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November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday, we all went to Cuba, IL for our Mowery Thanksgiving gathering. We had the usual turkey, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie, and many other goodies. Of course, watching NFL football on TV was a big part of the celebration. Overall, it was good to see most of Sarah's cousins and extended family. We went home stuffed, both our stomach and our hearts, with excellent food and meaningful memories of 2009 Thanksgiving.

What impressed me the most is the history that comes with our gathering, mainly because we were holding it on the Mowery house whose original existing structure was built in 1846. What an honor to be a part of this tradition and the heritage that comes with it. I am grateful. I thank God that He took care of those immigrants from England and Germany (Sarah's ancestors) when they first came to the USA, and that we have an old house to remind us of that. I pray that my children, Carmen and Jacob, will always remember, whenever they visit Cuba, Illinois, that God takes care of the strangers and foreigners of this land, even those who come from Germany or the Philippines.

The Great Miracle

I am currently reading Tony Lambert's China's Christian Millions (2006, rev. ed.), and I am encouraged with what God is doing in Asia. Below is a quote from this book:

"People standing in torrential rain for over an hour. People coming in all weathers two hours early to worship God. That, I believe, is more convincing evidence of revival in China than any sensational stories of miracles--although many could be related. Indeed, it is the great miracle--on the verge of the 21st century . . . the greatest ingathering the Church has seen since the Pentecost has been taking place over the past two decades or more." (Lambert 2006, page 26)

God is bringing in this harvest in Asia. There are many reasons for this. Lambert is saying it is because of the Christians commitment to worship. Others might say it is because of the "blood of the martyrs" that was spilled years before. I think, it is because these Asian believers are intensely committed to the spreading of the Christian gospel. They do not let government restrictions, violent persecutions, dehumanizing poverty, or difficult sufferings become a hindrance to their ministry of sharing God's good news to their family members and neighbors, and to other people whom they are meeting. God is empowering them with His Spirit so that they will be strong witnesses for Jesus in their homes, communities, and even to the end of the earth (Acts 1:7-8).

In Community

Back to our routine. Carmen and Jacob are watching Super Why and Dinosaur Train on television. Sarah is packing up for our trip back to our "base" in Avon, IL. I am here on this table writing my blog. This Super 8 motel looks like it needs a lot of painting. I can see the cracks on the walls. This seems to be our "staple experience," staying in a hotel on Sunday nights, right after our visits to two local churches for the day. We are really getting good at this. Even the kids are getting the hang of watching TV on a hotel room and riding on the minivan for three to five hours across these Illinois roads. I praise the Lord that the whole family is experiencing God's joy and inspiration in this time of Partnership Building (or furlough, as it was called a long time ago).

Last night we were at Coffeen Free Methodist Church, IL. We came in a little early, but Julia was already there preparing the table for the early dinner time. We sit up our display table and Kim came over from her house next door to help me with the Powerpoint Presentation preparations. At dinner time, Ethyl was there as well as Carol, Lonnie, Darrell, and other members whose names I could not remember. The pastor was not around because he is currently on a mission trip to Africa for this month. Carol shared about a mission trip to New Mexico that she and some members from the church did sometime this year. It was fascinating for me to see her beam with enthusiasm as she recounted the many lessons learned at this mission trip. "There was a great disconnect at that place," Carol described to us one of the problems she encountered at that ministry among the Navaho community. Later, after Sarah and I gave our missions presentation, she concluded the meeting with a passionate appeal for greater support for missions work.

At the end of the evening service, Tina and her son Lucas came to introduced herself. She was our anchor person for this visit to Coffeen. We thanked her for a good job of communication and assistance. We said our goodbyes to those who had to leave early. Sarah and I stayed a few minutes more with Julia, Kim and Bill, Kim's husband. We talked about Julia's daycare ministry and the many ways they are participating in this small rural town of Coffeen. I left that local church with a great sense of admiration for these Free Methodists who are making a difference in their communities. This was a visit to a local church that is "in" community.

Yesterday morning, we were at Emmanuel FMC, at Alton, IL. We spoke at both services, the 8:00 and 10:30 Worship Services. It was during the announcement times that God spoke to me in most powerful ways. I never realized that an announcement time could be such a spiritual experience. But, it was for me! Mark, the pastor of this church, shared about the many opportunities for the people to participate in ministry. There was the Angel Tree, where members can buy gifts for children whose parents are in prison. There was the upcoming mission trip to Nicaragua. People could also come for a prayer ministry. Others could also buy backpacks filled with goodies to be given to indigent children from foster families. Wow! I sat through the whole announcement time marveling at God's love and compassion being demonstrated through this local church. The Lord's body was being lived out in community, in this urban community of Alton, IL.

