Our Blog

Read our blog to hear stories of what God is doing around the world, to learn about current trends in missions, and to expand your global awareness.

Meet Sasko – Church Planter in Poland

We met Sasko several years ago while visiting Krakow, Poland.  We challenged him to think about becoming a church planter as he was interested in partnering with us.  We connected Sasko to Redeemer Church’s city to city church planting training and he has been working on his church plant, Christ the Savior.

Sasko has a core team but is always looking for others to join them in reaching Krakow. This city is the cultural capital of Poland with one million people but only 0.1% evangelicals. As you can imagine there are very few believers or churches. If you speak English, are interested in music or the arts they could use your help!

By: Bobby & Teresa LaDage, Serving in Germany

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Prayer Connections

For the past few years, we’ve been taking groups from the States to areas in the mountains with hundreds of pockets of unengaged, unreached minority peoples. The trips are primarily Americans prayer walking through villages and areas they have “adopted”— praying continually, visiting regularly, partnering with locals, etc.
In 2016, we had an American leader come and want to see what this was all about and decide whether or not his congregation would get involved. We took him and some others high up in the mountains (14,000+ feet) in a very rural area where many of the villages consist of only a few homes. As they were driving through a village, the leader pointed west up another valley and asked what was up there. We hadn’t been that way before, so we didn’t know what was there. The leader, who was a very outdoorsy person, asked to be dropped off and allowed to hike up there by himself for the day. At the end of the day they picked him up, and he told them about his day, which hadn’t seemed too remarkable.
He said he had hiked, worshipped, and prayed up the valley. At one point he had been invited into a home. These people didn’t speak any English, and he didn’t speak their language, but they had a great time drinking tea together. He prayed for and blessed the home before he left. After the trip, he decided his congregation would adopt that valley.
The next summer, 2017, we were holding the semi-annual English camps which take place in our city for students from these mountain groups. One of the students, named Z, trusted in God during the camp. Afterward, he needed a ride back home, so one of our colleagues gave him a ride back to his very remote village. His home “happened” to be in the same remote valley, that had been adopted the summer before. And in fact, his home was exactly the same one that the leader had visited a year before! Z hadn’t been home that day in 2016, and didn’t meet the American leader. However, one year later, Z became the first believer in his valley.
By: Workers, Serving in Asia

Woven Through Prayer

Jocabed is from an indigenous people group in Panama and is serving there with United World Mission.   Her story has been translated into English below.

Life is woven through small stories which in turn form larger stories.  In these small and larger stories we can see God working in humanity.  My family is part of the Guna nation, an indigenous people in the country of Panama which has existed for hundreds of years in Abya Yala (the American continent). From the Guna people we learned to live in community and we learned about the grace of the Creator through our relationship with the land and the people.  Additionally, our narratives tell us of the Guna people’s search for a creator.  Each time they celebrate a gathering there’s a time to sing to the Creator and to remind us of the importance of singing to God as an expression of our spirituality.

However, as a Guna community, we have also had our own set of limitations, and one of them was schooling.  There was a time in Guna Yala when only primary schools were available and anyone who wanted to study in a Western-style secondary school had to travel to Panama City.  My great-grandfather took up some acquaintances on their offer to care for my mom so she could live with them and go to school.  During those times when she lived with them and away from her family, she felt very lonely and far from her home.  As she tells it, “My best friend during those times was God.”The years went by and one day she attended a Guna church where she met her husband and had four daughters, of which I am one.  My dad and mom decided to serve God from when they were very young.  As part of this service, they moved to a Guna community in Panama City called Kuna Nega.  At that time, Kuna Nega did not offer basic services such as water, electricity, bathrooms, and transportation.  We were one of only four families there.  They had received a calling from God to serve him among our people.

When my dad and my mom arrived at the Kuna Nega community, they decided to host a Sunday school, so our first task as their daughters was to invite our friends to our parents’ house to study the Bible, pray, and eat together.  The first Sunday meetings were held at our house, for a long time.  As time went on, more and more families started living in the Kuna Nega community, and more and more children and youth started to participate and make a commitment to Jesus.

