Archive for the Mission Updates 2009 Category

Christmas of 2009

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on December 27, 2009 by filerofish

Christmas is one of two seasons in the year when people here in Mexico are most sensitive to the message of the Gospel. Even several private schools put on special programs, skits, dramas, concerts and cantatas for the general public. This year, my daughter Kimberly had the privilege of singing in her school’s Christmas play and cantata which performed at the local city theatre, and also at bayside down at the boardwalk. This latter presentation was sponsored by the city and it included several other schools as well. Later on in the evening, the official lighting of the Christmas tree took place. The weather was ideal for the event, and the dimly lit bay provided the ideal ambiance for a delightful evening filled with carols and seasonal instrumental music.

I was very pleased to witness a clear Gospel presentation in the cantata, so I enquired further about the source. It so happens that Kimberly’s music teacher is a believer and she attends a “Pilgrims’ Church” nearby. Since the owners of the school are also believers (as well as several of the teachers), they have been more than accommodating. An audience of about 400 people, including parents and family members, were treated to some uplifting singing and a biblical message of hope and salvation in Jesus Christ! God does work in mysterious ways! Praise the Lord that his will is made known one way or another!

On December 15, the father of the school’s owner passed away suddenly in the early hours of the morning. I understand that he was overcome with internal hemorrhaging while trying to assist his elderly wife during the early hours of the morning. He was a faithful member of the Evangelical Church, and a trusted elder in his congregation. I can vaguely remember him during my early years while I was growing up in that part of Town.

Mr. Rodriguez Lecuanda had been a truck driver and mechanic all of his life, and a partner in business along with his daughter and son-in-law. He had also been a wonderful host and a dedicated soul-winner. During the mid-sixties he had provided housing for another missionary family. That would have been an unusual occurrence at the time, considering the predominant Catholic culture.

Our congregation held its Christmas program and dinner on the 20th, with a better-than-expected turnout. We had several newcomers show up this time, which is always a delight to see. My sister Vicki helped to organize the children’s play, and my wife Miriam, along with the ladies’ group, took care of the details related to the special meal.

Several of us men worked diligently on repairs and finish work on the inside of the main meeting room, so that the place would look a little better for our guests. Hernan, Naphtali, and Enrique did all of the painting, and Narcizo and I did the dry-walling that was required. We all worked extra hard up until minutes just before starting time. It was chaotic but well worth it.

As we come close to the end of 2009, it is a good time to reflect on the events and lessons learned during this past year. The world has been thrown into a financial and political crisis of global proportions. The future is pregnant with uncertainty at every level. Even so, I am encouraged by the words of a dear friend of mine and fellow preacher who recently wrote to say, “Preach and love, love and preach!” That’s what we have done for almost 40 years, and will continue to do as long as the Lord allows us to.

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Billboard Evangelism

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on December 10, 2009 by filerofish

Last month, a couple in our church that works in the publicity business had the bright idea of producing and financing a billboard campaign to present the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. They came to me for ideas about design and message. They settled for a relatively simple but attractive design (a white cross on a red background) and a simple message: “God Is Love” (John 3:16) For followup, we included an address for a new website called “buscadios” (seek God) where visitors can watch a Gospel presentation in video format, listen to a salvation message, or download and read a wide variety of free books and literature in PDF format.

At the time of this writing, we have had nearly 110 unique visitors to the website, and one contact. Our prayer is that this campaign might eventually produce interest in Bible study and a number of conversions. Only the Lord knows what will transcend over time, but we are busy spreading the good seed of God’s word.

It would be a wonderful thing if other churches in the Baja area would participate in this campaign at their local level. Please pray that this tool will prove to be effective in reaching many lives with the Christian message.

2009 HISPANIC CONVENTION IN FULLERTON CA

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on August 4, 2009 by filerofish

Convencion Hispana 2009 011This past week, the family and I attended our first Hispanic Convention hosted by the Spanish-speaking Christian churches and churches of Christ in the States. This year it was held on the campus of HOPE International University in Fullerton, CA. Events like these provide an excellent opportunity to rekindle old friendships and make many new ones. I hadn’t seen some of my brothers and sisters for over two decades. The rich fellowship among those of a like mind is possibly one of the most significant benefits that this convention provides.

