Monday, July 30

What a difference you've made in my life


Hi! My name is Aneida. You'd be smiling too if, like me, the Lord was doing so many incredible things in your life. Where do I begin to give Him thanks?

--Jesus saved me...
--I was recently baptized in a nearby river...
--the man I was living with got saved too...
--he stopped his drinking and carousing and decided to marry me...
--my mom and dad get saved, baptized and married too...
--I saw my alcoholic dad stop drinking the day he accepted Christ...
--I helped my mom lead my older sister to the Lord (daddy got to baptize her in the river last month!) ...
--we started a new church in our living room with dad leading the gatherings (see photo below) That may not sound like a big deal, but less than a year ago my dad was known by everybody as the local neighborhood drunk...today people seek him out for spiritual help and counsel!
--my husband now goes with me faithfully every week to disciple my sister-in-law who just made her own profession of faith in Christ...
--we are working alongside my mom and dad and are close to starting two other new house churches with people we have won to the Lord and are discipling...

Can you believe all the above happened in just the first six months of this year? I can't wait to see what God will do the second half of this year!



This is our church. We meet in the living room of my mom and dad's house. Most of the people here are related family. BTW, the man with the checkered shirt is my abuelito (grandpa), he recently got saved too! Right now we're working on my brother-in-law who has a bad alcohol and drug problem. Will you guys help us pray for him?


This is one of my friends (on the left). She hasn't accepted the Lord--YET--but we are praying for her salvation too. This picture was taken as the Good News was being shared with her one afternoon. You can see the comprehension of the Gospel in her eyes as she finally understood for the first time how much God truly loves and accepts her. Pray that she too will soon find the peace and joy that comes from giving her heart to the Lord. The lady on the right was God's instrument to lead my mom, dad, and myself to the Lord. We love her very much!

Friday, July 27

Adullam's Cave - a place for the desperate, in debt, and discontented

In May 2005 my wife Linda and I were privileged to attend a week at SonScape in Colorado. SonScape is a "small group spiritual retreat with personalized pastoral counseling for pastors, missionaries and their spouses. It is a week-long experience of exhaling the fatigue and staleness of life and breathing deeply of the Spirit of God. A place to rest, receive, and renew in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains..."

After a wonderful week of having a true "mountain top experience", the Lord didn't waste any time in letting us in on his intentions for allowing us to go. The descent was quick from our little "Mount of Transfiguration" back to the valley below...

At the end of our week at SonScape, as we were preparing to leave, one of the other men who had also been a participant at the retreat came to our cabin. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, but looked me in the eye and said, "I believe God has given me a word to share with you." I didn't really know what to expect, but politely sat down and allowed him to share what God had placed on his heart.

He began reading from 1 Samuel 22:1-2...

So David left Gath and took refuge in the cave of Adullam. When David's brothers and his father's whole family heard, they went down and joined him there. (2) In addition, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented rallied around him, and he became their leader. About 400 men were with him...

The prophetic word he shared was that the Lord was about to make us a rallying point for those who are "desperate, in debt, or discontented." It would not be easy working with wounded people. I was stunned and speechless. Little did he have any idea how "right on" those words were to be for our us.

Indeed, our band of Guayaquil house church believers is made up primarily of these kinds of people. We feel God is using us to seek out, love, disciple, edify, and church the rejects, the losers, the marginalized, the forgotten...and yes, the desperate, in debt, and discontented!

As the years have gone by since this prophetic word was shared with us, I have been amazed at how literally we have become "caves of Adullam". Our house church network of approximately 100 "caves" is made up largely of women in prostitution, abandoned elderly, homosexuals, broken marriages, the sexually abused, drug addicts, alcoholics, kids from street gangs, the hopeless, the extreme poor, the financially indebted, the unemployed... all seem to gravitate towards one of our "Adullam caves." Even our leaders come from these kinds of backgrounds.

