Archive for August, 2008

20th CHURCH ANNIVERSARY – MISSION UPDATE

Posted in Mission Updates 2008 on August 18, 2008 by filerofish

The colonia Jalisco church will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary this coming July 31. Twenty years ago (1988), Miriam and I were actively serving in the colonia Empleados church on the west side of Ensenada. That is the church that my father and Epifanio Gutierrez built. That is also where I grew up since 1961. My wife and I had grown weary of the overall lack of evangelistic zeal among the existing leadership, so we decided to plant a new congregation on the opposite side of town.

My firstborn son was two years old at the time. We had been renting an old apartment nearby and we had very little furniture. In fact, now that I think about it we still have that same furniture, except for the bed and the living room sofa. We never had much in the way of earthly belongings. I was driving a 67 Oldsmobile that had been given to me before we were married. Our home was on the side of a hill, so I always had to park the care on a steep grade. One day, my son climbed into the driver’s seat and started to play with the gear shift. Somehow, he managed to put it in neutral and the car started to roll backward. In panic, we ran out the door to see what was going on. We discovered that the car had hit the fence and that my son was inside. By God’s grace, he had not rolled unto the street below where there was always a steady stream of traffic. There must have been several angels nearby that had been watching him. Needless to say, both Miriam and I uttered a deep sigh of relief.

My parents were renting a house in the colonia Hidalgo, so we decided to hold our first meetings there in August of ’88. At first, I found myself preaching to empty chairs that I had set up on the front porch. Slowly, people began to trickle in and the congregation began to grow. Since we didn’t have a building to meet in, we made do with what we had. At first, we stretched a couple of tarps over the parking area for shade. Later, my Dad and I built a “tabernacle” out of two old canvas army tents that had been left over from the early youth camps. We also built our own benches for seating. When it got too cold and dreary outside, we would hold services in my parent’s living room. It was a bit chaotic at times, but we managed to survive. We were so excited about starting a new church that we didn’t care about esthetics or comfort.

Among our first members was a preacher’s kid by the name of Josue Escalona. He helped us with the music during worship service. Josue had a wonderful infectious sense of humor that could lift us up even on the worst days. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after do to complications with diabetes. He was in his early twenties.

Alma Molina was also one of the first converts. She was a sweet young lady, full of life and energy. During her Jr. High years, she had dabbled in the occult a bit. When she found the Lord Jesus, se renounced all of that and burned her old Ouija board the same day that she surrendered her life to Christ. Months later, she was shot in the back of the head by an unidentified drive-by shooter. At the hospital her body was being kept alive with support, but her brain had been dead since the moment of impact. We were devastated by the news.

As time went by, we eventually reached the point where we could afford a small piece of property in the colonia Jalisco. Miriam and I lived in an old termite-infested ’57 mobile home there for nearly 14 years before we moved next-door of the church building. After we moved, we were able to widen the “nave” to nearly twice its original size. Today, our building can seat a “crowd” of up to 75 people. I know that probably doesn’t sound like much considering the fact that mega churches in the United States have restrooms that are as big as our entire church building.

Looking back on my life, I now realize that God has afforded me the privilege of presenting His message to both “paupers” and “princes.” During one funeral service for the aunt of one of our church members, I was invited to address the family and friends that were gathered there with an appropriate message for the occasion. I soon discovered that Ernesto Ruffo Appel was in the audience. At that time, he was the first governor of Baja California to come from an opposition party. I went ahead and preached a Christ-centered gospel message and did not waver one bit.

Another major milestone was getting into radio. It had been my childhood dream to get into broadcasting, but the federal government had prohibited the preaching of the gospel in mass media for thirty years. I was one of the first Bible preachers to present the message on the local airwaves. That lasted three years, but the lack of funding made it impossible to continue. We could still be on radio today if we had the resources.

Over these past 20 years, our tiny congregation appears to have been given a rather odd role to play in fulfilling the Great Commission. We have served as a virtual mission station for dozens of people that we have evangelized and/ or discipled. If we ever got them all together in one place, there would be at least three or four hundred people at least – possibly even more. Most of them have ended up in other churches or centers for a variety of reasons: comfort, family, friends, programs, connections, etc. A few return, only to leave again later on.

I have found that the people here seem to thrive more on an anecdotal and the experiential diet, rather than on systematic Bible teaching. Well, at least many of them remain stable where they are, and only a few could be classified as your typical “church-hoppers.” In any case, our reputation as a strong Bible church precedes us, so I suppose that I can be grateful for that. I can only hope and pray that at least a few of those that we have ministered to over the years will continue to stand strong on what they know to be true.

