Overcoming the Void

Magazine for Latin leaders survives problems, thrives

By Lee Cuesta

Despite rumors to the contrary, Apuntes Pastorales is alive and doing very well. This magazine for Christian leadership, whose circulation encompasses the Spanish-speaking countries of South America and Central America, is copublished by Desarrollo Cristiano Internacional (DCI) and the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association (LPEA). One example of its vitality is the fact that in May the Concilio Evangélico of Venezuela held a special ceremony and “gave Apuntes Pastorales a special recognition for the deep impact that our literature has had on the church in Venezuela,” according to Randall Wittig, general director of DCI (known as ‘Christian Leadership Development’ in the United States). “So the fact that they gave us this recognition, and that our work in Venezuela has been growing, I think is an indication of what’s happening almost all over the continent. God is using it to have a deep impact in the leadership, and things are going forward.”
Furthermore, the magazine’s editor, Dr. Jim Williams, recently stated: “We have added 12 pages to Apuntes Pastorales and have added another 2,000 to the subscriber list in the past few months.” Wittig reveals, too, that “the next issue of Apuntes will be our fifteenth anniversary -- 15 years of continuous publication,” with distribution currently in 22 countries, including Spain, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and the U.S. as well. This long-standing and respected ministry has also fostered interest in potential joint-publishing ventures with Christianity Today, Inc. Keith Stonehocker, Senior Vice President of Christianity Today, Inc. (CTi), comments: “We know Randy (Wittig) well, and think that he’s doing a good job. In a nutshell, we were impressed with his ability to have a self-sustaining operation from a publishing point of view, as opposed to an awful lot of the international publications which are subsidized. As a result of that, we simply began some discussions about possible co-publishing projects, of ways that CTi might be able to work with him.”
Nevertheless, rumors have been circulating lately that suggest the demise of Apuntes Pastorales. The gossip was especially evident during the recent EXPOLIT conference, where the focus was on Latin American books, Bibles, videos, music and more. “At EXPOLIT, I’ve heard this from several different people, somebody asked me, ‘Are you going under? What’s going to happen? Is this true that you are folding up?’” Wittig says. “Thankfully it isn’t true. On the contrary, actually in the last six months, we’re probably in the best financial shape that we’ve been in our history.”
To achieve this current position of solvency and continent-wide impact, the publication has overcome huge struggles and obstacles. In 1991, the overwhelming inflation in Argentina forced the ministry to move its offices to San Jose, Costa Rica. Due to these economic conditions, Wittig says they left Argentina with over a 30,000 dollar debt to a bank, but they did not owe money to any provider of products or services. By consistently paying on this loan, it was completely retired in January. They also had to cut back on a couple projects. Discontinued was a sister publication called Temas (de la Vida Cristiana), whose editorial focus on women’s and family issues began to encounter strong competition in several markets. However, this content can still be found in Apuntes. Also cut were regional supplements, where local advertising and content were able to be inserted into Apuntes. “By being careful, we’ve continued to progress,” Wittig states. “We’re completely out of debt and we actually have money in the bank, we’re paying our print shop ahead of time, and we’re doing well.”
Meanwhile, Continente Nuevo, which had been ostensibly the flagship publication of the LPEA throughout Latin America, was experiencing struggles of its own. Although it started in the early 1970s as a quarterly publication, the magazine came out only 29 times in 23 years. The magazine was always given away free since Palau resisted establishing the structure for maintaining subscriptions. “So we never had all the money necessary for it to come out regularly,” states Williams, who also is LPEA’s vice president for Spanish ministries. “I think the best we ever did was three times a year in one twelve-month span.” They also had the problem that nobody was fully dedicated to the magazine.
There were other troubles during its final year of publication: troubles with the mail and with their printer in Guatemala, which would have doubled their costs. That year, only two issues were produced. Concurrently, the funding for Continente Nuevo dissolved, and so the LPEA was discussing alternatives. Then, one day in Panama, the previous editor of Apuntes interviewed Palau for an article. Palau looked at the magazine and saw it was very much like Continente Nuevo. Soon, Williams, Palau and Wittig were talking about sending Apuntes Pastorales to everybody on the mailing list of Continente Nuevo, which would cease publication.
The problem, according to Wittig, was that the list contained nearly 40,000 names because in 20 years, it had not been kept entirely up-to-date. So a letter was sent, and those who responded were added to the subscription list of Apuntes. “Instead of just closing Continente Nuevo,” says Wittig, “we wanted to give honor to the Palau Association and make a more dignified transition.” Although some of the Palau team “fought this” initially, Wittig continues, he desired a team effort, and so requested that Jim Williams, along with his wife, Gail, work with them as editor. Williams says, “The details were worked out, and so now we do it together.” The first, jointly produced magazine appeared in March, 1995.
Now, over two years later, from their separate offices on different continents, Wittig and Williams continue to work together in a synergistic fashion, choosing articles to fulfill a 70-30 percent ratio between editorial content and publicity. As editor, Williams thinks of his readers primarily as pastors who don’t have any formal education. He notes, for example, that of approximately 13,000 preachers in Peru, only 500 have some type of degree from a Bible college or seminary. “We’re after the other 12,500,” he says. “Jim is an excellent editor,” Wittig emphasizes. “These last two years, we’ve produced some outstanding editorial work. I’m deeply grateful to Jim (and Gail); they’ve done a fantastic work.” In addition, Diana Gonzalez just joined the organization. She has her doctorate in Spanish literature and will be helping not only with Apuntes, but also with book projects and materials for pastoral courses. Originally from Argentina, she has been a university professor in Argentina, Mexico and Germany.
Yet struggles continue. Since March, Rolando Chaves (featured in the July 5, 1996, issue of Pulse) is no longer distribution manager. And distribution, with all its details and the variety of laws in different countries, remains a major challenge. Although the move to Costa Rica provided a better location from which to supervise it, “the problem of distribution in Latin America is critical,” Williams states. Wittig concurs: “We had terrible problems of distribution, and we still do in some countries. For example, in Mexico, we would send magazines certified, and they still would not arrive.”
The future appears promising. “One of our big priorities,” Wittig states, “is to take a lot of the materials we’ve published in Apuntes, combine them according to similar themes, and provide it in a book form for pastors so that they have this material.” Stonehocker, of CTi, says: “In fact, what ‘glowed’ for us the most when we talked with him (Wittig) here in Chicago was the need for a pastor’s study Bible. All of these projects, though, have simply been exploratory discussions and they’re kind of on the back-burner. But we are further in any of these discussions with him than with anybody else.” Moreover, DCI is working to develop a cassette and video library for pastors, which will include not merely messages, but practical, training tapes. For example, in August, they’ll record a series on hermeneutics with five Latin American experts. Then in November, the group will be taping Hermano Pablo, in Santiago, Chile, speaking on pastoral ethics and the family. Not only will these become part of the video series, but they’ll also provide the content for many future articles to appear in upcoming issues of Apuntes Pastorales.

© Copyright, 1997, by Lee Cuesta

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This article was published as the cover story in Pulse on October 3, 1997. Subsequently, it was reprinted with permission in InterLit, by Cook Communications Ministries International, in the February 1998 issue.