Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dignity in death

We didn’t have the chance to know his name. We only know him as Thin Yannat’s father. He was a living skeleton—with sunken eyes and protruding bones. He was suffering from AIDS. Narlin, Megan, Aye Phet, our Burmese co-woker and I had visited him in different occasion to bring food and medicine. We came to know him because we take care of his child for him and he was grateful to us for doing it. He wept when his child was kidnapped but managed a faint smile when we got her back.

He was once a reliable factory worker here in Mae Sai. But he was kicked out from work when the employer learned he had AIDS. His work permit expired and he became a homeless illegal immigrant. We didn’t know how he got the HIV virus, when you saw a person suffering, it seems not to matter anymore.

No money and very sick, he could not go home to Myanmar. His friends wanted to take care of him, but he refused. He did not want to be a burden to them. Nobody wanted to take him to the hospital because of the humor floating around that poor illegal Burmese migrants are euthanized. It is only a rumor but it is not unfounded as well.

He was dying trying to keep his dignity by caring for himself as he waited for death. He was lying down in great pain in a shanty made of grass roof and wall of nets. He was living with a family of scavengers who themselves were impoverished illegal immigrants. Too weak to move and in excruciating pain, he strived to live on his own in spite of inevitable death.

This was the situation when we found him. He wanted to go home to Burma before he died. With his friends, they attempted to bring him across the river. We knew that it was impossible to get him to cross the border legally without him getting into trouble with the Thai police.

So, they put him into the boat and when they were about to paddle across, a policeman came into the view and they aborted their plan and hoped for another opportunity. But this would not come again, the exertion had been too much for his frail body that he died in their arms. We all silently wept for him. We wept because of compassion for the man. We wept for his child. And we wept because we fail to minister to a dying man in his last moment.

Before he died, Aye Phet asked a Pastor to come and minister to him because he knew that Pastor personally and at one time he attended his church. The Pastor was one of the students at the Missions Training Center. Narlin went to pick him up and asked him to minister to the dying man. He refused and nonchalantly replied that the man was not a member of his church. Narlin cried out loud and let her emotions of frustrations burst out in anger toward the Pastor.

The Pastor refused to minister to a dying man and it made us angry. Narlin and I were their teachers and we were supposed to be responsible for teaching these local pastors about ministering to the dying people. However, we unbalancedly focused on Biblical studies in expense of teaching them practical theology. The incident demonstrates the failure of imbalance teaching. What good is biblical knowledge when you cannot minister to the people in a time they badly needed it? Perhaps we wept because we failed to teach these people.

What are we going to do with the dead body of an illegal migrant who died of AIDS? This was our next dilemma until our Pastor (this is not the same person mentioned) told us to report it to the Village leader. With the Pastor’s help and some members of Mae Sai Grace Church, we called the Moo Ban’s (Village) Rescue 199. They helped us buried the man in a graveyard readily provided for the situation like this which we believe is not uncommon in Mae Sai, poor illegal migrants who die of an illness without any relatives and thus were simply buried in an unknown grave. Together with the Pastor we gave the man a funeral ceremony he rightly deserved. We were comforted knowing that he believed in Jesus Christ as his Savior before he died.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thin Yannat

We were in Chiang Mai spending the holiday with the Garcias when we received a text message from Megan, the American missionary who volunteered to work with us. “One of the children had been kidnapped and we don’t know where she is right now.”

Panic started to set in and we called up our Burmese co-worker at Grace Home Kindergarten Center and asked for details. And the girl was indeed taken from GHKC by a woman who arrested once for human trafficking. She belongs to a syndicate which smuggles young girls and children from Myanmar to Southern Thailand for work and most of these young girls end up in prostitution.

We were helpless and we could not do anything because we were miles away; we could not report this incident to the Thai police because the child’s father came from Myanmar and was staying in Thailand illegally. This would add to the trouble rather than solve it.

GHKC is not only a daycare center. There were times when it serves as an orphanage. We take care of children whose parents could no longer do it for reasons like death or bad health. And in this case, Thin Yannat’s (the girl’s name) mother is dead and her father was suffering with HIV/AIDS. He was waiting to die somewhere in the middle of the rice field under a tree deprived of any medical treatment (this is another story).

Sleep could not come to us easily that night. We made a phone call, the next morning and we were relieved to find out that they got Thae-Yaw Nat back with the help of our friend who works with International Organization for Migration (IOM), a non-religious NGO.

We decided to adopt Thin Yannat. She is now staying with us and we bring her to Grace Home Kindergarten everyday. We do not know how the paper works about adoption here but we will soon find out and do the necessary things required by the law. She will stay with us and perhaps bring her home to the Philippines.

