These days, when it comes to service, simple competency can be a big ask and excellence a pipe dream. That’s why our interactions with the Bienes Raices San Lazaro group have been so refreshing.
As part of our Area Director responsibilities, we sit on the board of Bienes Races San Lazaro (BSRL), the association charged with the management of a large property in Mexico City (CDMX) owned by the Assemblies of God of Mexico. This property is home to the offices of the Distrito Sur, the ministerial network that consists of Mexico City and the State of Mexico, Ana Sanders Theological Seminary, as well as the church, Jesucristo Luz a las Naciones, among other ministries. There are also a number of warehouses for lease and parking spaces for rent both to businesses and individuals, which serve to subsidize the mentioned ministries.
In our bi-monthly meetings, we review the finances of the association and discuss any issues pertaining to the property. These regular meetings have reinforced our appreciation of the people that we work with on a regular basis. Carlos, the administrator, manages accounts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars with both a keen business sense and complete transparency, and the district officials and missionaries that make up the board of BRSL are unswerving in their commitment to meet their financial obligations while showing abundant generosity to the ministries that operate within the property.
In one such case, it was noted that a church meeting on the property had not reconvened since services had been suspended at the height of the pandemic. Instead of seeking another church to rent the space, the board members reached out to the pastor of the church, offering him the space rent-free in exchange for the promise that the congregation would return and put it to use for ministry. They subordinated their financial need in the genuine interest of blessing the congregation.
Thank you, then, for your prayers and support that have offered us, not only the opportunity to witness this excellence in service but also to be participants in it. Kelly and I count it a privilege to be your representatives locally here in CDMX and nationally as we support the 25 missionary units serving throughout Mexico.
This isn’t what we wanted. In February of 2022, we had expected to be viewing the pandemic in the rearview mirror. However, here in Mexico at least, we find ourselves in the middle of a fourth wave of infection, with cases higher than they’ve ever been. Our faces are rubbed raw from the constant use of masks, our hands are irritated from the constant use of sanitizer, and our patience has seemingly worn thin with everyone and everything as we deal with yet another canceled event, another notice of exposure, or another positive test result.
Still, I think what most affects us is the uncertainty of it all. We follow the guidelines, uncertain if they will protect us. We take the treatments, uncertain if they will make us better, and we make plans, uncertain if we’ll be able to keep them. We are in effect off-balance, stumbling into an uncertain future. Nothing works the way it used to, and the solutions we’ve gone to in the past don’t seem to fix the problems we’re facing today.
Here, though, we’re faced with a choice. The situation, it seems, will not change, or at least will not change in the way that we had hoped it would. Therefore, we must ask ourselves are we willing to change in the face of the situation? Will we continue to fight against the pandemic trying to overcome it as an impediment to our progress, or will we adapt and allow this moment to teach us about ourselves and how we can transform and grow in spite of the restrictions? Can we learn through this pandemic that sometimes, the obstacle is the way?
You may be wondering, where is it that you’re coming up with this crazy idea? Would you believe from our time teaching the Bible? As we’ve been teaching in the local church, we’ve encountered moms and children’s workers who are frustrated by the Bible’s complex and deeply flawed characters. Where do they turn to find the role models that their children and students need? As we’ve been teaching in our formation classes, we’ve encountered missionary candidates, ministers who desire to disciple new believers, who are upset by the Bible’s seemingly random and at times contradictory statements. How do they do their work when their manual of faith and practice so rarely reads like a manual? What we’re discovering together, though, is that it is precisely by dealing with the barrier in front of us we achieve our greatest breakthroughs in understanding and appreciating the Bible.
Perhaps an example is in order. Many of you are familiar with the movie the Karate Kid, either the Ralph Macchio/Pat Morita film or the Jaden Smith/Jackie Chan remake. In both films, the protagonist wants to learn martial arts to be able to defend himself. As he agrees to learn from the master that is willing to teach him, he expects to be trained to kick and punch from the get-go. However, contrary to his expectations, he is given menial tasks: Daniel has to wash and wax cars, “wax on, wax off” while Dre must pick up his coat and “put it on” again and again. Frustrated because they feel that they are wasting their time, they’re ready to quit. It’s only when the master shows them that it was actually through the menial tasks that they were learning to defend themselves that they come to appreciate their methods.
