Missions

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Our 2020 Missionary Training Table Group

During the past few months of stay-at-home orders, I’ve taken to walking the perimeter of our backyard to spend my “alone time” with God. Given the fact that we had rented out our home over the past 9 years, I was not surprised to discover shards of glass, perhaps from a broken bottle or plate, left from a previous tenant. Day after day, though, the sun’s light would shift to reveal new pieces, even though I had removed the previously discovered ones. It’s also been a bit rainy lately, maybe some of the pieces were just under the surface.  But, you would think after a while, the path would be cleared of debris – it’s fairly well-worn, after all.

This made me think of the spiritual path we walk.  As we carve out a trail, walking with God, we notice some glass shards in our life: a sin or a habit or a stronghold that threatens us with harm.  We remove them from our path and dispose of them, content to know we won’t get cut on our next “go-round.”  But now that we’ve removed some shards, the light shifts and we notice a few more the next day or the next week. Will this process never end?

But the understanding that we are all at varying points of this process produces just the humility Dave and I needed to take part in facilitating online “round table” conversations during the 3-week missionary training session for new candidates. The topics that we reviewed last month: spiritual formation, culture, and theology of missions, among others, became open doors into our hearts through which the Lord could do His work, reminding us of the journey still ahead. But they also served as signposts, signaling to Dave and me of how far we have come, through both grace and perseverance, helping us to encourage these who now begin their missionary journey. Our prayer is that, through our interactions, these new missionaries will have less “shards” in their experience on account of this preparation time we spent together in community.

Lord, help us not to just stare and wonder at the glass shards on our path of life.  We want to pause, bend down, and carefully collect them in order to dispose of them.  Teach us to treat each item with care, removing it from The Way as we continue to walk with You. And, may we look forward to the day when all the shards have been forever removed.

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Growing up in catholic schools, we frequently sang, “Channel of Your Peace,” a hymn taken from the poem, “The Prayer of Saint Francis.” One of the verses reads:

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness, ever joy

Of course, I had no idea how that prayer would become a reality some 32 years later, but I am humbled to see how the Lord is using me and my family to bring hope in despair, shine as a light in the darkness, and serve as a source of joy in sadness.

And in Mexico, there has been much sadness. Because of the slowness of the response and the impossibility for many to shelter in place, the country struggles to contain the virus. Add to this Tropical Storm Cristobal, which has left much of southeastern Mexico, including the state of Yucatan, underwater.

It is in times like these that we are thankful to be a part of the strong networks that exist within the Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) organization. Even as the crisis in Mexico deepened, our missionary fellowship partnered with the national church to sponsor over 1000 of the neediest pastors within the fellowship and joined fellow missionaries, Paul and Sandy Kazim, in their effort to provide personal protective equipment for some of those on the front lines of Mexico’s COVID-19 response.

Since that initial effort, we’ve sent emergency aid to district officials who were gathering relief supplies for flood victims. We’ve continued our conversations with those who are responding to Network 211’s online gospel presentations throughout Mexico. And we’ve coordinated the prayer response within our missionary fellowship, ensuring that our co-laborers have the support they need to sustain the effort.

Still, we are aware, now more than ever, of the need to do more to reach the lost of Mexico. That is why we’re excited to serve as facilitators in this year’s Missionary Training where two additional missionary units will be joining us to prepare for their service in Mexico and to add their effort to the work.

A channel of peace—the fourteen-year-old boy who sang those words had no idea what they truly meant. Now, this 46-year-old man is beginning to comprehend. It’s hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, and joy in the midst of sadness. Thanks for your prayers and support that helps us to be just that in Mexico.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas this month or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter.

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We’re all healthy, even the dog!

From church to school to check-ins with the office, everything has gone “virtual.” Screens, which had dominated our lives prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic, are now taking up every waking minute and often putting us to bed at night. As we immerse ourselves further into this digital world, we find ourselves longing for “real” experiences. We’re anxious for the day that we’ll be able to break out of quarantine and get back to living.

Still, although we’re not asking for these stay-at-home orders to be extended, our family has found that gratitude for what we can enjoy in the meantime has helped ease the sting of our restricted lifestyle.  So we thought we’d share with you some of our real reasons for thanksgiving in this increasingly virtual world in which we’re living.

First of all, we’re healthy! Yes, although we’d been potentially exposed to the coronavirus, none of us have exhibited symptoms. Instead, we’ve been able to enjoy some special moments, like Dave’s 46th birthday and a trip to a local park. And, although she had to undergo oral surgery, our dog, Kaixin, is doing fine as well. 

