Monday, June 18, 2018

On The Road Again...

Though the song doesn't reflect our sentiment ("I just can't wait to get on the road again..."), it sure has reflected the last two weeks! Four of us, all staff of CEC, hit the road exactly two weeks ago, on the road heading for Cuernavaca, Morelos, just south of Mexico City, where three will be dropped off at their home. On the way we are taking our time, visiting past CEC students, and making new connections for the school, in search of prospective students. We've come across 8 students so far ranging from having studied in 2011 to this current school year, and have made many new connections.

There's perhaps two things that stand out on the trip so far. The first thing is the tremendous hospitality that we have had in each place. I remember years ago as kid, those “dreaded” family reunions where seemingly hundreds of people would gather together, all supposedly family, but many of whom you had never met before. Perhaps it was because I was more on the shy side, but for whatever reason I never did really enjoy those encounters. I’m not sure what made me think of those experiences, because this trip has been nothing like that, except for the similarity in finding “long lost family,” brothers and sisters (in Christ) whom I had never met before. But any correlation ends there because it has been a blessing to experience the feeling of being in family wherever one goes! There is a familiar saying in Mexico: “Mi casa es su casa” which means, My house is your house; without a doubt we experience the warmness of this culture wherever we go, but there’s something beyond that, and it becomes evident as we get the chance to worship together with our family, fellowship around the table (Christian language for eating!) and just enjoy the company. Sure, not everyone are strangers as we get to reconnect with students who have studied with us in CEC, but as we get to know their families, the congregations, and the communities in which they are serving, the family continues to grow.

Beyond the hospitality, we've been very encouraged to see some of our students in their home environments, faithfully plugging away in their churches and communities, serving the Lord - seemingly tirelessly so. Trini and Lidia (pictured below with their family) are an example of such a family who studied in CEC in 2011. They live in the town of Tecuala, Nayarit, about 12 hours south of San Carlos.

Trini and Lidia with their family, who all attended CEC in 2011.

Over the weekend we were there, we had the chance to tag along their intense ministry schedule as they, along with their church, are involved not only in their community, but also in 3 small villages, all within an hour. Saturday morning began with breakfast served to about 30+ kids from the neighbourhood, followed by a time of teaching. Sunday morning also began serving breakfast to a number of children before church in a different part of town, followed by the church service. In the afternoon we split up into two teams to head out to to small villages, one about half an hour away, the other close to an hour, where services where held, and teaching both for the children and the adults. Monday evening we were in another village doing the same. The pictures below are from the town called El Naranjo, where we were Sunday afternoon.

Preparing for "Church" in Naranjo.
Teaching the children.

We are currently in a town called Atotonilco el Alto, in the state of Jalisco, just outside of Guadalajara. Over 20 years ago a missionary from the US arrived here with the burden to plant a church because there simply was no Christian church here nor in any of the surrounding communities. There's a saying as you enter the state of Jalisco that says "Jalisco is Mexico" as if to say, it doesn't get much more Mexico than Jalisco. It is traditionally a very conservative state and thus very Catholic. Through much persistence and despite much opposition, a church was planted here to the point where there is a thriving community of believers. Close to 100 met Sunday morning, in a town of probably over 10,000 people. Statistically according to the last census there were a mere 0.05% of the population Christian (not referring to Catholics). The statistics in the surrounding areas are even lower - 0.03%. But over the years members from this congregation have been going out to surrounding communities, where there also are no Christian gatherings, and planting churches. Currently throughout the state of Jalisco, there are 17 congregations now formed as a part of this church's missionary spirit - and there are still many communities that don't have a Christian church. From this congregation here in Atotonilco, two young men have come to study at CEC, one from this year and one from 2017. What a privilege to see the church that they are a part of, and to see them active back in their home churches. Not only that, but we have talked with a number of people, both people in leadership as well as young people who are very excited about one day coming to study in CEC.

We probably have about another week or so of travel before we arrive at our destination - more connections to be made. Thanks for your prayers for protection - and that God would continue to guide our steps not only to promote the school but that we can be a blessing wherever we go. ¡Dios les bendiga!

Friday, April 27, 2018

And then there were none!

