Missions

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Our 2020 Missionary Training Table Group

During the past few months of stay-at-home orders, I’ve taken to walking the perimeter of our backyard to spend my “alone time” 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 sun’s light would shift to reveal new pieces, even though I had removed the previously discovered ones. It’s also been a bit rainy lately, maybe some of the pieces were just under the surface.  But, you would think after a while, the path would be cleared of debris – it’s fairly well-worn, after all.

This made me think of the spiritual path we walk.  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.  We remove them from our path and dispose of them, content to know we won’t get cut on our next “go-round.”  But now that we’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 “round table” 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 “shards” 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.  We want to pause, bend down, and carefully collect them in order to dispose of them.  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.

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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.

It is in times like these that we are thankful to be a part of the strong networks that exist within the Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) organization. Even as the crisis in Mexico deepened, our missionary fellowship partnered with the national church to sponsor over 1000 of the neediest pastors within the fellowship and joined fellow missionaries, Paul and Sandy Kazim, in their effort to provide personal protective equipment for some of those on the front lines of Mexico’s COVID-19 response.

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 peace—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.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas this month or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter.

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On the back of the Latin America Caribbean Prayer Map is a quote from Loren Triplett, a former Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions. He said, “We dare not measure our success against anything but the unfinished task.” This is a sobering thought. While we can certainly rejoice in past accomplishments, we do not have the luxury to simply reminisce. We must move forward.

But what is the unfinished task, and how do we “level up” to finish it? In the short term, our unfinished task is obtaining the resources that we’ll need to sustain us for our upcoming term. We could boast of the thousands of miles we’ve traveled, or the dozens of services that we’ve celebrated, but if we fail to secure the intercessors who will pray on our behalf or the financial partners who will invest in the vision, we’ll have run our race in vain. This past quarter, we’re excited to have signed on 30 new intercessors and elated to have cut our financial need to just $291 a month. Nevertheless, the task remains unfinished. So, in February, we leveled up, traveling the Southern Missouri Sectional Council Tour. Those eight days of making connections helped us add another 10 services to our itinerary to ensure that the task is finished.

As we look beyond our itineration to our role as Area Directors, we’re aware that the task in front of us requires a greater commitment on our part. It’s a position taking us beyond our areas of expertise and stretching us to develop new skills. That’s why, as a couple, we’re leveling up. On April 21st, Kelly will be ordained by the Southern Missouri District, leveling up her credentials as we form a new partnership in ministry, aligned to provide the vision, leadership, member care, and administrative support that the position requires.

However, we’re aware that these efforts are only intermediary. The redemption of Mexico is the goal. The number of the lost stands at more than 113 million people. Now, more than ever, we need your help to reach them. We’re doing our part to prepare, will you join us in the effort? Will you level up with us to reach Mexico? Sign up to be one of the 130 intercessors we need to reach 500. Begin or increase your financial partnership with us so that we can meet our monthly support goal, or discover how you can take the next step on the journey to join our missionary team. And don’t forget to let us know how we can support you. We’re leveling up our prayers on your behalf as well!

Thanks for keeping up with us. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas this month or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter.

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The Next Step

“God has been dealing with me about missions, but I’m not sure what to do next.” 

“My heart was broken for Latin America on a missions trip I took last summer. How can I make a difference?”

Those statements were just a sampling of the dozens of conversations that we had with college students who had gathered in Greenville, South Carolina at the Chi Alpha South East SALT Conference to ring in the New Year with renewed commitments to relationship with Christ and his mission to redeem the world. We traveled there, following our Christmas vacation in Pennsylvania, to engage with the 400+ in attendance from a variety of campuses, helping them connect the dots from their college days to a possible missions career.  While conversation was key, we also teamed up with fellow missionaries Josh Sears (Brazil) and Doug Sayers (LAC Advocacy) to show the almost 200 leaders in attendance the multiple ways that their groups could partner with missionaries in the region on a short-term or ongoing basis through trips and internships.

What’s even more exciting, however, is knowing that it has never been easier to take the next step into missions. During our time in Greenville, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the Latin America Caribbean website, lacworldmissions.org. Not only are there ways to commit to pray for the ministry that is taking place throughout our region or give in its support, there is also the option to begin the process of joining with us by responding to one of multiple ministry opportunities.

