team ministry

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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.

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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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Often, the call of God leads us to distant shores and far off lands, but Rangel Vasquez’s story proves that sometimes it can lead us right back home.

His story begins in Tzucacab, a municipality in the south of Yucatan where he was born. He wasn’t there for long, though, as the need in his family and the economic opportunity that offered life in the capital city caused his parents to pull up roots and relocate to Merida. Nevertheless, it was there, hours away from his ancestral home, that God was preparing his heart for the return journey.

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The preparation began at “Instituto Bíblico Bethel” both academically and spiritually. It was there, in my evangelism class as a first year student, that he expressed a stirring in his heart for missions among the indigenous of Mexico. As we would begin the day in prayer, he would often ask us to intercede for him that he might receive direction as he explored what the Lord was doing in his heart and life.

Still, even with a desire to minister to indigenous people like the Maya among whom he was born, the path to his current place of ministry was not direct. In fact, it would take him some 1,700 miles in the other direction to serve with his wife Claudia in the Sierras of the state of Chihuahua as house parents for a children’s home and church planters among the Tarahumara Indians of that region.

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Life among them was difficult. They lived from day to day, praying for God’s provision so that they would have food enough to provide for the children and something left over for themselves. Water for drinking was scarce, for bathing even more so, and the weather was extreme, but God was faithful to keep them and give them success. In their time there, they had worked to forge a growing community of disciples, eager to know their Lord more fully, and serve those around them.

Their time in service gave way to three months of formal training in CEMAD, the Center for Missiological Studies of the Assemblies of God, where they learned the theological underpinnings for their calling as well as a practical methodology for cross cultural ministry. Still, as their training came to a close, they needed to make a decision to stay in the Sierras or return to the Yucatan.

We talked during this time, as we too needed to make a decision. The time was drawing near for us to depart for itineration, and we needed someone to serve as a liaison for our ministry in our absence, coordinating both information and resources. That, coupled with an endorsement to serve as district missionaries in the state of Yucatan cemented their decision to return. Even so, they were unprepared for what would happen next.

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As they returned in late 2013, God began to deal with Rangel about a place called Tigre Grande. It’s a small obscure village, a town you only pass through on purpose. It’s located in the south of Yucatan near the border with Campeche, and it just so happens to be the the municipality of Tzucacab.

Unable to shake his premonition to visit the town, he took an exploratory trip. As he arrived he greeted the villagers, going house to house and probing their interest in the gospel message that he hoped to share among them. What he found out was even beyond his wildest expectations.

The town had once had a budding congregation. A church in a neighboring village had built a small meeting place, and several villagers had begun to attend, but floodwaters that had come in 2002, washed away most of the town. The villagers scattered to find refuge after the devastation, and the small congregation had to be disbanded. Later, the town was relocated to higher ground, but the church remained just a memory, that is until Rangel’s arrival.

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The people greeted his investigation with interest. Not only were they eager to find out when he would begin, they were ready to participate. It was as though they had been waiting for him for eleven years, but it was much more than a homecoming for this wandering native of Tzucacab, it was the closing of the circle and the confirmation of the Lord’s direction in his life.

Rangel and Claudia continue the work in Tigre Grande, ministering holistically to the needs of the community as they communicate the Good News on a weekly basis with encouraging results, but they’re not content to limit themselves to that community. They’re convinced that the seeds that they are planting are meant to grow, and have set their sights on the entire region, taking steps now to plant churches in neighboring communities.

Were honored to partner with missionaries and church planters like Rangel Vazquez. They play a critical role in the fulfillment of the vision of the Yucatan peninsula full of churches, diverse class, status, education, and language but united in their love for the Lord and one another. As we tour the United States sharing about the Yucatan, we long to return to continue our labor with them.

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Fruit That Remains

As missionaries return from the field to turn their attention to their supporters, there is the constant concern for the ministry that they leave behind. Will it thrive? Will it even continue? Following an afternoon of touching base with our ministry partners we’re happy to say, “Yes!”

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I was able to make contact with many of our friends yesterday and found myself refreshed and more excited than ever to redouble my efforts to return to Mexico to join them. Take my conversation with Josué Novelo, our partner in Yaxcabá. He began the outreach in Santa María, a city characterized by its outward signs of abandonment and decay.  He has been meeting regularly with the people of the village, utilizing the Proclaimer device to provide them with an experience with the Word of God in their own language. Where hopelessness once reigned, the people of this village are interacting weekly with the Bible. Since the program began, they’ve finished the Gospels and have moved on to Romans, glad to be able to understand what they’re hearing. What’s more, he’s also opened a new work in Cankadzonot, further extending the impact of the Faith Comes by Hearing program.

We’re excited to share this news with you, news of fruit that has remained and that’s reproducing itself on the Yucatan. We hope that you in turn are also encouraged to involve yourself in what God is doing on the Yucatan peninsula.

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We feel that we are on the edge of a breakthrough in the Yucatan!

Standing with our partners (from right to left) Leo May and Felipe Sabido.

Standing with our partners (from left to right) Felipe Sabido and Leo May.

In our past term we’ve seen great strides made in ministry among the Maya:

  • Their dignity as a people group has been raised.
  • Their access to faith-building resources in their own language has increased.
  • Leadership has been named to conserve and extend these advances.

We’re thankful for what has been accomplished, but we’re even more excited about the future, especially now that we see some key pieces falling into place regarding our vision of filling the Yucatan with churches.

Partnering with then missions director, Felipe Sabido, we understood that carrying this vision to its fulfillment would require the establishment of training centers that would effectively mentor church planters through the process. To that end, we put in place a curriculum and outlined its basic structure prior to our departure from the field. What had escaped us, however, was a means by which our students could be awarded Bible school credit toward their credentialing process and diploma. We felt that this piece was essential. That enigma was solved last month as Felipe was named Bible school director for the next four years, streamlining our approval process greatly. We now see the potential to accelerate our start-up phase for training and more easily recruit workers to impact their communities.

Still, this positive development has not come without consequences. Felipe’s movement into this new role leaves behind a missions department, the department charged with the carrying out of church planting, with a lack of experienced leadership. Leonardo May, the present director is a capable minister, but this appointment has thrust him into leadership of a department in which he has served less than a year, first as a regional representative, then as secretary-treasurer, and now as director.

We hope that you can appreciate, then, the sense of excitement as we prime ourselves to take advantage of these opportunities, but, at the same time, urgency to return to serve as a support for those who are at the vanguard of bringing this vision to fruition. We desperately need to return on time and fully funded as soon as possible in order to stand with our ministry partners on the field.

That’s where we need you.

  • We need you to pray for us in this time of itineration that we would successfully increase our prayer support and meet our financial goals.
  • We also ask that you would explore the ways that you could partner with us in the fulfillment of this year-long mission:
    • If you’re not regularly praying for us, could you set aside a time in your week to lift up our lives and ministry?
    • If you’re not a current financial partner, could you join our team?
    • If you’re financially supporting us, could you share our vision with others that share your passion for reaching the lost?

The clock is ticking. The deadline of July 2015 has been set. We know we must meet it. We know we cannot do it without you. Will you choose to strongly support us today?

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