Thursday, 18 July 2013

"...but with a demonstration..."

Snapshot of Victory
From the Heart of Chelsea, Team Grace Singapore

I have a confession to make: I would like to say that the reason I signed up for SMCI in the Philippines this year was because I was on fire for God and can’t wait to tell the Gospel story to hungry souls in need of salvation, but truth of the matter is, I saw it as an opportunity to escape my 12-hour-a-day job, travel, dive and spend time with some of my favorite people in the world, my group of church friends. In short, I treated it as another vacation opportunity.

I was further assured by Pastor Mike that the accommodation would be clean and decent, as he strongly believes that his volunteer workers need to be well-fed and well-rested in comfortable environments so that they can be effective. I couldn’t agree more. With the assurance that my material comforts would not be compromised, I decided to participate in the mission this year.

Team Grace 2013
Our team from Grace Baptist Ministries (GBM) in Singapore was assigned / chose Week 1’s evangelistic campaign, which was in Leyte, near Cebu. Another incentive for me is the legendary diving sites in Cebu, and to be honest, I was more excited planning the “rest and relaxation” part of the trip (which would come after our week-long mission) than preparing myself for the e-campaign. As for Leyte, I’ve never heard of the place. 

Located in the eastern-central part of the Philippines in a region known as Eastern Visayas, Leyte is about nine times the size of Singapore, with a population that is only about a third. According to a 2010 census, the island has about 1.6 million people, most of them Roman Catholics (which is reflective of the country as a whole).  

Leyte is also where American general Douglas MacArthur landed when he returned to the Philippines in October 1944, thus fulfilling a promise he made to the Filipinos that he would return to help them fight the Japanese during World War II. After our first day of preaching in Tacloban, we visited the Leyte Landing Memorial in Red Beach, Palo. Aside from the larger-than-life statues depicting General MacArthur’s arrival on the shores of Palo Beach and MacArthur’s famous proclamation, the memorial also displayed his footprints, which he had immortalized in cement when he visited the Philippines again in 1961. Just above the footprints were inscribed words describing MacArthur as a “faithful friend to the Filipino people,” and someone who “wanted to be remembered as one who ‘carried to our land the solace hope and faith of Christian morals’.” 

How apt.

At the end of our one-week in the Philippines, how would we want to be remembered by the hundreds of students we would meet? As someone who told them a nice story about Jesus? As someone who reminded them of sin and hell? Or as someone who challenged them to follow Christ, even as we struggle each day in our own lives to do the same? 

As our vans whizzed along two-lane coastal highways lined with coconut trees and rounded lush mountainous terrains, we traveled south from Tacloban / Ormoc to Sogod, then north-west to end at BayBay. Pastor Mike was true to his word: Our accommodations were largely clean and decent, but even at the best of accommodation, we couldn’t get the hot water shower to work. So for five days we had cold showers. While visiting the schools and universities, navigating the CRs (which stands for “Comfort Room”, which is the polite term for “toilet” in the Philippines) became an acquired skill. We learned to ask for the principal’s or staff’s CRs, which were usually in better conditions. Flushing toilets and toilet paper were a luxury, and rare. If this is what it meant to “suffer” for the cause of Christ, I felt I had suffered. I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for I know that this is nothing compared to real suffering experienced by persecuted Christians spreading the Gospel in countries where Christianity or any form of religion is illegal. 

Having gained some confidence over the years through work and life experiences, stepping into a classroom and speaking in front of 40 to 50 teenagers was not the issue for me. My Achilles' heel was walking the talk – how can I ask these young people to follow Christ, to trust him completely, to submit / surrender their lives to him, when I have such difficulty doing that, time and again, even having been a Christian for more than 20 years? Wouldn’t I sound like a hypocrite? 

During our eight hour or so layover in Cebu, as we waited at an airport hotel for our transit from Singapore to Leyte, Pastor Chris shared with us a verse from 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. “…When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

It wasn’t about me anymore. Sure, I may not be able to fully walk the talk even as I ask others to trust Christ, but it didn’t matter because the message was about Christ and what he has done for us. The whole reason he came to suffer and die on the cross for us is precisely because none of us can ever fully walk the talk! That is not an excuse to absolve myself of my sins and shortcomings, but I take heart that whether the students come to trust Christ is not because of what I say or do, but what Christ has done. 

Throughout the week, a few students especially touched my heart: The lesbian girl who said she rather chooses her own way; The somber-looking girl who is being raised by a single mum and who wants to grow up to be a lawyer so she can fight injustice; The kind boy who brought a fan to the front of the classroom when he saw me drenched in perspiration; and the boy with the plucked eyebrows and thick make-up whose eyes lit up at the understanding of God’s grace. 

And in between our work, we were able to carve out time for rest and relaxation, especially during the last two nights when we stayed at a beach resort, similar to an East Coast Park chalet. On Friday night (our last night), someone built a bonfire, and we worshiped under the stars, which looked all the brighter and nearer than in Singapore. We also saw several shooting stars. Earlier that evening, we caught a rainbow while frolicking at the beach. An unmistakable sign of God’s promise and goodness. 

The trip fulfilled certain expectations I had: I got the rest and relaxation I wanted, the diving over the weekend and to spend time with friends I love. But it also fulfilled promises I never expected: God’s grace is infinitely new and refreshing every day, just when you think you’ve heard enough of it, or experienced enough of it, or even talk about it enough. This should be true not just when we are on mission trips in foreign lands, but it should be true even as we are back in the grind, on the treadmill of a graceless world. That’s when, in some ways, for some of us, the most difficult part of our mission begins.

Chelsea- Singapore Team Grace

This is Chelea's first e-Campaign

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