Protestant missionary interest in Latin America reaches far back, to American colonial times. No less a figure than the great Boston preacher Cotton Mather, along with his seminary-trained friend and chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, Samuel Sewall, tried to spark a Protestant missionary effort in Middle and South America. At that time the European powers were struggling with Spain for supremacy of the West Indies in the conflicts that led up to the War of the Spanish Succession. A brilliant linguist and prolific writer, Mather taught himself Spanish and authored the first American-printed book in that language. His purpose in writing it was to evangelize Latin America. In his Diary (January, 1699), Mather reports:

[As] the way for our communication with the Spanish Indies opens more and more I sett myself to learn the Spanish Language. The Lord wonderfully prospered mee in this Undertaking; a few leisure Minutes in the Evening of every Day in about a Fortnight, or three weeks time, so accomplish’d mee, I could write very good Spanish. Accordingly I compos’d a little Body of the Protestant Religion, in certain Articles, back’d with irresistible sentences of Scripture. This I turn’d into the Spanish Tongue; and am now printing it with a Design to send it by all the ways that I can into the several parts of South America … as not knowing whether the time of our Lord Jesus Christ to have glorious Churches in America bee not at hand (Harry Bernstein, Making An Inter-American Mind, 1961, pp. 6 ff.).

Apparently it was not yet the “time of our Lord” for the Gospel to penetrate the Southlands.

About five years after Mather’s little book had broken trail, Judge Sewall kept the large design alive by writing to the Society ...

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