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Discipleship at the ends of the earth

MIAMI (BP)–Near the bottom of the earth geographically, the town of Punta Arenas, Chile, would be at “the ends of the earth,” as Acts 1:8 would describe it.

Diego Rivadeneira would agree.

“Many people don’t go there because it is very extreme,” Rivadeneira said. “The churches are very small and the pastors are very humble. The spiritual needs are great and the pastors and churches need tools to assist their ministries. I go there because it helps them make disciples. I go there because Jesus commands it.”

Rivadeneira embodies the Great Commission focus that guides LifeWay International, a department of LifeWay Christian Resources. Rivadeneira is one of dozens of LifeWay International consultants from Spanish-speaking countries who attended the department’s annual training event May 11-13 in Miami. This year’s theme was “Edificar el Reino” (Edify the Kingdom), drawn from Ephesians 4:12-13.

Luis Aranguren, director of LifeWay International, told the consultants that today’s church is too often full of programs that lead to busyness, whereas, “The focus needs to be where Jesus placed emphasis in the Great Commission: making disciples.

“Teaching them to obey goes beyond leading a seminar. It is teaching them by living it yourself, by showing it,” Aranguren said. “Obedience comes day by day. The objective of the church is to mature believers for obedient service to the Lord. We don’t need more activities, we need disciples.”

Making disciples is at the heart of Rivadeneira’s calling. Although he has been in Chile for 12 years, the 33-year-old Ecuador native began his spiritual journey after a cousin invited him to a home Bible study. He put his faith in Christ and almost immediately was influenced by biblical teaching, godly mentors and printed resources. He credits “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby as being instrumental in his decision to move to Chile and begin seminary studies.

“I believe what we do as consultants is important because many churches don’t have a Great Commission focus,” Rivadeneira said. “But when they are taught what Jesus calls us to, it is incredible to watch the transformation. The people get a right understanding about God’s mission and they begin to impact the people around them.”

Being a part of the transformative process is the goal of LifeWay International, said Luis Lopez, the department’s manager of consulting and training.

“Our purpose is to provide the most relevant biblical resources possible to churches around the globe,” Lopez said. “Through these resources, we are able to help people of all races know Jesus Christ and seek His Kingdom. The most effective way we can do that is through the consultants. Because they are nationals living in the field, they can understand the needs of the local churches better and provide relevant training to church leaders.”

Since its launch in 1999, LifeWay International has increased the number of workshops it hosts around the world. In 2006, the department and its consultants hosted 923 workshops that trained 93,552 pastors and church leaders who represented 9,113 churches in 36 countries. Four predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East were among the countries where evangelicals received training.

Rivadeneira said it may sound exceptional that so many people attended so many workshops in so many countries, but with a tone of urgency he added, “People are hungry for the Word of God both in and out of the church and they must be reached.”

He recounted one of many stories he said he could tell that demonstrates the hunger:

“We had a workshop way up in the mountains in a very small church. We had a man come who had heard about the workshop and he lived very far away. He walked two hours in the rain to catch a bus for another hour. He was still soaking wet when he arrived but wanted to come and learn more about what we were teaching. Others have come from even farther. It is humbling because I know it is not me they are coming to hear but it is the opportunity to grow in God’s Word that brings them.”

A workshop can include many different topics and is designed to meet the needs of local believers. Among the variety of topics: growing in faith, marriage and family, youth discipleship, leadership training and women’s ministry.

“Our vision is that as God works through us, we will help people, churches and evangelical organizations around the world in their efforts to know Jesus Christ and seek His Kingdom,” Lopez said. “We want to be the most relevant and accessible provider of spiritually transforming biblical solutions possible. At the same time, we understand that books don’t make disciples, people do. God’s Word transforms; that is what people need to hear.”

And Rivadeneira would quickly add that includes even those people living in extreme conditions near the bottom of the earth.
More information about LifeWay International can be accessed at www.lifeway.com/espanol or by calling toll-free 1-888-251-2312.