Monday, December 24, 2007
CHRIST IS BORN!
A Christmas Carol poem
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge -
The shepherds went their hasty way,
And found the lowly stable-shed
Where the Virgin-Mother lay:
And now they checked their eager tread,
For to the Babe, that at her bosom clung,
A Mother's song the Virgin-Mother sung.
They told her how a glorious light,
Streaming from a heavenly throng.
Around them shone, suspending night!
While sweeter than a mother's song,
Blest Angels heralded the Savior's birth,
Glory to God on high! and Peace on Earth.
She listened to the tale divine,
And closer still the Babe she pressed:
And while she cried, the Babe is mine!
The milk rushed faster to her breast:
Joy rose within her, like a summer's morn;
Peace, Peace on Earth! the Prince of Peace is born.
Thou Mother of the Prince of Peace,
Poor, simple, and of low estate!
That strife should vanish, battle cease,
O why should this thy soul elate?
Sweet Music's loudest note, the Poet's story,
Didst thou ne'er love to hear of fame and glory?
And is not War a youthful king,
A stately Hero clad in mail?
Beneath his footsteps laurels spring;
Him Earth's majestic monarchs hail
Their friends, their playmate! and his bold bright eye
Compels the maiden's love-confessing sigh.
Tell this in some more courtly scene,
To maids and youths in robes of state!
I am a woman poor and mean,
And wherefore is my soul elate.
War is a ruffian, all with guilt defiled,
That from the aged father's tears his child!
A murderous fiend, by fiends adored,
He kills the sire and starves the son;
The husband kills, and from her board
Steals all his widow's toil had won;
Plunders God's world of beauty; rends away
All safety from the night, all comfort from the day.
Then wisely is my soul elate,
That strife should vanish, battle cease:
I'm poor and of low estate,
The Mother of the Prince of Peace.
Joy rises in me, like a summer's morn:
Peace, Peace on Earth! The Prince of Peace is born!
Saturday, December 15, 2007
BOLIVIAN BISHOPS APPEAL FOR DIALOGUE
British and American Govts Warn their Citizens about Travel to Bolivia
Amidst growing tensions between the Government and the Eastern States, the Bolivian Roman Catholic Church have appealed for dialogue. The Church also pleaded that protestors avoid activities and provocative gestures which may result in violence.
AUTONOMY vs CENTRAL GOVERNMENT
Supporters of the government celebrate the approval of the new constitution of the country and eagerly await the campaign for the national referendum where the constitution will either be endorsed or rejected.
On the other hand civic leaders and elected officials from Eastern Bolivia have declared the proposed new constitution as illegal. They've come up with new statutes which gives them autonomy from the central government. These new statutes reflect the nationwide referendum which was held 3 years ago; it gave states the right of autonomous self rule. The new constitution, also mentions autonomy for the states but does not make provisions for the autonomy envisaged by the Eastern Bolivian states. This is a major source of contention, conflict and ill feeling between the central government and the leaders of Eastern Bolivia.
The central government might declare these acts of proclaiming autonomy on the part elected officials & civic leaders from Eastern Bolivia as seditious and secessionist. If a state of emergency is declared and troops are sent to arrest these leaders, then armed conflict might be possibility. God forbid such an outcome!
Cardinal Julio Terrazas and Archbishop Abastaflor (seen in the picture above), the top representatives from the Roman Church called for a press where they pleaded for all sides to avoid confrontation and violence.
Meanwhile the British and the American governments have issued travel warnings to their citizens about the security situation, or the lack of it, in Bolivia.
Bolivia in her recent history has stepped away from the brink in the midst of chaos and have always found temporary solutions which kicked the problem further down the road.
Are we at the end of the road or is there light at the end of the tunnel? Time will tell.
Bolivia is the Lord's hands! Have mercy on us oh Lord! Have Mercy!
Friday, December 14, 2007
RUBEN COSTAS, GOVERNOR OF SANTA CRUZ, WARNS GOVERNMENT AGAINST MILITARY ACTION!
excerpts of his speech captured below in a video clip
translated into English:
...we know that the government has put on alert 6300 troops. Don't provoke the people. Don't try to arrest leaders of Santa Cruz or declare a state of emergency. It will be like throwing gasoline on fire. I don't say this with belligerence. The people will never support such an action. Don't do anything stupid.
ITS GETTING TENSE IN BOLIVIA!!
Government & Regional Civic Leaders On Collision Course!!
A referendum will be held within 90 days to endorse the new constitution which was drawn up by the constitutional assembly.
4 states (3 from the East and 1 from the Valley) in rejecting the legality of the new constitution have drafted a set of new articles which give them autonomy from the central government.
The government has declared the actions by the Eastern states of Bolivia as irregular, illegal and is sending troops to take control of national institutions in Santa Cruz, the centre of dissension in the East.
In the light of a worsening situation many institutions e.g the church, business interests, civic groups etc, have banded together and rejected violence in the nation.
Monday, December 10, 2007
CONSTITUTIONAL ASSEMBLY FINISHES WORK ON A NEW BOLIVIAN CONSTITUTION
Opposition Boycott The Final Sessions and the Vote of Approval
Its done...at last!!
411 articles of the new constitution were put together and approved by the Constitutional Assembly 2 days ago. The nation will either reject or endorse the constitution through a nationwide referendum. Delegates from major opposition groups stayed away from the sessions, as a sign of protest, where the articles were voted upon.
How does the new constitution address the relationship between the states and the central government?
Well, 6 of the 9 states, from the valley and the East of Bolivia, have demanded a greater autonomy and a larger slice of the wealth generated from their respective regions. The centralizing tendencies of the current socialist government are at variance to the views of the leaders from the East and the Valleys. The new consititution supports state autonomy but not to the extent which the states have lobbied for. This will be a major flash point. Many organizations and leaders in Eastern Bolivia have already rejected the new consitution.
No one really knows what's going to happen next!
No date has been set for the referendum.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
BOLIVIA ON THE BRINK!
- President Proposes a Referendum to Break the Impasse-
The deadline for the constitutional assembly to present a new constitution to the legislative organs of the nation (and then to Bolivia in a referendum) is next week - 14th of December. The opposition has boycotted the proceedings of the assembly because of disagreements over procedures and the margin of approval of the final text. The assembly has gone ahead and is close to approving a new constitution by a simple majority and not a 2/3 majority.
The governors of 6 states, from the valley and lowlands of Bolivia, are crying foul over the president's decision to reduce their alloted budgetary expenses and the way in which the new constitution was put together in the constitutional assembly. They called for strikes and civil disobedience. The whole nation has come to a standstill and the political process has broken down.
President Evo Morales has proposed a special referendum which would give the nation an opportunity to choose between his policies and the ones put forward by the governors from the lowlands and the valleys. This is a new idea and sounds like a way out of the crisis. Some in the opposition, as a first step, however, want the work of the constitutional assembly to come to a halt. The governors are laying conditions for the referendum.
Bolivia faces an uncertain future in an environment where there are no signs of concessions or meaningful dialogue.
Pray for us!!
Monday, December 03, 2007
BOB DYLAN, SAVED
I've been a fan of Bob Dylan since I don't know when.
The man's a genius when it comes to stringing words together. His music, most of the time, is not complicated and serves as a backdrop to the lyrics or should I say his poetry.
Here he is singing, Saved
Learning Spanish In Singapore
1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Michelle and I were monolingual and not the best examples of proficiency in languages. We were unable to muster a decent conversation in our mother tongues. And so the idea of learning a new language, Spanish, a language we had never heard before, was very intimidating.
We were not gifted in languages. And so our hunt for language preparation began in Singapore. Some sense of Spanish, no matter how minimal, would help us before our arrival in Bolivia.
The existing courses were in a secular setting and expensive. I prayed for provision. Lo and behold the Lord answered in a week. Calvary Charismatic Centre, situated in New World, Jalan Bersah, sent a brochure which outlined, for the first time, a course in Spanish! I was of course thrilled.
We were staying in Tampines; the thought of changing buses and the long journey to Jalan Bersah was going to be a tiring affair. We decided to register for the course anyway.
One week before the beginning of the course, the Singapore Bus Service (SBS) started a new air conditioned service, no. 65, which took us from Tampines to Calvary Charismatic's door step! It was as if the Lord was urging us on to move ahead in faith!
Our instructor, Ruth Balch, taught us simple choruses and helped us with our pronunciation. I bought a thin black leather bound Spanish Bible from her. I remember the excitement of looking at words I had never seen before and the sense of being overwhelmed by the impending task of learning to preach and teach in a language other than English.
Compared to the 6 month inculturation/language course we took in Bolivia, the one in Singapore was a drop in the ocean. But in terms of faith building, the experience of God's provision of the course and the bus service were life changing. He does take care of the small things in our lives.
In retrospect, and this is a real irony: our inability to be proficient in our mother tongues pushed us to learn another language. We would probably be serving in ethnic based hokkien and tamil speaking congregations if we were effectively bilingual. The Lord's ways are mysterious.
Our decision to go was opening doors and removing obstacles, slowly but surely.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
MEET MARCOS LEDEZMA, HIS WIFE ANAHI & DAUGHTER ANA
BOLIVIAN MISSIONER IS TRAINED IN SINGAPORE!
The world is changing.
A Bolivian, Marcos Ledezma, gets trained in Singapore, an Asian country, with a view to mobilize the Bolivian Church toward mission be it within or outside of Bolivia.
Marcos graduated yesterday with a Bachelor of Arts in Intercultural Studies at Bethany International University after a year of study.
Marcos represents a new breed of missioners from the Global South. He, hungry to do God's will in missions, is connected to American based partners. Third world missioners face tremendous challenges in terms of finances and training. Hence the need for dynamic partnerships which bring the gospel to the unreached. Praise The Lord!!
I came to know of Marcos through a friend, Frank Teo (who also graduated with a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies). I went to Bethany and met up with him a few months ago. It was great to meet up with a Bolivian and speak Spanish in Singapore!
We hope to meet up with them on our return to Bolivia.
They leave for Santa Cruz, Bolivia on Tuesday at 11pm
Thursday, November 22, 2007
REMEMBER THE MISSION?
- Revisiting The Guarani Indians -
BACK TO THE FUTURE
I saw The Mission nearly 20 years ago at a special screening for Pastors with my wife, Michelle. She says, to this day, that the movie made her think about serving in the mission field.
We saw it again a few days ago at a stay-in cross cultural certificate course at Trinity Theological College. Kimhong Hazra the lecturer in charge of missions, was in charge of the programme. She invited us to help with a couple of sessions. The Mission was a great way to get into issues related to missions. We then added some background information to the film and highlighted themes which surfaced in the movie through a vibrant Q & A session. The students, being highly motivated adults, were serious about missions. They asked intelligent questions and made interesting comments. I thoroughly enjoyed responding to their queries and the ensuing dialogue.
A TEACHING AID
The Mission is a goldmine for anyone wishing to wrestle with issues related to, inculturation, history of missions, church & state, the limits of obedience to ecclesiastical authority, the use of violence etc. The story line, inspired by historical events, is about an imperial/ecclesiastical power play which caused the Guarani Indians to lose ownership of their settlements and churches to the imperial powers. The Jesuits, the original missioners to Guarani, were also asked to leave. Some of them, according to the movie, took up arms against the Spanish army.
The movie, although beautifully made, has its biases. It leans to the left politically. The romantic portrayal of the Guarani does nothing to dispel the myth of the noble savage.
VISTING THE GUARANI
When I first saw The Mission 20 years ago, the Guarani tribe were bit of mystery. It has been my priviledge to meet and know the Guarani in rural areas surrounding Santa Cruz, Bolivia. They are fun loving and a hospitable people. Many of them have migrated to the towns to look for jobs and a better future. The auxillary bishop of Paraguay speaks fluent Guarani. This year we were part of a team that went to provide food, medicine and blankets to flood stricken Guarani based communities. There is a strong vibrant christian testimony amongst the Guarani, especially in Paraguay.
