Threads of Grace: Training Church Leaders in Central and South America

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Dec 13, 2018

There’s a thread of grace that weaves through the lives of God’s people. When we trace it back to the Master’s hand, counting the souls stitched in along the way, we get perspective—a chance to see a bit more of the tapestry He’s made with our stories in His world. One of those threads runs through Bogota, Colombia.

You could say it started with Marco, who trained Alberto, who then led Emalbis to faith. But pull back further and you’ll see that Marco was trained by Javier, who was trained by MTW missionaries, who were trained by … You get the idea. The thread continues in both directions.

MTW began its first missionary work in Bogota, Colombia, back in 1989. Over the course of the 1990s, two Presbyterian churches were planted and the first two Presbyterian pastors were trained. By 2000, violence and unrest had seized the country, and all the MTW missionaries were forced to flee. One of the pastors they’d trained had tragically died of cancer, but the other, a man named Javier Muñoz, continued to faithfully pastor both churches in Bogota. He began to train others as well, ultimately forming the Andino Presbytery of the Reformed Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Colombia.

When MTW missionaries returned to Colombia in 2007, invited by the Andino Presbytery to help with church planting and leadership development, they found that the church had flourished under Javier’s leadership.

“He has pastored two churches in Bogota,” said MTW missionary Joe Harrell, who works alongside Javier in Bogota, “[but] the greatest impact of his ministry has been the mentoring and training of pastors and other leaders for the church.”

For example, Marco
In a small town in northern Colombia, near where the winding Magdalena River spreads its waters like fingers and pours into the Caribbean Sea, a Presbyterian pastor named Marco Orozco is reaching some of the most remote stretches of his country with the hope of the gospel.

Marco grew up in Santa Marta, a larger city on Colombia’s northern coast. He came to faith in Christ and was later trained by Javier. Now Marco, in turn, pastors his own church in the inland town of San Pedro, Sucre, and trains other church leaders in the Magdalena Valley region, traveling each week to remote villages, armed with a robust doctrine of grace and MTW-provided theological education materials.

Just getting to some of these further-removed locations is an adventure unto itself—a harrowing, all-day journey. First, Marco and any accompanying church leaders will travel by bus to a port city on the river. Next, they have to cross the river, either by ferry or in a dugout canoe. Once they make it to the opposite bank, they jump on motorcycles and ride in farther. Finally, when the road disappears and becomes impossible to navigate on two wheels, they walk the rest of the way. It’s quite the hike, but that doesn’t stop Marco. The church needs solid leaders equipped with sound doctrine, and he aims to help raise them up.

“Most of these pastors come from churches where they have never received any formal Bible training,” said Joe. “And yet what we’re seeing in Colombia is basically 2 Timothy 2:2. These are faithful men who are training others who are now training others.”

And then Alberto
One of the pastors that Marco trained is a man named Alberto Luna. A few years ago, Alberto and his wife, Yadira, befriended their next-door neighbors. As the friendship grew, they soon discovered that their neighbors’ son, Emalbis, was getting into trouble—living a wild life, running with the wrong crowd, and headed down a dangerous path. By God’s grace the Lunas befriended the young man, and soon Emalbis renounced his rebel ways, became a Christian, and joined the church. Soon after that, Emalbis fell in love with the Lunas’ daughter, Eliana. They married, and now have two children. Today, Alberto describes his son-in-law as one of the columns of the church.

Emalbis is now as committed to following the Lord as he was before to living a terrible life.

From MTW’s first missionaries in Colombia to Javier, from Javier to Marco, Marco to Alberto, Alberto to Emalbis, and Emalbis to his children, the thread of grace runs through many generations of Christians.

The best part: this is just one thread of many.

Many Threads
With its central location, Colombia serves as a perfect hub to connect with Reformed churches and train leaders across Central and South America, and MTW missionaries are partnering with Javier to do just that. In many countries across Latin America, MTW teams are on the ground working side by side with the local church. Javier, Joe, and others train both the missionaries and the local leaders either in person or via video-conferencing services like Zoom or Skype. Thus equipped, they can in turn train their own people.

The impact of this exponential training model has already been enormous, and the opportunities are only growing.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Colombia is the best place to train leaders for Latin America and the world,” said Joe. “I was in class last night with Javier… and there were leaders studying with us from Costa Rica, from Argentina, from Ecuador, and the opportunities continue to grow. … We have invitations in Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica. … all the way to Chile in the south.”

Stories like Marco’s and Alberto’s are wonderful, but not unique. The work that was begun in Bogota back in the 1990s, has grown and branched out and touched countless lives across Latin America. And each life touched branches out and touches more with the hope of the gospel.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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Pray for the MTW/RUF ministry among college students in Bogota, Colombia. 

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