Migrant Workers in Asia

Ordinary Things

This morning, Carmen and I went to a time of ministry with a group of Filipinos (OFWs) working here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. We joined the leaders of Higher Ground Church (NHGCC) singing songs and meeting new OFWs coming to Taiwan. We left Nandzi (a northern district of this city) to visit a dormitory at KEPZ (Kaohsiung Economic Processing Zone) south of us and met some members of the JIL (Jesus Is Lord) Church. We ate some pansit (Filipino noodles), enjoyed the chit-chats in Ilokano and Tagalog, and connected with the dormitory's Taiwanese supervisor. Pastor Terry Chu, a Chinese pastor of the New Song Church, coordinated the whole affair. It was a great experience to see God's leading hand. The Holy Spirit orchestrated the whole thing. Nothing spectacular. No fire from the sky coming down to earth. Nothing of this sort. Just ordinary people like us talking to each other and telling stories about the Great and Almighty God.

From the looks of it, these few friends we met will eventually go to the small JIL Church nearby. It doesn't make sense for them to travel an hour or so just to visit Higher Ground Church every Sunday. They definitely will not go to a Free Methodist Church or the New Song Church because they are all Chinese churches. They will all go to a JIL Church, and I am okay with that. It is liberating to know that we are all doing this not to bring in more people to our local groups, but for the sake of the Kingdom of God. If God will use our simple stories to challenge people to His salvation, then praise God. If He will bring the people to this small JIL Church, then glory to our Creator. It is good to know that we are all working for the Almighty Founder of the Universe.

Carmen loved her time of singing and jamming with the Filipina friends. She asked me twice when we were going to visit Higher Ground Church next so she can sing with the Praise and Worship Band. I told her she needs to practice with them. Maybe this Thursday or Saturday. These are the two days of the week the ladies come to church for music practice. I probably will take Carmen this Thursday, since this whole week she is off school enjoying her Spring Break. I am glad she enjoys these kinds of ordinary things, spending time with people.

Freedom Sunday - Pray for the Abolition of Slavery

Today is Freedom Sunday. This is the day we all start mobilizing our local churches to pray and work towards the abolition of modern slavery. Praying . . . .

A few years back, I met Shiaomei here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She was only 12 years old when she was sold by her mother to a brothel owner. Against her will, she was moved from Vietnam, to China, to Taiwan, to work at different brothels, restaurants, and homes. I met her when she came to visit one of our Southeast Asian cultural shows, sponsored by several NGOs in this city of Kaohsiung. I sang Filipino love songs to entertain some of our distinguished guests. She was there to represent the Vietnamese group displaying some of its exotic foods. At that time, she was temporarily under the protection of one of the NGOs. I learned later she was trying to escape a very violent family setting. I talked to her for a short time. I looked deep into her eyes and prayed to my God to intervene on her behalf. Since then, my prayers for victims of human trafficking has never been the same. 

Now, I do not know where Shiaomei is. Last time I heard, she is still in Taiwan, in the vicinity of Taipei, moving from one local family to another, working as a cook, waitress, and most probably other odd jobs that are undesirable. I pray for her. I do not know exactly what to pray for, but I still pray for God's intervention in her life. Praying . . . .

Stop Modern Slavery

Next Sunday, February 26, 2012, is Freedom Sunday, a one day annual event sponsored by Not For Sale seeking the involvement of Christian local churches around the world to put a stop to modern slavery. We encourage everyone to participate. You can raise awareness and pray with your brothers and sisters in your vicinity.

It has been said that prevention is better than cure. There are many ways a local church can help in preventing the occurrence of modern slavery. One is child sponsorship. Sponsoring one child has an empowering effect on the sponsored family. It propels the family members to become productive members of their society. Two is indigenous church planting. A local church administered by indigenous leaders provides local people with opportunities to help the destitute and those who are suffering from social evil such as human trafficking, child labor, and prostitution. Three is helping NGOs (Non Government Organization) in one's city or local area. Find a credible NGO (religious or non-religious) who is making a difference in the fight to end modern slavery. Volunteer your services. You will be surprised at what you can contribute. Encourage your church members to join you. Ask them to pray for you. Let us stop slavery in this century.

Here in Kaohsiung, I try my very best to practice these three things. My family sponsor girls from Burundi, India, and the Philippines. They are all managed by ICCM (International Child Care Sponsorship). Check out its website and see if you can sponsor one child from another country. Sarah and I help different indigenous churches growing in this city. We are involved with Feng Shan FMC. We also assist in the ministries of different Filipino and American churches in the area. Nothing big, but each little effort contributes to the bigger picture of eradicating this global problem of slavery within this generation. Also, from time to time, I volunteer my services for an NGO here in Kaohsiung called Taiwan International Migrants Mission or TIMM. When there is a cultural show, I sing Filipino love songs. When TIMM needs an interpreter, I am there. What ever it takes to help Asian migrant workers in their work place and to better their expatriate life here in Taiwan, I do it. These little things help in preventing migrant workers from becoming victims of sexual abuse and experiencing oppressive labor conditions. Prevention is better than cure.

