When Empathy is not enough (a missionary musing)

Before coming to Uganda with my wife as missionaries, I served in Singapore for 2 ½ years.   Singapore was the first place where I served as a long term missionary.   Given that Singapore is well developed, you would think it was easy for me to transit, right?   Unfortunately, my experience was far from smooth.   My wife had to spend many nights listen to me feeling the sense of loss of my home, friends and family.     Though I am Chinese from descent (I was born in Hong Kong), I am more ‘Ang Mo’, a Singaporean term to describe Westerners, given that I spent more than 20 years living in Canada.  Living back in Asia was a shocked to my system in various ways.

For many missionaries, home-sickness, loneliness, missing friends and family are often some of the stressors one experiences on the field.  Lately, I noticed there were a number of posts published online about the suffering a missionary goes through.  Unfortunately, for me, these posts tend to discourage rather than encourage.   They list a bunch of things a missionary suffers but do not offer solutions to them.  These posts might make me feel like someone out there understands my situation.  But for me, empathy is not enough.  I need more.

During those times on the field when I am down, my encouragement comes from reading the Bible.  Paul, as an apostle (and also a missionary),  suffered much for Christ.  Whenever I open the book of Philippians, I am inspired by Paul’s desire to follow Christ, even to discount all things as loss (Phil 3:8).  His message to the church of Philippi is not merely to say ‘yes, things suck’.  Rather, he not only stated the trials he went through, but also brought the Philippi church up and encouraged them to keep the faith.  Yes, things are not going to be good.  But it is worth it.  Paul is the right person to say this.  He wasn’t sitting on an Ivory tower and giving orders.  After all, he was

  • Five times beaten with forty stripes minus one
  • Three times beaten with rods
  • Stoned once
  • Three times shipwrecked
  • A night and a day in the deep
  • In perils of water, robbers, own countrymen (Jews), Gentiles, in city, in wilderness, in seas, in false brothers, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness, in hunger and thirst, in fastings, in cold and nakedness

Source: 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NKJV)

If Paul, the one who suffered so much for the Gospel, can keep going, I can take that message.  This is a message that gives me hope and courage.

While we were here in Uganda, we had an experienced missionary who told us that people from back home will disappoint us.  Now, this might sound negative but this is a reality.  The reality is that no one at home will truly understand 100% what we are going through.  There was a time when I was upset at my friends and supporters for their lack of sensitivity.  But after a while, I needed to move on.  It is ok if people do not understand.  It is ok because the source of my strength is not from them.  It is by looking at Jesus that we can continue to labor in joy despite hardships.   Following Jesus is a hard thing to do.  When we talk about laboring for Him, it really means to labor with sweat, toil and heartache.   But at the end it is worth it.  It is important to keep the end in mind.

I remembered my first Half Ironman (a very long triathlon event).  I was 10 km from the finish line.  We started in the morning and by then, it was noontime and it was hot.  Even though the triathlon is an individual race, there are times when you race together to encourage each other.   In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said that two is better than one and a cord of three strands will not break (Ecc 4:12).  It is especially true in triathlon.

I somehow ended up with two other participants.   We exchange a few words as we jogged along.   One of the participants began to complain how hard the course was and how hot she was feeling.  The more I listened to her, the more I did not want to listen.  Realizing her words were not helping me to keep going, I wished her well and ran ahead.

I did the same race a few years later.  Once again, the race was hot and muggy.  This time I hadn’t trained as much and was struggling.  At around the same part of the race, I gave up and started to walk.  Just as I was trotting along and making up every reason why I should walk, a much older gentleman passed me.  As he passed me, he turned around and waved at me to keep going.   In triathlon, it is common for them to write down your age at the back of your calf.  This person had a 60 on  his calf!  I told myself, if someone twice as old as me could keep going, I could as well.   I started jogging again and caught up with him.  This man was very encouraging and we exchanged words to keep each other going to the end.

It is the same when we labor for the Lord.  The situation is difficult and it is tough.  We will feel lonely and a sense of loss.  But we need to encourage one another to keep moving and keep our eye on the eternal crown.  He is the strength and the source for us to keep going.  Life is short and we need to accomplish all the things He marked us to do.   The suffering we are going through is temporary compared to the glorious eternal prize we will achieve when He calls us, ‘good and faithful servants’.  AMEN!

 

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus”Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV)

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

How much data Youtube video use?

In Uganda, there is no such thing as unlimited bandwidth (there is but you have to pay a lot!).   In the first few months I was very conscious of how much data we use.   The strict rule in the house is no Youtube video because it uses up a lot of data. I’ve been trying […]

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A Lesson on Obeying Godly Authority

This week is the first week our Bible School is starting classes for 2015.  It is a joy to see some new faces and old faces (from last year’s class).

Wai Jia and I spent a considerable time this week teaching on leadership and what it means to be a good ministers.  The students attending the Bible School varies from Pastors, Apostle to young people preparing for ministry.  We even have a lady that just converted (from hearing a preaching from one of our students!).  We also incorporated the importance of excellence and asked the class to come up with values which they want to develop while they are here.

