Missions

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“Imagine” is a song written by John Lennon. In it, he encourages us to dream about a world without absolutes, divisions or possessions. The hope, it seems, is that this idea might somehow motivate us to make this world a better place. It’s a nice thought, and a pretty catchy song as well, evidenced by the fact its popularity has bridged at least three generations. Nevertheless, the reality that the three generations who have known the song have experienced proves that the song’s premise is flawed. To make the world a better place, we must move beyond our imagination and the self righteous criticism of that which we deem to be the problem. True, vision is required, but we must have a firm grip on reality while we work to put thought to action. Ironically, we find the the ones who are doing just that are the ones that “Imagine” criticizes the most.

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This past week, in the town of Sucua, Ecuador, I had a chance to meet with fellow missionaries, representatives of true religion, all of whom are committed to not simply making the world a better place, but to its very transformation. There, we took part in the first ever A/G Latin American/Caribbean Consultation on Unreached People Groups (UPGs)

The UPG Consultation was an opportunity to hear about what was taking place, assess what has yet to be done, and to pray and strategize to accomplish the Unfinished Task.  There was a sense of celebration as we saw what was being gained through missionaries Joil and Leah Marbut, who have spearheaded an effort to reach the Shuars of southern Ecuador. There was a sense of urgency as we heard of the over 400 different people groups comprised of over 16 million individuals without an adequate witness of hope, and there was a sense of determination as we committed ourselves in prayer and purpose to reaching those groups.

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There was no avoiding the historical significance of the event either. Taking place on the centennial anniversary of the General Council of the Assemblies of God that would establish that organization as the proponent of “the greatest evangelism that the world has ever seen,” it was fitting that we were reevaluating our mission to accomplish that goal. In the heart of the country where, almost 60 years prior, five missionaries gave their lives to reach the isolated and violent Huaoroni, known as the Auca (savage) people, it was appropriate that we would dedicate anew our lives to continuing that work.

Still, as we left that place, we knew that what was accomplished there would not be enough. As we said our goodbyes and made our way by car, bus, or plane to our adoptive homes, we turned ourselves to work– to reach, to plant, to touch, and to equip lives in order to fulfill our role in the extension of the Kingdom of God. We had met to gain perspective, but we go to wholeheartedly engage with the One who is able to do more than we could ask or imagine through our coordinated effort.

Interested in seeing more? Take a look at our gallery of photos from the event.

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OnTheRoof

Although up north the freeze is still in effect, here in Mexico, we’re preparing for spring. Spring Break, that is.

This Saturday, 10 members of the Chi Alpha Student Fellowship of American University will be descending on the city of Mérida, Yucatán to do a bit of construction and outreach while they thaw from this year’s deep freeze. In the mornings, we’ll be working at Instituto Bíblico Bethel, to put into place the beams and slabs that will serve as the structure for the roof of the second floor of the multipurpose building. In the afternoons, we’ll be returning to Sierra Papacal to assist the efforts of my former student, Guadalupe Campos, in the church, Casa de Oración. My favorite part of the trip, however, is the opportunity for our Bible school students to work hand in hand with our visiting Chi Alpha workers.

We’re preparing a warm welcome for our guests, but we certainly don’t want to leave you out in the cold. We’d like to extend an invitation for you to get involved, too. Here’s how:

  1. Pray for the trip’s success:
    • Pray for safety in our work and travels.
    • Pray for the health of all involved. (Pray against sickness!)
    • Pray for the effective integration of the different groups.
    • Pray for an enthusiastic response among the people of Sierra Papacal.

  2. Send a special gift

    The Chi Alpha students have a goal to bless the ministry that is taking part here in the Yucatán. You can be a part of helping them realize that goal.

    Navigate to our giving page and send a special gift. Put AUXA in the comment section, and we’ll be sure to designate that gift to the projects in which they’re taking part.

While you might not be able to bask in the Yucatecan sun with us, we’re sure that your participation, in one or both of these areas, will bring some warmth to your weary winter days, and, just maybe, you too might be thinking that spring is in the air!

