Author - Joel Hernandez, CMML Director
Joel Hernandez and his wife Amy live in Dubuque Iowa (USA) where Joel serves as elder at Anchor Community Church and Chair of Intercultural Studies at Emmaus Bible College. He serves on the board of Christian Missions in Many Lands, Emmaus International, and a number of mission organizations in the US and Latin America. His passions include the Gospel, missions, church planting, music, and grand-parenting.
Paul’s prayers make me ponder. His themes seem so foreign to mine. He prayed earnestly that God would so strengthen believers that they would begin to grasp collectively the vast dimensions of the love of Christ, and to experience it together. Christ’s love, I hear him say, so defies measure that it takes all believers, each with their own perspective, to begin to grapple with its magnitude.
“With all the saints.”
I used to think the phrase meant all the believers in my local church. If so, the implications on attendance and participation in church life are crucial. But is that the circle Paul envisioned? Church fellowship tends to homogenize our perspective. In time, the Body begins to speak with one voice; to see things from a single perspective, and to conclude, rather complacently, that such is enough and right. We tend toward isolation. Is it possible the apostle envisioned more?
Something happened a few years ago that challenged my perspective. I met believers from other countries. My colleague, Mr Ken Fleming, was retiring from a long trajectory teaching missions at Emmaus Bible College USA. He urged me to attend the fourth International Brethren Conference on Mission held in Germany in 2007, explaining the obvious: the best way to learn about missions is by meeting missionaries and the best place to meet them is at mission conferences. The experience was jarring. Here were people from many countries—fellow believers—whose perspective differed widely from my own. My defences were up.
Four years later I attended the International Brethren Conference on Mission (IBCM) in France. This time the sizeable contingency of Hispanics met and talked together. Questions surfaced. Why have we never met? Why do we know so little about what the Lord is doing in our respective countries? Why are we not encouraging, praying for, and learning from one another? We resolved to fix that.
Once we decided to listen to each another, to appreciate one another, and to work together despite our differences, the Lord began strengthening us and rooting us in love
Two years later we convened the first IBCM Hispano in Buenos Aires. We acknowledged we have always considered ourselves mission field instead of mission senders, and resolved to change. We rejoiced with brethren from Colombia as they sent their first missionaries to China. In 2015 established mission service organizations worldwide challenged and encouraged leaders from Latin American countries to develop their own organizations. In 2017 Dominican Republic brethren demonstrated their warm hospitality hosting the second IBCM Hispano. In the spirit of the Brethren Training Network, Bible trainers from the Spanish-speaking world met in Quito in July 2018. They launched ASIB, the Association of Seminaries and Bible Institutes, to stimulate one another in the work of Bible training.
The point is not that we’ve accomplished much. The point is that once we decided to listen to each another, to appreciate one another, and to work together despite our differences, the Lord began strengthening us and rooting us in love. Historical international animosities, jealousies, and stereotypes that are so rooted in our respective Hispanic cultures began melting away and give way to a fresh new collaboration.
My brothers from other countries don’t think like I do. But I am no longer weary about our differences; I am grateful for them. Their stories of God’s great deeds deepen my faith; their vision inspires me, their sacrificial commitment rebukes me, their pleas for help move me.
My perspective is changing. The circle of believers that challenges me to consider the dimensions of Christ’s love is widening. And so is my experience of Christ’s love.