Monday, December 22, 2014

"They beat us and left us for dead..." An urgent message from AIL Ministry Executive Director Dave Miller about Eloxochitlán, Oaxaca...

***Update Below***

"They beat us and left us for dead... but the Lord gave us life again!"

That is how Pastor Chablé, our main ministry partner in Oaxaca, described what happened last weekend in Eloxochitlán, the village our medical team served in October.

This week I had planned on sharing a simple Christmas message with our AIL Network. And then real life intruded on those plans. So I am sharing something different. A story of pain, loss, and ultimately hope.

On Sunday, December 14th in the middle of the day, Eloxochitlán, more than 6 hours away from our ministry base in Oaxaca City, erupted in political violence between people holding opposing views of the role of government in everyday life.

At the end of the day, 2 people died, both friends of Adventures in Life. Gustavo, one of the dead gave his life protecting our partner Elisa. He leaves a wife and 4 kids. Manuel, Elisa's brother was also killed in the violence. He leaves a wife and two young children.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Eloxochitlan, Oaxaca, Mexico, Violence, Short-term Mission
A few of the vehicles lost in the violence
Multiple houses were set afire, houses where our medical team recently stayed. Cars, trucks and businesses were burned and people near and dear to our ministry, including Pastor Chablé, were seriously beaten. Two of them, Malena and Elisa, have been in the hospital since that day, having been beaten to within inches of their lives. Doctors are now working to save Malena's right eye and help Elisa walk again.

The houses of everyone who served with us, where we stayed while helping more than 350 people receive medical care, were the main houses attacked. Some were completely destroyed. 

Having lost everything, the families escaped to Pastor Chablé's ranch south of Oaxaca City, more than 6 hours away, to recover, rest, and consider their future.

We now have five families living at that ranch. Many of them have lost everything. Houses? Gone. Furniture? Gone. Clothing? Gone. Property? Gone. Money? Gone. Cars? Gone. The other day a local church brought some clean clothes for the kids. Finally they could change their dirty clothing.

Eloxochitlan, Violence, Violencia, Adventures in Life Ministry, Short-term mission, Oaxaca
Manuel's work truck, a total loss
Step back and think about that for a moment. They have not lost a lot of stuff... they've lost everything.

As Pastor Chablé put it, he now has a group of refugees and no way to get around town and get the things they need. His truck was one of those burned in Eloxochitlán. Stop and consider what that means. A rancher has no way to go and get food. No way to bring feed back for his animals. No way to take his young son to to school.

I doubt many of us here in America can imagine what that must be like. You wake up one morning, and by the time the day ends, you've lost everything.

Adventures in Life needs your help. Pastor Chablé needs your help. Manuel, Vicente, Malena, Elisa, David, their families and their kids need your help. 10 adults and eight children.

There is no FEMA to help in Oaxaca. The evening news is never going to publicize this and ask people to help make Christmas happen in the face of this unspeakable tragedy. No one will be starting an internet campaign there to help them.

But there is the family of God, and we can respond.

I am asking you to consider making a sizable donation to these families. We need to pay off medical bills, provide food, clothing and see if we can get Pastor Chablé another truck to replace the one he lost.

Our goal is to raise $20,000.00 in the next two weeks. That will enable us to get a truck and provide for the families who are now living at the ranch. We expect that they will be there for at least a month.

Literally there is not one person connected to Adventures in Life who has served in Oaxaca that has not in some way seen their ministry impacted by Pastor Chablé and his family.

This is one of those moments that defines ministry. 

Almost 20 years ago, Paul Lathrop and I arrived to where the village of Santa Rosa once stood north of Ensenada. The day before, the entire village was bulldozed, the people losing everything. We brought food, diapers for kids, milk and other supplies for the people of that village. It is where we built our first church.

Even today, when I see people from that village, they still talk about how God used AIL to literally save them after that tragedy.

Together, we can write another chapter in God's story in Mexico. Another chapter where his people in Oaxaca speak of God provided in their hour of need. Indeed, as you read this, we've already received over $5,000.00, 25% of our goal!

Pastor Chablé was taken to the hospital after being beaten in Eloxochitlán. He refused to stay because he told me his sheep, his people, needed him.

Chablé and his people need us. 

Today as you consider how you can respond, let me challenge you to go big. Seldom do we have the opportunity to step up and make a real stand for Jesus. To do something that will make an instant kingdom difference.

This is that time.

This is when we can live the community, the love, and hope that we profess each year at Christmas. This is our chance to help provide a Christmas miracle to God's people of Oaxaca.

If you want to help us raise the $20,000.00 we need to help these families, you can send us a check to our office [address below], use the donate button on this page, or give online through our web site. 

All donations are 100% tax deductible and will go directly to Pastor Chablé, his family, the ranch and to help the people now living there from Eloxochitlán.

Update... To date, Adventures in Life has collected over $50,000.00 in relief funds for Eloxochitlán. We have helped cover medical bills of some of the victims, purchased vehicles, and helped restore the businesses that were lost in the violence. We also provided food and shelter at our ranch in Oaxaca City when people had to be in the capital for medical care, to meet with government officials investigating the attack of because they no longer had a home in which to live.

We have also set aside an account of money for the people of Eloxochitlán to use in the future for development of micro loans for small businesses and other projects designed to benefit the entire community of this isolated mountain village.

Adventures in Life Ministry
A 501(c)3 non profit corporation
3243 E Warm Springs Road
Las Vegas, Nevada, 89120
Federal Tax ID 95-4434963

Monday, December 01, 2014

Giving Tuesday and the Gift of Water through Adventures in Life Ministry

Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Two days America joins together to shop, shop, shop.