These young people and others, along with my family, held various activities for the community, such as parties on Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Children’s Day, and other special days.  We helped the community clean up, build houses, and tend gardens.  We also gathered to eat, pray, and study the Bible.  I remember how as children, my sisters and I would pray along with our mom and dad, asking God to help us communicate the Good News, to be faithful to His calling, and for our friends to enjoy a relationship with Jesus.  This is how God eventually answered the prayers of a nine-year-old girl (my mom) when she felt lonely and acknowledged Jesus as her best friend.

This is also how He answered my dad’s prayer.  He came to know Jesus when he was a twenty-one-year-old university student.  His faith has never decreased, but has instead intensified through the years.  Thus, when he married my mom, they started praying and fasting, asking God for direction as a family so they could hear his voice and recognize where the Lord was inviting them to work.  We’ve served in the Kuna Nega community for over thirty years, up until now, in May, when we’ll finish our time as missionaries.  My father, who was a pastor for over thirty years, has decided to hand off leadership to a new generation.

Many of the members of this generation were there at the beginning of our ministry and started participating while they were children.  I recall that many of the leaders currently serving in the church were like my older siblings, because when I was five years old, they were already adolescents.  We shared life and grew up together.  Now, as adults, we can thank God because the tapestry of prayer is woven from these small stories that become larger stories in the grand history that is God’s love for humanity.  On June 23rd, 2018, a ceremony will be held to honor my family as the founders of this church.  Around 500 people now form part of it, of which over 300 are children and youth.  What began with prayer carries on with the prayers of many, the prayers of those who have come to believe that Jesus is the Good News to humanity.  The tapestry of God’s grace is held together by these strands of prayer, as it creates this grand design of love for all peoples, including the people of Kuna Nega.

Prayer: We thank Jesus for his faithfulness, for calling us to His work.  We ask that the Spirit of God will keep granting wisdom, discernment, passion, and love for people.  May the Cristo Daniki church keep being a light within the Kuna Nega context.

By: Jocabed R. Solano Miselis, Missionary in Panama

Passion for Panama

Do you have a passion to serve God and others in Panama? We have several opportunities in Panama and throughout Latin America. We'd love to have a conversation with you and help you find a good fit.

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Omar’s Story – Refugee from North Sudan

I’ve had the privilege of befriending 23 year old Omar (name changed for security) from North Sudan. I have been meeting with him regularly to share and study the Gospel. Omar is one of the many refugees living here in France.

When Omar was 8, his parents were killed and he and his sister fled across the desert to Libya. With little water and only dates to eat, they made it across in about 8 days. In Libya they tried to restart their lives and hoped to eventually make it to Europe.

Due to the problems of rebels and Kadhafi in Libya many people where killed, including Omar’s sister. One day he came home and found the house where they were living full of bullet holes and lifeless bodies. Omar himself was later captured, tortured, held for ransom, and forced into slave labor. Without family or money to pay his ransom, Omar suffered with no hope of freedom.

Eventually during transportation of some slaves from one work area to another, Omar and one other managed to escape while the driver was in the mosque for prayer.

Later he managed to get onto one of three inflatable boats crossing the sea from Libya to Italy. Two of the three boats sank killing everyone on board. The third made it close enough to Italy that after sinking the Italians were able to pull them out of the water. Omar has spent the last few years living in the street or moving from one refugee care center to another although still not yet recognized as a refugee.

Through a ministry in our church geared towards these refugees living in our community, I have been able to share the gospel several times with Omar. He has now seen the Jesus film, has his own Bible, comes to church on Sunday, and occasionally comes over to study the Bible with me and listen to Bible stories in Zaghawa, his native dialect.
Although he still considers himself muslim, Omar is super open and hungry to learn about God and His Word.

Please join me in praying for Omar.

By: Ethan Williams, Serving in France

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Building a Fire in Burma

As a young boy, I remember building my first fire. It was exciting to watch it grow hotter and hotter and then bigger and bigger. In my adult years, it would become a place of gathering friends for conversation and would provide warmth for those who needed it.

However, every fire I have ever built, I knew that at any moment, if it got out of control, it could destroy everything in its reach. I grew to love the experience of building fires, but was always reminded of the weight of responsibility that comes with it.

Democracy, like building a fire, comes with mixed feelings of joy and apprehension.

