Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Friday, June 17, 2011


“My children, I wish above all else that you may prosper and be of good health, even as your soul prospers.” (3rd John 2)

My father was a story-teller, that’s probably the gift that I inherited from him. In the days when there were no televisions, in rural Philippines of the ‘60’s, a story-teller is synonymous to being a talk show host. At nighttime, children from the neighborhood would come to our home and my father would regale them with stories about his exploits during the Second World War, how he eluded the pursuing Japanese soldiers and how he camouflaged by hugging a banana tree, covering himself with its dried leaves. At other times, he would tell us about legends and folk tales: the story of the turtle and the monkey, the fable of the sky and the earth, the legend of a mysterious bird, Adarna. I always know when he would end the session. He would tell an open-ended story: “There was a flock of geese swimming in the river. It was a wide river so let us now turn off the lamp and go to sleep and let’s continue tomorrow when they have already crossed the river.”

My father was a man of principles and a fiercely idealistic person, something which my mother, a pragmatist, did not fully share. She thought that we could not survive on his principles. After the Second World War, he was supposed to pursue his military career by going to Korea to participate in the Korean War. He refused to do so and was penalized by having his pension withheld. He resigned from the service. At “peace time”, he was advised to kowtow with some politicians so he could have his pension but he refused. Instead, he turned to become a tailor, working day and night, drinking away his frustrations with coconut wine (tuba), till he developed tuberculosis.

We were six children in the family and although we were poor, we excelled in elementary school. Every graduation day, my mother would come up the stage several times to pin ribbons for her honored children. When I finished Grade Six, I was supposed to be the salutatorian (second honor) but was demoted to third honor because my father refused to give a contribution of a chicken. It was a tradition that the honor students would each give a chicken for the reception dinner for the visiting school superintendent. Although he would have freely given such a chicken as a gift, he was questioning the morality that it be tied to being in the honor roll. It’s tantamount to a bribe, he said. My mother, behind my father’s back, surreptitiously gave a chicken to the school principal but it was too late.

One night, my father and mother had a quarrel. It was about our future. My mother was blaming him for our poverty. Had he not stood on his principles, we would have enjoyed receiving a military pension. He would have had money to send us to high school. We would not have to miss a meal. We would not have to squat on someone’s land. The argument became so heated that my father decided to leave. He packed up a luggage and headed to the bus station. I followed him, crying and begging for him to stay. It was providential that the bus was delayed. Till midnight, we were looking at each other. My tears dried up and the bus did not come. He finally relented. He took my hand, I carried the luggage and we both went back home. His was the first marriage I saved.

Later it was my turn to run away from home, not to spite my family, but to seek my future. When I read the parable of the prodigal son in the bible, I did not resonate with it personally. I was the runaway but my father did not have material inheritance for me to squander. I suffered being homeless and alone in the big city of Manila but I was fortunate to finally land a job, obtain higher education and improve myself. When I returned home, years later, it was not to regain a gold ring or to enjoy a feast of fatted calf. It was to buy that piece of land for our house, to help my siblings go to school and to pay for the treatment of my father’s tuberculosis. In one of his wartime stories, he talked about his favorite meal in the barracks, “pork luncheon meat.” I brought a whole box of canned pork luncheon meat. They lasted a few months, to his heart’s delight. And he lasted a few more years.

I was a missionary clergy in Singapore when I learned that my father was gravely-ill. I hurried to return home once again but my plane was delayed. I finally arrived but he was gone to be with the Lord. His last words were one of thanksgiving. My youngest brother said he died with a smile for he knew I was coming and we are much better than we were before. I remain a priest in gratitude to God, our heavenly Father, who makes all things possible.

