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It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years since we spent our first ‘winter’ in Mérida. Although we headed into the Christmas season without the typical blustery winds or early snows of home, we could still hear the carols and melodies both in the stores and on the streets as choruses would sing the message of Christ’s birth for all to hear. There was also the smell of pine, as families purchased live trees to decorate to transform their homes for family gatherings and Christmas celebrations.(Here’s a video clip from our own Christmas tree adventure!) We learned that piñatas were popular with both kids and adults alike during this season, not just for birthdays. Reenacting the Christmas story was also a tradition. One year, our daughter even got to perform as Mary (see picture above).
 
Our first Christmas here, we were invited to share in the festivities of our pastor’s family. There, we discovered that gift giving happens at midnight after the Christmas Eve service and a late family meal. Christmas Day, then, becomes a continuation of family time and eating those all important dinner leftovers.
 
Throughout the past 10 years, we’ve seen that, although the expression may be different, the hope and expectation of the Savior is what unites us regardless of our differences. Thank you for joining with us that we may continue to proclaim this message so that this universal Body of Christ might continue to expand. 

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Isn’t it amazing how a deadline can motivate you to reach your goals? Since 2010, we’ve been working to provide Instituto Bíblico Bethel with modern, adequate facilities to help stimulate its mission of training ministers to reach the lost here in the Yucatan and beyond. While the first floor of our new multipurpose building is now complete and functioning, featuring a kitchen, open cafeteria, and administrative offices, progress on the second floor had been steady but slow. However, a special donation of books from Latin America/Caribbean Library Services set to arrive in October has accelerated the pace toward the completion of the work.

Things began with a special gift from Licking Assembly of God, which enabled us to purchase the materials and contract the labor to finish the interior walls of the second floor. Encouraged by this contribution, the administration sent out students in the month of May to preach in area churches and collect an offering to continue the work. In that week, they were able to collect almost $2,000 to put towards the construction. With those funds in hand, steps were taken to secure the second floor, installing handrails and walls in areas previously open to some pretty dangerous drops.

In the month of June, we were blessed to receive the assistance of a team from LifeStream Church in Washington, MO. Their team of six worked together with Bible school students and local construction workers to pour and level the entire subfloor of the second level of the building, preparing our library, classroom space, and dormitory for the final step of laying the tile floors.

As we enter the month of July, we look forward to partnering with First Assembly in Eldon, MO, as they send 11 members from their Pulse Youth Ministries to help install the electrical service to the second level as well as work in various projects around the Bible school complex.

As you can see from the photos above, the visual difference is marked. What you can’t see, though, is the change in attitude toward the project. Previously a missions project fueled primarily by outside funds and labor, now students, faculty, and administration are now joining together with our short term teams to ensure that the deadline is met and these facilities can finally be utilized.

Thank you for your contribution towards moving this project towards completion. Your prayers, donations, and your labor has done much to bring us to this stage, and we are confident that it will see us through to its completion.

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Have you ever had a great idea that came to you before others were able or willing to take it seriously? Maybe you had shared it with a few individuals without effect. Perhaps you even attempted to put it into practice, but you lacked the support to be able to see it through. Let me encourage you to not give up, because, if this past weekend was any indication, persistence pays off.

Since 2012, when I stumbled upon church planting material from Red de Multiplication (Multiplication Network) in preparation for a class, I had the feeling that they were on to something that could revolutionize the way we do evangelism and outreach. Their program emphasizes people over property and discipleship over building construction. It is a low cost, high impact plan that has since been adopted by evangelical denominations world-wide with tremendous success.

Since that class, I’d been looking for an opportunity to introduce these ideas on a wider scale. In the intervening years, there had been some meetings and a few false starts, but this past Friday, June 9, my opportunity finally arrived. That was when we held our first church planting workshop: “Sembremos Iglesias Saludables” (Let’s Plant Healthy Churches)

During two days, June 9 and 10, our District Superintendent, Magaly Balam, opened her church to us as we hosted fellow missionaries Jerry Brown and Peter Breit, representatives for the Commission of Evangelism and Church Planting (CEPI), for the first session of training. From my opening devotional, underlining our vision, through the step by step outline of the process, the participants listened with interest. As Jerry, Peter, and I went through the material, it was clear that it was striking a chord, identifying areas of weakness in our traditional models while providing solutions to overcome them. At the conclusion of our time together, there was a consensus among the attendees that they had been given a valuable tool, a tool that they wanted to put to use.

