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Baba’s Death

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At the India-Bhutan border.

In the last several weeks, I have attended a funeral, preached in a local church, and done several interviews for my research. 

As I write this, I am in Dalsingpara, a rural part of India near the India-Bhutan border, and I am… idle. I am, to be very honest, a bit bored. I know, I know. Just a month ago I was gushing over how everything here was multi-sensory stimulation.

Due to our new circumstances, however, our plans have changed, and I have no choice but to stay put here, and generally reflect on how God allows things to happen for a purpose.

My host family and I had only stayed several days in Butwal, Nepal, on our way to Pokhara and Kathmandu, where I was scheduled to meet and interview several pastors and evangelists, when the news about kuya John’s father’s death reached us. That same afternoon, we packed, rented a vehicle, and set out for India.

It took us 12 hours to reach Dalsingpara, India, and preparations for the burial quickly occupied my host family. The custom here is to have the burial within a day or two of the person’s death, and have a 7-day wake.

I have heard so many things about kuya John’s Baba (father) – orphaned at an early age, getting into the military, being shunned and prevented from being promoted because of his struggles, leaving the military, and finally becoming a Christian and prolific evangelist and church planter (and being persecuted for it).

I even heard bits of his love story, and how he ended up with Ama (mother).

Now, more than a week after we buried him, the house is filled with Baba’s photos, blown up and framed for the funeral earlier. From what I was told, he was a strong, boisterous, effusive character who loved talking and telling stories.

Now, I see his photos everyday, and I wonder: Baba, sayang! Why didn’t I get to meet you?

And my deep consciousness, there is the quesiton: God, why did you take him now? Even selfishly: God, why couldn’t I have met him?

But such is life – the unexpected happens, and we do not really know, or have control over, the future.

This, I believe, is one of the important things God is teaching me at this period. Nothing is ultimately within my control, and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I calm down and lose my anxiety.

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Sarah in South Asia: The Beginning of my Saga

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I am living my dream.

To be specific, I am living my cross-cultural dream.

It was around mid-2015 when I started thinking of my future after IGSL, my seminary. I was slated to graduate next year, and I needed a plan. I’ve always known that I wanted to minister cross-culturally. But where? And how? I’d expected that two years in seminary would’ve helped me come to a decision, but obviously, I hadn’t had any clear leading.

A DREAM PLANTED

Then the idea of having a cross-cultural exposure trip dropped in my head. If I really wanted to minister in a different culture long term, shouldn’t I at least try it out short term?

And by short term I meant slightly longer than the usual two to three week mission trips I’ve been a part of in the past. I was thinking around 6 months. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense! The idea kept growing.

Incidentally, I was enrolled in the classes of two wonderful professors, Dr. Ron Barber and Dr. Paul Lee, both of whom are missionaries and missiologists. Kuya Ron and Kuya Paul, as we fondly call them, have been missionaries for 20+ years, in Africa and Japan, respectively.

Inspired by kuya Ron and kuya Paul, my idea grew into a small dream. As I interacted with them, I knew I found heroes I could look up to – people who have devoted their lives to missions, and to influencing the larger Christian community through their teaching and research / publications.

My dream was growing. I too, wanted to influence the larger Christian community in a similar way. But, I knew I needed experience and mentoring.

MY THREE-PART PRAYER

And so I started praying for an opportunity to do research, and be exposed to cross-cultural ministry, and be mentored by missionaries as well.

The answer to the first part of my prayer came in the form of being allowed to write a thesis, and going to South Asia for research. (IGSL students are not required to write a thesis; I will be the first student to be allowed to do so… hopefully, they don’t take back the decision.)

Around January 2016, I contacted a couple with a ministry in South Asia, who are both IGSL alumni. I met them a few months earlier, when I had to write a story about them for a book IGSL was producing. It was a crazy idea, but I just suddenly asked if there was a possibility of joining them in India or Nepal or wherever they were, just for a few months, and let them “adopt” me, so to speak. And so the second and third part of my prayer was answered.

Thus, my South Asian adventures have begun.

