Since July of 2019, we have been looking forward to saying that phrase. Although we took on our role as Area Directors at that time, there was an anticipation of the day when our leadership would not be remote, when we would actually be living in the country of Mexico. That anticipation took us through our year of itineration until June of 2020 and sustained us during the pandemic that seemed to swallow up the months that followed. Finally, however, we can say, “We’ve arrived in Mexico City!”
Yes, on September 28th, at 6:00 AM, we were met by members of our small group from Central Assembly of God to help us check in our five action packers, our dog, and ourselves to American Airlines flight 3822. Then, after some tough good-byes to our kids, we were on our way by 8:22 AM and on the ground in Mexico City by 1:00 PM. A trip of 1,435 miles in half a day!
Now, if you’ve followed our ministry for the past few years, you may have noticed a change of venue for us in Mexico. For 13 years, our base of operations was the city of Merida on the Yucatan peninsula. Now, however, because of our role as area directors, we’ve relocated to Mexico City, home to a population of 9.2 million in the city proper and 21.8 million in the greater metropolitan area. It’s also strategic for us as it is the location of the national offices of the Assemblies of God of Mexico, a direct flight to any of our missionaries throughout the country, and an international travel hub.
We’re living in Coyoacan (translated from the Nahuatl language as “place of the coyotes”), a neighborhood south of the city center that was the original capital of Hernan Cortez’s governorship of New Spain and the home of creatives such as Octavio Paz, the author of the Labyrinth of Solitude, and artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. From our location, we’re roughly a 4-mile walk from the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco to the east and a 10k away from the nation’s largest university, UNAM, where over 350,000 students attend classes.
We’re excited to be starting this new chapter of our lives and ministry, but our arrival is not without its share of challenges, like our adaptation to life in the big city now as empty nesters or our kids’ abrupt entrance into adulthood. Still, we know that with your prayers and continued support, we’ll not only survive but thrive in this new role and new setting.
Normally, we reserve this space for ministry updates and information about Mexico but because of Mothers’ Day, we’ve decided to share a different type of content. We hope you enjoy it.
This year’s Southern Missouri District Council was a special event. Not only was it the first district council held since the pandemic began, but it also marked a very significant moment for our family. During the ordination service, Kelly received the traditional ordination charge and was prayed for by the presbytery while our daughter, Rebekah, received her ministerial license.
As the events unfolded several emotions bubbled up to the surface. During the night, we experienced excitement and happiness, as well as a certain amount of pride. Both Kelly and Rebekah had worked hard to prepare for this recognition. Kelly’s ordination was our leadership’s affirmation of her 15+ years of missionary service, while Rebekah had added additional courses to her degree and passed an exam to receive her license. This night marked the achievement of a significant goal for both of them.
However, the emotion that seemed most appropriate was that of gratitude. Neither Kelly’s nor Rebekah’s formation had happened in isolation. They had been influenced by significant people who helped cultivate in them the qualities of compassionate leadership required of a minister. And, while those have been evident in the teaching that we’ve received and the care we have been shown by our pastors, those qualities are most often seen in persons holding a less public role; we see those qualities in our mothers.
In my own life, I (Dave) can testify to my mom’s self-sacrifice and perseverance that not only freed me to pursue my missionary calling but has also served as a model for my ministry. Kelly’s love for the Word of God and aptitude for service can be traced back to the example that her mom lived out on a daily basis. And while dads too play an important role, her mom has served as Rebekah’s most constant influence and steady support. “Thanks” seems too light a word to express our appreciation for our mothers’ contribution.
How about you? Have you been blessed by the love and example of a godly mother? It’s our sincere desire that you’ll have the opportunity to show her the gratefulness that she’s due. Gifts and a nice meal are always appropriate, but we’re sure her greatest joy would be to see the contribution that she has made reaping dividends in the lives of others.
Encouraged by a webinar led by Michael Hyatt, I released a video to our team of missionaries assigned to Mexico at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. My intention as I recorded the video was to help my colleagues both process their emotions and to be productive even as so much around us was closing down. As we’ve continued through the days and weeks of social distancing, I’ve felt that the message that I shared with them would be worth sharing with a wider audience, even as many look forward to returning to some sense of normalcy.
Those steps to process our emotions and stay productive at home are the following:
Lament In our future-minded society, many of us feel that it may be unspiritual to mourn over the situation, or, if we choose to face reality, we somehow grant it power over us, but that doesn’t seem to be the biblical pattern. Psalm 42:4 says, “My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!”
