Salvation

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Spring Break is a well known concept here on the Yucatán Peninsula. Many residents have personal experience working in the Riviera Maya, where students descend to spend their week-long vacation. They speak of the droves of sunburned gringos on the beach or of the wild all-night parties in the clubs throughout that region. So imagine the surprise on their faces when we tell them that Spring Break can mean something radically different!

Starting this Saturday, March 9th, we will be hosting two Chi Alpha Campus Fellowship missions teams from the University of Virginia and American University. These students and their leaders have repurposed their Spring Break to make an impact here in the Yucatán!

This Spring Impact has a three-part mission:

1. Advance the construction of Instituto Bíblico Bethel.

Bible school facade

Advancing Construction

Thanks to several key donations at the close of 2012 and the fundraising efforts of these students, we’ve been able to dedicate over $7,000 to this ongoing project. With these funds and the their hard work, the second floor of the school’s multi-purpose building will begin to take shape.


2. Stimulate ministerial formation among Bible School students.

Student Sergio Ek and Pastor Rudy Cano together with Dave in San Bernardo

Ministerial Formation

We’re teaming up these American students with their Mexican counter-parts. They’ll be working side by side thoughout the week, putting their education into practice both in ministry and in plain, honest, hard work.


3. Encourage evangelism efforts.

Antonio Armando Balam sharing in Sierra Papacal

Encouraging Evangelism

More than 40 individuals will be divided between the villages of San Bernardo in the south and Sierra Papacal in the north in support of two, newly-planted churches. The groups will spend their afternoons in community service, door to door evangelism, and the invitation of residents to a special community day, where they will have the opportunity to respond to the message of salvation.

Would you pray especially for this time of construction and outreach? Pray for the health and safety of all involved. Pray for an ability to communicate both within the teams and among those who would hear the message of salvation. Pray that the churches would grow as a result of these efforts, and pray that both the Americans and the Mexicans would finish this trip with the sense that they have been used by God.

Thanks for standing with us!

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Decay, abandonment, death. Entering the town of Santa Maria the signs are everywhere, from the dilapidated central plaza to the disheveled houses on the streets leading to it. However, none of these scenes speaks the volumes that does the ruins of the town’s cathedral. It’s proud facade tries to hide the harsh reality, but, passing through its closed doors, one finds nothing but a crumbling edifice: the roof, collapsed, the windows, replaced by rough hewn boards to keep out trespassers and truth seekers alike. It stands as a testimony to a proud community that could not stop the passage of time. Its monument, like its people, ravaged by the relentlessness of progress.

Still, there is another ruin, perhaps less visible, but no less remarkable. It appears as nothing more than a mound of rubble. To the untrained eye, it could be no more significant than any small hill or rocky bluff, but, in reality, it is the remains of an ancient Maya temple. This culture had once reigned far and wide throughout the Yucatán peninsula, extending its influence, its learning, and it’s power. Now, however, all that it once boasted of is ruined, forgotten, at best left to be stumbled upon by an unsuspecting passer-by.

It’s a sad tale a thousand years old. Still, the lesson that it teaches seemed to have been lost on the residents of Santa Maria. When pastor Josué Novelo and his team arrived early this year with the Jesus Film and its message of hope, few seemed interested although the need for hope in the community were all too visible. But then, one man whose wife had passed away reached out the the Pastor Josué’s team for help and comfort in his time of loss. After that, a woman who lost her husband to cancer approached the group, as well as an elderly couple feeling the same abandonment that their community is suffering, their’s the result of a family looking elsewhere for opportunities. Small beginnings to be sure, but is not that the New Testament pattern? (1 Cor 1:26-31) We had the chance to visit these families, to pray for them and to encourage them, letting them know that they had not been forgotten, helping them to understand that in Christ, although the signs of death may encircle us, there is eternal life.

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Certainly, the road ahead is difficult for these new believers. Many of them do not read or write*, and skeptics still abound, like the husband of one believer whose short Maya phrases, though difficult to interpret, were easy to understand. Nevertheless, another look at the ruined structures at the town’s center reveals an interesting discovery: new life. Among the decaying structures, grass, vines, and even trees cover what were once smooth, stone surfaces.

There is life after death, but, for the town of Santa Maria, it doesn’t mean the rebuilding of structures. It means the rediscovery of the real life that comes from knowing God and being known by Him. This month, won’t you pray with us that the new life that has sprouted in this location and others throughout the Yucatán would take root and flourish?

