Everyday, we encounter the Good News crossing many boundaries. I invite the readers to explore with me the many nuances of cross cultural experience and the multi-colored dimensions of the Gospel touching lives and moving people to discover God's love and healing in fresh ways. Whether in Taiwan or Midwest America, or traveling in Southeast Asia or Japan, join me in seeing God's work in this world through this blog and its many personal reflections.
Last night, I went out and ate pizza with Nick (13) and Jason (15). Both teenage boys are waiting for adoption here in Evart, Michigan. After the pizza, the three of us went out to a nearby football field and played a little scrimmage and some plays. Jason is from Cebu, Philippines. I try my best to reconnect him with his Filipino roots. He came to the USA when he was eleven. So, he has lost the language and feels totally disconnected with his original culture. Both boys were released by their adopted families and are currently staying with a foster home waiting for a second chance of adoption. My heart goes out for these boys. They both love Jesus and they are eagerly waiting to belong to a family. I pray that God will be gracious to them.
After a few more fun time of playing football, we headed out to their home. I chatted with their foster parents, Brett and Vicky. Beautiful couple, full of God's love and compassion for marginalized people. They house about 15 more youth and children who are in the same situation as Jason and Nick. A few of them came from foreign countries such as Russia, Colombia, and Ukraine. I felt so overwhelmed just watching all the children, and thought of how much work Brett and Vicky do for these children waiting for adoption. It was a humbling experience for me. I realized I need to support this couple and pray more for Jason and everyone else in that room. I guess, being humbled is a good start in this process of learning all about adoption and orphan children.
Must the Christian church suffer? Colossians 1:24-26 says: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints." (ESV)
Obviously, we cannot address all the issues related to this question of suffering. There are two things, however, that I want to mention. One is that what it is not about. Suffering mentioned here in these set of verses is not about Christ's atoning sacrifice in the cross. Christ' suffering in the cross is enough and sufficient (Hebrews 9:12). What is "lacking in Christ's affliction" means that there is a need for Christians to continue in Christ' ministry of sacrifice and selflessness. Suffering is a continuation of what Jesus has started.
Second, (what suffering is all about) suffering is for the church, and more specifically, for a witnessing church. From this set of verses in Colossians, we see the direct interconnection between suffering for Jesus and making God's word fully known. We suffer so that others will receive God's forgiveness and salvation.
This month, I have been doing a book study on Colossians. This short reflection on "Suffering" is a result of my on-going immersion in God's Word. It is a work in progress. Feel free to send me your observations and suggestions. Definitely, I will have more reflections from Colossians in the months to come.
So, by way of conclusion, we can say that whenever the Christian church is serious about living a life of selflessness and making God's word fully know to the world, then it will suffer. We do not seek out suffering, but we receive it as a gift from God Almighty.
“Rrrr, matey!” This was Jacob’s line. He came as a pirate. Carmen came in her unicorn costume. Last weekend, we went to two churches, Wayland FMC and Hastings FMC, both in the southern parts of Michigan. At Wayland, we went to a Saturday evening Fall Festival Fellowship complete with good food and costumes for everyone. I went as a Ninja and Sarah as a Runner (complete with an iShuffle and a running shirt). After the eating, we presented our missions talk, “Go and Cross Cultures.” I noticed how Carmen and Jacob loved this group. Maybe, because everyone was in their costumes. Maybe, because of the informal party atmosphere. Maybe, because Jesse and Stephanie’s children, Jillian and Rhys, who were about Carmen and Jacob’s age, were having a good time playing with each other. It must have been Joyce’s pirate costume,or Tom’s perfect Hobo costume. Maybe because Jim, Jimmy, and their children, or Marsha, Debbie and everyone else were having too much fun. I loved it that our children felt included in the fellowship and church adventure.
That Saturday night we stayed at Dan and Sandy’s home. Their children, Emily, Katelyn, and Brian, were there to welcome us. I was so glad that Carmen and Jacob immediately felt at ease with these three young people. Carmen remembered Emily from our visit to Durley Family Camp in Illinois last summer. Sunday morning, we went to church and met more friends from Hastings FMC. There was Don and Joan, who signed up to sponsor a child. That was neat! Then, there was Janet, Lois, Harold, and the guitar player from the worship band who remembered me from fours years ago. Wow! What memory! I was impressed. Jim invited me to his Sunday School class that he was teaching. I learned later that he was a former MK, missionary kid. I could tell just by the way he poses questions for this class. At church, a skit was presented about Jonah. It was hilarious, and yet drove the point. What a missions minded local church. After church, we had dinner and fellowship. I sat with Don's children. They are a lively bunch, very smart kids. Her junior high daughter is already reading Three Cups of Tea, a book I highly recommended in this webpage. What an inspiration! Before we left, I sat down with Don and had a dialogue about some missiological issues. Wish I have more friends in Taiwan who are like him--very missional and passionate about Christian global issues.
