Thursday, January 29

Unlikely Ecuadorian church planters prove effective

By Dea Davidson

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)--Seven years of moisture and exposure through the cheap, wooden frame have soiled the thin paper, but the faded certificate retains a prominent spot on the cement wall. Carlos Solis proudly points out the inscription: he is an official church planter.

Solis and about a dozen other Ecuadorians equally proud of their certificates weren’t exactly the people missionary Guy Muse had envisioned when he set out to train church planters in July 2000. One woman was blind. Three others were very old. Even Carlos and his wife, Maria, were former drunks who lived in “The Frontier” – a zone of Guayaquil where gangs meet and clash, and doors are locked by 5 p.m.

Yet within six weeks, the unlikely workers had started four churches. A year later they and other local believers had formed 70 more. Now, more than 100 churches are meeting in the streets and barrios (neighborhoods) of poverty-stricken Guayaquil.

Guy and his wife, Linda, both native Texans, have served among the 3.3 million Mestizos – mixed Spanish and Indian people – of the Guayaquil area for 20 years.

People of this city, which serves as a port to the Galapagos Islands, hold to a culture of nominal Roman Catholicism, with fewer than 5 percent of the population evangelicals.

“People on the coast of Ecuador are very open,” Guy says. “They know that they’re sinners. They know that they need God. Those are things that help us because they prepare the way for presenting Christ. We’re getting to harvest what many of our fellow missionaries that came before us had planted and watered.”

Guy was one of the first Baptists to plant seeds in Ecuadorian soil. In 1963, he arrived in the capital city of Quito as a missionary kid. He remembers handing out tracts with his dad on street corners, watching people rip the paper in pieces and throw them in his face.

Openness to the Gospel – and the strategies used to bring it to the Ecuadorian people – have changed in the past 30 years. In 1997, with the average Baptist church baptizing seven people a year, the work took on a new direction. Missionaries began focusing on building house churches rather than starting churches with buildings.

In March 2000 the Muses and the Guayaquil team began praying for the Lord to send helpers. Five months later, the Solis’ church became the first answer to those prayers.

At a missions meeting, Linda announced a church starting goal that people weren’t confident could happen.

“The next year at the missions meeting,” Linda says, “we got to get up and say, ‘We started 33 churches by December.’”

Casting a vision for reaching the country’s largest city is one of the first things Guy does every seven weeks as he begins another training group. Through radio announcements and word-of-mouth, between 20 and 30 Ecuadorian believers pour into the training center each week to learn how to start la iglesia en tu casa – the church in your house. When these servant-leaders lead people to Christ, they are expected to follow up within 48 hours and immediately begin discipling. Within four weeks, each trainee is to start a new Bible study that will become a functioning house church. Guy’s role is to train these disciples in church planting skills as the Ecuadorians to reach their own people.

Marlene Lorenti, a single mom and hairdresser turned Bible teacher, is one of the results of Guy’s training. Testimonies of her faithfulness in leading her neighbors and friends to Christ come from those who meet at her beauty shop for church. A new church started from this group meets 45 minutes away in another area.

“Marlene is an on-fire evangelist,” Guy says. “She has done everything that we’ve talked about. I feel like that’s my job, to empower people.”

Through servant-leaders like Marlene, the number of house churches in Guayaquil continues to expand, some even replicating to the second and third generations. As the Muses and their team continue catalyzing church plants, they also are looking for stateside partners to carry the Gospel to unreached pockets of their province. By teaming up with Ecuadorian churches, Southern Baptists have an opportunity to strategically take the Good News to people in coastal Ecuador.

“This is the time when we need to be putting everything into the effort,” Guy says. “We have an open window of opportunity like never before. This is not the time to be holding back. We need to put everything into finishing the task. It’s finishable.”

To volunteer, check out the “Go” section of The Muses are among the more than 5,500 Southern Baptist international missionaries supported by the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The close-out date for 2008 offering receipts is May 31, 2009. To learn more about the offering, go to
-Dea Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board.

Monday, January 26

What is our missionary role in the cities of Latin America?

What if, for some reason, we suddenly had to pull out of all the major cities in the Americas? No more missionaries in Bogotá, San José, Lima, Asunción, Sao Paolo, BA...would it really make any difference? Would we really be missed? So why are we still in the cities? Why are most of our missionary personnel still in places like Caracas, Santiago, Mexico City, Quito, Guatemala City?

I have a few thoughts about the roles we missionaries play in the cities of Latin America where the Gospel has already taken root. If we use the analogy of the missionary task to that of a field being planted, the farmer first plows the ground, plants the seed, waters the seed, pulls the weeds, and eventually harvests his crop.

Those missionaries who came before us did an excellent job in plowing the hard ground, planting the Gospel seed, and watering the seed through a host of ministries, institutions and programs.

But I would argue that those initial three phases now belong primarily to the national church and are no longer our tasks as missionaries.

In many parts of Latin America the work is mature. The national church is effectively carrying out these roles as effectively--or better in many cases--than we foreign missionaries were able to do.

So, what then is the missionary task that justifies our presence in the major cities of Latin America?

I propose that our missionary role and presence in the cities is validated by the extent of our engagement in the later phases of "weeding" and in many places "bringing in the harvest."

