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July 2011

GC11 Revisited

Since I have been back here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, my wife and I keep talking about God's visitation in North Chili, New York, at Roberts Wesleyan College (RWC), where GC11 (General Conference 2011) was held last July of this year. She was not there, but she was able to participate through the live feed and video streaming at the GC11.org website. (You can visit this website and check out the "Live" page for an archive of the many different worship services. Google GC11 and follow the link.) I was in RWC and Sarah (my wife) was at home here in Taiwan monitoring the events online. We were so blessed with the challenges of our three Bishops and their call for a more engaged Free Methodist Church, not only in the USA but the world as well. One evening service that really connected with us was the Thursday evening sermon by Bob Roberts, Jr. Sarah and I watched this sermon again a few days back. It made both of us look forward to our 2013 Partnership Building visit to the USA next July 2013. Just like what Roberts shared, we want to challenge our local Free Methodist churches to be a "missionary church." Below, are some of my thoughts and reflections.

Roberts is mainly speaking to North American churches. He challenges the US churches to "pray like a missionary." This means a prayer that asks God to bless the whole city. A church that is located on a spot, just as a missionary is to a certain culture and locality. I am now reading Roberts' book Transformation: How Glocal Churches Transform Lives and the World (2006). He shares here his experiences as a pastor of Northwood Church. He says: "Instead of being the biggest church in the area, we were going to church the area" (2006:40). He is calling the churches to be both locally and globally relevant. In his GC11 address,he points out seven "game changers," conditions that will encourage every Christian to make a difference in this world and to obey the Great Commission. (I will repeat these seven items. You can visit the website for yourself and listen to the sermon.) It is so refreshing to hear him preach and rally US believers to be more missional than ever. I will certainly use this Thursday sermon as a point of reference when I come to the US for our five-month Partnership Building next year visiting FM churches in Michigan and Illinois.

Here is a quote from Bob Roberts, Jr. when he ended his sermon: "The Great Commission is going to be fulfilled. If we are not a part of that, it will be because of sin: we just refused to work together." (July 14, 2011, New York).

Chiku English Camp: Another Visit

"Teacher, it has been a long time since I last saw you." One of the children comes up to me and greets me. I remember her from when Sarah and I came to Chiku a few years back to teach the elementary school-aged children of this community. Now, she is almost 12 years old.

Yesterday, my whole family went to Chiku (Tainan County), about an hour and a half away from Kaohsiung to visit the Chiku Camp, a bi-annual 4-day children's camp in Long Shan Elementary School, Chiku, Taiwan. This camp sponsored by the Feng Shan Free Methodist Church (FSFMC in Kaohsiung), our home church, in cooperation with this local elementary school. The school provides the venue, and the church comes with volunteers and lessons for the children. It is a great opportunity to share the Christian gospel. We praise the Lord that the local government allows the church to do this ministry.

This year's summer camp was inspiring for me. Aside from FSFMC and the Daliao Free Methodist Church, there were three other Christian churches who participated. They sent their assistant pastors and a few of their youth to assist in the teaching and preparations for the whole camp. What a sight to see five different local churches working together in a particular location for the work of the Kingdom of God. Yesterday, was the last day of this 4-day event and the church leaders invited us, together with our children, to come and visit and participate in the final evening presentations and children's program. I met another 15-year old youth who was in 5th grade when I first came to Chiku to teach. I chatted with him a little bit. We did not talk much, but I could tell that he was delighted to see me. He was also there just for the evening activities. I probably was more delighted to see than he was.

We are slowly seeing some results from this Chiku ministry. Nothing big. No great numbers. But, we are slowly gaining the respect of the local community. Every year, more and more parents, local government officials, and teachers from the area come to our Thursday evening closing program. It is another opportunity for them to hear the Christian gospel. God is working. We will wait.

GC11 was a humbling experience for me

Sitting together with GC11 participants. Chatting with Facebook Friends who are here in North Chili, NY. Praying together with pastors from many different Free Methodist (FM) churches in the world. Listening to what God is doing in the USA. I am so honored to have been together with our church leaders in the USA through this GC11, General Conference 2011, a gathering of many FM pastors and lay delegates from around the world, and mostly from the USA.

Now, I am back here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and enjoying the fellowship of my family. And yet, I still cannot help but remember all the things God is doing in North America. It was a privilege for me to witness God working among our US local church pastors. I was humbled by their stories. These are the people who "make things happen," (through God's grace, of course) and who are out there on the frontlines. God bless all their efforts. I pray that those of us who are out here in the "mission field" (overseas) will be an encouragement to our local churches at home (USA).

Waiting On God (at North Chili, New York)

Jacob loves to talk. My son is almost seven. He enjoys telling us, his family, what happened at school that day, his new favorite video game at National Geographic Kids dot com, and what he just told God about something a while ago. As the father of this vibrant out-going expressive boy, I try very hard to listen. I wait on him to finish his sentence before I respond. I make sure I repeat what he just told me so that we are always on the same page. I listen attentively.