Happy Father’s Day.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Asian Spirituality of Christian Stewardship

(Keynote Address of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara,  Missioner for Asiamerica Ministry of the Episcopal Church Center at the diocesan EAM Consultation of the Diocese of California,  held in Christ Episcopal Church, Alameda, California on June 10-11, 2011)


This gathering today, here in this Diocese of California has a triple significance for me: first, it is here, in this diocese where the first national Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Consultation was held in 1974; second, it is here, in this Diocese, where I was installed as the second missioner for Asiamerica Ministry in 2004; and third, it is here now, in this Diocese that this first diocesan-wide EAM Consultation is ever held.

The end of all exploring,” wrote the English poet, T. S. Eliot, “will be to arrive where you started and know the place for the first time.” Or as one Chinese proverb says, “If you just stay in the same place for as long as you can, you will finally see the world coming back to you.”  So I feel like, today, it is “dejavu” – all coming back again, as if, for the first time.

You’ve assigned me to speak on “Asian Spirituality of Christian Stewardship.” Let me arranged this theme on three chapters: first, what is spirituality; second, what is Asian; and third, what is Christian stewardship. Then, I will sum up on how we can arrive at a contextual teaching on Christian Stewardship.

First, what is Spirituality?

A story is told of a parrot which was fond of speaking bad words. The nuns  brought it to the convent and trained it to pray. They were so successful that they  were proud to invite their priest to come and to see how well they converted the parrot. When the priest arrived, he saw that the parrot had a string attached to each leg. When he pulled the left leg, the parrot prayed the Lord’s Prayer; when he pulled the right leg, the parrot prayed the “Hail Mary.” So he thought to himself, what if I pulled the two legs together? He did so and the parrot shouted, “crazy priest!”

Spirituality is a word that is easy to know but hard to explain. It is like time. St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “I know perfectly what time is until someone asks me to define it and I am at a loss.” Or it is like rhythm. Duke Wellington, a famous jazz musician, once said, “ If you get it, you don’t need no definition; if you don’t have it, ai’nt no definition gon’na help.”

So I think the way to define spirituality is to know it in its root word “spirit.” In Hebrew, it is “ruach”; in Greek is it “pneuma”; and in Latin, it is “spiritus” ---and all these words suggest the same image: the spirit is a wind, a force, a breath---that creates, vitalizes and revitalizes whatever it touches.

In Scriptures, we encounter the spirit as a creative force in Creation (Genesis 1); as a vitalizing force in the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37); and a revitalizing power in Pentecost (Acts 2). Moreover the Holy Spirit is personified as the third Person in the Triune God: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. God, the Creator; Son, the Redeemer; and Spirit, the Giver and Sustainer of life. In the context of the Christian faith, the spiritual person is one whose spirit is in tune with the Holy Spirit.

What is Asia?

Asia is different things to different people. For geographers, it is the vast land mass from the Middle East to Northeast Russia; for historians, it is the cradle of faiths and civilizations; for economists it is a mélange of developed and developing countries; for political scientists, it is an emerging new superpower; and for many Europeans, Asia is a way of life, different from the West.

Asian spirituality is deeply rooted in the theology of suffering and hope of Asians in history-nature. The Philippines “theology of struggle” was born in the context of Spanish and American colonialism; the Japanese “pain of God theology” was from their experience of being the first and hopefully, the only victims of atomic bombs; the “Dalit theology” was born out of the struggle of the Dalits, the oppressed and marginalized people who are outside the caste system of India; and the Minjung theology, is the continuing struggle of the underclass from Korea’s rapid modernization.

 I believe, however, that by virtue of their being the most populous nations in the world,  Asia is virtually represented by China and India. Asian spirituality is therefore, a blend of the practical philosophy of China and the wisdom mysticism of India. It is between India’s Mahatma Gandhi seeing “God in the loaf of bread” and China’s Prime Minister Deng Shao Peng saying, “It does not matter black cat or white cat, so long as it catches mice.”

In some strange way, I imagine Asian spirituality in similar to basic Anglican theology of via media. As former Archbishop Robert Runcie once said, Anglican theology is “passionate coolness.”