What was even more satisfying was what went on behind the scenes. Working together with my organizing team, District Secretary, Alfonso Vera, and Pastor, Felipe Sabido, we were able to create a tentative structure and invite key leaders to collaborate with us to guarantee that the church planting process would move forward. All of those who were asked heartily accepted their role.

Of course, the work has just begun. There is much to do to ensure that we move from this step of vision on to training and finally implementation, but the fact remains that, after 4 long years of waiting we have finally begun. Persistence pays off!

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We believe in the power of the Word of God to bring about transformation. This excerpt is taken from our vision statement[PDF]: “As individuals have a true encounter with the Word of God, applied to their context, their lives will change. We seek to provide this encounter for all those who live in or visit the Yucatan.” This past month we’ve seen opportunities to lead people into just this type of encounter.

Things began with a report from Ricardo Rodriguez, who had received the blessing of literature that we were able to coordinate in January of this year. He shouted an enthusiastic “Glory to God,” as he related the results of the campaigns that took place throughout the state of Yucatan. It was a pleasure for us to see the Bibles that they were able to purchase being grasped firmly by new believers now preparing themselves to confirm their new life by following the Lord in baptism.

The blessings continued internationally as, from April 18-21, Dave had the chance to travel to Panama, where several hundred educators had gathered for fellowship, spiritual enrichment, and continuing education. For two sessions, he teamed up with fellow missionary Paul Kazim to teach the course “The Teacher and Biblical Interpretation.” It was a joy to be able to lead the participative groups into the discovery of tools that will not only facilitate a personal encounter with God’s Word, but also help them to correctly guide others into the same experience.

As we wrapped up the month, we were excited to see how the Bible studies, which were reinvigorated by the Chi Alpha Team visit in March, are having an impact on the students attending the University of Yucatan. During one session, a new student chose to listen in on the conversation even though he admitted to being an atheist. In another meeting, Fernanda* was clearly moved as we talked about how God gives us comfort in our need so that we might offer that comfort to others. Following up with her, we found out that word had given her the courage to reconcile her strained relationship with her mother. Clearly, God’s Word has power!

Thank you then for your support as we continue to offer opportunities for others to experience God’s Word. And, as you thank God for His work, won’t you pray for these new believers, educators, and university students, that these encounters with God’s Word will continue to produce fruit in their lives?

*Name has been changed.

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imagePerhaps you remember this post from January that described the blessing that we received from Light for the Lost: funds that helped defray the cost of the District of Yucatan’s literature needs as they seek to spread the gospel in outreaches throughout the state. Well, that blessing has proved to be a gift that keeps on giving, because the monies that it has freed up have been put to use in the purchase of land to build churches in pivotal communities, especially those that lack an evangelical presence. It just so happens that one of those communities that is benefiting from these funds is Sierra Papacal.

Now, if you’ve been following our reports, both in our newsletters and on this site, you’ll know that Sierra Papacal has had a church there since 2013, a church begun by my former student, Guadalupe Campos. Nevertheless, up until the end of 2015, they had been meeting in rented facilities, facilities that they were no longer able to lease. On December 31st, they were facing the decision of moving to a house church format, a blow to the sense of permanence that they had been trying to establish in the community. What a joy it was to them to receive the news that the district evangelism department, the same that had received those Light for the Lost funds, had chosen to collaborate with them to purchase a permanent home for the church right on the town’s main road!

This investment in the future of the church, “Casa de Oración” has created a ripple effect throughout the congregation. Not only have they been able to secure property large enough for the initial construction and future expansion, they’ve seen various church members motivated to give toward the building that will serve as the home of their community of faith. Guadalupe has received an abundance of materials: cement sand and gravel for the foundation, blocks for the walls, and beams for the roof. In fact, they’ve received so much from this outpouring of support that they are ready to begin construction immediately!

