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October 2013

Eight Years Of God's Grace and Abundance

Eight years ago, on this very day, at about 10:00 PM, we arrived in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, from Illinois, USA, to begin an adventure with our Missionary God helping in the work of the Free Methodist Church here in Taiwan and Asia.

Eight years ago, my son Jacob was only 10 months old, and my daughter Carmen was almost 5 years old, when we came to Taiwan. God's loving care and abundance is written all over their faces, evident in their lives. They are growing up beautifully. 

Eight years ago . . . after eight years of missionary life and work, the adventure with our God who is full of surprises and overflowing grace still continues. Just like any other missionary family, we went through difficult times, culture shock, embarrassing moments speaking the local language, and many other trials. In the midst of it all, God was victorious. His presence with the four of us made all the difference.

Below is a picture of the four of us in one of our weekend getaway, a time of recreation at a nearby university. We look tired, especially Jacob. This was our first month, so the expressions on our faces were kind of expected. I was surprised that Carmen was still able to smile.

Clemente - Nov 2005

Eight years ago, and we are still here, continuing the journey that God has ordained for us. We are grateful for all your prayers. We are here because God has called us to be here. We are here because God is answering your prayers for us. Thank you for praying.

All Of Them Heard The Word

It would be nice to say "All of them heard me." I mean "all" as in everyone present in that location. But sometimes what we mean by "all" is really "most of them" or "a significant number." There is a verse in the Book of Acts that has all scholars (okay, maybe most scholars) of the New Testament baffled. It describes the state of the missionary work under the leadership of Paul. It pertains to the qualifier word "all." Did Dr. Luke the writer really mean "all" or just a majority of the people? If it is really true, could it happen within the time frame specified by the writer? Was there really a lot of people living in that area?

Acts 19:10 says: "And this took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." (NASB)

What took place before this verse was Paul's change of strategy of preaching the Word of God. He moved from the Jewish synagogue to the Greek meeting place called "the school of Tyrannus" (see Acts 19:9). The narration says he met a stiff resistance from the people at the synagogue. They became hardened and spoke evil of Paul. So, Paul tried a new approach and the result was that all of them heard the Word of God.

Did Dr. Luke the writer really mean all the people in that area heard the gospel? I do not want to go into the technical discussion of this verse. Many scholars have explained this word "all" in the context of the demographics of the day and the social life of the early people living in Asia Minor. What I want to talk about is the circumstances before this verse happened. What brought about this increase of people hearing the Word of God? The word "all" may have some technical explanation, but it is obvious that a measure of growth is happening here. The verse reports of a significant new thing happening, that more and more people are responding to the preaching of Paul. What prompted this growth? What changes did Paul introduce to his missionary work? What events ushered in this phenomenon of positive response?

I suggest three things. These three made it possible for Paul and company to bring the Christian gospel to the level of the people in their area, in Asia Minor. One is that the issue of the preaching location. Paul moved away from the strategy of starting in the Jewish synagogues. Instead, he "took away his disciples" and started a new method of preaching in places where Greeks frequented (verse 9). He took them to the school of Tyrannus, a place where the local gentiles went for a time of discussion, philosophical talk, and social exchange. The challenge for us here is that we need to bring the gospel to the places where the locals meet for a time of spiritual dialogue and social interaction. Does this mean we should stop talking about the Bible in our churches and start talking about God's love at the local bar or the people's living rooms? I do not know. But one thing is for sure. Favorable results happened when Paul changed his strategy.

Two is the issue of the frequency of preaching. The text says that Paul "reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus" and he did this for two years. This gives us a picture of consistency and Paul's availability. He was always present for the local people during these two whole years. Does this mean we should have services everyday and not just during Sundays and Wednesdays? Maybe. What is obvious here is that the preacher or the person bringing the Good News should be available for the people on a daily basis. If the non-believer knows that the bearer of the gospel is available everyday and any day, then it is most likely that that person will be willing to open up his or her life to the message of the gospel and listen to the Word of God.

