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This last weekend was full of amazing coincidences. It started on Friday evening. Headed down to Nederland, Texas for services with Greg and Amanda Swafford, we stopped for a night with friends Brian and Jessica Fisher in Frisco, just north of Dallas. They had apologized earlier in the week for having to attend a minor league baseball game while we were there, but being the flexible, baseball loving missionaries that we are, we were up for the outing. Imagine our surprise, however, when we found that the game was between the hometown Frisco Rough Riders and the visiting Springfield Cardinals! We got a chance to root for our hometown team in Texas!

The real treat came following our weekend. Our nine hour trip back from services with Danny and Stephanie Baker in Leesville, Lousiana would take us past Hot Springs, Arkansas, the birthplace of the Assemblies of God. We debated the visit, as the side trip would certainly kill our ETA, but our debate ended as we researched the stop. The first General Council which gave rise to the Assemblies of God took place from April 2nd until the 12th, 1914. It just so happened that on Monday we were passing by Hot Springs on our denomination’s birthday!

We called area churches and were directed to the spot which sits on Bath House Row in downtown Hot Springs. The plaque, laid on the 60th anniversary of the event, is the only physical remnant of the former Hot Springs Opera House where the council took place. It’s easily overlooked as visitors pass by, many without even looking down at the inscription affixed to the cement, but for us it has special significance.

On Monday, April 12, 2010, 96 years after the event, we found ourselves returning to our roots, and as our feet surrounded the memorial plaque, we reflected on the principles that brought about the founding of the Assemblies of God–evangelism, missions, and ministerial training. We’re glad that now, almost 100 years after its organization, those principles are still at the forefront of its agenda. What’s even more humbling is that we’re able to serve as its representatives as we emphasize evangelism, missions, and ministerial training, making disciples in the Yucatán.

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Since we’ve been back from the field I would say that the #1 change for us has been the McDonald’s experience. Moving itself from a kid magnet restaurant barely tolerated by adults, McDonald’s has remade itself with drinkable coffee, a new menu, and a new look. Now, when the kids say, “Let’s go to McDonald’s,” more often than not we say, “OK!” More recently, my reduced ambivalence to this nearly ubiquitous eating establishment set up an opportunity to minister.

It all started when Brad Keller, a fellow minister, scoping out a spot to set up his Mac to catch some free wi-fi, greeted a twenty-something guy named Ricky. After exchanging some greetings and comments about the technology that we were pulling from our bags, Ricky asked us what it was that we did. It was as though he was asking us to tell him about Jesus.

I began by giving him my prayer card and explaining my mission of calling Mexicans into relationship with Jesus. He responded almost immediately with a smokescreen of excuses for not attending church. I sensed from this that Ricky was seeking, but he wanted someone to help him justify his practice of keeping the spiritual at arm’s length. I listened to what he had to say, but I gave him no justifications.

When he spoke of ministers that fail, I responded with statistics that I had heard only earlier that day that it takes some 300 A/G ministers in order to come up with only two moral failures. When he talked about judgmental churches, I encouraged him to talk to two separate ministers that lived in his area that I was sure would welcome him as he was and help him on his spiritual journey. When he brought up others’ experiences, I asked him to look to his own and to understand that he needed a personal relationship with the only on who could settle his questioning; he needed to encounter Jesus.

So I want to thank McDonald’s. Because of their change, they made possible my encounter with a searching heart. I’d also like to ask for prayer for Ricky and his friends. They have my card. They have names of pastors that they can talk to. Let’s pray that they’ll take the next step on their spiritual journey toward Christ.

Photo from LancerE’s flickr photostream

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FriedChickenWhile travel certainly has it’s downside, one of the benefits that we receive is the chance to reconnect with friends and family all across the U.S. One such chance came this last weekend when we spoke at Saint Robert First Assembly, where our friends, Joel and Amy Maxwell, attend.