After VBS, I had not been feeling well at all. As the summer heat continues to rise, my energy level has discovered a new low. Furthermore, our vehicle wasn’t in any condition to make the trip to L.A. and back. After the accident that happened over two months ago, a series of mechanical problems has begun to surface. Nevertheless, my wife encouraged me to make to attend. So I did everything I could to fix at as many malfunctions as possible and then prayed that God would take care of us as we traveled. I thank those of you who were praying for us.

We stayed in the home of a friend from my childhood years who lives in a community near Victorville, CA. It was an hour and fifteen minute commute each way, but the opportunity to visit with her and her family was well worth the extra effort. We also spent time with her sister’s family who lives nearby.

Here are some things that I learned while attending the Hispanic Convention in Fullerton:

The need to pray more and depend less on human wisdom, devices or gimmicks to build the kingdom of God in the hearts of men and women.

  • The value of a good sense of humor among believers.
  • The importance of guiding rather than coercing others toward discipleship.
  • The need for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ among Hispanics in the U.S. couldn’t be greater. In the words of one minister who was there, “the denominations and sects are gaining ground and leaving us far behind.”
  • The ties that bind brothers and sisters in Christ transcend time, culture and geographical boundaries.
  • We must take greater care in how we use multimedia tools in congregational worship. Projected images of “Christ” are probably inappropriate in that particular context. It is one thing to illustrate a story using an artist’s depiction of Jesus, and quite another to be raising hands in worship in front of such depictions. It would great if we could eventually do away with both.
  • L.A.T.M. and SPANAM have a growing catalog of books, tracts and teaching resources in Spanish that are of very good quality.
  • A worthy representative of the non-instrument persuasion was present at the convention in the exhibit area, and his booth featured a very interesting model for local leadership training that is being implemented by the Golf Coast Bible Institute.
  • The travel challenges that potential convention-goers face each year have undoubtedly been a contributing factor in the birth of several other “competing” local or regional alternatives that are more attractive to low-income families.
  • I discovered that there seems to be a leadership vacuum among many Spanish-speaking or bilingual churches. This vacuum is quickly being filled by unskilled or faith-only evangelical preachers.
  • There is a tremendous need for non-traditional local leadership-training programs that can be adapted to the schedule of busy working adults.
  • The next convention will be held in Iowa.

THIS SUMMER’S VBS WAS A HUGE SUCCESS – MISSION UPDATE

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on July 20, 2009 by filerofish

EBDV 2009 00089

Beloved in Christ,

This year’s Vacation Bible School was such a phenomenal success that it surpassed everyone’s expectations! Two sister congregations, one from Colonia Granjas El Gallo and our own from Colonia Jalisco, got together and co-sponsored a five-day program that attracted over 110 kids and involved 20 teachers and their helpers. That’s right, we topped last year’s record of 75 and our building can only hold 75 adults at one time. We were at maximum capacity all week! Isn’t that marvelous?

The one thing that appears to have made a big difference this year was the teacher’s workshop that Miriam, Vicki and the ladies’ ministries from both churches put together to help recruit new talent for the Lord. With an excellent turnout and even better atmosphere, the workshop reached the goal of bringing people together for the purpose of ministry. Now there is talk of the possibility of holding even a larger VBS in a rented facility for next year. God bless the women! I don’t what we would do without them.

In spite of many obstacles and challenges that we were facing, both churches exhibited the kind of unity and leadership that is required for an effective outreach ministry. Teachers and helpers took part in a team effort, each one giving his or her best to the cause of sowing the Gospel seed in the hearts of these children.

We had very limited resources to work with. The one visiting mission’s group that was scheduled to come decided to cancel do to all of the negative propaganda that Mexico has been getting in the mainstream media. The prevailing perception of lack of security coupled with the economic crisis and the flu pandemic, produced a “the perfect storm” that threatened to snuff out our enthusiasm all together. Nevertheless, we pressed forward with a certain sense of duty and even greater faith. If it was God’s will, he would certainly provide.

Our theme this year was “Celebrating the Creator”. We put together five Bible lessons for each of the four age groups: pre-school, First through Third grade, Fourth through Sixth grade, and Jr. High. Appropriate songs were chosen and few new ones added. The kids always enjoy the singing part of the program. Vicki and Miriam put together handcrafts for each of the lessons – it was quite an undertaking but well worth the extra effort.

