Aguadilla Theological Seminary
Evangelical - Biblical - Baptistic - Fundamentlist
A Letter to Pastors
Copyright 2012 by Raul E. Lopez, MD, MDiv

Dear Pastor,

Before ascending into heaven our Lord Jesus Christ commanded his disciple to "teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:" (Matthew 28:19-20). Not only is this a command and not a suggestion, it is also important that we accomplish it effectively and not simply be satisfied when we merely try to accomplish it. If you will take five minutes to read this letter we will tell you of a less expensive but more effective way to plant churches in Puerto Rico and Latin America by carrying out what we call phase two of evangelization.

First, however, it is necessary to know something about the way the work of missions progresses. The first step in the evangelization of a culture is the evangelization of people who have never had contact with the gospel and the establishment of missionary churches. A missionary church depends on other churches to provide spiritual and financial leadership in the form of the missionary pastor. The Bible believing churches of North America have been moderately successful in the establishment of missionary churches in Latin America. It is possible that your church supports one or more missionaries to Latin America. This initial missionary effort represents the infancy of the Biblical Evangelical Baptist church in Latin America.

The next step in church maturity may be described as adolescence, the gradual cutting of the dependence of the missionary churches upon the North American mother churches. During this period, the emphasis needs to be the training of native Christian leaders. Paul emphasized to his pupil, Timothy, that "the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." (II Timothy 2:2). Many of the Apostles had disciples whom they trained to take their place as leaders of the church. The Bible mentions Timothy and Titus who were disciples of Paul, and Mark who was a disciple of Peter. The apostles themselves were trained by the Lord during His earthly ministry. We believe that in the coming years there should be a decreased emphasis on sending church planters into Latin America and an increased emphasis on sending Biblical scholars to train qualified local young men for the ministry. This is phase two of evangelization. Let us explain why this transition is the key to the ultimate success of the missionary enterprise.

Even though foreign church planters are essential for introducing the gospel into a region with few churches, a local pastor, native to the area, can be many times more effective at building and even starting churches because of the many ties which he has to the region. These ties include language, family, friends, culture and race. Think of it this way, would you as an individual prefer to go to a church pastored by a Puertorrican who spoke English with a strong accent or to a church pastored by someone like you with ties to your region who grew up only a few counties away? People on the mission field are no different. However, because of the lack of proper training of local leaders it is common for a missionary to retire and hand over his work to a younger North American missionary. It should not work this way.

The main obstacle in successfully accomplishing the transition between missionary leadership of local churches and local leadership of those churches is the fact that usually the missionaries are better trained than the leaders they leave behind. Missionaries often have at least a minimum of Bible College training, but most local leaders have the equivalent of Sunday School training in Bible (even though they might have professional training in their secular careers). If a pastor cannot feed his people with Biblical knowledge, people will leave unless the pastor substitutes this food with spiritual candy in the form of superficial, emotional preaching. There is a strong tendency for missionary churches in Latin America to absorb Pentecostalist and charismatic tendencies after the founding missionary leaves. This is true even among independent fundamental bible believing Baptist churches.

I believe that this is due primarily to the lack of training of the local leaders. Paul said: "be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." (Romans 12:2). Without that renewing of the mind among church leaders and members, the church will become conformed to the surrounding pagan culture. Emotions do not transform the man, Bible knowledge does. Hosea said "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." (Hosea 4:6). This is an interesting verse because it puts the blame for the destruction of a culture upon untrained spiritual leaders (in that day, the priests). It is interesting that the verse places a curse on the children of ignorant spiritual leaders. One could go so far as to say that when a missionary leaves an untrained leader in charge of a church, he is putting that local pastor's children at risk. In actual practice, it is common to see that, many times, the children of these local leaders do not follow in their parent's footsteps. We often loose that second generation.

