team ministry

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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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We had the opportunity to deliver our first Proclaimer to San Isidro Ochil. What a blessing to hear the group interact with the Word in Maya! Hit the link here or click on the picture to experience the event with us. While you’re there, don’t miss the rest of our latest quarterly update from the field!

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 2013 Mexican Educational Summit

I couldn’t help but smile as over 350 educators, missionaries and Mexicans alike, descended on Cancun for the “Cumbre Educativa 2013: Formación Ministerial Transgeneracional (Educational Summit 2013: Transgenerational Ministry Formation).” It took a coordinated international effort that spanned a sixteen month period of emails, meetings, and errands, but on that day, Monday, August 26, 2013, as the participants began to arrive, all of the hard work was coming to fruition.

There were plenty of reasons for me to be happy. There were teachers, from all different walks of life, gaining access, some for the first time, to sessions designed to help them pass on their faith to the upcoming generation. There was also an enthusiastic response to 18 workshops designed to help the participants better communicate biblical truth and assess the progress of their students. Still, the true motivation for my satisfaction came from what was going on behind the scenes.

As new missionaries, we felt strongly that our plans and projects should be shaped in conjunction with the people that we were going to serve. We dreamed of beginning a journey with our Mexican counterparts to discover God’s vision for this country and then work shoulder to shoulder with them to see it become a reality. It was this dynamic of collaborative ministry that we were seeing come to pass during the months leading up to and during the Cumbre.

It began with a desire on the part of Mexican leadership to increase the importance of ministerial formation in the eyes of the church. They reached out to the missionary community to help shape the desire into a vision, and we were invited from the very earliest stages to have a seat at the table to realize that vision.

As we worked side-by-side on the Saturday prior to the event to assemble the materials that each participant would receive, I looked across the room. There we were, missionaries, national Mexican leadership, and local pastors, teachers and students all collaborating together with the same common goal. It was a beautiful moment even if the heat and the strain had us all looking a bit ragged.

So while I was thrilled that education, something I truly believe in, was being emphasized, I was ecstatic that this emphasis was something that we had envisioned, planned, and executed together. That is certainly a cause for satisfaction.

As I close this post I want to express our gratitude to our Mexican leadership: General Superintendent Abel Flores, Director of the National Christian Education Department, José Saucedo, and his Secretary/Treasurer Fernando Figueroa for inviting us to take a seat at the table as this vision was formed and realized. In addition, I would like to thank Rod and Sherry Boyd, veteran missionaries and directors of the Resource and Advisory Center in Panama who spearheaded and guided this special collaborative effort. ¡Gracias a todos!

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Summit 2013

Not this group! (Proverbs 27:17)

If there was any doubt that we belonged to a vanguard mission organization, that was dispelled last week during our Association of Caribbean and Latin American Missionary Educators’ (ACLAME) Summit.  As part of the ACLAME Leadership team, I was called upon to help organize this biennial event which brought together 52 individuals from 7 different countries.

PKazim Summit 2013

During our time together, we received a word from our Executive Director, Greg Mundis, who cast vision for what he sees as a bright future for world evangelism, a task in which he sees educators playing a key role.  Still, that was only one of several sessions that have left an indelible mark on those who attended. Paul Kazim, Mexico Area Director (photo left) spoke from Leviticus 19, reminding us that holiness is essentially taking on the characteristics of God. Assemblies of God Theological Seminary Professor, DeLonn Rance, challenged us to “live at the edge,” responding to God’s call to reach all nations.

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These and several others blended their voices to encourage us and to strengthen the calling that each of us carries to pass on what we have received. (2 Timothy 2:2) What happened during those critical days is the essence of Proverbs 27:17–men and women, joining together so that each one might be improved or “perfected” into a more useful tool in the Master’s hands. This same blessing we desire to pass on to our Mexican colleagues. 

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In the month of August, we will be holding the first ever Mexican Education Summit (bottom graphic), an international effort that seeks to raise the bar in ministerial formation. Plans are coming into shape to host over 400 Bible School directors and professors from across the country. We’re praying that the event serves to motivate all who attend to dedicate themselves to the task of raising up leaders for this crucial time.

Also, this month, we are looking forward to graduation ceremonies at Instituto Biblico Bethel. In all, eleven students will be participating in the commencement activities, looking forward to launch out into the ministries for which they have been trained.

Can you pray with us for these events?

  1. For the Mexican Education Summit, that it would be well attended, and that those who attend would be challenged to dedicate themselves even more fully to the task of discipleship and ministerial formation.
  2. For our recent graduates, that they would launch out into service around the state, reaching the lost, discipling those who believe and encouraging others to do the same

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It was Tuesday afternoon. I was sitting in the hospital trying to take it all in. We had planned the most ambitious Chi Alpha Spring Break Missions Trip we had ever undertaken: two teams from American University and the University of Virginia, construction, community outreach, and evangelism, Mexicans and Americans working together. But at that moment, everything seemed to be unraveling. Six of the 20 team members were sick, 5 had received antibiotics and one was hospitalized. Instead of working to meet our goals, I seemed to be scrambling to avert disaster.

But God, who makes all things work together for our good, never stopped working, not even on that Tuesday afternoon. The work never stopped. The Chi Alpha teams, working together with students from the Bible Institute, raised six columns of the second story structure of the Institute’s new multipurpose building and painted the entire first floor. They also collaborated to beautify the communities of Sierra Papacal and San Bernardo, painting the walls that lined the main streets of the villages. It was beautiful to watch how those who might not otherwise had asserted themselves rose to the occasion to keep things on track. We were deeply moved as even local pastors who had heard of our situation arrived to help us to achieve our goals.