Miriam shared a couple of memorable stories with me that might tickle your funny bone. My son was teaching the pre-schoolers but was having trouble keeping their attention, so my wife stepped in and asked the kids if they were behaving. Of course, everyone raised their little hands confirming that they had behaved. Then she asked if anyone had misbehaved and said that they would have to come with her if they had. To her surprise, a few hands were raised and two more were already standing by her side holding her hand – they were ready to leave (ha, ha, ha)

A young boy by the name of Alejandro won a prize which included a candy dispenser simulating a remote control for the Wii game system. When he set eyes on the artifact, he turned to Miriam and lamented, “but I don’t have a Wii!.” “That’s O.K.”, Miriam assured him – “it’s really only a candy dispenser.” His eyes lit up and he remarked, “Then I can use it!”

Refreshments each day were provided by various families. On the last day the ladies from Granjas put together a full fish taco meal for the students. Sister Estela owns a small seafood business in the downtown area, so she offered to fix the food for everyone. Sister Lupita runs a bakery so she produced the cupcakes and gelatin desserts. Everyone else helped to serve. It was quite a feast.

VEHICLE BLUES

It appears that the recent accident caused more hidden damage in my GMC mini-van that I am having trouble pinpointing. After two months and several hundred dollars worth in repairs, it is still malfunctioning. Thankfully, we did not need to use it much during VBS except to provide short-distance transportation.

The mini-van was a repo when I bought. Apparently the odometer had been tampered with because the ware on the engine and differential are characteristic of a vehicle with much higher mileage. In any case, they time has come to replace for something else. Unfortunately, resources are not available for that. Please pray that God would provide us with dependable transportation.

A WALKING MIRACLE – MISSION UPDATE

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on July 8, 2009 by filerofish

Still Images80Dionicio Atondo is a walking miracle. He has been in and out of the hospital so many times with near-death incidents that I have lost count. One of the latest was caused by a stroke that left him unconscious. During this contingency his pacemaker’s battery gave up the ghost, and so he experienced heart failure. The doctors hooked him up to a machine and said that if he did not respond favorably in three days that they would advise that he be disconnected. Almost everyone feared that this would prove to be his last stand.

Nearly every church in all three states in the northwest region began to pray for Dionicio. On the third day, his family improvised a prayer meeting on the sidewalk right outside the hospital, and pleaded with God to carry out his perfect will. All of a sudden, the doctors and nurses came running out to give them the latest news. Dionicio had regained consciousness and was responding to the treatment! Although it took a while for him to recover his memory, he eventually recuperated. Today he is preaching again in Mexicali. He is no longer able to be in full-time ministry, but he gets invited to speak at two different churches almost every week. One is led by his son-in-law Rafael and another by his son-in-law Pedro.

Dionicio, his wife Josefina, and two of his daughters – Alma and Miriam – came to Ensenada to visit with us for a while. Alma tells me that Dionicio always enjoys talking with me, and that she felt that a trip to see us would help to lift his spirits. It must have worked because he was smiling and having a great time. Thank God for the privilege of Christian fellowship!

The Atondos have been one of the most prolific church-planting couples among our brotherhood in Mexico. Before becoming New Testament believers, Dionicio and Josefina were active leaders in the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus, the oldest primarily Hispanic “Oneness” denomination in the world and also the eighth fastest growing Hispanic denomination. At that time they were living in Benjamin Hill, Sonora. They were confronted with the truth of God’s word by a native Church of Christ evangelist who patiently shared the Scriptures with them. They eventually left behind the shackles of denominationalism to discover true freedom in Christ.

My father was Dionicio’s teacher at the Seminario Biblico del Pacifico located in the capital city of Hermosillo during the mid 50s. Their friendship grew over the years and my Dad helped to secure support for the Atondos when they left to serve in Culiacan, Sinaloa. Several congregations were established and the Lord’s work is still going strong in that area.

During our conversation, Dionicio shared his deep concern for the future of the church in Tecate. It appears that it is almost dead. Only four people were in attendance last Sunday. Two other churches have already closed their doors for lack of capable leadership, and we could also loose the one in Tecate if something isn’t done soon. Just as I warned years ago, the work in northwestern Mexico on behalf of the independent Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ is in serious danger of disappearing all together if new workers are not sent to the field.

