Church Planting Movement

Canceled But Not Rejected

Canceled but not irrelevant. Abandoned but not destroyed. Yesterday, one of my speaking engagement at a local church was canceled. When I got the call, I felt a sense of loss and disconnect. I thought to myself this is a waste of time and resources. I traveled half way around the globe and for nothing.

I am here in Fiji visiting our church planters with the Fiji Free Methodist Church. I came two days ago. I was supposed to visit a church service yesterday but my contact told me he was not feeling well and could not come to my hotel. Initially, I felt rejected. But something stirred in my heart, like someone whispering deep within, that everything will turn out okay. And it did.

The following day, I got a call and an invitation to a community meeting. An NGO is in town doing a survey on ways to stop violence against girls and women. The tribal leaders were there, together with the workers of this NGO. I witnessed the local village come alive. Mothers sharing about their experiences. Tribal elders explaining the ways of their tribal traditions. Young people eagerly participating in the survey, answering questions. At that moment, I felt the stirring in my heart getting stronger. The deep whispers reassuring me that this is the reason why I am here. I need to see this community bursts with activity and interact passionately in the protection of their children. I need to understand where the people are coming from. I need to learn. I need this encounter to inform my decisions, my ways of helping our church planters become relevant to this local Fijian community.

Canceled but not irrelevant, and definitely not destroyed, because God is the One who is taking charge and leading the way. The stirring in my heart is slowly speaking  a message of hope. There is a promise of God’s presence among us, ordering our plans for a church plant here in this village in Fiji. God is with us.

Where Are The Men?

“Where are the fathers of your homes? Why are there only a few men coming to church?” I gave these questions to the pastors gathered at our lunch table. “They are out drinking in a bar somewhere,” they replied. “Would any of you go to the bars and sit with these fathers, even if it means not drinking what they are drinking?” I followed up with another question. And the answer was a big “No.” 

Last week, I met up with a group of Pastors from a Southeast Asian country. After our sessions on leadership, we met up in a nearby restaurant for a meal and some conversations. It was during this time of fellowship that I asked the questions above. I refrained from telling them what Jesus showed us when he was still on earth. I avoided the tendency to come out with “guns blazing” and “preach their ears out.” I did not tell them that, in Jesus life and ministry, he went out to the people, sat with drunkards and thieves, dined with ordinary folks, and did not let the opinions of the religious majority stop him from going out to where people are gathered rather than inviting them to his gathering. I restrained myself from going into a preaching mode. I know God is working in the lives of these pastors. I am very sure they would hear the Spirit telling them all these ways of Jesus during their prayers and moments of reading the Bible.

Eventually, one of the pastors shared that the men of the community come to church or are open to hearing God’s words whenever they are in suffering or their families are in the midst of a crisis. “Remember Pastor David, last Sunday?” he continues. “After the service, when you prayed for that lady who is paralyzed, the husband came from his house and joined us for the prayer time.” I nodded in agreement. God is working. God is here.

To The South Asian God: Resham Tamang

Paul’s sermon in Athens in the Book of Acts chapter 17 always fascinates me. In this speech, Paul is able to connect the Creator-God concept to the reality of the Savior-God. I saw this connecting line in one of my conversations with a South Asian gentleman, Resham. But before we go to Resham’s story, let us look at Acts 17. Now, if you do not have a lot of time to read the whole chapter, you can just read with me a few verses which I included here (below). 

(Acts 17:23-24, 31, ESV). “For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth . . . [God] has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him [Jesus] from the dead.”

Let me share Resham’s story. 

Resham is a Christian from South Asia NP. I met him last year in Kathmandu. He shared to me an encounter he had with Jesus. Before he became a Christian, he was a teenaged boy living in a remote village up in the Himalayan mountains. At that time, his father was working in West Asia as a migrant worker. After four years, his father came home and was telling everyone about following Jesus. Apparently, his father became a Christian when he was working in West Asia. He was the only Christian in the village. That time, if anyone became a Christian, they were persecuted for their faith. The village's authority would come and ask them to leave the village under threat of physical harm. This happened to Resham’s father and yet he kept sharing his Christian faith, even going to other villages in the mountain area. Without any sign of fear, he kept trying to convince the whole village to follow Jesus. Resham even witnessed his father invoking the name of Jesus for the healing of village people who were sick and infirm. He did not necessarily agree with his father. He could not bring himself to fully embrace this new found faith in the family. But he respected his father and tolerated this situation.

