This month is a month of some drastic change, but instead of writing about it, I’ve recorded a short video to fill you in on all that’s going on. Click the play button above to take a look.
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As I write this update, Mexico is celebrating its Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), the anniversary of the unlikely defeat of the larger, better equipped, and expertly trained French force near the city of Puebla by General Ignacio Zaragoza and his smaller Mexican army in 1862.
The event is a source of national pride and a cause for celebrations of Mexican identity, especially in the United States. However, it’s also a reminder of what it means to win the battle but lose the war. The French went on to defeat the Mexican army and the Mexican people were subjugated to French rule for three years under Maximillian the I.
Over Easter Week, we had the chance to join together with fellow Assemblies of God missionaries serving all across the country to reflect on the work here in modern Mexico. We rejoiced to hear of:
- Indigenous pastors being trained and launched into ministry.
- Church planting movements rising up in unreached areas.
- University students waking up to the message of the gospel.
It’s truly exciting to be a part of a group of men and women who are piercing the darkness that has shrouded Mexico, turning back the enemy in some of his key strongholds.
Nevertheless, we are facing some sobering facts:
- 9 out of 10 Mexicans do not have a relationship with the Lord.
- Quasi-christian cults like Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons are gaining influence.
- Organized corruption is a continued threat to social transformation.
Battles are being won, but the war for the heart of Mexico is still being fought. So we appeal to you, our supporters, to intercede with us this month, praying for:
- Anointed leaders: Winning the war calls for strong leadership. As district conventions are being held across the country, will you pray for the right people to be selected, people with a vision to reach Mexico?
- Divine strategy: Here, in the Yucatán and throughout Mexico, initiatives are being considered to stimulate evangelism and church growth. Will you pray that the plans made and the structures put into place would be effective in reaching the lost and discipling believers?
- Perseverance: The work of transformation requires consistency and patience. Would you pray that we will stay the course to see this change take place?
This month I’m reporting on site at the General Council of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, but instead of writing about it, I’ve recorded a short video fill you in on all that’s going on. Click the play button above to take a look.
When we think of teams, our mind naturally turns to the world of sports and those teams that dominate the game that they play. Being a baseball fan, my mind naturally goes back to the Yankees of 96-2001. Their string of four World Series wins in five years made it look easy, but the remarkable character of that team was the lack of superstars at any position. Still, what they lacked in individual statistics, they made up for in cohesion. They found ways to win.
As we look forward to a Yucatan peninsula full of churches, we understand that we cannot fall into the trap of searching for superstars. As the great teams have proved, talent alone doesn’t win championships, it takes teamwork. That is why we’re working to create just the sort of team that will enable us to advance to our goal. We’re pleased, then, to report that what began as an ad hoc committee of three in late April to introduce church planting concepts has now blossomed into a network of ministry partners in strategic positions to promote and administrate what we believe will become a church planting movement.
Our first strategic partnership was forged with the evangelism department in the district of Yucatan. The president of the department, Ricardo Rodriguez, has not only opened up his pre-approved dates to hold our events, but he also brings a passion for souls and a commitment to prayer to our church planting team.
Another key player has been found in our long-time friend, and now director of the district missions department, Silverio Blanco. He has lent his vast knowledge of the district and his more that 40 years of ministerial experience to the work. These men join Felipe Sabido, Alfonso Vera, Abel Can and a group of five regional coordinators as together we work to steer this church planting vision through its various stages from inspiration to implementation.
Of course, what characterizes any champion is one thing: production. For us, production means new churches planted. That, in the end, will determine if these key elements have combined to form a truly great team.
Will you pray with us that we might see this production? A major milestone comes October 20-22 as we invite potential workers to take part in our first church planters’ retreat of the program.
- For an anointing on the location and the program.
- For the clear and powerful presentation of the concepts.
- For the right people in attendance.
How do you inspire someone to see the need? It requires exposure; it demands engagement, and that’s exactly what we’ve been fostering as we continue pressing ahead to see our vision of the Yucatan full of churches become a reality.