I know God is already preparing the way, calling more Taiwanese mates who are ready to participate in the Free Methodist efforts to spread the Christian gospel in Asia and to equip those who are called to be missional leaders. Rrrr, matey! It is going to happen.
What can we do as pastors? How can we motivate our members to bless the world around them? What are the relevant ways that the church can tell God’s story? These are some of the questions we were asking ourselves. This afternoon, I was with a group of local pastors from Michigan huddled together as a small discussion group responding to the speakers’ challenges. We were gathered together with other Free Methodist leaders from across the country for this Imagining Conference (Spring Arbor) hosted by the Board of Bishops of the FMC of North America. This gathering was an attempt to reevaluate our role as a church and as a denomination here in the USA as well as prepare ourselves for the coming General Conference 2010. What a privilege to witness God’s movement among this Free Methodists. I was so excited to hear my fellow FM pastors rise up to the challenge that the church needs to be a missionary church. Dan and Jason had some good insights. I was impressed with Mark’s silent intensity. Paul and Tom were so candid with their observations. Russ was right on target with his questions. For me, this small group was probably the highlight of this conference.
Off to Cornerstone Free Methodist Church at Holton, Michigan. We saw Shelley, Sue and David one more time. The last time was in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, when these three friends were there for a short term missions trip helping Fong Shan FMC in its Chi Gu work located two hours north of the city. Last Sunday, we saw them one more time in Michigan. It was a sweet reunion, except David (the church pastor) was not feeling very well that day, so we did not really have a good time to visit. Hopefully there will be a next time.
Saturday, Shelley and her friend Jamie, treated us to a petting farm at New Era, about 30 minutes away from their home in Twin Lakes, MI. Carmen and Jacob had a blast. They both tried the slides and the go-cart rides. We all took the hay ride around an apple orchard. Later, Carmen had the chance of choosing two pumpkins to bring home with us to Big Rapids. We will carve them out sometime next week.
Sunday, at Cornerstone FMC, we saw Joy and Al. They always took care of us when we were at the Manton Family Camp. Sue introduced us to her son, Dan and his wife, Stephanie, and their son Luke. Gary was there to greet us. He told us his wife Cindy could not make it because she was taking care of sick grand children. God bless Cindy! We enjoyed the Praise and Worship time, with Jamie on vocals and her sister Wendy on the keys, Shelley on guitar, and a few other church members.
Sunday dinner time, we gathered at Shelley and Jamie's home for a hearty lunch. Jamie's parents, Dick and Charity, were there. We also met Jenny Lin, from Taiwan. She is Shelley's good friend who helped with translation and preparation for their last Taiwan Mission Trip 2008. We talked about some of the ways our partnership can grow. I won't be surprised if another team will come out of this congregation to visit us there in Taiwan or Southeast Asia. We will pray.
Sunday evening, we drove to Ravenna FMC, for another missions presentation. We saw Andy and his wife, Morgan, and met with Arthur, the pastor of the church, as well as some familiar faces, mostly Melinda's relatives. We saw Melinda's mother, her sisters, Kris and Debbie, Melinda's nephew, Marcus, Melinda's brother in-law, Ted, and some other relatives of hers. Of course, everyone knew her as Mindy, not Melinda.
We had dinner first, then church happened around 6:30 PM. Kyle, the pastor from Ludington FMC, about an hour away from Ravenna, came with some other church members. We were so blessed to have them visit with us and hear us talk about God's missions work in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. I presented my "Go And Cross Cultures" talk and challenged everyone to continue participating in missions work. We met Beth, the missions coordinator for Ludington FMC, and Maxine, the missions coordinator for Ravenna FMC. Both grand ladies are in their retirement years, and yet they are actively involved in the work of missions as church mobilizers and promoters. God bless people like Beth and Maxine.
