My JARON colleague, Kenton Rahn, and I arrived in Tehuacan on Friday, January 8 in the late afternoon after a 1:05 am departure time from Fresno. Tehuacan is a city of around 250,000 people in the southern part of the Mexican state of Puebla, located about four hours southeast of Mexico City or about an hour and a half southwest of the state capitol of Puebla. As you may remember, I have done ministry in this place with these people several times before.
Tired doesn’t describe how we felt after two flights (Fresno/Guadalajara and Guadalajara/Mexico City) then a bus ride to Puebla and a ride by car with friends to Tehuacan. While in Puebla, we were able to make a brief visit to a main hospital there where Betty Harris Lagunes is hospitalized with cancer. She is one of the key people on this end in instigating this JARON Bible Institute extension. It was very good for us to see her and to visit with her family.
Saturday was a settling-in and relaxing day for the most part. Even so, Kenton and I, along with Gil Hernandez, a former missionary in this city and one of our translator/interpreters, made a visit to a local radio station in order to announce the Institute classes for the next two weeks. We also had a counseling session with one of the students about some family issues he is working through. But, all-in-all, it was a day of recovery from the rigors of travel. In the evening we were part of a group, which went out for “tacos arabes” at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant very near the picturesque city square. It was a nice outing and time to be with good friends.
Most Mexican towns of any size have such a town center, or Zocalo, with the main Catholic church on one side, the city offices on another and shops of various types on the other two. Lots of people frequent the park which is in the middle and sometimes there are sellers of various food items such as tacos, churros, candies and ice cream, along with balloons and other trinkets for the kids. Once in awhile there is even music. It is kind of like a perpetual carnival—which is part of what gives Mexico its charm.
It was very cold while we were there: probably in the upper 40s or lower 50s–an unusual thing for that far south in Mexico. I am guessing that the outside temperatures were comparable to Fresno in January and it rained off and on. The problem is that almost no one has any heating system there since they would rarely use it. So, we were cold almost all the time. For example, one morning, I got up early to take a shower and waited maybe 15 minutes while the hot water tap was running for the water to warm up. It never did because the family we are staying with ran out of propane, so I took a very cold partial shower. However, I was really no worse for the experience.
After a rocky start, my Spanish rose to the occasion and even improved. I can usually converse at a very modest level with folks, which is nice since I don’t have to have an interpreter trailing me all the time. The food was delicious and, in some ways, very different from what many Americans would expect. Yes, we had tacos, but they were certainly not like Taco Bell. The tortillas are soft and the meat is either beef or pork with delicious condiments. Other dishes included lentil stew with large semi-sweet bananas (plantains) in it; a pounded chicken breast with a marvelous sauce over it, homemade cream of mushroom soup, and of course, the best fresh tortillas in the world. Locals boast that Tehuacan and its sister city, Coapan, are indeed the tortilla capitols of the world since experts claim that corn has been growing here longer than any other place on earth.
Sunday was a very full day. The morning began with a 15-minute drive to Coapan, where I preached a gospel message from Psalm 112. We broadcast the message from a loudspeaker located near the town center and the locals tell me that hundreds of people can hear what is said. On the drive back, we stopped off to visit and pray with a woman who is part of the translation team and who had surgery the day before. Then I was invited to speak at a church called Manada Pequena (Little Flock) on transformation from the life of Jacob in Genesis 31 and 32.
Monday we began the most recent series of JARON extension classes, including:
Church History—try covering 2,000 years of Christian history in five two-hour sessions through translation. Kenton and I taught identical sessions of each day’s material twice: first from 6:30-8:30 am in one church and then again from 7:30 to 9:30 pm in another location. I had been wondering whether the initial enthusiasm for this type of rigorous training would eventually subside, but so far it hasn’t. During the five days of teaching there were an average of more than 100 students spread out over the two daily sessions. Even though each day included the teaching sessions in the early morning and late evening, plus counseling, jail ministry and invitations to people’s homes— our health stayed good throughout. Thanks, Lord!
The next week our colleague, Gene Beck arrived with Wes Janca to teach five days on biblical anthropology (the study of human nature from the scriptures). The beauty of all this is that it is a group effort, including the team of Mexican believers who make this ministry possible and who carry it on all year round.
Some exciting things include the fact that our friend Enrique is using some of our JARON class materials in the jail each week to teach the prisoners theology. He reports that they are learning and looking forward to each lesson. Another student, Jose, has started a radio program in which some of what he is learning at the JBI extension is being passed on to the listeners. Others are taking what they are learning to the surrounding villages and towns to teach in churches and ministry centers throughout the region. These types of things assure us that what we are doing twice yearly in Tehuacan is worthwhile.
I need to say a word about the fabled Mexican hospitality. We were housed and fed by an amazing team of local believers. Over and over we were told by those who hosted us in their homes or for a meal that it was their pleasure to do so. If we mentioned anything that could be construed as a need, it was done without hesitation (which reminded us to be careful in mentioning anything casually for fear that it might be understood as a request). Maybe the best way to express my personal experience is to describe the contrast between our treatment going through security in Mexico, versus treatment upon our return to the United States. The entire tenor of addressing people in Mexico tends to be much more respectful. For example, the security official who inspected my luggage at the Mexico City airport and frisked me down did so with apologetic comments and great courtesy.
