Doors Wide Open

24 Jul

We have turned a corner! Something has changed! For many years, doors in Latin America were closed to the field of apologetics. That is no longer the case. In the last 2-3 years I have seen some amazing things happen. Earlier this year I spent 10 days in the Dominican Republic, alongside 3 other apologist friends. We held the first ever National Apologetics Conference in Santo Domingo and we visited numerous schools, pastor’s meetings and churches throughout the island. God allowed us to impact thousands of people with the reason for the hope that lies within us. I have already been to Colombia twice this year—a huge Apologetics Conference in Bucaramanga—where I spoke alongside three other apologist friends, including members of Ravi Zacharias’s ministry team. We were able to speak to an audience of over 1500 people live, plus over a thousand who joined the live-stream of the event. Before this year is done, I will be speaking in Honduras, back to the Dominican Republic, 10 days in Costa Rica, twice in Bogota Colombia, Cali Colombia and 10 days in Buenos Aires Argentina. In addition, we have already booked several very large events in Colombia and in the Dominican Republic for 2019 and 2020. We are seeing doors opening faster than we can keep up. Praise God!

Pereira, Colombia – Pastors Conference

It hasn’t always been that way though. For many years, the doors have been closed hermetically. That closure could be attributed to many factors. One important factor is the religious heritage of Latin America. Because Latin America was settled by the Spanish—Catholicism is deeply ingrained in every aspect of life. Practically everyone in Latin America believes in God, in one way or another. Up until recently, atheism was practically non-existent. Generally speaking, there has been no real concern about someone “losing” their faith, because faith has been more of a cultural expression than a spiritual or personal journey. You are basically born Catholic, because your parents were, and so were their parents.  The typical Latin American community is primarily Catholic, which means going to mass 2-3 times a year, and nothing more. In other words, there is no real faith to lose. Superficiality is another important factor for the rejection of apologetics. To paraphrase Darío Silva Silva, a Colombian journalist, pastor and friend, Christianity in Latin America tends to be analogous to a huge ocean, but only a few centimeters deep. Lack of depth in biblical knowledge and theology goes hand in hand with cultural religiosity. Because religion in this context is not personal—there seems to be very little interest in personal growth and in-depth bible study. Others seem to care only for the emotionalism! Self-help motivational speakers seem to have no problem gathering the masses. Among other factors, these have led to a lack of interest in apologetics. So, what has changed?

Santo Domingo Apologetics Conference

Why are the doors currently busting wide open for apologetics? I believe there have been some key developments in Latin America that have brought the importance of apologetics to the forefront. First, the internet. Today’s Latin American young person is exposed to heavy dosages of skepticism, atheism, cults, eastern philosophies, secularism, etc. This exposure is responsible for an ever-increasing number of people questioning their faith. To aggravate matters, many of the new professors beginning their careers throughout Latin America have been trained in the United States and Europe where they have been exposed to secular humanist philosophies and the deep-rooted skepticism that permeates secular academia. They have been indoctrinated and they are now passing the poison along to the next generation. The effects have trickled down to the churches, who have begun to lose young people. For the first time in history, atheism and skepticism has taken a foothold in Latin America and most Christians are clueless on how to respond. The unquestionable is being questioned and parents, pastors, and Christian young people are not prepared to respond.  Rampant activism in the area of sexual immorality has also swept across Latin America creating animosity between the church and culture. Young people, for the most part, take the side of culture. These developments have awakened a hunger for answers—thus the hunger for apologetics. The opportunities are very encouraging, but the task is daunting for numerous reasons.

 

This amazing opening is also accompanied by many challenges. Here are three challenges that I consider to be among the most serious. First, there are very few Spanish speaking apologists. Second, most churches and ministries in Latin America cannot afford the expenses of bringing in someone from abroad. Therefore, ministry to these communities requires a large financial commitment on behalf of the apologist. Third, a fierce spiritual battle is taking place—since the enemy does not want to relinquish his hold on these communities. However, greater is He who is with us than he who is in the world. I believe God is calling us at such a time as this to penetrate the darkness and let His light shine!

Bucaramanga, Colombia – Apologetics Conference

What are we doing at Reasons for Hope in response to these new and exciting developments?  We are being BOLD! First, we are committed to preparing a new generation of young Spanish- speaking apologists. This year we will be leading several three-day intensive trainings for Spanish speaking pastors, youth leaders, and young people who feel called to engage in apologetics in their circles of influence. Our first will be in Costa Rica this August. I will be joined by three other Spanish speaking apologists to train a group of 40 apologists on the basics of doing effective apologetics in the Spanish-speaking world. We will be donating four key apologetics books that are available in Spanish to each student (over $50 value per student). In addition, we are each paying our own airfare and expenses. This will be an expensive endeavor, but we are trusting God for the provisions we need. In October we will be doing our second intensive training in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Here we will be training another group of 40-45 pastors, youth leaders, and young people. We are anticipating Spanish speaking students from Mexico, the US, and Canada. We are super excited about this project. The third training will be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina in December. There too we will be training 40-45 pastors, youth leaders and young people. That too will be an expensive endeavor where we will have to donate the books, and cover all of our own expenses, but Reasons for Hope is committed to doing what God has called us to do.  In addition to the trainings, we are investing as much as we can, of our limited resources, in response to this amazing opportunity. Finally, we are praying! We are engaged in this battle and we know the importance of wearing the full armor of God.

 

As I close this article, I can’t help but be excited with what God is doing! Imagine the impact of 120+ new Spanish-speaking apologists from all over Latin America and the US giving a reason for the hope that lies within us! Imagine the impact of having an additional 6-8 training camps in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Central America in 2019! We don’t have the resources to pull that off yet, but we know a God who does. I pray you get excited and help us pray that God will do abundantly more than we can ever imagine! Please join us in this battle. Your support and your prayers are making a difference and will continue to do so.  God Bless you and STAY BOLD!

Juan Valdes

Dr. Juan Valdes is a bi-lingual speaker for Reasons for Hope (English and Spanish) and the senior pastor of a Spanish-speaking congregation in Miami, Florida. He has taught Theology, Bible and Apologetics at the seminary level in both English and Spanish and speaks regularly across the country and internationally at Pastor’s Conferences, Youth Conferences, Apologetics Conferences and local church events. Juan, his wife Daisy and their children, Juan Elias and Jessica serve in multiple areas of ministry in Miami, Florida.