What is interesting about the desperate, indebted, and discontented in 1 Samuel 22, later become "David's warriors" in 1 Chronicles 11. The "rejects" become mighty warriors and men of valor. In chapters 11 and 12 these men are individually named. They are singled out for their valor and incredible deeds. This is our prayer too. That all the outcast, hurting people he is sending our way, will be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into mighty warriors for the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 25

Meet my wife

I'd like to take a break from the usual "M Blog" themes and introduce you to the most wonderful wife in the world, mother of our two children, and overall amazing person.

Linda has her own blog which she does completely on her own called A Foreign Life.

I would invite you to check it out and find out a bit about our home life in Ecuador, things God is teaching her, photos of our family, and some of her interests as a missionary wife and mother. She loves comments, so be sure and drop her a note!

Here is an excerpt from one of her recent posts...

It's really hard to put into words all the help and encouragement I received last week. There was just so much. There are, however, a couple of things that I wrote down to remember.

The first one is: "We have not been called to raise godly children, but to be godly parents." ...Dr. Meredith and his wife Kay were the kind of parents who basically did most everything right in raising their son. Yet, in spite of the godly instruction received all his life, the son became very depressed and rebelled against them and against God. Hearing about his experience with his children made me realize that I cannot make decisions for my child. I am responsible to God for what I do, not what my child does. My responsibility is to be a godly parent. I am responsible to God for what kind of parent I am, not for how my child chooses to respond to that.

It's hard to sit there and listen to testimonies from other miss'ys about their (what sounds like to me) "perfect teenagers." I am happy for them, but it always makes me feel like a failure because my children are not so perfect. Ds is struggling with life right now and most of the time doesn't do so well at it. He's angry with God and so his relationship to Him is not the best right now.

It helps me to hear that I am not alone in this. It's encouraging to find out that not all of my son's problems find their root in me as a parent. And that brings me to the second thing that made an impact on me.

Dr. Meredith's wife, Kay, gave a brief testimony and while sharing with us listed four things. She didn't elaborate on any of them, they were just things that she had learned. However, the first thing on her list of four things hit me between the eyes like a two by four! She said, "Too much introspection is deadly." I hardly heard the rest. She is so right! [To continue reading click here.]

Monday, July 23

"Sanidad Interior"

Recently on the Church Planting Forum that I moderate, one of the 100+ participating missionaries asked what we thought about the whole "Sanidad Interior" (inner healing) movement sweeping Latin America and rest of the world. My response to the forum was:

"Sanidad Interior" peaked as a movement/fad a few years ago here in Ecuador. While still alive and well in many evangelical circles (including Baptist churches), it is not receiving the same attention and emphasis it once was.

While we are not into the whole sanidad interior movement, I do have respect for those who seek to minister to the inner healing needed in the badly damaged lives of those coming to faith in Christ. I see sanidad interior as the church's attempt to respond to the inner wounds found within the Body of Christ.

While the common Third Wave/RenovaciĆ³n methods often employed to achieve this inner healing seem to go a bit beyond what I see in Scripture, I do acknowledge that "inner healing" is an important part of making disciples. Jesus, himself, was into healing and I have no problem with understanding the need for healing wounds of the soul.

One of the things we discovered early on in working with lay leaders in church planting is that they often come into the faith with an enormous weight of past baggage. While "saved", they still have emotional, psychological, family, and spiritual issues in their life that are deeply implanted and need the healing touch of the Holy Spirit.

To ignore or try to hide from them is clearly more harmful than to deal with them in the Light of Christ. These things have a way of coming back to haunt once the honeymoon period of first love in Christ begins to fade. These lay servant-leaders have all the desire to win others to Christ, disciple, and plant new churches, but are overwhelmed by their own inner wounds that continue to bleed.

Here we are as missionaries pushing disciple-making and church planting, and yet have no clue to all the inner turmoil going on in their souls. It isn't enough to tell them, "read your Bible and pray". They need loving, understanding, non-judgmental brothers/sisters in Christ to help them deal with the repressed pain in their lives.

Helping our brothers and sisters through some of their issues is something too few of us are willing to invest our time and selves into. It is very messy and time consuming, and frankly, way over most of our heads. And yet if we don't dirty ourselves by being there for them, these new believers and leaders usually quickly fade back into the masses huddled in some church pew where they can hide their issues and not have to deal with them.

