Since our appointment as missionaries in 2004, we’ve depended on the generosity and prayers of our partners to help sustain and catalyze ministry in Mexico. In the past month, we’ve felt that support keenly as we have been venturing routinely into uncharted waters.

We’ve felt encouraged as we’ve entered into this first term as empty-nesters, overwhelmed by the care and concern that has been shown, not only to us but also to our kids as we now live and work in separate countries. We’ve felt supported as we forge new relationships with ministry partners and navigate the ins and outs of the megalopolis that is Mexico City. And we’ve felt uplifted even in adverse situations as we’ve reached out to missionary families facing unexpected tragedy.  Your support is so appreciated!

It’s for that reason that we reach out to you to pray specifically for the national gathering of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, the Asamblea Conciliar that is being held in Leon, Guanajuato from Monday, November 8th until Thursday, November 11th.

To begin, this is the first national gathering of our partner organization since November of 2018. Since that time, they have lost over 300 ministers to the ravages of the pandemic, while weathering the related economic downturn that has left nearly half the national population below the poverty level.  In this meeting, which marks the 100th anniversary of the Assemblies of God in Mexico, there is a desperate need for a move of the Spirit to console as well as inspire the ministers and church members in their work to reach the millions who have yet to respond to the gospel message.

At the same time, even though this gathering is going forward, there are forces at work that seem to be bent on limiting its positive impact. Health officials have limited attendance at the event to those over twelve, making it difficult for the many families who would otherwise travel together to be a part of this important gathering. Also, delicate issues must be addressed, issues that require wisdom and a fair measure of grace.  As you have in the past, then, please pray for special favor over the events of this week!

*PabloBWV, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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Since July of 2019, we have been looking forward to saying that phrase. Although we took on our role as Area Directors at that time, there was an anticipation of the day when our leadership would not be remote, when we would actually be living in the country of Mexico. That anticipation took us through our year of itineration until June of 2020 and sustained us during the pandemic that seemed to swallow up the months that followed. Finally, however, we can say, “We’ve arrived in Mexico City!”

Yes, on September 28th, at 6:00 AM, we were met by members of our small group from Central Assembly of God to help us check in our five action packers, our dog, and ourselves to American Airlines flight 3822. Then, after some tough good-byes to our kids, we were on our way by 8:22 AM and on the ground in Mexico City by 1:00 PM. A trip of 1,435 miles in half a day!

Now, if you’ve followed our ministry for the past few years, you may have noticed a change of venue for us in Mexico. For 13 years, our base of operations was the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. Now, however, because of our role as area directors, we’ve relocated to Mexico City, home to a population of 9.2 million in the city proper and 21.8 million in the greater metropolitan area. It’s also strategic for us as it is the location of the national offices of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, a direct flight to any of our missionaries throughout the country, and an international travel hub.

We’re living in Coyoacan (translated from the Nahuatl language as “place of the coyotes”), a neighborhood south of the city center that was the original capital of Hernan Cortez’s governorship of New Spain and the home of creatives such as Octavio Paz, the author of the Labyrinth of Solitude, and artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. From our location, we’re roughly a 4-mile walk from the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco to the east and a 10k away from the nation’s largest university, UNAM, where over 350,000 students attend classes.

We’re excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives and ministry, but our arrival is not without its share of challenges, like our adaptation to life in the big city now as empty nesters or our kids’ abrupt entrance into adulthood. Still, we know that with your prayers and continued support, we’ll not only survive but thrive in this new role and new setting.

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August was a month of drawing near. We drew near to God and one another in our first missionary retreat in Mexico since 2017. We drew near to the national church in our introduction to the Executive Presbytery, and we drew near to hard-hit communities through compassionate responses to hurricanes Grace and Nora.

After months of remote connections, the 2021 Mexico Missionary Fellowship Retreat in southeastern Mexico from August 8th-12th was a refreshing and reenergizing time for our missionary team.  Encouraging messages from our US and Mexican leadership, extended times of worship and prayer, and ample opportunity for fellowship with our colleagues made our time together both memorable and motivating. 

Traveling to Mexico City on the 23rd, Dave took part in interviews with new and returning missionaries (below) and was introduced to the Executive Presbytery of the National Council of the Assemblies of God of Mexico. He had the opportunity to greet this governing body of 70 executive leaders, district officials, and ministry department directors and to express the desire of the entire missionary fellowship to serve alongside them in the fulfillment of the Great Commission in Mexico and beyond. 

Just a week after our missionary meetings, Hurricane Grace made landfall twice, striking the Yucatan peninsula and the Gulf coast of northern Veracruz, bringing high winds, heavy rains, and significant damage. Soon after, Hurricane Nora moved up the western coast, inundating the state of Jalisco.