The reality is that this crisis has taken something from all of us. Kelly and I were looking forward to making some memories with our kids who were on Spring Break when we were notified that we had to go into self-imposed quarantine. We had tickets to Europe. We were just $150 from finishing our monthly support. All of those plans and goals have been shifted dramatically. What we expected to be moments of joy turned to spasms of anxiety, assessing ourselves for the dreaded symptoms and concerned for those that we could not reach. Of course, what we’ve faced as a family is light in comparison to so many others who have lost income, work, businesses, and even loved ones because of this virus. Allow yourself to grieve over what’s been lost.
And don’t expect the grieving to be over after one good cry. I’ve been surprised as sadness has become at times particularly acute. One such instance came during Central Assembly’s Good Friday Service. From our TV, we saw images of a darkened sanctuary and an empty stage. An unseen choir sang accompanied by piano and violin while the camera panned the empty places where they would have stood. Inactive instruments seemed to memorialize the musicians who would have been playing. I cried as I wondered, “can we ever go back?”
Lean Still, even as we may be tempted to allow the grief to simply wash over us, we need to understand that we must rise up again. While we take time to lament, we must also learn to lean. The same psalm states: “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you. I routinely pray the words of Proverbs 3:5 and 6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” We may see things as bleak, but we cannot allow our limited perspective to determine our reaction. We must lean on the Lord. Trust in God, knowing that he is in control and that he will guide us through this crisis. He will take us through this storm and bring us into a place of peace.
Lead So while we’ve allowed ourselves to lament and we’ve determined to lean, we must also step up to lead. With so much at stake and so little clear direction, it’s easy to find ourselves frozen with fear, allowing the news to overwhelm us, but inactivity is not an option. We must learn to be proactive in our approach, doing what we can where we can.
Right now, we’re concerned about the world and those affected by the virus, we’re concerned about the economy and the effect it will have on our retirement, our work or ministry, and even the ability to meet our day-to-day responsibilities. However, there is little to nothing that we can do to affect change in that circle. Staying there produces little but worry.
Where we can begin to have an effect is within our circle of influence. In this circle are our coworkers and colleagues, our friends and families. There, we can affect change through interactions of love and genuine concern, but we can do little even here until we operate in our circle of control, that is, until we become aware of ourselves and align our lives with the values that we hold: loving God and loving others. In other words, our prime influence or leadership is that of modeling. In that, we take care to maintain our spiritual hygiene: prayer, study, and meditation on the word, worship, fasting, etc. If we’ve relegated our relationship with God to our church calendar, chances are we need to brush up on these areas. Let’s take the time necessary to get our heart in the right place with Him.
At the same time, we take care to model best practices when it comes to staying healthy: using masks in public and keeping our physical distance from people, staying at home to reduce the infection rate and washing our hands regularly. In addition, let’s not forget physical exercise and adequate rest, always good ideas no matter the threat we may be facing.
Then, as we do reach out, I feel that we should be focusing on the three things that we can give to those who are in our circle of influence:
The first gift, equilibrium, is the most urgent and perhaps the easiest to give. Here, we’re providing the stability many need as their sources of income and circles of support have been disrupted. If they are sick, we’re helping facilitate their care. If they are hungry, we’re arranging a grocery delivery. If they are anxious or lonely, we’re the listening ear. Certainly, there are many ways that we can help to support our friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances in this time of crisis. Some require our time, others, our money, but all require our thought and consideration. Let’s determine to be a blessing even as many of us have been blessed in our times of need.
The second gift, encouragement, is a bit more of a stretch. This requires us to step back and imagine what life might be like after this crisis passes. How will our daily lives look in this new normal, and how can we prepare ourselves to thrive in that reality? We’re painting for ourselves and others the picture of that future with the goal of embracing it. Certainly, there will be challenges but what about the opportunities? Yes, there will be routines that we will miss but what about the new experiences to embrace? Let’s make an effort here to help ourselves and those around us to begin to transition.
The final gift is empowerment. In business, this is the decentralization of the administration. In the church, this is the revitalization of the priesthood of all believers. This is the bestowing of the authority and the resources necessary to help our community make the transition to the new reality. This gift is becoming more important by the day. While I don’t believe that large corporations or professional ministry are going anywhere, if what we have after the pandemic is what we had before, we’ve missed out on a huge opportunity. Why couldn’t we use this time to push decision making closer to the people who are affected by those decisions? Why couldn’t we leverage this opportunity to equip our volunteers to not only caretake but truly care for those in their ministries? This can happen in units as small as the family and as large as the multi-site megachurch. The coronavirus is rewriting the future of the way we live, work, and associate, why not have a hand in editing that future?