How do I define "weeding?" Weeds are what compete with the sowed grain and negatively impact bringing in a bumper crop. After two decades in Guayaquil I can name those weeds that are most hurting us: discouragement, distractions, divisions (the 3 D's of the Devil.) The missionary task, as I understand it is to be a prophetic voice "weeding out" the 3 D's of the Devil. There are probably other "weeds" out there, but these three seem universal in harvest fields. Our role is to help identify in the churches, ministries, institutions, and conventions, the weeds which are choking out the harvest which God wants to bring in.

Nobody likes to pull weeds. But what happens to a crop if nobody hoes weeds? All the hard previous labor will fall short of its potential. The thieving weeds will ruin a harvest! How weed pulling is played out will surely vary from city to city and region to region, but it must be addressed.

The other final phase is to bring home the harvest.

I see in this missionary phase the task as primarily an administrative, logistical role of coordinating, training, mobilizing, motivating, and inspiring people. We can't possibly bring home the harvest by ourselves. To finish the task, the Lord of the Harvest is going to have to touch many hearts. Our part is to be an instrument that He uses as a mouthpiece, a voice, the go-between to get people from point-A to point-B where the harvest is taking place.

We are the ones who need to thoroughly understand concepts like partnering, networking, mobilizing, how people communicate today, and understanding today's generations and cultural values to harness that energy to bring in the harvest the Lord has been preparing for decades in the cities of Latin America.

So, what do you think? Should we still be giving our missionary time to plowing, planting, watering, as well as to weeding and harvesting? Would you add/subtract anything to the above? Again, I am speaking more in the context of the missionary task, not as what we the Church should be engaged in. Till Christ returns, the church should be out there making disciples of the nations. But where do we engage our priorities as missionaries? That is the question.

Saturday, January 24

Like Zoo Animals

Missions, Misunderstood has often made me squirm with his poignant thought-provoking analysis of today's church and missions in general. I don't always 100% agree with everything written, but he always has something well worth considering. Take for example the following January 11 post...

You may have heard about the controversy over the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. The zoo is building a $42 million exhibit for Billy, its only elephant. There are three sides to the argument: those who say that $42 mil is too much to spend on one elephant, those who say the new “Pachyderm Forest” project is just what the zoo (and Billy) needs, and those who say that it is cruel to keep elephants in captivity, no matter how much is spent.

Reading about the controversy got me thinking about Christians. I’m a huge advocate of total church involvement in missions. I believe that the church’s gifting, authority, and accountability are vital to obedient and successful missions.

Nevertheless, church people aren’t always prepared for ministry in the real world. The way I see it, our modern expression of church is a lot like a zoo. We’ve got all kinds; the old urban zoos that are little more than cages in a central park. The theme-park kids of zoos with multi-million-dollar attractions. Some mimic the animals’ habitats in the wild. Others seem like they’re more for show. We’ve got zoos that were designed for conservation, rehabilitation, education, entertainment, even research. The thing about zoos is their influence on animal health and behavior.

It’s called “institutionalization.”

It seems to me that there are three kinds of Christians; those who have left the wild and have been brought into the zoo, and those who were born and raised in captivity, and those who continue to live in the wild.
  • Those who came to faith outside the church setting are quickly assimilated into the Christian culture. They are taught to speak, act, and think like a Christian (each according to the customs of his local zoo, of course.) On the one hand, this process is seen as a rescue operation. On the other, it’s a cruel and unnecessary act that strips a person of his ability to relate, understand, and survive in what was his natural environment.
  • Believers who grew up in church really don’t stand a chance in the wild. Their dependence on doctors, caregivers, guards, and spectators makes them unprepared to face the challenges of life in the real world. They position themselves in pecking order, clinging to the members of their small groups for social comfort.
  • Christians who operate outside the walls of an institutionalized church. Some simply slipped through the cracks of the programs that the church designed for them. Others came to faith through real relationships and have never found it necessary to trade real life for a safely synthetic one. These aren’t lone wolves- they move in dynamic but fiercely loyal packs and herds.
For some reason, the first two kinds of Christians are the ones the church sends out on mission, and left and right, they’re being devoured by dangers and distractions of life in the wild. We need more of the third kind of Christian, the ones outside the institution. The truth is, they’re already doing ministry , and they’re doing it better, more humbly, and more cheaply than the zoo ever could. It comes quite naturally to them. But they need the church’s approval, support, prayer, and encouragement.

Institutional church is bad for believers, bad for ministry, and bad for the environment. Okay, maybe not so bad for the environment, but you know what I mean.

Is the above writer stating his case too strongly? Is IC really BAD for believers, BAD for ministry, BAD for the environment? If you disagree, how would you restate the issue?

Wednesday, January 21

Church planters or Gospel planters?

More good stuff from David Watson's Touchpoint blog.

When I train church planters or discuss what I have seen in church planting, the first question I hear is, “What kind of churches are you planting anyway?” The tone of the question is usually full of doubt, and at times, derision. Many who ask the question are well trained by their churches or church planting organizations. They are often theologically trained, and have had success in church planting according to their understanding of church planting. They know they are well-trained, committed to the task, devoted to the Lord, and unable to produce the same results. Therefore, there must be something wrong somewhere in what I am doing since they cannot do the same. I have been dealing with this question in its myriad forms since 1996.

What most seem to miss on the first exposure to our training and materials is that we are not church planters, we are Gospel Planters. This is key! There are thousands of kinds of churches, but there is only one Gospel. Certainly, our hope is that churches are based on the Gospel, but when we start a new church, what is the foundation? Is the foundation of the new church the church I came from with all its cultural heritages, or is the foundation of the new church the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Church has two major parts – The teachings of the Bible, and the cultural expressions of obedience to these teachings that have developed over time and may have been borrowed from different cultures and times. Insiders in the church understand their culture without asking where it came from, but when we begin the process of church planting, we must not make our church culture the foundation for the new church, or it will fail. By failure, I mean it will not naturally reproduce in the new context.

In our ministry, we define success by reproduction. I really don’t care how many churches anyone has planted. You tell me you have planted 100 churches, and my next question will be, “How many churches did the 100 churches you planted start in the next year?” Success for leadership is defined by how many new leaders a leader reproduces every year.

In a recent training event I asked the trainees who where the people I was engaged in training. They looked around and then said, “Us.” I responded, “No, I am here to train your trainers.” Success is easy to spot. There will be three generations present. I will be present. The ones I am training will be present. And the ones my trainees are training will be present.

I am currently in an evaluation process in West Africa. I want to see three or more generations of leaders present, or I have failed. So, I ask the leader I am working with, “Tell me about the people you are mentoring, and tell me about the people your mentorees are mentoring.” There is always an expectation of three generations, minimum. All good leaders are intimately aware of the two generations below him or her and the one generation above him or her.

Back to church planting - Culture is extremely difficult to pass on to others because it requires people to leave behind or lose their own culture in order to adopt the new one. This is a barrier most people are not willing to jump. Very few people, and in some cultures no one, wants to be seen as different. This makes it difficult or impossible to start new churches if the foundation of the new church is a church culture from another time and another place.

So, what kind of churches do we plant, anyway? We don’t. We strive to plant the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let it transform individuals, families and communities so that a culturally relevant and redeemed church will emerge. As we introduce the Gospel we ask the question, “If this is from God, what are you going to do about it?” We insist that the role of any Believer is to be obedient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to redeem self, family, community and culture.

We don’t plant churches! We plant the Gospel and allow it to redeem peoples. As they become obedient to the Gospel, then worship emerges out of their culture and is acceptable to the culture within the limits set by the Word of God. As they struggle with the Word, new leadership forms develop. As they strive with the new and push out that which is not from God, unique systems develop that look like the local culture, but are redeemed by the Gospel. The church emerges out of obedience to the Word of God and expresses itself in uniquely cultural ways, thus removing or limiting the barriers of foreign culture and times.

Churches grow from the soil of culture where the seed of the Gospel is planted. This leads to churches that can naturally and quickly reproduce. This causes leaders who can reproduce. It makes disciples, who by the very definition of “disciple” reproduce more disciples.

Everyone is trained to ask the question, “In this situation how will I/we be obedient to the Word of God?” Faith is defined as being obedient to the Word of God regardless of what it may cost, even our lives.

These are the kind of churches we see grow out of the Gospel we plant. They are obedient. They grow and they reproduce as a natural part of being and doing church. It starts slow, but exponentially reproduces very quickly. They become a Church Planting Movement.

Saturday, January 17

Former gang members reaching Guayaquil with Gospel

By Dea Davidson

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)--In crime-heavy Guayaquil, Ecuador, where more than 60,000 youth are involved in gangs, the scene at the public park looks like something to avoid.

A dozen young men lounge around the concrete, outdoor amphitheater. One guy — wearing a backward New York Yankees hat, shades and chains — sits hunched over. Another with tattoos and dreadlocks drops down next to a youth sporting a carefully carved beard line from his bottom lip to chin.

Years ago these men might have been plotting an operation with guns and violence. Today these one-time rival gang leaders are planning to bring the Good News back to their “hoods” through Christian Latin rap.

“Every one of these guys, the Lord has called them to different parts of Guayaquil,” says group leader Byron Garcia. “We join together to be able to assist in their part of the city. Before we knew Christ, we used to get together and beat up on one another with our gangs. Now we gang up together to evangelize.”

Poverty, a desire for family stability and curiosity often are the carrots that draw the city’s youth to gangs. Each young man around the circle had his reasons.

For rapper and former gang leader Jose Luis — also known by his stage name, “Poetico” — drinking, drug addiction and sexual promiscuity marked his life. But problems with his kidneys and liver plunged him into despair. He lost the will to live. Finally he realized Christ wanted to redeem his life, and he accepted that invitation. It’s a decision his old gang refuses to accept.

“There are many of us who have been persecuted, shot at, for coming over to Christ’s side,” Luis says. “We have enemies in the world. But thanks to God, we’re all still alive. Nobody has lost their lives yet.”

Garcia, Luis and their new brothers in Christ have banded together to bring Guayaquil to a saving knowledge of the Lord. They host neighborhood concerts of Christian hip-hop and reggaeton (a form of Spanish-language music popular throughout Latin America). At each performance they invite the youth to accept Christ.

“It’s like the Lord comes to them and helps them to remember their own pain and suffering,” Garcia says. “They can see through my life what they, too, could have lived. Seeing me in this wheelchair shows them that this is no game.” Garcia was paralyzed in an altercation with police in which he was shot five times.

