Storming The Gates

"I come inside through the big wooden doors. These are elaborately decorated with religious symbols of dragons, monsters, and fiery animals real only to an Asian religious practitioner. I see many people with their prayer sticks. I smell the incense engulfing the whole prayer room. I come inside this beautiful temple and soak in the presence of spirituality that I cannot comprehend. To my right, a person whom I presume is an expert--not only because of his dashing robe and regal hat, but mainly because of his confident way of explaining things--is showing some visitors the way to use the prayer gong in their time of worship. Everyone is lost in their utterance, petitions for a need that I will never understand. I say a prayer to the Almighty God and Savior of all people to hear the prayers of these people."

One afternoon, I was in the streets of Kowloon and came into a Chinese temple. I went inside through the doors that were open to both tourists and worshippers. I went in, in a manner of speaking, "storming the gates of heaven" for the people who are seeking true spirituality and needing the answers to their supplications from the Creator of the universe. I went in and prayed with the Chinese people in that prayer room. I was engulfed in the smell of the incense. I was lost in the rhythmic sound of the prayer gong. I was shoulder to shoulder with them. However, I will never know the intent of their hearts. Nor will I ever come close to comprehending their religiosity. All I could do is say a simple prayer on their behalf, or as some of my friends would say: storm the gates of heaven. In that Kowloon temple, I asked God to listen to us. I probably would never witness the answers to these prayers. One thing I knew then that is still true now: God is moving in every place of worship and all the prayer rooms in the world, and He is drawing every Asian to Himself. 


Just Talking

I always thought that one of my strength is “vision casting.” I guess you can simply call it “talking.” I like talking to people, most especially when we are all connecting with a vision or a plan to do something meaningful in the coming days.

So, a month ago, I was at a missions congress in Hong Kong. Free Methodists from all over Asia were there to participate. I was talking to one youth leader from Cambodia. He is beginning an outreach program to orphans and vulnerable children. He works with parents who are willing to open their lives to serve our God. They bring in a few children into a home with these committed Christian parents mentoring these kids. It was exciting listening to this Cambodian leader and casting a vision for missions work among the children of Asia. Or maybe, I was just talking.

In the same missions congress, I was discussing with one Filipino leader about some church planting strategies on the borders of Thailand and Myanmar. We talked about cultivating a small piece of land and the earnings from the produce of this land will go towards supporting Asian missionaries crossing the borders. We talked about many things, dreaming about bringing a team of Christian Agriculturists to Thailand to help with the farm. We dreamt about a ministry that is self-supporting and indigenous to the needs of the local people. Isn’t this vision casting or simply talking?

We talked about Asian Free Methodists going to nearby schools and campuses to make friends with anyone and reaching out everyone for Jesus. We imagined a day when we are sending Taiwanese youth workers to Japanese universities to bring a Christian witness to the thousands of Chinese students in that country. Dreaming, talking, vision-casting. Will you dream with us, talk about Asia, and cast a vision for Jesus?


Training Pastors or Developing Leaders

I am here in South Asia, for the last 20 or so days, meeting up with pastors and local leaders, teaching from the Book of Mark and encouraging everyone to be serious about their study of God's word and its application in their daily life. I have travelled to six different locations. I have eaten the people's local food; lots of dal, jero, and chicken curry. I have seen the diversity of cultures and languages here. Most of the locals have mistaken me for one of them. Obviously, I have the Asian look but once I open my mouth and start speaking, then they know I am a foreigner.

I am here and have seen the challenges of leadership. Pastors have the need to be trained how to train others. A few of our national leaders are capable of doing this task. I keep pushing them to go out of their way and start developing their circle of leaders and empower them. I sense their lack of confidence. In due time, however, they will be the ones to train their pastors. I cannot wait to see that day come, when leaders from one district go to another district for a time of ministry and pastoral training. I am looking forward to the day when I do not have to come here, because the leaders themselves are doing their own training.

