Category Archives: Global Frontier Missions

Summer internships – looking for a few good men!

GFM is looking for a few guys who would like to have an adventurous summer serving God on the foreign mission field.  Do you know a solid Christian guy between the ages of 18 to 25 who would be interested in joining us this summer?  Are you one yourself?  Anyone interested can check out the summer internship pages on the GFM website to get more information.

Missions Extreme interns get a great taste of “real life” missions as they work alongside our church planting team for the summer, doing the types of things our team does throughout the year (some of the stuff I write about on this blog).  It’s a great opportunity for lots of interaction with the local people while being mentored by full time field missionaries.

Global Adventures interns have a blast helping us host teams that come down for 10-day mission trips.  They get to make lasting investments in the lives of the trip participants, while also having plenty of interaction with the locals during outreaches.

A summer internship was how Erin and I first got involved with GFM 6.5 years ago, and I have now been overseeing them for the past 3 years.  I can confidently say that for many people they are absolutely life-changing experiences.

We still have a couple of slots available for girls, too, but those ones are going fast.  If you know anyone who would be a good candidate, send them our way!

The application of church discipline

I mentioned a while back that the previous weeks had been some of the most difficult I had had in a long time.  Things have actually not gotten any easier since then, but that’s a story for another time.  One of the difficult things we went through a few weeks back was having to dismiss two of our mission training school students.  I was not very directly involved in that situation, but I learned a lot by watching how the leaders around me handled it.  Even though it’s older news now, I have wanted to come back to it so I could make a couple of comments.

The issue didn’t seem like a big deal in the beginning.  We have rules against guys and girls getting into romantic relationships just for the seven months they’re going through our mission training school.  This is so they can devote themselves to ministry and to spiritual growth.  We had a guy and a girl who began to break some of those rules – being alone one-on-one, communicating via e-mail and instant messanger, etc.  I am going to share a couple of Scripture passages dealing with the confrontation of sin here, so that you can look at them as you follow the process that happened with these two students:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

James 5:19,20

When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:4,5

A couple of the guy students saw their brother getting into sin with the young lady by breaking the relationship rules, so they went and confronted him on it.  They did not go to anyone else; they handled it themselves.

The guy did not repent.  Leadership the rules being broken and also found out those two students had confronted the guy with no change.  So a couple members of leadership then went to the guy and the girl, confronted their sin, warned them of the danger of rebellion (the Bible puts this sin on the same level as witchcraft in 1 Samuel 15:23), and called them to repent.  This couple was taking advantage of some gray areas in the rules to deepen their romantic involvement, so leadership made those gray areas black and white by saying, “You can’t do this, this, or this anymore.”

The rule breaking continued.  The couple was caught doing the “this, this, or this” they had been told they couldn’t do.  At this point, leadership took the confrontation to the third and final level.  This meant bringing the couple before the church, which in our context was the entire student body.  The couple was called out in front of the student body, their sin was rebuked, and they were told that if they rebelled again they would be asked to leave the school.

In the days following that third and final confrontation, the couple was once more caught in several instances of doing precisely the things they were told were against the rules.  We had no choice but to ask them to leave the school.  I was in the meeting where this news was broken to the couple, and I was powerfully impacted to see how much love leadership exhibited, the tears they shed, and the way they pled with these two students to repent of their rebellion.  Leadership’s goal was always repentance, and never anything else.  There was no vengeance on their part, only hurt.

Immediately following telling those two the news, we went to the student body to let them know.  The scene that followed was to me a true picture of the Body of Christ.  Upon hearing the news, the students and staff wept; there was hardly a dry eye in the room.  There was some anger and frustration, but the overwhelming feeling was one of brokenness over those two students who refused to repent.  The love for them was tangible.  A soberness about the seriousness of sin also gripped the room.  It seemed to me like a lot of us were realizing that it was only by the grace of God that we weren’t in the same boat.  It just takes a couple of sins left in darkness to lead us into a spiritual bondage that can eventually make it impossible for us to receive correction.  For maybe half and hour, the students cried, hugged one another, and huddled in small groups to pray.  Many encouraging words were spoken to leadership about their handling of the situation and their refusal to allow sin to go on unchecked in the Body.

