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October 2015

Connecting With God

“Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a missionary,” Daniel Lo tells his father. Daniel is only eleven years old and is the youngest member of this year’s mission team from Taiwan. We are in Yangon, Myanmar for ten days to visit Free Methodist work in the country, helping in different children’s ministries and painting the walls of a Bible College (school). There are 20 of us from Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Twelve members are from a seminary where I teach, and eight are from one local church in the Kaohsiung area. Daniel and his father are members of this local church. “Dad, when there is another mission trip to Myanmar,” Daniel continues. “Can I go again?”

My name is David Clemente, a professor at Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I am a missionary with the Free Methodist World Mission (FMWM), USA, sent to Taiwan to teach missions and theology courses at this seminary. Every year, I organize mission trips among our students and their friends to visit and connect with different areas of Free Methodist work in Asia. This past February, we went to Yangon, Myanmar. We visited Chin, Burmese, and Chinese people residing in the city of Yangon.

“Their smiles are melting my heart,” members of this team remark about the children in Yangon. We visit a Burmese Childcare Center of 30 or so children ages 5-7 years old. The children are happily participating in hand craft activities, coloring pictures and constructing bright red Chinese characters with their nimble fingers. “I do not know what they are saying,” the Taiwan team members share to each other. “But their smiles and enthusiasm speak of God’s love.” It is obvious that the Taiwanese visitors are having a wonderful experience with God’s work in Myanmar.

We also visited Free Methodist work among the Chinese community in the city of Yangon. We crossed the Yangon River riding on a ferry boat. We traveled across the countryside on a three-wheeled bicycle ride. We ministered to twenty or so children from a poor neighborhood and crammed ourselves together with them in a small 20x10 square foot room for a time of singing, drama, and Bible stories. We encountered God through the people we met in these small congregations here in Myanmar.

The Free Methodist Church (FMC) is a world church. It is in 85 countries across six continents. This denomination started in 1860 in New York, USA, but has its roots in the Methodist revival movement from England. Now we have about 80,000 members here in the USA and more than 900,000 around the globe. FMC is evangelical in its persuasion. Moreover, it is a tradition that is serious about its missionary calling to “bring wholeness to the world” through its many ministries. It sends cross cultural workers and missionaries through its sending agency, the Free Methodist World Mission (FMWM), and sponsors children around the world through its ICCM (International Child Care Ministries) organization. It partners with other churches and missions agencies through its Set Free Movement (SFM) group, with the aim of rescuing slaves and victims of human trafficking and restoring these people to full humanity. Free Methodist congregations and their members around the world are connected to each other because of their love for God and commitment to make disciples of all nations.

“Now I know how to pray for the Free Methodist work in Asia,” one of the Taiwan members tells me. “Pastor David, now I know what you were talking about in the classroom,” another member shares to me. “Because, here in Yangon, I have talked to a Burmese pastor, I have cuddled a small child, and I have seen God’s work with my own eyes.” God’s connection is right before us.

In so many ways, our experience in Myanmar is a microcosm of the Free Methodist missionary work around the world. We are in Myanmar not only because we want to offer our help to others or to receive spiritual blessings from our fellowship with the local people, but also because we want to see for ourselves what God is already doing in the country. God is at work in the world. God is using many Free Methodists around the globe for the building of His kingdom.

Currently, Free Methodist missionaries are going from Brazil to a few Asian countries. Filipino Free Methodists are being sent as Christian cross cultural workers to Hong Kong, Cambodia, Pakistan, and other restricted countries. Taiwanese FMC members are sponsoring children from Haiti through ICCM. Free Methodists from India are rescuing children in Nepal through its SFM local group. These are just a few examples of the many ways God is using Free Methodist people in the world.

In the same manner, FMC of Myanmar is participating in world missions for the Lord’s work. From its small Bible College in Yangon, FM leaders are sending their students to India for summer missions work across the border to Mizoram.  One of its orphanages is strategically located in the borders of Thailand to help victims of human trafficking. Free Methodist childcare centers are present in major cities to minister to needy children and suffering families. God is working in Myanmar, just as He is working in other countries, bringing many Free Methodists to join in His harvest in the world.

My prayer is that many more Free Methodist Asians will answer God’s call for more workers in His harvest field. When Jesus said not to hinder the children from coming to him, he is talking about more than just their innocence and qualifications to enter God’s kingdom (Matthew 19:14). I think Jesus was also referring to the children’s ability to grasp the calling for missions work; God’s work of bringing wholeness to the world. Many Asian children are ready to say to our Lord: “Jesus, when I grow up, I want to be your missionary.”

