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In the month of November, Kelly, Jonathan and I (Dave), had the privilege of attending the first-ever National Evangelism Conference in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a beautiful sight to see the more than 1,800 participants commit to spreading a message of love and hope in the location where, 500 years prior, the Spanish Conquista had unleashed a wave of oppression.

Still, even with the enthusiastic response in Veracruz, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted with the unfinished task in Mexico: over 113 million who still don’t know Jesus, 3 million of them considered unreached, in a nation becoming more violent and less secure by the year. How can so few make a difference in the face of so great a need?

Then, I think of the Christmas story, and how God came to Earth in the form of the baby Jesus, so small and seemingly insignificant. His bed was a feeding trough. His first visitors, simple shepherds. Even at the height of his popularity, he could be described as a homeless, itinerant preacher. His best friends were among the most marginalized of Jewish society. Yet, it was through that one life that God culminated his plan of salvation and through those few followers that he literally changed the world. That is the hope of Christmas.

And that is the hope that we share, that God will bring peace on Earth, fullness of life, as well to Mexico. But who does he have to represent him in that country? Many are like Roberto (photo, bottom left), an illiterate pastor in Kini, certainly not wise by the world’s standards, but with God’s help, he’s planted 8 churches. Or there’s Lupita (photo, top right), not powerful or influential, not even in her local church, but, through her diligent visitation, she’s led dozens to Christ. Against the sheer numbers of those who still don’t know, the 1,800 who attended the evangelism conference may seem a weak witness, but God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

So take heart wherever this word might find you this Christmas season. The outlook may be grim, and the future may seem dark indeed, but the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Experience the hope of Christmas and be sure to pass it on.

(This article appears as well in our winter newsletter. Download a PDF copy to print or share electronically.)

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imagePerhaps you remember this post from January that described the blessing that we received from Light for the Lost: funds that helped defray the cost of the District of Yucatan’s literature needs as they seek to spread the gospel in outreaches throughout the state. Well, that blessing has proved to be a gift that keeps on giving, because the monies that it has freed up have been put to use in the purchase of land to build churches in pivotal communities, especially those that lack an evangelical presence. It just so happens that one of those communities that is benefiting from these funds is Sierra Papacal.

Now, if you’ve been following our reports, both in our newsletters and on this site, you’ll know that Sierra Papacal has had a church there since 2013, a church begun by my former student, Guadalupe Campos. Nevertheless, up until the end of 2015, they had been meeting in rented facilities, facilities that they were no longer able to lease. On December 31st, they were facing the decision of moving to a house church format, a blow to the sense of permanence that they had been trying to establish in the community. What a joy it was to them to receive the news that the district evangelism department, the same that had received those Light for the Lost funds, had chosen to collaborate with them to purchase a permanent home for the church right on the town’s main road!

This investment in the future of the church, “Casa de Oración” has created a ripple effect throughout the congregation. Not only have they been able to secure property large enough for the initial construction and future expansion, they’ve seen various church members motivated to give toward the building that will serve as the home of their community of faith. Guadalupe has received an abundance of materials: cement sand and gravel for the foundation, blocks for the walls, and beams for the roof. In fact, they’ve received so much from this outpouring of support that they are ready to begin construction immediately!

But there is even more reason to rejoice as we see how this international collaboration is bringing hope and positive change to local communities. In Sierra Papcal and in other locations there is new access to the saving message of the gospel. This is just one of the ways that we are seeing the vision of the Yucatan full of churches becoming a reality.

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imageWe know that it’s not always possible for every missionary to return to the same place for three consecutive terms. There are many factors that cause them to change fields or even entire regions. Neveretheless, we can’t overstate the blessing that it is for us to be able to return to the Yucatan and reconnect with the work we’d begun and the people with whom we’d collaborated.

In August, we were blessed to see the reestablished church in Tigre Grande, planted by Rangel and Claudia Vázquez, recieve their new pastor, Yani May, a former student of mine and graduate of the Bible Institute. Kelly and I had the privilege of praying for her during her commissioning service.