At one time, Resham’s father was not home and out of the village somewhere. One night, a group of people from another village came to Resham’s home carrying a sick person. They were expecting Resham’s father to come and heal their sick friend. They were so disappointed that no one was going to pray for their sick friend. They still needed to go back to their own place which is a few hours of walking and they did not want to bring back a sick person with them. In their desperation, they asked Resham to pray for the sick person. Resham relented and prayed. The sick person was healed and the visitors went home to their own village.

Resham was not a believer when he uttered the prayer for healing. He later shared with me that he consented to the people’s request for prayer out of pity for the sick person and nothing else. His prayer was like this: “I pray for healing for this person in the name of the God that my father believes.” He recounted to me that he has seen his father say “In Jesus Name!” many times while praying for sick people or laying hands on those who ask for prayer. He simply imitated that prayer because he did not know what else to do. He did not expect anything to happen. However, God intervened and brought healing to the sick.

Now, Resham and his family are active members of a local church in the city of Kathmandu. He also helps the local pastor with occasional preaching and with some other leadership responsibilities. Resham, on many occasions, has helped me with translation work and documentation. His story testifies of God’s intervention in spite of the people’s inadequacies and limitation. God is in control. God is the Creator and the Savior of the world.

Praying For Healing: Premika Tamang

(Premika Tamang of South Asia shares her journey of God’s healing in her life.)

        In August of 2012, we, the sisters and women of the church, started a ministry, a Prayer Fellowship. I was asked to lead in the area of healing and prayer. Although the vision seemed very good at first, I had no idea how to speak about healing. It was very difficult for me to speak in front of many people. Besides, I never had such an amazing healing in my own life. I was very worried.  I thought it would be easier for me to speak about healing if there was such a healing in my life. But, nothing here in my life.

        While serving at this Prayer Fellowship, we had to travel to many places during this time of ministry. It was during one of our ministry trips to the Nuwakot District, I received word from back home that my mother-in-law was ill. Two days later after I returned, she passed away. She slept in the Lord. I was very sad. I had to speak words of healing to the members of our Prayer Fellowship. But after such an incident happening in my own house, I started asking God how to speak his words of healing. I became even more sad thinking about this. I cried to the Lord.

        Within a year of my mother-in-law's death, I lost my middle son whom I love more than anything. While I was continuing with the women’s Prayer Fellowship these two incidents devastated me. I prayed to God and asked why I was suffering so much. I cried. In the middle of my disappointment, God did not give Satan a chance to win. In my sorrow, the Holy Spirit came to me saying that only by struggling with God in this situation can I be rescued. At the same time, this is the way I may be able to encourage my sisters.

        About a month after my son died, God sent me to a village called Ree Tajimrang (a nearby village) to share his word. I asked God, Lord, why should I go? How can I share the word among these people that “there is healing in God” when I cannot even save my own son? My heart was pounding at the thought of how to speak. I was kind of blind. But before I spoke, I received a prophetic word. When I was praising, God said: “Daughter, why are you so worried? Why are you crying? I have your son. You will meet him later. Don't worry too much.” These words from God encouraged me so much. I was very happy to know that I will meet my son someday, at the end of my life. No matter how much I have to suffer now, I have the courage to share the word with our sisters who are suffering and worried like me. Also, that day, I learned that there should not be much concern for the dead, because they are alive in God.

        I continued in the women’s ministry through this Prayer Fellowship. And yet, problems in my home kept happening.  At one time, our youngest son got ill. I prayed to God with repentance. I humbly prayed that what had happened before, would not be repeated in my house. God miraculously healed my youngest son. Later on, my father-in-law also got sick. I was still in pain from the death of my mother-in-law and my middle son. After their deaths, there are now only seven members in the family. I begged God from the bottom of my heart. Oh Lord, I prayed with faith that my father-in-law would be spared. My husband and I prayed for him day and night. But his condition became more and more critical. Since I was meeting with many leaders and believers during this women’s Prayer Fellowship, I kept requesting them to pray for my father in-law. God healed my father-in-law. He was in a critical condition, and now he goes to church and serves God. He went on to live a full life for four more years, before passing on in 2017. He is also now sleeping in God’s rest.

