Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Monday, November 26, 2012

NEW VISION FOR LIFE (By Deacon Toua Bang)

A  N EW VISION FOR LIFE (Mark 10:46-52)

Editor’s Note: The following is a sermon preached by the Rev. Deacon Toua Vang at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church (an Anglo-Vietnamese-Multicultural parish) in Falls Church, Virginia. Deacon Vang is completing his M. Div. degree at Virginia Theological Seminary. He is a member of Holy Apostles’ Episcopal Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, a predominantly Hmong American congregation. Deacon Toua is our first theologically-trained Hmong minister. – Fred Vergara

Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?
The blind man replied, "My teacher, let me see again."

For the blind, to be able to see again is like being in a new world. I remember one morning back in the late 1980's, when I chose to sit in one of the back seat of the classroom. Nothing seemed unusual on that day, but when class began I could not see what my teacher was writing on the board.  Twice on that day I asked my teacher for permission to go to the rest room, just to wash my eyes, but that did not help. "Will I be blind?"  I felt so insecure.  At my brother's advice, I then went to see an optometrist.  Thank God for eye glasses!  With a pair of them, things appeared so clear.  I surely had missed seeing a number of things.  The restoration of vision also brought back my sense of confidence. 

In the Gospel of Mark, a blind man named Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus for help.  The only thing Bartimaeus could do for a living was to beg.  He had no power in himself to help himself.  He was despised by his own people, who believed that diseases and sickness were punishment upon those who sin against God.  So now the Son of Timaeus is screaming toward the Son of David. He did not see Him, but he could feel His presence.

There was so much noise and confusion around him. But he heard from afar the voice of the Son of David, the very King, the Savior.   All he needed was mercy.     "Teacher, let me see again!"   His prayer was answered. And when Jesus healed him, Bartimaeus saw Jesus standing next to him. He then followed Jesus.

Mark wrote this gospel for the early Christians who lived in Rome. Life under Nero was not easy. Christians of the first century were persecuted. We do not know exactly what Mark had in mind when he wrote the passage. Yet certainly Mark had something to tell his readers about seeing.   God who opened the eyes of Bartimaeus may also open the eyes of the believers, when they cry out to Him, to see what they need to see.

And what does God want us to see?
God wants us to see that amidst all the troubles and confusions in the world, God exists and God is in control.

God wants us to know that there is hope. God wants us to claim his Son as our Lord and Savior, our Healer. When we seek Him, we shall find Him. God wants us to accept His love and  receive His mercy and grace. Jesus can open our eyes so that we may see God’s wonderful work in the world around us.           

 All are blind. All are loved. All bear the image of God. God’s salvation and forgiveness is for all.

As a father of four children, I sometimes ask myself how best to lead them in following our Lord. Perhaps there is no perfect answer for my question, but I told myself that the less mistakes the better. No matter how busy, I don't want to neglect my children. Food on the table alone is not enough. They need my attention. They need to learn the habit of worship, giving worship at church the priority on Sunday. They need to learn about what is right and what is wrong early on in their lives. I am aware that what I say at the dinner table, and what I do in my daily life, have been observed by my children. My words and action can be indelibly recorded in their brains. I may try to find excuses, but today's lesson can be a call to repentance.

The Christ who opens the eyes of the blind can make us see our own iniquities. I have the responsibility to make the Mark story known to my children:  God loves them and God can open their eyes -- their minds, their hearts -- to see that God is always beside them, and that there is the hope of resurrection, no matter how difficult life can be.

Time and again, the questions in the liturgy for baptism come back to us: "Do you promise to renounce evil?" "Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving you neighbor as yourself?" "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

The Son of David, who once touched the Son of Timaeus, can touch us today, to give us new vision of life, and to fill us with His love, hope and joy. Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Editor's Note: The following are excerpts from the Proclamation Letter of President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863 which set the precedent of America's National Day of Thanksgiving. I normally would ask a lay leader in my parish (sometimes dressed like Abe Lincoln) to read this Proclamation before the Thanksgiving Eucharistic Celebration begins. At Family Evening meal, it may also be read by a leader in the family so all will know the reason for the celebration. For easy reading, I made adjustments on paragraphing and underscoring.- Fred Vergara)

“It is the duty of nations as well as of (men) to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

“We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals are subject to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be a punishment inflected upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?     

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. 

We have forgotten the gracious hand, which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own."

"Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us."

“It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people."

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a Day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells n the heavens.”      (Abraham Lincoln, 1863)

A Thanksgiving Day Prayer:
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and for the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen,. (Book of Common Prayer, page 246)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Alejandro “Alex” Abarico Esclamado

April 2, 1929 – November 4, 2012

Editor’s Note:
A tribute to a Filipino American hero, Mr. Alex Esclamado: When I was spiritual co-adviser of the Filipino-American Council of Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley, California), along with Fr. Ben Manding of the Roman Catholic Church, I had several meetings with Alex Esclamado. I fondly remember Manong Alex as a pioneer and leader with a keen vision of the future of Filipinos in America and firm determination to keep Filipino American unity even in the midst of various political factionalism and regional fragmentation. 

I listened to some of his speeches often spiced with unique sense of humor. Speaking about demographics in the early ‘90’s, he said: “Coming from any one country, Filipino American immigrants are second only to Mexicans. The reason why there are more Mexicans than Filipinos in the United States is that they can just cross the border. But if Filipinos can only walk on water…” Speaking at a Dinner Dance of Filipino couples, “There are no ugly women; only women who can’t make themselves beautiful.” When I gave a rather long Invocation, he remarked, “Father Fred has just taken a page from my speech.” 

He died in his hometown, Maasin, Leyte last November 4, 2012. According to information from Lorna Dietz and Atty. Rodel Rodis, his remains will be brought back to San Francisco by his bereaved wife, Luly and a Memorial Service is being planned on November 17, 2012 in San Francisco. The following is a summary of his life and works as submitted to Lorna Dietz, prior to Alex's demise. In Filipino American history, Alex Esclamado is larger than life. – Fred Vergara

Alejandro “Alex” Abarico Esclamado

April 2, 1929 – November 4, 2012

This is the original summary that Alex Esclamado entrusted to Lorna Dietz in 2004, meant for a nomination for a leadership award.

Short personal background / family history
Alex Esclamado’s commitment to public service started when he was a child, the son of a town mayor in Southern Leyte. During World War II, the Esclamado family supported 5 American guerrillas who were operating a radio station in Leyte’s mountains. Alex and his brother, Fil, carried food to these guerrillas and helped disseminate news broadcasts to the resistance movement, which was instrumental to the well-coordinated landing of General Douglas MacArthur’s American Liberation forces in Leyte on October 20, 1944.

Alex graduated as valedictorian from elementary and high school, then worked his way through college as an assistant to his Congressman. He also successfully implemented his idea of recruiting thousands of ROTC cadets to guard the electoral precincts during the crucial national elections of 1951 and 1953.

Alex earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Law and passed the bar examinations in 1955. He was one of the key implementers of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay’s Land for the Landless Program in the 1950’s, instrumental in solving the first communist rebellion led by the Hukbalahaps.

Alex then worked in the private sector as a lawyer and a newspaper correspondent. At this time, he had been married to Lourdes Mitra since 1952. Esclamado then accepted a Chief Correspondent position at the Manila Chronicle in the United States and a scholarship in Hasting’s Law School in San Francisco. In 1961, Alex was on his own.

As of 2004, the Esclamados have seven children and 14 grandchildren.
* * *
Significant service / contribution to others (local/international
The life and works of Alex Esclamado inspire emerging and young leaders in California and the United States. In the next century, when a Global Filipino studies the history of Filipino Americans, Esclamado will stand out as one man who clearly manifested the seemingly impossible dream of Filipino political and social empowerment in the United States during the 20th and 21st centuries, achieving 50-plus years of community service. Alex was among the few Filipino pioneers who arrived in the United States in 1959. He lived and worked in California for 42 years.