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The Chundrima Bridge in Dhaka, Bangladesh

 

 

 

I can’t write.

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I’m in a slump.

I’m in a writing slump.

I’m in a creative writing slump.

I’m not particularly sure why, although I have my suspicions.

See, even writing that last sentence was difficult.

I used to write like crazy. I have always loved words, and they naturally flowed from my lips, my pen, or my fingers. When something momentous happened, my go-to would be my journal. Or my blog site.

What happened to me?

Like I said, I have my suspicions.

There are things going through my head right now. So many things to be done, and so many distractions. Often, these things weigh so heavily on my mind and heart, and the temptation to just ignore them and turn away and do something mindless is great. Often, I have succumbed to that temptation.

Or is it the fact that two years in seminary, writing all those gazillion papers, tired me out?

Possible. But I do have a bigger suspicion.

Two years ago, I met with a professional counselor. I’d been going through some really heavy stuff, I was one messed up girl, and I knew I needed help.

My sessions ran through half the year of 2015, and ended around the first quarter of 2016. The sessions helped immensely, and really allowed me to take a deeper, honest look at myself, and have a deeper appreciation of how God created me.

One thing my counselor and I worked on was acknowledging, and expressing, my emotions. She taught me some exercises and practices that allowed me to do so. I quickly realized that while these exercises and practices were very helpful, they were also very exhausting. Thinking, and processing my emotions, exhausted me, and sapped me of the energy to write.

But I finally realized recently that not writing was wounding my heart more. I was going against something I was meant to be doing.

I want out of this slump.

This blog post is one of my efforts in trying. Sigh.

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Dear Future Warrior

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To My Future Warrior,

I am waiting for you.

I know you’ve already been through countless battles, that you’ve braved countless storms, and journeyed through what may have seemed as endless days of scorching heat and wintry nights.

I weep for your wounds, and grieve for what you’ve lost. If I could heal them all, I would!

Still, I believe that journey was necessary. Your wounds and the things you’ve lost — they were necessary to build you, mold you, and help you empathize… with me.

Because, my dear Warrior, when you find me, I will not be the hapless, helpless Princess of old. When you find me, I would have come from my own battles…

I too, have braved storms, and have journeyed to the depths, through dark tunnels, and through barren heights when the sun was high and unforgiving. I too, have looked at the stars and wondered: Is this all there is?

I too, have been wounded, and have lost.

I, too, am a Warrior.

So fight valiantly, my dear Warrior. Be strong, and do not lose courage, as I do the same.

When we find each other, I promise, with all the strength and courage and hope I could muster, that I will take your hand and make a home with you wherever we journey, to the ends of the earth.

I promise to fight for you, and with you.

Fighting and Waiting,

Your Future Warrior Princess

The God who identified with me.

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“At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.” -Heb. 2:8

When I think of all the problems, wars and troubles happening in the world and in the country today, I tend to lose hope. To be more specific, when I think of the… things happening in our government and country today, I am so tempted to face palm myself to kingdom come, or host my own pity party, or scream at the top of my lungs.

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I think of all the injustices of the world, and at times I am just rendered speechless. Systemic evil is so real, so overwhelming. (Then I look at my own heart, and I know that my tendency to do evil is so real, and many times this evil is so overwhelming.)

The reality of everything “not yet” in subjection to Christ is so true, so stark. The coming of Christ, and of everything being put to right, seems like a far-fetched dream.

The believers to whom the author of Hebrews was writing to probably felt this way. They probably felt worse, what with the actual threat of losing their lives. The world being put to right seemed like a fantasy.

But the author of Hebrews talks of, and focuses on, Jesus who identified and represented us, who became our Champion.[1] He, too, faced many troubles. He experienced, first hand, how evil the world could be.

He became like me, to save me.

It is a most fascinating, most wondrous thought — Jesus became like me! He became like me who had to sleep and eat, who got hungry, who got exhausted, and became prone to the elements, and potentially got sick. At some point, he probably lost his voice from speaking too long to the crowds.

He felt emotions, and wasn’t ashamed to express them! He felt love, joy, and anger, and grief. He was tempted.

He identified with me. The world is going crazy — he understands. The world seems to be falling apart — he knows. The world has so many injustices — he grieves.

[Reflections on Hebrews 2:5-18]

 

[1] William L. Lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College).

The God who speaks.

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It is probably the question most asked by Christians all around the world, throughout the centuries: Where is God when the whole world is falling apart? 

I’m studying the book of Hebrews for our New Testament Epistles Class, and I am learning to appreciate the beauty and message of this sermon-epistle.

If it is true that Hebrews was written as a sermon for the persecuted Christians in around AD 64, during Nero’s time, then we have a picture of what its purpose was. It is interesting that the writer-preacher of Hebrews thought that the way to to address the Christians’ discouragement and fear of death was to begin with, and focus on, the Supremacy of Jesus.

Truly, the basis for our courage and confidence is Jesus Christ’s supremacy, and the fact that through Him, God has spoken, and continues to speak.

OUR GOD IS THE GOD WHO SPEAKS. This is the writer-preacher’s message to his  ragtag, disheveled, immensely discouraged and fearful audience.

At a time when the believers may have thought God was absent and blind to their suffering, they are reminded that God still speaks. He has spoken through Jesus, and continues to speak through His written Word, and through the Comforter.

I am reminded of myself last year. I’ve been thinking of this for several days now – how I felt so… numb, especially in the second half of 2016. 2015 to early 2016 was painful, and the rest of 2016 just left me with a dull throbbing. I was mourning so many things — some family issues, heart issues, and the fact that I had to give up so many of what gave me joy, among other things.

I felt like just going through the motions. I felt like God was silent.

Truth be told, I wasn’t excited for the new year. I think… I was even a little afraid that I would be the same joyless machine devoid of motivation and purpose.

But God still speaks. He has spoken, and will continue to speak. He is present, and will always be.

Let me rest in that truth. Let me listen to His voice.

[Reflections on Hebrews 1:1-2:4]

***

A good reference for the study of Hebrews, in case you’re interested:

William L. Lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment (Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College).

The First Christian Emperor

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The first time I picked up a slight interest about Constantine was back in 2003, when Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code came out.

It was all the rave back then, and even as I found myself engrossed in the novel, I wondered at the real historical events that surrounded the institution of Christianity as Rome’s state religion. And I wondered at how Christianity left the West and came to our Asian shores. Because really, how did we get here?

Thirteen years later, my questions are partially answered as I study Church History (Church history is much more interesting than it sounds! I think every Christian should study Church history! But that’s another blog post for another time.)

Turns out, it had a lot to do with Constantine, the first Christian emperor.

SO HOW DID IT ALL START?

It all started when the Roman empire was collapsing. It was toward the end of the third century AD, and against all odds, Diocletian (the emperor before Constantine) took the crumbling Roman empire and succeeded in returning order to the anarchy.[1] This new emperor took numerous steps to ensure the stability and efficiency of the empire.[2]

One of these steps was to purge the empire of Christians.

WHO WAS CONSTANTINE?

In the years following AD 303, the church reeled and staggered under the force of Diocletian’s vicious persecution,[3] also now known as the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman empire.

Constantine’s Conversion

At that time, Constantine himself was already a military leader, and in 312, he advanced through the Alps against his rival Maxentius to conquer Rome. Maxentius, apparently, was militarily superior, and so Constantine’s move was a gamble.[4]

What happened next was a crucial event in history that would affect the lives of Christians in the empire and redirect the course of Christianity.

There seem to be variations to the story, but the common scenes of the story are: Constantine marching to the Milvian Bridge, Constantine praying to the god of his father, and Constantine dreaming, or having a vision, of a cross in the sky and the words “Conquer by this.”[5] And so, against all odds, Constantine wins against his militarily superior rival.

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“Vision of the Cross” by Raphael, 1520-24

Constantine himself was won to the Christian faith, or so it seemed.