But there is even more reason to rejoice as we see how this international collaboration is bringing hope and positive change to local communities. In Sierra Papcal and in other locations there is new access to the saving message of the gospel. This is just one of the ways that we are seeing the vision of the Yucatan full of churches becoming a reality.

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My youth was marked, as many kids of my generation, by the programs that played on prime time television. I remember pleading with my mom to let me stay up to watch the “Dukes of Hazard,” and being completely amazed by the genius of “MacGyver.”

One of the more notable shows was the A-Team. Explosions abounded and the bad guys were sure to get their due when they were on the job. When it was all said and done, you could be sure to hear their leader, “Hannibal” Smith say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

That phrase was said so many times during that series’ five-year run, it’s no wonder that it came back to me this past week as an improbable series of events came together to bring about a blessing for the work here in the Yucatán. Let me set up the situation:

Committed to stimulate church planting, Kelly and I held meetings with district superintendent, Magaly Balam, soon after our arrival. She received us enthusiastically and recommended further meetings with a committee charged with the very task that we were promoting.

Nevertheless, our arrival appeared to have been a bit late in coming. As event planning for the district had already taken place, those meetings had been suspended. Until they could resume, we could and did state our intentions informally, but no action could be taken.

In the meantime, the fall progressed with the various mentions from our leadership in the States of evangelistic resources available for those who had a need. We knew that we could utilize them, but without direction from the district, we felt that we needed to allow others with more pressing needs to speak first.

Fast forward to this December when we had our first meetings with the department of Evangelism. They shared with me their ambitious project to plant 26 churches, and they stated their needs; among them was evangelistic literature totaling 200,000 tracts and some 1,500 Bibles. I left that meeting pledging to do all that I could to help, but at the same time wishing that they had talked to me sooner, when funds were available.

Imagine my delight, then, when an email from my area director, Paul Kazim, hit my inbox. “Happy New Year,” it was titled. He continued:

Hope the fireworks did not keep you awake. Mexico City was silent. Not sure why. Anyway, just a reminder, the field still has LFTL and BGMC funds available.

While Mexico City was silent, the explosion of gratitude that overtook me was stronger than any blast the A-Team could have concocted.

LFTL, or Light for the Lost, is a ministry dedicated to providing literature for outreach purposes. That was the exact resource that our district needed to be able to fast track its upcoming efforts, the same resources that I thought had already been distributed.

Needless to say, I replied immediately, and funds meeting nearly the entire need will be made available with plenty of time to order and receive delivery of the tracts and Bibles before the evangelistic push which is set to begin mid February!

While I admit that my life as a missionary might not always be exciting enough to fill a slot during prime time, as I sent out my thank you note to those who helped, I found myself repeating the phrase, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Don’t you?

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Last night, Friday the 13th, brought it’s share of unlucky circumstances as we began the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) journey in Tixpehual, Yucatan. It began with a rainstorm, innundating roads and complicating our arrival at the community. It continued as we arrived at our meeting place to find that the power was out in the entire village. (We were meeting at a church in Kilinché, a neighboring community to Tixpehual.) Needless to say, things were not necessarily working out as any of us had expected.

But far from being “bad omens,” we took them as an initial test of our resolve to see CHE concepts work from the very beginning. The photo above shows how we were able to work together to solve our electrical problem. We took out our cellphones and used plastic cups to create crude table lamps so that we could lead our groups members through the discovery of the CHE concepts. 

As we progressed, it seemed fitting. It was a baby step, so to speak, that we were able to take. Certainly the situations that we will face as we progress with CHE will be larger and more complex, but it was gratifying to see, in the face of this first challenge, that we did not fail; we did not cancel. We worked together, we pooled our resources, and we accomplished our objective. 

So, on this first night, in the midst of some trying circumstances, we took the time to get to know one another. We discovered what health and community truly mean, and we began to tease out the concepts that serve as the foundation of the CHE program, but it was the soft glow of our makeshift cellphone lamps that became the memorable moment. They were the impromptu object lesson that the ideas that we were sharing can and will work.  They were a small “win” in anticipation of many more in this CHE journey that we’ve begun in Tixpehual.

