"There are moments when you just don't know what to say because it's so obvious that God's in control," said Chuck McAlister, a former International Mission Board trustee from the Church at Crossgate Center in Hot Springs, Ark. "This is one of those moments."
Pastor Hector Barolin agreed.
"What came to my heart was here's a friendship like that of David and Jonathan," said Barolin, who leads Jesus, Light to the Nations church in Esquina, Argentina. "And that's what I shared with Pastor Chuck. I really feel like this is something that's going to last."
McAlister, a retired pastor who hosts an evangelistic TV program for hunters, went to Argentina with three families from Trinity Baptist Church of Apopka, Fla., to partner with IMB missionaries David and Alisha Holt from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. The Holts minister to northern Argentina's Criollo people who work primarily as guides and lodge keepers in the hunting and fishing industry.
The volunteers' purpose was to build relationships with the people they would encounter while enjoying the region's hunting and fishing opportunities. The strategy of evangelizing men through their hobbies is one McAlister describes as reaching an "affinity of interest." Though the hunters of Argentina are from a different culture, he said he probably has more in common with them than with some people in the United States.
"I guess rednecks are my people group, and it doesn't matter if they live in south Georgia or South America," McAlister said with a wry smile. "Whatever affinity group of interest you can find that unites a group of people, I think it's our responsibility to exploit it and use it for advancing God's Kingdom and impacting lostness."
On a cold, wet morning, the American volunteers and the Holts met with Barolin and other leaders of Jesus, Light to the Nations at their church building. As the group sat in the white concrete sanctuary, they shared mugs of hot mate -- a tea-like drink popular in South America -- and McAlister shared his heart for reaching men through outdoor activities.
"We are doing the same thing," Barolin said. "In this church we have members who are hunters and fishermen ... and they're reaching out to men in the same way you are."
McAlister was nearly speechless.
"You're doing this for men in your ministry. We're doing it for men in the United States," McAlister said. "This is no accident."
As the two men continued to share their hearts, it became clear that God had orchestrated their meeting so they could work together.
"We've been feeling for a time that God is telling us something new is coming," Barolin said. "And it's going to be big. I'm excited to begin to dream together about what God is going to do."
Both Barolin and McAlister have found outdoor activities to be an effective evangelism tool because many men are more likely to accept an invitation to go on a hunting trip than to go to a church service.
"Let's say they show up to a church service," McAlister said. "And what are we doing? We're singing love songs to a man. We're escorting them into a small group where someone may break down and cry. Or they're asked to hold hands with other men in a circle and pray. And these guys are freaking out because this is not the world they live in. I think without realizing it, we have made much of what we do in church today effeminate."
One of the myths in the local culture is that real men don't need Jesus, Alisha Holt said.
"Sadly, the predominant icon of Jesus Christ through the Catholic tradition is either the infant Jesus in Mary's arms or the dead body of Jesus in Mary's arms. And real men just don't want that," Holt said.
Many men -- both American and Argentine -- don't know the Jesus of the Bible, McAlister said; they don't know the man who walked on water or the God who calmed the waves or threw over the tables in the temple. But when they encounter other outdoorsmen who love and need Jesus but are still "real men who hunt and fish and can handle a gun and a knife and a boat," the masculine Jesus of the Bible starts to come into focus, McAlister said.
But Barolin and McAlister have set their sights beyond just men. They want to reach entire families.
"We see the father as the rock of the family," Barolin said. "And we realized if we could reach the head of the family, the family is much easier to win as well."
By bringing families from the United States, McAlister hopes to model for the Argentine men that "there is a responsibility that they have to their family, that they can come to know Jesus Christ personally and that they can be the spiritual leader of their family."
While in Argentina, the volunteer families spent time with members of Jesus, Light to the Nations. The kids attended a youth meeting where there was dancing and games, and Barolin invited McAlister to share a message with his congregation.
The next step is to plan how American families can work strategically with Barolin's church. But the partnership has been established.
"I really think this is the work of God," Barolin said. "I've seen answers to prayers and have seen God's hands in this."
"I have found my Latin American brother," McAlister said. "Where do we begin?"
Tristan Taylor is an International Mission Board writer living in the Americas.
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