The ministry team — under the training and mentoring of International Mission Board missionary Guy Muse — pull together new believers to form house churches. By offering discipleship plans, Guy provides ways for the evangelists to enhance their efforts.

Each Sunday night the rappers gather with friends for fellowship and Bible study — a house church that sometimes meets on the sidewalk of a busy city street. Songs of praise rise above the very neighborhood once terrorized by these young men, who now call themselves “Jesus Rappers.”

“We all have the same ministry to reach the unevangelized,” Garcia says. “We throw out nets and see what we catch. Those who believe, we disciple them and a whole series of events happen. We’re confident God is going to do great things in Guayaquil.”

Wednesday, January 14

Nuggets of wisdom we are trying to live by (Part 2)

Mother Teresa wrote, "Slowly I am learning to accept everything just as He gives it." Am I learning to accept all things without complaining and whining , understanding that it is God who allowed it?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,
Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries...

Am I seeing God in every common bush, or am I one of those plucking blackberries?

In spite of everything, it is still a beautiful world.

Excellence is in the details. Attention to details is one of the ways I worship God who is worthy of my best.

People come first. Everything else falls in line behind them.

We are blessed to be a blessing (Psalm 67). Am I using my blessings to bless others?

Jesus and others and you: what a wonderful way to spell JOY... When I lose my joy, maybe it is because I am focusing more on myself than Jesus and those others he has placed in my life.

The facts and truths of God's Word are my anchor when the storms of life seek to sink my ship. Feelings and emotions are unreliable means to judge what is happening.

God gives us 24 hours every day to be divided up into balanced eight-hour blocks of work, play, and rest.

Marriage is work.
Time spent improving our marriage counts as work time.
Marriage is play.
Time spent playing together counts as play time.
Marriage is rest.
Time spent resting together counts as rest time.

Family is work.
Time spent strengthening our family counts as work time.
Family is play.
Time spent playing with family counts as play time.
Family is rest.
Time spent resting with family counts as rest time.

Do it anyway. Do things simply because they need to be done. Don't wait for someone else to do the good deed, just do it. Instead of worrying, fretting and procrastination, do it and get it over with. My deepest regrets are usually those things I did NOT do, more than those I did do, that maybe didn't turn out as hoped. [For more on this one, see here.]

Simplify. Get rid of the clutter in my life and in our home. Do what I can to help others simplify their complicated lives. Less is more.

Sunday, January 11

Nuggets of wisdom we are trying to live by (Part 1)

Be faithful in the little things. God will accomplish much through my small acts of obedience.

Thoughts are sub-conscience prayers. Be aware of what I am praying.

What is not given is lost. Are we hanging on to anything that ought to be given away?

Live off of 70% of what we make. Divide the remaining 30% between Kingdom causes and personal savings/investments. If we can't live within the 70% then we need to adjust our lifestyle. Adjustments are made within the 70%, not the 30% designations.

Never go into debt for anything beyond what I am able to pay off within 2-3 month's time. Any debt should be backed by other existing personal assets before the debt is incurred. Use savings/investments to acquire needed or desired things, not debt.

One negative comment packs more power in someone's life than a dozen positive or uplifting remarks. I need to be very careful how and what I communicate with others. If I can't build someone up, it is better to keep silent rather than using my words to tear down.

Confront problems, hurts, misunderstandings, and mistakes as soon as possible. Don't allow Satan to carry out his agenda of rejection, suffering, division, fear, and pain.

Devote 80% of my time, energy, attention in work/ministry to the 20% who actually "get it" and are seeking to be obedient Kingdom disciples. The remaining 20% of my time, energy, attention in work/ministry for everyone else.

What does God have to say about it? It is not about me deciding everything and doing things as I deem best. If He is Lord, he is lord of ALL, including the things I think I can handle on my own without his input.

This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a choice I have to make daily.

John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Who is actually increasing/decreasing in my life? Am I moving in the right direction?

Seek first His Kingdom. Does this thing seek to advance my kingdom or His Kingdom?

Charles Swindoll writes that life is 10% what happens and 90% of how I react to it. Am I focusing more on what has happened, or how I am reacting to what has happened?

Friday, January 9

Ecuadorian house churches support own missionary

The following story was written for Baptist Press 12-18-08 by Dea Davidson, an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board. José Chillambo, is one of the young men the Lord called out of the Guayaquil house churches as an international missionary. José currently serves with the Xtreme team in the jungles of Perú.

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)--When young people consider joining the International Mission Board’s South American Xtreme team to take the Gospel to difficult-to-access areas, they might be drawn by the “extreme” aspects of the training – learning to build rafts, cooking over a campfire and surviving in the mountains.

But for Ecuadorian missionary Jose Chillambo, the team’s unconventional skill set is nothing new – he grew up in a tropical rain forest. He wants to train alongside the team to learn the skills he needs to touch the hearts of those living on the extreme edges of lostness.

“The idea of going out to the ends of the earth appeals to him,” says missionary Guy Muse.

Chillambo has grown up spiritually in a house church network in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where Texas natives Guy and his wife, Linda, serve as church-planting trainers and mentors.

His first day as a new believer, Chillambo traveled with a pastor to remote mountain villages to find people who had never heard about Christ. That day, he was called to missions.

