Before 1978, evangelicals composed less than 8 percent of the population of Nicaragua. Today they make up more than 20 percent. With the growth in numbers has come increased influence in the country.

Gustavo Sevilla is president of the National Council of Evangelical Pastors of Nicaragua (CNPEN), an organization of some 850 ministers representing 65 denominations. CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke with Sevilla through a translator during a recent visit to the U.S.

What has been the relationship between the evangelical church and the government since last February’s elections? Prior to the election, there was concern that Violeta Chamorro’s ties to the Catholic church could create problems for evangelicals.

In the little time that this government has been functioning, it has demonstrated a respect toward the evangelical church. I consider that the relationship is on a good course. Mrs. Chamorro is a Roman Catholic, and the church has a very great influence over her—not over the government, but over her as an individual.

It would be political suicide for Mrs. Chamorro to discriminate against the evangelical church. More than 20 percent of the Nicaraguan population has professed faith within an evangelical church, so we are speaking about a strong political electoral group.

We want to be sure that CNPEN does not become identified with a particular political philosophy or party. We have identified ourselves as an organization that preaches the kingdom of God, seeks to establish and demonstrate love for others, and watches out for human rights. If a government respects these purposes, we’ll be happy to cooperate with it for the benefit of the people.

I met with the president of the congress of Nicaragua to present the idea of developing a chaplaincy for the congress. I’ve also been able to have private meetings with the vice-president and the vice-minister of education. In every one of these interviews I’ve been able to present the gospel of Christ as an instrument of healing for my nation.

Has the role of CNPEN and the pastors it represents changed under the Chamarro government?

Under the Sandinista government, we were declared an illegal organization. We were attacked as favoring imperialism and accused of being agents of the CIA. Many of us had the pleasure of being made prisoners because of this. But we continued to operate clandestinely, operating with a policy of survival.

The government totally changed its manner of treating CNPEN three months before the election. For eight years they had denied us our legal incorporation, but on December 21, 1989, they gave it to us. Perhaps this had something to do with the dramatic changes in politics worldwide or the way the electoral winds were blowing; I don’t know. But we have now begun to work in the areas for which our organization was really created, such as the training of ministers.

About 60 percent of the ministers in Nicaragua are laymen, who have no biblical or theological preparation of any kind. We are also working to acquire small libraries for pastors and helping pastoral families economically. Other programs include the provision of medical care for pastors and church members, evangelism, broadcasting, and publishing.

What are the major obstacles that remain before the church in Nicaragua?

The economy is definitely the greatest obstacle at the present time. Nicaragua is living in a postwar situation. We are experiencing an inflation rate of several thousand percent a year. The United Nations in 1989 declared that Nicaragua was the poorest nation in Latin America. And the church is not exempt from this inheritance; the church is right in the middle of it.

Another obstacle is liberation theology. It is confusing much young leadership. But we believe that if we are able to train leaders in orthodox doctrine through CNPEN, this obstacle will fall of its own accord because of the weight of its spiritual error.

Has the fall of communism in Eastern Europe taken away any of the momentum of liberation theology?

It is a little early to evaluate. Certainly the changes in Eastern Europe have taken some of the steam out of liberation theology. But it is more certain that misery and hunger exist in Latin America, and this gives great appeal to liberation theology.

We see that the winds of change that began to blow in Eastern Europe are coming to all of the Americas. These winds are bringing a great spiritual hunger to the people. People are tired of politics. They have been deceived by economics. They are hardened by moral problems. The gospel of Christ is the only thing that gives them an alternative. The time has come for the Lord Jesus to establish a living presence within the people.

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