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“One of these days you’ll need to travel so that you can get to know Mexico.” We had been in Mexico for the better part of a decade, still, those were the words our former area director spoke to us. While we were a bit taken aback then, now, nearly four years into the role, we’re beginning to understand what he meant.

Of our nearly two decades as missionaries, we spent 13 years on the Yucatan Peninsula. Since our arrival in Mexico City in 2021, we’ve had the chance to travel broadly, navigating to many of our destinations in our Speed the Light vehicle. It’s been a season of firsts for us as we’ve seen new sights, tasted new foods, and met new friends.

This past month was a microcosm of this journey of discovery. On a return trip to Guadalajara, we walked the downtown streets with Rich and Jenni DeMartino, looking for property for the first A/G church in that part of the city. We also had our first experience of Chris and Julie Abiuso’s ministry in el Colli, participating in their Children’s Day celebration in that marginalized community (photo 1).

The month wrapped up in Distrito Oriente, where we had been invited to minister in the first-ever Regional Indigenous Festival held in Hidalgo (photo 2). Hosted by Alejandro Sandoval and his wife, Alma (photo 3), we sampled the pastes of Real del Monte and experienced the natural beauty of Tenango de las Flores even while speaking on four separate occasions. Still, the most gratifying discovery of the trip was the vision to reach the indigenous communities that they share with District Secretary, Noé Solis, his son, Abner, and his wife, Nora (photo 4), working among the Nahuatl. It’s a vision we want to help them realize.

So thanks for supporting our discovery of Mexico. As our knowledge grows, so does our love of its people and our desire for their redemption.

Photo Captions:

  1. Kelly holds the mic while Julie Abiuso works the puppet during children’s services in el Colli.
  2. Dave preaches at the 1st Regional Indigenous Festival in Tenango de las Flores.
  3. Alejandro Sandoval, coordinator of indigenous ministries (Distrito Oriente), and his wife, Alma.
  4. (Left) Abner Solis with his wife, Nora, workers among the Nahuatl in Northern Puebla. Noé Solis and his wife, Ruth (Right) are Abner’s parents and sponsoring pastors.

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It was a bit surreal for us to walk the streets of Los Yoses, San José, Costa Rica, equipped with backpacks and umbrellas, on our way to CINCEL, where, almost 18 years prior, we began our study of the language and culture of Latin America. As we crossed the familiar streets, I caught myself looking for the hand of one of our children, a habit of mine in those days, as our MKs, then 6 and under, would accompany us as we walked most everywhere we went. But this time was different. This time we weren’t the students. This time we were the facilitators.

Sharing during chapel was only one of the several meaningful interactions that we had during our time at CINCEL.

Even so, we couldn’t help but be a bit nostalgic amidst the sights, sounds, and smells of the place that had been our family home for nearly a year in 2005 and 2006. The halls had been freshly painted and the furniture was rearranged, but the place felt the same: we could feel the same anticipation of a missionary career taking shape, the same excitement of new experiences and discoveries, and the same uncertainty in the face of the challenge of cultural adaptation.

Language school is a challenging time. For these ministry professionals, it can feel like a big step backward. They’ve been called, commissioned, and then affirmed by dozens of churches and individuals who have agreed to their support, only to find, after a flight of a few hours, they’re unable to express themselves in the language of the people to whom they hope to minister. The pressure to perform is high, frustrations abound, and tears are not uncommon as these new missionaries struggle to acquire the ability to function as foreigners in this foreign context.

We had been officially invited to CINCEL, the LAC Language and Cultural Training Center, to fulfill our responsibilities as board members and teach a session in missiology to the 18 missionary units studying there, but we were also there to offer our encouragement. During our week of interaction, we prayed with them and for them during their devotionals. We met with them over meals and coffee and heard their stories. We answered their questions and mitigated some of their concerns. But, more than anything, I think we served as a testimony of what God can do when we diligently submit ourselves to the process of transformation.

As we spoke to the students during Spanish chapel, we shared about Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush and encouraged them to believe that the same God who gave human beings their mouths (Exodus 4:11) was able to shape them into his witnesses in the countries where they hope to serve. How could we be so confident? He had already done that work in us, despite myriad difficulties along the way. We’re glad for your support which allowed us this opportunity to retrace our steps so that others could benefit from our experience.

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Just south of the double-row fence line that marks the US-Mexican border, Art Stoneking, one of the 24 missionaries with whom we collaborate in Mexico, is driving us in his white Dodge pickup. We’re headed out of the coastal city of Tijuana, Baja California, to the Monte de Dios Children’s Home, where he and his wife Joyce have labored to rescue, redeem, and raise children born into impossible circumstances.

