It’s tough to summarize something as expansive and emotional as my last three weeks of leading mission trips in Ensenada for Praying Pelican Missions, but allow me the liberty of attempting such a thing… here’s Part One.
A Little History
Things in Baja really got started last summer when my friends at Praying Pelican Missions called my bluff.
For a few years I’d been saying that I’d like to see them expand their ministry into Northern Mexico, bringing PPM’s unique approach to missions into my own backyard where lots of short-term missions exist, but very little of that is focused on the local church itself.
Basically, we talked about it so many times until they said back to me, (probably to shut me up) “Well… if it’s such a great idea why don’t you help us start it?” Honestly, I hadn’t ever really considered ME leading it, but it made sense and we decided that I would commit to helping get things started for the first 3 years.
Officially, that’s when things really started moving.
Last August, some folks from PPM and I went to Tijuana and Ensenada and started discussions with church leaders which resulted in us opening up a few weeks this summer. Like everywhere else PPM exists, we were introduced to these pastors from other work PPM is doing around the Latin American world. So basically we identified Baja as a place we’d like to expand and starting asking around with our other pastors, “Do you know anyone in Tijuana, Rosarito, or Ensenada?” That landed us some connections that various pastors knew from seminary which began a series of discussions which resulted in where we started in Ensenada.
Once we officially had some teams lined up we went back in April of this year and finalized our plans, which we fulfilled this summer.
So when the first team met me at the border mall on the U.S. side of the San Ysidro crossing last month, that was actually the culmination of about 4 years of prayer and laying of groundwork.
[It was a really proud moment. At the same time one of those moments where I’m like, “Oh wow, now I have to really do this!“]
My goal for this summer was simple: To begin replicating the success of PPM’s work around Latin America and the Caribbean with their unique, holistic ministry approach. I don’t see what I’m doing as “something new” more like building on the stated vision and goals of PPM, an organization I’ve come to truly respect and love over the last 6+ years.
My Role in This
Earlier I glossed over my role in all of this. It’s been a big deal in my world. Let’s take at deeper look.
When we decided to launch PPM Baja I made a 3-year commitment to it. My role is to help get things started, help it grow and get established, build a team of local leaders, and hopefully see it become self-sustaining enough in the PPM world to be taken over by a full-time missionary couple who isn’t Kristen and I.
So it’s an intentionally ephemeral role.
Specifically, that means I’m overseeing everything operationally, acting as the guardian and point-of-contact for our relationships with our church partnerships, acting as the champion within PPM for Baja, serving as the primary trip leader for all of our groups. Basically– be the point person for PPM’s work in Baja.
It’s a big job description for a person who already has a full-time gig with the Cartel– [and oh, by the way, I’m helping Kristen launch a new business this summer, too. (More on that another time!)]
But it’s also been super exciting. As you may know about me… I like starting things. I thrive in starting things. I think I’m pretty good at getting new initiatives started and have a solid track record in doing it.
And it’s been super interesting. It’s one thing to be a partner and fan of Praying Pelican Missions. But it’s an entirely different thing to shift from outsider to insider. My vantage point is unique in that I’ve crossed a boundary and gone all the way in to be part of the very genesis of starting in a new field. I literally drove the team across the border into Mexico, was there when we had initial meetings, physically brought teams on the first trips, met with pastors, dealt with all the challenges of starting up, on and on and on… it’s a super interesting process and I’m totally loving it.
And boy has it been challenging. First, the obvious is that my Spanish is terrible. I am working on it every day but I’ve only gone from a 3-year old to a 4-year old. Second, leading trips is not meant for a 42-year old who is out of shape. Sleeping on air mattresses, routinely getting 5 hours of sleep, and all that goes with that has worn me out. I’m hoping for 8-weeks next summer but I’m going to have to get in better shape for that. Just keeping it real.
More than that it’s been super rewarding. I can’t run away from the fact that I’m a minister. I’m hard-wired to lead ministry. If I wasn’t helping lead The Youth Cartel you’d find me helping lead another ministry organization or working at a local church. It’s not just what I do it’s who I am. I can’t run from that reality. That said, one thing that I struggle with in my work at The Youth Cartel is that I don’t get to do a lot of actual people ministry in my daily work. I love what I do but it’s mostly me staring at a laptop instead of being face-to-face with people. So this role with helping PPM launch a new ministry in Baja is filling my “people ministry tank” for my work with the Cartel. And, thankfully, the Cartel’s partnership with PPM allows for that symbiotic relationship to work out just fine. Our work tends to be slow when PPM needs me most so I’m getting my ministry tank filled up when otherwise there’s just not a lot for me to do. I like to say, “I don’t do ‘nothing’ well.” I am happiest when I’m the busiest and miserable when I don’t have much to do. So it’s a win-win.
