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.


My Cubs Family

It is history of course. The Chicago Cubs is the World Series 2016 Champions! After 108 years, we are here. It is past now. The world knows. There is no need to repeat what everyone is talking about, what the world media is covering. We are here. I am so happy! I am grateful to be a big part of this historical event in USA history.

I came to America as a foreign student and married into an Illinois family with deep roots in Chicago Cubs culture. I heard my wife's grandmother, Grandma Addie, say: "I want to see my Cubbies in the World Series before I die." She almost made it. She passed a few years back. I am sure she is smiling in heaven watching all of us go crazy over a baseball game.

  Clemente Family

Oh the joy of being a Cubs fan !


Christine's Testimony: I Can See What God Wants From Me

(Christine Liao is a student at Holy Light Theological Seminary, here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She shares here her testimony of God’s guidance in her life. Together with her husband, Sean, they are registered with our Free Methodist school in Taiwan, Holy Light Theological Seminary.)

Today, I am going to share with you about my sweet moments at Holy Light seminary. Sean and I made a big decision in 2014. We decided to resign (from our work) and come to Holy Light seminary to study for our MDiv degrees. For me, this is the grace of God. When I was young, my parents taught me to work hard, earn a lot of money, and get a good reputation. These became the goals that I was pursuing. But after I achieved all these goals, my heart felt empty and lonely. I encountered a difficult situation at my work place, so I did not get promoted during that time. I have been reading the Bible everyday. When I read a passage in Luke 18:22: “When Jesus heard this, He said to him: one thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” At that moment, God spoke to me. God said: let go of whatever you are holding on to right now and come back to me. After struggling for a while, I finally gave up all of my worldly desires. God has always been in control.

In the first year at Holy Light seminary, I met many teachers and classmates. During one semester, I started to know what my weaknesses were. It was the pride inside my heart.  After realizing this, I was really ashamed of who I was. God wanted me to change. He refocused my vision. This is the precious lesson that I have learned in my first year at school. Also, in my first year at seminary, I learned to put down everything so that I can see what God wants from me. The best lesson of all is the lesson of being humble before Him.

Time flies. The second year at Holy Light, I gradually learned of God’s calling in my life, and that is, to be a good pastor’s wife. I never thought about it and has been avoiding it. How do I deal with this problem? I have no talent and don't know how to sing, how to play piano, even simple songs of worship and praise. Influenced by many churches in Taiwan, the tradition of being a good pastor’s wife has become a difficult role to fulfill. Meanwhile, Sean and I have been doing youth ministry in the churches. At first, I’m not used to getting along with teenagers. But the weird thing is, I like to listen to them share about what happened in their schools, families and personal lives. It made me feel closer to them. And they also enjoy sharing with me. God gave me a warm heart to care about people. Fortunately, the teachers and classmates continued to give support and pray for me. I can glorify God with the gift of listening and caring. In the second year at Holy Light, I learned to be brave and face difficulties. The most important thing is I learned obedience.

In my third year at seminary, I know God will give me a whole new lesson. I have no idea what difficult situation I will meet. But I know one true fact, that is, God will always be by my side and He will protect me. The Bible says: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

By: Christine Liao, 2016


Missions and Small Things

She touches my face. She smiles and giggles. I try to coach her to follow me as I pat the table with my open hand. She imitates my moves. She laughs whenever she hears the sound of her hand hitting the table surface. We all laugh with her. Our one-year old visitor is visiting us for a day, and all four of us are delighted with her every move. Lucy is here with our family to take a day off from staying at a local orphanage home. We take turns cuddling with her. We cherish our short moment with Lucy and hope her day with us will help her prepare for her future family.

I support this orphanage ministry. Sarah is volunteering at this orphanage every so often and brings a child to our home for fellowship and social interactions. I do my part by helping Sarah. Carmen and Jacob are also engaged. They totally enjoy spending time with little ones like Lucy. We do this orphan-care as a family.

Little contributions are small. In most cases, they are so insignificant. However, we want to be faithful to both the small and big things that come to our lives. The Bible reminds us that if we are not faithful with little things, then we will not be entrusted with big things (Luke 16:10-13).

