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September 2011

Small Victories For Today

Wow! My first time to give my lecture in "A Theology of the Incarnation" in Chinese. I feel so fulfilled. Today is my missions class. I am teaching three courses this semester here in Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS, Taiwan), and tonight was a three hour class dealing with a general introduction on Christian missions. I usually give this lecture at the very beginning of the class, to set the foundation for the whole semester. I know at some points, I floundered for words, struggled for the deeper meaning, tripped over some wrong Chinese grammar and wrong use of the Mandarin tones. But, over all, the students understood me. Towards the end, they even chorused in applying the lesson to their ministry situations. They could not wait for me to pose my prepared application questions. Together they jumped in and asked the question "What does this theology mean for us today?"

I am so tired. It is almost eleven o' clock in the evening. My brain is still ringing with all the Chinese that I spoke this evening. I am ready for bed. It has been a long week for me, for most of us teachers here at HLTS. It is our second week of this Fall Semester, but we are still working on some administrative decisions. So, the seminary have had several meetings and discussions that I did attend to. One such meeting encouraged me continue in this teaching ministry. Nothing major. We merely talked about our schedule for the next five years here in Kaohsiung. But, it was a good time to agree on where God is leading us here in the seminary. I am thrilled.

I want to rejoice in my small victories. Such as, a letter that came this week from one of our graduates ministering as a missionary in a Creative Access country. Nothing big, but encouraging for me because I know that God is leading our graduates to where He wants them to be. Another small victory is that several of our students, who are missionaries themselves, have volunteered to help in the Student Missions Fellowship (SMF), as speakers, sessions leaders, and support work. Seemingly insignificant instances, but they are all encouraging me because I can see how God's Spirit is moving in this school and students are responding in obedience, participating in the work of missions awareness and education. I am tired, but I feel fulfilled and encouraged.

Heart For Japan

Today's paper tells the story of a group of Japanese swimmers doing a 120 km. (74 miles) relay swim from the Yonaguni Island, the south-westernmost part of Japan, to Taiwan. The story has a huge front page photo of the Japanese swimmers triumphantly celebrating their feat together with many Taiwanese well-wishers who join them in the waters swimming alongside them and giving welcome and approval with their thumbs-up sign to the entourage from Japan. The caption says the Japanese swimmers want "to express gratitude for Taiwan's help after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami." The world knows of course that Taiwan gave a huge sum, the biggest donation from any country, to help with the relief and rehabilitation work after the March 11 devastation. Both countries have always felt a strong bond of friendship for each other, even more now after March 11, 2011.

Let me switch gears here and tell you a story I heard from my good friends, Pastor Katsumi, from Japan, and Pastor Shirish, from India. Right after the March 11 earthquake, a small village church in India decided to collect some money and donate it to the on-going relief work in Japan. So the pastor and leaders of this church approach Pastor Shirish and ask him how they can send the money to Japan. To make the long story short, Pastor Shirish handed the money to Pastor Katsumi.

This little indian village church gift was a small amount. Compared to all the other big donations from big corporations and well-known organizations, the amount was miniscule. Considering the enormous need for relief and rehabilitation, the gift was a drop in a bucket. But the hearts of these Indian Christians were gigantic. Pastor Katsumi told me later, "The next time we are in India, I will personally go to that village and thank the members of this Free Methodist Church in person." What great hearts for the people of Japan.

In The In-Betweens

"I am making a new turn in my life," Maria shares to me her life story. "With my sons blessings, I am now enrolled in this seminary to pursue God's direction in my life." In about ten minutes, she shares to me how God is leading her and her family. She became a Christian early in her life, moved to Japan to raise her family, left her faith in God for about 30 years, divorced her husband, and now back in Taiwan with a renewed commitment to serve God. She tells me how her two adult children, who are in their early thirties, encouraged her to go to seminary for further training and equipping. I listen to her and marvel at God's leadership among our new students here at Holy Light Theological Seminary.

This is Monday, the first day of classes for the school year. I am teaching a course on Theology of Missions, and in between my lectures, we are all taking a ten-minute break chit-chatting. It is during this time that Maria started sharing her life story. It still amazes me that there is so much you can learn from a person even in just ten minutes time. I am reminded that most of the time ministry happens during the break period or when everyone is waiting for the next event to happen.