Putting on PPM clothes
I’ve been quite literally wearing PPM clothes all summer. Most of my wardrobe says “The Youth Cartel” on it! And, stating the obvious, that’s not a brand that plays particularly well in a country struggling with narco terrorism… so I quite literally wear the PPM brand when I’m leading trips in Mexico.
But bigger than that, as the champion of PPM in Baja, I’ve spent the summer representing PPM’s vision and goals in Ensenada. Not only am I wearing their brand I am serving as PPM in Ensenada. I’m acting on their behalf. As I lead trips I wasn’t “Cartel Adam” I was “PPM Adam“. I had to make sure that everything I did and said represented how PPM would do things or say things, on and on. While I’m not known as a rule follower I had to be the standard bearer as we created a new ministry, setting the tone and pace for things to come in alignment with everything else PPM does in 17 countries around the world.
And I loved every second of it.
I am loving this role.
And– stating the obvious– while I’m 100% sold out to the idea of working my way out of a job I’m already a bit sad to think about only having 2 more years until I hand it off to local leadership.
Beginning Genuine Partnerships with Local Churches
I’ll close this long post about our starting up in Baja by introducing the big idea, which I’ll follow up with in Part Two.
What makes PPM unique among short-term missions organizations is the commitment to the local church. Whereas most American-based short-term missions ends up building a base of operations in their target area, PPM’s stated intention is to make the local church their base.
That means that we host our teams in the communities we are serving whenever possible. That means that we hire local staff and eat local food and take local transportation around when we do our ministry.
But more importantly? It means that the local church is in charge of our trips. We’re not asking a local church in Ensenada to merely host our teams and set-up ministry experiences Americans will want to do. In fact, because churches are so hospitable and hoping to serve our teams, that’s something I guard against. Instead, we are asking local churches to look at the giftedness of the team that’s coming to serve their congregation and to utilize their gifts to build the local church.
Functionally, that means that I, as the trip leader and champion of all things PPM in Baja, I am posturing myself and everything we are doing under the authority of the local church. Whereas I’m the designated leader of everything I’m intentionally posturing everything under our host pastor’s authority. Pastors have the final say. We are there to serve them. I am there to serve them. And 100%, specifically, emphatically, not the other way around.
That’s one of those things I’ve known about with PPM since my first experience with them 6+ years ago. But until I actually stepped into this role I didn’t recognize how important it was or how willful I had to be to chose this path.
What’s that look like on the daily?
This impacted our schedule– including at least once where the pastor looked at our schedule for the week and told me all of it had to change one day before the team arrived! (Which meant pulling aside a youth pastor at the border and telling them that everything I’d told them about the trip was changing and convince them it’d be better even when I didn’t know if it would be! It was better.)
This impacted where we went. This impacted the actual ministry we did. This impacted how we manage safety on location and where we lodge. This impacted how I managed my staff and even who I selected as staff people. This impacted our budgets for trips. This impacted every single aspect of every single day of our work in Ensenada.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Why? Because if we are who we say we are and we live into our vision statement than a Genuine Partnership means it has to indeed be genuine. I have to give up my “power” to dictate every aspect of the trip as the trip leader, to simultaneously guard my teams safety and fulfill their expectations for the trip, but also to make sure our host pastors are honored in all that we do. It’s a tough path to navigate but a path well worth navigating.
And did it work? I brought home two quotes that I’m hanging my hat on:
“You’ve started a volunteer revolution at my church.” – This was said by our main host pastor at our celebration dinner. After lodging our teams for 3 weeks, which I know for a fact wore us all out physically, I expected Pastor Luis to tell me how tired everyone was and how glad they were that it was over. Instead, he told me that his church had seen how our teams served and been so encouraged that they set up 10 new groups of volunteers to go do the types of things we were doing. Sure, they were tired, but they were fired up and ready to go for more.
“Other ministries come here and do good things but I like that you come to build relationships with the people, that really helps build our church with a good testimony in the community.” – This was said by the last partner pastor we worked with, Pastor Rodolfo. This wasn’t meant as a criticism of other missions efforts in his area but as a compliment that our focus was on building his church, doing things that help them build momentum in the community.
So yes, we were imperfect in our first season. But we were also really, really successful.
More on that to come…