I imagine that, even as we saw this virus take hold in China, none of us thought that, here in the US, we’d be facing a crisis of this magnitude. Still, I think that as we give ourselves room to lament, as we learn to lean on the Lord, and as we step up to lead, first ourselves and then those in our circles of influence, we can not only survive but also thrive in this crisis. Know that Kelly and I are praying for you and are available to you via email, text, or phone call. We hope that you’ll be there for one another as we continue through this situation.
Although the temperatures don’t seem to recognize it, as we turn to the last page on the calendar, we welcome the winter months here in the Yucatán! With the change in season comes the opportunity to inform you on all that’s been going on in this last ministry quarter.
Click on the image, or hit the link and you’ll get in on all of the action with:
A reflection on our last decade of Christmases.
A report of the fruit of our church planting program,
And updates from our family as we move into the new season.
Remember, our newsletter in PDF format viewable in Adobe Reader. If you don’t have Adobe Reader installed, you can download it free here:
I’m sitting here writing beginning to write these thoughts on Giving Tuesday, the day that we are reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Still, as I look at my inbox, I see only four messages related to Giving Tuesday, while Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers are there by the dozen, and those are the ones left over after my first attempt to clear them away.
The first question I ask is, “How did I get signed up for so much junk mail?” but then I get a bit more philosophical about the situation. What is it that these companies know about us that causes them to bombard us with dozens of ways to accumulate more? Why does Thanksgiving seem more like the perfunctory calm before the storm of capitalist activity that is Black Friday instead of a day to truly celebrate all of the blessings that money can’t buy?
In the last session of our CHE vision seminar, we uncovered a few clues. As we talked about worldview, or the grid through which all of us interpret reality, we uncovered the fact that there are lies, or false building blocks, that can weaken a community and hinder its growth.
As we talked within the group, we began to see the effects of the idea of individualism, or the celebration of individual freedom over and above the well-being of the group. As we teased out the thought that personal happiness had become for many the ultimate goal, we found it to be quite a weighty anchor that slows the progress that we try to make in any community no matter how small.
The effects of prioritizing personal happiness could be seen in all sorts of evils from petty theft to marital infidelity. Besides, what couldn’t be justified if we have convinced ourselves that we’re only taking what we deserve?
The problem is that, over time, these cracks of justification weaken the foundation of trust established in the group. These fissures, then, if left unchecked, lead to the group’s ultimate demise. The testimony to this fact can be seen in any number of broken homes, ruined churches, or fractured communities.
So why is it that we find so many offers choking our inboxes at the start of this Christmas season? Perhaps it’s because we’ve failed to recognize the fact that we’ve been building with some false building blocks in our own lives. Perhaps we’ve fallen prey to the lie that inflates the importance of our personal happiness, telling us that each purchase we make, and each desire we satisfy, will move us closer to that goal. Or perhaps, as my wife says, we’ve simply not taken the time to unsubscribe ourselves from junk email lists.
Whatever the case, during this season of giving, let’s try to set aside some of those false building blocks we’re tempted to reach for. Let’s strengthen our communities with quality materials that carry an eternal guarantee. Let’s build one another up with the faith, hope, and love that Christ embodied on this earth and offers to all who would follow Him today.
This Christmas season, we were able to return to the US to spend time with the family. Our days were full of visiting, catching up, eating (lots of eating), and just being together.
As we prepared to leave, Kelly’s mom asked what it was that we wanted to have for dinner. It was decided to prepare chicken and biscuits, a definite taste of home in then Yaple household. Still, while the meal was excellent, the preparation time is what really got me thinking. There was Kim, working into kitchen. Rebekah was there as well working alongside her, patting out biscuits onto a cookie sheet before baking. They were talking and laughing, pictures were being taken, memories shared. It was then that I was reminded that missionaries aren’t the only ones who make sacrifices.
How many moments in the kitchen has my mother-in-law missed because her granddaughter lived in a foreign country? How many meals has my Mom prepared for herself because her loved ones were far from home? We have are the ones who leave, but they are the ones who are left behind.
