WILTON M. NELSON
Modern church history offers no more dramatic upsurge of evangelical forces than the phenomenal growth of the Protestant community in Latin America. Already it has passed the ten million mark, with 90 per cent of this growth within the last thirty-five years.
This is the picture gleaned from three recent publications dealing with the subject: C. W. Taylor and W. T. Coggins, Protestant Missions in Latin America, A Statistical Survey, Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, Washington, 1961 (see “Books in Review”); H. W. Coxill and K. Grubb, World Christian Handbook, 1962 Edition, World Dominion Press, London, 1962; and W. S. Rycroft and M. M. Clemmer, A Statistical Study of Latin America, Office of Research of the Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations of the United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., New York, 1961.
At far as we know, in 1800 there was not a single Protestant or evangelical—the two terms are used almost synonymously—in the lands south of the Rio Grande. This part of the world had been colonized by nations, particularly Spain, which were the worst enemies of the Protestant Reformation. King Philip II of Spain in 1569 established the “Holy Inquisition” to crush and to keep out “heresy.” His morbid fear and hatred of Protestantism provoked him to extend this hideous and blighting institution into the New World in a network of tribunals and subsidiary courts.
During the first decades of the nineteenth century the colonials threw off the Spanish-Portuguese political yoke, thereby removing the main obstacle for the entrance of non-Roman Christianity. Protestants were painfully slow in taking advantage of the new situation, however. At first only the Bible societies seemed to sense the need; they began a fruitful work of colportage that laid the foundation for future evangelism.
Not until mid-century did evangelicals from the Protestant missionary societies awake to the fact that Latin America was a large and needy field. And as late as 1910 the missions conference of Edinburgh refused to include Latin America on its agenda. Most churchmen disregarded it as a legitimate field of Protestant missionary activity.
The evangelical movement first progressed at snail’s pace. After seventy-five years of hard work, much sacrifice, and suffering, the Protestant community in the early 1920s numbered only seven or eight hundred thousand, and of these all but 250,000 were foreign colonists. (See Christian Work in South America I, a report on the Montevideo conference of 1925.)
About this time, however, Protestantism began showing signs of life. By 1936 the evangelical population of Latin America had reached 2,400,000, and the majority were Latins. From this point on the evangelical cause surged forward with tremendous momentum, reaching eight million in 1960 (according to Taylor and Coggins) or nine million in 1961 (according to Coxill and Grubb). Actually a careful filling of the gaps in both studies would put the total over ten million in 1960 (see “Catholics and Protestants in Latin America,” p. 8).
Rycroft and Clemmer calculate that the Protestant population in Latin America increased five times as fast as the civil population—the former increasing 15.7 per cent annually, the latter 3.15 per cent. Whether or not the statistical base for this generalization is entirely trustworthy, evangelical growth in some areas has indeed been astounding. Here are some examples:
How are we to explain this rapid growth? We believe the following factors are the most important:
1. The awakening of the world in general to the importance of Latin America, and of the Protestants in particular to the existence of a vast and needy mission field south of the Rio Grande. Until recent years a very small percentage of their personnel was sent by Protestant mission boards to Latin America. Today they are sending 30 per cent. It can no longer be called “the neglected continent.”
2. The rise of a more aggressive evangelism which the fiery and fearless Scotchman, Harry Strachan (founder of the Latin America Mission), pioneered in the dramatic campaigns which he organized and directed, especially during the years 1920 to 1934. Previous to this time it seemed that evangelical missions in Latin America had become institutionalized or had reached an impasse, and were suffering from an inferiority complex due to the strong popular prejudice and opposition they had suffered.
3. The Pentecostal movement, which had its origin in Chile (1909) and in Brazil (1911). This is unquestionably the most significant cause of the current dramatic church growth (see “News”).
Pentecostalism has grown rapidly in all Christendom during recent years, but in no other part of the world has it mushroomed so phenomenally. The World Christian Handbook places the Pentecostal population of Latin America at three million in 1961. One out of every three Latin American Protestants, therefore, is Pentecostal. A comparison of the Handbooks of 1952 and 1962 reveals these amazing jumps in the Pentecostal community:
Despite these phenomenal advances, it is sobering to realize that there are now twice as many non-evangelicals in Latin America as there were in 1925, when evangelicals began to come out of their doldrums:
Further, the anti-evangelical forces are growing. The Church of Rome, having finally realized that Latin America is Catholic more in name than in practice, has inaugurated a vigorous campaign for the “re-catholization” of Middle and South America. There are three times as many Catholic foreign missionaries in Latin America as Protestant missionaries. Spain alone has sent 18,000, and in 1961 there were 2,751 from the United States, comprising 38.5 per cent of the United States Catholics’ foreign missionary effort.
Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other sects are multiplying rapidly as well. In all of Central America, for example, Mormon membership increased from 1,310 in 1957 to 4,720 in 1961, and as of that time 136 Mormon missionaries were at work on the isthmus.
There is no room for complacency, therefore. The tremendous growth of the evangelical church is only a start—but it is a good one.
FUNCTIONAL SURVEY OF PROTESTANT ACTIVITY IN LATIN AMERICA
(Adapted from a 1961 survey by Clyde W. Taylor and Wade T. Coggins)
(ESTIMATED AS OF 1960)
In a population of 34,625,903, Mexican Protestantism shows growing strength.… Mexico is now a center of Christian publications.… The world’s largest Spanish-speaking nation, its capital trails only New York in size in the Americas.
