Going Where God Is Moving.

(The following is a description of what I do in Asia. My name is David W. Clemente and I am a missionary teacher.)

God is calling me to a life of teaching in Asia. I am obeying our Lord by going to Free Methodist (FM) congregations located in Southeast Asia and helping their local pastors and church leaders become better servants of the Christian gospel.

Myanmar 2016 January

This year I will be assisting FM leaders in Asia as they prepare for ordination. I will be going to Cambodia and Nepal to lead seminars on Wesleyan Theology and other Bible courses. I will be working with several other missionaries and teachers. Our goal is to empower our Asian leaders to be better servants of God’s church in their localities.

Cambodia 2016 August

In the past, I have visited Light and Life Bible College (LLBC) in Yangon, Myanmar and Light and Life Graduate School of Theology (LLGST) in Butuan City, Philippines. Both are FM training institutions. I will still continue my time of ministry in these schools and provide theological education for our FM pastors. I look forward to learning together with our church workers and seeing through their eyes what God is doing in Asia.

HLTS 2017 January - Copy

I am also still teaching at Holy Light Theological Seminary in my capacity as an Adjunct Faculty. I enjoy teaching inside a classroom, but God’s call in my life is to go to where our pastors and FM leaders are and help them in their work as God’s servants of the local churches in Asia. I go where our Lord calls me to go to be a resource for our Asian Free Methodists around the world.


Church For The Unwelcomed

“I want to serve the Lord,” Mr. A shares with me his frustration. “But I cannot. I have to take this job to provide for my family.” He recounts an earlier attempt to play the piano for a local church. The music ministry was fulfilling but there was no steady income. He had to find work somewhere else.

Mr. A is a professional musician working here in a restaurant here in Taiwan. His wife, Mrs. J works in the same location as a singer. Let us call them A&J for short. They sing in a restaurant, seven days a week, 6-8 hours a day. On some days, the restaurant owner sends them to sing at an adjoining bar to entertain some of the more “shady” characters of the city. Needless to say, A&J feel their Christian faith is compromised. “I used to sing and play music for revival meetings,” Mr. A continues. “But now, I am singing for the world. I am pleasing people rather than God.” Both A&J are Christians. They desire to be available for the Lord’s work, to offer their talents for God’s service. However, they are obligated by the nature of their work to go to places that are questionable by the moral standards of their faith.

In Taiwan, the population of Asian foreign workers employed in the entertainment industry is not too many. However, a majority of these workers come from the Philippines. They are in Taiwan as singers, musicians, dancers, and entertainers working mainly at bars, restaurants, and hotels. These are legitimate jobs that pay generously. However, in most situations, they are placed in compromising situations. A few of these workers end up unwillingly as prostitutes and sex workers. Labor abuse is most likely to happen. Needless to say, legal protection for foreign workers in the entertainment industry is very few.

Moreover, there is a stigma against singers and performers working in the entertainment industry. In the Philippines, church people tend to view Filipino entertainers and artists working abroad with suspicion. They see these workers as immoral, or at the least living a questionable life. I am not surprised that A&J feel hesitant sharing their experiences to me. They feel unworthy to be around Christians, much more around a pastor like me.

One Sunday after a church service in Tainan, the members of the church asked me if I could sing a song together with A&J, and their two other Filipino co-workers at the restaurant. They want us to sing an offertory song at the morning church service. I shared this request with A&J and their friends, and they readily obliged. I was a little surprised with their enthusiasm. Later, I realized that they feel welcomed at this Tainan church. You see, this local congregation is composed of Taiwanese Americans, South Africans, and Australians living here in Taiwan. There are no Filipinos among the crowd. A&J and their friends do not feel the shame they would have if they were going to face a church full of Filipinos. I thank God for this Tainan international church. People like A&J can come and join in the service, and they will not feel threatened or shamed. Isn’t this what church is all about?


A Song For the Lent Season

"And can it be that I should gain. . . " This great Charles Wesley hymn will always be a part of my life, especially so during this Lent Season. I remember the resounding chorus sung by students and participants at the Estes Chapel in Asbury Seminary. I could almost feel the angels of heaven singing with us. I would close my eyes and sing with all my might all the lines of the hymn, and sense my whole being soaring a few feet above the ground. This hymn brings me to a visceral experience of God's glory and splendor.

