Evangelism

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

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March was a hectic month to say the least; playing host to two teams and a state-side trip had me wondering if I was coming or going. Add to that a seasonal sinus infection and I was primed for a personal pity party. At the lowest point, alone, on the road, congested and unable to sleep, I’m sure the thought “What difference does all this make, anyway?” had crossed my mind if not once then several times.

That’s not to say that good wasn’t being done. A roof was raised in Kiní, giving a growing congregation a place to meet, shaded from the blazing sun and protected from the rains that are soon to come. A church building was started in Tekax, breaking ground on a vision to reach that city of over 25,000 with its 90+ surrounding communities. Youth and adults were challenged to leave their comfort zone and join in God’s mission to reach the nations. But in the same way that prophets have been known to battle with self doubt, so this missionary was feeling the psychological burden of being over-extended, though his wounds may well have been self-inflicted.

A “chance” meeting on a Wednesday afternoon, then, was just what the doctor, or the psychologist ordered. A man by the name of Luis stopped by the building site in Tekax. He had met one of the team members from the church the evening before on the square and had wanted to thank him for taking the time to talk with him. While he was chatting with the pastor and the team member, he suddenly stopped and took a hard look at me, trying to place me as I took off my sunglasses.

“Did you lead a campaign here in Tekax eight years ago?,” he asked me.

“I had,” I told him. “My evangelism students from Bethel and I held a campaign in 2009 in one of the neighborhoods on the north side of the city.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I was saved on the last night of that campaign.”

All of a sudden, the hectic schedule, the physical exhaustion, perhaps even the sinus infection were but a distant memory. What difference does it make? For Luis, eight years ago, it made all the difference in the world.

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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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I know that a picture of me working on a laptop may not seem like a big deal. What would you say, however, if that time behind the screen is being utilized to help see 1 million people come to Christ!

Just last month, Network211, the Internet ministry with which we’ve partnered since August of last year, reached its one millionth evangelism response. That means that 1,000,000 people have viewed an online gospel presentation via sites like JourneyAnswers.com (RespuestasdelaVida.com in Spanish) and have responded to it with either a question, a prayer request, a salvation decision, or a rededication. You can read the article on PE News.

Closer to home, our team has had the privilege of interacting with over 1,000 evangelism responses since our partnership began. Those are people, throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America, but principally in Mexico, who have been touched by the message that they’ve experienced online.

Still, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While Network211 has set a goal of making 100 million unique gospel presentations, we have set our sights on physically connecting into faith communities those who are responding in the virtual space.

We’re confident that, as we’re able to train more partners to promote these evangelism presentations, we’ll see increasing response in our region. This will enable us to either direct seekers to existing churches or start new works where none currently exist, helping to turn decisions into disciples. This is just one more way that we’re working to see our vision of the Yucatan full of churches, diverse in class, status, education, and language but united in their love for the Lord and one another become a reality!

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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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