Missions

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Last month, we said goodbye to Mexico City (CDMX), our home and base of operations since September of 2021. As we planned and packed, said our farewells, and boarded the plane for Springfield, MO, we felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities we’d been given and the contributions we’d made. Nevertheless, we depart with a sober understanding of the unfinished business we leave behind.

As we ministered in our last service at Casa de Dios, the storefront congregation pastored by Enoc Galván, we recognized our affection for our home church. This was where we regularly led worship, shared God’s Word, and prayed fervently for God’s move in Santa Úrsula, the neighborhood where the church is located. This was also a people from whom we’d received such tremendous hospitality and among whom we’d witnessed miracles.    

Similarly, as the ministers of Section 6 extended their hands to pray for us during our last meeting together, we reflected on the opportunities we’ve had to partner with them, preach in their churches, and encourage their congregations. These men and women have labored for the Lord and persevered in extreme circumstances. We’re honored to be considered their colleagues and receive their blessing.

Still, we can’t help but recognize how few are working to reach this city. Section 6 consists of only 6 churches in the Tlahuac and Itztapalapa municipalities with 2.2 million people. That’s over 366,000 people for each church to reach! City-wide, the Assemblies of God has only 52 churches among 9.2 million inhabitants*. Clearly, there is work to be done to increase the influence of the gospel message and the power of Pentecost in this megalopolis.

That’s why, as Dave prayed during the Spiritual Retreat, he asked the Lord to unite the congregations of CDMX in their work to reach the city.  We ask as well that He speed our return so we can rejoin our friends and resolve our unfinished business in Mexico City!

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. Saying goodbye to the congregation of Casa de Dios, our home church in Mexico City 
  2. Fellow ministers of Section 6 pray for us during our last meeting together.
  3. Dave was invited to pray for the ministers of Distrito Sur during the Spiritual Retreat.

*As a comparison, New Jersey has a population of 9.3 million and 228 Assemblies of God churches.

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Elijah was as human as we are and yet when he prayed fervently… —James 5:17

Phil caught Dave’s attention in the hallway. He was one of the new candidate missionaries seeking approval from the World Missions Board during the Spring Pre-field and Candidate Orientation (PFO/CO) Event, which took place March 9th-15th in Springfield, MO.

He said, “You prayed for me during General Council in August, and now I’m here to become a missionary to Paraguay!”

Phil reminded Dave of how they met in the World Missions exhibit while his family was attending the Fine Arts Festival in another part of the convention center. He knew he was called to be a missionary, but his family wasn’t ready to take the next step. Praying together, Dave and Phil asked God to confirm His calling on the entire family, and there they were, just months later, committed to making disciples in Paraguay!

Prayer can be difficult. With our busy schedules, there seems to be so little time to intercede for our own needs, much less to pray for the nations and for workers to reach them, but we’re encouraged by the Scriptures, God answers the prayers of ordinary humans, even ours!

In addition to Phil and his wife Yariana’s calling, we’re seeing our 10.2 prayers (read Luke 10:2) being answered. During this PFO/CO, we welcomed 4 new global workers destined for Mexico—Crystal Lodico, working with youth, Jennifer and Aldo Wajajay, planting churches among the indigenous, and Melissa Sederwall reaching children. In all, 125 new missionaries participated in the week’s training. Keep pausing each day at 10:02 AM or PM and ask God to continue to send workers to Mexico and around the world.

We’re happy to say that God answers those personal requests as well. We’ve always sought more opportunities for ministry as a couple. When travel issues kept another team member from teaching during the main Bible in Ministry sessions. Kelly filled in and did a wonderful job!

Photo Captions:

  1. Dave prayed with Phil in the LAC General Council Exhibit in August of 2023. In March, he and his wife, Yariana, were approved as candidate missionaries to Paraguay.
  2. 10.2 prayers answered! The Wajajays (right), Melissa Sederwall (center), and Crystal Lodico (left) are new workers for Mexico.
  3. A suitable helper: Kelly stepped up to help facilitate the Bible in Ministry Competency.

