team ministry

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What a difference a month makes! Since our last newsletter, we’ve: traveled 3050 miles, took part in Missionary Training, were officially installed as Mexico Area Directors, began life again as a family of five, moved twice, and began our itineration year. Needless to say, we’ve been busy! Still, we would not have been able to accomplish even half of that list if it hadn’t been for the many who helped us make our many transitions. So allow us to use this space to express our gratitude.

Beginning at the beginning, we’re thankful for our friends who helped us sort, sell, pack and move our belongings from our home and make it to the airport. We’re also thankful to United Airlines, for a smooth ride, on-time departures, and expert luggage handling. No muss. No fuss. Just a great ride.

During the trip, we were blessed by a “chance” meeting with Catherine Figueroa, fellow missionary to Oaxaca, and grabbed a bite at the Houston Airport Chick-Fil-A. We were also treated to a violin concert in Terminal D. Bonus!

Arriving in Springfield, MO, we were met by our friends, Dan and Lori Van Veen who fit all of our earthly belongings into their minivan for the trip to our temporary apartment where Andrew, from TLC properties, had stayed late for us to be able to check-in. You guys are the best!

Later, we were received by our LAC family who let us crash their Missionary Associate Dinners as we integrated into Missionary Training already in session. We’re appreciative of the warm welcome that our Regional Director, Dave Ellis, gave us and the grace with which Paul and Sandy Kazim, our outgoing Mexico Area Directors, handled the transition. We’ve got some classy leadership in LAC.

We’re also thankful for our candidate missionary families, the Cogdills and the Sislos, who are in the midst of their itineration. They are exhibits A and B of the quality players that are a part of Team Mexico. We’re pulling for your speedy return!

And we can’t fail to mention, Righteous Rides, who afforded us a sweet deal on an itineration vehicle, New Life Church and Central Assembly for their warm welcome, Steve and Melissa Pulis for their refrigerator, and Eric and Amy Spencer for the truck to transport it. Without friends like you, our transition would have been a lot harder. And here’s a shout out to our family who’s received us for our first iteration stint in PA!

Finally, we’d like to thank you, our supporters. Thanks for keeping up with us, praying for us, and pulling for us. We love you!

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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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What do a Rolla missions team, the church of Senda de Vida, the Godzwa family, fellow missionary Nicky Rider, and our supporters have in common? They came together to minister both physically and spiritually to advance the Kingdom of God in the city of Tekax Hit the link here or click on the picture to find out. While you’re there, don’t miss

  • One student’s perspective of our church planting class at the Bible Institute,
  • And a bit about what’s going on with our family,
  • And an opportunity to be a part of our 2019-2020 itineration schedule.

Our online newsletter is viewable as a PDF document. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you may download it here.


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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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As I write this update, Mexico is celebrating its Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), the anniversary of the unlikely defeat of the larger, better equipped, and expertly trained French force near the city of Puebla by General Ignacio Zaragoza and his smaller Mexican army in 1862.

The event is a source of national pride and a cause for celebrations of Mexican identity, especially in the United States. However, it’s also a reminder of what it means to win the battle but lose the war. The French went on to defeat the Mexican army and the Mexican people were subjugated to French rule for three years under Maximillian the I.

Over Easter Week, we had the chance to join together with fellow Assemblies of God missionaries serving all across the country to reflect on the work here in modern Mexico. We rejoiced to hear of:

  • Indigenous pastors being trained and launched into ministry.
  • Church planting movements rising up in unreached areas.
  • University students waking up to the message of the gospel.

It’s truly exciting to be a part of a group of men and women who are piercing the darkness that has shrouded Mexico, turning back the enemy in some of his key strongholds.

Nevertheless, we are facing some sobering facts:

  • 9 out of 10 Mexicans do not have a relationship with the Lord.
  • Quasi-christian cults like Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons are gaining influence.
  • Organized corruption is a continued threat to social transformation.

Battles are being won, but the war for the heart of Mexico is still being fought. So we appeal to you, our supporters, to intercede with us this month, praying for:

  • Anointed leaders: Winning the war calls for strong leadership. As district conventions are being held across the country, will you pray for the right people to be selected, people with a vision to reach Mexico?
  • Divine strategy: Here, in the Yucatán and throughout Mexico, initiatives are being considered to stimulate evangelism and church growth. Will you pray that the plans made and the structures put into place would be effective in reaching the lost and discipling believers?
  • Perseverance: The work of transformation requires consistency and patience. Would you pray that we will stay the course to see this change take place?

