An Open Letter to the Churches of Mesoamerica

For the past five weeks we have been traveling through our 40 Days of Prayer for the Cities of Mesoamerica.  We have been so encouraged by the responses of many leaders and local churches as they mobilize their people in prayer!  This campaign has become an annual emphasis, and this year especially we are starting to see the vision take hold.  Thanks to all who have daily interceded for the urban settings in our region – it is truly making a difference!

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There are some exciting things happening in the months ahead.  First, the prayer does not need to stop! Please stay tuned to our updates and prayer requests throughout the year on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our mobile app (available for Android or iOS) will also start to become more and more useful as our missionaries on the ground provide stories as well as personal prayer requests and praises.  And don’t forget that all around the region we have dedicated Tuesday mornings as a time to pray and fast for a genesis to occur in the cities of Mesoamerica.

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Sugey Barrón

Second, did you know that we are developing many new materials and tools to equip the existing churches that are in urban areas? Sugey Barrón, a former Genesis missionary sent from Mexico to Santiago, Dominican Republic, has decided to continue serving as a missionary in the D.R., now focusing on training the thousands of Nazarenes that live in our cities to be missional.  I am so excited about what she is coming up with (you’ll hear more in the months ahead)!

Third, next month we will be training and sending out a new crop of Genesis missionaries who will impact Monterrey, México and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. These are some really great young people.  Assuredly you will read about them in the coming weeks, but for now I can say that it is a high honor to witness how God keeps calling people to cross-cultural ministry, and how they are still responding in passionate obedience to his voice!

Podcast_English_FinalAll that, and I have not even mentioned the ongoing articles we provide regularly on our website, the “Worthless Servants” podcast episodes we are pumping out biweekly, and much more.  There is a lot going on! The point is: we need you to continue praying for all this. Don’t let the end of a 40-day campaign cause the need for effective urban churches to be “out of sight, out of mind.” In fact, add to that prayer a whole lot of action.  Get involved in some way and help others do the same!

Thanks for your continued collaboration.  God is using you – and thousands of others – to make a difference. What a privilege to be a part of this adventure with you.

Scott Armstrong
Coordinator, Mesoamerica Global Missions and GENESIS
February 8, 2019

Urban Evangelization – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

Jeremiah continues his prophecy and tells the Israelites to involve their children in marriage ceremonies and to increase in number. We are talking about generational impact in the city – our evangelism must produce transformation and change that will be seen for generations in the city.

In order to impact generations through our evangelistic methods, we must embrace a posture of challenging the broken social systems of our day. We must begin to know the young people that are being courted by the gangs in our neighborhoods, the children that are being forced into human trafficking, the broken families that seek healing in alcohol and drugs.We have to get our hands dirty. Urban evangelism is not easy – it’s heartbreaking. When we begin to see the people that NEED the good news of Jesus, we begin to respond to those environments differently.

Recently I spoke with some urban church planters that are in an area that is filled with apartment buildings. They told me about the building that they felt the most comfortable in – the building where the neighborhood gang is in charge of who’s coming in and out!  At first, they were nervous every time they thought about going into that building.  But because they are now known by the neighbors as “good people who are serving God”, the gang extends their “protection” over them. I smile to think about the day when we hear that the gang members have given their lives over to Christ, and they start to see generational and societal changes in their lives. 

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We must pray for our city.

Perhaps the most blatant instruction we can take from Jeremiah is: seek the peace of the city and pray for her prosperity

Praying for the city is one of the most important parts of urban evangelism. The spiritual forces at work in the city are battling every day, and we engage in spiritual warfare when we step into its realms. We must pray and truly long for the SHALOM, the holistic well-being, of our city. And to pray effectively, we must deeply know our city. We need to know her rhythms, her hurts, and her people.

God is already at work in the city, and prayer is our connection to Him and His work.  When we engage in the prayer of peace for the city, God begins to guide our path to the daily encounters that He wants us to have, and He replaces fear with love. Then and there, in the supposedly mundane and secular, God uses us to evangelize: to bring His good news to the people of our city.

Evangelism in the city is not about the latest and greatest technique (we wish it were that easy!). Urban evangelism is based on creating strategic and intentional relationships. And quite simply, that takes time. If you are called to urban evangelism, you are called to a long-term vision. Consider moving into a neighborhood where you see God already at work. Spend time with people in their places of work and times of entertainment. Get to know the people that are involved in systemic sin and befriend them. Above all, pray for peace in your city. Trust that your city is on God’s heart and that He desires to use your daily testimony and interactions to bring peace to your city.