It began with a conversation, a suggestion that pastor Felipe Sabido utilize the Alpha course to encourage outreach in his congregation “La Mies” in northern Merida. You can imagine my pleasure, then, when last month, I was invited to preach the kickoff of “Start”, their 12 week course based on Alpha. Their plan: to host groups throughout the city, inviting friends and neighbors to explore the truths of Christianity in a non-threatening environment. We’re looking forward to track with them as they open their homes to those seeking after Christ.
At the same time “La Mies” was planning their outreach, 27 students from “Instituto Bíblico Bethel” were hitting the streets. My evangelism classes took to the public spaces of Merida to discover the impact that Christianity was having on the everyday lives of those they encountered there.
While they found some encouraging signs, they also encountered areas of concern. For example, although 21% of those surveyed identified with an evangelical church, even they had difficulty explaining what it meant to be born again, and although a whopping 84% agreed that the Bible was the word of God, only 9% reported reading it on a regular basis. Clearly, there is work to be done.
What encouraged me, however, was to hear of the opportunities that the students were having, not only to discover the needs, but to meet them as well. 66% of those surveyed reported an openness to receiving follow up studies, while dozens received prayer and words of encouragement in the city streets and parks. One of my students summed up the sentiment the best. “We wouldn’t have known had we not gone.”
Pray with us that these experiences continue to bear much fruit!
The book of Ezra, chapter 3, recounts the rebuilding of the temple when the Israelite had returned from exile. As Zerubbabel directed the final stones into place to finish the foundations of the temple, there was an interesting occurrence. The people lifted up a shout of rejoicing, thanking God for his help, but, at the same time, the elder priests and levites wept aloud, having remembered the old temple’s former magnificence. Zechariah speaks to these leaders, those who had been disappointed with the progress achieved. He says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 7:10).
Tixpehual is a work in revitalization. Although the Assemblies of God has an almost 30 year history in that city, the work has failed to take root. This past Friday, however, eight of my students from Instituto Bíblico Bethel began preparing the foundations for a new effort.
It all began under threatening skies. We had been praying for all aspects of the event, from the participants to the invitees, to the weather. Still, by the time we had left Merida, the heavens had opened, producing a steady downpour. We arrived to a town square literally under water! The conditions were certainly not in our favor.
The first order of business was to prepare a relatively dry meeting place. Thankfully, Pastor Castillo, husband of the new leader of the work had come prepared. Two old event banners he had brought with him from Mérida were fashioned into an improvised roof while my students Abisai and Eric did their best impersonation of Spider Man, climbing the walls to set them in place.
The next step was to remind the neighbors that, in spite of the rain, the event was still on. We passed through the neighborhood, door to door, speaking with those who had received the printed announcements the Wednesday before. Still, 5:00, the scheduled time of the event, came and went without so much as a single attendee. Things were beginning to get tense.
A new group was sent out, reminders were given, but people did not seem to be moving toward the house where we were meeting. Then we were told: “When you announce a time, it means that the event will start an hour later.” Sure enough, the people came.
By the time the event was underway the rain had passed, and five families, moms with their kids had arrived at the house. Women were learning about making “pastel de galleta” a cake out of crackers, at the same time that they were hearing testimonies of God’s work in students’, (Maribel and Geydi) lives. Next door, their children were jumping, singing, working on crafts, and listen to a message about the God who loves them told by Abner and Abisai.
The culmination of the evening came just before dinner. The ladies sat at a table prepared for them, while Jorge shared scripture and asked if we could pray with them. All of them accepted, and not only did they allow us to take down their names and addresses, they opened up to us, letting us know their struggles and concerns. That prayer time was a special moment.
As we began to reflect on our experiences, many of the students shared that there was a reluctance expressed by many of the ladies as they deliberated attending the event. Some of them had prior experiences gathering at such activities and knew the abandonment that comes when, for one reason or another, the church, or the support group, or the workshop closes its doors. The conclusion: the work must go on.
