How to avoid mission drift
Iain Hesketh talks about his recent visit to Central America and discusses the challenges we have in keeping to the vision God gives.
In all honesty, my first visit to Central America was a bit of a journey into the unknown. There have been several documentaries produced over the years which have highlighted some of the dangers in the countries that make up Central America created by gangs but all these documentaries paint a one-sided picture. What I found was a very welcoming, hospitable and generous people who, in spite of the challenges, choose to make the most of what they have. In many cities and towns in Central America, people aren’t free to walk between neighbourhoods. So how can our missionaries and mission partners even think about planting churches and expanding children’s and youth ministries?
Understanding the cultural context and the barriers to gospel movement is essential to missionary work; and mission is so much better when done in teams! It was so good to be joined by John McDonough, who works in Paraguay with his wife Rachel, and has so much experience of Central America. This was helpful on my week-long missionary adventure to work with the teams in each location to dream and strategize about what Holy Spirit is asking of them.
Our first stop was in Guatemala to visit Rachel and Oscar Mendoza, who just over three and a half years ago relocated to Guatemala with a call from Jesus to go, the first year’s funding in place, and a dream to start a youth and kids ministry which would enable people to encounter Jesus in a real way. The goal was to make disciples who are equipped to be disciple-makers and would live to work to change the culture for the glory of God. For them, this ministry wasn’t a dream to provide entertainment for a few hours a week, but to develop people of influence for Jesus and his kingdom who have the potential to become farmers, retail workers, restaurant staff or owners, government officials or politicians, homemakers – people of the kingdom in every sphere of society.
Rachel and Oscar pioneered The Light House in Antigua, Guatemala, and for a long time it was just the two of them leading the ministry – though they always had a desire to build a team to work with them. In the last 10 months, they have been joined by another missionary family: Gerardo and Corina Lovato and their two children. Oscar and Gerardo, both from El Salvador, are good friends from their time serving on an YWAM team in Guatemala. It was so good to see Rachel and Oscar’s prayer for team members fulfilled, and just how well they worked together. In recent months they have also been joined by a younger couple who are serving with them too.
It was a joy to spend a day with the team facilitating their discussion about how they could effectively disciple those they are currently reaching and how they might be able to see their influence grow. I don’t know about you but I enjoy leaving a meeting with some discernible action, otherwise it just feels like a waste of time, so it was great to end day one with some next steps for the team to move forward with.
The next day we visited The Light House to meet the children, and see where they meet and what they do. It is a great space and they do a great work with the children and young people they work with each week. Each session is broken down into three parts; games and entertainment, help with homework from school (each child is given homework that they have to complete in order to gain enough points over the school year to progress to the next year), and teaching about Jesus and worship. It was great to see how eager the kids were to get into The Light House! A great work in Guatemala has begun.
The next stop was a very early morning journey to the airport to catch our flight to Tegucigalpa to visit Elim Honduras. It had been about four years or so since the last visit to Honduras by anyone from Elim Missions. The link between Elim Missions and Elim Honduras is strong because this work was pioneered by Alex Grannum and his family when they were sent as Elim Missionaries in 1996.
The work is now led by Pastor Luis Navarrete and his team of national leaders. The most impressive thing about Luis was his humility, demonstrated in his willingness to learn and invite his team to contribute to the discussion about the future of the work. He is truly leading in a counter-cultural way, and showing his fellow leaders and Ministers-in-Training what kingdom leadership looks like. Up until four years ago, Luis was working as a carpenter as well as pastoring on of the churches in Tegucigalpa. When the previous President of the ministry left, Luis stepped up to lead, a little apprehensively, but knowing that it was the right thing to do.
So it was an absolute privilege to get to know Pastor Luis and those in key positions of influence in the ministry. It was a joy to facilitate the team discussion regarding mission, discipleship, and moving forward. The ministry has two great facilities, but they aren’t simply interested in filling those two buildings, they are prayerfully making plans to develop a movement of disciple-makers to the barrios of the city and beyond. They are believing that a prophetic word spoken over the ministry regarding sending people to the nations will come to pass. John and I could not be help but be filled with expectation and anticipation for a movement of missionaries to come from what many might think an unlikely location. However, for anyone familiar with God’s story, he specialises in working with unlikely candidates!
As I approach the end of my first year in this role as IMD, I’m greatly encouraged by all that Jesus is doing through his church. People are being brought into a life-giving relationship with Jesus. They are taking courageous steps of faith as they seek to reach more people with the good news. Yet I’m also aware that one of the things which is so easy for us all to get caught up in is ministry delivery without creating the space to evaluate outcomes against our vision. We have a programme to deliver, and in putting all our effort and energy into making sure that it is done, we sometime lose sight of why we do it. What outcomes are we looking for and what are the steps to get there?
By asking 3 simple questions – what is? what could be? what will be? – we discern what the current practice is; what vision we think the Holy Spirit is leading us into; and then are able to prayerfully consider the next steps that we need to take. This kind of thing is always better done in a team. Why? In a team you can hold one another accountable for what you sense God asking of you individually and collectively. This is why teams need to meet together regularly not just to discuss an agenda.
What are the 4 big takeaways?
Be unashamedly focused on why you do what you do
Ruthlessly evaluate all that you do in light of why you exist
Dare to dream big dreams but always be thinking what the next step is
Don’t ignore what happens on the margins: that’s where revolutionary movement occurs
If you’re interested in getting involved in supporting the work in Central America and the work of church planting and disciple-making, please get in touch!