Joel and Amy are friends from our college days, when, almost 15 years ago our paths crossed in the married housing at Evangel University, then Evangel College. We shared dinners, exchanged information on where to find the best grocery deals, and basically grew up together.

Later, Amy and I worked together at Evangel while I attended AGTS. She was on the cutting edge of “exciting web technology,” even then dabbling in blogging as she maintained the University’s web presence. It was during those days that we watched our kids come on the scene. Play dates in the park or at each other’s house was a frequent occurrence.

Not all of it was good times, Joel and Amy’s lives were dramatically affected by situation in which he nearly lost his ability to walk, having been run over on the job as a security guard at Evangel. We were glad to be of support, if even in a small way as they saw their business collapse in late 2005. Their story of perseverance through adversity, however, has been an inspiration to us. To see them now, Joel having recently completed a marathon on his reconstructed leg, and rising out of the teeth of financial disaster, makes us marvel at their determination and resilience. If that isn’t enough, Joel is now serving as an officer on active duty in the Army, while Amy is a Chaplain Candidate studying at AGTS. These are solid people.

This weekend was a real treat, then, when we were greeted by the smells of Joel’s famous recipe chicken-fried chicken, with mashed potatoes and gravy to boot! I was even allowed to take part in this masterpiece of a meal in the making, as the photo above proves. Later, the kids played downstairs while we caught up around the table accompanied as well by Judi Murphy, a Facebook friend we’ve finally had the chance to meet.

The next day we held services at their church, where Amy introduced us as family, and Pastor Gabe Falen graciously allowed us the opportunity to address both the Sunday school and share during the morning worship service. The largely military congregation responded, committing their prayer support and finances.

The reunion of course couldn’t last forever, we had services in the evening to attend, but we were appreciative of the fact that, sometimes, our travels as missionaries allow us to reconnect once more with friends like the Maxwells.

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What’s going on with the Godzwas?

That’s a good question. I’ve got an hour of McDonald’s Wifi to let you know a bit about what we’ve done for the last month.

We’re back in US! We made the 6-day 2,240 mile trip from Merida, Mexico, to Springfield MO. We’ve been through Missionary Renewal on the campus of my alma mater, Central Bible College and stuck around for the excellent re-entry program sponsored by by Caring Connection. Since then, we’ve been trying to move back into our house here that has been rented out for the past 4 years. Until that time, our internet connection will limited to our 2X2 cell phone screens, but we’re planning new updates when we’re finally settled in. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, be sure to check out our updated contact information.

Tree down in our neighborhood

Tree down in our neighborhood

Hurricane season started with a bang here in Mérida as a ferocious if short lived storm passed over the peninsula last week. Tropical force winds and a half inch of rain in the span of about 45 min brought down this tree and numerous others in the city, and brought damage as shown in this slide show of the “fotos del día” from the Diario Yucatán (Opens new window, captions in Spanish). The damage shown in the shopping mall is just about a mile away from our home.

We were safe and sound during the downpour, although without power for about six hours after the storm. A few flashlights, candles, and a bit of patience were all that were required for us to deal with the aftermath of this first installment of hurricane season ’09.

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clearanceIf you are familiar with Tolkien, you’ll have to forgive my obvious allusion to his popular tale, The Hobbit, but no, my recent trip didn’t include trolls and dragons, and the only real danger was related to the risks of travel by air and taxi. So to save you the long story, and the 255 pages that comprise my edition of the Bilbo Baggins tale, I’ll make it short.

On Sunday afternoon, I hopped aboard a flight to Mexico City, which seems to be recovering from its bout with the Swine Flu, where, on Monday, I met with the national leadership team about our future here in Mexico. I presented them with a report of what we had done and the plan of what we feel God would have us do in the future. They approved that plan, and they invited us back to serve for four more years here in the Yucatán!

Now, that we have received this approval our upcoming itineration becomes more clear. Our goal during these upcoming months will be to reconnect with churches and individuals to show them what God has done and invite them to continue their investment in the lives of the people of this region.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support as we make our transition to the States with the goal of continuing to raise disciples here in the Yucatán.