On the picture are Thin Yannat with Narlin

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Reasons to be thankful

I thought I’m having another bad week when I clicked at the link at the sidebar for Dr Jim West’s blog and learned that it was deleted. I knew right away that it was hacked and my suspicion was confirmed after reading numerous posts about the incident. I was relieved to learn though that after 24 hours, he decided to give blogging another shot. I am one of his many readers who simply delighted to see his blog up and running again.

After a week of brooding over the miserable laptop—cracked LCD and dead hard drive I resolved to get over it. I lost files and pictures but all is not lost. I am still hoping to recover some of them if I would connect the hard drive to another computer in a hard drive enclosure. I just need some money to buy it.

Moreover when I checked the CD I burned to backup some of my files it turned out that some of the data were actually copied although the software would say that the burning failed. I recovered about 50 pages of the dissertation. It’s better than nothing.

I am just thankful to Ben for encouragement and to those who comments (yes the two of you). I was encouraged more than you’ll ever know. :)

A friend and co-worker learned about what happened and she loaned me her HP CRT monitor. The monitor is very good. I also borrowed a hard disk from a friend’s old laptop that she is not using. It has smaller capacity but works great. I’m praying that the Holy Spirit would speak to these people, touch their hearts and eventually let me have these goodies.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A bad week

I had a terrible week. I was so frustrated that I almost cry. If my kids were not with me and didn’t make fun of the situation I might have done so.

First, Narlin and I planned to go to Mae Sot with our friend in her car. We arranged to meet her in Chiang Mai but we didn’t have enough money. So Narlin went alone. She is visiting a friend who is running a Burmese school and we want to know how it is being done. We are planning to run the same kind of school here. So I was left in the house with the children.

Second, the LCD of my laptop broke when my daughter hit it with a wristwatch. She got mad with his brother’s teasing that she threw the thing toward him but I guessed he was able to duck from it that it hit the LCD. Now the LCD has cracks, it looks similar to a car’s cracked windshield, only in laptop the liquid leaks and those like blots of blank ink in the white background screen. If that won’t make you cry, this one will do. The hard disk in the same laptop crashed after a week! This is horrible. My heart stops beating for a while. All the data and pictures (family and ministry) we have been saving in that laptop in the last two years flashed before my eyes. My dissertation and research notes went kaput with it. The laptop bios could no longer detect the hard disk. I should have backed up my data but the laptop’s DVD/CD-RW had not been working right in a while and burning CD always ends up unsuccessful.

I can’t afford to buy a new LCD, hard disk and much more a new lap top. It is a relief that my friend gave his old (Pentium 1 with damaged LCD) laptop to my son and this is I will be using for a while in posting and in my writing my dissertation. The laptop is just too slow that I can only use it for typing, checking emails and browsing the internet. Graphics cause the laptop to freeze. The RAM and the hard disk are very small thus even posting here is painstakingly slow. Cutting and pasting of text takes so much memory that re-posting some of my posts to my other blogs becomes a chore.

This means I can’t blog too often as much as I want too (more limited as it is right now). Please help us to pray for a new computer. I am also hoping that the data on the hard disk can still be recovered. Any suggestions?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Theology and culture: Worldview

What is worldview and how important to study it when you are doing cross cultural ministry? According to Charles Kraft worldview is inherent in culture. It is a culturally structured assumptions, values and commitments or allegiances underlying a people’s perception. It is the structuring of the deepest level presuppositions on the basis of which people live their lives. It provides cultural bases for the structuring of people’s actions and perceived reality.

Worldview can be characterized as follows. Firstly, its assumptions or premises are not reasoned out, but assumed to be true without prior proof. These assumptions are deeply embedded in the culture. These assumptions are taught from generation to generation so persuasively that they seemed to have become absolute and not subject to questioning. Second, a people’s worldview provides them with a lens by which they see the world through. In terms of which reality is perceived and interpreted. Thirdly, people organizes its life and experiences into an explanatory whole that it seldom (if ever) questions unless some of its assumptions are challenged by experience that the people cannot interpret from within that framework. And finally, of all the problems that surface when people from different cultures come into contact with each other, those that arise from differences in worldview are the most difficult to deal with.

A person who comes from a homogeneous country usually falls in category of having mono-cultural perspective. This means that their worldview is limited to their own point of view only. Consciously or otherwise they have the tendency to be ethnocentric. They have the idea that their culture is the best and they are the best human being created by God. They think their ways are superior to other cultures in many ways. This perspective lacks respect for other people’s way.

It has the tendency to be absolutistic and believe that the only way to do things is their way. If others do things differently they think it is wrong. A good example of this is using spoon and fork in eating. They smirk when they see people eating with their hands and think that it is barbaric and primitive.