In September, I (David) was able to return to the work in the Bible Institute, having been invited to help in the formation of the next generation of Assemblies of God ministers. It’s been a joy to take up the class of Evangelism again, sharing my desire to reach the lost with both new and continuing students, and walking with them to facilitate their projects that have been designed to fulfill that goal.

Here in October, the reunions continued as we had the opportunity to preach for and then share a meal with Guadalupe Campos and her husband José, pastors of the church plant in Sierra Papacal. It was wonderful to encourage their congregation, retrace the events of the past year, as well as gain a deeper appreciation for their passion for the ministry as they continue their work in spite of some tremendous obstacles.

Thank you then for your prayers and support. They’ve helped us to return to Mexico. They’ve made possible these reunions and have given opportunity for new connections, connections that will enable us to fulfill the vision of the Yucatan Peninsula full of churches diverse in class, status, education, and language, but united in their love for the Lord and each other.

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You’d have to question the appropriateness of the phrase as well after having spent the week that I did with these college students! As I had mentioned in my previous post, we hosted a 10 person team of Chi Alpha students and staff from American University as they spent their Spring Break here in the Yucatán. However, contrary to preconceived notions about the time period, these youth did anything but rest!

Following their arrival on Saturday the 8th, we hit the ground running with services in the morning and evening to kick off the week’s events. Our morning service was hosted by La Casa de Oración, the year-old mission in the town of Sierra Papacal of one of my former students, Guadalupe Campos. It was a time of welcome and preparation for the work among the kids that would take place during the week. The evening service was held at Eben-ezer, a church in Mérida, pastored by Gabriel Gongora, the current director of Instituto Biblico Bethel. There, I had the privilege of translating for my brother, Mike, as the team was highlighted for the construction work that they would undertake in the Bible Institute.

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On Monday, the construction began. Partnering with the Bible Institute students, we worked each morning until Wednesday to lift 1500 concrete slabs into place as part of the structure that will serve as the second story roof, effectively topping our three and a half year expansion project of the institute’s dining, classroom, and library facilities.

Each afternoon we worked together to bring Vacation Bible School activities to the children of Sierra Papacal. Following our prep time on Monday, we worked Tuesday and Wednesday in the church facilities, teaching, making crafts, singing, and playing exclusively with the kids. However, on Thursday afternoon, we were able to serve the entire community with free haircuts, hygiene checks, and lunch to boot. Our closing rally in the evening was a blessing as several of the kids to whom we ministered responded to the call to pray to receive Christ.

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We couldn’t have been more pleased with the results as Mexicans and Americans worked shoulder to shoulder to see God’s purposes advanced in the Yucatán. It was truly a team effort!

And, speaking of team efforts, I’d like to thank all those who had responded to our call for prayer prior to the trip. We were witnesses of God’s faithfulness in every aspects as:

  • There were no injuries whatsoever in our construction project or mishaps on the road as we traveled from place to place. In fact, I don’t even remember being asked for a band aid during the entire trip!
  • All stayed perfectly healthy; even Montezuma’s revenge was kept at bay.
  • The integration among the groups was stellar. In each aspect of the trip, both Mexicans and Americans joined together to get the job done.
  • The response in Sierra Papacal was enthusiastic. New kids were reached with the message of the gospel, kids who are now being channeled into newly formed discipleship groups.

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Of course, none of this would have been possible if this team of university students hadn’t forgone their break in order to invest in the Yucatán. So thanks, Mike, and the entire AU Chi Alpha team. Rest assured your work is appreciated!

Did you enjoy the post? Be sure to take a look at the pictures as well!

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OnTheRoof

Although up north the freeze is still in effect, here in Mexico, we’re preparing for spring. Spring Break, that is.

This Saturday, 10 members of the Chi Alpha Student Fellowship of American University will be descending on the city of Mérida, Yucatán to do a bit of construction and outreach while they thaw from this year’s deep freeze. In the mornings, we’ll be working at Instituto Bíblico Bethel, to put into place the beams and slabs that will serve as the structure for the roof of the second floor of the multipurpose building. In the afternoons, we’ll be returning to Sierra Papacal to assist the efforts of my former student, Guadalupe Campos, in the church, Casa de Oración. My favorite part of the trip, however, is the opportunity for our Bible school students to work hand in hand with our visiting Chi Alpha workers.

