Mexico

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Visas, they are our permission to reside and work in the country of Mexico. For foreigners like us, visas make life possible; travel, certain purchases, and business contracts all require proof of legal immigration status, which the visa validates. Therefore, It has been in our best interest to keep our visas current.

However, keeping our visas current was routinely more easily said then done. The visas that we were issued were only valid for 12 months. Renewing them had meant sending all of our documentation, including our passports, each year through the mail, and waiting anywhere from 2 to up to 5 months for our approval. So for that time frame, much of life simply had to be placed on hold.

Now, all of that has changed. This past month, we have been granted permanent resident visas. These new visas do not expire. The complicated yearly renewal process is a thing of the past! The mandatory waiting period has been eliminated! We can now work without hindrance from travel or business restrictions throughout the year. Rejoice with us! This is a huge blessing!

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Maybe they heard that heat, storms, and and the recession would have Americans looking elsewhere to get their fireworks fix, because as of this morning (July 4th), the sparks were certainly flying.

It’s hard to imagine after the relative calm on Election Sunday here in the Yucatán, where, despite record turnouts at the polls, the act of voting seemed to be carried out without major incident. Still, following the allegations of abnormalities in a large majority of the country’s voting locations, the Progressive Movement Party, headed by their candidate Andrés Miguel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is calling again for a recount “vote by vote.”

Yes, again. In 2006, a razor thin victory for the National Action Party (PAN), brought about complaints of electoral fraud and even the naming of an alternative “legitimate government” headed by AMLO. This time, the election was not so close, he was second by almost 3 million votes, but the outcomes threaten to be similar, and in the process of investigation, bombs are going off.

There are allegations of tampering being leveled against the incoming Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of having tampered with the elections as far out as five years ago, creating an image for their candidate Enrique Peña Nieto through purchased media coverage. Prediction polls, thought to have been unbiased and accurate within 2 to 3% have been proven off base by the results at the ballot box, some by 20 points or more. Vote buying has also been suggested.

To date, the rhetoric has been limited to the news outlets and perhaps isolated protests, but depending on how the process is handled, the situation could change. Reports say that the recount is underway to certify the returns. What the recount uncovers may well determine if this show is simply underway as a fireworks replacement for Mexico’s neighbor to the north or if it’s a sign of future instability for a nation that’s ready for some peace and quiet.

Protest photo used under Creative Commons by User:A1437053 and is available on wikipedia.org.

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The stereotypical image of the sleeping campesino has been immortalized with its use in everything from ceramic figurines to restaurant menus. Even one high school class was inspired enough to make it into a scarecrow for a cultural celebration (pictured above.) Nevertheless, it would seem that the people of San Felipe, a fishing village on the coast of Yucatán, have broken so far from the image of the lazy Mexican that they’ve gained international attention.(article is in Spanish)

A diplomat from Timbuktu, Mali, who had arrived to participate in the first ever World Tourism Encounter of City and Local Governments United, was so smitten with the work ethic of the fisherwomen of the Yucatán that he decided to ask permission to take one home with him.

“Ï have four wives, but the law of my country allows me to have six. I would like to ask authorization from the governor of Yucatán (Ivonne Ortega) to marry a fisherwoman. I’m surprised that they get up at three in the morning to fish and return to take care of their families.”

The delegates who had gathered for the event originally thought that Dédéou Traoré, the diplomat from Mali, was joking, but he made his remarks in all seriousness.

So far, there has been no response from either the governor or a fisherwoman.

Photo by Rebecca Plevin available at blogs.vidaenlavalle.com

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Council Report

Today, as I write this post, many in the United States are returning from their excursions into the shopping malls and plazas this Black Friday, reviewing their treasures and perhaps licking their wounds. However, here in Mexico, it’s a Friday like any other, except perhaps for the 4,000+ delegates of the 51st General Council who today head home after a week full of praise, prayer, preaching, and important business. It’s my pleasure to let you know that, although we’re a bit worse for the wear after the long days and short nights, we are pleased with the results and thankful for your prayers throughout this week.

