Tag Archives: Mexico

What one newly forming simple church wants

In the past couple of weeks we have found ourselves in the middle of a new church group that is suddenly coming together. I described one of the first meetings in my last post, “Cool stuff about Wednesday’s meeting“. We met on Sunday, and I asked the group to share their vision of what they want the group to be all about. The most common theme in the discussion is that they really want to reach people who need to know God. They recognize a number of reasons that many people won’t ever become part of a traditional evangelical church. They’re not critical towards traditional churches, but they want to do something different that will connect with people outside of traditional churches. Here’s a list I made during the meeting, based on their responses. It is written in the voice of the group:

  • There should be a change in our lives. We will first and foremost focus on our own spiritual growth. Seeing us changing for the better is what will draw new people into the group.
  • After I shared that we missionaries are only there to support and empower the group and not to lead or control anything, the group agreed. One woman said, “When people see foreigners up front leading a church, they say, ‘That’s a religion of foreigners. We don’t want that, because they already conquered us.'”
  • We want to help people who are hurting and have problems and needs. Lots of people won’t ever go to a traditional church, but they will come to a meeting in someone’s home. For this reason, we’re not particularly interested in building a church building or having rigid, formal meetings.
  • We don’t want to create a strict regimen of religious rules and lots of pressure to show up at every meeting. Instead, we want to have an internal commitment with one another and most of all with God that impels us to participate and do things.
  • Our schedules can make showing up to church meetings very tough. We want to schedule these meetings at times when people can come, and we want to keep it flexible and change the time and location whenever we need to in order to accommodate people.
  • Church people tend to get labeled by those on the outside. Outsiders say things like, “I don’t want to be part of that, because then I’ll be an ‘Alleluia'”. This is because we sometimes do strange things or use strange language that people on the outside don’t understand. As much as possible, we want to use simple language that people understand, and avoid doing things that unnecessarily separate us from people.
  • We want to have a humble attitude. We don’t want to be proud and stuck up with people who don’t know God.
  • We want fellowship and conversation to be defining characteristics of our meetings. We don’t want to just sit quietly and listen to one person preach all the time and not ever talk to the person sitting next to us.
  • We want to create an atmosphere where people feel like they’re with family and feel like they can ask any question. For example, lots of people have questions like, ‘I worship the Virgin Mary, but does she have power?’ We want people to feel like they can ask those types of questions, and we’ll be able to guide them as we go along.
  • Dave, Rhonda, and I emphasized one more point, which is this: Everything we do will be based on the Bible, as taught to us by the Holy Spirit. The Bible contains the truth of God. Without the Spirit to teach us the Bible, we’re just dealing with man’s interpretations, which is what leads to so many different religions who all say they practice the Bible. Each person in the group will be equipped to study the Bible and hear from the Holy Spirit. We will not depend on one certain teacher; everyone at different times will be able to teach others something, based on revelation given by the Holy Spirit.

We’re pretty excited about this list. It’s not quite a comprehensive expression of all that a church is and does, but it’s a great start for a simple new church that is being founded on some really good desires.

Advice from Grant and Jenn

Recently, our church planting team sat down with Grant and Jenn Haynes to get their parting words of advice based on years of ministry in southern Mexico.  Here are some of the points they shared:

  • Be really careful whose house a church meets in.  Because there are so many divisions and gossip around here, choosing the wrong house can cause a lot of problems.
  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.  Don’t latch on to one person too fast when they become receptive to God.  Keep working with a few different people.
  • “We’ve never seen it go well when money gets involved with anyone.”  Be extremely careful about finances being any part of your relationship with someone.
  • As much as possible, never do anything by yourself.  Always have a Mexican on your hip.
  • Discipleship in small groups (say, 3 or 4) is better than one-on-one around here, because with a couple of Mexicans present a person can’t lie about what they’ve been doing.  In one-on-one situations, people are often tempted to lie in order to save face.
  • It’s time for a season of broad scattering of the seed of the Word among many people.
  • Don’t get too married to any one model of church or ministry.
  • The goal is to see the gospel spreading through people’s natural relationship groupings (oikos is the Greek word).  The problem around here is that people’s oikos are small because of divisions and gossip.  Most people don’t have many good friends.  Really pray against that stronghold of gossip.
  • Keep hanging out with God and getting His perspective.  Only talking strategy and looking at the size of the task can be depressing.  Look at the Promised Land, not at the giants.

