How LifeWay is taking part in the growing global church
By Lisa Cannon Green
Juárez, Mexico, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.
The border city near El Paso, Texas, saw more than 800 homicides last year. Crime, violence, and gang activity are so widespread the U.S. government warns Americans to reconsider traveling there.
But churches in Juárez have a vision to transform the city with the Word of God.
In partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources, they’re distributing Bibles by the thousands—and they don’t plan to stop until every household in Juárez has one.
The grass-roots movement has already placed more than 20,000 copies of LifeWay’s Spanish-language Biblia del Pescador, the Fisher of Men Bible, into the hands of the people of Juárez.
“With the Bible they have courage, they have hope, and they have peace,” says Eva Uria, general manager for LifeWay Mexico.
Every day, she sees what research confirms—outside North America and Europe, Christianity is growing rapidly. In Mexico, it’s increasing nearly three times as fast as in the United States, with an estimated 22 million new believers by 2050, according to Pew Research.
But as churches in Mexico and other nations celebrate the growth of God’s kingdom, they also face a harsh reality—it can be tough for new Christians to find biblically sound resources to support their newfound faith.
“Much of the church around the world is growing in a Third World context, where there isn’t a robust Christian publishing community,” says Craig Featherstone, director of LifeWay Global.
He’s seen the same pattern worldwide, particularly in the global south—Latin America, Africa, and Asia—where millions are turning to Christ.
“God is pouring out His Spirit on the nations,” Featherstone says. “There’s explosive growth in the church internationally, and they don’t have access to the resources they need. The gap demands a response.”
Stepping into that gap isn’t as simple as some might expect, according to Featherstone. Although LifeWay is one of the world’s largest Christian publishers with a broad array of resources, those materials don’t always translate seamlessly into other cultures.
Yet LifeWay distributed Christian content to 164 countries last year, touching more than 4 million lives. Resources were licensed in more than 60 languages. Leadership and discipleship courses were offered around the globe.
The effort to saturate Juárez with God’s Word is one of many initiatives—and this year, LifeWay plans to do more.
“The need is so great around the world that we’re just scratching the surface,” Featherstone says.
“LifeWay exists to serve the church in her mission of making disciples—and that promise extends to the ends of the earth.”
Growth in the global south
In the United States, researchers frequently point out Christianity’s shrinking share of the population, but in other parts of the world, the picture is strikingly different.
The world will gain 750 million Christians between 2010 and 2050, Pew says—almost all of them in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Less than 3 percent of the increase will occur in North America, while Christians in Europe will actually decline by nearly 100 million people.
A.S. Thomas saw the trend in India when LifeWay brought Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer to Hyderabad for a women’s event in 2016. Attendance grew throughout the three-day event until a “jam-packed” session on Sunday night. Thomas, general manager of LifeWay India, estimates the sessions drew a total of 10,000 people.
“People were blown away by the passion Priscilla brings,” says Thomas. “They’re just hungry for the truth.”
Although Pew estimates only 3 percent of India’s population is Christian, Thomas points out India has 1.3 billion people—about four times as many as the United States. So that tiny sliver of India’s population amounts to tens of millions of Christians.
And Pew’s growth projections don’t account for people moving to evangelical Christianity from a different Christian tradition—a trend Eva Uria says she sees in Mexico.
Although Mexico was 96 percent Catholic as recently as 1970, the number fell to 81 percent by 2016, according to Pew.
Meanwhile, evangelical denominations have grown dramatically in the past 10 years, Uria says—even though, for some, conversion comes at a price.
When an earthquake hit Mexico City in September 2017, officials wouldn’t help evangelical churches, says Usías Alameda Grano, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Dios en las Alturas (First Baptist Church God on High) in San Antonio Tlatenco, Puebla.
“Our music building was a total loss, as were some houses of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he says. “Authorities denied us their help, being very specific about the help only being for Catholic churches.
“But God provided all the help we needed through His children.”
While Baptist seminary students and relief workers brought food and clothing, the church asked LifeWay Mexico for assistance with an even bigger need: Bibles.
“They told us, ‘It’s true that we need food. It’s true that we lost our homes. It’s true that we don’t have blankets to cover us,’” Uria says.
“‘But mainly what we need is Bibles. People are really scared. We want to give them hope. We want to give them peace. And the Word of God is alive and He will do His job.’”
In Juárez, Bibles arrive by the truckload. Believers gather for training, then deliver them door to door in neighborhoods. They hope to give away more than 400,000 Bibles, concentrating on the city’s most crime- and drug-infested areas.
“It’s the dream of thousands of friends who love God and have known Him through His Word,” declares a Facebook page devoted to the cause.
More than 75 pastors are part of the citywide campaign, with the motto “That All Juárez Has a Bible.”
The movement has inspired a broader initiative called Caravan of Hope, which stretches the entire length of the U.S. border with Mexico, says Jim Cook, a LifeWay retiree who now coordinates this project for LifeWay.
“Pastors’ associations all along the border are raising money, training their people, and then going out and evangelizing using the Fisher of Men Bible in Spanish,” Cook says.
Bibles are funded through donations, and Luis Ángel Díaz-Pabón, editor of the Fisher of Men Bible, has pledged to match each donated Bible with another.