Urban Evangelization – Part 1 of 2

By Scott and Emily Armstrong

The city has it all, doesn’t it? Schools and universities, hospitals and doctor’s offices, theatres and shopping malls – the list goes on and on! With more employment opportunities and access to health care and education, it’s obvious why people want to live in the city. Global statistics tell us that the Mesoamerica Region is already URBAN.  Over 80% of our people live in a heavily-populated city, and many of these people are unchurched.

You might be thinking that city evangelization is no different than in the suburbs or rural areas, but you’d be wrong. How do we make Christlike disciples of people that live a fast-paced life and don’t have time for Jesus? How do we create relationship and gain the trust of someone that works 7 days a week? What does hope look like in the midst of substance abuse, gangs and poverty?

First things first: God has a plan for the city.  You have to believe that truth if you ever want to be a successful urban evangelist. Oftentimes when we think about the city, we think about the problems found there – everything from traffic jams to air pollution to stressful schedules to gangs.  However, we must begin seeing the city as God sees it: a place of influence where righteousness and peace can be obtained.  Imagine with me for a minute the vision revealed to us in Revelation 7:9-10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

That’s the CITY of ZION that we are reading about!  God’s infinite story goes on forever IN A CITY.  We will gather together with every nation, tribe, and language and praise God forever! Isn’t it interesting how our cities are already becoming the home to so many cultures at the same time?  Could we even imagine that maybe, just maybe, God is already giving us an opportunity to experience a glimpse of heaven on earth right in the heart of our cities?

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Jeremiah 29:4-7 is another passage that speaks to us about God and His desire to use His people to impact the city:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’”

This passage offers us three principles we must keep in mind when we evangelize the city:

We must live in our city to love our city.

We must be a continual presence in our city.

We must pray for our city.

We must live in our city to love our city.

Jeremiah bluntly tells the exiles of Jerusalem (city dwellers by the way!) to “build houses and settle down…”  He didn’t say to enjoy a short respite there or to view it as a temporary tourist destination. He told them to settle down there. 

I recently sat in a workshop listening to urban church planters tell of their experiences and one of them said, “If you are commuting to the city, it means you work there, not that you care for the neighborhood.”  What he was saying was that the city is a hurry up, come-and-go environment for so many people that are only there for 10 hours during a workday. But the people that LIVE in the city? They are always there!  The decisions that are made in local government affect their personal lives, the school systems mold their children, and the lack of public transportation there affects their employment capabilities.

How are you going to care about all of the dynamics of the city if you don’t live there? Often times we see evangelism as a task to accomplish, but this model will not work in the city.  If you are only coming into the city to evangelize every once in a while, the neighbors will begin to see your evangelism as WORK and not as love.  And every neighborhood is different: a single city can be home to hundreds of different communities that all have their own culture and opportunities.  Thus, it’s so important to live where you are evangelizing, because it’s the normal everyday interactions that speak loudest.

Because life moves at such a fast pace, our relationships in the city are typically built around economic activities.  We purchase our groceries every few days, and we go to the same supermarket and get to know the local employees. We go to a sporting event and meet fellow fans that hold similar interests.  We enjoy the community of a local mall and come into contact with others that are enjoying free entertainment as well.  Our interactions with people are numerous every day, but turning it into an intentional meeting is key to evangelism in the city.  One contact – or even a dozen contacts – does not necessarily make a lasting relationship.  We must live in the city, allowing us to live life with our neighbors as well, which then opens up the door to deeper spiritual conversations and continual evangelism through our daily testimony.

*This article will continue in the next post.

Real Life Church in Quito, Ecuador

Some of our friends and colleagues in ministry have planted a new church in the heart of Quito, Ecuador. A few weeks ago they described their initial months and their strategies and philosophy in an article published by Ardeo Global. What do you notice about their approach? Can you see this working in your city?

Greetings from Quito, Ecuador! Our team has recently begun our church planting work here with our first church service in September, 2018. The name of our church, Iglesia Real Life, reflects our mission to show how the message of the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ provide real life solutions to real life problems. I think that is the goal of every church, but our focus can get clouded with church logistics and we can begin to focus on the upkeep of a physical church building and its programs. Our team is looking at church planting from a different philosophy. We’ve studied Jesus’ ministry and found that most of His time was spent ministering to non-religious people outside of religious buildings. Our goal is to break free from non-biblical traditions in order to focus on what really matters: loving on people as Jesus did.

