The Humble Relay

I’m not a runner. Like at all. I really try to love running, but long distance just isn’t my thing. Recently though, I started thinking about how the Bible relates the Christian life to a race in terms of a team relay vs a one person race. Hebrews 12:1-2 says that we should throw off everything that weighs us down and “run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

As I enterned my 5th school yeah at Manantial, it had me thinking about the generations of students who have passed through my classroom throughout the years. And the classes that I’ve watched grow from elementary school to now starting high school! 

We, as teachers, love our students and pour our hearts into every group of students that we have— sharing with them “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Then they leave us and contiue on to the next set of teachers, just as they came to us the years before. This reminded me of a relay race—how each runner gives their all, but it counts for nothing without the other runners on their team.

I remember the feeling that I had at the end of last school year with a class that was so special to me. I began to worry about them as they went on to the middle school… what if they don’t connect with their new teachers? What if they forget all that I taught them? Who will invest in their spiritual growth? Will they fade into the background as the “little kids” of the middle school?

And it hit me that I was placing so much emphasis on their time in the classroom with me, that I was loosing sight of what my role actually was. Did I really believe that it’s God who works in their hearts, or me? That it depends on my faithfulness or His? 

One of the most freeing and humbling things about being on a team, is that it reminds you that it’s not about you. It’s not about the one school year in your classroom, but rather the collective 13 or so years in the classrooms of faithful saints, committed together to seeing the kingdom come in the lives of these students day after day, year after year. And even in our shortcomings, God is the one who faithfully carries them. He uses each of us in our daily lives of faithfulness to sow seeds of the Gospel that will far outlast our students’ year with us in the classroom. I trust that my time with each group of students that I have is just one part of God’s grander story for them, as He is at work in their lives.

So I run with endurance, faithfully loving and sharing the life-giving truth of Jesus with each student that comes into my classroom, trusting that God is in the hand-off as they are passed on to the next faithful teacher, just as they were passed off to me the year before. God is faithful. God is at work.

– Kristen McDonald, GEM Missionary

From Frustration to Empathy

Thank you God for the gentle breeze just when I’m starting to sweat.

Thank you God for the rhythmic loom above where I’m working. Though it is loud, it gives me a rhythm to work to and it tells me that the women upstairs have the work they so desperately need.

Thank you God for the crowded coffee shop, even if I have to sit outside and not in the coolness of the air conditioner inside. It means that they have customers and my friends who work here are happy to have them.

Thank you God for the sun that wakes me in the morning, even if it annoys me on the weekend.

Thank you God for the students who ask me a million questions, that text me at 1 am to tell me they liked the video I posted, or that they finished their homework, or that they have an urgent question that isn’t quite so urgent as they made it out to be.

Thank you God for when I am trying to work and am distracted by the happy squeals of the neighbor kids playing.

Thank you God for allowing me to have the luxury of getting annoyed when someone cleans up after me at home and puts things in the “wrong” place.

Thank you God for all the blessings you give me that I forget are blessings. For all the little things I get annoyed by but then a few hours later realize are so beautiful and wonderful to you and are the things you are using for your will.

I feel like so often we forget that God is working things out for our good, always. I know I’m personally guilty of getting really upset about things I shouldn’t even be bothered by. I’ve found myself frustrated to the point of tears or shouting more than once this past month. I’m learning though that God is using those things to teach me. He doesn’t want me to be annoyed; He doesn’t allow these things to happen purely to test my patience. He wants to see if I will use them as a chance to grow and to make myself a better person each and every day. I used to
think that God let frustrating things happen to teach us to be patient and how to wait.

Now however I’m starting to see that God wants to make us more empathetic towards each other. He wants me to be working with my students and realize that they’re having problems for specific reasons and for me to be able to identify their individual problems and be able to help them. He allows me to have days where I have no internet and I get nothing done and I’m so frustrated and tired and upset so that when one of my students sends me a message that says “Hi miss! I’m so so sorry that I no do my homework of last week! Our internet was not functional
and so I have to do it this week! I am so sorry!” I would be able to say that it is okay because I totally understand her problem. He allows me to have frustration, confusion and headache so I will be more sympathetic to others. When a coworker tells me about something breaking or not
working, I will be ready to offer help. When someone is sick, I’ll be happy to jump in to cover for them because they would and have done it for me.