"This is my first time to share to anyone about this vision from God," Jane shares to us about a series of dreams and revelations that God gave her a few years back. "This is why I am in seminary. I want to go and attend to our Student Missions Fellowship [SMF] meeting. I want to pray for missionary work. I want to know what these visions mean for my life and the future." I am seated with Jane's classmate, Judy, and both of us are listening to Jane's life story. We just finished dinner here at the seminary cafeteria, and everyone has already left their tables. We are the only three people left in this basement cafeteria. We do not mind. Jane's stories are more interesting than anything for this moment. It is so uplifting to hear of God's revelation in a person's life, and the many ways our Creator tries to reveal His will to us, His created people.

I am amazed how ministry happens in the in-betweens, whether they are during break times, or after-dinner time. God is here in the in-between. While we are busy waiting for the next occurrence, God's spirit ministers to us. During the short lapses of anticipation for the next coming set of events, God comes and encourages us. The "main" events, the ones before and ones that we are anticipating to come, they are relegated to a not-so-important category. The moment of the in-betweens is the time of ministry, is the place for God's visitation and encouragement.

I praise God for His encouragement in my life. Both Maria and Jane have uplifted my spirits. Their stories reminded me of God's ever imminent presence in our lives. During these moments of the in-betweens, they have ministered to me in tremendous ways. Glory to Him!

Paul's Silence

Big hoopla before the First Missionary Journey. A big church council before the Second Missionary Journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, however, there is silence. No big parties, no memorable induction service, no great deliberations to inaugurate this next missionary journey. What is wrong with this picture? Why the silence?

In the Book of Acts, chapter 13, we read of Paul's First Missionary Journey. Before this event, the story speaks of Barnabas and Saul (Paul) coming back from Jerusalem and successfully fulfilling their mission with the "mother church" (Jerusalem church) to deliver the contributions of the Church of Antioch in response to the famine in the land (see 11:27-30 and 12:25). Also, there is the dramatic laying of hands by the church leaders of Antioch (see 13:1-4). When we come to the Second Missionary Journey, the preceding event is the great Council of Jerusalem (see 15:1-35). Big decision were made and great orations were given, before Paul and Barnabas went out for their journey. Before the Third Missionary Journey, we have only one verse to describe a prior event (more like a series of events). In Acts 18:22, the writer of the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke, tells us that Paul landed in Caesarea and proceeded to Jerusalem and then to Antioch, period. Nothing more, nothing less. What happened in these three places, we do not know.

Why was Paul silent about this event before the Third Missionary Journey? Maybe, we should ask the question: Why would Dr. Luke, considering that he is a very detailed and precise historian, not mention any events prior to this last missionary journey? Was this intentional on both Paul and Luke's writings? What is the reason behind this silence?

I really cannot be certain about the reason for this silence. But one thing I notice is a shift in Paul's approach to ministry. Here in the third journey, he intentionally goes to places where gentiles congregate. In the first and second missionary journey, ministry among the gentiles, the Asians, the Greeks, the Romans, Africans, etc., were only incidental. Paul always started with the Synagogues and among the Jews of the region he is visiting. Cross cultural ministry among the non-Jews was only an appendage.

In the Third Missionary Journey, he had his eyes set for Rome (19:21). It was during this journey that he moved from preaching in the synagogues to preaching in a Greek lecture hall (19:9). Also, it was during this time that Dr. Luke the writer includes the story of Apollos, an African and most probably a product of a missioanry work not directly connected with Paul or Barnabbas (18:24-28). Luke also mentions in detail some of Paul's non-Jewish companions and assistants (20:4). There is also the poignant story of the Holy Spirit descending on a group of people from Ephesus (most probably gentiles) and they in turn spoke in tongues and started prophesying (19:1-7). This is a picture of "The Spirit descending on Pentecost," that is mentioned in the second chapter, but this time among the gentile followers of Ephesus. Paul's approach to ministry shifted from the Jews to the non-Jews.