Second Generation

“Maayong buntag!” (Good morning.) I hear the booming greeting of our guest, Rev. R. Cranston, from outside our house. I hurried out of our living room and head for my sister’s bedroom. “The missionary is here. The missionary is here,” I tried to make an announcement hoping that my Dad would hear me and our guest won’t. I did not want to embarrass him. Pretty soon I hear heavy footsteps coming up our stairs that lead to our front door. Knock! Knock! He is here, I thought to myself.

I am a second-generation Free Methodist growing up in the Philippines. My parents knew the first missionaries who came to the Philippines. I heard about Greenville, IL and Winona Lake, IN, even when I was child. My father and mother became Christians early on and got involved in the Free Methodist missions work through the leadership of the early missionaries in the Philippines. I knew all of them as a child. My brothers and sisters knew the missionary kids and played with them from time to time. Soon after, my grandmother, Lola Alud, also came to know the Lord and started going to the Butuan City Free Methodist Church (BFMC). And this is where this story begins.

Let me tell you a beautiful memory I have of my grandma, Lola Alud. She passed away when I was in College, but when I was growing up in Butuan City, Philippines, she stayed with us for quite some time. We lived in a medium-sized house, not too small. However, with eleven of us siblings, Grandma, two other relatives and their families, and helpers living with us, the house gets crowded. My three younger siblings and I would sleep in the living room. We got used to waking up to noise of people getting ready for the day.

I remember grandma and her song. Every Sunday morning, she would wake up early and pray for us. She would walk around the living room and sing songs of praise, and we would get up to her singing, get dressed for church and walk to it (BFMC), which was only a block away from our house. I remember her song very clearly. She would sing: “Laoman ta, Ug tahuron ang Dios. Kay way laing mahimo. Nga ikabalos.” This is the Cebuano version of the song Trust and Obey. “Trust and obey, For there’s no other way. To be happy in Jesus; But to trust and obey.”

I thank God for grandmas and grandpas who pray for us so that we will grow in the knowledge of God and serve Him. I thank God for fathers and mothers who encourage us in the faith, send us to Church activities, and even to missionary gatherings, so that we will understand the love of God for the world. I thank God for Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, mentors, and others who help some of us because we do not have Christian parents or grandparents who pray with us. However, I thank God the most because He is the God who answers prayers. He answered the prayer of one grandmother from Butuan City, Philippines. And here I am now, a testimony to God’s answer to the prayers of His people. He will answer your prayers. The answers might come tomorrow, next year, or 20 years from now. That is okay. What is important and most essential is that the God of the universe is the One who is answering our prayers. I thank God that He is a prayer-answering God.

Actual Missions Work Here

“We pray for our missionaries.” Everyone is gathered around me. Those close by have their hands on my shoulder. Some are praying out loud. A few mention Sarah, Carmen, and Jacob.  I am here in central Illinois visiting one of our supporting churches and the members are praying for me and my family. I am here sharing about our lives as missionaries in Taiwan and the Free Methodist work in Asia, and after my time of sharing, the local members are gathering to pray over me.

Some Sundays, I go and visit churches in central Michigan. And almost the same things happen, just like in Illinois. After my sharing time, people surround me in prayer. I raise my hand in response and to receive God’s blessing in behalf of my family left behind in Greenville, IL, and to represent the many Free Methodist members scattered in Asia mentioned in my stories and sharing time. I join them in their prayers for missionaries and Free Methodist missions work around the world.

Some days, the prayer time for missions happens in someone’s living room. I go and pay a social visit with some of our friends. We talk and eat. We show pictures of family and sometimes brag about the accomplishments of our relatives. We reconnect. Almost always, we end our visit in prayer. And just like my church meetings in IL and MI, we end up praying for other missionaries in the Congo or Hungary, or petition God for His help among the people suffering in Syria or the regions of East Asia. “Lord, we pray for our missionaries.”

Often times, my visits bring me beyond the borders of our supporting churches and prayer partners. These past five months, I have had a few opportunities to visit actual missions work here in North America. There is a group of Filipinos starting a new work in Calgary, AL Canada. I am now acquainted with a Burundi congregation here in Grand Rapids, MI. A small Chinese fellowship is gathering with our Free Methodist leaders at Decatur, IL. A few of our local churches in St. Louis, MO is helping a group of Christians from Nicaragua to establish their local congregation. It is in these kinds of situations when our prayers for missions begin to take a different form. Now we say: “Lord, we pray for your missionaries here at home.”