While His Guitar Gently Weeps

He is playing his guitar. I sit in front of him silently listening to the soulful music coming out of this wooden instrument. Josh is here because he wants to share a struggle he is going through. I listen and try to get a glimpse of his heart, past the notes and the plucking of the strings. I wait. I quiet my spirit so that I can hear his heart beating to the rhythm of some intimate reflection. And finally, he pauses and says, “I am not sure anymore if this is the right decision.”

Josh is a first year student here at the seminary. Before coming to the seminary he had been working at a hotel and also as an interpreter for another company. He has been making enough money to support his mother and even his mother’s relatives. Now that he is studying at the seminary and no longer working, his relatives have been asking him for financial support. He feels compelled to give in to his relatives. At present, his mother is incapacitated. His two uncles are also struggling. Everyone seems to look to Josh for financial support. But he knows he must obey God and follow God’s call in his life. And yet, he is toying with the idea that maybe he can find work while he is studying part-time at the seminary. I stay quiet and try to give him the space to speak from his heart.

Last week, Josh and I met for about two hours. He shared that he needed to discuss with me some decision he is going through. He was thinking of moving down to the part-time evening program of the seminary so that he can help out his relatives. He brought his guitar. For the first thirty minutes, we talked about guitars, music, and songs. He played me some tunes. Later, he started sharing about his inner struggles of giving respect to his mother and other relatives. However, he was also aware that the temptation could be fatal and would slowly destroy his desire to follow God’s direction in his life. I gave him some advice. More so, I listened carefully to his outpouring. I knew God is working in Josh’s life. God is at work and our Lord will help Josh.

We prayed. We gently wept. We sought God’s guidance and comfort. Next week, Josh will go to Japan to see his mother. Pray with us that God will shower His blessings on Josh and his mother. Pray that Josh’s inner spirit will follow the beating of the heart of God.

(P. S. I shared about Josh a few months back. Click here to read more about him.)

Ordinary Conversations

We were talking about the Chinese people from the Mainland. Wendy mentioned stories that her parents told her. Jane recounted some movies describing the beautiful northwest regions of the country. Jenny quoted one of her missionary friends who recently visited this place. I just listened and marveled at the vibrant appreciation these Taiwanese students have for their culture. And out of the blue, Wendy asked me a question: “Teacher why did you come to Taiwan?”

Last week, I was dining with three ladies, all third year students of Holy Light Theological Seminary. It was not a special meal nor was it an extra ordinary occasion. We were just eating supper at the school cafeteria, enjoying an informal time at the dinner table. That is when Wendy asked me the question. As I was giving my answer, I could not help but think of the many times I have shared to students about God’s calling in my life as a missionary in many instances, inside the classroom and outside in informal settings. Maybe, Wendy was not present at those instances. At any rate, I freely shared God’s calling in my life.

God called me to be a missionary. I prayed that He would send me to a frontier missionary work. I prayed for the northwest region of the Mainland, the places and cities populated by various Muslim tribal groups. (This is what I shared to the three ladies at the dinner table.) I prayed for about five years or so, but God closed the doors. When an opportunity came for me to come to Taiwan and teach in a seminary, I thought maybe I can be in Taiwan for a few years and then later move to the northwest regions of the Mainland. But, again, God closed all the doors.

Now, I am realizing that I am here in Taiwan because God wants me to train leaders for missions work and help them to take on missionary work. This is already my fifth year of teaching, and a few of our graduates have already move on to missionary work in Indonesia, Korea, in the eastern parts of China, Papua New Guinea, Turkey, and here in Taiwan doing local missions. However, I am still waiting for God to show me a seminary student who has a heart and passion for the Muslim people of the northwest regions of the Mainland. (I told the three ladies about this quest.) I still have not found this student. Someday, God will call a Taiwanese person to come to seminary to prepare for a work among the Chinese Muslims of that country. Meanwhile, I will wait by teaching missions here at Holy Light Theological Seminary.

Encouragement Of A Different Kind

“You can come with the students of the Student Missions Fellowship [SMF] and share with our young people,” Ying Jong Chen, the pastor of Shang Hsieh Free Methodist Church [SHFMC], shares to me. “Our theme for this year is ‘Holy Spirit’s Fire For Missions.’ We want our camp participants to hear your stories and encourage them to participate in your mission trip,” Ying Jong continues. I listen with great interest and promise to help him in this endeavor.

