I have had the great privilege to be present throughout this week at the COMIBAM 2006 Latin American/Iberian Missionary Congress, held this year in Granada, in the south of Spain. This is the third time this monumental event has taken place, the other two being in 1987, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and 1997, in Acapulco, Mexico.
God is in the process of doing marvelous new things around the world! I am firmly convinced that the COMIBAM (Cooperación Misionera Iberoamericana) movement is one of the most significant. Here this week in Granada, more than 2,000 delegates from all over Latin America, and the Iberian Peninsula, are gathered together to share results and challenges of some 30 years of mission work, as God has begun to raise up and send out new workers for the harvest from among these countries to the unreached peoples of the earth.
The vision was cast in 1987 for Latin America to be transformed from a "mission field" to a "mission force." And now, some 30 years later, this reality is coming into full bloom, as experienced Latin American missionaries are able to share their victories, as well as the challenges they have met, as they have stepped out in faith to cross cultural barriers, and bear witness to the life-changing power of the Gospel.
The truth is, in many parts of the world, Latinos are better accepted, and are having success at breaking through barriers that are becoming harder and harder, in the complex world in which we live today, for missionaries from North America and Europe to transcend. In Latin America, as well as several other places around the world, the role of many missionaries from "the north" is transitioning into that of mobilizing and equipping the churches and believers there to "take the baton" and "step into the trenches" of frontline missionary service and proclamation.
It has been thrilling to hear the testimonies of some of the 300 active Latino missionaries present at the conference this week, who have launched out in faith from economically impoverished but spiritually rich situations, to preach the Gospel in word and deed in places such as Turkey, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Indonesia and China. In 1987, at the first COMIBAM conference, it was estimated that there were then about 1,600 cross-cultural missionaries from Latin America. By 1997, this figure had grown to a little more than 4,000. And, now in 2006, statistics point to more than 8,500 cross-cultural missionaries from among the various evangelical denominations, churches, and mission agencies spread throughout all of Latin America, Spain & Portugal.
As I have said before on this blog, the Great Commission is not just given to us as Southern Baptists. And it is not just given to the church at large in North America. It is time for us to humbly admit that God does not need us to do what He is doing around the world. He certainly has a role for us to fulfill. And we must remain faithful in giving our very best effort at being the best stewards possible of the gifts, talents, and resources He has placed in our hands. But that role must be played out in the greater context of what God is doing in and through all His Body throughout the entire world to gather a people for Himself from among every nation, tribe, people and language on the earth.
*See also Baptist Press article "WORLDVIEW: A truly global missions movement is emerging"