Saturday, June 11, 2016

East Asia 2016: A 21,500 Mile Journey

            I write these lines from my airplane seat as our flight returns to the U.S. today.  By the time I get home tonight I would have flown approximately 21,500 miles in less than two weeks!  My heart is filled with gratitude for the things I saw and experienced during these two weeks in East Asia.  I thank God for Calvary Baptist Church and the opportunity it has granted me and the rest of the team to participate in this meaningful trip.  The prayers and financial provisions which made it possible are deeply appreciated.

          Our journey started when Pastor Chad and I left from McAllen to mainline China to visit our CBC friends.  On this post I will neither mention names, cities, organizations or show photos of our time in China because of the sensitivity of this information.  Some of the friends of our friends in that part of the world have been interrogated by the state police recently and some have been arrested.  Nevertheless, Chad and I were able to meet some incredible Chinese students who are being discipled and are following God’s call to serve in other countries.  We talked to a house church pastor whose 2-year-old church is growing in spite of close scrutiny and intimidation by the government.  We also met international students in China who are making a difference for the kingdom and will return to their countries with a global vision.  God and His church are alive and well in China.  We are humbled to know how with such limitations these workers are faithful and dedicated to the cause.

          On our way from China to the Philippines we made a brief stop in Hong Kong.  There we had a brief visit with Justine Maceross Scott, whose family has been a part of CBC McAllen for quite some time.  Justine moved to Hong Kong, shortly after college graduation, about three years ago to serve on a short-term assignment with International Care Ministries.  This organization works with holistic community development in the Philippines.  CBC had the honor of participating with Justine’s support for those two years.  Justine met Eric Scott, who serves as the Student Pastor at Watermark Church in Hong Kong and they are now married.  Although she no longer serves with International Care Ministries, they are serving a local church in Hong Kong.  We were also glad to visit with Rachel Maceross, another young lady from CBC McAllen who currently lives in Taiwan. We had a pleasant visit and promised that we would continue to pray for them.

            In Manila, Chad and I met up with the rest of the team who came from the U.S. (Paulo Gatan, Chris Brana and Mark Grace).  Four of us were from CBC McAllen.  My friend, Mark Grace, who serves as CMMO for the Baylor Health Care System, accepted my invitation to come and minister to pastors, teaching them how to care for one another.  

            Our first strategic contact in Manila was the national director of Food for the Hungry in the Philippines.  Last year when our team visited La Union province, First Baptist Church of San Fernando invited us to partner with them in providing holistic community development in one of the communities where they had previously done ministry.  Our leadership team along with theirs selected a community.  Since last year we have been looking for a model and/or a strategic partner that would help us accomplish this.  Since Gary Edmonds spoke at our CBC Missions Conference earlier this year, Chad Mason and Ken Munn have been discussing and considering the possibility of partnering with Food for the Hungry in the Philippines (and perhaps in other places).  Our meeting with the Philippines Food for the Hungry director was the next step in that process.  She was very welcoming and very open to the possibility of partnering with us and First Baptist Church of San Fernando.  She even invited us to visit one of the communities where Food for the Hungry has been working with holistic development for ten years.  We accepted the invitation and the appointment was set for after our return from the Pastor’s Retreat in Iloilo.

            On Sunday we flew from Manila to Iloilo and attended University Church at Central Philippines University, where Cris Sian, a friend of our team, serves as pastor.  Our pastors retreat was held in a nearby municipality.  The retreat counted with the participation of approximately 100 people.  Most of the participants were pastors but there were also a few lay leaders.  Pastors came from  various areas including Iloilo, Cadiz, Aklan, the greater Visaya province, La Union, Pagasinan, Negros, Roxas City, Panay and Mindoro, among others.  Many of these pastors struggle to make a living but are serving faithfully where God has called them.  Most of them are very young.  They are evangelizing, discipling, serving their communities, starting new churches, and reaching the unreached.  They eagerly received the 3 days of conferences on discipleship, missions, leadership, caring for each other and community transformation.  Our theme was “Renew.”  We shared conferences, held worship, formed peer groups which are to meet after the retreat on a regular basis, and closed with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and a commissioning service.  The pastors said they felt renewed spiritually, relationally and pastorally.  During our four days in Iloilo we had the opportunity of touching about 100 pastoral/lay leader families and approximately 70 churches.  Many of these churches are planting other churches.  Many of these pastors are training other pastors back in their respective areas.  So the ripple effect of the retreat will go further than we know by God’s grace.

            Since we wanted the pastors to experience an overnight retreat and the places that could house that many pastors at a time and at a reasonable cost were limited, we held the retreat at a Catholic Conference Center.  The nuns who take care of the place prepared food for us, welcomed us gladly, and thanked us for our conferences and what we are doing for the sake of the gospel.

            Of course our work was done in collaboration with the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches and with local Baptist associations of pastors.  In addition to the ministry that CBC McAllen carried out, we facilitated the connection of Baylor Health System’s Clinical Pastoral Education with pastors in the Iloilo area.  This partnership will provide pastors further training in caring for their congregations and in caring for each other as pastor peer groups.

            Upon our return to Manila, Chad Mason and I were able to visit a cluster of communities where Food for the Hungry is doing holistic community development in partnership with other organizations.  The neighborhoods they have selected to serve experience extreme material poverty.  Many of their homes are one-room houses (about 100-square-feet total), sometimes built on trash piles.  Often these homes get flooded when the Manila Bay tide rises.  Food for the Hungry is working in collaboration with a local United Methodist Church, a public High School, a public elementary, the health department and parents from the community.  They focus on helping students who are at risk of dropping out by providing food, tutoring and other kinds of education and initiatives for the families.  Their rates of success after working in that community for ten years are impressive and encouraging in the face of so much poverty.

            I was reminded during this trip of how blessed I am and how blessed CBC McAllen is.  It is always humbling to see others do so much with so little.  I am thankful that CBC McAllen has strategic partnerships in East Asia where we are helping pastors, churches and communities.  Disciples are being mobilized to go from their countries to other countries (sometimes “closed” countries) with very little resources.  The church is demonstrating the love of God through a holistic gospel that redeems the spirit, the body, the mind, the family and the community.  I am convicted of the need to keep praying, giving and going for the glory of His name.  To East Asia and from East Asia may His Glory be known.