When I carried my camera into Myanmar (formerly named Burma) this week, I listened to the stories of the Burmese who are experiencing their first taste of democracy.

Just like my first fire, there is a thrill in the lights and color that are now spreading through a once desolate nation.

After 50 years under military oppression, these young men and women are witnessing democracy for the first time in their lives.

However, the thrill is tempered with the weight of responsibility.

How do we contain this? Do we trust all the foreign investment that now wants to come in? Now that I am allowed to publically speak out against my government, what do I say? Or instead of speaking out, maybe I should participate in a solution?

It is clear that young leaders across the world are grappling with similar questions of how best to participate in democracy.

As I watched these impressive young leaders passionately cast vision for a better Burma, I was reminded that democracy, whether 200 years old or 1 year old, is to be appreciated and handled with care.

Its legacy does not lie with one person, rather it lies on the shoulders of hundreds of young leaders who are willing to sacrificially serve their nation and maintain this fire, that if handled properly, will provide light and warmth for generations to come.

By David Johnson, founder of Silent Images, a nonprofit organization that provides other nonprofits and charities with professional photography and videography services. Check out their other blog posts HERE.

Help From Historical Heroes

How can a missionary share the good news of scripture in a way that people in a given culture can understand it with minimal cultural barriers?  The same Gospel UWM shares around the globe may be rejected as foreign, as western, or as “un-Slovene” (fill in any other people group here).

Over ten years ago UWM missionaries Benjamin Hlastan and Todd Hunnicutt began to learn more about Slovenia’s Reformer, Primož Trubar.  Together with other scholars and church leaders they rediscovered the simple, clear Gospel that Trubar shared in the 1500’s, and they saw the potential for impact.

Several Kairos moments have followed since then.  In 2008, the 500th anniversary of Trubar’s birth, they co-founded a Slovene non-profit organization to translate Trubar’s works into modern Slovene.  Three key books have come out gaining attention from national media, one during the 450thanniversary of its original publication (originally published in 1564, republished in 2014).  Materials are being used in educational settings, including various videos and an animated biography of Trubar that was made by UWM missionaries Brian and Barbara Thompson and an animator from a church that supports the Hunnicutts.  Countless events, lectures and concerts with Reformation themes have followed in the years since.

2017 was the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation; and Todd and Benjamin worked with others to provide events and outreaches all year long.  After years of work by Benjamin and another scholar, 50,000 copies of the New Testament from the first Slovene Bible (1584) were printed in 2017 by Eastern European Mission.  A book that sells a few thousand copies is considered a best-seller in Slovenia, so to be able to partner with the evangelical churches to distribute all 50,000 copies in 2017 was a massive accomplishment!  Time after time at live events, in open markets, on the street, people gratefully received God’s word; they couldn’t believe such a quality edition of this book which is so important in Slovenia’s cultural development could be given away for free.  All of this has been done in partnership with the evangelical churches of Slovenia and in partnership with various mission agencies in Slovenia and in Europe.

What has been the response?  One person who received a New Testament was literally going to commit suicide the day he got a copy on the town square, but said he knew this meant God is calling him. Another man who used to go to an evangelical church had fallen back into drugs; he was on his way to his dealer when we saw people from that church giving out Bibles.  He stopped to talk and is now coming to church again!  Churches have had people come to church who got a New Testament and then found out about a local church on the Dalmatin Bible website. The first copy of this New Testament was given to Slovenia’s president, and a copy has even been sent to First Lady Melania Trump, who is Slovene.  If 50,000 copies of the New Testament have been given out, that means, we can estimate that around 10% of Slovenia’s 500,000 households now have a copy.  Slovenia’s reformer is sowing seeds 500 years later that we trust will bring fruit in the years to come; and they are planning a reprint of 15,000!