Art and Joyce Stoneking, in front of the Monte de Dios Children’s Home that they direct in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

As we weave through the traffic, trying to avoid the potholes on the poorly patched road,  Art tells the unlikely story of their arrival in Mexico, a place where he vacationed as a child and partied as a soldier. Their journey took them on a circuitous path from Southern California through Arizona and some brushes with the law before they recommitted their lives to the Lord and dedicated themselves to service in the local church. It was there that the Lord called them to be missionaries.

They began their missionary career working with church planter and builder, David Godwin. Serving as his associates, they ran logistics for teams and helped with construction, but what captivated them was their work with the children.

And in that work with children, Art and Joyce have truly lived out the counsel, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might.” (Ecc. 9:10) As we drove further into the Mexican countryside, Art told stories of healing and provision. Admitting that they lacked professional experience and sufficient funding to run a children’s home, they’ve provided a safe, loving environment for dozens of kids, giving back the nutrition, education, and opportunities that their desperate circumstances had taken from them. The smiling faces that greeted them as we arrived at the home both from the children gathered in the living room and the photos of the graduates of their program are testimonies to the Lord’s faithfulness and their perseverance over more than 26 years of missionary ministry.

After telling us a story of how the Lord intervened in the lives of infant twins at death’s door that they nursed back to health, Art let out a sigh and exclaimed, “I’d rather have miracles than money!” Now in their seventies and closing in on retirement, their 403B may not impress many, but their investment in the children of Mexico continues to produce eternal dividends.

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The Area Director is a unique position from which to observe behavior, both our own and that of the missionaries that we serve. From this vantage point, I’ve come to realize two things: we’re incredibly resourceful and remarkably independent, often to a fault.

Let me explain: we take it upon ourselves to hustle. I’ve heard it repeatedly said: “pray as though it all depends on God, and work as though it all depends on you.” We take this mentality into every stage of ministry. And, although it often leads to tremendous productivity, it can also lead to tremendous amounts of stress. We take it upon ourselves to see that the job is finished, inevitably ending in self-judgment when we fail to measure up to our own expectations.

We’re signaling our availability to lend a hand. Kaixin? She just wants a place to nap!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this to complain about a lack of support in our organization. On the contrary, Assemblies of God World Missionaries are among the best supported in the world. But it’s often our own pioneering mentality that keeps us from taking advantage of the resources at our disposal.

A recent conversation brought this tendency into full view. As we met with a colleague about another issue, we came to find out that this particular missionary was injured, but, despite the risk of further injury, was single-handedly attempting to accomplish a labor-intensive task. We stopped the conversation then and there and offered our help, help unlooked for, but gladly received. 

Of course, as we point the finger at another, we find that there are three pointing back at us. We ourselves aren’t immune to this determination to try to “tough it out.” I remember one occasion, attending a national event, having received news that Kelly had broken her foot, it took the strong encouragement of my mentor missionaries for me to make plans to return early and not leave my wife alone, on one leg, struggling to manage three children on the mission field.

Understanding this tendency, we’ve made it a priority to make ourselves available. By publishing our calendar and distributing it to the missionaries that we serve, they know when we are free to give them our full attention. By scheduling a weekly time of prayer, we’ve let them know that when they are weak they have an open invitation to receive moral and spiritual support, and when they are strong they have an opportunity to give it to someone else.

We know, these are but small moves in the grand scheme of supporting these highly-motivated and highly-capable global workers, but we feel that these are just the open doors that those who never thought to knock just might find themselves walking through. Thanks for your support which enables us to be there for them when they choose to do so.

Connected. We all are, aren’t we? We are online 24/7 through smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Nevertheless, feelings of loneliness and isolation abound, and, despite the relative ease of communication, many admit that they have no one to whom they can turn in moments of crisis.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

These are the people that reach out to us online on a daily basis through the Network 211 sites that we monitor for Mexico, especially Juntoselcamino.com. Often our exchanges are brief; we celebrate a decision to follow Jesus or offer a short prayer. However, there are times, like recently with Susana*, when the connection is much more significant. 

Susana had reached out to speak of her rededication, but she also shared her personal struggles, seeking advice for the road ahead. It was clear from her concerns that she would need more than a bit of advice.

We reached out to one of our missionary colleagues who works in the state where Susana lives to help connect her to a faith community. He, in turn, reached out to his district leadership who recommended a pastor, a leader of a new congregation, working in the area. Within 24 hours, Susana was put in communication with a person who was not only willing to help but also able to give her the one-on-one attention that her situation needed. As she confirmed the pastoral visit she was grateful “Thank you very much, Susana wrote, “(the pastor) contacted me in a very difficult moment.”