However, upon our arrival at LAX on the evening of January 16, we were spoken to very curtly on several occasions, the procedure for moving to where we needed to go was confusing and communicated in a way which I thought was unnecessarily rude. Even the restaurant personnel at the airport were apathetic and offered very poor customer service. I realize that this is LAX and that the security (and the nerves of people) are very tight these days. Yet I maintain that Americans are fast forgetting what they once knew about hospitality and courtesy. Mexico is still a wealthy country when it comes to such things.
Thanks for your prayers during the time we were there. Not once did we feel endangered in any way and we sensed the hand of the Lord upon us daily.
I have just returned from Mexico and thought I would report on my current trip to teach the first summer session at JBI, Tehuacan. On Friday, July 3, I arrived in Tehuacan, along with my friend and traveling partner, Pastor Jonathan Villalobos. Tehuacan is located four hours south of Mexico City in the southern part of the state of Puebla. Our flight left Fresno at 1:00 am, with legs from Fresno to Guadalajara and then Guadalajara to Mexico City. After that, there were two bus trips from Mexico City to Puebla and, finally, Puebla to Tehuacan. We stepped off the bus around 5:30 pm after a long trip and only sporadic sleep.
After greeting friends made on previous trips, we were settled in our living quarters for the week. The house is directly across the street from one of the churches sponsoring the Bible Institute, so the 6:30 am session is a very convenient walk. The property has an enclosed garden with several very nicely landscaped outdoor areas. The house itself is two-stories with tile floors throughout and everything done in a sort of modern Spanish style.
After our respective preaching assignments in two separate churches, Jonathan and I were introduced in a joint session of churches on Sunday where we gave a synopsis of our upcoming course on Biblical Communication. There were approximately 50 people present. Certificates were awarded from our previous session last January with a regular ceremony calling the names, shaking hands with each person and presenting them with certificates. They seemed very pleased to receive them.
Afterward, some youth invited me to play touch football in a little yard between the church and the house next door. I was not surprised that the Mexican youth didn’t really know the rules for American football, so I was able to give them some pointers. Everything went well until I intercepted a pass. When I stretched out to catch it and started running, somehow my body got ahead of my feet and I went down, landing on the side of my head and right shoulder. Although it hurt, there seems to be no damage and actually my back, which had been out before the game, now kind of feels better.
The first session of the Summer 09 JBI-Tehuacan opened Monday morning at 6:30 at Manada Pequena (Little Flock) Church. There were perhaps thirty students in attendance. Some of the church ladies made a nice breakfast snack of tacitos with jello and coffee. The subject for the day was how to build an effective Bible lesson. I repeated the same material that evening from 7:30-9:30 pm to about 65 students at Oasis 1, a related church across town. This course is part of the larger summer, 2009 session of JARON Bible Institute in Tehuacan, which will continue next week with my colleague, Gene Beck teaching Theology 2. A youth outreach will take place the week after that, led by fellow JARON staff member, Kenton Rahn.
On Tuesday, along with the regular morning and evening sessions, we were added to a team, which makes regular visits to the local jail. Six or seven male prisoners were assembled for Bible study. We prayed together at the end and they expressed their amazement that Americans would actually want to visit them in jail. There are apparently some 70 or so believing prisoners and these guys see it as their calling to reach the rest. Wow! Afterward I was joking to the team that this was my third time in a Mexican jail, but that thankfully my sentences have always been short (less than an hour). Having done this before, I can say that a couple of the prisoners have now become my friends.
Later we ate lunch at the home of Cheque Vasquez, one of the leading pastors of the churches who sponsor the Bible institute. We were served a kind of chili relleno, stuffed with almonds, apples and other tasty ingredients and covered with a sweet white sauce, typical of the state of Puebla. Delicious!
It is now 10:30 am on Wednesday and the morning session is over. I’m working at a little table upstairs in the house in a sort of mini-solarium (a sun roof in a corner of the sitting area). Outside there are sounds of birds mixed with and some contemporary Mexican music coming from somewhere nearby. Very pleasant.
My friend Jonathan is teaching this second portion of the week. He is a natural communicator and has already won these people over. The schedule is actually quite demanding with early morning and late evening sessions and often counseling and planning in between.
In addition to teaching the morning and evening sessions of JARON Bible Institute, here is an idea of our schedule for the next few days: Lunch today is with one of the students, named Rosadela. Her husband is well known as the painter of the murals on the ceiling of the entrance to the Tehuacan City Hall. On Thursday we are scheduled to speak at an alcohol rehabilitation center. Friday there are plans to visit the onyx-producing village of San Antonio Texcala and then have lunch with a student. We are invited for coffee with my dear friends, Memo Lagunes and his wife, Betty on Friday evening. Yes, ours is a busy social calendar!
