Thousands of small group leaders at the Exhibitor Convention Center in Puebla, Mexico, hold their paper fans with the “Mission First” theme during the Festival of Small Group Leaders led by the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union, August 17-18, 2018.  Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

August 21, 2018 | Puebla, Mexico | Libna Stevens/IAD

Nearly 5,000 Seventh-day Adventist small-group leaders across the Inter-Oceanic region of Mexico celebrated evangelism growth, strengthened their ministry and renewed their commitment to continuing to share the gospel in their communities, during a large gathering Aug. 17-18, 2018.

The festival celebration, coined as “Mission First”, held at the Centro Expositor (Exhibitor Convention Center) in Puebla, Mexico, brought Adventist world leaders to witness the progress of the church and encourage the gathering to carry on proclaiming the message of salvation.

Mission First

Adventist World Church President Ted N.C. Wilson applauded the hard work of church and small group leaders for claiming God’s promises and moving forward with the mission of reaching the lost throughout every corner of the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union, or region.

Adventist World Church President Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson encourages small group leaders to make Mission First before Jesus comes, Aug. 18, 2018. Photo by Gregorio Vásquez/IAD

“I am so impressed on how God is working through you,” said Pastor Wilson. “It is God’s special commission to you here to be part of this last day proclamation of the gospel.”

Pastor Wilson motivated the congregation to continue being ambassadors for Christ, as referenced in 2 Corinthians 5. “God is calling you to action and mission first.”

“God wants you to proclaim His Word and be part of total member involvement proclaiming the Three Angels Messages, God’s righteousness, preaching the gospel of peace, being a blessing to your community and leading people to the foot of the cross,” said Pastor Wilson.

The Adventist leader invited small group leaders to humble their hearts to God, put self aside and let Jesus control their life completely.

Small group leaders from North Veracruz dressed up in their folkloric attire to report on their ministry during the past 12 months. Photo by Gregorio Vásquez/IAD

Reflecting on the Book of John 9, verse 4, Pastor Wilson pointed to how Jesus himself was speaking about His work and how much it is in tune with the “Mission First” theme because Jesus recognized the urgency of the need.

“God is calling you to know what to believe and who to believe,” said Wilson. “Many of you may face persecution and harassment. People will turn you away, but do not get discouraged just know that you serve the highest authority in the universe.”

“Make mission first until Jesus comes,” encouraged Pastor Wilson.

Pastor Elie Henry, president of the church in Inter-America, reminded small group leaders to rely on the Holy Spirit.

IAD President Pastor Elie Henry encourages small group leaders to continue growing in their ministry. Photo by Gregorio Vásquez/IAD

“The Holy Spirit is the catalyst, the one that leads to the commitment to the mission,” said Pastor Henry as he spoke to the delegation.

“You are here showing what God is doing through you and the small groups you lead,” said Pastor Henry. “To continue to grow, we have to be in Christ and we must be in the Word of God.” Small groups are not meant to stay small, he added, “the main purpose is for these to grow even more.”

Small group leader

The words of Pastor Wilson and Pastor Henry and other speakers during the convention resonated in the mind of Miralda Ortiz Rinza, who traveled from the state of Veracruz in the southeast region. She was among the 4,800 small group leaders brought in by her local conference to take part in the special presentations and seminars during the two-day festival event. Ortiz was recognized with a top award for her leadership in discipling 46 persons who accepted Christ and were baptized into the church.

“Telling others how good God is and the great things He has done for me has been my main mission for the past nine years,” said Ortiz, who has taken being an ambassador for Christ very seriously as a small group leader in the city of Coatzacoalcos.

Miralda Ortiz Rinza of southeast Veracruz is recognized with an award by Pastor Melchor Ferreyra, IAD personal ministries director, for her leadership in discipling 46 new members into the church. Photo by Gregorio Vásquez/IAD

Leading a small group of 20 every Wednesday in her house brings her joy and happiness. She provides food and drinks to group members and the four or five visitors before they dive into study of the Bible and pray together. On Thursday, she visits the homes of the newcomers, visits more on Friday, serves as an elder in her church, worships on Sabbath at church, and works with the pastor on strategizing for missionary activities. She does more visitations Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, while connecting with them in her WhatsApp group sending encouraging messages, prayer requests and reminding them of Wednesday’s meeting.

She is clear in her role of laying the foundation of the Bible to the new believers before they join the church. “The real work begins after they are baptized because they need to be strong in their new found faith with a specific plan of retention,” said Ortiz, a task that takes at least one year to complete, she explained.

Ortiz says she cannot imagine not being part of a small group ministry. “It’s like I could not exist. I would feel like I was missing an arm.” Ortiz takes care of her ailing husband every day at home, leaves him sitting up before she takes off to make visitations, delivers food in needy neighborhoods, organizes health brigades and evangelistic campaigns in communities without an Adventist presence with her small group. “I really don’t have any time to be sad, because bringing others to Christ keeps me going, it’s my passion and it will be until the day the Lord comes.”