Here are the numbers. Americans spent over 50 Billion Dollars during the Thanksgiving Weekend on everything from Christmas trees to Legos to Elsa, the heroine of the hit movie Frozen.

Today, known as Cyber Monday, will be more of the same as retailers are expecting upwards of 2.5 billion. That's quite a bit less than the Black Friday numbers, but let's be honest here, 2.5 billion is still a lot of money, or as a good friend of mine might say, cabbage!

Tomorrow, December 2nd, is known as Giving Tuesday. It's a day set aside in the Christmas shopping season to give back to those in need. This year, Adventures in Life Ministry needs your help.

Everyday when you get up in the morning you brush your teeth with clean water. You brew a pot of coffee or a cup of tea with clean water. You put your glass under the kitchen tap, turn on the water and instantly, that glass is overflowing with clean, drinkable water.

But what if you were unable to do that? What if the only water available was not drinkable? What if you could not afford to have clean, fresh water in your home?

That is the situation I encounter everyday in the villages where we serve in Oaxaca. Places like San Pedro Amatlán, San Baltazár and Eloxochitlán. 

Recently I was in Eloxochitlán for a medical clinic. Two of the doctors helping us were from Oaxaca, and as I've written before, they were stunned at the conditions they witnessed. Lack of potable water was literally killing people in this village bit by bit.

I shared with them that AIL Ministry could get portable water filters that families could use in their homes. Dr. Milton, in his review of the week shared that effective water filters could essentially be a game changer. People could literally take river water, filter it, and get a clean glass of water.

This Giving Tuesday, and throughout the Christmas season, we would like to ask you to give a water filter to a family in Oaxaca. Each water filter, from Sawyer Water Filters, filters about a million gallons, enough water to last a family of four a lifetime.

The cost is $99.00. For only $99.00, above your regular giving, you can make a donation that will literally change lives. 

Earlier this year I was in a village known as San Ildefonso. The pastor of the church came up to me pleading for help in getting more water filters for the people of his village. The same is true in every village and town where I work and serve in Oaxaca.

Simply put, these water filters save lives and give us the chance to share about the true living water. 

Can you help? To make a donation, just click this link and you will be directed to the support page of AIL Ministry. Make your tax deductible donation of $99.00 and we will send you a thank you note and let you know what community will get the water filter you provided.

Our goal this Christmas season is to provide 100 families with clean water. With your help, I know we can get this done.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ayotzinapa... a black day for Mexico

The facts of the massacre are basically in.

On September 26, 2014, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. The went to protest what they believed were discriminatory hiring and funding practices by the Mexican Government.

The mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca Velázquez did not want his wife who was going to be giving a speech that day, to be embarrassed by a group of students, known throughout Mexico as "Normalistas". It looks as if the mayor and his wife gave a green light to the local police chief, Felipe Flores Velásquez to take care of the situation.

What we have learned since is horrific. A mass grave was found on November 7th in Cocula, Guerrero containing what are believed to be the remains of the students.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Taking the Kids on Short-Term Mission... how to make sure you get it right!

One of the emerging trends I am seeing in short-term mission from both the sending and receiving side of the equation is a desire for families to involve their children in missions.

To that I offer a hearty amen!

Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Mexico Missions,
All of the pictures here show kids serving on mission with AIL and their families
From my perspective, the opportunity to “train up a child” from an early age about the importance of getting personally involved in cross cultural missions cannot be understated. Whether those children ever become lifelong missionaries will remain to be seen, but in a world that is becoming more multicultural everyday, cross cultural competence and fluency will be increasingly necessary to effectively share the Gospel.

Before I start, let me clarify where I stand regarding children in mission. I am a strong proponent of kids going on mission, provided they do so with their parents. I don’t believe parents should pass that responsibility on to another parent, even if that parent is a close friend. The family experience of serving together is central to a child understanding that this is a big deal for his or her parents, and the kingdom. It becomes about modeling the value of mission and self sacrifice together.  

As a host receiver, I have had a front row seat to some of the perils and pitfalls of family mission experiences. Generally in my role, I have tended to always say yes to parents and families wanting to be part of our work, provided I can reasonably accommodate them within the ministry we are doing.

This means there are going to be limits. If your host receiver primarily works in high danger areas, or in specialized ministries like rescuing women from the sex trade, those would not be appropriate places for kids and families.

With the above as a backdrop, here are a few thoughts 

Parents are more the issue than their kids. 

US parents are significantly more over-protective of their kids than many other cultures. This is not to say one parent loves their child any more than another. I simply want to suggest that if you are a “helicopter parent”, missions might be a struggle for you and your family.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Mexico Missions

Effective mission takes place when we enter into a culture, as opposed to standing outside of it as a pseudo-observer. One of the first points of contact, and struggle for kids and families on mission, is at meal time. When you are in another country and the food comes out looking different, smelling different and tasting different, what are you, as a parent going to expect from your son or daughter.

My son started coming with me on mission at a young age. From those very first days, he understood the biblical model of eating and drinking what is put in front of you that we learn from Jesus in Luke 10. To this day I still hear him respond to friends when asked how he could eat something so different at someones house with two simple words... “Missionary meal.”

Before you head out on the field with your bundle of joy, are you prepared to force the issue when it comes to food, or are your going to travel with a secret stash of goodies to give to your son or daughter when they tell you they don’t like what is being served?

Missions is about sacrifice. 

