A New Chapter

2020 will be a memorable year for the Herring family.  Of course we’ve had the pandemic and closing of on campus schooling and everything else that has come with this Covid 19 pandemic year.  But 2020 is also the year that God has moved our family out of Mexico and back to Wilmington, NC. 

When we first moved to Puerto Escondido in 2013 to run GEM and start the Manantial School we knew our commitment was a lot like a blank check to God.  We didn’t know how long we were going to be living in Mexico…or what would really happen with the mission we were founding. We just went with a clear calling and no plans or timetable for returning.  7 years later God made it clear it was our time to return to the US and serve with GEM from Wilmington.

We have been back in Wilmington for 3 weeks.  Our resettling has been easy and filled with blessing after blessing, largely because of our family and church.  We moved into the same house we left behind in 2013 and have restarted our lives here.  As Meg and I have been reflecting, we’ve notices that so much has changed…but many things are also the same. We have the same neighbors, same house, and of course our family and church are the same.  Meg and I have joked several times as we sit at our kitchen table (same table as before the move) how it feels like we’ve just picked up the life we left behind in 2013.  

But there are some significant and obvious changes too. Our family has grown from 2 children to 5, Manantial has grown from 0 students to over 220. And 1 school has grown into 4. There has also been change in our hearts.  God has taught us and shown us so much during our time in Mexico.  There’s too much to share in this blog post, but I can summarize it this way. God has repeatedly proven Himself faithful and convinced us, even in our moments of weak faith, that we can truly trust Him and praise Him no matter what is happening around us.  We believed this before we left for Mexico…it’s the reason we obeyed and started GEM. But we know this truth at a deeper level now.  

So many times between 2011 (when GEM was officially founded) and 2020 it looked like GEM was in serious trouble. We’ve faced financial shortfalls, recruiting/staffing shortfalls, immigration issues, local church challenges, governmental pressure, threats from other schools in Mexico, and on and on.  On top of that, I have struggled through the normal challenges of learning how to start and run a gospel saturated school in another country.  Countless times over the last 9 years I wanted to “throw in the towel” because of my professional shortcomings and failures.  

But I am convinced God has allowed these struggles to be a part of my journey for my good. I have been forced, through the constant challenges, to pray more and call out to Him as my only hope. This is right where He’s always wanted me, and I love Him more because I can see how He truly never left me.  

With all that said…don’t assume I have it all together! I certainly don’t! I have not arrived at some super spiritual place and all is right in life. I’m in process and all that God has done in my heart is going to be used to give me just enough courage to press on and continue to overcome in this next chapter of life and ministry.  

So what’s ahead? It looks like God desires to use GEM to reach more people and grow in our ability to impact those we serve.  We have 3 schools in Mexico, 1 in Uganda, and another opening in Colombia.  We also have several other potential school projects around the corner. God is growing GEM and its exciting!  Our move back to Wilmington is part of a big transition and step for our ministry. We believe opening an office in Wilmington will allow us to develop better partnerships, recruit and train more missionaries, and better serve all of our schools.  We have repeatedly talked about this being the start of a new chapter for GEM.  

We’re excited and can’t wait to see what God will do. We know it will be challenging and at times really hard, but that’s okay.  God has always done his best work in my heart in those times. 

Please pray for GEM as we start this new chapter. Pray for our leaders as we open our office and work to develop new roles. Pray that our ministry would grow in impact and that those who are served in our schools would truly know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

– Casey Herring, GEM Co-Founder

The Vineyard and the Young

I’m a teacher…. I love teaching young people. It’s amazingly difficult, frustrating, and rewarding all at the same time. As I’ve grown up in my faith and in my love for teaching, I’ve also come to believe the best way for a Christian (teacher or not) to spend their life is by pouring into children. Shocking statement…I know. But I believe it to be true!!

Sometimes seen as a stepping stool for greater ministry work, the reality is that working with children is the greater work. Jesus makes this abundantly clear in the way he teaches about children and what he teaches in parables. In one parable, the owner of the vineyard who calls workers throughout the day, highlights why we should be excited for the opportunity to work with those called in the first hour of the day (read as…those who become Christians at an early age).