Small groups strengthens the church

Ortiz is part of the 9,800 small group leaders in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union who have contributed in growing the church stronger in the past ten years, becoming the leading church region in Inter-America in the small group ministry, said Pastor Melchor Ferreyra, personal ministries director for the church in Inter-America.

Pastor Melchor Ferreyra, IAD personal ministries director explains the role of small groups on Aug. 18, 2018. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

“Small groups is not another program of the church, it should actually become the life of the church,” said Ferreyra. It’s about returning to the life early Christians were living in the New Testament times, meeting in small groups with an effective discipling method with fellowship, studying the bible, praying and testifying in their communities, said Ferreyra. “Small groups work together, testify together, study together. The church in the 21st century is not the church of the multitudes and one of many events, it is the church where the need is.”

It’s not about only bringing people to church, said Ferreyra. “It’s about taking the church where the people are and that’s what small groups do.”

Small groups are part of the church that grows with new members who transition into the life of the church, explained Ferreyra. “They become part of Sabbath School classes, become active in church, multiplying efforts into growing the church more, resulting in new congregations that become strong churches, said Ferreyra.

Growth of smalls groups

That is precisely what is taking place in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union and of the unions across the Inter-American Division (IAD), said Ferreyra. There are currently 80,000 active small groups in the 22,000 churches and congregations across the IAD territory.

Pastor Moises Reyna, president of the church in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union says small groups have played an important role in member retention across the territory. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

The Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union has the most comprehensive plan, according to Ferreyra, one that can inspire other unions to bolster their small groups. A dozen leaders from the 24 unions in the Inter-American Division (IAD) witnessed the hard work of church leaders, pastors and small group leaders during the festival event.

The festival event provided an opportunity for the 11 conferences and missions in the territory to report on their progress, receive training from Adventist world church leaders, enjoy spiritual inspiration and a chance to evaluate the small group ministry that has been growing since 2008, said Pastor Moises Reyna, president of the church in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican region.

From 6,000 small groups that were formed ten years ago, now to 9,800 speaks volumes because it’s a ministry that supports the work of the pastor in member retention and gets members involved in the mission of the church, explained Reyna. “It is not that small groups are bringing in thousands more baptisms every year, but members are staying in church and are more involved, and we have less leaving the church,” he said. “The key in small groups is member retention.”

Member retention

That member retention method of small groups supports the work of the district pastors who sometimes have 15, 25 or even 30 churches to oversee, according to Reyna. “Our 240 district pastors simply cannot do all the work of retention so we rely on small groups as an essential part of the growth of the church because if a new member does not come through a small group ministry, the process is a bit disjointed because he or she may not be strong enough in the faith to become active members right away,” added Reyna.

Pastor Melchor Ferreyra stands with union leaders from the Inter-American Division committed to strengthening small groups in their respective territory. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

Small groups were challenged to seek out at least 2 inactive members in the church, and take part in a rescue mission to bring two Seventh-day Adventists who have left the church, said Reyna.

The blessing of the small group ministry growth has brought a big challenge for church leaders there. New churches are needed, said Reyna. “We simply do not have the financial resources to purchase property to build churches right now,” he said. The church has had a plan to build churches, but so far the leadership cannot keep up with the fast growing membership.

“Many of our congregations rent larger locations and auditoriums to accommodate worship services,” said Reyna. The union is employing an average of 12 new pastors to lead the growing membership.

Delegates were given a workbook with presentations on member retention, instructions on how to get more members involved in the mission of the church in the total member involvement world church initiative, the role of Sabbath School, the Three Angels Messages, the heavenly tabernacle and its role, and more. In addition, union unveiled a 12-month plan with initiatives, activities and events to strengthen their small groups leaders in their ministry.

Small group leaders pray in commitment to serving God through small group ministry. Photo by Libna Stevens/IAD

Guest speakers during the Festival of Small Group Leaders included Pastor Ramon Canals, personal ministries director for the Adventist Church; Dr. Alberto Timm, associate director of the White Estate; Pastor Leonard Johnson, executive secretary of the Inter-American Division, and Filiberto Verduzco, treasurer of the Inter-American Division.

The Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union oversees 11 conferences and missions in the states of Guerrero, Hidalgo, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxcala, the southeast portion of Tabasco up to the river of Samaria and Mexcalapa, and Veracruz. There are over 206,500 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 3,046 churches and congregations in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union. The church in the Inter-Oceanic Mexican Union also operates 90 primary and secondary schools across the territory.

To view a photo gallery of the event, Click HERE

Small group leaders hold their certificates of completing training during the festival event. Photo by Gregorio Vásquez/IAD

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