Vaughn pictures

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lessons learned on the Border

Listening is Key to Relationships

We are so thankful to our friends and companions on the border.  One of the most important things I learned from Manuel Padilla is the importance of listening to people in the community.  Relationships are the foundation of ministry.  And one of the most important component of forming relationships is listening in order to understand the people and network of relationships around you.  This is especially important when working across cultures.

Although only 100 people attend Las Tierras functions on a weekly basis, the relational foundation built by Pastor Manuel and our congregation goes much deeper.  He has formed relationships with the mayor, city council, state representatives, community leaders, business owners, principals, teachers, and countless others in the community.  When I started working with Manuel, I was frustrated at his community development approach.  Why is a missionary organizing the community to petition for street lights or raising money for a public park.  For goodness sake, even our sports camp didn't have overt Bible lessons or evangelism.  But over time I see the effectiveness of Manuel's strategy.  Over time people see Manuel's love and concern for the community.   His service to the community gives him credibility and lays a foundation of trust.  God is at work in people's lives and when they go through hard times they often go to Manuel.  When people in the community come they are ready to hear what God's Word says.  This is much more effective than a publicity campaign or a flashy tract.  God's Word is powerful and effective.  People that would never darken the door of the church come to Manuel, because he has demonstrated that he is trustworthy and has others interests at heart.

As I look back at my experiences as a pastor, I often had all the answers that I wanted to dump onto the youth or congregation.  In evangelism this is often our tactic as well.  We have a set outline of information we try to get through regardless of the person's situation and what God happens to be doing in their life at that moment in time.  This was not either Jesus or Paul's approach.  They both tailored their teaching to the needs of the people around them.  Jesus' teaching to Nicodemus in John 3 is much different than the teaching he gave the Samaritan woman in the next chapter.  Jesus asked a lot of questions and tailored his teaching to that specific person.  Paul used different language and illustrations depending on his audience.  In Acts 13 he is addressing the Jews and reasons from the Old Testament Scriptures.  In Athens, he quotes Greek poetry and illustrations from their own culture.

Manuel has given me some tools to help me listen and understand the cultural context I hope to serve.

Focus on the Good

As a youth pastor at Heartland, I wore myself out trying to get the youth to invite friends to evangelistic activities.  I was frustrated that a couple of kids didn't prioritize youth group.  They were always doing extra curricular activities at school or focusing on sports.  I had a paradigm shift when I started viewing my job as equipping these kids to shine in the arenas God had given them rather than create a program to fix what I saw as a deficiency.  Several of these kids went on to star in musicals and plays, play on all-star sports teams, and one gal swam in the Olympics.  They ended up with platforms far beyond what I could have ever imagined.

Both Manuel Padilla and Jose Rayas reinforced this lesson by challenging me to focus on the assets of a community and not simply gravitating to the things that are broken.  Each person and community has been given gifts and resources and is called to be a good steward of those resources.  This paradigm has a profound effect on our short term projects.

Often North Americans come to fix what is wrong in these poor communities.  We see the lack of resources and we jump in to make things right.  It makes us feel good to help.  But is it what is best for the community?  Sometimes our help of one person or group causes jealousy or tension in the community.  Sometimes our help can undermine local attempts to do the same thing.  For example, our flashy VBS may cause the children to become discontent with the local Sunday school teacher.

Often this goes back to the first principle.  Listen and understand what is going on in the community.  Connect to the dreams and aspirations of the local church or ministry.  Figure out ways to support them in their ongoing work.  Make sure they come out looking like the good guy.

I think that two key principles are: 1) Don't do anything for the national church/ministry that they can do for themselves.  2) Connect to the passion and vision that the church/ministry has for the community and support them in reaching the goals they have set.

A corollary principle is that the relationship is more important than the task.  As North Americans we want to get things done.  But the relationship you develop with church members/leaders and the relationships you help foster between the church and community are the biggest benefit of the trip.

