New Workers for the Harvest in Spain
*Last name omitted for security reasons
*Last name omitted for security reasons
Rob and Doris Swartz and their family of four children (Larissa, Kevin, Danae, and Bryce) moved into Amherst Meadows subdivision in London, Ohio about 10 years ago. Rob, a self-described “country boy” never would have imagined himself in such a place but as they outgrew their former home, they felt God calling them to live in a neighborhood with close neighbors. From the beginning, they felt called to share Jesus with those neighbors. Rob said it took a lot of initiative on their part to start forming relationships. As introverts who enjoy family life, they had to challenge themselves to approach their neighbors. They don’t see evangelism as a natural gifting for either of them and learned they had to make an intentional place in their life for relationship building. They took walks around the neighborhood in the evenings, took cookies to the neighbors, and eventually, even began hosting an annual block party. These initial friendly encounters often lead to deeper, growing friendships.
Although Rob is a pastor, it was never his intention to evangelize only in order to grow his congregation, although he is always glad when neighbors join the body at London Christian Fellowship. He says it was always his goal to “bring people closer to Jesus.” In this process, he has learned the value of flexibility. Sometimes Rob’s perception would be that a certain person would be open to God or that another would never consider a relationship with him. What he found was that God had his own plans and his own unexpected ways of working in people’s lives. “You don’t know who God is working in,” he said.
After meeting neighbors and developing some mutual friendships, Rob and Doris began to invite some of those interested friends to a Bible discussion group in their home. In the beginning, they chose not to call it a Bible study, so that it would be more open and feel less threatening. A group formed and has continued to meet for the past nine years. The group has changed over the years as people have come and gone, but one thing has remained consistent: God has worked in the lives of their friends. Some have been baptized, which has been a great joy to Rob and Doris. Some have joined the body at London Christian Fellowship where Rob pastors. Others have come and gone, but the Swartz’s are sure that God’s Word did affect their lives and that the study may have laid a foundation for a future encounter with Jesus. Even those who seem to fall away or lose touch sometimes return during times of pain or stress. Recently, Rob was able to perform a funeral for a hurting family and re-establish connection after a separation.
Although reaching their neighbors for Jesus is a heart-felt passion for the family, there are challenges as well. A constant challenge is the busyness of people’s schedules. It’s also difficult at times for Rob and Doris to find time in their own busy schedules to make time for people. Rob says his time gets eaten up even by good things and he has to cut back in order to have time to meet with people. He sees it as a huge challenge in our culture. However, the family has learned how to make the most of even those busy times. At soccer games, there are lots of parents and of course the players themselves. Rob and Doris have gotten to know parents that way and have had a lot of good conversations. Two friends from Danae’s soccer team came to church the Sunday of this interview. Rob said, “You have to get creative with what is happening in the culture.”
Another challenge has been feeling lonely in the work sometimes. It’s hard to be connected enough with other people who are doing the same thing or have the same vision, so it’s possible to get discouraged at times. He says, “We can’t let Satan convince us that we are alone because we’re not. It’s a tactic he uses to discourage us.”
Although the challenges are great, the rewards are also great. Doris says that watching the transformation of people is the best part. Katie came out of a Catholic background. After youth Bible studies with Rob and Doris, she grew a lot and became a committed believer. When it came time to choose a college, she chose a Catholic school. Doris remembers a feeling of disappointment, as though that could be a setback. Instead, Katie became involved in a Navigators group on campus and she continued to grow and was baptized. Doris said, “God put her where he wanted her and it wasn’t what we would have chosen for her but he is using her there. This girl is going to change the world. One person you’ve had contact with or lead to the Lord can be used in big ways. We never know how the effects will ‘ripple out’ from our group. We have to set aside our need to measure our progress, and accept that he works in various ways and the impact will grow. To see God helping people change their behaviors, to have breakthroughs in their understanding of God is so encouraging.”
I asked Rob and Doris for any parting words of advice for those of us trying to reach our own neighbors for Jesus.
They said it’s challenging to accept that church can happen in various ways. Even if people don’t quite fit into the mold you would like to fit them in or if ministry looks different from how you imagined, you should trust the Lord in that. We need to have a flexible view of what “success” is in this mission. Do I need them to go to my church? Do I need them to be baptized for this to feel like success? Or do I need to use a certain model? God is creative. There isn’t one method or one way that works in all situations. We need to be more flexible in the tools and methods we use and also with people and how they grow. That’s hard because we have our ways of doing things and the way we’ve grown up influences us a lot.
Be available and be praying. We don’t have to go find people. God will bring them into your life. It shouldn’t feel like work, projects, or pressure. We want to give him the control and to give him the glory!
