Baptist Theological College – Cebu

The flight to Cebu pushed away at 4:00 am (!!!!) so my taxi left IGSL at midnight – no traffic was great! It caught me off guard when the check lady said my ticket had a 10 kg checked bag limit. Since I have everything for a month of teaching, I weighed in just under 20 kg. “You have to pay more” she said kindly but firmly. So $38 later, I was checked in and waiting for departure time. Pastor Greg joined me and I found out he had the 20 kg limit ticket and a 10 kg bag! He told me he had seen a notification that the teaching started at 8:30 rather than the 1:30 we’d been told by the organizer. There is a little detail of my fatigue to be dealt with if I am to teach until 5:00! Our taxi got us to the Mission Home only to discover that my reserved room was still occupied. I was wondering if details were going to sink the time. He went to check things out at the college while I slept for an hour. Sure ’nuff, there were 20 people waiting for class, so a quick breakfast and we were off to start class. It was a great group and we were soon off into 1 Peter exploring the life of the author and how to go from text to sermon.

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Pastor James introduced himself as our “taxi driver” and joined us at the Mission Home. He and Pastor Greg (on the right) share a super sense of humor even in a country that excels in laughter. Our meals were a blast. _MG_2256

There were 29 people in the class ranging from the president and dean of the College (both with doctoral degrees) to rural pastors with no training whatsoever. The latter were the focus of the class. I was a bit surprised to find out only about half of the participants had email addresses. Internet access is severely limited once you get out of the city it turns out.

_MG_2165My style of teaching is to put Bible on the screen and work with it, directing attention to key points and then typing my notes into the computer so everyone can see what I am saying as well as hear it. That slows me down to somewhere near the speed of normal comprehension. I used a microphone since my voice isn’t strong and class was 8:30 to 5:00 (til 7:00 on the last day).

An early assignment was to break into small groups, read 1 Peter 3:7 carefully and discover the things Peter _MG_2230said to men so they can be successful husbands. It was encouraging for them to see that they could get a sermon outline directly from the text. The wives really liked hearing what Peter had do say to their husbands. Filipino people laugh when they are embarrassed — and i heard a lot of male laughter :). _MG_2273

The discussions got quite animated at times. Humor and active involvement are key to teaching and we did a lot of both. 20160524_120355

We took our lunches together. They were typical good Filipino fare, rice with a meat and a vegetable ulam. I love the food whether it was the normal like our lunches or the special as our last supper with Pastor Henry treating us at a very nice restaurant.

The four days and my fourth and final class went all too quickly and Pastor Greg and I headed back to Manila.

 

International Graduate School of Leadership

20160518_120157What a great week teaching D.Min. students at IGSL. We wrestled with theological method and controversial topics such as sign gifts, dealing with demonic, justice and political involvement (following the Philippine elections and all the controversy there), forgiveness/shame, and LGBT issues. The discussions were often animated and always real to ministry life. 20160517_104123

Being here meant seeing some long time friends like Helen Ramos and Steve Hobson as well as meet new friends. Mike and Eva Fast are doing teaching and church planting. Eva was a nurse who discovered the need for mid-wives in their poorer area of Quezon City. So she began helping. Now she has attended over 600 births and trained local mid wives. They are building a facility, 20160519_202200the first anywhere in the area, using local workers so they will have a stake in the place as well as participate in Bible study as they work. It was stunning to see the quality of work they are doing in limited facilities.20160521_204721

Saturday was my “office day” in my room at IGSL working on the large pile of Western Seminary stuff. It ended meeting Zoilo Anat who is head of all the AWANA groups in the Philippines and the missionary team. Victor and Janine (pictured) are business people who volunteer, Victor as board member and Janine as designer and project manager for their new facility. They were part of a group that discussed ministry and work topics around a scrumptious meal of Pilipino food. I don’t think I will ever get enough!

20160522_083926My time at IGSL ends with worship at Union Church Manila. I didn’t tell Pastor Steve Ruetschle I was coming so I got to see the happy surprise when he saw me. I will preach there next week after my week in Cebu. My taxi leaves about midnight to catch my 4 am flight with teaching beginning after lunch. So fun!

I will miss this peaceful exciting place!20160521_08432920160520_120405

Two Heroes

I continue to meet amazing people here as I teach pastors. But two in particular stand out to me.

TondoThe first, Pastor Larry, grew up and now ministers in Tondo, the super slum of Manila. He was the son of a violent drunken jeepney driver who beat his family severely. At five years of age, Larry ran away, vowing to kill his father. Homeless street life was far better than home. As he got older he began to drink and do drugs himself, filled with hatred and hopelessness, living in extreme poverty.

