Universal Commission for Mission

I was asked to lead a commissioning service today. It made me think about what a commissioning is… or at least should be. Commissioning is an interesting Christian tradition. And it is even used in non-Christian circles.

In 1987, I was involved in my first commissioning service. I was commissioned as an officer of the United States Navy.

In 2004, my home church in the United States, Spring Hill Baptist Church, had a commissioning service for us to serve as missionaries in the Philippines. Then First Emmanuel Baptist Church, a Filipino church in the US had a commissioning service for us. In 2005, I was commissioned here in Baguio as a minister of the gospel. In 2006, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board had a commissioning service for us as Mission Venturers… and then in 2008 as Mission Ambassadors. In 2011, I was ordained here in Baguio. It has a different name, but it is still essentially a commissioning service.

So I have been commissioned at least 6 times. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to learn what it means to be commissioned.Some commissioning services give the impression that they are bestowing authority on the recipients. Others appear like they are trying to inject some sort of spiritual power into those being commissioned. While either might fit a particular denominational tradition, I think in this case a bit of etymology may come in handy.

The term “commission” comes from two related Latin words… “commissio” and “committere”. From them we get the two related ideas of commission and commit. Both words give the same idea… to place one’s trust in. I then had an amazing realization. The Commisioning service was not about me as the one being commissioned… It was about them, the “commissioners.” When I was commissioned in the Navy… the commissioning ceremony was the Navy’s way of telling me that they trusted me… and they entrusted me to do what is right. When my church had a commissioning service… they were telling me and my family that they were placing their trust in us… they are sending us off to the other side of the world because they chosen us to trust us to do what is right and good in our role as a missionary of their church. That is a heavy thought. Let’s read a parable that you all probably know.

Consider the Parable of the Talents… Matthew 25:14-30. The primary message is that we cannot know when Christ is returning (a good lesson for anyone seeking “secret knowledge” to time the end of the world. But the story is also a commissioning.

The first verse (vs. 14) makes this clear.  “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.” The passage said that the master entrusted his property to His servants. That is another way of saying that he commissioned them. The rest of the story is about what each did. Two were trustworthy and one was not.  Because it is primarily not about a rich man and his servants. It is about God and us. God has entrusted everything He has to us. God has commissioned all of us.

Isn’t that the crazy thing? We keep being reminded that we are supposed to trust God. But God trusts us??? What have we ever done to suggest that we are trustworthy???

In the story, God has placed His trust in three different people. Two accepted and embraced that trust and were faithful to God. One was very uncomfortable with the trust… with the responsibility that God gave him. He took what God gave him and hid it, continuing to live the life he chose… not the one God had called him to live.

God has placed His trust in each person who follows Him.

  • God has entrusted us with His work… His mission. God is at work in the world. But much of that work He has given to His servants. So often, we look around at the problems in the world and ask “Why isn’t God doing something about this?” But really, God has entrusted us to be a blessing in this world. When I see problems in the world… it is quite appropriate to look into a mirror and say, “Why am I not doing something about this?”
  • God has entrusted to us His reputation. When we are calling ourselves Christians, we are saying that we are followers of Jesus… followers of Christ. Followers of God. If you share the Gospel with people enough, you are likely to come across people that will not listen to what you have to say because they have seen Christians. They have seen Christians who are hypocrites. They have seen Christians who are sinful. They have seen Christians who are lazy. They have seen Christians who are selfish. When they see that, they are turned off about Christianity. They are turned off about God. To be fair… sometimes I am a hypocrite. Sometimes I am sinful. Sometimes I am lazy. Sometimes I am selfish. We all are. Yet God has entrusted us with His own reputation.

I think the story implies a possible different form of commissioning. The commissioning doesn’t have to be primarily about the commissioner. It can be about the one being commissioned. After all, it is quite likely that most of the people at the commissioning service today did not care all that much whether I trusted them or not. My son Joel, who was part of the commissioning, might care somewhat whether I trust him or not… maybe those from West Baguio care a tiny bit. … But most probably care even less… even zero. And that is okay. 

When each person chooses to follow Jesus… to accept God’s gift… each is  commissioned. God entrusted his work and his reputation to each and every believer. In 1 Corinthians 12 it says that to each one he gave specific gifts or talents for different roles. But each role is important… it is all part of God’s work. And one can accept or embrace that role… or one can ignore it… hide it… and make the trust that God has placed worthless.  Jesus trusted Peter… he trusted John. He also trusted Judas Iscariot. God often trusts us more than we deserve to be trusted.