Mono-cultural perspective buys into naïve realism. If I were a mono-cultural person, I would think that my values are far more advanced and thus I think I had arrived. I would have the habit of evaluating other people’s customs and perspectives in terms of my own culturally learned assumptions and values. I have developed my own lens in which to assess other people. I would measure their intelligence and effectiveness based on what my culture has set for me. I would readily use pejorative terms to contrast my ways with those of others. I may even think that my culture is biblical. This is ethnocentricity. Then I don’t have a business to be in the mission field. I should pack and go home.

The image is from worldview site.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Moltmann on ancestor cult

Okinawa counts as a centre of the Asian ancestor cult. Everywhere in the mountains one sees graves with benches in front of them where families can gather. I gave the main lecture of my tour in a Catholic church taking as my subject “Ancestor cult and the Resurrection Hope.” My listeners were very moved, and for the first time I saw Japanese people weeping. For them, the dead are not “dead and gone” as they are for us.

As ancestors, they are indeed very much present, and as good spirits can bless and as suffering spirits torment. Down to the present day, the battle of Okinawa has left behind it long shadows in families. The stories they tell are terrible beyond all imaginings. During a long car journey, Professor Kinjo, who is today 80 years old and pastor of the central church, told me defeated Japanese soldiers on the island of Takashiki drove families in his village into the caves to mass suicide, in order to save “the Tenno honour.” He himself and his brother were forced to kill their own mother, and he only survived by chance. On the southern tip of Okinawa, whole classes of Japanese schoolchildren threw themselves down the precipice. Finally, Admiral Otta committed ritual suicide. On the black marble tablets in the Peace Park, the name of 250,000 people who died in that battle are engraved. The souls of these dead find no peace, because they have received no justice, and to find peace with the dead belongs to the reverence for ancestors.

Christian missionaries condemned this Asiatic reverence for ancestors as idolatry and demanded that Christians abandon it. But that was the non-culture of the Western world rather than Christian faith. It is better to develop a Christian form of reverence for ancestors, springing from the shared Christian resurrection hope, as has happened in Korea. And for us in the West, it is important to learn again how to deal with the burdens and blessings of our forefathers instead of letting them disappear in anonymous graves; for whether we like it or not, we live in their light and in their shadow.

Jurgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, 365-66.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Theology and culture: Dimensions of Culture

We tend to judge the goodness of a culture based on the standard of our own culture. According to H. Richard Neihbur cultural is a social heritage, a human achievement, a world of values. It is concern with temporal and material realization of values and its conservation. Culture by its very nature is pluralistic.

Narlin and I sometimes get upset with the local people we are working with because we thought that they have doing their work haphazardly. It was frustrating to ask them to do something, hoping that they understood and would do it according to our expectations. But there are just no way could they do things as we wanted them to do. And we blame this on culture. We realized by now that even though we are so like them in many ways, our similarity is only skin deep. Evidently, deep inside we are very much different from them.

Culture is defined by Hiebert as more or less integrated system of ideas, feelings and values and their associated patterns of behavior and products shared by a group of people who organize and regulate what they think, feel and do.

Culture has cognitive, affective and evaluative dimension. Cognitive dimension is the aspect of culture that has to do with the knowledge shared by members of a group or society. It makes community life possible. It provides the conceptual contend of a culture arranging people’s experiences into categories to larger systems of knowledge. It tells people what exists and does not. It includes the assumptions and beliefs we make about reality. It provides the basic ingredients of thought that it is almost impossible to break away from it. Language is a reflection of one’s culture reinforcing the way one thinks. Cultural knowledge is stored in many different ways—books, written materials, billboards, etc. It can also be preserved in oral-tradition like stories, poems, songs, proverbs, riddles, dramas, etc.

Affective dimension, on the other hand, has to do with feelings-appreciation of beauty, tastes in food and dress, likes and dislikes, and even in the expression of sorrow and other emotions. It plays an important part in relationships, in manners of etiquette, and fellowship. It also includes communication of love, hate and other emotions through facial expressions and body language.

Evaluative dimension is from which a culture put values and judges human relationships as to moral and immoral. It involves ranking what is high and low in occupations, habits and attitudes as to what is acceptable and what is not. Value judgments have three types. First is that culture evaluates cognitive beliefs to determine whether they are true or false, whether to submit to scientific findings or remain in their primitive beliefs and conception of things. Second, culture judges the emotional expression of human life—whether to sing in sharp piercing voice or to sing in deep mellow tones. Third, culture judges values and determine what is right and wrong, for example, which to give higher values to concept of moral rightness and justice, or relationships.

Each culture is made of many sets of symbol. A symbol is associated with specific meaning, emotion, or value with a certain behavior or cultural product Symbols must be understood according to their historical and cultural contexts. We can not make judgment to the symbols whether it is good or evil from our own set of criteria. No symbol stands alone; it should be interpreted according to its relationship with other sets of symbol. We do not define the symbol rather the meaning of a symbol is acquired through the definition given to it from the community who create it. It is a part of culture that is shared by the entire community and given the same meaning by that community.

