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December 2009

December 25th

"Best Christmas ever!" This is Carmen's evaluation for this day. Everyone is chilling out, watching television. Carmen and Jacob just finished taking a bath and are in their pajamas. In a little while, we will be watching some Christmas special. . . I think it is "It's a Wonderful Life!" It is snowing outside, and the wind chill is close to seven degrees Fahrenheit. Very cold!

This morning we opened our gifts. Carmen was the designated Saint Nick, taking the presents from under the Tree and giving them to Grandma, Grandpa, Papa, Mama, or Auntie Susan. Susan came down from Chicago. It had been a ruckus celebration; a good one. I noticed Jacob warming up to his Grandpa during the whole thing. If ever there was one thing we could take from this holiday week, it would be the strengthening of family ties and building Christmas memories.

Later at lunch, we invited Aunt Bonnie and Uncle Max for a meal and a time to open our Christmas stockings together. We had a blast uncovering all the chocolates and little goodies from inside our stockings. I thought I would try to outdo this Christmas 2009, by making Christmas 2010 full of surprises inside our Christmas stockings and presents that would bring laughter and a bit of silliness. We will see!

Christmas Memories

I am posting here (below) a Christmas letter I wrote in December 2007. The feelings and memories I shared in that letter are still current today. I am wishing everyone a blessed Christmas! Have fun reading.

One of my fondest memories of Christmas is when I was five years old sitting on my sister’s lap watching the colorful Christmas Eve fireworks from a distance in Butuan City, Philippines.  I can still recall that cool (80 degrees) weather cuddling with my sister, Lyra, on our porch.  Oh, what a beautiful evening it was!  I am so blessed to have a loving Christian family.

When I went to college in the late 1970s, our family moved to Manila.  We continued family Christmas traditions with a midnight meal (Noche Buena) and exchanging of Christmas gifts.  On Christmas Eve, everyone (remember, I have ten siblings) would come to my sister’s house and bring their gifts and delicious food.  At ten in the evening we would open our gifts.  I was single back then, but I enjoyed watching all of my nieces and nephews play with their new toys and show off their new clothes.  After the revelry, I can still remember the big mound of wrapping paper left over.  The younger ones enjoyed playing with the Christmas “trash.”  Of course, the adults then felt like they had to stop them from making a bigger mess.  It seemed to me that was also part of our Christmas tradition.

By midnight, we started helping ourselves to the lechon (roasted pig), pancit (noodles), steamed crabs and prawns, grilled yellow-fin tuna, kare-kare (vegetable stew with pork), and sinigang hipon (vegetable sour soup with shrimp).  Even as I write this, I can smell all the good food and taste them in my mouth.  I am so happy that Carmen loves eating fish and Jacob enjoys rice and noodles.

So, from our family to yours, we want to wish you a Christmas filled with joy and excitement, and maybe a little ruckus and revelry, as you gather together to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ!

Thoughts on The First Christmas

Every Christmas season, I always think about the first Christmas story and what it meant to the people who first experienced it. This story came to a young unwed pregnant girl. Her response was "God has looked on the humble estate of His servant." (Luke 1:48) The story also came to a bunch of foreigners from the East. Their experience was joy and desire to worship the little Baby-King, and eagerness to share the story to everyone they met. (Matthew 1:2) It came to a few "cultural misfits" and "politically insignificant" shepherds. Their reaction to the Christmas story was one out of haste and direct obedience. (Luke 2:15-16).

So, if we want our Christmas celebrations today to reflect "The First Christmas Story," I suggest we invite foreigners into our Christmas gatherings, welcome people, especially the misfits and socially insignificant ones, to our homes and dinner tables, and include pregnant unwed teenagers, people of different sexual orientation, and those who feel alienated from the Christian Church, in our thoughts and prayers during this holiday season.

Have a Merry "First" Christmas!

Snow Day

Today, Carmen and Jacob went outside and played in the snow. Our neighbors, the Eltings, were also outside. I was the camera man. Nathan, one of the Elting boys, drove a Quad (a four wheeled bike) and drag a sled around. Jacob had a blast! Carmen wanted Nathan to drive faster, but her mom did not allow it. We also went down a hill sledding. Well, I did not. Jacob won't let me. All he wanted was his sister to do all the riding. I guess, he felt like my place in the sun is behind my camera and not on a sled. Oh well, we still enjoyed the whole experience.