This past week, I also went to hang out with Sam, a Filipino migrant worker. Sam works at a local factory here in the south. This is his second year here in Taiwan. We went for lunch and talked about his family back home, his home church, and a few other mundane events. We did not have any earth-shaking conversation or deep profound theological dialogue. We just talked about ordinary things in life. I really wanted to get to know Sam. He is a new friend. This is only my third time to see him. I am still seeking God’s direction on where our friendship will lead us. I still do not know why our Creator has orchestrated both of us to meet up here in Taiwan. Meanwhile, as I wait for God’s answer to my petition, I hang out with Sam. We are thinking maybe sometime next month, when the weather permits and Sam has a day off from work, we can go hiking up on some Miaolin mountains. I want to be faithful to God in all circumstances, whether it is giving theological lectures to a big crowd or chatting with a person from a nearby factory.

This week is the start of our seminary classes. I am teaching two courses. Last Monday, I went to the school library to do some lesson preparations. Christine, one of our senior students, shared to me her dreams for a missionary work among the Chinese people of Asia. Our sharing time was a chance encounter, but I took that as God’s providential way of saying “meet with this student.” And so I listened to her story. I did my small part of encouragement.  As we parted, I said: “Let us continue this conversation.” We made plans to continue our sharing time. Nothing grandiose. Just little sharing time with another seminary student thinking about her future missionary work. I do my small part. Because one never knows if that small part might be a turning point to God’s grand design for something. I want to be faithful with little things. God will do the rest.


Missions and Travel in Asia

“What are we good at?” Professor Naoto asks the chapel participants. “Koreans are good at prayer. Taiwanese are good at singing,” he continues. “We, Japanese, are good at thinking.” Everyone at the seminary chapel laughs. I give out a big smile of approval. I am guessing this group of Japanese Christians is making fun of themselves. Everyone seems to take the joke well.

Last month of June, 2016, I was in Japan, around the areas of Osaka city and Kobe city. I went with a music team from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, for a mission trip, to visit different Free Methodist churches and two seminaries. Most of us were there for two weeks. At the Kansai Biblical Seminary in Kobe, we visited the chapel service where I spoke on “Seeing the Lord’s Harvest” and shared about some ways to prepare for the harvest happening around the world. Professor Naoto is the current Dean of this small seminary. After the service, our team had a good time of fellowship with the seminary students. We made promises of hosting them when they come to Taiwan. Professor Naoto also expressed his desire to visit our seminary, Holy Light Theological Seminary, in Kaohsiung. We ended our meeting with a renewed commitment to be future partners in the Lord’s work.

On another day, we visited Osaka Bible College and shared at its chapel service. I spoke on the same topic about the Lord’s harvest in missions. Again, I heard the joke about Japanese people being good at thinking. Come to think of it! This was the reason why I came to Japan. I wanted to help local Christians think about the Lord’s harvest around the world. Prayer and singing would naturally come whenever we as Christians come together. However, thinking would need a little help, the assistance of an outsider, like myself, to come and challenge national leaders to seriously think about missions and global issues.

Next month, August 2016, I will be in Cambodia for a time of teaching. I will participate in the YLMC (Young Leaders Mission Congress) of APFMMA (Asia Pacific Free Methodist Missions Association), an FM ministry. I will speak on the topic: “A Biblical Theology of Mission.” Most of the participants will be young leaders and pastors who have a passion for missions work among our Asia FM ministries. At this congress, I hope to see participants thinking about God’s work, to seriously consider their role in the Lord’s harvest around the world and to examine missional concepts from Scriptures so that they can be informed. We will pray. We will sing. And we will be thinking about God’s work in the world.Miss


God Moves, And We Move With God (A Sermon)

(The following is the manuscript of a sermon I gave at a Missions Rally in Kishinosato Free Methodist Church, Osaka, Japan, last June 26, 2016)

Good afternoon. I would like to thank everyone for coming here and giving me this time to share with you all God’s message for all of us. I thank you Bishop Honda for receiving our Taiwan Team. I thank you Rev. Shigetomi for scheduling our many visits. And I appreciate all the pastors and church members who have helped us so much, by driving us to many places, sponsoring our meals, and preparing the instruments and other equipments. Arigatou gozaimasu!

