Monday, January 08, 2007

The Last Chapter Has Yet to Be Written

Chapter 1

Ismael and his wife, Rosa, worked butchering, cleaning and selling fresh chickens in their smelly, crowded stall at the main market in Tepic. Had it not been for Ismael’s habit of carousing and drinking on weekends with his soccer buddies, their meager income would have been adequate to provide themselves and their 3 small children with basic needs and a few luxuries.

In our first year in Tepic, Kirt and I usually went to town together on market day; while I negotiated prices on fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs, Kirt, with toddler Benji strapped in his backpack, went about sharing tracts, making friends and inviting vendors and shoppers to Bible studies in our home. At first, we were a novelty, and everybody competed for business from “the gringos”; though few would acknowledge their need for what we were “marketing.” At last, one day, Kirt’s sincere, enormous smile, perseverance and the prodding of the Holy Spirit broke through the ice with the “pollero,” Ismael, and he invited the three of us to his humble home for coffee and sweet bread. Within weeks of that visit, the first of many, he and Rosa placed their faith in Jesus’ payment for forgiveness of their sins; and that was the beginning of a continuous battle for them with the inevitable mockery and rejection that ensued from old friends and family members as they pursued their new life as children of God versus the force of darkness that had totally controlled them.

Though they exhibited slow evidence of spiritual growth, we continued weekly Bible studies with them until we returned to the States for our first furlough. When we came back to Tepic the following year, Kirt went straight to the market to look up our old friends, Ismael and Rosa. He was surprised to find Ismael’s brother in charge of the chicken stand, and he could hardly believe his ears when he heard that our friend, Ismael, had been bitten by a rabid dog 6 months prior and was dead within 3 weeks.

Ismael’s brothers absconded with the chicken business and refused to let Rosa work there. With 3 small children to support, she turned to the only option she could imagine, work in a cantina. We called on her repeatedly, but she refused our help, rejected our friendship, and requested that we not pursue our relationship further with her or her children. In time, her job exposed her to the most degrading level of sin, and as a consequence of her work, she was diagnosed with AIDS from which she died several years later, leaving the now-teenaged children, to fend for themselves.

Chapter 2

Karina, one of Ismael and Rosa’s 3 orphaned, teenaged children, met and fell in love with Tino, a young military man. Before long she discovered that she was pregnant, and her grandmother and 2 aunts, who were working illegally in California, sent for her. After her baby was born in the U.S., Karina and baby April returned to Tepic, and to Tino, to resume their tumultuous relationship. Such a disaster was their relationship that Tino was prompted to seek advice from his brother, Martín, who several years prior, as an adolescent, had given his life to Christ (That’s Pastor Martín, now; and that story is a novel’s worth of chapters in itself). Martín brought Karina and Tino to church with him, and both of them asked for forgiveness and gave their hearts to Jesus. They were married and now have two more children, Leonardo and Galilea.

Chapter 3

Tino and Karina, have struggled with their old natures and in their Christian walk, but they have persisted, and God continues to give them victory. They are faithful in bringing their family to church and to AWANA, and “baby” April (now 13 years old), Leonardo (11) and Galilea (8) have hidden much of God’s Word in their hearts.

This year, April (Ismael and Rosa’s granddaughter, whom they never knew) was selected to act the part of the Virgin Mary in our annual Christmas celebration drama. As she sang her solo with her whole heart and crystal-clear voice, “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary's lap is sleeping?...This, this is Christ the King…The King of kings, salvation brings; let loving hearts enthrone Him…” I could not help but reflect on the fitting together of puzzle pieces that has led to April’s dedication of her heart and life to Jesus, her Lord, whose earthly mother she depicted in the play. God writes true stories too sovereignly intertwined for us to imagine, and the last chapter has yet to be written.

Friday, January 05, 2007

November-December 2006

Thank you so much for joining me in prayer for God’s wisdom and provision in every aspect of this ministry. The past 2 months have been filled with way too many activities to report in a short praise and prayer update, but the following are some highlights for our grateful reflection.

The first week in November, the Huichol church at the village of Zapote de Picachos celebrated the 2nd anniversary of the re-building of their church in their government-imposed new location. After “emulating mountain goats” in the trek to the village, we enjoyed fellowship with the believers from Picachos and those who congregated from other villages for the celebration. Along with the well-wishers, one disgruntled outsider waltzed in out of the blue and singled-out several of the “sheep,” including Santiago and Gabriela (new believers visiting from Santa Catarina), offering his teaching services and bad-mouthing the family of churches and leadership represented at the Picachos celebration. Pastor Manuel taught on the importance of "giving everything we have to Christ," not just our hands or feet, or whatever isolated ability we possess. He shared that just as each element in our body must be delivered over to the Lord's service, so must each member of the body of believers be delivered over to the good of the church, as a whole. The “prowling wolf” sincerely repented of his divisive actions. Manuel’s message was confirmation that the machinery of the "church" is based on sound biblical teaching, and the "shepherds" are constantly watching over their "sheep" to protect them from harm. See shots from the Picachos celebration here.