Next week, I am going to a forum sponsored by the Taiwan Industrial Evangelical Fellowship (TIEF), a ministry that focuses on helping working class people here in Taiwan, and most especially the foreign laborers sector. I do not know what to expect. I only know one or two people from this upcoming meeting. I am not even sure what the nature of the meeting is, but one thing I am very certain is that I am going to meet Taiwanese people who can help in the effort to stop modern slavery.

Where is the church in Kaohsiung?

"My strong suggestion is that we organize activities that are inviting to all the workers. Perhaps, we could sponsor a music activity that includes both Christian worship time and cultural celebration." I share this thought to this group of Chinese church leaders meeting together to discuss some ways of helping Filipino migrant workers living here in Kaohsiung. Pastor Terry Chu, a Taiwanese Pastor, is spear heading this meeting. David Sha, a seminary student, is here helping us out. Douglas Lai, the administrator for this dormitory here in the KEPZ area, is the host of this meeting. We survey the dorm and talk about some ways of helping these Asian migrant workers living in this dormitory. Most of them are Filipinos.

As we are talking, I cannot help but ask the question: "Where is the church in Kaohsiung?" If God's people is called to be a source of blessing to the peoples of the world, then why are there no Kaohsiung church members helping us out in this ministry of outreach to foreigners in this city?

The four of us agree that we need to get to know the dormitory residents better. We also realize the need to invite other churches to participate in this endeavor. I am happy to hear that Douglas is a member of one of our Free Methodist (FM) local church here in Fong Shan city. I am resolved that in the next few weeks, I will talk to our FM pastors and pose this challenge to them to make this outreach to Filipino workers as a part of their local church missions activity. Please pray with me.

One Kaohsiung Church at a Time

I look around me and I notice that most of the people are not paying attention to all the dancing and live music. Obviously, these Taiwanese residents around San Min Park do not know Tagalog or English, otherwise, they would all stand up and join in the revelry. The members of Higher Ground Church (NHGCC), a Filipino congregation in Nandzi, are here in central Kaohsiung singing worship songs at this public park. There are a few Chinese brothers and sisters from the New Song Church nearby. They are helping with promotion, going around telling people of this activity. They also do not know Tagalog. A few of them can understand English. But they do not seem to be "in" to this lively form of praise and worship with dancing and loud clapping. Maybe, they are just not used to an expressive way of worship. Nonetheless, the members of NHGCC are enjoying the moment and freely sing praises for anyone who has an ear to listen.

I look around me and I see my students waiting patiently. They seem to enjoy the Filipino style of music and worship. There are about eight of them. I am teaching a course in Introduction to Missiology and I have asked these students of Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS) to visit this outdoor event and interview one of the Filipino members. I have been teaching the need to personally meet a foreigner, in this case these Filipino contract workers from Nandzi, and learn from their experiences. I encourage my students to be ready to apply what they hear from the classroom and "get dirty" with the real issues of missions work and cross cultural ministry. What better way to experience God's love across cultures than to personally talk to one of these Asian workers here in Taiwan.

I look around and I see them. My Taiwanese students and the Filipino brethren are engaged in serious talk and heart-to-heart conversation. I will hear more from this encounter once I received the students' reports and their reflections from this one-on-one interviews. Meanwhile, I see only one local church (New Song) helping this Filipino congregation. It is okay. It is a good start. I know that this will continue and other Kaohsiung local churches will get involved. It is my dream that many more Chinese churches will partner with these Asian churches, Filipinos and Vietnamese, and eventually open new work among the Indonesians and other nationalities. God is working. I know.

Never Ending Preparations

Change oil. Wheel Alignment. After the regular car inspection, my mechanic, says: "So how many doctors are you bringing to Country MM?" This is not exactly a question about car repairs. You see, my mechanic is the missions coordinator for Juiguang Free Methodist Church (JFMC). We are switching gears here. We are currently planning a medical mission trip to the northern parts of Country MM among the Chin people of this Southeast Asian country. "I will try to bring two doctors from the Philippines, one nurse from the USA, and two other nurses from here in Taiwan. I have already given the invitation to them."

