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December 2011

Through the Eyes of a Small Boy

I confess I failed my Lord again. He came to visit me but I failed to see his coming. He was here through the poor beggar boy at the Vigan Park, but I ignored him. I was too busy with my vacation. I wanted my family’s vacation to be relaxing. I did not want a beggar boy interrupting my comfortable walk through this beautiful city of Vigan. God came to touch my heart, but I was too busy. I failed to see my Lord.

I am here in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, Philippines. We are here for a three day vacation enjoying the beaches, sights, famous old churches, and other touristy places. Two days before, we were at Vigan, about an hour away from Laoag City. We were walking in the public park when I encountered this beggar boy who was probably nine years old. I dismissed him because I assumed he was a professional beggar who loiters the streets of Vigan. Later, while we were seating in a little restaurant, another boy came in and interrupted our meal. I noticed that Jacob (my 7-year old son) shooed him away with a gesture of his hand. I did not like the look in my son’s face. He seemed so uncaring and his gesture was devoid of compassion or empathy. That was when I realized he was just repeating what I did with the beggar boy at the park. It was merely a reflection of my uncaring heart.

I ask God for his forgiveness. I pray for more compassion. May the Lord help me to be a better example to my children.

Today's Churches and Our Neighborhoods

I am here in Manila, Philippines, for a two week vacation visiting the families of my brothers and sisters. It has been a great second day so far. I saw my sisters and their children. This weekend, I will see more siblings and their children. It has been a wonderful experience for my two children seeing their Filipino relatives. They (Carmen and Jacob) are slowly discovering their ethnic heritage from my side of the family. They are entering into a new world, my world.

One of the few things I do whenever I come back to the Philippines is that I take a long walk by myself in the city streets and village roads of the place I am staying. Today, I walked the streets of Manila, this part of Pasig City, close to the SM Megamall. I walked and tried to immerse myself in this Filipino society that I once was a part of. It was a humbling experience.

What would I do if I am stationed here in the Philippines (again) to pastor a local church? I ask myslf this question as I walk the streets of Manila. I see a lot of people, busy people, not-so wealthy. Just the ordinary working-class persons of a metropolis. I talk to a few. My Tagalog is getting rusty. I do not seem to communicate very well with them. I have suspicions that they know I am a foreigner. I ask myself, Where is the point of contact where I can have a significant conversation with them. They all seem to have no interest. Am I losing my touch? Am I so distant now?

Alan Roxburgh once said that God is taking today's church people to places where they can received hospitality from their unbelieving neighbors. He suggested that, instead of us having prayer meetings and Bible studies among ourselves, we should be going out to our neighbors and asking them questions and learning from them. I am not sure how much of this thought can be applied in our local churches in the USA. With the increased cultural diversity in the States, our church people will have their hands full of "learning" from other people. They might even have to learn other languages before they can go out into their neighborhoods and carry a decent conversation.

But one thing is for sure, Roxburgh's suggestion would be very difficult to apply here in this great metropolis of Manila. I agree with Roxburgh's thesis that every Christian should be going out to engage the world for the sake of the Christian gospel. His analysis of Luke 10:1-12 is apt for any society or culture. I think it can be done here in Manila, but finding that point of contact among the busy people of this city streets would be a daunting task. Not impossible!

Henri Nouwen used to say that we open up a space in our lives so that strangers and other people can feel welcomed and enter in and engage us on a personal level. I agree with Roxburgh and Nouwen. But I am not sure how the Manila people, most especially the poor working-class persons, can encounter the Christian gospel. What should church people do?

