Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Lemon

One problem with having 4 kids, like we now do, is you have to figure out how to get them from place to place. This is especially important while living in a foreign country, because A) a lot of the driving that we do is VERY long distance, from Wyoming to southern Mexico, and B) you REALLY don't want to have vehicle problems in while driving in a foreign country with 4 kids in the back. Also, we tend to travel with a lot of luggage, which comes from having a large family, and comes from us many times heading to places like retreats, youth camps, etc, all of which require instruments, supplies, sleeping bags, and other large items. So, when Samuel was born, we had to make a vehicle switch. The old van we owned, a Toyota, would fit 4 kids, but with 4 kids we wouldn't be able to fold up a seat to fit more luggage, so we would be very limited on space for items. We decided to buy an older, MUCH larger 7 passenger Dodge van, with plenty of room for kids, luggage, instruments, and finally with a hitch for hauling even more supplies to camps and retreats. We knew the gas costs would kill us, but they'd be offset by the blessing of being able to get around with everything we needed.

The beast of a van we bought to bring to Mexico.

At the last minute, we decided to leave the old Toyota behind with family instead of selling it, in case we had problems and needed the van again in some unforeseeable future.

Well, that future has arrived.

Unfortunately, the van we purchased has been a lemon. Right off the bat, it was in the shop with some fairly costly problems, and it has been in the shop nearly every month since then for a variety of issues. And those problems have added up to a point where we can't keep paying each month just to have a vehicle that might work. It's not a wise use of our resources financially, and it has been an added stress that we just don't need.
Our van earlier this year, stuck in a parking lot with a broken ball joint and a tire about to fall off. One of many mechanical failures we've experienced this past year.

So, next week, I'll be driving back to Wyoming for a very fast trip. While there, I'll leave this van behind to sell, and pick up the Toyota to bring it back to Mexico. It's too small for us, but I know that it's more reliable that the other van, and we'll have to make it work for a time until we're able to get something more appropriate for our family and our ministry here.

So please pray! Pray that I'll have safe travels there and back (6 total days of driving, assuming I have no car problems). Pray for Sara and the kids as they stay behind in Mexico while I'm gone, that they will be protected and provided for in every way. Pray for God to give us the right vehicle at the right time that will be perfect for us and the ministry here.

And most of all, pray that the Gospel will keep going forth here in Mexico, no matter what vehicle we have!

Friday, September 18, 2015

When God Moves People

Monday, Samir flew to Oklahoma.

This has been a difficult year for us here in Guzmán relationaly. This is always true in missions, especially in the first few years. You leave behind family, friends, jobs, churches, and connections, to go around the world. You immerse yourself in a new culture, a new language, with new people. It takes a while to build up friendships, and sometimes even longer because you're always the outsider. You're always the one who can't communicate as well, who can't understand the things that they take for granted, the one who doesn't understand why that play on words was funny, or who doesn't understand the importance of what was just shared with you. So there's always walls that you struggle to get around and over in order to build real, deep, important relationships and friendships.

This was compounded for us because, unlike most missionaries that attended language school with us, we weren't heading to Mexico to work with anyone who was already there. We didn't have a team; we didn't have Americans there waiting for us who would be able to show us around, introduce us to people, be our friends, and bear our burdens. We didn't really know anyone here in Guzmán when we came here. We simply tried to trust God, and stepped out into the unknown.

Over time, we started making friendships. We began to meet people, grew in our confidence of the language, and share more of ourselves with others. We invited people into our homes. Sometimes they invited us into theirs. We became part of a church, and spent a lot of time with them. Things were still lonely, but it got easier.

Then, earlier this year, we had to make the decision to leave that church, which cost us many of our friendships (If you don't know that story, you can ask us about it another time, this isn't the place to retell it). So, for the past few months, we've been without a lot of the connections and friendships that we've come to rely upon. It's been a challenging few months.
Us with Marlene and Samir at his going away party during our home Bible study.

But, in the midst of this all, God has given us some good, Godly encouragement, friends who lift us up and who we're blessed to spend time with. Among these are two couples, Marlene and Samir, and Laura and Gonzalo. We spend every Thursday night (usually along with a few other times per week) with Marlene and Samir and Marlene's sister Sara, making dinner, and usually playing games and talking until midnight. We see Laura and her kids (who are our kids' best friends here) several times a week as well, and Sara and Laura are very close. Even as things have been challenging since leaving the church, we've had some people our age to spend time with and be encouraged by. Marlene and Samir and Laura and Gonzalo have also been very instrumental in helping us start our new house church here, serving along side of us and encouraging us in the work.

