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Since July of 2019, we have been looking forward to saying that phrase. Although we took on our role as Area Directors at that time, there was an anticipation of the day when our leadership would not be remote, when we would actually be living in the country of Mexico. That anticipation took us through our year of itineration until June of 2020 and sustained us during the pandemic that seemed to swallow up the months that followed. Finally, however, we can say, “We’ve arrived in Mexico City!”

Yes, on September 28th, at 6:00 AM, we were met by members of our small group from Central Assembly of God to help us check in our five action packers, our dog, and ourselves to American Airlines flight 3822. Then, after some tough good-byes to our kids, we were on our way by 8:22 AM and on the ground in Mexico City by 1:00 PM. A trip of 1,435 miles in half a day!

Now, if you’ve followed our ministry for the past few years, you may have noticed a change of venue for us in Mexico. For 13 years, our base of operations was the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. Now, however, because of our role as area directors, we’ve relocated to Mexico City, home to a population of 9.2 million in the city proper and 21.8 million in the greater metropolitan area. It’s also strategic for us as it is the location of the national offices of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, a direct flight to any of our missionaries throughout the country, and an international travel hub.

We’re living in Coyoacan (translated from the Nahuatl language as “place of the coyotes”), a neighborhood south of the city center that was the original capital of Hernan Cortez’s governorship of New Spain and the home of creatives such as Octavio Paz, the author of the Labyrinth of Solitude, and artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. From our location, we’re roughly a 4-mile walk from the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco to the east and a 10k away from the nation’s largest university, UNAM, where over 350,000 students attend classes.

We’re excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives and ministry, but our arrival is not without its share of challenges, like our adaptation to life in the big city now as empty nesters or our kids’ abrupt entrance into adulthood. Still, we know that with your prayers and continued support, we’ll not only survive but thrive in this new role and new setting.

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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. 

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! 

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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.

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 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?

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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.

Bonus: this month we joined missionary to Honduras, Jessie Harshbarger, and her dog, Zoee, in the Central Kids’ Missionary Spotlight.

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 the    A/G of Mexico. 

We appreciate your prayers as we navigate this active summer! 

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!

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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.

Measuring the unfinished task
Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

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!

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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!

By the way, 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!

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Follow Me!

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

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. 

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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Mexico City stretches on as far as the eye can see. To reach it, we’ll need the Spirit’s strategy.

As we shared in our previous prayer update, there has been a growing hunger in our lives to see God’s kingdom break through in power in Mexico and beyond. Still, in the face of the pandemic and the tremendous need (see photo) there is an acute awareness of our inability to satisfy this hunger through human means. It’s for that reason that we are excited to join with missionaries around the world, from a variety of organizations, for the united goal of taking “40 Days to Listen” for the strategy of the Spirit. We recognize that Missions is God’s heart. Therefore, we take this time to intentionally focus on Him, allowing Him to direct us to accomplish his purposes.

During these 40 days, starting August 24th and extending through October 2nd, we’ll be working to align ourselves with the Holy Spirit. We’re laying aside the regular routine and rhythm of life and ministry so that we can pick up the practices or disciplines that will give Him a dedicated space to speak to us individually and corporately.

The cornerstone of our practice is the dedication of extravagant amounts of time. Our missionary fellowship leadership team has committed to tithe our waking hours, giving God 1 hour and 36 minutes, even though He owns it all, to pray and listen, read and memorize His Word, and intercede for the salvation of 10% of the yet unreached people of Mexico. We will be focused on the gospel of John, reading it through twice with a challenge to memorize Chapter 17, Jesus’ High Priestly prayer. For devotional reading, we’re using Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, The Cost of Discipleship.

To allow for this shift, we’re drastically reducing our use of media, limiting our time on social networks and eliminating entirely other forms of entertainment. When it comes to food, we have decided to forego sugar and everything processed for the 40 days and go without for a 24 hour period each week, finding our satisfaction increasingly in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Do you long to see God’s kingdom come? Do you long to hear the Spirit’s voice? We invite you to join us in any or all of these practices. We’ve created a calendar to guide your reading and prayer emphasis. Download a copy and be a part of these “40 Days to Listen.”

Thanks for joining us during this special time. 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.

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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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We’re all healthy, even the dog!

From church to school to check-ins with the office, everything has gone “virtual.” 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 we’ll be able to break out of quarantine and get back to living.

Still, although we’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.  So we thought we’d share with you some of our real reasons for thanksgiving in this increasingly virtual world in which we’re living.

First of all, we’re healthy! Yes, although we’d been potentially exposed to the coronavirus, none of us have exhibited symptoms. Instead, we’ve been able to enjoy some special moments, like Dave’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. 

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. We’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, we’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. We’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.  These PPEs are helping them stay focused on meeting the need. 

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