Sarah is in tears. I am also crying. We are both listening to Bishop Matt Thomas share the Word of God during this devotion time for our Annual Conference Meeting 2011. We are both challenged by God's word and Pastor Matt's exhortation. "People who want to serve God now are pleasing the Lord." Serving God is in the now. The past and the future, including the long range plans and future goals, are in God's hands. He will take care of them. Matt rattles off verses after verses, and all I could hear is God's assurance that Taiwan is His place for me. Matthew 25, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 14, and other portions of Scriptures. "Stay focused on me, and I will build my Church in Kaohsiung." These are the very words He is telling me. I bow my head. In the corner of my eye, I see Sarah wiping off her teary eyes. I know, God is talking to both of us. He is leading us.
"Can you cuddle me and rock me to sleep?" Jacob asks me this morning. I am drinking coffee but I am very happy to give some affection to my still sleepy six year old son. I think my wife (Sarah) woke him up too early today. My daughter (Carmen) is getting ready to go to school. She and her mom rides the bike for about ten minutes to the bus stop and waits for the school bus that will take them to Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung, about 20 minutes away from the city proper. Jacob usually gets off his bed to see her big sister go to school. But today he is still sleepy. We cuddle and say our goodbyes to the mother and daughter riding the bicycle.
These past few weeks, Jacob has been going through some kind of "anxiety," (I am not sure if anxiety is the correct term.) He keeps telling us he does not want to go to school. "I am tired. I just want to stay home." We try our best to encourage him. He goes to a Chinese kindergarten school. He probably is going through some difficulties with communication and talking to his playmates in Chinese. We know for sure that his teachers love him so much. Even the school bus driver, he always has kind words for Jacob. He speaks of Jacob with so much appreciation. I try my best to help my son out. I make sure I am with him and Sarah outside our front gate waiting for the kindergarten school bus every morning. Some days we would play basketball to while away the minutes before the bus comes. Other days we would just watch him walk around the neighborhood deep in his imagination pretending to be some adventurer with a satchel riding a white horse. The whole point is that he feels we are with him and supports his efforts to go to school.
I teach at the Holy Light Theological Seminary. Everyday, I go to this seminary to work--lecturing, lesson preparation, counseling students, and other faculty duties. Every afternoon, however, I make sure I am back at the house by 4:30 to wait for Jacob's school bus to drop him off. I want to be there for him, and be the first person to listen to his stories about the day's events at his kindergarten school. I want to convey to him my support.
Today, I won't be there at 4:30 P.M. because I have a big meeting to attend to. Every year, the Free Methodist Church of Taiwan has its Annual Conference meetings. For the next three days, we will be talking about business--the business of the local churches. My prayer is that we, both pastors and lay delegates, won't get lost in the formal business talks, but would receive a fresh vision from God. I am sure our bishop and conference superintendent are aware of these things. We want the local churches in Taiwan to grow. But most of all, we want every Free Methodists in this island to see church work (and all the accompanying business matters) through the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
Today, when the kindergarten school bus came to pick up Jacob, Ms. Diane, the teacher who usually rides with the bus, told us a story about Jacob. When Jacob's kinder class was practicing the school program for a Mother's Day celebration this Saturday, one of Jacob's teacher was giving instruction to him about some parts of the presentation. The teacher used English to speak to Jacob. Jacob responded to the teacher using Chinese. Sarah and I just smiled when we heard this story. I still smile now, even as I write this blog entry. I think this is a good sign that my son is slowly getting over his anxiety. He is slowly getting into the flow of things. This is another way of my Heavenly Father telling me: "Do not worry. I will take care of your family." God sees all our cares, and He is our Father who takes care of us.
Last Maundy Thursday, a group of us from the Holy Light Theological Seminary, mostly students, went to JiaYi to visit a gospel center managed by OMF missionaries here in Taiwan. They shared about their work here in the southern parts of the country. The bottom line is that most Protestant churches here in Taiwan have become a "culture" to itself, so much so that whenever an ordinary Taiwanese comes to visit these local churches, they feel like they are entering a church made from a foreign land. The big question is "How can our churches be appealing to most Taiwanese people, the working class of this society?"
I came out of that Thursday meeting with more questions than answers. Can the local churches here in Taiwan really get out of their "cultural mold" and make church life appealing to the everyday person on the streets of Kaohsiung? What needs to happen before the working class people are drawn to our Christian communities? What does relevance mean to Christianity here in Taiwan?
Below 4.5 percent of the population. This is the percentage of Christians here in Taiwan. This figure goes down when one considers the number of Christian believers who are dedicated to church life and consistent with practicing biblical faith. How can we help in the growth of the church in Taiwan?