There is an urgent need for a non-traditional leadership-training program to be implemented right away. This project is no longer an option. Meanwhile, something will have to be done to re-start several of these struggling churches that are having a hard time just keeping the doors open and paying the bills.

I would love to hear from you. Please let us know that you are praying for us and for the ministry here.

First VBS Training Workshop Successful – Mission Update

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on June 27, 2009 by filerofish

2009 VBS TRAINING 00004Vacation Bible School has always been an effective tool in our efforts to reach out to the children in the community with the love of Christ. It is one of the most important evangelistic events during our summer schedule. However, this year we are facing a few new and unexpected challenges, such as the flu pandemic and the economic crisis. Normally we schedule at least one visiting missions’ team during this time of year, but the one group that was coming canceled their trip. These circumstances have significantly jeopardized the implementation of this year’s VBS.

In times like these, the tough get going. A couple of years ago, Miriam attended a training workshop for VBS teachers held locally, and she was inspired by it. Even so, she wondered if something similar would actually work among our local fellowship of churches. There has been very little cooperation among them for many years, but that is another story. The special needs that have arisen this season have affected us all equally, so maybe folk are becoming a bit more open to finding new solutions to old problems. Could this present crisis actually be a blessing in disguise?2009 VBS TRAINING 00006

Miriam and my sister Vicki got together and discussed the possibility of leading a training workshop together. This would truly be a first. I must confess that I had my doubts. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by their persistence and genuine desire to help and serve. They planned for a three-hour session during three days over this weekend. Invitations were printed and delivered and preparations were made. Miriam would teach for an hour and Vicki would lead the handcraft preparation. The first day we had people come from the Colonia Granjas del Gallo congregation. The total attendance was over 20 potential teachers and helpers. This Friday we had students from all four of the congregations which had been invited: Colonia Empleados, Colonia Revolucion, Colonia Granjas el Gallo, and our own church.

2009 VBS TRAINING 00009The participation has been excellent. The fellowship has been good also. Maybe this could be a start of something new. I had an opportunity to suggest the possibility of including an adult class in the future. That would give us even additional potential of reaching some of the parents of these kids. There is an idea!

Anyway, I am happy for Miriam and Vicki. They really needed this opportunity to become excited and motivated for the work again. They both work in the teaching profession and have taught Bible since they were very young. What a wonderful way of combining their talents for the greater cause of building the kingdom of God in the hearts of young people.

Celebrating my 49th birthday – Mission Update

Posted in Mission Updates 2009 on June 18, 2009 by filerofish

New ImageBy God’s grace I will be celebrating my 49th birthday tomorrow. I was born in 1960 at the tail end of what has been called the “Baby Boom Generation” – I identify more with the seventies. The world was in the middle of a Cold War and the Vietnam conflict (1957-1975) was raging on. It would eventually claim the lives of 3 to 4 million Vietnamese, 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians, and 58,159 U.S. soldiers.

The sixties was one of the most revolutionary and momentous decades in all of history.  Time magazine selected the Baby Boom Generation as its 1966 “Man of the Year.” Never before “had youth been so idealized as they were at this moment” (Claire Raines). It was a time of dramatic social change.

A sampling of the events that shaped this generation would include the assassination of JFK, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.; political unrest, the walk on the moon, risk of the draft into the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual “revolution,” Roe V. Wade, drug experimentation, the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, protests and riots; Woodstock, mainstream rock from the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix. Dressing in mod clothes and transistor radios also became popular.

In Mexico, the sixties ushered in the student protests and the rise of leftist movements, which coincided with political unrest in many other countries. These were influenced by reports and images of events taking place in the United States and France. In 1968, the same year that the Olympic games would be celebrated in Mexico, students, teachers, intellectuals and average citizens in Mexico City protested against the authoritarian regime of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz. On October 2, 1968, hundreds of protesters and innocent bystanders were killed during the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City.

Mexican youth living in major metropolitan areas were exposed to American rock music, and many of them became involved in the counterculture. The three-day Avándaro festival (1971), was the Mexican version of Woodstock. It caused such a scandal that the authorities prohibited rock performances for the rest of the decade. As a result, anything remotely associated with the counter-culture was censured. This proved to be an extremely repressive era in Mexican history. Even most forms of religious broadcasting were banned from the public airwaves.