23 Boxes

I said goodbye to 23 boxes today. They are all our stuff (books, audio equipment, and household goods) heading to Taiwan. The N & M Transfer truck came at around 12:30, Dad (Sarah's father) and I helped the trucker guy load all 23 boxes. Tonight, they will stay in a warehouse in Iowa, and tomorrow, will head out to Peoria for processing, and on to California to board a ship headed for Korea. By January 16, 2010, it is estimated to arrive in Kaohsiung.

I have so many worries. My thoughts are racing. What if they get lost? What if that trucker was a con-artist and stole all my stuff? I need to trust God. I have to calm myself and remember that God is taking care of everything, even these earthly stuff that we all have. I say it now, aloud to myself: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want." (Psalms 23:1) God will take care of everything.

Second Time is a Treat

It was our second time for this year to stay at the Long residence. Barry, the pastor of Pana FMC, invited us to stay at their house in Shelvyville, IL. We spoke at Pana (IL) and later drove to Barry and Cathy's home for the night. We got to meet Kris and Matt, two of the many Long children, again, for the second time. This morning, we saw Joe, one of Barry's son who is in the military stationed in Kentucky. Overall, the visit was a hit. Jacob and Carmen enjoyed playing with Spark, Simon, and especially little puppy Rufus. These three family pets (dogs) were the center of our time at the Long family living room. In the midst of these, Barry and I talked about cross cultural missions and church ministry in general. I left the conversation with a strong impression that I am going to see this family in the mission field (again) in the near future.

Our time at Pana FMC last night was delightful. I got to chit chat with Lavon. She gave me a jar of my favorite snack food--roasted cashew nuts. For some reason, she remembered four years ago that I said I love cashew nuts. It was so precious that this dear old lady of 80 years or more paid attention to what I said and bought this tasty food that I can take home with me. God bless Lavon!

The people at Pana church took care of us. Barry, Heather, and another lady took care of our display table. Someone went home to get a table for us to use. I hang out with Sandra and some other teenagers from the church. They were a lively bunch. (Sandra is now a Facebook Friend.) After I spoke, the Q & A time was engaging. They all had a lot of queries about persecution in Asia and the current Free Methodist work in Creative Access countries. Even the teenagers asked Sarah and I about the fashion clothes of Taiwanese young people. We became fashion experts for one night.

We headed out of Shelvyville this morning and came to Macomb mid afternoon and straight to the county clinic to get our H1N1 Flu shots. Now, it is hard to imagine that we are done with our visits to local churches. The next round of visits (Partnership Building) will be the summer of 2012. By that time, we will be more ready than this first time. The second time will be easier. . . and hopefully less grueling than this one. 2012 will be a delightful treat!

Sunday Morning at Parkview

"He is so cute," a college-age lady said this to us about Jacob. "Thank you," Sarah responded to the lady. "And he knows it too."

We are in a Wendy's store waiting for our ice cream. We're just resting up getting ready to leave for an evening service at Pana, IL. We just finished speaking at Parkview FMC, here in Vandalia, IL, early this morning. There was a good turn out today. Maybe because a Society Meeting was also scheduled for today. Perhaps, everyone just wants to see Jacob's cute face and playful antics. (And did I mention that Jacob knows he is a cute and adorable kid?) Maybe, everyone just wanted to hear what Marcos, the church's pastor, had to say regarding the future of their church. Whatever the reason, there was a good turn out. The fellowship hall was full. Plenty of food and lots of dessert. Wait a minute! The food is probably why they were all there this Sunday morning. Regardless, food, fellowship, or a business meeting is a good excuse for Christians to gather together and worship the Lord.

We came in last night and stayed at the Franklin home at Ramsey, IL. Martin and Ann invited their two grand daughters, Abby and Shelby, to help entertain our two kids. Carmen and Jacob had a blast. They all had a great time playing together. Gary and Sharon, Ann's sister, were also there. Our dinner of steak and grilled chicken was tasty. The conversation was even more lively with all the guys bantering and exchanging jokes and stories. It was a good visit.

This morning, I woke up to a good cup of black coffee. Martin and I had a good talk about the ministry over breakfast. Martin spoke of his desire to serve God with all his being. While he was speaking, I sensed a quiver in his voice. I thought that his words reveal the depth of his conviction. Later, at the Sunday School class, he taught a lesson on pride. I admired his teaching and management of the class discussion.

After I spoke at the church service, I met several people and chatted with Paul, Dwayne, Lee Ann, Lee Ann's daughter Mindy, who is in 6th grade, Rosalee, Jim, Lucas, Elizabeth, while Sarah also talked to several other church members. After dinner, Marcos shared to the whole group (Society) about the church's core values. I thought it was a great presentation. I am hopeful about this church, that it will find its place in the Lord's work at Vandalia.