The Presence of God

From the start to the finish of the Council, we were reminded of our dependence on the Presence of God. Daniel de los Reyes, our current General Superintendent, opened the council quoting the words of Moses in Exodus 33:15 “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Elizabeth Jimenez de Chavez, a pastor in Ciudad Juarez, known as the most violent city in the world because of the war on drugs, reminded us that in spite of the current situation that God was with us “to the end of the age.” The council also heard from Butch Frey, our former Area Director, as he encouraged us with words from the Prodigal Son that no matter where we are we can always go home.

The Elections

Elections were held for the General Superintendent, the General Secretary, and the General Treasurer. Because of term limits, Daniel de los Reyes was prohibited from seeking another term as General Superintendent. On the third day of the council, Abel Flores was elected as General Superintendent on the fourth ballot. The current Adjunct Superintendent of the Central Zone, he has been regarded as a man of vision and integrity and the news of his election has been favorably received by ministers and missionaries alike.

In the afternoon of the same day, we returned in order to select the General Secretary. After the third round of voting, Juan Perez, the current Adjunct Superintendent of the Southern Zone had a clear majority over Daniel de los Reyes although an election could not be declared. However, Daniel de los Reyes, feeling the direction of the council, withdrew his name allowing Juan Perez to be declared the new General Secretary. He succeeds the current General Secretary, Samuel Vázquez.

On Thursday morning the final election was held for General Treasurer. In this election, it was the current General Treasurer, Guillermo Rodríguez, who stepped aside, this time for Daniel de los Reyes, as he was declared the General Treasurer Elect according to the wishes of the Council.

Other Business

A number of other measures were considered and approved:

  • Involving the district in determining not only qualified but also ideal candidates for local churches
  • Removal of the requirement, active in seven of the twenty-three districts, that district superintendents should be full time in their position, disqualifying them from holding a pastorate while in office
  • The change of the Society of University Students, Professionals and Businessmen, the Society of Royal Rangers, the Society of Missionettes, and the Society of Children’s Ministries from the classification of society as to the classification of official national ministries.
  • The term limitation of the entire National Committee to two four year terms
  • The term limitation of all District leadership to three two year terms
  • The addition of a list of definitions to the minutes of the council in order to help those involved in ruling on matters of ministerial discipline
  • The addition of a one year mandatory church membership and a doctrinal exam as requirements for those applying for the initial level of credentials
  • Reforms in the structure of the Finance Commission
  • Reforms in the structure of the Missions Department
  • The creation of the program, “Missions without Borders,” a Mexican version of “Speed the Light,” a program created to buy communication equipment and vehicles for nationally appointed missionaries.

So as you head yet again to those Thanksgiving leftovers, we want to thank one more time for your prayers throughout this week. We appreciate your continued interest and support of what God is doing here in Mexico.

As you may know, this year is very significant for Mexico as a nation. Not only is it the 200th anniversary of it’s independence from Spain, it is also the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, the event which liberated the country from the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and initiated its tumultuous journey to its current condition. The modern Mexico now finds itself at a crossroads. Plagued by the double threat of drugs and corruption, it fights an uphill battle toward progress and tranquility, words that are seldom heard in the headlines that daily remind us of its stark reality.

As a fellowship too, the Assemblies of God finds itself at a crossroads. As we stand at the threshold of our upcoming General Council, to be held here in Mérida, we are charged with the task of electing new leadership. Daniel de Los Reyes, our current General Superintendent has reached the end of his term and, because of term limits, he is unable to seek reelection. Also, up for election are the positions of General Secretary and General Treasurer. Realistically, this may mean a complete change in leadership as we enter this new century in the history of the nation which we are called to serve.

It is our desire, as we face this critical junction as a fellowship and as a nation, that you would join with us as a missionary body as we pray for God’s will to be done in the proceedings of this important meeting. Our Area Director, David Greco, said it well when quoting from the book of Proverbs, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Therefore, we ask you to join us as we pray that His hand would be evident and that His guidance would be tangible with every decision made and in every vote that is cast.

We believe that in the face of the current adversity our fellowship has a critical role to play. It is our desire therefore that at the end of this council we will be able to say that we are better prepared than ever to accept that role and fulfill the mission that God has called us to undertake.

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The Godzwa kids: Ready to go back!

The Godzwa kids: Ready to go back!

The day has finally arrived! After two weeks of being homebound, Mexico has reopened its elementary and middle schools. Rebekah, Joseph, and Jonathan were all smiles, ready to see their friends after the long suspension of classes.