It is a long stretch of time since that gloomy day in 1574 when George Ribley, an Englishman, and Marin Cornu, a Frenchman, were hanged and burnt as Protestants by the Inquisition in Mexico City. For more than a century now, Mexico has enjoyed freedom of worship. The evangelical movement is firmly established and is in accelerated progress throughout the country. While the population has trebled since 1900, the Protestant constituency has increased a dozen times, from scarcely 50,000 to well over 600,000.
Conquered and ruled for three hundred years by Roman Catholic Spain, Mexico naturally experienced the church’s power as a major element in its social and spiritual background. Although it but thinly veils the heathen core of religious ideas and practices among the country’s 15 per cent Indian minority, Roman Catholicism is, at least nominally, their religion and that of the great majority of Mexico’s 74 per cent Indian-Spanish half-breeds, as well as of its 11 per cent native and foreign-born whites.
The development of the country, subsequent to its independence from Spain in 1821, has been difficult. It has been a painful quest for stability and prosperity, freedom and culture, in the midst of fierce internal struggles—a quest interrupted by two armed invasions, one by the United States in 1847, and another by France in 1862. A great social and economic revolution (1910–1917) embodied in a new constitution some advanced principles of national reconstruction and a program of reforms that is still under way. Liberal and democratic in its essence but earnestly seeking for social justice, this program has gotten the jump on Communism.
It was in the late sixties of the last century that evangelical Christianity began its advance in Mexico. After the downfall of the ephemeral empire of Maximilian, the country entered an active era of reconstruction. Its great Indian president, Benito Juárez, welcomed the advent of Protestantism as a creative moral and cultural force. He described it as “a religion that teaches to read,” and he especially wanted it to win over his own Indian constituency.
Evangelical Christianity made its early impact particularly in the moral, educational, and religious spheres. It stressed the inextricable unity of religious devotion and private morality, which had been traditionally divorced. For many decades the infant evangelical churches were easily identified by their relentless fight against alcoholism—a national scourge—as well as other social vices. Their emphasis on the Bible made them staunch champions of literacy, and the Protestant parochial school became the pioneer of rural education.
Forced to survive in a fanatically hostile environment, the evangelical congregations from the start were strongly evangelistic. To them, the winning of souls was a live-or-die necessity. They simply had to grow or perish. In a situation where religion was generally associated with a great deal of superstition and purely external practices, the acceptance of evangelical Christianity led to a deepening of spiritual life and a heightening of moral patterns. The centrality of Jesus Christ in faith and life had a strong appeal for many disillusioned souls and became the secret of evangelical Christianity’s growth and advance.
Up to recent times, persecution and more or less open hostility was the common lot of Protestants, especially new converts. The social and political influence of evangelicals under such circumstances could not be very large. The liberal atmosphere that came with the revolution gave them an opening, however. Evangelicals were generally in favor of the revolution’s objectives for the social, economic, and educational betterment of the masses. Jonás García, a Baptist, Moisés Sáenz, a Presbyterian, and Andrés Osuna, a Methodist, were outstanding among the leaders of Mexico’s great educational drive.
Evangelical relations with the Church of Rome have been marked by bitter antagonism up until the last few years. Significant changes, however, are now beginning to take place. Roman Catholic institutions, such as the Seminary of Missions, and dignitaries, such as the Bishop of Cuernavaca, have taken the initiative in a new deal towards the “separated brethren,” seeking cordial dialogue and a common interest rather than direct opposition as before. The most dramatic event in this area has been the elimination of images from the Cathedral of Cuernavaca and the promotion of the Bible in that diocese. Bibles—not medallions—went on sale in the churchyard, and one enthusiastic priest compared the revival of biblical interest to the great rediscovery of the Scriptures in the days of the prophet Ezra.
Through the life and work of the evangelical churches, the Gospel has had a notable impact on the lower and middle strata of society, while scarcely affecting the upper social levels. The higher intellectual class—universities, learned societies, the world of literature, art, and science—has not been properly reached.
On the other hand, although most of the evangelistic work has been carried among the masses, including the underdeveloped rural population, the churches’ program has been lacking in a concerted plan to assist people in facing poverty and sickness. Only meager and scattered projects have been undertaken, for instance, in the field of agricultural missions or industrial evangelism. Protestantism in Mexico still reflects middle-class attitudes. With the possible exception of the fast-multiplying Pentecostals, reportedly comprising nearly two-thirds of the capital’s Protestants, the Church has not successfully met the evangelistic challenge of a city that has tripled its size in twenty years and is approaching a population of five million.
Significant, although limited, success has been achieved in work among the Indians. Entire communities have been transformed as a result of the entrance of the Gospel. Perhaps the outstanding case is that of the Tzeltal Indians in Chiapas, which has attracted the attention of anthropologists and sociologists. Even so, these efforts are restricted to certain areas, and the churches as a whole do not have a well-rounded and systematic program of work among Indians.
All these factors point to the most acute and pressing need of evangelical work in Mexico—that of properly trained ministers and lay leaders. Theological education is mostly in an elementary stage. The country is undergoing great social, economic, and cultural changes, thus increasing opportunities for a wider and deeper impact of the Gospel on national life. But the evangelical churches are failing to take proper advantage of them. Working mostly in isolation, they lack a united, broad, energetic, imaginative approach to their common task of serving men and pointing them to Christ.
In Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama (aggregate population nearing 13,000,000), economic merger is producing closer political ties.… Significantly, 3.3 per cent of the people are Protestants.