At the end of my talk, Kris came up to me and said, "I was waiting for you to say, 'Go and cross cultures, even crossing the economic boundaries in our midst.'" She was making the point that, here in America, the boundaries between the "haves and have-nots" are getting broader making it more difficult for people to cross and thus, there are less opportunities for the sharing of the Christian gospel. I totally agreeed with her. We talked some more about the situation in Ravenna FMC. I made a short prayer for Kris and like-minded Christians in that church, that they will be all endowed with the Spirit's wisdom so they can be bridges across the many boundaries in their localities, whether these may be cultural, spiritual, economic or linguistic boundaries. God bless these "local missionaries," local church leaders who see the many cultural divides and are doing something about them. May they receive God's empowering.
One more time: "God bless Your children who are participating in cross-cultural ministry in their localities or around the globe. Amen!"
Exactly a week ago, we were all in a hotel in Ottawa, ON Canada, saying goodbye to my brother Paul and his wife Bing and son Nico. We were heading out for Niagara Falls for another round of vacation with the Prochinas. This was a "temporary" goodbye, because we would see the Ottawa-Clementes again in December 2011, somewhere in Manila, Philippines. At least, this is the plan, God willing of course. We rejoice in this short Canada vacation. We are able to reconnect with my brother's family. He gave us a tour of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. That weekend, all of us went for a guided tour of the King's Estate as Gatineau Park, in the province of Quebec. The Fall colors were gorgeous. You have to see our pictures to appreciate the visit to this Canadian park. (You can go to my Facebook or Dropshots page to see some photos.) That Tuesday, when we were saying our goodbyes, I gave Nico a Taiwanese coin, the NT$ 50.00, which is worth about a dollar and half in the US currency. It was a symbolic way of treasuring our short moments together. Later, Bing would mention to us that Nico, who is 10 years old, kept asking her when we were all coming back. What a blessing! Our brief time together had left a deep and meaningful impression to all of us. Even now, I will always treasure those few days in Canada.
On that same Tuesday, we drove for about eight hours to Niagara Falls, ON, for a meeting with our good friends from Nicholasville, KY. Leslie, Carole, Lora and Lily Prochina came in about an hour later. It was so good to see them again. Carmen and Lora where beside themselves. You see, we have been planning about this since last June. They were just overcomed with excitement. It was understandable. These two girls had known each since they were babies. Although Lora is about two years older than Carmen, they are almost like twins. What a joy to see them hug each other again.
The highlight of this vacation was the trip to the Maid of the Mist. Again, words could not fully express our experience. You have to see a video of this trip. (Visit our Facebook or Dropshots pages again.) This trip involved a tour boat that brought us close to the Falls, close enough that everyone got wet from the water and the mist. We were all hollering and screaming out of excitement. Some moments we would just stand there with our mouths half open, speechless at the grandiose sight of the majestic Niagara Falls before us. What an experience!
The following day, we headed out for the USA border. Carmen and Lora had a hard time saying their goodbyes. It was expected. We made plans to see each other again sometime this December 30th, somewhere in Indianapolis, Indiana, God willing of course. We pray that the weather will be favorable.
Double Chocolate Almonds was my choice. The rest of the family opted for plain chocolate. Hudsonville Ice Cream was not too bad. We were visiting with Melinda last Monday, eating this Michigan branded delicacy in her recently opened ice cream store, there in Coopersville, Michigan. The night before, we shared at the Muskegon Free Methodist Church (Muskegon, MI). No Hudsonville Ice Cream there. But, there were plenty of Melinda's friends. We met Carlos, the church pastor, and his wife Yvonne and his aunt, Yolanda, who is originally from Mexico. Yolanda, later after my sharing on "Go and Cross Cultures," came to me and said, "This means that in order to do true crossing of cultures, I have to go to another country and not to Mexico, right?" I agreed. Many other people gave their little commentaries and stories. Some old friends from the Manton Family Camp were there: Lois and Harold, Arlene, Jeff and Karen and their two children. I saw an older couple who insisted I talk to their daughter in-law over their cell phone. I later found out that she is from the Philippines. I talked to her and made acquaintances. It was good to make new friends, but I feel too bad that, right now, I have already forgotten some of their names. Oh, well, someone somewhere will remind me of their names.
Right now, I just finished my devotions and writing this blog while listening to the album Church Music by David Crowder Band. More contemporary music than anything--some say this band is alternative. Whatever the label, I like what I hear. Children are still sleeping. This hotel is not too bad.