But, Monday, Samir flew to Oklahoma. He's been blessed with an opportunity to work there as a veterinarian for a few years, and after spending the past few months getting his visa approved, a few days ago he was finally able to travel there to begin working. Marlene will be leaving to join him shortly once her visa is ready and Samir has prepared things there for her. We're excited for them, and excited to see how God uses them there in western Oklahoma. But it's hard to see them leave.

Sara with Laura, Samir, Laura's mother, and Marlene

At the same time, Gonzalo has been transferred to work in Manzanillo, about 2 hours south of us, and Laura and the kids will be moving there in the next few weeks to join him. This will be especially hard for our family because the kids all spend so much time together. Zoe, Caitlynn and Gabe are already having a hard time with the idea that their friends won't be living here anymore.  It's also challenging for us to see Marlene, Samir,Gonzalo and Laura all leaving Ciudad Guzmán at about the same time.

Most of all though, it will leave a big hole in us. In some ways, after what's happened over the past few months here, we almost feel like we're starting all over again with our friendships in Guzmán. Sometimes, we don't always share our prayer requests because we don't want to sound like we're whining, or like we're not happy to be here. We're incredibly blessed to be serving here, and we do love it here. But we also want to be faithful to pray for one another, and we can't do that if we don't tell you how to pray for us. So, would you pray for us in our loneliness? These next few weeks will especially be difficult for us. Pray that God will give us new connections and friendships, and that we'll be able to form deep relationships with more people. Pray that God will sustain us and be with us as we struggle with missing people. Pray that He will be our comfort and our strength in the middle of this.

Pray for Samir and Marlene as they begin a new life in Oklahoma, going through much of what we're going through here. Pray that God will use them there and encourage them. Pray for Laura and Gonzalo in Manzanillo. Pray that they will find a church to be a part of and serve in. Pray for both of these couples, that God will keep their marriages strong as they go through the stressful changes that come with moving to new places with new jobs. Pray that they will grow during these times, and that God will use them wherever they are.

Thank you for your prayers for us. And thank you for your continued support for this ministry here in Mexico. God bless!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Learn a Language

Many times since we left Casper at the end of 2011 to head to language school, I've thought to myself: 'Why didn't I start learning this language sooner?'

I had the chances.  In Jr. High school and High school, I decided to take Latin instead of Spanish (not that I regret that decision, since it led to me meeting my wife and learning a language that has been a huge foundation for me in several things, including learning Spanish).  In 2004, I took a team of youth to Ecuador to do our first international mission trip.  While there, I realized how terrible my language skills were (like when a doctor asked me, 'Como está?' and I replied, 'Nick'.)  When we came back from there, I didn't learn Spanish.  In 2008, we went to Chile, and I started to realize how the Lord was calling us to a Spanish speaking country.  I came back, and learned a little bit of simple vocabulary, but it still seemed so far away, so I didn't learn much.  It really took until the date was set for us to go to language school when I realized: I needed to learn this language.  A new language!

Obviously, Spanish is an important part of my life now.  But, as I've thought about it, as I've talked to other people about it, as we've traveled back to the United States once (and we're getting ready to do it again in a week), I've realized something: You need to learn this language, too.

Ok, maybe not this language (though I do think that most of you should choose Spanish, which I'll explain in a minute).  But you need to learn a language.  Something.  Anything.  We're not good at it.  We learn a few words.  A few of us can remember a few phrases from high school Spanish, or a big or French pronunciation from that one college class you needed for the credit.  But overall, as Americans, we just don't learn another language (and I'm generalizing, so if this doesn't apply to you, ignore the following sentences).

In fact, we're usually proud that we don't learn another language.  We boast about how 'this is America!' so we only speak English, because we all know that the English language is one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in the Bible.  We post pictures on Facebook about our encounters on the phone when they ask us to press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish, and we ask what's happened to our nation.  We put posts on fb and send out emails that say that if someone wants to live in our country, they need to speak our language.  Sadly, a high percentage of these posts are from my fellow conservative, evangelical friends.  We're proud of our monolingualism, and we often wear it as a badge of honor.  But, I want you to consider that, if you're someone who wants to help someone, if you're someone who cares about people, and especially if you want to make an eternal impact on someone with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you should do everything you can to learn another language.

