Friday, September 01, 2017

July/August 2017 Connections and Destination

July/August 2017
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. John 10:27–28

The life of every believer is a journey for which God has designed a unique and sovereign purpose. Regardless the means of transport, the itinerary, and unexpected layovers, making the right connection on this most important trip determines secure arrival at the destination.

This “travel business” has been obvious during the past two months in Tepic. More than two years ago, a Mexican missionary friend who works on the Manawan reserve with the Attikamekw people of Canada observed the passion and excellence with which the young people from IBBM Tepic minister annually in the Huichol indigenous youth camp. He proposed that they prepare themselves to carry out a similar activity with the Attikamekw near Quebec. David, Jonatán, Luis, and Josué took the challenge and began preparing and making appropriate connections to be the first ever foreign missionary team sent out from IBBM Tepic. They kept foremost in mind the concept that if a “sower goes out to sow” he must first have the seed in hand. They went about preparing the seed, taking French classes, translating verses and music, and raising finances for such an expensive and demanding mission project. 
They made and sold frozen treats, took over the church custodial work, played their musical instruments for hire everywhere they were invited that didn’t conflict with church activities, taught classes -- anything they could think of to earn the money for trip expenses and the OANSA equipment they donated to the little Attikamekw church so they could begin their own children’s Bible club. Offerings the team didn’t expect came in to help offset expenses. A friend, who loves them, underwrote the cost of their flights from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Montreal. Another paid the fee for their grueling and time-consuming US visa interviews ($160 US each). Since the flight to Montreal had a layover in Houston, they would be landing on US soil, so they were forced to be approved and pay for expensive US visas. It’s a miracle in itself that 4 single, formally unemployed young men were individually granted US visas! From the moment they landed in Guadalajara, the travel was a disaster. One team member discovered that despite scrupulous preparation, he had left his expense money back home four hours away! 
That resolved, they boarded the flight from Guadalajara to Houston where they were obligated to deplane and pass through US Customs. The lines were enormous as the Immigration computer system was down. The very generous 3 hours they had allowed for Customs, Immigration and re-boarding the flight to Montreal where they would meet their hosts ran out, and they missed the connection. They were re-routed and finally ended up in Montreal well after midnight, 3 hours from Quebec…without their luggage. Determined to continue their calling with “Brave Hearts,” at long last they made it to their destination. Their efforts paid off with 10 days of hard work, faithful service, and a mission well-accomplished. They made the right connections; they arrived securely at their destination. 

Sofía, Pastor Martín’s mother, is a well-worn traveler who has had innumerable layovers and obstacles on her life’s journey. She was born in a remote mountain village in Oaxaca. Her father abandoned his family leaving her mother and siblings penniless. They worked hard in the fields barely eking out enough to eat. Sofía was unable to study beyond 2nd grade. Her mother sent her off to work as a maid in Mexico City where she was severely mistreated. She met Fidencio, escaped with him when she was 15, and they were married. There were lots of unimaginable twists and turns in their journey before they were sent by the military to Tepic the year Kirt and I landed here, 1977. Shortly thereafter is when we met their young son, Martín. That’s altogether another journey. Martín chose to believe in Jesus as His Savior, but his family remained devoted to tradition and rejected the Gospel, and him, and us for sure. For years, Sofía resented us, refusing to listen. Then came the day, only by God’s grace; she heard, repented, and placed her faith in Him alone. She made the connection by faith, now her imperishable destination is eternal life. A year ago, Sofía signed up to study a basic one-on-one discipleship course with me (How ironic!). It’s only 16 lessons, but it took us a year as she struggled with reading, writing and memorizing Bible texts. 
We celebrated her discipline, passion, and perseverance to learn with a “graduation” breakfast at a rustic, ranch-style restaurant. Every time we got together to study, we prayed together, begging God to move in her husband and Martin’s father’s heart, that Fidencio also might make the “connection” that leads to eternal life. We determined that her graduation celebration would be an intentional exercise in discipleship, inviting Fidencio to join us, and putting into practice specifically sharing the Gospel and inviting him to believe. He heard and agreed that his faith is placed in something other than Jesus, but like Agrippa, though persuaded, he still rejects the connection destined to eternal life. Please pray with Sofía and me that Fidencio will hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.

