Well, we made it back safe and sound this morning. A 20 hour transit got us back from Cordoba, Argentina via Santiago, Chile and DFW just fine. The last few days of the trip continued to be a blessing both for us as a team to participate in as well as the people God brought across our paths.
Monday & Tuesday – we hosted a retreat for 42 church planters (& spouses) just outside of Santa Fe, Argentina. There were pastors from all over – Chile, Bolivia, and every province of Argentina. For many, this retreat represented the only time away from work and ministry the couple had experienced in YEARS. For some, it was the first time they had the chance to meet other church planters also struggling with the same ministry dynamics they encounter in the field. It was a blessing to be a part of! One pastor from Bolivia is actually the son of a tribe member who responded to the Gospel presentation of Jim Elliot – talk about a faith legacy. On Monday Mike gave 2 talks – one on small groups, spiritual growth and leadership, and then an evening session on “dangers of leading from self/flesh in ministry” where we gave out “Keys to Abundant Living” study guides courtesy of Bill Loveless. After that closing session the lead/organizing pastor stood up and spontaneously began confessing what decades of frustrated, angry, dry, lonely ministry he had lived before encountering these truths. It was a powerful moment, as other pastors also broke down and shared with each other! The next day the Carters gave a talk on family in ministry challenges, with lots of worship and time of working with couples individually. We gave each pastor either a Spanish copy of “My Utmost for His Highest” or bible cover, and the wives each received a Mary Kay gift bag (thanks Toni!) as token gestures to just encourage them, as well.
Monday Night – Mike was asked to participate in a late night meeting by 6 key pastors (1 from each province) about launching a church planting network for the entire country with a vision to see “1 Christ-proclaiming church in every town in Argentina,” where churches would share information and resources to facilitate the work of planting churches. It was an amazing time of strategizing, praying, wrestling and seeing great leaders demonstrate amazing humility. There’s a lot of work ahead for these guys, but as they strive to initiate a missional movement that is not denominationally or method driven – just driven by a heart to see Christ made known to all people…everyone left with anticipation to see the fruits of what God is up to!
Tuesday Night – it was a quick dash from the retreat into the city for the first of a 2 part Love & Respect conference. This time at a large (1,300 members) evangelical church in the northern part of Santa Fe, with about 180 people showing up for the conference. It was a very contemporary church that seemed very similar to Grace Point in some ways. God greased the wheels and the evening went off very well – the translator, Sebastian, working with Dan got into such a synch that they could have been a travelling road show in the States.
Wednesday – as a team we met with the organizing pastor, David Ibarra, to debrief the trip and discuss what ways any future trips could have even greater effectiveness. It ended up being a 3 hour discussion about the ways American mission trips can partner with local churches and regions in creative ways to maximize the Kingdom work that is already underway in places like Argentina. Very fruitful! After that it was on to part 2 of the L&R conference in Santa Fe. Quite a different setting, as this church was in a barrio part of Santa Fe where gunshots were frequently heard outside the compound walls. Mike taught the main session for the husbands while Jacqui had the opportunity to teach the wives (with rave reviews!). That was a plan change as Mike was supposed to speak at a youth conference in the city, but when the youth event didn’t appear to be well organized, the decision was made to switch up the marriage event programming so he could give the final session. The night ended with lots of teary eyes as couples again renewed commitments to each other and turned new pages in their relationships. Quietly the pastor of the local church came up and said, “I am thankful you came for the people here…but you really gave me a lot to go home and change with my own marriage, for which I’m really grateful!”
Thursday – we drove back to Cordoba where our return flight would be departing from (about 5+ hrs away), and spent the late afternoon/evening in a pleasant area called Carlos Paz. We rented a taxi driven by Maxy (we had fun with that!) to get us there, and in the course the team all had the chance to share Christ with the man. He had a painful past that had left him distant from God but curious. By the time we left, Guillermo (we call him Billy Bob), had arranged to connect him with a church this weekend, a guy to disciple him in the Ways of Christ next week and an invite to come meet the team of people we’d been working with. Hopefully just 1 of many God stories the Spirit will bring to fruition long after we’re gone!
This trip has been such an answer to prayers:
(1) We prayed for safe travels (get us there and back okay)….check!
(2) We prayed that God would use us in ways we didn’t expect despite our prep and planning…double and triple check!
(3) We prayed that whatever words we said would be His words and would cause disproprotionate change in those who heard them…check!
(4) We prayed for funds both for us as a team and to bless the pastors with a retreat and small gifts of encouragement…at the last minute, perfectly in His timing, check!
(5) We prayed that we’d remain flexible for plan changes according to His purpose…check!
(6) We prayed that our very steps of obedience would draw people to Him…check!
The list could go on – but the resounding reflection on the trip was one of God’s amazing providence and powerful work in, through, and around us. We learned, shared, grew, saw, comforted, celebrated, and now return. Who knows what God has in store for each of us and those we left in Argentina…but we are grateful for being a part of His work there. We’ll have pictures and a slideshow out later this week, but here are a few glimpses for now.
Thanks for all of the faithful prayers, encouragement, support and notes along the way!