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?
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!
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.”
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.
Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him… Luke 24:31
This verse marks Jesus’ climactic revelation in the story of the Walk to Emmaus. This story strikes a chord with me for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s odd; the resurrected Jesus walks along with his former disciples and they don’t even recognize him. Second, it speaks to our moment, this period between Easter and Pentecost, as well as the current situation we’re facing.
As it opens, the disciples are expressing their regrets. Their hopes are dashed. Their lives had been turned upside down overnight. As they walked along, they were struggling to pick up the pieces, trying to make sense of their experience and move on. The amazing thing is that they were expressing their disappointment to the one who had already accomplished what their wildest imagination couldn’t begin to comprehend.
They were dealing with death:
The death of their political messiah. Jesus had been on their side, and, just the week before, he had been riding into Jerusalem. All that was left, they thought, was to determine who would sit on his right and left.
The death of their professional status. As Jesus’ disciples, they had access to resources: funds, houses, front row seats to all of the exclusive events. The shameful death of their leader had turned the tables on them. They were now the accomplices of a condemned criminal. There was only one sensible thing to do: get out of town.
The death of their personal savior. When Jesus was with them, he was calming the storms, healing their sick relatives, and providing their food. Now, it seems, they would have to fend for themselves.
The cross had killed their messiah. The amazing thing was, he was standing right in front of them, and they didn’t even recognize him! We ask ourselves how could they have been so blind? Yet perhaps this moment shows us to be more like them than we’ve realized.
As I reflect on Jesus’ activity during this Coronavirus pandemic, I can’t help but think of a scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In that particular scene, Indy saves his father who had been held prisoner inside a tank. Just as he succeeds in getting his dad off the tank and fighting off his attackers, the tank goes over the cliff. As it crashes on the rocks below, we wait with bated breath, thinking that he’s gone over with it. At that point, Indy’s father and their friends gather at the edge of the cliff, straining to see a glimpse of his dead body among the wreckage. We think he’s been killed. But, just as his father stands to eulogize him, the camera pans out and Indy appears, standing there looking at the same wreckage.
We’ve been asking, “where is God in all of this?” wondering if we’ll see him tangled amidst the disaster that is the Coronavirus. We stand, looking out over the wreckage, only to conclude that the Coronavirus has killed our messiah.
It’s killed our personal savior, the one who we thought was at our beck and call.
It’s taken away our ticket to professional status, the one who made us look good when he “showed up” at our events and worked on our behalf.
It’s overthrown our political messiah, the one that supported our American exceptionalism and partisanship.
Or at least it’s killed what we thought was our messiah. In reality, he’s here standing before us.
There’s a song that our MKs know fairly well: ‘Little white box”
“If I had a little white box to put my Jesus in, I’d take him out and kiss his face and put him back again.”
While I understand the intention of the song, I’m not a fan. Whenever I hear it I ask myself, “what kind of Jesus is this one that we can put in a box?”
He’s one that’s decidedly small, one that’s our very own, personal, even miniaturized to meet our needs.
He’s one that acts the way we expect.
He’s one that we can take out and put away when we decide.
Perhaps that Jesus is similar to the messiah that the disciples had created: one after their own image, one they expected to save Israel. It should be no wonder, then, that they failed to recognize the risen Lord. It should be no wonder, then, that we too may find ourselveslooking for our Lord when he is standing right here with us.
And so, there on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explains the necessity of thecross to his disciples:
It was necessary to remove our sin and our shame from us.
It was necessary to restore our relationship as a corrupted people with a holy God
But itwas also necessary to destroy the misconceptions both past and present of a God limited by race, nationality, political persuasion, professional aspiration, or personal expectation.
As they said of Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”
Yet that same Jesus arose. He stands now before us. And as he reveals himself to us anew, we are left asking, who is this one that now greets us on the way? How do we recognize him?
He’s still our personal savior, but instead of working for us, we find he’s working through us.
He’s still granting us professional status, but instead of leaning on him to prop up our self-esteem, we find he’s redefining our purpose.
He’s still our political messiah, but instead of believing that he’s on our side, we set aside our prejudices to work with him in his program to redeem the world.