In our modern world, with its increasingly impersonal interactions, facilitating a meaningful connection like this one is extremely satisfying. We’re thankful for our friends at Network 211 who provide the technology and content for those who are seeking, for our colleagues who are so willing to lend a hand, for our national partners who are working to establish the church in every community, and for you who faithfully support our efforts to reach and disciple the lost in Mexico.

*name changed for privacy

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This post was originally a sermon, spoken in Spanish, at the church Casa de Dios on 12/11/2022:

When you hear the word “Christmas”, what do you think of?

  • Presents?
  • Get-togethers?
  • Time off from work?
  • Memories?
  • The excitement and expectations of children?

We often think of these things when Christmas is brought up. But is this all that there really is to our celebration? Is there a reason behind all the festivities? And what happens when:

  • The excitement gives way to disappointment?
  • And the memories turn out to be painful?
  • Those get-togethers must be canceled?
  • And we’re not able to take time off?
  • Or there’s no room in our budget for buying presents?

Do we then cancel Christmas as well? No. Christmas remains a season of hope, a time for believing in miracles. But why? Because something really did happen, two thousand years ago that changed the world forever, something that continues to serve as a sign of an even better world to come.

Let’s take a few moments to consider Philippians 2:1-11 to discover together the true meaning of Christmas.

This portion of the Scriptures was written to the believers in the Greek city of Philippi. That city was the location of Paul’s first stop in Europe during his second missionary trip. It was also the place of his imprisonment after delivering a slave girl from a spirit of divination, which her owners had exploited for their own profit as they capitalized on her ability to predict the future. In this same city, Lidia, a woman of means, was converted along with the jailer who had presided over Paul and his colleague, Silas, during their time as prisoners of the authorities. And there, among these groups of new believers, we see the first aspect of the true meaning of Christmas:

  1. Revolution:

Lydia and the jailer represented two distinct groups in Roman society. These groups did not mix. On the contrary, they maintained strict separations to ensure that power, wealth and privilege would be reserved for the elite of society. Nevertheless, because of the gospel and what it did in the lives of these believers, according to verse one of our passage they enjoyed: the encouragement of Christ, the comfort of love, and the communion of the Spirit with one another that resulted in mutual affection and compassion.

This community was truly revolutionary, countercultural in its unity and appreciation of one another. It was an example of the upside-down Kingdom of God in which the first shall be the last and the greatest is the servant of all.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise because that first Christmas, the birth of our Lord, also served to dignify the marginalized and lift the maligned. In the story that Luke tells we see that:

  • Mary, a woman of low status was given the privilege of being the mother of Emmanuel, God with us.
  • The holy family shared the suffering of the poor, finding no place for their lodging despite their extreme need,
  • And a group of nameless shepherds was given the honor of hearing the Good News and being the first witnesses of the birth of the Savior of the world.

Indeed, for the early church, Christmas meant revolution and it can be for us as well.

  • If God gave dignity to the poor by identifying with them, could we not do the same, especially in this season?
  • If disparate elements of society were able to live in harmony in Philippi, couldn’t we emulate this countercultural tendency in our relationships, especially within the church?

May we recognize and live out the revolutionary meaning of Christmas.

But Christmas not only means revolution, but it also means:

  1. Rescue

As we turn again to our passage, focusing in on verses 5-8, we find in Christ what was lacking in humanity. God had created humans to reign with him, but his plan to share his power and authority with them ended in failure. These first humans, convinced by the voice of a serpent, could not trust in the wisdom of God’s plan and attempted to rule through their own understanding. But a kingdom cannot tolerate two kings with two distinct wills.

Because they usurped God’s authority, human beings were removed from his presence and condemned to exile, but God did not abandon his creation. From the garden of their rebellion, he began his work of their redemption. In Genesis 3:14-15, he spoke of one to come who would crush the head of the serpent, and Galatians 4:4 states that when the “fullness of time” came, God sent his Son, the seed of a woman, to put an end to its evil influence among his people.

Christ did, according to Philippians 2, what our ancestors could not. He was obedient to God; he trusted him even to the most horrifying death. He put himself in our place, taking the punishment of death that was our due, a death that he did not deserve. And that is why Colossians 2:13 say that he annulled the act of decrees that was against us, nailing it to the cross and stripping the evil powers of their authority over us.

