It is expected that uniting the national churches in a regional conference will greatly enhance mutual strengthening, sharing of vision and resources, and aligning together in the common task of fulfilling the Great Commission, resulting in further acceleration of church multiplication and global outreach.
With beginnings as early as 1904, Wesleyan North American missionaries had been sent to Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Honduras, and Brazil in this area of the world. In 1995, for the first time, this was designated by Global Partners as an administrative area, and Rick West, veteran missionary to Latin America, was the first Ibero-American area director.
Also in 1995, a leading Puerto Rican pastor was raising the vision of international missions. Rick West worked with the Puerto Rico Wesleyan Church to hold a missions conference, and they invited participation from all the countries in the newly formed area. Held in January, 1996, in San Juan, P.R., the first international conference shattered all expectations.
It was a shock when people from 14 nations paid their own way to come, and a total of 52 leaders attended. Costa Rica, which had just launched Wesleyan church ministries through the influence of the Pacific Southwest District, sent 14 representatives. The Holy Spirit’s presence and power were felt in a mighty way. These conferences have continued in Costa Rica; Pasadena, Calif.; Bogota, Colombia; Brazil; Chile; Mexico; Peru; Panama; Medellin, Colombia; and in 2015 in El Salvador.
Several countries caught the vision to reach out internationally. Today, Wesleyan Ibero-American ministries are present in 20 countries, even across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain and Spanish-speaking Equatorial Guinea, Africa.
In the last 20 years, Latinos have led the expansion from six to twenty countries through the mission movement known as JIBACAM. JIBACAM is a Spanish acronym that stands for the “Ibero-American and Caribbean Mission Board.”
Yesterday’s mission fields are truly today’s missionary force.
In 2006, the international cooperation had so matured through JIBACAM, that it was time to form a broader international church structure. There was a desire to harness greater cooperation not only in missions, but in evangelism, church multiplication, pastoral training, women’s ministries and youth ministries. The Ibero-American Wesleyan Fellowship was created. The purpose of the Fellowship was to link all Wesleyan ministries in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries in a step toward fuller internationalization of the area. Rev. Benjamin Galarce of Puerto Rico has served as the Fellowship’s board president since its beginning.
In 2008 Rick West was called to focus full-time on JIBACAM and to coordinate ministries in countries where JIBACAM had initiated missions, namely in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Spain, and Equatorial Guinea in Africa. Jarvis Ferguson, veteran missionary to Peru, was appointed to continue in the role Rick West had forged as area director.
A healthy cross-pollination had already begun. The Puerto Rico Church entered into partnership with the Dominican Republic Church. Leaders from El Salvador began working with the church in Honduras. The Colombian Church partners with the Venezuelan Church. The next step was for the whole area to come together as one. Was it even possible? Even though for the most part there is a common language, there are great differences historically, regionally, and especially culturally. Only God’s mission had the capability of uniting everyone.
In Orlando, Florida, in January, 2015, representatives of 19 countries came together and signed a formal agreement petitioning for uniting. Rev. Benjamin Galarce presented the proposal to the General Board of The Wesleyan Church of North America during the November 2015 session. It was approved there and now awaits the next step at the North American General Conference in Buffalo, N.Y., in June, 2016. Final approval would be possible at the next International Wesleyan Conference in 2019.
The Ibero-America Established Regional Conference will include ministry in the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea (Africa), Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela. (Mexico, with its 157 local churches, will work alongside the Ibero-American Established Regional Conference, but plans to seek Established National Conference status in the near future.)
The new Ibero-America Established Regional Conference will consist of more than 300 churches, 170 preaching points, nearly 300 ordained and licensed ministers, 1,000 lay ministers, 30,000 members and attendees, 17 Bibles schools, and over 500 people being trained for ministry. Once truly united, this region is poised to become an even greater force in reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ!