Beth and Ricardo G贸mez

Beth and Ricardo G贸mez

Ricardo G贸mez, Ph.D., is the area director for Latin America, overseeing the ministry of the Free Methodist Church and all of the U.S. and international missionaries throughout the region. He recently was named Asbury Theological Seminary鈥檚 Distinguished Alumnus. Beth G贸mez coordinates communication efforts throughout the region, managing content on both English and Spanish websites. Together with their team of international leaders, they participate with God in the restoration of Latin America by developing healthy leaders, multiplying committed disciples and empowering transformational churches. The Gomez family lives and serves in Medell铆n, Colombia. Click here to learn more about them and to support them.

by Beth and Ricardo G贸mez

One Sunday morning, I (Ricardo) noticed my wife, Beth, crying in the midst of an upbeat praise song. Beth is from a small town in Kentucky and since we鈥檇 just recently moved to Santiago, Chile, on our first missionary assignment, I thought she might be homesick.

鈥淚s everything OK?鈥 I whispered.

鈥淵es. I鈥檓 great,鈥 she replied. 鈥淚 just got a beautiful glimpse of heaven when we sang 鈥榦ne day every tongue will confess you are Lord鈥 in Spanish. I鈥檝e sung it for years in English, but hearing it in Spanish makes it come alive!鈥

As Christians, that is what we are living for, and that is what we are looking forward to 鈥 a great big cross-cultural celebration in heaven. In fact, that is why cross-cultural collaboration here on earth is so important; it prepares us for our eternal future. I am thankful for the ways God has used it and is using it in my life and ministry. Every now and then, it does seem that God takes those moments to pull back the curtains and give me a fresh new glimpse of the future.

Twenty-two years ago, when I moved from my home in Colombia to the state of Washington, I didn鈥檛 speak a word of English. Despite that, a small Free Methodist church opened its doors and its arms to me. As I learned English, I was also loved, challenged, inspired by their faithfulness, prayed for, and introduced to Wesleyan theology as well as the authentic, self-giving Free Methodist Way of the members of Hillcrest Christian Community. As I served the church and even taught a few Spanish classes, I hoped that they also benefited from me being there for two years. Staying within the comfort of that warm community was tempting, but it would have been disobedient to God鈥檚 call on my life. He called me to the USA to get the tools to return and better serve my people in Latin America, and so I had to move on. However, without a doubt, He used those precious people in that little FM church to shape my life, my ministry and my future.

Today, thanks in large part to their initial welcome and their ongoing partnership, I am the Latin American Area director for the Free Methodist Church. As I write this article, we are preparing for our second annual Semana Santa sin fronteras (Holy Week without borders). Children, youth 聽and adults 鈥 bishops, pastors, lay leaders and new believers 鈥 people from 17 different countries have all come together to prepare for the eight-day celebration that will be broadcast across the continent and beyond. Our goal is to unite the 12,000 FM members from Mexico to Chile and Argentina in one voice of worship to our King.

This new 鈥渢radition鈥 was born out of necessity when the majority of us were thrust into government-enforced quarantines at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Our leadership team suggested we do something to give our overworked and overstressed pastors a bit of a break and yet offer a meaningful celebration of our Lord Jesus Christ鈥檚 sacrifice and resurrection. Semana Santa sin fronteras energized and united the region as never before and, for the past year, we鈥檝e been reaping the rewards of cross-cultural collaboration. New friendships have been forged, pulpits are shared across borders, and most importantly, as people鈥檚 horizons are widened beyond their own little realm of influence, they more heartily pray for other people and nations.

However, this spirit of camaraderie and collaboration has a longer history than simply one pandemic year and extends well beyond Latin America鈥檚 borders. The first Free Methodist missionaries to Latin America began serving the Dominican Republic in 1889. While I don鈥檛 pretend to know the whole story from then until now, I do know that Samuel and Abbie Mills鈥 obedience to God鈥檚 missionary call started a cross-cultural collaboration that continues to this day. We now have seven North American missionary families serving throughout the region, and four more are in the partnership-building phase as they prepare for ministry here.

We also have FM missionaries, both official and unofficial, from different Latin American countries serving in other parts of Latin America, Europe and North America. Some have been called to serve cross-culturally and some have been sent to serve cross-culturally due to their fruitfulness in one particular place, but a great majority have been forced beyond their comfort zones due to political, social and economic instability. No matter the circumstance, time and time again, we see new fruit for the kingdom of God as people take Jesus鈥 command seriously to 鈥済o and make disciples of all nations,聽baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching聽them to obey everything I have commanded you鈥 (Matthew 28:19鈥20a). In fact, within six months, despite ongoing quarantines and pandemic effects, more than 1,000 people professed faith in Christ and nearly 250 people were baptized throughout the region.

