another church once he returns.
God, of course, is the one who will make all of this possible. Yet he has called us to work, and so work we must. Are you called to go? And if not, aren’t you called to send?
What is culture? What makes one culture different than another? And how do different cultures impede or facilitate the spread of the Gospel? What cultural differences are there between Colombia and here? We’ll try to answer these and other important cultural questions in less than 1,200 words. Let’s get going!
In college, they told me that culture is the sum of all the human beliefs and actions from a specific group of people. Whatever it is that Americans think, believe, say and do, that is what makes up American culture. So if we eat lots of hamburgers and sing the national anthem at baseball games, that forms part our culture; if young American men greet each other with hugs while older men greet each other with handshakes, that forms part of our culture; if many of our families are ravaged with alcoholism, abuse, greed, pride, and distrust, that forms part of our culture, too. A superficial look at culture deals with things like festivals and traditional dress, but the important part of culture is how people act, behave, and think on a daily basis.
What are some differences between American culture and Colombian culture? One of the important ones is something we’ve touched on before—the oppressive poverty that pervades nearly every corner of Colombia. America has some poverty, as well, but in Colombia we see it on a much broader level. Most (though not all) people in America do not wonder if they’ll get to eat today; indeed, many of you may not even know someone who is homeless or goes without meals. Another interesting facet of American life is our multi-culturalism. 99% of people living in Colombia speak Spanish, while 80% of people in America can speak English. (Do you know anyone who complains that some people live in the United States without learning English? It bothers nationals in Colombia just as much when missionaries go to them and don’t bother learning the language well!) Americans are far more likely to arrive on time to social gatherings, to give handshakes to friends instead of hugs, to eat at a restaurant than at home—remember the poverty factor!—and to move far away from their family. Colombians tend to have tighter familial bonds. As an American, I moved out of my parents’ house on my 19th birthday to go to a college over 2,000 miles away; many Colombians won’t move out until they are married, and even then might stay in the same neighborhood as their extended family.
What opportunities and difficulties does that present for American missionaries in Colombia? One crystal clear difference: you have got to learn the language. In America, there are many missionaries from Latin America to the Spanish-speaking population; this doesn’t really work in reverse, since there are so few English speakers in Colombia to minister to. On the other hand, one powerful advantage for the missionary comes from tight familial bonds. If one man gets saved, he might lead his entire family to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—which could be thirty people!
I have never lived in Latin America, and so I’m thrilled to experience it firsthand this July when I head to Bolivia for five months. The culture is different in ways that a book or blog post can never fully, fully express; nevertheless, God has already been preparing each man’s heart for the tasks ahead of them. Will you pray that God will give each and every missionary a heart for their people group’s culture? And will you pray that God will raise up more laborers to go and tell the lost people from every culture about Jesus?
Catholicism and Christianity (part 2)
When we talk about Colombia, we want to reach it for Christ. To reach them for Christ, we need to understand what we’re going up against. (Think of Paul, who took the religious background of the Athenians and used it to try to convince them of the one true God.) And in Colombia, that’s largely Catholicism. So we’ll take a bit of a break from our series on Colombian history to talk a bit about the religious climate in Latin America, with a special focus on Colombia.
Catholicism in Latin America can be very broadly divided into three camps: Catholic-tinged apathetic deism, nationalistic Catholicism, and true Catholicism. The first group doesn’t really care what the Catholic church officially says or does, the second group sees Catholicism as a way of affirming their identity, and the third hangs on every word from the Pope, seeing in the church a way to get to heaven. All three need a true knowledge of Christ.
It’s estimated that about 75% of Colombians would call themselves Catholics, but a good two-thirds of those are only occasional attenders of Catholic services. Some of them are apathetic deists—they’ll certainly say that they believe in God, but they don’t seek out a real relationship with him. They would call themselves Catholics, but have no desire to really put energy into even the Catholic church, let alone chasing after Christ. These people need to see how God can make a real difference in people’s lives.
Some are nationalistic Catholics, meaning that they view Catholicism as a part of their identity. They are desperately looking for something to give their life for, something of meaning, something worth basing their identity on. Catholicism—though they would never say it—is a means to an end. They go to mass because that’s what their family has done for generations, or because that’s what good Colombians do, or because they view it as their duty. But attending a church service (be it Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal or Catholic) doesn’t bring you to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. They focus more on the things that distinguish Catholicism, as well—they often have an even greater focus on Mary and on the pagan trappings of Catholicism than the “true believes” do, because Mary is a clear distinguishing mark between Catholics and Evangelicals.
Some Catholics, however, are what you could call the “true believers”, and these are the few who actually believe what the Catholic church teaches. The problem is that they are sincerely believing in a doctrine that is riddled with misconceptions and lies. Catholicism officially preaches that we are initially saved by grace through faith, but the emphasis lies in how we then must constantly prove ourselves worthy of God’s continued grace. (I’ll quote the Catholic official doctrine: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” Emphasis in the original.) Catholic doctrine glorifies good works, it all but deifies Mary, it all but deifies the Pope, it hides the good news of Jesus Christ behind a veil of liturgy, and it leads to a focus on the trappings of religiosity instead of the power of the living Word of God to change lives. The only certifiably true doctrine is found in the Bible, regardless of what the Pope says.
The three kinds of Colombian Catholics that I’ve listed here all need Jesus, and most of them don’t realize it. People who do understand the Scripture need to take responsibility to share this news to the world.
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