Nevertheless, although our kids are happy to return, the reopening of the schools here in Mérida is being handled very seriously. Last week around the city, school buildings were being sanitized while teachers were taking classes on how to prevent the spread of the virus. As the children enter classes, they’re being checked for symptoms. If one student is found to be ill, he or she will be sent home for a minimum of 7 days. If the school finds a group to be symptomatic, the entire building will be closed for 2 weeks and the community will place itself under surveillance.

So, another step is taken back to normal life here in the Yucatán and in all of Mexico. We have appreciated your prayers and your concern through this time, and we look forward to seeing you as we plan our return to the States in June.

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The streets of Izamal

The streets of Izamal

It was Sunday September 7th. We had been driving that morning to Izamal, a village about an hour outside of Mérida in order to attend the district-wide prayer meeting, when Kelly asked me about a passage that she had been reviewing for an upcoming women’s meeting. With Mexico’s Independence Day celebration upcoming, she had settled upon Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love.”

Using the passage as a jumping-off point, I remember expressing an idea that came to my mind: “Being released from the bondage of sin, we are now free to humble ourselves and serve one another. Although the external circumstances would suggest a different reaction, we are free to love when before we were tied to serve only our own passions and interests.”

Little did I know, however, that what was then theoretical would become suddenly very concrete.

As we were leaving the city after the meeting, we had stopped at a stop sign and were beginning to continue when, unseen by us, a motorcycle carrying 3 teenagers attempted cross in front of us. They struck the front of the truck and fell against the curb of the opposite corner. All three weren’t wearing helmets.

Immediately, I got out of the truck to tell the boys to stay where they were. Soon, those that lived near the scene were out of their houses, and before long, the police and ambulance arrived. Those that were hurt were taken to the hospital, while we were escorted to the police station where I was detained for 33 hours, first at the station, and later at the Public Ministry building in Mérida.

Now, in the US, when an accident occurs, rarely does a person go to jail, but in Mexico, when there is doubt about payment, the person who causes the accident is detained for 48 hours until the situation is settled. If it is not settled in 48 hours, the driver goes to jail. Unfortunately, although we had Mexican Car Insurance it took the adjuster one hour to reach the scene, and it wasn’t until later that night that the lawyer arrived in order to begin the process to post bond so that I would be released.

Nevertheless, being placed in detention didn’t mean that I had been placed on a shelf. The words that I had spoken just hours before came back to me during my time alone. So I prayed. I prayed for the injured boys. I prayed for Kelly and the kids, and I prayed that God would use me. I knew that, even though I had been detained by the authorities, I was free to serve.

Merida Public Ministry Building

Merida Public Ministry Building

In Mérida, I was made to wait in a room with three benches and an air conditioner that had seen its best days perhaps 10 years ago, but I was not alone. It “just so happened” that, there with me in the “waiting room” was a man who we’ll call José. He had arrived the day before, having crashed his car while driving drunk on his way home from work on the other side of the peninsula, but that wasn’t the whole story. He was also a prodigal son.

He had once had a vibrant relationship with the Lord and had been an active member of the Christian community, but his work had isolated him, and in his isolation his bad choices multiplied. The crash was the end of a slippery slope that had left more than his car in a wreck, but sometimes it takes hitting bottom before we begin to look up.

José told me his story, and I told him mine, but I didn’t end it with the story of the accident. I told him that although God hadn’t caused my accident, that my meeting with him was certainly more than coincidental. I told him of the Father that welcomes home all who return to Him, and I invited him to start the journey back. We prayed, and in that detention center, we felt the presence of God. We knew that even though it seemed that our immediate future was out of our hands, we knew the hands that held our eternity.

José wasn’t the only one in the room with me. There were two youth who had been detained for driving drunk, and two others who were in the middle of a dispute between their respective insurance companies. While we waited for news about our situation, we formed a community: we talked about our families and our faith, we shared everything from the food that was brought to us to the floor that we slept on, but what filled me with the most joy was our last moments together.

When word came that was to be released, I asked if they would mind that I prayed. Given permission, we all bowed our heads and I began. I prayed for their safety and the resolution of their situations. I prayed for their families and their future, but, most of all, I prayed that each one of them might know Jesus, the only one who, in whatever situation, can set us free.