Let me introduce myself. I am David Clemente, a missionary with FMWM, USA. I was born and raised in the Philippines and migrated to the USA in the 1990s. I am married and have two children. My eldest daughter’s name is Carmen and she is 15 years old. My son is 11 years old and his name is Jacob. My wife is Sarah, and I am not telling you her age. If I do, I will be in trouble. She is from Illinois. We are residing in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We have been there since 2005. I am teaching at Holy Light Theological Seminary, and also leading different mission teams to different Free Methodist (FM) work in Asia.

Let me tell you my story. God called me to be a missionary in the 1980s. I was already a pastor of a small church in Manila. I struggled with God’s call because I felt I was needed in the Philippines. For a year and a half, I said “no” to God. I did not want to go. I did not understand that God is on the move. He is calling people to join Him. God is moving from one place to another, from one community to the next. Later I said, “I am willing, Lord.” I now realized that when God moves, we also need to move with Him.

Today, we are not going to talk about my life. We are going to talk about Jonah. Remember the prophet who got swallowed by a whale? Well, maybe not a whale, but the Bible says it was a big fish. This is the story of how God called Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a message of judgement to the people there. Jonah did not follow God. Jonah moved, but he went on a different direction. He took ship to Tarsus. God sent a storm to warn Jonah. He ended up being thrown into the sea, and that is when the whale showed up to swallow him. Okay, it is not a whale, rather a big fish.

There are two things I want us to focus on here in our story about Jonah. One is that Jonah understands God with his head and not with his heart. The Bible says that Jonah knows the Lord is the God of all creation. (Jonah 1:9) He knows the Lord is the God who gives salvation. (2:9) He has knowledge of God in clear cut ways. Jonah, the prophet, understands his God. 

Most Christians know God. They think they understand God. They put Him in a box. They describe God in clear cut ways. They make out beautiful words to explain what God can do and what decisions He is going to make. People’s tendency is to put God in one place and in understandable ways. In the same way, humanity’s tendency is to limit God into one location. When we experience God’s grace and truth, we usually respond in fear and reverence. We build temples. When God blesses us, we put up shrines. We comprehend our God with our head, through our human understanding and philosophical categories. We put God in a box. 

Allow me to tell you a story of God’s movement we can say is outside the box. In Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I teach at a seminary. Sometimes, I would go to other ministries to help out. These ministries in Taiwan are involved with people from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the USA. In one Filipino Church, I go once a month to preach. There I would meet different Filipinos working in the city of Kaohsiung as factory workers, caregivers, or restaurant workers. All their stories are very similar. They are missing their families. They are in Taiwan for 6-9 years, and they get to go back home and see their families only once a year. A few of them see their children once every two years. They are lonely and in need of love and care. Can we ever comprehend their dire situation? I do’t think so. However, it is in the middle of these sad situations that they were able to receive God’s salvation. At one Filipino Church, half of its members became Christians while they were residents in Kaohsiung as migrant workers. God found them in Taiwan. 

God is moving among the migrants and refugees of the world. God is not in a box. He is moving. We need to understand God, not with our heads, but with our hearts. God is out there. Yes, God is inside the church.  But He is also outside the walls of the church. He is calling many people to Himself. In Taiwan, He is calling Filipinos and people from Asia to His salvation. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

Second thing is that Jonah sees God with his eyes and not with his heart. In the biblical narrative, Jonah saw that God forgave the people of Nineveh. Although, only a third of the residents of the city heard the preaching of Jonah, and yet, everyone repented of their sins (Jonah 3:5). Somehow, word spread around. Even the King of Nineveh repented, and he proclaimed a decree of fasting for all people and animals. (3:6-10) This development should make Jonah the prophet happy, right? But, no! Instead, he became angry. (4:10) He saw God with his eyes and not with his heart. He responded with anger and resentment.

