Friday, December 27, 2013

Broken Windows, Kmart and the Church... does the small stuff matter to anyone?



I went to Kmart recently because I needed to pick up something and I knew, since it was early morning, that I could get it done quick.  Walking up to the doors, I wondered if I was there too early because they were not opening.  I was standing there like a fool waiting for them to slide open when it hit me.  This Kmart, and I’m guessing many like it, do not have automatic doors.

Kmart was a pretty popular shopping option in the 60’s and 70’s.  My dad loved the place because they had a little of everything and the prices were good.  I bought many a Christmas gift from them over the years, including more than a few fishing lures.

Then something happened.  

Kmart became passe and started having serious financial problems.  It was as if with the introduction of Target and the growth of Walmart, there was no need for Kmart.  I wonder though, if it was something else.  Maybe Kmart forgot about the small stuff.

Bill Bratton who was recently rehired to be the Commissioner of Police for New York City calls it the “broken windows theory.”  This theory, developed by James Wilson and George Kelling, and which Bratton used to knock down crime in NYC says that you need to address stuff like broken windows on abandoned buildings and crummy sidewalks as soon as you can, otherwise they “advertise” that the area is open to crime.  In a nutshell, if a neglected area continues to be neglected, serious crime and problems will follow.

I think what Bratton understood was that the small stuff matters.

We can neglect the seemingly small things, but if we do, perhaps, like Kmart, we are in danger of some serious issues coming forward. 

Recently I was in a church and someone brought a box of candy to share with the congregation.  It was a great gesture and I’m sure not many people thought much about it, but it struck me.  I think because the candy was my grandfathers favorite candy.  It was tasty and wonderful, but it was candy from another generation.  Actually, it was candy from a few generations ago.  Again, it was my grandfather’s favorite candy!



I bring this up because I think church and churches are in danger of becoming like Kmart, passe.  Sadly, I believe we are part of the problem.

For a variety of reasons, many in the church refuse to acknowledge that society is changing daily and with it, people’s felt needs for things physical, emotional and spiritual.  Much like Kmart and abandoned buildings, our churches are becoming monuments of manual open doors, broken windows and dated candies.  Worse, we wear this reality as a badge of honor, longing nostalgically for the old days when we believed life was simpler and you didn’t have to worry about this stuff.

Unless and until we adopt a Bill Bratton attitude that says the small stuff matters, the church is going to struggle to attract new blood.  Oh, we’ll still get the underchurched, an invented word used to describe those people that have sort of an inherited history with us, but the secularists or the non believers?  Those folks will move on, in a sense to do their shopping at gleaming new Targets with automatic open doors and places like Amazon where you get what you want in seconds without having to deal with nostalgia or dated candies.

There are no broken windows in their world.  Why do we tolerate them in ours?








Monday, December 23, 2013

Dear Santa... From Adventures in Life Ministry

Dear Santa, whatever you can do to make this list a reality for Adventures in Life Ministry would really be appreciated.  I know you're busy and everything, but who isn't these days.

Anyways, I've tried to be brief and give you some pictures to make it easier to understand.

1. A Few "More" Good Men... no, not the movie... we need a few more men for our Annual Oaxaca Men's Ministry, February 1 - 8, 2014.  We've got a roof to put up, a solar pump system to install, and a host of small electrical and plumbing projects to complete.  If you can help, and would like to join the bunch of guys pictured here, drop us a line ASAP!


2. An Eye Doctor in the House! Our Spring Medical Ministry, March 22 - 29 desperately needs an eye doctor or optician on the team.  Maybe you are the person that can help us round out this local church based ministry.  We pray with, treat, and really get to know the people we serve in the communities of San Pablo Guila, San Baltazar Guelavila, San Idelfonso Amatlan and San Pedro Amatlan.  Get in touch with us now to be part of this ministry.


3. A glass of fresh water... $100.00 will give a family a Sawyer Water Filter that will provide years of clean drinkable water.  This can literally be a life saver for a family that cannot afford to buy purified water.



4. Solar Panels for our ranch south of Oaxaca City... We need an additional four 245 watt panels [just like the ones in the picture] to install our solar pump for our well.  Your donation to this could make sure that AIL and Pastor Chable have the water available for our continued camp and agricultural ministries in this area.


