Billy Graham Center
World Congress on Evangelism, 1966
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Paul E. Finkenbinder

To fully describe - in ten minutes - the progress, the problems, and the potentials of Protestant missions in Central America and Mexico is as difficult an assignment as trying to pour the waters of the mighty Niagara into a pint-sized bottle!

1. Statistics.

A few statistics, however, may help us see the ripe harvest that Christian missionaries face in these lands of spiritual opportunity. The combined population of Mexico and the Central American countries - Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, British Honduras and the Canal Zone - is approximately 50,000,000. But the total evangelical community of these countries registers a mere 500,000 or one believer for every 100 non-evangelicals. These statistics are rapidly changing for the better, however; for this we thank God.

The annual population growth in Latin America is 2.6 per cent while the growth of Protestantism is an encouraging 15 per cent! (as quoted in the Pentecostal Evangel of August 8, 1965.

I have included in this report a graph bearing the title: “Growth of Protestants in Latin America, l875-l966.” The information is based on statistical studies of Protestantism in Latin America undertaken by the Roman Catholic Church and reported by Prudencio Damboriena and Enrique Dussel in the book, Protestantismo en Latino America, 1962. This graph tells the following story:

From 1875 to 1935 -- a period of sixty years -- Protestantism won a million converts.

In 1935, the line representing Protestant growth suddenly shoots upward; by 1949, only fourteen years later, Protestant converts tripled to a total of 3,171,980.

Today, the three million figure has been more than tripled again, making the Protestant population in Latin America more than ten million.

This upward trend shows no signs of decline.

Although this graph portrays the total Latin American picture, it indicates to a large extent the evangelical growth in the countries under discussion, namely, in Mexico and Central America.

2. Appraisal

Visible statistics, of course, do not tell the whole story of the invisible Church in these countries.

Those who know Mexico and Central America best, however, have an inner conviction that this is Aharvest time@ and that but few working hours remain in which to reap the ripened grain.

I have spent most of my life in these countries. Never have I seen such a healthy national Church. Never have I seen these fields so white unto harvest, yet with so few laborers to bring in the sheaves.

But God is working. More and more Christians are focusing their attention and prayers upon Central America and Mexico. Christian journalists are vividly reporting the untold story of this part of the world. In Christianity Today, for example, Wilton M. Nelson observed, “Modern church history offers no more dramatic upsurge of evangelical forces than the phenomenal growth of the Protestant community in Latin America. Already it has passed the ten million mark, with 90 per cent of the growth within the last thirty-five years.”

3. Needs, Opportunities, Obstacles

As encouraging as these figures are, it is evident that our accomplishments in these countries are dwarfed by the appalling spiritual needs yet to be met,

Take, for instance the rich, upper class of Central America. Consciously or unconsciously, the Christian Church has, in general, considered these people as “The Unreachables.” In most cases, we have ministered to the more accessible class - those who have been nursed in the lap of poverty. The poor have had the Gospel preached to them. But what about the sophisticated strata of Central American society: the owners of coffee and cotton fincas, the presidents of banks and corporations, the society matrons who have resident servants for every need and whim? Surely the Lord is not willing that any of these souls should perish. Yet most of these persons would not think of darkening the door of an evangelical church or of being seen accepting a piece of Gospel literature. They may have an occasional personal contact with an evangelical, hut otherwise their position keeps them walled up behind a soundCproof curtain of indifference toward the teachings of “Los Evangélicos.”

In 1960, God enabled the evangelical voice to penetrate this curtain by means of the costly but effective medium of television which was then and still is a status symbol in Central America. Each Sunday, a dramatized Bible story flashed on television screens in hundreds of influential homes in the capital city of El Salvador and surrounding area. A survey reported an audience of 100,000 who regularly watched this evangelical telecast. So impressed was a non-Christian owner of a large cotton plantation by these telecasts that he had a television set installed outside one of his storage barns so that his many workers could watch these Sunday telecasts. Scheduled Gospel telecasts have also been transcribed from San Jose, Costa Rica and Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

4. Future Strategy

We are convinced that in the future God will use Christian telecasts to reach the upper class throughout all Central America and Mexico.

Radio is also being used. Christians in each of the countries of Central America and Mexico have their own radio station that operate on an average of 16 hours a day. This activity both lends prestige to the Christian community and proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Effective and far-reaching as television and radio may be, there is no substitute for the impact of a revived local church upon its community. Notable in this regard is the Evangelism-in-Depth movement which trains lay leaders and mobilizes local Christians in New Testament evangelism.

A few years ago, 50,000 Guatemalan evangelicals - a full 50 per cent of the total adult Protestant population of that country - actively participated in a nation-wide movement of Evangelism-in-Depth. Six thousand prayer cells were formed. Tens of thousands of national Christians received Bible training and engaged in house-to-house witnessing. The result was a great harvest of souls. In one village alone, nine witch-doctors destroyed their amulets and took a public stand for the one true God. Evangelism-in-Depth has reminded us of E. N. Bounds’ truth-packed statement: “Men are God’s methods.”

Yes, what Central America and Mexico needs now and in the future are Christian men and women whose hearts have been quickened by the Spirit of God, for “it is not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, said the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).

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Wheaton College 2006