For a few days in March, as six isthmian presidents met with President Kennedy in San José’s National Theater, the eyes of the world were on a little-known neck of land called Central America.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage and ruled by the Spaniards for three centuries, Central America achieved independence in 1821 by Spanish default. It was exploited subsequently by filibusterers and petty dictators. And it is still in popular image a tropical land of volcanoes and earthquakes, bananas and tramp steamers, barefoot soldiers and comic-opera revolutions, fleas, dust, illiteracy, and backwardness—the land of mañana sleeping in the misery of yesterday.
But no longer! The presidential gathering pointed up a significant fact: Central America, because of its rapid population increase, its dramatic progress towards economic and political integration, and its strategic position between the Americas, has become an important area of the modern world, with a new place and voice in the councils of the nations.
As nearly thirteen million Central Americans took a fresh look at themselves in the glow of the successful presidential conference, it was time for isthmian Protestants to look at themselves, too. What they saw was not entirely discouraging.
They had come a long way. In those early days when the Moravians had first landed on the Moskito coastland of Nicaragua (1849), when the Presbyterians had opened a church and a school in Guatemala City at the invitation of liberal President Justo Rufino Barrios (1882), and when the newly organized Central American Mission had sent its first missionary couple to Costa Rica (1891), the work was exceedingly slow and discouraging. Central America represented the most neglected area in a “neglected continent,” bypassed by missionaries as they pushed into South America and the Caribbean Antilles.
By 1920 the number of missionaries had increased to eighty-five, scattered among a population of nearly six million. Some seventeen years later it had jumped to 295 and the number of Protestant Christians to over 100,000. Along with other parts of Latin America, the isthmus benefited from the closing of doors to missionaries in the Orient during World War II, and the postwar spurt of missionary activity did not this time overlook Central America.
But as the presidents met in San José last March, the presence of known evangelicals on their staffs and among the reporters and radio broadcasters covering the event was a testimony to the imposing growth and stature of an evangelical community now approaching half a million (3.3 per cent of the total population)—a dynamic, progressive, and increasingly respected minority, identified with the life and future of the isthmus. In their proportion to total population, Central American evangelicals have outstripped all other Spanish-speaking countries except Chile and Puerto Rico. And in activity, institutions, enterprises, and national leadership, they are rapidly catching up and in some cases pushing ahead.
Indicative of the vitality of the evangelical movement is the number of churches in cities such as Guatemala (100) and San José (40); the Christian bookstores in every capital; and the evangelical hospitals in four countries. Outstanding among the thirty-three Bible institutes and theological training centers is San José’s Latin American Bible Seminary, whose enrollment this year includes sixty-five students from sixteen republics and twenty-seven denominational groups, the majority of whom are working toward theological degrees.
In the field of radio, the situation in Central America is like that in no other single region of the world: the antennas of gospel stations can be seen rising on the outskirts of every capital, all the way from Guatemala City to Panama—a powerful chain of voices for the Gospel. Notable among these is YNOL of Managua, Nicaragua, with 15,000 watts long-wave, the first truly indigenous gospel radio station overseas.
Central American Protestantism is divided roughly into three nearly equal parts: the historic denominations, the independent or fundamentalist groups, and the Pentecostals. Among the Spanish-speaking population, the independent groups are the strongest, but the fastest-growing church bodies are those stressing the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Occupying a unique place in the hearts and gratitude of the Central American Christians is the American Bible Society, which during its seventy years on the isthmus has been responsible for the distribution of over ten million Bibles and other portions—more than six million of them in the last ten years!
Much has been done for inter-mission harmony and cooperation throughout the continent by the establishment in Costa Rica of the Spanish Language Institute, where every year hundreds of new missionaries learn Spanish and rub shoulders with their colleagues from other fields and societies. Strictly interdenominational in its function and outlook, the school is sponsored by the United Presbyterian Church. Another cohesive factor has been the presence and help of the varied ministries of the interdenominational Latin America Mission, and particularly its Division of Evangelism.
In large degree the striking growth of Protestantism can be attributed to the readiness of Central American believers to engage in evangelistic activity. Illustrative of this zeal was their enthusiastic response to the recent nation-wide movement of Evangelism-in-Depth in Guatemala. Approximately 50,000 Guatemalan evangelicals—a full 50 per cent of the total adult Protestant population of the country—were active in one way or another.
Joining together in over 6,000 prayer cells, training by tens of thousands, visiting from house to house, parading down the main streets of Guatemala’s cities, singing their witness in spite of rain and revolution, they gave a tremendous demonstration of the potential of the Central American Christians mobilized for all-out evangelism. It is doubtful whether Christians in any other part of the world have demonstrated such valor and zeal. The inevitable result was an enormous harvest that is still being reaped.
To Central American Christians the future is spelled out in capital letters of opportunity. From Guatemala to Panama they have come of age. They are on the march for Christ.
“The Caribbean,” as defined here, includes a total population of some 20,000,000, distributed in five major cultural segments: Spanish, French, French-Creole (Haiti), English, and Dutch, with wide differences in local conditions.
The Caribbean is to the New World what the Mediterranean is to Europe—cradle, crucible, and sometimes, cross. Here Columbus found America. Here pirates and conquistadores fought to extend their empires until the Monroe Doctrine established an uneasy peace and ushered in the era of local dictators and the Yankee “big stick.” Here in significant degree the future course of the continent will be determined.
No longer is the lazy palm tree the symbol of the Caribbean. To the North American, Cuba now means Russian rockets under the watchful camera of the U-2. Haiti and the Dominican Republic speak of voodooism and tyrants. Puerto Rico embodies the industrial revolution of “Operation Bootstrap.” And the British islands continue their dignified march toward inexorable, grinding poverty. The palm tree, if indeed it still stands, must bend with the hurricane.
