As cold waters to a thirsty soul,
So is good news from a distant land.
Proverbs 25:25

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, . . . "Your God reigns!"
Isaiah 52:7
good news from a distant land (all posts)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

January 2018 Report

Happy New Year! Five years ago we were preparing for a final move to Uruguay. We’re grateful for the network of churches and individual partners who have supported and encouraged us over these years. Beginning in March we hope to present a five-year report to these churches and to see as many other friends and family as possible. This has been a period of transition, learning, and—by God’s grace—much opportunity. Our report is summarized below, along with a brief update in key areas. Thank you for your continued prayers!

Instituto Bíblico F.V. Dabold. EMU’s Bible institute has trained many pastors and leaders over the decades since the 1940’s. The program offers classes both in Montevideo and interior Uruguay. JM has taught an average of one class per year in the Bible institute since our arrival, and we anticipate continued involvement in 2018.

Facultad de Estudios Bíblicos del Uruguay (FEBU) (College of Biblical Studies of Uruguay). By the time we arrived in 2013, a project was underway to provide a college-level program to train servants for local churches in Uruguay. Classes began in 2014, and we were privileged to participate in the early stages of this effort. Our work with FEBU has been the focus of our energy during these years: We’ve taught music, hermeneutics, homiletics, apologetics, and grammar and writing (skills that most students have not had prior opportunity to develop). Administration and counseling (student discipleship) have also taken large amounts of time.

At the end of 2017 FEBU’s first graduates completed a four-year program focused on Bible-study tools, theology and pastoral training, and practical ministry. Please continue to pray fervently for FEBU’s ongoing development in these and other areas. JM is preparing to teach Homiletics I (beginning in March, this time online while we travel).

Campamento Emanuel. Each summer (January and February in Uruguay) we have served in EMU’s camp in Guazuvirá on the coast. Opportunities have included staff training, preaching, music, counseling, and supervising an informal camp for some of the EMU workers’ children. In January (2018) JM will teach counseling sessions and workshops to new and returning staff during several days of staff training.

Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha (Maranatha Bible Church). This is our local church in the city of Pando. In June 2015 Don and Pat Garwood returned to the U.S. due to difficulties with his health. (Don is D’s father.) JM is now responsible for most of the weekly preaching. Daniel and Viviana (D’s brother and sister-in-law) are a great help, but there is need for a full-time pastor to lead in evangelism, discipleship, and vision for the future.

We don’t view the development of institutions as God’s primary purpose; such ministries are tools, means to an end. Often that end is not only the students that so captivate our attention, energy, and affection: God’s goal is our own transformation into Christlikeness, that the Son be preeminent among many, many brothers and sisters (Rom. 8:28-30). We know that this—our own sanctification—is a work in progress. But we are just as confident that God will complete that work. We look forward to the great day when we will be completely changed, because we will see Him as He is!

We expect our involvement in all of these ministries to continue for the foreseeable future upon our return to Uruguay, scheduled for July 6. We anticipate seeing many of you soon: March (Southeast U.S.); April (Midwest and Mountain States); May (Alaska); and June (Alaska and Southeast U.S.).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

October 2017 Report

“Uruguay is the country with the most atheists in Latin America, matched only by the Scandinavians.” So began a December 2016 online article, “Uruguayos de poca fe.” This was not good news. Nor—indeed—was it news at all, since Uruguay has long been known for such statistics. Secularism is the air our students breathe. We’re thankful for the opportunity FEBU has given us over the last four years to have a small part in equipping Christian young people to live and serve in this context. Thank you for your part! Ultimately we are grateful to God for this grace.

In October and November seven students in our Apologetics class will be presenting a final project, part of which will include each one’s public presentation countering some non-Christian or non-theistic philosophy or position. They are each required to invite ten people, including at least one non-Christian. Research & Argumentation students are working on papers in which they argue how a Christian should vote (or not) in light of biblical teaching on life, family, government, and the Christian’s place in society. Hermeneutics students are learning to identify relationships between clauses in order to preach and teach the Bible’s flow of thought.

