Evangelism

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In the month of November, Kelly, Jonathan and I (Dave), had the privilege of attending the first-ever National Evangelism Conference in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a beautiful sight to see the more than 1,800 participants commit to spreading a message of love and hope in the location where, 500 years prior, the Spanish Conquista had unleashed a wave of oppression.

Still, even with the enthusiastic response in Veracruz, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted with the unfinished task in Mexico: over 113 million who still don’t know Jesus, 3 million of them considered unreached, in a nation becoming more violent and less secure by the year. How can so few make a difference in the face of so great a need?

Then, I think of the Christmas story, and how God came to Earth in the form of the baby Jesus, so small and seemingly insignificant. His bed was a feeding trough. His first visitors, simple shepherds. Even at the height of his popularity, he could be described as a homeless, itinerant preacher. His best friends were among the most marginalized of Jewish society. Yet, it was through that one life that God culminated his plan of salvation and through those few followers that he literally changed the world. That is the hope of Christmas.

And that is the hope that we share, that God will bring peace on Earth, fullness of life, as well to Mexico. But who does he have to represent him in that country? Many are like Roberto (photo, bottom left), an illiterate pastor in Kini, certainly not wise by the world’s standards, but with God’s help, he’s planted 8 churches. Or there’s Lupita (photo, top right), not powerful or influential, not even in her local church, but, through her diligent visitation, she’s led dozens to Christ. Against the sheer numbers of those who still don’t know, the 1,800 who attended the evangelism conference may seem a weak witness, but God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

So take heart wherever this word might find you this Christmas season. The outlook may be grim, and the future may seem dark indeed, but the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Experience the hope of Christmas and be sure to pass it on.

(This article appears as well in our winter newsletter. Download a PDF copy to print or share electronically.)

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We’re in the middle of a 3,175-mile family road trip (see inset). Our family of 6, (yes, we’ve brought our dog, Kaixin, along) has traveled from Missouri to Pennsylvania; now we find ourselves in Florida. It’s been a journey of reconnection as we’ve had the chance to visit with family and friends, many who have been so instrumental in sending us to Mexico and maintaining us as we minister there. However, this stop in Orlando, where we find ourselves currently, was made with a different purpose in mind. While we have made reconnections as we’ve met together with hundreds of missionaries from around the world for the unprecedented gathering called Together 2019, we’ve spent the last 4 days seeking renewal, acquiring refocus, and enacting recommitment to the “greatest evangelism the world has ever 
seen.1

All this week, as Assemblies of God World Missionaries have been meeting at Calvary Christian Center, we have paused our ministry pursuits to pray for one another, to hear from the Holy Spirit and to respond to His direction. For our entire family, it has been a significant experience, especially as we take on our new responsibilities as Directors of the Mexico Area (members pictured above). It has been a time to give thanks to God and to worship Him for what He has done among us, to encourage ourselves in the Lord and in His power, and to minister and receive the ministration of others.

The culmination of the event was the signing of a document of recommissioning. It was a recommitment to the Lord and to His Great Commission to make disciples of the nations. It was a reaffirmation of our commitment to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the establishment of the Church, and to collaboration with our fellow missionaries. As we face the enormous task of reaching the tens of millions without Christ in Mexico we know that it is only as we live out that commitment that we will be able to finish the work.

So as we turn now to the labor at hand, pray for us as we seek to walk daily in the spirit of our gathering. Pray for us to cultivate a freshness in our relationship with our Lord, to maintain our focus on the work of establishing the church, and to endure in our commitment to the Lord and to one another.

1. Statement made during the 2nd General Council of the Assemblies of God in 1914.

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We’ve just come out of a great season of activity with teams here on the Yucatán peninsula throughout the month of March. In the first week, we were blessed by Chi Alpha (XA) groups from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, DC as they renovated Monte Horeb, a church revitalization project in Sotuta, Yucatán. Afterward, we headed south to the town of Tekax to continue the construction of the new church, Senda de Vida, accompanied by members of Rolla First Assembly and fellow missionaries, Nicky Rider and Loyd Cogdill.