Second, our 24 missionaries in Mexico are OK! One of our more pressing concerns has been the missionary body in Mexico, especially as the situation has worsened. We’re happy to report, however, that they are well and, although some have had to make moves because of the virus, they are continuing to engage in ministry as their situation permits. BTW, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, mentioned in our previous newsletter, have made miraculous comebacks!

Last, but certainly not least, your generosity is paying dividends! Through your support, we’ve been able to participate in a program that is giving assistance to 1,150 pastors throughout Mexico as services are suspended and businesses are closed. We’ve also been able to participate with missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim as they provide funds for personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals. These doctors and nurses, who had worked with them in outreaches, are suddenly on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.  These PPEs are helping them stay focused on meeting the need. 

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The Next Step

“God has been dealing with me about missions, but I’m not sure what to do next.” 

“My heart was broken for Latin America on a missions trip I took last summer. How can I make a difference?”

Those statements were just a sampling of the dozens of conversations that we had with college students who had gathered in Greenville, South Carolina at the Chi Alpha South East SALT Conference to ring in the New Year with renewed commitments to relationship with Christ and his mission to redeem the world. We traveled there, following our Christmas vacation in Pennsylvania, to engage with the 400+ in attendance from a variety of campuses, helping them connect the dots from their college days to a possible missions career.  While conversation was key, we also teamed up with fellow missionaries Josh Sears (Brazil) and Doug Sayers (LAC Advocacy) to show the almost 200 leaders in attendance the multiple ways that their groups could partner with missionaries in the region on a short-term or ongoing basis through trips and internships.

What’s even more exciting, however, is knowing that it has never been easier to take the next step into missions. During our time in Greenville, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the Latin America Caribbean website, lacworldmissions.org. Not only are there ways to commit to pray for the ministry that is taking place throughout our region or give in its support, there is also the option to begin the process of joining with us by responding to one of multiple ministry opportunities.

But don’t take our word for it.  Why not head there yourself and begin taking your own next step?

Our travels during the Christmas Season: From Springfield, MO* to Erie, PA to Greenville, SC and back!

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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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There is a chill in the air even here in the Yucatan! As we we welcome the winter months, we welcome the opportunity they bring to update you on all that’s been going on in the last ministry quarter.

Click on the image, or click on the link and you’ll get in on all of the action with:

  • Kelly’s opportunity to join a medical team bringing hope to the hurting of Oaxaca.
  • A reflection on the light and life of Christmas,
  • And updates from our family as we move into the new season.

Remember, our newsletter 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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Three thousand miles apart, two different dreams began to take shape. For Bruce Kunkle in Cambridge Springs, PA, it was a dream of providing a safe place for kids to have fun on church grounds, a kind of a first step for those who would later hear about, and ultimately accept the love of Jesus as experienced through the teachings and actions of a caring congregation. For the people of the church El Mesias in Chicxulub Pueblo and their pastor, Isidro Dzul, it was to let the the 200+ kids that they minister to during their Vacation Bible School have a place to blow off some steam between lessons. On May 8th, those two dreams converged and Parque El Mesías was born.

The work began months earlier as conceptual drawings were made and materials selected. All of this was definitely out of my comfort zone. There were trips to local parks, sessions with handymen to brainstorm, and visits to several local hardware and building supply stores. Finally, the decisions were made and the supplies purchased. The work began on that Mother’s Day Sunday, May 8th.

When we arrived, we were a bit overwhelmed by how much work there was to be done to prep the site. There were rocks to clear, there was ground to be leveled, and there were holes to be dug. Still, our spirits lifted when we saw the response of the church, a whole team of men and women arrived that morning and worked through the day with us to help make progress.

This same spirit of collaboration held strong throughout the week as the ladies of the church took turn to provide meals and men either took off work or came by afterwords to help with the hard labor. And hard labor it was, as the sun bore down and temperatures soared to 104 degrees! Still, the work went on: digging sawing, welding, moving, leveling until the park began to take shape. Bruce, even though he was hardly used to the sweltering temperatures, worked long days to make sure the work would be finished.

Of course, the thankfulness of the congregation made all of the difficulty more than worth it. On Friday night, the last evening that Bruce would be there, the children surprised us with a special farewell service. Some had made signs for the event, others gave gifts and cards, everyone had a word to say to those who had helped make their dream of a park come true. Never had I seen such an outpouring of gratitude in my ten years as a missionary in Mexico.

Are we going to be dedicating ourselves to building parks from now on? Hardly. Still, I wouldn’t say that this project was a distraction from our vision of the Yucatan Peninsula full of churches, diverse in class, status, education, and language but united in their love for the Lord and for one another. As I reflect upon our time in Chicxulub Pueblo, I would venture to say that, for that week, we became that vision as men and women, adults and children, Mexicans and Americans worked together with a common purpose, transforming a barren field into a welcoming park, bustling with activity. All of that and the opportunity to make dreams come true? I’ll say yes to that any day of the week.