As I walked out of that room and into Kelly’s arms, I was thankful to be reunited with my family. I was thankful for the beginning of the resolution of circumstances surrounding our accident, but I wasn’t thankful for being set free. Instead, I was thankful for being taught the true meaning of freedom–that, no matter what the circumstances say, Christ has set me free, free to follow Him and free to serve others in the hope they they too will taste the freedom that I have been privileged to
experience.

In wrapping up this lengthy post, I want you to know that we are well. Although the accident has certainly left a mark on us, with God’s strength we are returning to “normal life” here on the mission field. We have definitely been the beneficiaries of the blessing of the Body of Christ in action through it all. From the prayers of the saints to the selfless help of our church friends and district officials, we have been cared for throughout this entire situation. Blessings on all of you who have been a part of this comfort that we have received.

Furthermore, it has been reported that all who were injured will make a full recovery. They have received the medical attention necessary and are now receiving spiritual care on behalf of the local A/G congregation. It is my prayer that this temporary setback will serve to redirect their lives toward a relationship with the one who can guide them through their eternity.

As for José, we were released together and are planning to get together soon to celebrate our freedom, freedom that God redefined for us in the middle of our captivity.

Photo of the Public Ministry building from Yucatan Living.com. You can read about their experience here: http://www.yucatanliving.com/yucatan-survivor/yucatan-license-plates.htm

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When one thinks of the needs that arise after a major natural disaster, several things come to mind. In the case of floods, for example, I think of material possessions being ruined or swept away by flood waters, no clean drinking water for awhile, unavailability of food, loss of homes, and possibly the loss of life – both people and animals. Recently, the state of Tabasco was hit by major flooding. Thankfully, several people came to their aid, both from the government and through organizations. However, when we inquired concerning the needs of the people, we were told that they had received a lot in the way of provisions, but that medical attention would be needed down the road. That’s where we come in … Last week our family had the opportunity to join with fellow missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim, medical professionals and Bible school students from the state of Yucatan in order to go to meet the medical and spiritual needs of their fellow Mexicans in Tabasco. We were hosted by pastors and church members during the 4-day trip while we focused the outreach on 2 towns that had requested help in these areas. Not only was medical help available, but our team also provided ministry for the children, youth, and adults through skits, songs, balloons, sharing of the Word of God, door-to-door evangelism, and prayer.
Upon returning to Mérida, I reviewed some of the videos and photos from the trip and would like to share a short film that hopefully captures the essence of our visit. You won’t see me since I was behind the camera, and you won’t see Dave, either, since he along with some of the Bible school students visited homes, meeting the spiritual needs of those who couldn’t come or who hadn’t heard about the medical outreach. But you will see our kids involved in ministry as they played an important role and were a blessing to many. Also, the film is set to music, a song done in Spanish. The song speaks of being available and ready to be used by God for the things He wants us to do, giving Him our time, our hands, our voice, not wanting Him to pass over us because we are available for His purposes. It is sung by Jesus Adrian Romero from his album, “El Aire de Tu Casa.” My prayer is that this short film serves as a reminder of the needs all around us and that we, through the help and grace of God, are the answer to those needs. May God bless you as you allow Him to use you.

You can view it in this post above or on GodTube.

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AntorchistaWe were driving back from a planning meeting in Muna last Tuesday, where we’ll be hosting my brother and his Chi Alpha team, when I noticed, all along the roadway, bikers, runners with torches, and support vehicles flashing their lights and honking their horns. There were hundreds of people in the hour long stretch that we traveled.

It resembled some kind of Olympic procession. It was as if this group was ushering in the torch to light the first ever Yucatan Games, but looking closer I noticed that each one was wearing a t-shirt displaying the symbol of Mexican religious devotion, image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Researching further, I learned from YucatanLiving.com that these “antorchistas” are youth that have made a personal vow to the Virgin, and last week on December 12th, the Day of the Virgin, they ran or biked in order to complete their vow. The trek is a point to point journey, with more favor bestowed for greater distances. Apparently, the bicycle was introduced as a way for the working devotee to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. (Read fewer days off from the job.)

