Missions

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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 ūüėČ 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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Abel prays for the Action Group members. The songs spoke of fulfilling the Great Commission. The sermon was from Romans chapter 10. Believers were called forward for special prayer to be sent out to do ministry. It sounds like any other missions service that you’ve witnessed in your local church, right? Except this service didn’t take place in the U.S. It was held in Chemax, Yucat√°n, where, this past Saturday, a group of believers were sent out to plant the first evangelical church in Cocoyol, Yucat√°n. (View more pictures of the event here.)

Kelly the kids and I traveled the 2 1/2 hours to be there for this special event, which marks the first outreach based on the Jesus Film Project that we have been promoting throughout the district. The church was filled for this Saturday service where a group of 7 church members committed themselves to the 8 week project of evangelism and discipleship guided by the Jesus Film material. Abel Can, the District Missions Director, and Miriam Pech, the District Coordinator of Ministry to Ethnic Groups were on hand to encourage and witness the event. Also present was the Jesus Film Team comprised of Pedro Pablo Balam and Angelino Ek, who will be guiding these believers through the church plant process.

I also had the opportunity to greet the congregation. I thanked them for their vision to break down the barriers to the gospel that many Maya speakers face. In many parts of the Yucat√°n, those who would want to learn more about Jesus have to learn Spanish to do so. As this Action Group moves to plant this church, they are announcing to the community of Cocoyol that God has come near, that He speaks their language, that He desires to dwell in their context. I commended them for catching the vision of Revelation 7:9 where those of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, even the Maya, gather around the throne to worship Jesus, the Lamb of God.

It’s our prayer that this event is the first of many as the vision of reaching the Maya people is extended throughout Yucat√°n.

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Cruzadas Estudiantiles representatives David Gamboa and Oscar Gonzalez pray for Pedro Pablo Balam and his wife Noemi Uitzil during our visit to Cocoyol. You’ll have to excuse me for my tardiness in getting this post up, I’m a bit breathless from all of the activity of the past week. In four jam-packed days, we visited two church plant locations, covered the Jesus Film church planting strategy, stepped through an 7-week discipleship course for new believers, and outfitted our Jesus Film Team with all of the tools that they need to put the plan in action. The seminar ended on Thursday. The Yucatecan pastors, and the representatives from Power to Change, Canada and Cruzadas Estudiantiles, Mexico, have all returned to their homes. The the event is over, but there is the feeling that a movement is just beginning.

As I had mentioned in this previous post, our goal is to plant churches among the Maya of the Yucatan. The seminar was a first step, but the vision needs to be defined. The dream needs to be made concrete. What has been studied on paper will need to be put into practice in the real world, and that is exactly what we plan to do.

On October 22nd, Kelly, the kids and I will travel, along with Abel Can our District Missions Director to Chemax, Yucatan, to commission the first Action Team who will be charged with planting a church in the comisaria of Cocoyol, where there is currently no evangelical presence. Our desire is to recognize the step of faith that these believers are taking as they are being sent out from among their own to make disciples.

Missionary Ken Priebe from Power to Change inspects the Jesus Film equipment. Following the commission service, The Jesus Film Team, made up by Pedro Pablo Balam, and Angelino Ek, will organize the first projection, which will take place on Sunday, October 30th at that site. But more than simply showing a film, these gentlemen are committed to evangelism and follow-up in the area until 15 adults are registered to receive discipleship studies. The Action Team that the church has raised up will provide the support and oversight to solidify this new work in the weeks that follow.

But the founding of the new work in Cocoyol is not the end of the project; it is only the beginning. Eleven other pastors and congregations are waiting their turn to put the Jesus Film strategy into action in their area. The month of November has been designated to help those pastors form their Action Teams and receive the training that they need in order to replicate these church planting efforts throughout the Maya speaking regions of Yucatan and beyond.

Tom√°s Vera speaks before the commissioning of the Jesus Film Team and equipment. Our District Superintendent, Tom√°s Vera, has stated his vision for the next two years: one hundred new churches planted and one hundred new ministers for the state of Yucatan. That kind of vision requires much more that the efforts of a chosen few. It’s a vision that requires a concerted effort on the part of pastors and congregations alike. There is the feeling that the Jesus Film Project might just be the right tool at the right time to fulfill that vision.

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Road Trip!


View Trip through Yucat√°n in a larger map

I’m testimony to the fact that we live in the age of text messages and tweets. In fact, my last short term missions team was almost completely planned through Twitter, but, here in the Yucatan, there is still something special about that face to face meeting.

