Well, our time of training in Mexico is completed. Abby and I are back in the States, visiting family in South Carolina and Georgia. Looking back over this past year and everything the Lord has done in our lives since January, we expect it will take some time for us to fully process everything we've learned. But we would like to take some time to write down a few of those lessons and share them with all of you who have supported us, followed us, and prayed for us.
Some lessons we learned in Mexico:
1. God's plans are not the same as our plans, but His are better.
2. God always provides for His children, even above and beyond.
3. We take so many things for granted here in the USA.
4. God's work will always be accomplished
5. We answer to God alone for what we do with our lives.
6. God does everything in His own perfect timing.
1. God had a much different plan for us than we had for ourselves when we moved to Mexico in January.We expected to be going to a missions training school in the Yucatan to live and work with American missionaries while we would study Spanish, help in the ministry, and assist visiting groups from the States. What God had planned was much different. It's no news to anyone that Mexico has had an explosion of problems in the past couple of years. Between the swine flu scare, the violence of drug cartels, and the US economic recession, activity at the mission has dwindled. We never took any formal Spanish classes. We did assist with a few groups, I believe three over the 9 months. During most of our time, we were the only Americans at the mission. In essence, our plans never happened.
But God's plan for us was so much better. The first Sunday we were there, we went to church with the Mexican couple we lived and worked most directly with. Iglesia Bautista Cristo Te Ama is the place that the Lord was sending us for our training. These people were incredible. The church was begun, continued, and fully funded by nationals. Pastor Martin started the church 9 years ago, discipled the first believers, raised up the church leadership, and is now sending out missionaries from their congregation to other parts of Mexico to continue reaching the unreached areas of the country. We got plugged in immediately with this church, helping out in the praise team, preaching one Sunday, translating the sermon for an American group that visited us, working with the children during VBS, teaching in a village discipleship program every Saturday, attending midweek Bible study, going on a church missions trip to central Mexico, and playing on the church soccer team.
The church people were such a blessing to us! They were very patient with us, as we would sit around talking with them, asking questions, and trying to learn Spanish. They gave us opportunities to minister and they ministered to us in the meantime. They invited us to their homes for dinner. They let us work with their children and lead songs and teach Bible lessons. We did get the training that we needed; it just didn't come like we were expecting it. God's plans were not our plans, but His were much better.
- "God will insure my success in accordance with His plan, not mine." - Francis Chan, Crazy Love
2. A second lesson that we learned, or rather re-learned, was that God always provides for our needs. As anyone who has ever lived on financial support will tell you, it can be difficult at times. Each month your income is different - sometimes it is higher than normal, sometimes lower. Obviously, it is not difficult in a month where you receive a higher check, but you must still live as frugally as possible in case the next month is lower. It requires faith and then stretches that faith farther than you thought it could be stretched. At times, I battled the thought that I was not being a responsible husband. I thought, "It's one thing to live like this by myself, but now I'm supposed to be providing for my wife." But God was always faithful to us. We always had our needs met.
In addition, we had excess at times. And the Lord taught how we are to be channels through which He can work and provide for others. In months where we had more than we needed, we would try to discern if the extra was for us to save for a coming low month or for us to pass on and meet needs for somebody else. We learned and can testify to what the Bible says: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Our slogan became, "You can never give too much." It was such a joy to be able to give much more than we would have thought possible, living as missionaries. For example, when Cristo Te Ama planned the missions trip to central Mexico, Pastor Martin encouraged people to sign up for the trip even if they weren't sure they would be able to afford the average cost of $80 per person. So through the support of our friends in the States, we were able to give an extra portion of the money needed for the trip, allowing people to go who wouldn't have been able to afford it otherwise. We learned that God always provides for His children, even more than we need.
3. Life's difficulties showed us how much we take for granted here in the USA. This is probably not a surprise, certainly not to anyone who has ever been on a foreign missions trip. I would say this is the number one thing I hear from people after returning from a foreign country: "I never realized how good we have it in America." To be clear, I am speaking of purely financial and material things. I have come to believe that, in most cases, believers in other countries have a much better spiritual life than we do in America. There are some things you just can't learn without going through hardship and spiritual persecution. We don't have that advantage here in the USA. But speaking in physical terms, life in America is unbelievably easier to live. Our degree of wealth and comfort is truly unimaginable to most Mexicans. The conveniences that we don't even think of are not enjoyed by most of the world.
A month or so ago, Abby wrote a very detailed and humorous account of some of the little things we so often took for granted. Instead of rewriting all of that, I'll just post the link to her blog so you can all read it for yourselves. http://abbymtstclair.blogspot.com/2010/08/day-in-life.html This was the third lesson we learned: We take much for granted here in the States.