Exactly one week ago, our eight students headed out the door, a mixture of sadness in parting ways but also excitement for returning home with all that they have learned and experienced over the past 14 weeks.  This year we had students from all across the country as you can see in the map below, each one exhibiting in their own ways how God grew them in understanding and maturity.  It would be great if you could somehow capture a before/after picture of the change that takes place, because many of them you might not even recognize!

Every year its exciting to see how the students grow with the necessary tools and understanding of how to study the Bible, seeing it as the revelation of Christ.  Many come away deeply impacted by the reality of what grace is.  Of course we all say that we are saved by grace alone but many times our actions and attitudes betray a confidence in our own actions as well, apart from our faith.  Whether its faithful church attendance, regular devotional times, service, or whatever it may be, we often sense an obligation rather than a freedom.  But throughout all of Scriptures, right from the beginning of Genesis, God reveals His grace and mercy towards us; it culminates in the cross when Jesus cries out "It is finished!"  What more is there left to say or do?  Everything that flows out of this is not obligation but thankfulness and awe in what God has already accomplished for us.  Its aways exciting to see the transformation take place in each of the student's lives.

Perhaps the greatest test awaits them though!  We don't finish the year with any final exam; the emphasis is not in knowledge accumulated but rather in personal transformation.  Their passing grade is the changes that are made in every area of their lives.  The real exam began one week ago as they head on home.  We pray for them, that what they have not only learned but also experienced together, living in community, they would continue to live first of all in their families, then in their churches and communities.  The encouraging part though is that the secret was never about being at CEC or the teachers, or anything like that.  Rather, the secret is Christ Himself, and being in His Word.  They have the same access to the same source of Life itself wherever they're at!

Pray together with us for each one of them in the coming weeks and months.  Thank you for your continued prayers throughout the course - we would be lost without them.  ¡Dios les bendiga!

Monday, March 19, 2018

One month to go!

Tomorrow marks one month to go of classes - where has the time flown by?

The group of eight students, who come from 6 different states across Mexico continue to show a hunger for the Bible, and a softness of heart in responding to what God is showing.  It is neat to see how it is in fact God Himself who does the teaching, who organizes not only the content of the course (something that we as teachers attempt to do) but both the students and ourselves are always amazed at how God coordinates it all: the classes, though taught by different teachers on different topics, end up being one united voice.  This doesn't include only the classroom times but experiences outside of the class as well, as though God helps us move beyond merely the "theory" to the actually living out of what is being taught.  There's one particular experience that comes to mind (among a number that have happened so far).  A little while back as we were looking at the Spiritual Discipline of Solitude and Silence, learning to value time spent alone with God, we had arranged a time of silence to begin on a certain day from the moment the students woke up: the day was to be spent in complete silence, not speaking to each other whatsoever with only minimal "communication" where it was absolutely necessary.  It just so happened that in this particular day several events transpired that resulted in one of the students having to leave.  This all came to a culmination in the morning of the day of silence.  Many of the students had questions and no doubt wanted to ask us what was going on, expressing their thoughts and feelings.  Do we postpone the planned day of silence? Or is this another opportunity to that God is presenting to lean on Him and trust Him alone?

In the class that morning we began (the students being in complete silence) with Psalm 139, how God knows us so intimately, and knew us so even before we were born. We heard from the testimony of someone who walked through several years of silence, being unable to talk (thanks Char!) and how one of the things that impacted her was coming to the deep realization of how God alone truly hears us and knows what is in it hearts. In silence the students had no option but to go to God with every question, doubt and feeling, with the assurance that He heard them better than any person ever could, GOD truly hears us.

Later that day we all met together to break the silence and reflect on the day. We wondered (or at least I did...) how the students would respond to the day and its events. After sharing a little bit on our behalf, each one of the students shared with how they were impacted by the experience and were completely at peace with everything that had transpired, including understanding why the student had to leave.

It's encouraging to see the continued hunger that the students have for God's Word and that it is God Himself who is doing the work in them, as well as in us.  In a sense, we are just along for the ride!  Pray that the students would finish strong and as they start to think about going back to the churches and communities, that they would have a deeper sense of how to go back and what to do with what they've been learning.  It's always a mixture of feelings, sadness that the time together is coming to an end but an excitement as well, not only to return home but with the purpose of serving and being a blessing.  Thanks for each and every one of your prayers!  ¡Dios les bendiga!