Category: Missionary Service

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

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.

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)

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

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

Kingdom Workers

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Colombia Seminary Strives to Both Educate and Serve

Elizabeth Teaching

In 1944, the Biblical Seminary of Colombia was founded in Medellin, Colombia.  Dr. Benjamin Pearson was the first president.  God`s provision has been constant through the 73-year history under the leadership of God-fearing, Bible-believing men and women. Elizabeth Sendek, a missionary of United World Mission, is now president.

 

The mission of the seminary is to prepare professional men and women who are highly trained to exercise leadership for service to the evangelical church and the community.  The profile of the seminary has always been to be a Biblical institution, with our teaching models founded in Biblical teaching and practice.  We insist in Christian formation focusing on the devotional life of each student.  Being a University Foundation within the Colombian educational system, we know we must strive to maintain our faithfulness to the Word of God and the call that He has made to each one of us.

Chapel

Colombia is in a peace process after over 50 years of civil war.  We are looking for ways to serve the church with the new social/political challenges.  We are involved in a three-year research project funded by Templeton Foundation to study displaced people and how the church can serve them.  This project is titled: Integral Missiology and the Human Flourishing of Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia.  There are study groups to emphasis integral missiology, pedagogy, economics, sociology, psychology and interaction with the public sector.  We have finished a year of research and have discovered who these people are, and this year the emphasis is to write material for courses that will be used by the churches for teaching these groups.

Sara

Several students, including Sara Arrieta, are involved in this research project.  Sara will be preparing her personal investigation for graduation titled: Participation of the evangelical Christian church in the restructuring of the social fabric of displaced people in Colombia.  She will be using Ezekiel 37: 1-14 to show the connection between Ezekiel and the reality of displaced people in Colombia.

Sara has also prepared a field research portion of this project, and is assisting the area of pedagogy with a course on The New Identity. Her project includes studying the sociological literature about social capital, with exegetical and theological reflections and field research with interviews with religious leaders. She has helped the group studying the church involvement in the public sector where she helped to map the organizations that attend victims of sexual abuse.

The seminary focuses on both research projects and practical ministry assignments in the churches each week help to assure the student’s academic learning is applied to social and ministry realities.

By: Don Sendek, Serving in Colombia

Overcoming the Odds: Jeremiah’s Story

Jeremiah was born into a large, poor family. His parents are subsistence farmers. They live in a small, rural village just a few kilometers west of Mount Kilimanjaro in an area that for years was both economically and spiritually depressed. The area was known for outlaws, illegal homemade alcohol and witchcraft. At one point, there was actually a gang of bank robbers living in town.

In 1997, a local pastor, Wariael Mafie, travelled the area frequently and God began to put a burden on his heart for the area’s children. In 2003, the pastor started a small primary school. Despite advice to the contrary, he registered the school as an English medium school, meaning that English would be the language of instruction. Government schools teach in Swahili, the national language of Tanzania.

Jeremiah was a member of the very first class to start attending the school in 2003. In time, he graduated and went on to secondary school. In the meantime, his family was able to slowly pull themselves out of poverty. The scholarship Jeremiah received to attend school meant that, rather than pay school fees, his parents could use their scant financial resources to gradually improve the family’s situation. This is a common dilemma among the poor – how to prioritize and use their money when it isn’t enough to allow them to do both. When he finished secondary school, Jeremiah’s father sold a portion of the family land to help pay Jeremiah’s tuition at a nearby teacher’s college. After finishing the two-year program in primary education, he earned his teaching certificate.


Today Jeremiah is back at his primary school, but now he is a teacher! He has come full circle and is now helping the current students lay the foundation for their lives – just as he himself did a few years ago. “I am so glad to come back” to teach at his former school, Jeremiah said. “There is no other member of my family who has achieved a higher level of education.” Now, he is able to help his family financially as well.

Jeremiah has also given his life to Jesus Christ. After his father passed away while he was in college in 2015, some members in his family wanted to take him to a witch doctor who would tell his future. Instead, “I ran to Jesus because there is eternal life. I have committed my heart to Jesus Christ.” He is now an active member of Pastor Wariael’s church. “I am teaching Sunday school,” he beamed. He has quickly become one of the school’s prayer warriors.

Jeremiah is the embodiment of the vision God gave to Pastor Wariael – twenty years in the making.

By: David and Mary Ann Taylor, Serving in Tanzania

Saying Yes…

We’re still buzzing from the many God-encounters we had last night & here’s how the day unfolded!

In the morning I grabbed a coffee, my reading materials, and sat down to quickly get some time to connect with Jesus, knowing the demands of the day ahead.

I started reading from ‘God’s Generals’ by Roberts Liardon; inspiring stories that highlight the cost of individuals following Jesus, and saying ‘YES’ to Him, despite hardships and persecution.

Naturally, it’s easy to think my husband, Gary, and I have already said ‘YES’ as we came to serve in England as missionaries almost 25 years ago!  But I found myself that morning asking the Holy Spirit for MORE.  ‘I want to say YES today, to ALL you have!  I want more of you, no matter what the cost!’

So I prayed and paused.  A beautiful rhythm of relationship to practice.  Something I’ve learned the hard way over the years.  It’s easy to pray, plow through the day, and miss the divine encounters the Father has for us!  As I waited, the Holy Spirit brought to mind:

‘It’s Halloween!  An American tradition that has surged in popularity in the UK and the community is coming to your doorstep tonight!’

Then the words echoed in my mind from, Bev Murrill, co-founder of CGI, a network of churches we’re involved with:

“Darkness isn’t the reason we can’t shine,  it’s the reason to shine!” 

Step by step, He began unfolding His plan!

As we live in a highly populated area outside of London, that evening, we ended up having over 150+ kids come to our door!

Gary and I were dressed as cowboys, including hats & boots, and with our strong American accents still in tow, many were engaging in conversation.  With each group, we handed out sweets & said we’re glad they were enjoying this American tradition, but also that I wrote a prayer of blessing that morning for each family.  Printed & placed on colourful card, they could take home and pray over their own family.

Great conversations ensued, hugs, from neighbors we knew & people we just met, genuine gratitude for the effort given to make them feel welcomed at our door.  We ran out of sweets, I even began giving clementines away (some kids were clearly distressed at this point), so we turned out the lights and took homemade brownies & cards to a few more neighbors.  The night ended with our neighbors, Nick & Deb, inviting us in for a spontaneous dinner & continue chatting together.

In the past 24 hours here’s what I learned.

Encounters happen when we surrender and say YES to His plan.

It might be the unexpected even uncomfortable.  But so worth shining His light in a dark world!

(Here’s the prayer below we gave to our community:) 

Halloween … an American tradition brought to the UK! 

We’re the Americans, tonight dressed as cowboys from Texas!  We loved sharing sweet treats with you from our home, & we’d love to share a blessing over your life as well.

As friends of Jesus, or Isa the prophet, as spoken in Arabic, we pray that you & your family:

  • Will grow STRONG … physically, emotionally, mentally not living fearfully but bringing LOVE to all you meet.
  • Will grow in CONFIDENCE & FREEDOM not living in guilt or regret of our past, we cannot change.
  • Will grow as one in COMPLETENESS despite setbacks & disappointments.
  • Will experience PEACE in a busy, demanding pace of life.

We bless your spirit to experience all you were created to be.

John 6:63 ‘It is the Spirit, who gives LIFE!’
Much love in Jesus
Penny & Gary

By: Penny and Gary Seithel, Serving in the UK