Month: December 2018

Advent in Lospalos: Part IV

Reflection for Advent IV: December 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-55


Christmas Youth Gathering 2018

 This week’s reading is Mary’s Magnificat, a song of praise to the savior God who, in choosing Mary to be the mother of Christ, has “…looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”  Mary is beloved in the church for her humility and joyful submission to God’s will. But Mary is also a young woman of courage who strikes out, apparently alone, on a journey (1:39-45).  In addition to her humility and courage, Mary is also a mystic.  She has an abiding inner sense of the meaning of her pregnancy.  She knows it means that God has alreadyaccomplished something that will turn the world upside down:

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”


We used this reading in our Advent candle liturgy last Sunday.  Appropriately, a young woman did the reading.  She was also one who played one of the main parts in a play that Monica wrote for our youth event this week.  The play was about two smart young women who make different choices in life.  One gets pregnant early and has an abusive, irresponsible partner.  By age 24, she has 4 kids and a life of domestic violence and poverty.  The other woman has a supportive, loving partner who wants her to go to school and fulfill her dream to be a doctor.  But this young woman’s mother thinks school is a waste of time.  She wants her to get married and start having children. “Jenny” takes a risk though.  She denies her mother and stays with her supportive partner while avoiding pregnancy.  In the end she makes it through medical school and has a successful life as a doctor.


Some of the actors from the play

I think it’s fair to say that the youth who did the play had a transformative experience with it.  Monica gave them the basic script but they wrote their own lines based on their experience of what home life and social expectations are like in Timor-Leste. The play itself was a huge hit with everyone who saw it.  Afterwards we divided into groups and discussed things like domestic violence, teen pregnancy and, well, how to choose a decent husband!  Not surprisingly the youth had insightful responses, questions and more than a few good laughs while discussing things that are usually taboo.


Mary’s poem, it seems to me, is a signpost for the Timorese youth of today. They are torn between worlds, have few opportunities and feel ignored by their government.  But Mary’s poem offers the assurance of God’s providential care and preferential option for those who, in the eyes of society, are lowly, humble and ignored.  The poem assures them that God’s mercy is an available source of strength with the power to overturn the status quo and create newness in ways we can’t comprehend or anticipate.  And that is good news for Timor’s youth, as it is for all of us who live in hope for the in-breaking of God’s promised future.


Heros of our youth event: three moms who did most of the cooking!








Advent in Lospalos: Part III

Reflection for Advent III, Sunday December 16, 2018

Isaiah 12:1-6; Luke 3:7-18

On Thursday of this week we’ll have 40 – 60 youth arriving at Immanuel Church Lospalos for a Christmas youth event.  They’ll be coming from the eastern part of Timor-Leste for three days of fellowship, faith development and fun!  This generation of Timorese youth is particularly vulnerable.  They are, mostly, born after the independence struggle and are therefore somewhat estranged from the identity-shaping power of that time.  They are pulled in two directions: traditional culture with its tight social fabric, and the modern world with its insistence on the autonomy of the individual.  They have mediocre opportunities for secondary education and an economy with little in the way of employment possibilities.

Our theme for this year’s event is “Reading the signs of the times.”  Taken from Luke 12:56, the idea is to help these young people think about what is going on in their lives and society through the lens of faith.  This week I am struck by the simple question the people ask John the Baptist in response to his ministry of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 3:10ff): “What then should we do?”  John’s answer is terse.  He tells them to share what they have with those in need and not to use a position of any kind to exploit the neighbor’s financial vulnerabilities.  What both the above readings insist we “get” is that authentic repentance has a social dimension.  It’s about aligning ourselves with God’s purposes in gratitude and freedom, a theme expressed poetically in the Isaiah reading.

For our time this week, Monica has written a drama that deals with various social issues Timorese youth face: teen pregnancy, patriarchy, traditional culture, domestic violence and the future.  Timorese love doing drama and I have no doubt that the play will result in conversations about the social issues they face.  The point is to get youth thinking and talking about their social context and the things that impact their future and the well-being of the nation.

During the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste, the church (esp. the Catholic Church) was an astute observer of social issues and a prophetic voice for justice.  Sadly, that vocation has mostly disappeared.  The Catholic Church, now in a position of power, is closely linked with the government and focused mainly on liturgical routines and feast days. Meanwhile, various Protestant groups typically peddle an individualistic theology of salvation and have little interest in social issues or action.  The biblical vision of salvation, however, is more expansive, inclusive and hopeful than either of those.  Our aim is that our activities over these three days will embody a bit of that hope and vision as a central theme of Advent waiting.







Advent in Lospalos: Part II

My devotional reflection for this week.  Again, it will make more sense if you read the scripture texts first.  Blessings.

Reflection for Advent II: December 9, 2018

Philippians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6

Walking into the Lospalos hospital, we followed a trail of dried blood drops up the stairs, through a hall and across a dirty tile floor to the emergency room.  We don’t do x-rays or casts at Clinic Immanuel so a few of us were taking a kid with a broken arm to the government hospital.  My colleague put the child on a dingy examination bed.  I stepped over some used gauze lying on the floor to hold him while the nurses put on a temporary splint.  He had just fallen while playing on the church compound.

This boy is one of 12 siblings, all of whom are clinically malnourished.  In all likelihood a well-nourished kid wouldn’t have broken an arm with the minor fall this guy took.  As I stood holding this little boy’s arm, there was a palpable sense of defeat in the room.  I witnessed a staff doing her best with what little resources she had, but nonetheless, with an affect of resignation.  The place looked as if there weren’t a cleaner on staff.  As it is, x-rays and casts require a trip to the referral hospital in Baucau.  So after going to the child’s home to get the mom, the two of them climbed into the back of an ambulance for a 3-hour bumpy ride to Baucau, where they could get proper treatment.

I share the story above because Advent reminds us that the life and ministry of Jesus Christ unfolds within a specific socio-political context (Lk. 3:1-6).  During Advent therefore we are invited to reflect on the socio-political context in which we find ourselves and ask what the gospel means in that context.  Along those lines, my Advent devotional reading this year is the spiritual classic Jesus and the Disinheritedby Howard Thurman.  At the outset Thurman reminds us of some basic things about the world. “The masses of men live with their backs against the wall.  They are the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed.”  The Lospalos hospital testifies that is certainly the case in Timor-Leste.  Thurman goes on with a simple question: what does the gospel of Jesus Christ mean to them?  He’s not concered with “…what it counsels them to do for others,” but rather, how it consoles and empowers them to be human.

I also appreciate Thurman’s observation that one of the spiritual perils of Christianity is the emphasis on helping others and in so doing making the dispossessed and disinherited the object of self-righteous “faith in action” at the expense of real relationships.  This is a danger when people of privilege engage in mission or justice work of any kind.  And that is why in the midst of the suffering we observe daily, I often remind myself that we’re not here to solve Timor-Leste’s problems nor those of our partner church.  We’re not out for measurable outcomes or other commodifications of a relationship. We’re called to practice koinaniaKoinaniais the Greek word Paul uses to describe his relationship to the Philippians.  It means sharing, fellowship, participation.  That is, “sharing in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5).  It’s a word that guides the kind of mission partnership we hope to embody.  But most importantly, it’s an expression of the truth that the life of Jesus Christ is God’s koinania with the masses who have their backs against the wall.