In many ways Puerto Rico is on the margin of the economic storm. Its Spanish American traditions exist within a framework of United States economic theory and Yankee business methods. Its commonwealth status, its tax-free development, and the United States citizenship (since 1917) of its population provide economic benefits unshared by other Latin American areas. It is an ideal situation in which to wed North American acumen to Spanish American culture.
In this propitious atmosphere the Gospel has prospered. While Pentecostal groups are growing faster than other denominations, all Protestant churches are moving ahead significantly under the leadership of a well-prepared Puerto Rican ministry which out-numbers the missionary force (of both sexes) by more than two to one. Puerto Rico is about 7 per cent Protestant.
The repressive atmosphere of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic has been less favorable to new ways and the new message of Protestant Christianity. But religious liberty has been enforced, and the result is a Protestant community that today approaches 50,000 (1.5 per cent of the population). Politically this republic, only recently freed from the despotism of “The Great Benefactor,” Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo, seems unimportant to the United States. But United States policy here has done great harm to continental harmony. And the political price of peace in the Caribbean has been high.
At the other end of Hispaniola Island, the French-speaking, mostly Negro republic of Haiti is struggling to free itself from one of the few dictatorships remaining in Latin America. Sooner or later, economic pressures will succeed where idealists have failed. Haiti lives in abysmal poverty and backwardness. Its densely packed population of more than three million is isolated from the rest of the world by culture, caste, and economy.
Despite these problems, the Gospel has flourished in Haiti, where the influence of the Protestant churches is felt through schools, literacy programs, dispensaries, small hospitals, and evangelism. Largest denominational groups include the Baptists, the Episcopalians, and adherents won by the West Indies Mission.
The Gospel was introduced to Cuba not by missionaries but by Cuban nationals who were converted in the United States and returned to the island after its independence from Spain. Through their influence, several denominations began working there. In the twenties and thirties evangelical missions came to reinforce the excellent work being done by the denominations. Prior to the Castro revolution, the Cuban Church had attained a high degree of strength and influence.
A well-educated national leadership had helped the Church make an impact on middle as well as lower classes. The evangelical pastors outnumbered the Catholic priests, and there were more evangelical churches than Catholic. Of the total population, 3.2 per cent were evangelicals while practicing Catholics were placed at as low as 8 per cent. Evangelical schools (eighty-six primary, thirteen secondary, one college) extended the influence of the Church Far beyond her own community. Evangelicals pioneered in literacy campaigns and showed great social concern.
And then … came Fidel Castro! The Cuban Church almost unanimously joined the frantic acclamation given to Castro by the Cuban people. Many evangelicals had taken part in the revolution, and some were named to important posts in the government.
But as Castro turned From pink to red, slowly the great majority of the evangelicals have awakened to the sad realities of the new era imposed upon the Church: all educational institutions taken over by the government; street meetings not allowed; all social work taken away from the Church; practically all missionaries gone; many able leaders in exile; financial help from outside cut off; suspicion of counter-revolutionary activities on every hand; some Protestants carried away by the Communist whirlwind.
How is the Cuban Church doing in the midst of these most difficult times? There are definite signs that in spite of it all, the Church is not only holding up but is moving on. Sunday services and other meetings are well attended (Associated Press reported overflow crowds at Easter services). Campaigns, conventions, camps are being held. Three seminaries and four Bible schools are in operation, all under national direction. Laymen are moving into places of leadership. A new sense of stewardship, resourcefulness, and spiritual revival is taking hold of many Christians. It is, indeed, a trial “as by fire.” But the Lord is on his throne, and the Cuban Church is proving herself loyal to his Lordship.
Retaining colonial links with their European father-lands are the British West Indies (of which Jamaica and Trinidad are the most important), the British mainland colonies of Honduras (Central America) and Guiana (South America), French Guiana and a few French islands of lesser significance, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), and the “ABC” islands of the Netherlands Antilles—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. As might be expected, the British West Indies are culturally closer to Canada than to the United States, but with the disintegration of the abortive West Indies Federation, economic ties are drawing these areas increasingly into the United States—Latin American “family.”
Because of their traditional—although sometimes superficial—Protestantism, the British areas have a significant role to play in the development of Latin America, especially among the English-speaking coastal populations of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. How they solve their own problems of illiteracy, poverty, and immorality will be decisive.
Evangelical work in Surinam and the Netherlands Antilles is relatively new, although Protestant congregations from the Old Country have long been established. Radio is playing a key role in evangelism.
The Caribbean is a paradise or a poorhouse, depending upon one’s point of view. It seems clear, however, as one leader expressed it, that “there must be a long program of patience, determination, dedication and redemptive activity on the part of the Church.… God will bring in the harvest as he has always done and is doing now.”
Gospel forces are weak in Venezuela (population, 6,607,000) and in Ecuador (population, 4,298,000), despite strong Indian and radio ministries there. Evangelicals in Colombia (population, 13,824,000) are vigorous but persecuted.
Simón Bolívar, liberator of five nations, dreamed of a unified government for all of them. His genius made possible the organization into one political unit of Venezuela, Colombia (including Panama at that time), and Ecuador. This was called “Greater Colombia.” His accomplishment lasted only a few years, however. Internal political differences plus the vastness of a territory sundered by mountains, rivers, and jungles soon made necessary its division into three independent republics.