Of course, we have the tendency to dismiss all of this as a misguided devotion, a practice to abandon as pure paganism. Still, one has to admire the determination, the organization, and the passion of those who would exert themselves for their faith. We evangelicals, a group lacking the presence of young men in our congregations, can’t help but ask, “How do we instill this type of enthusiasm, this type of devotion in our faithful?”

I would suggest that the answer lies within the pages of the Bible in the example of our Lord. It would seem that we are more famous for what we don’t do (drinking, smoking, dancing) than for what we do, for what we are against, than what we are for, but Jesus didn’t seem to be this way. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” was the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes. What I see from Jesus isn’t a prohibition type religion. I see a radical redefinition of religious and social symbols.

To Peter and Andrew, fishermen by trade, Jesus says follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men. To the woman at the well, Jesus says I am the one who gives living water. At the Last Supper, Jesus redefines the traditional passing of the cup and bread during the Passover meal into a remembrance of his sacrifice on the cross and celebration of the unity that we now have in the Church, the body of Christ on the earth. In other words, Jesus doesn’t seem to separate a person from his or her culture, rather he transforms the culture in much the same way that he transforms the individual.

This to me says that we as missionaries have a need for wisdom and God-given creativity when it comes to engaging a culture. What is truly anti-Christian, and what is simply an expression of culture? How can we contextualize, not just the presentation of the message of the gospel, but also its expression in worship and everyday life?

One case in point of an interesting attempt to accomplish this redemption of culture was in the Chota Valley, a culture of Ecuadorians of African descent. This people group had a dance that utilized a bottle, worn on the head and, if I remember correctly, filled with alcohol. In the bottle would be placed items that represented the pain and suffering that the person experienced in life. Missionary Joe Castleberry and his team, instead of prohibiting this cultural expression, redefined it. Gone was the alcohol and in the place of the symbols of pain and suffering was a flower to represent the new life the Christ brings.

I’ve not had the opportunity to see the “Freedom Valley” project first-hand, but I feel that it touches on an area that all missionaries need to consider. Did we do a disservice in our clothes-line style holiness of the 1900s? Have we relegated ourselves to the fringes of society though our lists of rules and prohibitions? How does it come across in the 21st century? On the flip-side, how does this redefinition of culture look, in Africa, in Mexico, in the US? Also, how do we know that we are truly redefining culture and not just compromising for convenience?

Granted, this task is not something that a simple post can solve, nor the work of one individual, but I think discussion is necessary and helpful if we are truly seeking to change the world.

Note: Picture was taken from YucatanLiving.com. (It’s kind of hard to drive and take pictures at the same time.)

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Jonathan BirthdayAbout two weeks ago, (yes, the events of our lives and ministry have taken a toll on my blogging) we celebrated the birthday of our youngest, Jonathan. It was filled with parties–one at school and another here at the house, as well as a mountain of presents, many of which have already made their way to the black hole that our boys call their closet. Of course, all of these things came as no surprise. After celebrating the 19 kids’ parties that we have, from Princess to Bob the Builder to Spider Man to Jungle themes, we’ve come to expect the anticipation, celebration, and sugar withdrawal cycle that each party brings. However, after all of the celebration was over, and Jonathan had time to reflect, he did something unexpected: he decided to testify. In fact it was such a surprise that we didn’t have our camera. The blurry picture was taken with my cell phone.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, testimony night has gone the way of Sunday morning prayer requests in most churches, they’re just not done, but here in Mexico, testimony night is alive and well, and two weeks ago last Sunday a certain recently turned 5 year-old decided to step forward and thank God for another year that God had allowed him to complete.* Not only did he testify, he also sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart” (“Abre mis Ojos, Oh Cristo”) in Spanish.

To me, this is the sign of two things happening:

  1. that our son is rapidly acculturating: Testifying is expected of church members when they celebrate their birthday. That Jonathan noticed this and wanted to do it tells me that he’s becoming more “Mexican.”
  2. that our son is recognizing God as part of his life: It was hard for me to choke back the tears as I listened to our “baby” asking Jesus to help him to truly see Him as he is. It’s my desire as a father to be a part of the the answer to that prayer.

*Spanish idea: We don’t “turn” years old as we celebrate birthdays, we complete years or “cumplemos años” hence the Spanish salutation “Feliz Cumpleaños”

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