When I think back over everything that has happened this year, I am amazed. In a nutshell, in January and February I lived in Arequipa, Peru (I had already lived there for three months) and was going through training with Extreme Nazarene Ministries and our newly formed team of 16 on-fire and dynamic people from three different countries. In March, we lived in Cali, Colombia and trained in the Master’s Plan strategy of evangelism with the leaders of the House of Prayer, the largest Church of the Nazarene in the world. Then, at the end of March we all moved to Ambato, Ecuador in order to plant a church from scratch. In May we had the inauguration and through home Bible studies, evangelism events, Encounter weekends, and a specially made leadership program, we have grown to an average of 80-100 people in our congregation in just seven short months, and we have had even more on specific Sundays.
When we arrived in Ambato, we found that the people were very receptive to the Gospel. We are positive that this is due to the hundreds and possibly thousands of people who had been praying for the city long before we showed up, and from the beginning we have been well aware that it has been a movement of the Holy Spirit that has caused the growth. Call us instruments or whatever you want to call us; the truth is that we simply have the opportunity of a front row seat to the miracle. We choose to say “yes” to God every day when we wake up, and we thank Him when we go to sleep for the amazing blessing of being a part of all that is happening. The days are long but they are incredibly fulfilling.
It has also been a great opportunity to see the Body of Christ as a whole come together. We are more aware than ever how many people it takes to successfully plant a church. It has not just been the involvement of our team. Our organization has several staff members contributing to the work, every one of us has several sponsors in their respective areas, several churches have given to help us with start-up costs, and several districts are raising money and sending teams down to help us with our mega evangelism event and church building project this next year. This doesn’t even mention the huge network of people that pray for us and those we are reaching every single day. It is a staggering number of people that have been a part of this project, and we are very thankful for every one.
I have been in the States visiting my parents and other family members and friends since December 21st, and it has been a nice change. It has been exciting to evaluate all that happened this last year and to set goals for this next year of ministry in Ambato. I will head back to South America in mid-January. Our contract extends until February 2015.
On a personal note, this year has been very important for me. God used all of these experiences to teach me many things. I am aware more than ever of my weakness and my need for Him. God taught me about humility, and it is a continuing daily lesson. Working with a team has shown me that I had a lot more pride than I was aware that I had. I have been surprised, however, at the level of joy and fulfillment I have found in working in Ambato. My personal relationship with God has grown leaps and bounds this last year, and I feel an even greater drawing to go deeper with Him. God has given me such a passion for missions, for the people of Ecuador, but even moreso He has given me a passion to know Him and His Word. I have fallen in love with being in His presence and I understand that prayer needs to be the foundation, the fuel, and the sustaining force of every moment of our lives. Without prayer, we would not have seen the results that we have seen and without prayer, we will not see the results that we know we will see this next year. The call is always to push deeper.
However, I think there is a more profound truth that I want to share, especially in talking about success in ministry. Most would say that our team has seen incredible success this year in the number of people that have come to our services and are a part of our home Bible studies. Honestly, I struggle with the word “success”, because I know that true success cannot be shown by numbers. In fact, I believe that often we can “fail” so to speak and still be successful in God’s eyes. Unlike what the world teaches us about success, God is not necessarily concerned about the result (at least on a corporate level). Obviously, He desires that everyone would come to Him and the more people that hear about Him and accept Him are more souls that are beginning the journey. However, God looks at the heart – far beyond what sponsors and donors can see. True success is the heart that is totally surrendered to God; one that is truly teachable and simply in love with Him. We have learned that even the events that don’t necessarily bring the fruit that we are expecting (the number of people coming to Christ that we thought) serve a purpose – to teach us how to be better ministers and to cause us to depend even more on the leading of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t always work in ways that make sense to us.
The Bible also says that the world will know that we are Christ’s disciples by the way we love each other. Therefore, love is the true measure of success. It is always a challenge to extend unconditional love to those closest to us, and our team has found it to be no less of a challenge for us. However, I have witnessed something in our church that I have never seen to this extent before – a true family. Everyone cares in a very real way and welcomes everyone else, not only into the church building, but also into their homes and lives. As we have seen lives miraculously transformed, addictions broken, marriages restored, people literally saved from death – it is clear that life can never be the same as it was before. Because what each person has found in Christ is so drastically different than what they had before, there is no going back. Jesus is their new reality, and the family that we have all formed together is their new reality. Every day I just sit back in amazement and watch things I had previously only read about. I never dreamed that I could be a part of something like this. Now, I can’t imagine living another moment of my life outside of this sweet spot that I have found – the flow of the Holy Spirit. I just want to be wherever God is working. I just want to be faithful. The greatest blessing that God can give is His Spirit poured out, and I am watching His story unfold.
I have found that what I do only has significance because God chooses to use my obedience for His glory. Grace is something that is not only extended to those encountering Christ for the first time, but I am also receiving it every day. I cannot earn it. No matter how hard I work or how much passion I put into my tasks, it matters nothing if God’s not in it. I have found that so often I have had misplaced desire – I have wanted to sacrifice where God has not led me to sacrifice and that never ends well. I am still learning this dance and how to follow His lead. I am learning to trust His initiation and the fact that God is never slow. I have learned that waiting is not a passive thing, but rather a call to the action of aligning my heart more and more with His heart. Recently we have just been trying to keep up.
I am so excited about all that God is going to do this next year. It will fly by. We have several teams coming down and several of our leadership classes will be graduating and taking their places as we prepare to transition out. It is hard to believe that in only 9 months the plan is to hand our roles in the church over to those we are currently discipling. I have no doubt that the church will be in good hands. God has brought us far more dynamic people than I dared to pray for.
Many have asked what I will be doing after my contract with Extreme ends. Honestly, I have no idea where to begin imagining. However, I am confident that God knows exactly what I will be doing, that He has prepared the way already, and He will clue me in when He so desires. At this moment, I don’t even want to know. I would appreciate your prayers in this area and all that it could entail. As for right now, I am focused on giving my all to this next year’s ministry in Ambato.
Thank you so much for all your support and prayers. I wish you all could see what we see every day. We do our best to inform, but there is only so much that pictures and little popcorn updates can convey. Please know that God is transforming the city of Ambato, Ecuador for His glory, that your prayers and contributions are making a difference, and that your continued support and prayers are essential. Please know that my email is always open to your communication and questions, and I will do the best I can on my end to keep you up to date with everything that is going on. Here are links and information for you to stay informed:
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My blog: www.chelseamaxine-all-in.com
Church’s Facebook Page: Iglesia La Puerta Abierta de Ambato (English and Spanish)
Church’s Blog: www.equipoambato.wordpress.com (English and Spanish)
I would encourage you to check all of these things out. Follow them regularly. We want you to be a part of all that we are doing. We consider you a part of our church family, and it is exciting to share this with you.
May you have a blessed new year! Love you all!