We know of course that when a person changes focus or shifts his priorities from one thing to another, then it produces some anxiety and internal confusion. I think this is the reason for Paul's silence. We see in the narrative that he took a vow because he was in the middle of making an important decision that could change his future (18:18). He was in a hurry to go back to his "home church" to consult with his leaders (cf. Acts 18:19-20 and also, 20:16). He was hoping this change of priorities and ministry shift would find agreement with his colleagues in Jerusalem and Antioch. I think, Paul, as well as Luke, were silent about this changes because they did not want to create any more trouble and confusion among the Jewish Christians of that time. In one of Paul's oratory defense among the Jews, this adverse reaction to a gentile ministry became obvious (see Acts 22:21-22). Paul and Luke knew there was going to be a violent reaction. And eventually, this is how the Book of Acts ends, a rejection among the Jews, but a renewed vigor for cross cultural ministry among the Asians, Europeans, Africans, and Romans (see Acts 28:26-28).

Are we ready to cross cultures? Are we ready to shift gears? Are we ready not be silent about it? Let us throw a big party. Announce it to the whole world. We are going to minister to people who are not like us, to go to places where the local culture and society is different than what we are comfortable with. We are going and telling the world about Jesus' love and restoration. Let us be noisy about it. Let us make a ruckus!

Praying and Walking

I am not really walking. I am more like jogging, running, and sometimes sprinting here in this Kaohsiung Arts Museum Park. It is my time for exercise and I am also taking this opportunity to spend time in praying for the people of Taiwan. I am asking the Spirit for guidance in when to pray and who will be the persons I will be praying for.

I see him sitting in his wheel chair with his helper who looks like an Southeast Asian person, probably an Indonesian. Lord Jesus, I pray for the many elderly people of Taiwan. I pray for good health, and most especially for spiritual vitality. May they seek the Creator of the Universe in this time when their earthly life is almost fading. Send them your angels. Send more Christian helpers from Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand, who can care for them and share the gospel to these Taiwanese families.

Now, I am running. I am almost at the end of my exercise routine. Time to leave the park and head out for home. What a beautiful sight! That little baby (probably a year old) is kissing his mother goodbye. I am guessing the lady holding the baby is another family member, perhaps an aunt. Three people united in their love and lost in their embrace. Lord Jesus, I pray for the many families in Kaohsiung. May they find Divine love in the midst of their blessings and joy.  I pray for our neighbor, the young couple with two small children. May they be filled with heavenly blessings. Guide Sarah and I as we continue to befriend them. Bless our short and brief moments together when we see them across the street or chat for a few minutes. May they see Jesus in our lives and seek your face.

Ten o clock in the morning. I am sitting with Pastor Shirish here in a coffee place at the HSR (High Speed Rail) train station. We are waiting for Shirish's train that will take him to Taipei and unto Mumbai, India. We are talking about a future missions conference in India sometime January 2013. I am walking him to the boarding gate. Lord Jesus, I pray for the many Free Methodist leaders of Asia and their desire to help many young people who want to serve you in a cross cultural ministry. Give them wisdom. Send them more workers, more youth who are ready to go and be your servants in Asia. I pray for Al, a teenager from our Chunglun FMC (Taiwan). I pray for his desire to learn more about missions work. Bless him. Prepare him. I thank you for his family who is very supportive of him.  I pray for Sam. I pray for Phoebe. I pray for the many young people from Taiwan who is seeking your direction. They need your guidance, Lord. They need to know where they can go to become your missionaries for Asia.

I am walking this hospital corridor with some students from the Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). It is almost four in the afternoon. We are visiting some patients and volunteering our services in behalf of the "Hospital Chaplain Office." I see him lying in this hospital bed surrounded by his family, his wife, and his two adult sons. We sing songs. Although he has some kind of illness that incapacitates his physical movement, he follows the music with hand gestures, almost like conducting us with an invisible baton. His son smiles and watches his father enjoying our songs. We give his wife one of the song books and she sings with us. We pray for him.

It is almost 4:30 PM. We need to go back to the Chaplains office for our debriefing. One more room and we are done. I see him sitting upright. He seems to be too young to be here in this 9th floor ward. Lawrence, one of the seminary students with me, gives him a gospel tack. After our songs, Ruth, another seminary student, explains to the young patient the contents of the booklet. Lord Jesus, I pray for understanding. I pray that you send your Spirit to open this person's mind so he will grasp the beauty of your words, and the demands of your call to discipleship.

