June, 2008: Mexico
Greetings! I have just returned from a trip to Mexico (June 21-30), which your gifts and prayers have made possible. I wanted to send this letter right away to thank you and to report on the significant ministry, which occurred.
The objective of this ministry project to central Mexico was to set up the JARON Bible Institute Extension in Tehuacan (a city of some 300,000 people four hours southeast of Mexico City) and begin the first two classes: New Testament Survey and Principles of Bible Interpretation. My traveling partner and main interpreter, Gil Hernandez and I arrived in Tehuacan at 3:00 pm on Saturday, June 21. We ate, showered and got settled in. That evening I met with a couple to plan their Christian wedding to be held the next day.
On Sunday I preached at one of the host churches called Manada Pequena (Little Flock). Afterwards we were whisked off to the wedding ceremony. There were maybe 80 guests in attendance in a nice rented courtyard. I performed the ceremony with Gil interpreting. Afterward there was a nice dinner with some very different kinds of Mexican cuisine.
The JBI classes began Monday with two tracks of a New Testament Survey course: an early session from 6:30-8:30 am and an evening session from 7:30 – 9:30 pm. We had expected perhaps 30 students between the two tracks. Monday we had 85 and it grew during the week to 96. I have to say that the Tehuacan folks more than fulfilled their end of the arrangement. They made and distributed nice brochures about the Bible Institute, as well as posting a large attractive banner at the class site, saying “Instituto Biblico JARON: Campus Tehuacan”. The class materials were all translated and the notes copied and bound into a spiral notebook. My English PowerPoint slides were translated and ready for class each day, with all the technology provided.
Tuesday I accompanied several of the leaders to the local jail for their weekly ministry there (Yes, I spent time in a Mexican jail). I taught 18-20 prisoners for well over an hour on the life of Jacob and his transformation from a shady character into a man of faith. These men later chipped in on a gift for my family—very touching, considering their situation.
Friday Gil and I had breakfast with Ezekiel Vasquez and his family, who are key leaders in the group of churches hosting us. We sat for almost two hours as these people poured out their dreams to train people who can expand ministry in this region. I was encouraged by their vision to break through the traditional boundaries of denomination to see the Bible Institute offered to all who would benefit. Even this first week there were Brethren, Baptists, Nazarenes and others enrolled in the classes. For Mexico, this is “thinking outside the box”. These leaders emphasized that the 96 enrollments had materialized by word of mouth and a brochure they handed out a couple of weeks prior to the event. They believe that, with radio advertising, etc., there could be as many as 300-400 in the future.
Saturday my colleagues, Gene Beck and Kenton Rahn arrived to teach Bible Interpretation the week after I left. That evening the three of us participated in a time in which students could pose Bible questions. Many of the questions showed profound insights and a background of Christian experience. I trust our answers were helpful to the 50 or so gathered.
The next Sunday Gil and I accompanied Enrique (another of the key leaders) to the neighboring city of Coapan where we preached via loudspeaker to a good portion of the 10,000 people in that place. I wasn’t feeling well that morning but managed to get through the very strategic time of ministry. I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon resting and recovering from a week of physical stress and a touch of Montezuma’s Revenge. Sunday evening I finished the New Testament class, said some farewells to the assembled students, was very moved by their words and tokens of thanks and then went back to my lodgings to continue my recovery. Thankfully, I was nearly 100% by the next morning for the long trip home, arriving in Fresno after midnight.
You may wonder how we could do justice to a subject like the New Testament in just six sessions of two hours apiece. The answer is that we can’t— but that was the time available. In training Christian leaders who are “working people”, we give them as much as we can in a limited time, and do so in a form that is challenging, interesting, relevant and above all, practical. What we aim for is a good overview of the flow of the subject, the major teachings, key turning-points and issues. The rest they can get from the extensive notes we provide and from the readings in the Bible itself. I am convinced that this is the best way to train leaders in this context. We’ll see how effective it is as time goes by.
Personally I had the time of my life. I forgot how much I love the real Mexico, where people are more gracious and relaxed. The people there went to great lengths to show us the fantastic variety of Mexican food. I never ate a single enchilada —and tacos only on one occasion. Instead there were mimelas, champurado, chicharones, a very different kind of chile relleno, yucateca pork, membrillo and other dishes, the names of which I forget. I hope to bring some teams in the future to help with ministry to women and children. Maybe some of you can participate and enjoy this culture. I think I can promise that your Spanish will improve, you will see the real Mexico and be able to do some significant ministry.
Of course all the real glory goes to our Lord Jesus, but it is with heartfelt sense of gratitude that I say thanks again to you for making this possible.