*We’re working to deliver discipleship materials designed for the functionally illiterate with pictures instead of words. We’re also looking to furnish them with a way to listen to the Mayan language New Testament via MP3 so that they can explore the scriptures on their own, hearing it read aloud to them.

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A year ago last spring, I was making calls to visit pastors in the KC area. It was my fifth day on the Light-for-the-Lost Tour, and I wanted to see if I would be able to get some face time with missions-minded individuals while I was in town. My goal was to be able to build our support so that we would be able to leave for the field, but God had seen fit on that day to begin a relationship that would have lasting repercussions.

In my calls, I spoke with Brandon Watkiss, Director of Operations for Partnership International, an organization designed to facilitate short-term missions trips. He agreed to meet with me that day to see the ways in which we might partner together. During the hour that we had that day, he spoke to me about monthly support, but he also shared his desire to link missionaries with missions teams in a way that was mutually beneficial to both the ministry of the missionary and to the lives of the team members. We parted encouraged, having both seen the potential of this new relationship.

Pausing for a group photo in Oxcum, where we hosted 80 children on Saturday. Fast forward to late July 2011. Finally, the stage had been set to receive a team from Blue Springs Assembly, a team that had been sent through Partnership International. I had spoken to Brandon previously about the trip, about our need to see the additional building at the Bible Institute finished, and he responded sending a team with a “mind to work.”

The got on the ground on July 24th, and were undaunted by the rough accommodations at the Bible School. Armed with their own bedding, they set themselves up in what would be their home for the next week. They had little experience, but with instruction, they moved quickly on the first day, preparing the roof to receive the concrete that would be poured the next day and getting started on the kitchen walls on the lower floor.

Debbie is trying her hand at mixing concrete, Mexican style.The second day was a marathon of digging, pouring and carrying, as sand, gravel, water, and cement was mixed by the bucket load, time after time in order to pour what was to be the floor of the second level and the ceiling of the lower level. With their persistence and the help of local pastors, the work was done with time to spare before lunch.

The quick work on the first two days enabled us to prepare for the children’s services scheduled in the towns of Oxcum and Kilinché respectively. We spent time in prayer and canvassed the neighborhoods on Wednesday and Thursday in each of the communities, getting to know the both the believers in each congregation and get a concept of the specific challenges that each pastor faced in their ministry.

On Friday, the work stopped on the Bible school, but the ministry moved into full gear as services began. With a combination of songs, dramatized Bible stories, games, and lots of activities, the group effectively communicated their desire to be with each community and direct them toward Jesus, the one who had brought them to share His love in tangible ways with both the children and adults that gathered in each event.

The kids in Kilinché were taking it all in. Some of the highlights of the week came when, in Oxcum, some 80 children participated in Saturday’s event, where we had the chance to pray for many who indicated their desire to be a part of God’s family. Another came on Sunday night where, in Kilinché, two women came forward and committed their lives to Jesus for the very first time!

As we wrapped things up, we got chance to hear from the team members about their experience in the Yucatan. Pastor Jeremy Naranjo shared that the trip had been the realization of a dream that he had had to personally lead a mission’s team. He had faced several obstacles in the past, but he was glad to see how, through Partnership International and the ministry opportunities in the Yucatan, he was able to see this vision come to fruition. Others spoke of the life-changing nature of the trip, from the cohesion of the group itself to eye-opening experience that they had in their face-to-face encounter with the culture of the Yucatan. Each pastor as well expressed their gratitude for the work that had been done. Buildings had been advanced, communities had been opened, and lives had been restored because of their labor.

What Brandon Watkiss and I had seen as potential in the spring of 2010, the linking of missions teams and missionaries to for mutual benefit, has taken its first step toward becoming a reality. It is our prayer that, as we continue to observe the need and the way that God is working in the Yucatan, we’ll be able to utilize teams targeted specifically to advance the kingdom, both in the lives of the individual team members and in the ministries of the pastors and leaders with whom they work.

(Didn’t get enough photos with the post? Check out some more here!)

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Coffee Chronicles

The coffee roaster at Federico's coffee shop where I buy my green coffee beans. Federico is a friend we met last term who's recently become a disciple of Jesus. (Photo is from http://merida40.wordpress.com/) One of the great things about having the opportunity to return to Merida has been the blessing pick up where we had left off–to catch up with old friends. Certainly there have been some sad occurrences: our pastor, Orlando Vazquez, a minister with over 50 years of experience and our good friend, went to be with the Lord in October. Still, there have been joyous ones as well. Take for example what has happened in the life of Federico.