Praise The Lord!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
WHO REALLY BENEFITS FROM THE MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE?
The Sender I’d Say
I’ve heard missionaries say, including myself, on more than one occasion, “We’ve received far more from our work experience in the field than what we’ve given”. The Lord uses the ones we serve to bless us in more ways than one.
Bolivia has changed my wife and I profoundly, for the better I hope. At the cost of sounding overly romantic about Bolivians and their situation, I’d say that their courage and drive to not only survive but to try and get ahead in seemingly impossible situations has touched us deeply, on several levels. We're not only more respectful of other cultures & religions but also more passionate about evangelism.
This might sound radical but maybe the point of missions is to change the missioner and the church which sent him or her.
Peter in Acts 10 was sent by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to Cornelius, a Gentile God fearer. The Holy Spirit has already prepared Cornelius and his family to receive Christ. And while Peter is explaining the gospel, the Holy Spirit gets on with job of filling Cornelius. Peter is stunned; it’s a huge learning experience for Peter. Gentiles were going to be a part of God’s people, like it or not. God sent Peter to Cornelius’s home to broaden his understanding of the chosen people to include the Gentiles. Peter then uses his learning experience to instruct the Jerusalem church to not only edify the church but to also open its doors to the Gentiles in Acts 11 & 15.
Missionary Experiences As A Resource
Here’s another example. The Church in Jerusalem sends Barnabas to help and ratify the goings on in the first recorded Gentile church at Antioch in Acts 11. And of course it’s the Jerusalem church that gets blessed from the younger church. The Church at Antioch raise an offering for the folk in Judea during a drought.
Missionary experiences in the field are an important teaching resource for sending churches. Are we using them?
Sunday, November 04, 2007
A $1000 million dollars?
A local Bolivian newspaper, El Deber 4 November 2007, has some interesting statistics on emigration.
2.5 million Bolivians have left the country and reside overseas. Last year they sent $1,000 million dollars to loved ones, business interests and friends IN Bolivia. That's an amazing statistic!! $1000 million dollars sounds bloated. I'm not an expert on these matters so I'm letting the figure stand until the paper makes a correction.
An article, NY Times 19 October 2006, claimed that Latin American immigrants in the US sent 45 billion dollars back home.
These statistics sorta explain why politicians are'nt exactly discouraging their people from leaving and finding jobs elsewhere.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The Soldiers at the Battle of Boquerón 1932
We go back in time to recognize Bolivia's heroes.
The Bolivian and Paraguayan armies were locked in a war in the early 1930's which did neither country any good. They squabbled over land rights and petroleum. One of the famous battles in the war was fought at a garrison in a place called Boquerón. The Bolivian soldiers were outnumbered 20 to 1 in an epic 3 week siege. Many died. The rest only surrendered when their food, ammunition, and water supplies were exhausted. It may have been wiser to organize a tactical retreat in the face of overwhelming odds. Perhaps they needed to buy time for other divisions to regroup. Military historians will have to sort that one out. The Bolivian soldiers perservered and fought to the end. The Paraguayans, amazed at the fighting spirit of the Bolivians, paid tribute to their bravery.
Bolivian soldiers stayed, fought and died in Boquerón. Did they die in vain? That's not the point, especially for those who lost their lives. True bravery does not weigh the pros and the cons of a particular course of action nor does it measure the pragmatic gains of one's sacrifice. Bravery is the immeasurable moral strength to to fight and struggle against overwhelming odds.
Those brave soldiers at Boquerón are my Bolivian heroes.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
THE LEADERSHIP SECRETS OF BILLY GRAHAM, Harold Myra & Marshall Shelley Zondervan 2005
A salesman, noticing my interest in this book, challenged me:
" If you're not satisfied with the book, I will refund your money "
I've just finished reading the Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham and have no intention to demand a refund.
The anecdotes, principles and insights in this work by Myra and Shelly shed light on Billy Graham more as a leader/manager than an evangelist. This is the first attempt by anyone to analyse the leadership of Graham. At times it tends to cheer lead Graham's virtues but then again Billy Graham is a godly man who deserves our respect. His ability to steer his organization in the turbulent 60's is worth a read. Its not easy to maintain one's constituency and incorporate what God is doing in other movements which don't share one's core values. For instance, Martin Luther King and Billy Graham did not work together but they affirmed each other's core message.
There are also fascinating stories and anecdotes of rejection from his ex fiancee, his responses to interviewers who tried to corner him on homosexuality and Christian- Muslim relations after 9/11. Billy Graham's grace and statesman like behaviour is an inspiration to us all.
There are 21 chapters spread out in six parts. I personally enjoyed reading parts 4 and 6 - Growing through Fire and Ice and Deepening in every Decade. The chapter on Innovation wrestles with the tension between relevance and tradition. One of the best chapters, Leading with Love, closes the book. The story of Billy and Ruth Graham's contribution to Jim Bakker's restoration in the ministry is a good example of the love that characterises Graham's life and ministry.
God bless Billy Graham and his witness!!
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The Ongoing Story of How We Were Led to Serve in Bolivia
The news began to spread about my wanting to go to Bolivia. Most of the responses were a mixed bag of encouragement, discouragement, puzzlement and doubt.
My father was the most supportive.
Where is Bolivia? Is this what you really want to do? Are you sure? How about Elijah? My mother, like all mothers, was interested in the details and fearful for the welfare of her son’s family.
Some relatives on Michelle’s side, not unlike my brother, thought I was making a mistake. Bolivia, like most South American countries, was not reputed for its stability and security. Elijah’s safety and future was on top of everyone’s minds, especially both his grandmothers.
A few of my friends kept a straight face and promised me their prayers and support. I could sense however that everyone was on a wait-and-see mode. Sending missionaries to South America seemed beyond the reach of the Singapore Church in more ways than one. Some were very concerned for my well being; they were under the impression that Bishop Moses had somehow twisted my arm to consider Bolivia.
