Month: January 2017

Afternoons in Natura

The past few weeks I have spent my Monday afternoons visiting members of Immanuel Church in the Lospalos neighborhood of Natura. On these walks Mama Rosa, a long-time elder in Immanuel Church, has accompanied me. This is her neighborhood. When pastors visit members in Natura, she’s the guide. She knows where everyone lives; she knows their names and often a bit about their family history and personal story.

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East Timor is a hard place to grow old.

It’s the rainy season now, so on our walks we hop over puddles as we traverse the rocky, muddy paths that lead us to members homes. Some people here live in half-built concrete blockhouses; others in bamboo or corrugated iron shacks. As is true most everywhere in Timor, the sound of roosters crowing and kids playing is always audible. But in Natura, Bingo seems to be especially popular so when you’re passing through you also hear people calling out letters and numbers: “B – enam!” (6).

Lately, I’ve asked Mama Rosa to take me to the people who are too old or disabled to walk to church. This is personal pastoral work I enjoy very much. But I must admit, sometimes I feel awkward doing it. My thoughts run along these lines: “what right do I have to enter these people’s world? I’m a foreigner in a land that’s been brutalized by foreigners. On top of that, I come with an embarrassingly impractical message: ‘I’m here to visit you.’”

Recently I’ve been re-reading a theological classic: The Crucified God, by Jürgen Moltmann. In his introductory remarks, Moltmann writes about the complexity of faith:

“More radical Christian faith can only mean committing oneself without reserve to    the ‘crucified God.’ This is dangerous. It does not promise the confirmation of one’s own conceptions, hopes and good intentions. It promises first of all the pain of  repentance and fundamental change. It offers no recipe for success. But it brings a confrontation with the truth. It is not positive and constructive, but is in the first instance critical and destructive. It does not bring man into a better harmony with himself and his environment, but into contradiction with himself and his environment. It does not create a home for him and integrate him into society, but makes him ‘homeless’ and ‘rootless,’ and liberates him in following Christ who was  ‘homeless’ and ‘rootless.’”

That passage, as the Quakers are known to say, “speaks to my condition.” In December, the Synod of the Protestant Church in Timor Leste (IPTL) assigned me as pastor in Immanuel Church, Lospalos and the 6 congregations in the surrounding region. Along with feeling humbled, honored and called to serve in this way, I’m also ambivalent about it. What does it mean for a white, middle class American man to minister in this context? Nevertheless, I view my sense of ambivalence as a good thing. Although it’s not comfortable, it keeps me awake, non-judgmental and helps me read between the lines (at least I hope it does!).

Last Monday Mama Rosa and I visited a very old widow with no children. When we arrived she wasn’t there, but the door to her house was open. The house is a rusty corrugated iron shack about 3 or 4 meters long and 2 meters wide. Inside it’s dark; there’s a rickety wooden bed in one corner and a little fire pit in the other. Above the bed a single light bulb dangles from a wire. Just as we were ready to leave, she walked up the muddy path to her house. Her shoulders were hunched over a bamboo cane held by a frail, crooked hand that looked like it had been broken and healed without a cast. She had a weathered face, white hair and a warm smile. A cross necklace hung around her neck with one arm of the cross broken off.

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A lot of people in Natura live in bamboo shacks with dirt floors.

Just when she showed up, her younger sister, who lives next door, brought some chairs so we could sit down right outside the house. We sat down with the widow, her sister and another church member who lived near-by. The widow spoke Makassae and very little Tetun, so our visit was relatively short. But with Mama Rosa’s help translating, I introduced myself and let her know it was an honor to visit her. She smiled and thanked me. I said a brief prayer and we left.

I’ll be the first to admit that visitation can feel deficient in such a situation. After all, this old widow is literally bearing in her body the injustice of the world: ill health and terrible living conditions due to wrenching poverty in a country with a violent, traumatic history. Prayer it would seem does little to resolve such things in any immediate, practical sense. But I’ve come to believe that we should never dismiss prayer as a powerless endeavor in the face of suffering. Rather, we should recognize that in such a context, prayer is not our own but is in fact the hopeful ‘groaning and sighing’ of the Spirit bearing witness in us (Romans 8:18ff).