5.  Send a kid to camp!  Want to make sure a child or teenager gets a chance to hear the Gospel at camp?  The cost is $100.00 for each person you want to send.  Want to sponsor the entire camp?  Only $7000.00 for between 50 and 100 kids.  Look at the faces below... you can help make it happen!


6. A new computer for AIL Ministry... here's the deal.  Our office computer is on its last legs.  It is from 2002, has a Celeron processor running XP and a paltry 1 gig of RAM.  Maybe you can bring us up to date.  We're looking at about $1500.00.

So Santa, that's about it this year.  Some big dreams, a few small ones and lots of ways to support our work and mission in Oaxaca, Ensenada and Guadalajara, Mexico. Here's a link to give directly to AIL online, or, if you want to mail a check, here's the address...

Adventures in Life Ministry
3243 East Warm Springs Road
Las Vegas, Nevada 89120

Merry Christmas to you and yours and have a blessed New Years!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

May you be blessed richly as we pause to be thankful for all that God has given us in our lives.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Practical Love in a Suspicious World... living Paul's words out loud!


Dios es Amor Summer Camp 2013

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 13:1

Thank you Paul, those are great words, but just what exactly do they mean in the real world?
That is the question many in the mission community are struggling to deal with as churches work to better connect with people in their communities, be they in Las Vegas, China or Mexico, where I serve.
It used to be that evangelism and showing love was understood as knocking on someone’s door and sharing the Gospel with them.  Whether that was through a program like Evangelism Explosion and their 2 important questions or a sharing of one of the famous Chick Tracts, saving someone from hell was seen as the ultimate expression of love.
Now we are seeing a different view as people strive to give their love a practical expression that was often missing in the types of encounters mentioned above.  One of the churches I work with, Dios es Amor [God is Love Church] in Ensenada is doing a good job with this.
8 years ago we helped this church, known locally as IDBEA, realize a dream of having an overnight camp for the children of the community around their church.  I remember the staff feeling overwhelmed at the thought of taking care of meals and programming for the 15 kids we had back then.
Now that little idea has morphed into a month long day camp that has almost 100 kids in attendance from 7:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon.  And this year we kicked off the month with a 2-night camp that was attended by over 75 kids from the local community.
You want to talk about love?  Hugs, games, exercise, good food, field trips, laughing, crying, caring adults and young people helping all contribute to an atmosphere that oozes love and compassion for the families of this little corner of God’s world in Ensenada.
What is even better is that everything that happens at this day camp is a result of the family of God saying to the community that we love you and we want to be a part of your lives.
Critics call it a social Gospel approach that seldom yields people praying the prayer, as if that is our sole hoped for response.
I call this approach, especially in a society that is wary of Christianity, earning the right to be heard.
You see, where I serve, the evangelical church does not have a very good reputation. People are suspicious of us, sometimes rightfully so.  Communities have been split, families destroyed and relationships abandoned.  What’s worse, these results are somehow celebrated in the evangelical church as evidence of a “true” relationship with a loving God.
I’ll admit, this approach is not for everyone.  IBDEA has lost some members because they are not more aggressive in trying to get kids to pray the prayer to accept Jesus.  And like a lot of churches that try this type of ministry, the change into a fully devoted follower of Jesus can at times, be painstakingly slow.
But it is happening. 
I’ve watched some of those kids who came to our first camp take leadership positions as they’ve grown and we are seeing families get connected to IBDEA because of this vital ministry.  I’ve also seen the community respond and offer to help in ways unimaginable just a few years ago because they see the church as a valuable asset to the colonia.
It has not been easy and there is still much to be done. 
IBDEA has to think strategically about how to better integrate camp participants into the daily life of the church and they need to continue their work towards financial self-sufficiency, but those will come.
Right now they are focused on living out the love of Jesus in real and practical ways here in Ensenada... just as the Apostle Paul would have wanted.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Avoiding Self Absorbed Short-Term Mission... why you shouldn't just paint the fence!


Imagine you are sitting in your church one day thinking about ministry when you hear some noise going on outside.  Getting up from your chair, you decide to head out and have a look.

As you come around the corner of the building, that’s when you see them, 12 smiling faces of kids, many of them with paint on their clothes out in front of your church facility.  But it isn’t the fact that they are there that surprises you.  What really catches you off guard is what they are doing.

Those 12 young people, along with their leaders, are painting the fence in front of your church.  That’s right.  In front of your church, there are 12 people, all with paint brushes and rollers having a great time painting your church’s fence.

