When it comes to accomplishing our goals on the mission field, we realize more and more that partnerships are crucial. Hit the link here or click on the picture to find out how those partnerships came into play during our Spring Impact construction and outreach project! While you’re there, don’t miss the rest of our latest quarterly update from the field, and be sure to follow the links for more content!
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Traditionally, missions has been the realm of those of White, Anglo-Saxon descent. The ranks of missionary heroes are full of names like Hudson Taylor or Jim Elliot. However, Latino, Chinese, or African names remain remarkably absent from such lists, even after decades of work within such nations.
We understand these tendencies. Those mentioned were ones who opened up new territories to the Gospel. But, now that those areas have been opened, what of those who have been reached? Do they have a responsibility to share in the burden of World Evangelism?
Jesus seemed to think so. His missions strategy was the original Pay it Forward plan. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mat. 10:8). He expected his fledgling disciples to pass on what they had learned from Him, and he commissioned them to engage in that worldwide effort from the get-go (Acts1:8).
Still, while some have answered the call, actually reaching the country of their calling is a tremendous challenge. The reality here in Mexico is that, although missionaries are responding, the church as a whole remains largely non-committal in regards to missionary responsibility. This is dangerous, especially as unreached areas close to those fitting the traditional missionary profile.
This month, were working toward a solution. I had the chance to preach in our sectional pastor’s meeting, and I challenged our leaders to take steps to increase missions consciousness among their churches. Also, this week, we are in the middle of our District Missions Convention, “The Awakening of the Mayas to Missions.”
What is the goal of these efforts? It’s to encourage our churches to feel the responsibility of missions and to sense the empowerment that Christ has given to all his disciples regardless of nationality.
Blessings on you as you stand with us in prayer!
We were in San Isidro de Ochil on Monday night. We went there as as family in order to meet the new congregation planted by Jesus Film team member, Efren Sánchez. We made our way through a driving rain to meet Efren and his team, and then picked our way through the back roads that led from Efren’s village of Pixyah to the town of Ochil. Once there, we met the owner of the home where the church was meeting. Then, I got busy interviewing those who were there while Efren and his group went out to invite those who had not yet arrived.
The prayer service was quite standard in many respects, except of course for the Latinized Maya language that flowed through the house. We sang, prayed for the needs of those in the home, and received a message from Efren about the uniqueness of Christ. It wasn’t until all was over that the significance of the situation struck me.
With the service over, several members of the team from Pixyah headed to a corner store. They came back with bags of snacks and bottles of soda. The snacks were placed in a common bowl and passed for all to share. Plastic cups were then filled and distributed among those who had gathered in the house. It was as I reached my hand in the bowl that I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what Paul had in mind when he gave his rules for communion in 1 Corinthians 11.
Here were people of different levels of education, social circles, and economic status all gathered under the same roof. There were those who spoke Spanish, Maya, and English, conversing with each other, granted, some better than others. There were people from all walks of life sharing from a common bowl. We were disparate members, each with his or her own story, but in this one spontaneous, boisterous, yet holy moment, we were unified as the body of Christ.
There, in that little room, was a congregation. There, in that gathering, a new church had met. This is why we came. We remain so that others might live moments like these, moments that give opportunity for changed lives.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; Isaiah 53:6 (NIV)
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 (NIV)
The photo is of goats not sheep, but I couldn’t help but think on these words from Isaiah and Matthew when I compared their wanderings to the state of the people of the village of Tibolón.
Just over a decade ago, there had been a vibrant mission in that town. It had been raised up through the trials of persecution. Over time, it grew to about 30 members, but then, the pastor of it’s mother church stopped looking in on the congregation. The vision and direction began to fail, and the mission actually closed its doors–its members disbursed and disillusioned, wandering like sheep without a shepherd.
We went from door to door with Pastor Angelino Ek, the new pastor of the mother church. He’s taken a interest in the people of Tibolón and is undertaking the hard task of rebuilding the work.
As we visited the former church-goers I heard a similar tale. When I asked them what they had been doing in the mission’s absence, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said, “Nada.” Left on their own, they had foundered.
Thankfully, services are beginning again. Pastor Angelino and his team are visiting the abandoned and moving them through the discipleship process. The lost are finding their way again, and new members are being added to the fold.
