When I think about how things have changed with the times, it is helpful for me to anchor the conversation in what hasn’t changed: God’s faithfulness, His amazing love and grace, and the everlasting and timeless gospel of Jesus Christ. Even as the world changes, global events unfold, and society at large openly rejects biblical values, God continues to transform lives, families and communities through the hope found in Jesus Christ. He is the unchanging and unmovable rock in whom we find salvation. Psalm 18:2 (NLT) says it like this:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
As I reflect on how my own life and ministry has changed since God called me into overseas mission work, I could become overwhelmed with the twists and turns the road has taken. However, when I step back and see how God weaves every day into His story, I am struck with awe to see His glory
The first time I set foot in Mexico, everything was so different. The sights and smells were different. The language was different. The people were different. It was a different world. That was in early 2006. I remember spending six weeks in Mexico and seeing my life transformed by God before my very eyes. God placed a special love for Mexican young people in my heart and I was captivated by sharing a cup of coffee, building relationships with them and pointing them to Christ. The Global Grounds coffee shop was around two years old and I was surrounded by a multicultural mission team working together to reach out with the gospel and to make disciples. In that short time, God challenged my dependence on Him, showed me His power and protection, and gave me great joy in serving Him cross-culturally. I was a single guy, 22 years old, being moved by God to serve Him in Mexico.
God called me to go to Mexico long-term when I was back in Australia, being obedient to His leading by studying the Perspectives course. God called me specifically as I meditated on the biblical principle of God blessing us in order to be a blessing to others (for example in Genesis 12:1-2). I saw the multitude of ways that God had blessed me: salvation in Jesus Christ, God-honouring parents, a Bible-centred local church, godly mentors, a university education, work experience and training—the list could go on. This was all by Him and for Him, given to me to bless others.
When I arrived in Mexico in March 2008, a lot had changed. I arrived to the same team of multicultural workers, but there were many things happening in the background of which I wasn’t aware. I entered the team as a learner and a servant—listening, asking, learning, helping, being humble. Just over three weeks after I arrived, the café ministry closed due to financial strain and team issues, and we were moved into the local church as church staff members. What was God doing?
This led to a two-year period of working as youth and young adults’ leader in the local church under the leadership of the Mexican pastor, discipling young people in the local church and learning lots in the process. Whilst this was a great time of learning and ministry, towards the end of those two years, there was increasing tension amongst the members of the mission team towards the pastor and some important differences in vision and direction. God had the way planned out, I just didn’t know it yet.
At the end of those two years, in 2010, I married Sandy, my amazing and loving wife. The way that all happened is a fantastic story of God’s grace, but that’s an article for the ‘missionary love stories’ issue. Needless to say, that changed life and ministry dramatically—for the better!
As a newly married couple, we spent time on our knees seeking God and asking Him what the next steps were for us in ministry. Our field leadership at that time listened to our heart for reaching out, not just internally focused in the local church, but going out and sharing Jesus with young people in their daily lives. We felt the renewed call to start up a coffee shop that was all about Jesus—intentionally sharing the love and message of Jesus with young people and forming disciples that could multiply and impact this generation. God provided the vision and the resources to start RenovArte Café in November 2010. This was a big change for us. We were now the team leaders, the ones responsible for casting vision and leading out in front of the ministry—and, on top of that, running a business. It has been an exciting journey.
What has changed over these years?
The message and person of Jesus remains the same, but the way we connect with young people has changed in some ways. We have had to remodel the café several times over the last eight years to maintain things fresh and up-to-date, but we have also had to continue to innovate in ways that we can communicate the truth of Jesus.
Relationships continue to be key in sharing the message of Jesus, but every day traditional social structures are disrupted and changed by technology and social networks. As a ministry, we need to communicate Jesus through diverse digital means and also via face-to-face, organic sharing of Jesus. Despite this digital shift, we have seen a tendency and thirst for real, intimate exchanges, and this is one of the areas in which the café shines. We provide a space where honest social interaction happens—and this doesn’t just ‘happen’, we encourage it. This, too, gives us the opportunity to share Jesus amid these conversations. Activities like ‘The Big Table’, where we give away free food to students (and anyone around) as long as they sit down with us at the big table to chat, reinforce the value of person-to-person, real-life dialogue. As we are intentional, our faith in Jesus always finds a natural way into the conversation.
We have also needed to become more marked and apparent in our external ‘image’ as a café to enable people to connect with the core vision of RenovArte Café. When we started out, everything was quite small and our daily interactions with people made it very clear that we were followers of Jesus and, as we served them coffee or tea, we were interested in connecting them with Jesus. As things have grown, our daily interactions continue to reflect this heart, but we have more people, delivery services, and customers from different places and demographics. So, in 2018 we started to communicate to people that we want them to find ‘A cup of hope in the name of Jesus’ in RenovArte Café. Through this we clearly communicated how they can find hope in Jesus through the activities of RenovArte.
Our role as leaders has moved from being the hands-on protagonists of ministry to building into the next generation of disciple makers. We are now focused on not just modelling how to reach out, but teaching others to do it too. We are handing over responsibilities as the local workers are ready, and they are taking on areas of operations and ministry that we previously handled. This is both an exciting and difficult process as we see the next generation grow and sometimes do things differently (oops! I must be getting old).
Finally, in 2018 we saw God make a big change in our family. In January 2018, Sandy was diagnosed with tongue cancer. 2018 was a year that we had to endure significant trials, but we have proved the truth of James 1:2-3 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” God continues to form us into the image of Jesus Christ and He uses trials in that process to test and purify our faith.
We went through a year of seeing God at work, first-hand, working miracles every day. We saw His faithfulness, His provision, His healing, His agenda, His comfort, His strength and His sufficiency. Sandy had surgery in February 2018 where they removed part of her tongue and took out 34 lymph nodes. Following that, the pathology tests showed that one of the nodes was positive for cancer (but it was encapsulated), so she had chemotherapy and radiotherapy concurrently.
This changed our ministry focus and, particularly for me, I found myself struggling with the question of how to balance our disciple-making ministry with caring for Sandy and the family. It was in this process that I felt God say to me: “This is your ministry right now. Be my disciple as you love and serve your family and others will see Christ at work in you.” That was exactly what happened. The way God gave us peace, comfort and the faith to trust in Him throughout the process of Sandy’s cancer and treatment was a huge testimony to those around us, to those in whom we have been investing. They saw the reality of Christ in us, even in the most pressing of circumstances. That’s what being a disciple of Christ is all about—being less so that Christ might be magnified and receive the glory (John 3:30).
We have seen God work so wonderfully in our family and at the end of 2018 we received the first test results after all the treatment—and they indicated that there is no evidence of cancer! Sandy continues to be closely monitored and we continue to trust God and know that He has our destiny in His hands (Job 23:13-14).
So through the years, ‘I’ has changed to ‘we’, and ‘we’ have grown from just Sandy and I being involved in ministry to a team of young people involved both in working in the coffee shop and sharing their faith with others. We have been through trials and adventures and God has proved faithful and trustworthy. We don’t know exactly where the next change or bend in the road will lead, but we trust in the One Who is our rock, our salvation, and Who will “continue the work in us until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6).
by Phil Jones