Growing up in Colombia, Jose Soto Avila had a loving family that
gave him many opportunities. He became a chess champion and was
given a car when he began his university medical studies. But a
partying life led him into drugs and a catastrophic downward spiral,
resulting in three suicide attempts.
Though he went through several rehabilitations, nothing prevented
a relapse until a friend "told me that Jesus Christ could transform
me," he says. Entering a Christian rehab home that demanded much of
him, he "became a new man."
Two decades later, Pastor Soto shepherds Charismatic churches in
Bogota and Barranquilla and is organizing a church network across
Colombia. "God is doing a powerful work in Latin America," he says
in an interview during a US visit. "There is a great awakening, and
many are being liberated."
Soto's work is part of a global "renewalist" movement that
believes that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, plays a direct
role in all aspects of everyday life.
"Renewalist" is an umbrella term for Pentecostals and
charismatics. (The latter are Christians of other denominations,
both Protestant and Catholic, as well as independent churches, who
have taken up Pentecostal practices of "Spirit-filled" worship.) The
movement has spread rapidly and is thought to represent one-quarter
of the world's 2 billion Christians.
Along with other resurgent faiths, it has the potential to
reshape political and cultural life in many parts of the globe. A
survey of 10 countries released last week offers the first in-depth
look at the attitudes and practices of renewalists in Africa, Asia,
and the Americas. Besides the United States, countries surveyed
included Brazil, Chile, and Guatemala; Kenya, Nigeria, and South
Africa; and India, South Korea, and the Philippines.
"These groups are not only growing, but have reached a point that
they can have an enormous impact on the social and political life of
the countries," says John Green, senior fellow at the Washington-
based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which did the survey.
The report, "Spirit and Power," confirms the significant size of
the groups in the developing world. A neo-Pentecostal church in
Brazil, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, for instance,
grew by 1.8 million between 1991 and 2000. While renewalists
represent 23 percent of the overall US population, they include 56
percent of Kenyans, 44 percent of the Philippine population, and 60
percent of all Guatemalans.
One reason for growth is evangelism - personal and through TV and
radio. In eight of the nations polled, majorities of Pentecostals
say they share their faith with nonbelievers at least once a week.
In the US, other studies show that religious growth in Christian
churches comes mostly from immigration, including Latinos. This is
true for the Assemblies of God, a major Pentecostal denomination. In
2000, some 15 percent of its membership was Latino, says Arlene
Sanchez Walsh, author of "Latino Pentecostal Identity."
The Pew poll also reveals some surprises, countering perceptions
about renewalist religious practices and views on political
Speaking in tongues is a fundamental doctrine of Pentecostalism
that has long been considered crucial evidence of the "second
baptism," that of the Holy Spirit, as in the "day of Pentecost" in
the Bible (Acts 2). The survey found that while there is widespread
speaking in tongues in churches, in six of the 10 countries polled
at least 40 percent of renewalists say they've "never" spoken in
tongues. Instead, healing is the most prominent of the New Testament
"gifts of the Spirit" for adherents.
"Divine healing may be the most consistent hallmark of these
renewalist movements around the world," says Luis Lugo, Pew Forum
director. Among Pentecostals, the number of those who say they have
experienced or witnessed healings ranges from 56 percent in South
Korea to 87 percent in Kenya. …