Here's the facts: the world comes to America.  It always has.  We're a well-known nation of immigrants.  Right now, a lot of that world coming to America is from the south: Mexico.  Honduras.  Nicaragua.  Ecuador.  And they all speak Spanish.  And yes, if they're going to live in the United States, they should probably learn English.  But the fact is, they want to learn!  They're working on it, they're trying.  And most of us who say, 'They should learn our language,' have never experienced what it's like to live in another country and learn the language and the culture and the customs.  It's still hard for us living here in Mexico, and we paid to go to a great language school in Costa Rica first to help us out.  The immigrants to the United States don't have that luxury.  They come and right away need to live, and it will take them a long time to learn the language.

Spanish distribution in the United States... TEN years ago!  How much do you think this map has changed in the past 10 years?

But the fact is, while they learn slowly learn English, increasingly, you won't be as good at your job if you can't speak their language.  Teachers: how many of you have already had times where you needed to know Spanish to speak to a student?  Or to his family?  Doctors and nurses: how often do people come for help, with little or no English?  Police officers:  How often do you need to know Spanish in order to help someone, or in order to know if a situation is safe or not?  Pastors: how many people in your communities can you not help at all personally simply because you can't even communicate with them to see what their needs are?  I told someone recently that I needed Spanish to be a missionary, but more and more, I wasn't sure I could be the best pastor possible without at least some Spanish.  And I (along with a lot of you reading this) am from Wyoming, which isn't nearly as influenced by immigration right now as other states.  If I needed it in Wyoming, you know it's needed in Colorado, and Arizona, and Texas, and all across the country.

If this gets your national pride riled up, I simply have this to say: stop it.  I'm not asking you to be less American.  I'm not asking you to exchange the red, white, and blue for the green, white, and red of Mexico's flag.  I'm not asking you to commit any kind of treason at all.  I'm asking you to love people more than you love this idea of a one-language nation.

When people move into your community, they need help.  They need to know how to find a good doctor.  Or a mechanic.  Or they need help moving a sofa.  Or they need directions.  Sometimes, they hit hard times (like we all do), and they need help with food.  Or with changing a tire.  Or they just need a friend, neighbors they can talk to.  In a thousand different ways, people need help.  And if you choose to wait for them to learn the language before you're willing to help them, you are saying that your English language is more important to you than the needs and lives of the people around you.

Secondly, if you learn Spanish, you can go and serve and help in so many places.  You can help rebuild homes in flood-soaked Mexico.  You can share the Gospel high in the mountains of Ecuador.  You can help to pull women out of sex-trafficking in Nicaragua.  You can reach inner-city youth in Chile.  When there's a disaster, you can go, and help, and serve.  You can be ready to go as the Lord calls you.
Look at all the places you can go and speak Spanish!
Finally, I've never heard someone say that they regretted knowing more languages.  In Europe, they learn two, three, four at a time, because they know that it's that important.  Even many of the kids in Latin America can speak English far better than most people that I know can speak Spanish.  When you learn another language, you think differently.  Your mind begins to do strange things, and you absorb things in different ways.  It's not easy; in some ways, it'll be one of the harder things you've ever done.  But it's worth it.

By the way, maybe Spanish really isn't your thing.  Like, at all.  That's fine.  What about French?  That's fine!  You can go so many places and share the Gospel using French!

Hey!  Wanna share about Jesus and help people here?
Or what about Chinese?  Almost 20% of the world's people live in China.  Or you could learn Hindi, and share Jesus with only about 17% of the world's population.

Somehow, in some way... learn a language.  Adults, it's harder for us, but try.  Learn a few phrases.  Learn some words.  Know how to ask someone if they need help.  Learn how to say Jesus loves you.  Learn left, right, straight, blocks, and miles, so that you can give people directions.  Learn numbers, so that you can help people with phone numbers, or count money.  Just start learning.  If you have kids, make them learn something.  Not just a few words in a class that they'll forget once the final is done.  Let them really learn.  They'll never regret it when they're looking for jobs, when they're meeting people and making friends, when they have chances to help people, and when they have chances to share the Gospel.

