Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter Newsletter

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Best of 2014: Wageira

This final post in our series about ministry highlights from last year is about our plans to start working in a group of rural Garífuna communities and live in Wageira*.

In case you missed it, here are the previous posts:
Part 1: I Never Realized
Part 2: Favorite Story
Part 3: Stories, Questions, Fellowship
Part 4: Growing Pains
Part 5: I Never Thought I Could

Where Is Wageira?

In the past few years, we have felt increasingly burdened for a group of rural communities east of here. In some locations there are very few believers, and many pastors have received little or no ministry training. We began to make plans to build a house in Wageira, a strategic hub in the area. Although we thought we would move there last year, it became clear that Fernando needed to solidify projects and invest in those he was mentoring here in the La Ceiba area before spending more time away. We also wanted to finish saving to purchase a pick-up truck so Fernando could more easily travel back and forth during the house construction and be able to haul materials on the rough dirt roads.

Answer to Prayer

During last year people gave special gifts, which we saved. In addition, a Christian brother helped Fernando find a good vehicle, and we completed the purchase last month. Fernando traveled to Wageira over New Year's, and the truck is running well. Thank you to each person who contributed toward this! We appreciate it so much.

What Next?

Fernando is figuring out details such as how to connect a water line to where the house will be built and make arrangements with a builder. He plans to make another trip this month and return frequently. We hope to begin spending more and more time in Wageira in the coming year, and we will share with you as that unfolds. We pray that the Lord will lead us to what He is preparing there and look forward to how He will work. Thank you for joining us in this new venture through your prayers!

Thank you for reading along with us in this series and for being a part of our lives and work here.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Best of 2014: I Never Thought I Could

We have been sharing a six-part blog series about some of the best parts of ministry last year. This fifth post is about education opportunities for current and future leaders and how this benefits their ministry work and personal development.

What Happened

Last year the three men Fernando has spent the most time discipling (see Part 4) began their undergraduate studies.

One reason young people in Honduras struggle with poverty and the temptation to get involved in unhealthy activities is lack of opportunity to study and work. Not only do they miss the chance to learn, grow, and make the most of years full of potential, this is a loss for families, communities, and the future of the country. As for pastors, most have to work in addition to their ministries, and more education usually earns greater respect from those they minister to. For these reasons, we feel it is highly important for young pastors and potential leaders to pursue higher education.

"I Never Thought I Could"

Some benefits of these three men's studies in their ministry work are quite obvious: computer skills facilitate documenting stories; advanced reading and writing skills aid Bible study; administrative abilities improve overall work performance; diligence and responsibility in their studies strengthens leadership.

However, perhaps one of the greatest gifts education has given them is something Wilber told me about recently when I asked him about last year's studies and this year's plans. Wilber is the first in his immediate family to study at a college level, and he really hadn't considered it until the opportunity was extended to him. You can also imagine that studying in one's second language presents unique challenges, as well.

But he said, "I love working on the computer, and I can't wait to learn more. I never thought I would like this kind of thing or even that I could do it!" Wilber discovered he was able to do more than he thought, and this is propelling him toward trying new things and taking new risks, not only in education, but also in leadership roles. In fact, by sharing his experience with other young people he could inspire them to do the same.

What Now?

Elvis, Alex, and Wilber have resumed classes after the holiday vacation and plan to study throughout this year. We would love to see more young people gain access to higher education for their futures and, especially, for the glory of God.

Coming up in Part 6: Wageira

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Best of 2014: Growing Pains

Welcome to Part 4 of a six-part series about ministry highlights from last year. This post is about how Fernando has mentored three young men and how they have grown.

Paul-Timothy Relationships

The Apostle Paul mentored younger men in the faith, such as Timothy, while they were serving in local churches. With this goal, Fernando has developed mentor relationships with Alex and Wilber (see Part 2) and Elvis.

Elvis (middle in the picture) is a young pastor from a community about an hour from La Ceiba.