The Gospel came early to Greater Colombia. During the War of Independence in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, a foreign legion of British volunteers came to fight under Bolívar’s leadership and made a decisive contribution to the cause. Chief of the Protestants among them was Colonel James Fraser, who became minister of war and was instrumental in bringing to Colombia in 1856 the first Protestant missionary, Dr. Henry B. Pratt.
In 1825, Joseph Lancaster came to Caracas at Bolívar’s invitation and spent some months there as a guest of the city, providing orientation for the new school system. James Thompson, a representative of the British Bible Society and also of the Lancastrian Schools Society, arrived in Bogotá at the same time and founded a Colombian Bible Society to publish and disseminate the Scriptures. Minister of Foreign Affairs Pedro Gual was elected president of this society, which unfortunately did not last long. Conservative Colombian soil was hostile to the Gospel seed.
Today it is estimated that there are at least 150,000 evangelicals in these three countries, ministered to by nearly 1,500 pastors and workers of whom approximately half are nationals. The number of evangelicals is small in comparison with the total population of 25,000,000—one evangelical for every 166 non-evangelicals—but the current growth rate is 16 per cent per year in Colombia proper and is nearly as high in Ecuador and Venezuela.
Work is carried on by more than thirty-three missions. In addition to direct evangelism, educational, medical, and literacy work is fairly strong. Radio in Ecuador has made an outstanding contribution. Some experiments in agricultural education are receiving attention. Work among the Indians is noteworthy in Ecuador and is beginning in Colombia. Today the Aucas and the head-shrinking Jívaros are as well known in the United States as the Navajos and the Senecas, thanks to the intrepid missionary witness of the five martyrs of the Ecuadorian jungle and the equally effective witness of their widowed wives.
Because of its inferior educational facilities and low literacy rate, Colombia has become a proving-ground for Protestant schools. Some of the long-established Presbyterian secondary academies, usually called Colegios Americanos, have exerted a strong liberalizing influence on the country and have contributed in noteworthy fashion to the preparation of such Christian leadership as the country now enjoys.
The evangelical church has unlimited opportunities for growth and service, and the Protestant minority is a dedicated, intrepid group. Nevertheless, the Church works under several handicaps. First of all, it lacks trained national leadership: pastors, teachers, nurses, social workers, literacy experts, sociologists, specialists in young people’s work and in journalism, radio, and television. Leadership in all these areas could enable the Church to meet the varied challenges of today. Sending to the field more missionaries could also help the national Church perform the many tasks that remain undone for lack of personnel.
A second handicap seems to be a limited understanding of the social changes taking place. The Latin American believer knows that Christ is the answer to all the problems facing the world today. His faith is commendable. He is unable, however, to communicate this faith in terms of present-day situations. Christianity appears too often to the outsider as a respectable, Puritan way of life, but it does not appeal to him as the possible solution for poverty, ignorance, disease, underdevelopment. This may be because the Church is seldom able to show any real accomplishments in these areas which are so close and so tangible to the common man, thanks in part to yesteryear’s short-sighted policy of considering social action something apart from the message of the Church.
A third difficulty is the strong Catholic opposition, especially in Colombia, where the evangelical church has been sorely persecuted. One hundred and seventeen believers have been murdered, more than two hundred Protestant schools closed, and about fifty churches destroyed or attacked since 1948. Control of the public education system and an absolute religious monopoly in over two-thirds of the territory of Colombia (called “Catholic Mission Territory”) was given to the official church by former dictator Rojas Pinilla. The constitutionality of this treaty could be logically contested, but there is no sympathy in the present government towards any such action.
Even under its conservative administrations Ecuador has enjoyed religious freedom, although clerically sponsored acts of persecution and violence are not uncommon, especially in the rural mountainous areas. Venezuela is generally more liberal.
Although Communism has not made a serious impact upon church members as a whole, anti-American feeling is often played up so cleverly by extremists that even some evangelicals fall for it. Replacement of the old paternalistic pattern of missionary work by a more dynamic program which integrates missionary forces within the national Church will help tremendously to convince nationals of the fraternal workers’ sincerity and Christian love.
In spite of these limitations and shortcomings, the evangelical church in the countries which once were “Greater Colombia” is forging ahead in dependence upon our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is a force to be reckoned with.
Peru, Chile, and Bolivia are known as the West Coast Republics. Their population totals more than 21,000,000, over half Indian. Mining and agriculture are the principal industries. Pentecostal growth in Chile has been phenomenal.
Latin America is no longer the stronghold of Romanism that it was once imagined to be. Catholic author Albert Nevins describes Catholicism as stagnant in Chile and Peru, moribund in Bolivia, and rates South America as the best and most urgent mission field in the world (“How Catholic is America?,” The Sign, Sept., 1956).
“We find,” says a Peruvian bishop, “that religion, even among the most pious, consists of vulgar external manifestations, completely unspiritual and valueless, and divorced from the practice of the simplest virtues and obedience to the law of God. We can only lament the proven existence of superstition in such worship” (pastoral letter of the first Bishop of Abancay, Peru, Feb., 1963). The hierarchy is truly alarmed and, faced with the reluctance of youth to respond adequately to the call for priests, is endeavoring to make good the deficiency with a constant stream of imported clergy.
Chile, in 1945, was the first of the West Coast republics to admit evangelical missionaries. Peru followed in 1888, and Bolivia ten years later. Chile also led the way in removing religious disabilities in 1880, followed by Bolivia in 1905 and Peru in 1915. Chile went even further in 1925 by separating church and state. The Roman church, in its hostility to the Gospel, has lately abandoned physical violence in favor of more subtle methods.
