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.

God's Working Wonders: Pastor Ek's Story of Sita

    One time I was asked the question: "Why is it that the churches in Asia are growing fruitfully?" My answer is simply because Jesus is very real to Asian people. He lives in their daily lives. He meets all their human needs. Jesus brings healing, restoration of broken relationships, answers to financial problems, and fulfillment in their spiritual longings. To illustrate this reality among our Asian brothers and sisters, I am sharing here a story that was shared to me by one of our pastors. (Also, I have shared this in our Clemente Newsletter, June 2021.) Here is the story "God's Working Wonders" I have copied for your reading below:

    When she saw the bloody face, she felt an inner peace, a sense that, starting today, everything is going to get better. This was the story of Sita (not her real name), and her encounter with Jesus and the healing that came as a result of this encounter. This story was shared to me (David) by one of our pastors from South Asia,  Pastor Ek, early this year.

    One day in January 2021, Pastor Ek got a call from from one of his relatives whose mother, Sita, was sick and in need of healing. Pastor Ek prayed over her and, by God’s grace, she got healed. He shared the gospel story of Jesus and Sita accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation.

    At this point, Sita shared her story to Pastor Ek. She had been sick with some unknown ailment the last 12 years. On this particular January day, the sickness was so severe that eventually she was taken to the hospital. But the hospital’s medical examination indicated that she was okay. So she returned home and decided to rest at her house. After a few minutes of being home, her symptoms got worse. She fell down on the floor and was hyperventilating and gasping for air. Being a devout Buddhist, she asked someone to call her Buddhist priests for a time of prayer and incantation. They came and said their prayers. On previous visits, her priests and Buddha Master would pray and she would feel some kind of relief. On that day, however, they could not do anything. Instead of helping her, they also fell down on the floor and could not get up on their own. It was during this position of helplessness that a vision of a bloody face appeared to her by her left side. She was confused because she knew that the Buddha usually appears in yellow color or the “35 colors as taught by the Buddhist masters.” She started to doubt her religion. In her dilemma, she begun to ask: “So, whose face does this bloody face belong to?”

    In the middle of this quandary, Sita received a deep sense of peace and calmness in her being. From within her thoughts, she heard the bloody face speak to her, telling her to ask Pastor Ek to come and visit with her. And this was the day when Pastor Ek came and shared the gospel to her, and God’s healing came over Sita in a miraculous way. 

    A few days later, Sita sat with Pastor Ek for a time of fellowship with some other brothers and sisters. The group was watching the movie The Passion of Christ. Sita told everyone that the bloody face in her vision was the same as the bloody face of Jesus in the movie.

Declare His Glory

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:3)

We are to declare God’s glory among the nations. This is the essence of missions work. In all of Scriptures, it is clear that God is already declaring His glory. Even in places where there are no missionaries, God is already there and revealing Himself to the people of the land. Our part is to participate in this declaration. Are we participating?

We participate in many ways. Praying for missionaries, giving to missionary work, sponsoring a child, and going to places for missions activities. These are all good. But do these things help? 

Helping in missions is like playing basketball or some other kind of team sports. You do not have to be the highest scorer or even have the ball in your hand all the time. You can help your team by focusing on other things such as assisting the play makers, posting for defense, saying words of encouragement to your team mates, or moving around to create space for the ball handlers. Just like playing in a team sports, we help the missions work by participating. Are we helping?

Maybe, we should change the question to give us a better picture. We should ask: “Who is receiving our declaration of God’s glory?” If it is the people from the places we go to, then we will always experience failure in this work of missions. If it is ourselves, then we will be a depressing bunch of selfish workers. The answer really is God himself. We do missions so that God will be delighted with us.

We help in missions work so that God will be pleased. The end result is God himself receiving all our gifts, sponsorship, prayers, and missions trip, with joy in His heart. If our gifts and sponsorships are acknowledged, our prayers are answered, and our going to missions trips are meaningful, then we thank our God. But these things should never be our focus. Our focus and main goal is to know God better and deeper, and to bring joy to God through these missions activities.

We participate in missions knowing that God himself is watching us, all of us, as we play this game of missions work.  We, all of us, are the players, coaches, referees, statisticians, trainers, and other support staff. God receives all our efforts with joy in His heart. So the question really is: “Are we giving joy to our Father in heaven?”

My daughter Carmen is very active in sports all her life. She played with passion and was a great encouragement to her teammates. I was a very proud father watching from the sidelines. I cheered her and her team. I clapped the loudest every time she made a basket. In so many ways, my daughter Carmen gave me so much joy. I appreciate her so much.

We are to declare God’s glory among the nations. Are you participating? Are you helping? Are you giving joy to our Father who is in heaven?