The West has the tendency to separate the symbol from their form and meaning while the Eastern culture could not, they see a complete fusion of symbol and what it symbolizes. Rituals have little meaning in the West, for it is just a symbol of what is going on inside their heart. For non-western people, worship and its symbolisms is not separate from what is happening in the heart and what is going on in the act of worship.

Every individual is shaped and conditioned by the culture from which they were born. Their cultural heritage shapes their view of life and world. Thus rejection of something foreign is inherent in culture. It is not surprising that the gospel is rejected not because they refused to believe in Jesus Christ but because it is being presented foreign to one’s own culture. It is the task of the missionaries to make the presentation of the gospel acceptable to the target culture. What preventing us to do this is the idea that we are compromising the message of the gospel but missionaries from the past were able to do this accompanied by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. This is why the gospel had been welcomed by a whole tribe at one time.

Another good example about the significance of symbols in Asian worship is the celebration of the Lord Supper. I was converted as a Baptist and we are taught by missionaries that the bread and the wine are merely symbols of body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. But for most Asian, it is difficult not to give reverence to these so called “symbols.” We can not help but give these elements special treatment. However because of the repeated emphasis on merely symbolism, most churches have taken the elements for granted. They have lost their “specialness” in our mind that it makes us uncomfortable to see that churches are not taking the elements and the ordinance itself seriously.

This is also true with our concept of a church building. We have been taught (rightly from the Scripture) that the church is the people and that the building means nothing. So Christians can meet anywhere whether in a house or garage. But growing in Asian culture gives us the mindset that there should be a holy place. And as a Christian the church building is considered to be a holy place accompanied by symbols declaring its sacredness. Thus, sometimes worshiping in a house or a garage or under a tree somehow deprives us of feeling that we have really worship. That is even though we know that God’s presence is in our midst and he is not confined in any particular place. Asian culture dictates that there should be a sacred place where the divine is encountered.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Thoughts on inerrancy

I don’t want controversial theological issues to surface when I am with the students who ordinarily, I thought, would not have to wrestle with those issues. Partly, I blame us, teacher, because we think as part of their learning experience to try to challenge them to think about some issues that they need to settle in their minds. Surprisingly though, sometimes in spite of the lack of standardized teaching from the outside world, these students are able to formulate their own view about many theological issues that results from their personal reading and study of the Bible.

I am not surprised when they ask questions about factual errors in the Bible. However, most of those “errors” though are apparently because of the difficulties in translation of the Scripture to their own language. But what can we do about it? It is the only Bible that they have and understand, the Bible in their tribal language. So even though we might argue that the “autographs” which are the original manuscripts of the Scripture are free from errors, the reality is that what we have now is the Bible with seemingly “errors”. That simply argument will not hold water.

There are people who largely rest their Christian faith on the inerrancy of the Bible. I have no problem when people use the term “inerrancy” to emphasize its authority, except that, I think that it is not the precise word to describe it, for obvious reasons that the Bible we have now is not perfect. Like many theologians, i agree that the term should be buried in the ground and use more positive and potent terms to describe the Bible. It is more appropriate to describe the Bible as truthful and trustworthy.

Donald Bloesch says:
The paramount question is whether the Bible itself teaches its own inerrancy. A second critical question is whether those who employ this terminology always mean the same thing. The truthfulness of Scripture is indeed espoused by the prophets and apostles, but it must be kept in mind that they were using “truth” and “truthfulness” in the Hebraic sense of faithfulness and veracity rather than precision and absolute factual accuracy, as in our modern empirical milieu. (Psalm 119:169; Ecclesiastes 12:10; Romans 1:9; 1 John 3:12)
He argues for the reinterpretation of the term inerrancy.
The biblical writings are a powerful testimony not only of people’s faith but also of God’s truth. They reflect not only the belief of the authors but also the very mind of God. They not only serve to inspire faith in God but also are inspired by God so that our faith can be informed by divine revelation. My sentiments concur with Barth’s: “We know what we say when we call the Bible the Word of God only when we recognize its human imperfection in face of its divine perfection and its divine perfection in spite of its human imperfection.”

The object of our faith is not the church or the Scriptures, not even our experience of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ himself, but Christ testified to in Scripture and proclaimed by the Church. He is one whom we meet concretely in the historical witness to his saving deeds. We commit ourselves not to the Jesus of history nor simply to the Christ of faith but to the Jesus Christ of eternity who entered into a particular history and is apprehended only in faith.
Donald Bloesch, Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration & Interpretation, 37, 39.