Monday, April 21, 2014

If I Were the President of a MIssions Agency (part 2)

I remember graduating from Bible school and talking to the pastor of my home church about the possibility of being sent out by my local church, without the support of a missions agency. He looked at me in an indirect, condescending way and said, "well, I don't know if the church would support that decision, but I personally would not support that decision." In other words, forget that idea, because I know what most people in this church had for breakfast this morning.

He was right. I was young, green, idealistic and stupid. I needed some sort of support group on the field to help me grow up, help me navigate culture and language, and generally provide community, albeit imperfect and intermittent. I remember going home after our conversation thinking that if I were to be involved in the future in planting churches, it was incumbent upon me to submit to my own local church leadership.

I recognize the need for people without cross-cultural experience to have a context in which to learn, grow, grow-up and hopefully begin to adapt to and enjoy another culture. Increasingly, short-term experiences aid in providing some of this initial adaptation, but there is nothing like actually living in a place. Paying monthly bills. Searching for a doctor when one is ill. Living the strangeness. Experiencing confusion and even rejection.  Mission agencies assist in providing this context.

If I were a mission agency president, how would I make sure people had at least the bare minimum of support and assistance on the field? That's a good question. Way too many variables exist in the whole missionary process to give a specific answers to that question. Even broad generalities often break down in the wonderful and challenging dynamic of cross-cultural life.

But to start with, I would constantly encourage people to immerse themselves fully in their host culture. In my own personal experience, as a single I lived with a Mexican family of 6, a Costa Rican family of 3, then I rented a room from a Mexican widow and married my (beautiful) Mexican bride. In all of that time, I never lived alone (although I could have). I remember Joe and Betty Querfield missed me when I arrived for the first time at the San José airport because they said it looked like I knew where I was going. So...I guess the typical look is one of lostness and panic? I had three intense immersion experiences as a single, and courted my wife in Spanish.  We were married in Mexico, in Spanish.

The all-too-common approach for missionaries is to live in an English-speaking missionary community, or even a self-contained, walled-in compound which are apparently still fairly common in Africa. Remember, what you gain in security, you sacrifice in accessibility. Every cross-cultural worker needs to prayerfully consider this trade-off. The tendency is to err on the side of security, although I know of several friends who have sacrificed security, something that I find refreshing. Another trade-off...what you gain in comfort, you lose in learning and, ultimately, effectiveness. It is not easy to not understand, to be placed in areas of incredible challenge, or deep humiliation. But that just comes with the territory. We must die to ourselves. It just so happens that cross-cultural workers have more opportunity to do just that, on a daily basis. Oh, to speak at least as well as Balaam's donkey, knowing that very possibly people are viewing you as they would that particular animal!

I hope I would model this ridiculousness of ministry to others. That I wouldn't be afraid, as president of my imaginary mission, to sit and laugh and cry at this painful, glorious process of the gospel of God fleshing itself out in the complex languages and cultures of the world, and in the headstrong and prideful culture of my own heart. Being bi-cultural and bi-lingual is tough. We all need to sit beside the Master, have him offer us bread, and see the scars in his wrists.

"Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." Good thing this doesn't matter, because God still can and will change the course of human history through us. The foolishness of preaching combined with the ridiculousness of cross-cultural living creates fertile soil for the proclamation of the very potent and powerful good news of Jesus. We truly hold this treasure in earthen vessels.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Two Videos of Sendero de Vida's Church Service

Below, several videos of services that we've had at the new property. The first video was made by co-worker Jim Cottrill, and records the very first service in the new building (March 16). Several different testimonies are translated.

The second video was produced by Hector Morales, who himself has only be part of the family for a couple of years. This video is in Spanish, although has a few English elements in it (a prayer by Denny at the beginning, for example). His video is of the 4th anniversary service, April 6, 2014.

Both videos are fairly long, and you may want to skip through them, but they will give you an idea of what a worship service looks like in Mexico.

