Guest Post :: How God Used Cultural Immersion Training as Ministry

Written by Jared Anderson

ReachGlobal Mexico City

On September 26th, 2014, I met the family that I would live with for the next year of my life. I had moved to Mexico City three days earlier in order to go through and help evaluate a yearlong missions immersion program called Avance, for the ReachGlobal Mexico City team. ReachGlobal wanted to know if Avance would be a good partner for a one-year missions training program. Avance focuses on incarnational ministry by working with local churches and ministries and cultural immersion by living with Mexican family. I remember the car ride to be dropped off with my family being one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life.

Paul, the Avance director, who was dropping me off was telling me about the family that I was going to live with. Then, I had to ask, “Do they speak English?”

“Well…”, he said. I didn’t hear anything after that. I knew immediately that lack of response meant “no”. This made me even more nervous– although I had studied Spanish in high school, I knew that my Spanish level was not near what I would need to have a real conversation. I felt utterly unprepared.

Immediately, the family helped me to feel comfortable. They included me in all their family activities, some of which I understood, and others that made no sense to me. They became my cultural guides. They helped me learn Spanish, made me the most delicious Mexican food, and patiently answered my questions like a parent answering the questions of a four-year-old just discovering the world. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there were also opportunities for ministry right there within the family.

Enrique is the oldest child in the family. He was a 19-year-old university student when I met him and didn’t really have an interest in the things of God. He went to church with his family, but only out of obligation. We ended up spending a lot of time together. We would have conversations about inconsequential things that created inside jokes (mostly having to do with my lack of ability to communicate in Spanish).

However, as I grew in the ability to communicate, the conversation got more substantial. I would recount my day to him, telling him about the things I had been doing in ministry that day or what I learned in our Avance training. Those turned into opportunities to share who God is. He started to come with me to a Bible study at the church plant that I was attending.

In March, about 6 months into my time with the family, my Mexican mamá stopped me as I came home. She told me that she had seen a change in Enrique’s life since I had been there. I was not expecting to hear anything of that sort. I did not know how to respond. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had done. At that moment, I realized that God was working through me without me even realizing it.

In January 2016, Enrique was baptized, and he has been actively involved in the Church that we attend together. He has been co-leading a community group with me in the church since last year.

In Avance, the leaders kept telling us that there would be discipleship opportunities in the families with which we lived. They called it a “ministry of presence”. Even though I arrived and felt completely unprepared, God used me just by being a part of their lives.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Avance program in Mexico City, as one of ReachGlobal’s ministry partners, please contact jared.anderson@efca.org. If you are a high school graduate looking for a way to invest your gap year in kingdom work, this is a great opportunity! The program begins in the fall, so be sure to apply soon.

Crisis Response in Mexico City

Back in late November, I had the opportunity to go up to Mexico City to get a report on how our long-term church planting team was doing after the earthquake in September.  Their neighborhood is generally one of the hardest hit during earthquakes, and this occasion was no different for them.  During the days and weeks after the 7.1 tremble shook and literally shattered parts of the city, I followed their news closely through social media and our prayer chains.  Being that this team was already on the ground, living in the neighborhood, and functioning in established relationship and trust with their community, it made sense to just aid them in whatever way they needed but not go up and “reinvent the wheel”.  A wonderful recounting of those first hours and days comes from Sam here in this post she wrote for us.

ReachGlobal has an incredible Crisis Response division, headed up by Mark Lewis.  Very shortly after the earthquake, Mark went down to train the Mexico City team on what he calls “The Anatomy of a Crisis” and help brainstorm some ideas on how to assist their community in moving forward with restoration and healing.

By the time of my visit, it was already 2 months after the crisis.  The news had stopped reporting it long before that, once all the first responders finished their work.  I was taken aback at how the city itself, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, had already forgotten its own tragedy.  As humans, we do that though.  We tend to want to get things back to normal, to move on, to reestablish our regular rhythms.  This is fine and all, for those not directly affected by tragedy, but what of the others?  Over 300 people were killed, and it is not likely that the families of the victims forgot about the earthquake within 2 months.  50+ buildings were destroyed, either completely crushed or just so structurally damaged that they were uninhabitable. People were still trying to move out of their homes, and some would never be able to return to their apartments to get any belongings, so dangerous was the state of their building.

On the day that most of the footage in the video was taken, I went with James and Reuben to help in the moving ministry established by their church (the fruit of the brainstorming with Mark Lewis).  We were unable to access the apartment from the front of the building, as it had been crushed, and we had to crawl through a garage door and then through another gate and come in through a back way.  Upon first sight at what was in front of me, my stomach seized up in knots.  We were looking at 2 apartment buildings, adjoined by a garage. One building HAD been 7 stories tall, but was now 5, as the first two floors had been pancaked immediately when the earthquake hit.  I scanned over the wreckage for a long time.  How on earth did people escape from this building?  It looked as though people had just abandoned ship–laundry was still hanging on drying racks, toys and dishes were still strewn about, right where they had been left when their lives were suddenly interrupted.