We’re so thankful, then, that we were able to install Pastor and his wife Olga as the new leaders of the cell group that is being restarted in Tixpehual. Starting this weekend, they will be available Saturdays and Sundays, visiting, holding Bible studies and encouraging the unsaved to trust in Jesus and Christians to deepen their walk with him.
Following the event, there were those who had been disappointed that more hadn’t arrived, but Isabel, the owner of the house was very encouraged. She expressed her gratefulness for the opportunity to use her home to be able to serve and speak into the lives of her neighbors. She was thankful for this small beginning in Tixpehual and hopeful for a brighter future.
Did you enjoy the story? Be sure to look at our photo gallery of these shots and others, taken by Rebekah Godzwa.
On October 16 at 4:00 pm, we will be traveling with several students to Tixpehual (pronounced Tish-pay-wall) to host an evangelistic event charged with the difficult task of spurring on a flagging work in that city.
Tixpehual is a city that desperately needs a turn-around. A site of evangelistic outreach since the 1980’s, several denominations have tried to gain a foothold among that population. Sadly, failed projects, manipulative leaders, and backslidden believers have caused the work to stall and hopes to fade. In addition, spiritism and cultic practices exercise influence over several that live in the city.
Gaby Campos, the current leader of the Assemblies of God congregation in Tixpehual (lower left photo, middle) , told us of an encounter that typifies the attitude of its inhabitants:
An old woman, having observed her activities with skepticism, approached her one day. She said, “You can do what you want here, others have in the past, but it won’t make any difference.” Gaby replied, “I won’t be the one to make a difference, God will!”
Hers is the attitude that we share as we go. We will be inviting friends and neighbors of a family that is currently attending the church to a practical workshop and a meal in the home pictured above with the goal of sharing the gospel message with them. We are busy preparing the details, organizing the supplies, and planning the schedule, but we haven’t forgotten who it is that will make the difference in that city.
Pray for us, won’t you? Pray that our efforts will pull together a memorable event for the residents of Tixpehual. Pray for the enthusiastic participation of the believers in that community. Pray for redemptive relationships to be formed among those who attend the event, and pray that this outreach will bear fruit, fruit that lasts, fruit that once and for all cuts through that skepticism that hangs over the city of Tixpehual.
Early Tuesday morning we loaded eight action packers (a missionary’s equivalent of a suitcase), a guitar, a violin, a dog and a family of five onto a plane bound for Chicago. Three connection flights later, we landed in Merida, Yucatan, the city we will be calling home for the next four years. Thanks to you we can finally say “We made it!”.
Gabriel Gongora, a local pastor, and his wife, Leticia, met us at the gate with Yucatecan hospitality. Julio Montejo, another friend, was there with his truck to load up our bags.
After a few delays (of those 8 action packers only 7 made it) we arrived at a house Silverio Blanco, the district missions director, has loaned us until we can find one of our own. We were met by his son, Eliú, and his wife, Doris, and son, Moisés. The rest of the day and Wednesday we spent getting new phone numbers and looking for houses. The search was on!
Thursday, we were able to enroll Joseph and Jonathan into Centro Educativo Calvary (Calvary Christian School) and see some old school friends. We also looked at three or four different houses. Thankfully, the last action packer arrived as well.
Friday we visited ‘el Centro’ for the first time since we got back, where we were reacquainted with the hustle and bustle of Merida’s downtown. We ate delicious typical foods like, Pollo Pibil ( chicken cooked in banana leaves), Panuchos (fried tortillas filled with refried beans and toped with turkey and vegetables), and Sopa de Lima (lime soup with chicken).
Later on we looked at more houses and might continue to do so for the next week. We aren’t despairing yet though. Searching for a house that meets all our needs is time consuming and requires lots of thinking and input from family members. We are confident that God will show us the right one. Thank you again for all your prayers and support. It means a lot to us.
We’ve driven over 33,000 miles during our itineration year. We’ve driven through early morning sunrises and lazy Sunday afternoons. We’ve navigated through the night and on into the next day as well. We’ve hit rain storms and snow storms, even hail, but never have we been made more aware of our need for prayers as we travel than last Tuesday night.