I would suggest that every Christian should have a Commissioning Service. It is fine if certain people are formally commissioned (entrusted) by their church or by their mission board for mission work. But we all have been entrusted by God to serve and to maintain His reputation. The commissioning for all believers should be to remind us that God has entrusted His work and reputation with us. The question is how we will respond to that trust. Will we embrace it with excitement… or will we cower and hide what God has entrusted to us?

14 15 To one he gave five talents,[b] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.[c] You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Answering the Wrong Question to the Wrong Person

Sometimes I put answers on “Answers.com”. I saw the following question:

How do Thinking Christians persuade modern men that it is necessary to shed blood to atone for sin that it is necessary for Jesus to die in order to reconcile men to God?

It is possible that this is a loaded question… implying that Christians are really unthinking. I remember years decades ago a person posing the question on the RELIGION FORUM of COMPUSERVE, “Why do many Christians worship on Sunday (1st day) rather than Saturday (7th day)?” I gave what I considered a fairly detailed and thoughtful answer. Then the person who asked the question responded with: “Well, I find people who worship on the 7th day to be more spiritual.” That suggests to me that the person wasn’t really asking the question to find an answer, but to pose a complaint. Ultimately I Peter 3:15 suggests that we should try our best to answer questions:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

I see key points here:

1.  Everyone. While the Bible may give caution about answering fools, it seems best here to not be quick to judge the character or motive of a person, but do one’s best to inform regardless.

2.  Reason. It’s not just faith. God made us to be reasoning beings. As such, we share our faith, in part, by sharing our reasoning.

3.  Gentleness and respect. Going back to the Golden Rule, We answer others as we would want others to answer us.

Returning to the question above regarding blood sacrifice, someone had given the following answer:

The necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus to reconcile men to God is and has always been the key central doctrine of all forms of Christianity having an orthodox theology. Anything else is heresy.

I do not believe you can persuade anyone of this that chooses to believe otherwise. This may be one of those things that must be revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit, not by human persuasion.

 

I feel the answer given was inadequate. First of all, it made no attempt to answer the question… it answered a different question. Second, it made no attempt to consider the intended audience. Ultimately, the “answer” given is that the blood sacrifice of Christ is true and anyone who says otherwise is a heretic. Not much of an answer. I added my own answer:

We do not know what God HAD to do to reconcile Us to Himself. We know from the Bible what He DID do. The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” However, since that is true because God made the rules, it is, perhaps, possible that a different system could have been made.  The question would be then, “Why do it that way?”

1.  Cross-culturally, there seems to be a recognition of guilt, shame, unworthiness… one could say “sin.” It appears to be, perhaps not universal but very common, that blood sacrifice and blood covenants are recognized worldwide as needed to appease and make peace. Even “modern man” tends to identify death as the ultimate justice (or poetic justice) for actions that are unconscionable. Whether that is hardwired into our beings, or if it is deeply ingrained in our cultural histories, blood sacrifice on some level has always “made sense.”

2.  On a less cultural, more personal, level, we seek a God (or divine power) that is good, that is powerful, that is caring. Yet we live in a world that is not good, that seems to be out of control, and is heartless. How does one reconcile this. Throughout history, there have been many attempts by many groups to come up with an answer to this. However, the Biblical answer is that we live in a world of evil and chaos, despite a Good, Powerful, and Caring God. This, however,  is a temporary state, not God’s intention for a permanent condition. The point that reconciles the two seemingly contradictory points is that God is powerful and at work to reconcile all things. He has chosen to identify with us, to suffer with us, and to sacrifice for us. In so doing, He shows His goodness and care.

 

Is this a better answer? I don’t know– you decide. But it, at least, TRIES to answer the question asked for the intended audience. Of course, I don’t believe anyone can be persuaded. But one can attempt to answer with gentleness and respect regarding the hope that is within us.

Personhood and the Escalation of Conflict. Part 2

How does this apply to missions or ministry?

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”    -Blaise Pascal.