Here are some things I learned through the whole experience:

  • Not meaning to be cliché, sin is far more dangerous than I ever thought.  It’s deadly.  A few simple sins of pride and unsubmissiveness can lead a person down a road into so much bondage that it’s almost impossible for them to hear the Holy Spirit.  If you get to that point, you’re at the mercy of Satan.  The problem there is that he doesn’t have any.  Now I understand why the Bible uses such harsh language, like “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed”.  The purpose there, of course, is so that his spirit may be saved.  Proverbs 29:1 warns of the incredible danger of not receiving a rebuke: “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy.”

  • Christians who confront sin in others are often criticized as being unloving, but confrontation is actually the most loving thing you can do for someone in sin (see my previous point if you don’t agree).  I learned how much grace God has through the pattern He gave us in Matthew 18.  The escalating levels of rebuke give the person in sin every chance to humble themself and repent.  It takes an incredible amount of pride to be brought before the entire church Body and still not humble yourself.  The Matthew 18 model is not mean; it is a loving way of trying everything possible to alert the sinner to grave danger.

  • It’s all about the heart.  You could argue that the outward acts of the two students who were dismissed were somewhat trivial.  We have dealt with “worse” sins at different times committed by students who have stayed.  The problem had much less to do with their visible actions and everything to do with the pride and rebellion in their hearts.

I think most of us would agree that the rebuking of sin and church discipline is under-applied in much of the Western church.  But why is that the case, if sin is so incredibly deadly?  Is it because we don’t understand the true power of sin?  Or could it be that we fear man more than we fear God?  Whatever the cause, I hear God calling us back to a practice that was commonplace in the Bible.  Will we love our brothers and sisters enough to do it?

GFM blogs

I am often wanting to put little tidbits on this blog but don’t get the chance to.  Tonight, Erin is at a prayer/worship meeting, and I am at home listening for the kids.  I think Erin wanted me to stay up and wait for her, which means I have some time on my hands.  So we’ll see what all I get to.  Here’s one:

Some of our mission training school students this year have blogs, so Grant recently put a page on the GFM website with links to them.  If you’re a friend of GFM or interested in our ministry for whatever reason, you may enjoy hearing what some of our students have to say.

Trimester Spanish evaluations

Spouses and apprentices included, we have 13 people on our GFM staff right now.  Language learning is always one of the biggest challenges for any cross-cultural missionary, and it certainly doesn’t happen by accident.  We have recognized the need to take an active role in the language learning of our staff.  Over the past several years, we have been developing ways to help them learn Spanish and to hold them accountable for doing so.

In the past year, this led to the development of periodic Spanish evaluations.  Each staff member is evaluated once every 4 months, until he or she has reached Level 3 or higher on the LAMP language/culture scale.  The idea behind the evaluations is to give us a regular check of each team member’s Spanish ability.  Based on that check, we then develop a Spanish learning plan for the coming four months for each staff member.  The Spanish plan is tailored to help them in the areas they most need to work on.

So today we had our trimester evaluations.  Each staff member did several exercises and was graded on them by the Spanish committee.  The Spanish committee was made up of Grant and Jenn Haynes (our directors), a local Mexican woman, and a gal from our missionary training school who is Mexican and speaks fluent Spanish.  The exercises were as follows:

  • Read aloud a couple of pages from a book in Spanish.
  • Give a 5-minute sermonette on one or two of the main commands that Christ gave.
  • Translate, line by line, a monologue given in English into Spanish.
  • Describe, in English, a dialogue in Spanish between the two Mexican women.
  • Dialogue with the local Mexican woman, answering questions she asks.
  • Do a written evaluation, consisting of translating English sentences in to Spanish.