Other than the occasional one-on-one counseling, the way we seek to address this whole issue in people's lives is to encourage the "one another's" in Scripture. We teach that at least 1/3 of every meeting be spent ministering one to another. These are open times of sharing, of being transparent, of taking our masks off, and being "real."

Of course for this to work, those teaching/leading, must set the example. We M's must be transparent, real, take off our own masks, and allow the local believers to minister to us in our own needs and struggles. This is threatening and intimidating for many of us, but if we don't do it, how are they ever going to learn how it is done and the powerful ministry this can be in the life of a new church?

So, sanidad interior is something very real that needs to be on our "making disciples" plate. The "how to" is something I would welcome hearing from others. Let's not throw out sanidad interior unless we have something better to offer in its place.

Friday, July 20

Prayer for 'laborers' yields church plants

The following article by IMB staff writer Marie Travis is about the beginnings of our house church work in Guayaquil seven years ago. It appears as a July/07 IMB news story here.
---------------

As he left the building, Guy Muse, strategy coordinator for the Guayas Mestizo people of Ecuador, felt someone tap him on the back. That someone turned out to be a pastor – and an answer to prayer.

“I hear you guys are willing to come and help train people in evangelism and church planting. Could you come to our church and train our people?” the pastor asked Muse.

Before this encounter, Muse and his team had been discouraged by the lack of church-planting opportunities among the Guayas Mestizo, a population segment of the Ecuadorian Mestizo people group. The population in this area is 3.3 million; however, only 3 percent are evangelized.

“When we first began our church planting back in 2000, the Lord led us to Luke 10,” Muse says. “This is where Jesus sends out the 70. In the first nine verses are a series of instructions Jesus gives the 70.”

The first instruction to the disciples was to pray for workers. So the team began praying for workers in March 2000. July came and with it no response to their prayers. The team began to question whether they had accurately interpreted Jesus’ literal command.

“If [the command in Luke 10] was applicable for us today, where were the laborers?” Muse questioned. “Just as we were about to give up on this approach to find workers to train, the Lord opened a door.”

Muse could barely contain his excitement the day that pastor tapped him on the shoulder.

“[I] remained cool and took out my blank agenda and checked to see if we had any open available dates,” Muse said of his empty calendar. “It didn’t take long to agree on a date and time for the training.”

When the team arrived at the church with their box of training materials, the group of new trainees was not what they had expected.

Among the members were several elderly women, a blind woman, another woman who had physically lost her voice and could only whisper, a 2-month-old Christian and a man whose house recently had been burned to the ground.

Despite these beleaguering circumstances, the team presented the church-planting materials to the small group faithfully gathered there.

“God works in mysterious ways. It was more a lesson for us as a team than it was anything else,” Muse said.

Within eight weeks that resilient group of believers had begun six new Bible studies. Today – seven years later – four of those six are active churches ...

Mission leaders are encouraged by the evidence they see of an emerging church-planting movement among the Guayas Mestizo people... --story by Marie Travis

Tuesday, July 17

Attitude

Amanda Parmley recently posted It's all about the 'tude, along with some great insights about her own struggle with attiude as a missionary overseas. In her post she quotes Charles Swindoll as saying...
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company . . . a church . . . a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past . . . we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you . . . we are in charge of our Attitudes.” (Charles Swindoll)
Wise words. In all the ups and downs of life overseas, this is a great lesson I need to be reminded over and over. Living in a culture different from the values and "way of life" back home is a daily challenge. The tendency is to consider "our way" the better way. Our opinions the more accurate way of understanding the way things ought to be.

Most missionaries living overseas go through a difficult time of cultural transistion when arriving on the field. At first everything is an adventure. The differences in culture and language are seen through romantic lenses. Eating exotic foods is something you do to be able to write home and tell everyone "Today I ate _____." This is usually the experience of those coming for short term visits. However, it only takes a few weeks of actually living overseas before reality quickly settles in. Then everything is suddenly viewed as inferior, illogical, crazy, irritating, etc. Attitude issues shift into "overdrive" about EVERYTHING going on around you. The noisy neighborhood, the trash on the streets, the traffic, the dishonesty, the weird food, unresponsive people, the rudeness...practically everything in our host culture gets judged from our limited, skewed perspective.