He has shown outstanding commitment and discipline in his studies with the Garífuna seminary. This is what last year looked like for Elvis:
  • He started a church in his community, which has been growing and reaching people with the gospel, including those who have struggled with alcoholism.
  • He communicates with all of the seminary students, giving them information about classes and asking them how they are doing in their studies and ministries.
  • He has been an invaluable assistant for Fernando in the seminary.

Fernando's role is spending one-on-one time with them and giving a listening ear. As they encounter difficulties in their work or in relationships, he prays with them; when they need to make decisions, he asks them questions to think things through; when they are discouraged, he helps them remember who God is and all He has done. As important as their ministry activities are, this relational aspect is key in developing character and perseverance.

Growing Pains

Not long ago, Wilber (above with Baby J) came to our house, and I (Alison) asked him about his vacation in his home community. I thought he would be happy, since going back "home" is usually the best part of the year for Garífunas who have relocated to urban areas. Instead, he told me he felt so sad because there are very few believers and the church there is weak and struggling. Many people are trapped in alcoholism, including teenager and young adults. Several years ago, this would not have bothered Wilber, at least not much. But this time he simply couldn't just "have fun" while knowing people did not know Jesus, who has changed his life. His question now is, "What can be done?"

Praise God with us for how He is working in Wilber's heart and pray that God will use Wilber to reach many people with the good news of Christ. Pray for his community and others like it, that light will overcome the darkness and freedom will break chains of bondage. And pray for the Lord to prepare and send Garífuna workers to the harvest fields.

Now What? 

The goal for this year is that Alex and Wilber will take on greater leadership in roles where they can use their gifts (for example, Alex is a very gifted musician). The greater vision is that someday these three men will in turn mentor others in the faith!

Coming up in Part 5: I Never Thought I Could

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Best of 2014: Stories, Questions, Fellowship

Part 3 of the "Best of 2014" blog series is about a fellowship group that met to learn oral Bible stories and how this affected their spiritual lives. (If you missed it, here are Part 1 and Part 2.)

The Power of God's Word through Stories

Last year Fernando directed one of our church's weekly fellowship groups. A main activity was learning and discussing the oral Bible stories in Garífuna that Alex and Wilber were crafting for the OneStory project. In this method everyone present participates and learns together. It was an excellent opportunity for Wilber to tell the stories he had been working on and develop his leadership skills by facilitating discussions.

Wilber is passionate about telling Bible stories: this is how became a Christian! Several years ago, Fernando needed to find young Garifuna speakers to test stories he was crafting, and he discovered Wilber had a knack for learning them and relating them to life. Wilber said he wasn't interested in becoming a Christian, but he was always asking Fernando when the next story would be ready! The Lord worked in Wilber's heart, he eventually gave his life to the Lord. Now he is committed to sharing stories with others, and he thoroughly enjoying it.

Fellowship and a Safe Place for Questions

The group developed close fellowship and unity as they gathered together. They shared their struggles, answers to prayer, and questions about faith.

Just the other day, a young woman, Jane* told me she used to sit in church with so many questions in her head. During the past year, she and others could find clarity as Fernando helped them find answers in the Word. She was encouraged with how much she learned and grew last year. Jane said that, for the first time, she and her fiancé have been praying and reading the Bible together.

We praise God for those who could understand and receive salvation and then mature in their faith. They had a lot of fun together, too, and usually didn't want to go home!

What Now?
This year we would love to see Wilber take on more leadership and help others start fellowship groups in new places. In addition, Fernando would like the group to focus more evangelism so that others come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Coming up in Part 4: Growing Pains
*not her real name

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Best of 2014: Favorite Story

This second part of sharing last year's ministry highlights (click here to read Part 1) is about the OneStory project.

What Happened

Fernando trained Alex and Wilber, two college-age men, to craft oral Bible stories in the Garífuna language. (Read more oral Bible stories here.) These stories are to be used for evangelism and discipleship in Garífuna communities.

Fernando, Alex, and Wilber have crafted about 20 Bible stories, many having to do with families (read on for an example). Like many families around the world, Garífunas are experiencing great challenges with family disintegration and separation. Family support and unity has been key in Garífuna history. It is common for family members to help each other economically, as well as share living spaces and food. For these reasons, Alex (left in the picture) and Wilber (right) felt that this theme would be particularly effective in ministering to those who would hear the stories.

