How God is Raising Up Leaders Through IBAC

It’s a pretty incredible sight.

Hundreds of Latino pastors, crowded into a room, hungry for the Word and ready to grow in their theology.

They come for three day sessions, twice a year, as they work through their seminary studies.  Why is it done this way?  These men and women are already in full-time ministry.  They are in positions where they can’t drop everything and uproot their families to go attend seminary.

Many have said, nationals and missionaries alike, that the greatest need in the Latin American church is the need for theological education.  Good theology!  This is a region of the world where Catholicism has reigned for hundreds of years, but where the prosperity gospel is also growing like an untamed weed.  Evangelism is truly only the first piece, the first step.  What comes after that? Discipleship. That’s the longer step, the piece that takes dedicated relationship and a commitment to walk through life with people. Commitment to the long-haul.

The design of IBAC is discipleship of pastors and church leaders, who will (and often are already) leading people in their own local community.  Men who are leading out of their own testimony and knowledge of God, but need further training in the proper handling of the Word.

Consider how this model of multiplication discipleship affects the countries where it is being used–

IBAC has a presence in five countries – Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and the United States.  There are currently 22 locations, training between 2,200 and 2,500 pastors and church leaders annualy. That’s 2,500 men and women who are in leadership positions in their churches, so consider how many people they are discipling themselves and affecting with the Word!

The 7 year program has been completed already in five locations, which represents  about 660 graduates to date.  IBAC is planning on starting new Bible Institutes in 6 new locations (in Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama). What huge opportunities to bring people into deeper knowledge of the Word, and then have them apply it immediately in their own native setting.

There are currently  22 partner churches who have adopted a Bible Institute – 21 in the United States, and 1 in Costa Rica.  If your church, or a group from your church is interested in more information, or making the commitment to walking alongside one of these schools, you can contact Jim Wilson at jim.wilson@efca.org.

Nicaragua: Pastors Find Hope Amid Struggles

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Before Iglesia Resurreción y Vida had an actual church building, its original 25 members would carry wooden benches back and forth between various meeting places for worship.

All were young and without jobs. Romero struggled to shepherd his flock as well as maintain a job to earn income to support the church.

Twenty-nine years later, those benches still are used by this church as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Twice a year now in Chinandega, Nicaragua, Pastor Evaristo Romero opens the church to more than 80 pastors and leaders to be taught sound doctrine. For four days in June and again in November, people sit on the benches, plus a few white plastic chairs, in the one-room building with open windows.

The Bible Institute in Chinandega goes beyond simply teaching rural pastors and leaders fundamental doctrine. People take the doctrine that they learn and apply it to their lives. The truth of the Gospel impacts their lives in ways that make them grateful.

Seated on one of those benches is Pastor Martha Bonilla. As worship concludes, Bonilla steps forward from the front row of benches to lead her family of faith in a prayer filled with passionate thanksgiving.

Pastoring a church in El Viejo, a small city near Chinandega, Bonilla faces her own difficulties. For 13 years, she has cried out to God for her own husband. After 10 years, some of her anguish was swept away as her husband became a member of the church. Bonilla says that although her husband has been going to church now for three years, he does not want to commit himself to serving in the church.

“He helps a lot but he doesn’t want to sacrifice for the church,” Bonilla says.

She keeps wait for the day when her and her husband will work together in pastoring this church. She says that she knows the woman was made to be man’s helper and hopes someday for this to describe her relationship with her husband regarding the church.

Bonilla is not a stranger to heartache. Even as she attends the Bible Institute with seven other members from her church, she longs for more people from her church to come and study in Chinandega for the four days Iglesia Resurreción y Vida hosts this institute.

There are two explanations for why people from her church do not want to come, she said. Leaving for four days would mean they would not work for four days.

“Not all people want to come because they have work, families and can’t just take these days off. They don’t want to,” explains Bonilla.

And, as much as she tries to motivate them, many of those in her congregation do not like studying, she says.