This is a quote worthy of mulling over. Periodically, atheists (or “freethinkers”?) charge all sorts of evil to religion. That is not to say that the irreligious (or the pragmatic) have such a great track record. Delving into the true depths of evil seems to be in the realm of two groups of people:

  • Truly Religious Atheists (“Evildoing should not only be permitted but even should be acknowledged as the most necessary and most intelligent solution for the situation of every godless person!” -View of Father Paissy, character of Dostoyevsky.) A person who truly embraces his own lack of ultimate accountability, can justify nearly any evil. And some do delve these depths.
  • Truly Religious Theists. If morality is based on a divine standard, to believe that one is acting in the name of that standard, some can do the unspeakable with a calm sense of personal righteousness.

Missionaries are certainly at risk of falling into the trap of doing what is wrong in the name of right. That is because they have the following characterisitcs:

1.  Are very religious. While most missionaries I know are not extreme in their religious fervor, they are often encouraged or expected to be intensely “radical” or “extreme” in their religious faith.

2.  Are typically segregated. Missionaries are commonly cross-cultural, meaning they are often foreigners, of a different culture, and of a different religion to those they are ministering to. As such, it is easy, even natural, to have an US versus THEM attitude. After all, many of the locals will look at missionaries as THEM.

3.  May be prone to spiritual militancy. Missionaries are often encouraged to embrace the metaphor of spiritual warfare or “power encounter” by (perhaps) well-meaning missiologists and religious leaders. Often other faiths are demonized, and it is easy to demonize the proponents of such faiths, or see them as willingly acting in league with Satan.

These tend to emphasize conflict. Therefore, there is a tendency to depersonalize. As we depersonalize, we empathize less and become more dedicated to task over people. If we are called to task first, that might be okay. But if the Great Commission is an application of the Great Commandment, our task is FOUNDED on caring more about God AND people, not caring so much about task, or mission.

Of course, there are principles that should mitigate this potential for misdirection:

1.  We are really called to be Christ-like, not Religious. It is not that religion is wrong, but it is inadequate and is prone to abuse. We are to follow Christ’s example. Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” connects His ministry with ours.

2.  We are to be Incarnational, not “Segregational.” Paul was to be a Jew to the Jews and a Greek to the Greeks. Jesus enculturated in the culture, challenging as an insider, not an outsider.

3.  We are given better metaphors, such as servant, rather than warrior. The warfare metaphor has more relevance on a spiritual level or on the level of ideals, “not against flesh and blood.” The full armor of God is mostly defensive, and spiritual, not offensive and physical. Isaiah 53 and Philippians 2 (among others) focus on Jesus as one who came to serve, not to be served. His ministry is made powerful through being a servant, not a warrior.

I am not of the other faiths. If some feel they are at their best in projection of physical power, control, and coersion, I am not one to say otherwise. But Christianity is at its worst with these things. We are at our best as Christians, missionaries, and ministers when we care more about people (BECAUSE we care more about God) than we care about tasks. We are at our best as Christians when we identify ourselves with all people, not being quick to coming up with narrower and narrower designations of who WE are. We are all in this together after all.

We are humans first, more than we are male or female. We are humans first (precious creations designed by God) than we are Christians, or of some nationality, or sect, or race, or cultural designation. Christians are at their best when WE don’t reach out to THEM, because understand that THEY are also US.

We are at our best when we embrace our role as humble servants of Christ, seeking Christ as our model, than when we are radical, extreme, spiritual, religious, or any other description that is focused on tasks, programs, ideas, or missions, rather than people.

Personhood and the Escalation of Conflict. Part 1

<I notice that this post rambles on a bit. Hope you will take the time to read it and think it through… especially when I add Part 2. I think it then makes a bit of sense.>

A few days ago, the “Islamic State” or “ISS” or “ISIL” made a statement (or its leadership made a statement) that it was okay to enslave and have (non-mutual) sex with non-Muslim women and girls. It is hard, as an outsider, to fathom why a group that claims to be acting for a righteous cause, would make a statement so obviously evil. It seems that three things must have happened:

#2.  A legal analysis of the issue was presumably done from the standpoint of their own religious regulations.

#3.  Presumably an ethical analysis was done to see whether the behavior is in line with what a good follower of their god would do. (After all, many things may be legal, but not appropriate for a faithful adherent.)

The big concern however is #1.

#1.  There must have been members of their group that desired to enslave and rape and so sought to be given the “thumbs up.”

Since, I am not a member of their religion, I don’t particularly care about #2 and #3. But I do care about #1. How could people get to the point where such horrible mistreatment seems like a nifty idea?