        When God unexpected healed my father-in-law and kept him alive on this earth for four years, I was encouraged. I became more and more convinced that God was listening to my prayers for intercession. I believe that my father-in-law was healed and his life was extended because of our prayers. No matter how many failures we have, God is there to bless us. Until we experience healing in our lives, we are not really able to share these things with others. God has blessed me so much even to this day.

        I am very happy in God now. At present, there are six of us in our family. A few months ago, my mother got sick. She was taken to the Teaching Hospital (one of the biggest government hospital in country) where we admitted her. The doctor said she would not live for a week. She was diagnosed with lung cancer. We brought her back to the village. The only hope for her now is in God. Our family and brothers, all of us fasted and prayed for eight days. God answered our prayers for healing. My mother is with us until now. This is made possible by the grace of God.

        Because of these similar incidents of healing that have happened in my life, I am encouraged to move forward in this women’s ministry, this Prayer Fellowship. With this enthusiasm, I want the sisters of this region to be enthusiastic for the Lord, even among those who are busy with housework and farm chores. Most of the women here have not received any formal (educational) training. Only men are receiving such training. (Please take this in positive way.) And still, our belief in God is never a backward experience. Moreover, our prayer services have awakened us more and more, in our churches and especially among the women. You should understand that if you have learned how to pray and there is a quarrel with someone, you should immediately forgive and ask for forgiveness. (Because of God’s healing I have seen in my life, I want the women of this region to be enthusiastic for the Lord.)

        Personally, I have come to understand that it is easier for me to share from what I have experienced in my life. Now, wherever I go, I go to pray and share the word of God. Sisters and brothers have full faith in the power of prayer and the healing that comes through prayer.

(Premika Tamang now serves as a prayer coordinator for a Free Methodist Church here in the mountains of South Asia. She has two adult children and a pre-teen son. She works as a farmer, while her husband, John, works as a church planter for Beer-jet FMC. This interview was translated to English by a friend, Resham Tamang.)

Common Themes

Here in South Asia, I had the privilege of meeting two prayer warriors, Mr. Tamang and Mr. Abishek. They are already in their mid-70s, and yet, they are able to walk for days in the mountains, slowly traversing mountain trails for the purpose of praying for churches, local pastors, and families. They give a little twist to the Christian meaning of “Prayer Mountains.” What they would do is visit an area whenever there are Christian events or ministries that are soon to take place. They came to our meeting place in Bear-jet and prayed for our time of training and celebration. What I learned later was that they have this practice of coming to the area of prayer days before the actual dates, and they stay in the nearby mountains praying in the early morning, interceding for God’s blessing on the people. The other pastors told me that Mr. Tamang and Mr. Abishek would sometimes spend the night on a mountain trail simply because they would run out of time before reaching their destination or before finding a nearby village. I am glad I saw them in our gathering, and not “lost” in some mountain trails. I am so privileged to be a part of a mountain ministry that was covered by the prayers of these two warriors of God.

This is one description of a prayer ministry here in South Asia. Let me elaborate more on one church ministry that I saw during my last visit.

Bear-jet Free Methodist church is located on top of a mountain with a 5686 feet in elevation. The members of this church prays and sends one of their lay pastors, to go to another mountain area for two nights on the weekends. It takes about three hours of walking and hiking through a mountain trail before this volunteer lay pastor can be at the newly planted church. One member of this church-plant donated a one-bedroom house. The 30 or so members meet in the living room and the only bedroom becomes the living quarters of the visiting church planter. Financial contributions are very minimal and yet the work continues. Simple and yet very effective.

I met John when I was in Bear-jet FM church. We talked about the ministry and the many ways God is blessing the work. I met his family, his wife, daughter and two sons.  His wife has been spearheading the prayer ministry of the local church. His daughter and son are involved in the music ministry. A simple family and yet God is using the family members effectively for this mountain ministry in South Asia-NP.

What would this ministry above look like if we are in Michigan, USA? In what ways would a US ministry look like that of this South Asian work? How would we imagine it to be?  What are some common themes?