Although the need is great, our missionary fellowship is rising to the challenge. Bolstered by funds from Assemblies of God World Missions and Convoy of Hope,  we’re resourcing our national church partners to help feed displaced families and rebuild damaged church buildings and pastors’ homes. 

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! 

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Just a few paces from the flashing lights and bustle of activity of the General Council exhibit hall, in a space created to illustrate the syncretism, idolatry, and animism common to the region of Latin America where we serve (see photo), Danny* was speaking to me with tears in his eyes. He was attracted to “the shack,” the location of this display of indigenous religious expression, by the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe which was positioned prominently in the center of the structure. Being of Mexican descent, he was keenly aware of its significance. Although he described himself as non-religious before his conversion, he knew how central this image was to Mexican religious expression and how distracting it can be to the nurture of true faith in Christ.

This “shack,” which housed examples of indigenous religious expression, was just one piece of the LAC missions display at General Council 2021.

Still, as the conversation continued, it was clear that Danny had entered that space with a need that casual exchange could not meet. A young pastor of a fledgling church plant, he was struggling with the opportunities and challenges of serving his Hispanic congregation. He questioned his ability to guide a community so needy during a time so tremendous. He lamented his lack of a mentor as he struggled to motivate a congregation comprised of several who surpassed his age by decades.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this,” he said apologizing, but it was plain to see what was transpiring: surrounded by symbols of false religion, Danny was looking for a sign of hope. And, as I spoke the words, “can I pray for you?”, that shack designed to display the pervasiveness of syncretism became a sacred space, a point of encouragement for a beleaguered pastor. As Jesus, the way the truth, and the life met with us, Danny discovered that he had come with a burden but left with a blessing.

Danny’s story is special, but it is in no way singular. As I exited the shack, I saw another group, with hands raised, praying in the middle of our regional missions display. Clearly, in the four days of General Council 2021, hundreds of visitors were engaged and informed. Dozens signed up to explore opportunities in short-term or career missions and many were encouraged as missionaries shared their time, stories, and prayers.

What a blessing it was to advocate for missions during General Council 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Thank you for your prayers and support that make such trips a possibility. Please continue to pray that we would see fruit from our efforts—new workers to continue the unfinished task of disciple-making in Mexico and throughout the LAC.

*name changed

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It’s been a full and rewarding month of ministry. We started things off by participating in the virtual Missionary Training program, where two new missionary units destined for Mexico joined the dozens readying themselves for global ministry. Later, we took part in our LAC Leadership Meetings, where we discussed initiatives to encourage resilience in our missionaries during these difficult times. We also had the chance to encourage some itinerating missionaries headed to Mexico City (see photo) and finished off the month advocating for Mexico and missions at Northland Cathedral in Kansas City, MO. However, one of our more surprising activities was a guest question and response session with students from Instituto Bíblico Bethel in Merida.

Encouraging and having fun with missionaries, Crag and Natalia Baumtrog and their kiddos!

When I (Dave) received the message from Fernando Diaz, pastor and Bible School administrator, I had feared the worst. The coronavirus pandemic has entered a third wave in the state of Yucatan, and I was concerned that he was reaching out with bad news. Instead, I was pleased to learn that it was an invitation to share with his church planting class.

I logged on, not knowing what to expect. Bethel had been meeting virtually for over a year. I had wondered what the dynamic might be after so much time online. Would Zoom fatigue have taken its toll?

The class was a lively one. Following a brief introduction and recap of our experiences stimulating church planting with the district evangelism department, we launched into our time of questions. There were many, and they were varied, and extremely practical—”When should I move from Bible studies to weekly services? Which workers from my home church should I invite to accompany me in the church plant, how should we divide the responsibilities?” In our conversation, I found that the students were actively involved in starting new works, deftly navigating restrictions placed on them because of the pandemic, while reaching out to share the gospel message to friends, relatives, and neighbors. Needless to say, I left our session extremely encouraged. Despite the pandemic, the church is growing in Yucatan!

Still, the price to be paid to the pandemic has been costly. Nationwide, the church in Mexico has lost 270 pastors to COVID-19. In addition, Tomás Vera, the minister who succeeded me as the leader of the evangelism department has been diagnosed with cancer and is very ill. Won’t you join us in praying for their health and strength even as they work to extend the reach of the gospel?

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We are on our way back! After a year of quarantines and travel bans that have kept us socially and physically distant from the nation and people of our calling, we can finally trace our organizational and personal route of return.  It’s happening in five steps.

