Friday, October 21, 2011


Sometime in 2010, when I was new on Facebook, I received a message from a young woman from the Philippines asking me if I would write a short message on Repairing our Broken Vows for the couples in her church. You see, she and a group of other young people organized a couples-night for church members at JCF Buyagan. Soon I heard the result—it had been a triumphant success; the young people were happy they were able to help in rekindling the fire in couples’ relationship. Excited to be a part of the couples-night, giving a message from a distant shore, I began to write my message. (This blog post is a revised and expanded version of message I sent to her).

As I write this note, I think about the family of a young pastor I visited sometime ago who had been going through turbulent times of marital problems. In his 7th year of marriage, his marital vow‘...for better or for worse...’  is like a cord that is now broken and needs some repairing; his marriage vow—till death do us part—is like a painting that is fading under the scorching noon-day sun of trials, and yes, it needs renewing.  He left his home and church for months; with only infrequent visit to see his daughter and son, ages four and two. I set an appointment with him in a restaurant to talk about his problem. At the course of our conversation, there was no indication he would want to go back to his family; he was pondering seriously the route of divorce. I tried to listen attentively as I eat my noodles or sip my iced-coffee with milk occasionally. “There is no way this marriage can be repaired,” he said. “If you want to make this marriage work,” I replied, “you’ve got to make a deliberate choice and commitment.” I refrained from giving too much advice, except pleading him to return to his family and start a new commitment to love his wife. After we prayed, we parted ways. Saddened by the pastor’s situation, I took a moto-taxi and drove home wondering why such a thing would ever happen to a nice person—it could have been prevented—I thought, could it be?

After that meeting, my hope was high, however; surely, he would, one day, return to his family. He was once a good student; in a million years, I would not have thought of him leaving his family. In my preaching class years ago, he won the best preacher award voted by students.  Not long after that meeting, even after asking some church elders to intervene, I found out that he still had not returned home. I gave him a call a few months later and was told that he has decided to leave his wife and children. Another home was just destroyed—a mom now added in the list of a single mom, worrying how she would raise her kids; kids abandoned by a dad with a yearning question, when would dad ever come home

This is not an isolated case. It already happened so many times over, leaving many broken lives behind. Those who went through such experience, especially the children, suffer miserably. The pain, hurt, and damage done are beyond repair. By the power of forgiveness, some managed to skip the haunting memory of their past; others refused to forgive while the invisible wall of ungrace grew ticker. Although, others put their garbage behind, recovered and moved on, many carried their baggage of broken home until their dying day.

“If a pastor struggles to keep his marriage strong, how much more can a common member stand the test?”  somebody asked. When it comes to keeping marital relationship alive, some think that pastors have more power than the members do have. The fact is pastors are not immune to marital problems. Although pastors may have higher accountability because of their title as minister, they do not necessarily possessed special power to make their marriage work. 

The bottom line is, whether or not you are a pastor, you are to keep your marriage covenant. None of us is immune to temptation; none of us is perfect in our marital relationship. Everyone struggles, prone to failure and temptation. Perhaps you have stumbled and fallen by the way side. Perhaps you have been tempted to be unfaithful to your spouse. Perhaps you are going through hard times as you read this. Marriage is a hard work that last for a lifetime. The good news is even if you have fallen by the way side you can get up, start all over again, and move on! Today you can be the very best husband your wife had ever dreamed. Today you can be the best wife your husband had ever dreamed. There is always hope. Give it a chance.

Husband and wife, you must work hard to keep your vows alive. In the end, you’d be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How & Where I Learned the English Language

Chapel at Grace Mountain Academy. Now it's called Grace Mountain Mission

My friend and I arrived in an English-speaking school campus in a cold and windy summer of 1991, 100 miles away from home. Upon arrival, I noticed that everyone was speaking in English and began to wonder how a 20-year old jungle boy trying to go to high school would ever fit in to this English environment. Sitting on a rattan chair at the principal's office, one little girl by the name Jelyn Oyang (I learned her name later) about six years old entered the office and began talking with Mrs. Virginia Dasep, the principal. She spoke in English so fluently, that I had never felt so shy in my life. That encounter, however, left a lasting impression on me regarding English. Although, I finished Elementary with the highest academic honor (valedictorian) five years before, and can at least read some English words, I couldn't construct even one sentence in English when I set my foot at Grace Mountain Academy (GMA) twenty years ago. I only knew how to say, "yes" and "no", I believe. Nevertheless, few months after being at GMA, I was amazed how I could speak English naturally, and in a year’s time, I could speak the language fluently and preached my first sermon in English. My grammar was far from imperfect, but my fluency level was high.