Cross-Pollination

Yet this cross-cultural collaboration goes well beyond 鈥渢raditional鈥 missionary service. In fact, we often refer to it as cross-pollination, as different methods or tools are spread from country to country and continent to continent and then bear fruit. One perfect example of this can be seen within the Community Church Planting (CCP) movement. Pastor Bruce Bennett, a former Coca-Cola executive from South Africa, developed CCP in his home country where it was highly effective in multiplying disciples, leaders and churches in rural Africa. This method also took hold among FM ministry in the Middle East. In 2015, Bennett led the first CCP workshop in Latin America. By 2018, we had his approval to translate and adapt the materials to the Latin American context. Today the CCP movement plays a key role in fulfilling our God-given vision to participate with God in the restoration of Latin America by developing healthy leaders, multiplying committed disciples, and empowering transformational churches.

Pastor David L贸pez, a Venezuelan currently living in Peru, serves as the Latin American CCP coordinator for the Free Methodist Church. His colleague and mentor, Pastor John Jairo Leal from Colombia, is the CCP coordinator for Impact Latin America. This new nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington, was born out of our desire to share the tools God has given us throughout Latin America and to extend them beyond the Free Methodist Church. The effort, in its very early stages, currently involves three denominations in another form of cross-cultural collaboration for the benefit of the whole kingdom of God. Together, Pastors John Jairo and David train people all over the region and mentor 42 facilitators in at least 16 countries. Each of those leaders are reading the book 鈥淢ovements That Change the World鈥 by Steve Addison from Australia. Last week, they had their first meeting with Addison, who is providing further training to help advance this movement of God. Likewise, I have been working with Middle East Area Director Dale to develop opportunities where the church planters in Latin America can meet with the church planters in the Middle East to encourage and learn from one another and share best-practices and new techniques.

We are also excited about the opportunities for cross-pollination that are becoming available between the Latin America Area and the Free Methodist Church 鈥 USA as we further develop and improve the pastoral formation program for Spanish-speaking leaders and pastors. Glenn Lorenz, our coordinator for pastoral formation, and I have met with leaders from several different conferences to put these materials into the service of their Latin American conference ministerial candidates.

Collaborative Leadership

Finally, life experience has taught me that collaborative leadership is a much healthier style of leadership than the 鈥渓one ranger鈥 style that is common in Latin America. As a result, we have developed a whole coaching system through which we are developing a team approach between the superintendents/mission district leaders and their boards. This is a process that involves learning to listen to one another, learning to respect each other, and appreciating the fact that everybody has something to offer. Effective collaborative leadership involves humility, a balanced self-identity as well as a willingness to work together. The transition hasn鈥檛 been easy, but watching ministries break out of customary and often unhealthy habits is refreshing. Helping one person鈥檚 weakness be counterbalanced by another person鈥檚 strength and watching people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, and educational and economic backgrounds work together to find creative solutions to decade-long problems and/or stagnation is life-giving. Likewise, the area directors from all five regions of the world and Director of Global Church Advocacy Gerald Coates recently began meeting together on a monthly basis. As we share, work, learn, plan and pray together, we are convinced that we truly are better together.

The very nature of the phrase cross-cultural collaboration indicates the symbiotic relationship of both parties. Our differentness, as in the case of cross-pollination, is actually our strength because we each provide a skill set or worldview that benefits the other, if only given the chance. The Free Methodist Way, therefore, is a two-way street in which we learn from one another, help one another, pray for one another, and grow together out of obedience to His calling. And, in so doing, we are preparing ourselves for that day when every tongue, tribe, people and language will gather around the throne of God (Revelation 7:9). Sometimes, we are especially blessed when He gives us a small glimpse of our heavenly future, here on earth.

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Beth and Ricardo G贸mez

Beth and Ricardo G贸mez

Ricardo G贸mez, Ph.D., is the area director for Latin America, overseeing the ministry of the Free Methodist Church and all of the U.S. and international missionaries throughout the region. He recently was named Asbury Theological Seminary鈥檚 Distinguished Alumnus. Beth G贸mez coordinates communication efforts throughout the region, managing content on both English and Spanish websites. Together with their team of international leaders, they participate with God in the restoration of Latin America by developing healthy leaders, multiplying committed disciples and empowering transformational churches. The Gomez family lives and serves in Medell铆n, Colombia. Click here to learn more about them and to support them.