Posts Tagged ‘mission’

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 listening 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 shock to my system in various ways.

For many missionaries, homesickness, 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 a 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 in an Ivory tower and giving orders.  After all, he was

  • Five times beat with forty stripes minus one
  • Three times beat 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 labor 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 I 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 to go

This is taken from Oswald Chambers’ So I send You & Workmen of God.

How to go – Acts 1:8

There is always the danger of starting up false enthusiasm in missionary work. “Oh yes, I will go; where shall I go?” That is like making a false start in a race and having to go back to the starting point. Our Lord’s word go simply means live, and Acts 1:8 describes the going. Jesus did not say to the disciples, go to Jerusalem, go to Judea, go to Samaria, go to the end of the earth, but “You shall be witnesses to Me” in all these places. He undertakes to establish the goings. So many people are obesessed with this idea, “What are you going to do?” I hope none of us are going to do anything; I hope we are going to be what He wants us to be.

In Matthew 28:19, our Lord does not say go into all the world, but “Go therefore and make disciples.” He does the engineering. In Acts 1:8, He does not say you shall receive power, and you shall go into Jerusalem, but “You shall be witnesses to Me.” How the disciples went is described later in the Acts of the Apostles. They went at the point of the sword; persecution arose and scattered them by the providence of God. How to go refers to the personal spiritual character of the missionary, not to the feet of the missionary.Oswald Chambers’ So I send You & Workmen of God

A few questions I am asking myself:

  • what does it mean to be His Witness?
  • What does He wants me to be?

Do you agree with Oswald Chambers’ writing?  Disagree?

As Wai Jia and I read this this morning, she mentioned many asked us why Uganda and what are we going to be doing there.  Perhaps, the better question is what does Jesus wants us to be.

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.Acts 1:8 (NKJV)

The Call

I packed Oswald Chambers’ two books in one, So Send I You and Workmen of God, with us to Uganda. One of the joyful moments we have every morning is reading one chapter for devotion.

Since following his devotion’s My Utmost for His Highest, I enjoyed reading Oswald Chambers’ writings. His words bring clarity to Spiritual truths in such a profound way I don’t get from reading other authors. I am not implying the other authors are not good. But for me, Oswald Chamber’s materials are true gold. He never softens the truth when it needs to be hard. He always brings the truth to its edge where it shows where my life still needs maturity. His materials are meant for those who take following Jesus seriously or else the reader will not have the desire to follow. Interesting, at times Jesus’ words can be sharp and feels ‘discouraging’ (see Mark 10:17-22 or John 6:60-66).

Of all the missionary-preparation books I read, by far, this book is my highest recommendation for anyone who desires or contemplate to be a missionary or missionary service. Many books talk about dealing with cultural, transition, language, and worldview issues etc., and these topics are important. Sometimes in desire to do mission, we can easily left out a missionary’s main focus, God. Oswald Chambers reinforce this over and over again.

Wai Jia and I had the opportunity to speak to many youths in various churches regarding missions. One of the frequently asked questions is how do I know God is calling me to such a place?

In the first chapter of the book, entitled ‘The Call’, Oswald Chambers shared that:

These calls are heard by a few only because the call is the expression of the nature from which the call comes, and can only be heard by those who are attuned to that nature.

Am I attuning to the one who calls? Which is God, Himself. It is so important to be able to attune or to discern His voice. Oswald used Isiah as an example. In Isaiah chapter 6, Isaiah was in such a crisis which he was able to attune God.

I am going to side track a bit. Notice that the immediate response Isaiah gave when he saw God was the realization of his own sin. Not just confessing sin in a general statement. But a very specific sin which he personally know he is in condemn for, a man of unclean lips. This is the response when we are in the presence of a Holy God. We instantly see our personal individual sins lit up like blood stains on our hands. This is taken from Oswald’s devotion on Utmost.

Anyway back to the call, God didn’t tell Isaiah to do anything. God was simply talking to Himself, ‘who should we send?’ (Isaiah 6:8)

Once Isaiah is attuned to God, the call comes as nature as breathing. Isaiah realized that he can do something for the Lord. He saw the opportunity. Now redeemed, forgiven, without hesitation and without regret, he said ‘Here am I! Send me.’