A few years ago, I had posted about one of my favorite things, coffee. In that post, I talked about the significance of coffee in my life. Among other things, coffee is what had led me to strike up an ongoing conversation with Federico. Federico roasts and sells coffee in downtown Merida, and he’s my source for green coffee beans for my own home roasting enterprise. At that time, although interested in religious things, Federico lived on the outside looking in, close enough to comment on the goings on within religious circles, but too far away to experience the transformational power of life with Christ.

We talked about many subjects during those first years here in Merida, political, social, and religious alike. We talked about our personal problems as well. And while there was many a time where I had turned the conversation to present Christ’s solution to our social enigma, to talk about the difference that He had made in my life, and to show how his life could be different as a Christ follower, I never had the chance to welcome him personally into life in the kingdom.

Imagine my joy then, when I returned and saw the change in Federico. Since I last saw him, he’s talking about his relationship with Jesus, he’s been attending an Evangelical Christian Church, and he’s finding ways to invite others to experience the change that the Lord has made in his life. He’ll be the first to admit that he’s not perfect, but he’s certainly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and he’s committed his recourses, his business, and his life as tools in His hands to make a difference in the world around him.

Was it our conversations that made the difference in his life? At this point, it’s difficult to determine, but it’s wonderful to know that Federico is no longer on the outside looking in, he’s a changed man, and what a blessing it has been to celebrate it with him.

(Photo from http://merida40.wordpress.com/)

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Compañeros de Clase (from left to right back to front): David Isabelli, Steve McCarthy, David Godzwa, Jeremiah Campbell, Margot Soto, Mecbelle Matarrita, Karen Suarez

In just two short days, we say goodbye once again to CINCEL, the A/G language institute in Latin America. As we draw closer to that time of closure I felt it appropriate to pass along what I had shared with our fellow classmates in chapel this past Tuesday. I hope you enjoy it.

As many of you know, this marks our last week here at CINCEL. I thought it appropriate therefore to take these first few moments to say thanks to several who have made these six weeks possible:

First of all, thank you Don and Jacquie for allowing us to come and setting everything in order to make this refresher course possible. Thank you as well to Steve and Jill McCarthy. Although they are a few years our junior, they have been a great big brother and sister to us during our time here in Costa Rica. Thanks as well to my “compañeros de clase.” (see picture above) Gracias por crearme espacio entre ustedes y permetirme compartir en su interacciones. And to all who have enriched our short six weeks, thank you for being a part of our experience.

Of course this leaves me with the problem deciding what thought to leave with such wonderful people. As I was thinking about what to share, I kept coming back to the back to the book of Philippians, a book written by the apostle Paul to a truly wonderful group of people. Aside from being the place of Paul’s first Macedonian convert and the site of the great earthquake that released him from prison and brought his jailer to his knees, Philippi was home to a church which Paul describes as having a “partnership with him in the gospel,” a church that had labored alongside him and had also contributed to meet his personal needs.

As he choose which words to leave with the Philippians, he writes, in Philippians 2:12, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…” Of course, this direction leaves us asking, “What does it mean to work our our salvation?”

As a missionary, I know what I want it to mean. I want it to mean what Jesus said to the rich young ruler in Luke 18: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” How many of us here today can say, “Been there, done that?” It seems to me sometimes that our goal as a family is to whittle our possessions down to what airlines will allow on board without charging extra fees.

Nevertheless, we come to find that “work our your salvation” signifies much more than simply giving away possessions or even leaving behind friends and family. It means getting to the point where, as Oswald Chambers says, our right to ourselves is completely annihilated, and at the Philippians level, at our level, that may have to do more with what is on the inside than what is on the outside. For instance, we can give away our library and keep our know-it-all attitude. We can sell off our collections and keep our pride. We can leave our homes and still wall ourselves off from others.

That is why I believe that Paul’s statement “work out your salvation” appears in the context of interpersonal relationships. He shows us the way in which we “work out our salvation” in Philippians 2:2-4:

…by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others

When I read this, there are times that I ask, “Lord, can we go back to the sell everything lesson?” It’s so hard to be like-minded especially when we’re different. Other times, I try to make a deal. I’ll say, “OK, I’ll be like-minded, as long as the others agree with my point of view,” but verse 4 stops my bartering before it can start, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests…”

But just when we feel like we are left gasping for breath, ready to complain to God about the difficult rule that he has left us to follow we find that Paul’s words were not a law to be obeyed, but rather an outflow of the power of the Gospel working within us.