As you struggle to maintain your composure, you ask the leader for a moment to talk. When he comes over you ask him what exactly his group of kids are doing.  He explains that they are a mission team from another part of the country and that they have been teaching the kids to think about random acts of kindness and how they can be serve people in the name of Christ.

One of the ideas the kids came up with after driving around the city was to come to your church and paint your fence, because it “looked like it needed some work.”  And so here they were, just trying to bless you as the pastor and your congregation.

Like many pastors, you were stunned.  How could a group of people from another city, presume to know how they could serve you and your congregation without ever having had a conversation with anyone in your church?  As you shared your struggle with the leaders of the group, they were unable to understand.  As they explained to you, they were just trying to serve you, believed God had led them to your church, and were only trying to be a blessing.

Sound far fetched?  Maybe, if you live here in the United States.  But every year thousands of people leave the US on mission trips to every corner of the globe convinced that they know best what the local church over there needs, and involving themselves in mission work just like this.

How does this type of self absorbed mission happen?  I am convinced there are three main factors that are contributing to this dilemma.

Arrogance

Incredibly, it is very hard for many of us to believe that people in another country might know more about God, the Bible, Christianity, or even evangelism within their culture than we do.  I recently sat down with a few 20 somethings to talk about mission in Oaxaca.  They were convinced that they could open a training institute in that diverse area to teach pastors how to reach into indigenous villages and evangelize people and plant churches.

These well intentioned young people had never lived in the area, spoke little or no Spanish, did not speak any of the indigenous languages and understood nothing of the local culture.  Yet they were ready to get on a plane, head out to a few local villages and begin to teach locals everything they needed to know about church planting.  When I pushed them, they responded that “biblical values” would trump any cultural differences.  I could almost hear David Livermore screaming “No!” in his widely read book, Serving with Eyes Wide Open.

Like the kids above who were painting the fence, the group that wanted to serve in Oaxaca was simply assuming that they knew best what the local church needed.  It was if they believed the local leaders and pastors were just sitting around doing nothing because they did not know how to reach their people.

You see, this group of young people had the idea that if they did not get to Oaxaca and teach those local leaders, they would never know how to evangelize their unreached brethren.

Their belief in the importance of their upcoming mission was rooted in an arrogance that discounted the already ongoing work of thousands of Oaxacan Christians in sharing the Gospel under intensely difficult conditions.  Everyday Oaxacan leaders were praying for and sharing Jesus in villages across the state.  A belief that only we, as Americans know the best way to reach people for Christ is, simply stated, rooted in missiological arrogance that gets it’s expression from American Exceptionalism.

Money

Following closely on the heels of arrogance is money.  Perhaps nothing impacts current mission work and leads to the types of problems I presented above more than money.

Robert Guerrero, the Church Planting Catalyst for City to City in New York City and formerly of The Red del Camino in Latin America has worked extensively with short-term teams in his church planting ministry in the Dominican Republic.  Guerrero says that one of the most important things leaders of short-term mission teams can do is visit the field and their perspective mission partner well ahead of time.

It is this visit that gives the potential goer guest a chance to see the mission, envision what his or her team will be doing, establish a communication link and relationship with the field missionary and hear how the short term team can best serve the local mission.

With his type of personal connection, and the first hand knowledge of the mission that comes with it, it is hard to imagine a scenario where a team shows up unannounced and starts working on your facility.

Unfortunately many leaders and churches, struggling to make ends meet in an era of declining budgets, frequently eschew this vital step.  It is a penny wise and pound foolish decision.

Last spring a local church here in Las Vegas where I have my office, contacted me about sending a team to support our ministry in Oaxaca.  After a few telephone calls and a couple of face to face meetings, I suggested they come and visit our ministry in Oaxaca so they could get a real personal feel for what I was telling them.

We had a great few days last August as I was able to show them first hand how their church could get involved.  They met our partners, and perhaps most important, saw first hand what their church members could do to support the Missio Dei where we were serving.

Did it cost money?  Yes it did.  Was it worth it?  Of course, unless you believe that showing up at a strangers church and painting their fence is good mission.

The bottom line is this... good mission costs money and there are no short cuts, and that includes the final factor that leads to inefficient self absorbed mission.

Lack of Training

Perhaps more than anything else, lack of training, for both leaders and participants, leads to sub par, self absorbed missions.  That’s because the attitudes that lead to missional arrogance and a desire to do mission on the cheap have their basis in a lack of effective training.