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As missionaries, we need to communicate. We’re away from many of our supporters for up to four years.  Without newsletters, project updates, and prayer bulletins, the majority of our sponsors would be in the dark about the advances being made and the challenges that we face.

Still our need to communicate about what we are doing can leave the wrong impression. If we’re not careful about what we do, we can paint a misleading picture of how we are desperately needed and how the work couldn’t possibly go on without us.

While it’s certain that we serve to fill a need, the truth of the matter is that God has been working in the Yucatan far before the Godzwas came, and we believe He’ll still be at work long after we’re nothing more than a memory. What’s more, in the time that he has been at work, He’s raised up some amazing individuals with whom we not only have the chance to work but also from whom we have the privilege to learn.

A case in point was this week during our continuing education workshop for Bible school professors. During our sessions, I was constantly remind of the competence, concern, and spirituality of those who taught and those who participated. I was glad to be among them.

Over the past few days I’ve been working through the book, The Meeting of the Waters, by Fritz Kling. It speaks about the trends that  shape the future of the church on a global scale. One of the 7 that he investigates is the trend of mutuality. Mutuality is basically empowering those traditionally marginalized because of ethnic or economic biases. It gives everyone a seat at the table and both voice and vote in the moment of decision. Certainly, it can be threatening to those of us in the Western World who have become accustomed to having the final say, but mutuality offers us a multicultural richness from which to borrow as we seek to guide the church, and it offers us creative solutions to difficult problems that we encounter along the way.

I’d hate to portray myself as having a handle on this concept. Even as I write these words I am reminded of the times that I have failed to offer my partners their due share in our decision making processes and times when I have been absent when I have had the ability to affirm the value and validity of their efforts. Still, this week, I feel as though I’m making progress.

My prayer then is that, as we operate more and more on the basis of mutuality, God will be able to more fully declare his manifold wisdom, the joining of many cultures into one functioning body, the church, through the church in Yucatan.

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Why Am I Here?

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The sky is a slate gray, and the rain is falling sideways. At one point the winds were blowing hard enough to knock us down. In the middle of all of this weather, I asked myself, “Why would anyone want to be in Cancun at a time like this?”

Although it might have all of the earmarks of a relief trip, my stay here was in fact about something far more powerful. I was in Cancun last week, braving the bad weather, to support the 3rd World Missions Congress. The purpose of this congress was to increase missions awareness throughout Latin America and to increase Latino involvement in missions from a comparative drizzle to a downpour.

Although the weather had been less than desirable, was beautiful to see the lessons that we are teaching in the Bible School and preaching in churches about missions reinforced in each service. Dick Brogden, A/G missionary and leader of the Live Dead movement in Cairo, Egypt, gave a call for volunteers, saying, “We need you.” Our Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions, Greg Mundis, spoke passionately of our obligation to evangelize the world.

What a joy it was to see, at the close of Greg’s message, the dozens of Latinos, many attendees from Mexico, respond to the call to fulfill that obligation. Even more fulfilling was seeing the excitement in the eyes of those with whom I was speaking, some of them my former students, as they talked about what God is doing throughout the world and about how they wanted to be a part.

This event was all about coming full circle in the missions world. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Jesus’ plan for world evangelism is for those who had been blessed by the gospel to be a blessing to others. Throughout this congress, Latinos, traditional receivers of the blessings of missions, have been hearing and responding to this challenge to fulfill their obligation to be a blessing as well.

Let’s pray for an increase in Latino involvement in missions!

  1. For an infilling of the Spirit throughout Latin America and especially in Mexico. The Holy Spirit is The Spirit of Missions. As we are increasingly filled with the Spirit we will be empowered to do the work of missions around the world.
  2. For an increased intercession. In Luke 10:2, Jesus tells his disciples to pray for workers, but directly afterwards, he sends out those very same disciples. Increased intercession yields increased sensitivity to the voice of God and the call to missions.
  3. For the defeat of the poverty mentality. Mexicans give only 7 dollars per church per month to missions. It’s that low not because we don’t have; it’s that low because we’ve believed the lie that says we don’t.

