“If that church weren’t planted, I wouldn’t be here. It was a small, seemingly unsuccessful church, but whoever planted it doesn’t understand the depth of its impact on my life,” says Cruz Paniagua. That church is how he came to know Jesus.
Raised in a family that practiced witchcraft, God had plans for Cruz’s life. One day during his family’s practice, he was compelled to read the Bible that a missionary family had given them. At that moment, Cruz decided to go to the only church in their community, a new church plant.
Years after running from God’s call, Cruz and his wife decided to devote their lives to full-time ministry, recognizing, “If we plant one church, we can empower one community. But if we empower and train workers for church planting, we can transform a city.”
The newlyweds started a Bible school in Venezuela. A graduation requirement for their students was to plant a church. The schools have expanded into the rest of Latin America and globally. They are now helping train students in India and Europe, where one of their daughters is studying. They want to create and build a mentoring network of healthy leaders who trust the transformational power of Jesus.
Cruz Paniagua is working in the Latin American church planting movement in 19 countries. Between 2018 and February, he founded and created the church planting department for the Church of God. Before his involvement, the Church of God planted 300-400 churches yearly. Now, on average, 1,000 new churches are planted yearly due to the intentional training of new church planters.
In January, Rick Fiechter (one of the Global Collaboration Lead Facilitators for GACX) asked Cruz to become a regional coach for GACX in Latin America. Cruz had turned down many opportunities at this point but felt like GACX aligned with his vision and received affirmation from God in his prayers.
Currently, he focuses on equipping church planters and missional leaders through training seminars around Latin America. To make these seminars accessible to everyone, there are different locations and focuses of the seminars. One focuses on urban church planting and is held around the main capitals of Latin America. The other focuses on the administrative side of church planting and is located centrally in the tribal regions. Every student actively participates in the church planting training process so they can finish their seminar with a church established.
In addition to the seminars, Cruz envisions a process to multiply churches in Latin America through collaboration with pastoral associations. They invite pastors into the vision, train them, and then ask them to send church planters. They are working with the Church of the Nazarene denomination in the Caribbean to help them to create a structure to plant churches. Another pastor is already expanding church planting efforts in Colombia.
This summer, a meeting in Quito will be held to discuss further collaboration processes. Please keep GACX’s Regional Coach, Cruz Paniagua, in your prayers as he works with the church and missions organizations in Latin America to expand God’s Kingdom.