One regular attendee at the Bible Institute who loves to study God’s word Pastor Reynaldo Acuña, who has been attending the Bible Institute since it first began in 1998. Despite already attending and receiving his degree from seminary, Acuña continues to return to Chinandega for the Bible Institute.

“In seminary I learned how to meditate,” Acuña says. “At the Bible Institute I learned biblical application.”

Looking back at other ways they Bible Institute has impacted their lives, both Acuña and his wife, Brenda Barahona, speak of the relationships they have today that have come from the fellowship here. During one of the most difficult times in their lives, Barahona quickly recalls how ReachGlobal missionary Melanie Wilson came alongside her in prayer in her time of need.

For 12 long years, Acuña and Barahona waited and prayed for a child. After two years of treatments and plenty of visits to the doctor, they were told that they would not be able to have children. Nevertheless, Acuña and Barahona continued to pray for a child.

Acuña recounts when his wife told him how when she read the Bible story of Hannah’s barren womb, Brenda cried because she knew how Hannah felt when she desperately cried out to God for a child. Smiling, Acuña says God heard their cries and two years ago blessed them with a son. They named him Samuel.

“He is only 2 years old but has the energy of a 12-year-old,” says Barahona with a laugh as she watches Samuel chase a ball around the dirt courtyard outside of the Bible Institute.

Though the lives of Romero, Bonilla, Acuña, and Barahona bring different difficulties, the strongest thing they have in common is their faith. And, thanks to this ministry of sound doctrine teaching, the Bible Institute has helped shaped their faith so that they are able to face difficulties with hope.

“It has been a great blessing and a great impact because we have taken a lot of what we have learned and we are teaching it and applying it in our own churches,” Pastor Romero says.

In Nicaragua, Bible Training Strengthens Churches

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Inside a sweltering, one-room church, fans blow, children wander, and English and Spanish blend together. At the front of the room, Chris Moore, a pastor from Fort Smith, Ark.,  passionately teaches on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. By his side, Nicaraguan Chico Avendaño translates the words into Spanish.

This gathering in Chinandega, a city of 120,000, is one of eight Bible Institutes happening throughout Nicaragua twice a year. Most of the attending 80 pastors and leaders from rural churches don’t have the resources to attend a formal institution for biblical education. These four-day gatherings address that need, and the accompanying problem of incorrect doctrine being taught to congregations.

“So, what are people teaching?” asks Bible Institute professor Stefan Feliz-Kent. “Basically what they hear on the radio or TV, which is a lot of prosperity gospel and garbage doctrine.”

Jim Wilson, missionary with ReachGlobal and the general overseer of the Bible Institutes, seeks to fulfill the need for formal theological education in rural Nicaragua.

“Our primary objective is to provide Latin American pastors with biblical, theological, and pastoral training that they otherwise don’t have access to,” Wilson says. “We have 15 courses; it takes about seven years to complete the program.”

In 1998, when he was pastoring a church in Huntsville, Ala., Wilson got a call from a friend asking if his church would be interested in doing long-term ministry in Nicaragua. After his first trip there, Wilson saw the need for pastoral training and his church decided to begin meeting that need.

“We began in 2000 with our first institute in Chinandega and God has blessed that,” Wilson says. “Now, we have eight different Bible Institutes in eight different cities in Nicaragua. We also have three in Costa Rica and we have one in Panama.”

As a result of the growth, Wilson says, more U.S. churches have begun partnering with the Bible Institutes and adopting specific locations. Churches who adopt an institute are responsible for bringing a team to teach, providing lunch for the pastors who attend and paying their daily transportation costs.

On day one, Moore and his team hand out copies of “For Your Joy” (“Para Tu Gozo” in Spanish) by John Piper. Many pastors ask for multiple copies to take back to their congregations. Giving out resources like Piper’s book is another role that churches like Moore’s — Fellowship Bible Church of Fort Smith — take on when adopting an institute.

