An effective educational philosophy bridges not just
one cultural chasm but three in Latin America.
Quechuas spilled forward with enthusiastic laughter and brilliant
smiles. Something had connected.
The church in Latin America is growing at an unprecedented pace.
Despite the staggering growth, though, there are problems. Foremost
is the abysmal lack of formal training of church leadership.
Blistering growth leaves poorly equipped leaders vulnerable to
unorthodox teachings and burnout, and the congregation to bickering
The church’s need for mature, well-trained leaders and teachers
stimulated Group Publishing in April of 1995 to sponsor two
Christian education workshops in the colorfully diverse country of
Ecuador. The “Revolutionizing Christian Education” workshops
challenged over 200 Latin Americans to examine the ways they
communicate gospel truth.
The people featured in this article reflect the diversity of
Christian peoples in Latin America. Their involvement tested the
ability of an effective educational philosophy to bridge not just
one cultural chasm but three.
Manuel Quishpe Pinduisaca is a Quechua pastor from the
impoverished countryside of the chilly, wind-swept southern
highlands. Manuel is a typical Quechuas. He’s timid yet ambitious;
hard-working yet gentle; gracious yet formal, almost stoic. Manuel
and several other Quechuas endured relentless 10- to 15-hour bus
rides along precarious, twisted mountain roads to attend this
The Quechuas were the most undereducated segment of the workshops.
Unaccustomed to anything but rote teaching, they seemed
uncomfortable with a form of learning that incorporated the
learners’ experiences and insights. Reserved and reluctant during
active learning activities, and soft-spoken in their native tongue
during small group interaction, it was difficult to gauge whether
the workshop was connecting with them.
Toward the end of the workshop, leaders Thom and Joani Schultz
focused on a change of heart by relating the story of Jonah in the
belly of the whale. During this activity, the participants were
asked to go inside a “whale”-a huge sheet of black plastic taped to
the floor and inflated by a fan.
For a while, Manuel and his Quechua colleagues stood silently
watching the others file into the whale. Then, in an apparent
moment of reckoning, Manuel stepped forward and made his way into
the whale’s belly. One by one, other Quechuas, with slight smiles,
followed and lined up at the mouth of the black plastic.
When the moment came for the grand expulsion from the beast’s
stomach, Quechuas spilled forward with enthusiastic laughter and
brilliant smiles. Something had connected. I pulled Manuel aside
and asked him if he thought the workshop held any relevance for
him. “Oh yes,” he replied, “but we need resources that incorporate
all these ideas we’ve discussed today. It’s a big need.”
Other Quechua pastors validated Manuel’s response. They benefited
from the workshop and were very appreciative. What we
misinterpreted as dampened enthusiasm or disinterest was actually
their unique outward behavior in a formal learning
Nelson is in his mid-twenties, with a small build. His fair skin
tells the story of the European presence in Latin America. Nelson
has had the privilege of a college education and, where
unemployment is rampant, a secure job in a TV station as a line
producer. Living in the modern capital city of Quito, which sits in
a 9,000-foot high hollow at the foot of the volcano Pichincha, he
attends a middle class church and volunteers as a Sunday school
For Nelson, training opportunities are scarce and quality
resources are rare gems. The materials Nelson does have at his
disposal are pedagogical relics-tattered flannelgraphs, coloring
books, and pointless crafts that recall a former era. These,
combined with rote readings and lectures, make for an outdated
Christian education program. Nelson wants more.
Even though his students are university-bound, Nelson’s church
doesn’t necessarily encourage thinking. During the workshop, Nelson
realized that he doesn’t ask his students “thinking” questions
often enough. Many times his closed-ended questions elicit one-word
or yes and no answers. Or if an opened-ended question is asked, he
might become unnerved by the students’ silence and not give them
adequate time to answer. In a country where rote learning and
memorization are standard and where the teacher’s word is seldom
challenged, Nelson knows that discussion can be hard to generate.
These obstacles, however, won’t stop Nelson. Knowing the value of
education and being committed to revolutionizing it in his own
church, Nelson is enthusiastic about putting the new concepts into
Nancy and Belma, in their early 30s, are mestizas (a mix of
Spanish and Indian) from the dusty, noisy, crowded town of Quevedo.
Set in fertile tropical lands, it is surrounded by plantations of
cacao, sugar, bananas, oranges, tropical fruits, and rice.
The church is growing rapidly in Quevedo, and Nancy and Belma are
self-made teachers dedicated to the special education of mentally
disabled young children. For them the workshop reiterated a
fundamental maxim: An educator must know the goal. Nancy and Belma
believe that too many times, Christian educators innocently lose
sight of what they’re really there for. The end goal is true
learning so students may know, love, and follow Jesus Christ. The
question is not, “What were the children taught today?” but rather,
“What did the children learn today?” Learning that encourages a
relationship with Jesus is the real goal.
Nancy and Belma’s frustration surfaced in a conversation over
dinner. Their growing class of over 30 children has many unique
needs, and the specialized resources in Spanish are lacking.
They’re feeling the heat of burnout as they carry the load of the
program. Fortunately, someone in their church speaks English, so we
gave them a list of English special-education resources for their
reference. Even so, we felt that the help was inadequate. It was
but a few feet of bridge spanning the vast chasm of resource needs
in this burgeoning church of Latin America.
Steve Saavedra grew up in Ecuador and is now an audio
technician for Group Media in Colorado.
In response to the monumental cry for resources, Group Publishing
began to translate several key resources into Spanish this past
summer. Group will partner with APOYO, a training arm of Leadership
Resources in New Lenox, Illinois, and World Radio Missionary
Fellowship in Colorado Springs, to distribute Spanish materials to
resource-needy Latin American churches at no cost. Scheduled for
release in the Spring of ’96, we trust these will usher in a new
era-an era of revolutionary Christian education in Latin