FEBU’s first graduation program—a cause for much thanksgiving—is scheduled for December 2! Over the past years God has provided, guided, and preserved students and teachers to make this moment possible. Please pray for the five graduating—Gabriel, Manuel, Maxi, Vanessa, and Exequiel—that the Lord would continue to lead them as they move on to the next stage of their lives and ministries. In December our E will also graduate (from sixth grade). The kids’ school offers only elementary grades, so we are in need of wisdom during these months to know how to proceed with their schooling in the coming academic year (beginning in March).

Thank you for praying for our parents—D’s in FL and JM’s in SC. In August JM’s parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Though we were not with them, we’re thankful for this milestone and for their unwavering faithfulness to the Lord, each other, and us. A helpful book in preparing for Apologetics this semester includes these comments: “I grew up in a home where the Bible was assumed to be the infallible word of God. Whether they succeeded or failed, my parents tried to submit to the authority of the Bible. I think they succeeded pretty well. [We would say, “Very well!”] That’s probably one reason I never rebelled against them. They tried to form their ideas about God and man and sin and salvation from the Bible. They tried to bring their attitudes and emotions in line with the Bible. And they tried to form their behaviors by the Bible” (Piper, A Peculiar Glory, 24).

Our children, like our students, are growing up in a culture that doesn’t value the Bible. As we write, concerned citizens (many Christians included) are collecting signatures to counter the latest implementation of sex education in elementary schools. The new guidelines are blatantly and explicitly biased away from biblical (and traditional and even proven scientific) norms. Please pray for God’s protection for our children and for wisdom for Christian parents to instruct their families and to win their children’s hearts by consistent lives and biblical words.

We know that votes, signatures, and even logical arguments—as helpful and right as all of these can be—are not the final answer. Nor is there any geographic refuge from the onslaught of unbiblical ideology. We—and you—are where we are by God’s appointment and must be faithful, depending on Him and on His self-authenticating Word, especially His revelation of Jesus Christ in the Gospel.

We rest on Him and in His strength we go!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 2017 Report

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read this slightly abbreviated July 2017 update.

Tonight we said “so long” to Ken Casillas, one of our former pastors and seminary teachers and a longtime friend. During the past week he taught an intensive Hermeneutics class to a group of pastors and other leaders in Paysandú, a city on the river that separates Uruguay from Argentina. Numbers of you prayed over the last several months that the Lord would superintend the logistics of this class. Thank you! We’re thankful for the group of approximately 25 students who were able to attend and for the excellent reports we’ve heard.

A highlight of Dr. Casillas’ time in MVD for E & DJ was
asking lots of questionsand learning a little Hebrew!

Tomorrow evening the new FEBU semester begins. Our focus for the next several months will be the teaching of Hermeneutics, Apologetics, and the second semester of Research and Argumentation. We will undoubtedly be entrusted with many discipleship opportunities. Please pray for wisdom!

Punto de Contacto” is the electronic newsletter that FEBU has begun to publish—in Spanish. (We’re sorry that an English copy isn’t available.) Please feel free to pass this along to your Spanish ministries or others who may be interested.

Pictured next are teens and young adults and some of the staff that attended the brief winter camp in Guazuvirá earlier this month. Some of the faces are those of current and future church leaders. Others represent struggles with love for the world or such questions as the truth of Christianity or whether to believe in a God that mandates sexual norms. Some represent youth who have grown up hearing the gospel and have yet to follow Jesus.

Four from Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando (and two invited visitors) attended camp. Please continue to pray for perseverance and growth of (especially) the teens and young adults. Several continue to take good steps. A few hours before going through security at the airport this evening, Dr. Casillas challenged the church from Psalm 84:
The Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in You (Psalm 84:11-12).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April 2017 Report

Greetings from Montevideo! Thank you for your partnership in so many ways. The past three months have been some of the most intense since our arrival in Uruguay. We rely on your prayers. We appreciate you.

