Church in Community

My Past Connections

I am eating “Arsik.” Arsik is a fresh water fish cooked in a spicy sauce which is a special delicacy for residents in Medan. It is a bony type of fish and usually eaten with rice. Indonesians, especially those living here in the city of Medan, love to show off their native flavors, including Arsik, to foreigners visiting their country. Shirish and I are here in Medan for a few days of meetings with our new found friends. He flew in from Mumbai, India, and I came straight from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We were invited by a group of Christians who identify themselves as Free Methodists, and they wanted to ask us some questions about the possibility of partnering with the other Free Methodists around the world. So, before we headed out to several meetings, we visited the home of one of the pastors and had a great Medan meal with his extended family. I had to be extra careful eating Arsik because the fish bones were extra hard and could get lodged uncomfortably in my throat. In the end, we had a great time of eating, singing, sharing stories, and praying with Pastor’s (Artinus)  family. 

Saying thank you in the local language is a little challenging; “Terimakasih!” Whenever I try to say it to them, they all smile and cheer me on for speaking their Bahasa tongue. Shirish and I try our best to connect with them. We are only here for a couple of days, so we go straight to the main issue of what it means to partner with all the Free Methodists from around the globe. I remind their leaders that partnership means connection in three aspects. One, we all need to be connected to our God, as He is revealed in His written word, the Bible. Two, we all need to be connected to each other, growing in a healthy relationship with every Free Methodist from many different cultures and races. Three, we all need to be connected in our common vision to spread the Christian gospel to every person in the world. They all agree with me regarding these three aspects of connection. I begin to think that eating the Arsik fish was harder than explaining to these Indonesian pastors the implications of our connectional heritage as a Free Methodist Church member. I think I spoke too soon, because . . .

On the second day, these Indonesian pastors start asking the harder questions of being connected to the global family of the Free Methodist Church. “We have our own Statements of Faith. Who will decide if these Statements are good enough? Will the other Free Methodists, our international brothers and sisters, be interested in coming to Indonesia to help us? What do we need to do first before the Free Methodist International will show interest to Indonesia FMC?” I feel a lump in my throat. I think the Arsik fish bones are finally making their presence known, stabbing the inside of my esophagus. 

I remind these Indonesian leaders that the final decision of this partnership will be with the Council of Bishops of the World Conference of the Free Methodist Church. My role is to make the initial contact, gather some facts, and explore the layout of the land, so to speak. Fishing! That is my purpose here in Medan. I am here to fish for information and set sail for the open seas. Okay, okay. I think the metaphors are getting out of hand. Blame it on this “Arsik bone” in my throat.

On the third day, I preach in one of the services we visited. I share from John chapter 6, and in one of my illustrations, I talk about the Filipino fish “Bangus.” One of their leaders from Medan, in the early 1970s, came to the Philippines for his theological education. His name is Johnny (John) Hutabarat. He became a family friend and visited our fish farm very often. I have memories of my older brothers together with Johnny eating Bangus fish grilled in an open fire pit. I never thought I would have this beautiful opportunity to visit his homeland, his hometown, and be with his co-workers in the harvest field of the Lord here in Medan, Indonesia. Later, I learned that Johnny passed away about five years ago. I am sure, the next time I see him, I will have plenty of time talking with him about Arsik and Bangus. I never imagined that my past will catch up with me here in a foreign country.

“Horas!” This means “welcome!” or “hallelujah!” in the Batak language. (It could also mean ‘thank you’ or ‘long live!’) Most of the Christians in Medan and Northern Sumatra come from the Batak Tribe. Our new Indonesian friends are Batak people. 

When Jesus saw his disciples by the lake, he said: “Horas! Do you have any fish?” (I think this could have been the translation of John 21:5.) We all know the story. The disciples caught so many fish that they could not haul the catch into the boat. 

Arsik or Bangus? Not all Free Methodists in Asia are Arsik-eating people. Whatever kind of fish they eat, or whatever culture they come from, the mandate of Jesus is still the same: “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Horas!

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.

Church For The Unwelcomed

“I want to serve the Lord,” Mr. A shares with me his frustration. “But I cannot. I have to take this job to provide for my family.” He recounts an earlier attempt to play the piano for a local church. The music ministry was fulfilling but there was no steady income. He had to find work somewhere else.