One of the reasons many parents want to bring their kids on missions is for them to learn about sacrifice. Don’t short circuit that lesson out of a perceived need to cater to your child. Once they learn that you expect them to eat what they are served, and that there are no other options, believe me, they’ll eat, and quickly learn the importance of the term “missionary meal.”

US kids have significantly less stamina than many children around the world.

Generally when I think of appropriate mission opportunities for kids, I like to see them involved in kid friendly activities. This usually means ministry to children. If you want to bore a kid to death, take them on mission with you where all the work is focused on adults. If you want them to thrive, make sure they have time and opportunities to interact with the kids their own age who they are going to serve and get to know.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Mexico Missions

This however can pose a serious challenge because of the stamina issue. Let me give you an example. Each year my ministry facilitates a series of children’s camps in Oaxaca, Mexico. The kids we serve are from very poor rural backgrounds and are often expected to help work the family land along with school and any other “chores” around the house.

They get up before dawn to work the field and leave for school around 8:00am. There is no bus, or car, so they walk. When they get home in the afternoon, they return to the field until dinner is served, around 8:00pm. After dinner they finally get a chance to do their homework, getting to bed between 11:00 and 12:00 each night. The next morning before dawn, it starts all over again. Every day, every week of their young life. 

Children on Mission, Adventures in Life Ministry, Mexico Missions

When these kids come to camp, they are loaded with enough energy and stamina to go full bore, all day. Unfortunately, their peers from the US are not able to keep up. Before bringing your child on mission with you, think about this. We want people set up for success, not failure and if your child lacks the stamina to keep up, perhaps it would be better to wait a year and work on his or her physical endurance.

Recently I had a group serving with me and they were adamant that their kids were in good shape and well prepared for the ministry awaiting them. As would happen on any camp ministry in the states, we divided all the locals up into teams and then placed the Americans kids on teams with them.

We gave points and awards for everything from attitude to participation in the various activities at the camp. Across the board, the teams with more participants from the states scored the lowest amount of points. One of the primary reasons for this was because those kids from the US were simply not physically able to keep up with a full days’ activities. 

Incarnational Mission is not a museum.

One thing we do not need more of on the field is observers. We need people willing to role up their sleeves, get into the hard work of sharing the Gospel and helping the local church build bridges into the communities where they are working. We need people willing to actively seek out ways to live the Gospel for whatever length of time they are here.

This means that people on a mission site, whether they are 5, or 75 years old, will be expected to get involved. One way to gauge this is to see what your kid is doing as opposed to what the local kids are doing.

If the locals are playing a game of kickball, and your child is sitting quietly reading a book, or has decided it is time for a nap, what message does that send to his new international friends?

Trust me on this... the only way to ultimately get what you want for your child on mission is to arrive prepared to make sure he or she gets involved, whether they like it or not. It is that involvement, that living outside of a comfort zone that will stretch your child. It is that incarnational witness and decision to be directly connected to the life of another that leads to effective transformational mission.

Asher Sarjent of 16:15 Church Mission Coaching has a few rules for anyone going on mission that he always shares when he trains a team. Two of those are especially relevant here.

"Do everything you are asked, or told and no complaining."

As an adult, it is fairly easy for us to live this. For kids though, unless they are well prepared ahead of time, and constantly reminded, this does not come naturally. This is where the rubber meets the road because given the option, most kids prefer a mission that is a museum.

Let me introduce to you Jim [not his real name]. Jim was 12 when he and his parents served on mission with us in Oaxaca. One of the activities we had for the kids at our camp was a chance to go to the theater and see the latest animated movie that was showing. For most of the kids at our camps, this was the first, and maybe the only time they would ever see the inside of a movie theater.

Like a lot of theaters in the US, this one was connected to one of the local shopping malls, so when we announced to the group of Americans where we were going, they were all excited.

What was interesting about this group of kids serving with their parents was that their excitement had nothing to do with mission or building kingdom relationships. They were excited because they were going to a mall. You could sense their disappointment when we told them we were not going shopping but to a movie and that they could only go if they were willing to spend time with their new Mexican friends and see the movie.

Every single young person in the group decided not to go except for Jim. As we were driving over to the theater, I asked Jim, all of 12 years old, why he decided to go. He said to me “Dave, I may never get a chance again in my life to a movie I Spanish, in Mexico, with a group of my friends.” 

Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Mexico Missions

It should not surprise you that Jim was the star of that camp. The attitude he showed that day, being willing to stretch himself and live incarnationally among the people he was trying to serve should be an example to all of us.

If you are going to bring your children on mission with you, and I strongly recommend and support this, neither you or your children should treat mission like a museum. Mission that is effective, or that makes a Kingdom difference, is not to be observed, either by adults or by your kids. It is to be lived, all day long in relationship with the people you are trying to serve.

Final thoughts for parents.

Don’t bring your child before he or she regularly does not need a daily nap. We all know how kids are when they do not get the nap. Cranky, tired, whiny and everything no one wants to see on the mission field. Set your children up for success by waiting until they have passed this important developmental step.

Wait until your kids are potty trained. No one likes cleaning up a messy diaper. Trust me on this, you are gonna like it even less on some far away mission field location. You, your kids and your host receiver will all appreciate it if before you pack your future missionary off on mission, he or she knows how, and when to use a restroom.

Your kids are your responsibility. Period. No team you are serving with is there to baby sit your kids and neither is the missionary. Understand that if you have a relationship with a missionary host receiver who is willing to let you bring your child, that is going to be the exception. Honor that and take to heart the above points.

Final thoughts for missionary host receivers.

