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...