A kind school teacher introduced him to Jesus. But other than going to church events to get some companionship and food, there was little change in his life.

They produced a play based on the Good Samaritan with Larry, a young teenager, playing the villain who beat up the man on the road. There was a prize which the others promised he would get it because of his poverty. He was very eager to win. In his drug heightened zeal to be the best he pulled out his switch blade to attack. The others were barely able to stop him and he landed in jail.

There he met a godly chaplain who ministered to the depths of his heart. As the Spirit took hold, the chaplain told him he must forgive his father. How would it be possible? He went to his home, walked up to his evil father. The heart words “I forgive you” came as he hugged his father. To his amazement, tears began to flow from his father’s eyes and the hug was returned. Sobs and confession followed and the transformation and reconciliation began. A couple of years later Larry baptized his father and others in the family. 

Now Larry is a pastor on the streets, distributing breakfast to 500 street children twice a week. There is no support but somehow they find some money for the the powdered milk and bread. He oversees four other pastors who work with him in their little church and the ministry.

My heart filled with praise and wonder as I prayed with and for these amazing young men.

20160513_080850The second is Pastor Joy, one of the pastors at The Word for Everyone Movement, the host church for our time in General Santos City. I was at the venue early for the last day of class, well before the rest of the 86 pastors arrived.

I greeted him and asked him how he was doing. He responded, “I am quite tired.” “How is that?” I asked. “My only son died a week ago and I have been up almost all night preparing for his funeral this afternoon.”

I was stunned.

“Your son died?” “Yes. He was my only son. He died of cancer.” As we talked it turned out that he was so eager for the chance to learn about interpreting and preaching 1 Peter that he wanted to 20160513_114204get every possible minute of the class. I asked if I could pray for him and begged God’s mercy on him and his wife, hope in the terrible loss, and powerful presence of the God who knows how it is to go through the death of a Son.

Then I taught very humbly and inadequately on the theme of suffering in 1 Peter. Who is adequate for these things?

The Two Philippines

When Sherry and I first came to the Philippines in 1969 it was definitely a “third world” country. How do I know? There were no MacDonald’s here Smile  In fact there were no hamburgers or french fries nor were there many high rise buildings. The economy was mostly agricultural. The president would soon establish his dictatorship through declaring martial law and then being overthrown in the People Power Revolution, the Yellow Revolution, precipitated by the assassination of by Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, Jr. who was returning to the country. Since then the Philippines has become an international20160504_072439 hub of commerce and the explosion of evangelical belief came at the same time. The economic divide continues with very low class workers sweeping leaves from the lawns of richer folk but at least he has a job and can help his family.

20160503_171814The cows grazing under the huge power line is one picture of the new overtaking the old. GN Power, the company Dan Chalmers began, built a huge power plant near Mariveles, where the Bataan death march began. Because GNP refused to work with the existing electric group and sold power at a lower and fairer price, electric prices in the whole country are more just. Because he bypassed the limitations20160508_112419 which kept limited and therefore controlled electric, GNP has allowed greater expansion of production capacity. GNP pours a lot of money back into the local communities. The multi-purpose building where I preached today was erected for the use of a small community.

20160503_091200GNP power plants are amazingly clean emitting virtually no nitrous oxide or other stack gasses. The particulates are scrubbed from the smoke and sold to a cement company to make highest quality concrete in both high rise buildings and donated for community schools. If you look closely at this picture you’ll see that construction techniques still utilize inexpensive labor which gives good jobs to squatters who otherwise would have no income other than selling individual cigarettes on street corners. It’s impossible to track the impact that GNP’s integrity and quality has, but one measure is that the mayor of the province is running unopposed. He is getting lots of credit for improving the community because he works with GNP.

Work on the new power plant has begun. Earth movers will reshape 20160506_081508the contours of whole areas of land to lower the ground level by perhaps 100 feet to prepare the pad for the new 700 megawatt plants. I am astounded to hear the stories of the extreme care GNP is investing to be sure it all is done at highest quality.

20160508_181249Even more fun is that their new project is a small plant powered by bio mass. This half mega watt is a proto type of plants that will transform small isolated communities which have never had reliable electric power. It is all eco friendly and completely sustainable.

First Philippines Teaching: Mariveles, Bataan

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I will quickly admit that flying business class on 13 hour international flights is more than nice! Breakfast, my second meal began with fresh coffee, with real cups, silver, glass glasses, a big slice of banana bread, and a yummy fruit plate followed by a super adobo 20160502_130658breakfast with more of that wonderful coffee. I did wonder what they were having back in economy where I have always flown until Dan so generously upgraded my life so I can arrive in the Philippines ready to do a three full days of teaching beginning the next day.