Mr. A is a professional musician working here in a restaurant here in Taiwan. His wife, Mrs. J works in the same location as a singer. Let us call them A&J for short. They sing in a restaurant, seven days a week, 6-8 hours a day. On some days, the restaurant owner sends them to sing at an adjoining bar to entertain some of the more “shady” characters of the city. Needless to say, A&J feel their Christian faith is compromised. “I used to sing and play music for revival meetings,” Mr. A continues. “But now, I am singing for the world. I am pleasing people rather than God.” Both A&J are Christians. They desire to be available for the Lord’s work, to offer their talents for God’s service. However, they are obligated by the nature of their work to go to places that are questionable by the moral standards of their faith.

In Taiwan, the population of Asian foreign workers employed in the entertainment industry is not too many. However, a majority of these workers come from the Philippines. They are in Taiwan as singers, musicians, dancers, and entertainers working mainly at bars, restaurants, and hotels. These are legitimate jobs that pay generously. However, in most situations, they are placed in compromising situations. A few of these workers end up unwillingly as prostitutes and sex workers. Labor abuse is most likely to happen. Needless to say, legal protection for foreign workers in the entertainment industry is very few.

Moreover, there is a stigma against singers and performers working in the entertainment industry. In the Philippines, church people tend to view Filipino entertainers and artists working abroad with suspicion. They see these workers as immoral, or at the least living a questionable life. I am not surprised that A&J feel hesitant sharing their experiences to me. They feel unworthy to be around Christians, much more around a pastor like me.

One Sunday after a church service in Tainan, the members of the church asked me if I could sing a song together with A&J, and their two other Filipino co-workers at the restaurant. They want us to sing an offertory song at the morning church service. I shared this request with A&J and their friends, and they readily obliged. I was a little surprised with their enthusiasm. Later, I realized that they feel welcomed at this Tainan church. You see, this local congregation is composed of Taiwanese Americans, South Africans, and Australians living here in Taiwan. There are no Filipinos among the crowd. A&J and their friends do not feel the shame they would have if they were going to face a church full of Filipinos. I thank God for this Tainan international church. People like A&J can come and join in the service, and they will not feel threatened or shamed. Isn’t this what church is all about?

God Is Thinking Of You

(Below is the manuscript to the talk I gave at a retreat for the family members of the MAK, Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung, faculty and staff. This sharing reminds us that God’s love is eternal. The Father’s love is from the beginning of creation and continues to the present and shapes our future. God’s character as a loving Father defines our understanding of Christian community.)

Good morning. Our MAK community is represented by many different cultures and languages. Let us hear it from you all. How would you say “Our Father in heaven” in the languages that you know? Let us hear it from everyone. (Different individuals start to speak in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Cantonese, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Creole, French, Tagalog, Cebuano, and Samoan.)

What is Christian community? How is it defined? In our society, language is one way by which society defines its community. People call themselves Chinese because they speak Chinese. Others call themselves American because they speak English. Well, there are other ideals that come to explain the identity of an American. Language, history, political ideals, and other variables shape our understanding of community or of a specific group.

For Christians, our understanding and practice of Christian community and belongingness is founded on the character of God, His goodness, love, mercy, and God’s view of justice, holiness, and salvation. These are big words, aren’t they? Simply said, who God is determines what community is or ought to be among the people of God. Today, I want to share about the Fatherhood of God and how this shapes our understanding of Christian community.

In Deuteronomy 10:14-19, we see that Moses or the writer starts off with a declaration that God is the Creator. He owns the heavens and the earth (v.14). He is the God of all gods. He is not partial (v. 17). He is just and takes care of the powerless and the foreigners of the land. This declaration is the foundation for the calling of the Hebrew people (v. 15). They are a chosen race, a people, a community, because God is who He is, just, mighty, impartial, a Protector of the weak, and He cares for the helpless foreigners of the land. God the Father shows everyone what Christian community looks like.

Today, I want to focus on the character of God as our Heavenly Father. The Bible says that from before we were born He was already thinking of us. In His thoughts, in His deep inner parts of His being, He formed us and planned our coming to this world, even before the formation of the heaven and the earth (Ephesians 1:3-6, Jeremiah 1:5, and Psalms 22:31). There is a saying that captures this interpretation of God’s character. Have you seen the statement “God danced the day you were born” anywhere? This is one way to picture the joy our Father feels for us. We are special in God’s eyes.

We, parents, have a special place for each of our children. We all have a unique story for each of them. I want to share just one story about our family. In 2004, we had Carmen, who was then three and a half years old. We were expecting Jacob. At that time, while waiting for our missionary appointment, I was working at Amazon dot com, an internet company, driving a forklift and stowing boxes at a warehouse in Kentucky. One day in August, I got a phone from our warehouse office. It was from Sarah. She just came back from the doctor, and she said: “We are going to have a boy.” Our second child was going to be a boy. I was so happy. I went out of that office, drove my forklift, and singing at the top of my voice. Some of my workmates ask me what is happening. I told them the news. As I was telling them the good news, I stopped my forklift machine, jump off the vehicle, and danced in the middle of the warehouse aisle ways. Everyone saw me doing the dance and singing a song of joy. I did not care. I was celebrating the forth coming of our son.