But don’t take our word for it.  Why not head there yourself and begin taking your own next step?

Our travels during the Christmas Season: From Springfield, MO* to Erie, PA to Greenville, SC and back!

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With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m sure you remember what it was like to sit at the “little table.” It was the one in the corner, or, worse yet, in a completely different room of the house. There, you’d groan, doomed to spend another meal dealing with the shenanigans of your little cousins, all the while wondering what kinds of mature conversations were happening at the “Big Table.”

But then, all of a sudden, you’d graduated. Maybe you went away to college and returned, or you’d gotten married and, without warning or preparation, you’d been given a seat at the big table. Are those your palms sweating, or is it just the condensation from the bowl of mashed potatoes? Is that a lump in your throat, or have you just forgotten to chew your food? Maybe, you think, you’d be more comfortable back at the little table. It’s funny, though, in the same way we’d always wanted to be at the Big Table, when the time came, we found that those who were there to receive us were truly glad to have us.

That holiday analogy was a bit of what our experience was like as we took part in first our Area Directors’ meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. In a room where over 400 years of combined missions service was present, we certainly felt the junior members. All the same, we were received during those sessions as part of the team, encouraged to take part and affirmed as we did. What a joy it was to hear and be able to weigh in on the strategic conversations taking place to ensure the increasing number as well as the security and effectiveness of our missionary colleagues throughout Latin America.

So, if you’re finding yourself on the threshold of increasing responsibility and wondering if you’re ready to take your service to the next level, be encouraged. Chances are, others have been looking forward to your contribution. Needing a bit more convincing? Check out this article.

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We’ve just come out of a great season of activity with teams here on the Yucatán peninsula throughout the month of March. In the first week, we were blessed by Chi Alpha (XA) groups from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, DC as they renovated Monte Horeb, a church revitalization project in Sotuta, Yucatán. Afterward, we headed south to the town of Tekax to continue the construction of the new church, Senda de Vida, accompanied by members of Rolla First Assembly and fellow missionaries, Nicky Rider and Loyd Cogdill.

The physical impact of their trip was apparent, as the XA team raised a new roof over the church building in Sotuta, and in Tekax, block walls rose from the ground, forming a new sanctuary through the efforts of the team from Rolla First. But, there was more to these trips than the construction itself.

There was a work of encouragement. I think that this quote from Mike, my twin brother and XA team leader, says it best. “I felt like our team was able to make a significant impact in Sotuta. With 16 students and staff pitching in, we moved the construction project forward, but, even more importantly, we were able to encourage a young pastor and his family. The last night affirming and praying over Pastor Erik and his ministry there was powerful (photo top left)! I believe great things are in store.”

There was a work of restoration. In Tekax, not only were former members encouraged to rededicate their lives to the Lord through the visit of the Rolla team, but also one of the ladies in the church testified of physical healing after several team members had prayed for her!

There was also a work of unification. The teams came together despite the difference in language and culture, despite the heat and the pressure of the jobs they faced. As Sam, one of the XA team members said, they left their comfort zone to give of themselves. Whether that was in the sharing of a testimony, in Sam’s case (photo top middle), or singing “10,000 Reasons” in English during the welcome service, in the case of the Spanish speaking church members in Tekax (photo top right), each group made an effort to come nearer, to bridge the gaps, to know and be known as the body of Christ. The result was truly something beautiful, and the impact, for both team members and nationals alike, profound.

As we close this update, we express our gratitude, not only to the teams and the churches that received them, but also to you, our supporters, who make it possible for us to facilitate these connections, working to fulfill the vision of the Yucatán full of churches. For our updated prayer list and links to our secure giving site, head over to our support page.

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The missionary task is two-fold. Primarily, it involves incarnating into the host culture, which includes partnering with the national church to spread the message of the gospel and discipling those who believe, but there is another part of the equation. Without the engagement of those who send, without inspiration to participate in the Great Commission in a practical way, it won’t be long before the missionary must return for lack of support.

