Church planting

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That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. —John 17:21


We met this week with Jay Dickerson, LAC missionary training coordinator,
and newly approved missionary to Mexico, Elizabeth Dyvig, for candidate orientation.

“Calgon, take me away!” was the catch-phrase of a memorable TV commercial of our youth. It’s the cry of a mom confronted with an impossible domestic situation just before she’s transported to a secluded bubble bath of peace and quiet. For us, it would become shorthand for “I’m having a rough day, or week, or month and I’m ready for it to just be over.”

As we head into this, our seventh month of the pandemic, I’m certain we’ve all at some point wanted it to just be over. We’ve looked for the escape hatch or maybe even strained to hear the trumpet sound heralding Jesus’s return. Still, as we recently concluded our “40 Days to Listen” prayer and fasting emphasis, we’ve been reminded that God has not rescued us from the world, that is to say, taken us physically from it. On the contrary, he’s commissioned us to go into the world as his ambassadors of light in the midst of darkness, bearers of truth in the midst of popular opinion, and agents of life even in the midst of so much death.

Our Mexico Missionary Leadership Team, which Kelly and I lead as Area Directors, took up the challenge of memorizing John 17 during these past 40 days. We did so because we felt that this “high priestly prayer” would reveal his deep desire for us. As we rehearsed the words of that chapter, the nature of our mission revealed in that text became apparent. Jesus prays for us, “I do not ask that you take them from the world.” Furthermore, he says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” As the words of the Keith Green song say, “Jesus commands us to go.”

But he does not send us alone. He has called in the reinforcements, each one an answer to prayer. He sends Shawn and Carolina Sislo, who just last month entered Mexico after 6 months of waiting. They’ll be planting churches in Mexico’s “Last Frontier,” Aguascalientes, a state less than 2% evangelical. He also sends  Elizabeth Dyvig, a pastor from North Texas who just this week was approved by the World Missions Board to work in Central Mexico. And, as John 17:21 says, he goes with us as well into, yes, a divided world, yes, a sick world, yes, a suffering world, but a world that just might begin to understand its need for a Savior.

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As we visit churches during our itineration (photo), we are casting a vision of a Mexico redeemed. It is a vision of unreached people groups reached, of cities saved, of rural zones healed, of university students discipled, and of children formed. But although we may be able to imagine such a future, we may wonder, how could we achieve it? The answer is found in the AGWM slogan: establishing the Church among all people, everywhere.

Let me explain. This fall, I was sitting with Gabriel Borbolla, the current Secretary of the National Missions Department in Mexico. He was also the coordinator of disaster relief after the devastating earthquakes that hit Oaxaca in 2018. As he described the effort to assess the damage and distribute aid to the most vulnerable, a common thread emerged: the local church. It was the local church that rose to the occasion to bring relief.

But the local church is so much more than an agent of compassion. It is strategically positioned to be an instrument of transformation. It is a body of people, changed through an encounter and an ever-deepening relationship with the living God. And, as these people continue to interact with their social networks, they are able to influence change within their community.  Just as the presence of the local church enabled physical relief for the victims of the Oaxaca earthquakes, so its increasing influence in the community can facilitate their salvation. 

Yet, there are entire people groups out of the reach of these compassionate, transformative bodies of believers. There, where the church has not been established, we must choose to go. The National Missions Department of Mexico has risen to the challenge to plant the church among the unreached, targeting 4 Mixteco groups among which to establish new congregations. As missionaries in Mexico, we stand with our national colleagues, fixing a goal of establishing 200 new churches within the next four years, and, as Area Directors, we are challenging each missionary unit to play their part through encouragement, investment, and direct involvement. The local church is the key. Only as it is established will the vision of Mexico redeemed become a reality.

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In the month of November, Kelly, Jonathan and I (Dave), had the privilege of attending the first-ever National Evangelism Conference in Veracruz, Mexico. It was a beautiful sight to see the more than 1,800 participants commit to spreading a message of love and hope in the location where, 500 years prior, the Spanish Conquista had unleashed a wave of oppression.

Still, even with the enthusiastic response in Veracruz, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when confronted with the unfinished task in Mexico: over 113 million who still don’t know Jesus, 3 million of them considered unreached, in a nation becoming more violent and less secure by the year. How can so few make a difference in the face of so great a need?

Then, I think of the Christmas story, and how God came to Earth in the form of the baby Jesus, so small and seemingly insignificant. His bed was a feeding trough. His first visitors, simple shepherds. Even at the height of his popularity, he could be described as a homeless, itinerant preacher. His best friends were among the most marginalized of Jewish society. Yet, it was through that one life that God culminated his plan of salvation and through those few followers that he literally changed the world. That is the hope of Christmas.