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Equipping the 90%

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When you think of a church planter, what comes to mind? A Bible School graduate? An associate pastor? A missionary? In May, I found out that, at least in Latin America, the church planter is probably none of these.

Attending the Assemblies of God Church Planting Roundtable in Quito, Ecuador, I was confronted with the staggering statistic that up to 90% of church planters are laity. That’s right. They don’t have advanced theological degrees or ministerial credentials. But they do have a call.

This past week, I met one of those church planters. His name is Miguel Avilés. Prior to his involvement in the ministry he worked as a police officer. Still, at the age of 58, when many are thinking of retirement, God was moving on his heart, and even though he was so nervous he couldn’t finish his first sermon, he remained faithful to the call he had received to preach.

That was 16 years ago. Since that time, he’s seen God direct him from church member to itinerant preacher to, four years later, pastor of Tierra Santa, a church that he began together with his wife, Alicia.

Ministering with them on Sunday, I got a chance to hear the church’s twelve year history—one of faith, perseverance, and a bit of trial and error. As church planters, they’d succeeded, but it’s easy to see how many like them fail—because of isolation. Although spiritually prepared for the battle, Miguel and Alicia have faced struggles that they hadn’t anticipated. They admitted that they didn’t have the toolset to face many of those challenges as they did, alone.

But what if they didn’t have to go alone? What if they had the support of a modular system of training readily applicable to the stage of their plant? What if they were grouped together in a cohort of church planters, each one pulling for and praying for the other? What if they were paired with someone who could assess their progress, make suggestions, and help them deal with the myriad of problems along the way? What could that mean for church planters like Miguel and Alicia? What could that mean for the Yucatán?

That is what we are asking ourselves as we move forward from our June workshop “Sembremos Iglesias Saludables“. A pilot project for church planters starts September 17, which is part of a permanent church planting program. It’s goal: to keep people like Miguel and Alicia from having to go it alone. Be in prayer with us as together we take this step of faith to equip the 90%!

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Isn’t it amazing how a deadline can motivate you to reach your goals? Since 2010, we’ve been working to provide Instituto Bíblico Bethel with modern, adequate facilities to help stimulate its mission of training ministers to reach the lost here in the Yucatan and beyond. While the first floor of our new multipurpose building is now complete and functioning, featuring a kitchen, open cafeteria, and administrative offices, progress on the second floor had been steady but slow. However, a special donation of books from Latin America/Caribbean Library Services set to arrive in October has accelerated the pace toward the completion of the work.

Things began with a special gift from Licking Assembly of God, which enabled us to purchase the materials and contract the labor to finish the interior walls of the second floor. Encouraged by this contribution, the administration sent out students in the month of May to preach in area churches and collect an offering to continue the work. In that week, they were able to collect almost $2,000 to put towards the construction. With those funds in hand, steps were taken to secure the second floor, installing handrails and walls in areas previously open to some pretty dangerous drops.

In the month of June, we were blessed to receive the assistance of a team from LifeStream Church in Washington, MO. Their team of six worked together with Bible school students and local construction workers to pour and level the entire subfloor of the second level of the building, preparing our library, classroom space, and dormitory for the final step of laying the tile floors.

As we enter the month of July, we look forward to partnering with First Assembly in Eldon, MO, as they send 11 members from their Pulse Youth Ministries to help install the electrical service to the second level as well as work in various projects around the Bible school complex.

As you can see from the photos above, the visual difference is marked. What you can’t see, though, is the change in attitude toward the project. Previously a missions project fueled primarily by outside funds and labor, now students, faculty, and administration are now joining together with our short term teams to ensure that the deadline is met and these facilities can finally be utilized.

Thank you for your contribution towards moving this project towards completion. Your prayers, donations, and your labor has done much to bring us to this stage, and we are confident that it will see us through to its completion.

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Last night, Friday the 13th, brought it’s share of unlucky circumstances as we began the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) journey in Tixpehual, Yucatan. It began with a rainstorm, innundating roads and complicating our arrival at the community. It continued as we arrived at our meeting place to find that the power was out in the entire village. (We were meeting at a church in Kilinché, a neighboring community to Tixpehual.) Needless to say, things were not necessarily working out as any of us had expected.

But far from being “bad omens,” we took them as an initial test of our resolve to see CHE concepts work from the very beginning. The photo above shows how we were able to work together to solve our electrical problem. We took out our cellphones and used plastic cups to create crude table lamps so that we could lead our groups members through the discovery of the CHE concepts. 