Imagine a Free Methodist church from Grand Rapids (MI) sending one of their volunteers to the the U.P. for a weekend ministry.  The volunteer would drive his car to the Upper Peninsula in probably less than three hours. One would certainly connect with a friend and have coffee or be invited to family dinner. There maybe a room available for him to stay in as a guest, but if not, the volunteer can always stay in a hotel for the weekend. The opportunity to share the gospel will happen during any of these meal times and fellowship with the host. I would assume the Grand Rapids congregation would be financially supporting this church plant effort. Members will be praying for the church planter. Reports will be given every so often and encouragement will be shared. Simple efforts and yet this could be a very effective way of sharing the gospel outside the confines of the local church.

Who would this church planter and volunteer be? He or she would definitely not look like John from the Bear-jet church. But, maybe, the spouse could be a prayerful partner. Maybe, the children would be involved in the local music ministry of the Grand Rapids church. Maybe, they could even join the trip to the U.P. for the weekend. This could be just a simple family. However, we rely on God to take all our simple things and he will do the rest. God will take ordinary people and make them effective tools for the work in His kingdom.

Bear-jet church is one of our Free Methodist church here in the hinterlands of South Asia. I was there in the mountains for four days, teaching and visiting our leaders last October 2019. The next time I visit there, I will talk to John and share with him some ways of developing a church plant ministry. I hope I can encourage him to continue in God’s work.

What would these ministries look like in your part of the world? Do you have prayer warriors like Mr. Tamang and Mr. Abishek? Do you have someone like John and his family? I would love to hear from you and we can compare notes and find some common themes in our stories.

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.

Americans in Kaohsiung

Sean and Amy are from Ohio, home of the Buckeyes. They are a husband and wife missionary team visiting our seminary to speak at our weekly meeting of the Student Missions Fellowship (SMF). Of course, we briefly talked about the Buckeyes historic championship title at the BCS Bowl Games. We can’t help it. OSU made history!

Sean and Amy are sharing about their work as OMF missionaries here in Kaohsiung working among the “working class” population of the country. These groups of people are the commoners, the street vendors, the truck drivers, the Taiwanese-speaking poor of the island. They make a strong case arguing that Taiwanese Christian churches are too sophisticated, too distant from the working-class people.  They point out certain characteristics of churches that would never draw in working class people. They cite the language used in liturgy (Mandarin, as opposed to Taiwanese of the working class), the culture of dressing up for church, or the manner of carrying a conversation (family dialogue versus the one-way monologue approach from the pulpit). I see most of the participating Holy Light seminary students agreeing with Sean and Amy. There is a great challenge of making Christian churches become more relevant to the 70% population of Taiwanese working-class people in the island.

As they concluded their talk and headed out for the door, I thanked them and also mentioned that they need to watch the NCAA March Madness games. Buckeyes were going to play that evening. Of course, I just had to mention how good the Kentucky Wildcats are doing this year. They were envious of course, because OSU is going to play a strong Arizona team and they do not know if the Buckeyes have the grit to finish this round.

So, the questions I have after our SMF meeting with Sean and Amy are: How relevant are our Christian churches in Taiwan in meeting the needs and circumstances of the 70% Taiwanese-speaking population of the working-class people? What challenges do we have here in Taiwan in mobilizing our local churches? What can the seminary do?

Everyday Deeds of Ordinary Folk

Sitting in a living room with thirteen young people. Reminds me of Bilbo Baggins and the thirteen dwarves dining in his house. Do you remember the movie, The Hobbit? The dwarves were there because they were on a quest to reclaim their home. Oh well, I am not writing about J. R. R. Tolkien's novel. I am here reflecting about my time with these thirteen young men and women in their mid-twenties. Michael Chen, a student at the seminary, invited me to join this Friday fellowship of group leaders. Michael is leading a church planting work among students and young adults. These thirteen are his small group leaders. They meet every other Friday for prayer, fellowship, and consultation. He and his wife, Cindy, encourage these youth leaders to make a difference for Jesus.

"How do you know if God is calling you to be a pastor?" Jay asked me. "What should I do if my parents are going to disown me because I am a Christian?" Catherine shared with me her family situation. "How does one adjust to a new environment, especially one that is different from our own culture?" These were some of the questions that I tried to answer that Friday evening. I differed all the answers to Michael and Cindy. As far as I am concerned, Michael is the "Gandalf of the group," the leader of this group.