Christmas means revolution, the dignification of all humanity, but it also means our rescue. By the coming, life, and death of Christ, we are no longer under condemnation. We are free from sin and from its penalty of death. But Christmas also means:

  1. Restoration

Again, in Philippians 2, focusing on verses 9-11 we see that, although Christ died, he did not remain in his tomb. On the third day, he rose again, inaugurating the restoration of all things. In the short term, the same Christ who died also rose again and ascended to the right hand of God where he was highly exalted. But we also await the completion of his exaltation in the reconciliation of all things, on earth and in heaven under his dominion. On that day the words of Revelation 21:3-5 will be announced:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

The true meaning of Christmas therefore is:

  • Revolution: the dignification of all humanity
  • Rescue: deliverance from the law of sin and its wages, death, and
  • Restoration: the renewal of all things under the dominion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But how should we respond to all of this? Should we stop celebrating Christmas as we are used to? I’m not saying that at all. Still, we should be sure to take the time to:

  • Remember Jesus did when he came that first Christmas, and
  • Show our relatives and friends the meaning behind our celebrations and keep consumerism from taking control of our Christmas. Then we can
  • Rejoice in our hope, much more than that of simply spending a few quiet days at home only to return to our daily grind afterward. I’m speaking of the blessed hope of the coming of our God and King, Jesus Christ, who promised to return and take us to a place where we will dwell with him forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas is a season of giving and receiving gifts. One of the greatest gifts I (Dave) have been given as Area Director is the ability to minister alongside my wife, Kelly. On a daily basis, I am blessed by her wisdom and good judgment. In this update, I’d like to share a sampling of that wisdom, featured previously on her Instagram account:

This year Dave and I have been reading through the Torah, which is the word used to describe the first five books in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. We just recently finished up our study on Deuteronomy, the last book (or scroll) of the five.

The Torah offers us wisdom to love our neighbor in practical ways. 

There are several repeated themes throughout the Hebrew scrolls. One repeated phrase in particular caught my attention as I read. It is typically spoken by God Himself or God through Moses: Be careful to observe the laws (Deut 16:12).  A more modern idea for this might be “Follow the rules.”  I guess human nature, though, is to break the rules. We even have sayings in our culture like, “Rules were meant to be broken.” But any reasonable person knows that rules are there for a purpose. They keep us safe, provide order, and promote human flourishing.

It always helps me to know the reason behind the command—it’s easier, then, to “keep” it. God gives several reasons along with His rules, things like so it will go well with you (Deut. 12:25; 22:7); to give you long life (Deut. 5:16, 33); and to show others who are watching the wisdom of a life lived in communion with a God who is near and interacts with His people (Deut. 4:6-8). 

It’s clear that certain laws were meant for that specific time and place, but we can still glean wisdom from the idea behind the law. An ancient law mandating the building of a railing around the second-story roof (Deut. 22:8), for example, would be emphasizing the safety of others, especially within your home. We’re reminded, with examples like this, that it’s all about loving others and loving God. 

So, as we close out this year, having spent November expressing our gratefulness through Thanksgiving, let’s continue to reflect not only on what we do but the “why” behind it. Our prayer for you in 2023 and beyond is that things may go well with you, that you may live a long life, and that, by your example, many will see the wisdom of a life lived in communion with our God who is very near to us all.

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As 2022 winds down, we look back with gratitude on what, through your prayers and support, we were able to accomplish. We’re truly grateful for the gains made in:

Training: we began the year with a focus on scripture, utilizing virtual sessions to teach believers of all levels how to read and understand the Bible. As pandemic restrictions lessened, those virtual sessions gave way to in-person meetings and the opportunity to participate in the formation of dozens of missionaries preparing for global service.

Encouraging: knowing that our activity for God is fueled by our relationship with God, we led the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course, resetting our focus on being with Jesus first so that our doing for Jesus is rightly motivated and sustainable.

Accompanying: we’ve gained an appreciation of the excellent ministry happening through the efforts of the MMF as we joined its members in their work: teaching a Bible study among seekers in Aguascalientes, distributing food and the hope of the gospel among the homeless in Guadalajara, and witnessing to university students on the campus of UNAM in Mexico City, to name a few.

We know that, as you’ve responded in 2022, you’ll be with us as we rise to the challenge of 2023 in:

Advocacy: telling the story of Mexico—a people steeped in religion but still longing for redemption.

Agency: reversing the contraction of our missionary force to expand our footprint and influence.

Advancement: gaining ground in the establishment of the church despite the resistance of both traditional religion and secularism.

Would you reaffirm your support through prayer, interceding for Mexico and for the MMF, giving, especially considering us in your year-end generosity, and maybe even going, joining our team?

