« July 2012 | Main | September 2012 »

August 2012

The Lord of the Harvest is My Inspiration

I love my Taylor Guitar. Recently, I bought a 214ce model and I adore the music that comes out of this beauty. During my morning devotions, I would play on it, pluck a tune here and there, recollect some of the old choruses that I know, and just enjoy a beautiful song that emerges out of my fingertips. It is easy to find inspiration when my Taylor Guitar is kissing my cheeks and caressing my arms. You get the picture, right?

I am here in the USA for our regular time of Partnership Building. We come from where ever mission field we are stationed (in our case, Taiwan) and visit our supporters, and tell them about the work in the field. In addition to this time of reporting, we also ask people for money. We encourage them to give to missions, especially to give to our account and support the work we are doing. And most of the times, these moments of asking for money can be tiresome. I would rather talk about God’s work in the lives of Phoebe, Sean, Sam, and Jiadzwou. It is easy for me to be inspired when I tell these stories of God’s transformation in the lives of my friends in Taiwan. But when I talk about money, I get stuck. It is hard to draw inspiration.

However, God is constantly reminding me that this is His work. I am simply one of his many workers. Money is only an incidental element of missionary work. The bigger picture is always the building of God’s kingdom and the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people we meet. In the following narration, let me share with you our visits to a few local churches here in Michigan and through these visits tell you how God is humbling me so that I can draw inspiration from Him and Him alone.

Two Sundays back, we visited Evart Free Methodist Church. We shared about our missionary work in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, during its morning service. After this Sunday morning meeting, we all went to the fellowship hall for a potluck lunch and some lawn games outside. Everyone was doing something. I was playing Horseshoes with Gerry and Wade. As we were playing, Wade and I got to talking about his family, his 10-acre home, and his solitary life. He expressed his sadness with his current disconnect with his family members scattered around the country. In my mind, I thought about asking him to take a step of faith and sell all his belongings and give the proceeds from this sale to the cause of missionary work, and then to follow God with all his life. But I did not. I listened to his life story. And after the horseshoe game, I encouraged him to come back to church and visit with the members of Evart FMC.

That evening, we went to Mesick Free Methodist Church, in Mesick, MI, about an hour away from Evart, MI. Sarah shared to the children. Carmen told her stories about Morrison Academy of Kaohsiung (MAK). I gave my sermon about “The Lord of the Harvest is Here,” and challenged my friends to be more involved in cross cultural missions work. Afterwards, there was a time for fellowship, food, and Q&A. We all had a great time. Towards the end, the pastor asked everyone to pray for one of the church members who are experiencing a rough marriage. We prayer together with our hands extended towards our sister asking God for deliverance. I prayed in my heart that, like the Samaritan woman in John chapter four, God will use her to be a strong witness for Jesus in the midst of her difficulties.

Tuesday, my family went to visit Pastor Arlan and his friend Pastor Dar. Sarah and the kids went outside with Mary, Arlan’s wife, for a time of horseback riding. I stayed with the two pastors and together with Dar’s wife, Linda, we talked about Dar’s present ministry among the people involved in the Horse Race industry. Arlan is a chaplain ministering to horse jockeys, trainers, race track workers, and other persons located in one of the many race tracks here in Michigan. I interviewed Dar and listened to his life story. Dar is very similar to Philip, who is reaching out to people on the fringes, to people like the Ethiopian Eunuch in the Book of Acts. We need more people like Dar.

Wednesday, we went to Lansing, MI and see our friends, the Cromwell family. Pastor Bruce and Pastor Mindi gave us a short tour of Lansing Central Free Methodist Church (LCFMC). It was encouraging to hear their many different stories of God’s transformation in the communities surrounding the church building. This FM congregation is ministering to Nepali/Bhutan people, Free Methodists from Burundi (Africa), refugees from Haiti, migrant workers from many different lands. Isn’t this a picture of heaven? This is the picture of many people coming from many tribes and speaking many different languages, all together worshiping the God of all creation. Amen!