20160502_131735There were many other things that made me wonder. I understand why Muslim folk need to know the direction to Mecca. But don’t Baptists need to know the direction to Louisville or Nashville? My seat mate was a CEO of calling centers with major operations in the Philippines where he lives full time. Turns out he was a Jesus follower and went to churches I work with so we had lots to talk about until I laid my chair back to full recline and slept solidly for 6 hours (yes, pure luxury!) until I pulled my PC out and worked on paper grading, an unfinished task that would occupy every free moment for the next three days.

20160503_070423After my 5:30am arrival (and being first to passport control and my bag was first to appear on the carousel – yes miracles do happen!) Bishop Cesar Punzalan, Nonon, picked me up, took me to Starbucks where he got some breakfast and we got some coffee before we went to meet Dan Chalmers at the headquarters of the power plant company he started. More that in a later post.

After a quick tour we were off to View from my RoomMariveles, where the Bataan death march began. We arrived at Brother’s Keeper Inn and I was shown to my room. As soon as I saw the view from the window of my second floor room, I knew this was going to be a marvelous trip! I enjoyed Tiffany and Jasmine (with an “e” she reminded us) adopted children of one of the guests. The setting is simply marvelous.

Brothers Keeper Inn20160504_072245

 

 

 

 

My room is second floor left side. Meals are in the sala between the two sides of the building. The Mariveles power plant is in the background. The food is outstanding, the company engaging and the service unbelievable as Tiffany and Jazzy’s looks show.

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Pastor Nonon began the class with songs and some details and off we went for 3 1/2 days of wrestling with all sorts of things from 1 Peter. With a projector to get Bible in front of them and some of my famous (infamous?) ambiguous questions, we were off. It took them most of a day to get warmed up to my style and then they really got into it with extremely personal things and lots of wrestling the hard pastoral issues.

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There is the inevitable class picture after class on Friday the next to the last day of the class. Several had to leave for a long journey to their churches. 20160507_114640

The class ended with me praying for them and then them praying for me. There were lots of pictures, hugs, laughter, and blessings.

Final Post Surgery Update

20160423_071659I went to see Dr. Wilson, the ENT surgeon and then Dr. Martin, the dermatologist. I am glad to say that both were unimpressed. Dr. Wilson did a great job on the surgery so the scars have mostly disappeared to the casual glance. The missing parotid nerve means I still have the weird ear which feels like a leaf on the side of my head when I put my hood up in the rain and makes it necessary for me to sleep with my hand around my ear when I am on Austin-Healy-Sprite-MK-II-Sidecurtainsmy left side.

Dr. Martin did a very thorough skin examination, finding nothing new. She decided to remove a small brown spot from my right forehead just to be sure. Pathology determined it was just sun damage, probably from courting Sherry in my little Austin Healy Sprite with the top down!

I will see both doctors from time to time and there will be a CT scan this fall sometime, but so far a we know there is no cancer in my body which is for praise!

May means teaching pastors in the Philippines. Sadly Sherry will not be going along. Her rehab after the Aortic valve replacement is going very well but her energy levels are yet up to the ambitious pace of the trip.

One Month Post Surgery

It was just a month ago that I was headed into surgery to remove the rest of the lymph nodes in my neck in order to contain the melanoma that made its micro-presence in the sentinel lymph node under my jaw described in the previous posts. The hematoma under the incision disappeared in just hours leaving me wonder where the blood went. The swelling is mostly gone. I am now able to raise my arm out horizontally and bounce it to full extension. No more narcotics, I am glad to say. I still do a combination of acetaminophen and ibuprofen a couple of times a day to control pain as I go to sleep and in the early morning. I still try to force myself to sleep longer. But I still find sleep pretty boring. Sherry did laugh at me last night when I fell asleep on the couch just after 7:00.

I met Rob Karch at last year’s World Venture Renewal Conference and we quickly established a theological and missional friendship which went into a different dimension when he discovered enlarged lymph nodes in his neck just as I was having my first surgery. He had surgery to remove lymph nodes in his neck the day before my second surgery to do the same thing. We met face to face at this year’s Renewal Conference to connect and pray. His biopsies lead to a diagnosis of “T-Cell/Histiocyte-Rich B-Cell Lymphoma”  with a nasty regimen of chemo that will keep him from extending his mission work from Quebec to France. His story is here.