Be open to the idea of children on site with you. In todays world, kids are going to travel. Do we want a generation of children growing up feeling like God’s servants around the globe don’t want them around? Of course not. Who knows, one of those kids might just grow up and be the person who continues your ministry into the next generation. 

I am not saying allow kids on every site where you are involved. What I am saying is take a look at your calendar, see where it might be appropriate for young children to be involved and when a parent asks about bringing their child, give it a try.

In closing.

The idea of bringing children on short-term mission is enough to sometimes send even the most laid back host receiver over the edge. For parents, the thought of trying to keep a growing boy or girl under control in another country, where they speak another language, may be just too much.

But let me offer this encouragement to both sides of what I am sure we will seeing more of in the coming years. The Kingdom, the mission field, your family, and our ability to attract new leaders to the global Great Commission will be strengthened by having children on mission with us.

That alone should cause us to explore ways to make this happen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Village, A Mission, A Ministry, An Opportunity

Mission Focused, Adventures in Life Ministry, Eloxochitlan, MexicoWe made it.

Leaving Oaxaca City about 9:00am Sunday, we arrived in Eloxochitlan de Flores Magnon [formerly San Antonio de Eloxochitlan], site of our medical clinic last week, about 4:00pm.

Along the way we ate a great lunch, sucked down a few Dramamines, passed through a cloud forest, crossed the Continental Divide, and even saw a few waterfalls before finally arriving.

As we got out of our vehicles, about 150 people were crowded around the house we would use for our clinic getting a small bowl of beans and a handful of tamale masa to dip in the broth. I wondered how many of them would be at the clinic the next day.

When I woke up, there were already people lining up. By the time the day ended, we had seen well over 100 people. But the number doesn’t really matter, it could have been 50, it could have been 500.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Mission Focused, Eloxochitlan, Short term mission, Mexico
Our intake and triage center
What really mattered was the church... and God... and Jesus.

For the community of Eloxochitlan, what mattered was that Jesus showed up in ways many had never imagined. People walked hours to be seen by a dentist, an internist, a pediatrician or a physical therapist who was literally working miracles.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Mission Focused, Eloxochitlan, Short term mission, Mexico
Dr Sue seeing one of our smaller patients on our second day
They came in the back of trucks, in friends cars, any way they could to get a chance to see a doctor, or get some level of medical care. And they came in waves. Just when we thought there would be a break, or perhaps the day was winding down, another collectivo with a dozen patients would arrive.

We saw children with untreated extreme cerebral palsy, people who would soon lose their toes and feet, bad backs, colds, gastritis and sore knees. Almost everyone we saw had at least one cavity. We saw people with Parkinson’s disease, parasites and cases of lice so bad kids had literally ripped their faces off. 

Adventures in Life Ministry, Mission Focused, Eloxochitlan, Short term mission, Mexico
When Pastor Chable was not talking with his community, he helped out by sterilizing medical instruments
And we saw Pastor Chable in his element, serving his people. The people God had called him to years ago. This was the first place he pastored and he has never really left. It’s where his son Abi calls home. His daughter Cesi was born there. It’s where he held a little baby many years ago that died in his arms. 

That baby changed his ministry, and many years later, me and Adventures in Life.

Chable’s son Abi told me I was only the second “gringo” to ever work with the people in Eloxochitlan, the first being the missionary who helped his dad plant a church there years ago. As I listened, I learned that there had never been a clinic in town with more than one doctor. We brought four. I learned that no clinic, including the town health clinic, ever had medicine for the people they treated. I learned that no church sponsored clinic had ever treated non-Christians before. We treated all comers.

Adventures in Life Ministry, Mission Focused, Eloxochitlan, Short term mission, Mexico
Here I am with Doctors Milton and Ita between patients
This time, this year, last week, the church showed up. People were cared for, prayed for, held, touched and loved in ways many had never experienced. The Gospel was shared in word, deed, action and proclamation. 

It was shared people to people, as when Pastor Chable sat with a couple that needed counseling, or when one of our doctors prayed with a patient in need.

Looking back, I shared with my ministry community last week that I was scared. Scared of the unknown as we prepared to head up to our location in Eloxochitlan. Now I ache.

Without a doubt this was the hardest week of ministry I have ever experienced in over 20 years of mission. I know it will never leave me, even as I struggle to understand what I saw there and what should be the role of the church in addressing incredible pain, suffering and poverty.

What I do know is this... we’re going back next year. And we need you. 

In addition to our current, already committed group of physicians and dentists, we need nurses, dietitians, dental hygienists and people who understand public health issues. We need an eye doctor or two to help provide sight to people who have struggled all their lives to see clearly.

We also need a team chaplain. This is a ministry that needs a pastor’s heart to hear the struggles of God’s servants, as they work, and to be praying for, and with them. It is that hard.

Viktor E. Frankl writes in his landmark work, “Man’s Search for Meaning” that everyone must have something for which they live. Perhaps this ministry is that something for which your soul yearns... that something for which you live. 

We are trying to change a pueblo. The pueblo of Eloxochitlan! We are striving to meet immediate needs now, while sowing the seeds of Christian development for tomorrow. Imagine if in a few years, the people of this area could say that God heard their prayers and sent some men, women and children from the church to help.

Then imagine if those He sent, included you.

Please pray about it and if you have any questions, contact me.

A big thank you to Mission Focused for their help documenting our work with their excellent photography. All pictures here are copyrighted and cannot be used without the express permission of Adventures in Life Ministry and Mission Focused.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe Bucket List Christians are the problem and not short-term mission...

