Just Another Challenging Time

We said our goodbyes. Carmen and I hugged each other. Yesterday, I said goodbye to my daughter, Carmen, and my son, Jacob. They won’t have the chance to say goodbye to me because my departure time for Cambodia is one of those early flights. I need to leave the house by 5:00 in the morning.

Saying good bye to my family never gets any easier. I have been doing this work for over ten years. And every time, leaving the family in Kaohsiung still leaves me with a hollow feeling inside. I still struggle with the act of giving a goodbye kiss to my wife, and I have to force myself to open the taxi door that will bring me to the airport. And just like this morning, watching my wife wave goodbye to me was still a difficult thing to do.

I travel every so often to visit our Free Methodist (FM) pastors in Asia and lead a seminar or workshop for them for a week or two. I enjoy this kind of work. I believe this is what God has called me do here in Asia. I am to be a missionary for our FM Asia leaders and help them get ready for ordination and local church work. This is fulfilling work. However, saying goodbye to family, even for a short period of two weeks, can still be a challenging experience.

Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Do you think we can apply this verse to this moment in time?


Back To Where We Belong

We are back in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It is good to be here. This is where God wants us to be, for now. This is where my children's friends are, most of them. This is the city we call home, until the time when God sends us again to another place.

I like staying here in Kaohsiung. I love the food and the hospitality of the people. Maybe, not too much the weather. I could live without the humidity and pollution. Some days, the horizon is clear and we can see the beautiful mountains from a distance. 

I like staying here in Taiwan, because it is very easy and safe for me to travel to and from the Asian countries I am regularly visiting for a time of ministry. We have direct flights from almost everywhere. Because we are residents here in Taiwan, I am able to serve our God by helping our Free Methodist pastors and church leaders from Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, and other places get ready for ordination and church ministry. I am residing here, but serving in these different Asian countries.

I like Taiwan. I love Kaohsiung. I enjoy the Chinese people living here in this island of Taiwan. This is where we belong. This is where we are because God is here. 


Campfire Stories

We were huddled in front of the campfire exchanging stories and singing songs, old songs. “And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” I started with this song, and Sarah C., Sarah P., Cindy, Joy, and Marlene joined in the next few lines. We sang in harmony. We did not care when we messed up verses and interchanged lines from one stanza to the other. We were having a great time. “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee.” We moved on to other hymns and great old gospels. “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Pausing only to share some family stories associated with these wonderful melodies. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness.” I played my guitar to accompany the singing. Isaac and other family members were also present singing along with all of us. “How marvelous, how wonderful. And my song shall ever be.” We did not have any hymn books or print-out copies at hand. We all sang from memory. “It is well, with my soul.”

Sarah and I are at the Manton Family Camp in Michigan. After our sharing time (the missionary moments) at the evening service, we would go and visit with our friends gathering beside their cabins with a guitar, some marshmallows, and our voices to sing together. What a beautiful time we are having. In front of the camp fire, we praise God and continue to build wonderful memories together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. We are here in Michigan for our time of Partnership Building, the time when we report to our U.S. supporters about the Free Methodist work in Asia, as well as to request for more funding and missionary giving from our local churches. Who knew Partnership Building could be so much fun?


Giving Away Our Prayers

“Let us pray for the Clementes.” They all gathered around my family, the four of us, and prayed for us with everyone extending their hands in a symbolic gesture of affirmation and faith. This prayer time is extra meaningful, not only because all of the church members who are praying for us are our good friends from many years, some from 25 years ago. Their prayers are also significant because this local community is giving to us, their missionaries, out of their poverty. This local church is a small congregation of 50 or so, and financially challenged, and struggling to make ends meet. And yet, they are generously giving to us. We receive prayers from God’s people, even from those who are struggling.

“May I pray for you?” Our friend offered her words of comfort to me and my wife, Sarah. And right there in the kitchen in front of the dishwasher, we joined hands together with her husband and prayed to our God. This request to pray for us is very significant because, a few days back, our friend had shared her desire to minister to people in the area of prayer. But due to the nature of her work, people do not see her as a person to seek counsel from or to ask to share a prayer. With us as missionaries visiting her local church, our friend is able to exercise her gift of prayer and intercession on our behalf. We receive prayers from God’s people, even from those who are seeking spiritual affirmation.

“Please continue to send me your newsletter. I would like to keep on praying for you and your family in Asia.” Our friend is retiring this year and will no longer be the pastor of a local church that has been faithfully supporting the Clemente family. “Of course,” I respond to his email and acknowledge his dedication to pray for missionaries around the world. He also writes of his battle with cancer. I was amazed with his passion for God’s work in the midst of his struggle with a terminal disease. We receive prayers from God’s people, even from those who are going through physical difficulties.

People are praying. They are committed to pray for missionaries and missions work, even in the midst of affliction, lack of affirmation, or financial uncertainty. This summer, we have seen our friends from Michigan, Illinois, and California dedicate themselves to a life of prayer. Visits to the hospital are still present. Tensions at the workplace are still happening. The occasional stress from family meetings, they still come and go. Pain, disappointments, failures, and spiritual struggles, they are never the reason to stop interceding for people in the missions work. I admire the commitment of my friends. It is truly easy to pray for missionaries when the funds are there or when life is joyful and fulfilling. However, when things go wrong, it is more challenging to get down on our knees and pray for people who need our prayers. We receive prayers from God’s people, even from those who are facing challenges in many different forms.

This year, I will be going to Cambodia and Nepal to teach week-long seminars for our ministerial candidates and pastors working in our Free Methodist ministries in these countries. For the next 4-5 years, I will be helping these pastors get ready for ordination and local church work. When I visit these Asian pastors, I will tell them of the prayers of our various friends. “All of them are praying for you, for this week-long seminar we are having.” So, from the city streets of America to the village roads of Asia, prayers are uttered for God’s work. From the woodlands of Michigan to the mountains of Nepal, hearts are joined together for the Free Methodist missions work. “On your knees and pray for harvest hands!” (Matthew 9:39, MSG) We receive prayers from God’s people and we give them away, because we are committed to the Lord’s harvest and we want to be obedient to the call to prayer. Will you pray?


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."


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.


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.