This birthed a ministry for Isaiah cost him his life.  God used him mightily as the last warning before Judah is to receive judgement through being conquered by the Babylonians.

Back to the question that the youth asked, how do we know where God is calling us?

My standard answer would be ‘well pray about it, read the Bible, talk to your pastor, research on different missionary organizations.’  It seems so random and without an element of God in it.

The better answer is to have the right relationship with God. God’s call is not random or required some advance deciphering device. We just need to attune ourselves to be in the right relationship with God.

To be brought within the zone of God’s voice is to be profoundly altered.

The call of God is not a call to any particular service, although my interpretation of the call maybe; the call to service is the echo of my identification with God. My contact with the nature of God has made me realize what I can do for God. Service is the outcome of what is fitted to my nature. God’s call is fitted to His nature. When I have received His nature, then His nature and mine work together; the Son of God reveals Himself in me, and I, in my natural life, serve the Son of God in ordinary ways, out of sheer downright devotion to Him.

If our youths are interested on missions and are not sure what to do, the first and foremost we should help them attune their lives to God. Just like in Isaiah’s case, God didn’t ask or command him. The instant Isaiah is attuned with God, he instantly recognize the opportunity to serve.

..there is no call to service for God; it is my own actual “bit,” the overflow of super abounding devotion to God. God does not have to come and tell me what I must do for Him; He brings me into a relationship with Himself where in I hear His call and understand what He wants me to do, and I do it out of sheer love of Him.

In short, don’t focus on do, focus on having a right relationship with God. When our heart and ear is attuned to Him, our eyes will see how we can serve Him!  Serving is the by-product of being in the presence of the Lord.

Jackie Pullinger’s sharing in GO2013

I found this video earlier this week and Wai Jia and I watched it together. We were both moved and learnt a lot regarding missions.

A few key I learnt from the video:

  1. We can learn how to pray for healing and cast out demons.
  2. We need to be very intentional about missions. Are we doing for the people or are we doing it for our own experience?
  3. We need to see mission more than just a two weeks trip.  Transformation takes time.  The people we are reaching are not dumb.  They know we just come and go.  In order to share the Love of Christ they need to know we love them.
  4. Facebook and smart phones can be a distraction to doing the Lord’s work.
  5. It ain’t about just going but willing to STAY!

First Time Preaching

Before Christmas we went to India on a ten day mission trip.  We were living with an American missionary couple and it was a great experience for us. 

The lesson to stay flexible is a continuous reminder on this trip.  Originally we were supposed to go to visit churches in rural area.   We packed with basic necessities like drinking water.  Unfortunately, on the way there our guide’s father-in-law passed away.  We ended up going back to the city.   During our stay, we had the opportunity to visit a village church, a Bible school, a Christian medical hospital and various churches.

The Christians in India were very friendly.  We were always treated with warmest welcome.   Whenever we visit a gathering, they would always asked if we have anything to share (someone will translate into Telugu).

We also learnt to adapt to their culture.  For example, eating what they serve.  There’s no problem there.  Both Wai Jia and I loved India food and the food were fantastic.  It is common practice to eat with their right hand.  As such, I followed suit.  Women in churches would wear a scarf to cover their head.  Wai Jia also did the same.  It is important to either ask before hand and/or copy what the locals are doing.  Different cultures with different worldviews have different expectations.  We wanted to be mindful as we were on visitors.

One of the highlights of this trip was being asked to preach.   Though I always had vision of preaching in church but I never expected to do so in India.  Again, it is important to stay flexible.

I also realized the importance of praying in the Spirit and seeking the Holy Spirit before sharing.  After all, preachers are a mouth piece of God just like Prophets in the Old Testament.  We need to go before Him and asks what does the Holy Spirit wants to speak to this church.  Is it to encourage? Is it to rebuke?