Last Sunday of March, I went to church with a longing in my heart for a meaningful encounter with God's beauty, hoping that one of the songs or hymns would touch me in a very tactile way. This is the Lent Season. I wanted to feel God's presence. I needed to see His majesty in the palm of my hands. I wanted to bow down before the feet of our Creator and actually smell His goodness surrounding the church sanctuary. I wanted to say with the Psalmist: "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8) And praise His holy name! He came and move my heart in a very physical way. He used a song that the congregation sang during the morning church service. Let me back track a little and explain the situation.

You see, that last Sunday of March, I went to Fong Shan Free Methodist Church. This is a Chinese church here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Most of the hymns sang here are not the ones I am familiar with nor the ones written by Charles Wesley. It is always a struggle for me to emotionally connect with the church liturgy. What makes the experience more difficult is that everything happens in Mandarin Chinese. By the time I translate the song or prayer in my mind, I am already ten seconds behind the liturgical flow. However, that last Sunday of March, God spoke to me through a Mandarin song. 我的心,你要称颂耶和华 / 不可忘记他的恩惠 . This is a song based on Psalm 103. "Oh my soul, do not forget all His benefits." I came home from that church service with a full heart. I could still taste the flavor of God's goodness in my mouth. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

This Easter Sunday, I do not know which hymns will the Kaohsiung churches sing for the Day of Christ's Ressurrection. One thing I remember, from growing up as a second generation Free Methodist in Butuan City Free Methodist Church, Butuan City, Philippines, is that we always include one hymn from the many selection for the Easter morning service. This is the hymn "Up From The Grave He arose." It makes me smile to remember all the church members bellowing with a loud resounding crescendo, singing the last line of the chorus, "He arose, he arose. hallelujah, Christ arose!" Happy resurrection, everyone! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!


Grace That Renews Me

"Though your sins are like scarlet / they shall be white as snow." (Isaiah 1:18) I find myself singing the song based on this Isaiah chapter. "Though they be red, red as crimson." Today, my devotions start with the book of Isaiah. It is a liberating thought to know that all my sins are washed away. His mercy set me free. I continue singing the song that I learned when I was in college. "They shall be white, white as snow." I remember now how hard it was for me to sing this song. Let me reminisce a little bit.

When I was in college, I was greatly involve with campus ministries and student camping activities. I was a leader of our local Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship. Everyone knew I was a good Christian and a promising church speaker for the near future. And yet, in my personal life I was struggling with many difficulties. Without going into detail, I could say it was a low point in my spiritual pilgrimage. I was burdened with low self-image, poorly managing my relationship with my Christian girlfriend, and troubled with family issues. I was bombardened with guilt and shame. And yet this song reminded me of God's grace that renews our lives. "Come now let us reason together, let us reason together says the Lord." I would be sitting on our "veranda," our little porch area in our Project8 house, with my guitar and singing this song. I remembered the tears and the comfort the song brought me, and the truth of God's forgiving grace, cleansing me of all my sins.

Today, I still face many similar issues with sin. But it has lost its power over me. God's grace renews me, everyday. John Wesley says that the same grace that justifies us (brings salvation into our lives) is the same grace that sanctifies us (brings transformation into our lives). I maybe done with college life issues. Perhaps, I am facing more mature concerns, struggles with sin that are real to a person my age. However, the grace that brought me out of bondage, in Charles Wesley's words, "fast bound in sin, and nature's night," is also the same grace that is renewing me, healing me of my imperfections, and transforming my life to the image of our Creator and Savior. Just as the great Wesley hymn says: ’Tis mercy all, immense and free, For, O my God, it found out me! 

On this Lenten Season, remember God's grace and His love that forgives and renews us. "Amazing love! how can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me."


ASH WEDNESDAY

"God grants comfort to those who mourn. He gives them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and gives them the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Is. 61:3 & Ps. 30:5) 


Seminary Life 101

(The following is a letter I sent to a retired university professor who is a good friend of mine and a passionate supporter of God's work here in Asia.)

Dear Dr. R,

Greetings! Thank you so much for your prayers and support.

Your gift at the end of this year is another confirmation of God’s call in our lives. I am so thankful to our Lord for friends like you who are committed to partner with us here in Asia.

We just finished our first semester two weeks ago. Several of the students came to me to show their appreciation for my time with them. They specifically mentioned the “devotions” time, the 15 minutes period I spend on reflection from God’s word and drawing personal application for the students on issues of spirituality. This 15-minute period sets the tone for the next three hours of lectures, group discussions, and course assignments.