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Not only was the work done, but our planned outreaches took place as well. By Thursday, our teams, including those who had been sidelined by sickness were up and active, coordinating a social outreach that saw dozens of kids deloused and taught dental hygiene while moms were able to select from new articles of clothing for their families. Following the social outreach, evangelistic services took place, where children and adults alike were able to hear and respond to the message of salvation.

Reflecting upon the trip, it became clear that it was through the adversities that we faced that the work became a group effort. Those of us who had arrived looking to put forth our best efforts found, through our weakness, a new found interdependence within the international Body of Christ and a renewed reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit to sustain, to heal, and to accomplish His will. Spiritual gifts were utilized that would have otherwise remained dormant. Friendships were formed which otherwise would never have been possible, and our celebration of the work was correctly shifted from what we had accomplished to what God had done in our midst.

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On the Saturday before the teams arrived, the song, “He makes Beautiful Things” had been playing in my head. The chorus of the song repeats, “He makes beautiful things out of the dust. He makes beautiful things out of us.” Although it was difficult to see on that Tuesday afternoon, God indeed worked our adversities together for our greater good. He created something beautiful even out of us.

Have you enjoyed this Spring Break Report? Be sure to check out our photos as well!

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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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Since we arrived for our second term here in the Yucatán in November of 2010, one of our emphases has been to see the gospel spread through the indigenous Maya culture. In the course of our work, we’ve taken several trips, met and worked with lots of individuals, and undertaken projects ranging from public events to church building. Through it all, we’ve realized it’s anything but “business as usual.” Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

1. We all have “boxes.”

Boxes are great tools, and as missionaries, we’ve come to have a special appreciation of them. They not only help us in our moves, but they retain their usefulness throughout our stay. Cultures, as well, are known to have their own “boxes”–ways of thinking and acting that are particular to a people or society, and, while there are certain conveniences that come from working out of these boxes, we rapidly see the liabilities of these beloved tools in a cross-cultural setting:

  • While they give us a place to store our “stuff,” they limit the amount of knowledge that we are open to receiving.
  • While they help us with categorization of our our experiences and perceptions, they also restrict us, causing problems when what we experience doesn’t fit with one of our preconceived categories.
  • While they aid us with the ability to recall past information in order to deal with a present situation, they also may lead us to stereotyping, especially when we have only a cursory knowledge of foreign customs or attitudes.

They scarier reality is that, although we have been trained to recognize the danger of utilizing our American-style boxes when engaging with Mexican culture, many Mexican nationals who desire to partner with us lack the training to realize that they too must recognize and overcome the temptation to operate exclusively from within their particular set of cultural norms.

While we had made certain assumptions in our partnership fellow ministers, we have found that the reality can often be quite different. For example, we had assumed that one’s proximity to the Maya culture would produce vision for ministry to that culture, However, we found that, at least with one worker who spoke the language and pastored among the people, this was not the case. His participation floundered soon after our first ministry trip. We had also thought that shared identity would equal experience, but found that even fellow “Yucatecos” can be at a loss when reaching out to the Maya culture of which they are descendants.

What we have experienced quite often are more in line with the idea that familiarity breeds contempt. In other words, that which is near at hand is seldom appreciated. Here in the Yucatán, many consider the Maya culture to be backward, outmoded. The language is not being passed on from one generation to the next as children have more interest in consuming what is produced in the global market than conserving their own heritage. With this in mind, there is an expectation for the indigenous to “move along” with the rest of society, limiting the number of those who would “reach back” in order to minister to these groups.

Also, we have found that the ministry that is being done often has a view to realize activities while it tends to sacrifice analysis. Many are quick to hold a campaign, but few succeed at the process of discipleship that is required before, during, and after the event. Events are planned out in minute detail, but rarely is the question asked, “Is this event appropriate for this community?”

So how do we do ministry among the indigenous, while encouraging our national brethren to join with us in the effort? That question leads us the the second lesson learned:

2. Our focus must be on understanding before we seek results.

The obstacles that we face are large. At times we aren’t understood, either by our ministry partners or the people to whom we are trying to minister. Conflicts come with partners over ministry approach, style, and content, while language barriers and culture disconnects often thwart our attempts to reach out to the indigenous in relevant, meaningful ways.

Nevertheless, we must believe that we can overcome these obstacles and work hard to do so. Among our partners, this must be done through vision-casting and mission-building. We must help them to see the big picture and get on board. Our goal is not that they become like us, but that they receive Christ into their own culture that He might transform them from the inside out.

In Romans 3:29, Paul asks the question, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,” Our goal is that the Maya understand that God is their God as well, not just the God of the Spanish-speaker. Once this vision is accepted, we must make take steps to plan how this can be achieved, intentionally working together to bring about the desired result. Only with this plan in hand can we overcome our own cultural barriers and work together to extend the Kingdom of God among the indigenous.

Among the Maya, we must seek to gain entry into the culture, finding access through language-learning and key individuals who can serve to interpret the signals that so often come through our filters as just so much noise. We must also be willing to take a step back from our rush to stereotype behaviors and our hasty conclusions. We must understand that we need to learn to ask the right questions before we can ever be able obtain the answers that we’re so eager to receive.

Box photo used under Creative Commons by z287marc.

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