Visions Of His Coming

I do not know how to describe it. I have this constant feeling that I am missing something. I go through the day always watching out for something to happen. And yet, at the back of my mind, I have this apprehension that it has already passed me by. 

I ask God to stay close with me. I pray that in the midst of this nagging emptiness and search for an illusive spiritual experience, my Lord and my God will be by my side. I do not know what else to say, and to whom should I go, but to our Almighty God who I know will take me in His arms.

These past few days, I have had this hunger for a deeper encounter with our God. I am not sure how to describe this venture or the depth of this experience. As one Christian mystic says, “The soul does not know how to speak of visions. [They] are so sublime that it’s not fitting for those who live on this earth to have the further understanding necessary to explain them.” (Teresa Avila: Selections from The Interior Castle. 2004:96) It is hard to describe this hungering posture. I won’t call it a vision per se, but more like a desire for a more personal visit from our Almighty God.

Paul speaks of Christians groaning inwardly as we wait for the adoption and redemption of our bodies. We have “the firstfruits of the Holy Spirit” and God’s Spirit helps us “with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:22-26). Jesus prayed earnestly and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). I do not pretend to be in the same league as Paul, or even Jesus. But their desire for a more intimate encounter with God resonates with my own. 

So, today, I go through my day like any other day. I talk to the cashier at the grocery store. And while she is talking to me, I listen to God. I ask myself: What is God doing in her life? How can I stay close to God while He is moving among the people of this world? I go outside and walk the busy city streets of Kaohsiung on my way to work. At the nearby park, I see a grandfather and a young child holding hands enjoying the morning. I ask myself: What is God’s feeling for these two family members when he sees them strolling this Kaohsiung city park? How can I align my feelings to that of God? I know my Almighty God will take me in his loving arms and stand by my side. I wait for him to come.


In-Between

My heritage is Filipino. My upbringing is American. I am one Filipino-American (FilAm) who is caught in-between these two worlds. Some days I feel more like one over the other. My roots are in the Philippines, but my citizenship is in the USA. You can just imagine the constant "turmoil" I have in my own personal reflection time. This struggle for identity is coming out in the open at this time of the Philippine General Conference 2019 (PGC2019), here in Butuan City, Philippines. Let me back up a little bit.

I am here in the Philippines as a visitor and representing FMWM, a missions arm of FMCUSA. I am here as an observer, and also as an "explorer." I am exploring new ways of doing missions here in Asia, starting this off with one-on-one meetings. I am meeting up with different individuals who have the passion and experience in doings missions work around Southeast Asia. Just last night, I sat down with Junmark, and listened to him and his various short-term missions trips to Indonesia and Thailand. It is encouraging to know that despite meager resources, many Filipinos like Junmark, are going out to the nations and fulfilling God's call to go and make disciples of all. So, during these meetings, I feel a sense of unity, a sense of kindred spirit that we have a similar vision, the call to bring the Good News to all tribes and cultures. My identity is no longer on my being an American or Filipino, but is grounded on God's call for every Christian to go and fulfill the Great Commission in our lifetime.

On several occasions during the PGC2019, many pastors came to me and said, "You once belonged to our Philippine Free Methodist Church conference." It is true. I pastored in the Northern Philippine Conference for eight years (before I moved to North Michigan Conference). I did not mind their comments. It did not matter anymore what my heritage or upbringing was. What was important is that these same Free Methodists here in the Philippines have the same vision for cross cultural work as the Free Methodists there in the USA. Both Filipinos and Americans have the same passion to obey God's call for world evangelization.

I am still caught in-between these two identities. But my loyalty is with the Almighty God. I am a Filipino, and I am an American. I belong to a people who are seriously obeying God's call to become a witness of God's love and salvation for all tribes and nations.


Encouraging One Another

“Now I know what you were talking about, Pastor. After the police arrested me because of my Christian faith, I remember the story you told us before, when you were in prison yourself.” These are the words of one anonymous brother who is sharing to Pastor Ben Mann (a pseudonym) his experiences with the local authorities.

Ben Mann, an FM pastor here in Asia, recounts to me this story over breakfast here in Thailand. We are here for a time of resourcing and mutual encouragement. We have different sessions to consult on the state of the work, as well as skill building and ministry equipping on different leadership needs and issues. Ben Mann and I are enjoying some down time over a meal and spontaneously sharing about what God is doing in Asia.