Meanwhile, I am here developing our own Free Methodist leaders. On the side, I travel around training pastors and teaching some seminars on basic ministry skills on Bible and theology. The good thing about this traveling around the region is that I am able to identify a few of our national leaders who are able to train pastors. These national leaders are committed, tested, and passionate about God's work for the region. It won't be long when they themselves will be the ones who will be traveling around and training pastors in South Asia. 


Easter Even Reflections From Henri Nouwen

This Black Saturday (Great Sabbath), I share with you some thoughts on prayer and the disciplines of grief, forgiveness, and generosity--excerpts from Henri Nouwen's writing.

"Can I give without wanting anything in return, love without putting any conditions on my love? Considering my immense need for human recognition and affection, I realize that it will be a lifelong struggle. But I am also convinced that each time I step over this need and act free of my concern for return, I can trust that my life can truly bear the fruits of God's Spirit." (Nouwen, Henri. 1992. The Return of the Prodigal Son) Nouwen suggest three disciplines. Grief is the discipline that allows us to see the world as God sees it. Forgiveness is the discipline that gives us the courage to welcome the other to our lives, no matter who they are and wherever they come from. Generosity is the discipline that moves us to a life of freedom, away from fear and greed, control and power. These three make the image of the Heavenly Father grow in each person.

And Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9: 23-24. ESV)

Let us pray. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers.


When God Moves Me

We ate good food. We shared many stories. We encouraged each other with visions of our God working in Southeast Asia. How can we participate in God’s work and follow His leadership in this region of the world?

I am here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, visiting with our Free Methodist (FM) missionaries. My primary goal is to see for myself some FM ministries located here in Thailand so I can prepare a mission trip for the following year and bring some students from our FM seminary in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. So, while I am learning new things about the work, I am enjoying delicious Thai food and renewing friendships with my FM colleagues here in this city of Chiang Mai.

Mr C, who is doing missionary work in Country L, is here in Thailand, as a non-resident cross cultural worker. Are you confused now? This simply means that I cannot divulge the identity of our FM missionary or the nature of his work because he is working in another country that is restricted to Christian work of any kind. So, now, let me share with you some of the encouraging stories we shared with each other.

Five Christian workers are crossing the border to see Mr C. They are interested in knowing more about FM work in Asia. When they go back to their country, even with all the government restrictions and sometimes religious persecution, they share God’s message of salvation and tell their friends about the FM ministries happening around Southeast Asia. Are you encouraged now? So, I ask my missionary friend: With this limited time you have with these Christian workers, what do you share with them? Without batting an eye, he said, “I share God’s holiness.” Isn’t this an uplifting thought? Amidst persecution and through these secret meetings of Christian workers, there is a revival of biblical Christianity, akin to that of the early Church from the Book of Acts, with a focus on the Wesleyan theme of holiness. Hallelujah! 

This month of March, Mr. C will meet with these five Christian workers. They will spend two to three days of sharing time, a series of training sessions on the topic of God’s Holiness. I told him we will pray for this March meeting. I will ask all my prayer partners in the USA, Philippines, and Taiwan to say a prayer or two for this time of leadership training. God is moving in Southeast Asia. Let us pray that these five Christian workers will prayerfully consider Free Methodist work in their country. More importantly, let us pray that we, both our Asian brethren and us from other countries, would seriously follow God wherever He is moving. I ask you now to participate in God’s ministry here in Southeast Asia, whether with the FM work or some other Christian ministries. Will you intercede with me?