The following day, we went to SCAMP camp, a 4-day camp for senior citizens sponsored by the No. MI Conference. I shared about “Memories” and their role in eternity. Later, one of the participants came to us and shared her life story. We listened. I felt like one of the Maries (or ladies) sitting at the foot of Jesus, listening to God’s story unfolding before my eyes. Saturday, Carmen and I went to a party hosted by Jim and Linda, from the Stanwood FMC. People shared. People cried. People testified of God’s love glorified. (Hey! That rhymes.) I felt like one of those little children peering between the legs of the adults huddled around Jesus, while our Lord is giving one of his sermons.

Last Sunday, we went to Zeeland FMC, at Zeeland, MI. We felt a deep connection with the members of this church. I was so encouraged to see photos of their recent baptism service a few weeks back. Later that evening, we went to Evergreen FMC, at Sheridan, MI. After my sharing and sermon about the harvest in Asia, we went to the fellowship hall for ice cream and chit chats. I heard someone mention that they had 95 children in attendance at their recent summer VBS. Whoa! I was blown away! God is moving in mysterious ways. He is bringing people here in Michigan for baptisms and drawing families to God’s kingdom through simple things like VBS. The harvest is here!

I am inspired! God Himself is bringing in the fruits of the harvest. He is in control. The money will come. He will provide. I need to focus on Him, the Lord of the harvest. And when I do that, then I will see His harvest happening right before my eyes. I will pray for more workers to his harvest here in Michigan.

Later today, we will go to a social event with Pastor Scott and his family, with Roland and Shirley, and with other friends from the Big Rapids FMC. I won’t be able to bring my Taylor Guitar. I won’t have any opportunity to sing worship songs and make music to my God. However, I have my eyes and ears, and I can listen to people. I can watch what God is doing here in Michigan. We will eat ice cream. We will play ball games. We will walk around the grounds of Ferris State University and enjoy this day of fellowship. Meanwhile, I will be inspired. Regardless of who I am with, where I am, or what I am bringing with me, I will draw my inspiration from God alone. He is my Rock and my Refuge. He is my inspiration.

Go Means Going

In the Book of Acts, “go” takes in many different forms. When Jesus gave his Great Commission to his disciples, he told them to be witnesses for him and to go even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:7-8). In the life of Peter, this mandate meant a life of proclaiming an announcement. In his first sermon at Pentecost, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, he gave the people an announcement and explained to everyone what was meant by the promise of the Holy Spirit (2:14 and 2:32-33). He exhorted them (2:40). When confronted by the lame man, Peter uttered a declaration: “I have nothing except Jesus” (3:6). At Solomon’s Portico, he refers to the prophets and announced the old Abrahamic (or Mosaic) saying: “You shall be a blessing to the whole earth” (3:25, cf. Genesis 12:1-3). In Peter’s life, going meant a life of words, announcements, proclamations, and speaking to people about God’s words.

In the life of Philip, the Great Commission mandate means a life of moving from one place to another. God’s call primarily meant a direction, a life of “going south,” to places where people are different than what Philip is used to (Acts 8:26). On his way to following God’s command to go, he met Samaritans, a people whom the Israelites disliked, a weird power-hungry Simon, and a queer Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:4-40). At the end of the Philip narrative, the story continues with him still going to many different locations (8:40). In Philip’s life, going meant physically moving (or being relocated by God’s Spirit) from place to place.

In the life of Paul, the Great Commission meant a life of focus for a certain people: the Gentiles. God calls Paul to a life of work among the Gentile peoples (Acts 13:47; 22:21; and 26:17). In the beginning, he started work among the Jews scattered among the non-Jewish nations. But towards his second missionary journey, he shifted to a work directed solely for the Gentiles (18:6). He had his heart set for Rome and the far-away Spain, not because they are exotic places, but mainly because, at that time, they were populated by gentiles (Romans 15:22-24 and Acts 19:21). In Paul’s life, going meant a commitment to be where Gentiles are and to live a life that Gentiles can relate to.

