by Rev. Christopher Lewis,
Nothing is Impossible Ministries
I never imagined that doing Christian ministry in Mexico would result in helping somebody look for drugs and weapons, but that is exactly what happened last week. I was stopped at a military checkpoint just north of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico (also known as Rocky Point). The soldier said, “Open the door, please.” Then he proceeded to look my car over for signs of drugs or weapons as he asked me a few routine questions.
However, instead of letting me go on as the soldiers usually do at this point, he told me that a lot of Americans pass through this checkpoint and that he wished he knew how to say more to them that just, “Open the door please.” He asked me if I could teach him some words.
I asked him what he wanted to learn first. He said, “We are looking for drugs and weapons.” I wrote the phrase down and taught it to him. He also wanted to know how to say, “Can I have a soda please?” After that, we talked about why we are in Puerto Peñasco, and he said, “I like that!” He gave me his phone number and wants to meet up soon for another English lesson and also to talk more about the things that are happening in Puerto Peñasco.
I’ll have a lot to share with him because a lot is going on in this place. My wife, Karen, and I are missionaries and have been serving primarily in Mexico for the past couple of years. We spent one year in the town of Rosarito, south of Tijuana, where we worked with an English speaking church and also planted a new Spanish speaking work. Now we are in Puerto Peñasco where we have been leading the starting of a new church here from the ground up. The part of the city where we are working is very poor and is in a great deal of need.
A lot of people, when I say that we are starting a church, picture the concept of somebody building a building and having religious services. However, that is not what I mean. There probably will be a building one day for the people to gather together and worship, but that will only be a part of the expression of the people’s lives together and not the goal.
My understanding of the word “church” is not the one a lot of people in the world today have of some organized religion that is all about singing songs and listening to somebody sermonize once a week so that everybody can go home feeling good (or bad) about themselves.
Rather, I subscribe more to the idea of “church” that is taught in the Bible. It’s about people who are “called out” of the world in order to seek God together as a community and also to go back into that same world and live the life of Jesus in it. Living the life of Jesus in the world isn’t about condemning people and trying to prove how holy we are; it’s about loving people and seeking to make a positive difference in their day-to-day lives.
Since May, we have been working with three local couples here who comprise our “team.” Together, we have shared the message of God’s love with a lot of people and have seen over 100 respond with the decision to follow God with us. Working together, we have been seeking ways to make a difference in the community through more than just preaching sermons. We feel that if all you do is preach about love without actually loving people you are nothing but “a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1); in other words, just somebody who makes a lot of noise.
So what are we doing in the community?
1) FEEDING THE HUNGRYWe have various events throughout the month in which we provide meals for people who are in need. It is always a great joy to see people enjoying the things that we take for granted but which are like an unexpected treasure to them. We also give out groceries to families that are particularly struggling, and we are preparing to help the new church start a food bank in which people who are in great need can get regular assistance.
2) CLOTHING THE NAKED
Ok, they’re not naked yet. So far everyone we meet has at least SOMETHING to wear, but in many cases they have very, very little. Every once in a while people donate shipments of clothing, which we then make available to the people who need it most.
Some people ask why we do these things. They think that church is just about religious people trying to get people into their churches, but that’s not how we understand the very idea of church. It’s not about getting people into the church; it’s about getting the church into the world by making a practical, loving difference in the lives of those we touch. The Bible says it best:
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” — James 2:15-26
3) HAVING FUN
Some people think that Christians are just a bunch of stale saints who are against every form of enjoyment or entertainment. Though that may occasionally be true of some, it is certainly not what Jesus intended. In fact, if you read the stories of Jesus you find that his critics actually accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton because he spent so much time just having a good time with people they considered to be too “sinful.” One of the pillars of the life of the first Christians was “fellowship,” which in its original context didn’t just mean Christians getting together for an occasional potluck but actually doing life together and enjoying it.
With that in mind, we also try to find opportunities just to bring enjoyment into the community. One of the ways we do that is with our bi-weekly movie night. We set up a movie screen on the same site where we have our Sunday services and just watch a movie together with the people of the community. The movie of the night can be anything from a dramatized biblical story to a cartoon to a good, clean movie starring Sandra Bullock or some other well known celebrity. We all have popcorn together and just enjoy being together. I kind of think that’s the way Jesus would do it.
4) CHURCH SERVICES
I didn’t say that we don’t HAVE singing and preaching, but that singing and preaching isn’t the be-all and end-all of what we do or who we are. On Sundays, we have services in two different places in which we have more quality time together, sing songs of worship to God, and provide teaching from God’s Word.
This service, though always an exciting time, isn’t the whole purpose of our existence, however. Rather, it’s a time of giving teaching to people about God and the purposeful life we can have by living in relationship with Him and preparing people to APPLY what they learn throughout the week in the way they treat their families, themselves and their neighbors. The church service is like the garage where you fine-tune the car so that you can send it out on the road the rest of the week. We look for teaching from God’s Word in order for it to fine-tune US and send us out into the world the rest of the week.
Every Sunday, we set up some tents and chairs and get together under the tents for our time of worship. We started with two tents but have just procured two more tents because the group has grown too big for just the two. After our time of worship and teaching, we have some food together before everyone goes home. It’s a highlight of the week for many, including ourselves!
5) SPENDING TIME WITH PEOPLE
Most of all, however, we believe that being the church is about people. If all we did was have church services on Sundays, we wouldn’t really be a church.
In whatever way we can, we seek to do life together with people. One of the ways we have done that is through having small groups in people’s homes during the week to study the Bible together and enjoy being together. Another way is simply through visiting people and eating together with others during the week. As I write this, we got together with two families from the church yesterday and just had dinner together. We talked, laughed and ate … and that was church just as much as any services in a building or under a tent. It’s people living life together with Jesus in the middle.
I look forward to meeting up with my new soldier friend soon. We’ll sit down together over a cup of coffee, I’ll give him an English lesson, and I’ll let him know all about what’s happening here in Puerto Peñasco. That’s what church is really all about … people just like him.
If you would like to help out the ministry in Puerto Peñasco you can write checks to Latino M.E. and put “for Chris & Karen Lewis” in the memo. Checks can be mailed it to:
2930 Geer Rd. #228
Turlock, CA 95382
It is a non-profit organization, so any giving is tax-deductible.