I remember one clergyman telling me that he would, with my consent, talk to Moses about not forcing this Bolivian thing onto me. My attempts at clarifying matters did not register with him. On a positive note, these reactions were a sign that people were beginning to take the idea of going to Bolivia seriously.
ALL SAINTS ENGLISH CONGREGATION
My major concern was for the congregation I was pastoring, All Saints English Congregation. Again the response was mixed. Some were happy for me to go. Others were not keen on losing their pastor. All Saints were accustomed to short pastorates. At that point I was their longest serving pastor; I was there for only 4 years! One member told me with a sigh, I thought you’d be staying on for a longer period to help us build the church. Leaving a congregation involves a measure of grief. You lose contact with people you care for and vice versa. The passage of time however puts matters into perspective and we move on.
Going public about my intentions had stirred reactions, both expected and unexpected. These were instructive experiences which taught me to cast all my concerns and cares on the altar.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
"I was near to quitting the ministry...a three week retreat in Sisterhood of Mary, Darmstadt rescued me"
SO HOW DID YOU GET INTO BLOGGING?
I first heard about blogging through what the youths in church were doing and from reports in the newspapers. I pondered about blogging for quite some time before I finally took the plunge. The Lord had earlier been talking to me about taking risks, crossing frontiers and stepping out into the unknown. So I saw blogging as an invitation from the Lord to venture into the new territory of blogosphere. What a wonderful journey it has been!
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BLOG?
Initially it was to influence the church youths. Then it took on a life of its own and I found myself gifted with a wider invisible audience in blogosphere. I found myself having all kinds of thoughts, ideas, opinions germinating in my mind, even during odd times of the day, like seeds cast without regard, but on a ready soil, and wanting to sprout out into cyberspace. In short, to change the metaphor, my mind gets fired up, and my fingers start moving - thats why I blog. Having said that, interacting with folks in the blogging community and having feedback that people have been blessed or were just visiting also fans the fire inside.
WHO INFLUENCED IN YOUR GROWTH AS A CHRISTIAN LEADER?
They were mostly pastors: P.J. Johney, my predecessor; Norman Wong my current mentor. Friends like Raphael Samuel, Vincent Hoon, Kenny Fan, My wife Jenny (I'm not trying to be politically correct). More recently: James Creasman and the focusing leadership network.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON CHRISTIAN LEADERS WHO SUPPORT HOMOSEXUALITY?
Some of them are missionals like commandoes behind enemy lines and may have been misquoted or misunderstood. But for Christian leaders to believe homosexual behavior is not a sin, and to approve of ordination of practising gays, and same-sex marriages just confuses the church and its witness as salt and light to the world. It makes you want to go on your knees to pray or take out the whips like Jesus in the temple, or both.
THE MOST DIFFICULT MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?
When my wife contracted unknown hepatitis during her late pregnancy with twins; and when they were all in the ICU with their lives at risk. But the Lord was gracious and intervened.
The next most difficult moment was when I was near to quitting the ministry as the church was going through a sad decline in the late 1980's. A three week retreat in Sisterhood of Mary, Darmstadt rescued me.
AND THE MOST SATISFYING?
As a pastor the most satisfying thing would be to see lost people saved and transformed into a community of Christ-followers. As a father and husband, to have a loving family that is faithful to the Lord. As a person, to see myself growing in Christ and having the privilege of being used by God more and more effectively.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Uruguay Crush Bolivia 5-0 In World Cup Qualifier
An absolute tragedy!
Bolivia played badly in Montevideo, Uruguay and were beaten soundly by 5 goals in their first game of the South American World Cup preliminary qualifying group. Losing by one or two goals would have been easy to swallow - but 5 goals!
I was expecting a better performance.
The Bolivian team, under a new coach, showed lots of promise in some of the earlier tournaments and previous games. I was hoping that perhaps we could qualify for the World Cup Finals which will be held in South Africa.
There is still a long way to go in this competition. Bolivia could still qualify if they accumulate the necessary points from the rest of the games. The psychological setback of this mauling however may be too much of a barrier to overcome.
Soccer is probably the only national activity which unites Bolivia. A good showing in the opening game would have given us something to cheer about as a nation.
Ah well...maybe next time
Monday, October 08, 2007
WAS CHE GUEVARA A HERO?
CELEBRATING THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF CHE'S DEATH
Che is a demi-god to left wing revolutionaries and utopian dreamers. Hordes of activists, especially from the left of the political spectrum, are now in Vallegrande, Bolivia, hoping to channel revolutionary fervor from memories of Che's heroism into their agenda for Bolivia. Che was cornered, captured and killed by the Bolivian military in Vallegrande. They've even erected a shrine to honor the place where he was shot. Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia is an avowed socialist. He and his followers have not been shy of invoking Che's mystic in their actions and speeches.HIS DETRACTORS
Hard nosed right wing conservatives would of course view him as an idealistic and foolish trouble maker who got his just deserts. Gary Prado, the military officer credited with Che's capture, laments the fact that he and his soldiers are not given sufficient appreciation or recognition from the government for hunting down a criminal whose aim was to start a revolution and shatter the Bolivian social fabric.A POSER
Included in this post are photos of Che's capture and his dead body. The whole episode of Che trying to start a South American marxist revolution from the jungles of Bolivia sounds like the beginning of a Shakespearan tragedy. The Bolivian peasant did not respond to Che's efforts nor were the alienation of the poor a fertile ground for his message. Che died a broken man. But was it a heroic death? Utopian revolutionaries seem to think so.
What do you think?
Friday, October 05, 2007
He says the food is great. He's made lots of friends in his platoon. Many are Singaporeans like him who've studied overseas. Some of are christians; one of them is planning to take them all to his youth service this Saturday.
Elijah faces the full brunt of a highly regimented spartan lifestyle in national service. We are possibly the only country in the world where young men are asked to do a 2 year army stint.