Jonah, after his preaching, went outside the city, and “he waited to see what would happen to the city,” to see the judgement that is coming to the people (Jonah 4:5). He is looking at God’s work with his eyes. If he only listened to his heart, he would see that God is moving among the people of Nineveh moving from one person to another and calling each one to His salvation. God loves all the people of Nineveh (4:11). God is moving from the threat of judgement and destruction to an action of forgiveness and healing. Jonah is looking at the city the wrong way. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

Around 600 AD, the early Christians of Europe found a way to understand God. They would go on a pilgrimage by buying a boat and setting sail for the open seas. They would leave everything behind and entrust themselves to the elements of the water and the wind, knowing that God will guide them to a place. They spend this time on the boat in prayer and meditation. And when they find a place and land on the beach, the first thing they do is share the gospel to the inhabitants of the area. Many of these Christians never reached dry land. They perish at sea. Some of them end up being murdered by violent local tribes. A few become missionaries and settle in the country to continue God’s work. These early Christians see God with their hearts. They leave everything behind. They move from one island to another. They do not know where they are going when they ride their sail boats. They go where ever the Spirit of God leads them. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

What does this sharing time from the Book of Jonah mean to you? What implications does this story from Bible has for us? It means that when God moves in our midst we need to see His movement with our hearts. When your pastor comes to you and say he or she wants to be a missionary in another culture, please do not get angry. Do not follow the response of Jonah. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”

When your local church decides to give big amounts of church funds to support missions work outside of Japan, please do not worry. When your children come to you and want to serve other churches in another country, please do not be sad. Celebrate with God’s movement around the world. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. I say: “When He moves. . .” You say: “We move with Him.”

In my life, God is calling me to serve our Free Methodist work in Asia. This means I will be traveling to Myanmar, Philippines, and other Asian countries for a time of teaching. (I lead workshops and training modules for our Free Methodist pastors and church leaders.) This means I will be meeting with Filipinos, Vietnamese, Americans, Japanese, and other people of the world while I am in the city of Kaohsiung, or perhaps, in some other urban center. This means I will be crying with Filipinos and migrant workers who are lonely and missing home. Why is this? It is because God is a moving God. When He moves, we move with Him.

(By: Rev. Dr. David W. Clemente, 2016, Osaka, Japan)

 


Taiwan Mission To Japan: A Time of Learning.

We are enjoying excellent care and accommodations here in Osaka, Japan. We all think Japanese hospitality is the best in the world. If not, it is definitely one of the best. We are a music team from Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on a mission trip here in Osaka. We are here for about two weeks, sharing at many different Free Methodist churches, and learning about what God is doing in this country. We come and serve. We share songs, testimonies, and short reflections from God’s word. We bring our voices and our guitars. And we play the piano and the drums. Also, during this visit, we listen to the stories we hear from the pastors about God’s work among the people of Japan.

“We are supposed to serve them,” one of our Taiwan members says to me. “But instead, they are the ones serving us.” I hear these words a few more times from several of our team members. God is moving in our midst. (This is a good sign.) God is helping our Taiwan Mission 2016 members see the work of God among the Free Methodists of Japan. (This reciprocal experience between the Taiwanese visitors and Japanese hosts is an indication of a healthy mission trip.) God is leading us to a place of discovery. (We are learning from our brothers and sisters here.) God is opening our hearts so that we can receive His many blessings during this mission trip.

A few days back, we had a concert at Osaka Christian College (OCC). Also, we visited Kansai Biblical Seminary and Sakurai Free Methodist (FM) church. Yesterday, the team led in music and worship at a missions rally in Kishinosato FM church. I shared from the Book of Jonah on the topic: “God Moves, And We Move With Him.” (The sermon manuscript will be posted soon.) Today, we will continue to serve our God by visiting with some Chinese university students from Nara Gakuen University. The next several days, we will go to other FM local churches and share at their prayer meetings. We will continue to listen to our God and see what God is doing here in in Japan.


From The Outside

“She cannot come in here and tell us what to do. She is an outsider. She does not belong to the selected Twelve. She has no place in our fellowship. Look! She is pouring out expensive perfume. That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor. Stop her! We do not want her to show us what we should do. She is not one of us.” (These words, most probably, were uttered by the disciples when they saw Mary come into the room to anoint Jesus’ feet. I think John 12:5 and Mark 14:5 suggest this scenario. The disciples were offended because Mary was showing them things, spiritual truths that were hard to comprehend.)