A Fourth-Grader Remembers

“I can’t remember what it was, but it must have been important to a fourth-grade boy. I took it home with me and posted it to my bedroom’s wall. I remember very well your visit to our church and our Sunday school group.” Sean recounts to me his memory of our visit to Evart Free Methodist Church from our early years, maybe 2005 or 2009. I stand here at the fellowship hall of this church after speaking at the morning church service, greeting the people and chatting with some old friends. It is good to hear from Sean, and to know that our early visit was a meaningful experience for him. I am happy that he is still connected with this Evart Christian community.

Visiting local churches during the Covid pandemic is very challenging. We do all the required things, wearing face masks, watching our physical distance, and washing our hands. I have been selective of which churches to visit. I just feel the need to limit my visits mainly as my way of precaution. Last month, I visited Evart FMC. The next few months, I will be visiting other churches in Michigan and Illinois. I am grateful that a Covid-19 vaccine will soon come out and be available to the public. Praise God. Meanwhile, visiting local churches and sharing the news of what God is doing in Asia continues. I am thankful that churches are still open to receive a missionary visit, and I have the capacity to travel and share in person. God is good.

Encouraging Words From Galatia

How do we encourage someone? In one instance, Paul and Barnabas shows us how this is done. They encouraged the Galatians “to continue in the faith. . . . appointed elders for them in every church.” (See, Book of Acts 14:22-23.) This act of appointing leaders is their way of encouraging the believers.

And yet, in just a few years, Paul writes to these new believers in Galatia and calls them “foolish Galatians.” (See Galatians 3:1.) He is frustrated with their fickle mindedness. He is surprised that they were easily persuaded by another gospel. (See Galatians 1:6-9.) So, what we see in The Letter Of Paul To The Galatians is a series of reminders to these believers. Paul explains the gospel of Jesus Christ and the role that faith has for the believers of this gospel. He concludes with the Fruit of the Spirit as evidence of those who walk by the Spirit of God. Those who are truly encouraged by the gospel will manifest the fruit of the Spirit. How do we then encourage someone?

So, encouraging words is not enough. We need to establish systems and introduce structures so that new believers continue in the faith and are not persuaded by heresy or other forms of the gospel. We move on and equip the leaders with good teaching and sound biblical theology.

In South Asia we try to leave a long lasting encouragement to our brothers and sisters there. Just like Paul and Barnabas, we appoint elders to lead the work of many local Christian communities. We nurture groups of leaders who are expressing dynamic service. We coach these leaders to establish indigenous political structures that serve their needs and function naturally with their newfound faith in Jesus. We encourage them with a theology that makes sense to the South Asian world.

We have to give credit to Paul and Barnabas though. They tried to encourage the Galatians with more than just words. They visited the churches for the second time on their way back to Jerusalem (Acts 14:21). They appointed elders over these churches and committed them to the Lord (Acts 14:23). They warned them that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (verse 22). They prayed and fasted. And when they got back to their home base in Antioch, they shared the Galatian work with their sending churches. They declared what God is doing in Asia and Galatia.

In South Asia, we want to leave long-lasting forms of encouragement to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Whenever we are there, we give them good pastoral training that is both biblical and Wesleyan. When we leave, we remind them of the prayers of the global family. Would you join us in praying for the leaders of South Asia? Let us “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Would you pray for God’s work in South Asia?

Don't Be Surprised

Weather in Michigan can be very confusing. One minute it is 70 degrees and sunny. The next could turn to 45 degrees and chilly. Don’t be surprised when this happens.

The Bible tells us to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you” (1 Peter 4:12. ESV). We should not feel  as though something strange is happening to us. Peter states that we should rejoice because we have the opportunity to share in the suffering of Jesus. Does this spiritual truth surprise you?

One time I was on a video call with Pastor Abraham from South Asia. He reported that Pastor Samuel from R-district is moving “freely” in the villages, sharing the gospel and praying for the sick. These last few months of the Covid pandemic, five people were baptized and their weekly fellowship grew from ten people to twenty-five persons. To be honest, I was a little surprised. What is strange about this video call report?

We often assume that because of lockdown, quarantine, remote work, and other restrictions, the work of God is on hold. Not so in South Asia. My pastor friends continues his report: 20 baptism from Pastor Uddhav and one new church plant in his area; 10 baptisms from Pastor Prem; and three decisions for Christ from Pastor Suk. God is at work in Asia. These pastors are not surprised with the difficulties brought about by the pandemic. Yes, they are suffering. Some of them are probably starving because delivery of food and other basic services are limited. And yet, they continue to share the gospel and serve our God.

Are we surprised that these hardships are upon us? What trials are you experiencing during these months of restrictions and physical distancing? Can we say with Peter that God is at work in our communities? Are you rejoicing in the midst of your pain and difficult life experiences? Let us read Peter’s admonition again.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.”  (1 Peter 4:12. MSG) “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Peter 4:19. ESV).

Paul’s Timeline: A Change of Heart

      I want to share with you a person’s change of heart. I want to paint a picture of his movement from being a brash proclaimer to becoming a sensitive cross cultural missionary. This person is the great apostle Paul.