Hugo has stepped up to a position of spiritual leadership in the Tepic church. He saw the need and with fear and trembling, personally offered to accept the responsibility of leading a Saturday night Bible study for adults in my house starting with an overview of the major doctrines of the Bible, so that we may know how “we ought to answer every man” (Col. 4:6). He is learning and applying the real meaning of "searching the scriptures" and consequently experiencing "the wiles of the devil"! He is growing like a weed, and he is a fine teacher.

Aarón, Humberto and José Luis, Jr., exemplary young men who have faithfully passed through the ranks of AWANA clubbers to leaders-in-training, now have accepted the responsibility for team-teaching the junior high class that meets in the classroom under the new structure constructed in September, over the game court at the Tepic church. Please pray that their group of budding young people will follow the example of their teachers in conforming to Christ’s image.

Our annual celebration at the Tepic church the Sunday before Christmas was the most awesome ever! During the grueling weeks of preparation and during the program, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the unity in working together, the creative ideas, the joyful sacrificial service, the lack of conflicts, and the commitment on the part of nearly everybody from the church in the effort. Kirt's dream is being paled by the reality! We stopped passing out tickets to those in attendance for the after-celebration tamale dinner after 220! Check out the included follow-up story, “The Last Chapter Has Yet to Be Written,” and see some digital pictures from the Christmas celebration here.

The best part of the Tepic celebration for me, however, took place the day after. My friend, Elena, “dropped by” after work at 10:30 Monday night. I had told her to come by “anytime”; my house is always open. Her face was swollen from crying, and in desperation she admitted, “I need to pray, but I don’t know how.” She went on to ask, “How can you all (the people from the Tepic church who reached out to our community the night before at the Christmas celebration) be so happy, and how can I be so dreadfully sad?” Elena is an OB/GYN doctor, and her husband is an endocrinologist. Their marriage is a disaster, their 2 teen-aged children are disoriented, overindulged ingrates, and in spite of her dedication to the traditional religion of Mexico, her affluence, and her prestigious position in society, she is miserable. I told her that the prayer God is waiting to hear from her is the confession of her sin, the admission of her powerlessness to save herself, and the invitation of Jesus to come into life and be her Lord and Savior. Two hours later, we bowed our heads, and she experienced the greatest miracle of all, her birth into the family of God.

Telésforo Diaz was among the thirty-six Huichols who received Christ when José Lopez shared the “Good News” on his first missionary visit to the village, Guásima del Caimán, in October of 2005. He was also among those from his village who made the long journey on foot to Zapote de Picachos to participate in the Easter week baptisms in April of this year. Telésforo made his last earthly journey as he stepped into the arms of his Savior the week before Christmas. He was respected by Huichols throughout the mountains, and many, including the village shaman, Julio, who has made life miserable for the new believers of the village, came to his funeral service led by Pastor Manuel. They were impacted by his words that, “Some of you who loved Telésforo will never see him again, but those of us who have placed our faith in the Word of the one, true God, certainly will.”

Many Huichols congregated in the village of Codorniz to celebrate Christmas this year. In spite of freezing cold weather, 16 new believers followed Jesus example and were baptized in the river near the village. See some shots from the Codorniz Christmas celebration here.

In June, when I began asking for prayer that we would be able to complete the recording of the Huichol New Testament and that God would provide the resources necessary to purchase and distribute Mp3 MegaVoice Ambassadors in the Huichol villages throughout the mountains, I never imagined myself exclaiming along with the sanctuary workmen who reported to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make” Exodus 36:5. Thank you for praying and giving willingly, so willingly that like Moses, I have to impose a restraint on future contributions to this project! God has miraculously provided all we need to make the final payment for the 1000 players, and we expect to have them in hand to begin distribution by the end of January!

I am grateful for the opportunity God has given me to participate in His work. Thank you for your part in making it all possible.

All because of Jesus,

Debbie Mellberg

Quick Reference Version of November-December Prayer Requests:

1. Huichol leadership – wisdom in shepherding the extensive flock throughout the Sierra Madre Mountains
2. Hugo and Aarón, Humberto, & José Luis – wisdom in teaching/leading new Bible studies in Tepic
3. Dr. Elena and family
4. Salvation forJulio – shaman in Guásima del Caimán
5. Distribution of MegaVoice Ambassador Mp3 players to Huichol communities
6. Huichol Old Testament Translation Project beginning January 29
7. Kirt Mellberg Memorial Scholarship