Continue to pray for Elijah's well being: discipline of his daily devotions, fellowship with committed christian friends, alertness, strength and a positive atitude.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
A FEELING OF TREPIDATION
Yes, Rev Samuel you can go in now, Bishop Moses Tay’s secretary ushered me into his office.
Bishop Moses' office was simple without frills. I stepped into the office and sat on the visitor’s sofa with some trepidation. How was he going to react to my interest to serve in Latin America?I had never shared with Moses my interest or desire to serve in Latin America. Bishops in general are also wary of letting their clergy go on mission stints to unknown and distant places. A part of me however knew that the time was right. Moses in allowing Blaxland to share openly about Bolivia gave me the impression that he would not be against the idea of one his clergy showing interest. At least he would pray with me over the matter, I thought.
MEETING WITH BISHOP MOSES
I sat down, faced the Bishop and spoke to him about my reaction to Greg Blaxland's sharing at the Tuesday clergy meeting. And then I told him flat out about my desire to explore the possibility of serving in Bolivia. It took me only about 3 minutes to tell him what I had wanted to say. I was expecting a barrage of questions and comments.
His smile caught me of guard:
Well that’s great Raphael…Cynthia and I are going to Bolivia soon to see the place…It would be good if you could come with us…Would Michelle be able to go also...probably not…She'd have to take care of your son...Elijah is still a baby isn’t he?
His response was totally unexpected. Going to Bolivia on a exploratory trip was totally unexpected. The most I was expecting was an invitation to pray with him over the matter.
I just smiled and didn’t quite know what to say in reply.
I left the office happy, excited and dazed. It was like getting baptized in the Spirit and being born again all rolled into one.
BUYING A DICTIONARY
Strangely enough my first act was to not inform Michelle but to go to MPH bookstore along Coleman Street and buy a Spanish – English/English - Spanish dictionary. It must have been the Holy Spirit. A deep sense of wanting to master Spanish flooded my heart. I found a dictionary and bought it quickly. Deep down inside I knew that learning Spanish was going to be top priority. I remember clutching it close to my chest as I left the bookstore in a hurry.
Michelle looked excited and surprised as I shared with her my experience with Bishop Moses. The door was opening…slowly… but it was opening.
The time to go public about my intentions and sense of calling to South America to family, friends and church leaders had come. How would they react? Were they supportive of my intention to go to Bolivia? Check out the next post.
Monday, October 01, 2007
A PRAYER FOR MYANMAR
Heavenly Father, we pray for the Church leadership in Myanmar.
Grant great wisdom and courage to Pastors, Bishops and Lay Leaders as they serve your flock in these times of uncertainty and violence. Strengthen their hearts in this hour of testing.
Help them find words to counter foolishness and rebellion. Stir within them the discernment necessary to distinguish between discretion and cowardice. Fill them with you Holy Spirit as they call Myanmar to repentance with your precious Word.
Merciful Father, only you can save Myanmar. Stretch out your hand; it is never shortened to save. Expose the vanity of men in their rejection of your salvation. Bring confusion to their wicked schemes. Mercifully intervene and save this nation. Open the Red Sea. And let Myanmar see Oh Lord your salvation in this land.
In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen!
Friday, September 28, 2007
THE TOM WADDELL INTERVIEW
Tom and Linda Waddell worked in the Bolivian Diocese for a couple of years as SAMS missionaries, before moving on. They helped us understand the importance of building communities through self help and micro enterprise programmes.
Tom introduced me to the issue of development in missions and got me into the writings of William Easterly. I miss his fellowship in Bolivia. He agreed to do an interview with the Bolivian Beat and so here it is:
1. WHEN & HOW DID YOU BECOME A CHRISTIAN ?
I finally yielded to the “Hound of Heaven” in June 1968 at the age of 23. I had been considering the Christian faith for some time, trying to reconcile what I understood Christianity to be and my training in science. I was sitting in at a youth conference when I was struck by the text: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. Let no man come to the Father except through me.” My eyes and heart were opened. I dedicated my life to Christ. And my life has not been the same since.
2. WHO INFLUENCED YOU IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST? WAS THERE A BOOK WHICH MADE A IMPACT ON YOU?
I was particularly influenced by the work of L’Abri, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer. An individual who had studied there walked along side me as I asked questions and pondered the Christian faith with its implications. The books of Francis Schaeffer (e.g. The God Who is There & Escape from Reason) and C.S. Lewis, especially Mere Christianity, were very influential in shaping my understanding and thinking.
3. WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN DEVELOPMENT? WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO SERVE IN THIS AREA?
While pursuing a M.Div. degree in seminary, I took a class in Biblical Anthropology and Missions. In doing research for a paper, I came across literature in the emerging area of Christian Relief and Development. The more I read and studied, the more my heart was drawn to undertaking some sort of ministry in this area. It was only then that I saw how God was weaving together my background in economics and business with theology in preparing me for a holistic ministry (word and deed) to the poor.
God’s compassion for the poor and disenfranchised continues to drive my motivation to help make a difference in building the Kingdom of God.
4. HOW DOES ONE BREAK THE CYCLE OF DEPENDANCY BETWEEN THE DONOR AND RECIPIENT?
This is a very challenging question. Donors first need to see themselves as partners and then understand better the nature of poverty and what it means to be poor, especially the notion of “poverty of being” that typically characterizes the poor. We need to be wiser in how to share our resources. The poor do not want handouts; they want skills and opportunity.
We need to work harder to uncover and harness the gifts the poor bring to the table and seek to build capacity and self-sufficiency. Thus, we need to have the poor participate in any development efforts, not simply be the recipients. We need to understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy dependency.
5. YOU RECOVERED BY GOD'S GRACE FROM A MAJOR HEART SURGERY EARLY THIS YEAR. WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
I learned to think twice before praying: Create in me a clean heart, O God! But really, such an experience reinforced the sense of fragility that characterizes each of our lives. In the final analysis, I was reminded that I am dependent on God for the gift of life each new day and for every breath he allows me to take. It also reminded me about the importance of redeeming whatever time God has provided for me. While I was very much at peace about the possibility of going to be with the Lord in heaven, I am grateful for another season to work in his vineyard.