Yesterday, we visited with Paul, Bing and Nico, here in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We have been here since last Wednesday. We saw some of the sights. My brother Paul was a good host. It was fun to see Carmen and Jacob warming up to their cousin Nico, who is about 10 years old. It is good to be with family. We had good Filipino food and some Canadian smoked salmon! What a treat! And, yesterday's lunch, we had Magnolia Ice Cream Ube Macapuno for desert. Mmm!! Masarap! Brought some good memories.
After dinner, Carmen and Nico shared to all of us their "creations." Nico read an essay he wrote for his school. Carmen shared a poem she wrote that afternoon. We were all impressed with the children's enthusiasm and creative skills. God bless our children. . . these little ones who are becoming living repositories of both Asian and North American cultures. What a gift! Thank God for them.
Almost like coming home. This is how I felt when we visited Zeeland Free Methodist Church in Zeeland, Michigan. Maybe because I was visiting Jerry and Margaret Van Kuiken, former missionaries to the Philippines. We sure had a good time talking and reconnecting. I thought it might have been the pansit (Philippine rice noodles) that Margaret cooked. I will never know. It is amazing how the stomach or our pallette could dictate the way our brain works. It is almost like the church cook telling the pastor what to preach for that Sunday. Ha! ha!
We came in to Zeeland Saturday. Friends from the church brought us to the Zeeland Pumpkin Festival. We went downtown and visited a "petting zoo." The children had fun with the farm animals. I had to restrain Jacob from squeezing too hard or else the little chicks would suffocate. That would have been a tragedy! Later, we watched the parade. It is kind of hard to describe a local parade in print. Horses, tractors, marching bands, floats, local kids showing off their dancing skills, local businesses displaying their vintage cars, and the likes. Maybe it is all of these that made me think of my little hometown, Butuan City. Maybe, it is because Eleanore Puspos Edema was there. Maybe, all these Agusan connections is bringing in primordial memories of my time in Mindanao. I would never know. Maybe it is all these brothers and sisters surrounding us at that parade. There were several people there. . . Eleanore, her family, Doug, Melanie and Mark, Heather and little Kaiden, Don, Brenda, Jim and others. Maybe, it is all this Christian hospitality that is sparking thoughts of home in me.
At dinner time, pizza was serve. More people came in. Jim's wife, Nancy joined us, as well as, Gord and Sharla, Don, Brenda and Samantha. After dinner, we went to the hotel to rest. I am glad Tom and Jenny made this hotel arrangement possible. Next day, we went to church and shared about God's work in Taiwan. People were very gracious. Bill, Karen, Fred, Justin, Jeff and his 10-year old Filipino-American son, Jonathan. You know what. . . it might have been all the Filipino-American connections here that are making me think of home sweet home. Could be. I can only guess. Carmen and Jacob enjoyed the games that Margaret organized. The Pinata was a blast! Jacob was screaming so loud. Maybe I should do this at home. Not!
Right before we left, at the parking lot, I gave Jerry a big hug and told him, "This is just like coming home!" We said our goodbyes and headed out for Muskegon, where we were going to speak for that evening. I will always treasure these good memories.
I was there! The first Just-A-Knock-Away (JAKA) Conference. Sept. 28-30, 2009, I was in Indianapolis, IN to participate in this meeting with its aim of finding new ways to reach out to the Chinese people living in the USA. It was challenging.
(I cannot give any detail because we want to protect the identity and ensure the safety of our missionaries who are in restricted countries.)
I listened attentively to the Plenary Sessions. Reports were given on the progress of Free Methodist work in Asia, especially the work in Creative Access Countries. We came out of the sessions resolve to pray more for our church planters and missionaries who are in harms' way for the sake of the gospel.
I was there as a participant, not as a teacher. I went to several workshops detailing some specific issues regarding Chinese ministries. One workshop was on the ministry among Chinese Muslims. It reminded me of my time in college when I was fervently praying for a ministry among people groups located in Central Asia. I came out of that teaching time resolve to pray more for this people group who can speak both Mandarin and Arabic. I pray that there will be a mass movement from this group and that God will raise up many missionaries for Asia from this Creative Access Country. My prayer is that Asians will accept the challenge of reaching out Asians for Christ.
Praise God for the presentors, workshop leaders, and conference coordinators. I thank God for Charles and Carolyn who provided a room for me in their home during those three days in Indianapolis. I am so blessed.