This week, the Free Methodist Church (FMC) of Taiwan will hold its Annual Conference meetings. The above question will be asked. I will listen. I am going to seek God's face and implore Him to allow me to participate in this endeavor of making the Christian Church in Taiwan grow. I am not sure what the responses would be coming from my fellow pastors, fellow North American missionaries, our Superintendent, and from my Bishop. One thing I am very sure of is that God will ask me to move on. It may not necessarily be out of this city of Kaohsiung nor away from the teaching duties of Holy Light Tehological Seminary. But I know I am going to follow my Lord who is constantly walking to find the lost and the hurting of this world. Wish me luck, I mean, pray for me. Pray that as I move on, God's peace will be with me and my family. As the Chinese greeting says: "Yi lou ping an!" (May [God's] peace go with you.)
Most of our Easter Sunday memories as a family comes from our time in Kentucky. Most memorable is a Sunrise Service with the Calvary (Lexington) Free Methodist Church (FMC) in Shilito Park, organized by my wife, Sarah. That time, we had the whole church, about 25 members, come for the early morning service. Even the church members who were physically handicapped came for this early dawn event. It is such a great encouragement remembering all these Easter Sunday activities.
Here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, most of our Free Methodist local churches hold their baptism service on this beautiful Sunday. Today, our Feng Shan FMC has four young people baptized in front of the church. It is fun watching the grandparents and parents of these youth taking pictures of their children being baptized. What a great testimony of God's goodness in this local community. One of the youth is a 12-year old girl, the daughter of the Church Deacon (Ministerial candidate). Everyone in church is so happy for this family. At such a young age, she is making the decision to follow Jesus. This is what happens when the Spirit comes into a person's life, regardless of physical deformities or age limitations. People will follow a Resurrected and Risen Lord!
Later in the afternoon, we are joining the Baptism Service of the Higher Ground Church, a local church here ministering to Filipino migrant workers. Two children and two adults are being baptized today. This church is an independent struggling community here in Kaohsiung. Members are moving in and out through two different cultures, Philippine and Taiwan cultures, not to mention the many different languages and dialects between these two nations. (Philippines has currently 168 languages and dialects.) Despite these challenges, migrant workers and their families are making the decisions to follow Christ and receive the rite of baptism. What a glorious day.
Still later, Carmen and Sarah (my daughter and wife, respectively) participates in another church, the Assembly of God (AOG) church here in Kaohsiung. This is a local church that ministers to North Americans here in this city. Carmen likes to go to this church because she has friends there who are of her age (not to mention speaking English fluently). There is no baptism today in this local community for Westerners. Still the same, it is a time for Easter eggs, the newness of life, and celebration of Easter Sunday through the singing of great hymns such as the "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and "Up From the Grace He Arose." Who cannot resist the urge to belt out in loud boisterous crescendo when singing these marvelous Easter hymns.
By the way, I did not go to the AOG church. I stayed home with Jacob (my six-year old son). But I heard these stories from my family members who went. Later this evening, during our devotions, Carmen asked me sing another favorite Easter song. So I sang the "Easter Song" by Keith Green. Afterwards, she said, with her nine-year-old innocent eyes, "Can you teach me this song?" Of course, I was very happy to do so. When the Holy Spirit comes down in all the power of the resurrected Christ, one cannot help but accept baptism, testify to everyone, and sing gloriously, "Hear the bells ringing, they are singing, Christ is risen from the dead."
It is very hard. It takes up all my energy. I am not talking about walking up early in the morning to do my devotions. I am not talking about meditating on God's Word and being quiet for hours communing with the Creator of the universe. Yes, these are also hard to do. But what is harder for me is the simple act of listening and seeing God at work in front of me.
I am in a retreat right now here in the central parts of Taiwan, in Hualien County. I am with a group of soon to be graduating students of the Holy Light Theological Seminary. It is supposed to be a relaxing time away from all the homework and rigorous academic activities. I am sure all these students are experiencing some form of relief and rest, but I am not. I feel so restless. I want to see God. I need to hear Him speak to me. This morning I took an hour's walk with one of our students, one on one with him, and all the while I kept hearing myself talk. I just can't quiet myself so I can hear my God working in this one student. There are too many distractions. Whenever this student opened his mouth to share about God's goodness in his life, all I could think of is my own set of questions. How can God talk to me through this student when all I could think about is the many ways my future is going to unfold.