Dave Miller, Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Notes from Dave
AIL Ministry Executive Director
Dave Miller
Recently Noel Becchetti, formerly of the Center for Student Missions wrote an article titled “Why Most Mission Trips are a Waste of Time, and how to make sure yours isn’t” that was shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.

In his article, Becchetti brought up all the requisite failures we’ve heard for years about short-term mission and ministry, and they all start with our need...

• to control
• to define the ministry
• to see results

As someone who has served in short-term mission [STM] for over 20 years, first leading teams and then ultimately, receiving teams and participants, let me begin by affirming Noel’s list.

There are few leaders in short-term mission, myself included, who would not agree heartily with each of these issues. As leaders, and in many cases, pioneers of the short-term movement, we’ve been guilty of each of the offenses Noel cites, and probably more. Look closely at each of the problems mentioned and you’ll see a central theme... US! Broken, sinful, prideful, controlling people who have grown up in a world that tells us it’s all about us. Sadly, lest we get too puffed up, that includes our churches too. 

What’s encouraging is that in response to a history of at best lackluster short-term mission, those of us in short-term mission leadership chose to do something radical about it.

We looked critically at our mission. We examined our methodology, our ministry, our planning, everything. You know what we found out? Our critics were right. About the only good thing we saw were hearts that were beating for people to come into an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And with that as a backdrop, we set about to change the way short-term mission was done. No longer would our mission trips be all about us, the primary villain Bechetti finds in his Pogoesque “the enemy is us” critique.

This effort soon came to be known as the US Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission, an accrediting and resourcing body for those who send, receive, facilitate and support short-term mission. Not only did we not want mission trips to be waste of time, filled with busy work like painting fences for the 100th time, we wanted them to truly be about God and His glory, lived out on the mission field. 

7 Standards were soon developed by the short-term community that literally address all the issues that critics of STM have raised for years. Unfortunately, not enough people involved in sending short-term teams are even aware of the standards. Worse, some people and churches have simply decided to reject them as too difficult to embrace. I believe Standard 1, calling for a God centered life and Standard 2, calling for empowering partnerships are the biggest stumbling blocks for large numbers of churches and groups, known as senders. 

Let me explain.

Standard 1, a requirement of a God centered life would seem to eliminate many people without a faith in Jesus. As logical as that may seem, this requirement smacks up against the desire of many leaders, particularly those working in student ministries to use short-term mission as an evangelistic tool.

What should a youth pastor do if little Johnny wants to join his friends on a short-term mission trip, yet has never made a profession of faith, or is not currently living a faith centered in Jesus? Should he be allowed to participate in the hopes that he might make a life changing decision as a result of his time serving?

Let me put that question another way. Should churches and groups be sending people on mission trips to hear about Jesus, or should they be sending people whose lives already testify to life changing power of our risen Lord?

Standard 2 clearly states the primary focus of your mission needs to be on those we serve. Focusing on those we serve means that our mission isn’t about us or our spiritual development. Sadly, that realty stands in direct opposition to how many leaders and participants currently think about mission trips. 

Recently I have started hearing from people, God centered committed people, that going on a short-term mission trip has been on their “bucket list.” Even a best case interpretation cannot find a way to interpret this as putting the primary focus on someone else.

There is no calling from God involved in Bucket List Missions. An understanding that a short-term mission can, or even should be reduced to some sort of ‘bucket list” of things to do in life is very hard to square with Standard 2.

If people are still struggling with even the idea of short-term mission, and the comments I see whenever anything STM is posted bear that out, then there is still work to be done. But maybe all of the fault does not lie with the short-term community itself.

Short-term mission is here to stay. Making sure STM is not a waste of time will take all sides of the mission experience, senders, goer-guests and hosts, working together to more effectively grow God’s Kingdom.

Noel Bechetti’s post raises some valid issues that many in the short-term mission community have taken seriously and strived to improve. The next step I believe, is for the leaders on the sending side of this issue, those in churches and other faith communities to also step up and accept responsibility for their part in improving short-term mission.

More on that later.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

ISIS, and making Jesus accessible... is it possible?

Sometimes the real world forces its way into our little enclaves.

Over the last few weeks we've been assaulted by the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of an alphabet salad of terrorists in the Middle East. Be they ISIS, ISIL, The Islamic State, Levant, or whatever, let's face it... we're angry.

This week, our politicians are supposedly going to fashion a response. Maybe.

It is clear that few Democrats or the Republicans want to go on record with a vote on what to do about this just weeks before an election. Apparently, reelection is more important than a reasoned debate leading to a unified response.

But their weakness should not change how Christians should respond. Our response, as the family of God, should reflect the values our savior holds dear, not necessarily a response that will make us feel better, or even make us more secure in the world today.

For me, that is part of the tension of being a Christian in America, trying to balance my earthly security with my eternal destiny and how I believe Jesus wants me to live on a daily basis.

A friend sent this article, A Reasoned Response to ISIS, to me recently. It is from author Carl Medearis' blog, Making Jesus Accessible.

As a missions guy, the thought of making Jesus accessible is what it is about. I think daily about how our actions, as a church, as a mission, as everyday Christians, communicate to people what we believe and how we prioritize our lives.

I often wonder, as did the great French theologian Jacques Ellul in his book, Prayer and the Modern Man, that if prayer really can change the world, why go to war. Anyways, enough of my words... Please take a few moments and read what Medearis has to say, because in the next few days, our country will be responding in some way.

A Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS

Carl Medearis

Obama admits to not having a strategy.  Duck Dynasty Godfather, Phil Robertson, wants to “Convert ‘em or Kill “em.”
So what is a thoughtful honest strategy for confronting a terrorist group like ISIS?

ISIS doesn’t need any more explanation. We know what it is – evil personified. They have morphed out of Al Qaeda who were ironically too liberal for their most radical Islamic interpretations, namely that there should be a new national Muslim identity – a Caliphate. They have chosen Iraq and al-Sham (the Levant) as the territory from which this new “state” will emerge.

ISIS has brutally killed 1000’s, mostly non-Sunnis, in this quest for power. Ethnic Christians and a small people-group called Yazidis have found themselves in evil’s path, but so have the armies of Syria (both the national army and the various rebel groups), Iraq and even Lebanon.  It seems anyone who isn’t willing to lay down their “flag” and join the newly self-appointed ISIS Caliphate is deemed a traitor and deserves to die.  The execution of two American hostages by beheading has horrified the West and captured our daily imaginations – mostly how we can “demoralize and destroy” to use our President’s words, this new evil encroaching on our freedoms and international interests. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Adventures in Religion... how a name it claim it theology perverts the Gospel of the suffering servant

Raul and his two sons, Raul and Obed at his recent 25 year anniversary celebration in Guadalajara

It was spring of 2006. I was walking with my friend and longtime ministry partner in Guadalajara, Raul Arteaga. His son had been in a horrible accident a few weeks earlier that had left him paralyzed from the waist down and unable to exert much control over the use of his arms.

I was there to offer comfort and encouragement to a family that in those days, was living in stunned depression.

As we walked, he said he had a question. "Hermano David" he asked, "do you think my son is not getting better because I lack faith?"

The question stopped me in my tracks. How could he think like that I asked? If I know anyone with a deep and abiding faith, it's Raul. The thought that he might lack faith scares people like me. If Raul is lacking at a level that would bring disaster and destruction on his family, then I really have no hope.

I remember looking back at Raul and offering the soundest rejection I could of his question. I asked where that was coming from and he said more than a few pastors in those early days of his son's paralyzation had insisted that God would indeed heal his son, if only he had sufficient faith and claimed the power of God in this horrible situation.

Each day Raul got up with the power of God. He went to bed every night praying for a miracle and that the next morning he might wake up and see his son standing again. A lack of faith was not keeping his son from walking again.

I was reminded of those days as I read about the recent theological dust up at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Osteen and his church are well known in American Christianity, preachers of what in short hand is known as "Name it, claim it" theology.

In short, this theology believes if you have enough faith, and speak what you want, in God's name of course, it will be given to you. Beyond being biblically suspect and bereft of a true theological basis, this understanding of God and how he works is more than misleading, it is evil.

It is also a theology that leads us to believe it is all about us, not Jesus, not others, simply us. That was on full display as Osteen's wife Victoria stated this past weekend that our worship makes God happy when we do it for ourselves, not Him.

Here's why this sort of me first theology is so dangerous. If you do not get the desired outcome, the only reason must, by definition be due to a lack of faith. There really is no other way of understanding this. A boys inability to recover and walk after his spine was totally shattered is not because of a tragic accident, for which there is no medical fix, it is because of a lack of faith.

The evil of this theology comes forth as we delve a little deeper, understanding that a name it claim it theology, a theology based on us, places the blame for a continued lack of recovery on the faith of the father, and his lack of faith.

Sadly, many are embracing this type of theology, not just here in the US, but in Mexico as well. Because it is more focused on us and our needs, and because it seems to offer people control over the arc of their lives. A belief that I can somehow "trap" God into doing for me what I want and claim is a potent aphrodisiac.

Traditional mission in my area is struggling to confront this type of understanding of Jesus. The idea of a of Isaiah 53, of a suffering servant, is not a popular message to people longing to be empowered to live a better life.

Unlike many who are angry at Joel Osteen and his church for what we heard this week, I am curiously pleased. Joel is slick, and able to evade and parry the jabs from those who question the theology of Lakewood Church.  Thankfully the 37 seconds of video we have of his wife giving a full throated defense of their "It's all about me" Gospel understanding shows us just how self-centered this church, and their leaders are.

There should be no further debate on the issue. Absent a full denunciation of Victoria Osteen's widely seen words, everyone should now know that for the leaders of this church, it ain't about Jesus, it's about us.

I doubt you can make much of a case that Jesus was as self centered as the Osteen's claim we should be.  And I know that you can't make a case that the bible teaches that worship is all about us. Unless of course, you support Lakewood Church and the other many adherents to this empty theology.

Your thoughts...

The Osteen's Donald Sterling Moment
Victoria Osteen says "Worship is not for God, you're doing it for yourself"

Monday, June 16, 2014

Stories from the front... Short-term mission with a holistic focus

Let me tell you about Patricio.

Learning culinary skills at Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca

I met him last summer at one of our camps in Oaxaca.  That in itself is no big deal as I meet lots of new students and kids in Mexico as part of my ministry.  What is surprising is that Patricio came to our camp from Veracruz, almost 5 hours away in another state completely.

Abandoned by his parents and now living in a group home in Veracruz, Mexico, somehow Patricio heard about our little camp and made his way by bus to Oaxaca.  Last year I heard a version of that story time and time again from our ministry partner there, Pastor Chable.

