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Missionary Spotlight – Coping with upheavals in Costa Rica

October 2008 | by Bill Green

Coping with upheavals in Costa Rica

 

The twentieth century witnessed two upheavals, the first being the growth of urban communities. Early in the century 14% of the world’s population lived in cities; today 50% are urbanites.1

     If we bear in mind that over the same century world population has more than tripled, we begin to understand urbanisation’s global impact. Its negative manifestations are the same everywhere – inadequate housing, high unemployment, poor access to health facilities, family breakdown, and loss of identity.

    

Fragmentation

 

Urban centres are places of great loneliness. Many Costa Rican families once maintained close ties with parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, but now are fragmented through divorce or separation.

     When a parent divorces and remarries, the children are often casualties too. They leave home early because of bad treatment from a step-parent, or engage in drug or alcohol abuse, leading to expulsion from the home and an unstable existence without family support.

     Globalisation ties together world economies in complex webs. Millions are trapped in the web of consumerism, worshipping money as their god. Its pressures have sent many mothers into the workplace, and this creates further social tensions.

     On the other hand, we see a resurgence of polytheism and religious pluralism that combine in convenient ways with gnostic ideas and local spiritist practices. In some Latin American and European countries the traffic of books dealing with New Age, Buddhism and gnostic themes cannot keep up with demand.

     But where traditional religions are weakened by the city’s influence, there is a wonderful opportunity for the gospel. At the same time, these new pluralistic religions – designed to help the consumerist survive in our new world – present serious challenges. The complexity of these problems demands coordinated answers from the church.

     Given that the causes and results of the sin that surrounds us are no longer limited to our own small ‘village’, we must take God’s grace and righteousness beyond our ‘village’ environment also.

    

Pentecostalism

 

The second upheaval has been the explosive growth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. This has some 500 million adherents, from both Pentecostal and traditional denominations1. After the Catholic Church, it represents the biggest block of Christian groupings.

     The Pentecostal presence, together with the aberrations it has engendered, represents a huge challenge for confessional, historic churches. It has evolved into neo-Pentecostalism, with an emphasis on prosperity, psychology and worship services – all heavily designed to entertain.

     The response of Reformed churches has been varied. Some simply ignore it. Others discreetly incorporate some of its elements – and even some of its theology! Others are more reactionary. One thing is certain: Pentecostalism is a phenomenon that will not go away in the near future.

     These challenges call for Reformed churches to work together to encourage one another and give joint testimony of the faith ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’. Several obstacles need to be overcome to do this effectively: unhealthy over-dependence on North American or European missions; a lack of clearly Reformed convictions; a lack of missionary vision; and inability to recognise the realities of spiritual warfare today.

     The Bible teaches us that our struggle is spiritual in nature. In all the above obstacles to the gospel, there is a demonic aspect. The devil and sin work through greed, consumerism, polytheism and individualism.

 

Apathy

 

Our struggle in the final instance is against the kingdom of darkness. We are at war and we need one another in a profound way! Spiritual apathy produces a torpid church. If we are ignorant of the eternal consequences of our ministry, then we will care little about others. But when we understand that the eternal destiny of our neighbours is at stake, then a desire will be ignited to join together in prayer, fellowship and mutual effort.

     The World Reformed Fellowship has been formed to foster fellowship among confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches, with the goal of helping its member churches to train leaders better and carry out more effective evangelism.

     The open wounds of our world cry out for an answer. Are we too busy with a thousand and one things, while great opportunities for the gospel pass by us?

Bill Green

Executive secretary, Confraternidad Latinoamericana de Iglesias Reformadas (CLIR)

 

1. Barrett, David B. & Johnson, Todd M., ‘Annual statistical table on global mission’; International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 23, No.1, Jan. 1999.

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