I believe that God allows things to happen and allows us to experience things to teach us something important that He wants us to learn. God wants my heart to break for other people and for me to be able to know how I wish people had responded for me when something happens so that I will be a better friend and a better person to them. God allows my heart to be broken so that I will be quick to try and mend the hearts of others. So that I will be empathetic to the struggles of those around me and so that I will realize my own mistakes and struggles to help me help others.

Ephesians 5 tells us: “Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.” Lately I’ve been asking myself if I’m imitating God or if I’m acting in my own selfish nature, I’m ashamed to say most of the time it is my own nature that is winning out. But in recognizing it I’m able to know how to better imitate Christ and to walk with Him better. So I encourage all of us to take a moment to stop and ask ourselves, who are we imitating?

-Heather Wrench, GEM Missionary

The Sufficiency of Christ in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

Since the middle of March, we have been doing online schooling with the goal of still providing quality, Gospel-saturated education in the middle of COVID-19.  If you are reading this, you probably know much about our school and the purpose of it. For the past four years, my wife and I have been serving at the Manantial School in different capacities and have seen the incredible impact that the school ministry has had on this community. God has been at work and is still working in our community and the communities of the other schools around the world (3 in Mexico and 1 in Uganda).

When COVID-19 hit in March, we went online. We thought that we would only be doing this for a couple of months. Seven months later and here we are. I have had many feelings of inadequacy and thinking that I am wasting my time posting assignments online. I have had thoughts wondering how God can work with our students without us actually being around them. And then I remembered John 6:63 which says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”  For a while, I had forgotten that the work and impact of this ministry was God’s work.  This scripture has reminded me that my flesh does not count for anything at all. There is nothing that I can do that gives life, but the Spirit alone that gives life. In all of my inadequacies, His grace is sufficient to work in and through me.

Even though I know this truth in my head, it is difficult to believe it constantly. I still try to work my way of seeing lives changed. I still try to make my online classes more effective and think that if I don’t do it well enough, my students won’t be impacted. However, over the past month, I have seen the sufficiency of Christ become a reality in one of my students. In the middle of my feeling of inadequacy, one of my students talked to me and shared how God has been giving him a desire for His word. He told me that he has been waking up early every morning to read the scriptures and spend time writing down what God has been teaching him. He also told me that he has been sharing what God has been teaching him to others and encouraging others with the Gospel. What an incredible reminder that God is in control. He is still working and is sufficient to do all things regardless of my involvement.  The student’s desire for God and His word had nothing to do with me, but had everything to do with the work of the Spirit in his life. In the middle of our inadequacy, God is sufficient to continue His work in and around us.

-Daniel McDonald, GEM Missionary

Dogs and Ducks

As our family has been back in North Carolina now for about a month, dozens of things continue to arise each day that make me think “wow, this is so different than life in Mexico.” One of those small “wow” moments being my daily runs.

In Puerto, I would never venture out for a run without my sidekick in hand- a nice big ‘ol rock. Street dogs in Mexico are everywhere and can’t be trusted. So, as all the locals do, you grab a rock and use it when necessary. Even with my sidekick in grip, I would still be on the lookout, watching my back, just to make sure one wasn’t looming around the corner.

As I laced up my running shoes in Wilmington and hit the road, I was certain that dogs were behind me. For the first few runs, I constantly turned down my music, confident that I heard loud barking and they were out to get me (a little paranoid, I know!)

In the middle of one run, I jumped because I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Lo and behold, it wasn’t a gnarly street dog, but instead a group of cute little ducklings huddled together trying to cross the street. I think because this sight was so different than what I was used to over the last 7 years, I slowed down and lingered longer, watching them.

My very first thought was, where was their Mama? Six little ducklings huddled together, looking a little scared, with no mama or daddy duck in sight. But as I glanced around, across the street, there they stood, with eyes completely locked on their babies. I sensed that if I were to run at their little ones, they would do whatever it took to defend them. They stood tall and confident, almost proud, with eyes never leaving their childrens’ sight.

As I watched them for a few more seconds before jogging on by, I couldn’t help but think how this scene reminded me of our caring and ever-present Father.

So often, we are faced with new or different life seasons or situations that make us a little (or a lot) uncomfortable. Life can be really challenging, in a variety of ways, for many different reasons. Sometimes, God does give us more than we can handle and we feel at the end of ourselves. Yet, He is always near. He is always present. His eyes are forever locked on His children. He will do whatever it takes to defend his precious ones. He will not let the enemy harm them.

