Children

Receiving A Child

Most of us are broken and yet have a sense of accomplishment for today’s events. We cry. We sigh. We choke on our words as we share. We are gathered around tonight to recount our recent visit with the children at the Bantar Gebang or garbage mountain. One team member, with tears in her eyes, shares her experience of praying with the children, holding their hands as they sing together, and listening to their stories. Today, we have seen God move among the children of this community. Amidst the tears and laughter, these children speak of liberation from violence and healing of their sick love ones. For these, we rejoice with them. In the midst of their poverty, we sense God’s presence. We feel that we have accomplished a small thing for God. To have witnessed God’s work among these Indonesian children is an event we will always remember. 

A week ago, I led a group of ten seminary students from our Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We went to Bekasi, Indonesia, near the capital city of Jakarta, for a week-long missions trip visiting children from the poor community of Bantar Gebang to the middle-class school children of Mahananim Elementary School. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me” (Matthew 18:5). I am sure if you talk to any of these seminary students who participated in this Jakarta Mission Trip, he or she will share a new understanding of Jesus’ love.

Below is an example of a story of receiving a child in the name of Jesus. Carmen, my daughter who is a junior at Morrison Academy Kaohsiung, went to another Asian country to visit and help local children. Here is her story:

For our Impact Trip, we went on a missions trip to Cambodia, which was so moving and eye-opening to me. The most meaningful part of the trip were the camps and classes where we got to hang out with the kids. It was meaningful to me, because even though there was a language barrier and I couldn’t communicate to them through words, I was able to learn how to communicate with them through body language and genuine care. For example, I wasn’t able to tell the kids how much fun I was having or how much I loved them. Instead, I had to smile extra big, hug them really tight, and make hand motions to them to say “I love you”.

There was this one girl who was very active when it came to dancing and playing with others. At the end of our last day in the slums, I started to break down crying because I was so sad about leaving, and I didn’t want this to be the last time I get to see them. She came over and hugged me while I was crying, and kept displaying that huge smile on her face. She then grabbed my guitar case and pretended to play the guitar, which made me laugh and feel better. She then noticed a yarn string tied to the case, which was my family’s so that we know in airports which suitcase is ours. She pointed at it, and I assumed that she wanted it. At first, I was hesitant, but I got over that and gave the string to her. The girl then pointed at her wrist, so I tied the string around her skinny wrist. Using the best hand motions I can, I pointed to the string, then to my mind, then pointed to me, trying to say, “When you wear this, remember me.” She nodded and gave me one last hug.

That same day at the team center, I heard that there was an opportunity to go back to the slums, which I was really excited about. When I went there, that same girl ran up to me with a huge smile and hugged me. She then pointed at her wrist, which displayed the bracelet I gave her, with huge smiling eyes. This made me really happy, and taught me that something so simple, like a piece of yarn string, has the potential to impact someone’s life. And yet it’s not about that object, it’s about the relationship.


Being A Child

“How did you become a Christian?” “Did God ever speak to you through a dream?” “What is the most difficult time in your life as a missionary in Taiwan?” Q & A time. These questions belong to 5th and 6th Graders from the Manahanim Elementary School. These are very serious questions. No one would expect these sort of questions from any elementary school aged children. 

I am here in Bekasi, Indonesia, visiting the Christian Education ministry of the Mahanaim Foundation, our host for our team. We are a group of twelve people from the seminary in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, coming to Indonesia to serve children from different areas around the cities of Jakarta and Bekasi. Today, our team members are scattered around different classrooms leading devotions for the day. This is a Christian school, and each class meets every morning for devotions before they start their day. I am assigned to the elementary English program consisting of children from the 4th, 5th, and 6th Grade levels. I am a little surprised with the questions, and pleased with their serious inquiry, considering the ages of these children.

Jesus said: “Let the children come to me, and  do not hinder them,   for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not   receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17, ESV)

These words of Jesus has gained a deeper meaning to me after my visit to the children of Indonesia. That day, with their questions, they truly helped me come to Jesus with a sense of awe and wonder, and with much humility.

During the next five days in Indonesia, our team members, students from the Holy Light Theological Seminary from Taiwan, went to several places serving children in their different localities. We visited indigent children at a community center helping poor families from a nearby garbage mountain. We played with children from a small orphanage. We saw Muslim children dance. And on the last day, we were at this Mahanaim Elementary School leading devotions and teaching Mandarin Chinese to school children from K to 12 Grade levels. We learned so much humility. Every team member came back from a whole day of teaching with a sense of wonder and a deeper appreciation for God’s amazing grace and wondrous work here in Indonesia. These children belong to the kingdom of God.