“What struck me was in the city there are many, many Christians crawling all over each other,” Chillambo says. “No one wanted to go out to the extreme edges, the countryside. I was really touched because no one was willing to go. My passion is not to travel to another country but to go where people have never heard the Gospel.”

While Chillambo was starting house churches in the coastal city and serving as a national partner to Southern Baptist missionaries, Muse suggested Xtreme Team training to prepare him for his calling. The Afro-Ecuadorian accepted the challenge, but with help. More than 100 house churches in Guayaquil are supporting him by raising $200 – a collection of $1 and $2 individual tithes – each month to pay for Chillambo’s training, food and supplies.

“We’ve accepted that challenge to come up with that money,” Muse says of the house churches. “We’ve been to Judea, Samaria and now we’re in the uttermost parts of the earth.”

Wednesday, January 7

Conflicting visions

There seem to be at least two visions that compete for believer's loyalty: 1) the established churches with their structures, programs, and leadership; and 2) the Biblical imperative of Christ to make disciples of the nations. Two worlds colliding.

Maybe to some they are one and the same, but my experience is they are two different Kingdom cultures. Sure there is overlap between them, but still distinct world views. We SAY that our churches are about reaching the lost, but when it comes right down to it, the "churchianity" vision seems to be to get people to GO TO CHURCH. Christ's mandate and vision is that His Church GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES of the nations.

We live within both worlds, but are clearly focused on the latter. One of my frustrations as a missionary is that most believers seem content to dwell within the church environment that has been created for them. It is for the most part a neat, secure world where one knows what is clearly expected: go to church, give your tithe, and participate as actively as time permits in the various programs, events and ministries offered by the church. Some might call it a "consumer" mentality. We consume what has been prepared for us in the hopes that somehow all this will result in advancing God's Kingdom here on earth.

When someone with an apostolic calling and vision comes around lifting a prophetic voice to literally get out there and make disciples of the nations, there is resistance. Excuses are made...we are too busy...I am not gifted in that kind of thing...God didn't "call me"...I am serving God in my own way...I have plans to get more involved at a later stage in life...etc.

In our church planting training we seldom have any conflicts over the kinds of things we teach: prayer, serving others, evangelism, follow-up, baptism, discipleship, church planting, etc. Where the two worlds collide is when people are expected to IMPLEMENT what has been taught! Carrying out the vision of what Christ actually says in the Great Commission is something few seem to take seriously.

Most of the traditional churches we relate to simply cannot get past the issue of having to live their Christianity outside of the four walls of the church building. I know this might sound a bit unfair. But to prove my point, how would each of us personally answer these questions:

1) How am I personally involved in taking the Gospel out of the four walls of our church building?

2) Am I really making true reproducing disciples?

3) How many new believers have I lately been responsible for baptizing?

4) Can I name any new disciples whom I am personally teaching to be obedient followers to all Christ commands?

The answer for most of us is NO or NONE! It is much easier and more convenient to just "go to church."

So, how do we get the two visions aligned? What will it take for us to swap a "going to church" vision, for a Great Commission vision?

I struggle a lot with this, but here are some of my evolving thoughts in progress...

1) The key is NOT trying to reform believers who have spent years in traditional church settings. We already KNOW these things, but have long chosen a different path in our walk with the Lord. Any attempts to change the status quo usually leads to frustration. The real key is focusing on NEW BELIEVERS. They are the future, not those of us content to sit in church pews.

2) Spend 80% of time, energy and attention on the 20% who "get it" and are doing their best to be obedient to what Christ commanded. Spend 20% of our time, energy and attention on the 80% who are content to just come to church.

3) Along the same lines of the four questions above, create environments where believers are encouraged to share with one another about the people they are currently praying for, witnessing to, or actually discipling. This should be the norm, not the exception. If we are not doing so, why not? What are the obstacles? What can be done to get back on track?

4) Less on church activities, and more on actual ministry engagements. As Neil Cole says, "We want to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple."

We can "talk the talk" all we want, but few of us actually "walk the walk" and DO what Christ said. There is a conflict of visions in the Church today.

What are some of your thoughts on the conflicting visions that exist within Christianity today?

Monday, January 5

Former gang leader uses rap to spread the Word

Several stories about what God is doing in Guayaquil, Ecuador were released in 2008 by the IMB for Baptist Press. Over the coming days I plan to share 4-5 of these here on the "M Blog". All are of people we work closely with and who are part of our Guayaquil House Church Network. As you read, please pray that God would continue to glorify himself in our midst.

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)--He is undeniably their leader.

Dreadlocks bobbing in time to the Latin rhythm, former gang leader Byron Garcia accepts the hand slaps and requests for autographs from his outpost at the rear of the concert venue. Two teenagers stand sentry on each side as Garcia — better known to the crowd as rapper “Baby G” — enjoys the music while solo rappers and pairs rotate performances onstage. Time for the main event. He makes his way to the wings.

Few in the audience notice as four, large Ecuadorians crouch to assist the singer onstage. The warm lights reflect off the fake diamonds studding the chained letter “B” around Garcia’s neck. It’s the same light that glints off his metal wheelchair.

Once a notorious gang leader, tonight he’ll lead many to the throne of God.

