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By Dick Nicholson
Latin America and the Caribbean has two-thirds of the 2,000 bible schools and education-by-extension courses that reflect the priority that historically the Assemblies of God has placed on training and bible education. Our predecessors recognized the importance of training leaders for the emerging churches; it is still a high priority in the AG today. Nothing has changed.
But as we are aware, teaching is more than imparting information. A unique aspect of the work of the missionary in education, training, mentoring, and discipling is that for him or her, there are at least three additional and equally vital components of that effort. They are missionary educator’s ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit (“knowledge on fire” as it has been called), their aptitude in language acquisition, with all of its complexities and nuances, and the learning and absorbing of the culture in which he or she serves.
We believe it is ever vital for a Pentecostal educator to teach in the power of the Spirit, who is, after all, the One who “teaches us all things.” The anointing indeed teaches us. It has been personally refreshing to hear in our educators’ dialogues the repeated emphasis on the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit. May we never lose that thrust!
The languages, like the cultures of each country and people group, are a direct link to centuries past. The Spanish, Portuguese, British, Dutch, and French all arrived on our continent and they brought their culture, customs, religions, and languages with them. In many cases they blended those customs and languages with those of the indigenous peoples who were here when the colonists arrived on these shores, in many cases syncretizing their customs to those of the subjugated “originals” (as a Bolivian pastor once told me they like to be called there). If the indigenous people thought of God’s spirit in terms of an eagle, why insist on a dove, for example? The mixing together was easy to do.
This tendency to blend language and customs with native legends, myths, superstitions, and customs left a heritage of both richness and difficulty, especially for those who teach. The richness is reflected in a thousand ways. One small example is the popular Spanish word, “ojalá” that is Arabic in its origin. The dictionary says the following:
“If you go to the roots of the word (in Arabic it’s وشاء الله - wa-šā’ allāh), you’ll see that it roughly means “if God [Allah] wants it” or “and may God will it”. However, the best translation nowadays is “hopefully”, “let’s hope” or “I hope”.
The root “Allah” in the word “ojalá” conjures up images and reveals the vestiges of the almost 800 years of conflict from 711 A.D. to 1492 A.D. between the Spanish and the Moors (Muslims) on the Iberian Peninsula. The end of that war was the beginning of the Spanish colonial period. They brought the Spanish-Arabic remnant with them in this and other small and sometimes not-so-small ways. It is the lofty task of the missionary teacher to learn the language well.
How can one effectively teach without understanding the history and customs of Spain and the Spanish, the reconquest (Reconquista) of the Iberian Peninsula, wresting it back from the Moors of North Africa, and the subsequent colonization and domination of the Spanish Americas? Were they not called “Conquistadores”?
What about the people--perhaps 100 million of them in the region—that remain of the indigenous groups? Must we who teach not also learn of the Aymara, Quechua, Garifunas, Kek-chi, Guarani, and the myriads of subgroups that descended from the Maya, the Aztecs, the Incas, so that they may effectively communicate with them the timeless truths of the Bible that came to us wrapped in the cultures of the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Assyrians?
One only has to go to Haiti in the Caribbean to see the results of the mixture of language and religion and its effect on a culture. At one point in time, in the late 1700s, Haiti was a prosperous colony of France and in fact annually exported more goods to France and the European continent than all the 13 original American colonies combined!
But the French, as did the English, Spanish, and others, brought slaves from Africa to the Americas, and with the slave trade came tribal customs, rituals, and practices. So voodoo came to Haiti. Eventually the blacks revolted against the French oligarchy and the world’s first black republic was born on January 1, 1804.
But voodoo remained, and more than 200 years later, the effects of that African tribal influence are still prevalent in Haiti [a powerful book, The Serpent and the Rainbow, on voodoo and zombie practices, captures the subject well]. In fact on the bicentennial of Haiti’s revolution, former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared: “All we are we owe to voodoo.” Can one teach in Haiti without learning Creole, without understanding voodoo, and without the power of the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so; certainly not effectively.
If, for example, the people are steeped in superstitious beliefs about the loa, or evil spirits, coming on a person and inducing a trance, how complicated it becomes to teach them about the Holy Spirit “coming upon” the believer without conjuring up images of demonic assaults! How does one teach timeless and absolute truths in a context of centuries of folk religions and superstitions that defy biblical doctrine? But that is the task of the Pentecostal educator.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our colleagues who are committed, Spirit-filled, learners of language and culture, who teach throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. They inspire a host of other national brothers and sisters to do the same, to be learners even while they teach.
We honor you for your dedication to this cause, the formation of lives through teaching. May God reproduce you many times over in the lives of others who “catch the itch” to teach because they sat under the influence of your life and ministry!