We need to go. I see Jacob approaching another group of people sitting and enjoying their lunch. I keep telling him not to bother other people. I think he believes his cuteness and pure good looks will endear anyone. Oh, oh! He is smiling. Those dimples and sweet eyes . . . oh, okay, the people are smiling back. We better start moving.

Wonderful Morning

The sun is just starting to come out. I am enjoying the view and admiring the Illinois countryside with patches of snow that are beginning to melt. It is still cold, but I am warm here inside the house watching the world go by from the comfort of the Mowery sun room. While reveling in the beauty of this hopeful morning, I keep hearing a song in my head, "Wonderful, Merciful Savior." I join in to the melody erupting in my brain and praise the God who has sustained us through out this year. As I come to the song the second time, I grab my guitar and I am sitting here in front of this big window facing east and joining in this morning's chorus of worshiping the Almighty Creator, together with my feeble voice, my lowly acoustic guitar, the glory of this day's sunrise, and the many angels in heaven magnifying God because He is God.

He is a wonderful and merciful Savior, Almighty God is He!

Last Night at Shelvyville, Illinois

Ron and Joy were there to greet us. They are the pastor and wife team of Shelvyville FMC. We set up our display table early. Joy went out to pick up some children for this evening's missions presentation. Mary, Marcela, Ann and her family of children, including Stephen, Gary, Donna, Steve, Virginia, and other people came trickling in. We shared about the "The Harvest in Asia." We had a lively Q & A time. I was impressed with the children of preteen age, who sat through the whole talk, and even participated with a question about how Sarah and I met--basically our love story. We had a few laughs and giggles. Later, we had a light dinner and fellowship at the Fellowship Hall. I had a long chat with Gary, talking about many things from Chinese politics to Chinese names. At the end, I had a picture taken with one of the boys, Stephen. I said a short prayer for this young man, that God will sustain him and perhaps call him to the Lord's vineyard and harvest fields.

This morning, Roy, Dee and Joy treated us to a big breakfast. The children sat through the whole one and a half hour of "big people" talk. It helped that Jacob had his big piece of pan cake, and his white board beside him. Roy and Dee chatted with some older gentlemen seated close by and introduced us to them. One of the guys, Jack, told us about one of his mission trips. He expressed his appreciation for our work. Another man, Gary, was playing with Jacob. We later found out, when it was time to pay the bill, that Gary already paid for all our meals, without telling us about it. What a nice gesture of Christian love. We left that breakfast place filled with lots of love. As we headed out, Roy gave me a big hug. I told him, "I love you too, Roy." This local church is full of God's love and God's children who are passionate for His ministry here and abroad.

Last Night at Greenville, Illinois

We drove in to Greenville, Illinois at around five in the afternoon and stayed at Doane and Ruth's place. I knew Doanne from early 90s when he was the FMWM Director and came to Manila for short visits. Their house had a huge basement section complete with everything. Carmen and Jacob loved it. We had a good rest and felt rejuvenated for this morning's worship service.

This morning, we spoke at Greenville FMC, at both early and late services. People were so gracious, appreciating my 7-minute missions presentation. I shared about the recent harvest that is happening with the Free Methodist work in Asia. I saw some longtime friends: Matt and Ann, my friends from Asbury days in Wilmore, Kentucky; Bob and Carolyn, the first Illinois FM missionaries I knew when I was a small kid back in Butuan City, Philippines; John and Arlene, whom I knew for many years when John was a FM missions executive; Jo Ann, a good friend for many years. I also saw some familiar faces; Lucia and Greg (I was blessed with Greg's piano worship time), Doug, the pastor of the church, Greg (I hope to connect with him sometime about the work in Nepal), Greg from Greenville College (GC), Daniel, who shared to me about his summer teaching in Asia, Elizabeth from GC, and many others I can't recall right now. Maybe tomorrow morning, after I get rested, I can remember their names. At the display table, I also met Gene, whose wife is a nurse. He shared about his desire to support us. This local church is one of our most vibrant and missions-minded churches. I praise the Lord for the honor to represent His work in Asia and this opportunity to share about missions work with this community here in Greenville, Illinois.

At lunch time, the GC missions committee members, well, most of them, were at Doanne and Ruth's house for a fellowship dinner. Carl, Vikki, Pat, and Rich were also there. They were all so affirming. We left the house filled with God's love and the prayers of His people, and with the promise of continued support and encouragement.