Justice and Mercy

Church For The Unwelcomed

“I want to serve the Lord,” Mr. A shares with me his frustration. “But I cannot. I have to take this job to provide for my family.” He recounts an earlier attempt to play the piano for a local church. The music ministry was fulfilling but there was no steady income. He had to find work somewhere else.

Mr. A is a professional musician working here in a restaurant here in Taiwan. His wife, Mrs. J works in the same location as a singer. Let us call them A&J for short. They sing in a restaurant, seven days a week, 6-8 hours a day. On some days, the restaurant owner sends them to sing at an adjoining bar to entertain some of the more “shady” characters of the city. Needless to say, A&J feel their Christian faith is compromised. “I used to sing and play music for revival meetings,” Mr. A continues. “But now, I am singing for the world. I am pleasing people rather than God.” Both A&J are Christians. They desire to be available for the Lord’s work, to offer their talents for God’s service. However, they are obligated by the nature of their work to go to places that are questionable by the moral standards of their faith.

In Taiwan, the population of Asian foreign workers employed in the entertainment industry is not too many. However, a majority of these workers come from the Philippines. They are in Taiwan as singers, musicians, dancers, and entertainers working mainly at bars, restaurants, and hotels. These are legitimate jobs that pay generously. However, in most situations, they are placed in compromising situations. A few of these workers end up unwillingly as prostitutes and sex workers. Labor abuse is most likely to happen. Needless to say, legal protection for foreign workers in the entertainment industry is very few.

Moreover, there is a stigma against singers and performers working in the entertainment industry. In the Philippines, church people tend to view Filipino entertainers and artists working abroad with suspicion. They see these workers as immoral, or at the least living a questionable life. I am not surprised that A&J feel hesitant sharing their experiences to me. They feel unworthy to be around Christians, much more around a pastor like me.

One Sunday after a church service in Tainan, the members of the church asked me if I could sing a song together with A&J, and their two other Filipino co-workers at the restaurant. They want us to sing an offertory song at the morning church service. I shared this request with A&J and their friends, and they readily obliged. I was a little surprised with their enthusiasm. Later, I realized that they feel welcomed at this Tainan church. You see, this local congregation is composed of Taiwanese Americans, South Africans, and Australians living here in Taiwan. There are no Filipinos among the crowd. A&J and their friends do not feel the shame they would have if they were going to face a church full of Filipinos. I thank God for this Tainan international church. People like A&J can come and join in the service, and they will not feel threatened or shamed. Isn’t this what church is all about?

Women Are Great Keepers Of The Truth: An Easter Reflection

On the first of day of the resurrection, Jesus first appeared to women, or more specifically to Mary Madalene (cf. John 20:18; Matthew 28:9; and Mark 16:9). Why women? What is so special about the women folk? 

Women are excellent vessels of spiritual truth. They have the capacity to reflect inner spiritual reality in its full grandeur. If we go back to all the biblical narrative of the first Easter Sunday, after Jesus appears to them, the women were told to go and to tell their brothers. They were encouraged to go and be ambassadors of the resurrection story. Women are great repositories of life, and thus passionate gate keepers of the gospel.

Allow me to bring this Easter reflection home by sharing Lanie's story. Lanie is one of the Filipino women we help here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Sarah (my wife) and I, through the ministry of Set Free Movement USA, are partnering with a local Set Free version called Freedom Group (FG). It is being led by Aying and Tessa. They minister to international families and are currently helping Filipino women like Lanie, who are married to Taiwanese husbands. Below is an excerpt of Aying's interview-report of Lanie' story.

(Lanie's Story) Her dreams of having a good life did not happen. She was unfairly treated by her own husband and his family. His husband never really stood by her, always siding with his own family and they all treated her as if she was their house help. She needs to take care of her two children and at the same time she took care of her in-laws and the daily burdens of household chores she need to managed daily and endure. There was even a time when she confronted her husband’s older brother for beating her own child only to be responded with a heavy blow of a wooden chair pounded right into her left hand. Bloodied and wounded, nobody came to her rescue. No one called for ambulance, nor anyone rushed her to see a doctor though they ended up in a police station, no case was filed. Her mother in law just plainly told her she should not file a case against her brother in law to which her husband also agreed.  Alone and helpless and not wanting to make a big deal out of it because clearly there was no one sympathizing with her, she politely obliged. Despite being physically hurt, she received no comfort from no one.