Esclamado, as publisher of Philippine News and Filipino community advocate for 45 years in the U.S., championed vital issues such as immigration reform, farm workers’ rights, professional recognition and licensing of foreign graduates, and naturalization of World War II Filipino Veterans.
In the United States, Esclamado’s biggest battle was against the Dictatorship of Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

In 1997, he retired from the daily operations of the newspaper to devote his full-time attention to establishing the foundation of NaFFAA, whose goals are the national unification of some 3,000 Filipino American associations in the United States, the empowerment of Filipino Americans, and assistance to the Philippines. Alex became the Founding National Chair of NaFFAA and was elected unanimously as the first National Chair during the First National Filipino American Empowerment Conference held in Washington D.C. in August 1997, attended by over 1,500 Filipino American leaders representing associations throughout the United States. He served as National Chair from 1997 to 2002.
* * *
Other achievements (of some heroic quality)
Alex Esclamado served as National President of the Filipino American Political Association (FAPA), a political advocacy group since 1965. In 1998-99, he served as the only Filipino-American member of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee on the Asian and Pacific Islander Populations.
On June 24, 2003, the City of Manila honored Esclamado with a special award for his Filipino American Welfare and Human Rights Advocacy during the celebration of the 432nd Araw Ng Maynila, the first Filipino American Awardee.

On April 10, 2003, the Greenlining Institute, an association of Minority leaders, entrepreneurs, and the disadvantaged in the United States, awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award, comparing him to Martin Luther King of the African Americans and Cesar Chavez of the Mexican Americans.
On May 9, 1989, Esclamado was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor Award and Medal, the highest honor accorded to a civilian in the Philippines, by Philippine President Corazon Aquino for “His distinguished and outstanding service to the country during the past 20 years.” He is the only Filipino American recipient.

During the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty in New York in October 1986, outstanding immigrants were honored for their contributions to America. Esclamado was the only Filipino American recipient of the Congressionally-sponsored Ellis Island Medal of Honor along with 79 other outstanding Americans representing all other nationalities.

Testimonials of courage include the First Human Rights Award from the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office in 1986 “For his Courageous Defense of the Rights of the Filipino People.”
* * *
Manifestation (in words or deeds) or patriotism to the country, the Philippines
When Martial Law was declared in the Philippines in 1972, the Filipino community became inexorably divided, stalling the unity movement that Alex had promoted since 1963.For the next 15 years, Alex committed to publishing the truth behind Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship regime. News damaging to the dictatorship reached the Philippine News’ offices. Esclamado survived bribe offers, burglaries at his offices, a foiled kidnapping attempt of his youngest daughter, and the cruel use of his ailing parents to lure him back to the Philippines.

When the 1986 People Power Revolution took place, Alex’s crusade ended. When he returned to the Philippines, together with Robert Gnaizda, they publicly proposed a $5 billion “Mini-Marshall” assistance plan for the Philippines, which ultimately resulted in the U.S.-led $15 billion Multilateral Assistance Initiative.

The case of the World War II Veterans who served with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Philippines and then were denied their legitimate status as soldiers of the United States found an advocate in Alex.

In 1974, Esclamado entered his appearance as amicus curie before Judge Charles Renfrew, who was hearing the veterans’ case for naturalization. After Alex’s presentation, Renfrew commended him for his “persuasive and brilliant” statement. The resulting favorable Renfrew doctrine was a victory for the veterans. About 5,000 veterans were naturalized before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Judge Renfrew’s decision. The struggle continued via the U.S. Congress, which ultimately resulted in the 1990 passage of corrective naturalization law. Today, Alex continues working for equity benefits for these WWII veterans.
* * *

Wednesday, November 7, 2012



A Reflection on Philippians 4:10-20                                                                             

With Rev. Paul Joo, vicar of One in Christ Church.

With Bishop Robert Ilay of Iglesia Filipina Independiente Easter USA Diocese

( By the Rev. Dr. Fred Vergara. Delivered at One in Christ Korean Episcopal Church, Prospects Heights, Illinois.11.4.2012 . Earlier he led a Workshop on Stewardship for the Iglesia Iilipina Independiente- North American Context held at St. Margaret's in Scotland Episcopal Church held in Chicago, Illinois, USA .11.3.2012)

I am delighted that your vicar and my Korean American brother,  Fr. Paul Joo, has invited me today to preach on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. This 11th book in the New Testament is one of my favorite epistles and I tell you why. 

It was many years ago, 1975 to be exact, that I attended a youth conference in Arusha, Tanzania (Africa) sponsored by the World Council of Churches. At the conference, we were asked to tell our names and which countries we came from.  So I introduced myself and announced that I came from the Philippines. One of the delegates asked, “Where is Philippines?” Jokingly I replied, “Philippines is where St. Paul addressed his Letter to the Philippians.” The bible-loving Africans found it so funny that during the Church service, one African youth announced, “A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Filipinos!”