Parents are a unique group of people. We always want to help our children become better persons, better than we are. But we are not perfect. So, at times, we falter. We try to learn what makes our child happy, to discover their interests and the fun things they do. But, for many parents, this is hard work. Although for some of us, this is a natural thing to do. Still, parenting is a demanding work requiring a lot of time and energy. My son, Jacob, loves to play with this video game called Minecraft. Does anyone here play this video game? It is amazing what he can do inside this Minecraft world. But at times, I have to be honest with you, I get bored. I do not have the patience to learn all the nuances of block building.

Our Father in heaven is not like us. He is patient and truly interested in what makes us happy. He is interested in the things that we like. He dances with joy when we first learned how to ride the bike by ourselves without anyone assisting us. As my mother would say: “How delightful.” Let me hear it from the mothers. (Mothers respond, “How delightful!”) God smiled when he saw a Filipino eleven-year old boy climb the very top part of a 50-foot tree. He said: “Awesome, David!” Let me hear it from the fathers. (Fathers shout, “Awesome!”) God was so happy when, for the first time, you wrote a poem. He was so elated that He ordered a star from heaven to shine in the sky in honor of your poem. And what would the children say? Can you say: “Epic!” (Kids exclaim, “Epic!”) Do you get the idea now?

Do our friends think they are special? Do they understand that God is their Father, that He is the Father of all the peoples of the world? The Bible tells us that God the Father is the Father of all humankind (Psalms 24:1, Ephesians 4:6, and Acts 17:15-17). Let us tell them that God our Lord is their Father. He is the Father of all the peoples of the earth.

Let us see what the children have made for us. (A few of the smaller children come up front to show everyone the drawing and coloring activity they have done with the handout “God Made Me.” The adults appreciate the work of the children.) With our eyes, we are to see people because God sees people. They are wonderful. With our mouth, we are to bless people because God blesses people. They are important people to Him. With our ears, we listen to people because God listens to them. God made them.

I have a suggestion. Find out what your friend likes. Do they like biking? Do they enjoy making music on the piano? Sing with them. Go biking with them. What does your friend do for fun? Do it together with them. Be with them. And you will see that, even without saying a word, they will feel your concern for them and they’ll see that they are special. This is because God has a special place for them. God the Father is reaching out to them and calling each one by name. Our Father in heaven is blessing them, walking with them, and listening to their dreams and their longings in life. God loves them. Thus, whenever you show interest in your friend’s life and activities, then God is pleased. God smiles when we spend time with people and we discover what makes each person happy. (For the older kids, I give each one a pencil and paper with the instruction to creatively draw a picture or representation of their understanding of God the Father.) Go ahead and draw a picture showing who God the Father is to you. And also, write on the second page about your friend. What does he or she loves to do? Would you have fun doing these things with your friend?

At this time, I want to speak to the adults.  What I am sharing is a Trinitarian understanding of Christian community. This is less of a church doctrine or systematic theology, but more of seeing community through the work of the Triune God. Our main question here should be: Does this understanding of community reflect the character of the Trinity? Christian community is inclusive because God the Father is the Father of all humankind. People will sense the leadership of the Holy Spirit. They will draw near to God in freedom and love. Membership to this Christian community is based on the person’s relationship to Jesus, and not to a person’s affinity to an organization or an assent to a set of beliefs. We want to give everyone the opportunity to follow Jesus, to say “yes” to God, because in the end people from every nation, tribe, and languages are included in God’s kingdom (Revelation 7:9-10).

We can take a look at the example of Jesus. He is always including everyone in his life and ministry. Can we give examples of when Jesus included people to his community, those who felt excluded or other people thought they should be excluded?

Okay. Now, let us compare our answers to the older kids drawing of God the Father. Let us see if there are similarities. Let us ask them to share. Any volunteer? (Some of the older kids and adults come up front and share their sketches and drawing.) God is thinking of you being with other people. Go therefore and be with people and tell them God the Father is calling their name and drawing them into community. He loves them and is ready to listen to all their stories. He delights in them.