I am not really walking. I am more like sitting in this van with this group of seminary students heading back to the seminary to end our time of "evangelism" and afternoon ministry time. I need to spend more time praying for the people of Taiwan. But first, I need to wait on the Spirit's leadership. He will be the one who will tell me when to pray and who will be the people I will be praying for. In the meantime, I will wait, I will look and see, I will walk around Kaohsiung, and . . . I will pray.

Hit the Ground Running

Back in Kaohsiung. It is good to be back in the arms of my family. I came in yesterday evening. Still tired from all the travel but felt good that I visited Japan and met a lot of Free Methodists (FMs), and looking forward to many more events where both FMs from Taiwan and FMs from Japan can get together for worship and ministry.

I am writing this Blog from my office desk here on the eight floor in this building of Holy Light Theological Seminary. I came in late because I could not wake up early. I missed a chapel service this morning in which the President introduced the faculty and staff to the new students. I came in to work around noon. Very late. I had lunch with one of the students and straight away she wanted to talk to me about her Practicum assignment in Chiayi Gospel Center.

"I am so privileged that I get to work together with missionaries from Germany, Canada, and other places." She is so full of excitement about this weekend work, not only for the credits she will get, but mostly because of the new things she will be learning. " I want to learn more about team work," she shares to me. I am so encouraged with this student and her enthusiasm in the ministry. Talk about hitting the ground running. I just came in from another place and already I am faced with another encouraging situation. People are excited about ministry. (Just like what I saw in Japan.) God is working. I am very happy to be a part of God's work, and I am privileged to personally see the Holy Spirit working.

Prayer Walk

Shoulder to shoulder with everyone. This part of the road side is crowded. People are waiting for the green light. This pedestrian lane is a bottleneck area between the O's Mall and the Abejo Subway Train Station, here in Osaka, Japan. No wonder there are a lot of people, most especially that it is about a few minutes past six o' clock, most probably a time for people to be coming out of their work places and schools. Oopps, the green light is on. We are all rushing to cross the street. There are three people in front of me with a baby on a stroller. I think I will just follow them. They look so relaxed. The young lady, I am assuming is the mother, is happily chatting with the two other persons.

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for this family in front of me that in the beauty of their relationships and in the midst of their happy conversation, they will remember you. I pray that they will see you as the source of all beauty and the sustainer of all families here on earth.

I want to get away from the mall crowd and head out to the smaller streets. Maybe, I can walk the side street of The Loft Mall. Lots of fancy store. I see a very pretty young lady coming out of the mall. She is very attractive. She is with a young man. Mini skirt and tight dress showing all her good looks. She clings to his hand with such passion.

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for all the young ladies of this country. I pray for this couple that they will see your love in a very special way. Help them to not rely on the fleeting pleasures of this world. I pray for her that she will see the beauty and wisdom coming from a relationship with our Savior Jesus Christ.

At last, no more crowd! Just a little street alley at the back of The Loft Mall. Pizza? Wait! Is that what I see? "Simpatico Pizza." How can the owner make money if they are way out here where people do not pass by their pizza place? Maybe, they thrive on word of mouth advertising. I can see, through the side window, a darker-skinned person manning the counter. Looks like he is the owner. And he also looks European. Should I go inside?

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for the many Latin American migrant workers and immigrants who come to this country. Give them your peace. And when they are having difficulty adjusting to Japanese society, send them your angels to help them learn from you. May they find you during their stay here in Japan. I pray for the owner of this pizza restaurant that he wil find good business. May he be a blessing to the many fellow foreigners in the area.

I need to keep going. I have been walking for four blocks now and I do not see anyone who needs my prayers. I see a lot of people passing me by, but I must wait for the Spirit's urging before I pray for a person or group of persons. Just keep moving. And, whoa! That man in the bicycle almost hit me. He must be in hurry to be somewhere.

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for that man who is rushing to go some place. I pray that he will arrive safe. I do not know the reason why he is in a hurry. I pray you will help him. I pray for peace and harmony in his home. I pray that when he is with his children, he will sense your Spirit and seek you in the middle of his busy life.