So how does this relate to the Bible? First, we need to allow our frustrations with the text to teach us as Dan Kimball, the author of How Not to Read the Bible says, “the Bible was written for us but not to us.” That is to say that, although we can have confidence that every word in the original documents of the Bible is exactly what God wanted it to say, the Bible wasn’t written with our contemporary culture and its assumptions and values in mind. Once we realize that we are, in essence, looking over the shoulder of another civilization as we read the Bible, we’re able to take the position of the learner. We begin to observe the text, not only what is being said but also how it is being said to discover the message that was being conveyed to its original audience. It’s only then, when we agree to read the Bible on its own terms, that we begin to ask the right questions that lead us down the path of understanding. The process is slow and difficult at times, but the work is worth it as through it we begin to see the true wisdom and power of the Word of God, first for the ancients and then for our modern society.
Coming full circle, then, to our present situation, we need to ask ourselves what we will do with this time of uncertainty. Will we chafe at it as the surgical masks on our faces or will we allow it to humble us to understand our complete dependence on God? Will we spend our days placing blame on others either for the restrictions that have been imposed or their failure to follow them or will we begin to understand how connected we are to our neighbors and how our actions have real consequences, both positive and negative, for those around us? Growth and transformation are possible, even in the most difficult seasons, if we’re willing to discover that sometimes the obstacle is the way.
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; —Amos 9:13
“Buenos días,” came the greeting. “I’m Israel Cauich…do you remember me?” I did. Israel was one of the church planting candidates who was laboring in Tipikal, Yucatan during my time as the District Evangelism President. During those years, his attempts to establish the church were a difficult struggle with inconsistent results. As the pandemic took hold and churches were forced to close their doors, I was concerned that fledgling works like his would find it difficult or impossible to reopen. Israel’s message early this month was a pleasant surprise.
“Right now we have a small establishment to hold services,” Israel said, “and we’re making plans to build a church. God has been good and faithful!” I couldn’t agree more. Israel’s church, Puerta del Cielo, had overcome so much adversity, not only surviving but also thriving in the midst of it. The Lord had blessed his patient and persistent sowing with growth, and now he and the church are reaping the benefits.
The motto of Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) is “establishing the church among all people everywhere.” Often this is a slow and painstaking process. Still, through the effort of trained, patient laborers like Israel, the work is being accomplished. According to the most recent edition of AGWM Vital Statistics, every 1.3 hours somewhere around the world a new church is planted.
As we release this year-end edition of our quarterly newsletter, we’d like to highlight the efforts of some of the missionaries we serve as Area Directors who are directly involved in this work of establishing the church in Mexico: Rich and Jenni DeMartino, Ernie and Sandra Peacock, and Shawn and Carolina Sislo. They are sowing the seed of the gospel in Guadalajara and Aguascalientes, where the population of evangelical Christians is only 5%. They are reaching out with compassion to those who are suffering the physical, emotional, and economic effects of this pandemic while navigating the restrictions of this public health crisis. The process has been difficult, often mixed with tears, but they, like Israel, anticipate a harvest.
This Christmas season, we’d like to help facilitate that harvest. As you plan your year-end giving, would you consider blessing one of our missionary church planters? You can help Mexico missionaries establish the church by heading to our giving page and entering the amount you wish to give. Under “Advanced Giving Options”, select option 40. Your gift may be just the encouragement they need to stay the course!
It’s been a full and rewarding month of ministry. We started things off by participating in the virtual Missionary Training program, where two new missionary units destined for Mexico joined the dozens readying themselves for global ministry. Later, we took part in our LAC Leadership Meetings, where we discussed initiatives to encourage resilience in our missionaries during these difficult times. We also had the chance to encourage some itinerating missionaries headed to Mexico City (see photo) and finished off the month advocating for Mexico and missions at Northland Cathedral in Kansas City, MO. However, one of our more surprising activities was a guest question and response session with students from Instituto Bíblico Bethel in Merida.
When I (Dave) received the message from Fernando Diaz, pastor and Bible School administrator, I had feared the worst. The coronavirus pandemic has entered a third wave in the state of Yucatan, and I was concerned that he was reaching out with bad news. Instead, I was pleased to learn that it was an invitation to share with his church planting class.
I logged on, not knowing what to expect. Bethel had been meeting virtually for over a year. I had wondered what the dynamic might be after so much time online. Would Zoom fatigue have taken its toll?
The class was a lively one. Following a brief introduction and recap of our experiences stimulating church planting with the district evangelism department, we launched into our time of questions. There were many, and they were varied, and extremely practical—”When should I move from Bible studies to weekly services? Which workers from my home church should I invite to accompany me in the church plant, how should we divide the responsibilities?” In our conversation, I found that the students were actively involved in starting new works, deftly navigating restrictions placed on them because of the pandemic, while reaching out to share the gospel message to friends, relatives, and neighbors. Needless to say, I left our session extremely encouraged. Despite the pandemic, the church is growing in Yucatan!