“I did it for my children, I have to be strong.” This is the very reason she chose to stay and to be with her somewhat misguided husband until now. She also thinks many times about the prospect of going back to the Philippines, but it seems to her that the future there is bleaker than where she is right now. She just have to get used to all the challenges in her daily life, her uncaring husband. After all they already live separately from her in-laws four years ago. But what surprised us most about Lanie is the fact that she was the reason behind her husband’s coming to our church services. Even without her, because of her work schedules, her husband and two children would still come to church by themselves. (Reported by: Aying Senining Wu, Field Worker for Freedom Group)

The Bible reminds us that unbelieving husbands are sanctified through the faith of their believing wives (1 Corinthians 7:14). These husbands are convinced of the power of the resurrection because they see it in the passion and conduct of their loving wives (1 Peter 3:1). Women folks are special. They are the perfect ambassadors of God's grace and truth in the midst of this broken and beautiful world we live in.

Bringing God's Healing to Children of Tacloban City

60 plus children. 18 youth and young teens. Four pastors from four different Free Methodist local churches. Good Friday celebration on this Holy Week. Blessing upon blessing. God's grace overflowing. Praying inside the Lora Jean Schlosser Memorial Free Methodist Church (FMC) of Tacloban City, Philippines.

I am here in Tacloban City, helping our Set Free Movement Philippines facilitate a 5-day camp for these 60 children. It is a Stress Debriefing Camp for these children. It is challenging. I only prepared for a camp for 15 children. God sent us 60 and 18 young people. I studied and brought materials for grief debriefing, but God redirected our efforts to this stress debriefing efforts. Funds were limited, but our Lord provided. I had my worries and doubts. God, however, took over. He rebuked me. He comforted me. He taught me to depend on him. This is the work of God.

How did it happen? People from many places gave money for this camp. I am grateful for their donations. Leaders volunteered to help out. What a blessing! Also, at the last minute, Jayvee, the pastor of the Free Methodist Church, rallied her 18 young people and mobilized them to assist with these 60 children. No time to give these 60 young people training for leading small groups. They just learned it along the way. God helped these 18 youth. God led this camp. God is our leader.

The work is still going on. The challenge of bringing healing to the people of Tacloban City is still current. After the visit of supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda), Filipinos here are slowly recovering. It is an uphill climb. And some days, they are overwhelming. We do our small part and focus on these children. We contribute by obeying God's call for healing located in this one local church. 

Truly God is leading the way. During this 5-day camp, Jayvee and Marilyn, one of the local leaders of Tacloban FMC, organized 20 mothers to come for an afternoon of sharing and reflection; their own time of debriefing. Paula, our Supt. from Manila, and Kenneth Joy, one of our Manila FM leaders, and both members of the Set Free Movement Philippines team, facilitated this time with the mothers. We did not plan for this meeting. God took over. One of the mothers said: "I thought I was already okay. But I discovered that I still need to be debriefed." Healing and recovery will have to be continued. There has to be more debriefing events. The process of rehabilitation needs a long time. Readers, write me back if you want to help Tacloban City. Any help in this time of recovery will greatly be appreciated. I have many suggestions and proposals to give you all, but I will wait for God to lead you. Only when God leads the way will these efforts of healing have any meaning at all.

Set Me Free

"Please pray for my sister Pastor David. She has quit her job here in Taiwan. She is moving from one part-time work to another. I told her she needs to go back home, but she insisted on staying. She does not care if she is living a life of a TNT or illegal migrant worker." Romeo shares with me during one of our Discipleship Men's Group. Her sister's predicament is not too uncommon here in Taiwan. A few of these Asian Contract Workers (ACW) or Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) end up as illegal workers jumping from one odd job to another. It is at this time of their lives that they are most vulnerable. Abuse and violence frequently happen during this juncture. Many of these illegals become victims of human trafficking and live the life of a modern day slave.

Set Free Movement is organized to fight human trafficking and end slavery in this modern time. (For a more detailed explanation about this movement, please click on this link here.) We in Taiwan are joining this movement. We want to end slave-like conditions among our workers (ACW) here in Taiwan. Although, the story of Romeo's sister narrated above is not too many, it is still happening in not too obvious ways. We want our local churches to be aware of these things. We want Taiwanese Christians to be engaged with these issues. We want Set Free Movement in Taiwan to lead the way.

In some other countries, abuse of workers and exploitation of laborers are very common. The Philippine government is faced with many compelling situations out in the Middle East. One good example is in Qatar. You can follow this link for an illustration of what slavery in the work place looks like. We do not want this to happen here in Taiwan. Our prayer is that our Free Methodist local churches will lead the way, to ending the slave-like conditions among our Asian workers here in Taiwan.

Set The Children Free

When Super Typhoon Haiyan left the Philippines, it killed over 6,000 Filipinos and rendered many homeless affecting about 14 million people in the country. Now, it is a time of recovery. Filipinos are picking the pieces and beginning to rebuild their lives with what they have.