OFW and Taiwan Christian Churches

Jimmy was an OFW or Overseas Filipino Worker working at S. K. Valves based in Pingtung, Taiwan. He had been in Taiwan eleven years. Before that, he worked as a seaman for over 15 years. Jimmy passed on last June 20th, succumbing to cancer. Yesterday, we had a funeral service committing Jimmy's remains as he was cremated and prepared for transfer to the Philippines. His family in Zamboanga is waiting for him.

Dying is sad. Dying in a foreign land, away from your loved ones is even more depressing. Randy, Jimmy's brother who is also working in the same Pingtung factory, was there to be with Jimmy during his last few earthly moments. At the funeral service, many sisters from the Higher Ground Church, a Filipino church located in Nandzi, Kaohsiung, were there to support Randy. (Other relatives who are working here in Taiwan also came to pay their last respects.) I am grateful for these sisters who came and consoled Jimmy's family. I wish we could all go with Randy to the Philippines when he goes sometime within these next few weeks.

Death of a love one is not pleasant. However, when there are friends or some form of a community present and consoling with the bereaved, then it becomes a little bearable. I thank God for the presence of the sisters from Higher Ground Church. I am also blessed that we received the support of Fong Shan Free Methodist Church. Together with the co-workers of Jimmy from S. K. Valves and its management, we were able to give comfort to Randy and Jimmy's relatives.

I have done funeral services before at funeral homes, grave sites, or inside a church. But this one is my first time here in Taiwan. It is also my first one with an OFW friend. It is my first here in Taiwan. I thank God that there are Christian churches who are willing to show sympathy and give support to our OFWs here in Kaohsiung. God bless these local churches.

Asian Connections

Cheng Chuan Dao, or Pastora Tessa to most Filipinos, is pasturing a Filipino church here in Kaohsiung. It is called Nandzi Higher Ground Community Church International or NHGCCI. When Mr. Yu mentioned to my local church pastor about a group of Filipinos who are working at a Pingtung factory where he is also working, I told him that we could invite the members of NHGCCI and visit Pingtung this December and bring some little holiday cheer to these Filipino factory workers. So, our local church pastor, Pastor John Guu, suggested to our missions coordinator, Joyce Chang, to organize a team from our church, Fong Shan Free Methodist Church (FSFMC), to prepare some food and to accompany me to see this Pingtung factory.

Are you still with me? Are you all confused with all the names and places I just enumerated? I can stop now and be done with all the names and various connections. But, of course, you would rob me of the joy of seeing you agonize through all these enumerations. Do you want me to prolong your agony?

"I can bring a small group of Filipinos from a local Filipino church so they can join us when we visit this Pingtung factory," I volunteered to Mr. Yu. He agreed. So, on December 13th, Friday, I rented a van and brought seven Filipino ladies from NHGCCI, together with their local pastor, Pastora Tessa. Joyce also asked a brother and four sisters from FSFMC, all Chinese to participate in this small Christmas celebration. Only Joyce and another lady can speak English. I was impressed with their enthusiasm to join this fellowship gathering of Filipinos, considering their inability to carry a dialogue with these Filipinos. We all traveled in two vans. "I really do not know any of the Filipinos their in Pingtung," I told the Filipinas riding with me in the van. "We will meet them and see where God lead us," I continued. The two vans arrived at the Pingtung factory about half an hour before our meeting time. Mr. Yu was there to greet us. The owner of the factory, who is a Christian and a friend of Mrs. Guu, Pastor John Guu's wife, was also there. He gave a short introduction. I spoke a little greeting, in Tagalog, of course. Pastor John Guu and his wife came a little later. They offered a prayer for the gathering.

Do you see the connections now? Is it becoming clearer? Or, am I stretching your patience a little too much? Let me help you. I am a good friend of Tessa (Chen Chuan Dao) and Joyce. Joyce knows Mr. Yu from church, FSFMC. Mrs. Guu, the wife of the pastor of FSFMC, is a good friend of the owner of the Pingtung factory. So this December 13th, Friday, Filipino ladies from Nandzi, Chinese from Fong Shan, and Filipino men from a Pingtung factory are meeting for the first time, playing games, singing Filipino Christmas songs, and eating Chinese food, all because of the various connections we have. Is it clearer now? Can you see who is connected to whom?

"Pastor, we are free every Sunday afternoon, around 5:30 pm. If you are available, we can come for fellowship or Bible study," Jimmy mentioned this to me. Jimmy is the most senior worker from this group of Filipino factory workers. He has been here in Taiwan for almost ten years, working in this same Pingtung factory. "I can certainly come," I reassured Jimmy. "I will also ask my friend Siwei, who is living close to your factory and ask him if he is willing to come here once a month to lead you guys in a Bible study," I proposed this to Jimmy. He nodded his approval. Later, we talked to a few more people and they all were amenable to this idea of us coming for a Sunday evening Bible study.