And that is the hope that we share, that God will bring peace on Earth, fullness of life, as well to Mexico. But who does he have to represent him in that country? Many are like Roberto (photo, bottom left), an illiterate pastor in Kini, certainly not wise by the world’s standards, but with God’s help, he’s planted 8 churches. Or there’s Lupita (photo, top right), not powerful or influential, not even in her local church, but, through her diligent visitation, she’s led dozens to Christ. Against the sheer numbers of those who still don’t know, the 1,800 who attended the evangelism conference may seem a weak witness, but God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength (1 Cor. 1:25).

So take heart wherever this word might find you this Christmas season. The outlook may be grim, and the future may seem dark indeed, but the light has shone in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it (John 1:5). Experience the hope of Christmas and be sure to pass it on.

(This article appears as well in our winter newsletter. Download a PDF copy to print or share electronically.)

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It was five years ago when we last ministered in Tigre Grande, a small village in the south of Yucatán near the border of Quintana Roo. We had been invited by Rangel Vázquez and his wife Claudia, missionaries who were in the midst of restarting a church, which, 13 years prior, had literally been flooded out of existence. While the redemption story was encouraging, the situation was tenuous. They had yet to establish a permanent meeting place (photo, top left) and had found it difficult to gain traction in their attempts to reach the men of the village (top right).

However, on this past April 28th, the anniversary of the reformed congregation, those struggles were a thing of the past. Not only was the service held in their own building (top middle), but its very construction proved to be the encouragement necessary for several men to join the congregation—first to donate materials and labor to build the building and later to worship among the faithful who gather there weekly.

The Sunday service was a celebration of all that God had done among them. The current pastor, Yani May, a Bible school graduate and former student of ours (pictured in orange in photo bottom right), has not only been able to consolidate the believers who had been disbanded but has also successfully evangelized new ones. These received their certificates of baptism during the service.

Furthermore, the work happening in Tigre Grande is reproducing. Yani’s church has already served to stimulate the planting of another in Blanca Flor, but their vision is much larger. Fernando Diaz, the lead pastor of Príncipe de Paz in Mérida (pictured in blue in photo bottom right), who serves as a mentor to Yani, envisions Tigre Grande as a training center to reach the surrounding villages there in the extreme south of the state of Yucatán.

It was a joy, then, for our family to travel the three hours from Mérida to be with Fernando, Yani, and so many others who have been instrumental in the success of the work in Tigre Grande. Even Rangel and Claudia, now serving in the state of Chihuahua among the indigenous Tarahumara, sent greetings via video to recognize the efforts of the pastors and congratulate the perseverance of the congregation. I shared from John 15, encouraging them to maintain their connection to the true vine, placing priority on their relationship with Jesus Christ as they continue their journey into year six and beyond (bottom left).

Thanks for allowing us to have been a part of their history through your support! For our updated prayer list and links to our secure giving site, head over to our support page.

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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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In my youth, I always loved the times when my dad would let me sit in the front seat during road trips. Not only was there ample leg room for a change, but I was also able to take charge of the map. It was amazing to me how that compact rectangle of paper, designed to fit in a glove box, could unfold to reveal our whole state, and how, with a bit of practice, I was able to not only pinpoint our location but also track our progress and estimate our time of arrival.

Long gone are the days of navigation by paper maps. Still, maps, like the one above can be useful to measure the progress that we’re making toward our destination. In this case, the destination that we’re seeking is the goal of filling the Yucatán with churches.

On this map, each pin represents a new church being planted by workers who have walked through our 12-month church planting process. The red pins represent the communities where we are holding special outreaches in the month of February designed to accelerate the growth of these new churches.

Would you take a moment this month to pray for all of our church planters and especially for the planned outreaches? If you have a bit more time, why not head over to our interactive Google Map @ https://s1.ag.org/churchmap where you’ll be able to click on each pin to reveal the names of our church planters and prayer requests associated with each work.

Thanks for your prayers!

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Small but Significant

It may have been a simple shopping trip, but it’s shown us that our small but significant interactions are resulting in meaningful relationships. Interested in reading about it? Hit the link here, or click on the picture. While you’re there, don’t miss

  • Our latest installment in the Breakthrough Series,
  • a major milestone for the youngest member of the family,
  • And an opportunity to be a part of fulfilling our vision through your year-end tax-deductible giving.

Our online newsletter is viewable as a PDF document. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you may download it here.

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In our fall newsletter, we spoke of testimonies of breakthrough in the Yucatan. This article is the third and final of that series—the story of José Luís Vera Poot, planter of the new church, Río Jordán in the southern village of Maní, Yucatan.

In his youth, José wouldn’t have been picked out as the most likely candidate to plant a church. Having been schooled in and later teaching Marxist anthropological theories for 31 years, José had rejected God as simply a clever invention used for exploitation and manipulation. He declared himself an atheist and was proud of, what was in his estimation, his enlightened worldview. But a string of poor choices led José to infidelity, which threatened to destroy his family.

