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Antonio Gamboa chiding me for not having learned Maya. At times, the plans that we make work out beautifully. On other occasions, things don’t come together in the way we expect. In the fall of 2008, I entered Itzamná, the Maya language school in the center of town, with the goal of getting a functional knowledge of the indigenous language still spoken by a large percentage of the inhabitants of the Yucatan. However, a household accident had one of the Godzwa parental team off of her feet for a few weeks that November, meaning carving out four hours from an already active schedule got increasingly more difficult. Needless to say, that attempt at learning Maya met with failure.

Still the resolve to try again stayed with me. The reasons for learning were solid; drawing near to the people and being able to share the good news of salvation with the Maya community in their own language are goals I consider necessary for long-term ministry success here on the peninsula. Also, returning to the Yucatan, we found that ministry opportunities, from small group sessions to church planting projects, for those who spoke Maya were abundant, so with a bit of chiding from Antonio Gamboa (above) I began my search again for a program to help me gain this essential tool.

This summer, I enrolled in a free class offered by a local university designed to give novices a chance to learn Maya, while giving professors a chance to polish their skills in the classroom. Last week I entered my first class. Each Friday, therefore, I’m being immersed for three hours in Yucatec Maya. From start to finish, we are being taught and asked to respond only in Maya. Needless to say it was a bit of a shock, but my hope is that, at the end of the 15 week course, I’ll be well on my way to realizing the goal that I set for myself in October of 2008: to learn the Maya language.

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Although, according to the 2010 census, 47% of the population of the state Yucatan reports living in a Mayan household, to date, no coordinated effort has been made to plant churches specifically focused on reaching the Maya speaking population. Since the spring, we’ve been telling you about the efforts that we have made to see church planting among the Maya reach priority status here in the Yucatan. In the last few months, we’ve seen advancements and some setbacks, but now, we are able to share with you that we are on the verge of naming the team that will spearhead what we believe can become a church planting movement!

We are thankful for the efforts of our District Missions Director, Abel Can, who saw the need and saught to make this project a part of his ministry portfolio for the next two years. We’re also thankful for the collaboration of the District Coordinator of Ministry to Ethnic Groups, Miriam Pech, who has been leading the search in the recent months for qualified candidates. With the help of these individuals, two Maya speaking pastors have been found. Following training, these men will lead up a program of training and evangelization that will give local churches the tools and guidance that they need to mother indigenous works throught the state.

Nevertheless, while we’re thankful for the progress, we understand that this effort must be undertaken through continued prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, we are making this appeal. Would you pray:

  • That God would especially equip these candidates with the giftings required to undertake this work.
  • That pastors would catch the vision and provide opportunity to the team to work and plant Maya speaking congregations in their area.
  • That the Maya people that we seek to reach would respond to the presentation of the gospel in their own language.

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A picture of our STL vehicle in downtown Tunkas. More on why we were there later.Lately I’ve been traveling. I’ve been two hours to the east, and twice on 2+ hour trips to the south of Yucatán. My goal? It’s to find workers.

In the last print edition of our newsletter, I mentioned the organization, Power to Change, which is looking to bring the Jesus Film Project to the Yucatan. In this program, a team of two will visit churches to train action teams who will project the Jesus Film in the Maya language with the goal of planting a church within one month. The program is well defined and has produced some tremendous results all over the world, but the fact is that programs do not run themselves. They are only as good as the workers who take part in its execution.

For this reason, over the past two months, I’ve visited sectional meetings of pastors in order to promote the goal of partnering together to reach the Mayan culture. Through this promotion, I hope to find this team of two who can take the reins of this project and continue the work of evangelism among this marginalized people group. Not only will it require those who can speak the language, but it also calls for a special missionary vision to reach people throughout the state of Yucatan and beyond.

Would you pray with us? Pray that qualified, potential workers will respond. Pray as well that we will have God’s mind as our team selects those who will be trained to make up this Jesus Film Team.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought that 7,000 words might be sufficient to describe what went on at the premiere of the Jesus Film for Children in Maya put on by the missions organization, Message for the Mayans. (Of course, I did take the liberty to add captions.)


“I was invited to the premiere of the Jesus Film for Children in Maya put on by the organization that made the film, Message for the Mayans.”

From The Premiere of Jesus Film for Children in Maya. Posted by David Godzwa on 2/12/2011 (8 items)

Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2

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The kids and I posing with Pastor Tomás Reyes (back left) and some of the members of his church.

We were together in the car, Kelly, the kids and I.  We had been making our way, so we thought to the town of Tunkas, a small city of about three thousand, in order to deliver some documents to Pastor Eucepio Pech and to find out a bit more about the missions of which he is pastor.  Although I had been there previously, this would have been the first time for Kelly and the kids to visit the town.  We were headed there accompanied by Antonio Mendez, the District Missions Director, and the Regional Presbyter Manuel Diaz, that is until Manuel began to give me directions.

