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, weâ€™re resourcing our national church partners to help feed displaced families and rebuild damaged church buildings and pastorsâ€™ homes.
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 â€œthe shack,â€ 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,â€ 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 donâ€™t know why Iâ€™m telling you all of this,â€ 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, â€œcan I pray for you?â€, 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.
Dannyâ€™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 effortsâ€”new workers to continue the unfinished task of disciple-making in Mexico and throughout the LAC.
Itâ€™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 BÃblico 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 practicalâ€””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?â€ 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, TomÃ¡s Vera, the minister who succeeded me as the leader of the evangelism department has been diagnosed with cancer and is very ill. Wonâ€™t you join us in praying for their health and strength even as they work to extend the reach of the gospel?
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.â€ â€¦ Then he said to him, â€œFollow me!â€ â€”John 21:18-19
Prior to our quarantine, our regional leadership team met in-person for the first time in over a year. It was a much-needed gathering of prayer and planning.
Iâ€™m writing this update from our second quarantine cycle, this time because of a positive test for the coronavirus within our household. Jonathan, our youngest, was complaining of some symptoms on Monday morning. We had thought then that it was just a 24-hour bug, but, when the results came back, he was positive for COVID-19. Because of the result, weâ€™ll be housebound until the 16th.
This return to confinement is frustrating. Kelly and I hadnâ€™t been infected last month at our first in-person leadership meetings in a year (photo). We hadnâ€™t become ill as a result of any of our missions services. It was our high schooler, attending classes only two days a week, sitting at a six-foot distance and masked that was sickened and, for that reason, weâ€™re back where we were in March, watching our plans being altered against our will.
After such a frustration itâ€™s easy to call â€œfoul,â€ to look at others’ situations and complain that itâ€™s not fair. Thatâ€™s precisely where this monthâ€™s scripture comes in. Here, in John 21, Jesus reveals to Peter the fact that he will suffer and die as Jesus did. Peter’s immediate response to Jesus was to compare. He looked to John and asked, â€œWhat about him?â€, but Jesus dismissed the question. His command was not to seek out the best circumstancesâ€”it was, rather, â€œFollow me!â€
As this pandemic began we reassured ourselves that we were in this together, but as this crisis has persisted, weâ€™ve seen how divided we are. Weâ€™ve observed how some have had their fortunes increase while others, like our friends in Mexicoâ€™s southeast, have dealt not only with disease but also disaster as four named storms have struck the Yucatan Peninsula. Is it frustrating? Yes. Could we say itâ€™s unfair? Yes. Nevertheless, the command to all of us, rich or poor, US or Mexican, remains the same, â€œFollow me.”
And so we follow, loving God and others, although weâ€™re housebound. We respond with compassion, coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts, although we must do it remotely. At the same time, we thank you for your participation and we encourage you, despite your situation, to hear and respond to Jesusâ€™s command, â€œFollow me!”
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. â€”John 17:21
We met this week with Jay Dickerson, LAC missionary training coordinator, and newly approved missionary to Mexico, Elizabeth Dyvig, for candidate orientation.
â€œCalgon, take me away!â€ was the catch-phrase of a memorable TV commercial of our youth. Itâ€™s the cry of a mom confronted with an impossible domestic situation just before sheâ€™s transported to a secluded bubble bath of peace and quiet. For us, it would become shorthand for “Iâ€™m having a rough day, or week, or month and Iâ€™m ready for it to just be over.”
As we head into this, our seventh month of the pandemic, Iâ€™m certain weâ€™ve all at some point wanted it to just be over. Weâ€™ve looked for the escape hatch or maybe even strained to hear the trumpet sound heralding Jesusâ€™s return. Still, as we recently concluded our “40 Days to Listenâ€ prayer and fasting emphasis, weâ€™ve been reminded that God has not rescued us from the world, that is to say, taken us physically from it. On the contrary, heâ€™s commissioned us to go into the world as his ambassadors of light in the midst of darkness, bearers of truth in the midst of popular opinion, and agents of life even in the midst of so much death.
Our Mexico Missionary Leadership Team, which Kelly and I lead as Area Directors, took up the challenge of memorizing John 17 during these past 40 days. We did so because we felt that this â€œhigh priestly prayer” would reveal his deep desire for us. As we rehearsed the words of that chapter, the nature of our mission revealed in that text became apparent. Jesus prays for us, â€œI do not ask that you take them from the world.â€ Furthermore, he says, â€œAs you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.â€ As the words of the Keith Green song say, â€œJesus commands us to go.â€
But he does not send us alone. He has called in the reinforcements, each one an answer to prayer. He sends Shawn and Carolina Sislo, who just last month entered Mexico after 6 months of waiting. Theyâ€™ll be planting churches in Mexicoâ€™s â€œLast Frontier,â€ Aguascalientes, a state less than 2% evangelical. He also sendsÂ Elizabeth Dyvig, a pastor from North Texas who just this week was approved by the World Missions Board to work in Central Mexico. And, as John 17:21 says, he goes with us as well into, yes, a divided world, yes, a sick world, yes, a suffering world, but a world that just might begin to understand its need for a Savior.