4. The fourth lesson we learned was really just seeing firsthand what we already knew to be true. That is that God is sovereign. He is in control of everything that takes place in this world and He orchestrates it all together - the evil and the good - to accomplish His predetermined plan of redeeming a bride for His Son from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation in the world. The Bible teaches that clearly. But I think sometimes, when it comes to missions, we tend to think or operate as if the cause of global missions is doomed to failure without the involvement of the United States, our great "Christian" nation. We think our finances are the only hope of supporting the world's missionaries. We think our influence and training are the only method capable of raising up native pastors, missionaries, and churches. This belief is untrue. God does not need us Americans; He will accomplish His will. What we do have, more than any other nation, is the capability of surrendering our finances, our time, and our resources to be involved in God's purposes which He is accomplishing around the world.
We learned this lesson through the life of a man named, Jorge Patron Flores. Jorge was one of the church leaders, though not a deacon or pastor. He led the music with the praise team. He had taught the youth group at one point. He worked as a taxi driver for several years before he became a Christian. Shortly thereafter, he felt he could no longer work in that lucrative job, because of the rampant drug use and immorality by the many tourists and vacationers he would drive around town. So he got another job working nearly 50 hours a week as a groundskeeper of a golf course for a minimal salary. He was constantly sacrificial with his time, going to the village discipleship every Saturday in spite of his exhausting work schedule. He always maintained a joyful spirit and a true desire to serve the Lord. Soon after we began to serve alongside him in the church, Jorge told me that he and his wife felt that the Lord wanted them to serve in full-time ministry sometime in the future. He didn't know whether that would be as a missionary or a pastor or church planter, but told me that both of their hearts were ready to serve the Lord as their career.
In July, both Jorge and his wife Celene went on the missions trip to Campo Mazahua in the central state of Mexico. During that trip, the Lord used Jorge in a special way to help spread the gospel to the nearby towns, disciple one of the believers in the church, and lead several young people to salvation in Christ. As we prepared to leave and go back home, Jorge shared with our whole church group that he never knew the Lord would use him in such a special way. The church there was without a pastor and people were praying as we left that the Lord would raise up a pastor for them. The Saturday after we got back, Jorge shared with me that he and Celene believed the Lord was leading them to go back to Mazahua as missionaries. He told Pastor Martin who heartily agreed. Pastor had told me months before, "I really like that guy. He is a good Christian. I believe God has a big plan for him." So Jorge and Celene are now in the process of planning and preparing to pack up their lives and move to another part of the country to serve the Lord in missions.
America had nothing to do with God's call on Pastor Martin. The U.S. didn't fund the planting of Cristo Te Ama. America didn't take the gospel to Jorge Patron. We Americans didn't commission Jorge to leave for Mazahua. This is how we saw in life what Jesus said: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." We saw that God doesn't need us. He will do His work and accomplish His plans through somebody. And we can make ourselves available to be that somebody!
5. Fifthly, we learned that we answer to God for our lives. This is both a comfort and a challenge at times. The comfort is that this leaves us alone before God as a family to prayerfully decide what we believe the Lord wants from our lives. It requires much prayer and patience, along with a genuine willingness to do anything He leads us to do. But it is also a challenge because the people around you won't always see things the same way you do. There have been some people around us who thought we were crazy to leave our home country and go to a place where we could be in much greater danger of physical harm, much less discomfort. Others questioned where we should go on the mission field, whom we should work with, and how we should minister.
This lesson, I had seen played out in my own parents' lives. There will always be naysayers and it is not our job to defend our reputation or be overly concerned about what people think of us. As Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10, "Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Each one of us will answer to God one day for the way we lived our lives and how we followed His direction to us. We are answerable directly to Him for our lives.
6. Finally, we learned that God's timing is not our timing. If any of you read our initial blog entries or our support letter, you'll remember that our plan was to spend almost a year in Mexico for missions training and then go on to wherever the Lord wants us full-time. Well, here we are at the end of that time, and we are still waiting for the Lord to make clear His plans for us. Throughout the year, the Lord has presented us with different ministry possibilities for our future. With each one, we have prayed through it and then fully pursued, until we felt that the Lord was closing that door. Right now, there are a couple more open doors that we are praying about and pursuing, trusting still that the Lord will lead us into the right one.
In all of our lives, God lead us one step at a time. There is a reason the Lord says that His word is a "lamp" unto our feet, not a "floodlight" unto our path. As we take every step that the lamp illumines, the light shines another step further. Someone has said that God is never in a hurry, but He is always on time. We know that will be true in our lives as well.
We want to conclude with a big "Thank You" to all of you who have supported us financially, upheld us in prayer, and kept up with us through our time in Mexico. You have enabled us to serve the Lord this year and to learn and grow into who He wants us to be. We pray that the Lord will bless each of you in your lives and repay and reward you for being such a blessing to us. We love you all and will share more of our lives as soon as we are able. Stay faithful to Jesus!
- Jonathan & Abby