Church planting

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…for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. —Gal 6:9

As we traveled to Mérida, Yucatán, in late January, the place where we had lived and ministered for 13 years, we couldn’t help but remember how we had worked to cast a vision for church planting throughout the district. There were hours spent with leadership to formulate a plan and create a team, miles traveled cross-crossing the state to introduce the concepts, and months spent training the prospective workers, walking alongside them as they founded new communities of faith. The work was arduous, and we faced our share of resistance along the way, but we labored on, believing that we would someday reap a harvest.

The harvest came in 30 churches planted or revitalized at the end of our time in Yucatán, but as we stepped away from the district to take on our current role as Area Directors, we were disappointed to know that church planting had been placed on the back burner.

You can imagine our surprise when Pastor Castillo, a colleague with whom we worked in Tixpehual, called to invite us to inaugurate the newly formed district-wide church planting school in Yucatán. “We called to invite you,” he said, “because you were the ones who cast the vision. We wanted you to witness what the Lord has done.”

It was truly a sight to behold. Not only had 23 students enrolled to plant new works throughout the state but many from the district were on hand to mark the occasion, even some who had shown resistance to our efforts in the past!

Dave preached that opening service and taught the first course module. We also celebrated the 38th anniversary of Pastor Castillo’s church, “Camino a Emaus,” where Isabel and her family from Tixpeuhal now attend. Our weekend in Mérida proved the veracity of Galatians 6:9—the seeds of vision sown and the labor of cultivation brought forth a harvest, both then and now for another generation.

Thank you for your prayers and support that helped make this all possible!

Photo Captions:

  1. Dave praying over students during the inauguration of the new Yucatán church planting school. This group of 23 students is preparing to plant works statewide.
  2. Memories: the first church planting module was held at Bethel where Dave first taught in 2006!
  3. Celebrating 38 years at “Camino a Emaus” with Pastor Castillo and his wife Olga.

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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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While we continue to provide logistical support to the recovery and rebuilding process in Acapulco, we’re also taking advantage of open doors to facilitate ministry throughout Mexico. This past month, we traveled to Monterrey, strategizing with our national partners to reach the more than 30 million children of Mexico and see more churches planted.

A National Children’s Ministries Consultation was held on November 28th and 29th. Children’s ministries representatives from each of the 24 districts of the A/G of Mexico met with national church leadership to pray, train, and plan for a greater impact among the next generation. We coordinated the visit of featured speaker, Steve Sobey, President of the International Association of King’s Castle Ministry.

King’s Castle is a vibrant and growing outreach and discipleship ministry, activating youth to communicate the love of Jesus to children. In Mexico, however, it has faced a series of setbacks. One of the principal aims of the Consultation, then, was to see this ministry revitalized.

In their presentation, Steve and his associates, Heber Pérez and Wendy Landaverde, spoke on child evangelism and cast vision for the future of King’s Castle in Mexico. A highlight was the time of prayer as King’s Castle leaders gathered around the flag to intercede for the children of Mexico. While there is much work yet to be done, it was clear that the revitalization had begun.

Following the Consultation, we stayed in Monterrey but switched gears to talk about church planting. Dave preached at the national superintendent’s church, Palabra de Vida. In his sermon, he shared from the Good Samaritan, leading the congregation through an analysis of attitudes helpful for the extension of their influence in society. We concluded our time together detailing profiles for potential church planters among Mexico’s growing professional class.

We believe that our time in Monterrey has served to motivate ministry throughout Mexico. Thank you for your prayers and support that allow us to walk through these open doors!

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. Steve Sobey (bottom center), praying with leaders of King’s Castle Ministries in Mexico  
  2. Dave, sharing from the Good Samaritan at Palabra de Vida, Monterrey
  3. Conversing about church planter profiles with National Superintendent, Enrique González (center), and his family

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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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As 2022 winds down, we look back with gratitude on what, through your prayers and support, we were able to accomplish. We’re truly grateful for the gains made in:

Training: we began the year with a focus on scripture, utilizing virtual sessions to teach believers of all levels how to read and understand the Bible. As pandemic restrictions lessened, those virtual sessions gave way to in-person meetings and the opportunity to participate in the formation of dozens of missionaries preparing for global service.