We’re preparing a warm welcome for our guests, but we certainly don’t want to leave you out in the cold. We’d like to extend an invitation for you to get involved, too. Here’s how:

  1. Pray for the trip’s success:
    • Pray for safety in our work and travels.
    • Pray for the health of all involved. (Pray against sickness!)
    • Pray for the effective integration of the different groups.
    • Pray for an enthusiastic response among the people of Sierra Papacal.

  2. Send a special gift

    The Chi Alpha students have a goal to bless the ministry that is taking part here in the Yucatán. You can be a part of helping them realize that goal.

    Navigate to our giving page and send a special gift. Put AUXA in the comment section, and we’ll be sure to designate that gift to the projects in which they’re taking part.

While you might not be able to bask in the Yucatecan sun with us, we’re sure that your participation, in one or both of these areas, will bring some warmth to your weary winter days, and, just maybe, you too might be thinking that spring is in the air!

Giving and receiving encouragement.

Giving and receiving encouragement.

The start of a new school year comes with its own special set of concerns. Parents brace themselves as their kids move into new experiences and new relationships. Kids wonder about fitting in and getting along with their teachers and peers, while teachers worry about connecting with students and helping them learn and grow.

Into that atmosphere a bit of encouragement can go a long way. Here is message that I just received from a graduate:

“Thanks for emphasizing prayer in the classroom. It is and will be an example to follow.”

Then, following my first class of Evangelism, I was greeted by Guadalupe, a student from my class the year prior.

“Teacher,” she said, “I just wanted to let you know that the survey techniques that you had taught us have enabled me to start Bible studies in the homes of ten new families!”

Isn’t God good? He knows just what we need to keep keeping on.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ” Gal. 6:9

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In the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of the Spirit. It’s a power that God has promised to all who believe as Moisés found out. It’s a power to be His witnesses, a power that Guadalupe has experienced. Still, individual salvation is not the end of the process. Jesus announced His plan in Matthew 16:18 “…I will build my church…” Therefore, if we’re not about planting churches after the New Testament model, we’re failing to fulfill Christ’s stated mission.

Frankly, we’re not interested in failure. That’s why we’ve sought to stimulate church planting, first among the Maya though the Jesus Film, and now through a new opportunity that has opened to us at the Bible Institute. I was asked recently to teach the course on church planting to our second and third year students. Through a process of study, interaction, and contact with needy areas throughout the Yucatán, we’re seeking to create a plan of action so that each student finishes the course ready to plant a new church. Our prayer is that those who have yet to be reached by the gospel will never be out of the reach of a Bible-believing church, and that beginning disciples, like those studying with Guadalupe, will never have to search for a spiritual home. Pray with us as we step through this process!

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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Last week, I told you about Moisés, the teen who was filled with the Spirit during services at his church. We can certainly say that he received a blessing on that evening, but we know that the strength of the Spirit much more than that It is a specific power granted to believers in order to live as examples of the Kingdom of God and to announce it’s coming, and in my Evangelism Class at Instituto Bíblico Bethel, we’re learning to do just that!

One student, Guadalupe, (pictured above) has particularly grasped the idea and is running with it. Having made contact with three individuals through surveys that were a part of her homework for the class, she was able to meet with them in their homes. They are now gathering weekly to study the plan of salvation outlined in the tract, The Four Spiritual Laws. It’s humbling to see how a simple 5 minute survey could be used to bring life change to spiritually hungry people!

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Life in San José is expensive, and nothing seems as acutely expensive as the food. Going grocery shopping for the first time gave us an extreme case of sticker shock, and the problem naturally compounds itself because, eventually, we would have to eat again. Thankfully, we found out about the Feria in Guadalupe.

The feria is a Saturday morning ritual in San José. “Ticos” are keenly aware of the high supermarket prices. Because of it, they routinely skip the produce aisle and bring their shopping lists and the carts to the feria. The lot, vacant during the week, is teeming with life from early in the morning to late in the afternoon. There are vendors by the dozens selling fruits and vegetables, cheeses and baked goods, all at prices below grocery store “ofertas.”