I am almost to the corner of the guesthouse where I am staying. This small road side store looks good. The squid balls looks delicious. 10 pieces wrapped in a box. 300 yen sounds fair. Smells yummy! One more photo with the store owner before I leave. I am glad he understands a little English.

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for this squid ball store owner. Give him good business. Help him to look up to you as his source of life and his guide in his everyday activities. Give him strength as he continues to support his family through this small business.

Almost there. I can see the gate of the seminary where the guesthouse is located. These couple by the road are so adorable. Each of them is walking a dog. It is quite adoring that both of them are in their old age, probably in the 80s, and both dogs they are walking are also old. They must have been long-time companions. The four of them are slowly meandering up this hill. I turn to the right and enter the seminary gate while they keep going straight to where ever they need to go, probably home.

Dear God. I pray for the Japanese people. I pray for these two older man and woman that you will give them good health. And in their old age, they will look up to you as their source of hope and salvation. Give them your courage to face the life hereafter. Embrace them. Make them feel your love.

Brazilians in Japan, Filipinos in Japan

What does the word "relocation" mean to you?

To the Labor industry, the word is a constant reality. We know of course that many people migrate to a different country to work as laborers in factories and businesses. To these ever increasing number of migrant workers and immigrant peoples of the world, relocation is a very difficult word. It reminds them of a time of uprooting from their home culture to another culture in a foreign land. It means displacement from leaving families, and everything that is familiar.

Rev. Katsumi Shigetomi and I visited Takefu Free Methodist Church, a Brazilian congregation here in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Rev. Carlos Seiji Kavano is the missionary pastor here, sent by the Brazilian Conference of the Free Methodist Church in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I met his beautiful wife and three lovely children. I also met two of his missionary volunteers from YWAM (Youth With A Mission), Igor and Camela, a husband and wife team from Brazil. We prayed together. Katsumi and I learned more about the FMC work among Brazilian immigrants here in Japan.

Currently, there are 230,000 Brazilians in Japan. There are only 400 Christian local churches in the whole country. Isn't that a great challenge? In the city of Echizen alone (Echizen includes the city of Takefu), there are 3,040 foreigners and 2,040 are Brazilians. There are two Protestant Japanese churches in the area. For the Brazilians, there is one Assemby of God church and Takefu FMC. Two evangelical churches for 2,000 plus people from Brazil. One could only imagine the great need for Christian ministry among the families of these Brazilian immigrants.

What about the schools for these immigrants? There are only 36 Brazilian schools for all 200,000 plus Brazilians scattered in Japan. None of them are Christian schools. Don't you think there is a great need to start a Christian school for the children of these immigrants from South America? (I need to share this need to my friend, Matt Strange.)

We also visited Jesus Christ Our Banner (JCOB) church here in Echizen. JCOB is a Christian ministry among Filipinos here Japan. It has a few fellowship groups in Tokyo and other places. We met Nenita Miwa, Jacqueline Akaishi, Myla Bautista Inoue, and Melinda Catulpos Fukuoka. All four ladies are Filipinas married to Japanese families residing in the Takefu area. These four are the lay leaders of JCOB, Takefu chapter. We listened to their stories. We prayed for them. We talked about finding new and effective ways of sharing the Christian gospel among the Filipino people scattered in this country.

In Japan, Filipinos are the 4th largest foreign population, next to Brazilians. Chinese and Koreans are the other two larger people groups. There are a number of existing Christian ministries among the Filipinos living in Japan. But there are no Filipino Free Methodist ministry, not yet. Katsumi and I are talking, praying, and exploring the prospect of starting a ministry among the Filipinos here in Japan. We do not know what this would look like. We do not have any grandiose plan. But we want to start with the Filipino friends and families whom we already know. We want to learn from them and seek God's leadership among these people. God will be our guide.

Oh, by the way, the above JCOB church has about twenty plus members and doing outreach ministries to two other locations in the Fukui Prefecture. They have their weekly meetings in the church building of the Takefu Free Methodist Church. Brazilians and Filipinos working together for the Kingdom of God. What a beautiful picture of heaven!