In the other apartment building, things were far less awful, but still bad enough that everyone needed to move out.  After the earthquake, thieves had come in and looted homes, stealing everything from furniture to valuable jewelry to food.  James and Reuben were able to help a family move their belongings out of their home, and even more importantly to listen to their story.  They were able to offer the hope of Jesus and pray with them, while also offering hands-on, in-the-moment help.

This is what responding to a crisis should look like!  It is a long term process.  There is the initial stage, where you truly must “stop the bleeding”, but then what comes next?  Rehabilitation, redevelopment, discipleship and transformation.  These things are BEST done where there is already established relationship and trust.  Instead of Crisis Response sending in a whole team of their own, they worked with ReachGlobal’s Mexico City team, and even more importantly than them, they worked with the local church in the affected neighborhood and came up with a plan to effectively minister to their neighbors.

There were definitely difficult moments of what I saw before me while in Mexico City. However,  the hope of the Gospel being offered and the way I witnessed the church being the very hands and feet of Jesus, surpassed all else.  Way to go, teams, and way to go, church.

Colleague Close-up: Samantha Loesch

Second in a series

Samantha LoeschSamantha Loesch is the newest member of the Mexico City city team. We asked her to fill us in her background and how in the world she landed in one of the world’s largest cities.

Where are you from, and where did you go to school?

I was born and raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with my beautiful family that is so crazy about Jesus! In 2011, I completed my distance learning and graduated from Thomas Edison State College with my B.A. in communications. Several months later, I completed the remainder of my Advanced TESOL Diploma from Global TESOL college.

How did you meet Christ, and what are some milestones in your faith journey you can tell us about?

On July 5, 1995, I prayed with my mom to accept Christ into my heart. I understood that it was a personal decision, not dependent on my parents. And besides, that’s what good kids do, right? It wasn’t until I was in junior high that it finally clicked for me. God’s sacrifice for me was tremendous, His love for me incomprehensible, so how could I not surrender my life to Him? After rededicating my life to Jesus Christ, I was baptized on June 5, 2005.

Why did you pursue Mexico as a ministry field?

Since being actively involved in missionary with Latin children as a young teenager, I’ve had a passion for the Latin people and their intriguing culture. Tied to a series of other events, this led me to pursue my first international missions trip and, the following year, an internship in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Between these two trips, the Lord began confirming in my heart, through His word, through prayer, and through other people, that He was leading me into missions. It felt as though God was directing me back to Tegucigalpa for full-time ministry; but He redirected me, not unlike Paul’s missionary journey in Acts. For over a year, I was in a waiting period, unsure of when or where God would have me be. But as I sought Him, He was faithful to work on my heart, purify me and prepare me.

After beginning to attend a new church, I learned of ReachGlobal and pursued the application process with them. Several months later, I was accepted and was presented with four Latin American placement options: Mexico City, Costa Rica, Brazil and Haiti. Graciously, God made it an easy decision to choose Mexico City — although that was not the most attractive to me, but rather, the most frightening. He gave me unity of spirit with those who I sought counsel from and those in authority over me, and I gave the official thumbs-up to Mexico almost exactly one year ago.

Can you tell us about any surprises that greeted you in Mexico?

The best surprise? The amazing family I get to live with and be apart of: Joshua [Smith] is the team leader for the Mexico City team and lives in Colonia Roma with his beautiful wife [Naomi] and three precious kids.

Need I even mention the food? I knew it was going to be good, but was definitely not prepared for how good and how many dreams I would have about my next meals. It all works out pretty well because Mexicans are extremely proud of their food; looks like I’ve joined right in!

What are some challenges you’ve found in adjusting to a new culture? Any pleasant surprises?

Since arriving in Mexico, I’ve had some health challenges in adjusting to all the changes from my life in Chicago. The typical stomach bug was expected, but I wasn’t quite prepared for things like passing out on the metro and waking up to being carried off by Mexican police!

Despite the association that people make between Mexico and beaches, flip-flops, and golden tans, it is not the case here in the city. For one, it’s cooler here because we are in the mountains; but also, Mexico is a formal culture, so Mexicans err on the dressier side. You won’t see shorts or sandals, and as silly as it sounds, I always look forward to jumping into my running shorts and flip-flops when I get home.

Because I never did a vision trip and had never been to Mexico, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect upon my arrival in the Federal District. I pictured a never-ending concrete jungle, whatever that looked like. The city does often feel never-ending and is covered in concrete, but I was pleasantly surprised by all the parks sprinkled throughout my neighborhood. On my first walk through Roma Norte, we passed through just one of many cool, shady parks with a fountain in the center, and as it started to rain, a big rainbow shot straight across the park.

What are some of your short-term goals there? What about long-term plans?

My commitment to the Mexico City team is two years. The role in which I serve consists of: developing reproducible English conversation groups with the intention of reaching the city for Jesus, and the discipleship of young, Mexican women.

Short-term, I will be actively involved in churches, universities and ministries to teach English in an informal setting, developing relationships with Mexicans, and sharing the gospel in these environments.

The long-term goal is to connect these groups with local churches who can come around the people involved, care for their physical and spiritual needs, and provide long-term support and a place for growth in Christ. This empowers the local churches to serve their communities and prepares for long-term help instead of dependency on missionaries.