Today, I share with Dr. Lee, the General Director for CMO, and we are planning to go to Country  MC for a missions exposure trip this February 2012. We are thinking of visiting Chinese university students who are followers of the Koranbook. "Can I invite my husband to join us for this mission trip?" Jass, one of the MDiv students here at the seminary asks me this question. We are not bringing a big group. Because Country MC is a restricted country, traveling in big numbers will raise suspicion and create unnecessary risk to the whole trip. We must execute our plans in a low key manner.

Later in the afternoon, I had another meeting with two Taiwanese pastors. Pastor Terry is pastoring a small Chinese Baptist church. Pastor Tessa is pastoring a Filipino independent church. They both express their desire to meet together and share to their members the cross-cultural mission opportunities right here at our doorsteps in this city of Kaohsiung. "We do not need to go outside the country," Terry passionately interjects his view. I am helping the two of them prepare for a joint Christmas celebration sometime this coming December.

Too many preparations and plans. They never end. But this is God's work. Our Mighty Lord will be the one who will give fruition to all these plans. It is His work. I am merely submitting myself to Him. Each step I take, God is already there before me.

Brazilians in Japan, Filipinos in Japan

What does the word "relocation" mean to you?

To the Labor industry, the word is a constant reality. We know of course that many people migrate to a different country to work as laborers in factories and businesses. To these ever increasing number of migrant workers and immigrant peoples of the world, relocation is a very difficult word. It reminds them of a time of uprooting from their home culture to another culture in a foreign land. It means displacement from leaving families, and everything that is familiar.

Rev. Katsumi Shigetomi and I visited Takefu Free Methodist Church, a Brazilian congregation here in Echizen, Fukui Prefecture, Japan. Rev. Carlos Seiji Kavano is the missionary pastor here, sent by the Brazilian Conference of the Free Methodist Church in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I met his beautiful wife and three lovely children. I also met two of his missionary volunteers from YWAM (Youth With A Mission), Igor and Camela, a husband and wife team from Brazil. We prayed together. Katsumi and I learned more about the FMC work among Brazilian immigrants here in Japan.

Currently, there are 230,000 Brazilians in Japan. There are only 400 Christian local churches in the whole country. Isn't that a great challenge? In the city of Echizen alone (Echizen includes the city of Takefu), there are 3,040 foreigners and 2,040 are Brazilians. There are two Protestant Japanese churches in the area. For the Brazilians, there is one Assemby of God church and Takefu FMC. Two evangelical churches for 2,000 plus people from Brazil. One could only imagine the great need for Christian ministry among the families of these Brazilian immigrants.

What about the schools for these immigrants? There are only 36 Brazilian schools for all 200,000 plus Brazilians scattered in Japan. None of them are Christian schools. Don't you think there is a great need to start a Christian school for the children of these immigrants from South America? (I need to share this need to my friend, Matt Strange.)

We also visited Jesus Christ Our Banner (JCOB) church here in Echizen. JCOB is a Christian ministry among Filipinos here Japan. It has a few fellowship groups in Tokyo and other places. We met Nenita Miwa, Jacqueline Akaishi, Myla Bautista Inoue, and Melinda Catulpos Fukuoka. All four ladies are Filipinas married to Japanese families residing in the Takefu area. These four are the lay leaders of JCOB, Takefu chapter. We listened to their stories. We prayed for them. We talked about finding new and effective ways of sharing the Christian gospel among the Filipino people scattered in this country.

In Japan, Filipinos are the 4th largest foreign population, next to Brazilians. Chinese and Koreans are the other two larger people groups. There are a number of existing Christian ministries among the Filipinos living in Japan. But there are no Filipino Free Methodist ministry, not yet. Katsumi and I are talking, praying, and exploring the prospect of starting a ministry among the Filipinos here in Japan. We do not know what this would look like. We do not have any grandiose plan. But we want to start with the Filipino friends and families whom we already know. We want to learn from them and seek God's leadership among these people. God will be our guide.

Oh, by the way, the above JCOB church has about twenty plus members and doing outreach ministries to two other locations in the Fukui Prefecture. They have their weekly meetings in the church building of the Takefu Free Methodist Church. Brazilians and Filipinos working together for the Kingdom of God. What a beautiful picture of heaven!

So, what does the word "relocation" mean? It may be a difficult word for our Brazilian and Filipino immigrant here in Japan. But for us in the field of missionary work, relocation means the coming of more opportunities to share the Christian gospel to both migrant workers and immigrant families. The harvest is ready. Pray for more workers for the harvest. (Matthew 9:35-38) Pray for more workers who will rise up from the harvest field.