I have to back up a little bit and tell you a little background related to my meeting with Ying Jong Chen. He is currently the Director of Education and Youth Ministries for the Annual Conference here in Taiwan or CFMC. Every year he plans and coordinates a discipleship winter camp for the youth of the different Free Methodist local churches of the conference. So, next year’s winter camp will be the week before the Chinese New Year 2015. We usually get about 150 young people, junior high and college students, participating in this annual camp.

I want to come and join this youth camp. My problem is that I will be in another country leading a team from our seminary for a few days of mission trip. I suggested to Ying Jong that I will find other members of the SMF who are not going with our mission trip. These students will be the one who will share in this youth camp. Yesterday, I talked to Pam Huang and asked her if she can lead a group of seminary students to participate in this winter camp. They can share their stories, lead workshops, and encourage the young people to consider joining our SMF annual missions trip to another country. Pam accepted my invitation. Pam graduated from our Holy Light Theological Seminary. When she was at school, she led the SMF meetings. She took most of my classes at the seminary. Currently, she is volunteering her services to different churches and leads missions training for local churches in the Kaohsiung area. She has a heart for missionary work. I am so glad she is the one leading a team to come and share at this 2015 Youth Camp.

Next month will be the beginning of our 10th year here in Taiwan. I remember on our fourth year, I talked to Ying Jong Chen and shared to him my desire to provide mission education to our young people of the FM local churches belonging to the CFMC Annual Conference. Now, it is happening. God is answering our prayers. Moreover, seminary alumni, like Pam Huang, are offering their services and taking leadership in missions training for our Taiwan young people.

“I want to invite our other alumni to come and join us at this winter youth camp,” Pam relates to me her plan for this youth meeting in 2015. She mentions different names. I notice that most of the people she cites are Free Methodist pastors and church workers. I listen to her and silently thank my God for how our Lord is raising up leaders, Free Methodist leaders, here in Taiwan. God’s work in this country is slowly moving into the direction for mission education. I thank God for His leadership.

Two Students, One Seminary, The Same God For All

David Tseng (DT) was raised up in a Christian family. Josh Liu (JL) grew up in a broken home. DT was the son of a Minister, a PK (pastor’s kid). JL never knew his father. DT was surrounded by family and grandparents. JL was rejected by his mother at an early age. David (DT) moved with his family from one parsonage to another. Josh (JL) moved from one foster family to another. These are two students from different backgrounds.  They have contrasting life experiences.  Now, they are in seminary to pursue theological education and to obey God’s call in their lives.

David Tseng and Josh Liu are here in Holy Light Theological Seminary. They are two of the almost 300 registered students for this school year 2014-2015. We have a diverse group of students this year. We have five students from Korea, two students from Thailand, one student from Indonesia, several other Asian students for our Doctor of Ministry program. Diversity is not only at the cultural level. A significant number of our new students this Fall Semester are second-career students. Last year’s students are mostly retirees who have entered seminary to pursue theological training for an anticipated time of ministry with their local churches. One can just imagine the diverse conversations at the classroom and during informal talks and social interactions.

David Tseng (DT) is on his third year of seminary studies. He feels the support of family and friends. He shares that the only time he has offended his family is when he failed in his college education and was rejected by the school. On the other hand, Josh Liu (JL) faces the rejection of his mother and friends. They think he is crazy coming to seminary and leaving a good paying job in the foreign trading business. The only affirmation he receives is from one of his foster family who introduced Jesus to him and help Josh grow in his Christian life. Both students, DT and JL, are here because they have heard God calling them to a life of Christian ministry.

God calls people from wherever they are. In the Bible, God called Moses, a man who killed an Egyptian and is fleeing punishment for his action. He called Samuel when he was just a child. He called Peter from his work as a fisherman. He called Paul when he was passionate about his religion and was persecuting Christians. In the same manner, God is calling David Tseng, Josh Liu, and other students here at Holy Light seminary from wherever they are so that God can fulfill His plan in their lives. The same God who called people in the Bible is the same God who is calling Taiwan students so he can shape them into His servants and workers in the Lord’s harvest.