The context of this letter to the Philippians (not the Filipinos) was the Graeco-Roman world, sometime between 49-51 A.D.  It was a period of religious persecutions and the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome for preaching the Gospel. While in prison he received a generous gift of money sent by the Church in Philippi. The money was delivered by Epaphroditus, whom Paul referred to as his “brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier in Christ.” It is likely that Epaphroditus was a lay leader and a trusted official of the Church in Philippi, a city in ancient Greece. St. Paul was an evangelist and church planter and the Philippians was probably the joy of his life and ministry. These Christians were generous givers, not because they were rich but because they had given their lives to Christ and are demonstrating this lifestyle by supporting his ministry.

So this letter is actually Paul’s  “thank you note.” Written from prison, it is a letter of joy and thanksgiving.  I would like to call this a “jailhouse letter” of contentment, generosity and assurance of Christ’s promise.

1. Contentment in Christ                                                                                                                   

The mark of the resurrection life, the mark of life surrendered to God, is the gift of contentment. St. Paul wrote, “I know how to be rich and I know how to be poor. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation… I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:10-13)

Contentment is the state of being when you are free to be what God wants you to be; free to do what God wants you to do; and free to go where God wants you to go. You have a freed-up lifestyle because you are not possessed by your possessions. You are not envious of other’s wealth or success because your whole life is committed to the One who owns everything and who makes all things possible. You are not a slave of money; you are not in love with the gifts because you are totally in love with the Giver of those gifts. We can say that St. Paul was a free man, in more ways than one, even though he was in chains.

To those of you who have Facebook, I had just reprinted on my page, the amazing story of Dr. Charles Teo, a very successful cosmetic surgeon from Singapore. His life was one of choosing success over contentment and realizing that he made the wrong choice. He first wanted to be a General Practitioner but decided to shift to aesthetic medicine because of the money.  In Singapore as in many other cities where prosperity and image matter, rich people do not mind paying huge sums of money to make them look good. This is what the media bombards us with.  We are immersed in a culture of narcissism, where success is measured by how many toys we own, how large our cars and houses are and how beautiful our faces and bodies look like. So those who are wealthy would make no qualms paying thousands of dollars for a liposuction, breast augmentation, face lift, nose lift,  or making your lips like that of Angelina Jolie.  So instead of healing the sick, Dr.  Teo became a “glorified beautician”---because there’s plenty of money in making the celebrities, and those trying to be, even more beautiful. 

And he indeed became rich, a millionaire, with houses and flashy cars and membership in golf clubs of the rich and famous. But at the height of his career, he got sick of lung cancer. At his deathbed, Dr. Teo, reflected, “I realized that in my success and prosperity, I lost my moral compass; the more I became rich, the more I wanted more riches. There’s nothing wrong with being rich; but I did not know how to handle it. The deeper the hole I dug, the more that I got sucked into it.”  He died last month at age 40.

The story of Dr. Teo reminds us of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life? I’ve done the commandments and all.” And Jesus said, “You lacked one thing; go, sell your possessions and give it to the poor and come follow me.” The rich young ruler went away sorrowful because he could not leave his possession to follow Christ. His possession possessed him. Unlike St. Paul, this man was imprisoned even though he was free. (Cf. Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)

2. Generosity in Christ 

 St. Paul continued “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church share with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me again and again when I was in need.”(Philippians 4:14-16)
It appears that the Philippian Church is Paul’s model of generosity.  This generosity to Paul was not necessarily for himself but for the mission he does. In the Book of Acts, Paul was known to be a “tent maker,”(Acts 18:3) which means he himself was working as he planted churches. So the moneys that Philippian Church was giving go into his total ministry. 

I am reminded of the story of Fr. Charles Chen of St. James Episcopal Church in Taiwan.  When he visited the Philippines, he saw the Episcopalians in one town worshipping under a mango tree and he was moved with compassion. When he returned to his church, he challenged the congregation to exercise generosity. Responding to his own example of generosity, the church members chipped in dollars after dollars. Some gave from over and above their church pledge, others gave out from their savings, some sold their artworks and others missed out on some luxuries in order to give more. In a matter of time, they were able to send enough money to build a church for that congregation. This generosity caught up with the whole church in Taiwan that to date they were able to build twelve churches in the Philippines. In the process, their own church did not become poor but even grew healthier and healthier. Generosity is the gift that keeps on giving---and growing.