As I finished up my run, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude. The current daily struggles and challenges that I’m facing are still there, but I was reminded once again through some sweet little ducklings, that our faithful Father sees us, watches us, and will forever protect His own.

-Megan Herring, GEM Co-founder

Looking At Our Weak Spots

On war planes, like the ones used in WWI, experts studied planes that made it home to learn how to better defend them in the future.  For many years this is the way planes had been inspected and improved, but finally, one day, one of the experts asked a very important question. Why were they looking where the planes had survived being hit, instead of looking at the spots where the enemy had missed?
These spots were probably the weak spots because if planes that made it home hadn’t been hit there, maybe the planes that didn’t make it home had been. So they started making note of places planes had not been hit and they decided to focus on improving those spots. What a simple solution that probably saved lives. I think there is something to be learned in that.
Are we armoring ourselves in the spots where we’ve been hit and survived? Or are we focusing on the areas we know we are weakest in? As adult Christians, are we equipping our younger brothers and sisters in the areas we know they will learn from and will survive? Or are we considering the hits we’ve seen friends, loved ones, or maybe even ourselves take and had crippling damages from? So often I think we want to put on the armor of God but we forget some parts. We pick and choose the parts we want to have and leave behind to the others. Since we are not perfect, we try and put on the armor we think we will need, rather than what God tells us we need. I know I personally am so, so guilty of doing this.
I often ignore the areas I am weak because I don’t want to admit to weakness. I struggle with so many simple things and I’m sometimes too ashamed to ask for help. I go through stages where I’ll read my Bible every day and love it and I’ll do devotions or read from a book daily, listen to podcasts and sermons a few times a week. Then I’ll suddenly go through a stage where I don’t do any of those things like I should, and instead of seeing that this is an area where I’m weak I will focus my attention back on an area where I am strong. Rather than deal with my imperfection, I focus on a strength. God doesn’t want us to do this! We will never be perfect, so in the midst of my imperfection I should turn my eyes to His perfection.
Where are we putting on our armor? Are we focusing on the hits we’ve survived in the past or are we turning our attention to problems that make it hard for us to make it home?
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the Breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
Ephesians 6:10-18

-Heather Wrench, GEM Missionary

Staying Steady In The Seasons

I’m smiling as I write this, just reflecting with a full heart on the goodness of God and how He brought me to the GEM family. My connection with GEM started when I traveled to Puerto Escondido in 2018. I started out as a volunteer in our Manantial school, teaching art during the spring semester. I was so impacted by the community of Manantial that I knew I’d be back as soon as possible after my initial time abroad.

The following year, I boarded the plane to Puerto for Round 2 in Mexico with Bible classes in addition to art classes as part of my teaching responsibilities. I also had the privilege that semester of living with one of our student’s families and having the opportunity to be a part of their lives while learning the language and culture of Puerto Escondido. During that year, I really felt the Lord impress upon me His desire for me to pursue a more permanent connection with GEM.

This past spring, I returned to Mexico for the third time and learned about the new office to be opened in North Carolina. After interviewing, I was offered a position working with the new state-side team as Director of Student Sponsorship. I can’t express how thankful I am for the opportunity to be connected with GEM in a deeper way and to be part of the work God is doing in and through us. Being in community with our staff has inspired me to grow in faith and prayer; to be expectant of what God can and will do and to work with the confidence that comes from knowing we serve a God who does no small thing!

Looking back on the steps that brought me to this place, I’ve seen more than ever the seasonal nature of prayer. This year has carried with it many moments in which I’ve been reminded of specific prayers I had prayed years ago. I am now, in this season, seeing the unfolding of God’s will; His answers, the harvest of those prayers. I’m reminded of the example of the persistent widow in Luke 18 who continued faithfully in her request for justice. At the beginning of this passage, we see Jesus teaching us this parable with the specific purpose of encouraging us in prayer.

Luke 18:1-8: And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Like the widow, may we be persistent in our petitions.

May we learn to pray without doubting, knowing intimately the One to whom we pray.

May we remember the unchanging character of the God to whom we pray; that He is a benevolent Father who is for us and not against us.

