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February 2012

Freedom Sunday - Pray for the Abolition of Slavery

Today is Freedom Sunday. This is the day we all start mobilizing our local churches to pray and work towards the abolition of modern slavery. Praying . . . .

A few years back, I met Shiaomei here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She was only 12 years old when she was sold by her mother to a brothel owner. Against her will, she was moved from Vietnam, to China, to Taiwan, to work at different brothels, restaurants, and homes. I met her when she came to visit one of our Southeast Asian cultural shows, sponsored by several NGOs in this city of Kaohsiung. I sang Filipino love songs to entertain some of our distinguished guests. She was there to represent the Vietnamese group displaying some of its exotic foods. At that time, she was temporarily under the protection of one of the NGOs. I learned later she was trying to escape a very violent family setting. I talked to her for a short time. I looked deep into her eyes and prayed to my God to intervene on her behalf. Since then, my prayers for victims of human trafficking has never been the same. 

Now, I do not know where Shiaomei is. Last time I heard, she is still in Taiwan, in the vicinity of Taipei, moving from one local family to another, working as a cook, waitress, and most probably other odd jobs that are undesirable. I pray for her. I do not know exactly what to pray for, but I still pray for God's intervention in her life. Praying . . . .

The First Missionaries to the Non-Jews

The first missionaries to the non-Jewish people were not apostles, teachers of theology, or learned people. They were ordinary persons, most probably simple business people. The Bible records "men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20, NASB). This is the first time we see in the Bible that missionary work is happening amongst Greeks who have never heard the gospel before or have never been exposed to the Jewish religion.

Earlier, we see Peter preaching to Cornelius and his household, a group of devout Italians and God-fearers (Acts 10:1-2). We also see Philip preaching to an Ethiopian Eunuch who just came back from worship in Jerusalem (Acts 8:27-28). During this time, most missionary work is with Jewish people scattered in the Mediterranean world. A few are with Samaritans and gentiles who fear God, such as with Cornelius and this Eunuch. Nonetheless missions work among the Jews and the devout gentiles have something in common; they are all familiar with the Jewish law. In a manner of speaking, there is really no crossing of culture. Cornelius, the Eunuch, and other non-Jewish God-fearers are expected to stay within the parameters of the Jewish religion. Preaching is "simply" persuading the listeners that Jesus is the Christ as prophesied in the Old Testament. Cross cultural missions have really not yet happened at this point.

It is only in Antioch that we see a group of believers from Cyprus and Cyrene who traveled to Antioch and preached the gospel to the Greeks in the city (Acts 11:20). This is the first instance of a truly cross cultural missionary work.  Some scholars have even made the observation that this is the first time the preaching of the gospel did not mention Jesus Christ, but simply "Lord Jesus" (Tennent 2010:328). God blesses their efforts to be relevant to the Greek listeners. It even comes to the point that the leaders of the Jerusalem church had to send a team to investigate the growth of the church in Antioch (Acts 11:20-23). All because of the missionary efforts of ordinary men from Cyprus and Cyrene. God bless ordinary people who have the heart for cross cultural missions work.

Thank You for Praying

This week, we are starting our first semester here at Holy Light Theological Seminary. I am teaching three new courses. I have to confess I was worried with my preparations. New courses mean new materials. And this involves more work, not to mention my constant struggle with the Chinese language. But, God has comforted me with three friends. This week, they approached me and volunteered their services as teaching assistants and readers. I am very grateful to God for their help. "I learn so much from your class," one of them told me. I am glad they are learning from our class discussions. Another said, "Your class last year inspired me to enter graduate studies in linguistics. This year, I need to be in your class so I can remember the place where I first received my inspiration." God is my help (Psalms 22:11).

Thank you for praying for me. I remember I specifically mentioned this in our last newsletter. God is answering your prayers. I am renewed. I have a new encouragement in facing this Spring Semester.

Stop Modern Slavery

Next Sunday, February 26, 2012, is Freedom Sunday, a one day annual event sponsored by Not For Sale seeking the involvement of Christian local churches around the world to put a stop to modern slavery. We encourage everyone to participate. You can raise awareness and pray with your brothers and sisters in your vicinity.