After the service, Sarah and I were in front of our display table meeting people. Lou Ann and her husband introduced herself. She told me she will soon have a Taiwanese daughter in-law. I said hello to Sonny. I remembered him from our last visit four years ago. He was the one with the beautiful Carvin guitar. Ben reminded me that we met in Butuan City, Philippines, in 1999, when he came to visit in honor of his grandfather, Walter Groesbeck. Ron came over shared how he is presently challenged by God because his two daughters are actively involved in many short-term missions trips, and might end up in full-time missions work in the future. I cheered him on. Mike shared about his calling to the ministry. I admired Ruth's music ministry, especially the song with her daughter. There were other people who talked to me; Reed, Mandy, Cindy, Phyllis, Ron's daughters, the elderly lady whose cousin, Lucille, is a missionary somewhere in Asia, Patty, and others whose names I can not recall. God is alive in this church. The Lord's love is touching lives in this Illinois city of  Alton.

Later, at lunch, we went to have dinner at the pastor's house, and got to meet Mark's wife Cathy, and three foster kids, Brandon, Bruce and Dayton (I think that is his name). Talk about making a difference in one's community. What a great example!

There is more! The night before, Saturday night, Jan and Jack hosted us for the evening. It was a joy to meet them. Carmen and Jacob had fun at their play room at the basement. Out host shared to us about their spiritual pilgrimage and how God led them to Emmanuel FMC. Jan told us of her services at a community center helping the poor of the community. While we were talking, Jack went out to take care of their neighbor's dogs. I later thought, "It is little things like these that leave a great impact on a community." I left Alton with great encouragement. Free Methodists are making a difference here in the USA because they are connected to their communities and actively demonstrating God's love in simple and yet profound ways.

Special Child

Today, my daughter, who just turned eight last Wednesday, is going out with Grandma to get her hair cut. We are grateful for this short family time we have here in Avon, IL. We are getting ready for our going back to Kaohsiung, Taiwan this January 12, 2010. I still have to hear from the shipping company about the quotes for the things I am bringing back to Taiwan. Today, I am packing more boxes and sorting through all our stuff. Meanwhile, we also preparing for another round of church visits here in Illinois. This Sunday, we are going to Alton in the morning and Coffeen in the evening, both in this state. Please pray for traveling mercies.

Last Sunday, on our way to Barryton FMC for the evening service, Carmen mentioned about a scrap book she is making. She wanted a picture of a deer that she can include in this book. We were driving east towards Barryton in some central Michigan countryroads on the opening day of hunting (rifle) season. You could just imagine all the hunters around the woods and the spooked deer crisscrossing the highways. I told my daughter that if we see a deer by the road, we can stop the minivan and take a picture of these beautiful animal for her scrapbook. About a few minutes after, we saw seven, not just one, but seven white-tailed deer by the road. So we stopped and snapped away with our cameras. After that, we told Carmen that she is a very special child before God. God granted her request and sent these seven deer along our way so we can enjoy the sight.

Last Wednesday was Carmen's eighth birthday. Grandma made a cake and Carmen finished it up with the icing and candles. At lunch, Grandpa came over for dinner. Later in the evening we went out to Abingdon for a game of bowling. That was Carmen's first time to bowl. She did pretty well. I praise God for small things that fill up our day and testify to God's love and grace.

Church Alive

"I went to the hospital to get started on my operation. Instead, the doctors sent me home because they could not find the source of my ailment." Joyce was sharing this at Stanwood FMC last Sunday morning. I could not hear exactly what she said after this. I was too far away to understand the exact details of her medical condition. I knew she said that she was at the hospital previously for test and the doctors found some kind of mass or tumor. So, she was there that week to go under the knife. But, praise the Lord, it was gone. "God healed me!," she exclaimed. We all joined her in praising God.

It is this kind of miracles and healing that is keeping God's church alive. Not just any miracles, but ones that are coming from God Himself. I am reading China's Christian Millions (2006, rev.ed) by Tony Lambert. The author documents the many miracles and sacrifices that the Christian Church is receiving as well as the passion of the people in serving God. The Church is alive! God is working in His Church, whether here in America or somewhere in Asia.