Attitude is indeed 90% of the game. Those who deal with their attitudes about the differences in life overseas usually survive and go on to become fruitful missionaries. Those who can't or won't deal with their attitudes usually end up going home sick, defeated, depressed, or burned out. James Yorke gives some helpful advise, "The most successful people are those who are good at plan B." Plan B being a change in our own attitude.

When praying for missionaries, please remember to pray for our attitudes. Even though I have lived 31 years in Ecuador, I still have attitude issues on a daily basis.

Sunday, July 15

Engaging not-yet believers through storytelling

The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission For the 21st Century Church by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch is one of those "must read" books. There is so much great content within its pages that I find myself reading and rereading chapters.

One chapter in particular deals with ways we can engage not-yet believers. Since I consider myself a life-long student of evangelism and church planting, their words have me rethinking these matters.

The first of five suggestions for engaging the lost is storytelling.
Excite curiosity through storytelling. In our attempts to make the gospel clear, we have often squeezed all the life out of it. Jesus parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting. They provoked people to search further for the truth. Parables, stories, will be more likely to excite curiosity than propositionally presented outlines of the gospel.

Second...use Bible stories. This might sound like the ultimate conversation stopper, but at the right time and place, within the context of an established relationship, the retelling of an ancient biblical story can evoke a great deal of curiosity.

Third...use personal stories. Stories are events in a life. Telling stories demands personal honesty, accepting our weaknesses as well as our strengths. It is only when we reveal ourselves as weak and vulnerable that others will readily identify with us and be able to hear the invitation to join us in following Jesus.

John Drane says that if you think of the three kinds of stories as three overlapping circles, their point of intersection, where God's story, our story, and the biblical stories overlap, is where effective evangelism takes place.
While we have always promoted the use of "personal stories" and testimonies in our evangelism, I am convinced we should be putting a lot more effort into this kind of sharing. Nearly everyone loves a good story. The most intriguing are those "real life" stories that intersect with our own journey and experience. Hearing each others stories seems to be an excellent way to share the greatest story of all.

What has been your own experience with storytelling as it relates to sharing the Gospel?

Thursday, July 12

Heroes

Travis Burkhalter recently posted on his blog He Must Increase the following words which I wholeheartedly endorse about some of the true heroes of the faith he and the others met on their recent volunteer trip to Ecuador...
Jose, Geovanny, Marcos, Marlene, Pedro, Roberto, Fabiola, and Patricia...

These are the names of some of my new heroes in the faith that I have met this past week in Ecuador. These men and women are everyday people…painters, taxi cab drivers, a mechanics, and house wives. They are all actively doing the things of Jesus. They have been a part of planting well over 100 churches, but they aren’t counting. They face constant danger from the world and criticism from the “traditional” church, yet they endure and press on focusing on the harvest. They live a lifestyle of proclaiming the gospel, yet they demonstrate the gospel with love. They disciple/teach new believers, yet they don’t lord over. They baptize. They equip. They get very little applause and praise. No one is writing dissertations on their ministries. They aren’t getting paid money for their Kingdom work. They are my new heroes in the faith. I was honored to sit at their feet for 8 days and learn. I pray that some of their life will rub off on me.
I could add many more names to Travis' list above. Their level of commitment and faith is exemplary. They are the ones God is using to turn South America into a truly Christian continent. Their holidays are spent not at the park on picnics, but out in the barrios or in neighboring towns evangelizing the lost. They are my heroes too.

