Growing a Healthy Church :: Panama City

Panama is a tiny but incredibly diverse country!  In a wonderful way, we could say the same about our Panama City team.  They are diverse in ages and stages of life, in gifts and strengths and ministry projects, as well as life experiences and backgrounds.  It is always a joy watching them serve together and share God’s love with their city and neighbors.

Here’s a few ways you can be praying for our Panama City team in these next months:

For our church plant, Refugio de Gracia, as we grow in depth in the Word of God. You can stay updated on our church via the website here.  

For the continued unity and growing maturity of our team. 

For the pastors we are working with and for ongoing discipleship opportunities. 

For a movement of more churches planted here in Panama, that God would turn this nation’s heart toward Him. 

For new team member Sarah Kolaczynski’s upcoming deployment. You can stay updated on her news here on her blog.  


For more information on how you can come alongside the ministry of the Panama City team, with prayer, financial giving or by sending a short term team, please contact team leader Jon Fowler, at

The Cuban Consortium

The Cuban church is resilient with great perseverance and it has not only survived, but it is growing as a movement despite being in a restricted access country. The current president and denominational leadership team are creative and have led the denomination into an exciting way of doing ministry. LPN has been an excellent best fit partner in Cuba.

In 2012, ReachGlobal was asked by LPN to partner with them in their vision to mobilize a church planting movement. The LPN denomination has already developed a strategy which they call the 10-10-5-10 Vision. This Vision entails 10 Church Planting Movements, in 10 major cities, in 5 years with 10 farms to help to sustain the ministry.

To help LPN to reach its Vision, ReachGlobal founded the Cuba Consortium as an initiative geared toward joining forces with EFCA churches and other like-minded organizations to come alongside the church in Cuba. Since 2012, ReachGlobal and the consortium have sent in pastors, teachers, counselors, church planting coaches, women ministry leaders and denominational leaders to help the church in Cuba. Our desire is to concentrate heavily on developing relationships with the pastors and believers in Cuba so that fruitful ministry might take place. 

In 2016, the LPN denomination reported the existence of 115 training centers with 16,447 students from 23 different denominations. In that same year, 27,830 new house churches and prayer cells were launched, there were 34,634 professions of faith and 51,114 believers were baptized across Cuba.

Since its inception, LPN has been characterized by being evangelistic, compassionate and missions minded. During 2017, it is committed to training many of its young professionals to serve as workers across the world. ReachGlobal and the consortium are committed to helping to train, to send and to support these brethren as they serve the Lord abroad.”

Is your church interested in doing ministry in Cuba? A Cuba consortium meeting is being planned for October 26-27 at the Compass Church in Wheaton, IL. Maybe, you should go and attend as an observer? We will be reviewing last year’s ministry and making plans for next year. Come and see how you might contribute to what God is doing trough His church in Cuba.

For further information, please contact

In Defense of the Short Term Missions Trip (Part 2) :: Pick Up Your Paintbrushes Again

In the last post, we talked about the bad wrap short term mission trips have gotten in the past few years, and ways that they can be done well.

Today, I need you to follow me down to South America, to the eastern-most tip to Brazil, overlooking the Atlantic ocean.  Painting, English classes, and VBS’s are all projects that have been presented as unhelpful, sometimes even harmful in the grand sweeping statements of “the church should just get rid of short-term missions trips altogether”.  Once again, I disagree, and beg you to not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Just a few short weeks ago, I was in northern Brazil, doing my normal photojournalism and filmmaking job, following Steve and Liz Spellman for the week. This trip they were on was incredibly unique and unlike any I’ve yet witnessed– it was comprised of a team from First Free of Lincoln, Nebraska (15 people), and a team from southern Brazil led by Pastor Lucas (14 people, with a few added later on), doing outreach in a Evangelical Free church (add another 20 or so people here) that had never before received an American short term team.  In the mix of it all were the Spellmans, as sort of ringmasters of this three ring circus, and I just tagged along dragging my camera bag.

There were so many interesting elements here.