During the past few months of stay-at-home orders, Iâ€™ve taken to walking the perimeter of our backyard to spend my â€œalone timeâ€ with God. Given the fact that we had rented out our home over the past 9 years, I was not surprised to discover shards of glass, perhaps from a broken bottle or plate, left from a previous tenant. Day after day, though, the sunâ€™s light would shift to reveal new pieces, even though I had removed the previously discovered ones. Itâ€™s also been a bit rainy lately, maybe some of the pieces were just under the surface.Â But, you would think after a while, the path would be cleared of debris – itâ€™s fairly well-worn, after all.
This made me think of the spiritual path we walk.Â As we carve out a trail, walking with God, we notice some glass shards in our life: a sin or a habit or a stronghold that threatens us with harm.Â We remove them from our path and dispose of them, content to know we wonâ€™t get cut on our next â€œgo-round.”Â But now that weâ€™ve removed some shards, the light shifts and we notice a few more the next day or the next week. Will this process never end?
But the understanding that we are all at varying points of this process produces just the humility Dave and I needed to take part in facilitating online â€œround tableâ€ conversations during the 3-week missionary training session for new candidates. The topics that we reviewed last month: spiritual formation, culture, and theology of missions, among others, became open doors into our hearts through which the Lord could do His work, reminding us of the journey still ahead. But they also served as signposts, signaling to Dave and me of how far we have come, through both grace and perseverance, helping us to encourage these who now begin their missionary journey. Our prayer is that, through our interactions, these new missionaries will have less â€œshardsâ€ in their experience on account of this preparation time we spent together in community.
Lord, help us not to just stare and wonder at the glass shards on our path of life.Â We want to pause, bend down, and carefully collect them in order to dispose of them. Â Teach us to treat each item with care, removing it from The Way as we continue to walk with You. And, may we look forward to the day when all the shards have been forever removed.
Growing up in catholic schools, we frequently sang, “Channel of Your Peace,” a hymn taken from the poem, “The Prayer of Saint Francis.” One of the verses reads:
Make me a channel of your peace Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope Where there is darkness, only light And where there’s sadness, ever joy
Of course, I had no idea how that prayer would become a reality some 32 years later, but I am humbled to see how the Lord is using me and my family to bring hope in despair, shine as a light in the darkness, and serve as a source of joy in sadness.
And in Mexico, there has been much sadness. Because of the slowness of the response and the impossibility for many to shelter in place, the country struggles to contain the virus. Add to this Tropical Storm Cristobal, which has left much of southeastern Mexico, including the state of Yucatan, underwater.
Since that initial effort, we’ve sent emergency aid to district officials who were gathering relief supplies for flood victims. We’ve continued our conversations with those who are responding to Network 211’s online gospel presentations throughout Mexico. And we’ve coordinated the prayer response within our missionary fellowship, ensuring that our co-laborers have the support they need to sustain the effort.
Still, we are aware, now more than ever, of the need to do more to reach the lost of Mexico. That is why we’re excited to serve as facilitators in this year’s Missionary Training where two additional missionary units will be joining us to prepare for their service in Mexico and to add their effort to the work.
A channel of peaceâ€”the fourteen-year-old boy who sang those words had no idea what they truly meant. Now, this 46-year-old man is beginning to comprehend. It’s hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, and joy in the midst of sadness. Thanks for your prayers and support that helps us to be just that in Mexico.
From church to school to check-ins with the office, everything has gone â€œvirtual.â€ Screens, which had dominated our lives prior to the Coronavirus Pandemic, are now taking up every waking minute and often putting us to bed at night. As we immerse ourselves further into this digital world, we find ourselves longing for “real” experiences. We’re anxious for the day that weâ€™ll be able to break out of quarantine and get back to living.
Still, although weâ€™re not asking for these stay-at-home orders to be extended, our family has found that gratitude for what we can enjoy in the meantime has helped ease the sting of our restricted lifestyle.Â So we thought weâ€™d share with you some of our real reasons for thanksgiving in this increasingly virtual world in which weâ€™re living.
First of all, weâ€™re healthy! Yes, although weâ€™d been potentially exposed to the coronavirus, none of us have exhibited symptoms. Instead, weâ€™ve been able to enjoy some special moments, like Daveâ€™s 46th birthday and a trip to a local park. And, although she had to undergo oral surgery, our dog, Kaixin, is doing fine as well.Â
Second, our 24 missionaries in Mexico are OK! One of our more pressing concerns has been the missionary body in Mexico, especially as the situation has worsened. Weâ€™re happy to report, however, that they are well and, although some have had to make moves because of the virus, they are continuing to engage in ministry as their situation permits. BTW, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, mentioned in our previous newsletter, have made miraculous comebacks!