Our Biggest Asset

I spent years in school to become an expert in sharing my faith.  I have read hundreds of books, acquired useful skills, and have loads of resources to help share my faith.  But I had a lot to learn from the believers at Promesa de Vida in Juarez.  In October I shared how the church would go out and simply ask for prayer.  Then they would follow up these visits and see how God worked.  It was amazing to see how God answered prayer and many joined evangelistic Bible studies.  Last December a ton of people came to the evangelistic Christmas dinner and a number of people have come to Christ through the faithful witness of his people.  The biggest asset we have is the power of God at work in the lives of his people and unleashed through the simple proclamation of his Word.
Promesa Christmas Dinner
Working with Promesa de Vida has also helped me understand different types of leadership style.  The ways that our churches function look different.  This will be important as we head to Costa Rica and work under national leadership.  We will have to listen and adapt ourselves to a whole new set of cultural norms.  But thankfully the same power of God is at work in Costa Rica as it is on the border.

Please continue to pray for the leadership and church members of our churches in Juarez.  Pray for peace and stability.  Pray that God will provide their physical needs.  According to the El Paso Times 40% of the businesses have closed down in Juarez due to the violence.  Many church members are looking for work.  Above all pray that they would fix their eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of their faith.  May he receive the glory due his name.

For Las Tierras, pray for a greater integration between the Anglo and Hispanic members.  Praise God for growth of small groups.  Pray for the development of leaders for the church.

Monday, May 10, 2010

When Helping Hurts

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert has helped us evaluate what we’re doing to help the poor.

Poverty is not just a lack of material goods; it stems from broken relationships with God, self, others, and creation. The Gospel redeems these broken relationships.

As image-bearers of the God, the poor are given the responsibility to steward the resources God has given them in order to reflect his glory. Our task is to empower the poor by focusing on their assets and enabling them to cultivate and care for their family and community.

It is important to differentiate between Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development in determining an approach to needs in the community. A pan handler may want relief, but he may need rehabilitation from addiction to drugs and development of job skills.

God uses the church to reconcile all things under the lordship of Christ.

We must guard against helping the poor to fulfill our need to be needed

This book has implications for missions, short term mission trips, and even local mercy ministry. I strongly recommend that you get a copy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Changes in Ministry

We had a great time visiting Tijuana in January. God is using the missionaries there to do amazing things. Gary Nantt has faithfully taught God's Word for over ten years Mexican Presbytery just south of San Diego. Morgan Roe and his family have been putting the Gospel to work in deeds of mercy. We especially enjoyed visiting the orphanage where the Roe family ministers. It reminded us of the street kids in the Philippines.

We appreciate the time we spent with these fellow missionaries and the work that they are doing, but differences in philosophy of ministry and family ministry style have led both of us to conclude that we shouldn't work there.

For the past several months I have taking two classes on community development from the Chalmers Center. I highly recommend the book When Helping Hurts.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Harvest

Despite the warm sunny day, a chill went down my spine as I looked out over one of the biggest cemeteries in Juarez. We passed a funeral at the Catholic church across the park from Promesa de Vida. It is the fourth one I've seen in the six weeks I've been here. I was walking with three youth from Promesa de Vida and one of them commented on the recent violence at a corner market.

Perched on the side of a hill overlooking the graveyard we stopped at a humble dwelling and tapped on the wrought iron gate. The door opened and every wrinkle of the woman's sun worn face melted into the most incredible smile. A small middle aged man appeared, and he too broke into a huge smile revealing two rows of crooked teeth. A boy of 12 peeked out revealing striking green eyes.

The man apologized for his humble accommodations as he turned over some buckets in the yard and sent the boy for some cardboard to protect our church clothes. Jorge, Guadalupe, and Cristiano expressed a desire to study the Bible as a result of our evangelism in the neighborhood. The boy pulled out the Bible and study materials we had left them. He read the passages to his caretakers and we discussed the importance that Jesus had to be fully God and fully man.

Jorge is a remarkable guy. Between the age of 6-10 he tended cattle that grazed along the Rio Grand not far from Juarez. We joked that now the River is neither big (grand) nor fierce (The Mexicans call it the Rio Bravo or "Fierce River"). He used catch big fish in the River. And one time the cattle strayed into the US. He said that the "migra" (immigration) came and helped him get the cows back to the other side.

At age 10 he left home and lived on the streets of Juarez. He was one of the kids that would stand under the bridge trying to catch coins that the tourists would drop down by the river. Now he sells corn on the streets and corn husks for tamales. The corn boils in the outdoor kitchen, and we sit in front of the grinder to make the masa for tortillas or tamales.

