Missions

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.


From Asia To Asians

“In our country, white people were the first missionaries. So, whenever I think of missionary work, I always imagine a white man. But here in this gathering, I see many Asians going to other Asian countries doing missionary work.”

Pastor Lex, a pastor from our Fiji Free Methodist Church, shares in our BTC22 gathering here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He hears testimonies of Chinese missionaries working in Cambodia, stories of Filipino English teachers sharing the gospel in Country-VN, and Chin pastors crossing the border of Country-LA for a time of ministry. 


Fully Christian And Fully Asian

Fully Christian and fully Asian. I was privileged to visit with some Bataknese people here in Southeast Asia. On my last day of visit, my host arranged for a time of worship, dance, singing, and affirmation of our humanity. It was uniquely Batak, dance steps in the tribal way, singing songs in the language of their ancestors, and moving with everyone that only belong to their Bataknese identity. They welcomed me as one of their own. The leaders draped me in the traditional garb with its tribal colors. Everyone coached me to dance in the rhythms of their tradition.

I have never felt more fully human and fully Christian before this particular worship time of Bataknese dance and songs. I started praising God in unfamiliar tongues and moved with the people in the beat of their culture. I felt so close to God in a very strange way. Fully Christian and fully Asian. God be praised!


Unassuming Ms. Julie

Ten families in five months. The lead pastor told me the story of growth of one of their outreach ministries here in this Asian city. I was amazed at the way God is working here. So, I told the pastor I just have to meet the leader of this group and see for my self.

Ms. Julie (not her real name) is a mother in her mid forties. She leads this work here among the urban poor of City-M. She is a very simple person, ordinary looking and unassuming. But God is using her for the ministry. There is a thriving work among the children in their  neighborhood. You can see from the pictures the excitement they have for this growing family of believers. 

“We want to make her as an example of what God can do in this city of M__n.” The lead pastor, Pastor Paul (not his real name), shared this with me. We prayed together. Truly God can use ordinary people for the Lord’s harvest field.

I am currently in Country-IA visiting our partners here. Pray for God to lead the way. Pray for understanding as I explain to the pastors here the nature of our future partnership between FMWM-Asia and GMMI (the name of this group) of Country-IA. I am so blessed to witness the work of the Spirit of God in this Asian country. To God be the glory!!!


Looking With God’s Love

God is calling us in his love. This is a truth that is very simple that even children get it. We see people and treat our friends based on the Father’s love for them. However, in practice, most of us do not start this way. Our human tendency is to view other people according to their responses to God’s love. Let me explain.

God is the Father who calls us out of his love. He calls everyone to connect with his heart for all people and nations. He calls everyone to participate in his compassion for the world. This is God’s compassionate call. Jesus models for us this way of looking at people through God’s heart for the world. When Jesus faced rejection, he still continued seeing God’s love in the persons who rejected him. In Mark 10:21, a Rich Man approached him with questions about eternal life. The text says Jesus “looked at him with love.” Even though later, we read that this man rejected Jesus and walked away in great sadness. Jesus saw God’s love in his life. This was Jesus way. When he was with a Samaritan woman, with a Roman Centurion, with a Syrian mother, among the Jewish religious leaders, with a leper, or an impulsive fisherman, Jesus saw the Father’s love in their hearts and minds. Jesus is viewing the people around him with the Father’s compassionate call.

What does this mean for us today? One way of applying this is by putting a stop to our tendencies to focus on results, on giving priority to only those who are repentant. Many of our reports are on big numbers, on stories of flashy miracles, or on physical healing and spectacular events. We tend to see God’s love as only defined by people’s response to the call for repentance. We forget that God is calling everyone to his love, even the ones who reject him.

So, let us focus on seeing God’s love in people, even if there are no results. Even if a person rejects God, we still should love them. Results are good. Miracles and healing are wonderful. But these are not our goal in missions work. Our goal is to worship God by seeing his love in people’s hearts and lives. Let us celebrate God by seeing and hearing his compassionate call for everyone. 


Comfort Zone in Australia

“Darwin is my comfort zone. This city is so familiar to me. I have no ambition of moving to another place or even traveling to other states here in Australia.” Emma expresses this sentiment to me. We are on a virtual meeting. I am here representing FMWM-Asia, providing some form of encouragement to our Asian missionaries like Emma, who are out there doing God’s work. 

Emma Betonio Agarao, or Pastora Emma to most of her Filipino friends, is a Free Methodist  cross cultural worker in Australia. She came in 2000 and started a fellowship in the city of Darwin. Although she came with a bachelor’s degree in theology, she started off as a bi-vocational church worker, pastoring this group during the weekend and working office hours during weekdays. The group is called the Light and Life in Jesus Christ Church Ministry (Free Methodist Incorporated) and was registered in April 2001. This fellowship grew into a church of 50 or so members who come from the Aboriginal communities and many other ethnic groups.