It has been said that prevention is better than cure. There are many ways a local church can help in preventing the occurrence of modern slavery. One is child sponsorship. Sponsoring one child has an empowering effect on the sponsored family. It propels the family members to become productive members of their society. Two is indigenous church planting. A local church administered by indigenous leaders provides local people with opportunities to help the destitute and those who are suffering from social evil such as human trafficking, child labor, and prostitution. Three is helping NGOs (Non Government Organization) in one's city or local area. Find a credible NGO (religious or non-religious) who is making a difference in the fight to end modern slavery. Volunteer your services. You will be surprised at what you can contribute. Encourage your church members to join you. Ask them to pray for you. Let us stop slavery in this century.

Here in Kaohsiung, I try my very best to practice these three things. My family sponsor girls from Burundi, India, and the Philippines. They are all managed by ICCM (International Child Care Sponsorship). Check out its website and see if you can sponsor one child from another country. Sarah and I help different indigenous churches growing in this city. We are involved with Feng Shan FMC. We also assist in the ministries of different Filipino and American churches in the area. Nothing big, but each little effort contributes to the bigger picture of eradicating this global problem of slavery within this generation. Also, from time to time, I volunteer my services for an NGO here in Kaohsiung called Taiwan International Migrants Mission or TIMM. When there is a cultural show, I sing Filipino love songs. When TIMM needs an interpreter, I am there. What ever it takes to help Asian migrant workers in their work place and to better their expatriate life here in Taiwan, I do it. These little things help in preventing migrant workers from becoming victims of sexual abuse and experiencing oppressive labor conditions. Prevention is better than cure.

Next week, I am going to a forum sponsored by the Taiwan Industrial Evangelical Fellowship (TIEF), a ministry that focuses on helping working class people here in Taiwan, and most especially the foreign laborers sector. I do not know what to expect. I only know one or two people from this upcoming meeting. I am not even sure what the nature of the meeting is, but one thing I am very certain is that I am going to meet Taiwanese people who can help in the effort to stop modern slavery.

A Preliminary Response to the Development of the Theology of Diaspora

A few months back, a missionary friend of mine asked me to respond to the current development (and a popular topic among missionaries nowadays) of the Theology of Diaspora. Below is my response. I copied it verbatim, except that I omitted the name of my missionary friend for privacy concerns. I am sharing this response here in my blog with the intention that I get a few responses from my friends who are facing the same situation, and in turn, I can also learn from their experiences.

November 9, 2011

Here is my response to Diaspora Theology.

1.) Diaspora Theology is an effort that is coming more from the perspective of Systematic Theology than any where else. Most of its categories are derived from the Enlightenment mode of thinking. There is really nothing that speaks of the view from the underside or the experiences of the grassroots; nothing like the Liberation Theology model. It is mainly a gathering of Western-trained theologians trying to make sense of the phenomenon of mass migration happening around the globe.

2.) Diaspora Theology operates under the framework of traditional missiology. Most of its proponents do not want to disagree with current missiological thinking and practices. There seems to be an underlying mindset, or even fear, that the result of Diaspora missions should not usurp but serve the existing Christian institutions. It lacks the element of freedom, such as found in many local theologies or from the field of Contextual Theology. The element of surprise and discovery hold second fiddle to the framework of conformity and cooperation with the dominant missiology of the land, which is in this case Western missions. Isn't Lausanne a Western missiological construct?

3.) Diaspora Theology is flawed in its epistemological assumptions. It relies too much on geography, border crossing, physical movement, statistics, and other similar constructs. It fails to give culture and religious traditions a place in its discussion. This is why proponents of Diaspora Theology lump all migrants and immigrants in one category, regardless of their experiences as factory workers, as victims of human trafficking, or as refugees from a war-torn homeland.

4.) Diaspora Theology is misconstrued in its theological assumptions. One of its dominant theological premise is the "Harvest Principle," made popular by Church Growth theologians. This principle does not fair well when doing missionary work among people victimized by human trafficking and illegal migration practices. Working among migrant workers of the world demand a more broader assumption of theology. Also, proponents of Diaspora Theology need to articulate a better Theology of Creation. For example, the discussion on work is based on the Western ideas of work, such as "hard work will be rewarded," or some philosophical things similar to this. The concepts of suffering, powerlessness, "finding God amidst the experience of pain," and other grassroots themes are foreign to Diaspora missiology. A good dose of Creation Theology, such as that of Howard A. Snyder's Salvation Means Creation Healed, will be a big help.