I spoke at Corban University’s chapel, reflecting on Jesus’ command, “do not worry.” I exposited my thesis that He wants us to worry like a bird – don’t worry about if God will make seeds or what climate change means all the trees die, but do seek after (a nice worry word) seeds so you don’t starve and about cats! I ended with a reflection on my melanoma journey, concluding with four points:

  • Go to the past looking for lessons, not regrets.
  • Go toward the future with a plan built from what you know.
  • Satan lives in the “what if’s”. Reject his temptation to live there with him.
  • Jesus lives in the present. Look for the glimmers of His grace in dark places.

Sherry Atkins, the other half of the Sherry twins, had hip replacement surgery yesterday. Since she was betrayed by her husband and her children do not live near, she is alone in a very difficult time. My Sherry took her to the hospital, met with the doctor for the post-surgery consultation. She will live with us for the six weeks or so while she can’t drive. What does “do not worry” look like for her?

gerry-breshears GCC If you look closely at this picture you will see the little mole on the left side of my forehead that had the melanoma in it. Of course it’s gone now as well as all the lymph nodes downstream from it. In Friday’s follow up visit with Dr. Wilson, I reported the pain in my collar bone area and inability to raise my arm straight out from my body, all of which was something he had warned me might happen. I’ll be doing some physical therapy to help with this and be sure the shoulder does not freeze.  The new thing is the hematoma alongside the incision. It’s quite a lump. Hopefully it will be absorbed. If not he’ll do some procedure to drain it. There will likely be a follow up with Dr. Da Graca but there’s no indicated actions other than watch for moles or lumps.

I have been doing a lot of extra sleeping and resting to invest in healing. Other things like classes at Western, two workshops at Missions Connexion and two Perspectives classes in Spokane Monday and Tuesday nights continue to make life fun.

Sherry’s healing continues alongside mine. Today is her first day for her sprained ankle delayed cardiac rehab. She reports that they are very nice people and aren’t pushing her . . . yet!

This Sunday I will preach at Grace on Generous with our Time from Psalm 90. Lots to ponder since melanoma gave new reality to “ponder your mortality.” In doing research, I found Joey and Rory, first rank country singers. She is dying of cervical cancer, which Rory blogs about in his January 15 entry at “This Life I Live.” They did their song “When I Am Gone” back in 2012 before any illness. Click on the link. Read the blog post. It is super powerful.

Surgery Followup

I started my Monday with a two hour class (so fun!) and then went home to take a two hour nap. Fair play wins. Then I went to see Dr. El Rassi to the dratted drain out. I asked him if his name was Lebanese. It was and he was amazed that I knew. We had good talk about Lebanon memories while he was checking me out. The biggest concern is that I can hardly lift my left arm at all. It is super painful. Dr. Wilson had told me the nerve might get tweaked but there was no post-surgical sign of that on Thursday or Friday. It started Friday evening and has stabilized. He agreed that it might be a combination of surgery and the anatomical change from my badly broken collar bone way back in 1987 which they did surgery on to see if fusion might help my moving clavicle in 1988. He thinks it will go away in a couple of months.

As we did all that, he took out the drain — it feels weird and painful when he pulled that long tube out of my neck, but absolutely wonderful to have it gone! After some follow up conversation on a physical therapy consult, he sent me on my way.

As I was pulling onto I-205, my phone rang. There is no caller id when it comes through the system in my van so I answered wondering who might be might be calling.  “This is Dr. El Rassi. I want to tell you that your pathology report arrived and it’s all clear.”

Needless to say, it made my day! Now I can say what I expected to say, “There is no known cancer in my body.”

I celebrated by going home and taking a nap and then teaching my evening class to a great group of students. So fun!

I will see Dr. Wilson, the surgeon, on Friday and ask specifically what to watch for. Dr. Martin, the dermatologist, will get to be intimately acquainted every square millimeter of my skin!

Final surgery?

Yesterday’s surgery to remove the other lymph nodes in the left side of my neck went very well. Dr. Wilson told Sherry that they all looked fine. That means there’s probably no active cancer but does not rule out the presence of some cells as there was on the sentinel node which was removed back in November. He kept me overnight as a precaution (I like cautious doctors!). Surprisingly I slept well in the hospital. They only woke me once to do vitals and it was time for a potty trip anyway. After a very good breakfast, I was discharged at 9:00 this morning. Home is a good place to be! I’ve been laying low today with a long afternoon nap as the biggest event of the day. Pain is minimal but I have major meds if it kicks up. No hero spirit in me. No responsibilities for the weekend by design. Then classes start Monday with getting the drain out of my neck as the most anticipated event of that day!

I am praying for a clean pathology report in my Friday post-op with Dr. Wilson. Then I will be able to say, “there is no know cancer in my body.” Regular observation will follow of course.

Sherry and I deeply appreciate the huge number of people who are praying and supporting in many ways/.