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Gospel Seeds & Mission Harvests

by Joel Martínez

Illustration by Hal Sadler
Illustration by Hal Sadler
Image by: New World Outlook

New World Outlook, September/October 2007

The sowing of the gospel in the hearts and minds of the  Latino peoples has born bountiful fruit that will nourish the future church in the Western Hemisphere. The mission witness of the British Methodists in the Caribbean and of the United Methodists throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region, as well as parts of the United States, has been faithful to Wesley's vision of the whole world as one parish. For nearly two centuries, the Methodist missionary presence has enabled the planting of faith communities, the organizing of local churches, the establishment of educational institutions, the development of health and welfare programs, and the raising up of lay and clergy leaders in every nation of Latin America and the Caribbean and in the United States.

The church that emerged out of this mission planting has assumed a mission presence in most of the countries of the Americas. Indeed, the church among the Latino peoples of the hemisphere continues to make significant contributions to the world Methodist witness as well as to the wider ecumenical church. Wherever Methodism is planted, it assumes the missionary call to share the gospel with all of God's people to the uttermost parts of the earth.

The Fruits of Mission
As we respond to God's call into future mission, what might we learn from the experience and gifts of the church in Latin America and the Caribbean and among the Hispanic/Latino peoples of the United States? How might these gifts enrich our understanding and practice of faithful mission witness?

First, we would learn much about listening and living in ministry with the poor. From its very beginning, Methodism has understood itself to be called to be in mission with those on the margins. In the United States, as well as in all the countries of the hemisphere, great numbers of Latinos/ Hispanics live under the shadow of poverty. The church, as it proclaims hope and models justice, will be reaping new gospel harvests in community with the poor. In a world of increasing distance between rich and poor, we need to be renewed in our witness among the least.

Second, we have much to learn about the church's defense of human rights in conditions of oppression. The Methodist Church in many countries of Latin America and the Caribbean has risked persecution and suffering for raising its voice for the victims of torture and death squads. Methodists have done this regardless of left- or right-leaning political parties and dictatorships.

This is a gift, a fruit of the church in Latin America and the Caribbean, to all Christians who are called to the mission of upholding justice for the persecuted.

Third, we have much to learn about evangelism as the call to personal and social transformation.

In the poor barrios and colonias in the United States, in the favelas (shantytowns) and the cinturones de miseria (poverty-stricken regions) throughout the hemisphere, following Jesus means serving and including neighbors.

The hopes and dreams of the whole community are a claim on and a call for the church. Jesus saves us in gracious community. The churches in Latino/Hispanic settings are most effective when their evangelism horizon is inclusive of the whole community.

Fourth, the Latino/Hispanic church can teach us the practice of “ecumenicity out of necessity.”  

There are many formal expressions of ecumenical cooperation. United Methodists are especially active in all these ecumenical groups. Our heritage and our doctrine encourage us. Too often, however, it is a practice of convenience. It is in the midst of grinding poverty and overwhelming need that Latin American and Caribbean Christians learn to pray and work together. This is a gift to the church that Christ calls to be one in Him.

Fifth, we can be helped to see mission as one throughout the hemisphere as Latin American, Caribbean, and US Latino/Hispanic Methodists speak of one America. Borders are all too real, but the gospel knows no permanent boundaries. The separations between peoples are not God's will, and they should not define the boundaries of our witness.

The gift of this vision moves us from isolation to a new encounter with Christ as one connected people. This great fruit of the gospel planting in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the hearts of US Latinos/Hispanics will nurture our United Methodist Church as we do mission together in God's future. This global ministry is God's gift to the entire church through the Latino/Hispanic witness.

Bishop Joel Martínez is the resident bishop for the Southwest Texas and the Rio Grande Conferences. He currently serves as the president of the General Board of Global Ministries' Board of Directors.


Date posted: Sep 01, 2007