Breakthrough in Central America
In a MISSION FRONTIERS interview, Latin America missiological specialist Cliff Holland details his vision for training Latin American pastors and Christian leaders in Church Growth both to reach the people groups around them and to penetrate new groups in Central America and around the world.
Dr. Ralph Winter has stated that the bold new thrust in missions today must be dominated by third world missionary outreach. Only the mobilization of the total resources of the church of Jesus Christ in frontier missionary penetration will produce the establishment of a church for every people group by the year 2000.
Such a goal requires the re orientation of churches in the third world from local evangelism to people group evangelism, with an emphasis on penetrating unreached or hidden people groups, both in their own communities and countries and on other continents.
Any massive re-direction of the energies of a church movement requires a very special kind of missionary leadership a sensitive, articulate spokesman equally at home with scholarly research and grass roots communication. It requires a warm hearted motivator who is able to explain complex theories in easy to understand language. One who fits this description is Cliff Holland of the Latin America Mission. He is seeking to mobilize the churches of seven Latin American countries to fulfill the Great Commission.
Holland is a veteran of eleven years of ministry in Central America, most of it as a member of the Institute of In Depth Evangelization. Since 1977 his major responsibility has been directing PROCADES, the Central America Church Growth Studies Project. During this time, he has supervised extensive church growth research in seven countries of Central America and has published a series of reports on each country.
Mission Frontiers recently had the opportunity to interview Holland about his new position. He was in Southern California to discuss the results of his church growth studies and to develop strategies for a major new thrust toward the final frontiers of evangelization in Central America.
MF: Tell us something about the study you are just completing.
HOLLAND: The project is called the Central America Church Growth Study and covers Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. We limited the study to those countries because Central America is a distinctive geographic region, and we wanted to study church growth factors within a clearly defined but diverse region. We asked questions like "Why is the church growing at different rates in different countries?" and "What factors influence the growth of the church?"
MF: Now that the study is nearing completion, what do you plan to do with the information you have gained?
HOLLAND: We hope to provide Central American church leaders with tools for evaluation and planning. I wrote an article several years ago with the title "Discovering the Facts; Planning New Strategies" which appeared in the Latin American Evangelist I wrote it to try to help church leaders discover the facts about how they were getting on with the Great Commission in their Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and (theoretically) the rest of the world. Before we discuss the participation of Latin American Christians in the evangelization of the rest of the world, let's lookat their Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Many of the church leaders have only a partial view of how their own denomination is growing, even within their own country. They know even less about the Christian movement within neighboring countries. They have not asked themselves, for example, what the church looks like in Guatemala in comparison to Panama, or any combination of countries.
The reason for helping church leaders discover the facts of church growth is so that they may see what the unfinished task is in Central America. Who are the people that are still to be reached: geographically or in terms of people groups, and distinguished linguistically, racially, socio economically or any other way that you want to break these down? Which are the unreached groups, the "Hidden groups?" What is the remaining task that needs to be accomplished in Central America?
Then, Latin American church leaders must ask themselves, "What is our responsibility for reaching people groups around the world?" Are we exempt from participating in the Great Commission? Is our responsibility just Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, or are we called to participate in the Great Commission in terms of reaching unreached people groups in Africa, Asia or wherever you locate them around the world?
Unfortunately, the church in Central America does not have that missionary vision. Many of the leaders do not even have a vision for reaching unreached people groups in their own countries. We trust our church growth research may help them discover who is yet unreached, where new churches need to be planted within the Central American region, and then help them move on to consider all of Latin America, the Carribean and the rest of the world as their own mission field.
In a certain sense, we are facing the same problem that the U. S. Center for World Mission faces in educating churches and church leaders here about their responsibility of reaching unreached or hidden people groups around the world.
MF: You have this information these Christian leaders want and need. How do you propose to distribute the information to them?
HOLLAND: Well, over the past five years, I have taught 35 seminars on holistic church growth.
In those seminars we try to teach this concern for the world which comes out of the Great Commission. I soon found out it was physically impossible for me to fill all the requests for seminars. I was killing myself, so to speak. As we came to the conclusion of our research on church growth, we simultaneously came to the conclusion that in order to reach all the key leadership of Latin America, we would have to bring them to us. Thus, we began to brainstorm the idea of establishing a school of missiology in Central America in order to train leaders with this concern for actively participating in the church's worldwide missionary mandate.
And that is actually what happened. The Lord has allowed us to establish the Central America School of Missiology at which we will be provide intensive training in cross cultural communication and a wide range of courses on church growth and mission strategy.
We are trying to do something similar to what the U. S. Center i doing in North America, that is, mobilizing the church for missions. The basic idea is that there are people groups out there that need to be reached with the gospel, but nobody is reaching them. We feel that the church in Central America is not exempt from the missionary mandate. And we want to be God's instruments for mobilizing the church in Central America to get dawn to business in reaching unreached people groups in their area as well as in the uttermost parts of the world. We want them to pray with us that by the year 2000 every people group will have had the opportunity of hearing and believing and obeying Jesus Christ.
MF: You talked about the key leadership that the institute needs to reach. Who are these key leaders?
HOLLAND: We've defined four publics we would like to reach through the School of Missiology. The first is church and mission leaders, the decision makers. They are the leaders of opinion; if they believe in a cause, they will get others behind it. They are the denominational and mission executives who are the thinkers and the organizers and the motivators for the church in Central America. We're inviting them to participate in our missiotogical training program, both for their own needs as Christian leaders and also to help them guide their churches into a more productive period of growth and participation in the missionary mandate.
The second group is the professors teaching in Bible institutes and seminaries who have not had any missiological training. We want to provide them with that training, so that they will go back to their institutions to teach their courses from a new missiological perspective. We hope they will also begin to teach some strictly missiological courses. We believe that the professors are the key to reaching a whole new generation of Christian leaders in Central America as they come up through the Bible institutes and seminaries.