It all happened in an instant. We were driving a stretch of I-44 that we had been on perhaps a hundred times before. In fact, we weren’t even on a ministry trip. Then, there was a flash of brown in the headlights and a thud. We had hit a deer.
At first there was the irony of it all. All of those miles, many of them on secondary roads through the Mark Twain National Forest, and we hit a deer in the suburbs of Springfield! The next morning, however, we began to reflect on how fortunate we were. A few seconds earlier, or a few inches to the left would have been enough to cause significant damage or cause us to lose control of the car altogether. Let’s just say that morning devotionals had a much more thankful tone to them than perhaps the day before.
We communicate all of this to let you know that we covet your prayers! We take precautions and drive defensively, but we can never assume that we have full control over any situation. So thank you for lifting us up over the next 6,000 miles that we have yet to cover for this itineration and beyond. As our incident with the deer proves, we depend on them!
Speaking of prayers, thanks for praying on our behalf through the month of April. Since our last update, we’ve seen our monthly commitment total reach 99%! We are nearing the finish line. Please join with us in prayer for those who have committed to our support, that God would bless them with the resources to not only honor their commitment but prosper because of their heart to reach the lost!
You’d have to question the appropriateness of the phrase as well after having spent the week that I did with these college students! As I had mentioned in my previous post, we hosted a 10 person team of Chi Alpha students and staff from American University as they spent their Spring Break here in the Yucatán. However, contrary to preconceived notions about the time period, these youth did anything but rest!
Following their arrival on Saturday the 8th, we hit the ground running with services in the morning and evening to kick off the week’s events. Our morning service was hosted by La Casa de Oración, the year-old mission in the town of Sierra Papacal of one of my former students, Guadalupe Campos. It was a time of welcome and preparation for the work among the kids that would take place during the week. The evening service was held at Eben-ezer, a church in Mérida, pastored by Gabriel Gongora, the current director of Instituto Biblico Bethel. There, I had the privilege of translating for my brother, Mike, as the team was highlighted for the construction work that they would undertake in the Bible Institute.
On Monday, the construction began. Partnering with the Bible Institute students, we worked each morning until Wednesday to lift 1500 concrete slabs into place as part of the structure that will serve as the second story roof, effectively topping our three and a half year expansion project of the institute’s dining, classroom, and library facilities.
Each afternoon we worked together to bring Vacation Bible School activities to the children of Sierra Papacal. Following our prep time on Monday, we worked Tuesday and Wednesday in the church facilities, teaching, making crafts, singing, and playing exclusively with the kids. However, on Thursday afternoon, we were able to serve the entire community with free haircuts, hygiene checks, and lunch to boot. Our closing rally in the evening was a blessing as several of the kids to whom we ministered responded to the call to pray to receive Christ.
We couldn’t have been more pleased with the results as Mexicans and Americans worked shoulder to shoulder to see God’s purposes advanced in the Yucatán. It was truly a team effort!
And, speaking of team efforts, I’d like to thank all those who had responded to our call for prayer prior to the trip. We were witnesses of God’s faithfulness in every aspects as:
- There were no injuries whatsoever in our construction project or mishaps on the road as we traveled from place to place. In fact, I don’t even remember being asked for a band aid during the entire trip!
- All stayed perfectly healthy; even Montezuma’s revenge was kept at bay.
- The integration among the groups was stellar. In each aspect of the trip, both Mexicans and Americans joined together to get the job done.
- The response in Sierra Papacal was enthusiastic. New kids were reached with the message of the gospel, kids who are now being channeled into newly formed discipleship groups.
Of course, none of this would have been possible if this team of university students hadn’t forgone their break in order to invest in the Yucatán. So thanks, Mike, and the entire AU Chi Alpha team. Rest assured your work is appreciated!
Did you enjoy the post? Be sure to take a look at the pictures as well!
Tags: Sierra Papacal