A Place for Homesick People

"They are very lonesome," our speaker shares to the whole group. It is our Students Mission Fellowship (SMF) meeting here at the seminary, and our speaker, Iris Wei, narrates to us her experience working with Muslim friends under the sponsorship of Christian Missions Overseas. "They are so open," she continues. "They are really not serious about their faith." She explains the reasons for this state of openness among Muslim visitors in foreign countries.

While listening to Iris speak to the SMF gathering, I cannot help but think about the many Indonesians around the city of Kaohsiung. I agree with her that these migrant workers, home caregivers, and foreign students are very open to hearing about the Christian gospel. But I disagree with her analysis that they are not serious about their faith. I think, these people are open to the gospel, not because they are weak (not serious) in their religious convictions, but because they are displaced and so lonely for anything that reminds them of home. They are willing to try new things just so they can "appease" their feelings of loneliness. Actually, loneliness is a strong word, and quite negative in describing the experiences of foreigners here in Taiwan. I would say, they are homesick. They are longing for comfort and someone to understand their displacement and cross-cultural experiences. They need friends to sit with them and chat.

Who are the people here in Taiwan who are homesick and need Taiwanese friends to listen to them? I mentioned the Indonesian caregivers. There are also many post-modernist English teachers who come from many different Western countries. We have Filipino factory workers, Vietnamese housewives, and Spanish speaking foreign students. They all need to hear the story of Jesus and his salvation and forgiveness. They also need a friend who will listen to them. Can you be that friend? Can your friendship be a place for homesick people?

Taiwan Ministry Among the Vietnamese People Here in Taipei

24 new members were baptized. About 55 people were present for this worship service. I came all the way from Kaohsiung to join the Free Methodist Vietnamese Church of Taipei. They met at a Baptist church located close to the Taipei Main Train Station. It was so humbling to see all these Asian migrant workers (some are wives married into Taiwanese families) take time off from family and work to be here for a baptism service. This church had been started a few years back by Khoa and Tammy, Vietnamese Americans from Ohio. They came to Taiwan as VISA missionaries. Currently, Khoa is finishing his M.Div work at Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary. Despite the work schedules of these Vietnamese migrant workers (most of them only have 4 hours of time off every month) and the responsibilities of Pastor Khoa as a full time student at the seminary, the Lord is constantly blessing this ministry. 

I came so I could document the Lord's work among this Vietnamese people here in Taipei. I came with my camera and video cam, including a heart full of anticipation for what God would be telling me through this group of people. I took pictures of them coming forward to give their tithes and offerings, putting their gifts into two different boxes. I found out later that one box is for their regular offering and the other is for missions work back in Vietnam. Pastor Khoa told me that this church is paying the rent for the use of this Baptist church, on their own, with no foreign funding. I thought that was a very significant sign of a healthy church. He also told me that they are supporting one church planter-pastor in Vietnam. With the gift of $150.00 US dollars they send every month, the pastor was able to multiply the work to three more churches. What a way to contribute to the Lord's harvest. With little resources, including money, time, and personnel, God's work is growing tremendously among the Vietnamese people both here in Taiwan and in Vietnam. Glory to God!

These Foreigners In Your Area

They just look at me with blank stares. I think they want me to leave them alone. They probably do not understand my "broken" Chinese, or cannot understand English. I wish I could speak Bahasa so I can converse with these two Indonesian ladies. They are here at the church waiting for their wards to finish a church meeting. My family and I are also waiting for this meeting to be over so we can have lunch with a Chinese family from this Feng Shan Free Methodist Church.

The Bible says that we should love the foreigners living in your area. (Leviticus 19:33-34) We should love them from the heart. (Leviticus 19:17-18) But, why is it so hard to love foreigners? Is it because of the language problem? But, couldn't we show love even without using words? Can't our smiles project God's love? Isn't a kind gesture enough to display the inner longings of our hearts? I say "yes" to all these questions above. Learning the local (or person's) language helps, but the main issue here is the starting point. For most Christians, the starting point is: "How can I help these foreigners in my area?" And when we begin with this question in our subconscious, no matter what we say or do, and through our gestures and facial expressions, these foreigners understand our starting point.

And this starting point of wanting to help them is what these two Indonesian workers saw in me. They do not need my help. They just want a friend. What I should have done is bring my family and sit with them and listen to them. I could have asked them to teach my children how to say "hello" in Bahasa Indonesia. This would have broken the ice, and they would have felt more included in our church life. My problem was my starting point. The next time I see them in church, I need to change gear and begin with the assumption that I can learn something from them. They can teach me and my family. I need to listen. They can tell us about their home and their culture, and, of course, the first few conversation would be difficult, but I think as they keep talking, they will feel the welcome that only God gives to every longing heart.

Love God and love the foreigners in your area. (Matthew 22:36-40) Love them with all your heart.