One time in Manila sometime in the late 1980s, I was in a seminar listening to a speaker talk about culture.  He gave this illustration about Manila traffic and showed everyone what Filipinos were thinking and why they were not following traffic rules. I was offended with was he was sharing. I was not sure how many of us in the room felt the same way. But my discomfort was not on the speaker’s words, but more on who he was. He was a white American, a foreigner telling brown Filipinos how to live their lives in Manila. I felt offended because I was hearing an outsider telling us all insiders how to live life. Anytime a person comes from the outside and starts introducing change, then the level of discomfort and offense will definitely go higher.

Mary’s act of anointing Jesus is a precursor of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. (Mark 14:8-9; John 12:7) Jesus affirms Mary’s vision of the incarnation, his death on the cross and the resurrection that followed. Mary’s vision is offensive because of the scandal of the cross. How could the Savior of the world bring salvation to everyone through a death on a tree? Many Jews could not accept the message that the Messiah is coming to suffer and die a common criminal’s death on a cross. The story of the cross is offensive. More so, in this narrative, the bringer of the story is also offensive. Hearing the message from a woman is discomforting to the 12 male disciples. Moreover, she is an outsider. She does not belong to the Group of Twelve. Her vision of the cross is offensive because it is from the outside coming in.

In missions work, change is usually from the outside coming in. And this is where it becomes discomforting to many church members and even offensive to us Christians. Can we bless missions work when it means that we send our local church pastor to become a missionary in a foreign land? Can we financially support missions work when it means meeting with people different than us, people with nose rings, tattoos, and with different orientations? Can we pray for missions work knowing that the stories we will hear will be offensive to our church’s ears? Can we look beyond our offended feelings and see Mary’s vision of the incarnation, the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? In missions work, it will always involve the meaning and practice of the incarnation of our Lord. Missions work will always bring change.

Until now, I still do not know exactly what Jesus meant when he said: “And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9) One thing I am certain is that we all need to embrace missions work even when it is from the outside coming in, coming to our local churches and into our personal lives.


Prayer For A Student

“So, how are you?” I never realized a casual greeting could turn out to be a question of deep significance. But, Jane Hsieh, one of our seminary students, responded with a lengthy telling of her current family situation. I listened and we prayed. Right there at the motorcycle parking area, we bowed our heads together and I put my hands over her shoulders and we prayed.

Right about the same week, I bumped into Pastor Lawrence, one of our seminary alumni and a recent graduate. So, I asked the same simple question: “How are you?” And he responded with a long explanation of their local church’s condition, its move to a new location. He also recounted some of his struggles with pastoral life and the joy of expecting a second child. So, right there and then, in the hallway in front of the main entrance of the seminary bookstore, we prayed. I placed my hand over Lawrence’s shoulder and asked God for more blessings and guidance for this new local church pastor.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) I have to confess I haven’t been praying with all steadfastness, as Paul has reminded us. However, I am grateful that “being watchful” in prayer is not an individual endeavor. My prayers for our seminary students resonate with the prayers of our faculty and staff. Prayer is a community thing. I give thanks to God, because whenever I pray for Jane and Lawrence, I know that many friends in Michigan and Illinois are also praying together with me.

At our graduation day, right before the ceremony started, Jane Hsieh came to me and we both had our selfies taken together with our cell phones. She graduated this year. I was so happy for her. Honestly though, when I first met her and had her in my class a few years back, I never thought she would make it. I saw a lot of hardships and trials that might keep her from reaching graduation. But, she made it. To God be the glory! This year, she finished with an MA in Christian Studies. In between our selfie photo snapshots, she repeatedly thanked me. I felt a little embarrassed. I did not do much. All I did was encourage her with her reports, coached her on some writing assignments, and some other small stuff that any teacher would do for one’s student. Obviously, she did the hard work to get to this point. I took her hand, and together we smiled. I whispered to her and said: “God’s grace is sufficient.”