Chatting with a brother from Nepal. Assisting a discussion group with brothers and sisters from Rangoon. Listening to a South African brother share about "The Person of Peace." All throughout, I hear God's loud booming voice. "I want you in Asia." The Almighty God, Creator of this universe wants me to stay here in Asia. It is overwhelming. But, I know I need to follow God. I want to obey Him. This is all I can do--go to where He wants me to be. I am going because God is going with me.
John Wesley said: "The world is my parish."
I am here right now in Bangkok, Thailand, with Free Methodist leaders from all over Asia for a consultation meeting on ways to do better church planting in this region of the world. Our speaker, Bruce Bennett from South Africa, is here to lead us and introduce to us this church planting program that has been very successful in Africa under the leadership of OMS (One Mission Society) international. I look ofrward to our first session in about half an hour from now.
Meanwhile, my heart is warmed . . . God's vision for Asia that is in my heart is being rekindled. I see the delegates from Cambodia and Country M, and I cannot help but smile. God is going to do something great here. I see my many friends from the Philippines and India. I look forward to hearing from them and exchange notes on how we can be better followers of Jesus . . . to obey his call for us to "go, even to the ends of the earth."
Tomorrow, I will be leaving for Thailand to participate in a Community Church Planting (CCP) consultation and conference. I will be in Bangkok and for three days Free Methodist (FM) leaders from Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, Malaysia, India, Hong Kong, USA, and four other Creative Access countries will congregate to discuss and plan for the future of the FM work in Asia. It is such a privilege, not only to represent Holy Light Theological Seminary (and Taiwan), but also to be able to contribute to something historical and monumental for the work here in Asia. In the years to come, we will always look back to this Bangkok meeting and remember God's leadership and guidance.
Last year, I started planning for a mission trip to Japan. I talked to Rev. Shigetomi, a Free Methodist Pastor in Osaka, Japan, and he convinced me that it is a good idea. So, I decided to organize a music mission team to visit the Osaka Christian College and its seminary, both Free Methodist institutions. The Bishop of Japan FMC gave me his official invitation. I began recruiting prospective team members. We started practicing our songs and getting acquainted to the idea of a mission trip to Japan.
And then the earthquake and tsunami came. I talked to my friend, Rev. Shigetomi, and asked his advice. He encouraged me to continue with the plans. So we kept going with all the preparations. Last week, I recruited three more people who could help us in the area of prayer. In the aftermath of this natural calamity, I thought that giving emphasis to prayer would be an appropriate response to this Japanese crisis. This would mean we will include prayer walks, meditations, and other prayer activities together with our Japanese brothers and sisters during the whole mission trip. This mission trip would include singing to and praying with our Japanese Free Methodist members in Osaka, Japan.
Would you like to pray for us? Will you join us as we hold hands with our brothers and sisters in Osaka, Japan this coming August 2011?
Everyone is praying for Japan. I join the world in praying for mercy and God's joy and peace to come to the Japanese people. I read Psalms 46:1-3, and I am reminded that God is our refuge and strength. In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devasted Japan, suddenly, reading Psalms 46 acquires a new meaning. "We will not fear!" God is here with us.
Everyone is praying. My Facebook friends are sharing about their churches uniting in prayer for the people of Japan. The newspapers and internet news sections are replete with horrible photos of devastation and destruction brought about by the earthquake and the accompanying tsunami. In the midst of this tragedy, many Free Methodists are praying. We join the whole world in petitioning our Almighty God for mercy and compassion for those who have been affected by the calamity in Japan. May the Lord's face shine upon you!
March 11, 1990 was the day my mom passed away. That day was a Sunday and that afternoon she went to go to a church meeting. While the church members were saying their closing prayer to end their meeting, my mom suffered a ruptured aneurism and went into coma. The church members opened their eyes after their prayers, but my mom was slumped on the table never to wake up from her prayers. We always liked to think she was talking to Jesus during that time and overwhelmed with God's love and presence she asked Jesus to take her away to be with Him forever by His side throughout eternity. Now, I think Jesus graciously granted my mother's request.
Today is her 21st death anniversary. I am really not into numerology. I am not sure if there is a significance to the number "21" but everytime the month of March comes along, I cannot help but remember my mom. She was a "Mommy" to many people. I miss her. One regret I have is that she never had the chance to see my children, play with Carmen and Jacob, or get to know Sarah, my wife. I guess, we will have plenty of that when we see her in heaven. Right now, I try to tell little stories about her to my nine-year old daughter, Carmen, and hope that her memory will always live on in my family.
March 1990, Philippines, . . . my siblings from Norway, Nepal, and Colorado (USA) came home for the burial. We buried her in Butuan City, on March 24, 1990. That day, after we came back from the cemetery, there was a strong earthquake. It was almost like God was talking to my mom saying: "It is over now Corazon Clemente. Rest now. Enter into my presence and receive my peace." After the earthquake, I felt God's peace and said a little prayer for my Mom.