Encouraging: knowing that our activity for God is fueled by our relationship with God, we led the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course, resetting our focus on being with Jesus first so that our doing for Jesus is rightly motivated and sustainable.

Accompanying: we’ve gained an appreciation of the excellent ministry happening through the efforts of the MMF as we joined its members in their work: teaching a Bible study among seekers in Aguascalientes, distributing food and the hope of the gospel among the homeless in Guadalajara, and witnessing to university students on the campus of UNAM in Mexico City, to name a few.

We know that, as you’ve responded in 2022, you’ll be with us as we rise to the challenge of 2023 in:

Advocacy: telling the story of Mexico—a people steeped in religion but still longing for redemption.

Agency: reversing the contraction of our missionary force to expand our footprint and influence.

Advancement: gaining ground in the establishment of the church despite the resistance of both traditional religion and secularism.

Would you reaffirm your support through prayer, interceding for Mexico and for the MMF, giving, especially considering us in your year-end generosity, and maybe even going, joining our team?

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. Candidate Orientation in October was our third opportunity this year to help train new missionaries.
  2. Dave leads a Bible study at Iglesia Vida in Aguascalientes. Accompanying the missionaries we have the privilege to lead is one of our favorite things to do.
  3. In May, we celebrated Nicky and Janie Rider’s retirement. Will you be a part of the new generation of missionaries to Mexico?

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Instead of a response, silence. Instead of answers, questions. These are disappointing and often frustrating outcomes, but can they also be a means of growth? In our study of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS) and in our interactions at the World Assemblies of God Fellowship (WAGF) Missions Congress in Medellin, Colombia, we’ve discovered that, often, they can be.

As Pentecostals, we’re accustomed to expression, but a word spoken to God is not the only method to meet with God. In fact, there are times when God chooses silence to express his presence (1 Kings 19:11-13). In EHS, in addition to working through the content and engaging in discussion, the men of the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) are leaning into the silence, making it a daily discipline to turn off the noise and so facilitating growth through an alternative experience with God. 

At the WAGF Missions Congress, we joined with hundreds of delegates from around the world who gathered to mobilize to see the worldwide Assemblies of God movement surpass the 1 million church mark by 2033, the two-thousandth anniversary of the Church. It was an exciting time. However, during the workshop led by missionary, Ed Nye, that Dave translated, we were also confronted by a sobering reality: our normal ways of planting the church are largely ineffective among the 3.2 billion unreached, who are increasingly put off or put at risk by traditional forms of evangelism. 

The temptation is to look for easy answers to our problem, ready-made methods that can generate quick results. Often, though, the answers that we provide are answers to questions that no one is asking. Ed Nye suggested that sometimes the unreached remain so not because we are lacking answers but because we are not asking the right questions.

Silence. Questions. Perhaps they’re not what we want but exactly what we need to see both personal and corporate growth. Thanks for your support, which gives us the opportunity to lead others into these frustrating but often productive experiences.

  1. Dave is facilitating the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality program for the men of the MMF.
  2. We were on hand to participate in the 6th WAGF Missions Congress in Medellin, Colombia.
  3. At the congress, Dave translated for Ed Nye in his workshop about reaching the unreached. 

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There were two women standing at the garage door, waiting for the church to be opened. In a church as small as Casa de Dios, it’s easy to recognize new faces, and these were women that we’d never seen before. As the doors were opened and we filed in to take our seats, we introduced ourselves. Bere and Yuri were their names and we greeted them warmly as the service began.

Before long, we’d finished the song service and I (Dave) was asked to preach the message. While I wasn’t sure that I’d be speaking that day, I routinely prepare something as it’s common in Mexico to invite the missionary to speak when he or she attends.