So what does that look like? Most noticeably, we don’t meet in a church building. We want our area of influence to be unrestricted by the geographical location of our church, we want to be free of distraction from the work and resources required to maintain a church building, and we want to be welcoming to people who would never feel comfortable entering a church. Our goal is to eventually have various teaching points throughout the whole city so that every new person we meet can attend a worship service and Bible study near where they live.

Currently, we’re meeting at a really neat place near the commercial center of Quito. It’s a food court with a central area for concerts and other events. It also has a playground and separate area where the kids can meet, and the owner is letting us hold our events there for free! So far we’ve had one church service there, and we did our best to make it really feel like a celebration. We had upbeat music and balloons and confetti poppers. At the end of the service, Pastor Josué closed with a prayer but didn’t close his eyes, so people were a little surprised when they realized he was praying. But why not talk to God as though He were standing in the room with us, since we know He is? In the big things and the small things, we want moments like that in our church. We want to get to the root of why we do things and challenge people’s ideas of what the church is. We simply want to be the hands and feet of Christ, loving and serving the people of Quito unconditionally.

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How exactly are we going to serve and meet the needs of the people here? Well, first we have to learn what their needs are, and to do that we have to start by just getting to know them.  Quito is the capital of Ecuador and in many ways is very modern. There is a large downtown area filled with businesses and people living a metropolitan lifestyle. So far we’ve found that many of the issues of people here are pretty similar to those of people in the US: marriages need help, teens need guidance on what to do with their lives, and it’s difficult for families to spend quality time together amidst the many demands of everyday life. However, Ecuador is also a country with a developing economy where many people face underemployment and struggle to simply provide for their families. Problems with drugs and teenage pregnancies are increasing, crime makes it dangerous to be outside after dark, and Venezuelan refugees here face blatant racism every day.

When we first started planning our outreach strategies, we expected that we would be reaching the people in the modern, business-focused, post-Christian part of Quito, and based on the location of our first teaching point we definitely will have opportunities to minister to them. However, in our day-to-day interactions we’ve met people from all walks of life with various needs, both spiritual and physical.

The need for hope and love is universal and does not discriminate across socioeconomic differences, and neither will we in our efforts to reach anyone who is ready to hear of the immense love that God has for them, whether that looks like hosting a marriage seminar or paying for someone to see a medical specialist that they couldn’t afford on their own. Our daily challenge is to stay flexible and open to where and to whom God is leading us.

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This article was originally published at Ardeo Global.

Praying for the City – 2019

In a few days we will be starting this prayer movement: 40 Days Praying for the City, would you join us? 

You can download the 40 days complete calendar by clicking HERE!!! 

You can also follow our social media to keep up with the prayer requests for every day: we are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Visit our website at: MesoamericaGenesis.org.

Don’t forget we start on January 1st, 2019!!

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Let Me In

By Scott Armstrong

I have been reflecting recently on the way that we evaluate and train our Genesis missionaries.  As a team, we tinker with the content of our workshops and attempt to provide hands-on experience that will also prepare them for their two years in a different culture and in an explicitly urban context.  However, the thing that keeps coming to my head is: What good is training if the missionaries do not have a deep desire to love the downcast and brokenhearted around them? That is something we cannot teach or motivate into them.

The great news is that, in almost every case, our Genesis missionaries are passionate about serving others.  This is not a service that comes on their own terms or with their own demands; they all possess a profound love of God and neighbor.  I have recently heard stories of our missionaries arduously cleaning entire apartment complexes in nearly 100º heat, holding sick and malnourished children, and embracing and weeping with abandoned single mothers.  This type of ministry requires a compassionate willingness to walk with any needy person through every hellish thing they are going through.

I recently read this surprising story from G.K. Chesterton, the renowned Christian thinker and writer:

A man who was entirely careless of spiritual affairs died and went to hell. And he was much missed on earth by his old friends.  His business agent went down to the gates of hell to see if there was any chance of bringing him back.  But though he pleaded for the gates to be opened, the iron bars never yielded.  His priest also went and argued: ‘He was not really a bad fellow, given time he would have matured.  Let him out, please!’ The gates remained stubbornly shut against all their voices.  Finally, his mother came; she did not beg for his release.  Quietly, and with a strange catch in her voice, she said to Satan: ‘Let me in.’  Immediately the great doors swung open upon their hinges.  For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead.” (Quoted in Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality)

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Our missionaries have not signed up for an easy assignment, and they certainly know they will not be on a two-year vacation.  There is something else that calls them to the lost, the last, and the least.  Evaluation and training are essential, but when I receive reports like I have recently from their work in the urban landscapes of our region, I know something deeper than basic training has compelled them.  God’s love has taken them to the gates of hell, and they have asked to enter.  And because of it, God is transforming hell into heaven right in the heart of those cities.