The evangelical cause has moved ahead at a faster pace in Chile than in the neighboring republics; its membership there increased between 1951 and 1961 from 227,178 to 803,140 (World Christian Handbooks, 1952 and 1962). This represents a 350 per cent increase in ten years. Pentecostal groups account for 75 per cent of the 1951 figure and 88 per cent of the 1961 total. In spite of the extravagances of this movement, which had its origin in The Methodist Church at the beginning of the century, it would seem to owe its success to three principal factors: it aims at the heart rather than at the head, does not quench the Spirit with rigid forms, and permits the active participation of all in its worship. Pentecostalism is strong also in Peru, where it is almost as large as all other groups taken together, and it is making good progress in Bolivia. In all three countries it is an indigenous movement.
In these latter republics, however, Adventist work has also been outstandingly successful, especially among the Indians of the Titicaca altiplano. Its success would seem largely due to its vigorous educational and medical program and its special emphasis on indoctrination and training of leaders.
Church growth has been much slower in Peru and Bolivia than in Chile, the overall gains in membership during the last decade being 150 per cent and 170 per cent respectively. The fastest-growing groups stress the training of workers, an adequate teaching ministry, and a vigorous Sunday school program. In all three countries the impact of the Gospel has been almost exclusively among the poorer classes.
Among non-Pentecostals, foreign missionary vision is nonexistent. Enthusiasm for soul-winning is generally not so strong as it should be, and with few exceptions, solid instruction in the Scriptures is weak. Emphasis is on the preaching of the Gospel to the detriment of the teaching of the Word. Save in Chile, national leadership is not strong, and the churches have produced scarcely any theologians at all, although theological training programs are improving.
There is a marked tendency to division among Pentecostals, the most prolific causes of dissention being personalized leadership and “the freedom of the Spirit.” Such division, however, does not seem to retard multiplication.
Evangelical bookshops are on the increase, as are also local gospel radio programs. Bolivia has had a good evangelical radio station for more than a decade, and the Evangelical Alliance Mission inaugurated an excellent and powerful station in Lima, Peru, last February.
B’hai, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism are strongly represented and are fast penetrating into the smaller towns of all three republics. The spearhead of the latter two groups is systematic house-to-house visitation.
The prevailing theology may be described as orthodox evangelical. Denominations holding a liberal theology have made comparatively little impact. The general attitude of the churches toward the ecumenical movement is one of distrust, largely on account of its association with liberal leadership and the fear of a Romeward trend. The policy of evangelical national councils is to abstain from affiliation with international bodies, but without obliging their member bodies to do so. Two Chilean Pentecostal groups have recently joined the World Council of Churches.
Politically, the outlook of all three republics is uncertain to a degree never before experienced, but for the evangelical churches it is as bright as the promises of God.
Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay share a river and a heritage. There the resemblance stops.… Total population is 25,032,000.… Protestants are finding harmony in evangelistic outreach. Graham crusade was highly successful.
The River Plate estuary provides access to the Atlantic for three South American nations: Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay. Both river and history join these three countries, which share in their heritage the same Spanish conquerors and the same crusading liberators, but whose subsequent development has manifested three different and peculiar concepts of democracy and of religion.
Paraguay has chosen the path of a military strongman to check disorder and avoid anarchy. Uruguay is governed by a Swiss-style council and has developed the most stable democracy in Latin America, although economic and political tensions are building up.
Argentina, traditionally the leader, has had its political self-confidence badly shaken by ten years of Perón dictatorship and is presently passing through a dark period of unrest and economic brinkmanship. Although top-heavy militarism is one of Argentina’s major social problems, the present interim military regime is seen as the only safe bulwark against a Perón putsch or Communist chaos. Elections have been promised, and the nation hopes soon to return to constitutional democracy.
To this political outlook we must add the continued intervention, especially in Paraguay and lately in Argentina, of the Roman Catholic Church. Usually the church manages adroitly to put itself on both sides of the major political fences in a desperate effort to recover strength and prestige. As it loses ground spiritually with the masses, the church turns to political affairs, labor parties, social efforts, schools, universities, radio, television, and the press in an effort to regain public support.
Toward evangelicals, Romanism has adopted different attitudes. Paraguay is plagued by an intolerant Catholicism, Uruguay’s is circumspect, and the church in Argentina is astute, liberal, and fractioned. Some Catholics are reflecting the current spirit of “renewal”; they would welcome Protestants to join with them in a “united front against the common enemy: Communism.” Others remain intolerant and reactionary. But Protestantism is nowhere persecuted in Argentina.
Protestants, too, are changing their methods and are manifesting a new spirit of unity, at least in the preaching of the Gospel. The recent Billy Graham crusade in the River Plate republics enlisted the support of evangelical groups as diverse as the Anglican church, the Assemblies of God, the Plymouth Brethren, the Salvation Army, the Disciples of Christ, and New Tribes Mission.
The crusade left a strong impact on the people and on civil authorities, and its results surpassed expectations, as witnessed by the well-attended press conferences and crowded stadiums. For 60,000 people in Buenos Aires to turn out on a Sunday afternoon—the time usually dedicated to sports—shows very clearly that a ripe harvest is waiting for an aggressive evangelistic outreach.
Organized cooperation is less conspicuous. The ecumenical movement is not strong, since the largest groups—the Brethren, the Southern Baptists, and the Pentecostals—are not WCC-oriented.
The River Plate area is blessed with more leadership than most other parts of Latin America. Buenos Aires is the seat of the eighty-year-old Facultad de Teología, a union seminary of liberal emphasis, but of considerable prestige. It is also the greatest producer of evangelical literature. Both the WCC-related publishing house and the Baptist publishing house are in Buenos Aires. The Brethren carry on a publishing program in Córdoba and lead in producing many excellent radio and television programs.