Parable of a Helper

One day, an 8-year old boy was playing on a beach somewhere in Florida. He was digging a hole and collecting the sand to make a sand castle. After a while, a man came by and talked to the boy. He said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the man continued. “I can take a picture of you and document your progress. Meanwhile, I can play some music for you on my smartphone and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a woman came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Little boy what are you doing?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Let me help,” the woman continued. “I will give you some bottled water to quench your thirst. And if this is not enough, you can give me some money and I will go and buy you some more bottled drinks and encourage you while you work.”

After a while, a young person came by and talked to the boy. She said: “Ni hao? Ni zai zuo shenme?” But the boy just kept digging and storing up sand for his sand castle. “Help you?” The young person went down on her knees and started digging sand together with the 8-year old boy. The two of them kept working and after a few hours, a sand castle began to form from out of the sandy beach somewhere in Florida.

Who do you think helped the little boy? “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43).


Future Looks Bright

Ten years ago, these young people were children visiting our ICCM (International Child Care Ministry) centers, and some of them were sponsored children. Now, they are active youth members of our local Free Methodist (FM) churches in Cambodia. They help out in the ministry in many different ways. One of these is going out with the local pastors to help in the outreach ministries. Some of them tell Bible stories to children. Others manage the sports activities. A few share the gospel to local mothers and parents in the areas where they visit. In short, these young people are active participants in the church planting ministries of our FM churches.

Last October 2-6, 2017, I visited Phnom Penh, Cambodia to resource our church leaders and help them prepare for ordination. I taught a workshop and seminar on Inductive Bible Study. There were six CMCs (Conference Ministerial Candidates) and a few local church lay leaders in attendance. What was encouraging was that a dozen young people were participating in the 5-day training for our FM pastors. These were the same young people who would accompany the church planters in their outreach activities. They were the same youth who would lead in the local music ministries. I won’t be surprised if these same teenagers, ten years later, would be standing up as the leaders of our FM churches.

Later, back in my place of residence in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I received a short message from Philip, our ICCM Cambodia Director. He told me of a team of young people accompanying one of the FM pastors on a trip to a nearby village. They taught the children, led in singing, and witnessed to the mothers of the children. Philip sent me a photo of the team members. I was not surprised to see most of the members were familiar faces, the young people who were at the October workshop and seminar. The future looks bright for our Free Methodist work in Cambodia.


Just Another Challenging Time

We said our goodbyes. Carmen and I hugged each other. Yesterday, I said goodbye to my daughter, Carmen, and my son, Jacob. They won’t have the chance to say goodbye to me because my departure time for Cambodia is one of those early flights. I need to leave the house by 5:00 in the morning.

Saying good bye to my family never gets any easier. I have been doing this work for over ten years. And every time, leaving the family in Kaohsiung still leaves me with a hollow feeling inside. I still struggle with the act of giving a goodbye kiss to my wife, and I have to force myself to open the taxi door that will bring me to the airport. And just like this morning, watching my wife wave goodbye to me was still a difficult thing to do.

I travel every so often to visit our Free Methodist (FM) pastors in Asia and lead a seminar or workshop for them for a week or two. I enjoy this kind of work. I believe this is what God has called me do here in Asia. I am to be a missionary for our FM Asia leaders and help them get ready for ordination and local church work. This is fulfilling work. However, saying goodbye to family, even for a short period of two weeks, can still be a challenging experience.

Jesus said: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Do you think we can apply this verse to this moment in time?


Family Reunion: God Is Ever So Good

Six siblings. Six out of eleven came for our 2016 Family Reunion. Three days of fun with all 33 of us, including one-year old babies Caleb and Sky. Fun at the beach and laughter at the table. It was sweet to watch my children reconnect with their cousins and cousins' children close to their ages. Many of the kids were calling my 12-year old son, Jacob, "Uncle Jacob." Carmen had a blast playing card games with her young adult cousins, who are mostly in their mid thirties. The last time we were in the Philippines was in 2011. This reunion is a good time to create new memories and strengthen fellowship with relatives and families.

The hardest part for me is seeing my brother battle cancer. Even at this family gathering, we all could see his fight to stay with us, and enjoy the short time with love ones. I remember waking up to his guitar music and him singing praises to our God in the early hours of the morning. "When I sing songs to our God, I feel the pain leave me and sense God's visitation in my life," he shared to us siblings at one of our chat time. It was hard for me to watch, but God is ever so good. He is bringing restoration and healing in my brother's life. 