The physical impact of their trip was apparent, as the XA team raised a new roof over the church building in Sotuta, and in Tekax, block walls rose from the ground, forming a new sanctuary through the efforts of the team from Rolla First. But, there was more to these trips than the construction itself.

There was a work of encouragement. I think that this quote from Mike, my twin brother and XA team leader, says it best. “I felt like our team was able to make a significant impact in Sotuta. With 16 students and staff pitching in, we moved the construction project forward, but, even more importantly, we were able to encourage a young pastor and his family. The last night affirming and praying over Pastor Erik and his ministry there was powerful (photo top left)! I believe great things are in store.”

There was a work of restoration. In Tekax, not only were former members encouraged to rededicate their lives to the Lord through the visit of the Rolla team, but also one of the ladies in the church testified of physical healing after several team members had prayed for her!

There was also a work of unification. The teams came together despite the difference in language and culture, despite the heat and the pressure of the jobs they faced. As Sam, one of the XA team members said, they left their comfort zone to give of themselves. Whether that was in the sharing of a testimony, in Sam’s case (photo top middle), or singing “10,000 Reasons” in English during the welcome service, in the case of the Spanish speaking church members in Tekax (photo top right), each group made an effort to come nearer, to bridge the gaps, to know and be known as the body of Christ. The result was truly something beautiful, and the impact, for both team members and nationals alike, profound.

As we close this update, we express our gratitude, not only to the teams and the churches that received them, but also to you, our supporters, who make it possible for us to facilitate these connections, working to fulfill the vision of the Yucatán full of churches. For our updated prayer list and links to our secure giving site, head over to our support page.

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In my youth, I always loved the times when my dad would let me sit in the front seat during road trips. Not only was there ample leg room for a change, but I was also able to take charge of the map. It was amazing to me how that compact rectangle of paper, designed to fit in a glove box, could unfold to reveal our whole state, and how, with a bit of practice, I was able to not only pinpoint our location but also track our progress and estimate our time of arrival.

Long gone are the days of navigation by paper maps. Still, maps, like the one above can be useful to measure the progress that we’re making toward our destination. In this case, the destination that we’re seeking is the goal of filling the Yucatán with churches.

On this map, each pin represents a new church being planted by workers who have walked through our 12-month church planting process. The red pins represent the communities where we are holding special outreaches in the month of February designed to accelerate the growth of these new churches.

Would you take a moment this month to pray for all of our church planters and especially for the planned outreaches? If you have a bit more time, why not head over to our interactive Google Map @ https://s1.ag.org/churchmap where you’ll be able to click on each pin to reveal the names of our church planters and prayer requests associated with each work.

Thanks for your prayers!

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In our fall newsletter, we spoke of testimonies of breakthrough in the Yucatan. This article is the third and final of that series—the story of José Luís Vera Poot, planter of the new church, Río Jordán in the southern village of Maní, Yucatan.

In his youth, José wouldn’t have been picked out as the most likely candidate to plant a church. Having been schooled in and later teaching Marxist anthropological theories for 31 years, José had rejected God as simply a clever invention used for exploitation and manipulation. He declared himself an atheist and was proud of, what was in his estimation, his enlightened worldview. But a string of poor choices led José to infidelity, which threatened to destroy his family.

It was then, desperate to save his marriage, that José literally opened the door to the truth of the gospel. A series of visits by the pastor and several members of the local Assemblies of God church opened José’s eyes to the message of the Bible while their times of prayer softened his heart to consider the reality of God’s existence. It was a dream, however, in which José states the Lord stood before him saying simply, “I am,” that finally convinced him to believe. He was later baptized, and having reconciled with his wife, Gloria, became a member of the church. Now, José promotes the faith that he once ridiculed, serving alongside his wife as the leaders of the mission, Río Jordan, which they are planting in the western half of the village of Maní a section from which the evangelical church had been noticeably absent.