Yesterday was a case in point. Teaming up with Abel Can and Miriam Pech, our District Missions Director and Coordinator of Ministry to Ethnic Groups respectively, along with the support and training of Power to Change, we’re committed to planting churches among the Maya of the Yucatan. To make this vision a reality, we need the cooperation of several local pastors. These pastors are doing more than simply taking a course or receiving materials, they’re committing their congregations to the task of planting new, Maya speaking works, specifically 12 in the next year. This kind of request can’t be made via cell phone. It required a road trip.

As you can see from the map above, we started the trip at 7:30 AM in Merida. We made our way to 5 towns, speaking with pastors at each spot. Each meeting was face to face, explaining the plan and clarifying questions. The personal visit broke down barriers immediately. The time in each location enabled us form working relationships with each minister. Fifteen hours and 455 miles later, we were able to confirm the participation of seven additional pastors in this church planting movement.

But the time on the roads was much more than the task at hand. It was a chance to spend time with fellow laborers and hear their heart as well. At the pastor’s meeting in Tahdizbichen, I sat back and listened as Abel encouraged the pastors to expand their vision, to look beyond the four walls of the church and to seek to fulfill the Great Commission. The time spent on the roads was more than worth it to hear his message.

Sure, I’m still committed to tweeting with the best of them, but I’m also a firm believer that technology will never replace the value of the personal visit.

How about you? Do you agree, or do you think that technology will make personal meeting obsolete? Let’s hash out the pros and cons in the comments section.

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Antonio Gamboa chiding me for not having learned Maya. At times, the plans that we make work out beautifully. On other occasions, things don’t come together in the way we expect. In the fall of 2008, I entered Itzamn√°, the Maya language school in the center of town, with the goal of getting a functional knowledge of the indigenous language still spoken by a large percentage of the inhabitants of the Yucatan. However, a household accident had one of the Godzwa parental team off of her feet for a few weeks that November, meaning carving out four hours from an already active schedule got increasingly more difficult. Needless to say, that attempt at learning Maya met with failure.

Still the resolve to try again stayed with me. The reasons for learning were solid; drawing near to the people and being able to share the good news of salvation with the Maya community in their own language are goals I consider necessary for long-term ministry success here on the peninsula. Also, returning to the Yucatan, we found that ministry opportunities, from small group sessions to church planting projects, for those who spoke Maya were abundant, so with a bit of chiding from Antonio Gamboa (above) I began my search again for a program to help me gain this essential tool.

This summer, I enrolled in a free class offered by a local university designed to give novices a chance to learn Maya, while giving professors a chance to polish their skills in the classroom. Last week I entered my first class. Each Friday, therefore, I’m being immersed for three hours in Yucatec Maya. From start to finish, we are being taught and asked to respond only in Maya. Needless to say it was a bit of a shock, but my hope is that, at the end of the 15 week course, I’ll be well on my way to realizing the goal that I set for myself in October of 2008: to learn the Maya language.

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A year ago last spring, I was making calls to visit pastors in the KC area. It was my fifth day on the Light-for-the-Lost Tour, and I wanted to see if I would be able to get some face time with missions-minded individuals while I was in town. My goal was to be able to build our support so that we would be able to leave for the field, but God had seen fit on that day to begin a relationship that would have lasting repercussions.

In my calls, I spoke with Brandon Watkiss, Director of Operations for Partnership International, an organization designed to facilitate short-term missions trips. He agreed to meet with me that day to see the ways in which we might partner together. During the hour that we had that day, he spoke to me about monthly support, but he also shared his desire to link missionaries with missions teams in a way that was mutually beneficial to both the ministry of the missionary and to the lives of the team members. We parted encouraged, having both seen the potential of this new relationship.

Pausing for a group photo in Oxcum, where we hosted 80 children on Saturday. Fast forward to late July 2011. Finally, the stage had been set to receive a team from Blue Springs Assembly, a team that had been sent through Partnership International. I had spoken to Brandon previously about the trip, about our need to see the additional building at the Bible Institute finished, and he responded sending a team with a “mind to work.”

The got on the ground on July 24th, and were undaunted by the rough accommodations at the Bible School. Armed with their own bedding, they set themselves up in what would be their home for the next week. They had little experience, but with instruction, they moved quickly on the first day, preparing the roof to receive the concrete that would be poured the next day and getting started on the kitchen walls on the lower floor.

Debbie is trying her hand at mixing concrete, Mexican style.The second day was a marathon of digging, pouring and carrying, as sand, gravel, water, and cement was mixed by the bucket load, time after time in order to pour what was to be the floor of the second level and the ceiling of the lower level. With their persistence and the help of local pastors, the work was done with time to spare before lunch.

