Visit to Matteo Ricci’s Grave in China

Within a Chinese University in Beijing lies the grave of Matteo Ricci and many other Jesuit missionaries to China. We followed a guide to a small garden enclosure. The first enclosure contained the graves of Matteo Ricci, Adam Von Schall and Ferdinand Verbiest. During the Cultural Revolution, their graves were destroyed and only by the quick intervention did they remain intact.


Next to Matteo Ricci’s grave enclosure was a garden filled with around 65 graves. These Jesuit missionaries came to China and gave their lives for God’s work. Interestingly,  all the missionaries came with skill sets that they used to help the local Chinese government. Some were clock makers, cartographers, musicians, mathematicians. They did not merely come to preach the Gospel but found ways to enrich the lives of the Chinese through various skills. Thus, you will only find missionaries that have held positions in the government. Increasingly, these missionaries provide an example for modern day missionaries to China.

With the rise of Communism in the 1950s and the strengthening of governmental crackdown of house churches and even official government sanctioned churches, Matteo Ricci’s brand of ministry may be the way forward. It could be entering China officially to bless the people in China through business or teaching.

These Jesuit missionaries also show that an entire life dedicated to missions can truly impact a nation. Just like them, we need to adapt to their culture readily and not bring a colonialist mindset. Western ideas are not always better. We may have a thing or two to learn from the Chinese culture about loyalty, honour, bravery, filial piety and living in a community. We could also discover lessons how the Chinese churches have survived and thrived through years of hardship. We could also discover that Jesus will build his church no matter how dire the circumstance.

The Call

As the client signed on the dotted line, Sandra smiled to herself. She was her insurance agency’s most valuable employee and on track for a promotion. Maybe to partner even. Her life was going on so well – five-digit salary, a wonderful boyfriend, a thriving cell group in church…but she still felt something was missing. She couldn’t tell what it was.

After Sandra gave her client a warm handshake and smile, she headed towards the carpark. A familiar figure approached her.

“Hey Sandra.” The tall man with dark skin called out, his face lighting up. Sandra paused, her mind whirring. Where had she seen him before?

“Pastor Tim?” she asked.

Tim nodded vigorously and said, “You visited my church in Thailand last year with your church’s mission team.”

Sandra laughed once she remembered. Then she winced at the memory. She had felt God’s strong presence in Pastor Tim’s church and sensed that God might be calling her to become a missionary. That calling seemed like lightyears away since she buried herself in her work.

Pastor Tim was a fellow Singaporean who served as a missionary in a small village off Chiangmai. His whole family was there now for nearly five years. Since they were not in a rush, he bought Sandra a cappucino at a nearby café as he explained what had happened the past year.

“I’m back for a short break,” Tim said between sips of his flat white coffee. “When would you be coming back? We need good labourers in God’s harvest field.”

Sandra rubbed her forehead. “I don’t know. Things have been really busy. I got to check my schedule.” She knew being busy wasn’t a good excuse. You had to make time for the important things in life.

“Ok, let’s see how God leads you.” Pastor Tim prayed for her and left. She sat there for a few minutes pondering and praying if she gave the right answer. She whispered a short prayer for God to open and close the doors in her life. Then she went home.

Over the next few weeks, Sandra got promoted to partner. At her celebration with her family, her boyfriend proposed to her and she accepted it gleefully. But she still felt hollow inside. Pastor Tim’s conversation haunted her again and again. But how could she leave her job at this point? She needed money for her upcoming wedding and the house payments. It was impossible!

How could God call her at this time when it was hardest for her to give it all up? “God, can you call back later, maybe when I’ve retired and my children have moved out?” She prayed. Her boyfriend, Johnny, noticed her stirring the mushroom like a machine, her eyes glaced over.

“Hello, earth to Sandra?” Johnny said, pulling a funny face. Normally she would laugh, but this time she didn’t. “Tell me what’s happening.”

Sandra sighed and told him about her conversation with Pastor Tim and it kept gnawing at her again and again. Johnny folded his arms and leaned back. “So God might be calling you to full-time missions?”

Sandra nodded, unsure how Johnny would take it. She decided to plunge in. “I might need to give up the job at the firm.”

Johnny’s face turned red, his nostrils flaring. He slammed his hands on the table, shaking the bowls and cups. “What? You just became partner and now you’re giving it all up? Think about the wedding and house installments.”

Sandra gulped. She almost didn’t recognise this side of Johnny. He had been on a few mission trips before too. Why would he react this way?

Johnny said, “Let those missionaries do their thing. You can serve God in many other ways.” With that, he continued eating his Vongole pasta. Sandra lost all appetite.

That night, she prayed a few hours. She was reminded of Jesus, who was the Father’s first missionary. Who gave up his place in heaven to come to earth in the form of a baby. Who suffered and bled on the cross for her sins. If God gave up so much for her, her sacrifice seemed almost pitiful in comparison.

Sandra wept and asked God for forgiveness. But what about her career? Her boyfriend? So many uncertainties. As tears rolled down her cheeks and onto her handphone screen, she wrote a message to Pastor Tim.


This is a story I wrote in relation to my previous blog post “God, can you call back later?”. It’s fictional but the struggle is real. Many have sacrificed in order to heed God’s call. Not everyone will be called into full time ministry. But everyone is called to be a disciple of Jesus.

Book Summary: On Being the Antioch of Asia (W M Syn)

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Singapore has been labelled by Billy Graham as the Antioch of Asia. Have we lived up to our calling? Syn analyses how local churches and mission agencies can be properly related to each other for greater effectiveness. The recent trend is for Singapore local churches to directly send missionaries to the field and bypass the agencies. Why? Churches nowadays are well-informed about missions and have the funding to carry out work themselves. But is this the best option? Syn interviews many church and agency leaders to get their opinion. It must be stated that he is a director of a mission agency so there is conflict of interest. Since the book contains unnecessarily long-winded interviews, I shall highlight key findings that struck me.

Two key trends in missions:

1. Decrease in the availability of people for long-term missions service.

2. Direct sending by local churches.

…leads to two Symptoms:

1. Singapore missions system lacks cultural intelligence.

2. Missionaries and missions programmes are not venturing to the hard places (Unreached People Groups).

Local churches need to recognise that agencies are specialists in certain mission fields. For example, agencies have cultural intelligence, networks and crisis preparations to assist missionaries on the ground. However, many churches see agencies as competing for their own missionaries. This should not be the case as most pioneer mission work (even in Singapore) were started by agencies first. Think of the London Missionary Society (LMS) that started many Methodist schools in Singapore. The mission agency usually sends missionaries to plant churches in a new place. How can we overcome this break in relationship?

Syn proposes that mission agencies must adapt their roles drastically in order to partner with churches. There are two possible models:

1. Code Sharing Model

Code sharing has been used by the airline industry with great effectiveness. It is a model that finds ways for churches and agencies to share and collaborate without losing their own identity. He highlights the 25 Elements Model as a framework to delegate the responsibilities of a church or agency. The responsibilities are not split in an either-or fashion (church or agency) but differing degrees of responsibility.  This allows the local church to remain engaged on many levels.

2. Consultancy Model

The agency has specialised information that the church could tap on: crisis training etc. There is a need for formal consulting service by agency staff much like a consultant in the corporate world. Churches would pay the agency for the cost of their service. Normally, we think that ministry should be freely given but in many parts of the church, there is already fee-for-service! For example, training programmes, Chrsitian entertainers or Christian speakers. Why not missions consulting services.

Syn lists several characteristics of a mission consultant:

  • Facilitation skills and the ability to help the church develop their missions vision and programme.
  • Some preaching and teaching skills to inspire and impart knowledge.
  • An understanding of the needs and workings of the local church.
  • Some good missiology and theology of missions to help lay foundations.
  • Some strategic thinking skills to help missions committees think through their plans.
  • First-hand field experience which would be an advantage to share as a practitioner.

Agencies need a dedicated strategy to priorities consultancy service to churches.

Overall, this book provides a good overview of missions in Singapore and how we as a nation can truly fulfill our calling to be the Antioch of Asia by working together.

How to Follow-Up Your Mission Trip Participants

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How should we follow-up each participant in a mission trip? It can seem overwhelming at times. Let’s look at research. According to Brian Heerwagen’s research, there are three levels of participants after the short-term mission trip.

1. Level One: Not likely to join mission trip again (60%)

2. Level Two: Likely to join in another mission trip (30%)

3. Level Three: Likely to move on to mid-term or long-term service (10%)

These levels tell us that we should not follow-up on the participants equally. Meaning, those are really interested (Level Three – 10%) should have the most thorough follow-up. There is a useful guide to show how we can follow-up for each level, with level three having the most attention:

Level 1, 2 and 3 (all):

  • Attend 3 follow-up team meetings
  • Participate in the reporting of trip
  • Receive field update from team leader 2 months after mission trip

Level 2 and 3 only

  • Lead an aspect of next year’s mission trip
  • Join church missions committee

Level 3 only

  • Encourage them (or you take them) to attend missions conferences
  • Arrange appointments with sending organizations
  • Recommend books, videos, organisations, Web sites, and magazines related to missions.

As you can see, the follow-up treatment is different based on the levels of the participants. It is similar in some ways to Jesus’ having three circles of influence:

  • The 70 disciples
  • The 12 disciples
  • The 3 disciples (Peter, James and John)

Jesus spent the most time investing into the 3 disciples closest to Him. We should learn from His model to to be an effective mobilizer for missions.

 

Taken from:

Michael Wilder and Shane Parker, Transformission,  230-231.

Brian Heerwagen, The Next Mile: A leader’s guide, 48.

Nine Marks of a “Top-notch” Mission-Focused Church

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1. The church must have an outward focus and strategy.

2. At least 30% of the church’s budget must go to missions.

3. The church must have an on-going training program for missionary candidates.

4. Missions education must be integrated into all the programs of the church.

5. The church must send its own people.

6. The church must be concerned about and pray for the lost.

7. The church must have a pastor that leads them in vision and outreach.

8. The church must be interested in helping other churches in missions.

9. The church must have a strong evangelism program focusing on its community.

Taken from Tom Telford’s, “All-Star Mission Churches“,  133-134.

 

Missions: Going Glocal

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Ever heard of Glocal missions? Glocal was coined by Dr. David Kim as a fusion of the words “global” and “local”.

Global + Local = Glocal

He bases it on:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Acts 1:8

He highlights the word “and” to mean a simultaneous spread of the gospel. This is in contrast to the common belief that the spread of the gospel is geographically sequential. Therefore, while the church participates in global missions, they should not forget local missions concurrently. It is not an either/or scenario but a both/and. In fact, we can go a step further for glocal missions to become more effective.

Let’s suppose your mission team is visits a Thai orphanage once a year. The impact on participants is minimal. How can we adapt the mission to be glocal and engage your trippers more? We can look at three areas.

1. Pre-Trip

The mission team, in addition to mission planning, can find a local community of Thais in your home country to build relationships with. Participants are to learn the Thai language and culture. What’s more, Thais in your country are likely to speak your native language. If you’re not reaching out to Thais in your own country, would you reach out anywhere else?

You could also use this engagement as a test-bed for your proposed mission trip activities (e.g. singing songs, games). This would allow the team to practice and correct anything that don’t work.

2. On-Trip

So you’ve tested your ideas before you left for the trip. Also, you have already engaged Thais and built confidence in relating to them. Pray hard that God will help you!

3. Post-Trip

After coming back, emotions are high for a while. Often, it wanes away and participants wait for another trip next year. This is where mission leaders must take the lead. Keep on engaging with the Thai community back home. Do what you did on the mission trip to bless them. Being global means you don’t stop missions wherever you are. If a Thai comes to know Christ and goes back to Thailand, it is also a method for spreading the gospel!

Missionary Principles Series, Part 4 of 11: Training of Native Christians

This is the fourth part, in a series on Missionary Principles. Simply stated, the principle is:

The chief work of the missionary must be the training of native Christians

I believe there is a place for traditional missionaries who settle into a different land, culture and sometimes, spend their whole lives there. This is called ‘incarnational’ work, just like Jesus, who incarnated as a human and dwelt among us. This is needed especially in a place where there are no Christians.

However, not everyone can afford to move for a long period of time. Some may have standing obligations at home whether it be work or family. But don’t let that be an excuse for you do nothing and leave it all to missionaries.

You can do this: Empower locals to spread the Gospel.

I call this the ‘Empowering Mission Trip’ or EMT where you use your short-term trip to train workers. Train a few, and the far-reaching effects spreads out.

My parents and church have been doing EMTs for years with much fervor. From what I learnt, there are several advantages of EMTs:

  • No need to stay overseas for months or years. Short-term trips are possible.
  • With a translator, you don’t need to learn a new language. But I advise you learn basic phrases to build rapport with the locals.
  • Local missionaries know the culture, language and can survive at lower costs than a foreign missionary. Supporting a local missionary is usually cheap and effective.
  • One missionary can only do so much. But if a local group of missionaries are trained, the web of contacts is dramatically increased.

Can you imagine, Jesus left the Gospel into the hands of 12 disciples to evangelise the world? And for 3 years, Jesus spent most of his time training his disciples. That can be our strategy too.

Here are two recommendations to implement EMTs:

  1. Equip the local missionaries with useful skills.

There are an endless number of things you can teach them on an empowering mission trip.

  • Bible knowledge
  • How to evangelise
  • Business generation
  • Handling money
  • Leadership
  • Public speaking
  • Hygiene practices
  • Music skills

First of all, check with the local missionaries if the topics are of interest or needed. I’m sure you or your church members are blessed with skills that can empower the locals.

Preparing lessons or a short course for EMTs takes effort and time. Are you willing to invest in the eternal kingdom of God? God blessed you so you can bless others.

2. Support a local missionary

Based on real needs, provide for them as they do the Lord’s work. Make sure you choose carefully who you support that they are really advancing the Lord’s kingdom. Some locals due to their poverty, ask for money constantly for their own wants. It pays to keep in contact to find a trustworthy person to support. If they prove unable to handle money well, cut off all giving to them. There are many other true missionaries to support.

Missionary Principles Series, Part 2 Of 11: Our Work Must Be Evangelistic

This is the second in a series of 11 posts on Missionary Principles.

In this post, I will be concentrating on keeping our mission work evangelistic. This means, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the saving of souls.

Dr. Smith highlights that though social reforms are good such as the building of schools, hospitals and other helpful institutions, they cannot be our primary focus.

Our primary focus is to preach the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul stated emphatically:

1 Corinthians 9:16b

Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Paul made it his central aim to preach the Gospel. Whatever he did had one goal – the saving of souls. That must be our goal too.

It is a trend this day to engage in social work to help the less fortunate. In fact, many non-profit secular organisations are involved and can do a much better job than the church. This is about improving people’s lives. Unfortunately, the church has followed the same mentality of doing social outreach works without sharing the Gospel.

I’m not saying that social outreach efforts are wrong. In fact, I’m thankful for them as they open a bridge from church to community. But there must come a point in time where the Gospel is preached. Secular organisations do not share that viewpoint and some forbid religious themes in the name of tolerance and respect.

If the church doesn’t preach the Gospel, who will?

If the mission team doesn’t preach the Gospel, who will?

Romans 10:14

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

For people to be saved, they must hear the Gospel preached. It is so easy to be bogged down in social work whether local or overseas and forget the real reason why we are there. Mission trips can be diluted into mere social work with little eternal impact.

We have to share the Gospel.

Knowing this, let me suggest a few steps you can take:

1. Keep the Gospel in the forefront of all you do

Social work is merely a means to an end, not an end in itself. The Gospel is the end. The problem is when we expect gamblers, drunkards and child abusers to change without giving them the Gospel first. That’s impossible! When they are saved by God’s mighty power, then they will change.

2. Organise evangelistic rallies

One of the best ways to spread the Gospel is to organise evangelistic rallies and services. Preach the Gospel and give an invitation for people to come forward to accept Jesus. This may pose a difficulty in certain restricted countries so it depends.

3. Know how to share the Gospel

I’m alarmed that many church-goers do not know how to share their faith. They leave it to the pastor to do it. This is terribly ineffective. A pastor is limited in terms of time and energy. And most of his contacts are Christians. Imagine if every church member is equipped with the skills to share the Gospel to their own circle of contacts. There would be an exponential increase in the Gospel being preached!

Do you know how to share the Gospel? If not, here are some useful resources (click on the links):

 

Missionary Principles Series, Part 1 Of 11: Our Work Must Be Evangelical

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In this series on Missionary Principles, I will be expanding on each of them in separate posts. Let’s get started on the first one.

What is the meaning of evangelical?

Evangelical simply refers to following the teaching of the Gospel or Christianity.

This is crucial as theology will affect what is being taught to the locals. And their teaching will determine how they live their lives.

When locals become believers, you teach them based on your theology.

There lies the danger. You reproduce what you are. Your brand of theology will be passed on consciously and subconsciously to others.

Wrong theology will be passed on and the gospel loses its effectiveness and power.

My suggestions flow from Paul’s letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Therefore, I believe that:

1. Missionaries should have a basic theology training in a reputable Bible school 

Your theology must be sound, not liberal or even worse, against the basic teachings of the Bible. Especially dangerous are Bible schools that only focus on spiritual giftings such as prophecy and healing. That is imbalanced.

You must be at least grounded in systematic theology found in the Bible. Basic courses would be Old Testament and New Testament surveys, Doctrines and Pastoral theology. All other courses are icing on the cake.

2. Missionaries must be vetted by sending organisation

The theology of missionaries must be tested to make sure they adhere to the sound tenets of Christianity. It would be a shame if wrong doctrines are taught to the locals far away from the sending organisation or church. The effects rippling out would be seen only years later as the local church crumbles under shaky foundations.

3. Missionaries must teach the local believers right doctrine

After going for several mission trips, I’ve come to realise many pastors have never had a proper systematic Bible education. This is where mission teams can step in to train them. That’s the idea of equipping them for good works. It all starts with the right theology.

May this be your prayer.

2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Missionary Principles Series: Introduction

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In a previous post on Missionary Principles, I quoted from Dr. Oswald J. Smith’s fantastic book “The Challenge of Missions“. Read the post first if you’ve not done so.

Dr. Smith laid out 11 helpful missionary principles that any Christian, whether pastor, missionary or laymen should know. I will start a series of posts to unpack the 11 principles to help you apply them today in our current day and age.

The great thing about principles is this: They are timeless.

Methods change but principles don’t. That’s why these core principles will help guide you in forming your own personal plan in missions.

I’m excited to start. Are you?

I’ll list and link all the 11 posts here as they are completed:
1. Our work must be evangelical

2. Our work must be evangelistic

3. Our missionaries ought not to be pastors of native churches

4. The chief work of the missionary must be the training of native Christians

5. Native pastors and churches should not be supported by foreign funds

6. We should make it a rule to aim for the largest centres of population

7. We must concentrate on the unoccupied areas

8. In matters of finance there should be information, prayer and faith

9. We should never go into debt

10. Allowance should be based on needs, not worth

11. Our overhead must be kept low