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WHY DO I DO IT? MISSION UPDATE

Posted in Mission Updates 2008 on August 8, 2008 by filerofish

While the eyes of millions of people are fixed on the Olympic Games in Beijing, China, the military build-up in Middle East continues to escalate. Tensions in the region are reaching a fever pitch. Once again, we seem to be on the brink of a worldwide war with its epicenter in the Euphrates River area.

There is another war raging in the heavens with far higher stakes then any physical conflict. While this is an invisible battle with eternal consequences in the spiritual realm, its effects can almost always be seen in the physical sphere as well: e.g. disease, poverty, occultism, addictions, domestic violence, abortion, promiscuity, suicide, false belief systems, etc. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have been drafted into this war as spiritual warriors for the purpose of demolishing strongholds: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 NKJV) We have been called to bear witness of the Light, that all through Christ might believe (John 1:7; c.f. John 20:21).

A high price tag is attached to being a true disciple of the Lord (Joh 12:25) That’s probably why there are many who are called but so very few who are chosen. So why would anybody deliberately choose to loose his or her life for the sake of the Gospel? Why would a person leave behind the promise of a better standard of living and an opportunity for a better future for his or her family in order to take the light of hope to the nations? Grant it, not everyone is called to be a “missionary.” Nevertheless, there are those who have been called, but like Jonah they resist that calling to their own peril. It takes someone who is absolutely sold out and on fire for the Lord to step up to the plate of world evangelism. “And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Rom 10:15).

Real missionaries are in the business of reconciliation (2 Cor. 15:18,19). It’s great if we can heal the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, but that is not the ultimate purpose of our task. It’s wonderful if we can furnish a home for the homeless, a refuge for the downtrodden, or rehabilitation for the addicted, but none of that even comes close to the desire of God’s heart for his creation. The fundamental fact is that as a fallen race we have offended an infinitely holy Creator. Sin has alienated us from the only one who can give us true meaning, joy, peace, and purpose in life. (Rom. 3:23) But God in his immeasurable mercy and love has provided for our reconciliation to Him through faith in his Son (Rom. 6:23).

How did we miss it in the Restoration Movement? The Christian faith is all about relationships. Knowledge without grace is as useless as zeal is without knowledge. If our relationship with God through Jesus Christ is not real and kept fresh each day, we can easily become bitter, calloused and even cynical. That does not mean that obedience is any less important just because we have a solid grasp of the doctrine of grace. But obedience for all the wrong motives has to be the epitome of self-centeredness! And wasn’t that the attitude that got Lucifer (aka the Devil) in trouble in the first place?

Sure, to obey is better than sacrifice – that is if you are living under the law. But who among us has ever been able to live up to that standard? Not even one! (Rom. 3:10) Therefore, we are all (even the very best among us) equally dependent on the grace and mercy of our Lord. There is simply NO other way to be saved!! That is the very reason why I have devoted an entire lifetime to mission work. I want others to know God’s love for them just as He has loved me. Listen up, you ivory-tower theologians and those of you who seek after the accolades of men! Oops, I got a little carried away there for a second…sorry. Anyway, you wont see very many of those here on the mission field. So who is going to tell the world about the love of the Father?

It’s three o clock in the morning on Thursday and I still can’t go to sleep. It has been this way for nearly a month now, ever since Kimberly became ill. I have been sleeping alone because she is sharing our bed with Miriam. I am watching several videos of conversions among the Muslims that are inspiring and uplifting. It is always good to hear of people coming to Christ. I have devoted my entire existence to that purpose, and so every fiber of my soul is moved when someone obeys the Gospel and is saved. Salvation is all about a personal relationship with the One who has loved us with eternal and indescribable love. It is that very same relationship that ought to sustain us until we meet Him in the sky upon His return. Yet we are a lot like the ships at sea that eventually rust and gather barnacles, and have to be brought in to dry dock for extensive repairs and restoration. May the Lord nurse us back to an intimate loving relationship with Him. May we forsake sin once and for all so that we might enjoy the fullness of His fellowship through is Holy Spirit within us!


Miriam and I prayed for Kimberly again tonight. She continues to experience pain and will probably require surgery. I have contacted my sister in Chula Vista, Ca. who works for a community clinic that is starting in Borrego Springs. They don’t have their facility set up for specialists yet, but she tells me that the first one they intend to hire is a retired nose and throat doctor who is a former director of his specialty at SHARPS hospital. She sees this as a godsend. Even so, unless God begins to speed things up in that direction, I will have to look for another option locally. In any case, the cost of even a minor surgery is beyond our ability to pay for it. If I have no other option, I am willing to sell my guitar and any other equipment I may have to pay for it. I love my daughter, and it saddens me deeply to see her in pain like this.
Please pray for us.