So….how can Christians share the Gospel in a country with a predominant religion, such as nominal Catholicism in Slovenia?  Look to see what God has done here before in this land and who were his mighty men and women of faith.  Trubar is the father of the nation, the one who synthesized a written language out of the various oral dialects of his time, who wrote the first books in Slovene, who started the first schools and libraries.  But like many great men and women of God from the past, he has been defined in the centuries since by the agendas of others, his message muffled by the passing of time and changes in the language.  By breaking the molds Trubar has been trapped in, the Hlastans and Hunnicutts are cooperating with others to claim space for the evangelical church in the public square, they are allowing Trubar to speak once again, they are restating Trubar’s words in ways modern Slovenes can understand and are creatively finding ways for the message to be heard broadly.  The public profile of evangelical churches is much greater, and there has been amazing media coverage. There is no one more “Slovene” than Trubar, so the Gospel cannot be easily rejected as “un-Slovene.”

UWM missionaries are partnering with others to enable his Gospel message to be heard again after 500 years, in a culture that is searching for identity, a people who have rejected traditional forms of Christianity for materialism or eastern mysticism.  His life is a model to a nation as a man of character with a message as relevant in today as in his time.  And Trubar is also speaking into the small Slovene churches with a solid, biblical theology.

By Todd Hunnicutt, Missionary to Slovenia

Paving New Roads in Spain

This year marks the inauguration for Avance España (AvanceESP), a sister program to Avance in Mexico. In this post, we interview one of the first AvanceESP participants, Audrey, as she settles into her life and ministry apprenticeship in Granada.

AvanceESP: Audrey, you have been here for just over a month. What has been one of the best things about the Avance España program thus far?

Audrey: The connections!  Kevin and Leah have accomplished so much in setting up the Avance program in Spain.  As a result, I have connections to various churches and Christian organizations all over the city.  What a blessing it has been to spend time with the individuals involved in each organization and to have their loving and prayerful support!

 

AvanceESP: What has been one of the most challenging things for you?

Audrey: As a woman that loves to stay busy by actively serving, I have found it challenging to find close friends.  I am in the Word daily, and I have a loving church community in which I serve.  But, when I spend most of my energy investing in and mentoring others—which is so fulfilling!—sometimes I forget to also seek out a few friendships with more reciprocity.

 

AvanceESP: Since Avance is a mission immersion program asking all participants to come as learners, we try to frame our learning within context (i.e. Granada, Spain) and congregation (i.e. the ministries in which you serve).

Let us know briefly what your ministry placements are and in two sentences describe the place that you live.

Audrey: Currently, I have two ministry placements: La Iglesia Evangélica Bautista de Granada (IEBG) and Existe+Mundo (E+M).

My role at IEBG is to welcome, care for, and disciple young women in the church ranging from ages 18-22yo.  I will also be involved in Sunday school with the younger children and summer activities!

My role at E+M is to help with digital marketing, to participate in caring for the homeless individuals of Granada, and to aid in the administrative aspects of E+M’s organizational structure and event planning.

My host family has four members: Cristina (Mama), Cristi (18), Dani (14), and Alicia (12).  They are so kind, loving, and welcoming in every way.  In their home, I am blessed with my own room that has a window displaying the entire city of Granada, including the Alhambra!

 

AvanceESP: In Avance España we try to frame all that we do around imago Dei (image of God) and missio Dei (mission of God).  How do you see these two missional concepts play out in your daily life and ministry while immersed in this new context?

Audrey: As humans, we are created in the beautiful image of God.  Although I am imperfect, I strive to reflect His image, His character, His being with accuracy.  God has also created me with a unique purpose, and I choose to embrace my identity in Christ rather than in the expectations of others.  Therefore, each morning I place my life in God’s hands so that He might speak to me and shine through me as I interact with others in love, authenticity, truth, and obedience to His calling.

 

AvanceESP: What is your favorite spot so far in Granada?

Audrey: I have enjoyed every part of the city so very much.  Granada is filled with local and unique shops as well as well-known chains.  In other words, it has a little bit of everything!  But, one my favorite spots at the moment is the Río Geníl.  I’ve spent some time walking along this river (even on rainy days!), and I find it simply enchanting.

 

AvanceESP: What is something you have encountered in this city that we can be praying for?

Audrey: Many people in Granada have no interest in hearing about Jesus.  In fact, many individuals view evangelicals as unintelligent and feeble-minded.  For example, when Cristi’s teacher realized that Cristi was a believer, she responded “Oh… I thought you were smart.”  My request is that you pray for God to open the hearts and minds of the people of Spain.  Pray that God will unveil their eyes and spark a curiosity for the truth like never before.