3. Assurance of Christ’s Promise 
This is Paul’s concluding words: “I am amply supplied, now that I have received the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. And (I pray) that my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:18-19)

What a glorious prayer and promise: “My God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches!”  So it is God who owns everything; He owns the cattle in the thousand hills; He owns the world and everything in it. He gives us the skills, the health, the strength, the wisdom to gain wealth but it is not just for ourselves but for the sake of the Gospel.  In other words, we are blessed so we can be a blessing!  

Let me share my own testimony. Years ago, in 1980, my wife and I attended a conference in Singapore and we listened to a missionary from Sumatra who told of his ministry. It was a heroic ministry and we were impressed by his dedication and self-sacrifice.  He also shared about his needs and as he was sharing, I felt the Holy Spirit urging me to give. Now I had only $50 bill in my pocket and that day we had visitors from the Philippines and I promised to treat them for lunch. That $50 was for our lunch. We were poor and I was just finishing my Master in Theology at the Singapore seminary. So I had quite an uneasy decision to make and my wife was watching what I would do. In an act of faith, I gave it all to the missionary but then my wife whispered, “How do we pay for our lunch with our visitors?” I dismissed it lightly saying “God provides,” though I was also a bit anxious. 

When we got out of the conference, a friend of ours whom we met a few months ago, happened to be in the hallway and when she saw us, she got excited. “Father Fred and Sister Angie, it’s so nice to see you. I would like to treat you for lunch!”  She was a lawyer working with the Development Bank of Singapore. I said, “Thank you, but we’ve got visitors!” “Oh, please bring them along. I also want to meet them” she said. So that day, we had a wonderful, sumptuous lunch---at  Shangri-La, one of the most expensive restaurants in Singapore. I felt a bit embarrassed but then I also believe, “God provides!”

God’s provision did not end there. We went home quite contented. But when we opened our mail, there was an envelope without a back address. We opened it and behold, there was $100! I gave my only $50 and we had lunch and then got double of what I had given. I learned that we cannot “out give God!” The gospel clearly says, “Give and it shall be given unto you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). Jesus likewise said, “I come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Now I know that sometimes this scripture is taken out of context and the Word of God is manipulated like a speculative investment or an insider trading in Wall Street. But I think, the essence of the Letter of Paul, the stories I shared and the Scriptures I quoted, is not that of the so-called “prosperity gospel” where you give only because you expect to receive more. No doubt, we have given gifts without having received something in return. The message of Paul is that “when there is a need, do not be afraid to give because God Himself will take good care of your needs---according to his glorious riches.” It is more blessed to give than to receive. You are happy when you receive but you are happier when you give.

Deepak Chopra, Indian-born physician and writer, in his book “Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” wrote that “giving and receiving are two sides of the same coin.” The blessing of God is not to be hoarded but be allowed to circulate. If blood does not circulate, it will coagulate and the body will die. It is interesting to note that the other word for money is “currency,” and the word “affluence” comes from “afluere” which means “to flow to”. Like a river, money as currency should be allowed to flow.

 I was in Israel in 2010 and saw the difference between two seas: the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. The Dead Sea receives water but it does not give out water; that is why it is dead. But the Sea of Galilee receives water but it also gives out water. That is why it is alive, abundant in fish and water supply. It seems to me that the two seas (Sea of Galilee is actually a freshwater lake and Dead Sea is a super-salty water lake) is nature’s analogy of two lives. One life is a life lived in selfishness, the other in selflessness; one is possessive life and the other a generous life; one life is lived in receiving but not giving; the other in giving and receiving and giving again and again. Which life would you like to live? 

Let us pray:  Heavenly Father, you see our needs, you hear our cries and listen to our prayers. You own everything and marked, even us, to be your possessions. We thank you for sending Jesus who promised to give us life and have it abundantly. We thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor and Giver of life. You wish that we shall prosper and be of good health as our souls prosper so that we may be a blessing to those around us. Help us Lord, to choose a life of generosity, a life of contentment and a life of giving. For the sake of your Son who gave His life to us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.