My family is right now in a hotel here in Kankakee, IL, on our way to Avon, IL. We left Big Rapids, MI this morning and have decided to not go straight to Avon and drive for nine hours. We figure we will be there when we are there. Actually, I need to be there by 3:00 PM for a dental appointment with Dr. Butler. I think we can make it if we leave before nine in the morning tomorrow. The kids are enjoying swimming at the pool. I am tired. I was up late Saturday night. Then we had a full day yesterday visiting two churches. The whole weekend was spent on packing, sorting, and getting ready to leave the Big Rapids parsonage clean and fitting everything in our Town andCountry minivan. I am glad we made this decision to stay in this hotel for a few hours of rest.

Yesterday at Stanwood, we were able to reconnect with some old friends. I was glad that Janet was there at the morning service. She had been sick for the last two weeks or so. Everyone was happy to see her. Ron and Nick did a good job of ushering in the worship time and Jesse and the band helped in the music and songs. Lori was so passionate during the children's time. She shared the quote, "We live simply so others could simply live." What a powerful thought. I thanked Bill and Carol for lending us some of their camping gears. Sarah and I greeted Hillary's parents. It was good to see them again. Four years ago, they provided us with housing at Hicks Lake. I also met Wayne, Wayne, Erma, and their spouses. I had a meaningful chat with Leslie at the parking lot. After the service we proceeded to Nick and Angela'shouse for dinner with Ron, Wayne and family members.

For the evening service, we went to Barryton FMC, about half hour away from Big Rapids. We saw Tom, the church pastor, and had some intense conversation about ministry in their area. It was encouraging to hear that he is working with the other four Christian churches in the locality and actively involving their respective members to go out to do community service and outreach ministries. Wow! The Church is alive! God is working in the midst of these people: Lynn, Dale, Daryll, Ken, Patty, and others. I wanted to say out loud, "Keep up the good work, brothers and sisters." God is working here in Avon, and there in Barryton. To God be the glory!

Second Wind

Drinking coffee. Posting on Facebook. Blogging here on Typepad. This evening Sarah and the children are out visiting with the CLC children of Evart FMC. It is only 25 minutes away. They will be back in about two hours. I get a little privacy. Enough to get me going in my writing, network-blogging, and lesson plan preparations for my teaching when I go back to Taiwan. Yet, I feel this little emptiness inside me sitting in this computer alone in this house without my wife and two children. I am so glad that this is only temporary. They will be here in an hour. Did I say two hours?

Last Sunday we went to Lakeview FMC. Pastor Ted was so gracious. He gave me, not only the sermon time, but also the whole Sunday School time with the adults. I shared about the recent news that, come this November 13, 2009, there will be 4,000 and more Free Methodist churches in the world because of the entry of four different networks of Christians from a Creative Access Country in Asia. What a blessing! Everyone at church got excited with this news. After both service and Sunday School time, we had dinner at the fellowship place of the church. People started asking questions about the work in Asia. I tried my very best to answer all of them. We met Laura, LaWanda and Sean. Enjoyed the drum playing of Ken, who came with his friend Katie. Mark and Dan's special music was great. I chatted with Linda about sponsoring foreign students. I got to meet Yuskay from Japan, one of her sponsored international student. Wish we had more time to sit with everyone and talk some more.

For the evening service, we went to Evergreen FMC, at Sheridan, MI. It was not very far from Lakeview. Jim and Angie were there to meet us. Straight away, Carmen and Jacob connected with Ms. Angie and went outside to play and chit-chat. More people came trickling in. Mr. and Mrs. Jenks were there. We remember them from four years ago. They did too! I saw Virgil, Nancy, Eleanor and Sue. It was asmall group but very lively and vibrant. We met Jim's son, Josh and his best friend, Andrew. After church, we stayed a little bit at parsonage eating some of Angie's homecooked soup and pies. It was a relaxing visit.

One thing that stood out for me was Carmen's comments on our way to the evening meeting. She mentioned about liking these church visits. Sarah asked her what she liked about them. "I like meeting new friends," Carmen responded. In retrospect, I think she is now getting her second wind--she is starting to enjoy the good stuff that she is encountering. Despite the difficulties in traveling from one new place to another every weekend, she has now learned to focus on the good things. I praise the Lord that He is helping Carmen and Jacob. They are taking this Partnership Building (furlough) time with great pride and joy. To God be the glory!

Rejoicing in Suffering

Tomorrow is the day we all pray for the Persecuted Church all around the world.