Back in Kaohsiung, I talked to Siwei, one of our student pastors at Holy Light Theological Seminary, and shared my plan to include him in this Bible study outreach among these Filipino Pingtung factory workers. "Pastor David, I could also ask my friend who is pasturing a local Presbyterian Church close to this Pingtung factory and see if he is interested," Siwei excitedly shared his plans. "I really think he will join us, and perhaps even lead a Bible study once a month among this group of Filipinos."

Is it getting confusing again? Just when you thought you had all the names of Tessa, Mr. Yu, Joyce, Mrs. Guu, and the rest, all cleared up, now, you also have to contend with Jimmy, Siwei, and an unidentified Presbyterian pastor. Would it be easier to just drop this story and leave this blog? But, if you are still with me reading, then this just means that you are still interested. Let me continue.

Back in Fong Shan FMC, after the church service, I talked to Pastor John Guu and Mr. Yu. I shared to them the plan of four church groups leading Bible studies among this group of Filipino men in this Pingtung factory. One different church every Sunday of a month. We all agreed with this plan. I also talked to Pastora Tessa about the idea of forming a team from the Higher Ground Church to visit Pingtung once a month and to lead a Bible study. She was elated. She also shared one interesting discovery. "You know that guy Mr. Yu?" She remarked. "What about?" I inquired. "He is a childhood friend. We grew up together from the same neighborhood. I haven't seen him for the last 30 years." We all marveled at how God brings us altogether in His work of bringing more people to the Lord's harvest.

Okay. Are you still confused? I hope not. I trust you can see the forest for the trees. I won't be surprised that later on, Jimmy or Siwei, or any of the people here will discover more connections from among the people they meet. God will certainly lead the way.

From The Mouth of Babies (or Children)

Yesterday, we went to Cowden Free Methodist Church, here in Cowden, Illinois. This is our first time to share about missions where Jacob, our seven-year old son, participated. He came up to the front of the church and shared about his life in MAK (Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung). He even prepared his own powerpoint slides. We are so proud of him. Later, after the service and during the lunch fellowship at the church fellowship area, several parents came to me and appreciated our children's involvement in our time of sharing. (Carmen also shared about her ACOCL group.) I told them that it was Carmen and Jacob's idea. Last week, Jacob, who usually is disinterested in going up in front to talk to people, approached Sarah and suggested that he is ready to share his own version of missionary life. One of the grandfathers from this church commented that it shows. They can tell that Jacob enjoys his time of sharing and talk. Praise God!

Last Wednesday, we were at Coffeen Free Methodist Church, to visit with our friends. They have an on-going Wednesday children's ministry among the unchurched children of the community. I was there. I saw how "rough" the young people and children were. However, I also witnessed the hunger for love and the children's desire to belong to a Christian community. it was humbling to see these young people and children desire for things spiritual. From the mouths of babes, or from the least of these, our children, we will learn wisdom. I applaud the efforts of this local church to embrace the little ones from the community of Cowden. This is Christian witness in action.

Not Just Another Name

Last Sunday, we visited the Lakeview Free Methodist Church (LFMC) for its morning service. By 2:30 P.M., we headed out to visit Wayland Free Methodist Church (WFMC) for its evening service, a little further south, passing by the metropolis of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In both churches we shared about God's work in Taiwan and Asia, encouraging our Michigan brothers and sisters to continue participating in the missions work of FMWM. Although during these visits we talked a lot, we also had many opportunities to listen to people and hear their stories. These are their stories.

Caroline is a cancer survivor. She still struggles through medications and therapy, but through them she rejoices in the victory of prayer. She fights. She stands up for the many friends who pray for her. She testifies to me of the support of family members. I pray for her daughter who is growing closer to God because of this crisis. I pray for Caroline's husband who is considering membership to the local FM church as a result of this victory. I hear her story and I pray. She is no longer just another name that I read in a Lakeview church newsletter.

Joyce serves God in so many ways. She works as a nurse assistant and visits people who are experiencing medical crisis of extreme kind. She stays with them through out the night. Sometimes she misses church just so she can be with these people. "It is my mission field," she recounts to me. "I bring church to them since they cannot be physically present at any morning church service." I sense Joyce's passion for God. I pray for her family. I pray for my friends at Wayland church. I pray that their hearts will be open to God, and they will be obedient to Him and serve other people, just like the example of Joyce. I am glad I came to Wayland and heard Joyce's story. She will be not just another name that I will see in some pastor's report.