I came to this conference, the General Conference 2011 (GC11) of the Free Methodist Church, USA, here in North Chili, New York, at the Roberts Wesleyan College, to listen to God. I want to hear God speaking to the North American churches of our denomination. I came to listen.

The last two days, the Bishops has been encouraging everyone to listen to God and see where He is moving. It was a breath of fresh air for me to hear our leader's words of exhortation. During the group meetings (committee sessions), the group facilitators lead us into prayer and meditation. "We will first listen to God." They keep reminding us of this. It warmed my heart. This is exactly why I came: to listen to God. We started our group meetings with silent meditation, seeking God's presence and waiting on the Spirit's move. On the second day, we tackled the assigned resolutions and did business as usual. But, God took over the business. There was a meeting of the mind, a corporate sense that God is with us. The superintendents were wonderful. Their words of wisdom were well received. I listened to God and He is saying: "David, I am the Lord of the harvest, and I am the Head of the church. I will be there to take care of my flock." Praise God!

Today, we will have the plenary sessions. I won't be in most of these sessions because I have other "missions business." I have several meetings with different individuals who have expressed interest in coming to Asia for missionary work. I will continue to listen to God. I will watch where He is leading these individuals, and see if I can "run alongside" them. God is with us in this journey. We will listen attentively.

The Many Surprises From God

Many surprises are pleasant. When my wife gives me a kiss while I am doing the dishes, that is a pleasant surprise. It comforts me. When my son, out of the blue, offers to massage my back by walking on it, then that is a welcome act of kindness. One of the other few surprises in life that I look forward to is when the whole family is in the car and I am driving, Carmen, my nine-year old daughter, has this habit of doing a solo concert inside the car. She does not have an exceptional singing voice, but she does carry it with so much passion. I love her singing. She sings mostly Praise songs and some of the Disney movie theme songs.

God's surprises come when we least expect them. Last Sunday, I was still in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. After the church service of Feng Shan Free Methodist Church (FSFMC), Joyce and I got to talking, and in the middle of our conversation, she made a half serious joke about her being my TA (teaching assistant) for my classes at Holy Light Theological Seminar (HLTS) where I am currently teaching. I was not sure if she really was serious, but after a few prodding questions, I found out she really wanted to do this. So, I accepted her offer and next Fall semester, she will come to help me in my teaching duties.

Joyce is more than qualified to be my teaching assistant. She has a PhD degree in History from one of the universities in Taiwan. She will be retiring this year and currently working on a book about the history of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. She is currently enrolled in our (HLTS) MA program. Her offer to help me is a pleasant surprise from God. I have known Joyce for about six years now, and I believe this year is the perfect time for us to work together.

God's surprises are pleasant, although some are quite unpleasant. But, all the same, God's surprises come in the most unexpected moment. They also have a utilitarian function, although, at times, it is very difficult to decipher the usefulness of God's surprises. Eventually, we come to a point where we say with Gestalt affirmation, "This is it!" or "Everything works together for good."

I am reading the Book of Acts right now. Acts 12 tells us of Peter's imprisonment and his ensuing miraculous deliverance from his captors. These come as a total surprise to the brethren. His deliverance is pleasant and useful. (Although, the part about being in prison is not pleasant.) It is not what the early Christians had in mind. But, the most important thing about God's surprises is that God reveals Himself through these surprises. It is His way of saying: "I am in control. Do not be afraid. I will be there to deliver you."

I certainly feel that God is in control. My family is not the most perfect family, but every little thing they do comes to me as "God's surprises." Through my family, I hear God say: "I am in control." When Joyce from FSFMC offered her help to be my TA at HLTS, it is similar to God telling me: "I will deliver you." I can certainly hear, together with Peter, God's words, "Be not afraid." Oh, the beauty of God's many surprises.

At present, I am here in Chili, New York (close to Rochester, NY), for the General Conference 2011 of the Free Methodist Church, USA. The conference will start this Wednesday. I am here early for pre-conference meetings. Today, I will be going to church at Pearce Memorial Free Methodist Church. I do not know what is in store for me. But one thing I know, God will surprise me with His presence and abiding love.

"Home" Alone in New York (Rochester)

What do you do when you are the only person staying in Davison Hall, a college dormitory that can house about 200 people here in Roberts Wesleyan College (RWC), Rochester, New York. Home alone! Creepy, aye?

I just came from Taiwan to RWC to participate in the General Conference 2011 (GC11) of the Free Methodist Church USA. I am tired from the long international flight as well as the connecting flight from Detroit to Rochester. Everything went well. I am the first GC11 person here. Joanna, the Conference Director, told me today there will be four more people coming tonight. But I doubt. They probably will drive in tomorrow morning. I appreciate Joanna's hospitality. She is responsible for all the preparations hosting all the delegates, participants, and guests of GC11. What a huge job to do. I asked her, "Do I get an award for being the first participant to come to GC11?" She just smiled.