Thank you Tom for this interview!!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Words and photos don't do justice to the scenic beauty of Bolivia.
The Noel Kempf park is witness to the Lord's aesthetic and creative attributes. Natural beauty can sometimes bring one to their knees in worship. Bolivia, for many reasons, has not exploited fully the tremendous potential of attracting tourists and nature lovers to visit and explore places like the Noel Kempf park.
This photo was taken from El Deber, 27/09/07
Sunday, September 23, 2007
SHOULD PREACHERS CITE THEIR SOURCES?
I went to a traditional mega church for Sunday service. The rain did not douse my enthusiasm for wanting to go. My wife and I jumped into a taxi and made our way to the church.
It was stewardship Sunday. I was impressed by the flow of the service. The sermon and the challenge to give by faith was tastefully done. There was no heavy sell and the congregation were not manipulated or forced to give. The amount raised, a cool six figures, was staggering!
But what left me uncomfortable was the absence of citations in the sermon. Half the content was lifted from a secular book. The same phrases and words were used. Even the title of the book coincided with the title of the sermon!
What's the problem in not citing the source of a major insight in one's sermon. Not doing so is plagiarism. And besides, doesn't citing a source give the impression to the congregation that the sermon is well researched?
Inspite of this lapse, the message was edifying: persevere in all the little things which eventually tip the Lord's blessing toward us. A meatier biblical content would have given the message a bigger punch.
I'm a little puzzled as to why the source was not cited during the preaching.
Is this a common practice in Singapore churches?
Saturday, September 22, 2007
GOING TO BOLIVIA 7
Going To Bolivia 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5, 6
A BOLIVIAN MACEDONIAN CALL
In my last post I recounted my experience at a Tuesday clergy meeting at St Andrew's Cathedral where the national director, Rev Greg Blaxland, of the Anglican Church in Bolivia shared the needs of the fledgling work. He also made a passionate appeal to those present about the possibility of serving in Bolivia.
Was Greg Blaxland's appeal an open door? this was like an unexpected answer to prayer! Light had broken through the grey clouds of ambiguity which had bogged me down for the past year.
I left the Cathedral and headed for home. Michelle, my wife and faithful friend, needed to brought into this discernment process. She would need time to assimilate this unexpected development.
As expected, Michelle looked dumbfounded as I shared my experience at the clergy meeting. She had already sensed that the Lord was going to move us but was not expecting something of this magnitude. We talked at great length about our lives and the future. The conversation flowed freely. She had many questions about Elijah’s well being and his education. She was interested in the details. I had none to offer except this overwhelming sense of the need to answer God’s call to serve somewhere in Latin America.
A SPECIAL PEACE
We did not even know where Bolivia was on the map! We took a short 1 hour break and continued to talk about the implications of a decision to move to Latin America. It was getting late, way past our normal bedtime.
We were both, lying on the bed, and wide awake – thinking, praying and meditating. At 2 am in the morning, Michelle, turned toward me in the bed, looked me in the eye and said with faith, Maybe God has called us to Bolivia. I will never forget her remark because it was made in humility, like the offering of the widow’s mite. The atmosphere in the bedroom suddenly changed. It was as if we had crossed some sort of a spiritual boundary. There was nothing more to say or do. The Lord’s hand was over us over us. The only thing left to do was to get some rest.
Just before I went to sleep…my mind alerted me to the next step: sharing with Bishop Moses Tay about this sense of calling to Bolivia. I needed to rest and not think too much about what to say to him or his reaction...A part of me was anxious about this inevitable encounter (read the next post to find out why).
Sunday, September 16, 2007
by Terry Anderson
Today I preached at St Andrew's Cathedral and shared the Eucharist with God's people. The eucharist, a sacred meal, instituted by Christ, is a living testimony of Christ's covenant keeping love for His people.
To help us appreciate the significance of the eucharist I've chosen a poem by Terry Anderson which is a meditation of believers anxiously gathering around a priest as he consecrates the elements of bread and wine within an oppressive situation.
Five men huddled close
against the night and our oppressors,
around a bit of stale bread
hoarded from a scantly meal,
and a candle, lit not only as
a symbol but to read the text by.
The priest's as poorly clad.
as drawn with strain as any,
but his voice is calm, his face serene.
This is the core of his existence,
the reason he was born.
Behind him I can see
his predecessors in their generations,
back to the catacombs,
heads nodding in approval,
hands with his tracing
out the stately ritual,
adding the power of their suffering
and faith to his, and ours.
the ancient words shake off
their dust, and come alive.
The voices of their authors
echo clearly from the damp, bare walls.
The familiar prayers come
straight out of our hearts.
Once again Christ's promise
is fulfilled; his presence fills us.
The miracle is real.
Monday, September 10, 2007
ALLAN GARDINER - MISSIONER, SAILOR & MARTYR (1794-1851)
WHO IS ALLAN GARDINER?
Many of us, within the Asian mission fraternity, have never heard of Allan Gardiner. We are familiar with Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Robert Morrison, Mateo Ricci, Sadhu Sundar Singh etcc..
Allan Gardiner, was founder of the Anglican mission society South American Mission Society. He, a naval captain, travelled to Asia and Africa. His passion was to see the gospel proclaimed to the indigenous people of South America.
INSPIRATIONAL LAST WORDS
He died tragically on the coast of the Tierra Del Fuego, the tip of South America in his attempt to reach the Yagan Indians with the gospel. The ship which brought him to South American coast was destroyed by bad weather. He and his friends scrambled to the beach and were left stranded in a hostile environment. The Yagan indians, the people Gardiner was trying to reach, attacked them. Gardiner and his team, weakened by hunger and cold weather, finally died.
He kept a diary of his last days; here are some words from a letter he penned, just before he died, to his family:
If a wish was given to me for the good of my neighbor it would be that the Mission inTierra Del Fuego be pursued with vigor. Butt he Lord will direct and do everything because time and reason are His, your hearts are in His hands...".