Jesus is the one-and-only connection whose destination is eternal life. Getting to heaven is not up to us, but making the choice to connect by faith and follow the Shepherd is.

I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

May/June 2017 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52

May/June 2017
And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. Luke 2:52
It’s no secret that God instituted the family as He did for a reason.  He repeatedly makes it clear to parents that kids should learn basic life-skills in the family setting. Jesus, as a child and a young man, set the example (as usual) as He grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially. Having kids is not so hard; raising and preparing kids is.
The importance of this responsibility has been more-than-obvious recently, both in my immediate family and in the Tepic church family. I got to take a quick, unexpected trip to Phoenix this last week to welcome the latest Mellberg grandbaby to the family (That’s 11 grandkids in 11 years!). Remie Grace was born 11 days past due date. How nice of her to be so accommodating to wait until Grandma from Mexico could join the family for the happy event, and how nice of her to combine her appearance with Father’s Day, so I could also celebrate my own daddy’s 64th year as my dad. I pray that Tim and Heidi will show Remie Grace how to grow in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man as my daddy (and mom) have with my siblings and me. It’s not easy.
Not only has the need for and value of training children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord in the immediate family been evident lately, but also the discipline and instruction of the Lord are important in the church family. Three children (now young adults) from the Tepic church (IBBM-Tepic), whose very first pictures Kirt and I took on the days of their birth, are graduating with high honors from both, high school, and also from the 11-year course at the Tepic School of Music. All three, Caleb, Shadai, and Érika, accepted the challenge early on and have excelled in mastering an instrument for the purpose of using it for God’s glory.
Caleb is Pastor Nacho and Lorena’s son. He has grown up, following Jesus’ example. Caleb just passed a very selective entrance exam for a major in Electronic and Communication Engineering. In addition to his constant participation in youth activities and being a very effective OANSA group leader and teacher, Caleb plays his saxophone with the IBBM worship team every week. The major collaboration it took to get Caleb his very first sax is a graphic reminder that every success story has a beginning, nothing happens well without consistent teamwork, and God is faithful to the end. Here’s Caleb the day he got his very first sax. And here is a sample from yesterday’s 40-minute final sax recital.

Soon after Hugo and Imelda believed and became members of God’s family, they made the choice that they would train their children in His way. They also have discovered that that commitment is not easy.
 Their daughters have grown in wisdom and stature, learning by example to esteem their Creator and love others as themselves. Shadai will be studying biochemical engineering next year and she has mastered violin. She graduated from the School of Music yesterday. Here’s a short excerpt from her 40-minute final recital.  
Both sisters are Sunday school and OANSA leaders and teachers and members of the worship team.  God has blessed Shadai with a cheerful, compassionate spirit, many creative ideas, and lots of friends with whom she shares her faith freely. Her motivation is not a strategy; it’s a loving, humble Jesus, Who came to serve and to offer everlasting life. It’s a driving force that comes from the inside out, from a heart that is changed by the Lord Jesus and serves by following His example.  

While they were in college, Érika’s parents, Sebastián and Ely, began attending the Bible study that served as the springboard for the Tepic church. They were convinced of their need for forgiveness, and they invited Him to be their Savior. They loved the small group, but when that grew into a “church,” they struggled with family roots and tradition.

After Ely had several miscarriages, little Érika was born. When she got old enough to attend the Tepic church OANSA club, they couldn’t keep her away, and she began to hide God’s Word in her heart. She learned that her sin had separated her from God, but He loved her so much that He sent Jesus to die in her place. She asked Jesus to forgive her for her sins and to save her. In the OANSA summer camp, she committed to following Jesus and being baptized; her parents followed His, and her, example. They have faithfully trained Érika in His way, and she is a delightful OANSA leader, teacher, and an excellent musician. She graduated both high school and from the School of Music with honors and will be studying chemical engineering next semester.  Here’s a short excerpt from her 40-minute final violin recital.

