Being a pastor in a culture that is not yours, sometimes can be difficult especially when the majority of the people who come to church have a Mexican catholic church background. We are confronted by the high price of leaving the catholic church by the extended family members. I don’t know what this means to have family who criticize you for leaving family traditions behind. This weekend we attended a first communion/birthday party for a 10 year old girl who has been coming with her family to our church over the past year. The mom asked us what she should do when her “unbelieving” husband wants to have their daughter take part in the tradition of taking first communion. This is an area where we can’t demand or expect every family to leave behind after leaving the catholic church. She decided to go ahead and do the communion per the dad’s request. In the days leading up to the celebration, the mom shared with us that this was a good thing for the family because they were studying the scriptures together and finding out what it actually says about taking communion. What would you say to that? A believing mom taking a religious tradition of the family and using it to teach her three kids about what Jesus said and why we take communion. This was clearly an opportunity for this family to really find out what they believe and what they don’t believe. As I sat at a table of people who attend La Roca church (who also came to the party), I thought to myself, all of these people here at this party are beginning to see a difference in this family and are watching to see what will happen next. There was no alcohol served which they would normally do. A birthday party with no free beer, that is unheard of. Both the mom and dad have families that are watching the transformations of their lives. The family of the husband continues to invite us to family events. They have all said they see Alejandro (even though he says he is not a Christian) is changing from a workaholic to focusing on what is best for his family. His mom continues to say that one day she is going to come to our weekly bible study. When that day comes, which Lord willing, will be very soon, I am going to be very excited about this. Not that our bible study is coming to salvation in Jesus, but this is a huge step for someone to get out of their comfort zone and attend a “Christian” bible study. Remember in their mindset they view Christians as a cult and all we want them to do is leave the catholic church. That is not our goal. Our goal is to bring people to a personal relationship with Jesus and study the word for themselves. With this family, maybe I would not have participated in a catholic tradition that believes they are actually eating the body and blood of Jesus but through this event God is being glorified in bringing families to himself. Ana has stated that she can’t go back now. She knows Jesus. She has the truth, even when it is hard to face the difficulties of having unsaved family members.
In May, our three bible school students gradated from our missions bible institute which is located outside of Tijana in Tecate, Mexico. When we became part of the mission 9 years ago, we didn't cross over the border because we didn't have passports for them yet. So we never saw the bible institute that trains people to be in ministry to be pastors, children's leaders, teachers, and missionaries. So I (Andy) made a trip to the border to see where it was that we had sent three young people and to celebrate the next stages of life for them. With much excitement, I brought with me German. If you have followed our ministry at all, he is a young guy that we have loved for many years. The short story of his life is his mom had an affair with a man down the street. Her husband said "me or the baby". She chose her husband and left the baby in the care of her mother. German's biological father wants nothing to do with him. He has lived 20 years of his life being unloved and rejected. He had never been on a plane before. After the trip he is now talking about the possibility of studying at the bible institute.
We arrived at the BI on Thursday two days before the graduation. For some reason, I thought it was bigger and more students. There were only 5 4-year graduates and 3 1-3 year gradates. There are only 30 students altogether. The five graduates are all connected to Autlan, three being students we had sent, one of the others is now married to one of the students, and the other is a boyfriend to a member of La Roca church. It was an honor to see these young people finish what God had brought them to do. Now we get to watch and see where God will lead them.
Barbara and Charlie are moving to Autlan in July with their new born baby boy name Franco. We eagerly await their coming. We will be partnering with them in ministry. One of their main focuses will be opening a Christian primary school in the coming year. This is a huge project and vision.
Chavo is now working in Tecate looking to get married in a year or so. He is working for a church doing construction and leading bible studies. After talking with him about the coming years, he expressed a desire to come to Jalisco and do ministry maybe start a church plant some where near Autlan. After years of working near the border of the US and Mexico, he said he sees the need for healthy bible believing churches.
Vicente is not sure what he is going to do. He is in Argentina for next 4 months to work with Jews there. The ministry he has gone with paid for everything. After his trip he is looking to go back to school. He has expressed a desire to work with Muslims in a middle-eastern country.
Now we have at least three other young people who are interested in studying at the bible institute. I have to state that we have never even suggested this to anyone. The only thing we have done is provided information to anyone who asks us for information. What I think has happened and is happening is that there is a sense of how much darkness there is all around us and the need to be equipped to share the faith. When you see a border town like Tecate having over 150 different Christian churches and Autlan has only maybe 15, you can see the contrast. Our prayer request is that God would bring the harvest of new believers and raise up solid and faithful workers in the mission field.
Some times in life, you have to purposely stop for a moment. In the midst of so many different things happening all the time it is hard to stop. Four months since I last was on here?? How is that possible? I can only look at the things that have happen in that time. We decided not to go home this year during the summer. Instead we used it as an opportunity to go and visit somewhere, where we would not normally go. We went to Salem, OR. It was our first trip to the west coast. We have been to California once or twice but that is it. We have a supporting church in West Salem that has invited us to come for a number of years. With us not going home this was a great opportunity to do so. We went for 2 weeks. It was a truly blessed time. We were able to visit with a number of people who had come to Autlan at one time or another. This church has brought teams down for many years. We were amazed at how many people had come down. We shared our ministry and gave testimonies of what God is doing here in our town. One of the highlights of our trip, we were able to do just that with two different Sunday school classes. We were invited to various homes to share in meals together. It reminds me of the early days of the church where they went home-to-home and ate together. We were blessed to be in so many homes.
During our time we also met with Rick and Jo'ell Bruggeman. They lived in Autlan for 8 years and were apart of our social life. Due to Jo'ell having cancer, they are have now transitioned from Mexico back to Salem. We were truly blessed to spend time with them seeing some of the sites of Oregon, as well as have a time of prayer for difficult days ahead in their home. They continue to be on our hearts.
Also with our time there, we had a chance to meet up with another couple named Sigi and Jennifer Montes. They had lived in town near Autlan for almost 3 years. They were a huge blessing to Jessie and I, when I first became the pastor at La Roca church. Sigi begin bi-lingual often encouraged me in my Spanish and helped me find the words to say in my limited vocabulary in the early days of preaching. I will never forget them, for one reason is that Sigi was the first person I baptized. Growing up, I never imagined I would ever get to be a part of baptisms. That day is still fresh in my mind, even all these years later. Sigi and Jenn have since moved back to California and are raising their 4 kids in the ways of the Lord. Getting a chance to catch up with them and hear about how they are fighting the good fight of faith in their family was an encouragement to our faith.
With meeting new people there in Salem, we left feeling loved and blessed by the hospitality of so many at West Salem Community Church. We look forward to when their team comes down at the beginning of August. It feels deeper now, knowing the church that is behind them sending them down to work with us and encourage the ministry that goes on down here.
I will leave it at that until tomorrow.