There is a satisfaction in seeing the steps of restoration, but there is an urgency too. As we finished our visits we saw cult members walking those same streets, ready to claim those who still wander.
Decay, abandonment, death. Entering the town of Santa Maria the signs are everywhere, from the dilapidated central plaza to the disheveled houses on the streets leading to it. However, none of these scenes speaks the volumes that does the ruins of the town’s cathedral. It’s proud facade tries to hide the harsh reality, but, passing through its closed doors, one finds nothing but a crumbling edifice: the roof, collapsed, the windows, replaced by rough hewn boards to keep out trespassers and truth seekers alike. It stands as a testimony to a proud community that could not stop the passage of time. Its monument, like its people, ravaged by the relentlessness of progress.
Still, there is another ruin, perhaps less visible, but no less remarkable. It appears as nothing more than a mound of rubble. To the untrained eye, it could be no more significant than any small hill or rocky bluff, but, in reality, it is the remains of an ancient Maya temple. This culture had once reigned far and wide throughout the Yucatán peninsula, extending its influence, its learning, and it’s power. Now, however, all that it once boasted of is ruined, forgotten, at best left to be stumbled upon by an unsuspecting passer-by.
It’s a sad tale a thousand years old. Still, the lesson that it teaches seemed to have been lost on the residents of Santa Maria. When pastor Josué Novelo and his team arrived early this year with the Jesus Film and its message of hope, few seemed interested although the need for hope in the community were all too visible. But then, one man whose wife had passed away reached out the the Pastor Josué’s team for help and comfort in his time of loss. After that, a woman who lost her husband to cancer approached the group, as well as an elderly couple feeling the same abandonment that their community is suffering, their’s the result of a family looking elsewhere for opportunities. Small beginnings to be sure, but is not that the New Testament pattern? (1 Cor 1:26-31) We had the chance to visit these families, to pray for them and to encourage them, letting them know that they had not been forgotten, helping them to understand that in Christ, although the signs of death may encircle us, there is eternal life.
Certainly, the road ahead is difficult for these new believers. Many of them do not read or write*, and skeptics still abound, like the husband of one believer whose short Maya phrases, though difficult to interpret, were easy to understand. Nevertheless, another look at the ruined structures at the town’s center reveals an interesting discovery: new life. Among the decaying structures, grass, vines, and even trees cover what were once smooth, stone surfaces.
There is life after death, but, for the town of Santa Maria, it doesn’t mean the rebuilding of structures. It means the rediscovery of the real life that comes from knowing God and being known by Him. This month, won’t you pray with us that the new life that has sprouted in this location and others throughout the Yucatán would take root and flourish?
*We’re working to deliver discipleship materials designed for the functionally illiterate with pictures instead of words. We’re also looking to furnish them with a way to listen to the Mayan language New Testament via MP3 so that they can explore the scriptures on their own, hearing it read aloud to them.
Since we arrived for our second term here in the Yucatán in November of 2010, one of our emphases has been to see the gospel spread through the indigenous Maya culture. In the course of our work, we’ve taken several trips, met and worked with lots of individuals, and undertaken projects ranging from public events to church building. Through it all, we’ve realized it’s anything but “business as usual.” Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. We all have “boxes.”
Boxes are great tools, and as missionaries, we’ve come to have a special appreciation of them. They not only help us in our moves, but they retain their usefulness throughout our stay. Cultures, as well, are known to have their own “boxes”–ways of thinking and acting that are particular to a people or society, and, while there are certain conveniences that come from working out of these boxes, we rapidly see the liabilities of these beloved tools in a cross-cultural setting:
- While they give us a place to store our “stuff,” they limit the amount of knowledge that we are open to receiving.
- While they help us with categorization of our our experiences and perceptions, they also restrict us, causing problems when what we experience doesn’t fit with one of our preconceived categories.
- While they aid us with the ability to recall past information in order to deal with a present situation, they also may lead us to stereotyping, especially when we have only a cursory knowledge of foreign customs or attitudes.
They scarier reality is that, although we have been trained to recognize the danger of utilizing our American-style boxes when engaging with Mexican culture, many Mexican nationals who desire to partner with us lack the training to realize that they too must recognize and overcome the temptation to operate exclusively from within their particular set of cultural norms.
