April, 15, 2009 Dear friends,
This has been a very full spring so far. I am involved in my two half-time ministry positions (Director of the JARON Bible Institute and Associate Pastor at Campus Bible Church of Fresno, California). Beyond these responsiblities I will have taught five college and university courses by the time June 1 rolls around. So you can see that it was a nice break (and a very fulfilling experience) to interrupt the schedule and travel to Texas and northern Mexico to engage in a week of intensive ministry (March 6-15) with my cousin, Roger Tomlinson of Dayspring Outreach.
One of the personal benefits of this trip is the chance to take an extra couple of days and visit my brother, Marty Bogart and his family in south Texas. Marty, Roger and I usually spend time catching up and reminiscing about our childhood days in the 60s. For us, at least, it is a lot of fun.
On Sunday, Roger and his wife Carolyn and I drove across the border into Mexico, crossing a narrow arm of the state of Tamaulipas and pushing on into Nuevo Leon. Our destination is the village of La Haciendita, about ten miles outside Cadereyta, which in turn is 20 miles or so from the third-largest city in the country: Monterrey.
With all of the news about drug-related killings along the Mexican border, we were extra-watchful on our journey. The only signs of tension we saw during this week were beefed-up checkpoints of the Mexican Army along the route. This time about half of the soldiers were wearing ski masks to hide their identities against possible reprisals by the bad guys. It was a bit sobering, but as far as we were concerned, perfectly routine.
The week of teaching began on Monday with classes in apologetics for the mixed class of about 15 Mexicans and Americans. Apologetics is the reasoned defense and explanation of the Christian faith in response to various questions and attacks. I had to brush a bit of dust off my notes from the last time I taught this course at JARON BIble Institute and then reformat them in the weeks before the trip. It was a pleasure to review this information and interact with the students –all of whom are very bright and eager to learn. I became friends with nearly all of them.
The Americans come mostly from widely-scattered parts of the Midwest. Likewise, the Mexicans are from several different regions of that country. Though they come from diverse backgrounds, they all share the passion for ministry in the unchurched cities, villages and rural areas of Mexico. It was my privilege to take part in their training.
Dayspring Outreach has several facilities in the country–two in Nuevo Leon, one in Oaxaca and one in Vera Cruz— and there may also be others I am unaware of (For more informatiuon on Dayspring, check out the link on the homepage of this website). I was very impressed by the work Roger has been doing these past twenty years or so. He is obviously very committed to the spread of the gospel in Mexico and shows a high degree of innovative ability and persistence to accomplish what he has.
After the return to yet another Dayspring base, this time in south Texas, my brother Marty scheduled a venue at his office for me to present a basic seminar on the background, teachings and goals of Islam. I developed this workshop out of my 17 years of teaching courses in world religion as an adjunct professor in various colleges and universities in central California. I have enjoyed presenting it dozens of times in a variety of formats and venues–sometimes presenting the basic facts of the subject and other times contrasting it with Christian faith.
This gathering turned out to be rather small–only a few of us around a conference table in my brother’s accounting office, but I found the more informal setting very refreshing. The next day, Marty dropped my off at the local airport and I flew home through Dallas to resume my spring schedule.
Let me describe one incident that really stuck out during that week of ministry. Imagine wanting to call your family from a rural area in a foreign country a couple of thousand miles away from home. So, after dinner, one evening I borrow one of Roger’s cell phones and take a stroll . It is dark and chilly and the rain is coming down in a fine mist. With flashlight in hand, I climb to the unfinished top floor of a small apartment block being built in the Dayspring compound for the permanent staff. No roof or walls have gone up yet on this upper storey, so I stand there savoring the damp darkness in this far-away corner of the world. I dial the access code for the US and then my home number. The call goes through and I am talking to Melinda as clearly as if I were next door. Then the signal is lost for a moment, so I dial again, this time standing in a different corner of the roof-top where the signal is stronger. The conversation continues, this time with no interruptions. After checking in and sharing about my day, I sign off, climb down and head for my room to prepare for the next day’s classes.
I know that in the Twenty-first Century, calling someone long distance sounds pretty normal. At home, I use a cell phone regularly to call all sorts of people. Yet it struck me, standing in the rain on that dark roof in rural Mexico, how interconnected the world has become and how relatively convenient it is to do business or missions work almost anywhere on the face of the globe. It is truly a pleasure to serve Jesus Christ and his coming kingdom in these very interesting times of ours.
Thanks for listening,