This April 15-19, 2014, I am joining other Free Methodists from Manila and Tacloban City as we organize a Stress Debriefing Camp for 60 children ages 7-12 years old. We want to contribute to this process of recovery. We want to start with our children. Most of these children who will be attending will come from the Tacloban City Free Methodist Church and its surrounding neighborhood. These children are experiencing trauma, not only from witnessing the devastation brought by Haiyan, but also from the experience of losing a family member during the typhoon. We want to be there for them. We want to set them free from the trauma and despair. Only God can do this. We will wait on God, wait for His healing.

I do not know where this will lead us. We will trust in God's leadership. My hope is that we can do this Camp annually. Our goal is that these children will grow to be responsible citizens and giving back to the rebuilding of their local community. My prayer is that God will use this Camp to equip these children with skills and emotional stability. They will experience the power of the Gospel in all of its dimensions. God's healing will bring hope, freedom from fear, and the courage to contribute to the rebuilding of Tacloban City. Only God can do this. We will wait for God to act. We will follow Him. We will participate in what He is doing among the people of Tacloban City.

28 Years Ago (1986 People Power) in the Philippines

I can hear the bullets zing over us. They are very close. We are praying under a tree and I see splinters from the tree fall by my feet. We are praying. Francis, Ricky, and I are holding hands petitioning our Creator God to stop this violence.

This is February 24, 1986. I am crouching behind a car on Scout Bayoran. After our prayer, we duck for cover from behind the parked cars. My two companions are behind some other vehicles. A sniper, a military Marcos loyalist, was randomly shooting at anyone and everyone. He is atop the Channel 9 tower. Everyone is taking cover. A little while back, we were marching with a Mother Mary entourage, a prayer march in peaceful protest against violent events happening that day, namely, the Channel 9 shooting. Everyone spreads out once the bullets comes passing by our way, way too close for comfort.

Suddenly, a guy comes running towards me and joins me behind the car. He has his hand on his abdomen. "May tama ako," he tells me. (Translate: I am hit.) I look at the blood on his hand and his shirt. I know I just have to do something. I see a pick up truck trying to drive away from all the chaos. I run towards the driver and persuade him to help the injured guy. And he agrees. Other people come to help load the injured guy into the truck. Screeching truck tires. More tree splinters on the ground. All of us cowering behind a safe place.

28 years ago. I remember we later found out the Rebel soldiers came on a helicopter and shoot down the sniper perched on the Channel 9 tower. We all went home. The following day, we heard the news that the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, left the country. We all cheered. We were celebrating the freedom we gained.

28 years, and I am now residing in another country. I see the Philippines still struggling with the same issues we faced when the Marcoses were still ruling. Corruption. Extreme poverty. Crime. To be fair, many things have changed for the better. But still, almost three decades later, we are still struggling.

I am still praying to our Creator God that He will extend His mercies to Filipinos and the Philippines. I am no longer hiding behind a car or under a tree. I am out in the open. I am hoping many friends will come and join hands with me in prayer.

Tomorrow will be the Philippines 1986 People's Revolution anniversary. What can we do?

Relief Work and Rehabilitation After Haiyan

According to the recent news, the numbers are close to 4,000. Super Typhoon Haiyan has claimed the lives of about 4,000 lives, people who once lived in Tacloban City and its vicinity, Ormoc City, Guiuan, and other municipalities of the provinces of Leyte and Samar. Many more are injured, and thousands more are homeless, ravaged, and distraught. It will take years for the survivors to rebuild. It will take a lifetime to recover from the loss of love ones and from the trauma of going through a super typhoon with wind speed of up to 195 mph, and gust winds of about 230 mph. Tacloban City will never be the same.

I am here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I am writing this reflection from a distance. I get information from the news about the progress of the relief operations of various groups on the ground. I hear stories of our brothers and sisters of the Free Methodist Church from my pastor friends who are on-hand and physically present in the ravaged areas helping and doing their best. I write from a distance.

However, my personal experience with super typhoons in the Philippines is still very real to me. I have been through many of these kinds of typhoons. I once resided in Surigao Del Norte, and I had the luck of going under the eye of a super typhoon--twice. They were not fun experiences. In all of these experiences, the greatest challenge is the time of rehabilitation. When people start rebuilding their lives and picking up the pieces, that is when the real trouble begins. I do not mean to belittle the loss of lives of many at the height of Haiyan's visit last week, but more lives will be lost if we do not give the same money and energy to the work of rehabilitation.

One of the biggest problems in rehabilitation work in the Philippines is corruption. Once money comes in to financed recovery efforts and reconstruction of small communities, corrupt government officials will come in and take their cuts. There are many United Nations studies that corroborate this dire phenomenon. You would be fortunate if the local people, the recipients of these financial aid, get only one fourth of the intended funds. I have seen it happen. Every Filipino can tell you despicable stories of corrupt local officials and greedy national leaders carting away most of the funds.