While we had made certain assumptions in our partnership fellow ministers, we have found that the reality can often be quite different. For example, we had assumed that one’s proximity to the Maya culture would produce vision for ministry to that culture, However, we found that, at least with one worker who spoke the language and pastored among the people, this was not the case. His participation floundered soon after our first ministry trip. We had also thought that shared identity would equal experience, but found that even fellow “Yucatecos” can be at a loss when reaching out to the Maya culture of which they are descendants.
What we have experienced quite often are more in line with the idea that familiarity breeds contempt. In other words, that which is near at hand is seldom appreciated. Here in the Yucatán, many consider the Maya culture to be backward, outmoded. The language is not being passed on from one generation to the next as children have more interest in consuming what is produced in the global market than conserving their own heritage. With this in mind, there is an expectation for the indigenous to “move along” with the rest of society, limiting the number of those who would “reach back” in order to minister to these groups.
Also, we have found that the ministry that is being done often has a view to realize activities while it tends to sacrifice analysis. Many are quick to hold a campaign, but few succeed at the process of discipleship that is required before, during, and after the event. Events are planned out in minute detail, but rarely is the question asked, “Is this event appropriate for this community?”
So how do we do ministry among the indigenous, while encouraging our national brethren to join with us in the effort? That question leads us the the second lesson learned:
2. Our focus must be on understanding before we seek results.
The obstacles that we face are large. At times we aren’t understood, either by our ministry partners or the people to whom we are trying to minister. Conflicts come with partners over ministry approach, style, and content, while language barriers and culture disconnects often thwart our attempts to reach out to the indigenous in relevant, meaningful ways.
Nevertheless, we must believe that we can overcome these obstacles and work hard to do so. Among our partners, this must be done through vision-casting and mission-building. We must help them to see the big picture and get on board. Our goal is not that they become like us, but that they receive Christ into their own culture that He might transform them from the inside out.
In Romans 3:29, Paul asks the question, “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,” Our goal is that the Maya understand that God is their God as well, not just the God of the Spanish-speaker. Once this vision is accepted, we must make take steps to plan how this can be achieved, intentionally working together to bring about the desired result. Only with this plan in hand can we overcome our own cultural barriers and work together to extend the Kingdom of God among the indigenous.
Among the Maya, we must seek to gain entry into the culture, finding access through language-learning and key individuals who can serve to interpret the signals that so often come through our filters as just so much noise. We must also be willing to take a step back from our rush to stereotype behaviors and our hasty conclusions. We must understand that we need to learn to ask the right questions before we can ever be able obtain the answers that we’re so eager to receive.
In the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the power of the Spirit. It’s a power that God has promised to all who believe as Moisés found out. It’s a power to be His witnesses, a power that Guadalupe has experienced. Still, individual salvation is not the end of the process. Jesus announced His plan in Matthew 16:18 “…I will build my church…” Therefore, if we’re not about planting churches after the New Testament model, we’re failing to fulfill Christ’s stated mission.
Frankly, we’re not interested in failure. That’s why we’ve sought to stimulate church planting, first among the Maya though the Jesus Film, and now through a new opportunity that has opened to us at the Bible Institute. I was asked recently to teach the course on church planting to our second and third year students. Through a process of study, interaction, and contact with needy areas throughout the Yucatán, we’re seeking to create a plan of action so that each student finishes the course ready to plant a new church. Our prayer is that those who have yet to be reached by the gospel will never be out of the reach of a Bible-believing church, and that beginning disciples, like those studying with Guadalupe, will never have to search for a spiritual home. Pray with us as we step through this process!
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
In this entry, cross-posted from her blog, Every Day is New, Kelly shares about her first visit to Cocoyol, the site of the first projection of the Jesus Film in Maya.
Cocoyol (coco – joel’). It isn’t on google maps, but it certainly exists. It took us over 3 hours to get there, which included a few wrong turns. It was raining during about half of our trip and raining when we arrived. Why did we go? To be part of a new work going on in Yucatan to start or “plant” new churches in the Mayan language. We are what you might call the “link” – hooking up those who have a vision to see the message of Jesus brought to people in their own language with a group of believers who have a desire and commitment to start a church, oh, and that speak both Maya and Spanish (that part is important!).