One Kaohsiung Church at a Time

I look around me and I notice that most of the people are not paying attention to all the dancing and live music. Obviously, these Taiwanese residents around San Min Park do not know Tagalog or English, otherwise, they would all stand up and join in the revelry. The members of Higher Ground Church (NHGCC), a Filipino congregation in Nandzi, are here in central Kaohsiung singing worship songs at this public park. There are a few Chinese brothers and sisters from the New Song Church nearby. They are helping with promotion, going around telling people of this activity. They also do not know Tagalog. A few of them can understand English. But they do not seem to be "in" to this lively form of praise and worship with dancing and loud clapping. Maybe, they are just not used to an expressive way of worship. Nonetheless, the members of NHGCC are enjoying the moment and freely sing praises for anyone who has an ear to listen.

I look around me and I see my students waiting patiently. They seem to enjoy the Filipino style of music and worship. There are about eight of them. I am teaching a course in Introduction to Missiology and I have asked these students of Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) to visit this outdoor event and interview one of the Filipino members. I have been teaching the need to personally meet a foreigner, in this case these Filipino contract workers from Nandzi, and learn from their experiences. I encourage my students to be ready to apply what they hear from the classroom and "get dirty" with the real issues of missions work and cross cultural ministry. What better way to experience God's love across cultures than to personally talk to one of these Asian workers here in Taiwan.

I look around and I see them. My Taiwanese students and the Filipino brethren are engaged in serious talk and heart-to-heart conversation. I will hear more from this encounter once I received the students' reports and their reflections from this one-on-one interviews. Meanwhile, I see only one local church (New Song) helping this Filipino congregation. It is okay. It is a good start. I know that this will continue and other Kaohsiung local churches will get involved. It is my dream that many more Chinese churches will partner with these Asian churches, Filipinos and Vietnamese, and eventually open new work among the Indonesians and other nationalities. God is working. I know.

Today's Churches

Alan. J. Roxburgh makes a comment about today's churches in the West, saying: "The Lord of creation is out there ahead of us; He has left the temple and is calling the church to follow in a risky path of leaving behind its baggages, becoming like the stranger in need, and receiving hospitality from the very ones we assume are the candidates for our evangelism plans." (MISSIONAL 2011) I think this comment is also true to the Christian churches here in Taiwan.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld from Taiwan Mobile

Kaohsiung Churches: Ancestor Worship and the New Christian

I just finished my class today. We were talking about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or the Wesleyan Pentalateral, based on Howard A. Snyder's suggestion. All these happened in Chinese, not exactly my strongest language at this moment. It is no wonder my head is spinning. I need to do something to shake off this headache. I thought maybe writing on this blog would remedy my quandary. I probably would regret this decision later.

To give some application to the lesson, I asked my students to discuss the perrenial problem here among Christians in Taiwan. How can we help new Christians grow in their faith when they are confronted with the issue of ancestor worship? The students split up into groups and had time for discussion and sharing. They later reported to the whole class.

It was very educational for me. There was a consensus in the students' answers. The conclusions were: Keep the family and kin relations open. Do not do anything brash that will compromise ones testimony to the family members. We can participate in the rites as observers. We can bring flowers instead of burning incense. We can sing joyful song together with our Christian visitors instead of wailing the mournful noise. We can stand at the back and make our presence known without alienating our family members. We can slowly explain the demands of the Christian gospel. Give time to our non-believing kin to understand the Christian perspective towards the ancestors. Love them even more.

There were more, but I have to ask someone to come and look at the students' notes, in Chinese, of course. I am aware that a one hour class discussion is not enough, but this is a good starting place. I challenge them to keep thinking about Taiwan issues. What does the Christian gospel mean to a Taiwanese? What is the relationship between Chinese culture and gospel here in Taiwan? How can we help Taiwan churches face up to this challenges of Gospel and Culture? I also invited them to consider joining a fellowship or a regular meeting where we can come to discuss these issues. I shared to them the need for a forum where Christians come to seriously decipher Taiwan culture and society so that the Christian gospel can find ultimate expression and relevance to local people. I did not get any answers yet, but they all seemed interested. Until next time . . . .

My headache is fading. I need to stop now and leave this seminary office and go see my family. I need to go home! Sign off for now.