Take a look for yourself and see if you’re not convinced as well.

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imageIt was a scene from a past generation. Huipiles (a traditional Mayan dress) and guayaberas (AKA Mexican wedding shirts) were on display everywhere you looked. Traditional music, played by guitars, drums, and a an accompanying conch filled the air. The language of choice? Maya. It was Mayan Night at the district missions convention and a time of celebration of the heritage of the residents of the Yucatan peninsula.

The church has come far to be able to put on such a display at a major event like this one. Although events like the 2012 prophecies have done much much to help revive an interest in all things Mayan, one does not have to move too far into the past to find negative attitudes toward the Mayan way of life, thinking of it as anachronistic, and those who felt that speaking the language as a sign of ignorance or a lack of education. This embrace of the Mayan culture, therefore, is a sign of just how much these old attitudes have changed.

Nevertheless, even though our dress and the principle language spoken called us to remember the past, the subject of the conversation: the unfinished task of the Great Commission, encouraged us to look toward the future and partner with God who is in mission, beyond the borders of the peninsula, even around the world. I was privileged to be a part of this latter effort as I gave a conference entitled, “Crossing Cultural Barriers.” In it, I encouraged the Yucatecan church to move past the divisions that separate us from making a worldwide impact through compassionate, incarnational ministry as we unashamedly point our listeners toward Christ. We do this I said, because of God’s universality, the mandate we have been given, the blessing that comes from obedience to that calling, and because of the fact that God is already there working among the various cultures, calling them to repentance and faith in Him.

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The conferences, therefore, as well as the cross-cultural missionaries present and the calls for involvement in mission on a local, national, and international level were an encouraging sign of this traditionally Mayan culture’s desire to be involved in God’s redemptive plan. The second evening showed just how strong it was. Two songs into the service, the power went out to the whole block. The service continued without missing a beat, and the people, without even fans to keep them cool, stayed to witness a missionary parade illuminated by cellphones and a sermon encouraging short term missions involvement amplified by a gas powered generator.

In all, it was a wonderful event. Upon reflection, I see it as a blend of gratitude for a culture that God has redeemed and an affirmation of the increasing role that this culture must play in God’s worldwide mission in the years to come.

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From March 5th through the 12th, students across the United States were celebrating their Spring Break. Many of them planned to catch up on some much needed rest. Others were on their way to more exotic destinations, but one group of students had different plans. Sure, they started out as many of their peers, making their way from Dulles International Airport to Cancun, but the rest of their itinerary was drastically different. They skipped the parties to take up paint brushes and cashed in their chance at sleeping in for the opportunity to spread some joy to the people of the Yucatan.

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Yes, just last week we had the pleasure of hosting a combined Spring Break team of Chi Alpha students from American and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. The team of 14 students and staff, including my twin brother Mike, worked together with Bible school students at Instituto Bíblico Bethel to advance our construction project and give the existing buildings a much needed fresh coat of paint. They ministered in area churches, blessing congregations with their songs, skits, testimonies, and messages. They also spent time in Sierra Papacal, preparing the church land for upcoming construction while hosting services for children and adults alike.

But these Chi Alpha teams are valuable for more than what they leave behind, be it roof raised, or a wall painted, or a service celebrated. They serve as catalysts for new and continuing ministry.

Through our eight years working with short term missions trips, we’ve seen how they’ve facilitated pivotal relationships with people that we count as partners to this day. We’ve watched as their foreign investment has encouraged nationals to move forward to complete the work they they had begun, and we’ve witnessed how their example has been emulated by others who have been touched by their ministry.

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This trip was no exception. Interested in investigating the situation of students in secular universities in Mexico, Mike had asked me if I could coordinate a time of prayer and fellowship with a group of students on a local college campus. We held a meeting at the School of Architecture that was to last for only two hours. Instead, it stretched to more than three as the blended group of students worshiped together, encouraged one another and prayed for each other.

Come to find out, it was a shot in the arm for the campus fellowship that we visited. Having gone through a time of transition, they were having difficulty meeting and were at the point of disbanding. Rosy, a university employee who had been serving as a sort of sponsor for the group, thanked God for the timeliness of their visit and expressed a renewed vision for rejuvenating the flagging ministry.

So 14 students returned home last Saturday, perhaps a bit worse for the wear–maybe walking more slowly across their campuses or dozing in some of their classes. It’s to be expected; they didn’t have a vacation, they were participating in catalyzation, and we along with many others here in the Yucatan are grateful that they did!

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