Visitation itself is a form of prayer. It is the willingness to become vulnerable to the suffering of ‘the other’ and in so doing to shatter boundaries that protect us from the world’s realities. Visitation also allows us to share some of the burden as an act of pastoral care. But visitation is also a form of protest. It is a prophetic critique of injustice because by prioritizing the plight of the poor and those who suffer, it proclaims the way God sees the world in protest against suffering:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…” Luke 6:20-21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thought for the day

“It is true that in a world of high consumption, where anything and everything is possible, nothing is so humanizing as love, and a conscious interest in the life of others, particularly in the life of the oppressed.  For love leaves us open to wounding and disappointment.  It makes us ready to suffer.  It leads us out of isolation into a fellowship with others, with people different from ourselves, and this fellowship is always associated with suffering.  It changes the world, in so far as it puts life into a static situation and overcomes the death urge which turns everything into a possession or an instrument of power.”

~Jurgen Moltmann

IPTL Christmas Message 2016

One of the things we hope to do on this blog is share the experience and perspective of Global Ministries partner church in Timor Leste, the Protestant Church in Timor Leste (IPTL).  IPTL has more than 50 congregations scattered throughout the mountains of Timor Leste.  Most of them are small, rural congregations.  Below is a translation of the Synod’s Christmas message which was shared with many of the congregations.

I was especially struck by the reflection about the simple yet dangerous circumstances in which Jesus was born.  Although we’re all familiar with the story of Jesus being born in a stable, how many middle class urban people can actually relate to that?  Not many.  For most Timorese though, birth does in fact take place in rural areas with no hospital and very few medical resources.  This is not good.  East Timor has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.  It is however good that we make a connection between the birth of Jesus and contemporary realities like maternal mortality in East Timor.  The Christmas story of “God with us” is very meaningful to Timorese because as the Synod message says: “…through his birth in this world, Jesus shows his solidarity with those who suffer.”

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Synod IPTL Christmas Message 2016

“…Peace Be With You” John 20:19

Dear members of IPTL scattered throughout all of Timor Leste:

God’s blessing is always with us. We are grateful to God that Jesus Christ continues to strengthen and accompany IPTL so that we can serve him. As a church we face many difficulties but we are grateful that through God’s help our General Assembly last July was a success. The Synod Council of IPTL is grateful to all organized and supported the General Assembly: members, delegates and observers alike. We ask for your prayers throughout the period 2016-2020.

Christmas is a day of joy that brings peace to us all; families, friends, neighbors, church and nation. Jesus Christ is the source of this joy; he came to this world so that those who believe and trust in him would be saved. The Son of God came to this world as a creature like us except that he had no sin. He came from a simple family in a simple setting. He came to bring peace to the world so that the world could live in peace. Because of the sin of the world he suffered unto death on the cross so that through him the world would be reconciled to God. Because Jesus brought peace to the world, we must also show forth peace toward our neighbors, hence this year’s theme: “Peace be with you.”

Although we face many difficulties in our lives this does not mean peace is not with us. Peace is with us so that we can face these difficulties. As we all know, we face many obstacles as a church, both internal and external. But the beauty is that these things help us learn and strengthen our commitment to serve Jesus Christ, the head of the church. We face financial difficulties that make it hard to do the work that has been entrusted to us. Nevertheless, we have an initiative underway from our own church members to support clergy in their pastoral work among our members.

IPTL has a strong commitment to be “salt and light” for the world even though we face a lot of difficulties. And we also have a commitment to live in peace and unity. This means that we all have to support each other!

Friends, although we cannot be present with you, the peace of Christ is with you. Because of this we can celebrate Christmas with simplicity and peace. At Christmas, Jesus Christ gives us hope that we can be at peace with ourselves, others, throughout the church and community. Because our situation is so difficult, unity at this time is very important. It’s also important that we be loyal and committed in our work so that we can find solutions to our problems that work.

Celebrating Christmas always brings us together so that we can give thanks and remember that God’s peace is with us. Why did Jesus come to people that were so simple? Because of his solidarity with our suffering. Bethlehem wasn’t a famous place. And a barn isn’t a safe, healthy or secure place for a baby to be born. Yet through his birth in this world, Jesus shows his solidarity with those who suffer. Mary and Joseph were ordinary people from simple families. The shepherds were people with little influence or power in society (Lk. 2:11-14). Jesus lived a simple life among simple people, yet he is the savior of the world. Indeed he is a different kind of king!

