But diversity and lack of experience pose problems.
“We have many missionaries in Africa from the United States, Canada, and Europe,” says Nigerian missions leader Panya Baba. “But we’ve been waiting a long time to see Latin missionaries.”
Speaking last month at the first Missions Congress for North American Hispanics (COMHINA) in Orlando, Florida, Baba and other mission leaders urged Hispanic Christians to get involved in world missions. Worldteam missionary Al Ortiz says, “The thing that impresses me here is the excitement.”
Whether that zeal is translated into cross-cultural missionaries remains a question in the minds of missions leaders. At first glance, Hispanic churches seem well positioned to become a missionary-sending base. U.S. Hispanic Protestant churches are growing—some researchers say at a rate of 10 percent per year—and pack plenty of evangelistic fervor. An estimated 20 percent of the 25 million U.S. Hispanics are Protestants.
Two issues, however, have worked against coordinated Hispanic mission efforts. They are anything but a uniform bloc. Hailing from more than 20 countries of origin, U.S. Hispanics display many differences. Second, recent Latin immigrants often struggle financially and have fewer financial resources for overseas support.
And, while Hispanic groups have occasionally done mostly short-term missions, Ortiz says, “most churches do not yet have the concept of supporting someone to go someplace as a cross-cultural missionary and stay there.”
In his travels promoting the congress, COMHINA executive director Rudy Giron says he found only 10 Hispanic churches actively involved in cross-cultural missions.
Giron also is president of COMIBAM International (Iberoamerican Missionary Cooperation), an organization working to develop the missions movement in Latin America. COMIBAM, which grew from a 1987 missions congress in Brazil, spearheaded COMHINA to awaken missionary vision among U.S. Hispanics.
To help coordinate the event, Giron moved from Guatemala to Orlando, where the local El Calvario Assemblies of God church provided major support.
Missions Congress funding was a problem. “I asked at least 20 evangelical foundations and organizations in the United States to help,” Giron says, “and they all said no.”
However, the turn-downs may have been a blessing, Giron says. “Hispanics have to learn that if we are talking of doing missions, we have to be serious about paying for doing missions.” Despite initial projections of 3,000 attendees, organizers say they were satisfied with the final turnout of 1,100. Participants heard world missions leaders such as Ralph Winter, Luis Bush, Bill Taylor, and Don McCurry.
McCurry says Latins continue to show great interest in Muslim outreach. “I myself am a strong believer in God using Latin Americans in the Muslim world.” Panya Baba says the COMHINA congress has served to build a missions bridge between Hispanic North America and Africa. “And now we’d like to see some traffic on that bridge.”
Plans for COMHINA follow-up include formation of regional committees, intercessory prayer groups, and a newsletter. Organizers also want closer ties with established U.S. mission agencies to assist the emerging Hispanic missions movement.
“I sense a rapid assimilation of the mission vision in this congress,” McCurry says. “I don’t think it will take this special group of people long to catch up. This will spread like fire among the big Latin churches in places with strong Hispanic concentrations.”
By John Maust in Orlando.
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