The area is not without its grave social problems. About one-third of the Paraguayans—some 500,000 of them—prefer to live outside Paraguay for political or economic reasons. Although moderately benevolent, as dictatorships go, the Stroessner regime suffocates liberty and throttles political initiative.
Uruguay, which underwent a true social and economic revolution in 1905 under the great José Batlle, has been described as a sick welfare state with “demographic megalocephaly”: its citizens have come to prefer socialism to productive hard work, and its population is largely centered in the capital city of Montevideo, leaving the rural areas sparsely populated and impoverished.
Argentina, too, is close to the end of its financial resources and has yet to recover from its binge of Perónstyle spending and social legislation. Despite its high literacy rate and its conspicuous success in assimilating waves of European immigrants, Argentines today face mounting inflation, rising costs of living, and increasing unemployment, causing strikes and labor unrest. The ship of state will need a firm hand for some time to come.
These conditions simply reflect the basic needs of the human heart, for which the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer. Many years ago the spark of political freedom first shone in the River Plate area. Let us pray that the spark of spiritual revival and freedom from sin may also shine in this strategic area of the South American continent.
Brazil, like Texas, specializes in superlatives.… Latin America’s largest nation, its population is 70,000,000.… There are over 5,000,000 Brazilian Protestants. The Gospel is gaining fast, but the spread of Spiritism and cults is alarming.
“In a radiant land lives a sad people.” This is the opening line of Pablo Prado’s incisive interpretation of Brazil. He might have said with equal accuracy, however, “In a rich land lives a poor people,” or “In a lush land lives a vigorous, exuberant people.” Or, more simply still, “Brazil is different.”
For one thing, it is the largest country in South America. Its vast area includes huge forests, immense rivers, and no deserts. Its population has now passed 70 million; experts say that by the end of this decade it will reach 100 million. They live in a mild climate.
Only thirty years after it had been discovered in 1500 by Cabral, a Portuguese navigator, the first settlers arrived in the new land. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Portuguese colonizers came to Brazil, organizing different capitanías, or provinces, under a strong united government.
Differences from the Spanish colonization of the rest of Latin America were striking. While the Spaniards created many autonomous states, which are now the modern Spanish-speaking nations, the various Portuguese colonies became one big nation. In the Spanish American countries, large proportions of the population still speak Indian languages. In Brazil, Portuguese is spoken from the north to the south, with only slight variations. The Brazilian Indians keep their dialects, but they number only about 200,000, or less than 3 per cent.
In most of the Spanish-speaking nations, the Spaniards were called conquistadores, or conquerors, and a feeling of animosity against them remained. In Brazil, the Portuguese were always called colonizadores, or colonizers, and were viewed with friendliness.
In many other parts of Latin America, the Indian racial characteristics predominate. Not so in Brazil. The Brazilian Indians never submitted to the hard work imposed by the Portuguese. They were killed, or they fled from the colonizers, moving westward. The Portuguese then imported Negro slaves en masse from Africa, and as they mixed easily with the Negro slave women, thousands of mulattoes appeared in Brazil. When the the slave traffic was stopped, many whites were brought as immigrants: Italians, Germans, Portuguese, Central Europeans, and Asians. The result was the formation of a new race, not yet completely amalgamated, but with strong sentiments of brotherhood and virtually no racial prejudice.
Gradually in the Portuguese colonies there emerged nationalistic sentiments and the formation of Brazilian ideals, which culminated in the declaration of independence from Portugal in 1822. Again in sharp contrast with the other Latin American nations, which became republics, when Brazil gained its freedom it became an empire. Characteristically, it did this bloodlessly, not by fighting against the Portuguese monarchy but by absorbing it. The empire lasted until 1889, when a republic was proclaimed. During this long period only two emperors ruled over the nation: Peter I and Peter II. It was a rule characterized by political unity, a strong agricultural economy, military power, religious tolerance, a low level of education, and Negro slavery (which was not ended until 1888).
In the current century, Brazil has forged ahead dramatically in a process of industrialization. Large automobile factories (European and American) have been established, along with big steel mills, electric power systems (two of them bigger than the TVA in the United States), and plants for the manufacture of such products as refrigerators, radios, television sets, electric shavers, and irons. Brazil now boasts a large new network of paved roads and a very good aviation system.
Communism is one of the most serious problems now afflicting Brazil. It started timidly, after Vargas’ revolution, and has increased seriously in the last fifteen years. When Vargas came into power, the workers had no legal protection. He created the labor unions, a progressive labor code, and a political party—the Partido Trabalhista (labor party). The climate was favorable to leftist ideas: misery was on the increase among the workers, especially in the farms and other interior zones; illiteracy was high (around 50 per cent) in most of the states; no official help was forthcoming to control disease and to help the sick; and the population was increasing rapidly.
The Communist party was outlawed some fifteen years ago. But every Brazilian above eighteen years of age is legally required to vote. The Communists consequently joined different parties. They publish several daily papers, many books, and some magazines for the orientation of the upper classes in Communist doctrine.
When President Janio Quadros resigned last August after six months of government, Vice-President Joao Goulart became president under a new parliamentary regime, instituted by Congress for fear of his leftist ideas. But in January, 1963, the regular presidential regime was reestablished by a significant referendum. Goulart is the chief of the Labor party, and some of his cabinet members are considered “leftist.” In Brazil this word does not always mean “Communist,” however; all those who desire basic reforms in favor of the poor call themselves “leftist.” Many pastors and clergymen, therefore, as well as rich industrialists and farmers, are also called leftist.