Pray for David Tseng and Josh Liu. Pray for the students of Holy Light Theological Seminary. Pray for the faculty and staff as they serve God by helping these students. Pray for God’s work in Taiwan.

Teaching Missiology

"It makes sense now." Students made this remark at my classes here in Holy Light seminary. Thank you very much for praying for me. God is answering your prayers. God is taking over my lectures and making His word come alive to the students. He is there with us.

This week has been better than the previous three weeks. I see a few pair of eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. One student says: "I understand now how missions relates to theology." They are discovering new concepts. They are able to see the big picture. Sometimes missiological ideas can be confusing when seen through today's perspective.

For example, when I explain the missiological principle of God working in the world, several students find it hard to comprehend God's activity in a fallen world. "How can there be God's goodness among the unbelievers, when they are living in sin?" One student asks in class. "Their families are dysfunctional. How can they see God's love? How can we see God's grace?" She continues. These are legitimate questions. I have to explain the missiological principle that "God is already at work in people's lives even before the coming of a Christian." God is not threatened by sin. His holiness demands that we live a life free from the power of sin. However, God is free to work and display his goodness and mercy even among fallen people. God is not daunted by humanity's sin. Our job in missions work is to look for times and places where God is working and participate with his Holy Spirit. God is bringing people to himself. Our work is to join God in his activity. He is the one who is moving people. We simply follow the movement.

"It makes sense." Most of the students agreed. But, I had to bring out contemporary issues and present day stories to illustrate these concepts. I shared some case studies from different missions sources culled from different countries and cultures. 

Next week, I will be presenting to my two classes in Theology of Mission and Strategies of Missions some current issues related to most Taiwanese Christians here in this island. Please uphold me in your prayers. I will ask the question "Where is God already at work among the people belonging to the GLBT community, among new Christians and Seekers or Mu Dao Yo who are facing the challenges of ancestor worship, and among Christian leaders struggling with paternalistic attitudes?" We will have several months to discuss this one question. Pray for me.

My Classes at the Seminary

Three missionaries. One sending agency executive. Two local church missions directors. One international student. These are just some of the nineteen students I have from two of my missions classes. Most of them are second-career people, looking into a missions work in the future, whether at a local church in Taiwan or overseas.

It is challenging. Please pray with me as I prepare my lessons and help these students become better servants of our Lord. It is exciting. I love it when these students share from their experiences to illustrate a missiological lesson we are all discussing. The body of literature comes alive in our classroom meetings. Please pray that we will all learn from our Great Counselor and Friend, God's Holy Spirit.

Missions Week At The Seminary

Last week, we had our Missions Week at the seminary (Holy Light Theological Seminary or HLTS). We had a rummage sale and an offering box for those who would like to help. We decided to send our gifts to the Philippines to help with the Free Methodist people and friends who were affected by the Super Typhoon Haiyan. We were able to raise a little over one thousand US dollars. 

What could this little amount do for such a big need in the Philippines? How can a small gift help people who went through a tragic devastation such as a Super Typhoon and are still experiencing the trauma and suffering in the aftermath of this destruction and calamity? 

Last week, one of the Pastors wrote me and mentioned the need for sponsoring the Christmas gifts for the children of families who have experienced the power of Super Typhoon Haiyan. Right away, I said yes. Our gift from HLTS will be enough to sponsor 500 children and make this Christmas a little memorable and meaningful despite the sadness and suffering brought by this natural calamity. 

My prayer is that God will multiply our gifts and use that small amount to bring joy and peace to the children of Tacloban City and Ormoc City. It is Missions Week here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, but it will be Christmas soon in the Philippines. Even as I write this, a team of Pastors from the Free Methodist Church from Butuan City are going to the affected areas in Tacloban City and its vicinity and handing out gifts to the children in that area. God is great!

