Church Planting among the Nahuatl

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A Return

Well, for those of you who once regularly viewed this blog, you probably noticed something. It hasn’t been updated in a while. Hence, the title of this post: “A Return.” It’s a return to blogging, a return to sharing a glimpse of our lives with you. It also seems apt since, at this point, we’re nearing the end of our big return to the U.S. – an eight-month furlough/home-assignment/whatever-you-want-to-call-it.

US Arrival

All smiles arriving in the US!

Since this is the big return to the blog, though, we should probably get you up to speed on a few things. First, we stopped blogging last March because that was right around the time our satellite internet in the tribe failed on us. It took about three months, but we finally got it up and running in late June of last year. So that’s good.

Tom & Pete working on the dish

Satellite internet – when it works you love it; when it doesn’t…you don’t update your blog.

What’s interesting, is that we now aren’t even there. We returned to the States in September for the first long period of time since we left for Mexico in 2010. We’ve spent the past few months reconnecting with our sending churches, our supporters, and of course, our dear family and friends.


Having a blast while reconnecting with friends in Chicago!

It’s been a good, though busy, time. We’ve spoken at churches, small groups, youth groups, Sunday schools, you name it, and we’ve enjoyed sharing what God has been doing in our lives and in the village of Las Moras.


Pete preaching at our sending church Walnut Hill Bible Church in Baraboo, WI

We also had our first Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families in years. Some people asked why we came back for the coldest months – we reply, we came back for the best ones – holidays with family are hard to beat.


Thanksgiving with Muskies AND Hypkis!


Christmas morning at the Hypkis!

The last big holiday we’ll be here for is Easter. Even though it seems like we haven’t been here that long, we’re already gearing up to return to Mexico in May. We’ll spend a couple weeks visiting friends and supporters out south and east, then return to Wisconsin for a couple weeks, and then begin the long trip back to Las Moras.

Our friends Matt and Chris helped get our truck ready to face the mountain roads again

Our friends Matt and Chris helped get our truck ready to face the mountain roads again

By mid-June, we hope to be back in the village, working with the Nahuatl. Once there, we’ll begin preparing lessons in concert with our coworkers who are preparing the Bible translation and literacy lessons so that we can begin teaching the Word of God for the first time in the Nahuatl language. That’s right folks, we are all done with language study – we tested out of it back in April of 2014, you know, when our satellite internet was down.

Pete & Ben checking one of the lessons

Pete & Ben checking one of the lessons

Liesl and Jan doing some comprehension checking

Liesl and Jan doing some comprehension checking

Our coworker Rachel checking translation with our consultants and a language helper

Our coworker Rachel checking translation with our consultants and a language helper

It will be an exciting, though busy, time in the tribe. Lots of work do, lots of adjustments, cleaning our house after a long break away, and oh, getting used to parenting out in the village. Yeah, we had a kid. His name is Kester Lewis, and he’s awesome. By the time we get to Mexico, he’ll be six-months already, and we’re looking forward to sharing life with him as we seek to serve God and bring hope to those living in Las Moras.

Brand new parents with a crying baby

Brand new parents with a crying baby

Liesl and Kester at Thanksgiving

Liesl and Kester at Thanksgiving

Our son showing some personality

Our son showing some personality

Almost 5 months!

Almost 5 months!

That was an incredibly brief summary of where we’ve been and what we’re up to. I’m sure I’ve left things out, and I’ll try to bring them up in future posts if need be, but at least you’re caught up enough now that we can begin posting and hopefully you’ll come along for the ride.

Our home awaits us in the village

Our home awaits us in the village


The Three of Us

The Three of Us

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Grasping Grace

A couple months ago I wrote in our newsletter about a woman named Agustina.

Agustina is a single mom of three. Her husband was killed in a shootout three summers ago. She gave birth to his son a few months later. And a few months later, her mother left to work on the coast. She lives alone in an adobe house across the creek from our home.


Agustina is sharp. She’s quick to laugh and to smile. She sometimes has a short fuse. She works hard.

She’s also the first Nahuatl to trust in Christ.

A year ago, she was talking to Liesl on the couch while I walked through an Old Testament lesson with a man at our kitchen table. Agustina overheard us, and began listening so intently to what I was saying that she couldn’t continue her conversation with Liesl.