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Growing up in the nineties, we remember the famous CT Studd quote as presented by singer Steve Camp:

“Some people want to live within the sound of chapel bells, but I want to run a mission a yard from the gates of hell.”

As Mexico Area Directors, we’re honored to serve those who work in the hard places. Take places like Guadalajara, where Centro de Adoración a Jesus, the first Assemblies of God church in the city center was dedicated last month. Julio Cesar Andrade, the District Superintendent and event speaker, called it a difficult place. That was evident as both panhandling and prostitution could be observed from the building’s front windows. However, Rich DeMartino, the missionary church planter who founded the work, called it a lighthouse, a beacon to those facing disaster without its presence. We’re glad to have had a hand in establishing this new center of hope in Guadalajara, and we rejoice for its ministry.

Mexico City is another, where colleagues, Paul and Sandy Kazim, have partnered with Projecto Vida Integral, a church ministering to the students of the local Teen Challenge Center and their families. They’re intervening in the lives of desperate people seeking liberation from life-controlling addictions. The Kazims hosted a meal to recognize the installation of its new pastor, Mariano Ramirez, for whom we had the honor to pray.

Whether in bustling urban centers or remote jungle villages, LAC global workers are planting new works and seeing lives changed in the hard places as last month’s Church Planters’ Dialogue in Managua, Nicaragua highlighted. Still, there are many more hard places yet to reach like Distrito Laguna, where the Mexican National Church asks for workers to catalyze outreach efforts, or the major cities of Mexico, languishing for the lack of church planting movements. We’re thankful for your support of us and others working in the hard places. Please keep praying, giving, and going with us until they are reached.

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 pastor Alfredo Trejo of Centro de Adoración a Jesus with fellow global workers, Joel Viera, Rich DeMartino, and Chris Abiuso
  2. Praying with the Kazims for Mariano Ramirez, pastor of Proyecto Vida Integral
  3. LAC Missionaries present for the Church Planters’ Dialogue in Managua, Nicaragua

If you follow the news, you know that reports from Mexico are routinely related to complicated issues most would rather avoid. However, despite the headlines, God is moving in Mexico! And just last month, we witnessed more proof of that statement.

In December, we traveled to Pozuelos, Hidalgo to witness what can only be described as a modern-day version of the story of Cornelius. Only months prior, fellow missionaries, Peter and Delia Breit, received a call asking them to share Jesus with a family that was waiting to hear the gospel. When they arrived that day, they were met by more than 20 people in a brand-new church building eager to listen t what they had to say.

They found out that a brother had immigrated to the United States where he joined an evangelical church. With the desire that his entire family share in his experience of salvation, he began sending money back to Mexico, instructing his siblings to build a church where they could gather to learn about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And there, in that very church, as Peter and Delia spoke, many in his family decided to follow Him!

Since then, Peter and Delia as well as missionaries, Larry and Melodee Gruetzmacher, have been visiting the village weekly to teach these new believers how to incorporate their new-found faith into their everyday lives individually and corporately. During our time there with Larry and Melodee, we had the opportunity to encourage the adults from the Scriptures and interact with the children, showing them how Jesus is present amid difficult circumstances. We also evidenced the transformation that He was accomplishing in these precious people, giving them hope and a heart to help others.

Yes, in Mexico, and around the world, bad news is easy to encounter. Still, God is moving. Thank you for your prayers and support that allow us to be a part of what He is doing!

Photo captions:

  1. The congregation in Pozuelos following the Christmas service. Kelly found out that this was the first time several of the children heard the Christmas story. 
  2. Encountering encouragement in the Scripture.

  3. Opening hearts in simple worship.

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The mission of Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) is to establish the Church among all peoples everywhere, by reaching, planting, training, and serving. We are privileged as Area Directors to provide leadership to our 44 missionary colleagues who labor in partnership with the national church throughout the country to evangelize the lost, disciple new believers, and catalyze vibrant, gospel ministry. All of this activity, though, must be in service of our mission–the establishment of the Church.