May we be diligent in prayer in the season of sowing; the season in which we cannot immediately see what is to come.

May we be faithful in tending our prayer life in the season of growth, however small the beginnings may seem.

Finally, may we trust God and rest in the assurance of the finished work of Christ as we await the season of harvest.

Mallory Knight, GEM Missionary

Creating a Culture

Over the past four years, one of my favorite aspects of our life in Mexico is the relationship that I have with the high school students. I have had the privilege to teach them, spend time with them, and see some of them come to faith in Jesus. It gives me so much energy and joy to be around them. 

One thing that I have noticed over the past four years is how important creating a culture is for them.  But what is culture? 

“Culture is an integrated system of learned behavior patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society.  Culture is the total way of life of particular groups of people.  It includes everything that a group of people thinks, says, does and makes — its systems, attitudes and feelings.  Culture is learned and transmitted from generation to generation.” –Robert Kohl’s

Everyone in the world has a different ways of thinking because of the “group” or “family” that they have grown up in. I love what Mike Green says in his book, Creating a Discipleship Culture , “We are creating a culture, even if it’s unintentional. The question is, do we like the culture we are creating?”

I think of this question often as I spend time with my students and people in general. What kind of culture am I creating and how are people being formed to think and act?

As always, Jesus is our best example so we must look at how He lived. Jesus often created a culture not only by teaching people, but asking questions to those whom He spent time with.  In the Gospels alone, He asked 339 questions. He asked questions to engage with others (John 4:7-9), to help others think deeper (Luke 6:32-36), to help people see what’s inside their heart (Genesis 3:9, John 1:35-37), helping people see what they really want (Mark 10:35-38), and many others. Jesus created culture with questions. 

The best thing that I can do with my students is to build a culture of listening well and asking good questions. They will benefit greatly from knowing they are listened to and understood. They will respond to questions that get to the root of what may be going on their own lives.  My point is this: If we desire to follow the example of Jesus, we will learn to listen well and ask questions to know people more fully. This simple practice will transform us and those we interact with as we desire to be the vessel in which Christ flows. 

Theologian Francis Schaefer once said, “If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first 55 minutes asking questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last 5 minutes I will share something of the truth.”

The culture that we are making in and around us will form people, and we must be careful to form them in the ways of Jesus. We are all creating a culture of something; but do we like the culture that we are creating? 

-Daniel McDonald, GEM Missionary

Don’t Be Afraid

I hope that everyone is doing well during this troubling time in our world. So much has changed so fast. People have lost their jobs, their money; many have lost relationships or at least access to certain relationships. Businesses are struggling to get by or are being forced to close down. It appears the world we live in is far less stable than we thought.

When everything changes and our plans are not turning out as we hoped, many thoughts start to creep into our heads. Worry, anxiety, and fear can be all consuming. I have been constantly battling these thoughts and feelings. I have been constantly having remind myself of what is true.

Just recently I remembered a command from God that has been so comforting. You might be thinking, “How is a command comforting? I’m afraid and someone is telling me what to do?” Well it has been said that this command can be found 365 times in scripture! That’s a lot! We should probably pay attention to this command. So are you ready for it? Here it goes, the command is…..

“Don’t be afraid.”

That’s it! Don’t be afraid! Or in some translations, “Fear not!” Here are a few well known places we find this command in scripture. It appears in both the Old and New Testament:

Deuteronomy 31:8  

He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Isaiah 43:1 

Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine.

Matthew 10:31

So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 14:27

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Mark 5:36

Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”

John 6:20

But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.”

These are just a few of the places where this command shows up. Often times this command is accompanied by God reminding his people who He is. When we realize who God is, we have no need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what the future holds, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know where I will be living in the next few months, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what my job will be, I don’t need to be afraid.

When an infectious virus is spreading all over the world, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know what will happen to the ministry I’m a part of, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I see my friends struggling in their marriage, I don’t need to be afraid.

When I don’t know who or what to trust, I don’t need to be afraid, and I need to remember that I can trust the one true living God.

He sustains me, he guides me, he provides for me, he cares for me, and above all else, he loves me.

And guess what 1 John 4:18 says,

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”

God loves us, and we do not have to be afraid. He is God. We might not know what the future holds, but we know the one that holds the future.

Don’t be afraid my friends. Walk in love.