Whichever form going takes, whether it involves an announcement of a blessing, a movement from one place to another, or a focus on a particular people and culture, it still portrays a life of witness to God’s salvation in Jesus.  Whether going meant tangible words, physical movement, or deep commitments and focused attention, it still involves a living encounter with our Almighty God. Both the missioner and the listener must respond in obedience. Going means a life of submission to the Lord of the universe and Lord of this earth.

I Love This Job!

"Let us go tubing down the Muskegon River." "Berry picking anyone?" Yesterday, we were at Big Rapids Free Methodist Church for a Wednesday evening of missions presentation. After our talk, several people came and invited us to go with them for a fun time of berry picking, water fun at the nearby Muskegon River, horse back riding, and a trip to a children's park with balloons, slides, and other cool stuff. I love this job! We get the opportunity to share about the Lord's work in Asia, and then, we also get to do fun things with our friends and supporters.

Prayer Or Insomnia

Is it a case of the need for prayer or a bout with insomnia? Let me explain where this question is coming from. I have been awake since 4:00 in the morning. I cannot sleep. A certain dream shook me out of my deep slumber. And so I take this as a signal for me to be on my knees and pray. I dreamt about my friends in the Philippines. And now I pray for God’s work in that country. I pray for the many church planters and local church pastors who are struggling to make ends meet. They do not have much and yet they continue in the work of the Lord’s harvest. I pray for Pastor Sam, for Pastor Loloy, and many others. Every day they are concerned about feeding their family, taking care of their sick ones, and yet, in the midst of these earthly struggles, they are still actively involved in reaching out to people who are lost and giving healing to many who are hurting. They are limping and weak because of their poverty and yet God is mightily using them to bring in more workers to God’s kingdom, more people who receive God’s salvation in Jesus. Is it insomnia? Maybe. Whatever the reason, I take this opportunity to gather myself and pause to intercede for my brothers and sisters out there who are serving the Lord despite their dire situations.

In my dream, I saw a picture of an old school dormitory. I saw many familiar faces. To the side of the building, someone was pumping water from an old hand-cranked well. On the foreground, one familiar friend was driving an old jeep truck. The scene that followed troubled me so much that it woke me up from my restful evening. I am awake now with this upset stomach. I head out to the living room so that I do not wake up my wife and children from my restless turning and constant squirming. And so I pray. The scene of that old school dormitory still lingers in my brain. I remember the many pastors and Christian workers who have stayed in that dormitory house when they were young. They stayed there for five years and after graduation, they were sent to work in the Lord’s vineyard. I pray for that school in the Philippines. I pray for Light and Life Bible College (LLBC) in the Philippines, for Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) in Taiwan, for Yavatmal Leadership Training Institute (YLTI) in India, and many other Free Methodist institutions who are tasked with educating our future generation for the Lord’s harvest. These schools have a gigantic work ahead of them. These institutions, especially LLBC and YLTI, are constantly reshuffling their budget looking for available funds to support their current academic programs. They are struggling and yet, year after year, God sees them through, and they always end up in the black. I pray for God’s provisions. I pray for generous donors for their needs. I pray for our CSAs, or Country Shares Accounts. CSAs help institutions like LLBC and YLTI. Money allocated for CSA is sent to poor countries with Free Methodist ministries that are thriving and actively reaching out to the lost. Simply said, CSAs help church planters, pastoral training, and theological education so that the work of God might not be hampered by poverty and other economic problems of the country. I pray for God’s blessings to overflow in countries like the Philippines.

It is already six o clock and I am now finishing up my second cup of coffee. From my living room window, I can see the light of dawn on this August Michigan morning. It is now a perfect time to pray to my God.  I pray for my friends here in the USA. I pray for Mrs. Nettie, Grandma Margie, Farmer John, who are overflowing in their generosity and writing checks for our Country Share Account (CSA) projects. I pray that they will all see God’s work in the Philippines, Vietnam, and other places in the world. I pray that when they are discouraged and do not know for certain why they are giving to a project (like CSA) that seems so impersonal and too expansive, then God will show them the faces of these many pastors and church planters toiling in the barrios and city slums of Asia. I pray for God to visit them in their dreams. I pray for God to encourage them to continue participating in the Lord’s harvest.