How did I learn the language so quickly?

Positive attitude helped me learn the language quickly. That means, not giving up when the going gets tough. Positive attitude along with a strong desire for improvement accelerates my learning process. Because I had a strong desire to learn the language, I was also determined regardless of the cost. For instance, when I attended the first Sunday evening service at GMA in 1991, and heard one of the older students gave his message in pure English; I told myself, one day I am going to preach in English behind that pulpit. Almost a year later, I preached my first sermon in English that lasted for seventy-five minutes-my determination paid off. Desire and positive attitude were not enough though; I needed self-discipline. In a world where people seem to worship ‘instant’—wants the crown without the cross—I learned early that there was no shortcut to learning and I had to pay the price of self-discipline. Studying, reading, and practicing came with the price tag of self-discipline. Saying, "no" to the desire of self in exchange for a better ones is worth the price indeed. 

From self-discipline, I had to move to courage. My courage dethroned my fear and shyness; I didn’t care whether or not my grammar and pronunciation were right. All I know was I needed to speak in English. If I had waited to have my grammar properly crafted before I began speaking, it would have been detrimental to my progress. Even as I type this, I also need to be courageous. It takes courage to put my writings on the web for the public to read without fear of being criticized of incorrect grammar or improper usage of punctuation,  prepositions, etc. I am aware that any reader with a keen eye can easily spot grammar errors in this blog. Yet, this does not stop me from writing, even though, I realized the potential of such criticism and ridicule. "Courage is not the absence of fear," writes Ambrose Redmoon, "but rather the judgment that something is more important than fear."

Strong motivation also played a great part in my learning process. The school director at GMA, Rev. Jan Visser, was a former a Dutch military officer in Indonesia. He came to the Philippines as missionary more than a decade before I attended GMA; we call him, Brother Jan. Brother Jan was a great source of encouragement and motivation. He challenged and motivated us incessantly. “You will never see the world unless you learn how to speak English,” his voice would thunder throughout the chapel room during our morning or evening services. Many of the students seemed convinced, but others were skeptic. At times, he would say, “The language of the world is English. Learn and speak it properly.”  Then one day, he told us that he started learning English when he was twenty-seven years old. Back then, I didn’t know he had to learn the English language as well. You see, most of us in the mountain thought that all white-skinned people are Americans, and therefore they speak English as their native language.  “If he began to learn the English language at age twenty-seven, then surely, I can also learn at age 20,” I would tell myself. Brother Jan also spoke about language immersion if we are to speak with fluency. 

After setting my foot at Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary campus years later, and then to Cambodia, I realized that brother Jan was right all along-English language is international. Learning the English language takes more than mere motivation, and sometimes we need someone to push us or lift us up when quitting seems to be the best option.

 Four Practical Things I did to Learn English
1. I learned English by Listening to others as they speak.
This is the exposure factor. I was in an environment where everyone must speak English. I had no choice but to listen to my classmates and teachers as they speak English. Every day, I also listen to English preaching on tapes and on Short Wave (SW) stations. This practice allowed me to listen to American speakers whom I also tried to imitate. Even if I was not exposed to native English speakers, I had the opportunity to listen to English being used by others.

2. I learned English by Speaking with others.
After I listen, I try to imitate and speak the same sentence and words to myself. I would never have learned English if I didn’t speak, there's no other way without it! Learning language requires speaking. It's simple as that, yet it requires courage because the fear of being criticized hinders one from speaking. There are people who studied English grammar for years but still couldn't speak fluently because they never break the barrier of silence. Perhaps they learn English the wrong way. Perhaps, they never spoke because they have not conquered their fears and inferiority complex. "Speak English" is a simple rule, yet difficult for some; they are afraid of making mistakes.

3. I learned English by Reading books.
I am a reader. There was no electricity during our time at Grace Mountain Mission, but I used a kerosene-lamp so that I could read at night and at the wee hours. I would get up early in the morning; lit my lamp and read. Such was my habit, back then. I gained most of my knowledge through reading; I don’t know how learning would have been for me without books. Learning English as second language then became easier as I read more and more. At times for fluency sake, I had to read audibly—alone in a room. Twenty years later, I still read a lot-no burning kerosene anymore, though.

