Mexico

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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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When we had spoken with friends in Yucatan about our upcoming move to Mexico City (CDMX) because of our role change to area directors, most of them raised their eyebrows at the news. Their looks seemed to say that we might want to reconsider the decision.

“Don’t wear a watch or jewelry!” They warned us. “It will likely be stolen, and there are so many people, with the pushing and shoving, you may not even notice.”

A conversation with one leader revealed another opinion, “Mexico City is an atheistic city,” he said. “The people there don’t seem to have time for God.”

While driving, or perhaps better described crawling, in our Speed the Light vehicle through traffic has introduced us to some of the congestion that our friends and acquaintances referred to, we’ve encountered a different Mexico City in many ways than the one that they had described.

To begin with, Mexico City is filled with parks and green spaces that serve as an escape from the population density. A 30 minute walk from our home is all it takes to reach the Xochimilco Ecological Park and scenes like the one above. It’s such a contrast from the hustle and bustle described that, when we’re there, it’s easy to forget that we’re in Mexico City.

Also, observations of our surroundings and the increasing conversations that we’ve had in the neighborhood and in local businesses have shown a surprising level of spiritual interest. From eastern mysticism to more traditional expressions of faith, there seems to be a genuine hunger to connect with the divine. Unfortunately, still too few in Mexico City have had an encounter with Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We’re glad, then, to have had these opportunities to share our faith and pray that our neighbors will soon be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Yes, Mexico City is a megalopolis, a center of tremendous population and a place of frenetic activity, but that’s simply one of its stories. We’re thankful to be able discover its other stories of beauty and spiritual hunger. We invite you to pray with us that this hunger will be satisfied.

Would you like to know more about Mexico City from a missionary’s perspective? Take a look at this issue of Worldview magazine.

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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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As we visit churches during our itineration (photo), we are casting a vision of a Mexico redeemed. It is a vision of unreached people groups reached, of cities saved, of rural zones healed, of university students discipled, and of children formed. But although we may be able to imagine such a future, we may wonder, how could we achieve it? The answer is found in the AGWM slogan: establishing the Church among all people, everywhere.

Let me explain. This fall, I was sitting with Gabriel Borbolla, the current Secretary of the National Missions Department in Mexico. He was also the coordinator of disaster relief after the devastating earthquakes that hit Oaxaca in 2018. As he described the effort to assess the damage and distribute aid to the most vulnerable, a common thread emerged: the local church. It was the local church that rose to the occasion to bring relief.

But the local church is so much more than an agent of compassion. It is strategically positioned to be an instrument of transformation. It is a body of people, changed through an encounter and an ever-deepening relationship with the living God. And, as these people continue to interact with their social networks, they are able to influence change within their community.  Just as the presence of the local church enabled physical relief for the victims of the Oaxaca earthquakes, so its increasing influence in the community can facilitate their salvation. 

Yet, there are entire people groups out of the reach of these compassionate, transformative bodies of believers. There, where the church has not been established, we must choose to go. The National Missions Department of Mexico has risen to the challenge to plant the church among the unreached, targeting 4 Mixteco groups among which to establish new congregations. As missionaries in Mexico, we stand with our national colleagues, fixing a goal of establishing 200 new churches within the next four years, and, as Area Directors, we are challenging each missionary unit to play their part through encouragement, investment, and direct involvement. The local church is the key. Only as it is established will the vision of Mexico redeemed become a reality.

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In the month of November, Kelly, Jonathan and I (Dave), had the privilege of attending the first-ever National Evangelism Conference in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a beautiful sight to see the more than 1,800 participants commit to spreading a message of love and hope in the location where, 500 years prior, the Spanish Conquista had unleashed a wave of oppression.

Still, even with the enthusiastic response in Veracruz, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted with the unfinished task in Mexico: over 113 million who still don’t know Jesus, 3 million of them considered unreached, in a nation becoming more violent and less secure by the year. How can so few make a difference in the face of so great a need?

Then, I think of the Christmas story, and how God came to Earth in the form of the baby Jesus, so small and seemingly insignificant. His bed was a feeding trough. His first visitors, simple shepherds. Even at the height of his popularity, he could be described as a homeless, itinerant preacher. His best friends were among the most marginalized of Jewish society. Yet, it was through that one life that God culminated his plan of salvation and through those few followers that he literally changed the world. That is the hope of Christmas.

And that is the hope that we share, that God will bring peace on Earth, fullness of life, as well to Mexico. But who does he have to represent him in that country? Many are like Roberto (photo, bottom left), an illiterate pastor in Kini, certainly not wise by the world’s standards, but with God’s help, he’s planted 8 churches. Or there’s Lupita (photo, top right), not powerful or influential, not even in her local church, but, through her diligent visitation, she’s led dozens to Christ. Against the sheer numbers of those who still don’t know, the 1,800 who attended the evangelism conference may seem a weak witness, but God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

So take heart wherever this word might find you this Christmas season. The outlook may be grim, and the future may seem dark indeed, but the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Experience the hope of Christmas and be sure to pass it on.

(This article appears as well in our winter newsletter. Download a PDF copy to print or share electronically.)

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As I write this update, Mexico is celebrating its Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), the anniversary of the unlikely defeat of the larger, better equipped, and expertly trained French force near the city of Puebla by General Ignacio Zaragoza and his smaller Mexican army in 1862.