One of Goulart’s most progressive ministers is “leftist” Celso Furtado, whose Three-Year Plan for Economic and Social Development, approved by the government, proposes, among other things: (1) to increase the national income at a rate compatible with the expectations of the Brazilian people; (2) to reduce progressively the inflationary pressures, stabilizing prices; (3) to create conditions for distributing the profits of development in a more equitable way; (4) to intensify government action in the fields of education, scientific and technological research, and public health; (5) to direct a survey of natural resources and the placement of economic activity for the purpose of developing rural areas and reducing regional discrepancies in the standards of living. There is good hope that this plan can he fulfilled by 1965.
The Roman Catholic Church came to Brazil with the first colonizers and became increasingly stronger, both in moral force and in political power. As in most Latin American nations, Catholicism became the official religion. According to the first Criminal Code of Brazil (1830), it was a crime for members of other religions to build temples for their worship. Non-Catholic religions were merely tolerated. But never did the violent clericalism and anti-clericalism of the Hispanic countries develop in the Luso-Brazilian culture, and in the republic, church and state were separated.
The Roman Catholic Church has been remarkably alert to the opportunities for propagation of its beliefs afforded by radio broadcasting. Eighty-two Catholic stations, together with seventy-one additional affiliates, are joined for concerted effort in RENEC (National Association of Catholic Radio Stations). These have established over 4,000 “radio schools,” have distributed more than 14,000 pre-tuned receivers, and count an enrollment of 89,000 students, mostly in rural areas. Their literacy and educational work is patterned on the system of Radio Sutetanza in Colombia.
The Second Vatican Council has had a profound effect on both laymen and clergy within the Roman church. Renewed interest in Bible study, dialogue with evangelicals, and an emphasis on preaching missions have emerged.
Protestant missionary work began early in the second half of the nineteenth century. By 1855 a Presbyterian minister from England had founded the Congregational Church of Brazil. In 1859 the first American missionary arrived in Rio de Janeiro, then the nation’s capital. He was the Rev. Ashbel Green Simonton, sent by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, and he established the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, one of the largest in the country today.
By the end of the century and early in the twentieth, other missionary work had started: the Baptists and the Methodists (from the United States), the Pentecostals (from Sweden via the United States), the Brethren and the Christians (from the British Isles). The Lutherans, who came in the nineteenth century with the first immigrants from Germany, established the largest Protestant church now existing in Brazil.
The evangelical churches have increased enormously, both in numbers and in influence. Statistics show that in Brazil evangelical work is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. An authoritative estimate put the Protestant community at five million in 1960, nearly half of them Pentecostals.
But other religions grow rapidly, too. Spiritism (invocation of the souls of the dead) has become the second religion in several states of Brazil, claiming as much as 20 per cent of the population in some areas. Fringe sects have appeared in the last twenty years and are growing fast.
On the credit side, Brazilian Christians have been quicker than most to manifest a foreign missionary vision. Presbyterian missionaries, for example, have been sent to Portugal, Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina, and have been lent to the United States. An evangelistic spirit is very evident, and pioneering in the use of audio-visual materials has been rewarding. Within the past year an association of about a dozen high-level theological seminaries has been organized. Brazil boasts many evangelical bookstores and several publishers. Social concern—especially for the underprivileged Northeast and for the thousands of internal migrants—is spreading, and the Protestant church has shown a maturity and responsibility commensurate with its new size and position.
The immensity of Brazil is reflected in the dimensions of the problems and opportunities facing God’s children there. Expansion, innovation, progress—Brazil is blessed with an extra dose of these ingredients of the pioneering spirit. As this exuberance becomes subject to the compulsion of the Gospel, the nation’s vast reaches can be won to the kingdom of our Lord.
THE ROLE OF GOSPEL COMMUNICATIONS
Gospel radio overseas (once known as “missionary radio”) got its start in Latin America, where HCJB, “The Voice of the Andes,” broke ice, followed years later by TIFC (San José, Costa Rica) and fifteen other full-time gospel stations. The first overseas gospel network was also organized in Spanish-speaking America, and during the last ten years broadcasting has become a significant factor in the growth of the Church.
All this is not an accident. Radio is a unique means for getting behind closed doors. People whose prejudices would not allow them to enter an evangelical chapel feel perfectly free to listen in the privacy of their homes.
Vital also to the growth of the Church is gospel literature—both to nurture the Christian and to provide him with tools for witness and evangelism.
Not many years ago much of the evangelical literature available in Spanish was drab, poorly translated, unattractive to read. Now the Latin writer is emerging, typography and jackets have been spruced up, and circulation is climbing, despite widespread illiteracy and poverty. In Spanish America alone there are 25 major publishers, 229 retail Christian bookstores, and 250 Protestant magazines.
Newest addition to the family of gospel communications media is television. HCJB operates a Christian TV station in Ecuador; Christians are on the air regularly in Argentina, Costa Rica, and elsewhere; Christian TV dramatic films are being prepared in a studio in El Salvador; and many gospel telecasts are presented sporadically. However, the surface has barely been scratched.
Much of the progress in Christian communications has been stimulated by cooperative functional organizations which cut across denominational lines: Radio-TV: DIA (Inter-American Broadcasters) and CAVE (Evangelical Audio-Visual Center, Brazil); Literature: LEAL (Evangelical Literature for Latin America) and CLEB (Brazilian Chamber of Evangelical Literature).
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