After much praying, I felt that the Lord wanted me to speak on the Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).    We had limited access to the Internet while we were in India.  Again, another lesson learnt on the mission field, Bible knowledge off the head is important as we may not be able to access to online resources like BibleGateway.com.  This is a reminder for myself how importance it is to soak into God’s Words.  The Holy Spirit can use anyone.  But it is important that this person knows the Words so he can be used even deeper by the Lord.

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On Sunday, I had the privilege to speak in two services.  When we went to the second service, both Wai Jia and I were shocked.   The second service was held in an abandon missionary school.  At the stage, they had the same verse printed in English.  It is more than a coincidence.  It is a sign from the Lord that this is what the congregation needed to hear.

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We enjoyed our time in India.  The Christians there has a hunger for God.  I’ve been to Telugu services in Singapore.  When they worship, they really worship!  Even though I don’t understand what they are singing, I am always encouraged to see their passion and faithfulness for the Lord.

This trip was a good training ground for Wai Jia and I.  The missionary couple served in India for more than 15 years.  They shared lots of wisdom on how to relate with the locals and practicality of living on the field.   We also see first-hand the fruits of their labour as the youths they ministered grow up to be Godly man and woman.   As we came back, both Wai Jia and I are excited where the Lord will place us next year for longer term (whether it is short or long is all perspective…for us we are looking one to two years).  The short term mission trip is meant to prepare individuals for long term.  Both Wai Jia and I felt this trip was a training ground for us for long term.

As for me, I needed to get back in the Word.   As I preach to the congregation that we needed to maintain the fear of the Lord in our hearts, I needed to do so as well.

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Wai Jia also about our experience in India in her post, Adjust and Carry On.

Being In Christ

I wrote this post a few weeks ago.  It just took some time to publish it.

Today’s morning prayer we studied Colossians 2:6-7.   Our homework from yesterday was to bring an object that symbolize this passage.  As each of us brought different items and explain to others what they stand for, someone brought this model to represent our walk with Christ.

 

In Christ model

 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2:6-7

As I looked at the model, I realize we can actually do Christian work without the need of Christ.

You can use your skills without being in Christ.

You can learn language and culture without being in Christ.

You can have Biblical knowledge without being in Christ.

You can even have bits of Christlikeness without being in Christ.

 

In the past few months as Wai Jia and I are exploring where to serve after OMF next April, we met up with missionaries from various mission organizations.  It seemed that the first question they ask is not about our walk in Christ.  Rather all the questions related to the outer most circles, what can we do.

What can we do on the field?  What ‘practical’ skills can we help the field?  Wai Jia can do medical work.  I can do IT work.  Everyone assumed that we are in Christ.  I think this is a dangerous assumption.  I realized that this is a period for me to draw closer in God.  To commune with Him.  To be able to discern His voice.   To walk with Him.  We need to go back to the way how the Gospel is shared in the New Testament.  That is, to be led by the Holy Spirit.

It is tempting to focus mission as mainly a ‘practical’ activity where we can plan and dictate our steps without following the Holy Spirit.  It maybe because this is not commonly what we do.   It maybe because we love to take control of our future (even when we say we follow the Lord, we are really following the plans we want to make for the Lord).  It maybe because we are scared where the Holy Spirit will bring us.

What I learnt and still learning is that when I speak with a brother or a sister in Christ, I don’t want to assume the inner circle is there.  I don’t want to assume someone who profess they are Christian and want to do missions when they are struggling to walk with Him.  Rather than focusing on what skills they can bring to the field, I rather ask them how are they walking in Christ.  When we are in Christ, the other circles will overflow. But without Christ, what we are doing, even in our most sincere acts for Christ, is hollow.

The key to the missionary problem is in the hand of God, and that key is prayer not work, that is, not work as the word is popularly understood to-day because that may mean the evasion of concentration on God. The key to the missionary problem is not the key of common sense, nor the medical key, nor the key of civilization or education or even evangelization. The key is prayer. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest.” Naturally, prayer is not practical, it is absurd; we have to realize that prayer is stupid from the ordinary common-sense point of view.Utmost.org