An effective training program that crosses all phases of your mission, from pre-field orientation to post-field debriefing will catch many potential mission errors long before they become on field disasters.

When you are guided in your training and preparation by a person knowledgeable in where you will be serving and the pitfalls of short-term mission, your effectiveness in mission increases exponentially.

Effective training makes sure that participants are culturally prepared, understand the needs of the field, know that partnership is important and provide a strong biblical foundation upon which to base your mission.

Just the other day I received a telephone call from John, a Youth Pastor in the Pacific Northwest.  When he was younger, he served on numerous teams with me in Mexico. Clearly he had an idea about what he wanted his group of students to do, but then as he was sharing those ideas, he stopped.  He stopped because he wanted to share something else.  He wanted to make sure that I knew he really wanted his group to serve us, and our mission.

John grew up in a program that had been prepared for short-term mission by a first class training organization, DELTA Ministries.  His youth pastor when he was young believed in preparing his students and modeled the value of a relationship with the field through frequent non mission visits to the field and conversations with his missionary partners.

This type of experience only comes from good preparation and training.  But here’s the rub... good training costs money and unfortunately, if a group or team is looking to cut expenses, professional training and preparation is often the first to go.

Conclusion

The story I shared above is 100% true.  I was sitting in a church I had served for many years in Northern Mexico when a group of kids and their leaders from a major US Mission agency showed up and started painting.  When I heard them I went outside and asked their leaders what they were doing and if they had asked permission or had talked to anyone at the church.

They were stunned that I would even question them.  After all, they were missionaries serving God in Mexico.  Arrogance.

They were unhappy when I asked them why they had done no prep on the fence they were now painting and they said each team had a budget for these projects around the city.  Money.

And when I asked them if they were aware that they were using the wrong type of paint for the job, they explained that they just figured any white paint would work.  Lack of training.

Missions work, particularly across cultures, is hard.  It requires, in spite of what many articles and short term mission advocates may tell you, lots of time, money and preparation to get it right.

It also requires a relationship with local leaders, pastors and missionaries on the field. Almost every problem a short-term team might encounter in the field could be alleviated if only they were working alongside someone who knew the ins and outs of the culture and area where they were serving.

But this perspective comes from taking a long view of ministry and a willingness to invest mightily for effective mission.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Missions, Art and the Gospel... bridging the cultural divide


Culture: the beliefs,values, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.

That word culture is such a loaded term, especially when we get into the church related world.  Culture, and the understanding of it to many, is simply a waste of time.  Our job, as Christians, as many define it, is to convince people of the truth of Jesus and save them from Hell.  

Leaving behind the theological ramifications of that, let’s focus on the practical.

Years ago I led a team of college and young adult people on a two week short-term mission in and around Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  Guadalajara is literally the birthplace of what a majority of Americans know about Mexican culture.  Charro, Mariachis, Mexican pride and machismo all run deep in this region.  Arts and crafts from Guadalajara show up all over the world and who isn’t familiar with the “Jarabe Tapatio” popularly known as the Mexican Hat Dance.


But there is another sub culture if you will, that is also strong in Guadalajara, that of Catholicism.  Nowhere else in the country, including Mexico City will you experience the influence of the Catholic church like you will here.

On one of our free days with that team of young adults, we took them to the historic cathedral in the center of town and later to the Instituto Cultural Cabañas to see the great murals of Orozco. 


What I heard from the group that day might surprise you.  I was asked why we were spending time in a Catholic church when we could be outside preaching to people so they would know Christ.  After touring the museum, a couple of people asked me why, as a missionary, I was taking people to see secular stuff like art when we were there to be missionaries.  


Grady Martine, co-founder of Adventures in Life Ministry and I made an important and valuable decision that day after hearing those criticisms and reflecting.  We would always try to make sure people on mission with us returned home with a stronger understanding of the culture of Mexico.  

We needed to enter into the local culture, learn it, understand it and live it so as to give our voices credibility.  Unknowingly, we were adopting a Hudson Taylor missiology.  

We believed then, and we still do, that to serve people effectively, you need to understand their culture.  For us, confronting culture, as many missionaries did then, and still do, was not an option.

If one of our goals for people returning home after a short-term mission with us was a better understanding of Mexico, her people, the issues facing that great country and her values, we had to work hard with our participants to give them cultural learning opportunities.