The history of this particular church was very interesting, being planted 25 years ago and then kind of left to fend for itself.  Over the past few years, Steve has established relationships with several pastors in that city to encourage and disciple them, particularly the pastor we worked with during the week, named Andre. The city we were in was pretty isolated from the rest of Brazil, mostly because of distance, and had its own flavor of culture and life. Most of the Evangelical Free churches are in the southern states of Brazil, and we were pretty far north.  To give a visual comparison for the Americans reading this, it would be like church planters going from Mississippi to northern Minnesota, building a church, starting a congregation, and then going home and hoping it all works out.  Fellowship, further discipleship, and accountability are necessary for every church plant, every pastor and every congregation, regardless of their location.  The vision for the week and for the combined teams was to come alongside and encourage and to get to know the people of this church and their community.  Encouragement in whatever ways were most needed.

Another interesting element was that one of the big projects that was to be done during this particular week was the one singular thing that has gotten the worst attention on short-term missions projects EVER:  painting.  Painting needed to be done, to both the interior and exterior of the building.  A team of many of the same southern Brazilians had come up the previous year and done some work, but much more was still left to do.

Here is the testimony of the pastor of that church that turns the whole “issue” of painting on its head:

Pastor Andre said that the building they were given as a church all those years ago was simply too big for them, and they didn’t have the resources to finish it or to maintain it.  Church planters built it and they were supposed to finish it and maintain it, yet their congregation was small.  Over the years it had its struggles like any church would.  When the team of Brazilians came last year, they painted the exterior of the church, it’s first coat of paint in decades.  The effect was rather incredible.  The neighbors started to take notice of the building, and soon realized it was an actual church!  For years they had thought it was an abandoned warehouse.  They came around more, during Bible studies and community outreach days and wanted to learn more about what was going on there.  The team had also painted the interior of the church and fixed the roof so that people could sit through the service during rainy season and not have to arrange their chairs around buckets catching water. They had made it a desirable place to be, a refuge from some of the dilapidated buildings around it.  A coat of paint earned them respect in their community, and people started becoming interested in what was going on there.

This year, with the same Brazilians and the added Americans, more painting was done.  A small apartment had been added next to the church building, to house the pastor and his wife and save money on rent.  Underneath the apartment are the classrooms that were originally built with the church, and unfinished until last year.  I watched a group of men transform that space into what would be a warm and welcoming home.  It was both beautiful and humbling to know that the purpose of this project wasn’t the actual painting itself–the purpose was to encourage the pastor, to hear his heart and listen to his stories, to build relationship with him, to let him know that he and his church do not have to walk their road alone.  Sure, others could have done the work. But the fruit of it goes so much deeper than just throwing some bright colors up on a wall. THIS is what painting should look like, this is where I declare with gusto “Pick your paintbrushes back up and get to work!”

Later on in the week, smaller groups were sent out to other local churches.  Some of the Brazilians went to a church in a difficult area, and later on they went to a community center in one of the most dangerous favelas in the city.  Both times, they were able to do the same types of things–transform a neglected and ugly space into something beautiful and bright and fresh, all for the sake of building relationships.  This wasn’t the horror story you hear of useless mission trips, of orphan children dirtying the walls just so the teams feel useful when they come.  This was something asked for and welcomed, and done with far more purpose than just painting itself.

While painting was going on around the city, the American team from Nebraska was able to teach English in several local schools as well as also lead three children’s programs in different locations.  With the bigger goals in mind, much more can be accomplished.  The goals weren’t for them to just teach English, or just teach children a few new games and Bible verses.   The objective of the American team was to come alongside the local church and multiply their resources and efforts of showing the community that the church had open doors. That the church was a safe place.  Just before going in to the first school on the first day of lessons, the Americans were warned that they were not allowed to share the gospel, mention the church by name, or anything to do with God at all.  However, if they were asked specific questions, they would be permitted to answer.  In the first class that was offered, a student asked “So, what do you believe about God?” and one of the teenagers on the trip clearly laid out the gospel.  When they walked into that school, the headmaster was a bit hesitant, a bit wary of the whole situation.  By the end of two days, he had told the local pastor that he was welcome to come into that school and share whenever he’d like. THAT is a successful English class.