Through the above exercises, each staff member is evaluated in 5 areas: Extent of vocabulary, grammar, accent, fluidity, and listening comprehension.  The Spanish committee scores the person on a 1 to 10 scale in each of the 5 areas.  This gives us a somewhat objective record that we can compare from test to test to see what sort of progress the staff member is making.  So goals are set according to the evaluations, accountability is based on the goals, and progress is measured through the ongoing evaluations.

GFM will never be the same

Here’s why…

Some of you have heard the ins and outs of this one before, but many have not. Last spring, we made a significant change to our mission strategy here in Mexico.

So you have a little background, here is our situation:

We work in an area of southern Mexico that is filled with indigenous people groups unreached with the gospel. A group is considered unreached until it has a self-sufficient, indigenous church capable of evangelizing the rest of the group. Our region has hundreds of villages that have no such church, many without any Christians. The goal of our work is to see strong, indigenous churches raised up in each of the unreached villages. We live in a centrally-located market town of about 20,000. One day a week, people from all the surrounding villages come here to buy and sell. Many from the villages have come here to live.

In response to the need in our region, here is what we did:

Our strategy in the past was to form gringo church planting teams to work in the different villages. These teams would begin the slow process of building relationships, earning the trust of the villagers, and then gradually beginning to share the gospel and trying to start studying the Bible with those who were interested.

Here are some problems we found with that approach, though:

  • That’s a lot of gringos needed. If you need 3-4 expatriate missionaries per team, even if you can get one team to cover several villages, that’s still several hundred expats required.
  • It takes a long time. In many cases, we would work maybe two years before beginning to have significant spiritual conversations and/or Bible studies. By the time you win new converts, disciple them, bring them together as a church, raise up leadership, and then pull out, you’re looking at 10 or more years. To date, we have not been able to get any expat church planters to commit for even close to that long. The longest we have had a church planter committed is about two years.
  • What about raising up Mexican leadership? Our former strategy was a very gringo-centric model. But it’s hard to disciple people and raise up indigenous leadership when you’re only in their village a day or two a week. We found it equally hard to get traditional churches in our market town excited about reaching out to the villages.

Last February, we spent a couple of weeks praying and discussing strategy changes we could make to help us reach the villages more effectively. The result of the deliberation was a new game plan that we believe is from God and that has us fired up!

The new plan:

We noted that, in Acts, one reason the gospel spread so fast was the Holy Spirit fell in Jerusalem, the crossroads of the world. The market town where we live is the “Jerusalem” of our region. People from every village within hours live here, and many more come once a week for market. Many people in the surrounding villages speak a tribal language other than Spanish, but those who live in our town almost always speak Spanish well. Those who come to this town are almost always more open-minded types who receive us and our message much more readily.

So we decided to focus our energies on planting simple, reproducing churches in our market town. We are able to reach the Spanish-speaking, open-minded people here much more quickly and effectively. We can better disciple them as we live in the same place, see them often, and share more of our lives with them. Many of those we reach have existing networks of friends and family back in a village somewhere. They can reach these people far more effectively than we can, since we have to start from scratch and overcome a significant barrier of trust. If we properly disciple new converts to spiritually reproduce, there should be no stopping a movement of reproducing churches affecting every village in the region.

We are now several months into this new strategy, and we are even more excited about it now that when we began.

Other benefits of the new strategy, besides those already mentioned:

  • We don’t live compartmentalized lives. Before, we had this weird thing where we ministered in the villages but lived in our market town; therefore, we didn’t really view day-to-day living as ministry. Now, everything we do and every conversation we have is strategic and moves us towards raising up new disciples and reproducing churches. This is what the Christian life should be like.
  • Not driving out to villages is a lot easier on time and financial resources.
  • Before, wives felt like they couldn’t have much part in the ministry. It’s hard to drag kids out to a village all day and then try to have deep conversations with people of another culture. Wives can now play a vital role.
  • In the villages, it was hard to answer the question, “Why are you here?”. Now, the locals can see us working through our nonprofit organization and feel like we have legitimate jobs and roles in the community. Our work consists of things that benefit the community, like teaching English, selling water filters, and doing solar cooking demonstrations.
  • As we hosted short-term mission teams last summer, they got sold on the new vision. I felt like they were more excited about the work and had a greater understanding of their role in it than ever before.
  • Our Mission Training School students are able to do more hands-on learning than ever before. In the past, they went to the villages a day a week. Now, life is their lab.
  • Our church planting team now lives in town, among the people they’re reaching, rather than at our mission base.

