Words will fail me as I try to describe the celebration that took place today - the celebration of 20 years of God's goodness and faithfulness to the Agua Viva family in south Mexico. We have been so blessed to be invited to share in this significant anniversary. I don't have time to write everything but I do want to hit some highlights. You might also be interested in some pictures from the day. I've uploaded 31 pics to my Flickr account, which you can view at:
Or better yet, here's a slideshow that hopefully will work for you:
Pastor Jose didn't want us to see the building until today because they had several things planned as surprises. But when we finally got to see it, we were blown away! It is beautiful! Agua Viva has purchased almost 5 acres and has a plan for using every bit of it! The building had about 700 seats in it and they also had an overflow tent with another 700-800 seats with four giant video screens - and it filled up too! (Agua Viva has started three other churches in the surrounding areas since we returned to the US. There were people from all three of the daughter churches.)
The 3+ hour service was very moving - exciting, tearful, every emotion you can imagine. They started with some powerful praise and worship music, with a couple of dozen young ladies in matching outfits worshiping with tambourines while several others waved worship flags. Then the children from the main Agua Viva church put on a play about how to get a dirty heart clean. It ended with them singing a wonderful worship song to the Lord.
After that something wonderful happened. I've shared that our first Bible study began in the apartment of Fernando and Josefina Arteaga, then we started Sunday services in our living room and finally we rented a small building around the corner from where we lived. The Arteagas had moved from Coatza some time back but Josefina and her daughter Tanya and her family were able to come to the service today. Jose brought her up to honor her for their willingness to share their home - and to enjoy the fruit of their gift 20 years ago.
After that they showed a beautiful slide-show of the history of Agua Viva, starting with the Arteaga's apartment and moving all the way through the various rented buildings and theaters to the final location. What a celebration!
The worship leader invited Joel and me to the platform to share about the beginnings of Agua Viva. He did a brief interview and then asked us to go back to the beginning and share how the worship was when we first started. Back then I played the keyboard and Joel used another keyboard to play the drums - it was rudimentary but it worked, doing the best we could with what we had. Joel and I played one of the early songs and then I shared a song I had written based on Psalm 139:23-24 (Examíname O Dios/Search me O God).
After this the three daughter churches of Agua Viva in the surrounding area presented special programs - mainly skits by their youth. They were incredibly inventive, creative and dramatic. Pastor Jose then called each of the pastors up to honor them for their years of service, presenting them with certificates of recognition. Then the biggie! No true Mexican party would be complete without the most Mexican music of all - MARIACHI! Jose had brought in a Christian Mariachi band, complete with trumpets, violin and the big bass! The crowd went wild!!! And so did we! It was a perfect ending for a perfect celebration - but it wasn't the end. Not just yet.
First Jose presented a "Parade of Culture" - women dressed in many of the typical outfits of the region, representing the many different cultures being reached by Agua Viva. Then they brought Joel and Angel, Lori and me up to the platform. There they presented us with crystal plaques to commemorate our role as founders of Agua Viva. It wasn't until I saw this picture taken by one of our group that I realized they had put a picture of us up on the giant screen behind us that had been taken 20 years ago. It was a very emotional moment. Jose asked us if we wanted to share anything, but by this point we didn''t trust ourselves to share without breaking down. I would love to have shared verses like "You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain..." (John 15:16) or "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4). But those words probably wouldn't have been understood over the emotion of just being in this place at this time.
The service ended with a bang - the original group of worshipers came back up and led us in a celebratory song that ended with a huge balloon drop with lots of confetti - a true celebration! And then lunch! They had prepared food for 1500 people, believe it or not, and we enjoyed it tremendously. The day ended with lots of hugs and pictures and memories being shared back and forth. We had to be peeled away. But here are a couple more pictures I just have to share:
[Photo at left] (L-R) Nathan, Lori, Joel, Angel, Nelly & Jose in front of Agua Viva near a cart representing the humble beginnings. On it was a sack of grain with some stalks of wheat sticking out - each head with many kernels of wheat that came from just one grain.
[Photo at right] Here's a picture of of the sack of grain. Truly God can cause great harvest from a simple seed.
[Photo at left] Note that the heads of wheat have many grains - but each stalk comes from just one grain. In the same way, Agua Viva has grown from a simple planting of the Lord to a flowering plant that has produced MUCH fruit for the kingdom of God over the last 20 years. And we are very honored to have been a part of the beginning of what God did in this region. It wasn't anything special about it. It was all God's doing. We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
I want to close with this photo. These little sacks of seed were given out as a momento of the 20th anniversary event on November 30, 2008. The rough translation is: "Agua Viva - A storehouse from where the seed will be scattered, where we can't store it any longer - it will die and will bear fruit." It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 12:24: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
There has been some dying over the last 20 years - dying to self, leadership changes, dying to dreams, etc. But truly the Lord has allowed much fruit to grow from a small seed planted in fertile gound by obedient servants. Paul described the process this way: "I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth." (1 Cor 3:6) Joel and I planted, others, including Jose, have watered, but truly God is the one who has given the growth. And to Him goes ALL the glory.
I don't have any secrets to church growth or how to do this "church thing". All we knew to do was listen for the voice of God and do what He told us to do at that time. Looking back there are lots of things I would have done differently, knowing what I know now. But maybe that's why the Lord didn't have us do it with what we know now. We might have been tempted to take some of the glory to ourselves. But as it is, we know it was all HIM! So He gets ALL the glory. And we are blessed to have been used by Him. And we pray to continue being useful to Him. Which is one of the reasons I often sign off by saying ...
I love serving Jesus with you!
P.S. Joel, I really love serving Jesus with you!
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