Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Saturday, May 21, 2016

VISION ANDREWS-"Asiamerica Network of Disciples Revivalists Evangelists Witnessess & Saints."

(The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, The Episcopal Church, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017. Presented at the Bay Area Clergy and Lay Leaders gathered at Holy Child & St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Daly City, California last May 18, 2016)

 I envision “ANDREWS” to be a mentoring/coaching program for clergy and lay leaders of Asiamerican and Pacific Islanders in The Episcopal Church.

Churches in concordat with TEC such as Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Church of South India, Church of North India and Mar Thoma Church may also join ANDREWS but priority in scholarship support will given to TEC. ANDREWS will also be open to the newly-formed Anglican CanAsian Ministries (ACAM).

The vision is to train the Baby Boomer Generation (born between 1946-1964), the Generation X (born from 1965-1979) and the Millenials (born between 1980-2000) in a relationship of mentors and mentees (discipler and disciple).

Although it is expected that the mentors may have more knowledge and experience, it is also a process of give and take, as the mentees may have ideas that will enrich an intergenerational relationship.

As a rule, it is good to pair the intergenerational partnership within their racial-ethnic category but exception will be based on availability of mentors and when the context of ministry is multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural.

The strategic purpose of ANDREWS is to recruit, train and develop a cadre of outstanding leaders that shall help renew the church, evangelize the nations (panta ta ethne) and transform the world. In the Episcopal Church today, there are many declining parishes and missions and many congregations are stuck in stagnation.

The visible goal within three years is to have seventy (70) well-trained mentors, leaders who are equipped to revitalize declining churches, strengthen and grow existing churches and plant new churches or create new ministries.

In the Old Testament, Moses developed seventy(70) leaders who assisted him in the exodus. In the New Testament, Jesus called the 70 disciples to go two by two as an advance party to where he was going. 

The funding of ANDREWS will be a triad partnership of (1) the Asiamerica Ministries Office of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society, (2) the Mission Enterprise Zone of DFMS and (3) the Diocese/Parish where the ANDREW mentoring program operates.

ANDREWS will provide three areas of development: (1) Training seminars and conferences, (2) Coaching techniques and (3) Resources in books and digital technology.

Provision for these developmental training will be in the form of scholarships and access to free or affordable resources. For example, if ANDREWS participants travel to Israel and participate in the course “Palestine of Jesus” at St. George College in Jerusalem, scholarships will be provided for travel and/or tuition. 

Production of contextual training programs and publication of resources in local levels will be encouraged.

The Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries (of DFMS) will provide the vision, direction and decision-making with the assistance of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council Executive Committee. The EAMC Execom is the Subcommittee on Scholarships. 

What is the meaning of ANDREWS? The following terms describe the scope of the vision:

Participation in ANDREWS will be coming from the following EAM Ethnic Convocations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian and Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders. If the initial goal is to train seventy (70) leaders, it would mean we will be recruiting at least ten leaders (mentors) from each ethnic convocation.

What will be the criteria of recruitment? I need your input on this matter. It is my hope that the EAM Ethnic Convocations will assist in identifying, discerning and recommending at least ten exemplary leaders from each of their constituency.  

What is a network? Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston gave me an idea of what a network is when he discussed Facebook and Social Networking. He wrote, “One of the realities of post-modern media is that it is like playing a connect-the-dots game. If one person sends something to another person, and that person sends it on to two more people, and those two send it to four more, then exponentially, organically, a network begins to form.”

While it is true that our initial goal is to create 70 mentors in three years, the network of their influence will spread exponentially. If the 70 are able to disciple at least 70 others, that 70 others will also disciple 70 others and in time, we multiply the mentors exponentially.

Mentorship is the contemporary term for discipleship and mentor is the disciple-maker. Some words such as “coach,” and “role model” are also appropriate but “mentor” has a definite ring that goes beyond coaching and role-playing. Perhaps it is closer “big brother/big sister.”