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I sat there in the audience as I heard the report. It was Missions Sunday and we were hearing from a recently returned missions intern. Like many other missions interns she had been sent to a remote, indigenous village. However, in this particular case, the work in that village had been going on there for 20+ years. She also reported that village was nearly 50% Christian. This information made me scratch my head. Why would she be sent there? She was sent there because the church had been without a pastor for two years. There was no one who had wanted to “go” to that poor, remote village.

I wondered if I was the only one hearing her talk. I wanted to ask, after twenty years, weren’t there those among the village qualified to take up leadership of the congregation, especially if half of the population professed Christ? Had the discipleship process been so slow that, even after all that time, there was no one who could serve as the pastor? By calling on a missionary to fulfill that role, were they dooming the work to remain a foreign one, one that would continue to need outside resources to even survive?

Still, as I reflect on some of the works that we’ve observed, even had a hand in planning, I have to admit, there are several that are dependent on foreign resources and personnel just to stay afloat. And while, in many of those cases, we can marvel at the testimony of change in individual lives, the organization fails to fulfill its potential, because it’s been held back by its “overprotective parents” or its unsustainable model.

“There’s got to be a better way,” we’ve told ourselves, and we believe we’ve found that way. In our summer 2015 newsletter, I spoke about a training seminar that Kelly had taken called “CHE.” Since that time, both of us have had the opportunity to receive training, and we’re now at the point of putting our training into practice.

CHE or Community Health Evangelism is a system that enables a community to take responsibility for their own holistic well-being (physical, emotional, and spiritual). Limiting outside resources, CHE empowers participants to discover biblical personal wellness and strive to make their community a better place to live. It’s decidedly low-tech with a view to invite grassroots participation from the very beginning and to train up leaders to take over the program soon after it begins.

Since our time in Tixpehual, seeing the slow progress that the A/G has made in that town, we’ve asked ourselves if that community of roughly 3400 people would be a good place to begin a CHE community. We’ve investigated and determined that the interest was there to move forward. This coming Friday, November 13, we begin a vision seminar designed to explain CHE’s potential.

Can we guarantee that CHE will be the answer to the slow, halting progress in Tixpehual? In a word, no, but we can begin well through CHE. Through it we can help its leaders and participants to understand that the gospel can and will grow. It will grow when we realize that it is an integrated message that brings wellness to the whole person and when we personally engage in applying that message to our situation.

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imageWe know that it’s not always possible for every missionary to return to the same place for three consecutive terms. There are many factors that cause them to change fields or even entire regions. Neveretheless, we can’t overstate the blessing that it is for us to be able to return to the Yucatan and reconnect with the work we’d begun and the people with whom we’d collaborated.

In August, we were blessed to see the reestablished church in Tigre Grande, planted by Rangel and Claudia Vázquez, recieve their new pastor, Yani May, a former student of mine and graduate of the Bible Institute. Kelly and I had the privilege of praying for her during her commissioning service.

In September, I (David) was able to return to the work in the Bible Institute, having been invited to help in the formation of the next generation of Assemblies of God ministers. It’s been a joy to take up the class of Evangelism again, sharing my desire to reach the lost with both new and continuing students, and walking with them to facilitate their projects that have been designed to fulfill that goal.

Here in October, the reunions continued as we had the opportunity to preach for and then share a meal with Guadalupe Campos and her husband José, pastors of the church plant in Sierra Papacal. It was wonderful to encourage their congregation, retrace the events of the past year, as well as gain a deeper appreciation for their passion for the ministry as they continue their work in spite of some tremendous obstacles.

Thank you then for your prayers and support. They’ve helped us to return to Mexico. They’ve made possible these reunions and have given opportunity for new connections, connections that will enable us to fulfill the vision of the Yucatan Peninsula full of churches diverse in class, status, education, and language, but united in their love for the Lord and each other.

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Team Tixpehual 2015

Team Tixpehual 2015

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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