It was as if we decided almost 20 years ago to embrace Cultural Intelligence [CQ] that David Livermore has popularized recently.  He defines CQ like this... Cultural intelligence is the ability to be effective across various cultural contexts—including national, ethnic, organizational, generational, ideological, and much more.


These are the reasons AIL Ministry celebrates and highlights the cultures of Mexico.  If you visit our Facebook page, you are just as likely to see in our opeing banner a picture of the Guelaguetza or an alebrije from Jacobo and Maria Angeles [carved, painted wood sculpture] as you are a group of people praying.  You might see a picture of the ancient Zapotec Empire at Monté Alban or some of those colorful Oaxacan rugs from Teotitlán del Valle.


The Apostle Paul, in his famous address on Mars Hill spoke to the philosophers of that area, the Stoics and the Epicureans.  He was able to hold his own in that particular marketplace of ideas because he understood their culture.  He was a student of culture.

Shouldn’t we be also?  Would not our mission, be it here in the United States, or somewhere else around the globe, be better for it?

You tell me...

[To learn more about the culture, art and life in Mexico, visit Dave's personal blog.  All of the pictures used here are from davemiller.mx 


Friday, September 20, 2013

Gospel, Mission and American Exceptionalism... can they co-exist?



Whenever I am around people talking about mission, my mind gets moving.  This week I am at STAND, the North American Mission Leaders event sponsored by Missio Nexus in Dallas, Texas.

Yesterday I was listening to Paul Borthwick, long a strong advocate for Christian mission and engagement in the world, particularly short-term mission.  One of the things he stressed was the need for missionaries, when we are working and serving in other countries to stop, listen to and accept the leadership of the national leaders.  But he went further, challenging us to not only listen to leaders, but to hear the words of the poor and the least of these when we go.

Over the last week or so, the concept of American Exceptionalism has been in the news a lot.  Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an Op-Ed peice in the New York Times saying Americans are not exceptional, people have been talking.  His peice even stirred Senator John McCain to fire off a response extolling the virtues of both America and our exceptionalism.

Exceptionalism is this belief that America, and by extension our citizenry, are unusually “different” from others countries and peoples.  In practice it gets interpreted as we are better than anyone else.  It's as if because of our history, our formation, our struggles and our values, we have a leg up on everyone else in the world.

This belief is rooted in the American Revolution, our support of Europe, and the sacrifices we made in helping win World War II.  It can perhaps best be expressed in what is known as our “can do” attitude.  It is a badge of honor many Americans, my self included frequently wear with pride.

And therein may lie the problem.

How can missionaries from America, long steeped in the tradition of American Exceptionism, set aside that pride, be it for a week, or years in the case of long-term missionaries, and really listen to leaders from other countries?

How can we, when we intrinsically believe at our core that we are better or know more, set those beliefs aside and become learner servants, seeking to hear God’s voice from others?

If we believe that we have the best program, the best building methods, the best access to mission philosophy, the best evangelism methods and materials, isn’t it going to be hard to listen to nationals from another country?

It is almost as if Borthwick is asking us to do something that we cannot do.  And you know what?  Apart from God, maybe he is.

The Apostle Paul in his great letter to the church of Philippi shows us the way. 

We read in one of the greatest calls to humility in the bible to be Christlike at an amazing level.  We are called to obedience, the cross, humility and love of others at such an incredible level it is hard to comprehend.

It is summed up best when Paul says we are to consider others better than ourselves.  Take that in for a moment.  Paul is saying to consider that not only is the guy with more education better than you, but to consider the same for the farmer, or the immigrant, the man living in a shack or the shaman in the village half way around the world. 

Paul, the jew of jews in the eyes of many...

“Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”

Faultless.  Let that word sink in.  Without fault.  Perfect.  Righteous.  Justified.  That’s exceptionalism.

And Paul was willing to set it all aside for the sake of the Gospel, counting it all as loss in comparison to the Gospel. 

Borthwick was essentially challenging us, as North American Mission Leaders, and there are more than 1200 here in Dallas representing every facet of mission work, to set what we believe to be our exceptionalism aside and be like the Apostle when we go.

But you know what?  He stopped short.  I’ve seen Paul Borthwick speak many times and I admire him greatly, but he stopped short yesterday.  He stopped short because he only challenged us to live that call when we go “over there.”