Nate Olmstead began his new part-time position as Church Planting Team Coordinator with RMM on October 1. Nate and his wife, Denise and their six children Abigail (8), Isaiah (7), Clay (5), Cassia (4), Trenton (2) and Jeremiah (5 months) live in Croghan, New York. They enjoy hiking, picnics, playing baseball, kickball, or anything that involves a ball!
Nate’s role involves assisting the Conservative Mennonite Conference in achieving its newly-adopted goal of seeing ten percent of our 105 churches plant a church within the next three years. He will be putting together a team of specialists who will help to foster and facilitate church planting initiatives across CMC.
Nate is a natural and gifted evangelist. He says he has enjoyed and been impassioned about church planting work ever since he was a missionary intern with RMM in Cuenca, Ecuador from 2000-2003. He says, “Serving as an intern allowed me to see the world from a global perspective. My internship allowed for the natural development of gifts that the Lord graced me with and allowed me to experience, first-hand, church planting in a different context and culture.” More recently, Nate has been involved with church planting work among immigrants and the Lord has been moving his heart to be a part of English speaking church plants as well.
Currently, Nate is meeting with two church groups (made up of Spanish speaking immigrants) in different locations and on different days, with a focus on evangelism and discipleship. The goal has been to equip each person to reproduce himself or herself—first in their own homes and secondly in their community. Nate is currently walking alongside a small group that is playing this out in the mountains of Central Mexico. They have planted a stable church and are hoping to plant more churches in neighboring communities.
Nate’s passion and vision is to:
The World at Your Table, Christmas 2013 special price: $10!
Starting early with your Christmas shopping this year? We have a great way to avoid crowded stores and give a thoughtful and useful gift, while simultaneously supporting the cause of missions! For anyone on your list who loves travel, cooking, or eating foods from other cultures, The World at Your Table: An RMM Cookbook (compiled by Susannah Fath Cotman), is a perfect gift. This cookbook is packed with simple, affordable, and flavorful recipes from around the globe. Sometimes international cooking can feel intimidating, but these easy recipes make ethnic foods accessible and easy to make at home. If you already own the cookbook, tell us some of your favorite recipes in comments below!
To purchase, you can pick one up at the RIC or the Rosedale office or order online at cookbook.rmmweb.org
"You did WHAT for four days?!"
Nearly every time I’ve told someone what I did a couple weeks ago, I’ve gotten a response like “Wow!” or “Are you serious?” The activity that I’ve just described to them is a four-day Bible study that about 25 of us did together at the Rosedale International Center at the end of September. We mostly ignored our phones, our email, and our Facebook friends and dove headfirst into the book of Acts. Many of us were a little apprehensive as we got started. Could we actually sit through a Bible study that lasts that long?
Here’s how it worked. Each one of us had a copy of the book of Acts in manuscript form in a small binder. It was about 70 pages of text, and instead of having chapters and verses (a relatively recent addition to our Bibles), we had line numbers. Dan Byler, who was facilitating our study, suggested that we use colored pencils or markers to highlight, underline, circle, or otherwise mark the text. (He didn’t specifically mention doodling, but I noticed that my wife took some liberties with that ☺) Dan encouraged us to ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to what he wanted us to see, and then look for words, ideas, principles—anything that stood out to us.
We were young, old, and middle aged. Farmers, teachers, pastors, business people. We placed ourselves at five round tables, and Dan managed the clock for us. We’d usually take about five or six pages of text (the equivalent of a couple chapters) and spend about 20 minutes individually, reading, marking, and scribbling notes. Then Dan would ask us to share at our tables what we had seen in that passage. After another 20 minutes hurried past, he’d invite discussion as a whole group. Soon there would be a lively discussion of something like, “How are decisions being made by the church?” or “What is the role of the local church in taking the message of Jesus to other people groups?” or “How is the spread of the gospel being funded?” The observations I had made on my own were often multiplied tenfold by what others had mined from the text.
I saw things I’d never seen before, or at least I saw them much more clearly. I saw the centrality of the resurrection of Jesus in the message of the book of Acts. I saw the power and direction of the Holy Spirit in all that happened. I saw how nimble and flexible and minimal the structures were, so that the word was free to spread and keep on spreading. I noticed how many times great numbers of people were coming to faith in Jesus. I found it fascinating how often Luke mentioned women, like he was trying to make a special point about their essential place in the church.
Sometimes, we’d break from our study to pray for a while or discuss strategies for taking the gospel to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.” One day we spent the afternoon on the streets of Columbus, praying for people and places we saw and initiating conversations as we could.
Four days later, our minds were full but our hearts were overflowing. God’s word is life-giving, and studying it together as the body of Christ, in community, is especially rich and stimulating. Now at RMM we’re asking, “How can we ‘Acts-ualize’ missions? What does this all mean for RMM and for the local churches we serve?” Holy Spirit, come empower and mobilize us!