As we read the entire passage, we see, first of all, the conditions in which we work out our salvation:

  • encouragement from being united with Christ
  • comfort from his love
  • fellowship with the Spirit
  • tenderness and compassion

All of these we have received in our relationship in Christ and are at work in us as we interact with those who are around us. They are the conditions which provide the environment in which we are to work out our salvation.

Second, we see that God has shown us a model of “worked-out” salvation in his Son, Jesus Christ:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

… and we find that it His sacrifice was not in vain as we continue reading:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

So often we lift this passage out of context, using it to explain the mystery of Christ’s existence here on earth, but Paul intended it not as a theology to be analyzed but as a pattern to follow. As we take this passage as Paul had intended it, though, we find that we who share in Christ’s humility will also someday share in his glory.

Still, as if the conditions in which we work out our salvation and the model that God has given us through Jesus were not enough, verse 13 shows us that he is also our help in working out our salvation: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” In fact, I like how this relayed to us in the New International Version in Spanish which translated loosely says, “for God is He who produces in you both the “want to” as well as the “do” so that His will is accomplished.” God has not left us alone in our work. His power is working through us that we might not fail in what He has called us to do.

Therefore, as we go, we want to encourage you to continue to work out your salvation both now and as we go our separate ways by being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and in purpose. This way we might truly fulfill God’s desire for us and we might validate the message that we share being “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

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Maya Language School Itzamná

Maya Language School Itzamná

Ma’alob k’iin. Bix a beel’ex. Having trouble responding? That’s because what my greeting was written in Maya. It reads, “Good morning. How are you?” (There are no question marks in Maya)

Here in the Yucatán the official language is Spanish. For this reason, we spent our first year of this term in Costa Rica learning Spanish so that we could live and work here in Mérida. Nevertheless, there are times, like this past month when we journeyed to the town of Tekax, that even speaking in perfect Spanish isn’t enough. That is because, in several towns in the state of Yucatán, many still speak the traditional indigenous language which has changed only slightly from the time of the pyramid builders of Chichen Itza to the present. Others are bilingual, having learned Spanish in school, but clearly function better in their native language.

So how do we respond to this fact? Well, we could rely upon those who are bilingual to translate for us, hoping that they will correctly interpret the meaning of our message. But what does this teach the Maya speakers? I feel it teaches them that the gospel is something foreign. Something that requires special abilities in order to understand, and that salvation is reserved for those who earn it by learning this foreign system. I don’t believe that our God is like that.

From the beginning, with the question, “Adam, where are you?”, we know that God initiated his plan of salvation. Romans 5:8 says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And John 1:14 says that Jesus, the very Word of God came near, and lived among us. We are not those who search for Him says Romans 3:10-11, He comes after us.

How does this translate then as a reaction to the situation of the Maya here in Yucatan? Years ago, before archeology became the force that it is today, many thought that the Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written was a sacred tongue. This was thought because the texts available to the scholars at the time, that of Classical Greek was different from what they saw in Bible. However, as more research came to light, they found that the New Testament Greek was not a sacred language after all. In fact, it was the common speech–that which the housewives used to write out their shopping lists. So, in fact, we see that the very Bible that we read is another aspect of God “coming near” to us. He didn’t speak through the elite of the society or through a priestly class, He instead spoke through the common tongue of the merchants, the peasants, and the slaves.

Understanding this, if we are to “come near” as Christ’s ambassadors and show the Maya that this message is in fact for them, that Christ came to save every, tribe, tongue and nation, then we in turn should take the steps to learn to share this salvation in their native tongue.

So that in fact is what we are doing. Every Monday and Wednesday for two hours, I am traveling to the “Ermita”, a plaza south of town, to learn to speak and write the Maya language. (The picture in this post is a shot of the entrance to the building.) The municipal government has established a course in which they teach citizens and foreigners at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels for only $5 a month. Having extended for a year, and having scheduled outreaches into these Maya speaking regions, this was an offer that we couldn’t refuse.

So here I am again learning anew how to function in another language, struggling to come up with the words to respond to the teacher. However, when I consider what Christ did for us, coming to us as a baby, unable to speak, to function on His own, in order to live among us, I say that my struggle is worth it if it allows me to live among this people and reveal to them the God that we serve, the God who came near.

By the way, a fellow Mexico Missionary just sent us a link to an example of the power of “coming near” to an unreached people group. You can check out the video on You Tube

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