The quick work on the first two days enabled us to prepare for the children’s services scheduled in the towns of Oxcum and Kilinch√© respectively. We spent time in prayer and canvassed the neighborhoods on Wednesday and Thursday in each of the communities, getting to know the both the believers in each congregation and get a concept of the specific challenges that each pastor faced in their ministry.

On Friday, the work stopped on the Bible school, but the ministry moved into full gear as services began. With a combination of songs, dramatized Bible stories, games, and lots of activities, the group effectively communicated their desire to be with each community and direct them toward Jesus, the one who had brought them to share His love in tangible ways with both the children and adults that gathered in each event.

The kids in Kilinch√© were taking it all in. Some of the highlights of the week came when, in Oxcum, some 80 children participated in Saturday’s event, where we had the chance to pray for many who indicated their desire to be a part of God’s family. Another came on Sunday night where, in Kilinch√©, two women came forward and committed their lives to Jesus for the very first time!

As we wrapped things up, we got chance to hear from the team members about their experience in the Yucatan. Pastor Jeremy Naranjo shared that the trip had been the realization of a dream that he had had to personally lead a mission’s team. He had faced several obstacles in the past, but he was glad to see how, through Partnership International and the ministry opportunities in the Yucatan, he was able to see this vision come to fruition. Others spoke of the life-changing nature of the trip, from the cohesion of the group itself to eye-opening experience that they had in their face-to-face encounter with the culture of the Yucatan. Each pastor as well expressed their gratitude for the work that had been done. Buildings had been advanced, communities had been opened, and lives had been restored because of their labor.

What Brandon Watkiss and I had seen as potential in the spring of 2010, the linking of missions teams and missionaries to for mutual benefit, has taken its first step toward becoming a reality. It is our prayer that, as we continue to observe the need and the way that God is working in the Yucatan, we’ll be able to utilize teams targeted specifically to advance the kingdom, both in the lives of the individual team members and in the ministries of the pastors and leaders with whom they work.

(Didn’t get enough photos with the post? Check out some more here!)

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Team Play

The ACLAME Leadership TeamThis week finds me decidedly out of the country and out of my element. I’m in Springfield, MO, the home of Bass Pro, Andy’s Frozen Custard, the Assemblies of God, and until recently, some bone chilling temperatures, especially when you compare them to what we’re used to in the Yucatan.

Why am I here? Well, it’s certainly not for the ice cream. Actually, it’s because I serve as part of the leadership team for ACLAME, an organization that exists to network and encourage missionary educators that serve in the Latin American context.

For the past two days we’ve met to evaluate our events and retool our structure and purposes. All of it has been fruitful as we try to make ourselves more effective in the role that we serve. Still, as I worked among these individuals, each one with a wealth of experience and talents to offer, I found that the simple act of being together had enriched us in ways that we had not expected. We were exposed to resources we had not yet tapped, information that lay outside of our awareness and tecniques yet unexplored. I would say that each of us is walking away a better person for the time spent.

So yes the work in the field is on pause for another day as I pack up and ready to depart the near tolerable temperatures that are expected to visit these northern climes, but I believe I’m headed back more capable to handle what awaits as I return. I’m glad to work within an organization of team players.

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The kids and I posing with Pastor Tom√°s Reyes (back left) and some of the members of his church.

We were together in the car, Kelly, the kids and I.  We had been making our way, so we thought to the town of Tunkas, a small city of about three thousand, in order to deliver some documents to Pastor Eucepio Pech and to find out a bit more about the missions of which he is pastor.  Although I had been there previously, this would have been the first time for Kelly and the kids to visit the town.  We were headed there accompanied by Antonio Mendez, the District Missions Director, and the Regional Presbyter Manuel Diaz, that is until Manuel began to give me directions.

“Vamos a Pom (We’re going to Pom),” he said

“¬ŅA donde? (To where?)”, was my reply.

It was at that time about 6:00 PM. Tunkas was about a 45 minute drive away. Getting there, having our meeting and a bite to eat would have gotten us home by 9:30 PM. Pom however, was a trip of about two hours one-way. I had the feeling that this was going to be a long night.

We made our way from Bokob√°, the town where Manuel pastors, through Izamal and on to Holca where we picked up an eighth passenger, before stopping in Libre Union for some panuchos. While there, there was talk about the remaining distance to Pom.

The Road to Pom

One said, “Oh no. Pom is another 4 hours from here. The roads are terrible. We can get there, spend the night and make our way back in the morning.” I cringed. This trip was evolving from a short jaunt to a voyage of epic proportions. I was only a little relieved when the others reassured me that we’d not need to stay the night.

The road was indeed rough. I was about 12 miles on a narrow, paved road, and then it was another 10 miles on basically a dirt path. Up and down we went, over rocks and at times through the brush that spilled out onto the “road.” Finally, we arrived at the town.