Here are a couple reasons:

1- The best work of the day is done early in the morning. Those who were called by the owner of the vineyard in the first hour are able to work for the master the longest. They start earlier and have the chance to accomplish more. When the master is God, and the work is for the kingdom, while difficult and painful, the work is always to our benefit! The master doesn’t need us to work for Him… He lets us work because He knows it’s for our good. The things that we do for the master bring him glory and they also benefit us. So, in the simplest terms…the more opportunity to work for the master, the greater the blessing is for us. Those who come in at the 11th hour…the end of the day…still receive the same reward at the end, but they can never make up for all the missed opportunity to work for the master. They sit idle and are not blessed by their labor for the master.15036631_10211392631517272_651217627833953239_n

What an opportunity it is to be able to work with young people, who are still in the first hour of their lives. If our focus is glorifying God and advancing His kingdom, we should be actively pursuing those who have the greatest opportunity to commit themselves to the master’s work…. none better than those in the first hour of life!

2- Those who join the work in the first hour will have greater potential for more long lasting impact on the vineyard. Not only are they able to do more work for the master, but the quality of their work will, at the end of the day, be better. A worker who has been trained up from the beginning will become skilled and useful. Their habits, thoughts, and efforts will be tailored to maximum effectiveness for their master. But the laborer who joins at the end of the day, while still being able to contribute, will be limited and hindered.

Not only do they have less time to work and develop the necessary skills (maturity) to contribute in the same ways as a worker who came in the first hour, they will be hindered by all the extra time committed to tasks that aren’t from the master. All the idleness won’t be useful in equipping them or preparing them for the task. They will have to unlearn bad habits, laziness, and unproductive thoughts to commit themselves to the real work of the master. Of course, God is wonderful, and even the lazy worker who has come in the last hour will be rewarded and can be useful…in spite of missing the benefit of working for the whole day and the usefulness that comes with training and growing up in the task.

A real life practical example I’m living through is…. Learning Spanish! I can learn new languages…. I’m sure of it! But I’m hindered by two primary things that will never allow me to learn a new language as well as a child. Numero uno… my pride inhibits my ability to practice enough to learn quickly, and numero dos… years of training my mouth to move in certain ways will ensure that I’ll always have an accent. My son, as he learns Spanish, doesn’t have these same problems…at least in the same way I do. He practices freely because he hasn’t let his pride grow like mine, and his pronunciation is better because he’s only spoken his first language for a few years. I think the same principle is true with the effectiveness of the worker in the vineyard. How much better it is to come and be trained up in the work in the first hour, instead of the 11th hour!

It seems like it would be much better for the master to gather all the workers in the first hour, but who are we, as servants to question the plans and generosity of the master, who always knows what is best. Although not explicitly stated in the parable, research has shown that most laborers for the Lord, those who are chosen and called to the work, come in the first hour. In fact, an overwhelming majority comes in the first hour, while only a small percentage comes in the last hour.

No matter when we come, a few truths are important to remember. We come because first, the master came to us. Regardless of the hour, we stood idle, doing nothing. Our impulse to join in the work came from the call of our master.

Secondly, when we come, regardless of the hour, early or late, we are to come as those who come in the first hour. Come like children – “unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of God.”

I believe the best way to spend our lives is by pouring into children, but it’s also the most difficult for many people. Probably impossible to prove in any quantitative way, as I’m sure it is difficult to minister to unreached indigenous populations, and others entrenched in sin and damning religious traditions, etc. But many languish in the work with children and look for greener pastures – ministries that are more fulfilling.

It’s true that most Christians come to saving faith early in their lives, but as those leading children to faith we often don’t value it as much as leading an adult to faith. The angels may rejoice over one sinner that repents, but often times for us, if that sinner is a child, its viewed as a half victory. But if our grown neighbor came to faith then we’d be more inclined to let loose and celebrate with the angels in heaven. I’m guilty of it and I believe many more working with children are as well. Its wrong, and its prompted by sin.

There are a couple reasons why we fall into this sin:

1- We doubt the sincerity of their faith. We look at their youthfulness and their simplicity of thinking and think about all the things they don’t know, and then we judge them. With their lack of wisdom, intelligence, experiences, and lack of everything compared to us, can they possibly have the same saving faith that we have??? Of course they can!!

The master calls to work many in the first hour of the day. Additionally, scripture supports the reality that our intelligence and world wisdom doesn’t somehow increase the likelihood of finding true saving faith. If anything, it hinders it (1 Cor 1:19). We aren’t to look at young believers who have supernaturally been given saving faith, and judge them. We are to look at young believers, and simply be like them – humble, obedient, and believing. Who is more likely to profess a faith that isn’t true and genuine, a child or an adult? Scripture paints a clear picture that it’s the latter not the former. See the life of the Pharisees.