Investing In God's Kingdom

“What can we say the kingdom of God is like? How shall we put it in a parable? It is like a tiny grain of mustard-seed which, when it is sown, is smaller than any seed that is ever sown. But after it is sown in the earth, it grows up and becomes bigger than any other plant. It shoots out great branches so that birds can come and nest in its shelter.” (JB Phillips NT)

Everyone knows that investing one’s money in a bank is a good thing. You make deposits because you know that in the future you will withdraw your money back with interests. This is very similar to the Free Methodist (FM) work in Asia. We make deposits by building relationships with existing Christian ministries in the region. In places where there are no church witness, we reach out to people in need and connect with community leaders in hope that we will gain their trust and have access to the local people’s love and friendship. In some of these places, there are resistance to the gospel and political opposition to Christian missionary work. However, these do not stop us from finding creative ways. We still go and make investments in these areas. Sometimes we send English teachers to work in universities. Sometimes we use child sponsorship to connect with families in cities and villages. In a few cases, we work from a neighboring country and cross the border from time to time and provide training to local Christian leaders in the hope that they will train their own people and nurture them to Christian maturity and leading them to a life of fruitful discipleship.

This May, I will be going back to Nepal. Just like last November 2017, I will be there to provide assistance to our partners in the area. Just like me, there are other FM pastors who are coming in March, August, and October of this year, with the same goal of helping our Nepali church leaders prepare for pastoral ordination in the Free Methodist Church. We come and teach courses that encourage these pastors to get deeper into the word of God. We hope that they will make a decision to join the FM work in Asia. Some from the city of Kathmandu have already made a strong commitment to become FM members. Others around the country are still in the early stages of understanding our FM heritage and exploring future possibilities of partnership. Whether or not these leaders have made a final decision, we keep on investing, building relationship with local pastors and visiting with them and encouraging them as Jesus would. Making deposits in the Lord’s work is a good thing, even if there are no visible results yet.


Wondering With My Friends

I am learning the names of the pastors and leaders. There are more than 35 in attendance to this 5-day Pastors’ Training Seminar. I try my best but in the end, I can only remember a few.  I give more emphasis on knowing the types of ministries these pastors are involved in. Here are a few question I gathered as I went around talking to our Nepali pastors.

How do you write songs for your worship time in your local churches here in Nepal? Some of these Free Methodist pastors write their own worship songs. Pastor Padam uses his sarangi, a native bowed musical instrument, similar to a fiddle. At this Seminar, before my time of teaching, we hear Padam’s music and singing, together with his son and youth member playing the guitar.  At the same time, we also witness Pastor Prem’s singing his own worship song. He sings the song with some dance movements. I see the participants of this gathering joining  Padam and Prem in worship full of enthusiasm and with loud singing. I wonder what my American musical friends would say when they come to visit Prem, Padam, and the other Nepal pastors who write their own worship songs. It would be a great learning experience.

How do you celebrate your local church’s anniversary service? Pastor Prem C. is a pastor of a local church with 1,200 members. A few years back, when their church building suffered from a terrible earthquake, they needed help with some building repairs. Our Bishop’s Development Fund gave some assistance. Now, Prem C. and his church members are ready to give thanks and express their gratitude for this new found partnership. I wonder what kinds of celebration will occur when a thousand people gather for a worship service. The food alone would be a managerial challenge. Will there be dancing on the streets? Will the young people provide dramatic presentations and skits? I wonder what suggestions my Filipino friends will give to this Nepali church.

How do you construct a church building on a mountain side? Pastor Yam asks me to come and visit his area and see what had happened to his local church building. A few years back, when the great earthquake hit Nepal, Yam’s church building fell down. Now, there is a need to build a new structure. They only need three thousand (US) dollars to complete the project. His church members are willing to help out and gather some stones and slabs from the nearby mountainside for the church’s use. I wonder what my Taiwanese pastor friends would say to this construction. What kind of pulpit should they make? Can we add some colored glass windows? Maybe, the best way is to bring my Taiwanese friends to Nepal and let them see for themselves the needs of Pastor Yam. It takes about three days of hiking from the nearest city to the church’s location on the mountain. I wonder if my friends would be willing to take this three-day journey with Yam. Would you?

I am back here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I asked these questions above when I was still in Nepal teaching and training our many pastoral candidates. Until now, I am still learning, not just the names of our Nepali pastors, but also the many challenges our Free Methodist work has in this region of Asia. I wonder who would like to learn with me and join me in this great adventure in the Lord’s harvest  field.