The lives of these kids who have grown like Jesus in wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man are way different than they would have been had their parents never heard about their need for a Savior. And even though none of their parents were raised according to biblical standards, that didn’t keep them from breaking away from old patterns and following God’s plan for families. Not everyone who has been given the opportunity has persisted in growing like Jesus, but those who have are receiving a great reward for their investment that they, and we, will not regret.

Monday, May 01, 2017

March/April 2017 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. Joshua 1:9

Huichol Camp 2017 - Brave Heart (Joshua)

Brave Heart
March/April 2017

Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.  Joshua 1:9
These were marching orders for Joshua, the “Brave Heart” protagonist for the IBBM-Tepic 6th annual Huichol youth camp last week. Joshua’s divine call to courage included: a clear task to perform, an imperative to be firm and faithful, an exhortation to depend solely on God’s Word, and a conditional promise of God’s presence and ultimate victory if he and his congregation would trust and obey. Likewise, the triumphs God provides today should come as no surprise when the marching orders have been faithfully obeyed by His followers.

The young people from the Tepic Church who generously sacrificed their spring break to serve with their whole hearts, the adult leaders who helped direct and administer the humanly-overwhelming logistics, the Huichol pastors and teachers who diligently studied and prepared the teaching times, the Huichol kitchen helpers who cheerfully contributed around 3,000 platefuls of savory nourishment, the team of big-hearted sponsors, and the Huichol young people who came to camp this year from nearly a dozen remote mountain villages all learned first-hand that, “Truly winning life’s battles is for committed and persevering Brave Hearts!” and the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.   

By the way, if you’re following these bi-monthly prayer updates, this pictured camp teacher is “baby Salomón,” Emilia’s brother, from the Jan/Feb2017 episode
Faithfulness and obedience to God’s marching orders does not always bring about immediate victory, but the victory will be sure as promised. In May of 2004, Kirt sent out a prayer update highlighting and asking prayer for an open door for the Gospel in the remote Huichol village of Codorniz. He told the heart-wrenching story of a couple named Nicéforo and Zenaida and their little baby, Dieguito.  (*An excerpt from that prayer update from 13 years ago follows.) The marching orders were clearly given. The follow-up has been focused and determined. God’s Word and the spreading and teaching of it has been and is still a priority. The Lord God loves and has been with this army of “Brave Hearts” as He has promised, and the victory is at hand. Diego is now a teenager; for the first time, he’s eligible to attend the Huichol youth camp. His village church at Codorniz, only a dream 13 years ago, now has its own pastor, five Theological Education by Extension students, and they sent eight campers this year. Diego still suffers some from his birth defect, but he knows undoubtedly that God’s Word teaches him to be strong, courageous, not to be frightened or dismayed, for Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

The Huichol youth camp is over, but the Brave Heart celebrations never end. A day after camp, the village church of Loma Alta hosted a Resurrection celebration. Seven brand new believers from the baby church in the village of El Espejo followed their Savior in baptism. A few months ago, María was deathly ill. The gangrenous infection in her foot had begun to spread rapidly, and her body was so swollen she could not move. Her family had sacrificed much to pay off the local shaman for healing, but to no avail. Finally, her husband, Ascensión, and their daughter, Eulalia, decided to transport her to Tepic to the General Hospital. A month prior, Pastor Tino and a little band of missionaries from Loma Alta had traveled to El Espejo to share the Gospel. Most of the villagers rejected, including Ascensión, but Eulalia and her mother believed. When María was hospitalized, her daughter called Pastor Tino and asked him to come from his village to pray for them. Tino, Daniel and Casimiro went quickly, and Ascensión was furious. He left for his village, 13 hours from Tepic, expecting never again to see his wife, Maria, alive. The missionaries prayed for María, placing their faith in the one-and-only Healer. Shortly after, her toe had to be amputated, but the infection was stopped, and she was able to return to her village. Ascensión sent for Pastor Tino, now convinced of his need to believe only in the one, true Kakaɨyari. UIM-Aviation pilots gave Tino, María and Lidia a lift to Tutuyecuamama, an airstrip 2 ½ hours’ hike from El Espejo, and the little band of missionaries, again, carried the Way, the Truth and the Life to the villagers. Ascensión gave his heart to his Savior, and he and his family committed themselves to travel to Loma Alta to be baptized on Resurrection weekend
There were so many Huichol believers in Loma Alta for the celebration, it was almost impossible to get a picture of Ascensión and his family members as they were being baptized. But the very best shots were of those faithful, Brave Heart missionaries who could hardly stop crying as they welcomed the new believers into the family. 

