Réveille… (Part 5)
TWO EPAENETUS MOMENTS…
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. (Romans 16:5, KJV)
In calling him the “first fruits of Asia,” Paul indicates that he was the first convert in the Roman province of Asia, whose cultural center was Ephesus…Paul may, then, mention him here because he was brought to faith through the ministry of Prisca and Aquila…1
The very expression “firstfruits” implies that many others were to follow, which was actually what happened.2
Two construction workers
One Sunday morning, we watched a “triciclo" make its way up the street toward the market. A young man was pedaling… his wife with their baby girl in her arms was seated in front. When they came to our tiny new church space, they stopped in. We sang together while Linda played a few hymns on her accordion. I don’t remember what I taught, but I’m sure I tried to make the Gospel as clear as possible: Salvation by faith alone, in Christ alone—the only door to eternal life with God.
The young mother apparently was already a believer. He was a builder. I’d call him a bricklayer, but bricks are rare in Cancun. Nearly everything there is about concrete, rebar and cement block. His brother-in-law, who we met later, was his helper. They were hard working young men on a crew building one of the first highrise timeshares in Cancun’s hotel zone.
During the next weeks and months, these two men came to our home… studied at our kitchen table. I did Bible studies to continue showing them what salvation through Christ was and what it could mean for them. Linda spent equal time teaching them to read and write.
By the way, illiterate is not a synonym for ignorant. We communicated in Spanish, but their native language was Mayan. Mayan is light years away from Spanish (or English). We were continually impressed by their powers of retention. The questions about a previous Sunday’s message could sound like they had taken notes.
Time passed. The bricklayer calmly informed me one day that, a few weeks prior, he had given his heart to Jesus. Sometime later, I asked his helper if he had considered embracing Jesus as his Savior. “Oh, I did that about a month ago after one of your sermons.” More time passed. The day of their baptisms, they were clear about what they had done. They were equally clear that, while water baptism was the right thing to do, it was an act of obedience and public testimony regarding what had already taken place in their hearts.
It’s not a simple journey for people in a culture steeped in a works-based religion, sacraments and superstition.
One teenage girl
Fast forward to our new location, after a year in our little storefront. The group was able to borrow enough for the purchase of their own space, on a 25 x 60 ft. lot. It had two tiny rooms at the back. Toward the front was our meeting space… a rectangular structure with a low, slanted roof of corrugated tar paper At least no one ever complained about not having a sauna or a hot tub.
Parenthesis: Greg’s from Wisconsin… Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and the Milwaukee Braves… the land of big snows and sub-zero temps by the week. Forty years in the tropics, I never stopped sweating… profusely. Back in those days, typing a sermon at the kitchen table, I would often look down to see two small puddles of sweat, one under each elbow.
She was 15-16 years old when we met her, the oldest of her siblings. She would ride with a few other kids in the back of our pickup. Remember the camper shell and rustic benches? She came to Christ through Linda’s Sunday school lessons. She was enthusiastic about her faith. She got her younger siblings to come with her on Sunday mornings. We were excited about her excitement. Then she died in a drowning accident.
The funeral, as was customary, took place in the living room of her family’s humble home. I can still hear the cries and sobs and see the anguish on her parents’ faces along with many extended family members and friends crowded in for the occasion. We were asked to do the funeral and the burial service at the cemetery. Bodies had to be in the ground within 24 hours of death… so brutal and heartless. It was easy to see the lack of hope in the depths of anguish we witnessed.
Why did she have to die so young… why so suddenly?
No one could have given a good answer then. We just always know God does things in ways we don’t understand. We may never fully understand until we are on the other side ourselves. However, all these years later, we have been able to flesh out a more complete response. Her two younger sisters came to Christ as a result of the tragedy. Their younger brother, who had no memory of the occasion, came to Christ years later. The youngest sister, not even born yet, came to Christ when it was her time. Their mother came to Christ and gave testimony as to how it was the oldest daughter’s testimony that drew her. We prayed for decades for their father. He came to Christ about 6 years ago. Parents, kids and spouses all profess to belong to Jesus. All are active in one of our churches.
I feel sad…
I feel sad for people who have never known the thrill of pioneering a new church endeavor. It’s an important factor in the inertia and lack of excitement for new church planting efforts today. How do you get people excited about something when they don’t even know what you’re talking about? They’ve never experienced it… never even gotten a whiff of the sweet savor of it.
I hope you take my challenge at face value. New church planting endeavors are exciting… each step forward is a thrill… the world needs so much more of it.
But you should know I’m also setting you up. I want to write about some really hard stuff that comes attached to the thrill. I think there’s a lot that can be done way beyond what’s being done to motivate, prepare and sustain families we’ve let go to far away places to plant themselves and wait patiently to see what God might do through them. They deserve more attention and hands on support than you have yet to imagine.
Firstfruits are everything… Let’s bless the folks God has used to harvest them!