Last, but certainly not least, your generosity is paying dividends! Through your support, weâ€™ve been able to participate in a program that is giving assistance to 1,150 pastors throughout Mexico as services are suspended and businesses are closed. Weâ€™ve also been able to participate with missionaries Paul and Sandy Kazim as they provide funds for personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical professionals. These doctors and nurses, who had worked with them in outreaches, are suddenly on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.Â These PPEs are helping them stay focused on meeting the need.Â
Some Holy Week sidewalk art has been one way that we’ve sought to reframe our unplanned family togetherness.
Encouraged by a webinar led by Michael Hyatt, I released a video to our team of missionaries assigned to Mexico at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. My intention as I recorded the video was to help my colleagues both process their emotions and to be productive even as so much around us was closing down. As we’ve continued through the days and weeks of social distancing, I’ve felt that the message that I shared with them would be worth sharing with a wider audience, even as many look forward to returning to some sense of normalcy.
Those steps to process our emotions and stay productive at home are the following:
Lament In our future-minded society, many of us feel that it may be unspiritual to mourn over the situation, or, if we choose to face reality, we somehow grant it power over us, but that doesnâ€™t seem to be the biblical pattern. Psalmâ€¬ â€42:4â€¬ â€says, â€œMy heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!â€
The reality is that this crisis has taken something from all of us. Kelly and I were looking forward to making some memories with our kids who were on Spring Break when we were notified that we had to go into self-imposed quarantine. We had tickets to Europe. We were just $150 from finishing our monthly support. All of those plans and goals have been shifted dramatically. What we expected to be moments of joy turned to spasms of anxiety, assessing ourselves for the dreaded symptoms and concerned for those that we could not reach. Of course, what weâ€™ve faced as a family is light in comparison to so many others who have lost income, work, businesses, and even loved ones because of this virus. Allow yourself to grieve over whatâ€™s been lost.
And don’t expect the grieving to be over after one good cry. I’ve been surprised as sadness has become at times particularly acute. One such instance came during Central Assembly’s Good Friday Service. From our TV, we saw images of a darkened sanctuary and an empty stage. An unseen choir sang accompanied by piano and violin while the camera panned the empty places where they would have stood. Inactive instruments seemed to memorialize the musicians who would have been playing. I cried as I wondered, “can we ever go back?”
Lean Still, even as we may be tempted to allow the grief to simply wash over us, we need to understand that we must rise up again. While we take time to lament, we must also learn to lean. The same psalm states: â€œWhy am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him againâ€” my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you. I routinely pray the words of Proverbs 3:5 and 6 â€œTrust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.â€ We may see things as bleak, but we cannot allow our limited perspective to determine our reaction. We must lean on the Lord. Trust in God, knowing that he is in control and that he will guide us through this crisis. He will take us through this storm and bring us into a place of peace.
Lead So while weâ€™ve allowed ourselves to lament and weâ€™ve determined to lean, we must also step up to lead. With so much at stake and so little clear direction, itâ€™s easy to find ourselves frozen with fear, allowing the news to overwhelm us, but inactivity is not an option. We must learn to be proactive in our approach, doing what we can where we can.
Right now, weâ€™re concerned about the world and those affected by the virus, weâ€™re concerned about the economy and the effect it will have on our retirement, our work or ministry, and even the ability to meet our day-to-day responsibilities. However, there is little to nothing that we can do to affect change in that circle. Staying there produces little but worry.
Where we can begin to have an effect is within our circle of influence. In this circle are our coworkers and colleagues, our friends and families. There, we can affect change through interactions of love and genuine concern, but we can do little even here until we operate in our circle of control, that is, until we become aware of ourselves and align our lives with the values that we hold: loving God and loving others. In other words, our prime influence or leadership is that of modeling. In that, we take care to maintain our spiritual hygiene: prayer, study, and meditation on the word, worship, fasting, etc. If weâ€™ve relegated our relationship with God to our church calendar, chances are we need to brush up on these areas. Letâ€™s take the time necessary to get our heart in the right place with Him.
At the same time, we take care to model best practices when it comes to staying healthy: using masks in public and keeping our physical distance from people, staying at home to reduce the infection rate and washing our hands regularly. In addition, let’s not forget physical exercise and adequate rest, always good ideas no matter the threat we may be facing.