Still, the price to be paid to the pandemic has been costly. Nationwide, the church in Mexico has lost 270 pastors to COVID-19. In addition, Tomás Vera, the minister who succeeded me as the leader of the evangelism department has been diagnosed with cancer and is very ill. Won’t you join us in praying for their health and strength even as they work to extend the reach of the gospel?
We are on our way back! After a year of quarantines and travel bans that have kept us socially and physically distant from the nation and people of our calling, we can finally trace our organizational and personal route of return.It’s happening in five steps.
1.The release of stateside missionaries. Since March of 2020, while almost half of our Mexico missionary force has been stateside,only two missionary families have been released to the field. Finally, we are in a position to see others return! We’re happy to report that four families are on their way back, traveling this summer to Chihuahua, Chiapas, and Mexico City. Another couple will finish language school in July and make their way to Oaxaca! We’re so glad to see these families return at such a critical time.
2. Missionary Training. At the same time that missionaries are returning to the field, we will be involved in the training of two new missionary units making plans to serve in Mexico. They will join with the dozens who have answered the call during the pandemic to take the gospel message around the world. This two-week period of training will help them deepen their understanding of the critical competencies that will guide and support their future work on the field.
3. General Council. Following Missionary Training, we’ll be headed to our last opportunity for advocacy in the US at the in-person Assemblies of God (A/G) General Council. At this national event, we’ll be working with others from our region at our Latin America Caribbean booth to connect with interested individuals and encourage participants to engage in missions at all levels.
4. Missionary Retreat. Hard on the heels of that event, we’ll be traveling to the Mexico Missionary Fellowship Retreat. This will be the first such physical gathering of missionaries in Mexico since 2017! We’re looking forward to meeting together to hear from each other, our US and Mexican leadership, and from God.
5. Relocation. Finally, in September, we make our own trip to Mexico City as we fly the nest (our three MKs stay in the US) to live and minister in this megacity of 21 million, which serves as the home of theA/G of Mexico.
We appreciate your prayers as we navigate this active summer!
March marks one year since the coronavirus swept through the United States and changed our lives forever. In times of crises like the last 12 months, it seems as though all we can do is worry. But then we read the words of Philippians 4:6:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
We have not been unaffected by this tragedy, butas we have increasingly turned to prayer, we have found that God is the one providing for and protecting his people.
As we watched the virus spread through Latin America and into Mexico, our thoughts went immediately to our friends in the Yucatan. The churches planted during our last term, especially in the extreme south of the state, were extremely fragile and isolated. Their people are poor, largely dependent on what they can produce with their hands or grow in their fields. As the pandemic took hold and the economy came to a standstill, we wondered how they would survive. Then, when five named tropical storms passed over the peninsula, we feared the worst.
The damage was considerable. In Blanca Flor, where our students Lily Dzul and Kary Yam began their work, floodwaters had not only cut off their access to the village, they had totally washed away their crop. Still, even though they faced the worst they prayed for the best, and God answered!
While the floodwaters had destroyed the corn in the fields, they brought fish with them. So, instead of harvesting a crop, they fished for their food! Meanwhile, Lily and Kary were able to overcome their lack of access to the congregation by recording their messages and sending them via social media. Those with cell phones gathered with others to share their messages of hope and encouragement. Despite the storms and the isolation, God had provided! Despite the threats to the church, God had protected his people!
Yes, the past year has been disastrous in many aspects, and we continue to ask God for mercy on those who struggle with COVID-19 and its after-effects. Still, although we may be tempted to wring our hands in worry, we are reminded time and again that it is far more productive to fold our hands in prayer. He is the one who is providing and he is the one who is protecting his people.
While there are a number of reasons that I’m sure we’d all just like to forget 2020, as we’ve had some time to reflect on the past year, we can certainly say up to this point the Lord has helped us. So, we felt that it was important, with this final newsletter of the year, to raise our “Ebenezer.”
2020 brought with it completion. This summer marked the end of our itineration cycle, which began in June of 2019. Although our agenda was altered by the virus, we met our financial goals on time thanks to the response of so many wonderful friends both old and new. With the conclusion of our itineration, we also complete our 13-year span of ministry on the Yucatan Peninsula. Come 2021, our return to Mexico as Area Directors will expand our previously regional vision to a national one and move our base of operations from Merida to Mexico City.
2020 brought with it a new sense of community. True, the coronavirus has kept us physically apart, but as need caused us to increase our communication with our Mexico Missionary Fellowship, a sense of community naturally followed. Our monthly Zoom meetings now bring opportunities for encouragement, fellowship, and prayer, and our social media groups provide instant contact with our colleagues in times when intercession or celebration is in order.
