Protestant missions in El Salvador did not begin auspiciously. The first attempt by Central American Mission (now CAM International) failed when a missionary died of yellow fever en route from Costa Rica. Two years later, in 1896, Samuel Purdie started the first permanent work, but died of tetanus 13 months later.
But in celebrating its centennial, El Salvador's evangelical church has mushroomed to 2 million people, one-third of the country's population. Among El Salvador's evangelicals, Pentecostal-charismatics are the largest component, with about 7,000 congregations. The Assemblies of God, in El Salvador since 1925, has been the most successful denomination in starting churches.
In 1960, evangelicals were less than 3 percent of the population. That had doubled by 1981, when the guerrilla movement set off a civil war that claimed 75,000 lives and dislocated hundreds of thousands. But during the 11 war years, church attendance grew by 500 percent.
"The church became visible because of its growth, but also because it awoke to its responsibility for social involvement," says Emilio Antonio Nuez, a Salvadoran-born theologian in Guatemala. Churches and missions have been heavily involved in relief and reconstruction.
Salvadoran evangelicals now operate two Christian universities, dozens of Christian schools, 15 radio stations, a television channel, orphanages, and Bible schools.
Centennial celebrations in November included a three-city Luis Palau campaign attended by 130,000. For the first time in El Salvador's history, the heads of the three branches of government attended a prayer breakfast, where Campus Crusade for Christ President Bill Bright spoke.
Copyright © 1997 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
February 3, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 2, Page 78
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