Pastors from the Southeast Mexican Union meet during a first ministerial retreat at the church’s El Trébol, Tekax, Campgrounds, in southeastern Mexico on Apr. 16-19, 2023. The four-day event was part of dialogue sessions where 196 local district pastors shared their experiences, studied the Bible and focused on fulfilling the mission of sharing the gospel more effectively in their congregations and the community.  [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

May 15, 2023 | Merida, Mexico | Victor Martínez and Inter-American Division News

Dozens of district pastors from across the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Southeast Mexican Union, recently met to take part in a first ever spiritual retreat where they could dialogue and share their experiences with church administrators, stay grounded in the Word of God while staying focused on fulfilling the mission of sharing the gospel and shepherding hundreds of members amid the numerous challenges they face in their ministry.

The 196 local pastors throughout the seven local fields in the southeastern part of Mexico met at the church’s El Trébol, Tekax Campgrounds, Apr. 16-19, 2023.

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry speaks  to local church pastors from the Southeast Mexican Union during a devotional session. [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

“We want to facilitate a personal encounter with our Savior and use the opportunity to talk, to analyze the biblical and Spirit of Prophecy definition about the pastoral gift, and pray to understand what our tasks in ministering to the membership,” said Pastor David Celis, president of the Southeast Mexican Union. “It’s essential we seek the Holy Spirit to understand what being a pastor means and our impact on the church and the community.”

Pastor Celis, who, prior to be elected as president of the Southeast Mexican Union, served for many years as its executive secretary, said it was important to learn how the pastors felt, what they faced, what their pressing needs and concerns are, and encourage their heartfelt commitment to the mission and discipleship.

“The most important task of the pastor is to promote and facilitate discipleship, visitation and teaching members in the church,” said Celis.

Pastors study and reflect in specific group sessions throughout the day. [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

A Christ-centered ministry

Inter-American Division President Pastor Elie Henry, during one of several keynote messages to the pastoral group, said: “The pastoral ministry needs to be a ministry centered in Christ, a ministry that can make the bible and prayer its main tool,” he said. Pastors must focus on proclaiming the kingdom of God, reminded Pastor Henry. “Our Adventist message comes from the Three Angels Messages and leads us to the most glorious event, the Second Coming of Jesus.”

The meetings were about pastors using every space as an opportunity to reflect on fulfilling their ministry more effectively and promoting more integration among the ministerial body of the union, said Pastor Breyner Roblero, ministerial secretary and one of the main organizers of the event.

Pastors take the time to stretch and do exercises during the four-day event in southeast Mexico. [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

Pastors participated in breakout sessions to discuss ways of working together among the different local fields and come up with better ways of addressing the needs of the church, explained Roblero.  Although ministerial retreats had been held in the past, this retreat was designed to shape a new paradigm for pastoral ministry throughout the union, added Roblero.

“With so many responsibilities, preaching sermons, organizing evangelism programs, leading church boards, visiting members, keeping up with events and activities on the calendar of the local church, plus the local fields, the union and the Division, many times pastors get home at midnight every night,” said Roblero.

Pastors dialogue during one of several group sessions throughout the pastoral event.  [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

Pastoring more than 12 churches

A pastor in the Southeast Mexican Union can have an average of 14 to 16 churches, with a total of more than 800 or 1,000 church members, said Roblero.

For many of the pastors, the ministerial gathering served as a new commitment to the call to ministry like in the case of Darío Ocampo, 52, who pastors 12 churches in his district in Chetumal, Quintana Roo. “God gave me a wonderful call where I should learn to love the body of Christ which is His church, be patient with each member while feeling that I am part of a mission that we have so the end will come soon,” said Ocampo.

Pastor Neftaly Vázquez who pastors 12 churches in the Juan Aldama district in Teapa, Tabasco, poses for a photo with his family. [Photo: Courtesy of Neftaly Vázquez]

For Benjamin Vargas, who pastors the Central Adventist Church of more than 600 members in Cancun, said that “being a pastor in 2023 is being passionate about the mission. Someone who has a close relationship with God, who loves, cares, heals, renews, and researches,” he said. “As a pastor you have to go beyond the daily routine, enter into the innovation of faith based on the Holy Scriptures to be like Jesus in a changing world.”

Pastor Neftaly Vázquez, who has nearly 40 years of service and currently leads 12 churches  in the Juan Aldama district in Teapa, Tabasco, discovered that what is more important  is to understand your ministry. “I learned that in these meetings when we learn more about our vision in the ministry with the youth it helps us focus on the mission.”

Pastor David Celis (second from left), president of the Southeast Mexican Union, leads during a communion service at the end of the ministerial event.[Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

Experiences in the ministry have marked the purpose God has in his life, shared Vázquez. “God had a purpose for me when I was called to the ministry, the reason for my existence was very clear when I was freed along with another pastor from being lynched, he said. “God saved my life in 1999 when I was in Chiapas where there was religious intolerance in a community and that experience reaffirmed to me that I am a pastor to reach others.” Today, there are three Adventist churches in that community, he added.

His experience as a pastor has seen an entire Pentecostal church convert into the Adventist faith, said Vázquez.  “There are many evidences of my call to the ministry and I am delighted to serve a living God.” Currently Vázquez has recently led a series of evangelistic campaigns that saw more than 20 persons join the church.

A group of pastors take time to write out a declaration of their mission and ministry for their church memberships. [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

Refocusing on mission in pastoral ministry

Each pastor drew their own new personal declaration to their ministry and shared it with their groups, engaged in fellowship activities, and took part in a communion service at the end of the ministerial event.

The pastoral gathering was an integral part of drawing up strategic plans and initiatives that will take effect throughout the churches and their communities over the next several years, said Roblero. “We will be restudying what was discussed and suggested and create pilot plans to merge what we heard from our ministerial group and bring it together with the pastoral vision across the territory.”

Group photo of the Southeast Mexican Union leadership and local church pastors across the territory. [Photo: Germán Rodríguez]

There are more than 92,000 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 1,261 churches and congregations in 141 pastoral districts. The church operates seven local fields, a university, a hospital, and 14 primary and secondary schools.


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