Pastor Tino
Along with that exemplary Brave Heart, Joshua, may we determine to the end to be faithful and obedient to the clearly assigned task (outrageous as it may seem), solely dependent and focused on the promise and presence of the One Who opens the doors (irrational as that may sound), and peacefully expectant of the provision of victory in the conquest (made possible only by the supernatural power of the Lord our God who goes before).

Choosing with courage this day Whom we will serve… “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”     Joshua 24:15

*Nicéforo, Zenaida and Dieguito
May 10, 2004
This past February, three very faithful Huichol leaders landed in a small, chartered bush plane on a rugged, dirt air patch just beyond the border of our state, Nayarit. The object of their journey was to teach a first-level discipleship series to a small group of believers in the little village called Codorniz, located eight-hours’ hike from the air strip. Our prayers have been to reach out to more villages like this one.  When a pastor friend from Oregon made a visit with us last year, we stood in the remote village of Zapote de Picachos at the summit of a high mountain and looked off to the regions beyond where the Huichol pastors pointed out the places to which they wanted to carry the Gospel. We asked the question, “How would you get there?” They told us of a costly, but feasible plan to fly small teams in by bush planes. My friend said, “We want to sponsor the next few trips to those areas.” So it was. Now two trips have been made, and we are preparing a group for a third trip in June.
On this last trip, a very special thing happened in the village of Codorniz. A young couple indicated that they too, wanted to follow Christ. The young man, Nicéforo, and his wife, Zenaida, had recently had their first baby. Dieguito was born with a severe cleft lip and palate. The local, Huichol shaman told them that the baby had been cursed because Zenaida’s father is a believer. He warned them not to follow her father’s way in Codorniz.
Debbie and I met the family last month in the village of Salvador Allende where believers from several mountain villages came together for a joyous celebration of the Resurrection. Nicéforo and Zenaida believe that Jesus is the only Savior from their sinful condition, and they followed His example and were baptized. When we saw their little baby, who is now almost six months old and only weighs about eight pounds because he cannot eat properly due to his deformity, I offered to accompany them to the hospital in Tepic. We did not know it at the time, but they had made the exhausting, expensive trip to Tepic three times in failed attempts to get help for their baby. We agreed a week ago last Monday to meet at the General Hospital at 9:00 AM. When I arrived at the hospital, Nicéforo and Zenaida were sitting outside on the front steps of the hospital looking very sad. They told me in their halting Spanish, “They have rejected us again… this is the fourth time in four months.  They told us to ‘come back next month.’” No way! I told them to follow me, and we walked straight to the hospital director’s office. I had met him on a previous occasion by phone and was determined to get into his office. His secretaries did everything they could to dissuade me, but I took baby Dieguito from his mother’s arms, and pulled the blanket off his face and body. “This little baby cannot eat! He is the size of a newborn! Imagine if he were your baby!” The ruckus was a little intense, and within minutes the director of the hospital came out to see what was going on... Before long, we were directed to a pediatric surgeon who examined the baby and ordered, “I want this baby admitted today, and I will personally do the surgery at 8:00 AM tomorrow.”  
Nicéforo and Zenaida will be going back to Codorniz with their healthy, beautiful baby Dieguito in about ten days. Imagine the impact on a people who were told that they were cursed… because of their faith in Jesus. Please pray for them and for all the new opportunities that will arise because of those who were willing to go… and those who were willing to send.  Thank you for your participation.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

January/February 2017 - Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony…They said to the woman, “…we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.

January/February 2017            
Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony…They said to the woman, “…we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:39, 42)
Jesus cared about the unbelieving Samaritans even though He was Jewish and Samaritans didn’t like Jews. Jesus shared with one needy Samaritan woman who believed, and He sent her back to her village to share with her people the Truth that had set her free. The Truth she shared set them free, too.
That’s how God’s plan works. Emilia knows that well. She celebrated her 32nd birthday, Friday, giving of herself to the Huichol village of Guamuchilillo. That’s not quite like showing up at Starbuck’s and ordering an on-the-house Venti Chai Latte with extra whip in your honor. Emilia’s birthday trip to Guamuchilillo started the day before with a trek from her village to the river, hopping on the first launch that happens to come by to take her downriver to the Agua Milpa reservoir, then catching a rural transport on to Tepic. 