The Maya have been in math & history books, in several tourist guides and even in Hollywood, but I don’t think the current culture or people get that much publicity. In Cocoyol, we saw a snapshot of life for this indigenous people group.
It was a bit like entering any other small town at first glance. After we found the correct road, we traveled under a canopy of trees, that would have provided shade had it not been raining, and arrived at the “center of town” where the Catholic church and the local school were situated on two joining sides of a basketball court. The team had arrived before us, visiting the 100 families that make up this Maya community and letting them know about the event. Upon returning, they got to work setting up a portable screen and projector to show the Jesus film, not in Spanish but in Maya. “Wait!” you’re saying, “aren’t you living in Mexico?” Yes, yes we are. Although Spanish is the national language of Mexico, there are, according to Wikepedia, over 6 million indigenous Maya in 4 countries! And one of those is Mexico.
While the setup was taking place, I watched, snapped some photos, and spoke with the kids who were gathering. Fortunately, I didn’t need a personal translator since some of the kids were able to communicate in Spanish. I even got a few questions/words in English since some of the kids’ family members most likely have work in tourist areas. One particular boy acted as a sort of spokesman for the group; he even confiscated my camera and snapped a shot of Rebekah and me.
However, the kids spoke to each other in Maya, all the time. It was like being in another country for me. I knew that there were several families, even in the city where we live, who continued to speak Maya inside the home or between family members. There are older ladies in our church who help us with basic phrases to learn something new in their native tongue. But, hearing their everyday conversation being spoken in something other than Spanish was a bit surprising.
This was not the first time that the message of Jesus’ love had come to the small town. One boy told me of another group that had come on a few occasions (with a bigger screen!). The difference, we hope, is that the team’s goal is to come, to stay, and to speak their language. The Maya language. The team is not from America or Korea, but from a larger town in Mexico, about 30 minutes or so away. And they don’t plan on being a passing memory.
I played a small part, not being on the team and not speaking the language. Sure, I spoke Spanish and a few answered me in Spanish. I mainly talked and played with the kids. My kids and I taught them Simon Says and they taught us “veneno” (poison) which, fortunately, was a harmless game where they spun in different directions holding hands 😉 They practiced some English phrases and I practiced some Maya ones. They were amazed at the height of our daughter, who is 12 going on 13. I marveled at their ages being 12 and 17 and still being in the 3rd and 6th grades, respectively, of their elementary school.
It is clear we are very different, but we are loved by the same God. I am glad my God doesn’t speak to me in Mandarin or French or Turkish. Can you even imagine? . . . That is the idea behind this team and others that will follow in their footsteps and in the footsteps of Jesus – speaking the language of the people, sharing His beautiful words of life.
Kelly’s added a few of her photos from the trip to our photo album. You can view them all here.
The songs spoke of fulfilling the Great Commission. The sermon was from Romans chapter 10. Believers were called forward for special prayer to be sent out to do ministry. It sounds like any other missions service that you’ve witnessed in your local church, right? Except this service didn’t take place in the U.S. It was held in Chemax, Yucatán, where, this past Saturday, a group of believers were sent out to plant the first evangelical church in Cocoyol, Yucatán. (View more pictures of the event here.)
Kelly the kids and I traveled the 2 1/2 hours to be there for this special event, which marks the first outreach based on the Jesus Film Project that we have been promoting throughout the district. The church was filled for this Saturday service where a group of 7 church members committed themselves to the 8 week project of evangelism and discipleship guided by the Jesus Film material. Abel Can, the District Missions Director, and Miriam Pech, the District Coordinator of Ministry to Ethnic Groups were on hand to encourage and witness the event. Also present was the Jesus Film Team comprised of Pedro Pablo Balam and Angelino Ek, who will be guiding these believers through the church plant process.
I also had the opportunity to greet the congregation. I thanked them for their vision to break down the barriers to the gospel that many Maya speakers face. In many parts of the Yucatán, those who would want to learn more about Jesus have to learn Spanish to do so. As this Action Group moves to plant this church, they are announcing to the community of Cocoyol that God has come near, that He speaks their language, that He desires to dwell in their context. I commended them for catching the vision of Revelation 7:9 where those of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, even the Maya, gather around the throne to worship Jesus, the Lamb of God.
It’s our prayer that this event is the first of many as the vision of reaching the Maya people is extended throughout Yucatán.