“Vamos a Pom (We’re going to Pom),” he said

“¿A donde? (To where?)”, was my reply.

It was at that time about 6:00 PM. Tunkas was about a 45 minute drive away. Getting there, having our meeting and a bite to eat would have gotten us home by 9:30 PM. Pom however, was a trip of about two hours one-way. I had the feeling that this was going to be a long night.

We made our way from Bokobá, the town where Manuel pastors, through Izamal and on to Holca where we picked up an eighth passenger, before stopping in Libre Union for some panuchos. While there, there was talk about the remaining distance to Pom.

The Road to Pom

One said, “Oh no. Pom is another 4 hours from here. The roads are terrible. We can get there, spend the night and make our way back in the morning.” I cringed. This trip was evolving from a short jaunt to a voyage of epic proportions. I was only a little relieved when the others reassured me that we’d not need to stay the night.

The road was indeed rough. I was about 12 miles on a narrow, paved road, and then it was another 10 miles on basically a dirt path. Up and down we went, over rocks and at times through the brush that spilled out onto the “road.” Finally, we arrived at the town.

Pom wasn’t much to look at. It was basically a small grouping of houses around a diminutive downtown consisting of some rooms that served as the city hall. There is no electricity in the town, so although it was only 9:30 PM when we arrived, it was pitch dark. Everyone had turned in for the night.

Manuel walked down the path to the pastor’s house to let him know that we had arrived. The pastor, Tomás Reyes, is a former student of mine. Always the quiet type, I wondered how he might fare in such a remote place.

Tomás arrived, flashlight in hand to meet us a few minutes later. With him were his mother and sister. Also joining him was the mayor of the town, himself a member of the church. As we walked to the hut that served as the church, we heard of the work that was going on.

Speaking with Pastor Tomás (back center) and some members of his congregation. Also pictured: Manuel Diaz (extreme left) and Antonio Mendez (second from left.)

We heard of the group 25 people that would gather each service to pray and sing. We heard of how that, although many couldn’t understand all of what Tomás was saying because of the language barrier, (Tomás doesn’t speak Maya.), they were drawn by his spirit and his willingness to be with them even in that remote place. We heard the joy of a mother enthralled to know that her son was making a difference in people’s lives.

We entered the church, we prayed, and we spoke words of encouragement to Tomás and those assembled. We wanted them to know that they were remembered, that they were appreciated, that they could count on us to help them as they labored in the hard places. In the light of our flashlights, we could see from their smiles that they had indeed received the message.

It was after 10, but, even though we had another 4 hour journey in front of us, there was a desire to linger a bit. We stepped out of the building and looked up into the night sky. In the moment, I was reminded that, although the stars were too numerous to count, God knew each one by name. In the same way, in this world with over 6 billion people, God had not forgotten these 20 families that lived an hour from the end of the road without electricity or even water in their homes. Even here, he had sent a witness, and even though we had thought we had been heading to a completely different place for a completely different purpose, we left with the feeling that we had been blessed to have witnessed this extension of his grace.

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Work Among the Maya

One of the missions that Pastor Eucepio serves. During one of the sessions of our past ACLAME Summit there was a bit of discussion regarding our role as American Missionaries. The general concensus was that our role had moved from that of a pioneer to that of support of the national church, and looking at the growth of Christianity that has ocurred in southern hemisphere in the past years it is easy to arrive at that conclusion. Nevertheless, one statment, made by fellow missionary and Director of Intercultural Doctoral Studies, DeLonn Rance, stuck with me. When the group was asked whether they considered themselves pioneer or support missionaries, he stated, “Every missionary should be in some way a pioneer.”

At the same meeting, even as DeLonn’s words were fresh in my mind, God was opening up an opportunity to fulfill our roles as pioneers here in the Yucatán. Mike Hadinger, a missionary to Oaxaca, Mexico, spoke with me about the initiative that the Mexican Assemblies of God had been organizing over the past year. He told me of the several ethnic groups that had been targeted by the National Department of Missions and the need that they had of missionaries to partner with those who were being sent to reach these groups. As we met with Dave Greco, our Area Director, we began to see a vision materializing for pioneer ministry among the Maya people of the Yucatán, the largest ethnic group on the peninsula.