Díaz-Pabón has also trained more than 1,400 volunteers to evangelize as they distribute the Bibles, Cook says.
Enlisting people like Díaz-Pabón, an evangelist in Latin America for more than 40 years, is essential for reaching different cultures, Featherstone says. American voices, translated into new languages, may not resonate with audiences in other nations.
“Part of serving in context around the world is to find messengers who are trusted, respected, and known in those parts of the world,” he says.
For LifeWay, that has meant publishing books by authors such as Miguel Núñez, a physician-turned-pastor in the Dominican Republic; Sugel Michelén, an expert on preaching; and Otto Sánchez, an expert
“We’re creating original content in Spanish, and churches and ministries are responding well to that,” Featherstone says.
Uria says she’s excited about plans to distribute LifeWay’s resources in bookstores, retail stores, and department stores in Mexico.
“This is God’s ministry, and we see His hand in everything,” she says. “So we know He has beautiful plans for Mexico.”
‘The crazy way’
Thousands of miles away, in India, Thomas and the LifeWay India team are making plans to reach 250,000 kids with the gospel.
They’ve done the math—if 10,000 churches get Vacation Bible School kits, and each church gets just 25 kids to attend, that’s a quarter million children learning about Jesus.
“We said, ‘Let’s do this the crazy way—let’s just ask God for something amazing,’” Thomas says.
In India, “the crazy way” means launching VBS simultaneously in six languages—English, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Kannada, and Telugu. It means print-on-demand VBS kits priced at $12, with subsidies to help churches that can’t afford even the $12.
Pastors, he says, are loving it.
“We’ve really tailored the content,” Thomas says. “For example, the songs are transliterated so kids can sing it in their own languages. All the lessons, the recreation cards, and everything is going to be in their language.”
LifeWay’s presence in India means it’s easier to make trustworthy content available and affordable, Featherstone says.
“You produce resources locally so they’re affordable, you price them in the local currency, and you distribute within the country,” he says. “It’s a more dynamic way to serve people.”
Technology also helps, he notes. Social media, online training, and electronic distribution provide dynamic ways for LifeWay to reach people around the globe.
Many of the items distributed in India and other countries are the same trusted resources familiar to churches in the United States—studies from Explore the Bible, books such as Experiencing God, Audacious, and The Love Dare, reference tools for pastors, and more.
“We have the privilege of taking the content LifeWay publishing teams produce to the ends of the earth,” Featherstone says.
Other resources are created specifically for a global audience. LifeWay published several Indian authors for the first time this year: Anand Mahadevan, a senior editor for The Economic Times in India; Merilyn Jemimah Amirtharaj, a blogger who speaks to young women; and well-known pastor Stanley Mehta.
A recent online survey illustrates the need for solid biblical resources in India, Thomas says. Pastors were asked to name the church’s greatest challenges in India. Repeatedly, they said they didn’t have systematic discipleship programs and couldn’t afford to buy curriculum from abroad.
“Those pastors’ voices are all saying, ‘We need to be trained. We need access to content. We need access to resources,’” Thomas says.
“As the gospel is shared, people’s hearts will respond—but that’s only part of the job. People then need a plan for walking through the journey of discipleship.”
Anchored by the Word
Reaching the nations isn’t a cookie-cutter process, Featherstone warns.
“This is not like franchising McDonald’s,” he says. “By having a presence in these countries, we’re developing face-to-face relationships. We hear the heartbeat of the churches and ministries and say, ‘How can we best serve you?’ And then we create unique solutions in each country.”
In some nations, a custom approach is essential because evangelizing is illegal and distribution of Christian content is limited.
“Compared to the USA, the availability of Christian books is like the availability of water in a desert,” says John Diedrich, director of a LifeWay partner in one such country.
In that country, LifeWay and its ministry partners focus on training. More than 3,000 people in 80 churches have studied Experiencing God in the local language. More than 25,000 people have participated in marriage training events, and 250 have been trained as entry-level marriage counselors.
“We researched the life transformation that came just from reading Christian books,” Diedrich says. “We found a great gap between being exposed to God’s truth and applying it to the reader’s life.
“We started our training company to help people connect the dots—to help move the Word from their minds into their hearts and lives.”
Anchoring the Word in people’s hearts remains at the core of LifeWay Global, Featherstone says. Around the world, LifeWay’s top resource—by far—is the Bible itself.
“People are desperately hungry for God’s Word,” he says. “So whether it’s India or Mexico or Brazil or West Africa or any other part of the world, the Bible is still the leading resource.”
And LifeWay’s devotion to the Bible doesn’t go unnoticed, Featherstone says.
“People love and respect our commitment to the Word of God,” he says. “Because of LifeWay’s unwavering commitment to biblical fidelity, we are trusted and respected across a broad spectrum of evangelicals worldwide.”
Churches who send mission teams overseas are doing the right thing, Featherstone says. And as they go, he offers one suggestion—don’t arrive empty-handed.
“If you’re sending people to another part of the world, show up with discipleship resources and training,” he says.
“If you provide resources and training, you’ve got the potential to have an enduring ministry impact.”
LISA CANNON GREEN (@lisaccgreen) is senior editor of Facts & Trends.