Last is the issue of the work of the Holy Spirit. In verses 1-7, Dr. Luke the writer gives us a simple story of the Spirit's coming to a group of people. He narrates this event right before this report we are discussing (verses 8-10). The clear conclusion we can give here is that growth and positive results come because of the work of the Holy Spirit. What is so unique about Acts 19:1-7? Don't we see the Spirit already working even from the very first chapter of the Book of Acts? Isn't Paul's missionary work full of the Spirit's outworking and abundant in miracles? Yes and yes. The difference in Acts 19 is that Paul gives a primary emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Look at the text again. He starts off his conversation with the Ephesian disciples with the question: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" (Acts 19:2) Whereas, before, the emphasis was not there. Does this mean we should start all our conversation with this question above? Perhaps. We could try. The point here is that when we worship the Holy Spirit and give Him the central focus in our evangelism and missions work, then results will come and all people in our localities will hear the Word of God.

It would be nice to read a report that says "All the people of Taiwan heard the Word of God" or a similar report of another locality. But, this won't happen unless we give honor to the Holy Spirit, bring the gospel to the level of the local people, and make sure they know we are available everyday and any day. 

A Visit In The Seminary

Yesterday, at our Tuesday Chapel Service, a spontaneous thing happened. We prayed as a seminary. Most of us went forward to implore God's mercy on everyone. This is how it happened.

Yesterday was a special chapel. (We usually have our chapel services only on Mondays and Thursdays.) Our speaker spoke on Church Renewal. After the talk, our President came to lead in prayer. And during his prayer, God's Spirit visited us in a special way. It all started with the seminary President going down on his knees up front. The Dean came and encouraged everyone to join the President in prayer. We, the faculty and staff, started going forward. Most of the students followed. In the end, almost all of the seminary family were up front praying, wailing, petitioning God for grace and mercy.

I do not know yet where this visit of the Holy Spirit will lead us. It may linger for a week or two. One thing is for sure: God's visit will change our lives. I am up for that. I will follow. He is our Great Shepherd.

Early Morning Rain

I woke up to the sound of the early morning rain. Not a heavy downpour, but, with this tin roof, it is enough to wake me up from my slumber. Coupled with the three roosters crowing . . . well, you get the idea. 

It is 4:00 in the morning. I can't get back to bed. I said a short prayer, more like exhaling my gratefulness to God for giving me another day and allowing me to participate in His creation this early morning Tuesday.

Today, I am in the Philippines, visiting Butuan City, staying here in Bancasi teaching a class at Light and Life Graduate School of Theology (LLGST). Yesterday's class was a good start. Today, we will talk about discipleship. Fun class! Students are pastors from our Free Methodist local churches. Very smart people and passionate about their work. They are here to earn a degree in Master of Ministry. I look forward to more interaction time in the class room. They are very eager to share what God is doing in their parts of the world.

Okay, going back to the roosters crowing: Can I just go outside and chop their head off? They would make a good meal. Maybe, a chicken curry? Where are my ear plugs when I need them? I think I left them in Kaohsiung. I have been away from the Philippines for a long time. I am no longer used to this early morning cacophony. I should pray more. Pray for humility. Pray for patience. Dang! The neighbor's roosters are joining in the chorus. And, the robin and kingfisher bird are belting out their loud chirping. I did not realize a bird's chirping sound could be that annoying. Please Lord, keep me focused in You, this early morning.

Oh, did I mention that I am in the Philippines. I skyped with my family. I was a little bit worried because Sarah mentioned that Carmen was coughing and not feeling well last Sunday. I am glad my little girl is doing better. She played soccer last Saturday. I saw a short video of her blocking a shot. I am glad I can witness my children's school activities online and Sarah is able to post these videos on the internet. 

Whoa! The turkey is joining in the ruckus. He must be about a hundred yards away. What is that other sound? Are those the honking of geese? Oh, and the pet monkeys in the nearby cage are also waking up. It is deafening here now. Do not tell me about your quiet early morning experience, please. Mine is still ringing in my head. Gobble, honk, chirp-chirp-chirp, cock-a-doodle-doo . . . Good morning world! God's creation is resounding this early morning Tuesday.

Nani's Story

“So, how is your life here in the seminary? Do you find it fulfilling?” I ask Nani. “How is your devotional life? Is your time with God still full of excitement and adventure?”

