team ministry

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Our 2020 Missionary Training Table Group

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.

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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.

It is in times like these that we are thankful to be a part of the strong networks that exist within the Assemblies of God World Missions (AGWM) organization. Even as the crisis in Mexico deepened, our missionary fellowship partnered with the national church to sponsor over 1000 of the neediest pastors within the fellowship and joined fellow missionaries, Paul and Sandy Kazim, in their effort to provide personal protective equipment for some of those on the front lines of Mexico’s COVID-19 response.

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.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you’d like more information from the Godzwas this month or would like to print this update, take a look at the full PDF version of our quarterly newsletter.

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With Thanksgiving approaching, I’m sure you remember what it was like to sit at the “little table.” It was the one in the corner, or, worse yet, in a completely different room of the house. There, you’d groan, doomed to spend another meal dealing with the shenanigans of your little cousins, all the while wondering what kinds of mature conversations were happening at the “Big Table.”

But then, all of a sudden, you’d graduated. Maybe you went away to college and returned, or you’d gotten married and, without warning or preparation, you’d been given a seat at the big table. Are those your palms sweating, or is it just the condensation from the bowl of mashed potatoes? Is that a lump in your throat, or have you just forgotten to chew your food? Maybe, you think, you’d be more comfortable back at the little table. It’s funny, though, in the same way we’d always wanted to be at the Big Table, when the time came, we found that those who were there to receive us were truly glad to have us.

That holiday analogy was a bit of what our experience was like as we took part in first our Area Directors’ meeting in Colorado Springs, CO. In a room where over 400 years of combined missions service was present, we certainly felt the junior members. All the same, we were received during those sessions as part of the team, encouraged to take part and affirmed as we did. What a joy it was to hear and be able to weigh in on the strategic conversations taking place to ensure the increasing number as well as the security and effectiveness of our missionary colleagues throughout Latin America.

So, if you’re finding yourself on the threshold of increasing responsibility and wondering if you’re ready to take your service to the next level, be encouraged. Chances are, others have been looking forward to your contribution. Needing a bit more convincing? Check out this article.

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What a difference a month makes! Since our last newsletter, we’ve: traveled 3050 miles, took part in Missionary Training, were officially installed as Mexico Area Directors, began life again as a family of five, moved twice, and began our itineration year. Needless to say, we’ve been busy! Still, we would not have been able to accomplish even half of that list if it hadn’t been for the many who helped us make our many transitions. So allow us to use this space to express our gratitude.

Beginning at the beginning, we’re thankful for our friends who helped us sort, sell, pack and move our belongings from our home and make it to the airport. We’re also thankful to United Airlines, for a smooth ride, on-time departures, and expert luggage handling. No muss. No fuss. Just a great ride.

During the trip, we were blessed by a “chance” meeting with Catherine Figueroa, fellow missionary to Oaxaca, and grabbed a bite at the Houston Airport Chick-Fil-A. We were also treated to a violin concert in Terminal D. Bonus!

Arriving in Springfield, MO, we were met by our friends, Dan and Lori Van Veen who fit all of our earthly belongings into their minivan for the trip to our temporary apartment where Andrew, from TLC properties, had stayed late for us to be able to check-in. You guys are the best!

Later, we were received by our LAC family who let us crash their Missionary Associate Dinners as we integrated into Missionary Training already in session. We’re appreciative of the warm welcome that our Regional Director, Dave Ellis, gave us and the grace with which Paul and Sandy Kazim, our outgoing Mexico Area Directors, handled the transition. We’ve got some classy leadership in LAC.

We’re also thankful for our candidate missionary families, the Cogdills and the Sislos, who are in the midst of their itineration. They are exhibits A and B of the quality players that are a part of Team Mexico. We’re pulling for your speedy return!

And we can’t fail to mention, Righteous Rides, who afforded us a sweet deal on an itineration vehicle, New Life Church and Central Assembly for their warm welcome, Steve and Melissa Pulis for their refrigerator, and Eric and Amy Spencer for the truck to transport it. Without friends like you, our transition would have been a lot harder. And here’s a shout out to our family who’s received us for our first iteration stint in PA!

Finally, we’d like to thank you, our supporters. Thanks for keeping up with us, praying for us, and pulling for us. We love you!

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We’ve just come out of a great season of activity with teams here on the Yucatán peninsula throughout the month of March. In the first week, we were blessed by Chi Alpha (XA) groups from Richmond, Virginia, and Washington, DC as they renovated Monte Horeb, a church revitalization project in Sotuta, Yucatán. Afterward, we headed south to the town of Tekax to continue the construction of the new church, Senda de Vida, accompanied by members of Rolla First Assembly and fellow missionaries, Nicky Rider and Loyd Cogdill.