Therefore, it is essential, in order for missionary churches to become stable and self supporting, to establish a local school to train local pastors. I spent part of my childhood on the mission field where my father, a state university professor, served as one of these lay leaders who had to pastor a church which a missionary left behind. Consequently this is something which has burdened me for many years. I decided to act on this burden by going to seminary and then studying medicine to be able to support myself on the mission field. I wanted to obey the command the Lord gave to His disciples when: "he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick." (Lucas 9:1-2) I am now a self supporting medical missionary working in north western Puerto Rico with Pastor Steve Buchanan, a full time missionary who is pastoring Iglesia Bautista Berea (Berea Baptist Church) in the town of Aguadilla (pronounced like Agua-deejah). Aguadilla is a medium sized rural town, but a million people live scattered within a half hour's drive.

Last year we decided to go ahead and start a fledgling theological seminary in our church. The response has been surprisingly positive both here and abroad. We have gotten inquiries from as far away as Central America and even from Colorado. It seems that many other denominations have the same problem as the Independent Baptists. There is a hunger among God's people from different evangelical churches, for solid Bible teaching, especially among those who wish to be leaders. After a while, superficial emotional preaching simply does not satisfy. We have now finished our third semester of slowly and carefully covering Bible doctrines (theology). The first semester we had three students, the second semester we had four, and this last semester we had nine. Two of the students are currently Independent Baptist pastors or assistant pastors.

We have big plans. I can only teach one two-hour class once a week because of my work as an ophthalmologist. We would like to bring in another teacher who could teach Biblical languages and other classes, in Spanish. This would allow us to offer more classes. Eventually we would like to have a full fledged theological seminary where we could also train pastors from other countries in Latin America. We are not familiar with a single graduate level, conservative, Biblical Independent Baptist theological seminary in all of Latin America. Even though we firmly believe that attending classes in person is a much more effective way to learn, we understand that there is an opportunity in offering classes by internet. We would like to develop internet courses in the future as time and money permit.

We would also like to be able to train North American missionaries who wish to minister in Latin America. We have come across too many missionaries who are unfamiliar with the local language and culture, and who are also poorly trained even in Bible. It is impossible to reach people if you have not mastered their language. It seems that as Baptists, we still think that the world lives in small villages composed of huts. Some people still live like that, but much of the world is now composed of high school and college graduates. For example, Aguadilla is a rural town on a tropical Caribbean island but we have an international airport, three universities and several high technology companies including a Hewlett Packard plant which builds one of the fastest computers in the world. On the other side of the island, the high tech drug maker Amgen produces Aranesp, a form of the cancer drug Epogen, one of the most complex medications in existence. Educated middle class people need the gospel as much as tribal people but they are harder to reach. However, Aguadilla would be a great place for missionary candidates to come study Spanish and then take classes in Spanish for a master's degree in Bible. That way he could be as effective as possible when he goes to reach others for Christ in the more needy countries of Latin America. Please pray for us as we try to accomplish these big goals for our great Lord.

There are three ways you can help us. There is no reason, except for a busy schedule, why your church cannot pray for us. If church people really mean what they pray for, God will hear them. As soon as someone dedicates themselves to following the Lord, Satan immediately attacks. For example, one of our most loyal students recently was found to have a large tumor and heart disease at the same time, which makes operating on the tumor particularly risky. If you send us your address we would like to send your church regular prayer letters to keep you informed of our prayer needs and of the way the Lord has answered prayer.

Furthermore, if someone in your church, or someone you know is interested in participating in a ministry such as ours, we would be happy to consider accepting his help. As we said, we are looking for someone with seminary training (at least a master's degree) who knows Spanish, to come and teach Biblical Languages and other classes. If you know of someone who is interested, please forward his resume to our e-mail address.

Finally, it might seem sad that the Lord's work must depend on something as ordinary as money, but that is the way God designed the world. A truly dedicated Christian is one who has a dedicated wallet. In order to hire professors we need money to pay a salary or they must have missionary support. Until we become better established we would like to offer classes almost for free. After all, on the mission field, pastors have to support themselves. They should not have to also pay for their studies. Therefore, we are looking for enough support to hire one full-time professor. We would like to pay this professor at least $30,000 per year. If we could get 100 churches to give us $30 per month we would have enough to do this. If each of those churches has 100 members that represents less than one penny per day (a nickle a week) per member! Do you think your church could donate a nickle a week for every member to help us transform Latin America for Christ?

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