Love,

Phil

YOUTH AWAKENING! – MISSION UPDATE

Posted in Mission Updates 2008 on August 4, 2008 by filerofish

I have some really exciting news to share! If you could have been present during our church meeting this Sunday morning, you probably would have been surprised by the number of young adolescents and children in the congregation. There were close to fifteen in the Jr. High group and another sixteen or so children. Never, in our nearly twenty years of ministry with the colonia Jalisco congregation have we seen so many young people make church attendance a priority in their lives. It sort of reminds me of the early days of the Jesus movement in the States when God began to move in a sovereign manner among the youth of that generation, calling them to a personal relationship with Him through his son Jesus Christ.

These kids have been coming every week now since Vacation Bible School. This year’s family camp in July provided the perfect opportunity for follow-up, and Miriam and I have begun meeting with them for fellowship and sports on Mondays and Saturdays. We are still in the beginning “consolidation” stage of this new outreach, but as soon as we are able to stabilize the group by building a level of trust and friendship, we will want to move into regular home Bible study groups and youth evangelism.

As a result of years of specific prayer and the patient toil, we are now witnessing a modest awakening take place. My wife Miriam has played a major role in bonding with this group and teaching them God’s word each weekend. Others have taken part in the preparation of the soil over the years: my sister Vicki, Francisco and his family, Hernan… among others. In fact, each active church member has made some significant contribution to this growing success along the way. We are just privileged to have been around long enough to see the harvest of almost two decades of field-plowing, seed-sowing, and watering.

This new influx of young people has given us a tremendous morale boost and promises to be an incredible window of opportunity for further ministry. It is also giving the adults in our church a perfect reason to discover and begin using their spiritual gifts that God has bestowed upon them. This will allow them to move into a new and exciting period of personal growth. As a matter of fact, I am currently teaching them about the gifts of the Spirit and I eventually intend to help them discover their own particular area of ministry as the Lord directs.

Each one of these kids has their own life’s story. For example, I think of the granddaughter of brother Hernan. As a young girl she attended our VBS program for several years in a row, and often came to church on an interim basis. But since her grandparents on her father’s side are Roman Catholic, they have tried to instill their brand of faith and tradition. Out of respect for her grandmother’s wishes, she wears a necklace with a pendant that bears the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Nevertheless, this young lady has recently expressed that she has no interest in becoming Roman Catholic, and she has announced her decision to trust in Christ and be baptized as prescribed by the Lord in the New Testament. This is a brave move for her at such a young age. Needless to say, it has caused quite a stir in the family.

I could also mention Carlos and Sergio, who are really bright and helpful and every way. They are such great boys to have around. As far as I can tell, they are strong leadership material in my book. I pray to God that they will also take that all important step and turn their life over to Christ as soon as possible. Of course, it is always best to wait on the Lord for the proper time and place for that decision to take place. Please keep them in your prayers as well.

This morning, I issued a challenge to the youth during our announcement time. I told them that God has a plan for their lives, and that it consists of them knowing Chirst as their personal Lord and Savior. I also challenged them to “let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1Ti 4:12) If they accept this challenge, there is nothing that can keep them from becoming a strong and faithful witness for Christ among their peers.

Personally, I look forward to investing as much time as I possibly can in building up this youth group through activities and good Bible teaching. May God grant me the strength, health, and wisdom to be a source of strong godly influence!

Update on Kimberly’s Health

My daughter Kimberly had a C-Scan done on Saturday to further confirm the diagnosis and monitor her sinusitis. We will know more about the results on Monday. This has been a long rough healing process for her and for the family as well. It has drained Miriam and I of all our energy. This would be an excellent moment for a miracle to take place! Please keep this prayer-request on your short list of petitions when you enter God’s presence with supplication.

God Provides!

Finances have been really tight lately. It seems that the number of Christian churches and churches of Christ that are interested in investing in evangelism is rapidly shrinking across the board these days. If this trend continues, it won’t be long before the Restoration Movement will not have a witness present in most of the areas where there has been missionary activity up until now.

In spite of this situation, there are a few faithful partners that continue to bless us and the work in Baja California through their prayers and financial support. I want to specially thank Greg Pile and Manuel Magos of North County Church of Christ in Escondido, CA for their encouragement and their prayers. A word of thanks also goes to Mike Smith and Camelback Christian Church of Phoenix, AZ for their love and willingness to serve. Your desire to honor God by undergirding this missionary endeavor, is an eloquent testimony of your love for the lost souls of this world.