There’s a lot of good stuff there!  I’m glad we got that time with Grant and Jenn before they leave.

Mexico and Mother’s Day

This past Sunday was one of the rare times that Mother’s Day hits on the same day in both the United States and Mexico. The U.S. always celebrates it on a Sunday, while in Mexico it is always on May 10.

In Mexico, Mother’s Day is celebrated in much the same way as in the U.S. People give gifts and flowers to their moms and often prepare special meals or take them out to eat. Many restaurants give moms a free meal on the 10th. Our family enjoyed a nice meal at a restaurant with our upstairs neighbors, who wanted to celebrate with us.

Mother’s Day is a fairly big occasion around here. Here’s what a Mexican shared with me one time about mothers:

Mexico has had a lot of problems with fathers, so Mexicans aren’t as attached to their dads, but boy do they love their moms. Mothers really carry the family in Mexico. Father’s Day isn’t much of a big deal around here, but Mother’s Day is a really big deal. That’s why Mexicans are so attached to the Virgin of Guadalupe (a representation of Mary, the mother of Jesus). Many people have a hard time relating to God the Father, but they feel a strong affinity to the Virgin as mother.

I have observed the above to be true. It provides a real challenge in making disciples of Christ. About a month and a half ago, I visited the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and was blown away by the devotion of the pilgrims who had come for a blessing.

A crisis of identity

Or at least that’s what it feels like I’m having right now. We on CPT have been taking more care the past year and a half with the answer to the million dollar question asked by locals: “Why are you here?”

We have stayed away from saying, “We’re missionaries.” This because what we mean by the term ‘missionary’ and what locals understand by it are two entirely different things; their understanding carrying quite negative connotations. So officially, we belong to a non-profit community service/development organization that is here to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our region.

People always want to know where we get our money from. Saying something like, “Well, people back home send us money to live off of and then our job is to go around and talk to people all day,” has never seemed an entirely satisfactory answer for them. It makes us come off as somewhat rich and lazy in the eyes of the locals. We do try and work jobs in keeping with the mission of our community service organization (and hopefully in keeping with the kingdom of God). That’s what has three of us trying to start a water filter business right now and Pam teaching English classes. The problem there is that the 10-20 hours of “real work” we do each week is still a far cry from the taxing 60-hour-a-week schedule many of our friends here have.

These complexities have me and the rest of CPT asking some tough questions right now about exactly what our role is here and what our identity in the community should be. Add to the mix a number of tough challenges and considerations (a number of which I’ve shared on this blog) coming out of our reading of Donovan’s Christianity Rediscovered, and we’re not exactly sure which way to turn.

  1. We could completely discard any attempt to have a legitimate, respectable identity with the people and spend all our time preaching, teaching, and praying. That’s something close to what Donovan did among the Masai of Tanzania, and some might argue it’s close to what the Apostle Paul did.
  2. We could continue on as we are doing, making a bit of money and establishing something of an identity through community development/tentmaking jobs, and then preach, pray, and make disciples on the job and with our time outside of work.
  3. The economic problems have been hurting some of us financially. We could truly focus on trying to earn a significant portion of our finances through some type of job (which would probably have to be online). This would satisfactorily answer the questions people here have about how we support ourselves, but it would also cut into discipleship time.
  4. Maybe another option exists that we haven’t considered?

Contemporary wisdom on multiplication and church planting movements says we should never minister in a way that cannot be easily reproduced by our disciples. If that’s the case, we wonder if living fully off of missionary support and spending all our time in prayer and meetings can ever be easily replicated down here, or if locals trying to adopt that model would hinder a movement. Dabbling in “work” a few hours a week and then doing a lot of discipleship outside of that also doesn’t seem very reproducible, though it is expedient. Working a full-time schedule and getting in what disciple-making work we can on the side is what most or all of our followers here will probably need to do. So in that respect, the model can be replicated. But one can ask whether our role as outside missionaries should be different, even if it’s not reproducible.

I really don’t know, but I think I need some answers.