But before the video, a picture of what Xochimilco was like this past Sunday. We took Jane Beneenga and co-worker Tina Barham for a visit to this very colorful tourist attraction, in what is left of what used to be an extensive canal system that wove all through marshy Mexico City. The canals are long gone...or most of them anyway. What's left has become an outrageously disorganized and wildly colorful ride through "Mexico's Venice."

Monday, April 14, 2014

If I were a Mission Agency President (part 1)

I remember a long time ago a number of people told me that I was going to be the president of a (certain) mission one day. I remember thinking they were crazy. When I think of being a mission agency president, I don't really think of leadership, I think of administration.  Most mission agencies have such a culture and structure already fossilized around the leader, whoever he (or her) may be, that his hands are tied before he gets into the ring. These are the parameters. Don't rock the boat. Appease the old dudes, they have the resources. Be dynamic and eclectic to attract the kids.  Now go raise money. I'm sure a president is no doubt told he has lots of liberty...until he actually tries to change something.

Administration and me...well, they just don't get along very well. But over this past week, when I was fighting a funky sort of low-grade fever, I began to think about what I would do if I were a mission agency president. What I would say. How I would say it. This is the first in a series of blog posts of some of what I came up with, sweaty pillow and all.

Before I start, I should recommend that you never do an Internet search on Fevers of Unknown Origin (FUOs). You will be convinced afterward that you will most surely die of a tumor or cancer. I am still kicking, however, so my body must have known why it was heating up, even though I didn't.

My mind wandered to the times I've heard George Verwer speak. Two words summarize George in my mind...passionate and funny. It is difficult to separate George from his globe-ball, which he invariably throws into the crowd during or after his talks, and his annoying globe-sweater.  George is not terribly eloquent, and not a great expository preacher. But he tells good stories. They are not second-hand stories that he's heard from someone. They are his stories. I believe him because he is believable, and because he believes. His self-effacing sense of humor makes him human.

If I were a mission agency president, I would be passionate, I would tell my own stories, and I would never get too far removed from the real life ministry and the grit of the real life mission field. I would never get too distant from first-generation believers and I would never want to get to the place where I would be inapproachable or out of touch with the fact that the gospel is messy, imperfect, imprecise and glorious work.  I would refuse to spend too much time in the office, because I would not want to be an administrator, I would want to lead by example, and what a mission agency needs to be able, above all else, is relate to real people who have real needs.

Why do "promotions" in Christian ministries including mission agencies take us farther and farther from real-world, grass roots Jesus-sharing? How has "leadership" come to mean the sterile organization and re-shuffling of people and resources, from the comfort of my swivel leather chair? Really? When Jesus promoted leadership, he put his disciples in more social situations, and seemingly delighted in telling them "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals."

If I were a mission agency president, I would lead from some God-forsaken corner of the world, so that everyone who had the guts to follow could see that God had not forsaken that part of the world...He had sent me there. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Getting Missional

Word definitions are curious animals, especially when a new word or word phrase makes a debut. The American evangelical world has been inundated with fun new phraseology lately. Who are the New Calvinists, and do I want to be one? Are the emergents or the emerging the real heretics? Where is the Elephant room?

No one seems to notice the irony of preaching self-sacrificing discipleship in a multi-million dollar building, with the best possible lighting and sound system money can buy. But I digress...

Missional is one of those words. I think I understand what it means, but to all you Millenials out there, let me tell you what it means to me. Ok, sorry, a bit of Gen-X angst coming out there.

Missional means that everything you do and say can and should be tied into the gospel. The message of the good news specifically needs to be proclaimed verbally, because faith comes by hearing. Jesus died for me, taking my sin, paying the price, and rose again. But all of life is to be lived with the ultimate purpose of advancing God's subversive, glorious kingdom. The concept of some activities being "secular" disappears, because all of life is lived as a holy calling. We need to take off our shoes every day, because the ground on which we stand is holy.

