Long trips are daunting. Not only is the distance a concern, but there’s the element of the unknown as well. How much time will it take? What route will we follow? What will we encounter along the way? Trying to answer all of these questions at once is overwhelming, but as we take one step at a time, planning, packing, and traveling the distance, we eventually reach our destination.
This was our road trip experience, May 25th-26th from Mexico City to Springfield, MO. We traveled those 1,557 miles over 29 hours to be on hand for the first in-person Missionary Training event since 2019. Although we hadn’t driven the road before, we found that preparation, planning, and diligence carried the three of us (Dave, Kelly, and our dog, Kaixin) safely to our journey’s end.
As we enter into these next weeks of training, we find that it is helpful to think of a missionary’s career in these terms. The thought of sharing the gospel and discipling a person from another culture and language group can seem like an impossibility, but as we embrace the process—planning, preparing, and diligently applying ourselves to the lifelong task of entering into the people group that we seek to influence, we find that we make significant progress.
Our task in the coming weeks is to guide a new group of missionaries just beginning their journey of approaching the people groups that they have been called to serve. During that time, we’ll work as facilitators, encouraging them to reflect on the concepts many of them will be considering for the very first time.We’ll also help them understand how those ideas work in the Latin American Caribbean context where they will labor.
Thanks for your participation in positioning us in support of these global workers at this critical time of formation. Pray for them as they embark on this journey and for us as we continue on ours.
Note: this post is just a portion of what we share in our quarterly newsletter. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter or, better still, sign up to receive our newsletters direct to your inbox!
We enjoyed some incredible views on our trip from Mexico City to Springfield, MO. Unfortunately, photos just don’t do justice to the beauty of Mexico.
Continuing our journey of formation, we took the Gospel for Secular Peoples course led by our friends Shawn and Deb. Dave’s brother, Mike, joined us for dinner.
The LAC Leadership Team met in Branson in preparation for Missionary Training.
With the relaxing of pandemic protocols, we’ve been able to increase our travel and engagement with both the national church and the missionaries that we serve. Following our prayer retreat with the Latin America Caribbean (LAC) Leadership Team, we hit the road in our Speed the Light vehicle to Leon, Guanajuato, the setting of last year’s General Council, to attend the National Women’s Conference. There, Kelly joined the group of 6,000 ladies from across Mexico that was inspired and equipped during the three-day event (first photo). We were also able to appreciate the creativity of fellow missionary, Angela Hogan, who designed and coordinated the creation of the traditional cross-stitch scenery pieces for the event.
Closer to home, in Mexico City, we’ve found how our proximity to the national offices has given us the opportunity to cultivate key relationships. During the Executive Presbytery meetings in early February, Dave was able to meet with the newly elected national missions director, Abiud Montoya, and secretary, Honorio Andrade (last photo), to discuss ways in which we can help them to develop their department and increase their impact both nationally, amongunreached people groups, and internationally.
Among the missionary body, we’ve begun a focus on soul care, and Kelly has been leading several of the ladies of the Mexico Missionary Fellowship (MMF) through the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course (EHS). EHS is designed to promote holistic transformation in areas that are sometimes neglected in traditional discipleship programs, and the women of the MMF are enjoying the meaningful ministry in their own lives and the access to the tools they’ll be able to share with others. Dave also joined the LAC training team to teach the Bible in Ministry competency during candidate orientation in Springfield, MO, March 5th-11th (middle photo).
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!
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!
That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. —John 17:21
“Calgon, take me away!” was the catch-phrase of a memorable TV commercial of our youth. It’s the cry of a mom confronted with an impossible domestic situation just before she’s transported to a secluded bubble bath of peace and quiet. For us, it would become shorthand for “I’m having a rough day, or week, or month and I’m ready for it to just be over.”
As we head into this, our seventh month of the pandemic, I’m certain we’ve all at some point wanted it to just be over. We’ve looked for the escape hatch or maybe even strained to hear the trumpet sound heralding Jesus’s return. Still, as we recently concluded our “40 Days to Listen” prayer and fasting emphasis, we’ve been reminded that God has not rescued us from the world, that is to say, taken us physically from it. On the contrary, he’s commissioned us to go into the world as his ambassadors of light in the midst of darkness, bearers of truth in the midst of popular opinion, and agents of life even in the midst of so much death.
Our Mexico Missionary Leadership Team, which Kelly and I lead as Area Directors, took up the challenge of memorizing John 17 during these past 40 days. We did so because we felt that this “high priestly prayer” would reveal his deep desire for us. As we rehearsed the words of that chapter, the nature of our mission revealed in that text became apparent. Jesus prays for us, “I do not ask that you take them from the world.” Furthermore, he says, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” As the words of the Keith Green song say, “Jesus commands us to go.”