Today, I taught the importance of obeying Godly authority.  Godly authority simply means the spiritual leader whom God placed in your life.  For most of us, that will be our Pastor or Senior Pastor.

I used an Old Testament example to illustrate the point.  In Numbers 16, Korah and 250 leaders rebelled against Moses and Aaron.  The irony is that it is probably Moses who appointed them as leaders in Exodus 18.   Side note: Exodus 18 is when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, suggested to Moses to appoint leaders to help Moses’ judge the Israelites.

This is the their accusation against Moses and Aaron:

You take too much upoon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?Numbers 16:3b (NKJV)

The first thing we learn as leaders is that when someone accuses us of wrong doings, we don’t fight back. Moses responded by bowing on the ground (v4) and told Korah and his men that the Lord will judge who is holy and who is not (v7). This is a key lesson, the Lord will fight the battle on our behalf.

Moses challenged Korah and his men that everyone of them will stand before the Lord the next day with a censers and put fire and incense (v6-7).

These men that rebelled against Moses and Aaron are not just ordinary men.  The Bible described them as renowned (v2).  Moses said that even God separated them for Him from the rest of the congregation (v9).   These men are leaders.

But they were upset with Moses.   Here are their accusations:

  • Since God is among the whole congregation and they are holy, why is there a need for Moses to be the leader (v 3)
  • Moses chose himself to be the leader over the Israelites (v 3)
  • Moses led them to the wilderness to die (v 13)
  • Moses failed to take them to the land of flowing milk and honey (v 14)

So the next day, Moses, Aaron, Korah and the 250 men stood before the tabernacle of meeting each with their censer with incense and fire (v 18-19).  The glory of the Lord came (v 19) and told Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation because God is going to destroy everyone including the congregation (v 20).  Moses, as always, interceded on behalf of the congregation (v 22) and the Lord spared them.  Instead, the Lord told the congregation to stay away from these wicked people even to the point of not touching any thing owned by these rebellious men (v 26).  This is another truth.   As leaders, we ought to stay away from wicked people.  

Before the judgement, Moses said that the work that he is doing as a leader is not by his own will but it is God who sent him to do the works (v 28).  Here’s another important truth.  We, sometimes, think our work is what we do.  But it is the Lord who give us work to do.  It is the Lord who give us leader to look over us.  At the same time, we cannot just go and do any type of work for the Lord just because we feel like it.  We have to able to discern that the work we are doing is the Lord who give us.

The ground opened up just as Moses said and swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram as well as their household and their tents (v 31-33).  Then fire came down and consumed the 250 men (v 35).

This is a fearful lesson.  Sometimes we think we are better than our leaders or our pastors.  We look at them and think we can preach better than them or know the Bible better than them.  We don’t need these leaders to ‘lord’ over us.  We can do better without them.  This is actually pride that’s talking.  With pride comes Satan tempting and soothing our ego.  You are better than your leader.  Why are you still listening to them? You should go and do your own thing.  You will be successful.

Another possibility is that the Lord is refining us and purposely place us under the leadership of others so that we can learn humility and obedience.  Joshua, for example, spent at least 40 years with Moses before taking over the role as the leader of the Israelites and led them into the Promise Land. 40 years!  That’s a long time.  We often think we can be groom and become leader so fast, especially living in this age of instant gratification.

When I was training for Ironman, a coach said that it takes a long time for you to be good.   Most pros take 3, 4, 5 years(!) before they finally see results.  This is the same for leadership.

Another point I shared is that we all have leader we are following.  Even Pastors don’t do their own thing.  The two pastors in our class have spiritual fathers that they are accountable to.  When a leader is running his own show and there’s no accountability, that can be a recipe for disaster.

Before we came to Uganda, a pastor told us that in Africa it is common for someone in the congregation to take a group of members away and start his own church.  This is sad because it doesn’t glorify God.  We hope that today’s teaching will help counter such thoughts.

Baby Vervet Monkey (rare video)

In front of our house, we have a mango tree.  It is not uncommon to see a group of Vervet monkeys crossing over the fence and going to the tree to forage for food.

A few weeks ago, I captured this rare footage of a baby Vervet monkey.  The baby tends to cling on to its mother.  To see one on its own is extremely rare.  The mother is very protective about her young and any signs of danger, she will run with the baby clinging tightly on her belly.

What I most fascinated about this video is that the monkeys that are looking after the baby is not his mother at all.  Clearly, the Vervet monkeys are highly social creatures.

Rare Footage of a Baby Vervet Monkey

Fear

The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord”;…  The Highest Good—The Pilgrim’s Song Book, 537 L

Merry Christmas from Team Tam

We wish everyone a Merry Christmas from Uganda.  :)

As for Wai Jia and I, we are getting good and soundful rest at home.