“I believe that there is a lack of resources that are available to the pastors,” Moore says. “What we are able to provide in the Bible Institute is resources for the pastors and the church leaders so that they can get equipped and trained so that they can turn around and equip and train their people.”

Avendaño, a former Bible Institute student, followed this model.  After attending the Bible Institute, he changed his approach toward reading the Bible.

“When I am reading the scriptures, I apply the message that they’ve given us: how to read the Bible and how to interpret it,”  Avendaño says.  “I used to go to the Bible like any other book and I didn’t know how to do it in the right way. Now, I read it, meditate on it and then I interpret it and apply it.”

One of the key beliefs in the Bible Institute ministry is that training locals like Avendaño will give their ministries a lasting impact.

“[In missions] we don’t have a good history of transferring the authority to the local leaders,” Feliz-Kent says. “This ministry is doing that pretty well. Our idea is teach the local pastors and church leaders these fundamentals so that they in turn, continue teaching them to others.”

Feliz-Kent believes that equipping local church leaders with correct doctrine and principles for interpreting the Bible will help the church in Central America as a whole prosper.

“The church is not what it’s supposed to be because of bad teaching. That’s what motivates me and that’s what moves me. That’s why I do this. There is great need for theological education,” Feliz-Kent says.

Leaders of the institute agree that they are seeing God move in their ministry.

“They’re hungry, they want to learn, they’re picking up what you’re saying and are able to respond and ask good questions and explain it in their own words,” Feliz-Kent says.

Wilson also finds the growth of the institute and the testimonies of the pastors to be an encouragement.

“So many of them have come back and told me the blessing they have seen in their church,” Wilson says. “As they have turned around and reproduced and multiplied what we have brought them, they’ve taught it to their people.”

After the final session, despite the humid heat that fills the room and the six hours of intensive teaching and worship they’ve just experienced, the local pastors form a line behind Wilson and the team of teachers from Fort Smith. Some come up with their Bibles and ask probing questions about what they’ve learned. Many kiss the teachers on the cheek and bless them for their work.

“Thanks a lot for this kind of job that you are all doing here because you are a great instrument from the Lord,” Avendaño tells some of the leaders. “Just by coming here from a long distance to train pastors, I can see you have a love for the Lord.”

Hungering for Sound Bible Teaching

After years of anticipation and earnest prayers, the Christian community of Potosí, Nicaragua, launched its very first Bible Institute with the help of ReachGlobal missionary Jim Wilson and his friend, John Boles.

Potosí, a rural village of about 1,600 people, has no banks and no grocery stores. Simply exchanging American dollars for local currency is a chore. But Christians there still wanted a Bible school all the same.

“They prayed for eight years that [we] would come and begin an institute in Potosí,” Wilson says. “That prayer has been answered. They faithfully prayed, and God faithfully answered.”

Wilson established his Bible Institute ministry in 1999. The institute has two sites in Costa Rica, two in Panama and eight in Nicaragua. The seven-year program focuses on equipping pastors and church leaders in biblical and theological education for pastoral ministry.

The first institute was launched in the state capital, Chinandega, a one-and-a-half hour drive south of Potosí. Pastors and church leaders from Potosí and surrounding villages, some up to three hours away up mountain roads, would leave their homes at 3 a.m. just to participate.

That distance was cut much shorter when the Potosí Bible Institute held its first session in June.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the kingdom of God advanced in that area of Nicaragua — healthy churches preaching and teaching sound doctrine and unity in the body of Christ,” says Melvin Loza, a translator and former Bible Institutes student who now serves on the ministry’s teaching team.

Welcoming visitors of all kinds

Boles, a middle school math teacher in Arkansas, was eager to join Wilson in his mission to teach the Potosí church pastors and leaders. After five years of Wilson urging him to pack his bags, Boles’ schedule finally allowed him the opportunity to come.

“I have wanted John to come for years,” Wilson says. “The fact that that actually happened was neat.”

Boles had no idea what he was getting himself into when they arrived in Potosí.