Christian Stewardship and Asian Cultures

If culture is defined as the sum total of what we are and do, then for me, stewardship is a culture. It is “whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is worthy of praise” in our faith. Stewardship is how we understand and use the gifts that God has given us--- the time, talents and treasures entrusted to us.

Christian stewardship is the way in which Christian live, love, learn and grow. Christian stewardship shapes the values we share; directs the message we impart; and determines the impact we have in the world. How do we learn stewardship from the Asian culture? How do we intersect the biblical stewardship with that which we learn from Asia?


Asia has myriad and diverse cultures but within these cultures, there is a belief that all we are and do are influenced by five elements of life, namely:



1. Fire –         fo

2. Water –     sui

3. Earth –     tei

4. Wood –      muk 

5. Metal -       thit





I would like to posit that they are adaptable to teaching stewardship in the Christian Church.

This “five elements” theory, more pronouncedly in Chinese philosophy, permeates in many fields of human endeavor: medicine, business, politics, architecture and religion.

The Five Elements theory posits that wood, fire, earth, metal, and water are the basic elements of the material world. These elements are in constant movement and change. The complex connections between material objects are explained through the relationship of interdependence and mutual restraint that governs the five elements. 

Earth is the nurturing environment that enables seeds to germinate and grow; water is the flowing river that touches and nourishes everything; wood is a walking stick that guides or a spear that wounds; fire can bring light and warmth or can explode and erupt; metal is the solid ability to contain and sharpen objects. When all these five elements are in sync and when proper relationship of interdependence is shared, then health and harmony are produced and life in all its fullness and balance in achieved.

How do we adapt this Asian culture into the teaching of Christian stewardship? Let me adapt the following as arbitrary symbols:

  1. Fire, because of its intensity, can be applied to Mission. We must have a strong sense of mission to save the lost, free the oppressed and care for all of God’s creations.

  1. Wood, because of it being a guide stick or a spear, can be applied to Theology. We can either have a constructive or destructive theology of money (or time, talent or treasure.)

  1. Metal, because of its ability to sharpen and contain objects, can be applied to Vision. Without vision, people perish, the Book of Proverb says. Vision sharpens the community’s ideal of itself.

  1. Earth, because it germinates, nurtures and nourishes the plants, can be applied to Management.  Management needs to train, empower and equip leadership for life and growth.

  1. Water, because it flows like a river or drops like rain, can be applied to Worship. Worship is like a symphony that draws our community’s culture to God and vice versa.

Teaching Asian Christian Stewardship
I suggest that you arrange your Stewardship Season with a series of sermons, testimonies and dramatization using the five elements of Asian Stewardship Culture:

Week A: Fire Mission:

We are standing again in the edge of mission in the 21st century, characterized by four great imperatives:

  1. There is a new challenge for obedience to the Great Commission of Christ.  (Matthew 28:19-20)
  2. There is a great yearning for our souls to listed to the Great Compassion (Matthew 9:36) of Christ.
  3. There a great possibility of results in soul conversions and community creation because of the Great Demographic Change (immigration & multiculturalism).
  4. We have the extraordinary tools to seize this Great Missionary Moment (globalization and diaspora).

Week B: Wood Theology:

How do we teach money attitude and values to our congregation? What do we really believe when it comes to material things?

1.  Scriptures: Prayer is mentioned in the Bible 500 times but money 2,000 times. What does it say about biblical spirituality? We are not of the world but we are in this world. Will the love of money be the root of all evil or will the message of love be spread out because we have the resources to do it?

2. Tradition:  How will tithing in the Old Testament be approximated in the contemporary culture? What constitutes giving of our “first fruits”? What is the practicality of “setting aside an amount” in the first day of the week for God?

