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May 2011

The Boy Is Sick

Jacob, my six-year old son, is still sick. It has been eight days already. His condition did not improve until he received a new anti-biotic medicine that the doctor prescribed him. That was two days ago. Now he is feeling better. But, we still need to check his present condition. After today's chapel and lunch here at the seminary, I am heading back home so we can go and pay another visit to Dr. Lee, our family physician.

Since Jacob stayed home the whole week last week, I have spent more time with him, mostly playing video games online. He was so fascinated that I got so intense with one of his games, Pest Control from Animal Jam of National Geographic Kids. Oh well! Now, he is seeing a part of me for the first time. "Papa, this is for kids." This is what he says whenever I get on the computer and play Pest Control. I wonder which kids' video games are most popular among adults. Do you know?

Kaohsiung Church Among Westerners in Taiwan

"I am not connected with this school, but I have common friends who are from this school," Hannah shares to Sarah and I. We are at a BBQ outdoor fellowship, a year-end event sponsored for all the students, teachers, staff, and friends of Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung (MAK) here in Kaohsiung. MAK, a missionary school, is the school that Carmen (my daughter) goes to, and soon, next school year, Jacob will also be going there. During this BBQ fellowship, Sarah is leading a half-hour games for the small children right before the burgers and other goodies are served. I am helping her with the games (as well as taking photos). Hannah visits with her little toddler daughter and we all get to talking. "My husband is a scientist," Hannah replies after I tell her that I teach in a seminary. As she is talking, I cannot help but think of the many other Westerners located in this island of Taiwan. My mind is bringing out all sorts of questions.

Who are these international people? What kind of backgrounds do they have? How can the local Christian churches of Taiwan reach out to these International People Groups (IPGs)? Will an IPG feel welcome in our Christian gatherings? What would a gathering of Western IPGs look like? Can a group of English teachers, scientists, foreign students, and engineers find something in common? What kind of leader will they follow? How will they respond when they hear Jesus say "I love you my child. Come and follow me?" What will it take for an IPG to become a strong and mature Christian disciple for our Lord Jesus?

"My husband studies plants," Hannah continues. I think she means her husband is a consultant with an agricultural company here in Taiwan. I surmise he is a scientist dealing with the DNA of plants, cloning, and other molecular engineering that brings abundant harvest and better agricultural products. (Okay, I am showing off my imcompetence here. This is an area of knowledge that I have no expertise whatsoever.) "I was invited by my friend who comes to this school," Hannah explains. Sarah and Hannah starts chatting away naming all their common friends. And this is how a church among Westerners here in Taiwan is going to start. It will begin with friendships. One friend telling another friend about Jesus.

"My husband went to the Philippines. You have a great research institution there with IRRI," Hannah tells me. (IRRI stands for International Rice Research Institute, located in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines.) Suddenly, I feel a connection with Hannah's husband. It does not matter anymore that they are living in Taichung, about three hours north of Kaohsiung. It seems irrelevant that they are British, very culturally different than our American roots. What is important is that we have common friends and we have been to the same places here in Asia. These are the things that will help bring Western IPGs to gather together for worship and fellowship. The Holy Spirit will take all these common things and shared memories of places and multiply them, so that the Church of Jesus Christ will be established among the International People Groups (IPGs) of Taiwan.

A Place for Homesick People

"They are very lonesome," our speaker shares to the whole group. It is our Students Mission Fellowship (SMF) meeting here at the seminary, and our speaker, Iris Wei, narrates to us her experience working with Muslim friends under the sponsorship of Christian Missions Overseas. "They are so open," she continues. "They are really not serious about their faith." She explains the reasons for this state of openness among Muslim visitors in foreign countries.

While listening to Iris speak to the SMF gathering, I cannot help but think about the many Indonesians around the city of Kaohsiung. I agree with her that these migrant workers, home caregivers, and foreign students are very open to hearing about the Christian gospel. But I disagree with her analysis that they are not serious about their faith. I think, these people are open to the gospel, not because they are weak (not serious) in their religious convictions, but because they are displaced and so lonely for anything that reminds them of home. They are willing to try new things just so they can "appease" their feelings of loneliness. Actually, loneliness is a strong word, and quite negative in describing the experiences of foreigners here in Taiwan. I would say, they are homesick. They are longing for comfort and someone to understand their displacement and cross-cultural experiences. They need friends to sit with them and chat.

Who are the people here in Taiwan who are homesick and need Taiwanese friends to listen to them? I mentioned the Indonesian caregivers. There are also many post-modernist English teachers who come from many different Western countries. We have Filipino factory workers, Vietnamese housewives, and Spanish speaking foreign students. They all need to hear the story of Jesus and his salvation and forgiveness. They also need a friend who will listen to them. Can you be that friend? Can your friendship be a place for homesick people?

Starting a New Work: "Just Keep Moving."

I am doing a study of the Book of Acts and currently I am on the part where Phillip goes to a Samaritan city and shares the gospel to the people there. I cannot help but think of Jesus' visit to that area narrated by John in his gospel (John 4). The work in Samaria was started because there were people who were willing to leave their own comfort zone and "just keep moving" until the locals receive God's salvation. Phillip did not stop in Samaria, but he kept moving until he met the Ethiopian Eunuch. The rest is history. Tradition states that that one Christian (the Eunuch) became the one Christian who started the Christian work in Ethiopia.