Gardiner was an amazing man. His ability to bounce back from rejection, especially in Africa and Britain is inspirational. He, not unlike the apostle Paul and other missionary heroes, had the mysterious grace to derive energy from opposition, hardship and rejection.
He did not attract much attention nor garner much support in his attempts to proclaim the gospel in South America. His death however sent shockwaves in Britain as people gathered around the cause of sending missionaries to South America.
Allan Gardiner's death raised the profile of the South American Mission Society (SAMS) and gave it an impetus it never had while he was alive. He was a martyr in the fullest sense of the word. It is my priviledge to share his story and connect him to the Church in Asia through this blog and sermons.
His sacrifice prepared the way for many to serve in Latin America, including me. His death was not in vain. And for that we praise the Lord!!
Sunday, September 09, 2007
It was a busy Sunday.
I preached at 4 services - 3 at St James and 1 at St Andrew's Cathedral.
St James are focusing on Missions for the month of September. So I chose the episode of Christ crossing the lake over to the Gerasenes, a predominantly gentile region. Jews and Gentiles were'nt exactly bosom buddies in those days. And by crossing the lake, Jesus was signalling His intention to reach out to the nations. This episode has all the components of a no holds barred evangelistic campaign. The calming of the storm, a powerful act of deliverance and rejection from the locals are some of the incidents of this episode. The recognition of something of the divine in Christ on the part of the demons, the disciples and the man freed from satanic oppression testify to the power of proclamation!!
In the evening, I preached on the first chapter of Jonah in the NEW LIFE service at St Andrew's Cathedral. The missionary significance of this marvellous short story and the conversion of pagan mariners speaks powerfully of God's love reaching the nations.
ANOTHER SINGAPOREAN GOES TO BOLIVIA!
Meet Gerald Lim. He's at the centre of the photo on your right.
He's from Yio Chu Kang Chapel (Brethren). Gerald will be working with another Singaporean missionary, Mr Loh Hoe Peng, in Cochabamba.
Last week friends, well wishers and church members were at Changi airport to see him off.
I am of course thrilled with Gerald's desire to serve in Bolivia.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
SAMUEL DORIA MEDINA & BURGER KING
NO...this is not a Burger King sponsored post!
Samuel Doria Medina is a Bolivian hero because his business interests have by and large benefitted Bolivia. He owns a cement company and holds the Burger King franchise in Bolivia. Several years ago he was kidnapped by terrorists but was released. His decision to stay on in Bolivia and build his business interests are noteworthy. Local businessmen and entrepreuners, when not corrupt and self seeking, are a blessing to the community. They provide jobs and a sense of security for the average BolivianBurger King's staying power in Bolivia is worth a plug in contrast to another famous worldwide burger chain. This burger chain descended on Bolivia about 5 years ago amidst lots of fanfare and publicity. They opened up retail outlets in major Bolivian cities. Massive crowds and long queues clogged up these outlets in the first few weeks of operation. After nearly 3 years, they felt they were not making enough profits and decided to pull out completely from Bolivia. Kids started a signature campaign in attempt to make this burger chain say. They went ahead, sold all their belongings, packed their bags and left.
Burger King however stayed on. This speaks volumes of their commitment to Bolivia's economy and its communities. Samuel's leadership is behind Burger King's continued presence in Bolivia. And that's why Samuel Doria Medina is a Bolivian hero.
Monday, September 03, 2007
Going To Bolivia 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5
CONTEMPLATING A BIG STEP
1991 was a turning point.
My time in All Saints as Pastor was coming an end. Although I was their longest serving pastor, I knew that the Lord was leading me to another part of the vineyard. He was giving me insights and thoughts which were related to God’s wider plan for Michelle, Elijah and I.
The next step, I sensed would probably involve me leaving Singapore. Was the Lord asking me to pursue theological studies overseas? The only other unexplored dimension was a calling to serve Him in Latin America. And that sounded like a pie-in-the-sky idea. My personal conviction of remaining in the Anglican Church had also not waned. All these thoughts were bumping into on another in my heart. Integrating them on a human level seemed an impossible task. I felt overwhelmed. Thinking about these matters was frustrating because there seemed to be no visible opportunities or clear signs to chart a new course. What on earth was He up to? It can be quite stressful to understand the Lord’s ways!
THE BIG STEP FINALLY REVEALED
I went to a Tuesday clergy meeting in May 1991, burdened by weight of figuring out the Lord’s will for myself. We met at the South Transept in St Andrew’s Cathedral. I took a seat near Bishop Moses Tay. A Caucasian man was seated on his right. He turned out to be Rev Greg Blaxland, the national director of the Anglican work in Bolivia. Sy Rogers, a counselor trained in the area of homosexual reparative therapy was the other guest. Sy was the first to share and he did an interesting presentation on homosexuality from a Christian perspective response.
Greg Blaxland’s sharing was simple, short and straight forward. He talked at length about Bolivia and its challenges. His comments about Bolivian self esteem spoke to pastoral heart. Bolivia had lost most of its wars and gave up huge tracts of land to neighboring countries. Greg closed his sharing with a Macedonian call for help. Bolivia needed trained clergy to serve as missionaries in Bolivia. He looked at us earnestly and then placed a stack of calling cards at the edge of the table. We were invited to take his card at the end of the meeting and speak to him. In all my years of attending clergy meetings, this was probably the first time someone made an appeal to the clergy to pursue a missionary calling.
Joy In My Heart
Greg’s words made my mind swirl and heart beat faster. I was overwhelmed and excited; it was as if an invitation had been extended to board the train of the Lord's eternal purpose. Although I was caught totally off guard by Blaxland's appeal I knew the door to Latin America was beginning to open ever so slowly. It was tempting to speak to Greg and take his greeting card. I felt however that it was still premature to go public; Michelle, my wife, needed to be filled in first.
The clergy meeting ended at about 11 .15 am. I wanted to leave quickly, go home and start sharing with Michelle.