Many of the questions reminded me of my time in the Philippines in the early 1980s. That time I was involved in a church planting movement in Manila and some other areas in the island of Luzon. This movement grew miraculously. We started in 1979 with three congregations. In ten years, we multiplied to about 20 local churches and a couple thousand members. God was leading the way. That time, I was one of the youth leaders. Later, I received my ordination credentials under the new Annual Conference organized by the Philippine Free Methodist Church. It was an amazing decade. 

Now, I am seeing the church planting situation as a seminary professor. Michael's group has that same passion we had back in the Philippines. They need a lot of encouragement, especially because Taiwan church culture is so clergy-centered. This particular cultural background is not helpful to any church planting movement. Lay people need to see the urgency to share the gospel among their friends and families. They cannot wait on their local pastors to lead the way. These thirteen group leaders should be encouraged to continue the work. I am so glad that Michael is leading the way. He is one Taiwanese church planter who is not hampered by the clergy-centered culture of Taiwan.

What does the Bible say about everyday deeds of ordinary folks? In John chapter four, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman. After she believed in Jesus, she became an instrument leading others to God's salvation. Many believed because of her testimony (John 4:39). She was not seminary-trained. She was never ordained. She was a "new" convert of Jesus. But still, God used her. A movement leading to the multiplication of many congregations will only happen when we empower "new believers" to start testifying and witnessing for Jesus. We should not wait for them to be "properly trained" before they can share the love of God to their friends and families. God loves to show the world His glory and salvation through the everyday deeds of simple people such as this Samaritan woman.

When I shared to Michael and Cindy's group of young leaders, I told them many stories of God's empowering simple people, using even the most difficult situations. One story I narrated to them was the story of Olga, a 92-year old grandmother from Michigan. Despite her age and lack of experience in traditional theological training, God used her to be a blessing to many young people in her locality in Michigan. God showed her the wonders of cross cultural ministry. God gave her the wonderful experience of worshipping with people of different background in a church among Haitians living in a city in Pennsylvania. "Now I know what cross cultural missions means," Olga concluded. The experiences of ordinary grandmothers became a source of empowerment.

Back to the movie, The Hobbit. There is one scene that always stays with me. This is the conversation between Lady Galadriel and Gandalf. Lady Galadriel asks Gandalf why he chose a Hobbit for this quest. Gandalf replies: "I do not know. Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check. But that is not what I have found. I found it is the small things of everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage." (From the movie THE HOBBIT)

May we find courage from God's work among the ordinary people among us, the grandmothers and young students in our midst, and the many "Bilbo Baggins" of our generation.

Taiwan Possibilities

"Is it happening here in Taiwan? Can it happen in Taiwan?" I ask the students whether or not the Bible verse we are studying is true to local churches and to Christians living here in the island. Most of them respond with affirmation. They relate some anecdotes illustrating the biblical narrative. I am happy. I know there is more work to be done but this is a good start. These group of students are seeing the importance of planting new congregations. 

Yesterday, I was teaching some principles of church planting as part of my lessons in the course Strategies of Missions. We were talking about Jesus' command in Luke 10, his instruction to the Seventy Disciples on bringing on the harvest. My discussion focused on verses five to seven.

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” (Luke 10:5-7, ESV)

Jesus' method is to first ask and seek out the "man of peace" before anything else. It is only after this person is found that a productive ministry of reproducing Christian communities will occur. Can we do this in this modern time? Should we do it?

The main problem with church planting strategies is that workers don't even try looking for the "man of peace." And when the church planting effort fails, workers are quick to cite many different reasons for its failure, when in fact, there really was no intentional efforts to begin with, the first step of seeking out this "man of peace" as Jesus had admonished us.

I am glad that this group of students are seeing the possibilities here in Taiwan. Vibrant church planting can happen here in Taiwan. "I am encouraged." I tell my students. "I am more resolved to continue this work of seeking out Free Methodist pastors and leaders here in Taiwan who are intentional in practicing Jesus' admonition of looking for the Man (or Woman) of Peace in their local communities."