As she left that night, she said to Liesl, “What Pete was teaching, I want to learn that, too.”

So she did. Over the past few months, our coworkers Rachel and Katie took Agustina through the entire chronological teaching. Agustina had read the whole Bible before. Now she said it made sense.

But as we talked with her, it seemed clear that after a life lived in folk religion and its constant attempts to earn the favor of the spirits and patrones, that the concept of grace – the fact that there was nothing she could do, good or bad, to earn God’s favor or separate herself from Him – was a hard one for her to grasp.

I wrote about that in our newsletter, asking our friends to pray for Agustina that she would more deeply understand the meaning of grace.

Months later, I received a note from an old friend whom I very much respect, saying that she was praying for Agustina – but also, that she recognized Agustina’s struggle to understand the depths of grace within herself.

I was inspired by this honesty, and then convicted.

Grace is the greatest enigma the world has seen. It defies the world’s system of give and take and you-get-what-you-deserve. Grace is undeserved and delivers the undeserving. Grace is love, hope, newness, relief, rebirth, the imperfect made perfect and accepted by a perfect God.

And while I can say that, and claim that I understand it on a cerebral level, sometimes, in the ups and downs of daily life, I struggle to live as an object of grace. I try to earn what can’t be earned. I try to deserve what is undeserved. I try to obtain more of what I have in limitless quantity. I marvel that I do not lose what cannot be lost.

Grace reveals my lack of understanding, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it at all. I know the feeling of rain on my skin without understanding the formation of the clouds, and in this dry season, I am grateful for it. I can feel the power of my truck as it climbs these mountains without knowing the individual working of each piston, valve, seal and gasket, and I am grateful for its work when I arrive at home.

Even though I don’t fully know Him, I know the peace, the hope, the joy of receiving God’s grace.

His grace only makes me want to know Him more.

And the more I understand of grace, the more I am convinced that over the course of my life, I will never fully understand it, but will see grace in new lights, live it in new experiences, find it where I didn’t know to look for it. In so doing, I will find the unascertainable depths of grace always sufficient, always life-giving, always hope-filled, yet never fully grasped.

In that way, my prayer for Agustina is just as much a prayer for myself – that I would daily more deeply grasp grace, live grace, and know the God who gives grace freely to all who accept it.

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Our Favorite Part of Living in Las Moras

This is Pete again. My time running this blog may be coming to an end, so I figured, why not take the minivan out for another spin. That’s a lame joke based on the lame joke I made in my blogpost earlier this week.

Is this the face of someone who would repeat a lame joke? Yes, yes it does.

Is this the face of someone who would repeat a lame joke? Yes, yes it is.

Those of you who wrote in had some great questions, so I figured I’d answer another one. One of you…I won’t make up a fake name this time…asked us this:

What’s your favorite part of living in Las Moras?

I think my favorite part about Las Moras is its remoteness. After living in a city of a million people while we learned Spanish, it was a stark contrast to move to a village of 250 people – a contrast we both enjoy.

The urban jungle we used to call home

The urban jungle we used to call home

Instead of the pollution and smog of the city, there’s fresh mountain air and the occasional wood smoke from our neighbor’s cooking fire. Instead of concrete, there’s dirt, grass, and trees, and every month, a different wildflower seems to be in bloom. The view out our window isn’t radio towers or concrete jungle, but canyons and mountain peaks as far as you can see. So few vehicles come through Las Moras, that people stop and stare when a truck comes into town – and it’s so quiet you can hear the engine when it’s still 10 minutes away. At night, there’s no streetlights, and few homes have lights – all you see is the light of the moon, and the vast array of stars; if you stay up late enough (or wake up early enough), you can even see the Southern Cross. Oswald Chambers once wrote that “Nature is communion for the saint.” When you live in a place like Las Moras – where the world around you seems bigger and more tangible – you’re reminded of the One who made it on a daily basis.

Our home in Las Moras - not exactly urban

Our home in Las Moras – not exactly urban

Despite all that, our favorite part of Las Moras isn’t Las Moras the place. It’s the people. Liesl and I considered three other locations before settling on Las Moras, and the big pull for us wasn’t the beauty of the place – it was the people. Many indigenous groups in Mexico are closed to outsiders; they often refuse to let people from outside their own village live among them.