One of the most frequent criticisms I hear about Christians in the US is that we believe we are better and have it all figured out.  What if we not only “considered others better than ourselves” when we are in another country, but here in our own country as well?

Would it be hard?  Of course it would.  But maybe that is why Paul in closing his Epistle chose this verse... “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Imagine the offering that we would be to God if we as a people,
in a country that sees itself as exceptional, set that belief aside for the sake of the Kingdom, became nothing, took the very nature of a servant, and nailed our exceptionalism and pride obediently on the cross.

That would indeed be a witness that just might say something about Jesus to the nations.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wheelchairs, Love and an Essential Gospel in Mexico City

Pastor Chable, Dave and Rod Fry together in Mexico City with a wheelchair for someone in need

I’d like the introduce Rod Fry to the Adventures in Life family.  I’ve known of Rod for years since he has been a tremendous friend and mentor to frequent AIL Ministry participant, Brigam Ziehm.

In May I was privileged to be part of a conference that Rod and his circle of churches in Mexico City organized to encourage their people to respond to God’s missional call on our lives.  One practical blessing that came out of that conference was a stronger connection between the ministries of Adventures in Life and those of Rod through his sponsoring organization, Camino Global.

It is this relationship that is enabling AIL Ministry partner Pastor Chable to provide wheelchairs where we are working in Oaxaca, and it is these wheelchairs that are the inspiration for Rod’s post this week in our Monday Mission Moment.

The Essential Ingredient by Rod Fry

I found myself talking for a long while about all sorts of very good stuff yesterday, in a home I had only been to once before. My doctor friend was interested in helping distribute free wheelchairs to his neighborhood. I immediately understood one of his motivations the first time I visited his house. His sister-in-law, who suffers from cerebral palsy, was lying alone in the bottom of a bunk bed, covered with blankets. She smiled at me, waving her free hand as best she could. I greeted her with pleasure. The least of these always deserve special treatment.

I went back yesterday, loading up 4 more wheelchairs still in their boxes, bringing the total to 7 chairs now waiting at my doctor friend's house. His wife was there yesterday, and after the normal awkwardness of "what in the world is a gringo doing in my house," she opened up, and we talked about everything from the fact that Christians (the evangelical sort) don't believe in the Pope, and do not follow Catholic church doctrine that has been passed down through the centuries. "I don't confess to the priest," she confessed to me, "he's just a man. I talk straight to God."  Yes, He is our High Priest. No need for another mediator.

I was in a home, way up against the back side of the canal de la Compañía, the canal that, fortunately for my new friends, has always ruptured on the south side, the other side. Otherwise their house would have been completely covered with water. I gained entrance to their home, and in a remarkably rapid fashion, by doing such a simple thing...providing wheelchairs to needy people.

I do not mean to make church planting or evangelism sound too easy, but sometimes I think we make it too hard. I bet, I just bet that when I present a simple, gospel story tomorrow, people will be wide open to receiving it. And I can only imagine that if I would offer to teach a Bible study at that house every week, people would come to it. And people will come to the Savior.

In this case it was wheelchairs...what else can it be? A warm, apple pie, technical advice for one's computer, clean water, soccer equipment, English classes, homework help, construction or mechanical assistance, a strategically given financial gift, a hug, a hospital visit, an ongoing care visit, mowing someone's lawn. And the list goes on and on.

Paradoxically the methods that are perhaps the most effective in today's world do not fall into any religious category, no "churchiness" here. Just people, normal people with something increasingly rare and abnormal...and that special ingredient is LOVE. 

Rod's Blog...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mezcal, Sin and Jesus... connecting the Gospel to the real world...


My friend Alberto and me walking in a maguey field in Oaxaca

The children all gathered around.

It was Christmas time and many of their parents, out of any real work for months, if not years, had few resources for food, let alone a few gifts of clothes.  The shoes and the jackets would keep some of the kids warm when the temperature dropped as the season moved deeper into winter.  Others might be lucky enough to find a new dress, shirt, or even a pair of pants to wear after school.

And thus it went for hours as Alberto and his team of friends and relatives tended to the needs of the people of his community.

********************

Today teams of kids are getting the opportunity to learn and play basketball because again, Alberto and his team, have decided to reach out to their community and tend to the needs of the people.  