You know of course that there is a broad line between head knowledge and life learning, between understanding and application. I am sure you have seen this with your time of teaching in a university setting. The students who know so much and are performing well academically may not be prepared to deal with practical things (such as loving their spouses), or at worst, they may be living an immoral life. There is a great need to bring classroom lessons to a level where they engage everyday life and practical problems of the day.

Last year, one professor recounted a story of a seminary student. At that seminary, it was discovered that one of its graduates had been caught in an adulterous relationship. What was sad about the news was that during the time of his immoral dealings, he was registered with that same seminary. It was devastating. This student was living a lie, right in front of all the seminary family.

Of course, we at the faculty can only do so much. The students can still decide to live a life apart from all our teachings. But when I heard that story of one seminary student who was living a double standard life, I resolved to use my time in the classroom as a time both for gaining knowledge and practicing spiritual truths. And so, this is the reason why I spend my first few minutes in the classroom, before I give my lectures, to a time of reflection from God’s word. I challenge each student with biblical truths that are meaningful to one’s family relationships, relevant to current ethical issues, and helpful to solving social problems of the day.

As you pray for us here in Asia, pray that I will have the wisdom from God to prepare lessons that will ready our students for future time of service and missionary work. At the same time, pray that our Lord will give me discernment as I lead students to a time of deep spiritual reflection from God’s word. Pray that I will teach in the power of His Spirit (2 Tim. 1:7 & 1 Cor. 2:4). Thank you for all your prayers.

 


Family Reunion: God Is Ever So Good

Six siblings. Six out of eleven came for our 2016 Family Reunion. Three days of fun with all 33 of us, including one-year old babies Caleb and Sky. Fun at the beach and laughter at the table. It was sweet to watch my children reconnect with their cousins and cousins' children close to their ages. Many of the kids were calling my 12-year old son, Jacob, "Uncle Jacob." Carmen had a blast playing card games with her young adult cousins, who are mostly in their mid thirties. The last time we were in the Philippines was in 2011. This reunion is a good time to create new memories and strengthen fellowship with relatives and families.

The hardest part for me is seeing my brother battle cancer. Even at this family gathering, we all could see his fight to stay with us, and enjoy the short time with love ones. I remember waking up to his guitar music and him singing praises to our God in the early hours of the morning. "When I sing songs to our God, I feel the pain leave me and sense God's visitation in my life," he shared to us siblings at one of our chat time. It was hard for me to watch, but God is ever so good. He is bringing restoration and healing in my brother's life. 

So, we continue to play on the ocean and enjoy our food and time together. My brother comes and joins us whenever he is able. One of the most memorable photo we have is of my brother lying in bed and looking over his side towards one of the children blowing soap bubbles in the air. We shared stories. We told jokes. We made fun of our little quirks and what-not. In all of these, God is ever so good. He is transforming our lives, and for my brother, our Lord is demonstrating His love in and through my brother's struggle with cancer. God is faithful.


Do You Know Mary?

When people look at Mary, what do they see? Do they see a helpless teenager pregnant with a child she believes is divinely conceived? Or do they see a struggling mother-to-be making sense of her life as a chosen one?

In the text, we see Mary receiving her blessings (Luke 1:48). People will call her “blessed” for many years to come. And yet, we still have to answer the first question: What do they see in Mary? I have some suggestions that relate to the whole Christmas narrative.

When people look at Mary, they see God’s inclusion of everyone in the Lord’s plan of salvation. When a derelict teenager or a woman with a child that is conceived out of wedlock hear Mary’s story, they say to themselves: “God is calling me to Himself. I am included in God’s plan despite my questionable situation.” When a poor man, who is struggling with providing for his family, sees God’s work in Mary life, he will understand that God will use the poor and destitute people of this world for His plan of salvation. He will say, “I am included in God’s plan.” When outsiders come to Mary, the foreigners, the non-Jews, and the unschooled in the ways of the Jewish religion, they will feel God’s inclusion. They will say: “If God can use a young woman who is not schooled in the Rabbinic religious ways, then He can also use me, an outsider to the traditions of the Jews.” All of them will perceive God’s inclusion because they see Mary demonstrating God’s salvation in her life.