“I used to sing in the underground world,” Garcia says. “I would do music to make fun of and to mimic and to parody other kids from rival gangs. But when I got to know Jesus, God put it on my heart to do evangelical crusades. I began to understand that God can use me, too.”

International Mission Board missionary Guy Muse got to know Garcia a few years after Garcia accepted Christ. Passionate about reaching his former Guayaquil neighborhood and others like it, Garcia contacted Muse in early 2005 to request training in church planting. He’d already started seven Bible groups.

“He was just going out on the street and winning people,” Muse says. “He kept his door open all the time. People would come in and out at all hours of the day and night, and he would minister to them. We’ve trained him and walked alongside of him. We try to support him in what he feels God wants him to do.”

Assisted by Muse’s weekly training and mentorship, the tenacity of Garcia and new believers to reach the streets has produced 150 converts and about 25 church starts that are changing the face of violence-riddled Guayaquil.


To many former gang members throughout Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador with more than 3 million people, Garcia’s life before he met Jesus reflects their own.

Delinquent. Alcoholic. Gun carrier. Prisoner.

Left behind when his single mother moved to Venezuela, 3-year-old Garcia grew up in his uncle’s home in a Guayaquil barrio (neighborhood). Feeling abandoned and living in an area plagued with gangs, he began to channel his pain into anger. By age 8, Garcia was involved in his first gang, primarily made up of 17- and 18-year-olds.

“I was part of the children’s section of the gang,” Garcia says. “The idea is that they are formed at that age to become leaders later on. When my mother found out, she returned from Venezuela and took me back, only for me to get involved in an even worse gang there.”

The downward spiral of his life continued. By age 9, Garcia was drinking. By 13, he was in detention centers. He was involved with guns. He became an alcoholic. It only made matters worse when he found out his mother had wanted to abort him. Sinking deeper into trouble, he dropped out of high school his freshman year at age 17.

“I was hunted by the police as being one of the most dangerous, delinquent youths in the whole city,” Garcia recounts. “One of my objectives in life was to establish a fame, a reputation, because I needed to feel important. So when I was 17, I was put in jail.”

In jail, Garcia heard the truth about Jesus for the first time. A fellow prisoner told him how much God loved him. Although he believed Jesus could help him, Garcia wrote off the discussion and took to the streets again after his release.

“Whatever trouble I could find, I would get into it,” he says. “What I was looking for was somebody to end my pain. I was hoping somebody would find me and kill me, and I risked my life in this fashion over and over again.”

Five months after his release from prison, Garcia was surrounded by policemen during a holdup. During an exchange of gunfire, he was shot in the arm and hand. When the police officer in charge recognized Garcia, he said, “This is the Ecuadorian. This trash doesn’t deserve to live.”

Upon orders to shoot to kill, one of the policemen shot Garcia five times before he ran out of bullets. The trio of police then started kicking him.

“I felt life flowing out of me, the blood was flowing out of me,” Garcia says. “At that moment, I remembered the words of that [prisoner] in jail. He told me, ‘One day, you will need Christ. Wherever you are, only call upon His name.’ That moment had come. I didn’t feel worthy to call upon His name, but I did anyway. I said in my mind, ‘Jesus, don’t let me die without repenting first.’”

At that moment, an ambulance siren in the distance drew the policemen away. During an eight-hour surgery, Garcia’s heart stopped twice – prompting resuscitation. When he opened his eyes, he found himself handcuffed to a bed. At that moment, an elderly lady came into his room.

She began telling Garcia how much Jesus loved him. She said she was walking down the hall and heard the voice of God telling her, “Go in that room, and you’re going to find a boy handcuffed to the bed. Tell him I love him very much and that he has another chance.”

“This woman was crying, and I had never seen anybody cry over me,” Garcia says. “I became just broken up inside because God had indeed heard my cry to Him, even though I didn’t deserve it. He had mercy upon me, even though I had declared myself as His enemy.”

One year after Garcia pushed himself out of prison in a wheelchair, he decided to return to Ecuador. He hadn’t changed much from the man he was before – and Guayaquil hadn’t changed much either. After discouragement and more jail time, he found himself considering suicide. Yet his best-laid plans were not part of God’s plan for his life.

“A friend had made me a promise that he would bring me a gun at 8 p.m.,” Garcia recalls. “But Jesus came at 7:30, and He saved me. I gave my heart to Jesus. That day, Jesus freed me.”

Garcia was freed from his bondage to alcohol, nicotine, anger and bitterness. The one-time delinquent finished high school and began to work as a youth leader. Then a phone call from his pastor to attend a meeting further changed his life.


The faces at the meeting reflected Garcia’s life story. Many of the leaders had belonged to gangs and were committed to forming a ministry to reach those they’d once considered brothers. All they needed was a connection into the culture. They settled on music.

“Music is a universal language,” Garcia says. “It communicates to youth. There are a number of youth that like reggaeton and rap. That was our entry point to working with gangs.”

Utilizing that language began with a contest to find talented musicians in hip-hop and reggaeton, a form of Spanish-language music popular throughout Latin America.

Garcia won the contest using reggaeton-style music crafted with Christian lyrics. His first full-length CD – Army of Jesus – carries a decorative warning label: Explicito Evangelio Advertencia (Warning: Explicit Gospel Message).