With a population of about 5,000, Maní is known for the variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in its fields and for its handicrafts, especially the richly embroidered dresses called huipiles which are woven by the women of the community. More recently, however, the lack of economic opportunity has caused many to abandon the village, seeking their fortunes elsewhere, often turning to illegal immigration to the US as a solution to their financial problems. Those who remain increasingly turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to pass the time as they wait for their luck to change.

José and Gloria, on the other hand, have taken an active approach, dedicating themselves to sharing with others the Good News that had produced their own transformation. José was already enrolled in the local Bible institute extension when we met him at our regional church planting seminars last fall, and when we made the call for those who would volunteer to start a new work, he was among the first to respond. In the months that have followed, he’s been utilizing the tools he’s received in the church planting program to help guide both those who are discovering faith for the first time and those like Chico, who had lost their way.

Chico was a Maní success story. He had made a comfortable living for himself, saving much of what he had earned in his years as a house painter in the US. Upon his return to Maní, however, his expendable income and his ample free time gave him the opportunity to first sample and later become addicted to the alcohol and drugs readily available to those with the means to buy them. It wasn’t long before the addiction took its toll, robbing him of his money and estranging him from his wife and family.

José and Gloria reached out to Chico, who had by this time recognized that he’d hit rock bottom. They stayed with him, caring for him as he struggled for sobriety, and they prayed with him, leading him to repentance and renewed faith in Jesus. He now stands a changed man, taking steps toward restoration and testifying to the power of God to save. I had the pleasure of hearing his testimony only weeks ago at services in Río Jordán.

Yes, looking over his history, José would be considered an unlikely candidate to plant a church, but it’s just that sort of person that God has the tendency to use to facilitate a breakthrough. Thanks for your prayers and support that make it possible for us to walk alongside them, working together with them to maximize their impact.

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In our April update, we took time to highlight the ministry of Light for the Lost. Through their support, we were able to furnish all of our church planters with the evangelism materials that they needed to effectively present the gospel to the unsaved in the neighborhoods, towns, and villages where they are starting new works. In this July report, we’re excited to update that story as we’ve been able to extend that support to churches throughout the district of Yucatán.

Leading the District Evangelism Department since July of last year, we’ve been promoting the idea that the local church is the engine that drives evangelism. It is therefore a pleasure to support these pastors and congregations, utilizing our network to distribute some 68,000 tracts and 600 Bibles in support of their evangelistic efforts. We’re convinced that through their desire to reach the lost and the use of these tools, their outreaches will leave a lasting impact.

We are also providing churches with a particularly exciting tool: Respuestas De La Vida (Journey Answers) cards. Designed to follow up gospel conversations or be left with restaurant servers, gas station attendants, taxi drivers, etc., these cards lead the lost to an online, relevant gospel presentation and a site where they can respond with questions, prayer requests, or make a decision for Christ. These respondents can then be directed to any one of our local congregations for continued discipleship. Our hope is that this mass distribution will lead many to respond to the gospel and connect with a church home.

Of course, this kind of operation does create its share of complications. Our spare bedroom has since turned into a warehouse/staging center as we prepare evangelism packets for distribution! Still, it’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to take another step toward fulfilling the vision of the Yucatan full of churches.

Pray with us, then, that these messages will reach their intended audience and influence them to become disciples of Christ. And, as you do pray, would you please add these additional needs to your list?

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As president of the Department of Evangelism of the District of Yucatan, we’ve been given a tremendous platform from which to launch a church planting program. But as our planters enter into this their third month of the process, which emphasizes evangelism and small group formation, the question arises: “How can they do the work without the proper tools?”

Take a look at the above video message for insight into how Light for the Lost is helping us to answer this question.

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On October 20th and 21st, leaders from throughout the district of Yucatan gathered together for a historic event called the Escuela de Multiplicadores (Multipliers’ School). This two-day session was held in preparation for the kickoff of our new church planting cycle, utilizing materials and methods from Red de Multiplicación (RdM). Its goal was to provide the information and the inspiration necessary to set goals for church planting in the two-year period ending in May of 2019 .