3. Reason: “Money is the manure of the devil but it is good fertilizer.” (Cardinal Jaime Sin).  What is the relationship between giving and receiving? Money is called “currency.” Affluence (from Latin ‘afluere’) means “to flow to.” Therefore money is not to be hoarded but allowed to flow. Giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin. (Deepak Chopra)

Week C: Metal Vision

 What is the unique vision of your church?  Christ’s vision of the Kingdom of God is described in the Hebrew word “shalom.” Shalom is not only peace as the absence of war; it is the healing of all ruptured relationships. Shalom means life in all its fullness. How do we envision our parish in light of this ultimate vision? How can our parish be a shalom in the community? How do you get hold of this vision?

Week D: Earth Management
Parish Management is like running a city: government must provide services but it needs revenues (taxes) to make it happen. The parish does not have taxes but pledges (tithes and offerings) from its members. Its services (ministries) is beyond its members. Where there are more resources, there will be more services; and where there are more services, there will be more harvest. The needs of the outside community to receive must be matched with the need of the inside community to receive.

Week D: Water Worship
1. A worship extolling Grace: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty,  you might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9. Abundance is having everything you need; scarcity is having none. Jesus on the cross, has taken the curse of scarcity and promised us abundance.

2. A sermon affirming Gratitude: It is not the saying “God gives and forgives but man gets and forgets.” Rather , it is “Yours, Lord is the greatness, the power and the glory. All things come from you, O Lord; and from your own do we give you.”

3. An Offering of Generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  God loves a cheerful giver.

Concluding Summary:
Asian spirituality on Christian Stewardship, can therefore be summarized with these five basic elements:
1. Fire Mission that burns with compassion for the poor and reconciliation for the lost;
2. Wood Theology that balances scriptures, tradition and reason;
3. Metal Vision that holds shalom in community;
4. Earth Management that nurtures leadership and growth.
5. Water Worship that flows with life and creativity;

As Asian Christians we have so many wells we can draw water from. Christianity in Asia dates back from the early apostles like St. Thomas who planted churches in India and the Nestorians who introduced Christ to China.  As Asian Episcopalians, our challenge is not to follow and to follow far behind but to walk in pace and to lead. Let us dig from our own wells and contextualize the Christian faith to contemporary Asian cultures. May this example from the stewardship culture help our churches from dependence to interdependence, from maintenance to mission and enable us to grow from grace to grace, from glory to glory.

The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara

The Episcopal Church Center

Second Avenue
, New York, NY 10017

Telephone: 1212-922-5344

E-Mail:  wvergara@episcopalchurch.org

Website: www.episcopalchurch.org/asian.htm


I. Asian Spirituality Readings:
1. What Asian Christians Are Thinking, edited by Douglas Elwood, c.1978
2. The Human and the Holy: Asian Perspectives, edited by Emerito Nacpil, 1977
3. Asian American Christianity Reader, published by PAACCE
4. Mainstreaming Asian Americans in the Episcopal Church, W. Vergara, 2006

II.Stewardship Book Suggestions:

(Compiled by The Rev. Laurel Johnston, Program Officer for Stewardship

     The Episcopal Church)

1. More Than Money: Portraits of Transformative Stewardship (Money, Faith, and Lifestyle Series) by Patrick H. McNamara.

2. Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life by Mark Allan Powell.

3. Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation by
Charles Lane

4. The Spirituality of Fundraising by Henri J.M Nouwen (purchase at www.henrinouwen.org)

5. Money and Faith: The Search for Enough by Michael Schut (Environmental Stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church).

6.  Transforming Stewardship by The Rev. Charles K. Robertson (Canon to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church)

Websites to Wander & Ponder

1.The Episcopal Church/Office of Stewardship: New Resources


2.The Episcopal Network of Stewardship:


3. The Stewardship of Life Institute:


4. Generous Giving:


5. Ministry of  Money/Faith and Money Network 


6. Three Simple Rule (Living Wisely Program/Personal Budget Program)


7. Stewardship for the 21st Century (Luther Seminary)


8. The Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire


Note: Almost Every Diocesan Website has a section on Stewardship.