The physical impact of their trip was apparent, as the XA team raised a new roof over the church building in Sotuta, and in Tekax, block walls rose from the ground, forming a new sanctuary through the efforts of the team from Rolla First. But, there was more to these trips than the construction itself.

There was a work of encouragement. I think that this quote from Mike, my twin brother and XA team leader, says it best. “I felt like our team was able to make a significant impact in Sotuta. With 16 students and staff pitching in, we moved the construction project forward, but, even more importantly, we were able to encourage a young pastor and his family. The last night affirming and praying over Pastor Erik and his ministry there was powerful (photo top left)! I believe great things are in store.”

There was a work of restoration. In Tekax, not only were former members encouraged to rededicate their lives to the Lord through the visit of the Rolla team, but also one of the ladies in the church testified of physical healing after several team members had prayed for her!

There was also a work of unification. The teams came together despite the difference in language and culture, despite the heat and the pressure of the jobs they faced. As Sam, one of the XA team members said, they left their comfort zone to give of themselves. Whether that was in the sharing of a testimony, in Sam’s case (photo top middle), or singing “10,000 Reasons” in English during the welcome service, in the case of the Spanish speaking church members in Tekax (photo top right), each group made an effort to come nearer, to bridge the gaps, to know and be known as the body of Christ. The result was truly something beautiful, and the impact, for both team members and nationals alike, profound.

As we close this update, we express our gratitude, not only to the teams and the churches that received them, but also to you, our supporters, who make it possible for us to facilitate these connections, working to fulfill the vision of the Yucatán full of churches. For our updated prayer list and links to our secure giving site, head over to our support page.

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What do a Rolla missions team, the church of Senda de Vida, the Godzwa family, fellow missionary Nicky Rider, and our supporters have in common? They came together to minister both physically and spiritually to advance the Kingdom of God in the city of Tekax Hit the link here or click on the picture to find out. While you’re there, don’t miss

  • One student’s perspective of our church planting class at the Bible Institute,
  • And a bit about what’s going on with our family,
  • And an opportunity to be a part of our 2019-2020 itineration schedule.

Our online newsletter is viewable as a PDF document. If you do not have the Adobe Acrobat Reader software installed, you may download it here.


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The missionary task is two-fold. Primarily, it involves incarnating into the host culture, which includes partnering with the national church to spread the message of the gospel and discipling those who believe, but there is another part of the equation. Without the engagement of those who send, without inspiration to participate in the Great Commission in a practical way, it won’t be long before the missionary must return for lack of support.

Here in Mexico, the reduced costs of travel make it easier to bring these two worlds together, but this presents another difficulty—how to blend them. How do we utilize external support without harming the indigenous church? How can we insure a positive experience for those who come while producing a lasting effect for those who remain?

Such a balance requires a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground as well as flexibility on the part of those who come to minister. Fortunately, our partnership with church planters like Roberto Ortega, Josué Díaz, and Yónatan Segura provide that necessary insight into the local situation, while teams, such as our most recent from supporting church Chapel Springs of Bristow, VA, adapt to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs our national partners express.

This past week, then, it was a joy to see this team of 19 youth and adults link arms with our Mexican brothers and sisters to make an impact in Kiní, Dzemul, and Motul, Yucatán. The trip began with a powerful welcome service, one in which a former spiritist couple committed their lives to Christ. This was followed by a week of construction on the church parsonage and bathrooms in Kiní in the mornings and Vacation Bible School ministry and sports in the evening in all three locations.

The week was not without its difficulties, heat and sickness among them, but, having worked together, a church building is nearer to completion in Kiní, a children’s ministry has begun in Dzemul, and a fledgling church plant has enjoyed increased public awareness in Motul. For this synergy in missions, we’re thankful.

Photo captions:

Rebekah gives explanation during VBS craft time in Dzemul (large).

David Bontrager gives shape to the parsonage in Kiní (top).

Mexican/American partnership in outreach to Motul (middle).

Bittersweet: The last missions team for our trio (bottom left).

Dave and Kevin minister in the midst of construction material (bottom right).

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As I write this update, Mexico is celebrating its Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), the anniversary of the unlikely defeat of the larger, better equipped, and expertly trained French force near the city of Puebla by General Ignacio Zaragoza and his smaller Mexican army in 1862.

The event is a source of national pride and a cause for celebrations of Mexican identity, especially in the United States. However, it’s also a reminder of what it means to win the battle but lose the war. The French went on to defeat the Mexican army and the Mexican people were subjugated to French rule for three years under Maximillian the I.

Over Easter Week, we had the chance to join together with fellow Assemblies of God missionaries serving all across the country to reflect on the work here in modern Mexico. We rejoiced to hear of:

  • Indigenous pastors being trained and launched into ministry.
  • Church planting movements rising up in unreached areas.
  • University students waking up to the message of the gospel.