4. I learned English by Practicing regularly.
In my experience, it is true that 'practice makes permanent.' ‘If you practice a habit consistently within thirty days, you will have it for life,’ my teacher told us in class. Sure enough, I made so many grammar errors, pronounced words incorrectly, and put punctuation in wrong places. Despite all these, I practice again and again. Consequently, I never stop improving because I never ceased learning.

Two things I didn’t do during my prime years of learning the language:

1. I did not Study Grammar Rules.
Although I read books in English, I didn't study grammar textbooks during my time at GMM. I studied a few lessons on grammar with my teacher, I guess, but couldn't even remember what those lessons were. I was already fluent in English and had been speaking for many years before I learn some grammar rules. So how did I learn grammar at the beginning? Well, I learned basic grammar by listening to others and by reading a lot. Learning from others means, I also learned their same mistake. Because few spoke perfect grammar during those years, mine was not perfect either. After twenty years of speaking the English language, there are so much more to learn-grammar, pronunciation, punctuation, and many more.

2. I did not memorize list of vocabulary words.
How did I learn words without memorization? I did not memorize vocabulary for the sake of memorization. Although I did make a few list; I write whenever I encounter words I do not understand. I wrote the word, I copied the sentence (how it was used), and then checked the dictionary for definition and pronunciation. I did not always make a list, though. Whenever I read books and encountered words that I don’t understand, even if I was tempted to look at the dictionary, I just kept on reading--trying to understand the meaning of the sentence and paragraph. As the years went by, I bought a pocket-size Webster dictionary, and brought along with me even when I was traveling.

My inability to communicate in English verbally and academically would have been my own handicap to my educational journey.  But it wasn't because I learned early on that learning English is necessary if I want to pursue my studies. In my country, the English language is indispensable tool for educational pursuit. Taking up master's degree would have been impossible if I didn’t know the English language. In short, learning the English language has enabled me to climb the educational ladder successfully. Not only that, but learning the English language has taken me to other countries. 

At age forty, I am still learning and I felt that my personal growth is still moving up the ladder of improvement. 

Friday, October 14, 2011


Kizuna Bridge. Kampong Cham, Cambodia (Greg's Photo)

No one is born perfect and no one lives without a mistake. Although, it is one thing to commit a mistake, it is quite another to keep repeating the same mistake. Learning from your own mistake is good, but learning from others' mistake is better. 

Sometime in the past, one missionary lamented on the attitude of nationals towards missionaries in Cambodia. Speaking about his denomination, he said, “Cambodia spit more missionaries out than any other countries in the world.” The focus of the comment, however, was the nationals' negative attitude and action towards missionaries. “Cambodia is really a different field,” others grieved. What struck me though with the comment was if Cambodia spit out lots of missionaries, the blame should not be put on them entirely. I wonder if we, missionaries, and I am including myself, should take the blame as well. Something never changes: we never seem to learn our lesson-we kept repeating the same mistakes our predecessors or contemporaries made. When will we ever learn? When it comes to cross-cultural ministry, we are supposed to build bridges not walls. 

Not long ago, I came across with an article about Western Missionary Mistakes. I had been wanting to write a similar one from Cambodian perspective but writing an article is no longer necessary after reading what Evangelical Romanians think about American Missionaries. Although the survey was done in Romania, my eight years of missionary presence in Cambodia convinced me that the Romanian-survey resembled the animosity among some Cambodian nationals towards missionaries. This is not to say that all nationals think the same towards missionaries nor all missionaries are the same. Many missionaries are love lavishly by Cambodian nationals. In fact, I know several missionaries in Cambodia who are here for more than a decade or two. They have been here for years, yet still loved and needed.   

Because the article was so true, I am posting almost the entire article in this blog to remind other missionaries serving in Cambodia. Please, fasten your seat belt, but I promise, you won’t be offended and bothered if you are not one of them. If it resembles your attitude, change it.

The one in bold letters resembled what I personally saw in Cambodia.

The article begins here:

After a confidential survey done by an “outsider” this is what was said about American missionaries.