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It was Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting in the hospital trying to take it all in. We had planned the most ambitious Chi Alpha Spring Break Missions Trip we had ever undertaken: two teams from American University and the University of Virginia, construction, community outreach, and evangelism, Mexicans and Americans working together. But at that moment, everything seemed to be unraveling. Six of the 20 team members were sick, 5 had received antibiotics and one was hospitalized. Instead of working to meet our goals, I seemed to be scrambling to avert disaster.

But God, who makes all things work together for our good, never stopped working, not even on that Tuesday afternoon. The work never stopped. The Chi Alpha teams, working together with students from the Bible Institute, raised six columns of the second story structure of the Institute’s new multipurpose building and painted the entire first floor. They also collaborated to beautify the communities of Sierra Papacal and San Bernardo, painting the walls that lined the main streets of the villages. It was beautiful to watch how those who might not otherwise had asserted themselves rose to the occasion to keep things on track. We were deeply moved as even local pastors who had heard of our situation arrived to help us to achieve our goals.

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Not only was the work done, but our planned outreaches took place as well. By Thursday, our teams, including those who had been sidelined by sickness were up and active, coordinating a social outreach that saw dozens of kids deloused and taught dental hygiene while moms were able to select from new articles of clothing for their families. Following the social outreach, evangelistic services took place, where children and adults alike were able to hear and respond to the message of salvation.

Reflecting upon the trip, it became clear that it was through the adversities that we faced that the work became a group effort. Those of us who had arrived looking to put forth our best efforts found, through our weakness, a new found interdependence within the international Body of Christ and a renewed reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain, to heal, and to accomplish His will. Spiritual gifts were utilized that would have otherwise remained dormant. Friendships were formed which otherwise would never have been possible, and our celebration of the work was correctly shifted from what we had accomplished to what God had done in our midst.

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On the Saturday before the teams arrived, the song, “He makes Beautiful Things” had been playing in my head. The chorus of the song repeats, “He makes beautiful things out of the dust. He makes beautiful things out of us.” Although it was difficult to see on that Tuesday afternoon, God indeed worked our adversities together for our greater good. He created something beautiful even out of us.

Have you enjoyed this Spring Break Report? Be sure to check out our photos as well!

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Traditionally, missions has been the realm of those of White, Anglo-Saxon descent. The ranks of missionary heroes are full of names like Hudson Taylor or Jim Elliot. However, Latino, Chinese, or African names remain remarkably absent from such lists, even after decades of work within such nations.

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We understand these tendencies. Those mentioned were ones who opened up new territories to the Gospel. But, now that those areas have been opened, what of those who have been reached? Do they have a responsibility to share in the burden of World Evangelism?

Jesus seemed to think so. His missions strategy was the original Pay it Forward plan. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mat. 10:8). He expected his fledgling disciples to pass on what they had learned from Him, and he commissioned them to engage in that worldwide effort from the get-go (Acts1:8).

Still, while some have answered the call, actually reaching the country of their calling is a tremendous challenge. The reality here in Mexico is that, although missionaries are responding, the church as a whole remains largely non-committal in regards to missionary responsibility. This is dangerous, especially as unreached areas close to those fitting the traditional missionary profile.

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This month, were working toward a solution. I had the chance to preach in our sectional pastor’s meeting, and I challenged our leaders to take steps to increase missions consciousness among their churches. Also, this week, we are in the middle of our District Missions Convention, “The Awakening of the Mayas to Missions.”

What is the goal of these efforts? It’s to encourage our churches to feel the responsibility of missions and to sense the empowerment that Christ has given to all his disciples regardless of nationality.

We believe that the Yucatán can be a force in missions. Pray with us to that end, and, maybe someday, we’ll read of a Norma Uitzil, or a Lidia Pompeyo among those lists of missions heroes.

Blessings on you as you stand with us in prayer!

