team ministry

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Spring Break is a well known concept here on the Yucatán Peninsula. Many residents have personal experience working in the Riviera Maya, where students descend to spend their week-long vacation. They speak of the droves of sunburned gringos on the beach or of the wild all-night parties in the clubs throughout that region. So imagine the surprise on their faces when we tell them that Spring Break can mean something radically different!

Starting this Saturday, March 9th, we will be hosting two Chi Alpha Campus Fellowship missions teams from the University of Virginia and American University. These students and their leaders have repurposed their Spring Break to make an impact here in the Yucatán!

This Spring Impact has a three-part mission:

1. Advance the construction of Instituto Bíblico Bethel.

Bible school facade

Advancing Construction

Thanks to several key donations at the close of 2012 and the fundraising efforts of these students, we’ve been able to dedicate over $7,000 to this ongoing project. With these funds and the their hard work, the second floor of the school’s multi-purpose building will begin to take shape.

2. Stimulate ministerial formation among Bible School students.

Student Sergio Ek and Pastor Rudy Cano together with Dave in San Bernardo

Ministerial Formation

We’re teaming up these American students with their Mexican counter-parts. They’ll be working side by side thoughout the week, putting their education into practice both in ministry and in plain, honest, hard work.

3. Encourage evangelism efforts.

Antonio Armando Balam sharing in Sierra Papacal

Encouraging Evangelism

More than 40 individuals will be divided between the villages of San Bernardo in the south and Sierra Papacal in the north in support of two, newly-planted churches. The groups will spend their afternoons in community service, door to door evangelism, and the invitation of residents to a special community day, where they will have the opportunity to respond to the message of salvation.

Would you pray especially for this time of construction and outreach? Pray for the health and safety of all involved. Pray for an ability to communicate both within the teams and among those who would hear the message of salvation. Pray that the churches would grow as a result of these efforts, and pray that both the Americans and the Mexicans would finish this trip with the sense that they have been used by God.

Thanks for standing with us!

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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.

Box photo used under Creative Commons by z287marc.

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Road Trip!

View Trip through Yucatán in a larger map

I’m testimony to the fact that we live in the age of text messages and tweets. In fact, my last short term missions team was almost completely planned through Twitter, but, here in the Yucatan, there is still something special about that face to face meeting.

Yesterday was a case in point. Teaming up with Abel Can and Miriam Pech, our District Missions Director and Coordinator of Ministry to Ethnic Groups respectively, along with the support and training of Power to Change, we’re committed to planting churches among the Maya of the Yucatan. To make this vision a reality, we need the cooperation of several local pastors. These pastors are doing more than simply taking a course or receiving materials, they’re committing their congregations to the task of planting new, Maya speaking works, specifically 12 in the next year. This kind of request can’t be made via cell phone. It required a road trip.

As you can see from the map above, we started the trip at 7:30 AM in Merida. We made our way to 5 towns, speaking with pastors at each spot. Each meeting was face to face, explaining the plan and clarifying questions. The personal visit broke down barriers immediately. The time in each location enabled us form working relationships with each minister. Fifteen hours and 455 miles later, we were able to confirm the participation of seven additional pastors in this church planting movement.

But the time on the roads was much more than the task at hand. It was a chance to spend time with fellow laborers and hear their heart as well. At the pastor’s meeting in Tahdizbichen, I sat back and listened as Abel encouraged the pastors to expand their vision, to look beyond the four walls of the church and to seek to fulfill the Great Commission. The time spent on the roads was more than worth it to hear his message.

Sure, I’m still committed to tweeting with the best of them, but I’m also a firm believer that technology will never replace the value of the personal visit.

How about you? Do you agree, or do you think that technology will make personal meeting obsolete? Let’s hash out the pros and cons in the comments section.

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Team Members

If you’re a regular reader of you’ll have see my comments on the team play of missionaries. We’re blessed to be a part of an international group of ministers committed to seeing God’s purposes advance throughout the world. My recent trip to Florida to meet with ACLAME members was a reminder of how vital this network realizing this goal.

Still, regardless of how effective our missionary network is, if our team doesn’t extend to include national believers in the work, our goal of incarnational ministry, of making the work truly part of the fabric of the culture to which we are called, will fall short. That’s why I’m glad to be a part of the team of faculty members assembled to teach at the Bible Institute this fall.

Yesterday, we assembled at the church, “Cordero de Dios” to celebrate the opening of another year of ministerial formation in the Yucatan at Instituto Bíblico Bethel. In all, 28 different professors will collaborate across 3 separate programs. As you can see, it’s an undertaking that requires more that an individualistic effort.

So I’m blessed to link arms with fellow national believers to take part in providing an education that will raise up disciples will will strive to do all that Jesus commanded us to do.

What’s your take?
Is team ministry simply a missionary enterprise, or is it essential in your context as well?
Have you seen a good model of team ministry in action? Share about it.

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Salsipuedes Ministry

“Leave if you can!” That is the translated name of Salsipuedes one of the two towns that we visited on our medical relief trip to Tabasco. The village of Salsipuedes is situated on the Grijalva River in the Centla of Tabasco, a wetlands region of the state that’s three hours from the capital, one hour on good roads and two on what many would consider “off-road conditions,” but even more overwhelming than the distance to reach this place was the need that we met when we arrived. Sandy Kazim, the organizer and one of the medical providers of the trip told us that for much of the time she felt as though she was running an ER instead of a medical clinic. Four children in the same home with bronchitis and a woman who had recently miscarried were some of the most difficult cases, but case after case of skin infection and other diseases kept the medical providers working long past sunset, the time that we were told we had to leave for the sake of our personal security. Equally as tragic was the spiritual condition of the site. There were reports of active witchcraft taking place and a general look of hopelessness on the faces of many. “Leave if you can” –the name seemed to fit.

Still, that’s the funny thing about the God that we serve. Of all of the needy places that we could have gone, He sent us to the town of Salsipuedes. I think perhaps it was because, even though others had given up on that “Godforsaken” place, He hadn’t. He sent us there as an extension of His love in a tangible way.

I had the chance to enter into homes with several of the students of the Bible Institute while the medical team treated the sick. And as we passed from house to house, entering into their world, I thought of what Christ did for each one of us. He left His glory to live among us, to experience what we experience and to give us the hope that comes from a relationship with God. We in turn were serving as his representatives, offering the same hope that we now enjoy in a place where hope seemed for many to be a distant memory.

I spoke to many and told them that, although they might not have expected it, God had sent us to them specifically to let them know that He had decided to stay in Salsipuedes and that he was looking for hearts in which he could live. We prayed with many as they wrestled to take those first steps toward a relationship with their Creator.

What will happen is hard to determine. The routine of the life poverty has a grip that is relentless. C.S. Lewis once said it this way:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So is the work in Salsipuedes; the population is run down, too tired to hope, too tired to dream of something better, and perhaps easily placated with the counterfeits that false religions or momentary escapes like drugs and alcohol can provide. Still, I believe that something began in the heart of those that we touched on that Friday. They received a taste of the love of God, and I believe that through the persistence of the pastor and the congregation that is serving that town, together with the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit, the very character of that town can change. In fact, I’m looking forward to the day when they invite us to the official name changing ceremony.

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