This is a Wednesday morning of the month of October. I am in my office with Nani, a sophomore student from Indonesia. This morning is our time for Advising.  I am not usually direct with my conversation, but when it is a scheduled time of “interview with the Adviser,” then I go straight to the point. I ask point-blank questions about a student’s walk with God and one’s academic progress here in Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). “Are you relating well with your fellow students? How is your social life? How about your time with the local church? Is your practicum at your local church too much, so much so that you find it hard to spend time preparing for your classes? How are you finding a good balance between studies and the outside world?”

Please pray for our students at HLTS, especially for Nani. She has adjusted very well to life here in Kaohsiung, considering that she is from Indonesia and only in her second year at HLTS. The challenge for her is finding a good balance in her life as a seminary student. She is an excellent student. However, she is also committed to the outreach program of the seminary, a ministry helping Indonesian workers and caregivers located in the city of Kaohsiung. Pray for strength. Pray for wisdom in the many decisions she makes. Pray that Nani’s life will be a model of Jesus’ life, whether as a student, or in the future, as a pastor or missionary in some far away land.

Later this afternoon, I will be meeting with John. John is a dentist by profession. He left his life as a dentist and is now working as a pastor and missions worker for his local church. He is here from the mainland to finish his classes under the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program. He has chosen to write his DMin dissertation in the area of cross cultural missions strategy. We will meet to discuss this topic.

I am thrilled because HLTS students like Nani and John are responding to God’s call for missionary work. Please pray for this time of preparation. Pray for God’s visit in their lives. Pray that in the midst of academic demands, the many papers and examinations the students are facing, they will still find a hunger and longing for God’s presence in the quiet moments of their lives.

Who Is In Control?

I like to be in control. Who doesn't? Everyone wants to be in control. Right? Unless, you are a Buddhist Monk somewhere in the Himalayas practicing emptiness and deep meditation. I think taking control of one's self and the world around is a natural instinct. I say this here in my blog because I believe this is what I am going through the past few weeks, actually the past month and a half. I did not have the motivation to write here and share an entry because I felt that I was being selfish and controlling. I wanted everything to be in the order that I wanted. Okay, I am going ahead of myself here. Let me explain.

The past month and these two weeks of this month had been busy months for me. We at the seminary started our Fall Semester with about fifty new students. I am teaching only one class this semester but there had been additional administrative duties. Every week, there are at least two meetings I go to. And it is in these meetings that I and my non-Buddhist self is trying to assert its own view of the world. "My eyes are opened! I have seen the light!" I am seeing many things that needed to be changed. I feel like taking control of the wheel, and redirecting the way things are going. Isn't that being selfish?

At the same time, I am beginning the initial steps of introducing Set Free Movement in Taiwan. In the process of implementation I see many different issues of justice and social concerns that are left unattended. Why are Asian laborers still treated as second class citizens here in Taiwan even when the law of the land prohibits this? Where are the rights of the workers? Their passports are confiscated while they are staying here in Taiwan. They have no say on when they can have a time of day-off. Isn't this unjust? What are the Christian churches doing? I feel like a father castigating his children. I feel like going to all these local churches and telling everyone to take care of the foreign workers in this country. What do you think? Are these feelings legitimate? Isn't this very arrogant of me?

This summer, I participated in three different Discipleship Groups. I made plans and prepared all the curriculum. I was a good teacher. I was in control of my material. I was ready with my lessons. I wanted all these groups to go a certain direction. However, these groups have taken a life of their own. (In religious language: 'The Holy Spirit took over.') Now I am very frustrated. The groups do not look like the ones I have anticipated. Bummer! What is wrong with me? What kind of a teacher and pastor am I? I am losing control.

Now, you see where I am coming from and what I am going through, right? I am out of control. But, the beautiful thing about this experience is that God is in control. His Holy Spirit is taking over. 

The issue here is not "being in control" or "being out of control." Rather, the issue is releasing control to Someone greater than anyone or anything. Eureka! God is in control. I will stop being a Christian who wants to be in control of everything, in control of the way I administer school policies and educational plans, in control of the way foreigner workers are treated here in Taiwan, or in control of my ministries and discipleship groups. Also, I will stop being a Buddhist monk who is out of control of himself and is unattached to this world. Rather, I will be a Jesus-follower who releases control to the One who is my Savior and the Creator of this universe. I submit my self and my world to Jesus my Lord.