It’s truly exciting to be a part of a group of men and women who are piercing the darkness that has shrouded Mexico, turning back the enemy in some of his key strongholds.

Nevertheless, we are facing some sobering facts:

  • 9 out of 10 Mexicans do not have a relationship with the Lord.
  • Quasi-christian cults like Jehovah’s Witness and Mormons are gaining influence.
  • Organized corruption is a continued threat to social transformation.

Battles are being won, but the war for the heart of Mexico is still being fought. So we appeal to you, our supporters, to intercede with us this month, praying for:

  • Anointed leaders: Winning the war calls for strong leadership. As district conventions are being held across the country, will you pray for the right people to be selected, people with a vision to reach Mexico?
  • Divine strategy: Here, in the Yucatán and throughout Mexico, initiatives are being considered to stimulate evangelism and church growth. Will you pray that the plans made and the structures put into place would be effective in reaching the lost and discipling believers?
  • Perseverance: The work of transformation requires consistency and patience. Would you pray that we will stay the course to see this change take place?

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Equipping the 90%

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When you think of a church planter, what comes to mind? A Bible School graduate? An associate pastor? A missionary? In May, I found out that, at least in Latin America, the church planter is probably none of these.

Attending the Assemblies of God Church Planting Roundtable in Quito, Ecuador, I was confronted with the staggering statistic that up to 90% of church planters are laity. That’s right. They don’t have advanced theological degrees or ministerial credentials. But they do have a call.

This past week, I met one of those church planters. His name is Miguel Avilés. Prior to his involvement in the ministry he worked as a police officer. Still, at the age of 58, when many are thinking of retirement, God was moving on his heart, and even though he was so nervous he couldn’t finish his first sermon, he remained faithful to the call he had received to preach.

That was 16 years ago. Since that time, he’s seen God direct him from church member to itinerant preacher to, four years later, pastor of Tierra Santa, a church that he began together with his wife, Alicia.

Ministering with them on Sunday, I got a chance to hear the church’s twelve year history—one of faith, perseverance, and a bit of trial and error. As church planters, they’d succeeded, but it’s easy to see how many like them fail—because of isolation. Although spiritually prepared for the battle, Miguel and Alicia have faced struggles that they hadn’t anticipated. They admitted that they didn’t have the toolset to face many of those challenges as they did, alone.

But what if they didn’t have to go alone? What if they had the support of a modular system of training readily applicable to the stage of their plant? What if they were grouped together in a cohort of church planters, each one pulling for and praying for the other? What if they were paired with someone who could assess their progress, make suggestions, and help them deal with the myriad of problems along the way? What could that mean for church planters like Miguel and Alicia? What could that mean for the Yucatán?

That is what we are asking ourselves as we move forward from our June workshop “Sembremos Iglesias Saludables“. A pilot project for church planters starts September 17, which is part of a permanent church planting program. It’s goal: to keep people like Miguel and Alicia from having to go it alone. Be in prayer with us as together we take this step of faith to equip the 90%!

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Isn’t it amazing how a deadline can motivate you to reach your goals? Since 2010, we’ve been working to provide Instituto Bíblico Bethel with modern, adequate facilities to help stimulate its mission of training ministers to reach the lost here in the Yucatan and beyond. While the first floor of our new multipurpose building is now complete and functioning, featuring a kitchen, open cafeteria, and administrative offices, progress on the second floor had been steady but slow. However, a special donation of books from Latin America/Caribbean Library Services set to arrive in October has accelerated the pace toward the completion of the work.

Things began with a special gift from Licking Assembly of God, which enabled us to purchase the materials and contract the labor to finish the interior walls of the second floor. Encouraged by this contribution, the administration sent out students in the month of May to preach in area churches and collect an offering to continue the work. In that week, they were able to collect almost $2,000 to put towards the construction. With those funds in hand, steps were taken to secure the second floor, installing handrails and walls in areas previously open to some pretty dangerous drops.

In the month of June, we were blessed to receive the assistance of a team from LifeStream Church in Washington, MO. Their team of six worked together with Bible school students and local construction workers to pour and level the entire subfloor of the second level of the building, preparing our library, classroom space, and dormitory for the final step of laying the tile floors.

As we enter the month of July, we look forward to partnering with First Assembly in Eldon, MO, as they send 11 members from their Pulse Youth Ministries to help install the electrical service to the second level as well as work in various projects around the Bible school complex.

As you can see from the photos above, the visual difference is marked. What you can’t see, though, is the change in attitude toward the project. Previously a missions project fueled primarily by outside funds and labor, now students, faculty, and administration are now joining together with our short term teams to ensure that the deadline is met and these facilities can finally be utilized.

Thank you for your contribution towards moving this project towards completion. Your prayers, donations, and your labor has done much to bring us to this stage, and we are confident that it will see us through to its completion.

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