Avance España and Avance Mexico both exist to provide mission apprenticeship opportunities under local, national leaders while immersed in the local context. Through mentoring, spiritual formation, and engagement in ministry, our year-long apprenticeships offer an opportunity for young adults to explore their missional call while utilizing their gifts and education and growing in new capacities.

Interested or know somebody who might be? Inquire here: http://uwm.org/serve/internships-tracks/

*Both Avance España and Avance Mexico partner with Go Corps (gocorps.org)

*Also inquire about the optional master’s degree with South African Theological Seminary

The Beauty in Staying

I’ve been told that lots of people in the younger generations are willing to go on mission trips, but we aren’t as willing to commit our lives to being long-term missionaries. People say that we don’t like commitment. We don’t like staying in one job for a long time. It may actually be easier for us to keep moving from one place to another. We strive to move on to bigger and better things.  There may be truth to those statements, but during my time in Mexico I have been challenged from those stereotypes of my generation.

When I arrived in Mexico as a part of Avance, I began working part-time at the safe house for girls. It’s actually the longest job I’ve ever had. I had never worked prior to my summers in college. I’ve realized I’m a person who likes to learn a lot; so I enjoy having lots of new experiences. If I get stuck in a routine without feeling like I’m doing anything meaningful, I get bored and start looking for new opportunities. However, being at the safe house for almost a year now, I am seeing the beauty in staying.

It took a long time for me to develop relationships with the girls at the safe house. It was hard. At one point I was truly considering switching to another ministry because I felt like I wasn’t helping anyone there. I was ready to move on to something new.

But God was faithful. Even when I was ready to say, “I’m just not made to do this kind of work,” He whispered, “Just keep going.”

After completing my summer internship in Mexico,  I decided to go home and raise additional funds in order to return for a full year. When I came back to the safe house, I came back to a lot of changes. There were new staff members and a new outlook on volunteers. My two partners from Avance and I were quickly given classes to teach and received more training, so we knew how we could better support the staff and work alongside them.

These changes gave me more opportunities for meaningful interactions with the girls. I started going there three full days a week instead of one. My time now overlaps with my friends from Avance, which has been very uplifting since we had all been struggling with feelings of inadequacy and inability to tangibly help the girls. We have been able to be of greater support to each other. We have been able to encourage each other in interacting with the girls.

The founder of the safe house told me that the girls had been lacking time to have fun and play in their schedules. I think this unofficially became a big role in our job. We made sure to include games and goofiness into our classes. A big part of what the safe house does outside of therapy and helping them through the healing process is teaching them structure, responsibility, and discipline. I would say all the girls lacked healthy structure and discipline growing up and it is important for them to learn; so, they can mature and function once they are back in society. On the other side of that, almost all of the girls didn’t get to have a normal childhood. They weren’t properly cared for and didn’t get to play. The abuse started when they were young. Because of this, another role we play is to rescue back the childhood they didn’t get to have.

God has also been using this period of “play” to work in my own life. He is drawing out my goofiness and quirkiness; using me to bring joy and light into the house that can sometimes feel like a dark place. God is reminding both myself and the girls that despite all the horrific things that can happen in this life and that has happened to them, He continues bringing goodness into our lives and wants us to walk in joy, with a light heart, and have those times to just ‘play’.

I have been in training since late October and am now beginning to pray with the girls on my own at times. I wasn’t sure how it would go. I wasn’t sure if they would actually feel safe opening up with me and telling me what is on their hearts and minds. Some girls haven’t felt comfortable doing that with me yet, but others have.

This is a new step for me as I’m now not only hanging out with the girls and teaching them different classes, but I’m now addressing deeper issues with them. I truly feel God has led me to this point and am excited to see where He takes me. Sometimes my negative thoughts slip back, and I think, “How I am capable or qualified for these girls to trust in me and for me to actually help them?” But I am quickly reminded of how far God has brought me and know He’s taking me further still. I know that though I still lack many things, but ultimately, He is the one ministering to the girls through me. For some odd reason He chose me for this job and my job is to be faithful to His calling and always open to His guidance.

