Generosity From The Field

Some days I just cannot help but fret about the expenses for a coming missionary trip. I know, I know. I should not be worrying about money. I know God will provide. But sometimes, most especially after opening my online account and seeing that the missionary giving is low, I then start to have second thoughts. I begin to wonder which missionary trips should I cancel. And on this particular travel to Borneo, I thought about cutting my trip short. And this is when I started to worry. But God, in his mercy, rebuked me through the generous giving of an Asian local church. It did not occur to me that our Lord will provide for my needs through the generous gifts from the field. So, here is the shorter version of this long story.

Last month, I went to Borneo to visit an on-going literacy ministry among displaced children located in a small village in this Asian island. Along the way, my friends from Sabah invited me to speak at their local church’s three-day retreat. I accepted the invitation knowing that I still have plenty of time to do my missionary work of helping the children’s literacy activity. After the church retreat, the leaders of the church gifted me with a generous honorarium. They also paid for my hotel stay and chauffeured me around the local district. In the end, I barely dipped into my missionary account, meaning that I did not spend a lot of the money that I brought from the US. God used the generous donations from the field to provide for my needs.

God really provides for his work. He answers our prayers from unexpected places and at surprising moments in time.

Giving Generously

“These are for you.” Joe handed me a check and a Bible. I looked at the check and was so taken back at the generous gift. The amount could pay ten days of comfortable hotel stay in most cities in Asia. This gift would certainly be of use for my missionary travels and time of ministry for the coming year, 2024. I said thank you to Joe and we celebrated our friendship, together with his sister, enjoying some light dinner at their home.

Generous gifts given to missionaries are always memorable. At one time, a small church in Michigan gave me a small gift, just enough to pay for a meal or two during my annual travel around Asia and Oceania. The amount was insignificant. The source of the gift was what moved me. It came from a children’s Sunday School class, a group of 2nd and 3rd Graders who invited me to visit their classroom and to share a missionary story. I was blown away by their generous hearts. I often wonder how much of our missionary funds come from kids selling lemonade at their front yard or from a garage sale of a child’s favorite toys, or maybe, donations coming from nickels and dimes taken out of a girl or boy’s piggy bank. I will never know. One thing for sure is that the generosity of God’s children is always amazing.

Going back to Joe and his generous gift… didn’t I mention he also gave me a Bible? It was a beautiful hard-cover The Passion Translation (TPT) New Testament, with Psalms and Proverbs. It was perfect. I told Joe that I just started my personal devotional time with the Book of Proverbs. Now, every time I start my morning with my devotions, I remember Joe and his sister from Illinois, and I join them during my prayer time. I am grateful for people like Joe and the children from a Sunday School class, that they are giving generously for a missionary like me.

Already, God Is Here

I came to Fiji four days ago, and already, I witnessed three ceremonies involving the traditional Fijian ways and customs. Two were the traditional Kava ceremony of welcoming visitors. These involved words of gratitude and greetings, as well as the ceremonial Kava grass presented to the host. The third ceremony was the celebration of life of a family who passed away. Usually, this is done at the 50-days or one year death anniversary. Last Saturday, I was invited to a one-year death anniversary of a family member, the village chief. It was such a privilege to be present at these important occasions. I am so honored to have witnessed these cultural events.

And of course, the food was good. We had a lot of taro, cassava, and greens. Fresh water eel and shrimps cooked in coconut cream. Lamb meat and chicken prepared with curry. The cassava cake was a hit. We had good conversations and a full belly.

In a few days from now, I will join our leaders of the Fiji Free Methodist Church in a week-long church retreat and leadership training. Pastors and members from three different locations will come and participate. Already, I sense God’s preparations for everyone to receive our time in the word of God. I look forward to celebrating God’s presence in our midst. He is God with us.

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.

Asians In New Zealand

Forty percent of immigrants to New Zealand are from Asia, mainly South Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Malaysians, and South Asians. A majority of these live in Auckland. “In 2013, people of Asian ethnicity constituted 23% of the city’s population…. A significant proportion of them were believers: in 2013, 28.5% of those identifying as Asian also identified as Christians” (Troughton. 2021:136). Pray for the FM work in Auckland, New Zealand.

(Troughton, Geoffrey. 2021. “New Zealand.” In CHRISTIANITY IN OCEANIA. K. R. Ross, K. Tahaafe-Williams, and T. M. Johnson, eds. Pp. 125-.137 UK: Edinburgh University Press.)

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.

I Need A Father

“Can you be my father?” I was asked this question several times by local people I met in these Asian churches I am visiting. I could tell from their eyes that they were serious. One man came to me and said: “I have no more father. I need a father. Can you be a father to me?” He then brought his wife by his side. She also asked me the same question.

I am in an Asian city here in the island of Sumatra. I am visiting several of our partners and spoke at a few of their gatherings. I noticed in this visit that the fathers in the local culture are the dominant type. This is a very patriarchal society. I thought to myself that this is the exact opposite of my personality. I am more egalitarian and encourage self discovery. Why are they asking me to be their father? 

I have no answer to this question. But I see the people’s desire to connect very appealing. It is another opportunity for me to build relationship with God’s people in this locality. I said yes to many who asked me this question with a prayer for God to lead the way as we become closer as a family. I responded to each request with affirmation knowing that God in heaven is our true Father. I will be a father to these Asian friends just as the Heavenly Father is a loving and merciful Father to me.