We received more than one call from parents in the middle of the night telling us their kids would be at the bus station in Oaxaca at 6:00am in the morning and asking if we could pick them up.  Basically parents, like Patricio, had heard about our camp and were just sending their kids, trusting God that we would have space for their children.
Summer Ministry and pool day at camp in Ensenada
In Ensenada, one of our camp weeks each year in Mexico

Each year these camps, [three in Oaxaca and one in Ensenada] serve between 50 and 80 kids.  Three of the camps are for children ages 5 - 12 and one is for students, ages 12 - 18.  

In addition to the spiritual emphasis of our camps, we also have a vocational focus each year for the student week.  We have learned that if we can teach some life skills, such as music, English, or like last year, culinary skills, then we can help give hope for the future to at least some in Oaxaca.

Adventures in Life Summer Camp Ministry
Our Culinary Team and Chef Yesenia Martinez from Los Angeles, in Oaxaca, last year.
Patricio was part of our Culinary Skills classes last year.  In addition to working with a chef all week at our camp, his team also got a day cooking with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca City.  Origen is one of the best restaurants in Oaxaca and thanks to Bricia Lopez of Guelaguetza Restaurant in Los Angeles, we were able to give our kids this unbelievable opportunity.

At the end of the day, I was sitting with Patricio, talking.  I asked him what he learned from Chef Rodolfo.  I was stunned by his answer, expecting to hear something about cooking.  “Two things” he said.  “First, love God, then pray every day.”

Chef Rodolfo with Patricio
Patricio with Chef Rodolfo Castellanos of Origen Restaurant in Oaxaca after a day cooking together.

Patricio said nothing Rodolfo had to say about cooking stood out as much as “Love God and pray everyday.”  Literally, that was our message for our camp that week, and Patricio heard it loud and clear.  Not in a church, but in a restaurant as he was learning how to cook.

I think we should celebrate moments and epiphanies like the one Patricio had that day with Chef Rodolfo.  But there's a problem.  I have been told countless times by pastors and leaders both here and in Mexico that the emphasis Adventures in Life, and our ministry partners throughout Mexico put on meeting the physical needs of people takes away from the true Gospel work of evangelism.

It is a criticism we firmly reject and here's why.

AIL Ministry Agricultural Ministry
Here I am with Felix in his personal greenhouse that produced 1000 pounds of tomatoes in the first harvest.
In many areas where we are working, helping families improve their economic station in life, and have access to better health care, gives us the credibility and relationships we need to share about Jesus.  Camps, family portraits, greenhouses, agriculture aid, water wells, water filters, fish farms and medical clinics all say loud and clear, WE LOVE YOU, long before we ever mention Jesus.  It's what we call holistic ministry, focusing on spirital, economic and physical simultaneously as we serve in Mexico. 

This style of mission, where we focus on the person first, tells people that we love them unconditionally, whether they know Jesus or not.  It is a philosophy that helps explain why kids like Patricio get on a bus and why moms and dads across Oaxaca trust us enough to send their kids to us in the middle of the night.

It is an approach that, in the words of Young Life, a long time ministry to high school campuses here in the US, earns us the right to be heard when we share about Jesus.  It is also an approach that models the compassionate love of Jesus to a hurting world, and when done right, leads to an eternal life, growing in Jesus' love.
Want to help?  Here are five specific ways you can bless our ministry and our work in Mexico.

1.  A new dorm at our site in Oaxaca so more people like Patricio can have a week at camp, learn some new job skills, and hear about Jesus and his love. [$12,000.00]

2. Sponsor an entire week of camp in Oaxaca, or Ensenada. [$5000.00]

3. Provide enough medicine for our Annual Spring Medical Clinic. [$3000.00]

4. Provide a personal greenhouse like the one above for a family in Oaxaca.  [$400.00]

5. Provide a Sawyer Water filter like the one in this video, for a family in Oaxaca. [$100.00]

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Short-term Mission... the indispensable key to funding effective long-term global mission

Short term mission stats

Now we move on to the heavy lifting.  In Part I of this series, I wrote about direct support of missionaries and pastors in other countries.  Part II focused on Short-Term Mission and how funding this important missions work can be a positive part of effective Great Commission work.

Part III, the last part of our series will offer some real world suggestions for financing the ongoing mission work of the church around the globe.

Let’s start with a few realities.

1. Short-term mission [STM] is here to stay.  Hundreds of thousands of people serve each year and STM is effectively a billion dollar industry when you factor in not only direct costs like fees and offerings, but travel and lodging as well.

2. Denominations are cutting back on their historical support of in-country missionaries as they scramble to fund their domestic operations and service churches closer to home base.

3. Cross-cultural Great Commission work is hard, takes a huge commitment, and is exceedingly costly. 


Case Study 1.  A few years back, the American Baptist Churches [ABC] responded to a series of bad financial decisions by breaking a historic pledge to their in-country missionaries, telling them that they now had to build teams to help raise part of their personal support.  Sadly, this was decided not as good missionary policy, which I believe it is, rather, in response to the denomination’s inability to continue funding their global missions force.


Case Study 2.  Recently I had a discussion with a pastor who wondered why his church should pay for anything beyond actual expenses if his church group served overseas.  He saw no need for professional help and guidance, preferred to go it alone, and said paying host receivers for their time was bad stewardship of the dollars God had entrusted them.


Case Study 3.  Not too long ago Adventures in Missions, founded by Seth Barnes had a little survey on their web page.  The results showed that cost was the top factor in determining where to serve on short-term mission.


Short-term work, long the bane of career in-country missionaries is a growth industry.  We need only look to the explosion of web sites like gofundme and You Caring for evidence.  In a tangential way, STM even made it into a recent Jeopardy episode with the answer being “donor fatigue,” that feeling you get when you open the mailbox and see envelopes from every student you’ve ever known. 