Here in Mexico, the reduced costs of travel make it easier to bring these two worlds together, but this presents another difficulty—how to blend them. How do we utilize external support without harming the indigenous church? How can we insure a positive experience for those who come while producing a lasting effect for those who remain?

Such a balance requires a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground as well as flexibility on the part of those who come to minister. Fortunately, our partnership with church planters like Roberto Ortega, Josué Díaz, and Yónatan Segura provide that necessary insight into the local situation, while teams, such as our most recent from supporting church Chapel Springs of Bristow, VA, adapt to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs our national partners express.

This past week, then, it was a joy to see this team of 19 youth and adults link arms with our Mexican brothers and sisters to make an impact in Kiní, Dzemul, and Motul, Yucatán. The trip began with a powerful welcome service, one in which a former spiritist couple committed their lives to Christ. This was followed by a week of construction on the church parsonage and bathrooms in Kiní in the mornings and Vacation Bible School ministry and sports in the evening in all three locations.

The week was not without its difficulties, heat and sickness among them, but, having worked together, a church building is nearer to completion in Kiní, a children’s ministry has begun in Dzemul, and a fledgling church plant has enjoyed increased public awareness in Motul. For this synergy in missions, we’re thankful.

Photo captions:

Rebekah gives explanation during VBS craft time in Dzemul (large).

David Bontrager gives shape to the parsonage in Kiní (top).

Mexican/American partnership in outreach to Motul (middle).

Bittersweet: The last missions team for our trio (bottom left).

Dave and Kevin minister in the midst of construction material (bottom right).

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imageIt was a scene from a past generation. Huipiles (a traditional Mayan dress) and guayaberas (AKA Mexican wedding shirts) were on display everywhere you looked. Traditional music, played by guitars, drums, and a an accompanying conch filled the air. The language of choice? Maya. It was Mayan Night at the district missions convention and a time of celebration of the heritage of the residents of the Yucatan peninsula.

The church has come far to be able to put on such a display at a major event like this one. Although events like the 2012 prophecies have done much much to help revive an interest in all things Mayan, one does not have to move too far into the past to find negative attitudes toward the Mayan way of life, thinking of it as anachronistic, and those who felt that speaking the language as a sign of ignorance or a lack of education. This embrace of the Mayan culture, therefore, is a sign of just how much these old attitudes have changed.

Nevertheless, even though our dress and the principle language spoken called us to remember the past, the subject of the conversation: the unfinished task of the Great Commission, encouraged us to look toward the future and partner with God who is in mission, beyond the borders of the peninsula, even around the world. I was privileged to be a part of this latter effort as I gave a conference entitled, “Crossing Cultural Barriers.” In it, I encouraged the Yucatecan church to move past the divisions that separate us from making a worldwide impact through compassionate, incarnational ministry as we unashamedly point our listeners toward Christ. We do this I said, because of God’s universality, the mandate we have been given, the blessing that comes from obedience to that calling, and because of the fact that God is already there working among the various cultures, calling them to repentance and faith in Him.

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The conferences, therefore, as well as the cross-cultural missionaries present and the calls for involvement in mission on a local, national, and international level were an encouraging sign of this traditionally Mayan culture’s desire to be involved in God’s redemptive plan. The second evening showed just how strong it was. Two songs into the service, the power went out to the whole block. The service continued without missing a beat, and the people, without even fans to keep them cool, stayed to witness a missionary parade illuminated by cellphones and a sermon encouraging short term missions involvement amplified by a gas powered generator.

In all, it was a wonderful event. Upon reflection, I see it as a blend of gratitude for a culture that God has redeemed and an affirmation of the increasing role that this culture must play in God’s worldwide mission in the years to come.

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From March 5th through the 12th, students across the United States were celebrating their Spring Break. Many of them planned to catch up on some much needed rest. Others were on their way to more exotic destinations, but one group of students had different plans. Sure, they started out as many of their peers, making their way from Dulles International Airport to Cancun, but the rest of their itinerary was drastically different. They skipped the parties to take up paint brushes and cashed in their chance at sleeping in for the opportunity to spread some joy to the people of the Yucatan.