At Detroit, I met Moses Berame, a Chief Engineer (seaman) for a shipping company based in Houston, Texas. He works in a commercial ship that travels between Texas and Spain. He hails from Cebu, the nephew of a UCCP pastor based there. We got to talking and he shared a little bit about his Christian experience working as a seafarer. I ask him about his time with God. He said at times there were prayer meetings on board the ship, when the ship captain gives them the permission. If not, then nothing happens. He said, at one time, he sailed under a Malaysian ship. "They always had a prayer room that we can use," Moses continued. "It is kind of ironic that we are able to meet regularly for prayer meetings when we sail under a muslim shipping company." Christians pray better when they are under the political leadership of a muslim employer. Truly ironic, and perhaps prophetic.

Meanwhile, I chat on Facebook with my wife, Sarah, and exchange some pleasant emails with my daughter, Carmen. The good thing about this 10-day separation from my family is that I get to grow closer to them. Yes, I miss them, but I appreciate them more from the vantage point of this temporary separation. "Abscence makes the heart grow fonder."

Mistakes we make in the mission field

If we have Facebook, post our thoughts on a public blogsite, and/or speak to our peers on a regular basis, there is no way we can hide the mistakes that we commit out there in the mission field. But Paul, the great apostle and theologian, did not have all these things when he started his missionary career. So, now, we readers in the modern times, will never know what he did when he first ventured out for his first cross-cultural missionary work in Arabia (see Galatians 1:17). Whatever he did there, including the mistakes he made, will never be known. Let me explain.

I am currently studying the Book of Acts. In chapter nine, Dr. Luke the historian recounts Paul's conversion experience and travel from Damascus to Jerusalem. We all know that from Paul's own testimony in The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Gal. 1:11-24), he mentions a trip to Arabia, before he went up to Jerusalem. This part of Paul's life is a little obscure. So, I consulted a few experts to enlighten my study, Martin Hengel and Eckard J. Schnabel. Two books I am presently reading are PAUL THE MISSIONARY: REALITIES, STRATEGIES AND METHODS (E. J. Schnabel, 2008) and PAUL, BETWEEN DAMASCUS AND ANTIOCH: THE UNKNOWN YEARS (Martin Hengel and Anna Maria Schwemer, 1997). Both of these works explain that Paul's time in Arabia was a cross cultural work, and I would say, Paul's first attempt to do missionary work. Although his Damascus ministry was also a missionary work, it was more of a "local missions" nature. It was only in Arabia that he encountered a truly "foreign" missions experience, his first cross-cultural missionary work.

What do these books have to do with Paul's missionary mistakes?

First, allow me to explain the circumstances surrounding Paul's missionary trip to Arabia. One, Paul went to Arabia as a "solitary missionary" (Hengel 1997:109). Two, he went to Arabia as an "expression of his concern for independence" (Hengel 1997:110 and Galatians 1:16-17). Three, Arabia was in political turmoil. His two to three years of missionary work there was full of resistance and emotional stress (Schnabel 2008:63 and Hengel 1997:112). Four, Paul spoke Aramaic in that region, a language that is not his mother tongue (Hengel 1997:119). Five, it was in Arabia that Paul started to preach among the pagan locals and non-Jewish peoples (Schnabel 2008:63). It was Paul's first cross cultural experience in the ministry. All these five circumstances are a recipe for disaster, for making mistakes in the mission field.

Of course, we do not have a record of these mistakes. Even the Book of Acts do not mention this Arabian episode. Paul refers to it only in passing (Gal 1:17). It is as if he did not want to talk about it. What I am trying to say is that if ever Paul was going to make mistakes in his life, it would have been during this time in Arabia. By inference, we can say that there is no mention of his time in Arabia because he did not want to remember his mistakes. Okay, okay. I know I am stretching this too far. This is more of the imagination than a product of a scholarly work.

The point I want to make is that even the great apostle Paul made mistakes in his missionary career. And I think, those mistakes most likely happened in Arabia. What we can learn from Paul is that he did not let his failures overcome him. He learned from his mistakes. We see later, after chapter nine of the Book of Acts, he consulted with the leaders in Jerusalem, he followed the mentorship of Barnabbas, he employed the assistance of language helpers (e.g, John Mark, Titus, etc.), and he slowly transitioned moving from preaching to the Jews in the synagogues to engaging the Gentiles in the marketplace. He learned from his mistakes.

So, the next time you go to the mission field, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Do not hide them. Post them on your Facebook walls. Blog about them. Learn from them. And perhaps, we, can also learn from your mistakes.