Cristina and her husband were our neighbours in Guadalajara; they lived on the corner of the next block, on our way to the preschool our boys attended. Many days we would stop and talk coming or going from school. Over time we became friends. Her husband had served in the Mexican military, and their children lived in the USA, so they were alone. One day they were not there, and for many months we did not see them. When I did see Cristina next, her husband had passed away. We began spending more time together, and our conversations turned to Jesus. Not long after, I came by one day, and I hardly recognized Cristina. She excitedly invited me in to tell me, “I met Him! I know Him! Everything has changed!” Her encounter with Jesus was so profound and so personal her very countenance had literally changed. After the encounter, her favourite thing was to spend hours reading her Bible each day! Even in her grief, she lived with deep joy and a newfound passion for El Shaddai, the All-Sufficient God.
God has taken us on an adventure of a lifetime. It has included risk, change, challenge, and lots of unknowns. It has meant a wealth of relationships with many who chose to also follow Jesus on His path for them. It has been incredible, challenging, and vibrant to accept His invitation over and over to “follow Me.”
Guadalajara was known as a missionary graveyard. Many mission groups had gone in and left because the soil was so hard, the work too challenging, the persecution too intense. Yet, we felt called to this city of six million people. Our field director at the time, Ramon Esparza, had prayed for over twenty years for the opportunity to plant a church there. So, in the summer of 1992, we moved there with Tim and Susan Webster to start the C&MA’s first church plant. In the city, we knew one Christian couple, a couple who had written the Esparzas. Through research, investigation, and meetings with other pastors, we sought out where the greatest need existed in the megacity. They directed us to an area of about 100,000 people with no known church or believers. So we began to walk and pray and pray and walk, week after week.
One day, as Tim and Murray stopped at a corner store (tienda) for a Coca Cola, a conversation ensued, opening a door for a Bible study in the tienda owner’s home. Two more Life of Jesus studies started, and within a few months, we had a nucleolus of new believers, and a church was birthed. A few months later, the same tienda owner called one day. He was reading the Bible with some friends and needed help explaining what they were reading. I got off the phone and commented, “I feel like we are living in the Book of Acts. I just don’t know what will happen on the next page.” It was God’s place and time for Guadalajara. This challenging, dry place was encountering El Shaddai; He was changing lives one at a time. The church grew, and a second one was started, along with a seminary. Our family grew too with the birth of our two girls, Mikaela and Mattea.
Haroun was the first-born son of the local mosque’s imam in Haroun’s hometown in South Sudan. Haroun had a dream one night; he saw a man’s face and sensed Jesus telling him to find the man because he had something for Haroun. One day, while walking down the street of his town, he saw the man from the dream. He approached him many times, told him about his dream, and asked what the man had for him. The man was the only church leader in town, and he eventually, reluctantly (because it was illegal), gave Haroun a copy of the Bible. While reading the Bible, Haroun encountered Jesus. His decision to follow Jesus led to significant persecution from his family, even to the point of them giving the order for him to be executed. As a result, Haroun fled north to Egypt. In Cairo, Haroun was discipled in a small group through Maadi Community Church (MCC). Haroun became a small group leader, multiplied his small group many times, and became a significant spiritual leader among the many Sudanese living in Cairo, pastoring one of the six church plants from MCC in 2006-2007.
Haroun knew he would not be able to return to South Sudan because of the persecution he would face. So, he began a Bible institute to train other Sudanese believers to go back and share their faith, starting faith communities in South Sudan where disciples could be multiplied. It was a privilege to work side-by-side with Haroun as part of the MCC staff.
Egypt encompassed some of the best and most challenging years of our lives. We discovered rich, fruitful ministry and deep personal pain often walk in tandem. Church was like a touch of heaven, with many nations and traditions worshipping together in the desert land, unified by the love of Jesus. Never before had we experienced such deep friendships as quickly as we did in Cairo. In ministry, Murray focused on opportunities outside the church walls and saw rich fruit among refugees and “cousins” like Haroun. I had the privilege of studying God’s Word together with women from many nations who had never studied it before. Simple steps of obedience, plus God’s intervention, resulted in many people choosing to follow Jesus.
As has been my practice in each place we have lived, I was part of or started a prayer group for our children’s school. I prayed for a year and a half in Costa Rica for God to connect me with at least one other Christian mom with whom I could pray. He answered, and Pai Li and I began. She invited a friend, and another lady joined, the school director’s wife. After months of being together, someone asked the director’s wife where they went to church. She replied, “We don’t.” Murray and I talked about it and felt urged to offer regular time together to study the life of Jesus, even though we were not sure how we would do it with our travel schedule. We invited them. A few weeks later, we received an email from the two of them, “We have never had a worship experience as a family before, but we are up for the adventure.” We met for supper, and they asked, “What are you thinking, and when can we start?” In the next breath, they asked, “Can we invite people?” And so, a little house church began. It was our joy to witness highly educated people, some who were almost opposed to the concept of God, turn their eyes and hearts towards Him. What a privilege to journey with these families as we discovered new things about Jesus together.
The places where we still have international workers in the Sun Region are hard. We would often find ourselves hitting a wall and having numerous setbacks. After 2010 and our commitment to pray about everything, my sister and I dreamed of setting up an intercessor team who would meet virtually, for one hour per week, to pray specifically for what was happening in the region. iSUN was born (intercessors for the Sun region). At the end of each semester, we would have a God Story Day and recall the many answers to prayer during the time frame. In those places where previously we would hit the wall, we began to see movement and breakthroughs. This group continues to meet, do the battle, and unseen ground preparation for the seeds being sown. There is a rich harvest because of their weekly investment! Thank you. We now have intercessor groups like this for all the other regions too.
In Cairo, Egypt in 2008, we met some young men from Central America serving in Jordan as international workers. We already knew we were leaving Egypt and heading back to Latin America. Their story impacted us and inspired us to dream about the possibilities of Latin American Alliance women and men being sent to the least reached around the world. Over the next few years, in meetings with the National Church leaders from various countries in Latin America, we discovered God was already calling men and women to serve the least reached. These leaders asked us to help them prepare their international workers. We dreamed of how The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada could best help. How could we pass on some of our decades of mission experience in a practical training program allowing for the development of even better, more integrated, more transparent workers who would form part of the next global wave of missions?
It was in August 2016, at the annual conference of Latin American C&MA leaders in Bolivia, when a “God Moment” happened. Murray was sitting at a table having lunch with the C&MA contingent from Chile. The director of missions and Murray hit it off immediately due to the enjoyment of food, lively conversation, and a similar sense of humour (mostly the humour). They asked what our vision was and why we Canadians were there, and then they shared their vision of training missions’ candidates in a multicultural setting. A natural friendship blossomed, and our shared dream became a partnership with a common purpose, vision, and values.
The director of Global Missions, Brem Frentz, and Murray went straight from the conference in Bolivia to Paraguay to visit the multicultural church the Chileans had started in a poly-cultural border town. This was the environment we had been looking for; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and Christians, all mingled together in one large microcosm of cultures and languages. Their visit and many follow-up visits opened the door to what is now called Samuel House. We have had two Canadian couples assist in the launch of this year-long missions training program. Samuel House (or Casa de Samuel) is now led by the Chilean National Church, with new missions’ candidates attending every year. Several of the graduates have already been assigned to Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. What happened to us in Egypt was God’s preparation for what He was already doing in the hearts and minds of our Latin American C&MA family, sending new workers to the least reached. We love how He weaves His Story together!
This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 3. Download your free copy today.
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