It was then, desperate to save his marriage, that José literally opened the door to the truth of the gospel. A series of visits by the pastor and several members of the local Assemblies of God church opened José’s eyes to the message of the Bible while their times of prayer softened his heart to consider the reality of God’s existence. It was a dream, however, in which José states the Lord stood before him saying simply, “I am,” that finally convinced him to believe. He was later baptized, and having reconciled with his wife, Gloria, became a member of the church. Now, José promotes the faith that he once ridiculed, serving alongside his wife as the leaders of the mission, Río Jordan, which they are planting in the western half of the village of Maní a section from which the evangelical church had been noticeably absent.

With a population of about 5,000, Maní is known for the variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in its fields and for its handicrafts, especially the richly embroidered dresses called huipiles which are woven by the women of the community. More recently, however, the lack of economic opportunity has caused many to abandon the village, seeking their fortunes elsewhere, often turning to illegal immigration to the US as a solution to their financial problems. Those who remain increasingly turn to alcohol and drugs as a way to pass the time as they wait for their luck to change.

José and Gloria, on the other hand, have taken an active approach, dedicating themselves to sharing with others the Good News that had produced their own transformation. José was already enrolled in the local Bible institute extension when we met him at our regional church planting seminars last fall, and when we made the call for those who would volunteer to start a new work, he was among the first to respond. In the months that have followed, he’s been utilizing the tools he’s received in the church planting program to help guide both those who are discovering faith for the first time and those like Chico, who had lost their way.

Chico was a Maní success story. He had made a comfortable living for himself, saving much of what he had earned in his years as a house painter in the US. Upon his return to Maní, however, his expendable income and his ample free time gave him the opportunity to first sample and later become addicted to the alcohol and drugs readily available to those with the means to buy them. It wasn’t long before the addiction took its toll, robbing him of his money and estranging him from his wife and family.

José and Gloria reached out to Chico, who had by this time recognized that he’d hit rock bottom. They stayed with him, caring for him as he struggled for sobriety, and they prayed with him, leading him to repentance and renewed faith in Jesus. He now stands a changed man, taking steps toward restoration and testifying to the power of God to save. I had the pleasure of hearing his testimony only weeks ago at services in Río Jordán.

Yes, looking over his history, José would be considered an unlikely candidate to plant a church, but it’s just that sort of person that God has the tendency to use to facilitate a breakthrough. Thanks for your prayers and support that make it possible for us to walk alongside them, working together with them to maximize their impact.

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In our fall newsletter, we spoke of testimonies of breakthrough in the Yucatan. This article is the second in that series—the story of Isaí González and his wife Tifany, pastors of the new church, Casa del Rey, in Mérida, Yucatán in the developing neighborhood of Los Héroes.

Los Héroes is a young suburb on the eastern periphery of the city of Mérida, but the colorful facades of its new houses and the bustling activity of its thriving businesses do little to alleviate the loneliness and anxiety that plague its residents. Many of its current occupants have upended their lives elsewhere in the country to look for new opportunities that the relative safety of the capital city of Yucatan affords. It was to meet the needs of these young families that Isaí and Tifany decided to plant Casa del Rey in 2016.

We first met Isaí in Instituto Biblico Bethel, where he was a member of Dave’s first church planting class in 2012. Recalling that formative time, Isaí stated that he’d learned from Dave that the success of the implementation of a project is in its planning: visiting the area, collecting information, and asking for the Lord’s direction. This is the same methodology he’s now applying to the benefit of the residents of Los Heroes.

Emphasizing a vision of multiplication, they’ve fostered steady numerical growth and have facilitated significant personal transformation in the lives of the residents of Los Héroes. The Ruiz family* is one example of the change that has occurred. Attempting to start over after economic disaster nearly destroyed their marriage, Lalo* and Luisa* arrived in Los Héroes broken and hurting, but, through the invitation of a church member, they attended service at Casa del Rey and were touched by the presence of God. Since that first service, they’ve given their lives to the Lord, experienced restoration, and are actively participating in the church’s ministry.

Whereas the rapid growth has brought with it its share of complications, such as the need to undertake an eight-month building project to expand their facilities, Isaí and Tifany continue to strive to fulfill their vision, turning now to cell groups to increase their impact and meet needs in Los Heroes.

We’re grateful for the privilege to work with people like Isaí and Tiffany, people achieving breakthroughs in their area of ministry. And, as we enter this season of Thanksgiving, we want to take this time to thank you for your prayers and support, which grant us this opportunity.

*Name changed

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We believe that we are at a point of acceleration in the fulfillment of our vision of the Yucatan full of churches, and we want to tell you the story Hit the link here, or click on the picture to find how to hear it. While you’re there, don’t miss

  • Updates on our fall ministry activities,
  • a bit about what’s going on with our family,
  • And an opportunity to be a part of our 2019-2020 itineration schedule.

Our online newsletter is viewable as a PDF document. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you may download it here.


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