Saturday, November 24, 2007

No better place than to be in Grand Rapids

"Sarah, Dad is here." I called out to Sarah when I spotted her at Grand Rapids airport. "Dad." She ran towards me and gave me a hug. Sarah was obviously excited to see me and her smile took away all the tiredness of a very long journey. You got to be a father to understand the heart of a father. I was in Charlotte airport at 12pm and I was re-routed to Cicinnati instead of Cleveland because of bad weather. It was the eve of the Thanksgiving Day and every airline was overbooked. I had to wait at Cicinnati for 4 hours. When the plane finally touched down at Grand Rapids airport, it was 9pm. It was really cold in Grand Rapids as compared to the warm climate in Charlotte.

Arriving at Sarah's dormitory, she was very proud to introduce me to her friends. "Akiko, this is my dad." I was equally pleased to meet her friends in Calvin College. "Dad, this is Theresa, my good friend." "Dad, this is Jiyea, my roommate." "Hi, Akiko, hi Theresa... Jiyea, Aun Yong Har Seh Oh (Korean)."

Sarah has forgotten that her dad has seen them before. She posted their pictures on her blog. I thank God for enriching her life with friends from different nations. I could sense that living in dormitory is fun - interactive and engaging.

"Sarah, look at all the stuff that your mum has bought for you." "Here is the Indon Mee, the 3 in 1 instant coffee, the Alcafe (given by Grace Chong - the bride of David Chong), the Sushi stuff, Bak Kut Teh paste..." Sarah has been generous in sharing whatever Malaysian food with her international friends. She is a good ambassador for Malaysia. Patriotism comes in all shapes and sizes. One size does not fit all!

When I went to Scotland 31 years ago, I was all alone. Dundee's winter was bitterly cold. Malaysian foodstuff was nowhere to be seen.

It was so good to catch up with Sarah. We talked for hours the next day. It thrills my heart to know that she still has the conviction to come back to Malaysia. I am so glad that she really enjoys her study in Calvin.

We celebrated first time (its first time for Sarah as well as first time for me) Thanksgiving in Chicago at her friend's home. As the Americans thank God for His blessing of providence and protection upon the puritans, their ancestors, I thank God for His grace, mercy and love for sarah.

I cried silently with tears of joy and thanksgiving because God has been so good to us.

I never expect to see Sarah so soon. She has grown in just a few months. She is in the hand of God whose heart as a heavenly Father is gracious, generous and gentle. I can trust Him, his wisdom is above mine. He knows what is best for Sarah. My vocation as a father is simpler - to be a good, loving and godly father to my children. This is my gift to Sarah and Samuel.

"It's not where you are at but whom you are with that makes the difference." - Anonymous

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Unfinished Business

I stood on the land which once was owned by Jim Bakker. Its a vast land that is beautifully landscaped and new houses are being built. I could still see the remnant of its former glory when Jim Bakker developed it as a theme park with hotel facilities and other amenities. Many retirees bought houses with the understanding that eventually a Christian community will be developed. Many Christians in America particularly those in Charlotte gave generously to fulfill Jim Bakker's dream of a Christian center that will be a blessing to the city and the nation. Jim Bakker's dream turned out to be a nightmare. He was imprisoned, his wife Tammy Bakker left him, his son became wayward. His whole life and ministry collapsed. In his book "I was wrong", Jim Bakker regretted preaching the gospel of prosperity. In his own confession he knew that it is not the correct doctrine. He had since been released from jail. His prodigal son came back to God. In his lowest moment, many Christian leaders deserted him. But Billy Graham and Ruth stood by him. They embraced his brokenness. On the day of his release from imprisonment, they brought him to their church and Ruth was seated beside him. It was a very healing moment for Jim Bakker.

The 2000 acres land was once called "Heritage." But there was no trace of any heritage being left behind, what remains are trails of broken lives, wounded hearts and anger. Many Christians felt they had been cheated of their money. They felt deep sense of betrayal. Christian testimony was destroyed and Christian community worldwide became a laughing stock when CNN, Time Correspondence carried the news of defrauding.

My host Ruth who few years ago served in the county of North Carolina was involved in the case. She was instrumental to get the different counties to link up the trails across the land for public usage. The Heritage land criss-crosses across few counties and its 300 acres of land is located in the flood plain. The Northern Carolina county wanted that portion to be set apart as a trail and park with rivers serving as a natural dam in the event of flood. Jim Bakker had sold it to Jerry Falwell who in turned sold it to MUI chairman, Datuk Khoo Kay Peng. The Malaysian Christian tycoon became the rightful owner of the land. This land with hotels, houses and other properties were later sold to some American developers. Ruth and her husband Ken were excited when they discovered that I am a Malaysian. They asked whether I know Datuk Khoo or not. I told them that I knew the man (Vice President of MUI) who was sent to manage Heritage many years ago is a good friend of mine. He had since left his job and became a pastor. Ruth narrated the story of how she heard the voice of God telling her to ask the owner of the land to give back 300 acres to the public and used it as a trail and park. Ruth wasn't sure who is the rightful owner of the land now. But the present developer refused to give it to the county.