Monday, July 9

Church Planting Lessons from the Marines (Part 3 of 3)

Training
For the Marines, training is one of their highest values. They recognize that, as the training goes, so goes their performance. For the Marines, the purpose of all training is to help Marines achieve success in combat. Training is not something that is delegated. Every officer is personally responsible for the training of those under his command. In the Marines, training is continuous. To quote the Warfighting Manual, “You are either in contact, moving to contact, or training.” And again, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

All Marines are trained in basic combat skills. This is true for every file clerk, every cook, every medic, every lawyer. Everyone in the U.S. Marine Corps is trained in basic combat skills. This has tremendous implications for us. Every business services manager, every English teacher, every short-term volunteer, everyone who is involved with the target people group should be trained in basic evangelism and discipleship and church-planting skills.

For the Marines...everyone is in training, period. From the loftiest general to the lowest enlisted man, everyone is in training. The Strategy Coordinator must be a continuous learner as well. It is a guarantee of failure if the SC ever stops learning and growing. A strategy coordinator is responsible for training those with whom he or she works, or for seeing that they get trained. Modeling and mentoring are therefore essential skills.

For the Marines, training is challenging and focuses on a central task. They don’t spend time training people for peripheral tasks or in peripheral issues...

Marines make extensive use of sea stories--that is, of actual combat stories that are instructive for communicating ethos, tactics, principles, or philosophies. In telling these stories they communicate more than facts; they communicate an attitude...Debriefing is especially important for an SC. Debriefing experiences with personnel increases the value to that person by crystallizing and cementing lessons learned and also helps to make those lessons and insights available to those who are doing the debriefing and, hopefully, to others. Debriefing is a valuable tool which should never be neglected.
In Rad Zdero's Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader we are quoted on p. 371 as saying, "The missionary task is to equip others. The job of missionaries is primarily one of praying, modeling, teaching, training, and mentoring. Ephesians 4:11-12."

Our greatest contribution as missionaries is primarily in the area of training. Yes, we are all called to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. However, if we invest the largest portion of our time in praying, modeling, teaching, training, and mentoring others to do these tasks, the making of disciples and churches planted will produce a crop, "...some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown."

I am convinced that the true role of those of us called "missionaries" is to be about the training and mobilizing of the saints. If we would understand our role as being primarily a trainer, we would hasten the day when "...the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD As the waters cover the sea."

--Source, "What We Can Learn From the U.S. Marines" by Curtis Sergeant

Saturday, July 7

Church Planting Lessons from the Marines (Part 2 of 3)

Recognizing Leadership
The Marine Corps also prides itself on developing and recognizing leadership. Some key factors it looks for in leaders and key aspects of leadership which it tries to develop are as follows:

1. Who steps out to take the lead? Taking initiative is a high value.

2. Who asks for input from the others? It is not seeking for lone rangers.

3. Who recognizes when a plan is failing and backs off to try another? This is very important in that constant evaluation is important. Someone who is too proud to admit that an approach is not working or someone who is stubbornly married to his plan is not someone who is considered an effective leader.

4. It also looks for who leads from the front. It doesn't want leaders who are not willing to participate and lead from the front. The ranking officer is generally the first going in to a dangerous situation in the Marine Corps, as opposed to other branches of the service where senior officers are kept in relatively safer and more secure settings.

5. Finally, who takes the initiative? It wants quick decisions and decisive action, people with a style of leadership which relies on input and communication but doesn’t wait for it.

These are all instructive for SCs (Strategy Coordinators) in both how to be a leader and how to develop leaders.
One of the questions people are always asking is, where do you get your leaders from? The answer is, we don't "get" them from anywhere. They emerge on their own. What we do is PRAY the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers. Those he sends our way, we train. The men/women trained will either emerge as a leader or they will fall back into the fold of being a follower.

Those who step out in initiative, who seek input, who are able to recognize their own failures and make needed adjustments, who lead from the front by example, and who don't quit become the leaders.

These are the people we focus on helping, training, teaching, mentoring, praying for, counseling, pouring our lives into. We try to give 80% of our time-effort-energy into the lives of the 20% who are our emerging leaders. The remaining 20% of our time-effort-energy will go into the 80% who are always there wanting our time and attention.

--source "What We Can Learn From The U.S. Marines" by Curtis Sergeant

Thursday, July 5

Church Planting Lessons from the Marines (Part 1 of 3)

Curtis Sergeant wrote a helpful paper entitled, "What We Can Learn From The U.S. Marines". It is an instructive study highly applicable to missions strategy and thinking. Each of my next three posts will highlight one of the concepts, followed by how we apply the principle to our own church planting here in Guayaquil.