Yesterday, Carmen and Jacob visited the CLC meeting for children at Evart Free Methodist Church (EFMC). I was impressed with the big turn out of children joining this eight-month long ministry. Someone mentioned this year they have a lot of non Christian families participating. At that meeting, I saw one brother in action. Chuck was the volunteer driver for that night. He picked up kids from their homes and drove them back after the meeting. He was sitting in the driver seat of the church van when I approached him. I thanked him for his service to God. Now, I know, he is not just another name. His name will always remind me of God's ongoing work in this world. Chuck is an encouragement to me.

Ministry Happens in the Mundane

Sermon. Done. Powerpoint presentation. Check. Display materials are ready to go. I spend so much time getting ready for a 30-40 minute missions talk. Every Sunday, during this time of Partnership Building, we go to several Free Methodist local churches and share about God’s work in Asia. I have this tendency to focus on the “talk,” the sermon and the missions presentation. I am constantly reminded, however, that during this time of reconnecting with our churches, our friends, and supporters, ministry happens outside the time of presentation. We connect with people more during mundane conversations and at times of informal exchange. The meeting of the mind and heart happens at the dinner table, on a baseball field, or when we are simply talking about the children’s first day of school or some other ordinary events in any person’s life. Last Sunday, I was reminded of this bit of wisdom.

Yesterday, we went to Stanwoods Free Methodist Church (a.k.a., The Woods FMC). Nothing spectacular happened during my missions talk. No fire from heaven came down. No mass of people moving up front for life-changing decisions. It was simply a missions talk. But outside this 30-40 minute missions presentation, we had several occasions of meeting up with people and telling each other our own life stories. The week before this, The Woods FMC, together with another local church, Northland United Methodist Church of Stanwood, MI, sponsored a VBS (Vacation Bible School) for the Stanwood community. My children, Carmen and Jacob, participated in this VBS. Later, after this VBS, both churches also organized a Saturday afternoon of picnic and family fun at the nearby Buffalo Park. We also joined this time of fellowship. Carmen won some fun events at the Yoyo exhibition. We met some local folks. We sat with friends listening to some Bluegrass live music from a local hammer dulcimer band. We connected with real people in real time and during one of their indigenous moments. Outside of the missions talk is when real ministry really happens.

Earlier today, Jacob and I were at a local Big Rapids Burger King for a time of free Wi-Fi. I was working on my blog entry while Jacob played with some online video games. Jim and Linda, from Stanwood FMC, were also there for a while. We chatted for a bit. Jim invited my family to join his family and friends for a Saturday afternoon of meal and fellowship. This will happen at the end of this month. I told him we will be there. It will be a Saturday of fun as well as a day when ministry happens. It will be a mundane Saturday, and that is okay.

Postmodernity and Christian Missions in Asia: An Essay

One time a friend of mine from the USA came to Kaohsiung, Taiwan and visited my family. She went to church with us one Sunday morning. After the service, she remarked: “Except for the Chinese language, everything is just like our churches at home.” My friend was brought up in small-town America, very similar to my wife’s upbringing. Her comment about our Sunday visit to a Christian church in Kaohsiung was meant to be a compliment. However, her observation about our church service in Kaohsiung made me think of a few things. Do our local Christian churches in Taiwan look like the Christian churches in North America? Are they drawing in people to their activities because of their spiritual vitality? What challenges do these local Taiwan churches have for our contemporary world today, the world populated by postmodernist people?

Postmodern thinking is fairly new. It is mainly a reaction to and rejection of modern mind-set. We cannot give a full study of postmodernism here in this short essay. Stanley J. Grenz’s A Primer on Postmodernism (1996) is a good introduction to postmodern thought and history from a Christian perspective. Our focus in this essay is to answer the question “What challenges do postmodernist people have for our Christian churches in Asia?” My thesis is that a Christological understanding of community will help us discover new ways of including postmodernist people in our Christian gatherings. This would have great implication for how we prepare our local church activities and Christian missionary work in general. My hope is that this Christological approach will encourage Asian Christians to include postmodernist persons in their religious meetings and welcome them to come closer to God.