I shared from Luke 24 and highlighted the words of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “¡Oh insensatos! (Oh senseless ones!)” I explained how the short-sighted expectations of Jesus’s followers had not only blinded them to his appearance there on the road, but also to the point of his ministry. I encouraged the group gathered that day to not get carried away by their own hopes and dreams that blind them to the revelation that is often standing in front them. I encouraged them to look to Jesus, the one whose victory came as an apparent victim.

The service was soon coming to a close when Bere raised her hand. She had a word that she wanted to speak to the congregation. In it, she spoke of the loss of her father-in-law, her pastor and spiritual mentor, to COVID-19. She also spoke of her battle with sickness and later depression as the pandemic wore on. But having come this particular morning, she felt that she’d been encouraged to lay aside her senselessness, to give up her expectations about how God should work on her behalf and to trust in His plan despite the difficulties.

Later, we prayed for Bere who said that she had felt compelled to attend Casa de Dios that day and that, despite the closed doors and the humble appearances that greeted her arrival, she knew that she was in the right place to hear from God. She also told us that she was awaiting news of a critical exam that may reveal cancer in her body, a possible cause of the symptoms that she had been experiencing.

Kelly exchanged numbers with Bere. We promised to continue praying for her and asked her to let us know the doctor’s report. To our joy, just last week she shared the news: “God still works miracles. The scans showed that I’m completely healthy.”

As we’ve mentioned before, ministry has been difficult in Mexico as many remain reluctant to venture out despite the decline in infection that we’ve experienced over the past few months. Still, Bere’s story encourages us to believe that with God there are no coincidences. We’re in Mexico to be used as He wills and in the way He chooses. Thanks for your prayers and support that keep us here.

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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.

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“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.

Israel’s church is reaping the benefits of patient sowing. This season, let’s encourage others in Mexico who are working toward the harvest!

“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!

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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Just a few paces from the flashing lights and bustle of activity of the General Council exhibit hall, in a space created to illustrate the syncretism, idolatry, and animism common to the region of Latin America where we serve (see photo), Danny* was speaking to me with tears in his eyes. He was attracted to “the shack,” the location of this display of indigenous religious expression, by the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe which was positioned prominently in the center of the structure. Being of Mexican descent, he was keenly aware of its significance. Although he described himself as non-religious before his conversion, he knew how central this image was to Mexican religious expression and how distracting it can be to the nurture of true faith in Christ.

This “shack,” which housed examples of indigenous religious expression, was just one piece of the LAC missions display at General Council 2021.

Still, as the conversation continued, it was clear that Danny had entered that space with a need that casual exchange could not meet. A young pastor of a fledgling church plant, he was struggling with the opportunities and challenges of serving his Hispanic congregation. He questioned his ability to guide a community so needy during a time so tremendous. He lamented his lack of a mentor as he struggled to motivate a congregation comprised of several who surpassed his age by decades.

“I don’t know why I’m telling you all of this,” he said apologizing, but it was plain to see what was transpiring: surrounded by symbols of false religion, Danny was looking for a sign of hope. And, as I spoke the words, “can I pray for you?”, that shack designed to display the pervasiveness of syncretism became a sacred space, a point of encouragement for a beleaguered pastor. As Jesus, the way the truth, and the life met with us, Danny discovered that he had come with a burden but left with a blessing.

Danny’s story is special, but it is in no way singular. As I exited the shack, I saw another group, with hands raised, praying in the middle of our regional missions display. Clearly, in the four days of General Council 2021, hundreds of visitors were engaged and informed. Dozens signed up to explore opportunities in short-term or career missions and many were encouraged as missionaries shared their time, stories, and prayers.

What a blessing it was to advocate for missions during General Council 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Thank you for your prayers and support that make such trips a possibility. Please continue to pray that we would see fruit from our efforts—new workers to continue the unfinished task of disciple-making in Mexico and throughout the LAC.

*name changed

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