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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Actually, a lot! First-term missionaries, Noah and Melanie Lane are training indigenous pastors. Mexicans are preparing for international missions service, and brand new opportunities to pray, give, and go are opening up!

We’ve just returned from our second visit to Oaxaca. This time, we road-tripped from Mexico City to be on hand for the graduation of 11 students from the missions training center, CAMAD (Centro de Adiestramiento de Misiones de las Asambleas de Dios). The event marked the culmination of the training of a new group of global workers, prepared to face the challenges of making disciples in this post-pandemic world. Dave spoke during the graduation, reminding them that their call was first to be with Jesus, the one who was sending them to make disciples.

The ceremonies also included the inauguration of CAMAD’s new facilities as incoming students prepare to take classes and reside for the first time on grounds exclusively dedicated for training in cross-cultural service. A special treat was seeing one of our former students from the Bible School in Mérida, Iliana, among them.

Simultaneously, Noah Lane was participating with other faculty of the Bible Institute for the training of indigenous ministers, IBEM (Instituto Bíblico para las Etnias Mexicanas) in special classes to prepare them for their 2022-2023 school year. This school is opening up ministerial training to many who were unable to attend traditional Bible Institutes due to barriers of language or distance. In April of this year, Noah and Melanie opened a new extension of IBEM in Teponaxtla where 10 students are studying.

Yes, there are some pretty exciting things happening in Oaxaca and you can be a part!

  • First, you can pray! Pray for the students and faculty of CAMAD and IBEM.
  • Second, you can give. CAMAD is in construction! Their academic and administrative building is taking shape. Use the link, http://s1.ag.org/137r, to navigate to our giving page and select “40” under “Advanced Giving Options” to help advance the work.
  • Finally, you can go! While in Oaxaca we met with the directors of the grade school, Centro Educativo Vida Nueva. They are looking for college graduates to help direct their students through their Bible-based, English curriculum. It’s an impactful way to give a year and pray about a lifetime of service in missions. Follow this link, http://s1.ag.org/oaxaca, to find out more!

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These days, when it comes to service, simple competency can be a big ask and excellence a pipe dream. That’s why our interactions with the Bienes Raices San Lazaro group have been so refreshing. 

Dave and members of BRSL, encouraging the pastor of the church that meets on the property that it manages.

As part of our Area Director responsibilities, we sit on the board of Bienes Races San Lazaro (BSRL), the association charged with the management of a large property in Mexico City (CDMX) owned by the Assemblies of God of Mexico. This property is home to the offices of the Distrito Sur, the ministerial network that consists of Mexico City and the State of Mexico, Ana Sanders Theological Seminary, as well as the church, Jesucristo Luz a las Naciones, among other ministries. There are also a number of warehouses for lease and parking spaces for rent both to businesses and individuals, which serve to subsidize the mentioned ministries.

In our bi-monthly meetings, we review the finances of the association and discuss any issues pertaining to the property. These regular meetings have reinforced our appreciation of the people that we work with on a regular basis. Carlos, the administrator, manages accounts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with both a keen business sense and complete transparency, and the district officials and missionaries that make up the board of BRSL are unswerving in their commitment to meet their financial obligations while showing abundant generosity to the ministries that operate within the property.

In one such case, it was noted that a church meeting on the property had not reconvened since services had been suspended at the height of the pandemic. Instead of seeking another church to rent the space, the board members reached out to the pastor of the church, offering him the space rent-free in exchange for the promise that the congregation would return and put it to use for ministry. They subordinated their financial need in the genuine interest of blessing the congregation. 

Thank you, then, for your prayers and support that have offered us, not only the opportunity to witness this excellence in service but also to be participants in it. Kelly and I count it a privilege to be your representatives locally here in CDMX and nationally as we support the 25 missionary units serving throughout Mexico.

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…begins with a single step.