This month, I am reading the Book of Acts. I am trying to understand why the Holy Spirit comes when He comes in the midst of the Early Church life and history. I read chapter two and the story of the Tongues of Fire, and I cannot help but ask the question, "When is the Pentecost coming to Free Methodists here in Asia?" I am so out of focused. I just cannot be still and watch the glorious ways the Holy Spirit comes and visit the early Christians recorded in the Book of Acts. God forgive me for allowing myself to be easily distracted.
It does not help that I am still thinking of my previous week's visit to Bangkok. There, together with other Asian leaders from all over Asia, we talked about church multiplication. For four days, we sat down and discussed various ways that we can make our Free Methodist local churches grow. I came home to Kaohsiung with all these images of church planting and growth. I brought with me tons of questions. Even until now, these question keeps interrupting me and getting me out of focused.
Maybe, my problem is that I am thinking of the wrong questions. Perhaps, I am looking at the wrong places to listen for God's small still voice. Maybe, the Book of Acts is not a good place to start. I do not know. Maybe I should stop having this dialogue with our seminary students and begin a monastic approach to listening to God--go up in a mountain for days by myself. I am not sure if this is what I need. What thing I am sure is that I need to listen to God more. I need to hear His voice. I pray that God will visit me soon, before all these questions in my mind become too full and overwhelming. Maranatha!
I miss my family so much. Especially jacob, my six-year old son. He is so funny, creative, and full of energy. I miss his hugs in the mornings. And in the evenings, I enjoy playing our "sleeping game." Oh, by the way, let me clarify some things . . .
I am not in Thailand anymore. I am back in Taiwan. I came back last Saturday, April 2nd, into Kaohsiung and into the arms of my family. The children welcomed me back with a lot of special art works that they posted on the walls and tables inside the house. Jacob even had his "contraction of silliness" game, a replica of the Veggie Tales' silly songs. He would go off into a monologue reenacting the whole video show. It was fun to watch. Right now, I can still recall his dance moves and voice modulation giving life to his one-man show, err, one-boy show.
Right now, I am in Taidung, a small city east of the island of Taiwan. I have joined the Senior's Retreat of the seminary. This is a three day event of relaxation, touring, and fellowship. I am the only faculty member here. Later today, the seminary president will join us when we go to Hualien, another tourist city off this eastern coast. It is gorgeous here with a view of the Pacific Ocean and the mountains behind us. This afternoon, we will have the chance to visit the uplands and see more culture. This part of the island has a different "flavor" to Taiwan culture. When one sees this place, one cannot help but see the indigenous culture and aboriginal people who have been a significant part of Taiwan history and life.
I miss my Jacob. I miss all of my family. Looking into the eyes of my family and watching God's spark in them is one exercise I do every day. I try to translate this exercise amongst the seminary students of Holy Light Theological Seminary. I look into their eyes and see where is God is moving, and then respond with all I have, with all of God's gifts and enabling. My prayer today is that I will see God today through these senior students here in the eastern coast of Taiwan. Help me Lord to look into their eyes.
I have forty minutes before this plane bound for Kaohsiung boards. Enough time, I think, for me to write a blog entry. I get distracted with all the people passing by. But, hey, who does not get distracted. Everyone gets out of focus from time to time because of mundane things that come our way.
Distraction was certainly not what we had here in Bangkok, Thailand. Free Methodist leaders from all over Asia came to talk about Community Church Planting (CCP), and consult each other about the work of God’s kingdom in this part of the world. It is so powerful to witness God working among these groups of Asians.
“They were worshipping together even though they were behind prison walls,” Pastor Chin recounts to us his experience with two of his Free Methodist Christians incarcerated in Country-V because of their faith. “At the bathroom of the prison cells, they would separately take their baths using cold water. And because it was so cold, they would shout ‘hallelujah!’ to shake off the bitter cold,” Pastor Chin shares to everyone in this consultation meeting. “This is the way they found out that there is a Christian brother around,” he continues. “And that is how they fellowship together in the Lord.”
At the third day of the CCP meeting, we prayed for the leaders who are coming from the persecuted countries. We laid hands on them. We cried with them. My heart was heavy with the thought that many of these friends are facing daily the prospect that they will end up behind bars just because they are witnessing for Jesus. I kept asking myself, “How can we plant churches in situations where there is no religious freedom.” Of course, it has happened before. The Book of Acts has a record of such church planting.
I see the China Airlines plane pulling up. It is close to boarding time. I am getting distracted again. But, it is a good distraction because it is telling me to get ready for another phase in my waiting time—it is time to fly and see my family. I miss them so much. I need to stop and get ready to board.