In the Western world, most especially in the USA, postmodern thinking is posing great challenges to missiology, church studies, and Christian theology. American church leaders are experiencing a declining growth in their local churches (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:19-21). Pastors are discovering that more and more young Americans are avoiding Christian activities and Sunday morning services. Neil Cole describes the problem as “a lack of life in the core” (2010:113). Every day, we are realizing our “old school theology” from our modernist churches that has worked for many centuries are becoming irrelevant to this new generation. As Grenz has concluded: “The shift from the familiar territory of modernity to the unchartered terrain of postmodernity has grave implications for those who seek to live as Christ’s disciples in the new context” (1996:162). Whether in Asia or in the Western world, the challenges are real. We need to face these challenges that postmodernist people have for Christianity.

In the city of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, we see a lot of Western young people visiting the island for a few years to teach English to many Taiwanese children and families. They come mostly from the USA, Canada, England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Germany. If my friend’s comment above is true, then we would expect most of these English teachers to be flocking towards our Christian churches in Taiwan. But, sadly, there are no Western people coming to our churches. I am afraid my friend’s comment refers to the obsolete, old-school, and irrelevant modernist churches in the USA. We do not want to blindly copy churches from another country and transplant them to Asia. We need to be a local church ministry that is relevant to its own people and meeting the challenges of the world at large, mainly the challenges of postmodernity.

Postmodernity is primarily a rejection of modern thinking. The biggest problem is that most postmodernist person rejects the Christian church not because of their beliefs in Jesus Christ, but because of the church’s modernist stance. A local church set in the doctrine of modern thought sets its standards of community in a very scientific modern way. This modernistic way states, for example, that only those who adhere to a set of doctrines or have receive the rite of baptism are included in the church community. Everyone else is second-class Christian. This second-class status will not allow them to participate in the Lord’s Supper, to hold any leadership roles in the church, or to let them give significant contribution to the life of the church. Simply said, involvement in community is clear-cut and precise. We can give more examples but the bottom line is that modernist thinking is limited to neat packages and quantifiable categories. There is no place for surprises. Church life is measured in scientific terms. Modern-thinking churches are very exclusive in their practice of Christian community.

But the Bible says that Christian community should include everyone. Jesus always included all kinds of people in his ministry. At one time, Jesus rebuked his disciples because of their exclusivist attitude. He reminded them that “anyone who is not against you is for you” (Luke 9:49-50). It did not matter what their race was or their religious background. They were all included. Experienced Jewish teachers or struggling tax-collectors, they both felt included in Jesus. They participated in Jesus’ life and mission to the world. There are two virtues I want to share in this essay that helps us understand Jesus’ concept of inclusion. One is the virtue of hospitality. People around Jesus always felt welcomed by him. Two is the virtue of humility. They see humility in Jesus and are compelled to participate in this spirit of humility. Below, I will explain these two virtues through the motif of pilgrimage in Jesus’ life and how they are relevant to missionary work among postmodernist people.

First, we see the virtue of hospitality as ever present in Jesus’ life and ministry. Whenever he came to a place, the local people felt welcomed and included in Jesus’ activities in the area. They would come from far and wide to witness his deeds and hear his words (Matthew 4:23-25). Of course, there were a few, mainly the Jewish leaders, who felt threatened and ostracized by Jesus’ actions (John 7:40-52). But overall, the local people wanted to see him and look what he can do with their problems. Jesus’ very presence in the area meant hospitality, a spirit of inclusion and welcoming everyone who would like to come.

In the present time, our local churches need to practice this virtue of hospitality among the local people in their areas. Non-Christians, including postmodernist people, need to experience the welcoming spirit of the Christians among them. Most persons with postmodern thinking are very eager to work with anyone who includes them in their agenda. One of the strengths of postmodernist people is their great abilities to collaborate with people of different backgrounds and beliefs. They are creative people. They love to find new ways of doing stuff and being challenged by different persuasions from different individuals. If the Christian churches can tap on this postmodernist strength and mind-set, then our local churches would be an inviting presence to postmodernist people. They would come and flock to our Christian gatherings.

Second, we see Jesus’ humility and people are drawn to him in his tenderness and quiet disposition. Nicodemus and other Jewish leaders came to see him. Many sinful tax-collectors followed him. Immoral prostitutes and murderers wanted his words of wisdom. Children played by his side. Of course, there were violent reactions to Jesus. Some people wanted to lash out at Jesus because of his controversial teachings. But these were person who had selfish agenda. In general, people who were hungry for truth and seeking spiritual meaning came to Jesus for counsel and healing. They knew he would accept them as they are (John 6:68-69). The humility Jesus showed them was a humility that allowed the people to stand side by side with him and together find their identity in God. In the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen: “Paradoxically, by withdrawing into ourselves, not out of self-pity but out of humility, we create the space for another to be himself and come to us on his own terms” (1979:91). Jesus “emptied himself” for our sake (Philippians 2:5-11). He humbled himself so that others will have the opportunity to give glory to God Almighty. Like Jesus, our humble acts should focus on people who are around us. When the postmodernist person sees this kind of outward-focused humility among our Christian fellowships, then they will be drawn to Jesus and find the opportunity to receive God’s salvation.