Our trip began at 7:30 with the 10 minute taxi trip from our house in San Pedro north to the feria site. We sat down to a traditional Costa Rican breakfast, complete with “gallo pinto” and coffee before heading to the stalls.  Green peppers at 40 cents a piece, strawberries at a $1.00 a pound and granadas at 20 cents a piece were some of the bargains we found. Even better, we were through with our shopping by 9:30, early enough to enjoy the Saturday at home.

Life continues to be expensive in Costa Rica, but fortunately, when it comes to produce, we’ve found a repreive and a possible Saturday morning tradition for the few weeks that remain in our stay in Costa Rica.

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AntorchistaWe were driving back from a planning meeting in Muna last Tuesday, where we’ll be hosting my brother and his Chi Alpha team, when I noticed, all along the roadway, bikers, runners with torches, and support vehicles flashing their lights and honking their horns. There were hundreds of people in the hour long stretch that we traveled.

It resembled some kind of Olympic procession. It was as if this group was ushering in the torch to light the first ever Yucatan Games, but looking closer I noticed that each one was wearing a t-shirt displaying the symbol of Mexican religious devotion, image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Researching further, I learned from YucatanLiving.com that these “antorchistas” are youth that have made a personal vow to the Virgin, and last week on December 12th, the Day of the Virgin, they ran or biked in order to complete their vow. The trek is a point to point journey, with more favor bestowed for greater distances. Apparently, the bicycle was introduced as a way for the working devotee to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. (Read fewer days off from the job.)

Of course, we have the tendency to dismiss all of this as a misguided devotion, a practice to abandon as pure paganism. Still, one has to admire the determination, the organization, and the passion of those who would exert themselves for their faith. We evangelicals, a group lacking the presence of young men in our congregations, can’t help but ask, “How do we instill this type of enthusiasm, this type of devotion in our faithful?”

I would suggest that the answer lies within the pages of the Bible in the example of our Lord. It would seem that we are more famous for what we don’t do (drinking, smoking, dancing) than for what we do, for what we are against, than what we are for, but Jesus didn’t seem to be this way. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” was the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes. What I see from Jesus isn’t a prohibition type religion. I see a radical redefinition of religious and social symbols.

To Peter and Andrew, fishermen by trade, Jesus says follow me, and I’ll make you fishers of men. To the woman at the well, Jesus says I am the one who gives living water. At the Last Supper, Jesus redefines the traditional passing of the cup and bread during the Passover meal into a remembrance of his sacrifice on the cross and celebration of the unity that we now have in the Church, the body of Christ on the earth. In other words, Jesus doesn’t seem to separate a person from his or her culture, rather he transforms the culture in much the same way that he transforms the individual.

This to me says that we as missionaries have a need for wisdom and God-given creativity when it comes to engaging a culture. What is truly anti-Christian, and what is simply an expression of culture? How can we contextualize, not just the presentation of the message of the gospel, but also its expression in worship and everyday life?

One case in point of an interesting attempt to accomplish this redemption of culture was in the Chota Valley, a culture of Ecuadorians of African descent. This people group had a dance that utilized a bottle, worn on the head and, if I remember correctly, filled with alcohol. In the bottle would be placed items that represented the pain and suffering that the person experienced in life. Missionary Joe Castleberry and his team, instead of prohibiting this cultural expression, redefined it. Gone was the alcohol and in the place of the symbols of pain and suffering was a flower to represent the new life the Christ brings.

I’ve not had the opportunity to see the “Freedom Valley” project first-hand, but I feel that it touches on an area that all missionaries need to consider. Did we do a disservice in our clothes-line style holiness of the 1900s? Have we relegated ourselves to the fringes of society though our lists of rules and prohibitions? How does it come across in the 21st century? On the flip-side, how does this redefinition of culture look, in Africa, in Mexico, in the US? Also, how do we know that we are truly redefining culture and not just compromising for convenience?

Granted, this task is not something that a simple post can solve, nor the work of one individual, but I think discussion is necessary and helpful if we are truly seeking to change the world.

Note: Picture was taken from YucatanLiving.com. (It’s kind of hard to drive and take pictures at the same time.)

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