Campamento Emanuel and Misión Evangélica del Uruguay (MEU). This year’s camp theme was the Scriptures, taught and applied in different ways to age-oriented camps. During the adolescentes and jóvenes camps, JM taught basic Bible study steps, and we repeated this theme as our family worked again with the children who attended the MEU workers’ conference with their parents. MEU pastors have also been studying principles of interpretation and recently asked JM to teach grammar for Bible study in their twice-per-month meetings. Several students and pastors are showing interest in learning to analyze, phrase by phrase, passages of Scripture through an online program that JM enjoys. We have requested prayer in the past for this kind of commitment. It is appropriate to conclude that God is answering your prayers! Personally, we have also grown more and more excited about tracing the argument of Scripture. Please pray that we would humbly respond to God’s way of thinking.

Facultad de Estudios Bíblicos del Uruguay (FEBU) (College of Biblical Studies of Uruguay). In early March, D finished a six-week course toward the MEd in Teaching & Learning, which is already helping in the developing college program. We both hope to graduate in 2020. FEBU’s first semester classes began March 6, once again with approximately 27 students, 9 of these full-time. D and JM are teaching Research and Argumentation; JM is teaching Church Music and preparing to teach Hermeneutics and Apologetics.

In a recent video call with one of our partner churches someone asked what our weekly schedule looks like. On Sunday we continue to help Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha in Pando. (We’re encouraged, overall, with steps that some of the teens and young adults are taking. Please continue to pray for the growth of this church and for the Lord’s provision in His time of a Uruguayan pastor.) Monday through Friday our mornings tend to be dedicated to study and class preparation, bookended by JM’s taking the kids to school and picking them up. (The schedule this year is much easier now that both E and DJ are in the same school and on the same schedule.) FEBU continues to use the MEU library (downstairs from our living area) for classroom space; both FEBU and the MEU Bible institute have classes two doors down in facilities managed by Iglesia Templo Calvario. This usually means—Monday through Friday—that students begin arriving mid-afternoon to study and socialize before evening classes. Afternoons and evenings are punctuated by details related to classes, students, and teachers. The blessings of these opportunities—unexpected and in some ways unsought—so far have outweighed the inherent challenges of the living situation. Please continue to pray concerning the Lord’s provision of the right facilities for FEBU. More important—especially as FEBU has begun, step by step, to provide dormitory accommodations for students—is the need for personnel prepared to provide the kind of discipleship that we desire to give to our students.

We were recently reminded that “there are two cosmic powers working in creation. The power of God and his plan are now battling against the power of Satan and his legion. These powers are not at all equal; one depends upon the other.” (Oliphint) This battle is always real and often unseen. It centers in the realm of ideas: “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5 NASB). At times, though, the enemy’s attacks are tangible. Our brothers and sisters—and we—are vulnerable and in need of God’s protection from temptation and from physical harm. Following Jesus is much more than war, but it is never less. We remain confident that God is sovereign over all.

Monday, January 2, 2017

January 2017 Report

October through December. Our entire family are legal, permanent residents of Uruguay! Thank you for praying over these past 3 ½ years. The Immigration Department recorded the final decision on October 28. We are thankful.

In November, FEBU and Bible institute students (including one graduating Bible institute student) finished their semester of study. A couple FEBU students returned home for the months of December through February. Two were married in December, thus forming two more Christian families. Please pray for these students who represent an important part of the future of the church in this region, the “Southern Cone” of Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.

Between October 19 and December 9 we visited our parents in FL and SC; and JM finished the course “Expository Preaching in Ministry Context.” The class increased his appreciation for the need for prayer and for the Holy Spirit’s intervention during preaching; honed his understanding of such things as the proper use of cross-references in preaching and what it means to preach Christ from all of Scripture; provided ideas for a weekly sermon preparation plan; helped him develop a three-year preaching plan for Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha; and exposed him to Puritan practices of preaching and catechizing. Please pray for wisdom in choosing a research topic that would benefit Uruguayan churches and the FEBU and Bible institute programs.