Merry Christmas from Team Tam

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”Luke 2:8-14 (NKJV)

How to extend your laptop’s battery life

If you have a laptop, I am sure you face this all the time. You need to extend your battery life so you can squeeze a report out or finish a paper.   There are no plugs around and you didn’t bring your cable.  At the same time your battery is dying.  So how can you […]

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God the Restorer – Jeremiah 32

I am currently taking a course, Know Your Bible. One of the assignments is to write a five page paper on two of the Major Prophets. After writing so many papers from University, you would think I can handle a five page essay easy peasy.  It wasn’t.  I chose Isaiah and Jeremiah because I desired to know more about them. In order to write this paper, I read most of their books. Mind you, that’s 66 chapters from Isaiah and 52 chapters from Jeremiah. On top of that, I gone through 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles to see when these prophets appeared in those Historical books. Lastly, I went through the Gospels to find where they were quoted or referenced. It was a lot more work than I expected. I tried not to use too much external sources (Internet, other commentaries or books etc.).  I stuck primarily with the Bible (thank you Biblegateway!) and my text book.

Between running ministry and preaching in Uganda, it took me more than two weeks to complete this paper. Half way through it, I thought maybe I shouldn’t go through all the references in New Testaments. It would be much easier to simply skim or just go through ones I knew off my heart. I can tell you. It is very tempting to not do the work.

As I shared with Wai Jia about my struggle, she encouraged me to keep laboring. She took this course before and also labored when she wrote the same paper. During this process of labor, I gained a new appreciation for these prophets and a deeper understanding of God’s character.

First, the prophets. Both prophets were active in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Isaiah came first on stage just as the Assyrians invaded the Israel, the Northern Kingdom, and Assyrians were threatening Jerusalem. His message was a warning for Jerusalem to stop worshipping idols, stop doing evil and turned back to God. He also prophecized the Babylonian threat in 2 Kings 20:17-18. Later, Jeremiah came into the scene when Jerusalem was in a much worst state. The nation is fallen into heavy idolatry with people sacrificing their son and daughter into the fire to worship false gods (Jeremiah 7:31). Jeremiah’s spent more than twenty years repeating the same message. Repent or God would bring desolation against Jerusalem. The people and the king chose not to listen and in the end God used the Babylons to bring destruction in 586 BC.

Whenever I read Old Testament, especially during this period, I cannot stop thinking about the stereotypical thought that God is an angry God. It is true. God was exceedingly angry at Jerusalem for their idolatry. But this wasn’t the only God’s character.  Nor was it the one that was focused in the book of Jeremiah.

We have to realize that the reason why God is so angry is beacuse the people chose not to listen to Him for a very very very long time. Jeremiah preached the same message for more than twenty years! If God told me to preach the same message of repetance for twenty years to one church and the people chose not to listen, I think I would be done after a year.  Yet, year after year, the message is the same.  Signs and warnings were given. The people chose to disobey and do wicked things.

What people miss though is the character that God is a restorer.

In Jeremiah 32, we have a grim picture of the fate of Jerusalem. The Babylon army is mounting a siege against the walls of this once glorious city. Most of the Judah is already conquered by the Babylonians. There’s nowhere to run. There’s nowhere to hide. Destruction is imminent.

In the midst of utter destruction, God told Jeremiah to buy a field. Jeremiah is already jailed for his prophecies. There’s no way the King is going to let him go out to buy a field. But God, in His perfect timing, orchestrated everything for Jeremiah.  His uncle was coming to prison to offer Jeremiah a field to purchase. This scene is almost comical. In war, the last thing you think about is buying fields. You think about survival. You think about fighting. You think about how to live the next day. You think about your family and your love ones and whether they are safe.  The last thing you think about is ‘which land should I invest it?

‘Look, the siege mounds! They have come to the city to take it; and the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword and famine and pestilence. What You have spoken has happened; there You see it! And You have said to me, O Lord God, “Buy the field for money, and take witnesses”!—yet the city has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah 32:24-25 NKJV (Emphasis mine)

Puzzled by this, Jeremiah asked God why is he doing a seemingly foolish thing when he would soon witness his city crumble and pillage. God, in His mercy, told him that not now but in the future God Himself would gather the Jewish captives from all over the world and returned them back to Jerusalem. God, who was punishing Judah through the Babylon occupation, would make this land flourish again. So much so that people would buy and sell land just as what Jeremiah had done.

Jeremiah won’t live to see that day. He understood that he and his people would face hardship for their sins and rebellion. He himself had gone through persecution for doing God’s works. But imagine the joy and hope Jeremiah carried in his heart when God spoke to him about the future.

And this is who our God is. He doesn’t get angry for no reason. He doesn’t punish people for no reason. More importantly, He restores.

“For thus says the Lord: ‘Just as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will bring on them all the good that I have promised them. And fields will be bought in this land of which you say, “It is desolate, without man or beast; it has been given into the hand of the Chaldeans.” Men will buy fields for money, sign deeds and seal them, and take witnesses, in the land of Benjamin, in the places around Jerusalem, in the cities of Judah, in the cities of the mountains, in the cities of the lowland, and in the cities of the South; for I will cause their captives to return,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah 32:42-44 NKJV

He is long suffering. He is merciful. He is a restorer. He turns things around.

Amen!

I had another revelation when reading Jeremiah 32. I will write it in another time.