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Angel y Berenice, following after the call

“Hermano, ¿podemos hablar un ratito?” were Bernice’s words. Something was clearly bothering her. Berenice was one of my students in my Missions class. She was troubled because the theme had confirmed an idea that God was revealing to her and her husband, Angel.

“Are we crazy?” she asked. She wanted to know if it was right for them to feel led to go to another place. She wanted to know if it was OK to leave her home, her extended family, and her church. She asked if I could give them advice. I prayed with her and encouraged her to be attentive to the voice of God. He did not fail to speak.

Just a week ago, Kelly and I met with Berenice and Angel. At the meeting, they shared their story. They related to us how they had been called to minister in Guerrero, in a village whose name they had never heard. They told us how they had taken steps to dismiss their impression only to have it confirmed time and again, but never more intensely than after our previous conversation.

We shared our own experience with them, prayed with them and encouraged them, but it was obvious that no convincing was needed. God is doing his work. They’re now preparing to take the next step in fulfilling the vision.

During this Thanksgiving holiday, I have a reason to be grateful. I’m grateful that He calls men and women to follow Him although their culture would have them stay at home. I’m thankful He still confirms His word, even in the most unlikely circumstances, and I’m glad that He’s allowed us to be a witness of it here in Yucatán.

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This Christmas season, we were able to return to the US to spend time with the family. Our days were full of visiting, catching up, eating (lots of eating), and just being together.

As we prepared to leave, Kelly’s mom asked what it was that we wanted to have for dinner. It was decided to prepare chicken and biscuits, a definite taste of home in then Yaple household. Still, while the meal was excellent, the preparation time is what really got me thinking. There was Kim, working into kitchen. Rebekah was there as well working alongside her, patting out biscuits onto a cookie sheet before baking. They were talking and laughing, pictures were being taken, memories shared. It was then that I was reminded that missionaries aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices.

How many moments in the kitchen has my mother-in-law missed because her granddaughter lived in a foreign country? How many meals has my Mom prepared for herself because her loved ones were far from home? We have are the ones who leave, but they are the ones who are left behind.

Nevertheless, we feel from our family nothing but support for what God is doing through us. I joked with a few Mexican friends as we were preparing for our trip that we were returning for the holidays because our parents had accused us of kidnapping their grandchildren, but nothing could be further from the truth. What happened to Jesus in Mark 3 (also in Matthew 12 and Luke 8 ) when Jesus’ mother and brothers had come to “collect” Jesus and take him home from his ministry has never been our concern. On the contrary, our parents have released us to the Lord, and pray constantly for the work that we are called to achieve. And even though my mom has wondered aloud on one occasion, “Why did He have to call you so far away?” Her sentiment was one of resignation preceded by, “When you were called by God to be a missionary, I gave you into His hands.”

And so, having returned to Mérida, reestablishing ourselves into our work and school schedules, I wanted to take time out to recognize the others who unselfishly gave so that we could be released to do what God has called us to do. Thanks Grandma G., Grandma Kim, Papa Dave, and all of the aunts and uncles (too numerous to type in a brief posting) for giving so that we could go. May God recognize and honor all that you have done, and bless you beyond measure because of it.

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Pass it on…

Here's a shot of the entire group!

There are things that we like to keep to ourselves. Passwords and credit card numbers, secrets between best friends, and perhaps our opinion of certain individuals may come to mind as a few examples. But, when it comes to training churches to multiply themselves, you’d have to agree that’s something better shared with others. This past Saturday, that’s exactly what we did.

In Yaxcabá, the seat of a municipality of a decidedly indigenous population, 4 groups from churches in surrounding towns gathered to hear how they can reach into that indigenous community with the help of the Jesus Film. Pastor Josué Novelo hosted the Jesus Film Team, Pedro Pablo Balam, and Angelino Ek, as they taught the church planting course that they had attended just a month before and put into practice in Cocoyol. Now, they were taking the theories and methods that they had proven, and were passing them on.

From left to right, Angelino Ek and Pedro Pablo Balam, members of the Jesus Film Team.