How can people be praying for you and your ministry there?

Please be praying for the first English conversation group I am currently involved in. It is at UNAM, Mexico City’s largest and most prestigious university. Daily, I have the opportunity to interact with both believing and non-believing students. During my first month here, I’ve been able to develop significant relationships with some of the young women and am excited to see how He will use these discipleship opportunities to glorify His name!

Please pray for our team! We are small, but growing. Besides Joshua Smith and his family, we have one other couple in Mexico City. In the next two weeks, we will welcome Marilyn, a retired nurse, and we continue to support James and Christina (and their sweet, baby girl!) who are currently in the support raising process. It has already blessed me to witness God’s hand of direction as couples and families come on vision trips and seek Mexico as a placement option. God is building our team and equipping us for increased ministry and a broadening focus on the people throughout Mexico City. Praise to Him!!

10 Surprising Things About Parenting in Mexico

parenting-in-mexico-3 (Small)
ReachGlobal photo // Naomi Smith

Catch the interview with ReachGlobal’s Naomi Smith on the wildly popular blog, Cup of Jo. Here’s an excerpt:

“From one street to the next, we find ourselves thrust into extreme wealth or extreme poverty. This constant juxtaposition of excess and need keeps my heart and mind racing, pushing me to evaluate what I own and why I own it; pushing me to ask myself if I find my identity in my belongings or social status; forcing me to dig deeper into what genuine need is, and what we as a family can do to care for people in need.”

Bringing Jesus to the Party

Missionaries weave gospel into every facet of life in Mexico City

During their time in Spain, EFCA ReachGlobal missionaries Joshua and Naomi were forced to rethink two critical issues: How the church multiplies itself, and how the gospel gets spread.

Now that Joshua is ReachGlobal’s city team leader in Mexico City, he and his wife are employing the lessons they learned in Western Europe in a new setting. Tops on that list: Think small, and go where nonbelievers go.

The latter conviction got put to the test recently when Joshua and Naomi were invited to a posada (Christmas party) by a friend that Naomi met at their kids’ school. They ran the idea by some Christian friends — some said go, some weren’t so sure. Thinking back to the many parties they threw and attended with non-Christian friends in Spain, the choice was pretty simple.

“We want to be where non-Christians are,” Joshua says. “So we decided to go and see what happens.”

‘What would you do differently?’

Smith PartyAt the party, the women gathered around a table, the men around a bar. While the other men drank copious amounts of tequila, rum and whiskey, the conversation turned from alcohol to the apocalypse.

“Hey, do you think the world’s going to end in 2012?” one man asked Joshua.

“I don’t think so, but if the world were to end tomorrow, what would you do differently?” Joshua replied.

And so the stage was set. The man replied in a different vein, about if he were to die, what he would leave for his family.

When it was Joshua’s turn to answer, he said, ideally, he wouldn’t change anything, because he was already trying to live every part of his life in light of the gospel. That led right into his testimony of how God saved him from thoughts of suicide as a 15-year-old, his time in Spain as a missionary, and his reasons for coming to Mexico.

The result? A half-hour group conversation about the nature of the gospel. That conversation never would have happened if Joshua and Naomi had been too shy or aloof to attend a party everyone knew was going to involve a lot of alcohol.

“Now these people have a better understanding of the gospel,” Joshua says. “Now I have a relationship with a group of men I would have never met before.”

And from that, Naomi already has had one of the women at the party and a couple of her friends over to their house, and Joshua has plans to meet one of the men, who gave Joshua his business card at the end of the night.

Connecting the dots

In his job as team leader, Joshua is responsible to train, equip and teach other people in ministry. But his job also involves strategy — in the case of the posada, just being intentional about possible gospel-sharing opportunities. “I’m going to show up because these people matter, and if God wants to give me the opportunity, I’m going to be ready for it.”

It’s all part of what Joshua and Naomi think of as a progressive connect-the-dots gospel picture that they try to draw for people through their relationships with them.

“When you bring the gospel to bear in all of life, what you’re doing is creating those dots,” Joshua says. “When I talk about the relationship of the gospel to my children, to my marriage, to suffering, to crime, to politics, to authority structure — whatever it is — when we talk about how the gospel applies to those areas, we may not get the whole thing in it, but what we’re doing is giving people the dots.

“Through daily life, over time, those dots begin to take shape, and the Holy Spirit puts them together, and suddenly they have a pretty full understanding of what the gospel’s really about.”

* * * * *

CONNECT

mexico@efca.org

View “A New Day” — a short video about the ReachGlobal ministry in Mexico City.

SERVE

Bring a short-term team to Mexico City. Or contact us about serving long-term as part of the Mexico City Team.

PRAY
  • For new relationships with nonbelievers to be opened up to every member of the Mexico City team this week.
  • For the team’s boldness in sharing the gospel with nonbelievers there.
  • For the ministry of Joshua and Naomi’s small group — that it would grow to include new believers and greater outreach to the city.
GIVE

Make an online donation to the Mexico City general ministry fund.

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