I’m so grateful to God for pushing me to stay amidst the difficult and the unknown.

By: Cheyenne Klein, serving in Mexico City. 

 

Little Fingers, Big Lessons: Using videos to teach Guatemalan children about the Bible

Dora Cuc Bocel is a Mayan Sunday school teacher, a social worker, and a committed Christian. Below is her testimony of the work God is doing through video stories that are being produced in Guatemala.


“One day I was teaching 10-12 year olds a lesson about the suffering of Ishmael and Hagar.  Most of the children had never heard this story before.  I first showed the video and then asked the children about the conflicts in Abraham’s family.  They answered the questions correctly, but fell silent when I asked if they had ever seen problems like these in families today.  I could tell they were ashamed to tell about the problems they personally face.

The children were asked to choose one of the characters in the story with whom they personally identified and to write down why they identified with this character. I explained that they could keep their answers confidential, sealing their paper in an envelope so no one else would see it.

One of the children came up to me and said he identified with Ishmael because his father and grandparents made him, his mother and brothers leave their home.  One girl said, “I identify with Hagar because my family yells at me and hits me.”  Another boy identified with Isaac because his mom doesn’t let him go out on the street to play with his friends for fear that something bad might happen to him.  Other children with tears in their eyes shared with me about hard situations in their families.

As each child shared I stretched out my arms to hug them and reminded them that they can trust God with their problems because God has promised to care for them (1 Peter 5:7) and, as Psalm 27:10 says, “Even if my father or mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.”

In the final prayer we all held hands, and each child presented their concerns to God.  There were tears, and for the first time I noticed that the children’s prayers were coming from a deep place in their hearts.

After class another teacher that had been watching said to me, “I only knew about one case of suffering and abuse among the children, but through this lesson I realized that many of the children have problems in their homes.  Now I understand why they sometimes misbehave.” 

There are many children who need to interact with lessons like this one, so that they can be encouraged and heard, so that they can pray openly asking God for the comfort they need and stop suffering and crying in silence.” – Dora Cuc Bocel

By: Sarah Johnson, Serving in Guatemala

Watch episode 4, “The Children of Abraham” below:


Dora Cuc Bocel helped write and test Deditos lessons with children in Sololá, Guatemala, the Mayan town where Deditos videos and lessons are produced.

 

Viña Studios in Guatemala is creating an original series of videos using fingers as actors to dramatize Old Testament stories. The name of the series, “Deditos,” means “little fingers” in Spanish.  The accompanying lessons use questions, songs, worksheets and other activities to disciple children and help them make connections between the God of the Bible and their own life stories.  These materials are created in Spanish and are being translated and used in many national and indigenous languages around the world.

You can find additional videos, lesson plans and information about dubbing on the Deditos website.

Arousing Hearts for Change in Latin America

Born in Argentina, Overseas Council’s (OC) Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Josué Fernández, is helping to tackle the many challenges for the Church in Latin America. Josué has served in ministry for more than 20 years and has pastored churches, developed a rehab program for youths addicted to drugs and alcohol, and created a ministry to feed homeless children.

Because of his work in the field, Josué has developed personal relationships with school leaders, engendering trust and mutuality. In that partnership, he has been able to navigate a number of cultural nuances and critical factors at play in areas of Latin America, like Cuba. “God is doing great things in Cuba,” says Fernández. “Through the ministry of Overseas Council, seminaries are transforming communities and having a great impact. In particular, it’s very interesting to see how our graduates from New Pines Seminary in Cuba are developing.

In the past they have created ministries that reach out to children, the elderly, and the poor of the Old Havana community. Now they have taken an even deeper dive into the family with a new ministry focused on reducing divorce and keeping the family together.” Government statistics in 2015 found that the Cuban divorce rate was decimating Cuban families (between 65 and 95 percent, including multiple marriages by one person).

In addition to helping create a new Master’s program at New Pines Seminary, Josué provides counsel to five additional seminaries training current and future church leaders. Through OC’s consultation, these seminaries are building the capacity to be more effective educating and equipping church leaders, who will serve the Cuban family. It is a true blessing for OC to be in the middle of helping to improve the health of the Church and the communities of Latin America.

By: Josué Fernández, Overseas Council’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean