OFW Connections

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) are here in Taiwan. The group I am familiar with is Higher Ground International Fellowship (HGIF). This is a group of OFWs who are working in the electronics sector here in the city of Kaohsiung. Some of its members are married to Taiwanese families. Zen, Edz, and Aying are three OFWs who are actively involved with the Filipino community here. They are also connected to our Creator-Savior through different church activities by helping other Filipinos located in the vicinity of HGIF, which is somewhere in Nandzi, north of Kaohsiung. OFW connection means Filipinos reaching out to each other in meaningful ways.

Zen, Edz, and Aying are stepping up to the microphone, so to speak. They are answering the call to leadership, by leading Bible studies, sharing a sermon, and facilitating group events with OFWs living and working in the city. Their pastor, Tessa, is doing such an excellent job. I try to help a little bit by preaching some Sundays and also leading some workshops for these three ladies. These next two months, I am leading a workshop on Inductive Bible Study Method (IBSM), and Zen, Edz, and Aying are there in attendance. Just my little way of thanking our Creator-Savior by helping these three ladies become proficient in their leadership skills. At the end of this workshop, I am hoping that these three can teach other OFWs in the ways of IBSM and help other Filipinos become connected with our Creator-Savior. OFW connection means Filipinos loving each other with the love of Jesus.

I do my small part. God will do the rest. “. . . what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men [and women] who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2 ESV)

OFWs ladies

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.

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.

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?

Remembering Them

A week ago, I was in Shitou Mountain for a two-day retreat with the staff and faculty of the Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). We stayed in an elegant hotel, with nice swimming pool and excellent ambiance, not to mention the super delicious food. The place was located beside a National Forest. It was hard, however, for me to enjoy the retreat. I missed my family. They were all back in Kaohsiung, about 3 hours away. We did plan to join this retreat, but two days before, we found out Jacob was sick and needed a week's rest. So, I was by myself. I tried very hard to carry on, and enjoy the fellowship of everyone. But, it was just different without my whole family beside me.

That evening at the hotel, I met a group of Filipino entertainers. They were the hotel's singers for the evening. Toto, Rommel, Harriet, and Jason. Young people who enjoyed doing their job as OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) here in Taiwan singing for a living. I introduced them to the whole seminary family. I sat with them and talked to them during their break time in between their sets. Toto was the veteran of the group. The other three just came in three days ago. They really were full of excitement, and hope for this new life in Taiwan. They asked me to pray over them. I prayed for each one, especially their families left behind in the Philippines. I prayed for good health, God's protection over them as they live the life of a foreign worker here in Taiwan.

We enjoyed their music. Samuel, Angela, and Richard (from the seminary) stayed a little bit with me. But during the second set, they had to leave and hit the sack. It was almost 12:00 midnight by that time. I talked to the OFWs a few more times after that. I realized, in the next weeks to come, their excitement and hope will be replaced with loneliness and anxiety. Even with their tight schedule of singing and performing from 3 P.M. to 12:00 Midnight, they will still have thoughts of missing home and their families. Harriet said she has a five-year old son. Jason mentioned of his six children. Each shared to me of their children, parents, and siblings back home. Sometime next month, life in Taiwan will look different without their families beside them.

I pray for the many OFWs here in Taiwan. I pray God will be their Friend in the midst of their loneliness. I pray for ministries among Asian migrant workers, that these will multiply and be channels of God's blessings to the lonely and displaced people of Taiwan. I pray that more Christian workers will come to Taiwan and volunteer their services to help migrant workers.