For me, I have to think that a lot of this goes back to the issue of personhood and of conflict escalation (and, YES, human evil is alwasy in the mix… but that is not my focus today). Generally, when a group of people want to do something horrific to another human, they first make a determination that that other human really isn’t a human. He or she is not a person, but is sub-human. In some cases, the determination is that the individual IS a person, but has lost the rights (or priviledges) of being a person. This may include murderers who are placed on death row, or (in some prisons of the recent past) experimented upon or tortured.

But often what is done is not to assume someone has lost their rights as a person, but he never was a person in the first place. History, has had slavery based on race. In arguments over emancipation, economic and political issues may be argued… but commonly underlying these arguments is a foundational issue of personhood. Some believe that people of a different race are sub-human… not a person… and so enslavement is okay. It would be wrong to enslave a relative… a fellow human… but someone who looks different and has a different nationality is something less.

Abortion rights boils down to the same issue. Some try to argue the issue over practical issues. The foundational issue is personhood. Some argue that abortion should be permitted because women should have rights to do as they wish with their bodies. (Of course, no person on earth has unlimited rights to do whatever they want with their bodies.) What is really meant is that the unborn child (or the less “person”al term… fetus) is not a person. If he/she/it is not a person, than he/she/it lacks basic rights of personhood, and so he/she/it may be deemed simply part of the mother’s/woman’s body.

In recent years there has been a move by some animal rights groups to designate certain animals (such as apes or dolphins) as persons. I don’t know why they feel relative intelligence should be a the determining of value as a person. But the move is obvious. If certain animals are designated as persons… certain rights logically become theirs. My personal fear, however, is that such a move may not elevate the animals, but devalue personhood… but who knows?

Okay… back on topic.  ISIS appears to devalue a person for not sharing their religious viewpoint/ideology, and then further devalues them for not sharing the same gender as the leadership. Perhaps the religious test is more important since, presumably, leaders of ISIS would not be quick to acquiesce to female members of their own clan being raped and enslaved.

It seems likely that such logic doesn’t not come out of careful ethical consideration, but out of the emotions of conflict. The torture (and yes, it sure sounds like torture to me) of “the enemy” by the CIA in the first decade of the 21st century was justified based on conflict.

Consider an escalation of conflict. Although described for church conflcts, the list of stages in “The Escalating Stages of Unresolved Church Conflict” by Ken Newberger seems informative.

Stage 1. (Sometimes) an Uncomfortable Feeling. Something is wrong but not sure what.

Stage 2 A Problem to be Resolved. Problem identified. <Issue-focused>

Stage 3. A Person to Differ with. (Other person-focused) Sides are determined. Discussion changes from what is the best solution, to who is right and who is wrong.

Stage 4. A Dispute to Win. <Issue-focused with greater intensity> Collaboration breaks down. Other issues begin to add to the conflict. Feelings get hurt.

Stage 5. A Person to Attack. <Other person-focused. Greater intensity>. Battle lines are drawn. Stereotyping of the other side occurs with the worst thought of adversaries.

Stage 6. My “Face” to Save. <Self-focused. Greater Intensity> Things get personal. Protecting one’s image and character become dominant. Things are seen as black vs white, good versus evil.

Stage 7. A Person to Expel, Withdraw from, or Ruin. <Other person-focused, Greater intensity> All or nothing battle. Someone or a whole group must go.

You will notice as the stages go higher, the problem becomes more personal, but the other side loses personhood. What starts out as a problem to resolve becomes by Stage 7 a time where people who have another opinion must not exist (at least within their church) or must be shamed or shunned. That is personal. Yet by stage 5, stereotyping begins to dominate. That is, the person on the other side no longer really matters… what matters is that he or she is one of THEM. And as one of THEM, he or she has horrible traits and motives, so unlike people who are part of US. With stage 6, nuances are lost. If someone is not with us… he is against us. Not just one of THEM… but the ENEMY. By stage 7, not only are THEY the ENEMY, but their thoughts and views are unworthy of consideration, and even their presence is at best grudgingly tolerated, and at worst, to be ended.

By stage 5, the personhood of those on the other side of an issue is being replaced by group labelling. By level 6, the group has been labelled as BAD. By level 7, the group is rejected… a problem to be gotten rid of. Personhood has been effectively removed (at least on an emotional level).