Christian reggaeton has made its mark in Guayaquil. At a concert in April 2007, 200 youth accepted Christ; at another, there were 60. The youth respond to concert posters and hear music sung by people who dress like they dress and talk like they talk, but with a different, transforming message. The decisions made at the performances have led many to live different lives, as kids have escaped drug addiction, left gangs and followed Jesus.

“We’re called to be fishers of men,” Garcia says. “A good fisherman knows which bait to use. The music, the reggaeton, is the bait. Satan could use music to ruin youth, but we’re putting the gift to work for Christ. We’ve seen God work through the concerts we have.”

Garcia and his fellow singers have another goal – to impact the secular world for Jesus Christ, even breaking into mainstream media such as radio.

“Our goal is to infiltrate secular stations and take over that area that Satan has usurped,” Garcia says. “All this music promotes violence, drugs, sensuality. We want to exchange it with the message of Christ.”

Garcia works under the guidance of Muse to form house churches, which they hope will generate new leaders starting groups in other areas of town. These rising leaders are trained through Muse’s program to plant the next generation of churches. Garcia also mentors them in a reproducing tier of discipleship that Muse hopes will begin a church-planting movement in Guayaquil.

“We work with the leaders and they, in turn, do the same with their people,” Muse says. “Our focus is on working with Byron. Byron’s is to work with those other kids.”

Being in a wheelchair has not slowed Garcia in his pursuit to take Jesus to the streets. His phone is constantly sounding with a hip-hop ringtone, signaling another kid calling for advice or to catch up. His door is always open to whoever needs him. He doesn’t have time to feel down or look back.

“They told me I would never walk again,” Garcia says. “I didn’t get depressed. I was actually grateful to God because I didn’t even deserve that. He sat me down so that I could run. All of it has been with a purpose. Even though I’m in a wheelchair, I’m free. Now I walk with Christ.”

--Dea Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent with the International Mission Board

Photo #1: CHANGED MAN - Once a notorious gang leader, Byron Garcia now leads many to the throne of God. Following weekly training and mentorship from IMB missionary Guy Muse, Byron has a church planting ministry which is changing the face of violence-riddled Guayaquil. (IMB) PHOTO

Photo #2: JESUS RAPPERS - Byron and the "Jesus Rappers" use hip-hop and reggaeton music to reach the rough street gang kids of Guayaquil. (IMB) PHOTO

Photo #3: PASSING THE TORCH - Since the introduction of house churches in Guayaquil, Ecuador, IMB missionaries have seen steady growth in church-planting efforts among the Guayas Mestizo. By training and equipping national believers to plant churches among their own people, missionaries are passing the torch to Ecuadorian believers. Here, Byron Garcia meets with his house church on the street outside a fellow believer’s home. (IMB) PHOTO

Saturday, January 3

What If We Had Given It All Away?

Alan Cross recently posted some excellent thoughts about the economic wealth lost over the past year. Is God trying to tell us something?

"A few days ago, I speculated about the amount of American household wealth that has been lost in the past year. I found out how much has been lost, and it is staggering. This includes savings, stock values, retirement accounts, and home values. It comes out to over SEVEN TRILLION DOLLARS. Seven trillion dollars of household wealth has evaporated in the past year. Unbelievable.

These numbers come from Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis:

2007 Q4 -$1.46 Trillion
2008 Q1 -$2.42 Trillion
2008 Q2 -$0.39 Trillion
2008 Q3 -$2.81 Trillion

Mish goes on to say, "$7.08 Trillion in wealth has vaporized in the past year. Figure 2008 Q4 to be as bad as Q3. If so, roughly $10 Trillion in household wealth will be vaporized in little over a year. And looking ahead, there is no reason to believe the stock market, the housing market, or the economy will show signs of recovery anytime soon."

How much have Christians lost? What if we had invested our share of this in Kingdom work a year ago? If you figure that there are 300 million Americans and 40 million evangelical Christians (common number), that means that evangelicals make up approximately 13 percent of the population. If you figure that evangelicals lost as much as everyone else, that would put their loss at $1.3 trillion over the past 5 quarters (15 months). If you just took 10% of that, that is $130 billion. I know that these numbers are just speculation and cannot be proven exactly, but I doubt that I am far off. By and large, evangelicals tend to be more prosperous financially than the nation at large.

So, what if evangelicals had given away $130 BILLION last year to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth, fight global poverty, bring holistic economic development, provide clean drinking water, fight disease, care for needy children, and feed the hungry? What if we had given away even a fraction of what is now gone? Evaporated? Never to be seen again?

How different would our world be? How many lives would have been saved? How many would have heard the gospel and believed? How many things would be different?

It is all gone now and we have nothing to show for it. We are all scrambling trying to maintain our standard of living while the world sinks into economic ruin caused by selfishness and greed. Have we learned anything? Will we learn anything? We are blessed to be a blessing. When will we realize that God has given us amazing blessings so that we can bless and care for others. If we fail to do so and use it on ourselves, what will our response be when it is all taken away?

Greed is idolatry. You cannot love both God and money. I am not saying that it is wrong to enjoy a nice standard of living. I am just saying that we have lost so much . It is now gone. What if we had seen our wealth differently? What if we had seen it as a resource to bless others instead of as something to store up for ourselves? What if?"