But he does not send us alone. He has called in the reinforcements, each one an answer to prayer. He sends Shawn and Carolina Sislo, who just last month entered Mexico after 6 months of waiting. They’ll be planting churches in Mexico’s “Last Frontier,” Aguascalientes, a state less than 2% evangelical. He also sendsElizabeth Dyvig, a pastor from North Texas who just this week was approved by the World Missions Board to work in Central Mexico. And, as John 17:21 says, he goes with us as well into, yes, a divided world, yes, a sick world, yes, a suffering world, but a world that just might begin to understand its need for a Savior.
During the past few months of stay-at-home orders, I’ve taken to walking the perimeter of our backyard to spend my “alone time” with God. Given the fact that we had rented out our home over the past 9 years, I was not surprised to discover shards of glass, perhaps from a broken bottle or plate, left from a previous tenant. Day after day, though, the sun’s light would shift to reveal new pieces, even though I had removed the previously discovered ones. It’s also been a bit rainy lately, maybe some of the pieces were just under the surface. But, you would think after a while, the path would be cleared of debris – it’s fairly well-worn, after all.
This made me think of the spiritual path we walk. As we carve out a trail, walking with God, we notice some glass shards in our life: a sin or a habit or a stronghold that threatens us with harm. We remove them from our path and dispose of them, content to know we won’t get cut on our next “go-round.” But now that we’ve removed some shards, the light shifts and we notice a few more the next day or the next week. Will this process never end?
But the understanding that we are all at varying points of this process produces just the humility Dave and I needed to take part in facilitating online “round table” conversations during the 3-week missionary training session for new candidates. The topics that we reviewed last month: spiritual formation, culture, and theology of missions, among others, became open doors into our hearts through which the Lord could do His work, reminding us of the journey still ahead. But they also served as signposts, signaling to Dave and me of how far we have come, through both grace and perseverance, helping us to encourage these who now begin their missionary journey. Our prayer is that, through our interactions, these new missionaries will have less “shards” in their experience on account of this preparation time we spent together in community.
Lord, help us not to just stare and wonder at the glass shards on our path of life. We want to pause, bend down, and carefully collect them in order to dispose of them. Teach us to treat each item with care, removing it from The Way as we continue to walk with You. And, may we look forward to the day when all the shards have been forever removed.
Growing up in catholic schools, we frequently sang, “Channel of Your Peace,” a hymn taken from the poem, “The Prayer of Saint Francis.” One of the verses reads:
Make me a channel of your peace Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope Where there is darkness, only light And where there’s sadness, ever joy
Of course, I had no idea how that prayer would become a reality some 32 years later, but I am humbled to see how the Lord is using me and my family to bring hope in despair, shine as a light in the darkness, and serve as a source of joy in sadness.
And in Mexico, there has been much sadness. Because of the slowness of the response and the impossibility for many to shelter in place, the country struggles to contain the virus. Add to this Tropical Storm Cristobal, which has left much of southeastern Mexico, including the state of Yucatan, underwater.
Since that initial effort, we’ve sent emergency aid to district officials who were gathering relief supplies for flood victims. We’ve continued our conversations with those who are responding to Network 211’s online gospel presentations throughout Mexico. And we’ve coordinated the prayer response within our missionary fellowship, ensuring that our co-laborers have the support they need to sustain the effort.
Still, we are aware, now more than ever, of the need to do more to reach the lost of Mexico. That is why we’re excited to serve as facilitators in this year’s Missionary Training where two additional missionary units will be joining us to prepare for their service in Mexico and to add their effort to the work.
A channel of peace—the fourteen-year-old boy who sang those words had no idea what they truly meant. Now, this 46-year-old man is beginning to comprehend. It’s hope in the midst of despair, light in the midst of darkness, and joy in the midst of sadness. Thanks for your prayers and support that helps us to be just that in Mexico.
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.
“God has been dealing with me about missions, but I’m not sure what to do next.”
“My heart was broken for Latin America on a missions trip I took last summer. How can I make a difference?”
Those statements were just a sampling of the dozens of conversations that we had with college students who had gathered in Greenville, South Carolina at the Chi Alpha South East SALT Conference to ring in the New Year with renewed commitments to relationship with Christ and his mission to redeem the world. We traveled there, following our Christmas vacation in Pennsylvania, to engage with the 400+ in attendance from a variety of campuses, helping them connect the dots from their college days to a possible missions career. While conversation was key, we also teamed up with fellow missionaries Josh Sears (Brazil) and Doug Sayers (LAC Advocacy) to show the almost 200 leaders in attendance the multiple ways that their groups could partner with missionaries in the region on a short-term or ongoing basis through trips and internships.
What’s even more exciting, however, is knowing that it has never been easier to take the next step into missions. During our time in Greenville, we were able to familiarize ourselves with the Latin America Caribbean website, lacworldmissions.org. Not only are there ways to commit to pray for the ministry that is taking place throughout our region or give in its support, there is also the option to begin the process of joining with us by responding to one of multiple ministry opportunities.
But don’t take our word for it. Why not head there yourself and begin taking your own next step?
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