5.) Diaspora Theology is limited by all of the above, and because of this limitation, it cannot see other missiological phenomena happening alongside migrant people's experiences. From the few sources I have perused, there is no mention of Insider Movements among the Muslim world, Indigenous Churches growing in regions such as Africa and China, or multi-ethnic congregations sprouting in our global cities because of the presence of Christian migrants and immigrants.

I certainly need to read more about Diaspora Theology, but from what I see, it is repeating the many mistakes that the Western missionary enterprise had done in the past. The analysis of David J. Bosch regarding Western missiology still holds true for Diaspora Theology. Definitely, God is doing mighty things among the dislocated and pilgrim peoples of this world. However, whether or not we see this phenomenon through God's eyes is another thing. My contention is contextual in nature. I am suggesting that the best way to understand Diaspora Theology is through the worldview of the people themselves; and concomitantly, I am saying that this contextual approach is the closest way to seeing the world through God's point of view.

I am frustrated with what is happening. It is kind of obvious. However, I am looking forward to reading more about this topic and hopefully educate myself more on what God is doing in today's world. **  **


Where is the church in Kaohsiung?

"My strong suggestion is that we organize activities that are inviting to all the workers. Perhaps, we could sponsor a music activity that includes both Christian worship time and cultural celebration." I share this thought to this group of Chinese church leaders meeting together to discuss some ways of helping Filipino migrant workers living here in Kaohsiung. Pastor Terry Chu, a Taiwanese Pastor, is spear heading this meeting. David Sha, a seminary student, is here helping us out. Douglas Lai, the administrator for this dormitory here in the KEPZ area, is the host of this meeting. We survey the dorm and talk about some ways of helping these Asian migrant workers living in this dormitory. Most of them are Filipinos.

As we are talking, I cannot help but ask the question: "Where is the church in Kaohsiung?" If God's people is called to be a source of blessing to the peoples of the world, then why are there no Kaohsiung church members helping us out in this ministry of outreach to foreigners in this city?

The four of us agree that we need to get to know the dormitory residents better. We also realize the need to invite other churches to participate in this endeavor. I am happy to hear that Douglas is a member of one of our Free Methodist (FM) local church here in Fong Shan city. I am resolved that in the next few weeks, I will talk to our FM pastors and pose this challenge to them to make this outreach to Filipino workers as a part of their local church missions activity. Please pray with me.

Gospel in a local setting

I sit here and listen to this lovely group of children. Meaningful breakthrough. About 50 children singing a song in front of the church. I see that half of them come from the community--from the families of this neighborhood. Today is the Sunday Service presentation of the 3-day children's Winter camp here in Fong Shan FMC. The teachers and camp volunteers even have a drama skit. I think they are doing this for the sake of the parents who are here. Most of these mothers and fathers have come for the first time. I praise God. This is a great start, a time for the Christian gospel to be introduced to our Kaohsiung neighborhood. This is a direction towards gospel and culture in a meaningful breakthrough.

Now, Pastor John Gu is speaking. He shares about the nature of a Christian home. I ask the Holy Spirit to open up our hearts. I pray for God's visitation.

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Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless handheld from Taiwan Mobile

Peter's Principle

I am re-reading, studying again for the Nth time the Book of Acts. This time, I am focusing my attention on Peter, his life, experiences, and perception of the missionary work during the early church. In chapter ten, we see here Peter's second conversion experience--an experience that turned him from a Jewish-centric view of God's salvation to a multi-ethnic, cross cultural, inclusive understanding of the Christian gospel. It is interesting to note the differences between his initial encounter in chapter ten and his interpretation of this encounter stated in chapter eleven. In chapter eleven, he is trying to persuade his fellow Jewish leaders of God's new revelation that the gentiles are now included in the plan of salvation. Chapter ten is mostly Luke's version. Chapter eleven is Peter's self explanation. Both are very similar except for a few things. Peter does not mention Luke's analysis of his perplexed situation we find in 10:17.  He also says "I heard a voice saying to me" (11:7) rather than "there came a voice to me" (10:13). Most important of all, Peter quotes a "word of the Lord" about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is not mentioned by Luke (11:16).

The whole point Peter is trying to say is the principle of undeniability. (Okay, I made this up.) What he is saying is that this is the Word of God. If we do not do it, then we will all perish. We must listen and obey. Obviously, Peter's principle worked. Those who listened, the ones in Jerusalem, even the ones who are members of the circumcision party, all agreed that God has also granted repentance and salvation to the gentiles (Acts 11:18).