Note: this post is just a portion of what we share in our quarterly newsletter. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter or, better still, sign up to receive our newsletters direct to your inbox!

Photo Captions:

  1. Candidate Orientation in October was our third opportunity this year to help train new missionaries.
  2. Dave leads a Bible study at Iglesia Vida in Aguascalientes. Accompanying the missionaries we have the privilege to lead is one of our favorite things to do.
  3. In May, we celebrated Nicky and Janie Rider’s retirement. Will you be a part of the new generation of missionaries to Mexico?

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Instead of a response, silence. Instead of answers, questions. These are disappointing and often frustrating outcomes, but can they also be a means of growth? In our study of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) and in our interactions at the World Assemblies of God Fellowship (WAGF) Missions Congress in Medellin, Colombia, we’ve discovered that, often, they can be.

As Pentecostals, we’re accustomed to expression, but a word spoken to God is not the only method to meet with God. In fact, there are times when God chooses silence to express his presence (1 Kings 19:11-13). In EHS, in addition to working through the content and engaging in discussion, the men of the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) are leaning into the silence, making it a daily discipline to turn off the noise and so facilitating growth through an alternative experience with God. 

At the WAGF Missions Congress, we joined with hundreds of delegates from around the world who gathered to mobilize to see the worldwide Assemblies of God movement surpass the 1 million church mark by 2033, the two-thousandth anniversary of the Church. It was an exciting time. However, during the workshop led by missionary, Ed Nye, that Dave translated, we were also confronted by a sobering reality: our normal ways of planting the church are largely ineffective among the 3.2 billion unreached, who are increasingly put off or put at risk by traditional forms of evangelism. 

The temptation is to look for easy answers to our problem, ready-made methods that can generate quick results. Often, though, the answers that we provide are answers to questions that no one is asking. Ed Nye suggested that sometimes the unreached remain so not because we are lacking answers but because we are not asking the right questions.

Silence. Questions. Perhaps they’re not what we want but exactly what we need to see both personal and corporate growth. Thanks for your support, which gives us the opportunity to lead others into these frustrating but often productive experiences.

  1. Dave is facilitating the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality program for the men of the MMF.
  2. We were on hand to participate in the 6th WAGF Missions Congress in Medellin, Colombia.
  3. At the congress, Dave translated for Ed Nye in his workshop about reaching the unreached. 

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…is a saying attributed to Horace Greely who in 1865 encouraged youth to seek opportunity on America’s frontier. It is also a song sung by Michael W Smith who in 1990 encouraged youth to flee evil, often represented in the Bible as lying to or coming from the east. But for us, “Go West” is what we did to experience some of what’s happening in el Distrito Occidente (the Western District).

This was our first time visiting the district, which is comprised of the states of Jalisco, Colima, and parts of Michoacán. The drive there was certainly a beautiful one, but what put a smile on our faces was seeing the work being carried out by veteran missionaries Rich and Jenni DeMartino and Ernie and Sandra Peacock and their partners.

Restoration on the coast: our first stop was at the coastal community of Melaque. There, Ernie and Dave toured the Bible School Nuevas de Gran Gozo and were on hand for their graduation ceremonies. Ernie and Sandra hope to renovate the Bible school facilities and reinvigorate the program that seeks to catalyze ministry in this needy area.  

Reconciliation in the north: our next visit was with national workers, Alberto and Ruth (second photo), who are working among the Huicholes of northern Jalisco. We had the opportunity to hear how they are using business as mission (BAM) ideas to draw near to a people who, in 2016 expelled all Christians, and how the Peacocks hope to further resource their efforts. 

Rescue in the city center: we finalized our trip in Guadalajara where the DeMartinos’ ministry of compassion has been feeding hundreds since the start of the pandemic. There, we joined a team from Pittsfield, MA, to help distribute food, pray for the sick, and speak words of hope (third photo). Rich and Jenni look to purchase a permanent home for this ministry while they are also planting a church in Chapala.

Thanks for enabling us to “Go West” to encourage and support these efforts!

Note: this post is just a portion of what we share in our quarterly newsletter. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter or, better still, sign up to receive our newsletters direct to your inbox!

Photo Captions:

  1. Dave and Ernie Peacock praying for the graduates of “Nuevas de Gran Gozo” in Melaque, Jalisco
  2. Alberto and Ruth, workers among the Huicholes, in front of their ministry center, built with an innovative technique they’re teaching to locals as a BAM initiative
  3. Dave and Pastor Dave, from the Pittsfield team, speaking in downtown Guadalajara

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