Perhaps it is insomnia. Maybe, this is a result of my seasonal allergies. It could have been too much chemical in my brain. Whatever the cause, I am awake now and I am joining God’s Holy Spirit in petitioning for the many workers immersed in the Lord’s harvest. It is close to seven, and I think it is time for me stop blogging and cook breakfast for my family. They are still asleep, but I think if I cook fried rice and eggs, they will wake up.

Ministry Happens in the Mundane

Sermon. Done. Powerpoint presentation. Check. Display materials are ready to go. I spend so much time getting ready for a 30-40 minute missions talk. Every Sunday, during this time of Partnership Building, we go to several Free Methodist local churches and share about God’s work in Asia. I have this tendency to focus on the “talk,” the sermon and the missions presentation. I am constantly reminded, however, that during this time of reconnecting with our churches, our friends, and supporters, ministry happens outside the time of presentation. We connect with people more during mundane conversations and at times of informal exchange. The meeting of the mind and heart happens at the dinner table, on a baseball field, or when we are simply talking about the children’s first day of school or some other ordinary events in any person’s life. Last Sunday, I was reminded of this bit of wisdom.

Yesterday, we went to Stanwoods Free Methodist Church (a.k.a., The Woods FMC). Nothing spectacular happened during my missions talk. No fire from heaven came down. No mass of people moving up front for life-changing decisions. It was simply a missions talk. But outside this 30-40 minute missions presentation, we had several occasions of meeting up with people and telling each other our own life stories. The week before this, The Woods FMC, together with another local church, Northland United Methodist Church of Stanwood, MI, sponsored a VBS (Vacation Bible School) for the Stanwood community. My children, Carmen and Jacob, participated in this VBS. Later, after this VBS, both churches also organized a Saturday afternoon of picnic and family fun at the nearby Buffalo Park. We also joined this time of fellowship. Carmen won some fun events at the Yoyo exhibition. We met some local folks. We sat with friends listening to some Bluegrass live music from a local hammer dulcimer band. We connected with real people in real time and during one of their indigenous moments. Outside of the missions talk is when real ministry really happens.

Earlier today, Jacob and I were at a local Big Rapids Burger King for a time of free Wi-Fi. I was working on my blog entry while Jacob played with some online video games. Jim and Linda, from Stanwood FMC, were also there for a while. We chatted for a bit. Jim invited my family to join his family and friends for a Saturday afternoon of meal and fellowship. This will happen at the end of this month. I told him we will be there. It will be a Saturday of fun as well as a day when ministry happens. It will be a mundane Saturday, and that is okay.

It Is Good To Be In Michigan

"It is good to finally see you in person and not just a picture on a wall." I heard this statement several times during our visit to three different churches last weekend. We went to Rose Lake Free Methodist Church (FMC), Central Michigan FMC, and South Evart FMC. This week is our first full week of Partnership Building, a 5-month time of visiting various local churches every week this year of 2012. We enjoy the people's love and attention. But most of all, we treasure the opportunity to reconnect with our church supporters and prayer warriors. We are blessed to be partners with our friends here in North Michigan Annual Conference of the Free Methodist Church, USA.

"Thank you for sharing this with me." I keep saying these words to the people I meet. You see, when I get together with them at a dinner table or in the hallways of the local church. we always end up sharing about what God is doing in our lives and through the local church. I listen. And when they share, I see God's encouragement in my life. I tell myself: "It is good to finally hear them in person, and not just reading these stories from a church newsletter or from a friend's email letter."

Here in Michigan, it is good to be reconnected with God's people, with Nick, Andrea, Ralph, Jean, Cliff, Ginny, Rose, Joe, Martha, Paul, Cheryl, Herb, John, Candy, and many more to come.