Thursday, July 12, 2018

The 2018 Tour of Students

With one week having passed from our whirlwind trip across Mexico, including about a dozen stops and over 6,000 kms travelled, I wanted to share a little more about the students we reconnected with, the people we met, and the many ways we were blessed over and over again. Thanks for the prayers that protected us along the way! Click on the map below to see a view of our route, where it took us, and the students we met with along the way. To hear about our first half of the journey, read the previous blog post HERE.

In our plans we figured that the above route would take us perhaps 2 1/2 weeks but as it turned out (helped in part by an alternator that needed replacing) we ended up being on the road for exactly four weeks, finally arriving at the destination of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. It is there that Jose Luis, Chayo (two of our teachers) and their daughter Edith (our new office administrator) live. Though it is tiring living out of a suitcase and not always being sure where you would spend the next night(s), we were blessed beyond measure, and I don't think that anyone of us was really ready to reach our final destination. If it wasn't for commitments that I already had in place back in San Carlos, we might all still be on the road!

Though we were only going to spend a couple of days at our furthest destination (Miahuatlán, Oaxaca), each day we extended it another day or two until we actually did run out of time and had to hit the road.  If you could have spent a day or two with us, I think you would have probably wanted to just stay there as well! If there's one word that would describe the lifestyle there I think it might be the word: simple. From food cooked over a fire (including freshly made corn tortillas made from freshly ground corn each morning), to the people living off of the land, not only for food but for employment - a farming community which was a reminder of the simplicity of the past (see the video below). Perhaps our accommodations were nothing to write home about (if you wanted a hot shower, you had to heat up the water over the fire; the washroom was an outhouse about fifty feet from the house), but I can't tell you how much we felt at home! We were just out of reach of cell service - if you walked about ten minutes from the house you could just get enough to show three bars of signal, but not enough to even check your email! But the simplicity of life was infectious; I got a taste of it hands on when the father of one of our students asked me if I wanted to come and see them plant corn. In the first video below you can see our student, Rafael, leading the yunta of bulls working the ground followed by someone sowing corn.

In this video you can observe someone who very obviously has never "driven" a team of bulls, though he did in fact grow up on a farm and thought he knew something about seeding.

It's pretty easy to pick out who the expert is, isn't it?

In some ways the church community reflected the simplicity of life as well. It was a fairly "traditional" church, where the men sat on one side and the women on the other. But one of the common denominators that we found in each and every place that we have been at on the trip was this: that genuine warmth of truly being among family. We could almost sense a "fight" brewing between members of the congregation as they said to us: "You've spent a week with so-and-so. Why not come spend a week with us?!" It was neat to see also that in this particular village (probably several hundred people altogether), a large number of the community were Christians who attended the church. But not only that, their vision for reaching other communities was evident as they have "missions", neighbouring towns where they go and hold weekly services.

Though we wanted to be an encouragement in each place we arrived to our students, I think more often than not we were encouraged to see them hard at work, even seven years after the fact that some had graduated from CEC, still living and serving the Lord with their whole hearts. If anything else had a great impact on us during this trip, it was a reaffirmation to keep doing what we've been striving to do as a school. We often tell others when talking about CEC that we are not a typical theological Bible School. Don't get me wrong, theology is important, but equally important is that the truth that is encountered in the Bible, takes root in each person (students and staff), becoming something real and practical. We want to continue to focus on this practical aspect, where life and ministry really are the same thing, where there is not "clear" distinction between the two. Maybe that's what struck me particularly during our last week: seeing this fleshed out in the simplicity of where we were staying. It was decided, after multiple delays in our departure, to have an impromptu service one evening in the home we were staying in: just a time of worship, prayer, and listening to some share from the Bible. Throughout the day everyone who came by was invited and a group of about 25 people or so showed up later that evening. One got the sense that this was just normal, just part of life here in this community. I'm already thinking of when we can head back there!

Thanks for all of your prayers! We were cared for and protected all along the way. Keep praying for our students as they continue to serve and live out their faith in their families and communities. Often the greatest challenge is in leaving CEC and returning home: learning how to take what has been learned and live it out. Without a doubt, as with all of us, there are ups and downs but the great news is that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6)

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!