On the last day of the trip, all the Brazilians (southern and northern), Americans, pastors and Spellmans joined forces and headed to a nearby city to lead one last mini-VBS. By this time, our circus had swelled to upwards of 50 people and I was tempted to buy Steve a top hat and cape as the ringmaster. We were able to go to a very poor community that has a huge problem with gang-related violence and drugs.  Most people stayed put in the ministry center that supports local children with tutoring and art classes, while some of the Brazilians were able to venture right into the center of the favela and share the gospel (as well as a jiu-jitsu class…hey, they’re from Brazil!) It was a beautiful thing to see multiple nationalities coming together, working side by side, laughing and giving it all they had.  You know who the true recipients were that day, though?  Of course the children of the community received the Word, but it was the workers who we really went for.  The people who serve this community day in and day out, who love these children, who suffer alongside them and know their struggles and hurts–we went to encourage them. They so rarely receive teams, and they definitely never receive teams of 50+ from multiple countries!  They took time to share with us the history of their program, what their struggles and needs were, what the children face, what they face.  At the end of the day, they were heard. They had new friends, and two new church groups who knew their names and faces and could be praying for them in the days to come.  THAT is a successful VBS.

The key here is relationship, is communication, is asking.  Asking what the real felt needs of the church and community are.  Listening to the heart and hopes and struggles of the local churches and pastors and missionaries.  Coming with a heart that is willing to serve and learn, that has goals of friendship and prayer rather than finished projects.  If painting and building maintenance are expressed as helpful tasks, then by all means, pick up your paintbrush!  If teaching English is needed as a way to get the foot in the door of the local school, then teach English!  If a local pastor is discouraged, then encourage him! If the ministry of long-term missionaries is struggling, or even just feeling isolated, then go, see, hear, learn.  Listen, pray, use your resources wisely, plan and be flexible.

Next week, I’ll be sharing an interview with the pastors who were on this trip, talking about how to best prepare for a successful trip on the end of the goers.  A special thanks goes out to this wonderful group of people who let me follow them around for over a week and continually stick a camera in their face!

Educating Pastors is Vital to Church Health :: Prometa

The heart, mission, and even tagline of ReachGlobal is “Develop, Empower, Release”.  We, in whatever ministry we are involved in, have this as our goal in all things.  To develop leaders, to empower them in multiplying and empower them to go forth and disciple, and then to release them.  We want to be disciple makers making disciple makers.

ProMETA is a ministry that lives out this goal so perfectly in all they do.  They are a perfect example of what multiplication could look like in the church and on the mission field.  This ministry, which is an online seminary program, done fully in Spanish, has just recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary.  However, it was a dream for many years before that, and in process even as the internet was just coming of age.

Because of its unique design, these incredibly experienced, wise, and well-educated Bible teachers can get to places where it is impossible to travel at the moment, especially Venezuela and parts of Cuba.  Those who wouldn’t be able to afford a seminary education are given the opportunity through the many scholarships offered, as well as the overall affordable class prices.

Please pray for ProMETA and its ongoing work of training up leaders and pastors in the Latin American church.

For more information on ProMETA, their classes or how to be involved, please email or visit their website at


Serving in Rio Azul


“At the end of 2013, my husband and I were invited to serve as leaders in a Costa Rican church restart in a nearby slum, Rio Azul. We had prayed for years that God would open doors so that we could participate on just such a team and were blown away by God’s goodness to provide such a wonderful opportunity. Since accepting the position, we now regularly teach, serve on the worship team, co-lead the Sunday school, preach, lead a Bible study, teach music and English classes and serve in a variety of other ways.”

Dave and Angie Ziel are ReachGlobal missionaries serving in San José, Costa Rica, since November 2011. Learn more about their life and ministry on their blog, Ziels in LA.


Word of God, word of mouth

Oralidad teaches Peruvian leaders to spread a spoken gospel

A Shipibo leader makes a house visit to tell Bible stories to two Shipibo women recently.

DVDs? Nope. iPads? Hardly.

Even in this hyper-digitized world, Abelardo Vasquez Lopez is using a tool as old as communication itself to share the gospel in eastern Peru.