(Above photo courtesy of Pizamanpat)

Latest technology in wake-up calls

Sometimes things happen down here that just make me chuckle. For example, last week I stayed in a hotel with one of our mission trip teams. I went up to the front desk and asked for a 4:45 wake-up call the next morning. The guy disappears behind the counter for a minute, reappears with a pink alarm clock, pops a battery into it, and hands it to me.

“Here you go,” he said.

A few minutes later, one of our other staff members walked in and asked for a wake-up call.

“Sorry,” the guy says, “we’re all out.”

The Legend of Burger Boy

If you have ever been to southern Mexico on a mission trip with GFM, you know about Burger Boy. He’s a legend in our circles. He makes a killer hamburger with some Mexican flavor to it. Here are the ingredients:

  • a beef patty
  • a slice of ham
  • a pile of our area’s specialty cheese
  • diced tomato
  • diced onions
  • avocado
  • pickled chili peppers
  • ketchup
  • mustard
  • mayonnaise
  • all on a toasted sesame seed bun

Now that’s a mean burger!

During each mission trip, we usually take the team to his stand to eat, or sometimes we have him bring his cart up to our base. To make it worth his while when he brings the cart to our place, we have to eat a lot of burgers. This means that we usually end up having burger eating contests (because otherwise they’ll go to waste). Here are some burger eating records:

  • The all-time record for the most burgers eaten was set by a guy last summer–7 burgers
  • There are about 10 or 12 members of Club 5, including me. To become a member of Club 5, you have to eat five burgers in one hour.
  • Two girls tied last summer for the new girls’ record–5 burgers. I’ve never seen anything like it!

So if you ever come visit us down here in Mexico, be sure to have us take you out to Burger Boy!

March mission trips

My recent lack of posting is due to the fact that we’ve been very busy hosting two March mission trips. We just hosted a team of 16 from March 8-16, and now we’re getting ready to receive another team from March 19-29. With each team, we provide two days of cultural training, mission teaching, and spiritual preparation at our base, and then we spend several days in various outreaches in town.

One of the most important things we try to communicate to our short-term mission participants is to come in as learners. Christ came to earth with a humble, servant attitude. When we engage a new culture, we need to learn and establish trust with people before we try and have all the answers for them.

The team that came this past week caught the vision of being learners and building relationships with the locals very well. Most people spent the majority of the week tutoring junior high and high school students in English. The timing for this was good, as the high school students had midterm exams last week.

Here are a few photos from the mission trip:

We enjoyed some good times of prayer and worship together

Hannah tutors junior high students in English

More tutoring. That’s me in the middle.

This junior high student lives by himself in our town. His dad moved to the U.S. and started a new family, and his mom lives in the village he’s from. He speaks good Mixtec, Spanish, and English, and was learning Chinese from some of our team members this past week. He indicated a desire to follow Christ and is being followed up on by one of our apprentices.

The English classes our mission training school students have been teaching all year long had their graduations this past week.

Being learners: Our neighbor showed some of the mission trip participants how to make tortillas.

Some of the team helped a widow harvest her corn field.

September to February – A timeline of progress

Once a week, I send out a prayer and praise report on our church planting work for a number of supporters who regularly pray for us. I thought I would paste a few excerpts from those reports below, to give you a sense of the progress that has been made over the past several months:

September 23, 2007
Our church planting team (CPT) is hard at work and seeing God answer our prayers. This past week was the second of a four-week emphasis on making a lot of new contacts here in [our town], in hopes that out of those contacts we will establish solid relationships with a number of people who are open to Christ. So far, this effort has been pretty successful, thanks to God. Our team has met a number of people who are open spiritually and is working to follow up on those people as we also continue to make new contacts. Some of the best contacts are people who, seemingly out of nowhere, initiate a conversation with a team member and it comes out that they are interested in studying the Bible. This is God at work!

September 30, 2007
This will be the final week of our four-week extra emphasis on making new friends at the start of the ministry year. It has been hard work for our team, but this is an exciting phase as we are meeting so many new people. I like to think about how we have no idea right now what God will do in any of our friends’ lives, but no doubt we are spending time with people who will be used in great ways for His kingdom someday.

October 7, 2007
We are very grateful for the ways we’ve seen God answer our prayers these past four weeks to help us make new friends. This has certainly happened. We will continue to put quite a bit of effort into making new friends in the coming weeks, while we also work on following up with people and seeking discernment on who to focus the most energy on. This week we will be holding signups for a few new English classes we will begin offering next week at our rented storefront. We are offering classes for elementary students, junior high students, high school students, college students, and adults.