This family is one of five who have responded to our recent evangelistic campaign. Today we are studying the new relationship we have as sons and heirs because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I am amazed how Eder, an engineering student, takes this profound doctrine and explains it in terms that connect with this uneducated family.

After the study I asked why Jorge has corn tied over the top of the door. He said that it is an old custom to offer the spirits some corn to ensure a good crop. Despite centuries of Catholicism,
I am surprised how many traditions like this persist in the Mexican culture. The renewed interest in Santa Muerte and the brutal mutilations in Juarez demonstrate the diabolical origin of this fascination with spirits. But the light of Christ is shining even brighter in this dark time, and people are coming to the light.

Luis is also involved in one of our evangelistic Bible studies. His scars and tattoos are reminders of his life as a gang member and drug addict. He says, “I can’t take credit for getting off drugs. It was the power of God. I pray that that same power will help me be a good father to my four boys, so they don’t have to go through the stuff I have.” Luis’ enthusiasm for the Gospel is contagious. He asked me for the notes of the Sunday school I taught, so he can go share it with his friends that are still in drugs and gangs. Pray that God’s Word will continue to pierce the
darkness. Pray for these young believers to grow in their faith.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

First month in Juarez

For one month now I have been working with Promesa de Vida Church in Juarez. I have enjoyed getting to know pastor Juan Antonio Garcia and the members at Promesa. There have been 5 murders within two blocks of the church in October, and 100 murders in the colonia this year. These tragedies have caused the community to consider what happens to them when they die. Just as a jewler often uses a black backdrop to highlight the brilliance of his diamonds. The darkness in Juarez highlights the splendor of Jesus Christ, the True Light of the World. The church is in the middle of an evangelistic campaign to share Christ with their neighbors. We have had a great response. In October four people from the community have joined Bible studies introducing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and two weeks ago a lady professed faith in Christ.

I have learned so much from my brothers and sisters in Juarez. In the United States we often make sharing the Gospel too complicated. We have glitzy programs and media blitzes. But this church is simply using the access we have as children of God to bring the community before his throne.

They go out in groups of two or three to knock on doors and ask people how the church can pray for them. Then after praying for those people at the Tuesday night prayer meeting, we make a follow up visit to see what God has been doing in their lives. I shouldn't be so surprised, but it has been amazing to see God answer those prayers. The first Sunday in October I went with a group and we met Patricia. Two men were murdered that Friday in her brother in law's store around the corner. She has asthma and was experiencing difficulty breathing because of fear. We prayed for her and followed up with a visit two weeks later. She was moved by our prayers and said that she hadn't had to use her inhaler in two weeks. Now she is interested in what we believe and wants to visit our church with her husband. Pray for Patricia and many others like her living in fear and looking for hope.

There is a young man who Pastor Juan has been working with. He is in a drug rehab center down the street. Nicolas is the director of the center. He showed us around and explained that he was a drug addict 8 years ago. But God got a hold of him through a 12 step program. He came to faith and now is pointing others to Jesus as their only hope for coming clean from drugs. He lamented the fact that the church doesn't have the same vulnerability and honesty that many guys find in a 12 step program, because all of us are addicts to different forms of sin and need the support and accountability of Christian brothers and sisters.

I was a bit apprehensive visiting the rehab center because the drug cartels have been targeting these centers in the past couple of months. For more information check out this El Paso Times article. Nicolas asked for prayer for these guys trying to leave a life of drugs, crime, and violence.

Please pray for safety for me and the church members. Pray for peace for the Los Alcaldes neighborhood. And pray for me as I grow in my ability to share the Gospel in Spanish.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sports Camp

Last week Las Tierras Community Church hosted a sports camp for 100 kids in our community. A team from Village Seven PCA in Colorado Springs came down to help. It was helpful in deepening budding relationships and cultivating new ones. The other day I went into Walmart and a young boy ran up waving excitedly. "I know you, you're one of my teachers from sports camp!" This opened an opportunity to meet his father. Heather has eaten lunch with another lady who has children our kid's ages. Please pray that God would continue to use us to demonstrate his love to those in our community.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Pictures of the Rodriguez house

Heartland guys, We appreciate the work you did last week. It was a great encouragement to us and I got to meet several people in the community because of your presence.


The Vaughns