Bonus: this month we joined missionary to Honduras, Jessie Harshbarger, and her dog, Zoee, in the Central Kids’ Missionary Spotlight.

1. The release of stateside missionaries. Since March of 2020, while almost half of our Mexico missionary force has been stateside, only two missionary families have been released to the field. Finally, we are in a position to see others return! We’re happy to report that four families are on their way back, traveling this summer to Chihuahua, Chiapas, and Mexico City. Another couple will finish language school in July and make their way to Oaxaca! We’re so glad to see these families return at such a critical time.

2. Missionary Training. At the same time that missionaries are returning to the field, we will be involved in the training of two new missionary units making plans to serve in Mexico. They will join with the dozens who have answered the call during the pandemic to take the gospel message around the world. This two-week period of training will help them deepen their understanding of the critical competencies that will guide and support their future work on the field.

3. General Council. Following Missionary Training, we’ll be headed to our last opportunity for advocacy in the US at the in-person Assemblies of God (A/G) General Council. At this national event, we’ll be working with others from our region at our Latin America Caribbean booth to connect with interested individuals and encourage participants to engage in missions at all levels.

4. Missionary Retreat. Hard on the heels of that event, we’ll be traveling to the Mexico Missionary Fellowship Retreat. This will be the first such physical gathering of missionaries in Mexico since 2017! We’re looking forward to meeting together to hear from each other, our US and Mexican leadership, and from God.

5. Relocation. Finally, in September, we make our own trip to Mexico City as we fly the nest (our three MKs stay in the US) to live and minister in this megacity of 21 million, which serves as the home of the    A/G of Mexico. 

We appreciate your prayers as we navigate this active summer! 

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!

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Normally, we reserve this space for ministry updates and information about Mexico but because of Mothers’ Day, we’ve decided to share a different type of content. We hope you enjoy it.

This year’s Southern Missouri District Council was a special event. Not only was it the first district council held since the pandemic began, but it also marked a very significant moment for our family. During the ordination service, Kelly received the traditional ordination charge and was prayed for by the presbytery while our daughter, Rebekah, received her ministerial license.

Celebrating Kelly’s ordination and Rebekah’s licensing
Photo Credit: Jim Tygrett

As the events unfolded several emotions bubbled up to the surface. During the night, we experienced excitement and happiness, as well as a certain amount of pride. Both Kelly and Rebekah had worked hard to prepare for this recognition. Kelly’s ordination was our leadership’s affirmation of her 15+ years of missionary service, while Rebekah had added additional courses to her degree and passed an exam to receive her license. This night marked the achievement of a significant goal for both of them.

However, the emotion that seemed most appropriate was that of gratitude. Neither Kelly’s nor Rebekah’s formation had happened in isolation. They had been influenced by significant people who helped cultivate in them the qualities of compassionate leadership required of a minister. And, while those have been evident in the teaching that we’ve received and the care we have been shown by our pastors, those qualities are most often seen in persons holding a less public role; we see those qualities in our mothers.

In my own life, I (Dave) can testify to my mom’s self-sacrifice and perseverance that not only freed me to pursue my missionary calling but has also served as a model for my ministry. Kelly’s love for the Word of God and aptitude for service can be traced back to the example that her mom lived out on a daily basis. And while dads too play an important role, her mom has served as Rebekah’s most constant influence and steady support. “Thanks” seems too light a word to express our appreciation for our mothers’ contribution.

How about you? Have you been blessed by the love and example of a godly mother? It’s our sincere desire that you’ll have the opportunity to show her the gratefulness that she’s due. Gifts and a nice meal are always appropriate, but we’re sure her greatest joy would be to see the contribution that she has made reaping dividends in the lives of others.

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Sitting on my desk is a prayer map of the Latin America Caribbean Region. On that map is this quote from Loren Triplett, former Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions:

“We dare not measure our success against anything but the unfinished task.”

This is a sober reminder to keep the Great Commission in view, to go into all the world and make disciples. In a world full of distraction, Loren Triplett’s words help us maintain our focus.

Measuring the unfinished task
Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

But how do we measure the unfinished task? Every ten years, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) takes a census to determine the number and distribution of the population of Mexico as well as its main demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics, including religious affiliation. When they published their findings on January 25, 2021, we had the data that we needed to make our measurement.

According to those figures, the population grew 12.18% between the years 2010 and 2020 from 112.3 million to just over 126 million. During that same time, those who identify as Christians or evangelicals grew 46.82% from 8.2 million to just over 12 million. That’s great news!