RMM workers around the world will celebrate Thanksgiving in culturally diverse places. Some will eat turkey, others live in places like Thailand where a single Butterball can cost a whopping ninety dollars. Many will gather with friends that have become like family. In Spain, workers gather with Spanish friends who might be a bit underwhelmed by a turkey dinner with all the fixings. In spite of how the holiday may look different in each host culture, our workers are a thankful group. They are aware every day that God’s faithfulness is what is carrying them through. They see his hand at work in each of the countries where they live and experience the abundance of his provision every day. Many express gratitude for the host cultures and the local people that have embraced, welcomed, and cared for them. This year at Thanksgiving time, as an RMM family, we want to remember all that our God is doing around the world and in our own hearts and to celebrate together.
We asked some of our workers to share their gratitude for God’s work and blessings, and their appreciation for the cultures in the places he has taken them. Here are their responses, in their own words…
Gratitude from Granada, Spain:
When I get out and walk, I’m grateful for creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1 NIV). I’m glad for the earth as God’s habitation and how the whole thing declares God’s glory. I’m thankful to get out and breathe it, see it, experience it. We have so many visuals in Granada, especially the mountains. When the first snow falls, the snowcapped mountains are so beautiful. I point it out to my students and say, “Wow, isn’t that beautiful! Do you ever get tired of this??” Even though we don’t see God in people’s lives so much yet, I see him in getting out and walking.
I’m grateful for the people we call our friends. A number of them have gone out of their way to make us feel at home and do things for us and with us. In the past, we prayed to be seen with favor and we feel like God has done that. God has used people, even atheists, in my life to speak to me and encourage me.
Also, I’m thankful I don’t have to carry burdens. Jesus says “My yoke is easy, my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30 NIV). In the past, I was carrying burdens that were not mine to carry. I don’t want to do that anymore.
What I’m thankful for is what God is doing in the hearts of people in Granada—those he’s calling to himself. One thing that is amazing to me are the networks between our friends. Only God is able to orchestrate those connections. Friends have introduced us to other friends. It’s fascinating to look at and say: God is putting people together for a purpose.
Gratitude from the Middle East:In our day and age, it seems difficult to form deep friendships. We are grateful for inspirational friendships in our country of service. The level of acceptance and expressed love is deeply touching and there are few limits on time available or resources.
We have also been grateful for the way God takes care of our family back at home: parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and other relatives. We sometimes feel guilty for our absence, so we're all the more thankful that God fills in the gaps.
God has given us health, joy, hard work, and good conversations.
We have seen God's faithful provision of adequate grace for whatever is needed. 2 Corinthians 2:9 says: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” We have found that to be the case.
-John and Cecelia Aslan*
Gratitude from Bangkok, Thailand:I am grateful to be working in a friendly and polite culture. Even though the worldview in Asia is very different from mine, people are nevertheless open to interactions based on mutual respect. I am thankful to my hosts for inviting me to share with them through English teaching, fitness training and fun times together, and that these times together open the doors to share our lives, values and faith.
We thank God for his faithfulness in every moment, for his care for our families, and for the friendship of many brothers and sisters whose words of faith and life make us stronger. We are very pleased to work in the ministry God has called us to do here in Thailand and we are filled with joy. When I was sick in Nicaragua (receiving treatment for Leukemia), I often cried because the desire of my heart was to return to Thailand. Now I rejoice because God has brought me back to health and to Thailand. It is a great blessing to be in ministry here with my wife, my team, and my friends at the University where I study. I thank God for the family he has given us and for his love and mercy every day.
-Efrain and Sujen
Gratitude from North Africa:I am thankful for North African culture and warm hospitality. When we go into a home as a family we are offered food and drink. When we come from a distance, we’re invited to stay overnight. Our hosts often offer to help with our children when we’re eating or in conversation. They make our children comfortable and welcome. As a family, that makes us feel accepted and received in the home. The food is served in community. We are served at a round table with a common dish and everyone gathers around and participates. I like that community style of eating.
Over the last year, I’ve been grateful for opportunities for meaningful work in relationship with men in the linguistic region where we’ve focused. That’s something I struggled to find for a long time. Because of our setting in a city and my areas of work in the past, I hadn’t found meaningful ways to do that. This year felt like a breakthrough in that area on multiple levels. I’m grateful for challenge and situations that fit a variety of my interests.
One thing I admire about our host culture is the emphasis on looking out for strangers and also a sense of communal conflict mediation. Communities generally understand problems or conflict that arises between people as a community and involve themselves whether they are personally connected or not and work to solve it. There is a lot of strength in that.
*Names changed for security.