The first great gift God gave to me came in the form of my parents. Today is my mother’s 55th birthday and this post is dedicated to her.
Born in Bali, my mother is the validation of my weak and thin claim that I have roots in a most exotic and fascinating place. She’s the second of four children. She was essentially my math teacher all throughout elementary school, and the early foundation of the engineer in me is credited to her.
She was the one who quizzed me before every exam until 6th grade, and she was also the one who punished me when I underperformed. She accompanied me to dance lessons, English lessons, piano lessons… and for the last one, also sat nearby to pinch me when I pressed the wrong notes, which happened all the time. She bore with me through my ugly teenage years, and now, waiting to see what will become of my life.
My mother’s life is a continuing, open lesson book for me, especially as a woman in the brink of adulthood. Or maybe I’m in it already. I don’t know. It’s debatable.
To the youth, phases of life seem to line up in a predictable way. We start as students. Then comes early working life. Singlehood is the given status around this time, and then comes marriage, kids, middle age, empty nests, and retirement. It seems sometimes that these are the way life should be.
My mother’s life, however, has given me a slightly varied perspective. She lived with her family until she was about 26, moved in with my father when they got married, had kids, lived comfortably, saw her kids went to college overseas, and perhaps experienced early phases of retirement. But when she was 51, everything changed.
She became a widow then, and instead of cruising along in comfort and safety, she began a new phase that she never experienced before, living alone. Her kids are living half the world away, and no one is settled yet. And not only that, she now has to be a full time working woman, inheriting the family business that my father had built almost all of his life. The pressure is high and the burden is heavy, and she bears it day by day, with a degree of uncertainty on what will become of her family.
If there’s anything I learn from her, is that none of us is entitled to live an easy, comfortable, or predictable life. But one thing is sure: God is enough in all seasons of life, and He will sustain through it all, somehow.
Happy birthday to my dearest mother. I love you tons!
Once upon a time ago, I was taught not to leave any spiritual event/conference/retreat without reflection. Here are my reflections from the ANEW Fall Conference 2012: “Rise Up and Build.”
1. The Personal Call
For Peter, the miracle by the sea was a personal call to a non-partial, entire-life commitment to Jesus Christ (Mark 5). To him who knew the coming and going of fish, the miracle said, this Man had authority even over fish! A farmer would think the miracle was awesome, but wouldn’t impress his heart as it did to the fisherman’s. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Peter knew Jesus was divine.
God has a way of convincing each person of His divinity that is especially customized for that person. It will be distinct than the next person’s experience. The call to discipleship comes to each of us in a deeply personal way, that there will be no shadow of a doubt in our hearts that it is indeed the voice of Jesus calling me to be His disciple.
Have I not been convinced? Have I not heard His call? Answer: Yes, I have. Through the story of Peter, Jesus said to me, “Then stay with me.”
The disciples left Jesus to fish because they were disappointed with Him (Mark 4-5). His ministry seemed fickle, success was not consistent, and visible results were discouraging. They thought of John the Baptist in prison.
Disappointed with Jesus? Sounds almost sacrilegious, but the experience is real in our walk with Jesus. The great news is that God too is real in mending the wounds of disappointment. To the disciples, He went to them again, called them again, and showed them they could trust Him with all their cares.
168 years ago today, a multitude was disappointed with God. He did not show up. Many hardened their hearts and left God, because they feared of getting hurt again. But those whose hearts stayed soft and mendable found not just healing, but a new song to sing, a deeper understanding, a greater cause to fight for.
Don’t be afraid of disappointment. God knows how to heal.
3. An Education Highest in All Schools
There are a few men and women whom I long to study under, sit at their feet, and say, “Pleeeaasseee, teach me…” What would I give to shadow them for a day, a week, or a month?
“If men will endure the necessary discipline, without complaining or fainting by the way, God will teach them hour by hour, and day by day.” (Desire of Ages, 250) Hour by hour! To be taught by God, to have that “contact of mind with mind, and soul with soul” (Desire of Ages, 250) with God! What craziness, what privilege! And this is actually reality! God wants to teach me… Woh. No tuition involved, just patience endurance, shutting those murmurs up, and yielding to the teaching. This is the highest education in all of the schools, taught by Him of whom it was said, “Never had the world’s great men such a teacher.” (Desire of Ages, 250)
What an awesome privilege it was to have Elder Geoffrey Mbwana spend the weekend with us. I was blown away by the wisdom that emanated from him, the dignified manner in which he carried himself, and the pointed way he answered questions. Such are the things learned in the school of Christ. I want to be like Elder Mbwana when I grow up.
5. I Am the Church
Oftentimes it is the trendy thing to do amongst young people to express skepticism and criticism toward the church, as if the church is a separate entity from us, from me. But the church is the people. I am the church; you are the church. And so every problem the church has is not their problem (whoever they may be), but my problem. And I can engage and be a solution, instead of a source of discouragement.
No matter how many faults there are, the church is still God’s appointed agent of salvation, and it is still the object of God’s affection. “Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts.” (Act of the Apostles, 12)
6. I Love My Church
One evident thing from Elder Mbwana’s enlightening seminar and Q&A session was how ignorant I am about my church, the Seventh-day Adventist Church. 150 years of church growth experience and history is a treasure house of knowledge and wisdom. “We have nothing to fear for the future except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.” (Life Sketches, 196).
Young people, we cannot be laissez-faire about how our church operates. We don’t do campus ministry in vacuum or in isolation from it, and it’s time we take responsibilities as members of the Adventist church. I love my church; I care about my church. Would I make plans to attend the 60th General Conference Session in 2015? You bet. It’ll be in San Antonio, Texas. Who’s with me?
7. A Place for Everyone
In Isaiah 56 God says that in His house, there will be no strangers, no one who has no name, family, or inheritance. There will be no outcast, because God will give them a name and they will rejoice. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
One occasion in the Gospel accounts, Jesus quoted this phrase from Isaiah when He kicked out those who turned the temple into a marketplace, those who made merchandise out of salvation, forgiveness, and grace. The fact that Jesus was livid at this reveals how serious God is about making His church a place for everyone. There is a breach between heaven and earth, and the church is called to be repairers of that breach.
When I came to Princeton 4 years ago, I found it a desert (c.f. Acts 8). Seeing that I was coming from a place that was, how should I say, a “spring of waters”, it was rough. Princeton isn’t a desert anymore, but for a while I found myself praying, “Please, God, don’t let me go through that again. Don’t send me to another desert.” But Philip, when the call came to leave a thriving place to go to a desert, rose up and went.
I cannot be marveled by the story without making the link to my life. So this weekend, in the context of considering post-grad school options, I said once again to God, I’ll go where You want me to go.
“Our heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service of God supreme, will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.” (Ministry of Healing, 481)
9. Get In the Acts
Pr. Israel Ramos’ testimonies were crazy. No other way to describe them. They were the stuffs of the book of Acts. So what did those testimonies tell me? First, the book of Acts continues today. Second, you won’t see miracles if you just sit in your room. If you want to see God in action, you gotta go where the actions take place.
10. Five Years
I’ve had the privilege of serving with ANEW for five years now, having a glimpse of what it means to “Rise Up and Build.” We are far away from being done. There’s so much more to build. But meeting each person who joins in the network every year, I wish everyone could see what I see, the way God had orchestrated a movement and how each person is weaved into this awesome story. One of these days I’ll complete the writing of the ANEW story, for this reason.
I’ve tasted the stress and joys of service (more joys than stress, though, trust me) in this Mid-Atlantic part of God’s vineyard. Would you believe me if I say it’s really fun? It is. And whatever’s next, I’m definitely not giving this fun up. Not ever.
“He is the Christ of God, and I will devote my life to His service.” (Desire of Ages, 163).
There are many ways to be a tourist. For example, one can remain in one’s own vacation bubble, as is necessary sometimes for recovery and rest from daily toils, or one can break through and be immersed in the world and culture on site.
I tend to like cultural experiences and usually try to discover the lives and customs of the local people. What is their reality like? How do they think? Et cetera, et cetera… I can’t pretend that I immerse myself completely, like those who would walk on foot and visit neighborhoods, shops, and houses, but at least I can ask questions to the people I interact with and to the local tour guides.
But in Bali, it is very hard to ignore its cultural and religious artifacts, since they are simply in sight everywhere you turn. Temples are ubiquitous, and the locals’ belief system is visibly displayed not just in their Hindu ceremonial precessions, but also in their architecture and daily customs. I would say it even dictates Bali’s economy and weighs in on Bali’s social progress vis-à-vis modernity and secularism.
For example, every morning the Balinese put out sesajens, or small offerings composed of flowers, rice, and salt in bamboo leaf trays all over the place. You would find them by the streets, statues, in front of houses, restaurants, counters… basically everywhere. These offerings, in oversimplified terms, are to please the gods and prevent their wrath upon them.
Every house and building in Bali has its own altar, whether small or big, which is put at the front of the house near the entrance gate. Bridges would have statues of some manifestations of Hindu gods on both sides of each end, to protect the space and prevent evil spirits.
Many statues, poles in buildings, pillars, and even trees would have sashes of a particular kind around them. The motif is called poleng. It is a piece of cloth with black and white squares, a symbol of balance, akin to the Chinese yin and yang. But it’s not just any generic notion of balance; it particularly symbolizes the balance between good and evil. The alternating black and white signifies good and evil that coexist everywhere; one cannot be present without the other.
This concept, it seems to me, is very Hindu, for a lack of a better description. The three main deities that compose the Trimurti in Hinduism (kind of like the Trinity), Brahma, Wisnu (Vishnu), and Siwa (Shiva), are the creator god, sustainer god, and the destroyer/transformer god, respectively. The destroyer god is feared the most, but he is not seen as evil, since his work is necessary to get rid of old things and transform them to a newer state.
Poleng around an altar.
Though I do not subscribe to the Hindu belief system, I admire its cohesiveness and pervasiveness in the Balinese society. Believing in something means that their whole lives revolve around it and it’s publicly displayed, even if their motives may be combined with fear of the gods. Their religion is not a private matter. It dictates how they spend their money, their daily activities, how they deal with birth, marriage, and death, and every aspect of life. There is not one thing that is purely secular. Take the economy, the emblem of development and modernity. If every building needs to have an altar, it means that every building project in Bali must needs to budget to build the altar, no questions asked. It is not a small matter, optional, or of a low priority, because in their minds, they simply would not tolerate an unprotected house or building.
It is refreshing to see something that is systematic and consistent in a world that is increasingly subscribing to a buffet style belief system. In a way, this is the kind of integration that I yearn for with my own belief system. I mean, the fact that every house has an altar is so mind-blowing to me. What would it look like if every Christian had the same regard for sacred things in their houses… to see their belief as central and pivotal to daily activities…