However, although we can say that we’ve made progress on the unfinished task there is still an enormous work to be done. At the same time, while evangelicalism has grown, secularism has exploded. During the 2010-2020 period, those claiming no religion or no religious affiliation grew 336.18% from 3 million to 13.1 million.

What then is our response? We prioritize the Great Commission, committing ourselves to the proclamation of the gospel through word and deed (Rom 10:13-14). We then participate with others who share our commitment (1 Peter 4:10). But, most of all, we pray, asking the Lord to call others to join us in our efforts (Luke 10:2).

As Area Directors, we’re encouraged by the way our missionary colleagues, understanding the holistic nature of the good news that we share, have pivoted during this pandemic, shifting ministry to respond to the need. We’re privileged as well to work with national partners who, although facing tremendous hardship themselves, continue to share the hope of the gospel. And we’re humbled by the movement of prayer that is growing up around us as believers cry out to God to call more workers to reach the lost*.

Coming full circle, then, while we are encouraged by the robust growth of the evangelical church in the last decade, when faced with the 114 million in Mexico who have yet to trust in Jesus, we stop short of congratulating ourselves. Instead, we redouble our efforts in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, prioritizing, participating, and praying so that, one day, we’ll be able to celebrate the completion of the unfinished task.

*Will you join us in prayer for more workers?

Text “xapray” to 313131 and set a daily reminder for 10:02 AM/PM to be a part of this intercessory movement!

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March marks one year since the coronavirus swept through the United States and changed our lives forever. In times of crises like the last 12 months, it seems as though all we can do is worry. But then we read the words of Philippians 4:6:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

We have not been unaffected by this tragedy, but as we have increasingly turned to prayer, we have found that God is the one providing for and protecting his people.

As we watched the virus spread through Latin America and into Mexico, our thoughts went immediately to our friends in the Yucatan. The churches planted during our last term, especially in the extreme south of the state, were extremely fragile and isolated. Their people are poor, largely dependent on what they can produce with their hands or grow in their fields. As the pandemic took hold and the economy came to a standstill, we wondered how they would survive. Then, when five named tropical storms passed over the peninsula, we feared the worst. 

In Blanca Flor, the floodwaters destroyed crops but they also brought fish!

The damage was considerable. In Blanca Flor, where our students Lily Dzul and Kary Yam began their work, floodwaters had not only cut off their access to the village, they had totally washed away their crop. Still, even though they faced the worst they prayed for the best, and God answered! 

While the floodwaters had destroyed the corn in the fields, they brought fish with them. So, instead of harvesting a crop, they fished for their food! Meanwhile, Lily and Kary were able to overcome their lack of access to the congregation by recording their messages and sending them via social media. Those with cell phones gathered with others to share their messages of hope and encouragement. Despite the storms and the isolation, God had provided! Despite the threats to the church, God had protected his people! 

Yes, the past year has been disastrous in many aspects, and we continue to ask God for mercy on those who struggle with COVID-19 and its after-effects. Still, although we may be tempted to wring our hands in worry, we are reminded time and again that it is far more productive to fold our hands in prayer. He is the one who is providing and he is the one who is protecting his people.

 

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While February is known as a month for relationships and romance, we’ve been excited to lead missionaries from the Latin America Caribbean region into a different love affair, one with the Word of God. That’s happening in two ways: through missionary formation Zoom classes and through our evaluation of the Bible Engagement Project.

Zoom calls to interact over content from BibleProject.com are just one of the ways we’re encouraging missionaries to engage with the Word of God in fresh ways.

Missionary Formation Zoom Classes: Since the start of the New Year, we’ve been facilitating the missionary formation Bible in Mission Competency. This two-month course is utilizing the Bible Project’s How to Read the Bible video series to help new missionaries gain a better understanding of the literary styles utilized in scripture.

Our role involves developing reflection questions for each video so that the participants can interact with the concepts being introduced. Afterward, we’re gathering virtually to recap the big ideas and guide the discussion groups.  It’s been rewarding to witness the increased appreciation of the Bible this program is fostering!

The Bible Engagement Project (BEP) is an Assemblies of God initiative based on the power of four—the life of someone who engages with the Bible four or more times a week looks radically different from the life of someone who does not. With the goal of inviting the entire missionary family, adults, teens, and kids, into a transformative experience with God’s Word, we’ve begun a program in Mexico to evaluate the product. This includes utilizing the software in a small group setting and interacting with the team behind it to gain a better understanding of the BEP process.  We’re excited as we envision families and colleagues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean gathering together to read the Bible and participate in the power of four!


Would you like to deepen your relationship with the Word?

Reach out and we’ll send you a copy of our curriculum: disciplemexico.org/contact-us


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