During our online meeting, Emma testifies of God revealing His plan for Australia through a dream. After the affirmation of various church members and the confirmation of the “voice of the Spirit of God,” she is starting a new work, a church plant in the metropolis of Sydney. She will be moving there this March, to live close to her son and daughter’s families. She shares with me that “God had already laid [out] His plan and I must obey Him because He is my Master, and the Holy Spirit is my strength, and His presence is my comfort and [He] assures [me] that I am not alone doing the work of God.”

I praise the Lord for cross cultural workers like Emma, who take a step of faith obeying God and going to different places to start new fellowships.

Emma, together with her husband, Rodolfo, are Filipino missionaries assigned to Australia. They have two adult children, Rodeo and Christen Joy. Please pray for the new work in Sydney, Australia.


Are You Moving With God?

When we see a ship, we think of the ocean. When we view a paddle and a canoe, we cannot help but think of the many adventures we will be facing. We look forward to traversing rivers and going to new places. Adventures galore!

In the same breath, when we see God in his holy temple, we also think of the oceans of people scattered in the world. We cannot help but think of global cultures, of people who need to hear the gospel. We long to share God’s love and holiness to everyone out there. This is why when we hear our Lord ask the question: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” then, we respond with Isaiah by saying “Here am I!” (Isaiah 6:8). We move because God is out there, just as much as he is here with us.

Are you moving with God, just as a ship is moving with the wind and the ocean? Is your faith stuck, not moving with the river? (Ezekiel 47:9) Do you long to move with God?

You might have noticed that I did not use the word “going.” Going is for those who will cross cultures and jump from one area to another. Moving is for everyone who is willing to hear God’s challenge and respond in obedience. When Jesus said to his disciples: “Don't be afraid; from now on you will be catching people,” he is also saying this to everyone who wants to follow him (Luke 5:10. GNB). Movement is an integral part of our Christian faith. When we walk with Jesus in a life of obedience, this means we take a journey with him, similar to sailing the vast uncharted parts of the ocean. One thing for sure is that our Lord is sailing with us.

Seeing our God move in the world means coming to a state of readiness to move with him. So, the next time you open your Bible and read of God’s movement, pray this short prayer: “Help me Lord to move with you.” And then take a step of faith and be with the people who needs to receive the river of life, who needs to experience the ocean of God’s love.


Miss Trie's Story

“I am sorry for all the lies I told you.” Ms. Trie is going around asking forgiveness from her friends and relatives. You see, Ms. Trie is a new Christian. In the past, she worked as a fortune teller. She would foretell people their future and use her tarot card to promise healing for the sick. She would asked money in exchange for her services. Now, she has given her life to Jesus. She expresses this decision by burning all her books and other tools of the trade of fortune telling. She continues in this walk of faith by going around her social circle, the ones whom she read their palm and did the tarot reading, asking their forgiveness for all her deceitfulness in the past. She tells them, “Those were all lies, because only Jesus knows the future.”

Miss Trie's is from Country-VN, where one of our cross cultural worker is located. She is one of our newest Free Methodist in the global work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, do you have a similar story, like that of Ms. Trie?


Underground Place

“Why are you all singing?” The neighbors from the apartment complex are asking Ms. Holly (not her real name) about her group’s activities. Ms. Holly is a cross cultural worker living in Country-VN. In this country, it is illegal to share the Christian gospel to others. The neighbors are suspicious of this group’s singing and wary of the presence of a foreigner in their vicinity. They are thinking this gathering is a group of Christians singing hymns and reading the Bible. If the neighbors feel they are right, then they can call the authorities and report the group’s illegal activities. And that would be the end of this meeting.

Ms. Holly is from the Philippines and works in Country-VN as an English teacher. She offers her services as an English tutor to university students, and, when there is more time, she also teaches English to nearby elementary schools and language learning centers. In the eyes of the immigration officials, she is an English teacher. To her friends in the Philippines, however, she is a cross cultural worker, a missionary sent by the Free Methodists to Country-VN, with the goal of sharing the Christian gospel to the people of this restricted country. And this is what Ms. Holly is doing.

Everyday, Ms. Holly faces challenges on three levels. One is that she needs to be careful of her words when she is talking to people she does not know. From time to time, her tutorial students would invite their friends to attend these English classes, or join in one of their social gatherings. She knows that these friends could be “spies” from the local authorities or maybe family members of the local police. There is always the danger of being misinterpreted. She needs to be honest and yet respectful when she shares the gospel to others. She wants her students to know that her sharing of the Bible is a significant part of her English teaching. She needs to win their trust and friendship.