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The Godzwa kids: Ready to go back!

The Godzwa kids: Ready to go back!

The day has finally arrived! After two weeks of being homebound, Mexico has reopened its elementary and middle schools. Rebekah, Joseph, and Jonathan were all smiles, ready to see their friends after the long suspension of classes.

Nevertheless, although our kids are happy to return, the reopening of the schools here in Mérida is being handled very seriously. Last week around the city, school buildings were being sanitized while teachers were taking classes on how to prevent the spread of the virus. As the children enter classes, they’re being checked for symptoms. If one student is found to be ill, he or she will be sent home for a minimum of 7 days. If the school finds a group to be symptomatic, the entire building will be closed for 2 weeks and the community will place itself under surveillance.

So, another step is taken back to normal life here in the Yucatán and in all of Mexico. We have appreciated your prayers and your concern through this time, and we look forward to seeing you as we plan our return to the States in June.

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The A/H1N1 Virus

The A/H1N1 Virus

The swine flu has left its mark on Mexico. With 1204 confirmed cases and 44 deaths, the statistics are slightly less alarming than once predicted, but the disruption that it has caused, in the form of canceled activities and the accompanying economic hit (to the tune of millions of dollars), the images of mask wearing citizens, and the general preoccupation will not long be forgotten.

Here in Yucatán, where we were once thought to be swine flu free, the government has reported 18 cases, most coming from previously discarded cases that have since been confirmed. Still, even though the virus has yet to be eradicated, life begins its slow progress back to normalcy. Businesses, which had been closed completely except for basic necessities like food and gasoline, reopened on the 6th. Classes, canceled since the 28th of April, will resume on Monday, and, with the ban on public gatherings lifted, we’re resuming our ministry in churches starting this Sunday with another evangelism conference.

So even though we’re statistically worse off, it seems as though this round with the swine flu is drawing to a close. Still, we ask that you would keep praying for recovery for those who are now sick, for comfort and a sense of God’s presence among those who have lost a loved one, and for a realization here in Mexico of the fragility of life and the need of Savior.

Also, we ask that you would pray for us. We need to remain healthy as we transition back to the States. There is a lot of ministry to finish in addition to all of the reducing and packing we need to do before we say goodbye on June 20th.

Photo by LA100RRA 3logs

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Police Officers don masks for protection.

Police Officers don masks for protection.

The early afternoon is usually a usually a time of hustle and bustle here in Mérida. Students are heading home for “comida” the normal big meal of the day. Families are planning for the rest of the day–sports activities, a trip to the mall, an evening downtown, or school meetings to attend. But everything is strangely quiet. There is noticeably less traffic on the avenue near our home. There is no sound from the loudspeaker that normally broadcasts the names of the students whose parents have arrived to drive them home. That’s because there hasn’t been school since Monday. All public events have been canceled and activities that would gather people together, from churches to team practices have been prohibited, all to prevent the spread of what is now the scourge of Mexico, the Swine Flu.

Our understanding that something was awry began when our friends, Josh and April Amiot notified us that they were returning to Mexico City to attend the funeral of one of their good friends and ministry co-workers. An otherwise healthy mother of three, Nelly didn’t fit the profile of those who die of the flu. Normally the very old or the very young, under six, are those who succumb. Of course, this was just the trickle before the flood. By last Friday the 24th, we had heard of hundreds sick and dozens dead as the Swine Flu spread rapidly across central Mexico. At the end of the weekend, there were reports of sicknesses in 19 of the 32 Mexican States and drastic measures taken to stem the spread of this highly contagious, and surprisingly deadly, conglomeration of three different flu viruses.