When people see Jesus, they see him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). They see Jesus as the Light for all the nations, for all cultures and tribes (Isaiah 42:6). Everyone is included. When people look at Mary, they see the same inclusion. Everyone can be blessed, just like Mary. God’s blessing is flowing through Mary, the blessing that started with Abraham, is now available for everyone who comes to God in humility and trust (see Luke 1:55 and Genesis 12:1-3). God is including every person.

Some questions for you: When people look at you, do they feel included in God’s plan of salvation? Are they drawn closer to God? When they see you, do they hear God saying: “Come to me all of you. I am including you in my plan of salvation for the whole world, despite your situation and regardless of who you are.”


Wedding Anniversary: 21 Songs Later

In the book SABBATICAL JOURNEY, the author writes of a homily he shared on a wedding. "Your love for each other comes from God's first love. Keep claiming that love. Your love for each other is a forgiving love. Keep talking to each other, pardoning each other's shortcomings, and praising each other's gifts. Your love for each other is for others, your children, your guests, the poor. Keep your attention focused on those who need to be nurtured by your love." (Henri Nouwen, 1998:63-64).

Today is our twenty-first wedding anniversary. Sarah and I are grateful to our Creator-God for sustaining us throughout the years. Nouwen shares from his book, Sabbatical Journey: The Diary of His Final Year, a quote from his homily of the son of a friend's wedding that happened on December 9th, the day of our wedding anniversary. I share this quote with you now (above), because it speaks of the same sentiment that my wife and I have for our lives. We want to be of service to our King, the Lord of the Universe, and be available for His work among the poor, the disenfranchised, and the people who are powerless and who need God's love. 

Our "wedding verse" has been 1 John 4:12. "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." (ESV) It is always our prayer that we will be an avenue, an instrument, a source of blessing to mediate God's love to others. We are not perfect, but God is. Our hope is that our friends will see God through us. And then, we all can sing the song, "I have friends who say that we are perfect together."


Being Thankful on Thanksgiving Day

I am thankful for many things. Good health. At my age, (Please do not ask me how old I am.) I can still play basketball with the boys and girls from my daughter’s varsity team. Thank God. Although after every practice, my aching bones are reminding me that I need to slow down. (Please do not remind me that I am in my mid 50s.) Maybe, I should consult the “Higher Powers” of basketball. Where is Michael Jordan when I need him?

I am thankful for a sturdy roof in our house. I truly appreciate it, most especially when a typhoon comes in and pays a visit to the island. I know my friends and family in North America will be dealing with snow and ice. What are Holidays for without the snow, right? We can trade. You can send me your turkey, pumpkin pie, and other good stuff, and I will send you warm rain and good weather. Is that a deal?

I am thankful for a good school for my children. Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung (MAK) is a missionary school that also serves the national business community by giving quality education to local business family, as well as diplomats and other international people living in the city. Jacob is able to play middle school baseball with children from Japan, Korea, and other nearby Asian countries. While we are on the subject of baseball, when you send your turkey, please wrap it in a Chicago Cubs jersey shirt. I heard that Thanksgiving meat taste better when wrap together with a Kris Bryant jersey or a Rizzo shirt. I am sure you know I am a very serious guy, right? After 108 years, Thanksgiving turkey should taste better this 2016.

I am thankful for Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). I am so privileged to be a part of the team here. The students are very engaging. They bless me with their stories. We have been exchanging family histories. I tell them my descendants are Spanish pilgrims from Mexico, and in return they tell me their history of moving from China to Taiwan. I tell them about Sarah’s grandmother. (She is a good Christian and a dedicated Chicago Cubs fan, and who is now happy in heaven after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series.)  I recount many other stories, and the students respond with their own stories of coming to God and receiving His salvation through the witness of family and friends. Praise God! By the way, most of these students have never experienced American Thanksgiving Day. So, when you send those turkey and corn bread, I will definitely share it with them. Please, do not forget to wrap them in a Kris Bryant baseball jersey shirt, okay? Did I mention the turkey will taste better?

I am thankful for my family. To my extended family from the Philippines, I am so amazed at your patience with me, and my October ramblings on social media about the Chicago Cubs. To my in-laws in Illinois, I will certainly miss the holiday gathering for the big Thursday meal. To my children, Carmen and Jacob, I thank God for you both. You make parenting work a fun and creative journey for me. And to my wife, Sarah, Happy Thanksgiving! All it takes is for you to walk in the living room, and I find myself smiling and being grateful for everything. God gifted me with you. I am thankful.