The event is a source of national pride and a cause for celebrations of Mexican identity, especially in the United States. However, it’s also a reminder of what it means to win the battle but lose the war. The French went on to defeat the Mexican army and the Mexican people were subjugated to French rule for three years under Maximillian the I.

Over Easter Week, we had the chance to join together with fellow Assemblies of God missionaries serving all across the country to reflect on the work here in modern Mexico. We rejoiced to hear of:

  • Indigenous pastors being trained and launched into ministry.
  • Church planting movements rising up in unreached areas.
  • University students waking up to the message of the gospel.

It’s truly exciting to be a part of a group of men and women who are piercing the darkness that has shrouded Mexico, turning back the enemy in some of his key strongholds.

Nevertheless, we are facing some sobering facts:

  • 9 out of 10 Mexicans do not have a relationship with the Lord.
  • Quasi-christian cults like Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons are gaining influence.
  • Organized corruption is a continued threat to social transformation.

Battles are being won, but the war for the heart of Mexico is still being fought. So we appeal to you, our supporters, to intercede with us this month, praying for:

  • Anointed leaders: Winning the war calls for strong leadership. As district conventions are being held across the country, will you pray for the right people to be selected, people with a vision to reach Mexico?
  • Divine strategy: Here, in the Yucatán and throughout Mexico, initiatives are being considered to stimulate evangelism and church growth. Will you pray that the plans made and the structures put into place would be effective in reaching the lost and discipling believers?
  • Perseverance: The work of transformation requires consistency and patience. Would you pray that we will stay the course to see this change take place?

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Inspire
In a series of articles starting with our winter newsletter, we’ve been communicating our vision and stepping through how we see it being realized. In this update, we are covering the essential element of inspiration.

On Easter Sunday, I heard Jeff Peterson, pastor of Central Assembly, speak on the resurrection. In his sermon, he quoted the fictional character, Anne Shirley: “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” As he mentioned it, I couldn’t help but think of the situation in which Mexico finds itself.

In the year 2000, Mexico was striding boldly into the future. It was emerging from economic crisis and, for the first time in 72 years, had elected a president from an opposition party, a sign that the corruption of the past was giving way to a modern democracy. However, with the war on drugs claiming an estimated 120,000 lives, and recent allegations linking the government to cooperation with the cartels, Mexico is seeing its hopes and dreams buried again.

Still, though the picture may look bleak, it is not beyond redemption. On the first Easter morning, Jesus and the cause He stood for had been dead for three days, His disciples were scattered and in hiding, but, when He arose, everything changed!

In his message, Pastor Jeff brought this home with Job 19:25-26, encouraging us to remember that, even in the darkest of times, our Savior lives to redeem, resurrect, and restore us.

As we return to Mexico one of our key tasks will be to inspire the non-believer to trust this resurrected Christ for their salvation and the believer to follow Him into a life of purpose. This will be our aim on a daily basis, whether we’re meeting with ministry leaders or our our next-door neighbors.

Speaking of inspiring, if you haven’t seen it already, check out the story of Joseph’s first half marathon. I guarantee it’ll be an encouragement.

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Visas, they are our permission to reside and work in the country of Mexico. For foreigners like us, visas make life possible; travel, certain purchases, and business contracts all require proof of legal immigration status, which the visa validates. Therefore, It has been in our best interest to keep our visas current.

However, keeping our visas current was routinely more easily said then done. The visas that we were issued were only valid for 12 months. Renewing them had meant sending all of our documentation, including our passports, each year through the mail, and waiting anywhere from 2 to up to 5 months for our approval. So for that time frame, much of life simply had to be placed on hold.

Now, all of that has changed. This past month, we have been granted permanent resident visas. These new visas do not expire. The complicated yearly renewal process is a thing of the past! The mandatory waiting period has been eliminated! We can now work without hindrance from travel or business restrictions throughout the year. Rejoice with us! This is a huge blessing!

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Maybe they heard that heat, storms, and and the recession would have Americans looking elsewhere to get their fireworks fix, because as of this morning (July 4th), the sparks were certainly flying.

It’s hard to imagine after the relative calm on Election Sunday here in the Yucatán, where, despite record turnouts at the polls, the act of voting seemed to be carried out without major incident. Still, following the allegations of abnormalities in a large majority of the country’s voting locations, the Progressive Movement Party, headed by their candidate Andrés Miguel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is calling again for a recount “vote by vote.”

Yes, again. In 2006, a razor thin victory for the National Action Party (PAN), brought about complaints of electoral fraud and even the naming of an alternative “legitimate government” headed by AMLO. This time, the election was not so close, he was second by almost 3 million votes, but the outcomes threaten to be similar, and in the process of investigation, bombs are going off.

There are allegations of tampering being leveled against the incoming Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of having tampered with the elections as far out as five years ago, creating an image for their candidate Enrique Peña Nieto through purchased media coverage. Prediction polls, thought to have been unbiased and accurate within 2 to 3% have been proven off base by the results at the ballot box, some by 20 points or more. Vote buying has also been suggested.

To date, the rhetoric has been limited to the news outlets and perhaps isolated protests, but depending on how the process is handled, the situation could change. Reports say that the recount is underway to certify the returns. What the recount uncovers may well determine if this show is simply underway as a fireworks replacement for Mexico’s neighbor to the north or if it’s a sign of future instability for a nation that’s ready for some peace and quiet.

Protest photo used under Creative Commons by User:A1437053 and is available on wikipedia.org.

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