Family brings gospel hope to least-reached Latin Americans
Pastor & writer
David Connell traveled to the mountains of Honduras and glimpsed how seven local Christians study God’s word together. Alongside those seven people, Connell better understood how local believers have started 20,000 Bible studies throughout the nation of 10 million people.
As Converge’s regional impact team leader for Latin America, Connell is eager to activate a strategy using those Bible studies among people with limited access to the gospel.
“God’s at work all over the world — and definitely in Latin America,” he said. “We’re excited about this project and its potential in least-reached rural areas.”
Approximately 300 least-reached people groups live throughout the 33 nations of Latin America. By God’s power and grace, people from the Caribbean islands, Mexico and South America have a chance to meet, know and follow Jesus.
Connell deployed to Latin America with his wife, Stephanie, two daughters and a son in 2019. They chose Florida as a home base, although their ministry includes travels all over Latin America.
Today, he has two strategies that complement God’s work. First, he seeks to create a disciple-making movement among least-reached peoples through Bible studies in Honduras.
Second, provide ongoing mentoring to several Latin American leaders who want to evangelize least-reached people groups. That support would help them fulfill the vision God has given them.
What are the gospel barriers?
The spirituality and life across Latin America, for all its diversity of temperaments, political ideologies and cultural differences, generates various forces against the gospel.
The first need, Connell said, is letting the gospel speak into a spirituality defined by ancestral worship, influences from European conquistadors and Africanization such as Voodoo and animism.
“As you have a culture that is evolving with different spiritual origins and beliefs, they don’t simply try to coexist, they intermingle,” he said. “The result is syncretism, animism, spiritism and a confused version of Christianity.”
For example, the worship of Mary is common in many Latin American countries. The people view and treat the mother of Jesus with reverence because they believe she caused several reported miracles.
It’s not uncommon for people to parade dolls or statues of Mary throughout their cities and villages. Statues, dolls and pictures of Mary are often the primary visible symbols of Christianity, even more than images of Jesus.
A second challenge he knows Christ can overcome is the cultural diversity within Latin America, especially the political, geographic and economic landscapes.
The region includes millions of people living in places like Mexico City or Sao Paolo. Yet, at the same time, every Latin American country has villages or towns with a small population. Even within the same country, such as Peru, some people live in desert plains while others live 15,000 feet up in the mountains.
Spanish and Portuguese are the dominant languages. However, other Romance languages, such as French or Italian, are also spoken, not to mention indigenous languages that existed before European conquistadores arrived.
In areas like the Southern Cone, there is economic strength. However, nearly 1 in every 5 Latin Americans live at chronic poverty levels. In addition, corrupt individuals, governments and drug cartels control many places and lives.
These and other dynamics certainly create challenges to spreading the gospel. Still, Connell isn’t daunted by the brokenness.
“As history has shown, it is often when things seem impossible that God proves himself able and his grace sufficient,” he said.
Making a way to proclaim Christ
Connell continues to travel across the region to implement plans to help catalyze gospel movements, from beginning disciple-making projects in Colombia, Peru and Brazil along the Amazon River, to equipping leaders in Argentina, Mexico, the Caribbean and beyond.
In the coming months, Connell’s travels include missions training to pastors in Mexico, team meetings in Panama and taking U.S. teams to the Dominican Republic.
“There are amazing people doing amazing things throughout the region,” he said. “We’re helping others fulfill the vision that God’s given them to reach least-reached people groups.”
There’s always room for more of God’s laborers
Alongside the hard-working faithful servants, Connell is praying for even more workers.
Converge has a missionary assessment so global workers can discover their calling. There, trained, passionate people experienced in missions help believers wisely evaluate serving globally.
Some global workers invest a lifetime. Others learn they have skills from business or education to offer for a few years or every summer to make an eternal impact. In addition, some global workers do the bulk of their international service from their American homes.
Connell travels across Latin America, sometimes with his family, who are part of his ministry.
At the same time, his wife and one of their daughters have developed an English-teaching ministry in Florida. A Christian school is deploying their gifts among lower-income people and unbelievers so that more people can hear about Christ.
David’s skills in business management and Stephanie’s competency in teaching English developed outside of ministry. But now, God has redirected those talents into making disciples among least-reached peoples.
“God has taken the abilities and interests and experiences that both Stephanie and I have, and he’s used them for kingdom purposes,” Connell said. “He has done that in our lives and wants to do that in others’ lives. That’s what God does.”
The journey isn’t always easy, but it’s worthy
The Connells didn’t become global workers overnight. They were both working in other careers, raising their children and being active as volunteers in their church.
Over time, their heart for ministry grew. And unexpectedly, the Connells also experienced difficult trauma. This combination caused them to pause and listen more intently to the Lord. They believed God was calling them to global work through various circumstances, prayer and counsel.
A new “internal battle” ensued between their then-current life plans and a completely different future ministry.
“If this is God, we’ll just baby step through this and trust he will lead us where he wants us to go,” Connell said of that discernment season. “That’s the approach we took. Just take the next step in the process. If God stops us or changes our direction, so be it.”
Their journey, impacted by COVID-19, has taken them to the Dominican Republic, Ohio and Florida over the past three years. Their three kids have been in eight different school environments. The instability and stress on the family have been extraordinarily high.
But God has been working through it all.
Recently, the family was on a trip taking Bibles written in the Quechua language to Quechuan villages in the mountains of Peru. During an evening gathering, the kids shared the upheaval of the last few years.
They spoke of the personal loss and hardships endured but said they’d glimpsed the grace and faithfulness of God through it all. They also felt amazement that God was using them to bring his word to the Peruvians.
“As a parent, following Jesus not only impacts you but your kids’ lives as well,” Connell reflected. “Their path hasn’t been easy, but what an encouragement to hear they knew their heavenly Father was walking through it with them.”
Bringing that message, that hope of an everlasting father and a wonderful counselor is how millions of Latin Americans can glimpse the light of his glory and grace.
Converge is asking God for a gospel movement among every least-reached people group – in our generation. Learn how we are playing a role in accomplishing the Great Commission and how you can be involved.
Ben Greene, Pastor & writer
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.