What the Evangelical Romanians think about American Missionaries
§  First Missionaries brought the gospel but then others came bringing their denominationalism and extreme doctrines.
§  Either intentionally or unintentionally missionaries left us with the impression that Foreigners are superior to Romanians.
§  Saying many times that they came to serve but actually only functioning in the role of a supervisor, i.e. many missionaries become employers of nationals.
§  Passing on materialistic values through the example of the missionaries own life.
§  Missionaries coming with unbending ideas and philosophies. Not listening to Nationals (this response came up everytime)
§  Superior attitude toward nationals
§  Isolating themselves from Nationals. Having their own churches and attempting to remain exclusive
§  Sensationalizing the ministry. Throwing bibles and other materials out to people in church while taking pictures of people scrambling to catch something.
§  Coming with very strong and unrealistic ambitions and trying to force things to happen for the sake of “results”
§  Manipulating Romanian partners with the threat of loosing their salaries
§  Seeing all nationals as unskilled in the Bible and not knowing Jesus. Speaking in such a way that they actually insulted those they were trying to teach. (Not knowing personally the people they were trying to minister to)
§  Coming with personal agenda’s rather than spiritual goals
§  Staying ignorant of cultural norms and values
§  Not learning the Language
§  Forming partnerships with nationals to quickly has led to many good missionaries working with and being represented by Romanians that have long had bad reputations.  This has lead to their own ministry being tarnished and many times, missionaries forming very bad opinions of Romanians church leaders.
§  Not being wise with money, being seen as wasteful.
§  Throwing money at problems rather than asking is there something else that needs to happen here.
§  Missionaries start with blind trust for everybody (pendulum on the left side), they get burnt a few times and then finish with total mistrust for everybody, (pendulum on the right side).
§  The corruption that missionaries have experienced in the church has lead them to becoming  very untrusting of nationals.  This has caused a lot of ill feeling where the nationals feel looked down upon and seen as stupid people who can’t be trusted.
§  Presenting a “know-it-all” attitude when it comes to teachings and opinions
§  Being unwilling to listen to so called “Romanian Partners
§  Not following up financial investments with personal accountability has inadvertently promoted even more corruption. Missionary organizations that dump money and leave with no real relationship has proved to be more harmful then helpful.
§  Coming with outside pressure to perform on the mission field, leading some missionaries to push things in the ministry and even become controlling. This causes resentment and resistance.
§  Exaggerating reports to back home leaving people with a wrong impression of the work here in Romania
§  Many missionaries never consider adjusting their own lifestyles a little to more resemble that of the people they are trying living among.

I wanted NOT to post this because it is so convicting but so true. MAY GOD in heaven show us a better way to work with our national brothers and sisters.   This sword unfortunately cuts both ways as we could begin talking about what we see wrong with the culture also but that is just not the point of this post!  Let us look in the mirror and do our best to ask God to take from our hearts and show us a different way to reach the lost orthodox without making so many mistakes.  May our National Brothers continue to show us grace and mercy in these areas.   Please forgive us…..

Monday, October 10, 2011

Will God Always Make a Way Where There Seems to be No Way?

Photo Credit: Timothy Patrick Carney

Worship leader and songwriter Don Moen popularized the song God will Make a Way where there seems to be no Way sometime in the early 90’s. I love this song, and had been singing with great delight. I had not really thought about the song until I saw a photo on Facebook one afternoon. At the onset, let me mention that this is not a critique to the song or to criticize the photo, but rather to express my reflection on my own question; Does God always make a way where there seems to be no way? The above photo is beautifully crafted, and seems fit the adage, a 'picture is worth a thousand words'. In today's digital age, however, poses challenge to photography-photos cannot always be trusted; photos are photo-shopped!

Although I admire the beauty of the above photo, my first reaction to the caption was, this is not always true; it does not always happen! Maybe it’s true for others but not to everyone. Why are there so many cancer patients who love the Lord, prayed so hard, yet later died in anguish without being miraculously cured? Why are there so many unanswered prayers if God will make a way where there seems to be no way? Perhaps my uneasy feeling about the photo’s description was due to my recent quest to find answers to ease my ‘emotional’ doubt on the existence of God. It is not intellectual, rather an emotional doubt representing what I feel rather than what I believe and reason out to be true. 

In my quest for answers, I began to explore what makes people disappointed with God. With that, disappointment with God emanates from what one believes but does not have any raw experience to back it up. This means, there is a gap between what we believe about God and what we actually experience. For others, they believe that God is powerful, yet in their experience don’t see any tangible or visible display of God’s omnipotence. For some, they know God is love, but they continually experience emotional and physical suffering--even a tragedy.  The danger of disappointment lies behind every unmet expectation from the divine. In his book, Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey writes, “I found that for many people there is a large gap between what they expect from their Christian faith and what they actually experience.” Then Yancey mentioned a letter he had received from a woman, and I quote: “I kept hearing the phrase ‘relationship with Jesus Christ.’ But I found to my dismay that it is unlike any other personal relationship. I never saw God, or heard from him, or felt him, or experienced the most basic ingredients of relationship. Either something wrong with what I was told or there’s something wrong with me.” In different ways, perhaps, we can identify with the lady’s honest confession.