Thus, in the first case, we seek to reach the present church leadership at the top level, and in the second place, the professors who are developing future leadership.
Thirdly, we'd like to provide special training in the skills and problems of cross cultural communication to national church workers anticipating working with unreached people groups. Such individuals might become missionaries to unreached people groups in Honduras (to the Black Caribs, for example). Or their national church in Honduras might send them as missionaries to a tribal group in Africa or Asia. So we're really talking about both home and foreign missions. The reality is that few national churches in Central America have the vision for either home missions or foreign missions. [Editor's note: If, in both cases, their missionaries are working with an unreached group, they could be said to be working as "frontier" missionaries rather than "home" or "foreign" missionaries. It is not the geographical distance that is important, but rather the cultural distance that the evangelist must go to reach that people group.]
The fourth group are expatriate missionaries from the United States. This group would include both new missionaries to Latin America who have come to study at the Language Institute in San Jose, Costa Rica, (where our institute is located), and missionaries returning to the field after a study leave or prolonged period in the U.S. The latter sometimes come to the Language Institute for refresher training. At our School of Missiology we would like to provide them with a new missiological orientation to Latin America so that they see their work in the perspective of the worldwide picture.
MF: These people you describe are busy people. How will they have time for this type of training?
HOLLAND: I'm glad you asked that question. We feel that the only way we can really reach those four different publics is to provide a short, intensive program of missiological training. Consequently, we have designed five sessions of two weeks each. Each session is the equivalent of a whole semester of regular training in a theological seminary, the equivalent of approximately 50 hours of classroom instruction. Obviously, we can't complete all 50 hours of instruction in two weeks, so we have planned 2 112 hours of classroom instruction daily with its required outside reading. For every core course the students must also do a field work project. Thus, for every core course they get 4 units of credit (2 for classroom work, 1 for assigned reading and one for their field work projects.)
We operate at three levels: we have a bachelor's program in missiology, a master's program in missiology and have just recently established a relationship with the William Carey International University to provide our students with a Ph.D. in Inter Cultural Studies with a concentration in Latin American Studies. We're still working out the details with Dr. Buswell here at the university. So our graduates can now go on and earn a degree from WCIU or they can go to Fuller Seminary and get a degree in Missiology.
MF: You mentioned five core courses in the curriculum.
HOLLAND: We have five periods of training. They all take place during the regular holiday periods for students in Latin America. We are not competing with programs of theological education. Students come to our programs when they are not in school. Students have to be enrolled either in a Bible institute or a seminary or be graduates of such institutions. The master's level program is designed specifically for seminary graduates, and the bachelor's program for Bible institute grads.
We have seven areas of study: Theology of Mission, Church Growth, History of Mission, Social Sciences and Mission, Techniques of Missiological Field Work, Cross cultural Communication and Mission, and Christian Leadership and Mission. At the bachelor's level, all students would take Theology of Mission and then three other areas. For the M.A. in missiology, they would take theology plus four other areas and write a dissertation. All of the core courses require a field work project.
MF: Who comprises the faculty of this program?
The faculty is composed of 40 professors, the majority of whom reside in Costa Rica where the program is located. They come from many different organizations. About two thirds of them have doctorates; the other third have at least a master's degree. We have more than enough professors to teach at least ten courses in each of the seven departments I've just mentioned. At present, some of these professors lack missiological orientation, but they have an area of specialization that will contribute to the overall program, and by participating they themselves will receive the necessary missiological perspective.
Perhaps we might say that the essential ingredient, the genius of the program, is the schedule by which a busy executive can come for just two weeks and take two or three courses in his area of responsibility. If he can study for four weeks, so much the better. Some can come for the entire thirteen weeks. The basic program begins on January 3, 1983, and through it we anticipate attracting the interest and participation of church leaders throughout Central and Latin America in the years to come.
MF: How is the missiological institute funded?
HOLLAND: We have a shoestring budget of $10,000 for the first year. We do not have our own facilities, but will be using those of the Nazarene Seminary in Costa Rica. In fact, when the Nazarenes found out about our program, they cancelled their own so that all their students could take ours. We're starting out with approximately 50 students, and hoping for 100 the second year.We are offering to pay an honorarium to each of our professors, though many are volunteering their time. We are paying their transportation costs, but since most of them live in Costa Rica, that's a relatively small part of our budget. The largest expense has to do with granting scholarships for transportation, food and lodging to students from other countries. We can't provide a lot of help for a lot of students. But we can provide some. Many are coming under the sponsorship of their own organizations. Several from Honduras are coming with this arrangement. The basic funding is coming from several churches in Southern California and from a Christian service agency. Ten thousand dollars is just enough to get us on the road and keep us moving.
Most of our funding will be routed through In Depth Evangelism Associates, which is the name of our U.S. based sister organization (P0 Box 2020, Orange CA, 92669). IDEA is the support arm of the International Institute of In Depth Evangelism. I, personally, am a key to a generation. missionary with the Latin America Mission, but am on loan to the Institute of In Depth Evangelism. In fact, I'm the only person on the board of both organizations. I'm also the North American director of IDEA.
I would like to add that without the inspiration and leadership provided by Ralph Winter of the USCWM,we would not have attempted to do something like this in Central America. I consider Ralph Winter something like my personal mentor. He was my thesis advisor when I was doing my M.A. work in 1969 and 1970. I have received much inspiration and blessing from my association with him. I think more than anyone else he taught me to attempt great things for God and expect great things from God. I really believe that slogan of William Carey's, and I believe that if we begin to practice it we can fulfill the Great Commission as never before.