With the relaxing of pandemic protocols, we’ve been able to increase our travel and engagement with both the national church and the missionaries that we serve. Following our prayer retreat with the Latin America Caribbean (LAC) Leadership Team, we hit the road in our Speed the Light vehicle to Leon, Guanajuato, the setting of last year’s General Council, to attend the National Women’s Conference. There, Kelly joined the group of 6,000 ladies from across Mexico that was inspired and equipped during the three-day event (first photo). We were also able to appreciate the creativity of fellow missionary, Angela Hogan, who designed and coordinated the creation of the traditional cross-stitch scenery pieces for the event.
Closer to home, in Mexico City, we’ve found how our proximity to the national offices has given us the opportunity to cultivate key relationships. During the Executive Presbytery meetings in early February, Dave was able to meet with the newly elected national missions director, Abiud Montoya, and secretary, Honorio Andrade (last photo), to discuss ways in which we can help them to develop their department and increase their impact both nationally, amongunreached people groups, and internationally.
Among the missionary body, we’ve begun a focus on soul care, and Kelly has been leading several of the ladies of the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course (EHS). EHS is designed to promote holistic transformation in areas that are sometimes neglected in traditional discipleship programs, and the women of the MMF are enjoying the meaningful ministry in their own lives and the access to the tools they’ll be able to share with others. Dave also joined the LAC training team to teach the Bible in Ministry competency during candidate orientation in Springfield, MO, March 5th-11th (middle photo).
This isn’t what we wanted. In February of 2022, we had expected to be viewing the pandemic in the rearview mirror. However, here in Mexico at least, we find ourselves in the middle of a fourth wave of infection, with cases higher than they’ve ever been. Our faces are rubbed raw from the constant use of masks, our hands are irritated from the constant use of sanitizer, and our patience has seemingly worn thin with everyone and everything as we deal with yet another canceled event, another notice of exposure, or another positive test result.
Still, I think what most affects us is the uncertainty of it all. We follow the guidelines, uncertain if they will protect us. We take the treatments, uncertain if they will make us better, and we make plans, uncertain if we’ll be able to keep them. We are in effect off-balance, stumbling into an uncertain future. Nothing works the way it used to, and the solutions we’ve gone to in the past don’t seem to fix the problems we’re facing today.
Here, though, we’re faced with a choice. The situation, it seems, will not change, or at least will not change in the way that we had hoped it would. Therefore, we must ask ourselves are we willing to change in the face of the situation? Will we continue to fight against the pandemic trying to overcome it as an impediment to our progress, or will we adapt and allow this moment to teach us about ourselves and how we can transform and grow in spite of the restrictions? Can we learn through this pandemic that sometimes, the obstacle is the way?
You may be wondering, where is it that you’re coming up with this crazy idea? Would you believe from our time teaching the Bible? As we’ve been teaching in the local church, we’ve encountered moms and children’s workers who are frustrated by the Bible’s complex and deeply flawed characters. Where do they turn to find the role models that their children and students need? As we’ve been teaching in our formation classes, we’ve encountered missionary candidates, ministers who desire to disciple new believers, who are upset by the Bible’s seemingly random and at times contradictory statements. How do they do their work when their manual of faith and practice so rarely reads like a manual? What we’re discovering together, though, is that it is precisely by dealing with the barrier in front of us we achieve our greatest breakthroughs in understanding and appreciating the Bible.
Perhaps an example is in order. Many of you are familiar with the movie the Karate Kid, either the Ralph Macchio/Pat Morita film or the Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan remake. In both films, the protagonist wants to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself. As he agrees to learn from the master that is willing to teach him, he expects to be trained to kick and punch from the get-go. However, contrary to his expectations, he is given menial tasks: Daniel has to wash and wax cars, “wax on, wax off” while Dre must pick up his coat and “put it on” again and again. Frustrated because they feel that they are wasting their time, they’re ready to quit. It’s only when the master shows them that it was actually through the menial tasks that they were learning to defend themselves that they come to appreciate their methods.
So how does this relate to the Bible? First, we need to allow our frustrations with the text to teach us as Dan Kimball, the author of How Not to Read the Bible says, “the Bible was written for us but not to us.” That is to say that, although we can have confidence that every word in the original documents of the Bible is exactly what God wanted it to say, the Bible wasn’t written with our contemporary culture and its assumptions and values in mind. Once we realize that we are, in essence, looking over the shoulder of another civilization as we read the Bible, we’re able to take the position of the learner. We begin to observe the text, not only what is being said but also how it is being said to discover the message that was being conveyed to its original audience. It’s only then, when we agree to read the Bible on its own terms, that we begin to ask the right questions that lead us down the path of understanding. The process is slow and difficult at times, but the work is worth it as through it we begin to see the true wisdom and power of the Word of God, first for the ancients and then for our modern society.