Sponsoring an entire league, upwards of 50 children in the town where Alberto grew up are getting a chance to play organized basketball, complete with uniforms, coaches, rules, referees and for the winners, trophies.  Young boys with names like Jorge, Epifanio and Jesus are passing the ball around this citywide league, imagining one day they too may play for the Heat, the Bulls, or even the Lakers.

********************

She bent down, almost kneeling on the ground to talk with the old man outside the market.  He was selling herbs and a few chiles.  I was struck by the fact that she knew his name and was willing to get down to his level... saying in effect, she was no better than he was.  She bought all six of his chiles.

As we entered the market the chicken vendor called out to her by name and Pilar waved, stopped to chat and explained to us how good the the chickens at this market were.

And so it went through the entire tour.  Pilar knew the vendors, many by their names.  As we passed one stall, she asked the young boy where his mom was... running errands he replied.  “Tell her I said hello!”

This was Pilar’s community and like Alberto in his, she was determined to make a difference, to be part of the life of the community where God had planted her.

********************

About now you are probably waiting for me to tell you how Alberto and Pilar are part of one of the ministries with whom I work, and I wish I could.  Sadly however,  that is not possible because of what these two do for a living.  Alberto makes mezcal, the most popular type of alcohol in Oaxaca.  Pilar is a chef in Oaxaca and her restaurant sells, among other spirits, mezcal.  In the eyes of many evangelical pastors and leaders in Mexico, neither Alberto or Pilar can ever be Christian because of their work.  

Many of the ministries I know in Mexico, and in the US for that matter, have no real interest in building bridges into their communities and meeting people where they are at, especially if they work in certain businesses deemed almost super sinful, as the church views what both Alberto and Pilar are doing.  

It is this attitude that has many Christians and ministries today, in the name of purity, content to work on strengthening the body of Christ, almost exclusively for her own sake, refusing to engage the world.  It is as if we are building up spiritual muscle mass not for the hard work of engaging our communities with the redemptive life changing message of Jesus, but so that we can have better bible studies, better worship experiences and better balance sheets.


Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good bible study and believe a strong understanding of the scriptures is vital to the health and well being of a church.  But churches that pour a majority of their resources into Sunday services and bible study groups to such an extent that there is little or no organized church based community engagement will fail.  

They may grow and have hundreds of people in the seats, but they will become, in the words of one of my closest friends, “a cult of biblical knowledge” unwilling or unable to be the healing hands and feet of Jesus in a hurting and broken world.  What kind of mission is that?  

After a few days recently with a pastor in Mexico, he stopped me in mid sentence and said to me, somewhat exasperated, “Dave, it’s as if you believe that a church that is not working in the community is not a church!”  “No”, I told him, “that is not true.  I just do not believe it is a very good church and is not fulfilling its’ call to be gathered to go out. [ecclesia]”

Why, I asked, are people like Alberto and Pilar, people with whom the evangelical church in Mexico would normally never associate, more interested in helping their people and extending a loving hand than many Christians and their churches?

Why is it that many churches mourn over a few missing people at our Sunday worship time, yet do not take steps to alleviate pain, poverty and suffering in peoples lives that we see daily around our church buildings and facilities?

And why is it that the evangelical church looks scornfully at people like Alberto and Pilar when they serve their communities while at the same time refusing to lock arms with them in order to gain the credibility to share about Jesus and his redemptive story in those very communities?  

I am still waiting for the answers.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Is Your Mission Too Short? Decide to be Different and Stay Connected...


Summer is almost over.  The thought of short-term mission will soon be put away as Americans turn to back to school sales, football, turkey and Christmas shopping. 

And yet, the ministry goes on!

As people across America turn to other pursuits, those they have served the last few months will still be on the front lines of their mission, doing what they believe God has called them to.

For me and AIL Ministry, that means raising the funds necessary to help our partners in Mexico reach their ministry dreams.  Day camps, overnight camps in both Ensenada and Oaxaca, outreach in Guadalajara, a solar well in Oaxaca, fish farms, personal greenhouses... the list goes on.

For our partners, that means back to the day to day grind of ministry.  The kind of things that don’t lend themselves well to big pictures.  Smaller Sunday services because there are no gringos.  Bible studies for 5 or 6 people.  Little outside help for the worship teams and few visitors to break up the monotony of ministry.

In short, it is back to life.

I’ve always said that one of the weaknesses of short-term mission is that they are, by definition, short.  But they do not have to be.  We could make a decision to intentionally live differently and continue to impact those with whom we served for that one or two week stretch sometime over the last few months.