Vasquez, 39, is a pastor from the Shipibo tribe, a group of about 40,000 native Peruvians who live along the banks of the Ucayali River, the headwaters of the Amazon.

Literacy is common for Shipibos, and many of their villages have public schools. But oral storytelling remains the Shipibos’ preferred method of passing along their history and way of life to the next generation. That’s why the Oralidad (Orality) Project started here.

Start with the stories

Vasquez is one of about 80 students who have participated in the Oralidad program over the past seven years. The students – mostly Shipibo pastors and leaders — start the course by memorizing 50 Bible stories that they can retell verbatim. The stories include:

  • Creation
  • The Fall
  • The Flood
  • Elijah and the prophets of Baal
  • Jesus feeding the 5,000
  • Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection
  • Pentecost

Memorizing those 50 key stories is the first step in a four-year program of intensive Bible training launched in 2008 by the Evangelical Missionary Church of Pucallpa, Peru, working in partnership with ReachGlobal missionaries Blair and Joan McGwire. Classes are taught in Spanish by a team from the church led by Ruth Hidalgo. The Shipibo people have their own language of the same name, but most also speak Spanish, the national language of Peru.

Take it to the people

The Shipibos live in villages of 200 to 300 people along the Ucayali River. People here make a subsistence living mainly from fishing, hunting and raising crops such as plantains, corn and papayas. Many also work as artists who sell their work in the larger regional cities of Pucallpa and Iquitos

Stepping out of your boat and walking up Main Street in a typical Shipibo village, you soon arrive at a large quad in the middle of town dominated by a soccer field in the center, with a government school standing on one side. Women sit sewing and talking in small houses with palm-branch roofs. No plumbing or electricity here — the only poles you see are the ones the houses are built on.

The partnership has been using the program to train leaders from the 60 different Shipibo villages visited over the past 10 years by short-term mission teams from the United States that had provided services such as medical clinics and water filters. As a result of those trips, many Shipibo people put their faith in Jesus. Requests for help in starting churches followed soon after.

“So we say in order to have a church, you need to have leaders, you need to have a pastor,” Blair McGwire says. “We’re not going to stay and do it. We’re going to more villages. And so then we have men who step forward, and they join the Oralidad Program.”

Of the 80 students who have taken at least some of the four-year course, 13 have graduated. About 30 students are enrolled now. The program takes place every two months as Oralidad students, new and old, come together to memorize the stories.

Memorizing the stories enables students to tell them anywhere – from the pulpit of a church, sitting around with friends at a village community center or underneath a mango tree, or just chatting in a hut with family members.

The Oralidad training program’s ultimate goal is to spread the Gospel throughout the Amazon region.

“What excites me about it is that it gives the indigenous guys the tools that they need to reach their own people,” McGwire says. “Our job has been, and will continue to be to get the ball rolling; but we need them to keep it rolling. The Oralidad Program — and all the training that they receive — enables that to take place. Our role will continue to be to encourage these guys and move on to new areas.”

Panoramic Plan

Last year, McGwire invited Florida pastor Slayden MacGregor to participate in the program. Rather than stick to the usual training material, MacGregor supplemented it with a weeklong course called “The Panoramic Study of God’s Plan.” The study’s goal: help students understand God’s purpose as it develops through scripture. It essentially synthesizes the entire Bible into one course.

Vasquez says the course was well received at a recent Oralidad training session. He calls the course impactful, increasing his knowledge and therefore his ability to teach others about the plan of God. The material from the course was new for a lot of the Shipibo pastors.

“They were very surprised by the teachings and explanations that were given since they were new for them,” Vasquez says. “They were left with the desire that this topic could be covered in a form even deeper in order to remember it and grow it.”
Vasquez thinks the course is important for Shipibo pastors because as they learn the plan of God, they can remember God’s purpose for themselves. He believes he has seen God’s hand at work through the continued interest of the Shipibos to study and learn.

“They were left challenged to share with others in their churches and towns,” he says.

Pray for Oralidad

Vasquez asks for prayer. “Personally, I would like to dedicate more time to the work of God and that all my countrymen would listen and know the Word. I ask for your prayers that this longing would be realized.”