October 14, 2007
We are all very excited that two friends of ours, a girl named [S.] and a guy named [A.], have committed their lives to Christ and were baptized on Sunday evening! Though our church planting team has spent some time with both of these new believers, [S] and [A.] have mostly been ministered to by our missionary training school students, their families, and local Mexican Christians. It’s exciting to see how God is using all of our combined efforts in the work of making disciples…We are making progress with several other people right now and hope to be baptizing more new converts before too long.

October 28, 2007
We have exciting news! [G.] and [C.], two women that Pam and Ali have been meeting with, were baptized on Friday! Praise God for this step of faith they have taken. They have been studying the Bible the last couple of weeks, and were recently convicted of their sin and need for cleansing. They gave their lives to Jesus Christ and obeyed Him in baptism. Thank you for praying for them!

November 4, 2007
CPT enjoyed a short retreat this past week on the coast of Oaxaca and then spent a couple of days in Oaxaca City renewing visas and being mentored by another missionary couple. We are now back in Tlaxiaco and ready to dive into ministry again. Our team will be working to disciple new believers [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [G.] and [C.], and will also be hoping to see [M.C.] and her husband [Go.], baptized. We also are developing relationships with a number of other friends and studying the Bible with some of them.

November 18, 2007
We are hitting some tough spots with several of our friends and people we are discipling, which is something we have expected. Prayer is so important in these times. A spiritual battle is being waged for the souls of those to whom God has called us to minister. We need God to break through in people’s lives and free them from spiritual bondage.

December 2, 2007
I wrote some about spiritual attack last week and appreciated hearing from you all about how you’re praying for us. We know that attack comes because we’re doing things that Satan doesn’t like. That became evident this past week as Tino and Jason baptized another new believer, [Juan] from Tino and Angela’s English class. Praise God for [Juan’s] decision to follow Christ! It’s really exciting to see the ways that God is working, answering prayers, and changing the hearts of those who haven’t known Him.

January 27, 2008
As we have come back together as a team, we have…heard God calling us to a greater commitment to prayer. As a result, we are now meeting together as a team five days a week to pray for the people of Tlaxiaco. We believe that prayer is absolutely the most important element in church planting work, and we thank you so much for your role in that important ministry.

February 3, 2008
This past week we had a milestone event in our church planting efforts when two couples came together for a self-led church meeting for the first time. This is just one small step among many along the way, but it is an important step towards self-leadership and self-sufficiency. It was [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [J.L.] and his wife [D.R.] who met, with [Ca.] teaching from Philippians and doing a good job of inviting discussion from everyone. Everyone enjoyed the time a lot and decided to meet again this week, this time with [J.L.] teaching.

February 10, 2008
We can kind of get lost in the trees of the week to week church planting work sometimes. But when we step back to see the forest, we recognize that God is moving. Progress is being made. Our team started September with two baptized believers we were discipling. Now there are five baptized believers, a small church group that has been meeting, and a number of other people are open. Our team has deeper friendships with many of the people we know.

February 17, 2008
If you have been following our church planting strategy, you know that we are working to plant reproducing churches here in [our town] that will spread out to all the villages surrounding us. Many of these villages are without any Christians or any established church. This past weekend gave us a little glimpse of this vision being played out. Pam, Liz (a mission training school student), and [C.] went out to [G’s] village to visit her. [G.] and [C.] accepted Christ and were baptized in October, and then in early January [G.] and her husband returned to their village to live there. The women found [G.] doing well and encouraged with the fact that there are others in the village who are open spiritually. Some of this openness is due to the fact that a believer visited their recently and laid hands on some sick people and prayed for them and saw them healed. [C.] noted that people have been healed recently when Pam has laid hands on them and prayed for them as well.

It’s going to be a difficult road for [G.], and we appreciate your continued prayers for her, but we are excited to think about the power of transformation for this region as believers in [our town] take the gospel back to their villages. Situations like [G’s], where a family lives in [our town] for a time and later returns to their village, are quite common. As we make reproducing disciples here, in time we can send a small army of church planters into all the surrounding villages–church planters who already have established relationships, know the culture, and speak the indigenous languages.