Ruth and I stood on the soil adjacent to the chapel and we prayed for God's healing to be upon the land. I felt that restitution ought to be done. The Christian owners should return part of the land (300 acres) to be used for the interest of the public since the land was initially purchased with money from public donation.

Just as we were about to leave the place, we saw a car pulled over and an immaculately dressed young man came out from his car headed to the chapel. We thought he went there to pray. Ruth sensed that God wanted her to talk to the man. She hesitated, wasn't sure whether its the right thing to do. I told her she should obeyed the voice of God prompting her. As we talked to the young man, it turned out to be a situation of divine appointment. He is a real estate agent. His boss was the one who acted as the broker selling the land to Datuk Khoo. He could arrange Ruth to meet his boss to ascertain who is the actual owner of the land so that Ruth could proceed to ask that person to donate the land to the county for public use.

I suggested to Ruth that the Christian community should invite Jimmy Bakker back to Charlotte to make public confession to ask the Christian community to forgive him. The Christian owner should give back part of the land to the public to be used as a trail and park as a form of restitution on behalf of Jim Bakker. The land can be healed. The community can be healed when justice and mercy is done.

"Pastor Wong, you are an angel sent by God." Ruth commented in all seriousness. I nearly freaked out by the whole event. I was supposed to stay with Ian. He put me to stay with his church members, Ken and Ruth. And they believed that God has sent me to their house to resume the unfinished business. God spoke to Ruth several years ago when she was serving in the county. She had the nagging thought (restlessness) that God wanted her to accomplish his purpose -that the name of Christ be honored and glorified through righteous actions.

Do I believe in divine appointment? I bet you.

My devotion this morning reads:

"Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (Psalm 139:16).

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." (Eph 2:10)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Surprise from God!

I was once again overwhelmed by God's surprise. I did not plan to visit Charlotte in my itinerary. I did not know that Billy Graham is from Charlotte and that the Billy Graham library is located in Charlotte. In fact the library just opened to the public in June. It is sited in a 60 acres land which looks like a park. PCA MTW Enterprise invited me to speak at the seminar in its global mission conference, the venue is in Atlanta. For 3 days I was soaked in the whole atmosphere of worship and sermons. Dr. Richard Pratt's exposition touched my heart deeply. I am grateful that God gave me an opportunity to be refreshed. Wanatabe and many others thanked me for my seminar and felt that God has used me to speak to them. I thank God for the little role that I could play in the conference. But most of all I thank God for his servants Dr. Richard Pratt and Dr. Paul Kooistra for their challenging message. I did not know, certainly did not even expect that God would lead me to Charlotte in order that I may have the opportunity to visit Billy Graham Library.

In the Library (not the library where books are housed) Ian and I sat there watching and listening to Billy Graham preaching to the crowd (Video Presentation of Billy Graham's life ministry). We moved from one room to another, each showed the different period of Billy Graham's ministry. Its amazing to see how this one man could influence so many people in the world with the Gospel of Jesus. Billy has been and is singularly devoted to the cause that God has called him. His faith in Jesus and the Word of God marks him out to be the man of God. His success could also be attributed to Ruth, his wife who is faithful to her calling as a home maker raising their 5 children for the Lord's service. Billy is surrounded by an excellent team which is loyal to him and gives him their utmost support.

Billy Graham is 89 years old. His residence, the cove is just two and a half hours drive from the Billy Graham Library. I was told that he is very frail but strong in the spirit. Ruth Graham died 5 months ago. Her grave site is situated at the serene garden just a stone throw away from the Library. The inscription on her tomb stone reads: "End of Construction. Thank you for your patience" Ruth referred to her chosen burial place as her "launching pad." Its a timely reminder that we all are Work In Progress until such time comes, the Construction will be Ended. Our grave sites then will be the launching pad to our eternal home.

I have great admiration for Ruth, a Presbyterian whose parents were missionaries in China. Ruth was a strong woman, intelligent, articulate, devoted to God. All her life she gave Billy Graham her utter devotion by supporting his ministry. She almost singlehandedly raised her children because Billy Graham had to travel extensively preaching the gospel across the globe. Ruth and Billy had been married 64 years. Ruth was Billy soul mate and best friend. With her passing away, a big chunk of his life is removed. Time Correspondence interviewed him how he was coping since her death in June 2007. "I realize now," Graham replied, "in a way I never could have before, that a very important part of me has been taken away."

I told Ian, an American missionary kid, that he too can be greatly used by God. One man who loves the Lord wholeheartedly, believes in the power of the gospel for the salvation of the world, possesses full faith in the authoritative word of God can change the world. Billy Graham is coming to the end of his life and ministry. God is looking for another man or woman whom he can use just as the way he uses Billy and Ruth.

What a visit!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The cobbler in the streets of Seoul

During my trip to Seoul few years ago, while walking back to Centennial Building of the Presbyterian Church of Korea, I saw a shoemaker reading his Bible on his working bench in broad daylight. He was so engrossed in reading the Scriptures that he did not notice me staring at him.