The 2nd post will look at this from a missional perspective (believe it or not).

Six Places Honor and Shame Hide in the Bible

Originally posted on jacksonwu:

HonorShame.com was gracious enough to allow me to reblog his most recent post.

It is extremely helpful in equipping people to identity honor/shame themes in Scripture. Enjoy! And take a few minute to check out and subscribe to honorshame.com.


There has to be a sociological term for this, because it is a universal phenomenon. When something new comes onto your radar, you begin seeing it everywhere. This is true not only of tangible things, but ideas as well – if you learn a new concept, you recognize it frequently thereafter.

Ubiquitous things can hide in right in front of us

The themes of honor and shame permeate the Bible, but they often “hide” in our Western blind spots. By knowing where honor and shame are typically found, we can begin to uncover amazing Biblical truths . Here are sixways biblical writers package their ideas about honor and…

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Magical Thinking

AnthropologistsI am about 2/3 done with a textbook for Cultural Anthropology. “Ministry in Diversity: Applied Anthropology in a Multicultural World.” It will primarily be used (hopefully) for Seminiary by Extension classes in the Philippines. Here is the section on Magic and Magical Thinking. It is still a bit rough… but getting there.

Magic is often differentiated from Religion, yet there is a lot of similarity. Instead of focusing on the concept of magic, it may be more useful to focus on “magical thinking.”

People often feel powerless. They cannot see the future, they cannot control people around them, nature, or the spirit realm. But such powerlessness is difficult to accept. Magical Thinking is the belief that by saying certain things, or owning certain things, or doing certain rituals, one can manipulate spiritual power or spiritual beings to give one power and control. Bronislav Malinowski would argue that religious thinking is different from magical thinking in that, rather than seeking to manipulate spiritual powers, the goal is for spiritual forces to flow through the worshiper and accomplish what God (or the gods or spirits) desire. But it is probably reasonable to say that magic and religion overlap.

Thinking

Desire for the “Spiritual”

Personal Desire

Magical Thinking

To control the spiritual

Power

Religious Thinking

To be a conduit or tool for the spiritual

Service

Table 4. Religious and Magical Thinking

Many psychologists and anthropologists consider religious beliefs or religious thinking as a part of magical thinking. However, especially based on the above thoughts, it should be considered that perhaps it is best to see magical thinking as a subset of religious thinking. After all, religious people all over the world and across religious lines, do seek understanding and supplications from God (or spirits or gods).

The reason for focusing on magical versus religious thinking is that it may not be possible to separate magic from religion simply by action. Consider the following:

<The Oxford Handbook of the Development of Imagination, 52-53>

  1. Three runners are preparing to race. All three of them have a religious symbol (such as a cross or crucifix) on a chain around their necks. One of them wears it because he thinks it looks nice, another wears it as a symbol of his faith, and the third wears it hoping it will give him good luck. In this case, the first did not have any religious motivation for wearing the symbol. The second did it as a symbol of his faith, and perhaps as an act of worship. This is clearly religious thinking. The third may also be religious, but he was additionally wearing it as a talisman, to manipulate power/luck in his favor. This is magical thinking.

  2. Four families in Asia have a small “shrine” in their house where they place fruits in front of pictures of their ancestors. One family does it to show honor for their ancestors (not necessarily religious). Another family may do it because it is culturally appropriate (not religious). A third may do it as evidence of thanksgiving to God (or gods) for their family (religious thinking/worship). A fourth may do it to appease their ancestors and ensure that their family is not cursed (magical thinking).

A few terms are useful as it pertains to magic:

  • Contagious Magic: This is built on the idea that having a piece of something can contain the power of that thing. Wearing one’s “lucky shirt” hoping that one will have good fortune, or shaking hands with a successful person on the hope that his luck will “rub off” is contagious magic.

  • Homeopathic (or Sympathetic) Magic: Having something that looks like something else or doing something that is similar to something else is sympathetic magic. In the Old Testament period, in neighboring cultures, sex was sometimes done as part of a religious rite. By doing it, it was supposed to magically result in fertility of family and soil. Making paper products (out of Joss paper) in the shape of money or cars or other items of wealth and then burning them is used in some cultures to try to gain these items in real life.

