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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.

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

Fighting for Our Hearts – Czech Republic (Czechia)

At the beginning of this year, in a room of 45 people, someone asked a simple question, “How many of you are here in part, because of the impact Martin (a Czech believer) has had in your life?”

As more than half of the hands raised around the room, Martin’s eyes filled with tears. These were Martin’s friends and people who had seen, first-hand, the transformation in his life. Little did Martin know that entering the battle for his heart a year and a half ago would impact and inspire others to enter the Battle process themselves.  In this tearful moment, in a small retreat center outside of Prague, Martin experienced God’s faithfulness in his own life and in the lives of those around him and began to get a glimpse of the weight of God’s glory.

The group gathered represented Czech nationals and missionaries who embarked on the Battle for Your Heart Process in Czech Republic, bravely desiring to enter into the unique roles they have been created to play in God’s bigger story.

After going through the Battle process together several years ago and experiencing transformation in our own lives, our UWM team in Prague has been curious to see what God would do. We couldn’t have imagined that a year later, our Czech friends would be asking us to provide this opportunity for them and already inviting their friends to participate!

Last September, the first group of 35 Czech nationals began this process, learning more deeply of God’s heart for them and their unique identity in Christ. As I interacted with the university-aged girls around my table throughout the weekend, I began to sense a freedom and lightness about them that hadn’t been there on the first day of the retreat as the reality of God’s love and pleasure over them began to sink more deeply into their hearts.

One of the girls shared the impact that the initial weekend had on her:

“These three months were really special to me. I had never thought how many things can change in something like 90 days before this event. Things and relationships in my life started to change very slowly as I started to experience God’s love and acceptance in a very marvelous and tremendous way. It was like waking up my heart to feel again. To be more aware of my feelings and desires and for the very first time not to be ashamed of them.

 And I didn’t force the things in my life to change, they just started to change! And it was not about me. My team and God are at the center of it. Such a blessing to get to know God’s heart for me better and to find out that I can reflect God’s heart to others. Such a relief that I can be who I am and I don’t have to be someone else. It has solved so many problems in my life and I’m slowly starting to build my life on the rock.

I’m so thankful for having the opportunity to be part of something so powerful and meaningful. And I’m so excited to spread this among the people in my domain.”

In January, many of these people plus a few more took the next steps of engaging their hearts and stories more deeply, thanks largely to the impact that Martin has had in their lives.

As a team, we rejoice to see the good work that God is doing among His people in Czech Republic and it’s with great eagerness that we anticipate what He will do in this country as more of His people begin to engage their unique roles wholeheartedly!

By: Kristin, Serving in Czech Republic (Czechia)

Where There Is No Road

When people think of Fiji, they think of white sand beaches and tropical resorts. They’re not wrong! But behind the beaches and the tourist traps, are some of the most kind, generous, loving people I’ve ever met. In this small island chain in the South Pacific, many people have heard of God. You see, the Methodist denomination brought the Gospel many years ago. But after the Methodist teachers and missionaries left, ‘Christianity’ became an interesting hybrid between God and witchcraft. Worshipping many idols became commonplace again. They knew the story of Christ, and yet it had become marred by tradition and folklore.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Fiji to serve on a short-term medical team. We landed in Nadi, and then drove about 5 hours to a small village. We were on Viti Levu, the larger of the two main islands. We were connected with a small church there, and we began to plan our medical teams. Each visit to a village would be complete with a full medical clinic, with each person being seen also getting to hear the truth of God.

Many of the people from these villages have to walk a great distance to church (if they are a Christian), or to the doctor, or a store. So we brought the clinic to them. The first day, we were in a small village, but a neighboring village’s chief was there. He asked if we could come to his village a few days later. We, of course, happily obliged. So, the following Wednesday, we arrived in his village. It was eight miles into the jungle, on entirely dirt and mud roads, up hills and through thickets. After we served their village, we left and went back to the church where we were staying. It all seemed very normal, as far as we were concerned.

The pastor who we worked with in Fiji, affectionally called Talla Talla, received a message later that week. The chief from Wednesday’s village would like a church built in his village, so his people can hear the Word of God without having to walk 16 miles roundtrip! We thought were elated then, but we were even more so when we heard that a church in Canada who also partnered with Talla Talla, would like to donate the funds to have this church built!

 

We go down dirt roads to help clean wounds, so that eventually, a small village in the jungle of Fiji can hear the Good News. It often feels like just the small acts: putting band aids on a wound, doing service projects, and facilitating events. But God is at work through that, and where there is no road, he makes a way in the wilderness.

By: Renee Gillespie, Short Term Teams Coordinator

Is This Getting Through to Anyone?