Long trips are daunting. Not only is the distance a concern, but there’s the element of the unknown as well. How much time will it take? What route will we follow? What will we encounter along the way? Trying to answer all of these questions at once is overwhelming, but as we take one step at a time, planning, packing, and traveling the distance, we eventually reach our destination.

This was our road trip experience, May 25th-26th from Mexico City to Springfield, MO. We traveled those 1,557 miles over 29 hours to be on hand for the first in-person Missionary Training event since 2019. Although we hadn’t driven the road before, we found that preparation, planning, and diligence carried the three of us (Dave, Kelly, and our dog, Kaixin) safely to our journey’s end.

As we enter into these next weeks of training, we find that it is helpful to think of a missionary’s career in these terms. The thought of sharing the gospel and discipling a person from another culture and language group can seem like an impossibility, but as we embrace the process—planning, preparing, and diligently applying ourselves to the lifelong task of entering into the people group that we seek to influence, we find that we make significant progress.

Our task in the coming weeks is to guide a new group of missionaries just beginning their journey of approaching the people groups that they have been called to serve. During that time, we’ll work as facilitators, encouraging them to reflect on the concepts many of them will be considering for the very first time.  We’ll also help them understand how those ideas work in the Latin American Caribbean context where they will labor.

Thanks for your participation in positioning us in support of these global workers at this critical time of formation. Pray for them as they embark on this journey and for us as we continue on ours.

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. We enjoyed some incredible views on our trip from Mexico City to Springfield, MO. Unfortunately, photos just don’t do justice to the beauty of Mexico. 
  2. Continuing our journey of formation, we took the Gospel for Secular Peoples course led by our friends Shawn and Deb. Dave’s brother, Mike, joined us for dinner.
  3. The LAC Leadership Team met in Branson in preparation for Missionary Training.

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There were two women standing at the garage door, waiting for the church to be opened. In a church as small as Casa de Dios, it’s easy to recognize new faces, and these were women that we’d never seen before. As the doors were opened and we filed in to take our seats, we introduced ourselves. Bere and Yuri were their names and we greeted them warmly as the service began.

Before long, we’d finished the song service and I (Dave) was asked to preach the message. While I wasn’t sure that I’d be speaking that day, I routinely prepare something as it’s common in Mexico to invite the missionary to speak when he or she attends.

I shared from Luke 24 and highlighted the words of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “¡Oh insensatos! (Oh senseless ones!)” I explained how the short-sighted expectations of Jesus’s followers had not only blinded them to his appearance there on the road, but also to the point of his ministry. I encouraged the group gathered that day to not get carried away by their own hopes and dreams that blind them to the revelation that is often standing in front them. I encouraged them to look to Jesus, the one whose victory came as an apparent victim.

The service was soon coming to a close when Bere raised her hand. She had a word that she wanted to speak to the congregation. In it, she spoke of the loss of her father-in-law, her pastor and spiritual mentor, to COVID-19. She also spoke of her battle with sickness and later depression as the pandemic wore on. But having come this particular morning, she felt that she’d been encouraged to lay aside her senselessness, to give up her expectations about how God should work on her behalf and to trust in His plan despite the difficulties.

Later, we prayed for Bere who said that she had felt compelled to attend Casa de Dios that day and that, despite the closed doors and the humble appearances that greeted her arrival, she knew that she was in the right place to hear from God. She also told us that she was awaiting news of a critical exam that may reveal cancer in her body, a possible cause of the symptoms that she had been experiencing.

Kelly exchanged numbers with Bere. We promised to continue praying for her and asked her to let us know the doctor’s report. To our joy, just last week she shared the news: “God still works miracles. The scans showed that I’m completely healthy.”

As we’ve mentioned before, ministry has been difficult in Mexico as many remain reluctant to venture out despite the decline in infection that we’ve experienced over the past few months. Still, Bere’s story encourages us to believe that with God there are no coincidences. We’re in Mexico to be used as He wills and in the way He chooses. Thanks for your prayers and support that keep us here.

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