So, we continue to play on the ocean and enjoy our food and time together. My brother comes and joins us whenever he is able. One of the most memorable photo we have is of my brother lying in bed and looking over his side towards one of the children blowing soap bubbles in the air. We shared stories. We told jokes. We made fun of our little quirks and what-not. In all of these, God is ever so good. He is transforming our lives, and for my brother, our Lord is demonstrating His love in and through my brother's struggle with cancer. God is faithful.


My Cubs Family

It is history of course. The Chicago Cubs is the World Series 2016 Champions! After 108 years, we are here. It is past now. The world knows. There is no need to repeat what everyone is talking about, what the world media is covering. We are here. I am so happy! I am grateful to be a big part of this historical event in USA history.

I came to America as a foreign student and married into an Illinois family with deep roots in Chicago Cubs culture. I heard my wife's grandmother, Grandma Addie, say: "I want to see my Cubbies in the World Series before I die." She almost made it. She passed a few years back. I am sure she is smiling in heaven watching all of us go crazy over a baseball game.

  Clemente Family

Oh the joy of being a Cubs fan !


Missions and Small Things

She touches my face. She smiles and giggles. I try to coach her to follow me as I pat the table with my open hand. She imitates my moves. She laughs whenever she hears the sound of her hand hitting the table surface. We all laugh with her. Our one-year old visitor is visiting us for a day, and all four of us are delighted with her every move. Lucy is here with our family to take a day off from staying at a local orphanage home. We take turns cuddling with her. We cherish our short moment with Lucy and hope her day with us will help her prepare for her future family.

I support this orphanage ministry. Sarah is volunteering at this orphanage every so often and brings a child to our home for fellowship and social interactions. I do my part by helping Sarah. Carmen and Jacob are also engaged. They totally enjoy spending time with little ones like Lucy. We do this orphan-care as a family.

Little contributions are small. In most cases, they are so insignificant. However, we want to be faithful to both the small and big things that come to our lives. The Bible reminds us that if we are not faithful with little things, then we will not be entrusted with big things (Luke 16:10-13).

This past week, I also went to hang out with Sam, a Filipino migrant worker. Sam works at a local factory here in the south. This is his second year here in Taiwan. We went for lunch and talked about his family back home, his home church, and a few other mundane events. We did not have any earth-shaking conversation or deep profound theological dialogue. We just talked about ordinary things in life. I really wanted to get to know Sam. He is a new friend. This is only my third time to see him. I am still seeking God’s direction on where our friendship will lead us. I still do not know why our Creator has orchestrated both of us to meet up here in Taiwan. Meanwhile, as I wait for God’s answer to my petition, I hang out with Sam. We are thinking maybe sometime next month, when the weather permits and Sam has a day off from work, we can go hiking up on some Miaolin mountains. I want to be faithful to God in all circumstances, whether it is giving theological lectures to a big crowd or chatting with a person from a nearby factory.

This week is the start of our seminary classes. I am teaching two courses. Last Monday, I went to the school library to do some lesson preparations. Christine, one of our senior students, shared to me her dreams for a missionary work among the Chinese people of Asia. Our sharing time was a chance encounter, but I took that as God’s providential way of saying “meet with this student.” And so I listened to her story. I did my small part of encouragement.  As we parted, I said: “Let us continue this conversation.” We made plans to continue our sharing time. Nothing grandiose. Just little sharing time with another seminary student thinking about her future missionary work. I do my small part. Because one never knows if that small part might be a turning point to God’s grand design for something. I want to be faithful with little things. God will do the rest.


Children Taking Charge

"Do not worry, Dad, we will lead the way," Jacob confidently makes the announcement to the four us, even within earshot of other people in this Narita airport. I just smile. It is hard to argue with him, when a few minutes ago, I made a wrong turn leading our family to the wrong gate. We are on our way back to Asia. And we are changing planes here in Japan in route to Kaohsiung. I am half awake, groggy from jet lag and worried about luggages. It is easy to miss miss the gate numbers and other details related to international travel. "See, Gate 88 is that way. We need to go to Gate 68, which is where our next flight is boarding," Carmen reminds me and point to our boarding passes. Sarah and I just smile with approval.

Later, I took the two kids aside and told them that their mother and I are looking forward to the day when we would be traveling together and they will be in charge. "We will take care of adult stuff, such as passports and paying fees we will be incurring along the way," we mentioned this to the two kids. "Other stuff like finding our boarding gates, pulling our carry-on bags, and making sure we get through customs and security, these things you will be responsible." Both kids beamed with pride. Jacob even said, "I like our travel this time, this year."

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) I think this verse does not only speak about spiritual realities, but relates to practical ways as well. Children can be empowered. Given the encouragement and opportunities to lead, they will. 


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.