Twenty one years later, I am still praying that God will grant my mother little snippets of moments where she can look down from heaven and see my family. Perhaps she can come down some evenings and tickle the feet of my sleeping six-year old son, Jacob. Do you think God will allow these kinds of things to happen? I hope so. Meanwhile, I tell my family stories about my mother. Carmen, my nine-year old, often asks, "What is Lola Mommy like?" I know my mom is smiling up there in heaven listening to me explain to my daughter who her grandma is. "Your grandma was . . . ." We remember my mother.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lent Season. I am giving up meat (not fish and eggs), staying away from watching movies (especially looking at movie trailers on my iTunes player), and other acts of abstinence. I pray that these little acts of "letting go" will help me focus on God. The Lord Almighty is worthy of all my attention.
I am praying for her. She is traveling from the western part of country C, a Creative Access Country, to its northern territories for a time of teaching and orientation. This country has a big Muslim population and it is a great challenge to find ministry time with them. I am praying for her. Next month, she will be back to Taiwan. I am hoping she can join our Student Missions Fellowship meeting here at Holy Light Theological Seminary and share about her work. I am praying that the seminary can bring a group of students to join her in one of her travels to country-C for a time of short-term missions exposure and ministry.
Today, she writes me a letter (email) detailing some of her ministry needs. I am asking our students to pray for her. I am praying that God will open doors so that she can share the Christian gospel to the people of country-C. I pray that she will be an encouragement to the churches and local leaders of that area. God will answer our prayers. Please join me in praying for my friend, Iris.
Prevenient Grace: The Grace That Goes Before Us
Six years ago, when I first came to Taiwan, I visited an outreach ministry of the Feng Shan Free Methodist Church situated in Chi Gu, a few hours away north of Kaohsiung. Twice a year, the members of this local church would go to Long Shan Elementary School, in Chi Gu, and hold a week long retreat for the children of that school teaching English, moral education, and other practical lessons useful for Taiwanese children. Back then, I was surprised by the openness both of the parents and the school officials in letting their children go to these activities sponsored by a Christian church. Although, the people of Chi Gu and Long Shan are strong believers of their Chinese traditional religion, they are still willing to send their children to a Christian event. Their desire to give their children a good education is encouraging them to participate in Christian educational activities.
I have seen this same situation in the Philippines, in India, and in Cambodia. Non-Christian parents are willing to send their children to join in Christian activities because they know that their children will become better citizens of the country. They want their children to be better educated. Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea, writes of the response of Muslim leaders to his efforts of building schools for girls in the country of Afghanistan and the surrounding areas. One Muslim leader says: “These two Christian men have come halfway around the world to show our Muslim children the light of education.” He continues, “Protect and embrace these two American brothers in our midst” (2006:257). This desire for a good education for one’s children is a common sentiment, most especially among Asians. It is a desire that is godly and brings people closer to an understanding of God’s plan for everyone to have an abundant life full of joy and peace (John 10:10). It is a desire that God gives, a grace He gives to all people and every culture. Even in the most difficult situation, God’s grace is present.
Prevenient grace is grace that God gives to everyone. It is grace that goes before the coming of God’s salvation to a person. Gerald H. Anderson, in the book World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit, states prevenient grace is a distinctive feature of John Wesley’s theology (2009:43). Wesley says, “Everyone has some measure of that light. No man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath” (Wesley’s Works, vol. 3: p. 207). God’s (prevenient) grace is spread abroad (Romans 5:5). It is drawing many peoples, including Taiwan peoples, to come closer to God and understand His love for them better each day. Prevenient grace prepares people to accept God’s call to obedience and Lordship in their lives.
What I am trying to say here is that what is happening here in Taiwan is very Wesleyan in nature. Taiwan’s love for education is a form of God’s prevenient grace. It is because of this Chinese love for learning that many Taiwanese children are slowly coming closer to God’s salvation. They may not be there yet, but they are gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
An understanding of prevenient grace is not simply a time for preparation. Prevenient grace must lead to an encounter with Jesus’ demand for Christian discipleship. For Wesley, prevenient grace has a definite Christological shape. In his thesis, “John Wesley’s Doctrine of Prevenient Grace And Its Import for Christian Mission,” Chris Payk states: “It is therefore inappropriate to speak of prevenient grace in the Wesleyan tradition in a way that does not begin and end with Jesus Christ” (2010:90). A truly Wesleyan practice of God’s grace means we give each person the opportunity to hear and see the story of God’s salvation, and to respond to the demands of the Christian gospel. Every man and woman should hear for themselves Jesus’ words, “I love you my child. Come and follow me” (Luke 9:23-27).
Taiwan is blessed. God has given Taiwan people a great love for learning and a compelling desire to educate their children for the good of the nation. Taiwan is receiving God’s prevenient grace. What other forms of prevenient grace do you see here in Taiwan? What are other examples of God going before us and preparing for the coming of His salvation? I predict that in the end, God’s manifestations of His prevenient grace here in Taiwan will bring about a better understanding of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.