  • Amulets and Talismans. These are charms or items often warn for magical purposes. Amulets are to protect the person from bad spiritual forces or bad luck. Talismans have an opposite purpose. They are to bring good luck or special power. Amulets and Talismans may work on homeopathic or contagious magic.

    Is magic bad? Not everyone as Christians would agree in this area. (We are not talking about illusionists or sleight of hand artists here.) Some would say that all magic is wrong. The challenge to this viewpoint is that magical thinking is, in fact, quite common in Christian circles, especially, but not limited to, Folk Christianity. Some will use a crucifix, or Bible or handkerchief or other items to seek to compel God’s blessings. Some use special prayers (incantations) to get God to do what they desire (to use God rather than to be used by God). Some try to determine the future by searching for numerical “secrets” in the Bible.

Some would argue that magic is good if the power is good (God or angels for example) or evil if the power is evil (such as Satan or devils). But is the desire to manipulate good powers better than the desire to manipulate bad powers?

Some would argue that magic is good if the goal is good (moral) or evil if the goal is evil (immoral). But does the (intended) ends justify the means… ever?

Some would argue that magic is not “real” so how could it be bad? Still, even if one doesn’t seek to answer the question of the ability to manipulate spiritual forces, magic as an action starts as a heart desire, commonly fueled by fear and uncertainty. Christian ministry should seek to replace such fear and uncertainty with something better– hopefully without replacing the magical thinking with a Christianized magical thinking.

Reminiscing With Mr. Bean

I was changing channels here in Baguio City, Philippines, when I heard a very familiar tune, the theme song of Mr. Bean… the Animated Series. This is a cartoon adaptation of the Mr. Bean character portrayed by (of course) Rowan Atkinson. Unlike the live series, the animated series has a happy tune played, incongruously, in a minor key.

When I hear the song, I am filled with dread. This happens every time, but I generally let it wash over me without a lot of thought. But today is a day when it is worth reflection.

Almost 11 years, I quit my job as a mechanical engineer. We sold our house. Our home church offered to help support, but not enough to meet our needs. We arrived in the Philippines in March 2004, and stayed for 1 week in a palatial hotel room in Manila. We felt out of place in such luxury, even though a relative was paying for it. We moved up to Baguio and stayed in a two room apartment for two weeks with all five of us squeezed into one room. We lived on ramen noodles (particularly instant bulalo). After two weeks, we moved into the seminary. We lived in a tiny space, semi-divided so that our three children could be in one tiny space separated by a sheet from the “living room” where Celia and I slept. During the day that was our tiny living space. For five Americans who lived in a 2000 sqft house on a half-acre lot, this was quite a drop in living standards. So we were living in less than 10% of living space, with 75% drop in pay, without knowing really what we were doing.

Eventually we got a TV. We had no cable and could only pick up a few local channels, most of which, were not really our form of entertainment. One show that we did like to watch that we could get was the cartoon version of Mr. Bean. Our children were young and it was something we could watch as a family. I don’t remember feeling the stress from that period except in a few situations. But when I hear the tune from Mr. Bean, the feeling of stress, depression, and uncertainty returns.

I have decided to reminisce because some of the situations are coming full circle.

  • In 2004, we were massively underfunded, drawing down our savings to survive. In 2015, we will be seriously underfunded again, unless things change. In 2016, most likely, we will have to return to the US because of lack of support.
  • In 2004, we had no cable TV and we are now disconnecting cable as a cost-saving measure.
  • In 2004, we were not sure what we will be doing as missionaries. Even though we know what we now want to do (pastoral counseling center, and seminary teaching), our situation is such that we really don’t know what the future holds.

Those are the somewhat negative side of things… but there is a positive side as well.

  • In 2004, we really had to put our trust in God— a trust that bordered on foolhardiness. So many Asian missionaries dive into missions in (nearly) hopeless situations, acting on faith.  In 2015, we need to put aside our faith in finances, and put it in God.
  • In 2004, we had to be quick to say YES to opportunities to serve. In fact, God brought us into medical missions and other things. It is easy to fall into a rut. Things in 2015 will force us to to get out of our “comfort zone” as well.
  • In 2004, we were new and could probably have benefited from missionary member care support. In 2015, we now provide missionary member care support for missionaries in Southeast Asia. However, the financial situation actually helps us understand the perspective, in some way, the deep financial problems experienced by Asian (especially Filipino) missionaries.

We are doing okay. God is with us… and I guess Mr. Bean is as well.