I truly believe this change in strategy was a landmark event for GFM. It will affect everything we do in Mexico from here on out, as well as what we do in other countries. The impact will be far-reaching, as we train students who will later minister all over the world. I’m excited, because I believe we will be much more effective in the long run as we focus on starting reproducing churches in the “Jerusalems” of the world. Sometimes you have to learn by trial and error, and this was one of those cases for us. GFM will never be the same, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

Our application of the Parable of the Soils

Our church planting team made a change to our evangelistic strategy this year that was largely influenced by the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4.  Neil Cole of the Leadership Network shares some great insight on this parable in his fantastic book Organic Church, to which I’m going to have to devote at least an entire post at some point in order to do it justice.  Here is Jesus’ explanation of the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4:14-20:

14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop-thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”

The Holy Bible : New International Version. electronic ed. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Mk 4:14-20

Our team looked at this parable and started talking about the fact that the people we meet fall into all the different soil categories.  I don’t think Jesus’ purpose in this parable was to reduce the work of evangelism to a mathematical formula, but if we go ahead and draw some rough percentages from His explanation, we can reasonably assume that as many as three quarters or more of the people with whom we develop relationships will not turn out to be good, fruit-bearing soil.  That’s important to consider when you’re a team of six people with limited time in a town of 20,000 people.  We need to find a way to invest as much time as possible into people who are the kind of soil that is going to bear fruit.

In past years, we tended to get ourselves very committed early on to a small number of people we were befriending and sharing the gospel with.  Upon entering a new village, the first few people who were willing to talk to us became the people we spent almost all our time with, hoping to earn their trust and see a spiritual breakthrough in their lives.  The problem with this is that we picked friends with very little consideration as to whether they might be good soil.

It’s interesting to note that, in the Parable of the Soils, only one of the four kinds of soil failed to produce any kind of plant.  In the other three soils, a plant sprung up from the seed that was sown.  In the short run, plants in any of those three soils might have looked like they would bear fruit.  Only over time did troubles, persecution, worries, and the desires of the world keep these plants from fulfilling their purpose.  Very generally speaking, we can assume that as many as two-thirds of the people who initially receive the Word sown inside of them ultimately won’t bear fruit.  These could be people who give every appearance of being good plants – they might be baptized, they might get involved with the church, they might have a lot of the right beliefs, but in the end they won’t bear fruit.

That’s a sobering thought for a church planting team.  We decided we want to invest as much of our time as possible in sowing seeds and cultivating plants in good soil.  If we were to immediately hone in on the first several people we meet, our chances of doing this successfully would be pretty slim.  We determined that we needed to begin this year by meeting as many new friends as possible.  We will be faithful in sowing gospel seeds everywhere we go, and then see which soils begin to grow plants.  As it becomes evident that certain people have not at this time received the Word we have scattered, we will stop investing much energy in those relationships.  Then we will watch the people who are sprouting up young seedlings to see which of those plants survive and begin to bear fruit.  Over time, through this process of starting broad and then narrowing our relational focus, we hope to see each member of our team end up with a core group of several disciples who represent mostly good soil.  These are the people to whom we will give most of our time and energy.

The result so far?  Well, we began employing this strategy about 5 weeks ago.  In that time, I think I can safely estimate that our team has met and begun cultivating relationships with over 120 or so new people.  These are neighbors, people in the park, store owners, soccer teammates, aerobics classmates, English class students, teachers, government authorities, and more.  We have shared Christ in some way or had some sort of spiritual conversation with almost all these people.  We have already begun to study the Bible with about five individuals or families.  This represents a marked improvement over our old strategy of focusing on a couple of friends and hoping to see them become interested in spiritual matters.

Time will tell how effective this strategy truly ends up being, but the early signs are encouraging.