Here in Mérida, and across Mexico, all schools have been closed until the 6th of May and all public gatherings have been prohibited until further notice. Labor Day, May 1st here in Mexico, will be observed without the customary parades. Sporting events have been held without fans, and our district convention, set to have begun yesterday has been suspended until a later date. Even church services are against the law. Those that need to work in the public sector have taken to donning masks to protect them against the airborne virus.

But we are not writing to scare you. Our family is well, and to date, no officially recognized case of Swine Flu has been recorded here in Mérida. Still, there is a definite tension in the air as anxiety and fear have taken hold. There is a sense of helplessness apparent as society waits for word of progress against this disease.

But we are not helpless, we can cry out to God and know that He will hear and respond to our requests. So we ask you to join with us as we intercede for this nation. Ilona Hadinger, a fellow Mexico Missionary and the coordinator of our prayer devotions on MexicoAG.org offers these points to guide us in our intercession:

  • Pray for the sick; for an end to the suffering.
  • Pray for families who have lost a loved one to the virus.
  • Intercede for believers as they boldly pray for the sick and proclaim the Good News of eternal life.
  • Ask for the peace of God to be felt across the land, and for many to commit their lives to the Prince of Peace.
  • Pray for pastors, Christian leaders, and missionaries to remain healthy with a steadfast trust in the Lord
  • .

Please join with us during this crucial time.

Photo provided by sarihuella on flickr.com

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New Life We needed to replace the grass in our front yard about two weeks ago. A busy schedule and low water pressure had taken it’s toll on our previous lawn, and all that was left after the dry season that we’ve had was a lot of dust. So, after a change to our water system was completed, what was left of the old lawn was removed, and new grass was brought in.

As the Agustín, the gardener, was removing the remnant weeds, he looked over what used to be a flower border. “You want me to take these out too?” he asked. The border was a disaster; it looked like a mess of limp grass. Still, I said, “Let’s keep it. Maybe it’ll grow back.” So the limp-grass-once-upon-a-time-flower-boarder remained. Perhaps just to suck up water that would be better spent on the new lawn, I thought, but I had hope.

And that hope wasn’t disappointed. After about one week of watering, one sunny morning I was greeted by the picture above–dozens of tiny white flowers where once only limp grass stood. It was amazing to see the power of life in what seemed to be a hopeless situation.

Nevertheless, a dying flowerbed pales in comparison with the hopeless situations that many of us face. While we’ve been on the field, we’ve watched sadly as many of our friends were hit with what seem to be knock-out punches–unemployment, sickness, and divorce just to name a few. They are situations that are devastating for the parties involved and that leave those of us who must watch confused and questioning. “What is going on?” we ask, “Where is God in all of this?”

Of course, we have just celebrated the triumphant outcome of another seemingly hopeless situation–the resurrection of Jesus after a his death on the cross. The disciples had fled for their lives. Peter had gone as far as denying that he had ever known his former teacher. Jesus Himself, while dying cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The situation was irrevocable, or so it seemed. Nevertheless, just when it had seemed that God’s plan had been checkmated, the table was turned and the outcome was forever changed. That is the reality of Resurrection Sunday, the reality that still reverberates even two thousand years after the event.

I was reading Amy Maxwell’s blog the other day, when I happened upon some free music downloads. One of the songs, Rescue, by Ten Shekel Shirt, caught my attention when I was in the middle of thinking about one of my friends’ seemingly hopeless situation. The chorus of the song reads, speaking of God’s power:

You rescue, you redeem
You save, you intervene
You rescue, you redeem
Our lives, the stories of our lives.

It’s true. As the flowers reappeared from the dust of our yard, so God is able to redeem us even in the most difficult of situations. Like the prodigal son who’d cast away the riches he’d demanded, if we turn to Him, God is ready to receive us and restore us as His sons and daughters, even if we have squandered the chances we’ve been given.

So, if you have a chance to download the song, I highly recommend it, and if you happen to be in one of those seemingly hopeless situations, or know someone is going through one, renew your hope in the fact that God redeems. His empty tomb stands as a testimony to the fact that a restored life is possible.

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