If you're younger, and you're reading this, you're so lucky.  God has made your brain so that it learns languages easier and faster and more naturally than an older brain.  Take advantage of it, and learn as much as you can.  If you know someone who speaks another language fluently and naturally, ask to spend time with them and listen to them so you can learn about flow and pitch and accents.  Do everything you can so you can learn.  You'll never regret it.

Don't let a stubbornness against learning a new language be the stumbling block that slows someone down on their way to the cross.  Instead, look around your city, look at your world, and tell God that you want to be equipped to reach anyone that you can, in any way that you can, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

There's nothing sweeter than praying, worshiping, and studying the Bible in another language with native speakers.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How You Can Help Us: Give

Today, I wanted to continue with the series that I started a few weeks ago, about the different ways that you can support the ministry here in Mexico (and, not to just make this about us, but ways that you can support ANY missionary that you know).  However, before I begin with today's theme, I want to say this: I do NOT write these things to make anyone feel guilty!  We know that we have amazing supporters (in many different ways) who love us and lift us up.  So when we write about communication (like last time) we don't do it because we feel neglected in that area.  We talk about these themes because we know our supporters love us, and that they want to know how to lift us up, encourage us, and support the ministry.  So, as you read these, be encouraged!

That said, today we want to talk about giving.  For me, growing up in a Southern Baptist church as a kid, giving to support a missionary, a specific missionary, wasn't really something I ever thought about.  We gave to the offering plate, and that was all, and we'd hear about missions sometimes (especially at Christmas time, thanks to Ms. Lottie Moon), but when we gave, we gave knowing that it would go... somewhere. Eventually it would make it to some missionaries.  We didn't know who, and we didn't know where, so I never had many chances to put a face and a name with the money that was given.  So, when the Lord led us to be a part of Global Outreach, I was surprised and a little scared, to be honest.  I didn't really know what it meant, what it looked like, to have to raise support.  Plus, we had some people telling us that the churches in Wyoming were too small, too Southern Baptist, and not plentiful enough to support a missionary like us.  But, we felt called in this direction, so we prayed, and went out in faith.  And, as God usually does, He used a situation that didn't look possible in order to do what only He can do, and here we are a few years later, having done our time at language school, and now our first year in Ciudad Guzmán, Mexico!

So, for missionaries like us, and like our friends that are serving in Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and other countries, financial giving is like the physical rope that holds up our mission here (last time, we talked about communication, the emotional support).  But, what does the money actually DO?

  1. It Lets Us Live:  This is one of the most obvious uses, but also a very important one.  What you give to us allows us to live.  It buys groceries, it pays for the rent, and the utilities.  It helps us pay the incredible cost of our insurance (yeah, we know, NO one wants to get started on the cost of insurance right now!).  It allows us to have what we need so that we don't have to worry about those things while we focus on sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ here in Mexico.  And we can't tell you what a blessing it is every time we're able to pay a bill, or buy a loaf of bread.  When I shop, I constantly try to remember, with every can and package of food that we buy, that you, one of you, gave generously from what the Lord has given you so that we can support our family like this.  And I can't tell you what a humbling and blessed reminder that is every time.  THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts for blessing us and supporting us in this way as you give to the Lord.
  2. It Provides for Emergencies: This may seem like part of #1, but for a missionary, it's in it's own separate category.  Daily living is often complicated enough in a foreign country, especially when you're still figuring out the system, where things are, and how to take care of everything.  But, when things happen, like when Zoe broke her leg in January, or when the front brakes went out on the van in August, it's such a huge blessing to not have to worry about a way to pay for those problems on top of everything else.
  3. It Allows Us To Travel: Right now, we have to leave Mexico every 6 months to renew our visas.  This means a drive to the border (15 hours away) with all of the gas, food stops, hotel stays, and tolls (Mexico loves their toll roads) that you'd expect, twice a year.  It adds up.  But, there's also in-country travel.  Travel to Bernal in April for a pastor's conference.  Travel to Manzanillo for a different conference in June.  Travel to Colima for a youth camp in July.  Travel to Sayula, or Tamazula, or Guadalajara, or other places to preach and share the Gospel.  Travel this coming Saturday to El Grullo this Saturday with a van full of students for a youth retreat.  Every time, we're able to go where we're needed and do what we're called to do because of your giving.
  4. It Allows Us to Share: Being able to live here means we're able to share.  We're able to get Bibles.  We're able (in a few months) to start English classes, and get the materials we need to offer these classes.  We're able to host meals for college students, and for families that we're getting to know.  We're able to purchase Christian marriage books to counsel families and marriages that are struggling.  We're able to meet needs of people as God leads us.  We're able to get materials for Bible studies. We're able to be the light that Christ has called us to be here.  And THAT is everything!
  5. It Lets us Dream:  Even as we serve here and do these things, we have larger dreams in our hearts and in our prayers.  Dreams of starting Bible studies and churches in nearby towns. Dreams of reaching more and more students with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Dreams of starting a Christian camp here in this area that can host children's camps, youth camps, pastor's retreats, Men's retreats, women's retreats, seminary classes, and can be used as a staging area for missions teams.  Big dreams... dreams bigger than we are, and bigger than our current budget (by far).  But, much smaller than our great God.  Every time you give, every time we see God's provision and support through YOU, we see the possibility of these dreams coming true, as the Lord allows.  And this lifts us up and encourages us so much!
There are many more things that I could probably say about what happens when you give, but this is a good start.  For those of you who financially support us and the ministry here, thank you so much!  You'll never know, this side of heaven, the impact that it has on us and on the Kingdom.  And as the Lord allows, please continue to give faithfully.  If you haven't given, and would like to, or would like to help spread the word of our ministry here so that we can share it with more believers and churches, you can contact us directly, or you can give at our organization's website, here.  Or, you can mail it directly, to:

Global Outreach International
P.O. Box 1 
Tupelo, MS 38802

 If you have any questions, or would like to be a financial part of what the Lord is doing here, let us know, and thank you again for all of the continued faithfulness and support that we see from you in so many ways!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Schedule additions

So, the past week has brought up an interesting and unexpected chance to serve here in Guzmán, and to get to know more people in our community:  I (Nick) am teaching English!

A few weeks ago, as Zoe started school at the nearby private school, the administration expressed some interest in me teaching English there, but we couldn't make it work because we were planning on being in the States in November and December this year, and they needed a teacher that wasn't going to need to miss 6-8 weeks of classes this semester.  I was a little bummed out that I didn't get to teach, but I knew that God had the plan, and apparently there were more important things for us to be focusing on right now in Guzmán.  So we worked on getting Zoe settled into her school schedule, focused on our Bible studies with the college students and some visits with pastors in Guadalajara, and looked for other opportunities to serve the Lord.

Then, last week, we got the call: one of the teachers had a family emergency, and they needed someone to cover for her for anywhere from 2 weeks to a month.  So, since last Wednesday, I've been teaching a 3rd grade class and a secondary (Jr. High) class every day.  It's been a challenge for several reasons: first of all, I'm definitely being challenged to use my Spanish in a very different environment than I've ever used it before.  All of the normal classroom words and phrases that we use to communicate, to demand attention, and to control the class... all are ones that I haven't used much in my everyday living there in Guzmán.  Second, normal classroom behavior here is slightly more chaotic than it is in the States... kids get up, walk around, talk more, listen less.  And, with the gringo in charge, they KNOW that I can't command a room quite as well as their normal teacher, so they're definitely pushing their boundaries.  The first few days were very rough, and I've been praying for patience.  Today was much better and more encouraging, and I'm hoping that, as the students get used to me, they'll continue to respond well to my teaching.  I have some freedom in my lessons with what I teach and how I teach it, so I've been able to talk some in class about my past as a pastor and what we're doing in Guzmán now, as well as topics such as prayer and God.  I'm hoping for more opportunities to share, especially one on one with some of the secondary students as I usually have the chance to talk with them more personally after class is over.

Please pray that, for however long it lasts, I'll be able to be a light to these students, and bless them, not just with the teaching, but with opportunities to share the Gospel!  Also, pray that we'll develop stronger connections to the community and to new families through this opportunities.  Already, it's been exciting to have children come up to me saying, 'Hola, profe!' (Hi, professor!) at the school and occasionally in the streets of Guzmán, and we're praying for more and more chances to get to know these wonderful children and their families through this chance that the Lord has given us to serve them and the school during this time.  Thanks for your prayers!
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