"I have but one passion - it is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can most be used in winning souls for Christ."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Discipleship Begins

What a neat time of ministry we had with Venancio today! We drove to Puerto Juarez and took the ferry to Isla Mujeres. The island, which is about 9 kilometers off the coast, is 7 kilometers long and only 600 meters wide. But it also houses 17,500 people, of which maybe 1,000 claim to be Christians. We met up with a brother there who drives a taxi and he took us to a small village called La Guadalupana. As he dropped us off, he promised to return later and charged us no fare saying "This is God's Taxi. He pays all of my bills."

Venancio knew about 3 different families in the village, two of which were believers and one Catholic. It was too cold for us to show the Jesus film outside, so we invited several different families to a Bible study at one of the believers' homes. We visited the Catholic family for a good while, talking. Outside of this home was a miniature chapel - I suppose you would call it - made of concrete. Inside it were colored, blinking lights and beautiful decorations. It housed a statue of the Virgin Mary. The "chapel" was made of concrete, while the house comprised wood and corrugated metal. The "chapel" had fancy decorations and electricity, while the inside of the house was left in the dark. We couldn't even see the people we were talking to until one of the daughters finally brought in an old, battery-powered lantern.

Though I'm still trying to get my Spanish back in practice, I was able to catch most of the conversation and was a bit surprised, yet very encouraged, by what I heard. While Venancio was inviting them to Bible study he said, "I know 2009 was a bad year for us all, but we are expecting a better year in 2010." And the man of the house spoke up, I think arguing. "No, this year is not going to be better. All of humanity is dying. It is colder here than it has ever been. There are storms and natural disasters more than there have ever been. We are in a financial crisis. We are in a health crisis. We are in a violence crisis." It seemed to me like the perspective of a pessimistic old villager who is fed up with the world. I was waiting for Venancio to respond when the man continued. "And where is the church? What are they doing to help? Why do we have so many children starving in Africa and India, people dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, why don't they help them?" All of this is coming from a man who obviously is a devout Catholic, ensuring that the statue of Mary has a better lodging than his own family. "What is wrong with the Pope? He is supposed to be the representation of Christ on this earth, but he does not follow the steps of Jesus. He just sits there with his big, tall crown on, made of pure gold, while the poor people of the world starve. Jesus went to the poor. He helped them, talked to them, healed them, ate with them. If he is supposed to be the representation of Jesus, he is not doing his job!" So I finally spoke up. "But that's not his job. That's our job. That is our responsibility as Christians. Jesus said that we are supposed to be the light to the world. And that's why we're here today."

Please pray for this family. As I talked to Venancio later, he was as encouraged as I was. He said, "You see??? God is working in him, in his mind! He is preparing his heart." The family didn't come to Bible study, but pray that as we continue to work there, we will show them the true representation of Christ on this earth.

So we began the Bible study - the first one in this village. Along with Venancio, Abby, and me, we had four people - a lady, her 16/17 year-old daughter, her 11/12 year-old son, and the man whose house we were in. By the end of the service, three more people had joined us. We sang a few Spanish choruses (all back to back in the same key - mas o menos) and I played along on someone's old, out-of-tune guitar. Then we shared praises and things we were thankful for during this past year. After prayer, Venancio preached on Luke 13:6-9 and the parable of the fig tree. He did such a great job of explaining how we are called as Christians to bear fruit. He explained how Christ intercedes on our behalf to the Father, always wanting to give us one more chance, another opportunity. He explained how a life not spiritually cared for will not spiritually bear fruit. And from there he shared his goal for this Bible study to begin the process of discipleship. We handed out some very basic Bible study materials that we will be going through each week and assigned everyone the first chapter to read before our meeting next Tuesday or Thursday. Venancio explained the Great Commission to "make disciples" of all people and that today is the day that discipleship begins.

It was such a neat opportunity to be here at the very beginning of the growth process for these very new Christians and the start of the church body on Isla Mujeres.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Culture of Confusion

Two days is certainly not enough time to fully understand the culture of a city, so I will say that everything I write here is merely my initial perception of this region of Mexico. It seems that we are living now in a culture of confusion - religious confusion.

The city of Cancun itself is a mix of rich and poor, American and Mexican, healthy and hungry, tourist and native. It is a melting pot of people and cultures. In that way it is similar to many cities in the U.S. - New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit. But that same trend seems to be present in their religion. We are living and working with a non-denominational mission run by Baptist missionaries. Down our street to the east is a Presbyterian church. Across the street is a small Christian bookstore. Down our street to the west is a Baptist church. Across the street from there is a Pentecostal church. Beside the Baptist church is an Adventist church. And behind it is a large Catholic church. In town yesterday, we walked near another Catholic church and I went in. They were holding a service for the baptism of a young lady - maybe 16 or 17 - who had apparently converted to Catholicism. Catholicism here is so ingrained in this culture that many people here think to be Mexican is to be Catholic. Some Mexicans who have never set foot in a church will tell us that they are Christians. As I was standing outside the church, a woman approached me claiming to be a Jehovah's Witness and asking if I was as well. Thus, my initial perception of this area of Mexico is a culture of religious confusion.

However, there is at least one light shining brightly in this city (on our street, in fact!). Iglesia Bautista Cristo Te Ama, or Jesus Loves You Baptist Church, both knows and is preaching clearly the Word of God. This morning we visited this church of about 150 people with Ricardo and Devora, a dear couple that we are living and working with here. Pastor Martin Lemos was not afraid to speak out against the doctrinal errors being taught in the church right behind us! The message was a continuation of a series on salvation and focused today on Ephesians 2:8-10, how we are saved by faith alone and not by works of our own righteousness. The passage was preached along with James chapter 2 to show that while faith alone saves, good works prove the existence and validity of that faith. Examples were shown in Hebrews 11 of the great men and women of the faith whose good works accompanied their faith and proved it to be real. At the end of the sermon, Pastor Martin didn't simply close the service; he made the application very clear: "If you are one of those who say that you believe in Jesus, but you still go on living the same way you were before, your faith is dead. To believe in Jesus is not enough, for even the demons believe and tremble - James 2:19. Unless the faith you claim has changed the way you live, your faith is dead." I was so encouraged to hear a brother speaking the truth to his people - faithfully preaching the Word.

Other parts of the service included sharing prayer requests and praise reports, announcements, welcoming visitors (including us), singing hymns and choruses (led by the youth group), meeting and greeting the people, Bible reading and prayer. We will be back there for the evening service in about 4 hours and we're looking forward to getting to know these dear brothers and sisters better.

So as we minister, please pray that we will be able to keep doctrinal clarity in our preaching and be able to "speak the truth in love" to this very confused people.