She rounded up a large pack full of supplies including pan dulce (sweet bread) to share with her friends, and she made copies of Bible lessons she had prepared to share with them and the village kids for the next 2-3 weeks. Emilia spent the night at my house, then she caught a pre-dawn ride to the airport on the outskirts of town where our willing UIM-Aviation friends loaded Emilia and her supplies into their Cessna. Her 30-minute flight to the airstrip at Tierra Blanca (TB) saves many hours of riding a rural transport then hiking through the mountains. 

The UIM-A crew had already arranged flights to pick up the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) teachers who just spent this past week teaching students in a couple of other mountain villages. They made the trade-off at TB (the shortest and scariest, most uninviting airstrip ever with constant, crazy, random air currents) dropping off Emilia and picking up teachers, Zacarías and José Luis, for the return to their village, La Bendición. From TB, Emilia hiked with her heavy load still another 4 hours deeper into the Sierra Madre. Emilia thrives on sharing the Truth that has set her free with the villagers of Guamuchilillo, and she joyfully makes the sacrifices necessary for the privilege. 
When a friend asked her, “Why does a single lady like you do all this stuff?” “God’s Word tells me to,” she replied without missing a beat.

Emilia graduated with the very first group of Theological Education by Extension (TEE) students after 5 years of studies. She is a faithful and diligent student and teacher.

Emilia is also a vital member of the team of mother-tongue-translators (MTT) working to finish up the assignment of converting the Old Testament into the heart-language of her people.  The task was once humanly impossible, but we expect the job will be complete by the end of 2018. Each MTT left the 34th 2-week workshop last week with the completed version of 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Samuel, Amos and Ecclesiastes in hand. Emilia really liked Amos 8:11: Days are coming—affirms the all-powerful Lord—in which I will send hunger to the land; it won't be hunger for bread or thirst for water, but hunger to hear the words of the Lord. And she asserts: “In Ezekiel 3:1-10, I learned that God told the prophet first to eat the scroll that He was going to give him, and afterwards he was to speak to the Israelites. He obeyed and was satisfied; it was sweet like honey. Likewise, I will read the word of God until I’m satisfied, then I’ll share it with others who need it.”
So, what convinced Emilia and her family in their remote mountain village of their need for the Savior? More than 35 years ago, José López heard and believed the Truth, Way and Life and was set free, indeed. Just like the Samaritan, he couldn’t wait to share the Good News and his changed life with others like him who had never heard and believed. On one of José’s many mission trips hiking through the Sierra Madre, he stopped off in the remote mountain village where Emilia’s parents lived. The villagers soundly rejected the Gospel, and José continued on his way. A few months later, Emilia’s older brother, Salomón, became very ill. The family spent everything they had getting “help” from the local shamans and appeasing their powerless gods, but Salomón was dying. Emilia’s father, Faustino, desperately set out on foot with the baby and his mother, trekking through the mountains in search of José with the hope that Jose’s “God” might save their son. They found José; José brought them to Tepic, we got Salomón to the hospital, and he lived. His parents returned to José’s village convinced that Jesus alone, is mighty to save. Weeks later, they returned to their own village, healed of their own deadly condition, and they shared their new-found faith. Emilia was born the following year. She has heard the Gospel since she was born, and she, personally, gave her life to Christ as a young teenager.
What if José had never heard?  What if José had never shared? What if Emilia had never heard? Just like the villagers of Samaria, the people of Guamuchilillo have found someone “like them” whom they know and trust, and who, regardless of the cost, has taken it upon herself to share what it is that has changed her and motivates her to make such sacrifices -- the greatest love and power in the universe, that of Jesus Christ the Savior. How blessed we are to be able to participate with Emilia and her friends. May we follow her example in our own villages.

They said to the woman, “…we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42)