The event was a historic one, not because of the methods and materials that we were explaining (we had introduced materials from RdM in June of 2016), but because this was the first time that district officials had ever gathered to prioritize and strategize for the planting of churches in this way. The outcome of this first ever effort was more than what we could have hoped for.

Arturo Robles, the National Coordinator for RdM joined us from Mexico City for the event. During the sessions, he explained the philosophies and function of RdM and emphasized the belief that a healthy church was a reproducing church. He encouraged each participant to to be involved not simply in the growth of their church but also in its multiplication. It was gratifying to see the vision of the district of Yucatan full of churches becoming clearer to our pastors as they came to under-stand their role in its realization.

The time together culminated in a round table discussion led by our regional presbyters in which they challenged our participants to respond to the question ”What should we do?” We asked them to fix a number of churches to be planted as a goal to be reached by 2019. Reflecting back on the past two years, we found that 17 churches had been added to the 225 already in the district, bringing us to the present total of 242. As the numbers from each table were reported, the regions set a future goal to plant 158 churches, a growth of over 900% in comparison with the previous period. The sense of hope and commitment that that number represented brought tears of joy to our eyes.

The Escuela de Multiplicadores was indeed a breakthrough for our church planting efforts, something we celebrate. We understand, however, that the work is still ahead—in the recruitment of workers and the mentors that will guide and encourage them. That is the focus of this month of November. Will you pray that many will answer the call?

Photo Captions:

  • Arturo Robles, National Coordinator of Red de Multiplicación trains district leaders during the Escuela de Multiplicadores (large).
  • Regional Presbyter Juan Hau encourages participants from the western region in the goal planning session (top).
  • Regional Presbyter Raúl Sánchez takes a moment during discussions in the central region (bottom corner).
  • Dave shares inspiration from Isaiah 6 during the morning devotional (bottom right).

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The missionary task is two-fold. Primarily, it involves incarnating into the host culture, which includes partnering with the national church to spread the message of the gospel and discipling those who believe, but there is another part of the equation. Without the engagement of those who send, without inspiration to participate in the Great Commission in a practical way, it won’t be long before the missionary must return for lack of support.

Here in Mexico, the reduced costs of travel make it easier to bring these two worlds together, but this presents another difficulty—how to blend them. How do we utilize external support without harming the indigenous church? How can we insure a positive experience for those who come while producing a lasting effect for those who remain?

Such a balance requires a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground as well as flexibility on the part of those who come to minister. Fortunately, our partnership with church planters like Roberto Ortega, Josué Díaz, and Yónatan Segura provide that necessary insight into the local situation, while teams, such as our most recent from supporting church Chapel Springs of Bristow, VA, adapt to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs our national partners express.

This past week, then, it was a joy to see this team of 19 youth and adults link arms with our Mexican brothers and sisters to make an impact in Kiní, Dzemul, and Motul, Yucatán. The trip began with a powerful welcome service, one in which a former spiritist couple committed their lives to Christ. This was followed by a week of construction on the church parsonage and bathrooms in Kiní in the mornings and Vacation Bible School ministry and sports in the evening in all three locations.

The week was not without its difficulties, heat and sickness among them, but, having worked together, a church building is nearer to completion in Kiní, a children’s ministry has begun in Dzemul, and a fledgling church plant has enjoyed increased public awareness in Motul. For this synergy in missions, we’re thankful.

Photo captions:

Rebekah gives explanation during VBS craft time in Dzemul (large).

David Bontrager gives shape to the parsonage in Kiní (top).

Mexican/American partnership in outreach to Motul (middle).

Bittersweet: The last missions team for our trio (bottom left).

Dave and Kevin minister in the midst of construction material (bottom right).

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Summer must be here, because things are certainly heating up for us in Mérida, and I’m not simply talking about the weather! Click on the image or here for all the details about:

  • An unprecedented opportunity to accelerate church planting!
  • A chance to extend our impact among our partners later this month.
  • A major milestone in the life of our oldest!
  • Remember, our newsletter is in PDF format, viewable in Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Adobe Reader installed, you can download it free here:
    https://get.adobe.com/reader/otherversions/

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