During November and December, E and DJ attended school in English, thanks to the kindness of teachers and staff at Bob Jones Academy, who assimilated them for a month. Upon our return to Uruguay, DJ graduated from kindergarten in a program that included his speaking publicly—a big day for our family, given his struggles during these years of required K4 and K5. Elizabeth finished fifth grade and—to our surprise—was honored to be among those chosen to escort the Uruguayan flag for next year’s school programs. Our Shepherd—though He would not have had to do so—has demonstrated His trustworthiness in life changes that were in many ways out of our control.

January through March. Please pray for this year’s summer camps, represented in the brief calendar below. Especially pray for several teens and young adults that might attend from Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha, our church in Pando. Many of them have significant needs; the weeks of camp are often encouraging times for them.

Facultad de Estudios Bíblicos del Uruguay (FEBU) (College of Biblical Studies of Uruguay). By the time we report again in early April, FEBU will have started its fourth year. Please pray for ongoing teacher training, the right students to return, and adequate facilities to receive and train every single student God wants to train in FEBU.

January 11-14—Staff training, Camp Emmanuel (JM teaches several sessions)
January 16-21—Children’s camp, Camp Emmanuel
January 23-28—Older teen and young adult camp, Camp Emmanuel (JM counsels)
January 30-February 4—Younger teen camp, Camp Emmanuel (JM teaches morning sessions)
February 13—FEBU teacher training; election of new FEBU president (required periodically by Uruguayan law)
February 20-23—EMU workers’ camp, Camp Emmanuel (D and JM teach workers’ children)
March 2—E and DJ begin school
March 6—Beginning of FEBU school year (D and JM teach Research and Argumentation; JM teaches Church Music)

Thank you for praying!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

October 2016 Report

July through September. Last-minute illness and issues of logistics moved the July block class from Paysandú to Montevideo. Mark and Paula Batory stayed with us for the week while he taught a Biblical Missions course to pastors and church leaders. We’re thankful for the many hours invested in preparation and delivery of this class.

Please pray for long-term fruit from Deborah’s teaching at a ladies’ retreat in Treinta y Tres and JM’s preaching at Iglesia Evangélica Siloé in Colón, a Montevideo neighborhood. Feedback from both opportunities was encouraging.

October through December. In October JM will finish teaching Systematic Theology (Soteriology and Christology) in the EMU Bible institute. This month we also expect to finish a study in the book of James in Pando (Iglesia Bíblica Maranatha), with plans to begin working through 1 Peter early in 2017. These studies in the General Epistles, along with some extra reading Gonzalo is doing, are also serving as a Bible institute course for him.

Between October 19 and December 9 we will be in the U.S. for continuing education and to see our parents in Jacksonville, FL, and Greenville, SC. E and DJ will likely attend a month of school in Greenville. We will return to Uruguay for the end of their school year here: E will finish fifth grade and DJ will finish K-5.

“Happy Campers!”

During the weeks we are away Daniel and several FEBU students will continue the weekly preaching in Pando. In November FEBU will host another block course (Pastoral Theology) and complete its normal academic year.

Facultad de Estudios Bíblicos del Uruguay (FEBU) (College of Biblical Studies of Uruguay).
We would appreciate prayer for all involved in the FEBU program. As the third academic year comes to a close, our perspective is positive. We want to see growth in the areas of academics, student discipleship, and practical ministry; but we are convinced that FEBU is the best opportunity now available for Bible training in Uruguay. Classes continue to be held in local church buildings and in the library of the EMU mission house/office building.

FEBU attempts to facilitate housing as able for students who come from the interior (areas outside Montevideo) or the exterior (other countries); but capacity to do so is limited, effectively reducing the ability to serve certain potential students. A dormitory would, it seems, facilitate discipleship and meet this need for housing.