To all our supporters and intercessors from Illinois, Michigan, and California, you are very much appreciated. Thank you for all your donations and commitments that you are giving to God’s work here in Asia. Thank you for your prayers. And to some of you, I thank you for those long-distance phone calls and your emails replying to our newsletter. You make this missionary work full of joy and surprises. Happy Thanksgiving!


Going Through Pain and Suffering

“I can’t stand the pain.” Most of us have probably said these words at some point in our lives. The degree of pain would vary from person to person depending on the nature of situation. Discomfort. Grief. Regrets. Sorrow. Anger. You get the idea, right? When pain comes to our lives, it comes with a lot of other things. We spend more time and energy dealing with the other stuff. At best, we relegate pain to a point of secondary importance. At worst, we forget about the pain.

“There will be no more pain, nor sorrow; no grief and death.” (Revelation 21:4) One of my friends quoted this verse in the context of a love one going through chemotherapy. I would have ignored the comment, but you see, the person going through chemo was my brother. I got the feeling that the family members are ignoring the pain. Why shouldn’t they, right? We do not want to revel on our pain. Well, for one, it is painful. Secondly, it is much easier to not talk about it. It is always helpful to simply talk about the weather or focus on the good food in front of you. You get the idea, right? Pain is not welcome anywhere.

The Book of Revelation mentions pain as a direct result of sin. We do away with pain because it reminds us of our evil ways and fallen creation. It does not refer to pain as an avenue for spiritual encounter. Many Bible scholars view pain with its instrumental properties. What do you get when you go through pain? How does pain make you a better person? These are some of the questions coming out of an instrumentalist view of a painful experience. What I am going to suggest here is that there is a better way of looking at pain as a spiritual instrument. I am suggesting we look at pain and suffering through the cross of Jesus.

Henri Nouwen, a Christian author and theologian, speaks of experiencing the depths of God’s Presence in the midst of a painful encounter. In his book, Here and Now, he speaks of a life where “pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain” (Nouwen 1994:39). Jesus says we need to die like a grain of wheat, for “unless the grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit” (John 12:24). Whoever loses one’s life for Jesus, whoever embraces pain by way of the cross, will keep one’s self, one’s being for eternal life.

“Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” My friend shares this to our group. We are on a mission trip and our host pastor, my friend, is sharing with us a recent situation in his family. His only son is in the hospital. Blood clot in the brain. Early morning hours at the hospital surgery. Probability of paralysis. Chances of memory loss after surgery are high. I am sure you can now picture what my friend is going through. I am surprised my pastor friend is still able to play his part of hosting us, driving our group around the city, and asking our team members questions about the mission trip. If that were me, I would have dropped everything. I would have said: “This is unfair.” I would have raised my voice and started blaming God. “Where is your love, now.” Anger. Fear. Rage.

Grief, pain, and sorrow are real issues in a Christian’s life. In all these situations, the common thread is the experience of suffering. Paul writes of filling up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering (Colossians 1:24). Paul is not saying God’s atoning sacrifice is not enough for the remission of our sins and the redemption of the world. Paul is simply saying we continue Christ’s ministry of suffering through our grief, pain, and sorrow. Our pain and human location is not only an instrument to a greater futuristic heavenly good. Our pain is also the place where God meets us. In a mysterious way, pain and suffering become agents of God’s grace, healing, and transformation. Henri Nouwen says: “Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow, and that the dance of life finds its beginnings in grief” (1994:38). We share in the suffering of Jesus (Philippians 3:10). We become more like Him. Our suffering becomes the glory of our brothers and sisters (Ephesians 3:13). We continue the ministry of Jesus. We take up the cross of Jesus in our daily walk (Luke 9:23-24). Jesus is in the pain and suffering.

Someday, there will be no more pain. There will be no more sorrow. This is correct. There at the end of times, we no longer need an experience with suffering and pain to facilitate deeper spiritual encounter. God’s presence will be with us in His fullness and for all eternity. Meanwhile, we are still here on earth needing help with everything. We drink from the cup that Jesus offers us. “We need to remind each other that the cup of sorrow is also the cup of joy, that precisely what causes us sadness can become the fertile ground for gladness” (Nouwen. Can You Drink the Cup. 1996:51). The way of the cross is the path of fruitfulness. And the ultimate fruit we are looking for is a deeper encounter with our God, an experience of healing and transformation that only His presence can bring.