In our present missionary endeavors, we need to practice these two virtues of hospitality and humility. I am suggesting the motif of pilgrimage as the platform for practicing these two virtues. The motif of pilgrimage is replete in Christian history and popular among practical theologians. (See the different essays from Explorations in a Christian Theology of Pilgrimage, 2004). There are many merits to the motif of Christian pilgrimage. One great merit, however, that I would like to highlight is the principle of inclusion. Anyone who witnesses any kind of pilgrimage will experience a sense of inclusion and will feel the compulsion to participate in its activities. A pilgrimage is a communal activity. Some scholars equate it to religious rites of passage. (See chapter 7 of Symbols and Ceremonies: Making Disciples Across Cultures, 1997). Some describe it as a time for bonding to deep spiritual meaning. Still others, such as Martin Robinson, directly links pilgrimage to mission. The experiences of the pilgrim becomes the moment for introducing cultural changes and opportunities for missions (Robinson 2004:181). Whatever its academic significance, a pilgrimage teaches us the inclusive nature of community and human fellowship.

In the Bible, the Christian life is portrayed as a pilgrimage, a time of traveling through this temporary world and unto the glorious presence of our Creator God. (Compare, 1 Peter 2:11-12 and Hebrews 11:13-16). We are encouraged to stay focus on our destination. We are not there yet, but we are together in seeking for and going to a place of sanctuary and peace—which is the very presence of God. For a pilgrim he or she is always talking about the journey. Every day is an experience that is not complete, and yet there is fulfillment because there is a glorious destination. Each new day brings with it new discoveries. A pilgrim’s life is full of surprises. The encounter of life’s mysteries is always a welcome adventure.

Any postmodernist person is naturally drawn to a pilgrimage. One dominant characteristic of postmodernity is its revulsion to authority. A postmodernist person abhors the concept of authority because figures of authority represent finality and the end of creativity. However, in a pilgrimage, there is no sense of finality and every day is a constant discovery of new creative ways to live life.  What if we present Christianity through the motif of pilgrimage? What if we share our life in Jesus that is full of adventures and incomplete journeys, and yet filled with hope of our glorious destination? What if our local churches constantly portray the mysteries of the Christian gospel and the creative expressions of the Holy Spirit in their fellowship and church gatherings? If we do these things, and our lives are full of the virtues of hospitality and humility, then many postmodernist persons will highly consider the Christian gospel. They will be drawn to Jesus and feel the inclusion that the followers of Jesus give them.

A Christian pilgrim says “I am not there yet” but there is hope in Jesus who is our Great Shepherd leading us in our journey here on earth. This is the virtue of humility. The Christian pilgrim also says “Come everyone and join us!” We tell every postmodernist person that there is a space in our lives for them to enter and we will accept them as they are. This is the virtue of hospitality. Once they are included in our Christian community, then they will comprehend what the name of Jesus means and confess him “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

In Taiwan, most of our Free Methodist churches hold a baptism service during their morning services of Easter Sunday. It is a glorious sight to see. It is a time to witness an 80-year old grandfather and a 14-year old teenager stand side by side together to declare their faith to everyone present. The ceremony itself is a confession that they are not there yet. We all are not there yet. Our Christian lives are not yet complete and final, and yet we are continuing in our faith, setting our sights for a city prepared for us, and rejoicing in the hope that it is Jesus himself who will bring us there (Hebrews 11:16 and 12:2). I am sure, if a postmodernist person is present in these morning services, they will sense the inclusion. “They will become aware at these sensitive times of the Lord’s desire to be their intimate companion” (Zahniser 1997:98). They will see that God himself is calling him or her to participate in this Christian pilgrimage and religious meeting.


Cole, Neil. 2010. Church 3.0: Upgrades For the Future of the Church. CA: Josey-Bass.

Gibbs, Eddie and Ryan K. Bolger. 2005. Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Grenz, Stanley J. 1996. A Primer on Postmodernism. MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1979. The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. NY: Random House.

Robinson, Martin. 2004. “Pilgrimage and Mission.” In Explorations in a Christian Theology of Pilgrimage. Edited by Craig Bartholomew and Fred Hughes. England: Ashgate Publishing Co. Pp. 170-183.

Zahniser, A. H. Mathias. 1997. Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures. CA: MARC.