Nevertheless, we feel from our family nothing but support for what God is doing through us. I joked with a few Mexican friends as we were preparing for our trip that we were returning for the holidays because our parents had accused us of kidnapping their grandchildren, but nothing could be further from the truth. What happened to Jesus in Mark 3 (also in Matthew 12 and Luke 8 ) when Jesus’ mother and brothers had come to “collect” Jesus and take him home from his ministry has never been our concern. On the contrary, our parents have released us to the Lord, and pray constantly for the work that we are called to achieve. And even though my mom has wondered aloud on one occasion, “Why did He have to call you so far away?” Her sentiment was one of resignation preceded by, “When you were called by God to be a missionary, I gave you into His hands.”
And so, having returned to Mérida, reestablishing ourselves into our work and school schedules, I wanted to take time out to recognize the others who unselfishly gave so that we could be released to do what God has called us to do. Thanks Grandma G., Grandma Kim, Papa Dave, and all of the aunts and uncles (too numerous to type in a brief posting) for giving so that we could go. May God recognize and honor all that you have done, and bless you beyond measure because of it.
As itinerating missionaries, we know travel. We’ve put over 40,000 miles on our car. We’ve stayed in homes and hotels. We’ve eaten in restaurants from Niagra Falls to the Gulf shores of Texas. But this last weekend, my boys and I experienced travel of a different kind: Royal Ranger Pow Wow 2010: Knights for Christ.
Pow Wow meant travel to Rocky Mount Royal Ranger Camp in central Missouri. It meant sleeping in tents, and eating in the open air. It meant BB guns, and tomahawk throwing, and non-stop action from early in the morning until late at night.
I took a few pictures of the event that I thought you might enjoy. Take a look, and relive with us a change of pace for this itinerating missionary family:
While travel certainly has it’s downside, one of the benefits that we receive is the chance to reconnect with friends and family all across the U.S. One such chance came this last weekend when we spoke at Saint Robert First Assembly, where our friends, Joel and Amy Maxwell, attend.
Joel and Amy are friends from our college days, when, almost 15 years ago our paths crossed in the married housing at Evangel University, then Evangel College. We shared dinners, exchanged information on where to find the best grocery deals, and basically grew up together.
Later, Amy and I worked together at Evangel while I attended AGTS. She was on the cutting edge of “exciting web technology,” even then dabbling in blogging as she maintained the University’s web presence. It was during those days that we watched our kids come on the scene. Play dates in the park or at each other’s house was a frequent occurrence.
Not all of it was good times, Joel and Amy’s lives were dramatically affected by situation in which he nearly lost his ability to walk, having been run over on the job as a security guard at Evangel. We were glad to be of support, if even in a small way as they saw their business collapse in late 2005. Their story of perseverance through adversity, however, has been an inspiration to us. To see them now, Joel having recently completed a marathon on his reconstructed leg, and rising out of the teeth of financial disaster, makes us marvel at their determination and resilience. If that isn’t enough, Joel is now serving as an officer on active duty in the Army, while Amy is a Chaplain Candidate studying at AGTS. These are solid people.
This weekend was a real treat, then, when we were greeted by the smells of Joel’s famous recipe chicken-fried chicken, with mashed potatoes and gravy to boot! I was even allowed to take part in this masterpiece of a meal in the making, as the photo above proves. Later, the kids played downstairs while we caught up around the table accompanied as well by Judi Murphy, a Facebook friend we’ve finally had the chance to meet.
The next day we held services at their church, where Amy introduced us as family, and Pastor Gabe Falen graciously allowed us the opportunity to address both the Sunday school and share during the morning worship service. The largely military congregation responded, committing their prayer support and finances.
The reunion of course couldn’t last forever, we had services in the evening to attend, but we were appreciative of the fact that, sometimes, our travels as missionaries allow us to reconnect once more with friends like the Maxwells.
I remember our road trips to New York when I was young. We had a family of five, so there were three of us in the back of a Mazda GLC and lots of territorial fighting; “That’s my space you’re in!” we would cry, or “Why do I have to sit on the hump?” would be a frequent complaint. I vowed then and there that I would never have a family of five. Time, though, has a way of softening our youthful vows, and here I am the father of three in a family of five, a decent group by American standards and certainly when it comes to the limits of my patience.
What would I do with one more? Two? How about 8 more? I can’t event imagine. Yet LARGE families seem to be a standard, especially when we head outside of Mérida. The picture above can be translated, “The Store of the 11 Brothers.” Imagine the situations that a family of that size could get into! The kicker was what happened as I was trying to get the photo. One of my students, unimpressed, said, “I come from a family of 13 brothers and sisters.”
Speaking of heading out of Mérida, say a prayer for us this weekend as I lead a group of students from the Bible Institute for a two-day campaign in the city of Tekax (Teh-cash).