Then, as we do reach out, I feel that we should be focusing on the three things that we can give to those who are in our circle of influence:Â
The first gift, equilibrium, is the most urgent and perhaps the easiest to give. Here, we’re providing the stability many need as their sources of income and circles of support have been disrupted. If they are sick, we’re helping facilitate their care. If they are hungry, we’re arranging a grocery delivery. If they are anxious or lonely, we’re the listening ear. Certainly, there are many ways that we can help to support our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances in this time of crisis. Some require our time, others, our money, but all require our thought and consideration. Let’s determine to be a blessing even as many of us have been blessed in our times of need.
The second gift, encouragement, is a bit more of a stretch. This requires us to step back and imagine what life might be like after this crisis passes. How will our daily lives look in this new normal, and how can we prepare ourselves to thrive in that reality? We’re painting for ourselves and others the picture of that future with the goal of embracing it. Certainly, there will be challenges but what about the opportunities? Yes, there will be routines that we will miss but what about the new experiences to embrace? Let’s make an effort here to help ourselves and those around us to begin to transition.
The final gift is empowerment. In business, this is the decentralization of the administration. In the church, this is the revitalization of the priesthood of all believers. This is the bestowing of the authority and the resources necessary to help our community make the transition to the new reality.Â This gift is becoming more important by the day.Â While I don’t believe that large corporations or professional ministry are going anywhere, if what we have after the pandemic is what we had before, we’ve missed out on a huge opportunity.Â Why couldn’t we use this time to push decision making closer to the people who are affected by those decisions? Why couldn’t we leverage this opportunity to equip our volunteers to not only caretake but truly care for those in their ministries? This can happen in units as small as the family and as large as the multi-site megachurch. The coronavirus is rewriting the future of the way we live, work, and associate, why not have a hand in editing that future?
I imagine that, even as we saw this virus take hold in China, none of us thought that, here in the US, weâ€™d be facing a crisis of this magnitude. Still, I think that as we give ourselves room to lament, as we learn to lean on the Lord, and as we step up to lead, first ourselves and then those in our circles of influence, we can not only survive but also thrive in this crisis. Know that Kelly and I are praying for you and are available to you via email, text, or phone call. We hope that youâ€™ll be there for one another as we continue through this situation.
#RallyHope: Our Mexico Missionaries pray for those sick with COVID-19
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
These words from Philippians 4:12-13, some of the first verses that we memorized in Spanish, have gained much more meaning in these last weeks:
A month ago, we had plenty of funds, having needed just $150 of monthly support to finish our itineration.
A month ago we had plenty of plans, having weekends full of services and upcoming trips to participate in strategic ministry and important meetings.
A month ago we had plenty of confidence, thinking that we were prepared to face any eventuality. But then came the disease called COVID-19.
Now, because of a virus so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, everything has changed.
Our itineration has been suspended.
Our travel plans have been canceled.
And any confidence in ourselves that we had to handle the crisis has disappeared in the face of a situation that continues to change minute by minute.
All travel, like our recent trip to Mexico for the Evangelism Conference, has been canceled.
Let’s face it, we do not have the strength to carry on in the face of the challenge of this disease.
We are active in prayer, but we do not have the power to see our companions, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, who fight against the coronavirus in their bodies, healed.
Being Mexico Area Directors, coordinating the ministry and movements of 24 families, we meet almost daily with our companions to help them, but we do not have in us the wisdom to guide them in the decisions they have to make in the midst of this crisis.
But we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength.
In the same way that we had thanked him for what we enjoyed in moments of abundance, we trust him now for what we need, the resources, the power, and the wisdom to overcome this situation.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, “Unbelievable?,” a Christian/Skeptic discussion show. Recently, they’ve switched format to focus on the new reality that we are all facing. In this particular podcast, the show host, Justin Briley, interviewed John Lennox, a renowned mathematician and Christian apologist. When talking about the grief related to the current pandemic, Lennox referenced the passage in John 11 of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (at the 5:30 mark in the podcast). In that passage, he states that Martha expressed her disappointment to Jesus upon his arrival. “Lord, if only you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” Jesus then made a statement that was difficult for her to accept. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She had enough theology, said Lennox, to know of a coming resurrection, but she was unprepared for Jesus’s response: “I am the resurrection and the life.”Â He goes on to say that he suspected that Martha then expected something big was going to happen. We, of course, know the rest of the story.
We have lost much in this pandemic: money, plans, a clear path forward, emotional stability, even friends and loved ones, and for that loss, we grieve, but Christ remains our hope. Even as we look to an Easter Sunday under stay-at-home orders, he remains our resurrection and our life.
Our prayer is that you and your loved ones have access to that hope and that strength that only Christ can give us.
We conclude with this well-known prayer: â€˜May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)’
Para los que hablan espaÃ±ol, he subido un video con la mayoria de este contenido. Se lo puede ver en YouTube.
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