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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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We Made It!

WeMadeItEarly 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.

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The fireworks on the Fourth were in celebration of our nation’s independence, but the smiles on our faces and the general frivolity that you can see in the photos above are in response to a different stimulus—we’ve received final clearance to return to Mexico!

That’s right, on July 7th, we received word of reaching our monthly commitment goal, and on July 8th, one year and one day from our arrival in the States, we received our email from Assemblies of God World Missions stating: “We are very pleased to notify you of your final clearance… You are to be commended for your faithful diligence and persistence. Praise God for His provision!”

Indeed, we praise God for His provision, and we thank all of you who have helped to make this moment possible. Each of you is appreciated, because we know that without you, none of what we do would be possible.

We now set our sights on Mexico and our upcoming four-year term. We’re excited to collaborate with the Lord and the Mexican Assemblies of God to realize the vision of the Yucatán peninsula full of churches, diverse in class, status, education, and language, but united in their love for the Lord and one another. We’re committed to a mission of inspiring pastors and christian workers to see the need all around them, equipping them with the spiritual and practical tools that they need to reach their communities, and partnering with these individuals throughout the process, implementing with intentionality the plan that the Lord gives us for each community that we reach, town by town, municipality by municipality and state by state, until the vision becomes a reality.

We’re especially excited about the partnerships that we’ve cultivated with Teen Challenge, Sustain Hope, Network 211, and now AGCHE, ministries that are helping us implement holistic methods to preach and model the whole Gospel, methods we’re sure to utilize.

For now, though, the transition begins in earnest. We’re already out of the house that we had called our home for the past year as we prepare our bags for the flight to Mérida on August 4th. Another task on the list is selling our vehicles.

As we close, we’d like to ask for your continued prayers and support, both in this transitional time and in the term that awaits us. Your perseverance in this area is crucial to keeping us on the field and effective for the next four years and beyond!

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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!

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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! If there ever was a missionary holiday, this would be it! So as you wear your green, remember the man who brought the Gospel to Ireland.

And speaking of green, we received word last week that our cash budget has been reached! Only $627 of monthly support stands between us and our financial clearance! Saint Patrick’s Day, then, is a great day to partner with us to cover the Yucatán with churches!

Click on the link to join us!

https://giving.ag.org/Give/Details/a09c5406-7711-4d37-8c32-6f25e728b3d2

(The shamrock comes from http://kidbible.blogspot.com/2012/03/st-patricks-day-lesson.html. You can follow the link to find a kid appropriate message about St. Patrick and his mission.)

As I write this in the middle of a winter weather advisory, it seems impossible, but daylight savings time tells us that spring is just around the corner. Sounds like a good time for an update!

Before you lose that hour, why don’t you take a moment to read about:

  • How partnerships are helping us to realize our vision.
  • Our itineration progress and how you can help speed us to back to Mexico.
  • The latest from our family!

Remember, our newsletter in PDF format viewable in Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Adobe Reader installed, you can download it free here:

http://get.adobe.com/reader/otherversions/

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