Instead of trying to bend his ear to agree to our plans, we bow our knee to submit to his command.
In this Eastertide 2020, we walk with the disciples, identifying with their sense of loss, but my prayer is that we too might discover their wonder as we see Jesus truly risen, having conquered death and the grave and perhaps even our preconceived notions of who he was to us before this Coronavirus pandemic. I believe that, if we seek him, we’ll find him, like they did, to be far more powerful and far more capable than we’d ever imagined him to be.
These words are simply a devotional. There isn’t a lot of opportunity in this type of media to develop some of the ideas that I’ve brought up, but I welcome your questions or comments in the upcoming days and weeks. Maybe we can pursue some of these arguments to their logical conclusion or perhaps discover some new ones.
Still, I know, I’ve besmirched what some might consider a beloved song of their youth, and far be it from me to leave you without a proper replacement.
Here’s one I’ve heard, some 25 years ago. If I remember the title correctly it’s called “God in a Box.”:
“You can have a big box, you can have a small box, but if your god is in a box, your god is very small. You can have a plain box, you can have a fancy box, but if your god is in a box, he isn’t God at all he isn’t God at all.
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
These words from Philippians 4:12-13, some of the first verses that we memorized in Spanish, have gained much more meaning in these last weeks:
A month ago, we had plenty of funds, having needed just $150 of monthly support to finish our itineration.
A month ago we had plenty of plans, having weekends full of services and upcoming trips to participate in strategic ministry and important meetings.
A month ago we had plenty of confidence, thinking that we were prepared to face any eventuality. But then came the disease called COVID-19.
Now, because of a virus so small that it is invisible to the naked eye, everything has changed.
Our itineration has been suspended.
Our travel plans have been canceled.
And any confidence in ourselves that we had to handle the crisis has disappeared in the face of a situation that continues to change minute by minute.
Let’s face it, we do not have the strength to carry on in the face of the challenge of this disease.
We are active in prayer, but we do not have the power to see our companions, Greg Mundis and Thomas Carpenter, who fight against the coronavirus in their bodies, healed.
Being Mexico Area Directors, coordinating the ministry and movements of 24 families, we meet almost daily with our companions to help them, but we do not have in us the wisdom to guide them in the decisions they have to make in the midst of this crisis.
But we can do everything through Christ who gives us strength.
In the same way that we had thanked him for what we enjoyed in moments of abundance, we trust him now for what we need, the resources, the power, and the wisdom to overcome this situation.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this week, “Unbelievable?,” a Christian/Skeptic discussion show. Recently, they’ve switched format to focus on the new reality that we are all facing. In this particular podcast, the show host, Justin Briley, interviewed John Lennox, a renowned mathematician and Christian apologist. When talking about the grief related to the current pandemic, Lennox referenced the passage in John 11 of the death and resurrection of Lazarus (at the 5:30 mark in the podcast). In that passage, he states that Martha expressed her disappointment to Jesus upon his arrival. “Lord, if only you had been here,” she said, “my brother would not have died.” Jesus then made a statement that was difficult for her to accept. He said, “Your brother will rise again.” She had enough theology, said Lennox, to know of a coming resurrection, but she was unprepared for Jesus’s response: “I am the resurrection and the life.” He goes on to say that he suspected that Martha then expected something big was going to happen. We, of course, know the rest of the story.
We have lost much in this pandemic: money, plans, a clear path forward, emotional stability, even friends and loved ones, and for that loss, we grieve, but Christ remains our hope. Even as we look to an Easter Sunday under stay-at-home orders, he remains our resurrection and our life.
Our prayer is that you and your loved ones have access to that hope and that strength that only Christ can give us.
We conclude with this well-known prayer: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)’
Para los que hablan español, he subido un video con la mayoria de este contenido. Se lo puede ver en YouTube.
As we face the crisis related to the coronavirus and the effects of the COVID-19 disease, we wanted to update you on our situation and offer you our support. Please, take a few moments to watch this video that we’ve prepared from our home in Springfield, MO where we are serving our 8th day of self-quarantine. You can do so by simply hitting the photo above. We hope that it’s an encouragement to you.