Pom wasn’t much to look at. It was basically a small grouping of houses around a diminutive downtown consisting of some rooms that served as the city hall. There is no electricity in the town, so although it was only 9:30 PM when we arrived, it was pitch dark. Everyone had turned in for the night.

Manuel walked down the path to the pastor’s house to let him know that we had arrived. The pastor, Tom√°s Reyes, is a former student of mine. Always the quiet type, I wondered how he might fare in such a remote place.

Tom√°s arrived, flashlight in hand to meet us a few minutes later. With him were his mother and sister. Also joining him was the mayor of the town, himself a member of the church. As we walked to the hut that served as the church, we heard of the work that was going on.

Speaking with Pastor Tom√°s (back center) and some members of his congregation. Also pictured: Manuel Diaz (extreme left) and Antonio Mendez (second from left.)

We heard of the group 25 people that would gather each service to pray and sing. We heard of how that, although many couldn’t understand all of what Tom√°s was saying because of the language barrier, (Tom√°s doesn’t speak Maya.), they were drawn by his spirit and his willingness to be with them even in that remote place. We heard the joy of a mother enthralled to know that her son was making a difference in people’s lives.

We entered the church, we prayed, and we spoke words of encouragement to Tom√°s and those assembled. We wanted them to know that they were remembered, that they were appreciated, that they could count on us to help them as they labored in the hard places. In the light of our flashlights, we could see from their smiles that they had indeed received the message.

It was after 10, but, even though we had another 4 hour journey in front of us, there was a desire to linger a bit. We stepped out of the building and looked up into the night sky. In the moment, I was reminded that, although the stars were too numerous to count, God knew each one by name. In the same way, in this world with over 6 billion people, God had not forgotten these 20 families that lived an hour from the end of the road without electricity or even water in their homes. Even here, he had sent a witness, and even though we had thought we had been heading to a completely different place for a completely different purpose, we left with the feeling that we had been blessed to have witnessed this extension of his grace.

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This last weekend was full of amazing coincidences. It started on Friday evening. Headed down to Nederland, Texas for services with Greg and Amanda Swafford, we stopped for a night with friends Brian and Jessica Fisher in Frisco, just north of Dallas. They had apologized earlier in the week for having to attend a minor league baseball game while we were there, but being the flexible, baseball loving missionaries that we are, we were up for the outing. Imagine our surprise, however, when we found that the game was between the hometown Frisco Rough Riders and the visiting Springfield Cardinals! We got a chance to root for our hometown team in Texas!

The real treat came following our weekend. Our nine hour trip back from services with Danny and Stephanie Baker in Leesville, Lousiana would take us past Hot Springs, Arkansas, the birthplace of the Assemblies of God. We debated the visit, as the side trip would certainly kill our ETA, but our debate ended as we researched the stop. The first General Council which gave rise to the Assemblies of God took place from April 2nd until the 12th, 1914. It just so happened that on Monday we were passing by Hot Springs on our denomination’s birthday!

We called area churches and were directed to the spot which sits on Bath House Row in downtown Hot Springs. The plaque, laid on the 60th anniversary of the event, is the only physical remnant of the former Hot Springs Opera House where the council took place. It’s easily overlooked as visitors pass by, many without even looking down at the inscription affixed to the cement, but for us it has special significance.

On Monday, April 12, 2010, 96 years after the event, we found ourselves returning to our roots, and as our feet surrounded the memorial plaque, we reflected on the principles that brought about the founding of the Assemblies of God–evangelism, missions, and ministerial training. We’re glad that now, almost 100 years after its organization, those principles are still at the forefront of its agenda. What’s even more humbling is that we’re able to serve as its representatives as we emphasize evangelism, missions, and ministerial training, making disciples in the Yucat√°n.

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It’s official! We’ve just received notice from Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM), our missions sending agency, of our status change from Special Assignment to Appointed General Missionaries.

What does that mean? Well Special Assignment Missionaries are contracted to work for a period of time. They are called in in specialized circumstances for specific jobs. Appointed General Missionaries are missionaries who believe that God has called them to a lifetime of missionary service and who are involved in general missionary work from church planting and construction to Bible School ministry and leadership development.

While we always felt and communicated our lifetime commitment to missions, this status change marks for us the maturation of our calling in the eyes of AGWM. It’s a recognition of our ministry and the communication of their belief that the Lord will continue to use us to fulfill his purpose to win the world for Christ.

So celebrate with us! This is a milestone that we’ve achieved with your help. Pray for us as well that we’ll continue to merit the favor that we’ve been shown over the long haul.

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