Therefore, nothing gives us cause for celebration like being able to share that, Centro de Adoración a Jesús, a church planted by missionaries Rich and Jenni DeMartino as the first Assemblies of God church in downtown Guadalajara finally has a permanent home!

This congregation, originally planted in an upper-class neighborhood, responded to the needs of the homeless in the park, Jardín Villa de Cigales, during the COVID pandemic. There, they labored in the open air, reaching dozens each week with a free meal and the message of hope in Jesus. We had the opportunity to witness this mission of mercy, joining Rich and Jenni and pastors, Alfredo Trejo and Shulamita Esparza, in August of 2022, helping to distribute food and translate a gospel message alongside a team from Pittsfield, MA.

While happy to see lives being touched, Rich and Jenni longed to establish a permanent presence in the neighborhood, a place where the disadvantaged could have their needs met holistically, growing in relationship with a discipling community. But, even during our second visit this April, the price and availability of a suitable building threatened to dash their hopes.

However, God blessed their determination as they scoured the area in search of property and inspired the Latin America Caribbean Region, the Mexico Missionary Fellowship, and individual donors to provide the necessary resources to make Rich and Jenni’s dream a reality. This August 4th, Rich and Jenni, Alfredo and Shulamita, and the Superintendent of Distrito Occidente, Elizabeth Lopez, signed the purchase papers and received the keys to the new permanent home of Centro de Adoración a Jesús. We praise God for His provision and anticipate stories of changed lives as this new facility is put to use.

However, even as we celebrate this milestone, the words of Loren Triplett, former Executive Director of AGWM, ring in our ears, “We dare not measure our successes against anything but the unfinished task.” Although Centro de Adoración a Jesús has a home, there are still whole cities in Mexico that lack a similar witness. As the DeMartinos move into active retirement, the question increasingly becomes who will be that witness?

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. Church planters, Jenni and Rich Demartino
  2. Pastor David McIntosh from The Christian Assembly in Pittsfield, MA preaches while Dave translates during an outreach in the park, Jardín Villa de Cigales, in downtown Guadalajara in August of 2022.
  3. Alfredo and Shulamita, pastors of Centro de Adoración a Jesús, receive the keys to their new permanent facility in downtown Guadalajara.  

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We’re just back from a whirlwind trip by air and land to the south of Mexico and through America’s heartland. We began by boarding a plane in Mexico City to travel to the Latin America Caribbean (LAC) Retreat. This event, which took place from July 24th to 28th, gathered over 580 people from the entire region for rest and renewal. As area hosts, Kelly and I helped coordinate logistics for the event which also served to kick off LAC’s new advocacy campaign: “Enter the Story.”

“Enter the Story” is a product of the team led by Caribbean Area Directors, David and Kristen Speer. It presents three major blocks of the people of LAC: Unreached People Groups, the Emerging Generation, and the Urban Masses as largely unengaged by the gospel narrative. During the retreat, each Area Director presented a 5-minute window, highlighting the plight of an individual representing these groups. Kelly and I presented the story of Blanca, a member of the Urban Masses living in Mexico City.

In Blanca’s message to us via Network211, she spoke of her desperation, tired of trying to make ends meet. We responded to her with the hope of the gospel, but her access to an example of it is limited. While the most she’d have to walk to fill her stomach at a taco stand is four blocks, the journey to feed her soul in an Assembly of God church may take over 11 miles. In this city of 583 square miles, the Assemblies of God has only 52 churches–there are 1.6 million taco stands.

Following the LAC Retreat, we traveled stateside to Columbus, OH to be a part of the team to assemble and unveil the new interactive LAC exhibit which featured the stories of LAC’s unengaged at General Council ’23 (GC23), our fellowship’s national conference. During our time there, we served as “Story Influencers,” helping visitors understand the messages and encouraging them to respond.

Thank you for your prayers and support! As you help us to “Enter the Story” of LAC’s unengaged, you’re “Changing the Narrative.”

Photo Captions:

  1. Over 580 people gathered in Mexico July 24th-28th for the LAC Regional Retreat, “Reignite.” We were a part of the team coordinating logistics for the event. 
  2. For the roll out of the “Enter the Story” advocacy campaign, we prepared and presented a 5-minute window during the LAC Retreat.
  3. We served with fellow global workers as “Story Influencers” during GC23. Here we’re pictured in the LAC exhibit with Bill and Joy Wilson from the Oregon Ministry Network.  

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We’re back in Mexico City! We’ve recently returned from our trip to Springfield, MO, the second part of which was dedicated to Missionary Training and Renewal.

As we reported in our last newsletter, Dave was asked to join the Global Resource Training Team (GRTT) to help teach the Bible in Ministry Competency (BiM) to all candidate missionaries and missionary associates across the Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) organization. During his participation, Dave led the group through an exercise to facilitate an appreciation of the Bible as an ancient book and the need to understand the context of its original audience to hear and correctly apply its timeless message today. BiM is a work in progress and Dave will be meeting with the team in August to further develop the competency for future training sessions.

This installment of Missionary Training saw 155 missionaries and associates trained and commissioned to serve throughout the world. Among them were new global workers destined for Mexico. Joey and Gabi Ross are appointed missionaries headed to Aguascalientes, and Fausto and Debbie Martinez are missionary associates headed to Tijuana. They are an answer to prayer as we continue to ask the Lord to send more workers (Luke 10:2)!

The last week of June was dedicated to Missionary Renewal. This is a special time when veteran missionaries from all over the world join with the candidates to seek the Lord in worship and prayer. It was marked by powerful services with challenging messages as well as wonderful moments of fellowship. During the week, we welcomed Cory and Angela Hogan, veteran missionaries to university students in Guanajuato.

As we reflect on our time in the States, we can’t help but be grateful for your prayers and support that enable us to serve in this leadership capacity. Thank you for standing with us!

Photo captions:

  1. Dave had his first participation as a member of the GRTT, teaching a portion of the BiM competency to all new AGWM global workers.
  2. Joey and Gabi Ross (center) are new workers headed to Aguascalientes. Cory and Angela Hogan (left) are veterans who were on hand for Missionary Renewal.
  3. Debbie and Fausto Martinez are new associates destined for Tijuana.

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Our daughter, Rebekah, was married on May 27th. It was a beautiful celebration of her union with her new husband, Luke Balch, and the beginning of a new chapter for the Godzwa family. But it was also an opportunity to reflect on the role that we play in all of our relationships.

Luke and Rebekah were wed on May 27th. Their lives are a beautiful example of those who respond to the love of God.

In my comments during the reception, after extolling the qualities of the happy couple, I asked the question, “How have they (Rebekah and Luke) arrived at this place of mutual appreciation and love, at this point of union and expectation for their future together?”

Answering that question, I continued, “As their parents, family, and friends, we’d like to take the credit, for our encouragement, our example, our investment, or our wise and constant counsel, and, yes, we’ve all played a part, contributed as they say our granito de arena. But I, for one, would say that, as a dad, my gaffs probably far outweigh my grace and my failings far outstrip my successes.

However, what I do believe we’ve done successfully in their lives is to serve as signposts, pointing to a higher love, a more perfect example, a richer investment, and a wiser counsel, things each of them has found in the person of Jesus. I believe the reason that Luke and Rebekah have arrived here ready to give themselves one to another is that they first gave themselves to Him.”

Granito de arena is a Spanish phrase that means grain of sand. And in essence, whether our relationships are personal or professional, that is the weight of our influence. Paul says it this way, “It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.”* Although we make our best effort, even living in foreign lands, our work is only important inasmuch as it serves as a signpost. As we draw near to the people we love and serve, the best we can do is point them, through that love and service, to the only One who can truly save.

The Bible refers to the role as “image bearer,” an angled mirror, reflecting God’s heart to his creation.** It is only as others see the light of that love, shining through us, yes, but originating from God, that they are able to experience their own transformation.

We’re glad to say that Rebekah and Luke have experienced such a transformation, and we give God credit for the work He’s done. We’re also grateful for your support as we draw near to the people of Mexico, serving as signposts of God’s saving love.

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!

*1 Cor. 3:7 **NT Wright, “Being an Image Bearer“, Biologos.com, 2013.

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Just south of the double-row fence line that marks the US-Mexican border, Art Stoneking, one of the 24 missionaries with whom we collaborate in Mexico, is driving us in his white Dodge pickup. We’re headed out of the coastal city of Tijuana, Baja California, to the Monte de Dios Children’s Home, where he and his wife Joyce have labored to rescue, redeem, and raise children born into impossible circumstances.

Art and Joyce Stoneking, in front of the Monte de Dios Children’s Home that they direct in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

As we weave through the traffic, trying to avoid the potholes on the poorly patched road,  Art tells the unlikely story of their arrival in Mexico, a place where he vacationed as a child and partied as a soldier. Their journey took them on a circuitous path from Southern California through Arizona and some brushes with the law before they recommitted their lives to the Lord and dedicated themselves to service in the local church. It was there that the Lord called them to be missionaries.

They began their missionary career working with church planter and builder, David Godwin. Serving as his associates, they ran logistics for teams and helped with construction, but what captivated them was their work with the children.

And in that work with children, Art and Joyce have truly lived out the counsel, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might.” (Ecc. 9:10) As we drove further into the Mexican countryside, Art told stories of healing and provision. Admitting that they lacked professional experience and sufficient funding to run a children’s home, they’ve provided a safe, loving environment for dozens of kids, giving back the nutrition, education, and opportunities that their desperate circumstances had taken from them. The smiling faces that greeted them as we arrived at the home both from the children gathered in the living room and the photos of the graduates of their program are testimonies to the Lord’s faithfulness and their perseverance over more than 26 years of missionary ministry.

After telling us a story of how the Lord intervened in the lives of infant twins at death’s door that they nursed back to health, Art let out a sigh and exclaimed, “I’d rather have miracles than money!” Now in their seventies and closing in on retirement, their 403B may not impress many, but their investment in the children of Mexico continues to produce eternal dividends.

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The Area Director is a unique position from which to observe behavior, both our own and that of the missionaries that we serve. From this vantage point, I’ve come to realize two things: we’re incredibly resourceful and remarkably independent, often to a fault.

Let me explain: we take it upon ourselves to hustle. I’ve heard it repeatedly said: “pray as though it all depends on God, and work as though it all depends on you.” We take this mentality into every stage of ministry. And, although it often leads to tremendous productivity, it can also lead to tremendous amounts of stress. We take it upon ourselves to see that the job is finished, inevitably ending in self-judgment when we fail to measure up to our own expectations.

We’re signaling our availability to lend a hand. Kaixin? She just wants a place to nap!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not writing this to complain about a lack of support in our organization. On the contrary, Assemblies of God World Missionaries are among the best supported in the world. But it’s often our own pioneering mentality that keeps us from taking advantage of the resources at our disposal.

A recent conversation brought this tendency into full view. As we met with a colleague about another issue, we came to find out that this particular missionary was injured, but, despite the risk of further injury, was single-handedly attempting to accomplish a labor-intensive task. We stopped the conversation then and there and offered our help, help unlooked for, but gladly received. 

Of course, as we point the finger at another, we find that there are three pointing back at us. We ourselves aren’t immune to this determination to try to “tough it out.” I remember one occasion, attending a national event, having received news that Kelly had broken her foot, it took the strong encouragement of my mentor missionaries for me to make plans to return early and not leave my wife alone, on one leg, struggling to manage three children on the mission field.

Understanding this tendency, we’ve made it a priority to make ourselves available. By publishing our calendar and distributing it to the missionaries that we serve, they know when we are free to give them our full attention. By scheduling a weekly time of prayer, we’ve let them know that when they are weak they have an open invitation to receive moral and spiritual support, and when they are strong they have an opportunity to give it to someone else.

We know, these are but small moves in the grand scheme of supporting these highly-motivated and highly-capable global workers, but we feel that these are just the open doors that those who never thought to knock just might find themselves walking through. Thanks for your support which enables us to be there for them when they choose to do so.

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