Think about it.

What if, as a result of your time in Mexico, China, India or where ever else you served, you made a concrete commitment to pray regularly for that country and her people?  How about instead of a huge Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey and all the trimmings, you and your family decided to eschew the gluttony of that weekend here in the US and made a few meals like what you had while on mission?  Maybe that means a meal of just rice, or tortillas and beans, while thanking God for giving you that mission experience.

One person I know set up an account so he could help a pastor he knows get some books he needed.  That pastor mentioned to me the other day how much that meant to him.  I think it cost less than $20.00.

Even baby steps like these can help keep your mind focused outside of your bubble and more inclined to the people you connected with over the summer.

As short-term people, while our travels and ministries over there end, or are put on hold, our connection with people does not, and should not, have to come to an end... even if we never return.

We can, and should, continue to stay connected, and it has never been easier.

Yes, short-term missions are short, but they do not have to be.  All you have to do is make a decision to stay connected to the people just a few weeks ago said changed your life.

Will you do it?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Red Town 2013... A Movimiento of change in Zapopan, Jalisco...



Mix a group of dedicated leaders, kickin’ music and a desire to do something real for God along with about 60 people under 30, shake it all together in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico and you’ve got the real life organic church plant Red Town Movement.

The dream of brothers Albert, Marlon and their sister Rebeca Corona, Red Town is almost everything the established evangelical church in Mexico is not.  And that is why it just might succeed where other attempts to build a movement have fizzled.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Albert and Marlon this week while I was in the Guadalajara area.  I have known and served with them and their family for many years, but this was my first chance to see their vision fully developed.

If you want your church experience on Sunday morning to be controlled, sedate, include an offering and sing either hymns or the popular praise songs offered up on most Christian radio stations, this place is not for you.  

Starting at 6:00 on Saturday evening, the last work day of the week for Mexico, the group begins arriving about 5:30.  As they catch up with each other, a buzz of anticipation starts to fill the room.  Once the clock hits 6:10, there’s an opening prayer and then the band takes off.

That’s the cue for the party to begin.  Soon everyone is on their feet dancing, singing and moving about in what can only be described as a wild church rave scene.  On it goes as they church gives their all in worship to the savior.

And then, as quickly as it all began, it stops for the evening message.  I got a little break this week as they gave a quick wrap up of a recently completed camp before I took the stage, wondering what I could to say to a group of people united in Christ and a desire to be a different expression of Jesus love in a hurting world.


After my message we finished up with a couple more songs and then it was time for dinner.  Piling into cars, about 25 of us headed to a local restaurant to continue the party.

It was there that I heard how they reach out to new people.  Prayer!  Everyday at 5:30 in the morning a group of the members of this church get together with their leaders to pray for Red Town and their work.

The restaurant table is also where I heard some of the people sharing about jesus with someone who had come that night for the first time.  Contrary to what a lot of people think here in Mexico, these young people pulled no punches in their sharing. 

What are my takeaways?  I’ve got a few.


  • This is as organic as it gets here in Mexico.  Red Town was dreamed of by a group of people tired of seeing their friends and others of their generation leave the church.  They got tired of being told they could not do church as they wanted and decided to give it a try on their own, so they rented a big house and got busy.


  • It’s loud, active and not for everyone, and that’s okay.  I am not sure every church family is for everyone.  The diversity of the body of Christ is what one of the greatest things about the church.


  • Discipleship is a strong core value of Red Town.  They’ve developed materials that are culturally and contextually suited for the group they are targeting.  But more important, they are theologically sound.  No cheap grace here.


  • If the established church in Mexico, and elsewhere I suspect, really wants to connect with the next generation, they need to consider what Red Town is doing.  


In closing, I wonder if Red Town will survive for the long haul.  Many efforts like this are strong for a few years and then struggle to re-envision the ministry as the founders, or leaders age and grow into different people.  This is the question many church plants face... will they continue to evolve to attract new generations, or will they grow old and die with the founding generation.

I hope Red Town chooses the former, scary as it can be.  But until they reach that point, I’ll be content to visit and be part of this exciting ministry as much as I can when I am in Guadalajara.

Please be praying for the leaders, Albert, Marlon and Rebeca, their ministry and their outreach in Zapopan, part of the greater Guadalajara area. 

Here's a short video with Albert and Marlon sharing their vision...