Some smily Nahuatl kids

Some smiley Nahuatl kids

Yet the Nahuatl of Las Moras accepted us and even helped us build our home. They are warm and generous, quick to offer you a seat and something to eat. Their culture is different than ours – for example, a compliment is often met with simple agreement. (Liesl: “Your hair is pretty.” Random Nahuatl lady: “Yes it is.”) But their generosity, their friendliness, the way they look out for us, recognizing we’re in a land not our own, and trying to make us comfortable there – means that should we ever leave, it’s the people we will miss the most.


More Questions Answered, This Time by a Man

Most of you who read this blog know that Liesl does most of the posting. However, I offered to take over the blog for a little while as Liesl gets her new blog, Fitness in the Kitchen, up and running.


Liesl’s new blog, Fitness in the Kitchen, is about getting you to jump like this

I won’t lie – I’m kind of excited about taking over our blog for a little while. It feels a little like the first time my parents gave me the keys to the minivan.

That's right - l learned to drive in one of these bad boys

That’s right – l learned to drive in one of these bad boys

However, just like with my parents’ minivan, I knew if I didn’t take good care of it, I would never get to drive it again. So I’ll do my best to take good care of this blog, too, so Liesl lets me keep writing on it.

A couple weeks ago, we asked many of you what questions you had about our lives here. I’ll spend this week answering some of them. First up, a question from Suzy in Cleveland (I actually have no idea who submitted this question):

What is the biggest challenge, besides learning the language, in really building relationships with the people?

Well fake Suzy, that’s a great question. Most of us like to think we’re likable people – that we could develop a deep relationship with pretty much anyone. But generally we gravitate towards the people that are most like us. For example, I enjoy watching and playing sports, especially basketball, listening to good music, and discussing books and theology. And I enjoy people I can discuss those things with. Most of my friends back home in Wisconsin (or wherever they have since dispersed to) have at least one of those things in common with me – my best friends have most of those in common with me.

However, here in Las Moras, there aren’t any people with those same interests. Nobody plays basketball, nobody thinks my music is “good,” and no one has read the books I’ve read. I am an outsider here, and most people view me as such. Last spring, I was even shown a document where I was referred to as “Pedro Gabacho” – “Peter the Foreigner.”

Can you tell which one is Pete?

I would say that is one of the greatest challenges in developing relationships here: the simple fact that we’re different, culturally, from the people here. Yet we believe God called us to Las Moras – we believe He’s the one that led us there – so we also believe that He didn’t call us there just to sit in our house and feel bad for ourselves (even if, in the midst of culture shock, that can sound like an appealing option).

So what do you do then, when you know you’re different from those around you?

First, you find some similarities. Sometimes this feels like small talk, but at the end of the day, when you live in a house with little to no insulation, talking about how cold it was last night is actually a worthwhile topic of discussion. Talking about family is something we all have in common. We have family, they have family, and we miss our families, just like they do when they don’t see them for a while. Last summer, I even planted a large garden – partly because Liesl and I both like fresh veggies from the garden, but also because I wanted to have something in common with our subsistence farmer neighbors. Losing half my sweet corn to worms and cows wasn’t fun, but it gave me something in common with my neighbors.

Our garden early last summer

Our garden early last summer

After a while, you begin to find that your desire to build relationships with people different than you actually changes you. Over time you become interested in the things that interest them, and your former interests, which you thought defined you, become less important. You in a very real sense adapt and become more comfortable in your new culture, and that allows you – us – to feel more at home in a place like Las Moras.

In some ways, that’s like what Jesus did by coming to earth. In Philippians 2:7-8 it talks about how Christ humbled Himself and became like us. In his 30-ish years on earth, He taught us what it meant to know God by becoming like us and showing us God incarnate, right before our eyes.

It’s our hope that as we build relationships with the Nahuatl, and in many ways become more like them, that we can point them to the living God as well, following the example Christ gave us.

Thanks again for your questions! I’ll keep posting, answering questions (feel free to add more to the comments section) throughout the week – or at least until Liesl takes back the proverbial keys to the proverbial minivan.