After their first day of lectures, Boles and Wilson spent the night at a local pastor’s two-room cinderblock house. While the family of six slept together in the only bedroom, Boles and Wilson slept in the main living area, surrounded by huge bags of rice, flour and beans.

The uneasiness set in when cats, dogs, roosters, lizards and bullfrogs started roaming the house – a parade of animals officiated by a roosting hen that nestled on Boles’ portable cot in the morning.

Despite the discomfort – animals, humidity and endless swarms of gnats – Boles says he was very grateful for the accommodations and is excited for the future of ministry in Potosí.

“They are a very passionate people,” Boles says. “During worship, they are engaged and passionate about God’s Word. They will drive several hours in the back of a pick-up truck, standing, to hear the Word.”

Lessons learned

About 130 pastors and church leaders from the surrounding 15 communities crammed into pickup trucks and piled onto bikes to attend the inaugural lessons. The two-day session, held at a local church, focused on failure and how we, as humans, react when we fail. Using Bible stories of Adam, David, Peter and others, instructors urged students to turn to God’s forgiveness when — not if — failure occurs.

“We encouraged the folks in Potosi to seek God’s forgiveness and deal with others who fail in a biblically balanced manner – not to ignore sin, but not to condemn and reject others when they fail,” Wilson says.

The lessons could not have been timelier for people in Potosí. One local pastor desired to forgive his adulterous wife and restore their marriage; however, his denomination demands that he either leave his position as pastor or reject his wife.

“Failure is a huge problem in Latin America,” Wilson says. “It typically is swept under the rug [with] no process of biblical restoration.”

Boles and Wilson seem confident that the people’s passion will serve as catalysts in Potosí for the institute’s mission to flourish in the years to come.

“Now that God has answered [their] prayer, my hope and prayer is that God will use the pastors, who are trained at the Bible Institute, to fulfill their vision of reaching the entire [Potosí] peninsula with the Gospel and pastoral training,” Wilson says.

Connect

Jim.wilson@efca.org

Learn More

See article on Melvin Loza.

Serve

Contact Jim Wilson if you have interest in one of the following:

  • Teaching in one of the Bible Institutes
  • Serving in Compassion Ministries alongside one of the Bible Institutes
  • Providing financial assistance to feed and transport pastors, who attend the Bible Institutes
  • If your church might have an interest in adopting a Bible Institute in Central America

Pray

  • Pray for safety in travel.
  • Pray for Wilson as he balances all of the competing time demands.
  • Pray for the work of updating and improving the teaching curriculum.

 

Video: Latin America: “Ministry at Street Level”

What’s your perspective on the Latin world? It may depend on how close you are to it. ReachGlobal Latin America/Caribbean has the privilege to work on the street level — to see the vibrance, beauty and hope as well as the great needs. We have the opportunity to show the love of Jesus to the Latin and Caribbean people.

Cross-cultural missions will change your perspective and your heart as you experience the people and the ministry on the street level. How will you engage in God’s work among all people?

Having trouble viewing the video? See it on YouTube or Vimeo.

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“Ministry at Street Level” is part of the Moving Latin America Pictures project. It is the fifth of five videos produced by a short-term mission team of videographers to capture the essence of the ministry and the needs on the field. Please take the time to check out the other four videos featuring our ministry in Brazil, Costa Rica, Haiti and Mexico.

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

View a few of our service opportunities online. However, the needs are much greater, and God can use YOUR gifting and passions to serve the nations. Contact us to inquire about serving in Latin America or the Caribbean.

PRAY
  • For the millions of people in Latin America and the Caribbean who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • For the leaders in the Church, that they would receive the equipping and training needed to help impact their people with the transformational power of the gospel.
  • That God would raise up workers for the harvest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Pray to see how He might be calling you.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the ministry in Latin America.

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Meet Melvin: Translating The Bible To Everyday Life

It wasn’t easy for Melvin Loza to reconcile what he learned in the Bible Institute in Corinto, Nicaragua, with what he had learned in church as a boy. At the Institute, he heard things he had never heard before.