Many Christians here in Asia are persecuted because of their Christin faith. Mann’s story of one of his members is just one of the many examples that the Free Methodist Church is facing in its mission to spread the Good News of the Kingdom of God. We keep going. The Spirit of God continues to move, and so we move with God. Yes, we pray, but we don’t stop there. We  keep on encouraging each other and use these difficulties and persecutions to be a channel of the Good News. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:4, Paul says:  God is the One “who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (ESV) One reason Christians face persecution is that they can use these experiences to encourage one another, to uplift a brother or sister in the Lord, who is going through a similar trial or a time of suffering because of one’s Christian faith. Ben Mann’s story above is an example. Ben and his Christian brother are encouraging each other, sharing their common experiences when they were in prison because of their faith in God. Together, they partake of Christ’ suffering and comfort (2 Corinthians 1:5-7). Together, they glorify God.

So, the next time you are in a difficult situation or going through trials in your life, remember Pastor Ben Mann from Asia. Remember Paul’s words from the Corinthian Epistle. Remember the comfort of Christ and the hope that our Lord gives to us. Also, remember that in the years to come, someone with a similar trial and suffering will come to you, and the two of you, together, will encourage each other in the Lord. And your sister in the Lord will say to you, “Now, I know what you are talking about.”


Eloisa's Story

Today, I want to share with you a testimony of a sister who experienced God's healing and faithfulness. (I am sharing this story with her permission.) God is using her here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. This is her story:

Good morning! I am Loisa Tai, married to a Taiwanese man. We have two wonderful children, a daughter, who is 21, and a son, who is 18 years old. As a woman married to a man with a different culture, language, and belief, one must have the courage to face every circumstances. But I am so thankful we survived our first few years (of marriage) of arguments almost everyday.

When my kids went to school I found a job to have extra money to send some to my parents in the Philippines. I kept this job until I was able to have my own canteen that I ran for about 10 years. This was the reason that I was not able to go to church because I was too busy earning money. Now, I don’t know where the money went, the money that I earned. This is my greatest mistake: not being consistent to bring my children to church an that is why I have a hard time inviting them now even after they were baptized. I had been very busy until one day I heard two Filipinos (talking) who were diagnosed with breast cancer. I was alarmed because I have felt something in my breast for quite some time.Then I told my husband and children that I will go to see a doctor. That time I don’t know which doctor I need to consult with. So I went to a gynecologist and she did an ultra sound (procedure) and right after that she told me that she will refer me to an oncologist because the lump (looks) malignant. During that time I did not know how I should feel. I was just calm and worried, and praying hoping it’s not that serious. Before I meet the oncologist, I did the mammogram. When the result came out I (made appointment to see) my oncologist. I called our pastor to come with me because I was afraid with what the doctor might say. And when we were there he told us everything that I need to do. He showed us the result of the mammogram. Then, he schedule me for a biopsy. And after the biopsy, he said that it is stage 1B, and (for this reason) I would need to have an operation. 

So that day of my operation, my husband was there, together with our pastor and Aying. They were there because I need them to pray for me. I was afraid at that time (and I kept) praying until I was inside the operating room. My husband said I was there for more than 8 hours, and the doctor told him that my cancer is stage 2B. After a few days they scheduled me, if I’m not mistaken, for 12 sessions of chemotherapy. This was the hardest part because I lost all my hair. But I knew that during these dark moments of my life I have our Lord, because He says in Isaiah 41:10 “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Praise God for He is our great Healer. He protected me until I finished my other 30 days of radio therapy.  I am so blessed because I have my family and a family in Christ who was there to pray with me and they kept on encouraging me to fight and always be happy and positive which was a big help for those who are sick. Just like what it says in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up bones.” Now I am on my third year as a cancer survivor. I try to serve our God. I am attending care groups and still learning to know more about Jesus. I am so thankful that I have Jesus who is our Everlasting God and great Healer, a provider, our Savior and Lord. All Glory to God!


Parable of a Helper

One day, an 8-year old boy was playing on a beach somewhere in Florida. He was digging a hole and collecting the sand to make a sand castle. After a while, a man came by and talked to the boy. He said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the man continued. “I can take a picture of you and document your progress. Meanwhile, I can play some music for you on my smartphone and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a woman came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the woman continued. “I will give you some bottled water to quench your thirst. And if this is not enough, you can give me some money and I will go and buy you some more bottled drinks and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a young person came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Ni hao? Ni zai zuo shenme?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Help you?” The young person went down on her knees and started digging sand together with the 8-year old boy. The two of them kept working and after a few hours, a sand castle began to form from out of the sandy beach somewhere in Florida.

Who do you think helped the little boy? “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).


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!


Storming The Gates

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

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


Just Talking

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

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

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

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


Training Pastors or Developing Leaders

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

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

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


Easter Even Reflections From Henri Nouwen

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

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

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

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