Christian Greetings From Where?

Kul and Minu invited me to their home for a time of dinner and fellowship. I gladly accepted their invitation. It would be a good break for me from my usual time of lectures and teaching. And besides, they have one-year old Joyce, whom I met earlier, and she is such an adorable baby. She has the prettiest smile and would respond to my questions when prodded. It did not matter that she understood my questions, or if I can understand her gibberish baby talk. Her giggles and passionate monologues were always fun to watch. I looked forward to meeting her again. Moreover, I heard they were going to serve good Nepali food. So, I am happy to accept their invitation.

Last November 2017, I was in Kathmandu, Nepal to resource our Free Methodist pastors as they prepare for their ordination. It was a five-day Pastors’ Training Seminar on “Wesleyan Thinking And The Bible.” It was here that I met Kul and his wife Minu. Both are attending the Himalaya Free Methodist Church (HFMC) in this city of Kathmandu. Kul is one of the Assistant Pastors of this local church. Minu is the ICCM Director (International Child Care Ministry) for Nepal FMC. It was such a joy for me to spend time with this family and get to know them better. Of course, it helped that their daughter, Joyce, endeared my heart. If ever I return to Nepal just to see this family, it would all be worth it.

What about our FM work in Nepal? The work is growing. And in response to what God is doing in this country, we, our FMWM leadership team members, are preparing our many local church pastors and getting them ready for ordination. This year, 2017, we had three training seminars headed by different FMWM leaders. My time in Kathmandu was the third one for this year. In the coming years, I plan to visit Nepal again and provide some more seminars for our pastors. Rev. Abraham Lama, our Country Leader, is heading our Mission District in Nepal. We are currently focusing our work on the 18 DL (District Leader) pastors. So, how many pastors, how many local churches and church members? We do not know exactly the answer to this question. One thing is certain though. God is working and FMWM is harvesting in this region of Asia.

Meanwhile, I prepare my lectures and training materials, and on the side, I learn a few Nepali phrases. “Jaya Mashi!” This means “The Joy of the Messiah,” and this is the way the Christians greet each other in Nepal. So, whenever I see Joyce, I say this greeting: Jaya Mashi. She smiles and responds in some beautiful baby language. Hopefully, the next time I visit Nepal I will have more words to say to Joyce, and have the courage to carry a conversation with our Nepali brothers and sisters. Dyanyabad! (Thank you.) Thank you for praying.

 


Future Looks Bright

Ten years ago, these young people were children visiting our ICCM (International Child Care Ministry) centers, and some of them were sponsored children. Now, they are active youth members of our local Free Methodist (FM) churches in Cambodia. They help out in the ministry in many different ways. One of these is going out with the local pastors to help in the outreach ministries. Some of them tell Bible stories to children. Others manage the sports activities. A few share the gospel to local mothers and parents in the areas where they visit. In short, these young people are active participants in the church planting ministries of our FM churches.

Last October 2-6, 2017, I visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia to resource our church leaders and help them prepare for ordination. I taught a workshop and seminar on Inductive Bible Study. There were six CMCs (Conference Ministerial Candidates) and a few local church lay leaders in attendance. What was encouraging was that a dozen young people were participating in the 5-day training for our FM pastors. These were the same young people who would accompany the church planters in their outreach activities. They were the same youth who would lead in the local music ministries. I won’t be surprised if these same teenagers, ten years later, would be standing up as the leaders of our FM churches.

Later, back in my place of residence in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I received a short message from Philip, our ICCM Cambodia Director. He told me of a team of young people accompanying one of the FM pastors on a trip to a nearby village. They taught the children, led in singing, and witnessed to the mothers of the children. Philip sent me a photo of the team members. I was not surprised to see most of the members were familiar faces, the young people who were at the October workshop and seminar. The future looks bright for our Free Methodist work in Cambodia.


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?