Rule of 3

One distinctive is the rule of three. Every Marine has only three things to worry about. Organizationally each Marine will have only three direct reports. This results in a very tall and steep command structure. However, it is extremely efficient because a subordinate does not need permission to act. He is expected to act in accordance with his best judgment based upon his understanding of the objective. This is an extremely empowering approach to leadership which is unique in military circles. Functionally, each Marine has only three tasks or goals for which he is responsible. This permits focus and clarity in decision-making. This has implications in regard to focus. If focus on central tasks is lost, effectiveness is sacrificed. The same is certainly true for SCs [and church planters.]

The three tasks/goals for which each of us is responsible involve 1) going out and engaging the lost with the Gospel, 2) making disciples of those who choose to follow Christ (including baptism), 3) teaching/training them to be Christ's ekklesia where they live by obeying Christ's commands.

We focus on these three things continually. All programs, ideas, tasks, ministries, and materials are evaluated on whether they help us go, make disciples (baptize), or teach. Learning to say "no" to many good things is part of the "Rule of 3". When needs or situatations arise in the work that do not fit into one of our primary tasks, my jobs as SC is to DELEGATE or find alternate ministries/people within the greater Body of Christ to handle the situation. We ourselves do not try to be all things to all men. Our team meeting agendas focus around items that directly relate to these three areas.

One of the observations of the recent volunteer team visiting us last week brought a smile to my face when one of them observed, "you guys are really focused on the Great Commission..." Yes.

Monday, July 2

Model, Assist, Watch, Leave

In a missionary culture a person does not look to the central hub for direction. --Reggie McNeal

What this statement means to me is that in a "missionary culture" like our own, people are freed and empowered to serve God with little need for our missionary presence.

This would be the realization of our dreams if it were true on a wide-scale basis!

The truth of the matter is that our presence is still largely felt and people continue to look to "the missionary" for help, advise, affirmation, "permission", materials, and approval. While all of us need to some degree these things in our lives, they become unhealthy when long term we continue to be that "central hub."

Curtis Sergeant and CPM methodology speak of the MAWL training cycle (model, assist, watch, leave) as the basis of our missionary presence. It is likened to teaching a child to ride a bicycle.

Curtis explains that the parent...

1) provides a model by riding the bicycle,
2) provides assistance to the child by holding the bicycle as they learn to ride,
3) then watches while the child rides the bicycle by themselves,
4) and finally leaving the child to ride on his own.

The secret to achieving a missionary culture where people do not look to the central hub for direction is in understanding and applying the MAWL training cycle.

My own tendency is to stay in the first two stages of modelling and assisting. It is hard to stand back and just watch, not to mention leaving! It takes a special kind of parent to resist jumping in to rescue their children every time they know the child is about to mess something up.

I am personally not very good, nor do I really understand the "watch" stage very well. It is here that 2 out of every 3 new church plants dissolve, sink, disband--whatever you want to call it. It is very hard to stand by and watch something fall apart. Our tendency is to want to jump in and "fix it." Yet as I reflect on the house churches that have survived over the years, they are all--without exception--groups that we have indeed "watched" and yes, "left" to survive on their own.

Some make it, some don't. I have never been able to quite figure it all out.

Jesus says in Matthew, "I will build my church..." We are actually never really told to plant churches, we are told to make disciples. Making disciples consists in modeling, assisting, watching, and yes--leaving. The churches that no longer look to the "central hub" for direction are the ones that have survived.

Does any of this remind you of raising children?

Sunday, July 1

Volunteer updates

The volunteer team from Ft. Worth has been great! They have done a super job while here. Please click here to read Beth Burkhalter's "Women4theKingdom" blog and her first-hand accounts of what we have been up to the past few days. They leave tonight, but have already been a huge blessing among all those who have had contact with them. Take a minute to read Beth's reports of the past few days here with us.

Photos can be viewed here.