What types of things?

“Things such as… we cannot manipulate God to give us what we want by giving money to a church or any other place,” Melvin says. “He is sovereign and He is in control of everything, even though it does not look like it to us.” He quickly lists at least six other concepts and acknowledges that the list could be even longer.

“The Lord used the Bible Institute to put a rock in my shoe,” Melvin says, referring to the discomfort he felt — and couldn’t ignore — after he first attended an Institute in 2002. “What I had learned all along was being challenged. I had to continue to digest the things I heard after the week was over.”

The Bible Institute was meeting twice a year in his hometown of Corinto, offering pastors and lay leaders a chance to receive solid biblical and theological training. [Read more about the Bible Institutes in Nicaragua in an article about the Rivas Bible Institute.]

Melvin’s pastor advised him (and others in the church) to stop going to the Institute.

“He wanted to tell us what to believe,” Melvin says. “Some people stopped going, but I was a rebel. I didn’t listen. I kept going.”

He’s thankful that he did.

As Melvin continued to go to the Institute and ask the hard questions of his faith, he eventually experienced what he describes as the most liberating moment of his life.

“I had always struggled with the idea that we could lose our salvation,” Melvin says. “Learning about eternal security changed my life. I had always thought grace was just something we received at the point of salvation. I didn’t know that grace was part of daily living. Now I live out of love and gratefulness for what God has done — not out of fear.”

But that wasn’t the only life-change Melvin experienced as a result of his time in the Bible Institute.

Opening doors with English

When Melvin first started attending, part of what piqued his interest in the Institute was the fact that a group of North Americans were teaching the lessons in English. Although the lessons were then translated to Spanish, Melvin wanted to understand the teaching in both languages.

Melvin also recognized that knowing English could lead to better work and ministry opportunities.

“Melvin was a teenager in the very early days of our Bible Institute ministry,” says Jim (then pastor of Hope Evangelical Free Church in Huntsville, AL, and now a ReachGlobal Latin America missionary). “I remember him as an especially eager learner.  He was eager to practice his English — which was limited at the time. He very often took the initiative and sought out the ‘gringos’ in order to start conversations and improve.”

In between the semi-annual visits from the North American teams, Melvin dedicated himself to intensive English study. He and his family couldn’t afford formal English studies, so Melvin taught himself.

“There were days when I would study from morning to night,” Melvin says. Even today, he continues to study, keeping his English fresh. “I’m always studying. I just have to read, looking up words I don’t know and rereading until I completely understand it. I watch movies in English and listen to podcasts from churches in the U.S.”

He had his first opportunity to translate for a Bible Institute in April 2005 — three years after attending his first Institute as a student.

“It was the first Bible Institute in Juigalpa, Nicaragua,” Melvin remembers. “Jim had invited me to translate and I wanted to just translate for him. He had the easiest accent to understand. But then the night before the Institute began, I found out that I would be translating for everyone. I was really nervous. The first five to ten minutes were intimidating, but it went well after that.”

Now, six years later, Melvin speaks impeccable English and is an integral part of the Bible Institute translation team.

“Melvin is a truly outstanding translator. He takes his job seriously and understands the importance of communicating clearly and with passion,” Jim says. “He has become absolutely essential to our ongoing work.”

And his ministry opportunities have also expanded. Each year, he spends an average of 2-3 weeks per month translating for several other ministries in addition to the Bible Institutes (which are now offered in five Nicaraguan cities).

In the future, Melvin hopes to study Christian ministry and the Bible in the United States.

“I want to pursue higher education there and bring it down here (to Nicaragua) and teach others,” Melvin says, unsure of when that might happen. “But right now, I’m living on faith. I trust that God will align things to follow His will.”

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CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

PRAY
  • For Melvin’s ministry as a translator — that God would continue to use him to reach the Nicaraguan people with biblical truth.
  • For Melvin’s dreams for his future and that he would continue to trust the Lord for His best plan for his life.
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