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The First To Go

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

A movement of Latin Americans to the Middle East

Sara and Sydney were among the first women from their countries to minister in the MENA region, overcoming countless barriers

When Sara Oviedo became a follower of Christ, she felt called to leave her home of Argentina to be a missionary in the Middle East—but faced considerable resistance. Sara’s family had tirelessly labored to climb out of poverty, and opposed her decision to be a Christian because the religion bore the stigma of being a religion of the poor. Local religious institutions doubted her capability and credentials because of her family and class background. And while Argentine churches would send families and single men for missions, there was little precedent for sending single women to a place like the Middle East.


Zach Powell also grew up in Argentina, but as the child of missionaries. He felt called to work among those who had never heard the gospel and were marginalized by poverty. He joined the Servant Partners internship when it first began in 1995, and later moved to North Africa to pioneer a community center among an urban poor Muslim community in 2002. Because of his upbringing, Zach saw firsthand the potential of the Latin American church to send workers with cultural similarities to communities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).


"My own journey to North Africa helps my community see that God calls a diversity of people to His work. Honduras is not just a place to receive, but a place to send and contribute to God’s Kingdom around the world."

Also in 2002, other Servant Partners staff began living and working in an urban marginalized community in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. At a meeting of pastors and churches in Nueva Suyapa, one of the poorest communities in the city, they learned about the community’s vision to send Hondurans to minister among unreached people groups in Africa. Soon after, Servant Partners received a formal invitation to come alongside these pastors and form a new sending agency called Puerta Al Mundo (PAM).


A groundbreaking pipeline has formed sending Latin Americans to minister in North Africa, representing God’s diverse vision for urban missions

While the journeys of Sara, Zach, and these Honduran pastors occurred separately, they were not coincidences. God was weaving together a movement representing the future of missions, where Latin American leaders would labor for transformation alongside people in the Middle East and North Africa. After being the first woman in her denomination to be ordained for ministry, Sara joined Zach’s team and led Servant Partners’ North Africa site. PAM sent Hondurans and other Latin Americans to MENA to serve on multiethnic teams for years to come. Sydney Gracia was one such missionary, who now leads the North Africa site.


“Where I’m from, we are always waiting for others to come and do the work, but I think we should also be the ones to go out,” Sydney said. “My own journey to North Africa helps my community see that God calls a diversity of people to His work. Honduras is not just a place to receive, but a place to send and contribute to God’s Kingdom around the world.” Like Sara, Sydney too faced pushback as a single woman pursuing missions.


"People from our community aren’t thought of as trained or capable,” she said. “Because we are women, people thought we wouldn’t last and instead needed to stay back to help the family. But they needed to learn that it isn’t about trusting in us—it’s about trusting in God’s purpose.”


“This is the only instance that we know of where the urban poor in one continent are now the leaders of an urban poor ministry among the unreached in another continent. This diversity in mission is countercultural and economically fragile, but because of Jesus, it works.”

Two decades since these pieces started to fall into place, Servant Partners has seen a pipeline of Latin American leaders being trained up and sent out to join diverse teams in MENA. God has worked across nations to usher in a breakthrough in the history of missions.


“This is the only instance that we know of where the urban poor in one continent are now the leaders of an urban poor ministry among the unreached in another continent,” Zach said. “This diversity in mission is countercultural and economically fragile, but because of Jesus, it works.”


Last year, teams from these areas came together for one of Servant Partners Regional Gatherings. Those present had roots in Argentina, France, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States, but were living and serving in Middle Eastern and North African urban marginalized communities. They spoke multiple languages and demonstrated a diversity of gifts. These leaders represent the future of Servant Partners—people from everywhere, going to everyone.


“Poverty is a problem of broken relationships,” Sara said. “The multicultural identity of our teams communicates the Shalom of God in the places we go. Sometimes, seeing different people get along can leave a greater impact than anything we say. It shows that God can bring differences together.”


This story was published in the 2022 Annual Report.


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