In light of the above, I would invite us all to meditate on Psalm 67. Maybe God is growing weary of our using for our own ends the blessings he has bestowed upon us. As Alan asks, what if we had given it all away instead? What do you think?

Thursday, January 1

How I got into house/organic/simple church

My pilgrimage with the house/simple/organic return to New Testament ekklesia began in 1997. This was around the time when the International Mission Board (the S. Baptist missions sending agency that we are a part of) launched "New Directions." The assumption was that if we continued to do evangelism and church planting as we had always done it, we would never reach the nations for Christ. As this realization began to settle in our hearts, we missionaries were faced with the question, "what, then, should we do?"

The IMB set out a few broad guidelines, things like:
  • focus on church planting; not church buildings
  • turn over institutional church work to national entities (seminaries, camps, schools, established churches)
  • church planting movements: churches that plant churches that plant churches
  • plant POUCH churches (Participative study/worship gatherings, Obedience to God's word as the measure of growth/maturity, Unpaid bi-vocational church leaders, Cell/house churches of 15 or less, Homes as meeting places)
  • missionary roles as mentors-trainers, rather than actual church planters
All these were great, but none of us had a real grasp on how to implement these concepts. There was little help on the "how to" part. None of us had ever seen or experienced church any other way than it had "always been done." What was this thing supposed to look like that we were being asked to do?

In hindsight this bewilderment was a good thing. It drove us straight back to the New Testament. We began a reexamination of the who, what, when, where, and how of the 1st Century Church. It did not take long to discover quite a few discrepancies between what we were finding, and how we were actually practicing church.

Fast forward to early 2000 just as the new millennium dawned. In my role as team leader, I joined an online house church discussion group called House Church Connection which, BTW, continues today (for those who dare!) The purpose of the group, at that time, was to serve as a bridge for those journeying from institutional Christianity to 1st-Century NT house/simple church life. It was an extremely radical bunch for me at the time, but I was fascinated. I met and dialoged through dozens of long emails with "unknown saints" who had incredible insights on the very areas I was supposed to be an expert on. Where did they learn this stuff? I was baffled. As I struggled with the ideas and concepts shared, I received a lot of "hand-holding" and honest Biblical challenges to my questions and assumptions from new friends like Tracey Amino and Rick Carr and many others whose names I have long forgotten. Even though sometimes ultra-extreme to my own views, I was drawn to the freedom this bunch of people had to follow Christ without all the baggage that accompanies the established institutional churches I had known all my life.

One day, out of the blue, one of the participants on the list mailed me an unsolicited copy of Frank Viola's "Rethinking the Wineskin." As I fearfully read the first few pages, I knew in my heart that I too could never return to the idea of "church" as I had always known it. A seed had been planted.

The seed was watered by reading the few available writings I could lay my hands on: Frank Viola, Gene Edwards, Christian Smith's Going To The Root, and a few other scattered writings found on the internet. Other writings and books came later on, but these were my first encounters with this "new church world".

For me, the turning point was a trip I took to Cuba in the summer of 2000. I had been asked to speak in one of the sessions of the Baptist World Alliance meeting held in Havana that year. On Sunday, the visitors from around the world were invited to visit the recognized "government sanctioned" Cuban churches. I had not received an invitation to speak, but went down to the hotel lobby in hopes of tagging along with some of those headed to the Cuban churches.

Around 4pm a Cuban brother arrived. He was obviously looking for someone, so I asked him if I could help. In Spanish, he explained he was there to pick up brother so-and-so. He asked if I would be so kind to call his room to see if he was still going. When I called the American's room, he said he was sick and asked me to relay his apologies at not being able to attend that evening. Disappointed at not having a guest speaker, the Cuban brother asked if I might possibly fill in for the sick brother. I was thrilled to go with him, even though I had nothing prepared to share.

He drove us into a neighborhood and stopped in front of a house. When we entered I was delighted to see the "church" consisted of some 16-20 men, women, youth and children. Most were in the kitchen laughing at each other's jokes as refreshments were prepared for the gathering that evening. It was my first encounter with a real live house church--and Cuban at that!

As I sat with these brothers and sisters, sharing, eating and worshiping with them, words cannot express the emotions going on inside of my soul. It was all so spontaneous, yet felt so right! Even though I was the invited guest speaker, I was the one who was blessed beyond measure. In those few minutes shared with a handful of Cuban brothers, my life was forever changed. I saw in that gathering of believers something I had longed for my whole life. I now understood better than ever before, what the church was supposed to be. Wasn't this what the church looked like in the Book of Acts? Finally, I was able to see in living color what the writings I had been reading looked like! I knew in my heart this was what we must strive to recapture in our own church planting in Ecuador.

There is a lot more to the story. In a sense my pilgrimage has been the fitting together of many pieces of the puzzle as the Lord continues to gently reveal them. We still feel there is much to learn and still very much in the infancy of what I believe is an emerging house church planting movement in Ecuador. As we prepare to return to Guayaquil in a few days, my resolve is to continue to seek out a restoration of the values and principles of the 1st Century Church as found in the pages of the New Testament. In my heart, I believe it is the only way we are ever going to reach the world for Christ. I believe the existing institutional churches have a role as well, but only when the church returns to her roots, will Christ usher in His Kingdom as he intended when the command was given in Matthew 28 to make disciples of the nations.

Any thoughts or comments from your own pilgrimage?