Two is that she faces the challenge of being deported from the country. Her work visa could be rescinded anytime, based on uncorroborated suspicions or false reports. She needs to be clear to everyone that she is an English teacher working at a language center or school. She needs to present a legitimate presence in the country.

Three is that she needs work. She has to find a job to pay her bills and other living expenses. The challenge of not finding enough students who can pay for her tutorial services is very real. Also, she chooses not to accept teaching opportunities that are too demanding or fall on a weekend because she is committed to helping local churches who are meeting “underground” or gathering in private during the sabbath days. She needs work and also enough free time from work to continue her desire to serve God at these Sunday gatherings. God has been faithful in giving Ms. Holly ways of meeting these challenges.

Looking back at the past, one could see that God prepared Ms. Holly for this present cross cultural ministry. She received her missionary calling at an early age. Later, her time at a Bible college and studies at several missionary training centers confirmed her passion for the people of Country-VN. In the 1990s, she accepted a teaching work at a kindergarten school in central Mindanao, in an area with Muslim neighbors. She learned to be prudent in her ways of sharing the gospel. She reported: “I learned many things especially on how to share the Truth without objections and violent reactions, [to witness] in a friendly way.” In 2007, she went to Cambodia to work among the boat people of the region. God taught her to be obedient, even in the midst of hardships and what seemed to be failures at that moment. In 2013, God opened the door for her to work in Country-VN as an English teacher and begin an “underground place” ministry in church planting and discipleship. God blessed her time of service, and in a few years, two young men were baptized. God answered the prayers of many for the Lord’s work through Ms. Holly in Country-VN. 

At present, Ms. Holly leads two local fellowships in two locations. She disciples the members of these fellowships through one-on-one teaching and online meetings. God is helping Ms. Holly. There are now seven young adult members in one group and five mothers in the second group. The members of these fellowship groups are sharing Jesus to their friends and family members. God is faithful, and He will continue to lead His people despite the restrictions. God is answering the prayers for this “underground place” ministry.

Remember that time when Ms. Holly was accosted by the locals from that apartment complex? They asked her, “Why are you all singing?” They were insinuating that her group is meeting illegally. Ms. Holly’s response to them was that the singing is an integral part of the students’ language learning. That same week, these locals reported the meeting and the authorities came and interrogated every member of the group. And everyone had the same answer: “Room number two; to study English.” Eventually, the local officials ruled to the group’s favor. Ms. Holly and her friends continued to meet for English lessons and for a time of learning more about Jesus. God answered the prayers of His people, and He continues to do so.


From the Outside, and Included

    What are the ways we are receiving outsiders into our circle of fellowship?

    At one time when an “outsider” and non-follower was seen casting out demons in Jesus name, Jesus told his disciples: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (See, Luke 9:49-50.) The first few times I read these verses, I thought about several questions: Who is this guy, this non-follower? What kind of preaching is he saying if he does not follow along with the disciples of Jesus? What really happens when he “cast demons in Jesus name” as the biblical text tells us? Is he speaking of the salvation that comes from God?

    In later years, as I learned more about the kingdom of God that Jesus shares in the gospel story, my queries shifted and focused more on Jesus’ statement. I started asking the following questions: If this person is a non-follower of the disciples (of Jesus), could he still be a practitioner of the values of the kingdom of God? When Jesus said “do not stop him,” could this also mean encouraging the person to continue his brand of ministry or promote his pursuit of God’s kingdom values? How could this person be an outsider, a non-follower, when he is doing work in Jesus name?

    Let me revisit the first question I shared at the start: What are the ways we are receiving outsiders into our circle of fellowship? Should we listen to them? My answer is in the affirmative. This “yes” answer is even more clear when we consider another group of people that Jesus mentioned as included in God’s kingdom—children. In the preceding verses of the same chapter, Jesus rebuked the disciples for their obsession with greatness by citing the role of children in God’s kingdom. Jesus said in verse eight: “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,” (Luke 9:48a). In the eyes of the Jews, children were considered outsiders in the hierarchy of religious prestige. However, according to Jesus, including children into our circles of religious practice or thinking means welcoming Jesus himself. Outsiders are included. 

    Should we listen to these outsiders? Yes. Should we include them in our Christian talk? Yes. Should we re-evaluate all our church practices so that outsiders are able to hear and understand the gospel of the kingdom of God. Yes.

    In these times of difficulties, of people struggling with this global pandemic, let us remember that God’s heart beats for the people of the world. When we welcome outsiders and receive them into our lives, we are also receiving the heart of God—receiving the kingdom of God in our midst.