2 – The second reason we fall into this sin is because, often, we don’t get as much satisfaction out of a child coming to faith as we do an adult. We value a lost soul differently than God. The angels rejoice over the repentance of any sinner, regardless of the hour they’ve come to the vineyard, because they know that God values every soul with unlimited and eternal worth. It is no greater victory to win an adult to Christ than it is to win a child. As I mentioned before, while the souls are of immeasurable value, there is clearly no comparison in which can potentially contribute the most to the work of the kingdom.

What a blessing it is to be a teacher, to work with children, and to every day tell them about Jesus!!

– Casey Herring, founder of GEM

case and megCasey and Meg Herring met overseas in Brazil while serving as teachers. They fell in love, got married, and now have two precious sons, Oliver and Elijah, and a baby girl Adelyn Grace. Casey received a B.S. in Secondary Education from Western Oregon University and an M.S. in Global and International Education from Drexel University. He has 13 years of teaching and leadership experience. Casey is currently serving as the CEM Director in Mexico. 

Oaxaca Teacher Strikes: The Simple Truth

Oh, Oaxaca…an amazing state, with amazing people…but also with so many problems. Oaxacans are known for their fighting spirit and passion. Some of Mexico’s greatest heroes have come from Oaxaca….most notable being the revered President Benito Juarez. Right now, the only news coming from this incredible place is about the militant teachers marching on the streets instead of teaching in their classrooms. Teachers are on strike in Oaxaca, Mexico….again.

It’s happened at some point every year, for the last 30 years. The radical teachers union, named CNTE, has mobilized itself this year in protest of educational reforms that were passed 3 years ago. It seems the teachers are most interested in having performance evaluations repealed. To pressure the government, the CNTE has set up dozens of blockades around the southern states, shutting down commercial traffic on major highways. As a result, businesses are losing money, tourism has essentially stopped, and everyone is running out of basic supplies. In Puerto Escondido, the local gas stations were closed for two weeks. The teachers have also taken over the main square, named the Zocalo, in Oaxaca City.

The government has been in talks with the CNTE, but no progress has been made on the main sticking points.  Sadly the protests have turned violent. Two weeks ago 8 protesters were killed and dozens of police and protesters were injured when the police tried to break up a blockade.

As the violence has started to make international news, we’ve been flooded with emails and calls. Are you safe? Do you have gas? Is it safe to travel there? Are the roads closed? All very good questions.

When you talk to people here, most diplomatically claim, “It’s a complex” issue.” In some ways, that’s true. It is complex. There is a lot of history, a lot of stories and lots of different components to the issue. But at the same time, it’s also very simple. At its core, the violence, closed schools and roads aren’t really about teacher tests or abuses by the government. It’s about sin. It’s about pride that pollutes our minds and hearts and convinces us we deserve better than what we got.

It is Satan, the great deceiver and liar, who wants this to be a complicated messy issue. But when the violence stops, the accusations and threats cease, and the teachers go home, what is left is the core simplicity of the issue. It will all be repeated…as it has every year for the last 30 years…if the rebel heart isn’t surrendered to Jesus.

From the outside, for those getting their info from news reports, it probably looks really dark here. Violence, unrest, danger, and darkness – but the truth is that the Son is still shining! The teacher protests and unrest have opened new doors for the gospel and God will use this to glorify Himself. GEM moved into Puerto Escondido and opened a school with the hope of serving the community and building bridges for the gospel. When we came here 3 years ago, the teachers were protesting. Our office was flooded with people, mostly non-Christians, who were desperate for their children to receive an education. Many of those kids have become a part of our school ministry and have heard the gospel taught each day in our classrooms. Now, 3 years later, we are again flooded by parents desperate for help. From the outside, it may look like sin and evil has won the day, but the reality is different. God is pulling people to our ministry and ultimately to himself, and he’s allowing the sin of others to be the driving force. No matter how out of control it may appear to be or how dark the situation, God is always in control and the gospel is always advancing!

Pray for our state and the people here who are impacted by the strikes. Pray that blind eyes will be opened to where the true rebellion occurs and that many will surrender their lives to Jesus. Pray also for GEM as we serve those around us and try to shine the love of Jesus in everything we do.

– Casey Herring, Founder of GEM