So, what does the word "relocation" mean? It may be a difficult word for our Brazilian and Filipino immigrant here in Japan. But for us in the field of missionary work, relocation means the coming of more opportunities to share the Christian gospel to both migrant workers and immigrant families. The harvest is ready. Pray for more workers for the harvest. (Matthew 9:35-38) Pray for more workers who will rise up from the harvest field.

Hiyodoridai Free Methodist Church

I come to Hiyodoridai Free Methodist Church (FMC) with a heart full of anticipation. I feel like what I am going to share this morning is already happening here in this local church. Today I am going to share about "Looking at the Lord's harvest." (For a full text of this sermon, please click here.) I want to share about Jesus love and compassion and how these relates to the Lord's work of bringing in the harvest. (See Matthew 9:35-38) I feel like I am preaching to the choir. I am anticipating the people already know these things.

This was how I felt this morning when I entered the church premises of Hiyodoridai FMC at Kobe, Japan. I saw children happily playing with each other, young people playing the guitar, mothers cooking the Sunday lunch, fathers helping with the musical drums getting ready for the time of music and worship. This church, pastored by Bishop Hiromichi Oshima and his wife, Taneko, was vibrant and touching people's lives who are living in the vicinity. Earlier, I found out about "Mana" ministry, a ministry of the church, spearheaded by a lay worker named Ikuko Nagahara. Mana is a maternity home where Ikuko works as the owner, nurse, and midwife, delivering babies and taking care of the health of many people. Every Tuesday the patients meet for a Bible study led  by Bishop Oshima. Through the Mana ministry, many people are being challenged by the Christian gospel. I personally saw some mothers and children, who are already young people, who have been a product of this outreach ministry. What a wonderful way to touch the lives of many people.

After my sermon, we had lunch together as a church. I met Shozo Ogawa, a middle-aged gentleman, who came back to the Lord through the ministry of a Korean-American couple from Pennsylvannia, USA. I met Nanoha Nakamura and Konea Komai, together with their families. Nanoha and Konea are young teens, fourteen and thirteen years old, respectively. Beautiful girls! They were so gracious to play the piano for me. After their piano playing, we, together with their parents playing the drums, bongos, organ, and piano, sang some choruses and had fun dancing to some Christian songs. One little nine-year old girl, Momoko Watanabe, came up to me and said she wanted to be a pen pal to my daughter Carmen. I happily obliged. I met some other people whose names I could not remember. But they were all very jubilant about the message of the Lord's harvest. I think my sermon only reminded them of what God is already doing in their lives. They are ready for the Lord's harvest.

The night before, Saturday evening, I had dinner with Bishop Oshima, Taneko, his wife, and their lay leader, Ikuko Nagahara. They treated me to a very delicious and traditional Japanese meal called Kaiseki Ryori. I took some pictures and posted these on Facebook. We had a great sharing about what
God is doing in our lives. Hiromichi shared about Japanese culture and some history of the Hiyodoridai FMC. Ikuko shared about her walk with the Lord and how God save her from a difficult life and marriage. I was so blessed by her testimony. Her life is a picture of God's love and compassion. Taneko also shared about her missionary experiences in Brazil. She and Bishop Hiromichi Oshima were missionaries to Brazil for five years. she made the observation that Japanese people have difficulty living a bi-cultural life. She said: many Japanese-Brazilians, now living in Japan, are living a mono-cultural life even if they are located in Japan. They are residing in Japan, but they are living the Brazilian ghetto life. They eat Brazilian food, see their Brazilian friends, and talk Portuguese among themselves. She said: These Brazilian immigrants are living a Brazilian life here in the middle of Japan.

I shared to the group some of my thoughts regarding planting Free Methodist International churches in the urban centers of Asia. An International church is one way of bringing the Christian gospel to international peoples scattered in Asia, such as the Japanese-Brazilians living in Japan. Many international people will feel welcomed in an international church. It is a place where cultural diversity can be celebrated as well as Christian witness.

We talked some more, but we left the restaurant with a desire to learn more about the Lord's work, most especially among international peoples of the  world. I parted ways for the evening with a sense of God's leadership in this Japan trip. God is preparing the harvest. He is the Lord of the harvest. He is going to bring in more workers for his harvest, and if these workers will come from Japan, I praise God for this. God's Spirit is free to do what pleases him.