Cooking handmade tortillasAs the Yucatán becomes increasingly urban, many Maya are leaving their ancestral villages for the city in order to find work in the cities of Mérida or Cancún. Those that are left behind, either because of age or inability to speak Spanish, find themselves marginalized as resources, including spiritual ones, are distributed according to population. Those who feel a burden to reach these forgotten groups, some who live without even the basic necessities, find their remoteness and relative poverty a challenge especially in the current economic situation. Our desire as we begin this our second term is to facilitate indigenous ministry among these populations, focusing on church planting, discipleship, and social outreach.

From left to right: Carlos Baeza, Eucepio Pech, Manuel Diaz, Antonio Mendez Our first trip to one such population center took place on December 5th as District Missions Director Antonio Mendez, District Director of Missions to Ethnic Groups Carlos Baeza, and I joined with Regional Presbyter Manuel Diaz to visit Eucepio Pech, pastor of 4 missions in the Tunkas area. Eucepio drives a motorcycle from village to village over some difficult terrain to attend to each congregation, whose meeting places range from family homes to church buildings and seemingly everything in between.

On the day we met we visited the work in Tzalam where a pickup truck serves as the only public transportation. It traverses a rocky path twice a day to reach the inhabitants of the village. The mission meets at the home of Antonio Gamboa Gonzalez. There we spoke of the work while women spent the afternoon preparing handmade tortillas over a wood burning stove. It was easy to see during the course of the day that Pastor Eucepio had a mind to work, and we were excited to be able to help. Before we were through, we had prayed and committed to helping him realize the vision he believes God has given him for the region.

Antonio Gamboa chiding me for not having learned Maya. We realize, however, that this trip is just one of several that we’ll need to make to get a true picture of the need among the Maya. As we have continued to speak of our desire to reach out, we have heard more and more of areas of need. Fortunately, we’ve had help along the way. Cruz Velazquez, the National Director of Missions to Ethnic Groups, himself a pioneer among the Tarahumara Indians, in Chihuahua stands by to help us navigate the path to be trod, and relationships are developing that may even lead to a church planting network.

As we move forward in this pioneering effort, we ask for your prayers. Pray for wisdom and pray that our eyes might be open to the opportunities as they present themselves to us.

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Maya Language School Itzamná

Maya Language School Itzamná

Ma’alob k’iin. Bix a beel’ex. Having trouble responding? That’s because what my greeting was written in Maya. It reads, “Good morning. How are you?” (There are no question marks in Maya)

Here in the Yucatán the official language is Spanish. For this reason, we spent our first year of this term in Costa Rica learning Spanish so that we could live and work here in Mérida. Nevertheless, there are times, like this past month when we journeyed to the town of Tekax, that even speaking in perfect Spanish isn’t enough. That is because, in several towns in the state of Yucatán, many still speak the traditional indigenous language which has changed only slightly from the time of the pyramid builders of Chichen Itza to the present. Others are bilingual, having learned Spanish in school, but clearly function better in their native language.

So how do we respond to this fact? Well, we could rely upon those who are bilingual to translate for us, hoping that they will correctly interpret the meaning of our message. But what does this teach the Maya speakers? I feel it teaches them that the gospel is something foreign. Something that requires special abilities in order to understand, and that salvation is reserved for those who earn it by learning this foreign system. I don’t believe that our God is like that.

From the beginning, with the question, “Adam, where are you?”, we know that God initiated his plan of salvation. Romans 5:8 says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And John 1:14 says that Jesus, the very Word of God came near, and lived among us. We are not those who search for Him says Romans 3:10-11, He comes after us.

How does this translate then as a reaction to the situation of the Maya here in Yucatan? Years ago, before archeology became the force that it is today, many thought that the Koine Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written was a sacred tongue. This was thought because the texts available to the scholars at the time, that of Classical Greek was different from what they saw in Bible. However, as more research came to light, they found that the New Testament Greek was not a sacred language after all. In fact, it was the common speech–that which the housewives used to write out their shopping lists. So, in fact, we see that the very Bible that we read is another aspect of God “coming near” to us. He didn’t speak through the elite of the society or through a priestly class, He instead spoke through the common tongue of the merchants, the peasants, and the slaves.

Understanding this, if we are to “come near” as Christ’s ambassadors and show the Maya that this message is in fact for them, that Christ came to save every, tribe, tongue and nation, then we in turn should take the steps to learn to share this salvation in their native tongue.

So that in fact is what we are doing. Every Monday and Wednesday for two hours, I am traveling to the “Ermita”, a plaza south of town, to learn to speak and write the Maya language. (The picture in this post is a shot of the entrance to the building.) The municipal government has established a course in which they teach citizens and foreigners at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels for only $5 a month. Having extended for a year, and having scheduled outreaches into these Maya speaking regions, this was an offer that we couldn’t refuse.

