Investing in Students’ Futures

AMCA gives kids place to belong

AMCA GirlsSAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Though it’s Costa Rica, the evening begins like any typical Christian youth group in the U.S.: socializing, worship music, message. The two-story house in San Jose’s San Francisco neighborhood swells with sounds of teens laughing and the student worship band tuning their guitars. For many visitors, the sound of English being spoken also provides a welcome to the AMCA youth group. As Costa Rican and North American teens gather in the brightly lit meeting room, they are welcomed by leaders and encouraged to take a seat. Kids begin to pull out their Bibles. Jay Fast, a volunteer leader, asks if anyone is willing to do the Bible chant. The hand of a teenage boy shoots up. He walks to the front, raises his Bible above his head, and leads his peers in the chant: “This is my Bible! I am what it says I am! I will do what it says to do! And I will go where it says to go! Now open it up and read it!” After the message and near the end of the evening, Chris and Cynthia Gault, AMCA house directors, invite the three North American students who won’t be returning after the summer to come forward. The rest of the youth group surrounds them with their hands extended, and students begin to pray. The next tear-filled 30 minutes of impassioned prayer suggest this group is anything but typical.

Reaching missionary kids

Asociación de Ministerios Cristianos (AMCA) international youth group is a ministry in Costa Rica targeted toward English speakers ages 13 to 18. The ministry was started in 1970 and at that time included the international youth group and English Bible studies. One of the key goals of the international youth group is to reach missionary kids. About four blocks from the AMCA house is the Spanish Language Institute;,an intensive Spanish language school attended by many missionaries learning the language skills needed to minister in Latin America. “About half of the students at AMCA are North Americans, who are kind of transient,” Fast says. “Maybe they’re here for six months or a year while their parents are doing language school or that type of thing. So it gives them a place to connect and speak and English and not feel like they’re totally out of their element.” Melissa Putney, a missionary with ReachGlobal, began working with the AMCA youth group about 2 ½ years ago after being asked to lead a Bible study for the high school girls. Since then she has taken on more roles, including helping with the Saturday night  big group of 70 kids and discipling some of the girls who attend her Bible study. “For the missionary kids involved in the group, it provides a spiritual community for them,” Putney says. “It recognizes that just because their parents are missionaries doesn’t mean that they have it all together or that they’re definitely already Christians. They need people to invest in them as well.”

Cross-cultural haven

In addition to ministering to English-speaking North Americans, the ministry also targets Ticos (Costa Ricans). “For the Costa Rican national students that are here, the Ticos, I think it’s a great place for them to connect on a regular ongoing basis,” Fast says. “They have a solid youth ministry in the area where they can be plugged into for four, five or six years — all through middle school and high school.” Andrea Duarte, a 16-year-old Tica student, says her favorite aspect of the AMCA youth group is that it is cross-cultural. “It doesn’t matter that some people only speak Spanish or some people only speak English, you find ways to break that barrier and join together in love and worship for God,” Duarte says. “It’s not about the language, it’s not about the culture. We all share the same God and that’s the greatest thing.” In this group marked by transition, Putney says that the recent influx of Ticos provides stability. “Most of the Costa Ricans aren’t going to leave until they graduate so they’re there for longer periods of time,” Putney says. “So then there’s more of a base now than there used to be of longer-term students. Ale Castro, a 15-year-old Tica student in Melissa’s Bible study, says her involvement in AMCA has helped her mature in her faith. “It has been a really good experience because I’ve  learned a lot of the Bible and I’ve been growing a lot in Christ,” Castro says. Putney says that the enthusiasm and spiritual growth she’s seen in student’s like Castro motivates her to continue being involved in the AMCA. “It’s been really exciting to see their growth and what the youth group means to the students,” Putney says. “They don’t want to miss out. They don’t miss a Saturday night big group or camp-out or anything. They always go.”

Word of God, word of mouth

Oralidad teaches Peruvian leaders to spread a spoken gospel

A Shipibo leader makes a house visit to tell Bible stories to two Shipibo women recently.

DVDs? Nope. iPads? Hardly.

Even in this hyper-digitized world, Abelardo Vasquez Lopez is using a tool as old as communication itself to share the gospel in eastern Peru.

