This summer marked two incredible milestones for me. First and foremost I celebrated 35 years with my bride, Mary. God has been so good to save us and bless us with a life of serving Him. We have grown both together and in Christ through these years in ways I could never have imagined. This year, we splurged and went on a vacation to the Dominican Republic to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and a week of relaxation in the sand and surf. The last time we went on a trip like that was ten years ago to celebrate our 25th. I am so thankful to God for Mary and her love, grace, and support to me through the years. She has been and is my dearest friend.
Another significant milestone for me this summer was marking my 25th year in international missions. Although we had done some mission trips in Texas on the Mexican border and around Mississippi during the first few years of our salvation, in 1987 I had the opportunity to go with a few other church members on a mission trip to Ecuador, serving with the Foreign Mission Board. That trip absolutely changed my life. In fact, God used it to define the path I would walk for the rest of my life. In July 1987, four of us from my home church flew to Miami to meet up with approximately forty other volunteers from SBC churches. Then we flew to Guayaquil, spent the night in the Grand Hotel, and traveled on a rickety bus to the coastal town of Manta the next day. I worked that week with a small team in Puerto Cayo led by FMB missionary Mark Fischer and MKs Scott Tye and Rebecca Sosa. We led VBS, evangelized door to door, and led evangelistic services at night. I returned to the USA a different person, walking a new path to an unknown destination, but it pointed toward the horizon of international mission service.
Mary and I have continued to be involved in short-term mission projects ever since that pivotal trip in 1987 (in fact, about 80 so far). In just two years from that first trip we were living in New Orleans for me to earn my Master of Divinity. Two years later and one month before my seminary graduation, we were appointed to serve with the FMB in Ambato, Ecuador. We went to Rockville, VA for orientation and then spent eight months in Costa Rica learning some Spanish, arriving in Ecuador as missionaries on Easter Sunday one year after appointment. We served there with Steve and Carol Thompson until being reassigned to Quito so that I could help with teaching at the Baptist seminary.
That first term was filled with joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, good times, and bad. Many of those days were harder than I want to remember, but I never, ever, ever regretted that I was a missionary with the Foreign Mission Board serving the precious people of Ecuador. Our children were raised there and think of themselves as half Latino, speaking Spanish now like Ecuadorians, and still struggling to appreciate some components of USA life.
As we sat at the airport last month awaiting the flight from Louisville, it dawned on me that this would mark my 25th year in international missions and that the flight from Miami to Guayaquil and then a bus from the airport there retraced the exact route that I had taken all those years ago. God had orchestrated it all and brought it to my mind as we sat in the terminal!
Our team of five from Louisville and five from Arkansas, joined up with three more gringos (representing four USA churches) and two more Ecuadorians (Joselito and his daughter Michelle) in Guayaquil and we went by bus through the night to the mountain town of Tambo. We checked into the hotel to sleep a few hours before heading to the church where we would work all week. We went to lead VBS in four different Highland Quichua villages, teach pastors to prepare and protect their churches for attacks from cults and the heresy of the prosperity gospel, and build a training center. We were pleasantly surprised to see the walls of the training center already up and the cement on the 2nd floor hardened. We hauled, tossed to the 2nd floor, and laid about 2500 concrete blocks that week shoulder to shoulder with Quichua brothers and sisters, in addition to the other work of VBS and teaching. Pastor James from the Arkansas team served the team by massaging tired muscles and sore backs as needed. The Quichua people weren’t sure what to think about that when he invited them to join in and receive a massage as well. However, once their initial shyness was over, they submitted to the “therapy” and were amazed both by the relief they experienced as well as having a rich, powerful, white North American serve them. Pastor James even washed the dirty feet of a poverty stricken 81 year-old Quichua man. That might have been one of the most powerful sermons our team “preached” that week!
We were serving in an area that has over 330 isolated communities with only 32 churches. One day we drove for hours to get to the other side of a region where a believing couple lives in the gale winds of the Andean highlands. They are the only believers for many miles around and are undergoing persecution, ridicule, shunning, and punishment for accepting Christ and not continuing in Catholicism. The rugged sector where they live has 22 outlying towns and villages and only two have any with gospel witness—at opposite ends of the sector! National believers told us about the intense persecution that still occurs in the rural areas of the region. Moreover, many folks of working age have immigrated to other countries for work throughout the last 15 years or so. We met a number of toddlers and elementary age kids being raised by a grandparent with no memory at all of their parents. Needs are overwhelming—spiritually and physically. One national pastor asked for an effort that would combine evangelism with medical/vision/dental, and hearing checks, traveling through the area to meet needs and gain credibility, share the gospel, plant churches and begin the discipleship and training process. We already have plans for this and are beginning preliminary calendar and logistical steps to make this a reality.
needed to finish it. Please pray about sending tax-deductible donations dedicated to finishing this training center. It would be a phenomenal investment in the advance of biblical doctrine and Christian churches in Ecuador.
I also had the chance to share with the nationals and the team a message that may sound familiar to some regular readers of my books and blog, that of reaching and teaching. However, God is leading me more and more to emphasize the three-fold emphasis that He is doing through our ministry.
- We want to reach those who have never heard the Gospel or Jesus’ name and preach the saving Gospel to them. We also want to disciple them and teach them to obey all that He commanded us.
- We also want to reach the ones who come with us on teams by connecting them with the nations. We want to teach them all that God can do through them—either as senders or as goers. Many have never left their comfort zones to go to another culture, and some fear that they could not do anything useful if they did. We know that we could send down money and let solid national teachers train people for us, but God has not called goers to send a check for missions, but rather to GO. We are giving USA church members the opportunity to go, see what needs to be done, and what they can do. It was on such a trip that God called Mary and me into missions. I believe He wants us to give others the opportunity to hear Him speak to them in similar ways.
- We want to reach nationals with the awareness that a vast world is out there, needing the Gospel as badly as they did before they heard it, and teach them that they can go if God calls them. For years we have excused the nationals—and they have excused themselves—from missionary service since they lacked our seminary degrees and deep-pocket mission agencies. No more. God is calling out multitudes of believers to go and they are finding support to make it happen, but they need training—biblical, theological, missiological, and intercultural skills that can be easily provided through the training programs we provide. In fact, on virtually all of the Reaching & Teaching trips we have had at least one (often many more) nationals share that they also feel led to be missionaries, some to other peoples in their own countries and others to far-flung nations around the world. Indeed, on this most recent trip, Segundo asked for prayer for himself and his wife as they explore this call that they believe God has laid on them—to go to other peoples as missionaries with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.