Dots of light from the tin roof overhead speckle our study area as I introduce potential missionary candidates to new ideas in missiology, chronological Bible teaching, and Islamics. We meet in a rural church on the edge of Bamako, with a dirt floor, and electricity only when the generator is running (i.e., rarely!). My students have come from Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali to join Ebenezer International, a home-grown Malian mission agency that we work with dedicated to reaching the lost of Mali in culturally appropriate ways through tent-maker missionaries.

These candidates have a shared enthusiasm for the Gospel and usually a good knowledge of God’s Word, but are “first-graders” when it comes to modern approaches to reaching the Lost. Don’t you just pitch a tent and put out a call for hundreds to come hear a message, followed by an invitation? This is rarely effective among Muslims, and so they learn about relationship-based approaches, story-telling, and what Muslims actually believe. They are also introduced to the concept of Unreached People Groups (UPGs) who, despite sometimes living near Christians, are virtually untouched by the Gospel. Who knows if one of these students will be the next missionary to the Fulani, the Moors, or the Tuareg?

I spend a month with a group like this once or twice a year. I know that I may not see the results of my teaching any time soon, since this is the very first step in their missionary training and career. But occasionally, I get some feedback sooner than that…

Daniel is a 20-year old high school student (that’s a normal age for high school here) from Guinea. He came to spend the summer with a relative working at this local mission agency, and it was decided that it would be a good use of his time to spend it in my classes. Since most of the other students are university graduates with some working experience, I didn’t have great expectations.

Evidently, my course had quite an impact on Daniel, and here is what he wrote to me a month or two after returning home to school: “The training on the Christian mission that you taught us helps me a lot. I have a teacher here who is pure Muslim, so one day he called on me, speaking to me about Islam in an effort to convert me.  Because of your course, I understood that they have false assumptions on the Bible. So with the help of God He could not convert me. This training Is really important for every Christian.”

When I wonder if anyone is really “getting” what I teach, I remember Daniel, and his newfound confidence to defend his faith before his professor.

By: Jim & Jennifer B, Serving in Mali

Setting Goals

When you think of New Year’s, I’m sure you immediately think of New Year’s resolutions. A fresh start; a new leaf. An opportunity to grow and to be better than you were the year before.

It’s great in theory; but it doesn’t often have the expected follow through. Now, hear me out, I am all for setting goals. I set some each January, too. But each year I hear the phrase, “new year, new me,” and I think we do ourselves a disservice by waiting until the new year to work on becoming the best versions of ourselves. We miss out on the right now by focusing on the future. Each day we get a new opportunity to set and achieve new goals. Every morning brings a new chance to be a better version of ourselves than we were the day prior. So why aren’t we making the most of each day?

So, going into this new year, I am setting goals. But I’m trying to shift my resolutions from being a yearly thing, to being a daily one. I think simplifying this process for ourselves in the day-to-day will lead to greater success in the year-to-year. Let’s conquer 2018, one step at a time.

Post by Renee Gillespie, Short Term Teams Coordinator & Social Media Manager for United World Mission

 

Seeing Jesus Through Visions and Dreams!

A few years ago, we brought a team of pastors and ministry leaders from Mexico to North Africa.  It was an eye-opening and paradigm-shifting experience being immersed in a Muslim country where the call to prayer was heard five times a day, some women were completely covered from head to foot while others walked around in Western clothing, and the mosques were filled inside and out with lines of men kneeling for prayer.  We had gone to serve and support our Mexican friends serving long-term in this country, and they had a business where they were able to live out the values of the Kingdom with their employees.

At their business, we met a young man who shared his story with us (in Arabic translated to Spanish with the help of our Mexican friends).  As a child, “Mohammad” (*name changed for security reasons) had received a book about Isa (Jesus) from a friend, which he read but quickly discarded because it spoke of Jesus as the Son of Allah, more than just a prophet, and Muslims believe that Jesus was simply a prophet like many others.  Mohammed told us, “In my country, you are born Muslim and to convert to some other religion means rejection, imprisonment and possibly death to the ‘unfaithful’ (translation).”  Years later, Mohammad had an eye-opening experience that changed his life completely!

One night when he was sleeping, a man dressed all in white appeared to him in a vision or dream and said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…Follow me!”  Mohammad was completely shaken and jumped out of bed, realizing that the man who had appeared to him was the very Isa he had once read about!  He immediately decided to learn more about this man, but when he told his family about his experience and his decision, they immediately rejected him and kicked him out of their home, in fear of what the authorities might say or do if they found out.  Overnight, Mohammad became homeless, without family, and at the risk of what could happen to him in his country.  Thankfully, his grandmother eventually took him in, and he began to seek more of Isa on his own.