I had the privilege of preaching to this group as the seminar began, but the true blessing was to see these men, who had applied the vision, share it now with others. They did the teaching. They answered the questions, and they made themselves available to help these groups put the concepts that they were teaching into practice, and they were taking them up on their offer. On December 10th, the church in Yaxcabá will travel to Santa Maria for the next scheduled projection of the Jesus Film in Maya.

True, some things are better kept to ourselves, but, when it comes to church planting, the best advice is to pass it on!

To take a look at more of what went on, and to see the actual Action Groups, check out our photo album of the event here.

In this entry, cross-posted from her blog, Every Day is New, Kelly shares about her first visit to Cocoyol, the site of the first projection of the Jesus Film in Maya.

Cocoyol (coco – joel’). It isn’t on google maps, but it certainly exists. It took us over 3 hours to get there, which included a few wrong turns. It was raining during about half of our trip and raining when we arrived. Why did we go? To be part of a new work going on in Yucatan to start or “plant” new churches in the Mayan language. We are what you might call the “link” – hooking up those who have a vision to see the message of Jesus brought to people in their own language with a group of believers who have a desire and commitment to start a church, oh, and that speak both Maya and Spanish (that part is important!).

The Maya have been in math & history books, in several tourist guides and even in Hollywood, but I don’t think the current culture or people get that much publicity. In Cocoyol, we saw a snapshot of life for this indigenous people group.

It was a bit like entering any other small town at first glance. After we found the correct road, we traveled under a canopy of trees, that would have provided shade had it not been raining, and arrived at the “center of town” where the Catholic church and the local school were situated on two joining sides of a basketball court. The team had arrived before us, visiting the 100 families that make up this Maya community and letting them know about the event. Upon returning, they got to work setting up a portable screen and projector to show the Jesus film, not in Spanish but in Maya. “Wait!” you’re saying, “aren’t you living in Mexico?” Yes, yes we are. Although Spanish is the national language of Mexico, there are, according to Wikepedia, over 6 million indigenous Maya in 4 countries! And one of those is Mexico.

While the setup was taking place, I watched, snapped some photos, and spoke with the kids who were gathering. Fortunately, I didn’t need a personal translator since some of the kids were able to communicate in Spanish. I even got a few questions/words in English since some of the kids’ family members most likely have work in tourist areas. One particular boy acted as a sort of spokesman for the group; he even confiscated my camera and snapped a shot of Rebekah and me.

However, the kids spoke to each other in Maya, all the time. It was like being in another country for me. I knew that there were several families, even in the city where we live, who continued to speak Maya inside the home or between family members. There are older ladies in our church who help us with basic phrases to learn something new in their native tongue. But, hearing their everyday conversation being spoken in something other than Spanish was a bit surprising.

This was not the first time that the message of Jesus’ love had come to the small town. One boy told me of another group that had come on a few occasions (with a bigger screen!). The difference, we hope, is that the team’s goal is to come, to stay, and to speak their language. The Maya language. The team is not from America or Korea, but from a larger town in Mexico, about 30 minutes or so away. And they don’t plan on being a passing memory.

I played a small part, not being on the team and not speaking the language. Sure, I spoke Spanish and a few answered me in Spanish. I mainly talked and played with the kids. My kids and I taught them Simon Says and they taught us “veneno” (poison) which, fortunately, was a harmless game where they spun in different directions holding hands 😉 They practiced some English phrases and I practiced some Maya ones. They were amazed at the height of our daughter, who is 12 going on 13. I marveled at their ages being 12 and 17 and still being in the 3rd and 6th grades, respectively, of their elementary school.

It is clear we are very different, but we are loved by the same God. I am glad my God doesn’t speak to me in Mandarin or French or Turkish. Can you even imagine? . . . That is the idea behind this team and others that will follow in their footsteps and in the footsteps of Jesus – speaking the language of the people, sharing His beautiful words of life.

Kelly’s added a few of her photos from the trip to our photo album. You can view them all here.

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