The implications and consequences of this moment were vast and perhaps unprecedented, for “…to acknowledge a certain god as supreme and determine to obey him… had special consequences when an emperor was involved.”[6] Indeed, as Constantine advanced in power throughout the empire, he also advanced the promotion of Christianity.

BUT WAS CONSTANTINE REALLY CHRISTIAN?

The effect of Constantine’s conversion, however, was not immediate.

He continued to give his honors to the Sun publicly, and although he played a significant role in what we now know as the Edict of Milan in 313, the results of his edict really had little effect on status quo.[7] Some even question the sincerity of the emperor’s conversion. History tells us that he still “…conspired; he murdered, he even retained his title Pontifex Maximus as head of the state religious cult.”[8]

Just Politics?

Some interpret Constantine’s conversion as purely political, and there is no denying that just as Diocletian, Constantine too was concerned about the empire’s stability and unity. The difference in the two emperors is that while Diocletian saw Christianity as a threat, Constantine saw Christianity’s potential for unity.[9]

Constantine finds out however, perhaps to his chagrin, that internal strife had befallen the church, mostly centering on the teaching of Arius. In an effort to overcome this strife, he “inserted himself into the doctrinal debate swirling around Arius”[10] and called for the council at Nicaea. The council rulings, now known today as the Nicene Creed, established, and set precedents for Christian orthodoxy.

The Emperor’s Favors

Constantine publicly favored Christians. He built grand basilicas, endowed churches with land and exempted these lands from taxation, gave gifts of food and grain allowances to churches, besides many other things, and all these expenses were extracted from the empire’s non-Christian population, who had learned to fear the emperor, by the aggressive and violent proclamations against those who did not identify with Christianity.[11]

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A reconstruction of Basilica Ulpia, one of Constantine’s basilicas. (Image from http://www.khanacademy.org/humanities)

The emperor also raised his sons and daughters as Christians, and was later baptized in 337.[12] His sons carried on their father’s generosity, exempting Christians from taxes, and giving them many other favors.[13] He also increasingly limited non-Christians from performing their usual activities by prohibiting public sacrifice, closing temples, and conspiring with Christians in their acts of violence towards unbelievers.[14]

Most significantly, Christians “could now in safety follow their inclination to defend and actively advocate their religious views among unbelievers.”[15] Under the new freedom, Christian activity flourished and gave way to evangelical campaigns and publicity.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM CONSTANTINE’S LIFE?

On the one hand, Constantine gave the Christians a reprieve from the heavy storm of Diocletian’s persecution.

We can only speculate what would have happened if the persecution had not stopped – perhaps the church, after suffering so profusely, might have never recovered. The favors Constantine gave the church also allowed for the growth and expansion of the influence of Christianity.

However, we may have mixed feelings from Constantine’s methods in advancing the Christian faith. While there were no official proclamations of persecutions against the non-Christians, Constantine (and his successors) progressively imposed heavier and heavier burdens upon them. Moreover, Constantine’s colluding with Christians in violently oppressing non-Christians is not something Christians ought to be proud of.

If anything, the life of Constantine shows the impact of power and authority on the expansion, or suppression, of Christianity. To his credit, perhaps Constantine’s activities might have been done out of a sincere devotion to God, and some of his methods, although questionable, may have been done out of his interpretation to pay homage to God.

One thing is for certain – his leadership has irrevocably affected Christendom.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

As you read this, what impressions did you get about Constantine?

What else do you think we can learn from Constantine’s life?

What other events from Constantine’s life are you curious about?

SOURCES:

[1] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 4th ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 98 of 541, Kindle.

[2] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 49.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 99 of 541, Kindle.

[5] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points, 50.

 [6] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (AD 100-400) (Westford, MA: Yale University, 1984), 43.

 [7] Ibid., 44.

[8] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 100 of 541, Kindle.

[9] Mark A. Noll, Turning Points, 50-51.

 [10] Ibid., 51.

 [11] Ibid., 49-50

[12] Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 100 of 541, Kindle.

 [13] Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (AD 100-400), 53.

 [14] Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), 74.

 [15] Ibid., 59.