Simple Sermon At Our Seminary

It was a simple sermon. There was no lexical study of Greek words or complicated philosophical extrapolation of deep theology. It was a simple story of the Magis found in the Book of Matthew the second chapter. I spiced it up with a lots of pictures of our time in Illinois, around the Christmas tree with Grandpa and Grandma. I also included pictures of lechon and noche buena from my time in the Philippines. I just wanted to point out that the example of the Magis, their crossing of many different cultures and boundaries, encourages us to have cross cultural practices in our Christmas celebrations. I wanted my Taiwanese brothers and sisters here at the seminary to seriously consider introducing Christmas traditions to their homes, traditions that reflect not only the meaning of Christmas (God's love and salvation for all sinners) but also the form of Christmas (God beckoning us to cross cultures and to understand that His salvation is for all people). It was a very down to earth presentation. 

At the end, I asked a few students to read Psalms 67 in different languages, and to some in their mother tongue. As we all listened to the reading of God's word in Bahasa Indonesia, Korean, English, and Filipino, we were blown away by the power of God's word. Truly God's salvation is for all the nations (Psalms 67:2). Hearing it in many different languages other than Chinese made the cross cultural message come alive in meaningful ways. The Holy Spirit took something simple and transformed it into a very moving and powerful message. He took control of our chapel service.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that I spoke at our seminary chapel? This was my second time to speak at chapel in Chinese. I am glad it was a simple sermon because then, I felt at ease speaking in simple Chinese, not the Theological or more formal Chinese. Most of all, I am grateful to the Holy Spirit for taking over, and taking all my words, my photos, my stories, my illustrations, and transforming them to become His very own. To God be the glory!


A Visit In The Seminary

Yesterday, at our Tuesday Chapel Service, a spontaneous thing happened. We prayed as a seminary. Most of us went forward to implore God's mercy on everyone. This is how it happened.

Yesterday was a special chapel. (We usually have our chapel services only on Mondays and Thursdays.) Our speaker spoke on Church Renewal. After the talk, our President came to lead in prayer. And during his prayer, God's Spirit visited us in a special way. It all started with the seminary President going down on his knees up front. The Dean came and encouraged everyone to join the President in prayer. We, the faculty and staff, started going forward. Most of the students followed. In the end, almost all of the seminary family were up front praying, wailing, petitioning God for grace and mercy.

I do not know yet where this visit of the Holy Spirit will lead us. It may linger for a week or two. One thing is for sure: God's visit will change our lives. I am up for that. I will follow. He is our Great Shepherd.

Nani's Story

“So, how is your life here in the seminary? Do you find it fulfilling?” I ask Nani. “How is your devotional life? Is your time with God still full of excitement and adventure?”

This is a Wednesday morning of the month of October. I am in my office with Nani, a sophomore student from Indonesia. This morning is our time for Advising.  I am not usually direct with my conversation, but when it is a scheduled time of “interview with the Adviser,” then I go straight to the point. I ask point-blank questions about a student’s walk with God and one’s academic progress here in Holy Light Theological Seminary (HLTS). “Are you relating well with your fellow students? How is your social life? How about your time with the local church? Is your practicum at your local church too much, so much so that you find it hard to spend time preparing for your classes? How are you finding a good balance between studies and the outside world?”

Please pray for our students at HLTS, especially for Nani. She has adjusted very well to life here in Kaohsiung, considering that she is from Indonesia and only in her second year at HLTS. The challenge for her is finding a good balance in her life as a seminary student. She is an excellent student. However, she is also committed to the outreach program of the seminary, a ministry helping Indonesian workers and caregivers located in the city of Kaohsiung. Pray for strength. Pray for wisdom in the many decisions she makes. Pray that Nani’s life will be a model of Jesus’ life, whether as a student, or in the future, as a pastor or missionary in some far away land.

Later this afternoon, I will be meeting with John. John is a dentist by profession. He left his life as a dentist and is now working as a pastor and missions worker for his local church. He is here from the mainland to finish his classes under the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program. He has chosen to write his DMin dissertation in the area of cross cultural missions strategy. We will meet to discuss this topic.

I am thrilled because HLTS students like Nani and John are responding to God’s call for missionary work. Please pray for this time of preparation. Pray for God’s visit in their lives. Pray that in the midst of academic demands, the many papers and examinations the students are facing, they will still find a hunger and longing for God’s presence in the quiet moments of their lives.