Meanwhile, I continue to reflect about the problem of pain, injustice, and the misery of human suffering. Intellectually, I know God is love and that Jesus cares, I really do, but emotionally, such description of love and relationship is found wanting. “Disappointment occurs”, writes Yancey, “when the actual experience of something falls far short of what we anticipate.”

Just recently, I read story about two pastor’s kids; born with incurable illness and both died at early age despite lots of prayers from devoted Christians. Why would God ever promise something and does another? How could we understand what Jesus said, “Ask whatsoever you will and it shall be done unto you” with all the unanswered prayers we experience? Although, there seems to be a way for Christians to get around with the unanswered prayers by saying that the problem is not in God but in us; it does not measure up with the experience of many Christians.  

Years ago, a pastor’s daughter was killed defending herself from an attacker who tried to sexually abuse her. The parents were devastated of the loss of a daughter, yet they never blamed God. A dedicated pastor with a growing ministry died in a motor accident, leaving several children behind. About six months ago, David Wilkerson, 79, the founder of Teen Challenge and a pastor of Times Square Church died in a car accident. While surfing news on Yahoo about religion two months ago, I came across of a mega-church pastor of over 8,000 members, Tim Zachery, 42, who was found dead in his hotel room without medical explanation. I couldn't help wondering what the bereaved families said to God in their prayers during the wake of their dead loved ones.

 ...."I came to a pause on the road of my own spiritual pilgrimage to see the footprints of others in the sands of time."
Tragic death, natural disaster, and the problem of pain and suffering do not have satisfying answers. Apologists tried to explain the problem of suffering and pain for centuries, but people are still confused and left wondering why would a good God could afford to see thousands of His own suffer in misery. 

After reading several stories of devoted Christians who had died in tragic accidents or from incurable diseases, I came to a pause on the road of my own pilgrimage to see the footprints of others in the sands of time. Without fear of being misunderstood, when it comes to suffering and pain, even the most devout believer are not exempt from suffering, pain, and even tragic death. 

Although I lavishly believe in the God of the impossible, I also believe that He does not always act the way I think. He does not always give what I want or provide what I need. Although, there are many Christians who claimed they have been miraculously healed or their needs miraculously supplied, such experience do not happen to all people.

Would it be a better description to replace the ‘will’ with ‘can’ in the song to give a proper balance with what is promised in the scripture with what we actually experience? I would put it this way, God Can Make a Way Where There Seems to be no Way. God can, but many times, God will not. The focus here is not our faith, but on God’s sovereign will to exercise His omnipotence. Although God can turn impossible things to possible, He also has the ultimate freedom to refrain from doing it regardless of our strong faith. In His sovereign will, God seems to act known only to Himself hidden-from the frailty of the human knowledge. Don Moen, after all,  is right when he penned the lyrics of his song, "He works in ways we cannot see." Such is the out working of God sometimes-hidden from our naked eyes. Such things are the silence of God’s voice. In the deepest valley of despair and in the darkest dawn of trials God sometimes choose to remain silent. Broken and wounded, we turn to the book of Psalms for comfort. Confused and disappointed, we hang onto a tiny thread on the promises and words of Jesus, "Blessed are you/those...."

It is pretty easy to say, "We don't base our faith in experience but faith in God's Word," but for many people they look for experience to validate their belief and assumption. If they will not get what they expected from their Christian faith or from God's promises, they raise more questions than answers. Others fake their experience with flowery Christian jargon, "nothing is wrong, everything is fine. God is good all the time". If the truth were known, inside their psyche, they are hurting deeply. While we wear a facade of outer smile, the pain is unbearable inside. This lack of honesty and authenticity in our confession hurts us even more.

The question then is not whether or not God will make a way where there seems to be no way; the real question is whether or not you will remain faithful to God even in the darkest night of trials and the deepest valley of doubt and despair. The crucible of faith does not look and trust on the answers of God but rather on the character of God. Will you trust God’s character in the absolute darkness?