Vasquez, 39, is a pastor from the Shipibo tribe, a group of about 40,000 native Peruvians who live along the banks of the Ucayali River, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Literacy is common for Shipibos, and many of their villages have public schools. But oral storytelling remains the Shipibos’ preferred method of passing along their history and way of life to the next generation. That’s why the Oralidad (Orality) Project started here.

Start with the stories

Vasquez is one of about 80 students who have participated in the Oralidad program over the past seven years. The students – mostly Shipibo pastors and leaders — start the course by memorizing 50 Bible stories that they can retell verbatim. The stories include:

  • Creation
  • The Fall
  • The Flood
  • Elijah and the prophets of Baal
  • Jesus feeding the 5,000
  • Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection
  • Pentecost

Memorizing those 50 key stories is the first step in a four-year program of intensive Bible training launched in 2008 by the Evangelical Missionary Church of Pucallpa, Peru, working in partnership with ReachGlobal missionaries Blair and Joan McGwire. Classes are taught in Spanish by a team from the church led by Ruth Hidalgo. The Shipibo people have their own language of the same name, but most also speak Spanish, the national language of Peru.

Take it to the people

The Shipibos live in villages of 200 to 300 people along the Ucayali River. People here make a subsistence living mainly from fishing, hunting and raising crops such as plantains, corn and papayas. Many also work as artists who sell their work in the larger regional cities of Pucallpa and Iquitos

Stepping out of your boat and walking up Main Street in a typical Shipibo village, you soon arrive at a large quad in the middle of town dominated by a soccer field in the center, with a government school standing on one side. Women sit sewing and talking in small houses with palm-branch roofs. No plumbing or electricity here — the only poles you see are the ones the houses are built on.

The partnership has been using the program to train leaders from the 60 different Shipibo villages visited over the past 10 years by short-term mission teams from the United States that had provided services such as medical clinics and water filters. As a result of those trips, many Shipibo people put their faith in Jesus. Requests for help in starting churches followed soon after.

“So we say in order to have a church, you need to have leaders, you need to have a pastor,” Blair McGwire says. “We’re not going to stay and do it. We’re going to more villages. And so then we have men who step forward, and they join the Oralidad Program.”

Of the 80 students who have taken at least some of the four-year course, 13 have graduated. About 30 students are enrolled now. The program takes place every two months as Oralidad students, new and old, come together to memorize the stories.

Memorizing the stories enables students to tell them anywhere – from the pulpit of a church, sitting around with friends at a village community center or underneath a mango tree, or just chatting in a hut with family members.

The Oralidad training program’s ultimate goal is to spread the Gospel throughout the Amazon region.

“What excites me about it is that it gives the indigenous guys the tools that they need to reach their own people,” McGwire says. “Our job has been, and will continue to be to get the ball rolling; but we need them to keep it rolling. The Oralidad Program — and all the training that they receive — enables that to take place. Our role will continue to be to encourage these guys and move on to new areas.”

Panoramic Plan

Last year, McGwire invited Florida pastor Slayden MacGregor to participate in the program. Rather than stick to the usual training material, MacGregor supplemented it with a weeklong course called “The Panoramic Study of God’s Plan.” The study’s goal: help students understand God’s purpose as it develops through scripture. It essentially synthesizes the entire Bible into one course.

Vasquez says the course was well received at a recent Oralidad training session. He calls the course impactful, increasing his knowledge and therefore his ability to teach others about the plan of God. The material from the course was new for a lot of the Shipibo pastors.

“They were very surprised by the teachings and explanations that were given since they were new for them,” Vasquez says. “They were left with the desire that this topic could be covered in a form even deeper in order to remember it and grow it.”
Vasquez thinks the course is important for Shipibo pastors because as they learn the plan of God, they can remember God’s purpose for themselves. He believes he has seen God’s hand at work through the continued interest of the Shipibos to study and learn.

“They were left challenged to share with others in their churches and towns,” he says.

Pray for Oralidad

Vasquez asks for prayer. “Personally, I would like to dedicate more time to the work of God and that all my countrymen would listen and know the Word. I ask for your prayers that this longing would be realized.”

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.