Shaky Prayers

He comes to me in measured steps. I reach out to hold his hands. His whole body is shaking. I draw him in closer to my side. I smell alcohol, but I do not care. He cries out and utters words that I do not understand. The local pastor beside him looks at me as if asking me if I could pray for this man.

I am in a small village church somewhere in Southeast Asia. This is the evening for our Revival Service. I just finished sharing the word and have encouraged the participants to come to the altar for prayer. Several people are up front standing in line waiting for the team of pastors to come and pray for them. The pastors and I are taking turns going around praying for the ones who responded to the altar call.

I am praying for this man. I hold his outstretched hands in my right hand and place my left arm around his shoulders. The shaking gets stronger. I can tell that he is struggling. He is moving uncontrollably  like someone suffering from a cerebral palsy condition. His words are garbled. I look straight into his eyes. I said words of comfort saying: “You are special before God. The Creator is delighted with your life here on earth. Reach out to our Savior and receive His blessings.”

It dawns on me that I could have been this person with limited strength and speech impediment. I am no different from him. His physical limitations make him no less than a person. He is my brother. I move his two hands together in a prayer stance. And I place my right palm on his chest. I continue speaking words of assurance to Him. I know he does not understand me. His gaze however, is telling me he hears my prayers. We keep looking into each others eyes as I keep imploring God’s mercy and kindness for both of us.

I raise my left hand towards heaven and cry for God’s visit in our midst. Suddenly, in the midst of the smell of alcohol and noise of the people’s loud prayers around us, I feel his shaking body slowly relaxing. He closes his eyes and tilts his head like he wants to lay down on a soft pillow and to fall to sleep. I motion to the local pastor nearby to bring this gentleman to a chair for a time of rest.

I go around to pray for the other people who are still standing in line waiting for the prayers of the pastors. I pray until the conclusion of the service.

Joseph Became A Refugee

Joseph took his family and crossed the border into Egypt, and became refugees in a foreign land. What was the reason for their departure? Was it necessary for them to flee to Egypt and live the life of an unwanted immigrant? The angel could have said: “Do not leave for God will command His angels concerning you, to guard you.” Or, he could have said: “Stay and God will fight for you.” No. Instead, our lectionary reading states that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 

Our Gospel Reading for this week, the first week of January 2023, is in Matthew 2:13-23. In this lectionary reading we find the answer to our search for a reason for Joseph’s family fleeing their homeland. Verse 15 presents to us the reason—This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” This verse quotes Hosea 11:1 and relates the life of a sojourner and a refugee in a foreign land. 

More particularly, I think the reason was didactic in nature, aimed at teaching Joseph a valuable lesson as the father of the Son of Man. The flight to Egypt gave Joseph a perspective on the life of a refugee. It gave Joseph a better understanding of the kind of life his son Jesus is going to take here in earth. Joseph’s life as a refugee in Egypt made him a better father to Jesus.

So, Matthew 2:13 states that the angel said to Joseph: “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.” And if I maybe allowed to say, the angel probably continued saying: “Live in Egypt as a sojourner and a refugee of the land. Live among the poor so that you will learn how your Son will bring the kingdom of God among them.  Mourn with them so that you will partake of your son’s ministry of comfort. Be humble as a stranger of the land because this is what your son Jesus will be doing in his life as an adult. He will take the form of a servant and will not count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Be merciful and seek peace in the land, and you will be called Joseph the father of the Son of Man." (Compare, Matthew 5:2-12 and Philippians 2:5-11).

Missional Questions, Missional Group

Whenever I am here in Asia, I make it a point to visit a Filipino community. There are two questions I ask them. These two become my way of evaluating their missional life and practice. The two questions are: What do you do when you are gathering as a group?v What are you doing to share Jesus to those who do not know Him?

In Auckland, New Zealand, I visited with a group of Presbyterian Filipinos. They gather together from different local churches and meet for a time of fellowship. They eat a meal together with good Filipino dishes. They exchange news of political events from back home. Much of their conversation is in Tagalog.

In Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, I visited with a group of Filipinos hailing from a pentecostal tradition. They worship together in the “charismatic style,” full of lively singing and the spectacular display of the gifts of the Spirit. They share freely, mostly in the Cebuano language, and never mindful of time.

In Malang, Indonesia, I visited with a Filipino family involved with an indigenous group reaching out to the Muslim people in their area. The family connects with the pastor of this indigenous group, who shares the gospel in the group’s tribal language and sensitive to the special needs of the Muslim culture. 

When I asked the second question, the first two groups could not give specific answers to the goal of reaching out to the local people around them. These groups from Auckland and Kinabalu spend most of their time within the circles of their Filipino friends. Filipino food and cultural events among their fellow Christians. Nothing wrong with these cultural expressions, but they take precedence over missional activities. Instead of going to their non-Christian friends, they spend their time and energies on church-defined activities. There is no attempt to go beyond their comfort zones. 

The third group from Indonesia is very missional. They intentionally find time to connect with a work among the local community. They partner with a local pastor who is doing ministry in a Muslim community. They leave their Christian comfort zones and reach out to traditions different than their own. This is a missional group.