Somehow by God’s grace, he encountered our Mexican friends who hired him at their local business and began sharing more about Isa with him, teaching him from the Book and helping him understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Mohammad eventually accepted Isa into his heart and became one of his disciples.  He enrolled in college, got involved in a covert campus ministry at his university, and seeks to share Isa with his Muslim friends.  He knows the risks of sharing about Isa in his country, and our Mexican friends continued to meet with him until they were recently discovered and were forced to leave this country after years of working at their business and making disciples for Jesus.  The cost of following Jesus is very high in this country, but many who have decided to follow him as Savior and Lord have seen and experienced him in a way that is undeniable.

Pray for the believers in North Africa who are seeking to follow Isa in a religiously restrictive environment.  Pray that God would fill them with faith, power, courage and wisdom to be his disciples, and pray for many more sightings of Jesus through visions and dreams!

By: Worker, in Undisclosed Area

Following Christ in France

I met Josias in 2005 in France at camp where I was the counselor for his 10 year old brother.  When we all had free time Josias became my shadow, making me sing gospel or R&B songs.  He would tell me about his life in the suburbs of Paris with his friends, most of whom were troublemakers.

On the final night of camp our 15 year old roommate, David, looked shaken up while he was packing.  He explained that he was moved by the camp speaker and knew it was true that only Jesus could save him.  But he felt too unworthy.  So we unpacked grace and when I asked if there was anything preventing him from repenting and receiving that grace, he said there was no obstacle and we prayed right there!  Of course my thoughts then turned to Josias, but my 17 year old shadow was almost offensively uninterested (his words now).

As camp came to a close and it was time to say goodbye, Josias and I both had a hard time managing our sadness. We both knew it would be hard to continue our friendship. Who knew when I’d be back?  Since he knew it meant so much to me, he grudgingly took the Bible I offered as a parting gift, saying only, “Maybe I’ll get some use out of it one day.”

That sentence became my hope and prayer for him and the 60 million French people who are far from God.  That hope led me to join UWM in 2007 with the intention of going to France.  Josias and I spoke a few times and met in 2010, but he was way too busy enjoying life to settle down or stay in touch.  I moved to France in 2012  to work with Brie Church in the Paris region where we immediately reconnected.  By now Josias had married a woman from Congo who already had a daughter, and with whom he had two more daughters.

That Bible, and the testimony of my affection for him, led Josias to start digging into his faith and to volunteer in the same camp.  He began to go to church when he married but remained on the fence about committing his life to Jesus.  Since then I walked with him through a bitter divorce and the loneliness afterwards.  He was angry at God because his ex-wife was “supposedly” a believer.  How could she leave?  He walked with me through heart-break.  We vacationed with his dad, siblings and kids.  He joined my small group.  But he was always on the fence because of unresolved sin.

Until a few days ago…

I called to wish him Happy Birthday and as we were saying goodbye, the rascal said…”By the way, if you’re back in time, I will be baptized on December 16th”.

29 year-old father of 3, rugby player, counselor in a state institution for teens with special needs, and now, follower of Christ.


By: Ricardo Walker, Serving in France

White As Snow


Like most of our trips, this one was full of driving. We drove from village to village, singing and lifting up the people who live in the houses that we passed by. The weather here is turning from winter to spring, so the hills are turning more green and the rivers are flowing steadily. After driving a while, we came to a trailhead that leads to the top of a point that gives a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. It is one of the most glorious spots I have ever stood. Whenever I get a chance to stand up there, it feels like I have stepped right into a picture that the Creator is still painting and shaping. 

Sitting there at the top of the mountain, we played a couple songs and sang them over the valley below. My teammates and I froze as the last words of the last song played: “though our sins are scarlet, you’ve made us white as snow.” At the sound of these words, we began to weep over the valley.

Still wondering what the significance is? Allow me to unpack this a bit. As those last words played, snow began to fall. Even greater, the people who live in this valley are influenced and led by religious leaders who wear red robes. White snow was falling on the people who are clothed in scarlet. The Creator is showering love on the people, even before they have heard His name.

The story isn’t over. The next morning, we went up to a temple, where we were able to talk with some of the leaders there. As one of our teammates talked to the head leader dressed in scarlet, snow began to fall. It was a perfectly clear, blue sky morning, and snow began to fall in that place. Later that day, we visited another temple and snow fell again. As we finished our path along the villages, snow fell yet again, through the sunshine.

Where we saw people still clothed in scarlet, Father sees a people bathed in white snow. He wants to take away their scarlet sin and replace it with a pure, clean robe of His design. For Father so loved the world, He is continually showering love on His people like snow. My team and I are here to play some small part in telling His children that they are made white as snow, and they have no need to fear, because there hasn’t been a day that He hasn’t loved them.

By: Kingdom Worker, Serving in Asia

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