Coming full circle, then, to our present situation, we need to ask ourselves what we will do with this time of uncertainty. Will we chafe at it as the surgical masks on our faces or will we allow it to humble us to understand our complete dependence on God? Will we spend our days placing blame on others either for the restrictions that have been imposed or their failure to follow them or will we begin to understand how connected we are to our neighbors and how our actions have real consequences, both positive and negative, for those around us? Growth and transformation are possible, even in the most difficult seasons, if we’re willing to discover that sometimes the obstacle is the way.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; —Amos 9:13
“Buenos días,” came the greeting. “I’m Israel Cauich…do you remember me?” I did. Israel was one of the church planting candidates who was laboring in Tipikal, Yucatan during my time as the District Evangelism President. During those years, his attempts to establish the church were a difficult struggle with inconsistent results. As the pandemic took hold and churches were forced to close their doors, I was concerned that fledgling works like his would find it difficult or impossible to reopen. Israel’s message early this month was a pleasant surprise.
“Right now we have a small establishment to hold services,” Israel said, “and we’re making plans to build a church. God has been good and faithful!” I couldn’t agree more. Israel’s church, Puerta del Cielo, had overcome so much adversity, not only surviving but also thriving in the midst of it. The Lord had blessed his patient and persistent sowing with growth, and now he and the church are reaping the benefits.
The motto of Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) is “establishing the church among all people everywhere.” Often this is a slow and painstaking process. Still, through the effort of trained, patient laborers like Israel, the work is being accomplished. According to the most recent edition of AGWM Vital Statistics, every 1.3 hours somewhere around the world a new church is planted.
As we release this year-end edition of our quarterly newsletter, we’d like to highlight the efforts of some of the missionaries we serve as Area Directors who are directly involved in this work of establishing the church in Mexico: Rich and Jenni DeMartino, Ernie and Sandra Peacock, and Shawn and Carolina Sislo. They are sowing the seed of the gospel in Guadalajara and Aguascalientes, where the population of evangelical Christians is only 5%. They are reaching out with compassion to those who are suffering the physical, emotional, and economic effects of this pandemic while navigating the restrictions of this public health crisis. The process has been difficult, often mixed with tears, but they, like Israel, anticipate a harvest.
This Christmas season, we’d like to help facilitate that harvest. As you plan your year-end giving, would you consider blessing one of our missionary church planters? You can help Mexico missionaries establish the church by heading to our giving page and entering the amount you wish to give. Under “Advanced Giving Options”, select option 40. Your gift may be just the encouragement they need to stay the course!
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.
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, we’re resourcing our national church partners to help feed displaced families and rebuild damaged church buildings and pastors’ homes.
It’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 Bíblico Bethel in Merida.
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 practical—”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?” 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, Tomás Vera, the minister who succeeded me as the leader of the evangelism department has been diagnosed with cancer and is very ill. Won’t you join us in praying for their health and strength even as they work to extend the reach of the gospel?
We are on our way back! After a year of quarantines and travel bans that have kept us socially and physically distant from the nation and people of our calling, we can finally trace our organizational and personal route of return.It’s happening in five steps.
1.The release of stateside missionaries. Since March of 2020, while almost half of our Mexico missionary force has been stateside,only two missionary families have been released to the field. Finally, we are in a position to see others return! We’re happy to report that four families are on their way back, traveling this summer to Chihuahua, Chiapas, and Mexico City. Another couple will finish language school in July and make their way to Oaxaca! We’re so glad to see these families return at such a critical time.
2. Missionary Training. At the same time that missionaries are returning to the field, we will be involved in the training of two new missionary units making plans to serve in Mexico. They will join with the dozens who have answered the call during the pandemic to take the gospel message around the world. This two-week period of training will help them deepen their understanding of the critical competencies that will guide and support their future work on the field.
3. General Council. Following Missionary Training, we’ll be headed to our last opportunity for advocacy in the US at the in-person Assemblies of God (A/G) General Council. At this national event, we’ll be working with others from our region at our Latin America Caribbean booth to connect with interested individuals and encourage participants to engage in missions at all levels.
4. Missionary Retreat. Hard on the heels of that event, we’ll be traveling to the Mexico Missionary Fellowship Retreat. This will be the first such physical gathering of missionaries in Mexico since 2017! We’re looking forward to meeting together to hear from each other, our US and Mexican leadership, and from God.
5. Relocation. Finally, in September, we make our own trip to Mexico City as we fly the nest (our three MKs stay in the US) to live and minister in this megacity of 21 million, which serves as the home of theA/G of Mexico.
We appreciate your prayers as we navigate this active summer!
Sitting on my desk is a prayer map of the Latin America Caribbean Region. On that map is this quote from Loren Triplett, former Executive Director of Assemblies of God World Missions:
“We dare not measure our success against anything but the unfinished task.”
This is a sober reminder to keep the Great Commission in view, to go into all the world and make disciples. In a world full of distraction, Loren Triplett’s words help us maintain our focus.