*For more information on Genesis, or any of our missionaries, please visit us at: www.mesoamericagenesis.org. You can also download our mobile app for Android or iOS.

The Challenge is Urban

By Scott Armstrong

Last week I had the privilege of being in Panama where several leaders were gathered to brainstorm solutions for more effective ministry in three areas:

  • Urban Mission
  • Youth
  • Children

These areas have been declared our regional emphases in Mesoamerica for the upcoming Quadrennial.  And rightly so: although great things are currently taking place in each of these ministries, we have a long way to go before we see an explosion of fruit all across the region among children, youth, and our cities.

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I’m sure you have listened to our Worthless Servants podcast recently (if you haven’t, seriously, what are you doing with your life?), and you know we have addressed all three of these issues in various episodes.  However, for the sake of this article, let’s focus on urban mission.

If you have heard my wife and I speak recently in any service or event, you know that we are banging the drum for urban mission.  Our ministry is GENESIS after all, where the mission is to make Christlike disciples in the urban centers of Mesoamerica.  We are sending missionaries to 28 strategic cities so that they may plant churches and impact communities with little or no Nazarene presence.  And it is happening!

Still, I admit that the influence a team of four workers can have in a city of 1 million+ is limited.  And what about the other cities that have not been identified as the 28 strategic, urgent sites that will receive missionaries? It is clear that our whole region needs a genesis and it will not come solely because of a dedicated volunteer missionary force.

This very week while we were in Panama, we received from Dale Jones in Nazarene Research (love them!) a list of all of the cities in the Mesoamerica Region with 100,000 or more in population.  The findings are intriguing and yet staggering:

  1. General statistics show that 72% of Mesoamerica lives in an urban area (this includes several cities of less than 100,000 that are still considered urban). Nearly 3 out of every four of us is an urbanite! When you think of urban, you may think of New York, Beijing, or Tokyo. But we are the region with the highest percentage of urban dwellers.
  2. In just two years we have grown from 169 cities with 100,000 people or more to 182 fitting that description. All over the world people are moving to the big city in droves, and our region is no exception.
  3. Of these 182 metropolises, 115 are in one country: Mexico. One. Five.  Reaching the cities of our region means especially reaching the cities of Mexico, many of which have no Nazarene church.
  4. After Mexico, the four countries that have the most cities with population of 100,000 or more are: Cuba (16), Dominican Republic (9), Haiti (8), and Nicaragua (7). In other words, 155 of the 182 biggest cities in our region are in FIVE countries. Would you pray specifically for urban impact in those five countries?
  5. The total population in Mesoamerica is 223 million. 42 million of us live in cities with greater than 100,000 people.  That’s 54%More of us live in a huge city than don’t.  Shouldn’t this effect the way we equip our leaders for ministry?

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  6. If the majority of our population lives in a big city, then that’s where all our Nazarenes are, too, right? Wrong. Only 32% of our members live in a city of over 100,000 people.  That’s 129,354 out of 406,000 total Nazarenes.

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  7. #5 and #6 above cause me to reflect: I know that we have many Nazarene members in these cities already and I praise the Lord for their witness. However, there is no doubt that in the great majority of these urban settings, we lack a true presence as a Church of the Nazarene.  Having a church building and holding services every week will not cut it.  In order to impact the city, sacrificial, creative, and missional discipleship will be required in the days ahead.
  8. A significant number of these 182 cities have recently been affected adversely by devastating natural disasters. Could it be that our entryway into these cities would come through comforting those who have lost all in hurricanes or earthquakes? Could it be that – even without natural disasters – acting as agents of compassion would be the healthy way to impact our cities anyway?

My intention is not to overwhelm you with statistics.  I recognize that each observation above must be digested thoughtfully for greatest understanding, and I pray you would do so!  Honestly, I share all of this not just to inform, but also to invite you to be a part of this initiative.

Would you pray?

Would you give?

Would you go and impact an urban context right where you are or even far away?

Comment below if God is turning your focus toward the city.  Communicate with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at MesoamericaGenesis.org.  Listen to our podcast and tell others about it so the conversation about these topics spreads.

We need your help.  The statistics are clear and the call of God is clearer: let’s bring a genesis to the urban centers of Mesoamerica.