As we progressed, it seemed fitting. It was a baby step, so to speak, that we were able to take. Certainly the situations that we will face as we progress with CHE will be larger and more complex, but it was gratifying to see, in the face of this first challenge, that we did not fail; we did not cancel. We worked together, we pooled our resources, and we accomplished our objective. 

So, on this first night, in the midst of some trying circumstances, we took the time to get to know one another. We discovered what health and community truly mean, and we began to tease out the concepts that serve as the foundation of the CHE program, but it was the soft glow of our makeshift cellphone lamps that became the memorable moment. They were the impromptu object lesson that the ideas that we were sharing can and will work.  They were a small “win” in anticipation of many more in this CHE journey that we’ve begun in Tixpehual.

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Team Tixpehual 2015

Team Tixpehual 2015

The book of Ezra, chapter 3, recounts the rebuilding of the temple when the Israelite had returned from exile. As Zerubbabel directed the final stones into place to finish the foundations of the temple, there was an interesting occurrence. The people lifted up a shout of rejoicing, thanking God for his help, but, at the same time, the elder priests and levites wept aloud, having remembered the old temple’s former magnificence. Zechariah speaks to these leaders, those who had been disappointed with the progress achieved. He says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” (Zechariah 7:10).

Tixpehual is a work in revitalization. Although the Assemblies of God has an almost 30 year history in that city, the work has failed to take root. This past Friday, however, eight of my students from Instituto Bíblico Bethel began preparing the foundations for a new effort.

It all began under threatening skies. We had been praying for all aspects of the event, from the participants to the invitees, to the weather. Still, by the time we had left Merida, the heavens had opened, producing a steady downpour. We arrived to a town square literally under water! The conditions were certainly not in our favor.

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The first order of business was to prepare a relatively dry meeting place. Thankfully, Pastor Castillo, husband of the new leader of the work had come prepared. Two old event banners he had brought with him from Mérida were fashioned into an improvised roof while my students Abisai and Eric did their best impersonation of Spider Man, climbing the walls to set them in place.

The next step was to remind the neighbors that, in spite of the rain, the event was still on. We passed through the neighborhood, door to door, speaking with those who had received the printed announcements the Wednesday before. Still, 5:00, the scheduled time of the event, came and went without so much as a single attendee. Things were beginning to get tense.

A new group was sent out, reminders were given, but people did not seem to be moving toward the house where we were meeting. Then we were told: “When you announce a time, it means that the event will start an hour later.” Sure enough, the people came.

PastelGalleta

By the time the event was underway the rain had passed, and five families, moms with their kids had arrived at the house. Women were learning about making “pastel de galleta” a cake out of crackers, at the same time that they were hearing testimonies of God’s work in students’, (Maribel and Geydi) lives. Next door, their children were jumping, singing, working on crafts, and listen to a message about the God who loves them told by Abner and Abisai.

The culmination of the evening came just before dinner. The ladies sat at a table prepared for them, while Jorge shared scripture and asked if we could pray with them. All of them accepted, and not only did they allow us to take down their names and addresses, they opened up to us, letting us know their struggles and concerns. That prayer time was a special moment.

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As we began to reflect on our experiences, many of the students shared that there was a reluctance expressed by many of the ladies as they deliberated attending the event. Some of them had prior experiences gathering at such activities and knew the abandonment that comes when, for one reason or another, the church, or the support group, or the workshop closes its doors. The conclusion: the work must go on.

We’re so thankful, then, that we were able to install Pastor and his wife Olga as the new leaders of the cell group that is being restarted in Tixpehual. Starting this weekend, they will be available Saturdays and Sundays, visiting, holding Bible studies and encouraging the unsaved to trust in Jesus and Christians to deepen their walk with him.

Following the event, there were those who had been disappointed that more hadn’t arrived, but Isabel, the owner of the house was very encouraged. She expressed her gratefulness for the opportunity to use her home to be able to serve and speak into the lives of her neighbors. She was thankful for this small beginning in Tixpehual and hopeful for a brighter future.

Did you enjoy the story? Be sure to look at our photo gallery of these shots and others, taken by Rebekah Godzwa.

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Changing with the Seasons

Change. The seasons remind us that change is one of the few constants in our lives. And with the change of the season comes another edition of our missionary newsletter!

Of course missionaries need no reminder of the need to change. Take a look inside this edition our newsletter to find:

  • Updates on our big move.
  • How were teaming up with Instituto Bíblico Bethel
  • The latest from our family

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

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

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