The year was 2007 when my friend, Tom Planck, the lead pastor at a little church plant outside of Cincinnati, Ohio felt compelled to challenge his small congregation to have a heart for an international mission. A family in that small church had recently adopted from Guatemala. Their names were Mike and Aimee Davis.
Amy connected Tom with a place in the world that had seized her heart, Magdalena, Milpas Atlas, Sacatepequez, Guatemala... the mountain pueblo where she had adopted her children. Tom went and made a connection with Fontaine and Paula Greene, and Edgar Ramos, the founders of Catalyst Resources International (C.R.I.). Tom told me that within the first day, the team was certain that C.R.I. was our churches "laser focus."
At that time, Kellie and I had absolutely no vision or passion for missions. We were bystanders while the hand of God began to make a path straight.
Tom and his team made their way to the little mountain town where Amy and Bruce had found their children, and they worked with a pastor named Mario. The pastor had a vision from God to form a congregation. Tom and his team helped lay the tile floor in the newly constructed church.
Fast forward four years and you'll see our little family stepping off of a Boeing 737 with 15 suitcases, big dreams, and a lot of unknowns. We'd begin to find our way in this new place, starting with a month of language school while our kids were kept by a Guatemalan lady who came well recommended... but we'd never met. It was a time of letting go of a lot of worry... and simply learning to trust God.
The past two and a half years have been exactly about that... learning to trust God. We've had to yield our plans to Him over and over. He has been gracious to teach us that He is enough. Our job is singular: be obedient.
For the past three months we've had a young man of God serve with us, Donavan. His boldness has been an inspiration. He has taken on long term assignments in the Pueblos and stayed with some of our key pastors. About a month ago I dropped him off at a pastor's house in Magdelana... and discovered that he was staying at the very house of the same Pastor Mario where Tom Planck had helped lay the foundation of the church floor.
While we were there that day, I encountered Pastor Mario's son and daughter in law. I was thrilled to realize that I'd met them earlier at a C.R.I. hosted pastor's conference earlier this summer. Marito and Kara shared their heart that they'd love to have the church that I pastor, Journey Church, come and help with bilingual worship on Sunday afternoons.
I was immediately captivated with the idea, but I realized that I could not take it on. Even so, we chatted about the possibilities and my heart was stirred.
The church plant that we have here, Journey Church has peaked out with our missionary community and the Guatemalan families that are in our circles. We've just not been able to grow beyond 150 members. It's good... it works... but I've been frustrated that we've not continued to grow. It's been a whisper at the edge of my thoughts.
At the same time... the timing and plan of God seems to be pursing me. I started to notice a consistent message coming from multiple locations. A church in Magdalena, a coffee shop in Antigua, another coffee shop in Las Charcas, a ministry in Jocotenango... places that had groups of people, that were seeking connection. Suddenly, they had my attention.
The mission of Journey Church, from the start, has been to connect people to Christ and the church, to then inspire them to live big. I realized that God was giving us connections. It occurred to me in bed one night as semi-trailers engine-braked down the mountain outside our house, that this was His plan.
I shared with Tom, and our leadership here in Guatemala that I believed God had given us a vision of expansion for 2016: to solidify and invest in our core congregation here in San Cristobal, to establish a gathering in Magdalena, and to facilitate core groups in Antigua, Las Charcas, and in Jocotenango.
This was such a crazy vision though... and yet, I knew it was not of my own creation. It was the vision God was handing to me. I was excited to know His will... and yet, I was afraid that others might find it ridiculous, or too aggressive. It can be difficult to get missionaries to trust other missionaries. It can be even more difficult to get churches to trust other churches. With all of our talk of unity, we are like little protective camps sometimes rather than a united movement.
And so... today I found myself in the home of Pastor Mario, talking with him, his son Marito, and his daughter-in-law Kara. Marito of course is Guatemalan, and his wife Kara is from the U.S. They had invited me to share the vision of Journey Church partnering with Mt. Sin to form a bilingual church in the afternoons at their location.
I was nervous. Even so... I presented the concept of Journey Church - Magdalena. It would be an autonomous congregation, headed by Marito and Kara, under the guidance of Mario, and supported by Journey Church. As the lead pastor of Journey in Guatemala, I would supply graphics, logos, branding, a vision, materials, sermon series, and small group material, but I would require nothing in return. Our congregation in San Cristobal would support their launch, and be supportive when needed... but the church would be fully theirs.
I was careful to be respectful, and to let them know that we're simply a catalyst and a resource. I acknowledge and yield to their leadership. I was sure that I sounded ridiculous. This plan that I was presenting... was one that I believed I'd received from God. I thought that sounded crazy. There are sidewalk prophets everywhere that claim to talk to God. I really don't want to be just another whack-job.
And then... pastor Mario brought tears to my eyes and relief to my soul as he began to pour out his heart. He said that for 21 years, God has impressed on him that churches and missionaries need to reach beyond their comfort zones and boundaries, make themselves vulnerable, and walk hand in hand in partnership to spread the good news of Jesus.
In a moment that will forever resonate in my soul, we realized that God had aligned us... over years... over generations... for this moment. Our God is real. He is working. He is here.
And so, on this eighth day of December, 2015 in the family room of pastor Mario, the same man who had encountered the founder of Journey Church, Tom Planck so many years before... we founded Journey Church - Magdalena.
God has placed key families in this place, for this time. It is no mistake that we are all aligned for this purpose... right now. I'm amazed again at this story that God is authoring. I am so absolutely blown away to see see how he whittles and chisels away, shaping us to perfectly fit together to advance His kingdom.
Our role here... is to simply say, "Yes."
To the nation of Guatemala... I am thrilled beyond measure to present to you, Journey Church - Magdalena. Hold on tight, here we go.