      Let me start with a verse describing Paul’s way of ministry. He goes to a place of prayer. He sits down with women and talks to them. (Acts 16:13) I think this is unusual for Paul to do. I say this because from an earlier narrative, we see Paul rebuking demons, confronting authorities, preaching fearlessly to Jewish men at a synagogue, and leaving a worker (John Mark) behind for “purist reasons.” (More on this later.) But now, we witness his new approach, that of personable visit with a woman named Lydia. What Paul is doing here is a shift of perspective, a change of strategy, or perhaps a gentler way of doing missionary work. Let me explain by going back a few chapters earlier.

      In Acts chapter 13, we see Paul enjoying some measure of success in Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch. In Cyprus, he publicly confronted a local magician and experienced a miraculous work. In Antioch (Pisidia), he preached a fiery sermon leading many people to believe. These are confrontational ways of doing ministry. He had relative success, but still an aggressive approach to winning people to the faith.

      In Acts chapter 14, Paul and Barnabas entered a synagogue in Iconium, and after a time of ministry, they were threatened with stoning. They had to flee the place. When they came to Lystra, Paul, in a loud voice, uttered healing to a person in front of everyone, which resulted in a public uproar. Many of the locals thought Paul and Barnabas were gods, divine beings pretending to be humans. This resulted, eventually, with the crowd stoning Paul and Barnabas. They miraculously survived the persecution and went on their way to other places with much greater results.

      It is fair to say that Paul’s earlier method of missionary work was aggressive and confrontational. After the Jerusalem Council in Acts chapter 15, we see Paul with a change of heart. What I am trying to say here is that Paul’s timeline was a movement from an inexperienced missionary to being a wise and careful one. Before he was combative and rash. Later in Acts chapter 16, we see him as gentle and considerate of the opinion of the general public. He even had a companion go through circumcision, just to appease some Jewish opinions. (See, Acts 16:3) We clearly see Paul’s mellow approach to ministry when he chose to visit a place of prayer “by the riverside” and not the usual synagogue. He decided to meet up with the women rather than with the leading men of the area. Change of plans? Looks like it. Doing the ministry in a gentler way? Definitely!

      Paul’s timeline here is that he is becoming a more mature worker. He is listening to people, the prayerful women in the area, and avoids outright confrontation. It did not mean that because he was becoming gentler, he was able to stop the violent resistance to the preaching of the word. In fact, Acts chapter 16 mentions the casting out of a demon possessed slave girl, the violence that ensued, and the incarceration of Paul and Silas in a Philippian jail. There was still an adverse reaction to the preaching of the gospel, but this time it was not a direct result of Paul and his company’s work of ministry. (See, Acts 16:19 and 17:5) In Thessalonica, they encountered another violent reaction to their preaching. At this point, Paul allowed the local believers to whisk him away to safer locations, away from the violence. (See, Acts 17:10) A change of heart? Looks like it. Doing ministry in a gentler, non-confrontational way? Definitely!

      Let me suggest at this point that Paul’s change of heart is a conversion to a cross cultural way of doing ministry. This is usually a gentler approach and avoiding unnecessary confrontation. Most of the time this approach results in nonviolent ways, but almost always leads to a dialogue and a healthy exchange of mutual understanding and respect. I am suggesting here that Paul’s conversion or change of perspective is a cross cultural ministry conversion. We see this shift clearly when Paul visits Athens and meets up with the Greek philosophers. His speech in the midst of the Areopagus is full of common themes that Greeks can relate to. He is becoming more sensitive to the people’s ways and enters their world with an astute admiration for their beliefs. Do you remember Paul’s reference to the “unknown god” in his speech? (See, Acts 17:22-31). Movement to maturity? Looks like it. A cross cultural way of doing ministry? Definitely!

      One more thing. People who are converted to cross cultural ministry are very forgiving. They are able to accept the faults of others and are open to second chances. They are also quick to admit their own short comings. Look at Paul. At first, he did not want John Mark to be included in the work. (Acts 15:37-38) Later, however, he changed his mind. He stopped his “purist reasons” and opened his heart to a fellow worker with a storied past. (See, Colossians 4:10 and 2 Timothy 4:11) Paul recommended John Mark to the ministry.

      Do you see Paul’s shift of perspective from this cursory study of Acts chapters 13-16? The Lukan narrative of Paul’s visit with Lydia was the turning point of Paul’s change of heart. From Acts 16:13 and onwards, we see Paul practicing a gentler way of doing missionary work. From this point on, we could now consider Paul as a seasoned cross cultural missionary.

      Do you know anyone who has been converted to cross cultural ministry? Is his or her timeline similar to Paul’s timeline? How can we help someone experience a change of heart just like Paul did? What are the ways of becoming a mature and sensitive cross cultural ministry worker?