I thought of William Carey, a cobbler in England who lived in a different century (1761-1834), made his living by repairing shoes in a different locality from this Korean. I wonder whether there is any similarity between these two men. When customers brought their shoes to William Carey, they probably thought that this man was an uneducated simpleton. Who would have imagined that William Carey went on to become the father of modern mission? He went to India to preach the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ in spite of being put down by the church mission board.

How could God use a shoemaker to impact the Indians who spoke totally different tongues? History has it that William Carey translated Punjabi, Sanskrit in both New and Old Testament. He even completed a dictionary of Bengali and English.

Back to this Korean shoemaker, I decided to squat beside him and capture potential history with my digital camera. Who knows this cobbler might one day turn out to be the missionary whom God uses to change another country with the gospel of Jesus Christ. A maker of shoes may turn out to be a maker of history. I discovered that he too like William Carey is an ardent student of Scriptures. I have yet to meet such a shoemaker in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The boy who parkours his way to Mt Kinabalu

Sam is a unique person, unconventional is a better word. He could never sit still from young. The only time he can be still is when he is reading novel that captivates him. He could read and read until he finishes reading the whole book in one setting. Even if it means without having to sleep. Otherwise he is always in motion. He loves parkour. It has become an art form. Kind of poetry in motion. Probably this had to do with the 40 jabs he got from Dr. Lim one week after he was born.

"Dad, we are now walking down from the summit of Mount Kinabalu." Sam was elated. Maxis connection was powerful. It can claim total coverage in Malaysia including Mt Kinabalu. I could not believe what I heard because Sam hardly trained for the climb. I had been nagging at him since the day when Jason and Christina invited him to go along with them for the 'expedition.' The only serious training he had was cycling with me in the neighborhood. Sam had altitude sickness yesterday when he arrived at two third of the climb. I told Constance that he might not be able to make it to the top. I told Sam not to push himself if he could not do it. Imagine my joy when he called to say he is coming down from the summit. He is my boy after all. I am proud of him.

Sam is a very persistent person. He will not give up once he made up his mind. He can wear down anyone with his 'never say die' attitude. I think his mental toughness more than compensate for his lack of physical fitness. Most people would train 3 to 6 months for the climb. But Sam, oh my goodness. Walking up the stairs in the house is not training!

When Jason told me a while ago that they took the longer and harder route, I nearly fainted. If I knew earlier, I would not have allowed Sam to go. It is like getting someone to run 40km marathon straight away. Sam is just too gun ho. Constance and I worried like mad and yet we had to act cool before Jason and Christina. Both Jason and Christina had been jogging, training hard for the climb. Sam did not know how tough the climb can be.

Now Sam would show off his certificate ($12 only). We are happy that he managed to climb up and 'climb down' in one piece. Cert or no cert is immaterial. His certificate is too big for my cabinet. Knowing Sam, he will persuade me to squeeze his 'trophy' into my display unit. This 'achievement' is hard to knock down.

If Sam were to tell us that he is making plan to climb Mount Everest, I believe him! He is outrageous and one of a kind. This time he better knows that its not a stroll in the park.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The manhole man

There on the stage of Ulanbataar Orchestra Hall stood a man impeccably dressed in a western suit. He was giving his testimony to the church audience of 200 people. This man was once a drunkard who lived under the manhole in the street of Ulanbataar. The thousand of manholes are like land mines from the aerial view. They represent the underground world where the scum, the filth and the rejects who live in isolation from the mainstream society. It is like a colony. There are thousand of drunkards and homeless poor taking shelter inside the tunnels of the manholes.

It was an eye opening experience. The poor everywhere share certain commonalities. I had seen the ‘cardboard’ poor who live under the overhead bridges in Jakarta. If a heavy truck were to slam on them, hundreds would die tragically. The squatter camp condition in Suweto, South Africa is deplorable. You probably can’t find anything like that in Malaysia. Once could see thousands of tiny huts made of Zinc material where the entire family is being squeezed into 180 square feet space.

The news in the capitol city of Mongolia on the day of my visit highlighted a man who died of heart attack because of severe cold – the temperature at night was sub zero degree centigrade. Every year, many who live under the manholes world have their limbs amputated because of frostbites.

This man who stood on the stage was lucky because Pastor Nara, the senior pastor of a church in Ulanbataar found him in the manhole. The church people washed him, clothed him, fed him, and housed him. He was literally snatched from the manhole.

This redeemed and restored man told the audience that his mission is to go and save people like him. He could have died in the manhole. But he had been rescued from physical hunger, from bitter cold winter, from a hopeless existence.

I was spellbound by his sharing.

Nara, the senior pastor who introduced and prayed for this man, was his friend. Nara found his friend dying in the forsaken world.

Nara himself was once a notorious gangster who went to jail for 4 years because he stabbed 3 people. It was in the prison that he heard the gospel. Nara was deeply touched by the Bible verse “Jesus came to save the sinners and not the righteous.” It was like an arrow shot right into his heart. He wept and gave his life to Jesus. Since then Nara has gone to the fringe of society to search and reach out to people just like him – sinners who need the grace of Jesus.
Nara has gone into the manholes many times.

I never got to know the name of the man who once lived in the manhole. But his story tells me of the power of gospel in transforming lives.