I believe that the future of our ongoing Great Commission work around the globe is dependent on Short-term Mission and Ministry [STM].  Without the energy, vitality, youth and direct personal experience from these ministries, we are going to struggle to fund and continue our long-term work.

So, what should we do?

First, long-term missionaries need to reorient their ministries to take advantage of this incredible resource and opportunity to call people to a long-term commitment to cross-cultural missions.

Gone are the days when these faithful servants served and lived their lives in isolation from anyone from their home country.  With the availability of relatively cheap, and quick, air travel to even the most far off locale, folks are going to visit.

Simply put, there are people back home that want to visit and serve in other countries alongside knowledgable, God-loving people who are involved in God’s work over there.  A long-term missionary in a stable country that is not open to short-term work, is a liability.  

If you are a long-term missionary and are not making use of STM in your ministry, you are robbing yourself and your work of a valuable partner.  Worse, you are refusing to develop relationships with the very people most interested in prayerfully and financially supporting your ministry over the long haul.

It is ironic that even as denominations like the ABC recognize the necessity of career missionaries building partnerships with potential donors, those missionaries who will benefit from these partnerships still try to keep STM at arms length.

The very people you cast aside as not worthy of your time and effort, are those that will organize people back home to raise money for your work and causes.  Does the seminary where you teach need a new computer lab?  Do you need a financial shot in the arm to jump start a new church plant?  Would you like to finally move that long hoped for project from the shelf to reality?  Short-term mission can help you in all of these, and more.

As a career in-country missionary, the short-termer is your friend, not an enemy, or an adversary.  He, or she, is there in response to a call by God to serve you, your people and your ministry.  Make use of them, encourage them and maybe one day they will be your biggest supporter, or even the much needed replacement to continue the ministry you spent a lifetime developing.

Next, we need to recognize that it takes strong leadership to do effective mission, and that leadership costs money.  It takes even more money to sustain long-term mission.  If you are choosing your short-term ministry site primarily because it is a cheap option, you need to rethink your priorities.

Talk to anyone who has served long-term in another country and ask them how long it took before they felt like they were beginning to understand the people and culture where they served.  It has taken me more than 20 years to finally feel like I have a grasp on “some” aspects of the Mexican culture.  Without a doubt, I made a myriad of mistakes in my early years serving.  Mistakes that thankfully were forgiven both by God, and those I harmed.  Grace and forgiveness were accorded me from many different quarters in those days.

However, the presence of grace and forgiveness should not be an excuse to not do all we can to ensure effective ministry.  Often that means spending the money necessary to do mission and ministry right.  The first step in this is partnering with a person or organization that has invested the time necessary to learn and understand not only the church culture, but the larger cultural issues where you are going to serve.

It is not bad stewardship to make use of an experienced person, or organization, when you go abroad to serve.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite!  It is bad stewardship not to use a person who is experienced with the people and the culture you are going to serve.  

Church planter and missionary Roberto Guerrero of Del Camino Connection says  that any ministry that thinks they can sustain an effective cross cultural partnership without someone standing between those two cultures is "doomed to fail."

Churches, groups and individuals need to repent of their cheap gene.  In all my years of hosting short-term groups, the strongest partnerships we had were ones where I knew if something came up, the church, or group was prepared to respond.  They had raised extra money for their mission, were looking for God’s guidance, often through the missionary they were supporting, and came with a generous spirit and the resources to back that up.

It is that spirit of giving, and the wisdom to plan for it that leads to my final point.

Finally, double up.  I’ve proposed this before but with every passing day, it’s simpleness continues to gnaw at me.  It is an idea first floated by Larry Hovis, the head of a local Baptist organization for their area a few years back.

After getting a price for a short-term mission, each and every leader and participant on a team should agree to raise double those fees.  Let’s face it, those people on short-term teams have huge networks of friends and family that are not even part of our local faith communities.  Those networks, and the people that make them up, are going to be personally vested in making sure little Billy raises the money he needs to be successful.

Let’s put little Billy and his networks to work for not just his mission, but the larger Kingdom need.  And when that extra support comes in, give it directly in support of the local missionary with whom they are working.

Give to their denomination, their organization, or directly to their mission, but make it clear that the funds are a direct gift to the mission and ministry of the missionary you are serving.   

Think of it as a gift.

This type of approach will go a long way towards helping our long-term in country missionaries achieve financial stability and fund a vision that often goes unreached for lack of resources.

Imagine the impact this could have on a global scale.

If young people knew they could have financial security on the mission field, they may be more willing to enthusiastically meet the ongoing call for career in-country missionaries.

If those of us in the field knew with certainty that we had the resources available, in many cases, we could move from Christian relief to Christian development.  Churches would be planted, workers would be resourced, lives would be changed and God’s Kingdom would grow.

The resources are there.  Short-term mission holds great promise for the continued resourcing of vital long-term mission work.  It’s proven ability to raise money and potential future missionaries cannot be discounted.

If I could rerun that conversation I had with the pastor who suggested paying host receivers for their time was bad stewardship, here’s what I would say.

Bad stewardship on the part of career missionaries, churches, groups and individuals is a failure to leverage this billion dollar industry for the greater good of the Kingdom and financially provide for our ongoing Great Commission work now and for generations to come.

[The 1.6 million statistic is from Robert Wuthnow, author of Boundless Faith, the Global Outreach of American Churches.  The $20,000.00 STM team statistic is from Asher Sargent, Church Missions Coach at sixteen:fifteen.]