Colossians 1:24 says: "rejoice in sufferings." Whenever I read this verse I cannot help but think about my fellow Free Methodists in Orissa, India, in Mainland China, in the Middle East, and many other places where they are persecuted. I believe some of them are actually rejoicing in their suffering--rejoicing because God has counted them worthy to suffer for Jesus. But still, it is very hard for me to imagine them being joyful in the midst of their persecution.

However, as I looked deeper into this verse, into the purpose for this "rejoicing," we see that it is for the sake of God's church, the body of believers. Paul says, "I rejoice in my suffering for your sake. . . so that we may present everyone mature in Christ." (Colossians 1:24-28, ESV) It makes sense then that we can all rejoice in the suffering of a few faithful ones. We can celebrate their sacrifices. As they are persecuted, we here in America can claim their victory as our own. We can say: "If they can rejoice in the midst of their persecution, then there is no reason for us, who are living in this beautiful country of wealth and abundance, to feel defeated and discouraged." We can vicariously appropriate their victory and continue in our Christian pilgrimage becoming more mature Christians for the Lord. We struggle with all our energy that God so powerfully work within us (Col. 1:29).

So, the next time you hear about fellow Christians being persecuted for Jesus' sake, pray for them, and pray with them as if you also were one of the persecuted ones. Then live out that prayer and continue to grow in your faith and commitment to Christ becoming a mature Christian man or woman for God. In this way, we partake in Christ's affliction as one body.

Yesterday at Big Rapids

Yesterday, Roland and Shirley took the whole family for a lunch buffet at Ponderosa here in Big Rapids, MI. After the dinner, we went to the Card Wildlife Center, located inside the campus of Ferris University. The Center houses a wide variety of stuffed animals from around the globe. I personally felt very uncomfortable. I could not see the logic of preserving wildlife by hunting them down and stuffing them and transporting them away from their natural habitat. I do not want to get political here. I appreciate the Center's efforts to educate the general public about exotic animals from far away lands. And, I am grateful to my hosts for showing me this Center. Carmen and Jacob are having the time in their life. You could see the photos from our family webpage at Dropshots and see for yourself how the children enjoyed the whole thing. For me, I would rather talk about our dinner time at Ponderosa.

At the lunch table, I found out both Roland and Shirley worked at the university. He retired as a professor at the Business department of the university. While we were talking, I often wonder how the Big Rapids FMC could start a college ministry in the campus. It would definitely take a lot of effort. I could see myself retiring in a city like Big Rapids, with its college community and the potential of cultural diversity. I did not share this to Roland and Shirley. Maybe, someday. Perhaps, tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will be going to the Men's Prayer Breakfast of the Big Rapids FMC. Roland told me this is the first time they are doing something like this. It is always good to start something with prayer. I am looking forward to God's revelation of His plan in my life through this local FM church here in Michigan.

Yesterday at Grand Rapids

We went to two churches yesterday, the Lifestream FMC and the New Hope FMC, both in Grand Rapids, MI. At both local churches, the pastors were out for a vacation, something they already had arranged before we made the appointment. Nothing major, just a minor glitch in our visits. At Lifestream, Carmen, the missions coordinator, was there to usher us in. I got to play bass guitar with the worship band. That was fun. I was grateful to Linda, the worship leader, invited me to join in since their guitar player was not around. We saw some old friends: Janet, Phyllis, Mrs. Graybill, Forest, and Chuck, all of them we met when we were in this church three and a half years ago. We also met new friends, Richelle, Rachel, Dave and Theresa. I saw one of my Facebook friends, Roberta. After church, we went downstairs to have our lunch potluck. I remember the Nursery Room where Jacob stayed three and a half years ago, when he was just a 6-month old baby. I had a chat with Mary and Joe, about their daughter who is in China with her family doing missions work for children. I talked to Roschelle and Joe, who are into some kind of financing ministry. I promised them I would check it out sometime later during the week. What a lively church. Full of activity and passion for God's community.

We headed out for New Hope FMC for the evening service. Esther, the missions coordinator, was there together with David and Donna. More people trickled in as we waited for the presentation to begin. There was Gene, Joyce, Cathy, Kim, Kathy, Lora, Jason and a few others I cannot remember. It was a small group. We had some food during my presentation. After my talk, on our way out, Cathy came to me and said, "You are right about the church who is involved in missions. It has no other place to go but grow." She was basically affirming my missions challenge, "Go and Cross Cultures." I said a short prayer for this congregation that someday it will send a team from its locality to participate in a missions trip.