Brett Balsley, GEM Missionary

Into The Unknown

My everyday looks a little different nowadays. Just a few short months ago my everyday meant waking early in the morning, catching a bus with one of the my school families and going to school together. After arriving at school, I was met with many hugs and smiles from my co-workers, students and the students’ families. My everyday meant speaking constantly to my students and singing with them at the top of my lungs about Jesus’ love for us until my voice was practically gone. My everyday was full of movement, running around and endless laughter with my students and the community at my school. There was not a day that went by that i didn’t hear students calling my name, “Miss Andress!”

Now, my everyday is completely different. Instead of being greeted with a great big hug and kiss by my students, I get a sweet message on my computer or phone. Now, my former constant crazy and busy schedule of running around to see my students or meet with families at the beach looks more like FaceTime calls. Now, my everyday means staying home and being intentional with my community from my home. 

My everyday is completely different than what it was. Teaching now takes on a whole new meaning for me as I do it to the best of my ability virtually. I have learned many things about myself in this season of uncertainty, but the thing I learned the most was my desire for control.

I think it’s safe to say, as human beings, we like to have as much knowledge as we can about things or situations. For instance, in the workplace, we need to know exactly what we are doing and how we can do it well. As a teacher, I found so much comfort in knowing what my basic day-to-day schedule would look like. I knew exactly what time I needed to be at the school. I knew the time of arrival of my students and what it is I would be teaching them daily. Granted, there were many things that were uncertain but I did have a general routine and understanding of what my days would look like.

It is not a bad thing to have the desire to know or understand. But here’s the thing, we are not all knowing beings and were never designed to be. We are in a time now of complete uncertainty. I don’t know the next time I will step foot in my classroom. I don’t know when I will be able to wrap my arms around my students neck. I don’t know when I will be able to play volleyball on the beach with my students and their families. I don’t know if I will be able to ride the bus to school again. I don’t know if I will be able to see all of my students for the last time before the school year is over. There are so many unknowns, but that is alright. I am learning that I don’t know what is next and maybe that is the way God has intended it. Maybe the Lord has allowed all of us to go through this season of uncertainty to lean in and trust Him, the all knowing, the one who knows our first and last. 

While this season of unknown has been very challenging and even isolating at times, it has also been refreshing to be still; to rest and know that He is God and He knows. He has a path and a way set before me; I need only to step aside and release my desire to be in control so that He can continue to work in and through me.

– Philem Andress, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Philem as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!



Fighting the Flesh

Acts 17:24-27 reminds us that we are born in need, and our desires are from God Himself. However, during the craziness of Covid-19, and the long hours at home in quarantine, I have been tempted to forget the One who gives and fulfills all of our desires.

Idleness and boredom are never a good combination. God purposely designed us for work before the fall. In this time at home, and an increase in free time, I have found that it is so easy for my desires to be flesh-driven instead of spirit-driven. I am shocked and dismayed how easy it is for me to forget the joys that are only found in Christ. Despite my sin, and my temptation to forget the goodness of Christ, God is still a good and gracious Father whose mercies are new every morning! Here is one thing I have learned as I’ve strived to fight my flesh and cling to Christ. 

Christ is our ultimate source of joy. 

The apostle Paul reminds us in Philippians that ultimate joy is found in Jesus. Paul had all of the qualifications of a “good life” during his time. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, the Pharisee of Pharisees, the most blameless, and the most zealous. Yet, Paul suffered an insane amount of pain and sorrow, yet his joy was always anchored in Christ. He writes whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7–8) When Paul found the treasure hidden in the fields of Scripture, all the other treasure  had suddenly faded in importance.  He wrote, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Paul’s life has been a reminder in this season where I’m prone to grow weary and restless, that Christ is the ultimate treasure. 

Push Through

Even though fighting our flesh, especially during a time of increased time on our hands, seems daunting, we have a greater hope. Romans 8:12-13 says:  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” Those words pierced through to my heart as I wage war against and choose to spend time focusing on the goodness of the Lord and the every-present joy found in him Be encouraged with this: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I hope and pray that this gives you some ounce of encouragement as we push on during this season where life seems like it’s on pause. 

– Kayla Sumile, GEM Missionary

If you’d like to support Kayla as she serves with GEM in Mexico, you can do so HERE. You can also contact her directly to talk further about what it means to be on her support team and find out how you can be praying for her!