I left the Cathedral with joy in my heart.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
SHOULD KOREAN CHURCHES STOP ALL MISSIONARY ACTIVITIES IN
Press reports have not been charitable to the Korean hostages; the Korean church has also come under criticism. Questions are being asked:
Why did they expose themselves to danger?
Why did they put their nation and loved ones through so much anxiety?
Why did their government have to put up a ransom for their release (in doing so they only encouraged their captors to repeat their actions!)?
Are Korean churches competing amongst themselves over the quantity of members in missionary teams?
Were some team members not honest with their loved ones concerning their involvement in this missionary team?
Answers to these questions will no doubt provoke comments, accusations and a wide variety of opinions.
There was one report which suggested the departure of all Korean missionaries from Afghanistan as part of a deal which was reached between the Taliban and the negotiators.
Perhaps the Korean Church needs to evaluate their mission strategies and philosophy, especially in high risk areas like Afghanistan. If necessary a temporary halt of missionary activity might be prudent at this point.
Abandoning mission work completely in these high risk areas however is a grave mistake. To do so would be to devalue the martyrdom of the two hostages. They were brave men who gave up their lives for the sake of the gospel. We cannot but obey the great commission even if it means the risk of death or the loss of life. Paul's missionary journeys were fraught with danger. Are we to expect easier treatment from the enemy?
CORRECT ERRORS IN HUMILITY AND MOVE ON
To the brethren in Korea I say: humble yourselves, do some soul searching in the light of God's word and learn from the mistakes. You will come out this experience wiser and stronger in the Lord.
And one more observation: the villains in this episode were NOT the Korean missionary team but the Taliban. They are the ones who kidnap innocent people and murder the defenceless whose only "offense" is to improve the well being of the ordinary Afghan.
The missionary impetus of the Korean Churches to reach the lost is an inspiration to all of us, especially in the Asian Church.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
RE-VISTING LIBERATION THEOLOGY
A Theology Of Liberation, Gustavo Gutierrez Orbis books 1973; revised edition 1988
PAST BAGGAGE & LIBERATION THEOLOGY
Liberation theology, in certain circles is viewed with some suspicion. Nearly 20 years ago, a few Roman Catholic church activists in Singapore under the influence of Liberation theology, together with some left leaning sympathisers from opposition political parties were detained under the internal security act. The detainees were released gradually. A couple of months ago, The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper, tried to interview those who were involved in this controversy, for the purpose of running a story to refresh our collective memories. There were no takers. Some wounds require a long time to heal.
And so with interest, I responded positively to the invitation, by the Professor of Missions, KimYong Hazra, Trinity Theological College, to share with some students on the topic, Liberation Theology from a Singapore Perspective.
APPRECIATING LIBERATION THEOLOGY
I met a few liberation activists in Bolivia, especially at the Maryknoll Fathers Language Institute, where I studied Spanish with my wife. The ones I got to know impressed me with their compassion for the poor. Although I don't share most of their theological assumptions, my experience in Bolivia however has helped me appreciate and respect some of the impulses which drive liberation theology.
I re-read Gustavo Gutierrez's classic, A Theology of Liberation, in preparation for my work with the students. His insights represent many years of work with the poor. The use of the Exodus event, the liberation of Israel from its oppression in Egypt, as a paradigm for liberation speaks powerfully to the Latin American situation. The other biblical idea of great interest is the reflection of salvation history as being unified through the aspirations of the oppressed. A reading of Luke's gospel provides the basis for such an assertion. Gutierrez's passion and commitment to see reality in terms of conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed is understandable given the grinding poverty which characterizes his environment. The liberation movement also arose in a context where social activists were victimised by right wing dictatorial figures, especially in the 1970's.
Gutierrez's challenge to identify with the poor is not an ivy league rumination but a prophetic meditation from the heart of pastor. His passion is understandable. I could not help but refer constantly to my experiences in Bolivia with the poor as I read his book.
WEAKNESSES OF LIBERATION THEOLOGY
Liberation theology has its flaws. Although Gutierrez tries to convey a holistic view of liberation, which includes spiritual and transcendant categories, his intentional bias toward socialism and a heavy reliance of marxist analysis/terminology make it easy for revolutionary ideologues to hijack liberation activism. And this has happened in Latin America and elsewhere.
Liberation theology many a time reduces salvation to improvements in economic conditions. Salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification. None of these basic doctrines are worked through in the Liberation hermeneutic. An exclusive reading of history through the lens of an Oppressor vs Oppressed dynamic does not represent the fullness of the Biblical narrative. Injustice is one reason and in some places maybe the primary reason for poverty. There are other reasons, cultural values being one of them, which drive poverty. Also, agitation and triumphing over injustice does not alleviate the poor from oppression instantly. There is also the challenge of wealth creation and the establishment of right structures which provide long term solutions for the poor.
EMPOWERING LOCAL LEADERSHIP
Liberation begins from within renewed hearts and spills out into the family and the society at large. This has been the strategy of evangelical and charismatic groups. Liberation, in the long run, would depend on empowered hearts set aflame for Christ. Inner liberation and dealing with oppressive structures are not contradictory but parts of a whole. This is why I identify strongly with Gutierrez's passion to empower local people. He says:
In order to for liberation to be authentic and complete, it has to be undertaken by the oppressed people themselves and so must stem from the values proper to these people.
Recieving foreign aid or assistance for long stretches of time is a recipe for a disaster. It creates a mentality of dependance and robs local communities of their God given integrity and dignity. Liberation theology brings this valuable gift of self-reliance to the table.
And surely we can say amen to this!
(the cover of the book is a photo of a sculpture done by Edilberto Merida)
Folk in Santa Cruz queue up to stock up in anticipation of the strike against the government's unwillingess to cede to claims made by representatives from 6 states in the Constitutional Assembly. This is 2/3 of the country! At stake is the legitimacy of a new constitution which has yet to surface. The government is moving ahead with its plans to present a new constitution to the populace at a referendum. And leaders from the 6 states suspect that the governments porposals will be inimical to their interests.
The deadline for the Assembly to present the new constitution to the people has been extended to November.