So here I am again learning anew how to function in another language, struggling to come up with the words to respond to the teacher. However, when I consider what Christ did for us, coming to us as a baby, unable to speak, to function on His own, in order to live among us, I say that my struggle is worth it if it allows me to live among this people and reveal to them the God that we serve, the God who came near.

By the way, a fellow Mexico Missionary just sent us a link to an example of the power of “coming near” to an unreached people group. You can check out the video on You Tube

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Things have been a little quiet here on for the last week, but it’s not because we’ve been taking a Thanksgiving vacation. In fact, as I write this, I’m in the lobby of our hotel for the Mexican General Council, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico.

Thanksgiving is a decidedly American holiday. So, since Latin America doesn’t recognize it, life goes on pretty much like any other day. Events are scheduled, business is planned, and missionaries need to leave in order to attend church events.

Still, before I left for council, we had a chance to spend some time at Chichen Itza. This was the last great city of the Maya people which rose to prominence in the year 900 A.D. and collapsed about 1200 A.D. The site still holds much cultural and religious significance today.

I’ve added pictures of our trip to the which you can view by clicking on the picture above or following this link.

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Day of the Dead

I received an email from one of the readers of the site asking about the Day of the Dead rituals that occur here in Mérida. She was wondering if it mirrored the traditional practices that take place throughout the country, or if there was a certain Yucateco twist to the holiday. Not being one to disappoint, I decided to give what insight into the event that I have in this post:

First of all, one needs to be clear about the Day of the Dead as it is traditionally celebrated. Throughout Mexico, the first two days of November are a national holiday during which the country remembers their deceased relatives. The first day is a day set aside to remember the deceased children and the second is “El Dia de Todos Los Santos” or the Day of the Dead proper. During these days, altars are made in homes with pictures of the dead relative along with those things that would have been special to the person during their lives: a sweater, a jacket, a picture or possibly a toy for a child. Also, the deceased’s favorite foods would be on display with the idea that, during these days, the relative would visit to be with the family and partake of the meal there on the altar.

During this time as well, there is much attention given to the family gravesite where flowers are placed and the debris that have collected during the year are cleaned away. One Maya village takes this idea of cleaning to the extreme, and actually exhumes the dried bones of relatives that have been dead for 3 years, cleaning them and placing them on display in boxes. The ritual is detailed in this Yahoo news article

Also, it is said that, during the day of the dead proper, the family gathers at the gravesite in order to enjoy a meal with the dead relative. I tried to witness this tradition, stopping by the General Cemetery here in Mérida, but, possibly because of the rain, I found only a few families placing flowers.

Here in Mérida, there is another holiday celebrated during the same time called El Hanal Pixan. It is a ceremony that predates the arrival of the Spanish and also honors those family members who have died. The picture above, from the local paper Diario de Yucatan shows girls dressed in the traditional Maya “huipil” making tortillas in front of an altar constructed in order to celebrate this event.

We’ve found it hard to experience this holiday living the midst of an evangelical society that has rejected its practice, but I find myself personally torn by this rejection. On one hand, the worship of dead loved ones as a way of receiving favors for ourselves with God or as a way of helping them somehow reach eternal rest are ideas that I reject as being groundless biblically, but the Bible does not consider our loved ones as dead to us. Paul states that to die to be with Christ, and that our spirits continue to live after our physical deaths. Hebrews chapter 12 states that the saints (believers) who have died form a kind of “cloud of witnesses” that seem to cheer us on in our own Christian walk. So in this sense, our struggle to try to forget our dead loved ones seems as well to be a bit unbiblical. I still haven’t had enough exposure to the rituals involved to make an unbiased judgment. So I’ll save any conclusion for much later. Of course this could be something to talk out in the comments section!

So there you have it, a bit of a survey of what went on during this past week as Mexico and the Yucatan celebrated the Day of the Dead. Next year, we’ll hope to be more on top of the action so that you can see more of the sights, and possibly sounds of the season.

Update 11/10/2006: For more about Day of the Dead around the missionary world, see this feature post on Missionary Blog Watch.

If you’ve gotten a chance to look at our About Us page, you know that we are headed to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico, which is the gateway to some of the Maya people’s most popular cultural sites.

Well, I was going through the aggregator at, when I came upon something that just couldn’t wait to be shared. It seems as though a piece of American Culture emanating out of the city of Atlanta Georgia has been so wholeheartedly embraced that it has now become part of a religious ritual.

This Mayan Coke Ritual explained in this video blog shows Coca Cola being used as a sort of “holy water” during a Maya ceremony. Finding this a bit hard to swallow (pun intended) I did a bit more searching, and found this Newsweek article on this same phenomenon. I guess that this is an example of globalization at its finest and a glimpse into the Maya mentality.

Again, here is the Maya Coke Ritual Video at
and here is the Newsweek article

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