Prayer is essential. I can’t say enough about how we are looked after by the Mexican believers. In other places, mission projects have been much more rugged. But being away from family and the normal routine is a strain. It seems that nearly every time I have traveled on a missions trip lately I gave come down with some kind of virus or infection. I had a truly shocking cold and bronchial infection the first three days I was here. There are also bouts of homesickness (especially in the evenings after the sessions) and just the weariness of living in a different routine and culture. Thank God for the Mexicans’ care for us!
Michel, the son of Betty and Memo has been doing some of the interpreting for me when I teach. This morning he made an offhand remark about how amazed he was at the improvement of my Spanish over the last three days. Others have said much the same thing. These remarks are encouraging, especially since yesterday and today my mind has sort of shut down on all languages. For instance, I got up at 5:45 am this morning and knocked on Jonathan’s door to take a shower in the adjacent bathroom. When he answered, I couldn’t even put the English sentence together: “Is the shower free?”. I just stood there gurgling incoherently, until I finally blurted out with, “I want to take a shower.” I think my mind feels overloaded and wants to go on some kind of tropical vacation for awhile, where no talking of any kind is required.
(This concluding portion was written later, after our return to the United States) We finished out the week strong, completing the course and enjoying part of a day of rest and relaxation. Saturday afternoon was spent in planning with local church leaders for future JARON events in Tehuacan. The return journey on July 12, though long, was uneventful.
Thanks for your prayers and concern, Mike Bogart
Tehuacan, Puebla, Mexico. January 9-18, 2009.
This trip was a continuation of the JARON Bible Institute Extension in southeastern Mexico. It was a special bonus that Melinda was able to go with me this time to mentor, counsel and teach women. Accompanying us were Steve and Carla Belmont, friends from our home church, Campus Bible in Fresno. Carla went to work with women as well and to be the speaker for a women’s event the Tehuacan churches were sponsoring. Steve went as team organizer, photographer and general evangelist.
We arrived after a long trip (3:00 am to 11:00 pm). Drive to Los Angeles; fly to Mexico City; bus trip to Puebla and then a ride in a personal van to Tehuacan. Needless to say we were pretty tired. Our hosts, Memo and Betty Lagunes gave us the next day to unwind and solrt things out. Here is how the rest of the 10 day trip unfolded:
Sunday evening the combined churches met at Oasis 1 Church for a time of questions and answers about ministry and Christian living. The four of us participated in this and the occasion broke the ice a bit for the three who had not met these people before. Monday began five days of teaching at the JBI extension.
As before there were both morning and evening classes (6:30-8:30 am and 7:30-9:30 pm). I taught Old Testament Survey. You can imagine that we moved along pretty briskly in that short amount of time.
Sunday morning we had preached in the nearby community of Coapan before participating in worship at Manada Pequena Church later in the morning. On Tuesday, we visited the large local jail, where Melinda and Carla spoke to a group of maybe 15 women about new life in Christ. The time in the jail was part of the ministry of by Enrique and Carmen Gutierrez, some of the key Christian leaders who host our ministry in that city.
Thursday was the women’s conference on Spiritual Maturity. Carla spoke to the approximately 50 women and girls assembled and Melinda led a craft session afterward in which women made a set of note cards. Other activities included sharing our personal faith stories with various groups, counseling various people and just enjoying the gracious people in that place.
On the second Saturday our hosts took us to see Cholula, which is the largest pyramid in the world (the base of the ruined structure is larger that the pyramids of Egypt). We enjoyed seeing that city and walking around the great Zolcalo in nearby Puebla. I was astounded when we visited the baroque-style cathedral in Puebla and we had a fun last evening in Mexico enjoying the festival atmosphere, which we were told is a common occurrence in central Puebla.
The next day we took the bus to Mexico City and after seemingly unending delays, flew to Los Angeles and then drove on home arriving around 2:00 am. Though we were exhausted, it was a fabulous and very memorable trip.
Thanks for your prayers, Mike and Melinda Bogart
Here are a few of the friends we made during this memorable and strategic trip:
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.
I am writing this brief letter to bring you up to speed on our most recent missions project. Several colleagues and I have made plans to establish a training center for Christian leaders in Tehuacan in the southern Mexican state of Puebla.
The first session is planned for June 25- July 7, 2008. During this time, we will offer a condensed Bible course and a practical seminar to a group of pastors and leaders from various churches in the area. Most of them are already serving Christ in some significant way, but they lack the in-depth training necessary in Bible and ministry skills to be as effective as they could be.
In February, my colleagues Jim Cecy, Gene Beck, Gil Hernandez and I made the same trip to survey this ministry possibility. We saw first-hand the impressive commitment of these believers. These men and women are, in some ways, the keys to their city of 200,000 people. To the degree that they are effective, certain types of change can happen to advance Christ’s Kingdom. In other words, we multiply our efforts by training those who have already shown their commitment to make a difference.
Publicizing our courses on radio station XHTE, Tehuacan, Puebla
I believe that what we can accomplish will bring dividends to the cause of Christ in that region of Mexico far beyond the investment. Our goal is to do only the things we believe are highly strategic and will have long-term beneficial effects for people and for God’s Kingdom.
Some of the organizers from the churches of Tehuacan.
Thanks for praying, Mike and Melinda Bogart