In 1967, a major fulfillment in God’s prophetic timetable took place. During the Six-Day War Israel launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, who had massed troops close to Israeli borders and blocked Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Israel won a decisive victory in which it re-captured the east Jerusalem and liberated the Temple Mount. This measure reignited international controversy over the final status of Jerusalem that is ongoing.

Nearly half of the Baby Boom generation dropped out of formal religion and began a search of alternative spirituality. The second half of the twentieth century saw the invasion of the Eastern cults in America.

In 1960 Pentecostal teachings spilled over into historic denominations and the Charismatic Movement was born (1960 for Protestants, 1967 for Roman Catholics) Harald Bredesen, a Lutheran minister, was the first to coined the term in 1962. I met Bredesen in person once during a conference in Cabo San Lucas and can attest to the fact that he had a remarkable ability to be very persuasive.

The origin of the Charismatic Movement is attributed to Father Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal priest. His book Nine O’Clock in the Morning gives a personal account of this period. Who would have guessed that charismatics would become the second largest branch of Christianity after the Roman Catholic Church. By the year 2000 the Charismatic Movement numbered 176 million, neocharismatics 295 million and Pentecostals 66 million). They are 27 percent of all Christians. Charismatics are growing at the rate of 9 million per year making the total adherents around 618 million by 2009. Wow!

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) completed their process of denominational “restructuring”, thus galvanizing the division between Disciples and the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. In the years that followed, many of the Independent Christian Church Congregations requested formal withdrawal from the yearbook.  The Consultation on Church Union (COCU) was founded in 1962 to negotiate a merger between its ten member denominations (African Methodist Episcopal Church,  African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church [Disciples of Christ], Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church [TEC], International Council of Community Churches, Moravian Church Northern Province, Presbyterian Church [USA], United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church), but was overwhelmingly rejected when it was proposed in 1969. As a result the Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) was inaugurated on January 20, 2002. CUIC is not a merger, but rather an intercommunion agreement whereby each member recognizes the others as part of the true church, and recognizes its rites (baptism, communion) as valid.

The Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) parted ways over issues regarding liberal theology and denominational structure within the Disciples of Christ. Ironically, many of these same issues are resurfacing today within the ranks of the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ through the “seeker-sensitive”/mega church and emergent church movements. The once vibrant direct-support missionary movement is rapidly fading away and only those “agencies” that fully subscribe to the centralized mega-church agenda remain. The remnant is shrinking and those missionaries who continue to hold to the Restoration plea are vastly outnumbered by a new breed of faith-only/ ecumenical neo-evangelicals.

A half century after the introduction of New Testament Christianity in Sonora, Sinaloa and Baja California, our movement has to start all over again. The following practices are common, but they contradict the New Testament revelation:

  1. Adoption of the fourth-century model of church leadership – the monarchical bishop –  in which we find preachers calling themselves THE “pastor” of the church, usually at the expense of a Biblical model of qualified eldership.
  2. The formation of a extraecclesiastical governing body with jurisdiction over the local autonomous churches of Christ/ Christian churches.
  3. The written affirmation of doctrinal beliefs that is intended to be used  as a de facto CREED .
  4. The exclusion of certain individuals and/or congregations based on the general consensus of the group.
  5. Lording it over the flock of Christ

During these past few years, I have been search for God’s will for my life. I have repeatedly spent time in agonizing prayer pleading with Him to place me exactly where He wants me to be. After all, I want to be where He can use me the most for His glory and for the growth of His kingdom. I have knocked on many doors on both sides of the border. Some of them looked like they would open but were then slammed shut in my face. I must confess that I don’t have a clue of what is happening other than God seems like He wants me to stay put for now.

In case of an emergency, I don’t have anywhere to go or anyone to turn to. I am pretty much stuck with whatever circumstances come my way.

Tomorrow is my 49th birthday, and I am deeply concerned for the future of the church of Jesus Christ on either side of the boarder, and also for the future of my family. Nevertheless, God is still on his throne and prayer does change things. Please keep these matters in prayer.

Yours,

Philip Watkinson