Joseph's Forgiveness

Alex was particularly impacted as he worked on the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers. The story goes that his brothers were jealous how much their father loved him, and so they sold him into slavery. Later, Joseph's forgiveness enabled the restoration of the family's unity.

Crafting a story requires being immersed in the biblical text and exegetical materials, documenting the story, and testing it with other native speakers. During this extensive process, the story spoke to Alex's heart, and he felt it would challenge and help other Garífuna people and their families be reconciled and reunited through forgiveness, as well.

Alex has actively participated in church from when he was little, but working on the story project led him to dig deeper into Scripture, gain fresh insights, and consider how God's Word could meet urgent needs of those he knows. Praise God for the power of His Word and for His Holy Spirit working through this project.

What Now?

Goals for the OneStory project this year:
  • Finish the story set (they are only a few stories away from reaching this).
  • Complete the revision process with the help of a consultant.
  • Record the stories and make them available to pastors and leaders.
  • Train and establish story fellowship groups in Garífuna communities.
  • Begin working on another set with a new theme.
Please pray for them in this important work!

Coming up next in Part 3: Stories, Questions & Fellowship (about how stories are used for evangelism and discipleship)

Monday, January 12, 2015

Best of 2014: I Never Realized...

This post, the first of a six-part series about the best in ministry last year, focuses on the Garífuna Bible school classes.

What Happened
  • Pastors and leaders from multiple Garífuna communities met four times throughout the year.
  • Each session was an intensive week covering (1) church planting and (2) basic fundamentals of the Christian faith.
  • Frequent discussions provided opportunities for questions and ideas about how to apply God's Word to specific scenarios among Garífuna people.
  • Several students are using the basic fundamentals material to disciple church members and potential leaders in their own churches.

Helpful Hands, Servant Heart

One of God's gifts for seminary staff and students was Deiby (far right):

Deiby joined the team and contributed his gifts of service and administration, preparing logistical details such as housing, meals, and class materials. His work enabled Fernando and the other leaders to focus more on teaching and interacting with students. Deiby plays guitar and sings; he led worship during morning devotionals that focused everyone's hearts on the Lord to start the day.

Perhaps what mattered most what not what Deiby did but how he did it: with love for the Lord and people, and with a servant heart. Praise the Lord for his life and service to the body of Christ.

"I Never Realized..."

As students shared what they learned throughout the year, these three themes stood out:

  • They realized they had misunderstood and, as a result, taught incorrectly parts of Scripture. Praise God they could honestly voice their questions, receive clarification, and discuss together how to improve their teaching of the Bible.

  • While the term "leadership disciplines" brings to mind prayer, study, and ministry tasks, students were most impacted by the discipline of investing in their own families. Many realized that they were focusing on their congregation's well-being while neglecting to care for their own marriages, children, and grandchildren. They were compelled to take to heart how the Bible teaches that solid church leadership requires solid families and to adjust their priorities accordingly.

  • "The Great Commission is about making disciples, and the best way to make disciples is planting churches." Participants realized that the common error of focus only on their own congregations, and they learned that church planting should be a central purpose of their churches.

2015: Plans and Vision
  • Students will meet for another four sessions to continue studying church planting and fundamental principles of the Christian life.
  • Our prayer is that young pastors and leaders will be equipped for and committed to planting churches and, consequently, reaching more people with the good news of Christ.
Praise God for how He worked in students' lives and ministries!

Coming up in Part 2: Which Story is Your Favorite?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Best of 2014: Blog Series Intro

Happy New Year! We are going to share a six-part series about the best parts of ministry from last year. As 2014 drew to a close, we were reminded of the ways the Lord worked, the lives He touched, and prayers He answered.

You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.
Psalm 40:5
Each post will summarize a project or aspect of ministry, a few testimonies or highlights, and the goal or direction for 2015. We hope this will encourage you who have been a part of our lives and work through your faithful prayers and sacrificial giving. Even more, we want to give glory to God and rejoice in His love, power, and faithfulness.