I applaud the efforts of international groups. In the area of relief work, they are doing a tremendous job. It is such a shame, a slap on the face of our national leaders, who could not get their acts together to be there in Tacloban City and other affected areas when the people needed them. 

However, in the area of rehabilitation, small local groups are still the best way to go to help typhoon victims rebuild their lives. Unless big organizations like UNDP, World Vision, and others, do not connect with indigenous groups, then all the efforts will be useless. They will just make some corrupt official happy. 

I am fortunate to belong to an organization that is connected with local groups and indigenous populations. Our pastors of the Free Methodist Church of the Philippines are doing a wonderful job of giving relief work to its members. They maybe small efforts, but they are making a difference. I look forward to the years to come when I can participate in the efforts of rehabilitation and rebuilding the lives of the Filipinos in Leyte and Samar. These projects maybe small but they will go a long way. There will be no corrupt officials to pocket the money "cuts." There will be no red-tape and debilitating procedures and hegemonic organizational rules. There will be no fancy media coverage or big-name people to please. Everything will be for the locals, both Free Methodists and non-Free Methodists. 

Before that day of rehabilitation comes, we all need to support the efforts of giving food, medicines, and other relief and rescue efforts for these Haiyan victims. When you are not giving, you can pause and pray to our God for help. "Be not far from us for trouble is near and there is none to help." (Psalms 22:11)

Freedom Sunday - Pray for the Abolition of Slavery

Today is Freedom Sunday. This is the day we all start mobilizing our local churches to pray and work towards the abolition of modern slavery. Praying . . . .

A few years back, I met Shiaomei here in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She was only 12 years old when she was sold by her mother to a brothel owner. Against her will, she was moved from Vietnam, to China, to Taiwan, to work at different brothels, restaurants, and homes. I met her when she came to visit one of our Southeast Asian cultural shows, sponsored by several NGOs in this city of Kaohsiung. I sang Filipino love songs to entertain some of our distinguished guests. She was there to represent the Vietnamese group displaying some of its exotic foods. At that time, she was temporarily under the protection of one of the NGOs. I learned later she was trying to escape a very violent family setting. I talked to her for a short time. I looked deep into her eyes and prayed to my God to intervene on her behalf. Since then, my prayers for victims of human trafficking has never been the same. 

Now, I do not know where Shiaomei is. Last time I heard, she is still in Taiwan, in the vicinity of Taipei, moving from one local family to another, working as a cook, waitress, and most probably other odd jobs that are undesirable. I pray for her. I do not know exactly what to pray for, but I still pray for God's intervention in her life. Praying . . . .

Stop Modern Slavery

Next Sunday, February 26, 2012, is Freedom Sunday, a one day annual event sponsored by Not For Sale seeking the involvement of Christian local churches around the world to put a stop to modern slavery. We encourage everyone to participate. You can raise awareness and pray with your brothers and sisters in your vicinity.

It has been said that prevention is better than cure. There are many ways a local church can help in preventing the occurrence of modern slavery. One is child sponsorship. Sponsoring one child has an empowering effect on the sponsored family. It propels the family members to become productive members of their society. Two is indigenous church planting. A local church administered by indigenous leaders provides local people with opportunities to help the destitute and those who are suffering from social evil such as human trafficking, child labor, and prostitution. Three is helping NGOs (Non Government Organization) in one's city or local area. Find a credible NGO (religious or non-religious) who is making a difference in the fight to end modern slavery. Volunteer your services. You will be surprised at what you can contribute. Encourage your church members to join you. Ask them to pray for you. Let us stop slavery in this century.

Here in Kaohsiung, I try my very best to practice these three things. My family sponsor girls from Burundi, India, and the Philippines. They are all managed by ICCM (International Child Care Sponsorship). Check out its website and see if you can sponsor one child from another country. Sarah and I help different indigenous churches growing in this city. We are involved with Feng Shan FMC. We also assist in the ministries of different Filipino and American churches in the area. Nothing big, but each little effort contributes to the bigger picture of eradicating this global problem of slavery within this generation. Also, from time to time, I volunteer my services for an NGO here in Kaohsiung called Taiwan International Migrants Mission or TIMM. When there is a cultural show, I sing Filipino love songs. When TIMM needs an interpreter, I am there. What ever it takes to help Asian migrant workers in their work place and to better their expatriate life here in Taiwan, I do it. These little things help in preventing migrant workers from becoming victims of sexual abuse and experiencing oppressive labor conditions. Prevention is better than cure.

Next week, I am going to a forum sponsored by the Taiwan Industrial Evangelical Fellowship (TIEF), a ministry that focuses on helping working class people here in Taiwan, and most especially the foreign laborers sector. I do not know what to expect. I only know one or two people from this upcoming meeting. I am not even sure what the nature of the meeting is, but one thing I am very certain is that I am going to meet Taiwanese people who can help in the effort to stop modern slavery.