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Yes, just last week we had the pleasure of hosting a combined Spring Break team of Chi Alpha students from American and Virginia Commonwealth Universities. The team of 14 students and staff, including my twin brother Mike, worked together with Bible school students at Instituto Bíblico Bethel to advance our construction project and give the existing buildings a much needed fresh coat of paint. They ministered in area churches, blessing congregations with their songs, skits, testimonies, and messages. They also spent time in Sierra Papacal, preparing the church land for upcoming construction while hosting services for children and adults alike.

But these Chi Alpha teams are valuable for more than what they leave behind, be it roof raised, or a wall painted, or a service celebrated. They serve as catalysts for new and continuing ministry.

Through our eight years working with short term missions trips, we’ve seen how they’ve facilitated pivotal relationships with people that we count as partners to this day. We’ve watched as their foreign investment has encouraged nationals to move forward to complete the work they they had begun, and we’ve witnessed how their example has been emulated by others who have been touched by their ministry.

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This trip was no exception. Interested in investigating the situation of students in secular universities in Mexico, Mike had asked me if I could coordinate a time of prayer and fellowship with a group of students on a local college campus. We held a meeting at the School of Architecture that was to last for only two hours. Instead, it stretched to more than three as the blended group of students worshiped together, encouraged one another and prayed for each other.

Come to find out, it was a shot in the arm for the campus fellowship that we visited. Having gone through a time of transition, they were having difficulty meeting and were at the point of disbanding. Rosy, a university employee who had been serving as a sort of sponsor for the group, thanked God for the timeliness of their visit and expressed a renewed vision for rejuvenating the flagging ministry.

So 14 students returned home last Saturday, perhaps a bit worse for the wear–maybe walking more slowly across their campuses or dozing in some of their classes. It’s to be expected; they didn’t have a vacation, they were participating in catalyzation, and we along with many others here in the Yucatan are grateful that they did!

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I sat there in the audience as I heard the report. It was Missions Sunday and we were hearing from a recently returned missions intern. Like many other missions interns she had been sent to a remote, indigenous village. However, in this particular case, the work in that village had been going on there for 20+ years. She also reported that village was nearly 50% Christian. This information made me scratch my head. Why would she be sent there? She was sent there because the church had been without a pastor for two years. There was no one who had wanted to “go” to that poor, remote village.

I wondered if I was the only one hearing her talk. I wanted to ask, after twenty years, weren’t there those among the village qualified to take up leadership of the congregation, especially if half of the population professed Christ? Had the discipleship process been so slow that, even after all that time, there was no one who could serve as the pastor? By calling on a missionary to fulfill that role, were they dooming the work to remain a foreign one, one that would continue to need outside resources to even survive?

Still, as I reflect on some of the works that we’ve observed, even had a hand in planning, I have to admit, there are several that are dependent on foreign resources and personnel just to stay afloat. And while, in many of those cases, we can marvel at the testimony of change in individual lives, the organization fails to fulfill its potential, because it’s been held back by its “overprotective parents” or its unsustainable model.

“There’s got to be a better way,” we’ve told ourselves, and we believe we’ve found that way. In our summer 2015 newsletter, I spoke about a training seminar that Kelly had taken called “CHE.” Since that time, both of us have had the opportunity to receive training, and we’re now at the point of putting our training into practice.

CHE or Community Health Evangelism is a system that enables a community to take responsibility for their own holistic well-being (physical, emotional, and spiritual). Limiting outside resources, CHE empowers participants to discover biblical personal wellness and strive to make their community a better place to live. It’s decidedly low-tech with a view to invite grassroots participation from the very beginning and to train up leaders to take over the program soon after it begins.

Since our time in Tixpehual, seeing the slow progress that the A/G has made in that town, we’ve asked ourselves if that community of roughly 3400 people would be a good place to begin a CHE community. We’ve investigated and determined that the interest was there to move forward. This coming Friday, November 13, we begin a vision seminar designed to explain CHE’s potential.

Can we guarantee that CHE will be the answer to the slow, halting progress in Tixpehual? In a word, no, but we can begin well through CHE. Through it we can help its leaders and participants to understand that the gospel can and will grow. It will grow when we realize that it is an integrated message that brings wellness to the whole person and when we personally engage in applying that message to our situation.

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