Another group of students comes from the geographic area that includes Montevideo and the edges of neighboring departments (Canelones and San José), the south-central area that is home to half of Uruguay’s total population. Due to work responsibilities or other factors, many of these students are unable to study full-time (though some can). This group potentially includes local pastors (and currently includes one).   FEBU’s administration regularly revisits the question of what physical facilities would best serve its mission. Please pray for wisdom! Pray, too, for our students. They are a dedicated group but wrestle with the same trials, temptations, and discouragements that we all do. Deborah and I are regularly (and often unexpectedly) entrusted with counseling opportunities.

Thank you for your prayers, ongoing support, correspondence and encouragement. May the Lord remind us all— often—of His many mercies, especially the blessing of being known by Him.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July 2016 Report

Mid-semester Break. Final exams in FEBU classes ended on Friday, June 24. During their break students either remain in Montevideo or scatter to other places outside the capital. At least two have traveled to Argentina; another will visit Peru to evaluate future ministry opportunities there. Lifting our eyes (sometimes a bit glazed from correcting writing assignments) to remember the places these young men and women will be serving—not only during vacation but also after graduation—reminds us of why we are glad to have a small part in this good work.

Taking a break from class for Deborah’s birthday
with the FEBU students

Earlier this month in Guazuvirá, at Campamento Emanuel, JM counseled for a three-day winter retreat. He also shared the preaching with his friend Ovidio Acevedo, a pastor in a Montevideo neighborhood. Please pray that this group of 35 to 40 teenagers would continue to receive the Word with humility and that God would spare them from the many temptations and dangers that surround them. The themes for the week were “A Complete (Integral) Life” (from the book of James) and “Being and Making Disciples.”

FEBU is preparing for the next pastors’ block course the last week of July. Mark Batory, a mentor and friend from our home church in SC, will cover the theme of missions. A camp outside Paysandú, on the west side of the country, will again host the class. These courses attempt to supplement the training and experience of pastors and other church leaders. Please pray both for a productive week and for continued development of this program that has the potential to be of great help to churches in Uruguay and Argentina.

Primer Instituto F.V. Dabold. The EMU Bible institute (and FEBU) will resume classes in August. JM will be teaching Soteriology in the Bible institute, a course that will require some care and much grace (so please pray). For the last several semesters the Montevideo Bible institute program has also offered one of its classes in some of the local churches. This semester’s class in the churches will be the General Epistles.

Iglesia Bíblica Marantha. Two teen girls from our little group in Pando attended the retreat mentioned earlier. Camp is always an encouragement to the teens, several of whom are now young adults making significant decisions about their future. Some have expressed interest in taking the Bible institute General Epistles course at the church in Pando. This appears to be a real possibility, which would mean that the weekly teaching for everyone would focus on these books, with several of the young men and women being required to do additional work. This could be the next step that some of them need to take.

Celebrating Dad Garwood’s birthday long distance
with the church in Pando

One year ago Don and Pat Garwood returned to the U.S. after years of faithful labor with this and other churches. (Don is Déborah’s father.) In June JM was able to spend two nights with them in FL and two nights with his parents in SC, where he took the next class in the D.Min. program. (It was a brief but encouraging week of study and of profitable conversation with friends, teachers, and family. Upcoming work in the program promises to mesh well with the Bible-college project.) Pray for the Lord’s continued strength, health, and encouragement for our parents as they continue to serve in their churches in Jacksonville and Greenville.

In September we plan to travel to Treinta y Tres, where Déborah has been asked to speak at a ladies’ retreat.

Thank you for your continued prayers for health and safety. Much of Montevideo—compared with many places in the world—is relatively secure. We do not take this for granted and are in need of the Lord’s daily (and nightly) protection. The kids continue to be healthy and are doing well in school.

Thank you for all your kindness to us!