But how do we measure the unfinished task? Every ten years, the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) takes a census to determine the number and distribution of the population of Mexico as well as its main demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural characteristics, including religious affiliation. When they published their findings on January 25, 2021, we had the data that we needed to make our measurement.
According to those figures, the population grew 12.18% between the years 2010 and 2020 from 112.3 million to just over 126 million. During that same time, those who identify as Christians or evangelicals grew 46.82% from 8.2 million to just over 12 million. That’s great news!
However, although we can say that we’ve made progress on the unfinished task there is still an enormous work to be done. At the same time, while evangelicalism has grown, secularism has exploded. During the 2010-2020 period, those claiming no religion or no religious affiliation grew 336.18% from 3 million to 13.1 million.
What then is our response? We prioritize the Great Commission, committing ourselves to the proclamation of the gospel through word and deed (Rom 10:13-14). We then participate with others who share our commitment (1 Peter 4:10). But, most of all, we pray, asking the Lord to call others to join us in our efforts (Luke 10:2).
As Area Directors, we’re encouraged by the way our missionary colleagues, understanding the holistic nature of the good news that we share, have pivoted during this pandemic, shifting ministry to respond to the need. We’re privileged as well to work with national partners who, although facing tremendous hardship themselves, continue to share the hope of the gospel. And we’re humbled by the movement of prayer that is growing up around us as believers cry out to God to call more workers to reach the lost*.
Coming full circle, then, while we are encouraged by the robust growth of the evangelical church in the last decade, when faced with the 114 million in Mexico who have yet to trust in Jesus, we stop short of congratulating ourselves. Instead, we redouble our efforts in the fulfillment of the Great Commission, prioritizing, participating, and praying so that, one day, we’ll be able to celebrate the completion of the unfinished task.
*Will you join us in prayer for more workers?
Text “xapray” to 313131 and set a daily reminder for 10:02 AM/PM to be a part of this intercessory movement!
While there are a number of reasons that I’m sure we’d all just like to forget 2020, as we’ve had some time to reflect on the past year, we can certainly say up to this point the Lord has helped us. So, we felt that it was important, with this final newsletter of the year, to raise our “Ebenezer.”
2020 brought with it completion. This summer marked the end of our itineration cycle, which began in June of 2019. Although our agenda was altered by the virus, we met our financial goals on time thanks to the response of so many wonderful friends both old and new. With the conclusion of our itineration, we also complete our 13-year span of ministry on the Yucatan Peninsula. Come 2021, our return to Mexico as Area Directors will expand our previously regional vision to a national one and move our base of operations from Merida to Mexico City.
2020 brought with it a new sense of community. True, the coronavirus has kept us physically apart, but as need caused us to increase our communication with our Mexico Missionary Fellowship, a sense of community naturally followed. Our monthly Zoom meetings now bring opportunities for encouragement, fellowship, and prayer, and our social media groups provide instant contact with our colleagues in times when intercession or celebration is in order.
2020 brought with it acts of compassion. There is no question that the current year has been one of Mexico’s most difficult in recent memory. Not only has it had to deal with the pandemic, but it also faced the devastation of five named tropical storms. Thankfully, the missionary body and our ministry partners were willing to rise to the challenge. In April, our missionary fellowship was able to sponsor 200 pastors to help Mexico “flatten the curve.” Later, we were able to give generously to help those hospitalized due to COVID-19 and those who, unfortunately, lost loved ones because of the virus. When the storms came, we were able to partner with Convoy of Hope to bring relief to those affected and with the AGWM Recovery Fund to help repair damage in 13 churches throughout Mexico’s southeast.
2020 brought with it renewed confidence. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 2020 has taught us that our hope lies not in human effort, but in the Lord’s ability. Never have we been so aware of our dependence on Him and our gratefulness for your continued prayers. Thank you for your faithfulness in 2020!
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.” … Then he said to him, “Follow me!” —John 21:18-19
I’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, we’ll be housebound until the 16th.
This return to confinement is frustrating. Kelly and I hadn’t been infected last month at our first in-person leadership meetings in a year (photo). We hadn’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, we’re back where we were in March, watching our plans being altered against our will.
After such a frustration it’s easy to call “foul,” to look at others’ situations and complain that it’s not fair. That’s precisely where this month’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, “What about him?”, but Jesus dismissed the question. His command was not to seek out the best circumstances—it was, rather, “Follow me!”
As this pandemic began we reassured ourselves that we were in this together, but as this crisis has persisted, we’ve seen how divided we are. We’ve observed how some have had their fortunes increase while others, like our friends in Mexico’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 it’s unfair? Yes. Nevertheless, the command to all of us, rich or poor, US or Mexican, remains the same, “Follow me.”
And so we follow, loving God and others, although we’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 Jesus’s command, “Follow me!”
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