God's best gifts, like sports, music and art, have been largely hijacked by people and institutions who have separated the magic from the Magician, have taken the art from the Artist. Why not take it back? Why not fill our church buildings all the evenings it lies empty and dark with music lessons, karate classes, math tutoring and ping pong tournaments. Why not energize our communities by being the church, taking back a role with has always been rightfully ours.

We should be leaders in these areas, not followers.  Christians are able to connect two worlds, and make all of God's gifts make sense to a society that generally has relegated the church to the personal, the private and the boring.

My son said to me a couple of months ago that sometimes he gets bored at Sunday church. I told him that sometimes I do too. Good thing that's not all the church is.

Let's get missional!

Below, my guitar class, doing some last minute panicked practice before their performance at the closing program last night.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let's Get David Back to Uruguay

The video below is about David Gomez's ministry in the country of Uruguay. David is a good friend of ours, and has assisted the the planting of two churches here in Ixtapaluca. He is currently back in Mexico, needing to raise an additional $600 a month in order to return to Uruguay.

David has already received commitments to the tune of $200 a month. Perhaps you can help. Mayra and I have supported David over the last two and a half years that he has been in Uruguay, and plan to continue to do so.

David receives support through FAMEX. Camino Global is able to transfer U.S. funds to FAMEX, which are then deposited in David's Mexican bank account. David receives about half of his missionary support from supporters and four Mexican churches, and some from the U.S. If you are interested in supporting David, please email me or put a comment on the comment section of this post. It will not be published.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Sendero de Vida JM 4th Anniversary Celebration

Check out some pictures from the church's 4th anniversary yesterday. What a great time we had, with both a spiritual meal in charge of Chalo Sandoval, preaching from 2 Timothy 4, and a huge feast after church complete with BBQ rib and much more.

Among the highlights...a mime done by the youth group that related (without words) our journey as a church to acquire land. The ladies sung two songs, and the kids also participated with several songs.

Check out co-worker Tina Barham's blogpost about the anniversary celebration HERE. I actually stole a couple of her pictures...thanks Tina!

Check out the flow of people migrating around the world...both source and destination areas.  Interesting!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Over the course of the next couple of weeks (and maybe sooner) we will be changing the way we communicate, transitioning from this blog to a more formal Wordpress site. Many thanks to Josiah Heigel (Innovate) and his fiancé-soon-to-be-wife Heather Nero. And I should mention that my daughter, the lovely Catherine Fry, did the graphic on this post. So if you come to this site and there is not current information on it...that's why!

The name of the new site,, reflects our desire to keep Mexico front and center when you and others think of missions. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is SO much yet to be done here, and the Mexican version of Roman Catholicism is a far cry from what you may think it is. Mary is Queen here. The established Catholic church is morally irrelevant and politically compromised. Mexico needs to receive more missiological attention. Anyone who has visited the Basilica of Guadalupe knows exactly what I'm talking about.

It is also our desire to use as well as several other sites that are being developed in both English and Spanish as portals through which you can possibly plan your next short-term trip or summer internship. Jessica Nixon is helping with another English site, that will focus on the church planting and community center ministry here. We desire to continue to work hand-in-hand with Camino Global and their Mexico internship that Tina now coordinates, as well as extend our reach to Spanish-speakers through FAMEX, and provide a more flexible format for families also. Our goal is to provide a "menu of experiences" by this October to choose from for 2015, complete with dates for short-term experiences.

Quote of the Day: Jesus certainly had hopes for people, and He was faithful to His personal mission, but He didn't have an agenda. He had the highest calling of any man in the world, with only three years to complete the task and barely enough people to start a volleyball team. If anyone should have had their loincloth in a square knot, trying to assemble people for the dream team , whip them into shape, get ’em out there and get ’er done, it would have been Jesus. He should have been the most controlling, most intense, most transactional leader of all time, but He was the exact opposite and showed us how to never let goals take precedence over people.

Halter, Hugh  Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth (Kindle Locations 897-902).