Along with the rest of the world, in 2016 people in Timor Leste have access to modern technology and information through the internet, Facebook, television, media, newspapers, etc. Technology can help us and we can learn a lot by using it. But it can also be harmful. We also need to be aware of the threat of HIV / AIDS and the negative impact of drugs. We’ve also seen that conflict among young people is increasing due to a lack of work and education. These things continue to be a threat to the stability and development of Timor Leste. Because of that, as the Synod Council of IPTL, we appeal to all members to think about these things and strengthen our commitment to the independence of our beloved land. Let us continue to live in peace as citizens that take seriously our responsibility to create stability in our beloved country especially as we head into an election year in 2017. Let us hope that we don’t have any conflict that would threaten unity among us.

Finally, let us all stand firmly in the faith of our king of peace. He is the savior of the world. Let us continue to show forth our faith by our commitment to the motto of IPTL: “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

The Peace of Christ be with you all.

Synod Council of IPTL

Christmas in Timor

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Great trip to Maubisse, a “cold” mountain area.  Note the long sleeves and flip flops.

Things have been a bit of a whirlwind lately; hence the lack of blogging or facebook posts. Here’s a quick update!  Sorry if it’s lacking in stories…  Believe me, there are plenty!

Christmas around Igreja Immanuel Lospalos lasted at least a full week with kids rehearsing everyday, crews cleaning the grounds and doing food preparation. This year of course there were two services, both Christmas eve and the following day. I made visits to rural congregations and did services there as well.

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IPTL General Secretary Juliana Temparaja led Christmas Eve worship at Immanuel Church.

After Christmas the Liddles headed off to the mountain village of Maubisse for a few days rest with American friends Pam, Curt and their two kids. We hiked, played games, watched movies and ate simple food. Now we’re back in Lospalos gearing up for a new year and doing laundry.

2016 was a year of transition for our family. Hannah finished 6th grade, Simon finished kindergarten and half way through the year we packed up and moved back to East Timor! It’s been a difficult but meaningful 6 months. Getting re-engaged with our ministry in Lospalos has been filled with joy and – predictably — challenges. Neither Monica or I really know what to say about this. It’s sort of beyond words but I’ll try anyway: It’s beautiful… It’s hard… It’s hopeful… It’s discouraging… It’s inspiring… It’s aggravating… I could go on but I think you get the point.

We continue to be struck by how difficult life is for many of our Timorese friends. Basic things like accessing health care, medicine and education is complicated at best. Economic prospects in Timor are shaky and youth seem to be picking up on this. Hope seems more important and more lacking than ever. Walter Brueggemann says “the pastoral task of the prophet is to restore hope.” Somewhere else he writes that all ministry is about helping people imagine a different future – one with hope. We’re trying to do that; for ourselves and those we serve. But it’s a challenge here as I know it is in the U.S. right now. We think of all of you and the ambiguity, fear and unease that seems to characterize American life right now.

Anyway….

Hannah says she wants to learn at least one new language this year. That gives me hope. Simon is learning Tetun and when we share what we’re thankful for in the evening he always says the same thing: “everything.” That gives me hope. We’ve had a huge turn out of people in church the past few weeks and that gives me hope. The congregation here has been torn apart over various conflicts and lack of leadership over the past 4 years. Things seem to be looking up. That gives me hope as well.

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Hannah helped me make some improvements on the chicken pen

What does 2017 hold for us? Who knows!  Monica will continue her work in the clinic. That is unfolding in new directions as Uniting World of Australia, the main funder, wants to shift to more of a health education model.  I’ve been appointed to serve as a regional pastor for all the congregations in Lautem District so I’m going to be busy with pastoral ministry locally as well as coordinating with Synod leadership on some continuing education stuff for IPTL pastors and lay leaders.

Simon is starting at the Portuguese school in January. Hannah is continuing her studies at home and loving the freedom and creativity that comes with homeschooling. We’re all looking forward to our upcoming visit to Atauru Island, part of East Timor, in February to celebrate the kids birthdays.

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Simon is thankful for “everything” — especially his new camo pants with side pockets

Well, I hope that gives you a bit of a sense of how things are for the Liddles! We continue to be grateful for your support and prayers.

Love to all,

Tom