One of my friends invited me to come to his church and lead an English worship service. I appreciated his invitation. I know that he means well and is excited about the prospect of starting a new work among the English speaking people here in Kaohsiung. But I told him that this is not the way Jesus starts new ministries. Jesus' model is we "just keep moving." We leave our secured positions and move to where the people are. In the case of the English speaking population here in Kaohsiung, many of these people are working in the many cram schools around the city. At the end of their work schedule, after 9:00 in the evening, they head out to the bars and party places for a time of rest and recreation. They go to the beaches for a weekend get-away. Shouldn't we go and visit these many places where they congregate? I reminded my friend that we do not stay inside the four walls of our church buildings and wait for the people to come. We keep moving until they receive God's salvation. Just keep moving!

Relevance of Seminary Courses

Last week, we had a great speaker come and give a series of lectures on Exegetical Sermons. They were awesome topics and the speaker did a great job. Later, I asked one of my mission students: "Are these lectures relevant to an ordinary Christian leader out there on the field, a leader who had no exposure to any seminary training whatsoever?" This student hesitated and later replied in the negative. 

This week is our Mission Week at the seminary. Our chapel speaker was an awesome guy, veteran Chinese missionary to Africa. His reflections on missionary work were well received by the students. Everyone had a good laugh listening to the speaker's cross cultural anecdotes and stories. Later this afternoon, I kept asking myself, Would this chapel talk be relevant to the ordinary local leader of our churches here in Taiwan? Or, is this talk only meaningful to seminary students?

I am still grappling with the issue of relevance. I always envision a ministry of training that meets both the needs of highly academic students from the seminary and the concerns of practical-minded leaders abundant in our local churches. I cannot help but think of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters 5-7. Jesus addressed very deep issues of theology and yet was able to relate to the everyday situations of the ordinary person. His model is something we all need to follow. 

Even as I prepare my lectures for my classes for the next semester, I keep going back to Jesus' example. His explanation of deep spiritual truths was not at the expense of relevance. We could be relevant and yet scholarly. I pray that my teaching time at the classroom will be like Jesus. 

Mother's Day to an Eight-Year Old Girl

"Hurry Papa. We need to prepare Mama's breakfast on bed." Carmen, my eight-year old daughter excitedly comes down the stairs this early morning. I hesitate and want to correct her English grammar, but her enthusiasm is so endearing. "You know, make Mama's breakfast and bring it to her before she wakes up." I sense that she knows instinctively. "Oh yes, we will make her breakfast in bed." Oh well, I myself have a hard time with the English prepositions. My Filipino mind still gets confused with their usage (or is it "of their usage"?). I am confused now!

Enough of grammar stories and back to my daughter. Yesterday, we went to the mall to get Sarah a gift. We bought the book "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters," by Barack Obama. Sarah was planning to buy this book for Christmas. I explained to Carmen that her mother would be very surprised if she gets this for Mother's Day. My daughter happily joined me in picking up the book from the bookstore at Kaohsiung Arena mall.

Mother's Day Sunday was laid back. After church, we stayed home and read books and the children watched some videos. Later in the afternoon, Carmen asked whether we are going somewhere to eat or not. We decided to just hang out in the house and forego the eating-out routine. Such a restful Sunday. I felt that my family deserves a little laid back Sunday. The past three weekends were packed with activities, ministry events, and church commitments. The least I could do is give them a father's undivided attention during this Mother's Day weekend. (Of course, after I read chapter three of my book, or when they are finished with their videos.)


Taiwan Ministry Among the Vietnamese People Here in Taipei

24 new members were baptized. About 55 people were present for this worship service. I came all the way from Kaohsiung to join the Free Methodist Vietnamese Church of Taipei. They met at a Baptist church located close to the Taipei Main Train Station. It was so humbling to see all these Asian migrant workers (some are wives married into Taiwanese families) take time off from family and work to be here for a baptism service. This church had been started a few years back by Khoa and Tammy, Vietnamese Americans from Ohio. They came to Taiwan as VISA missionaries. Currently, Khoa is finishing his M.Div work at Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary. Despite the work schedules of these Vietnamese migrant workers (most of them only have 4 hours of time off every month) and the responsibilities of Pastor Khoa as a full time student at the seminary, the Lord is constantly blessing this ministry. 

I came so I could document the Lord's work among this Vietnamese people here in Taipei. I came with my camera and video cam, including a heart full of anticipation for what God would be telling me through this group of people. I took pictures of them coming forward to give their tithes and offerings, putting their gifts into two different boxes. I found out later that one box is for their regular offering and the other is for missions work back in Vietnam. Pastor Khoa told me that this church is paying the rent for the use of this Baptist church, on their own, with no foreign funding. I thought that was a very significant sign of a healthy church. He also told me that they are supporting one church planter-pastor in Vietnam. With the gift of $150.00 US dollars they send every month, the pastor was able to multiply the work to three more churches. What a way to contribute to the Lord's harvest. With little resources, including money, time, and personnel, God's work is growing tremendously among the Vietnamese people both here in Taiwan and in Vietnam. Glory to God!