2020 brought with it acts of compassion. There is no question that the current year has been one of Mexico’s most difficult in recent memory. Not only has it had to deal with the pandemic, but it also faced the devastation of five named tropical storms. Thankfully, the missionary body and our ministry partners were willing to rise to the challenge. In April, our missionary fellowship was able to sponsor 200 pastors to help Mexico “flatten the curve.” Later, we were able to give generously to help those hospitalized due to COVID-19 and those who, unfortunately, lost loved ones because of the virus. When the storms came, we were able to partner with Convoy of Hope to bring relief to those affected and with the AGWM Recovery Fund to help repair damage in 13 churches throughout Mexico’s southeast.
2020 brought with it renewed confidence. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 2020 has taught us that our hope lies not in human effort, but in the Lord’s ability. Never have we been so aware of our dependence on Him and our gratefulness for your continued prayers. Thank you for your faithfulness in 2020!
Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” … Then he said to him, “Follow me!” —John 21:18-19
I’m writing this update from our second quarantine cycle, this time because of a positive test for the coronavirus within our household. Jonathan, our youngest, was complaining of some symptoms on Monday morning. We had thought then that it was just a 24-hour bug, but, when the results came back, he was positive for COVID-19. Because of the result, we’ll be housebound until the 16th.
This return to confinement is frustrating. Kelly and I hadn’t been infected last month at our first in-person leadership meetings in a year (photo). We hadn’t become ill as a result of any of our missions services. It was our high schooler, attending classes only two days a week, sitting at a six-foot distance and masked that was sickened and, for that reason, we’re back where we were in March, watching our plans being altered against our will.
After such a frustration it’s easy to call “foul,” to look at others’ situations and complain that it’s not fair. That’s precisely where this month’s scripture comes in. Here, in John 21, Jesus reveals to Peter the fact that he will suffer and die as Jesus did. Peter’s immediate response to Jesus was to compare. He looked to John and asked, “What about him?”, but Jesus dismissed the question. His command was not to seek out the best circumstances—it was, rather, “Follow me!”
As this pandemic began we reassured ourselves that we were in this together, but as this crisis has persisted, we’ve seen how divided we are. We’ve observed how some have had their fortunes increase while others, like our friends in Mexico’s southeast, have dealt not only with disease but also disaster as four named storms have struck the Yucatan Peninsula. Is it frustrating? Yes. Could we say it’s unfair? Yes. Nevertheless, the command to all of us, rich or poor, US or Mexican, remains the same, “Follow me.”
And so we follow, loving God and others, although we’re housebound. We respond with compassion, coordinating relief and reconstruction efforts, although we must do it remotely. At the same time, we thank you for your participation and we encourage you, despite your situation, to hear and respond to Jesus’s command, “Follow me!”
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.”
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
In recent days I’ve been questioning my future hopes. As the pandemic took hold, I experienced an intense longing to get back to the life that I had known. Quarantine living brought with it an endless list of things that I’d given up to flatten the curve that someday soon I’d be able to enjoy again. I looked to the “new normal” as a finish line that, in just a little while, I’d be able to reach.
But as this crisis worsened, exacerbated by many of the conditions that had existed pre-COVID-19, I began to realize that the life that we knew was no paradise; it was at best a life “in-between” and there was yet a work to be done, not only in the world but also in me.
Such was the situation of the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews. Facing increasing persecution, they were tempted to abandon their commitment to Christ. Therefore, the author takes them on a journey through their history and ritual, encouraging them to persevere in the faith that was not only transforming them but also the world around them.
He encourages them not to wax nostalgic for the “good old days” of Moses or Joshua but to look toward the kingdom that cannot be shaken and the cessation of their striving that is God’s promised Sabbath-rest. He exhorts them to do so by remaining sensitive and obedient to the word of God, alive and active.
That same word is alive and active in our day. As a real crisis tested the Israelites in the desert, so this pandemic has revealed our American situation. It has highlighted our connectedness even when we’d hoped to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. It has emphasized our vulnerability even as we’d once considered ourselves impervious, and it has displayed our inability even as we imagined ourselves the most capable.
But our response, as the Hebrews’, must not be to shrink back but to lean in to the uncomfortable, exposing work of the word of God. We accept its findings as it reveals our faults, acknowledging them and repenting of them. We hold firm as well as it strips away our false hopes, placing our sights not on the “new normal” but on the new creation that awaits those who persevere. And, in the meantime, wherever we find ourselves, we do God’s will, praying that in all things he might be glorified.
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