One of the interfaith mentoring program is called “Panim El Panim”(Hebrew for “Face to Face”). One of the PEP testimonies read something like this:

“Frank was born in Ghana. A very gifted child, he was given full scholarship to attend a good school but his father, an abusive alcoholic prevented him. So he ran away at age 15 and worked in a merchant ship and landed in New Jersey where he finished high school and worked as a welder for 10 years and as taxicab driver for 15 years. During this time he got married but his marriage failed and he lost his way and struggled with depression. At Panim El Panim, he was given a mentor who has a heart deep and big enough to listen to Frank and to finally led him to renewal. He just graduated Nursing. At graduation, with his arm around his mentor’s shoulder, Frank said ‘All my life I had been seeking my father’s approval…now I found my father.’ He plans to return to Ghana and serve as nurse there.”
Disciple-making changes character and transforms lives as Jesus has done with his disciples.

New York Times recently published that dozens of Roman Catholic Churches in the New York archdiocese were recently closed due to shortage of clergy, declining membership and church giving. The Episcopal Church is no exception. 

The dioceses in New York, Long Island and other dioceses have been struggling with how to deal with membership and income decline. Some dioceses respond to the decline by closing churches, merging parishes and promoting bi-vocational clergy who work part-time in church and part-time in secular jobs.

This situation in our churches calls for clergy who have the gift and skill of a church revivalist or parish revitalizer. Three years ago, I served very part-time, as a weekend Priest-in-Charge of St. James Episcopal Church in Elmhurst, Queens experiencing a steep decline. When I started on April 2013, the Sunday attendance was 25 and deficit was $93,000; when I ended my term last Easter 2016, the attendance was 150and surplus was $31,000. 

How did I do it or how did it happen? I certainly have a gift of leading a church to revival and so with some of you. We need to impart that gift and skill to mentor clergy who have the passion to revive declining parishes.

One of the things that we, Episcopalians need to learn more is the power of the Holy Spirit to revive churches. Christianity Today reported that for every Anglican Church in London that closes, three Pentecostal churches rise up. What can we learn from our Pentecostal brothers and sisters with regards to the revival fire? How can we allow the Holy Spirit not only to reside but also to preside in our congregations? The task of spiritual revival and parish revitalization is urgent now more than ever.

When we were students at St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Manila, we were called “Andresitos and Andresitas” or “little Andrews.” 

In Greek St. Andrew was the “protokletos,” the first apostle to be called by Jesus. He led his own brother, Simon Peter with the words that he learned from Jesus Himself “Come and see.” "Come and see Jesus" would mark the ANDREWS mentoring program.

It is very heartwarming that the rallying vision of our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the “Jesus Movement” whom he defined as “evangelism and racial reconciliation.” In his recent speech in Puerto Rico, Bishop Curry said that “the Jesus Movement is a movement of people who are so wrapped up with Jesus that their lives start looking like his.”

St. Paul as a mentor reminded his mentee Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction…Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4). Evangelism is a priority.

ANDREWS style of evangelism will be marked by humility. Sri Lankan evangelist, D. T. Niles said, "Evangelism is a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread." It is an evangelism of attraction not confrontation. Mahatma Gandhi once said something like this, "If your rose garden is so attractive, people will climb the fence or cross the lawn to smell and appreciate it."

Jesus said to the apostles before he ascended to heaven: “And you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth”(Acts 1:8). 

The Holy Spirit descended upon them on the Day of Pentecost and they become witnesses for Christ in the life they lead and in the relationships they create.

Our organization Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry is a witness to the reconciling work of God. It is an umbrella of convocation of congregations: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Southeast Asia and South Asia---and Pacific Islanders. Historically in Asia, we were embroiled in wars and conflicts but in EAM we became brothers and sisters. Because we are able to be in harmony in our diversity, we are able to transcend this harmonious relationships in the greater multiracial and multicultural church and society.

The AMEMS (Asiamerica Mission to End Modern Slavery) is a ministry of witness to the victims of human trafficking. We need entrepreneurial skills and creativity in promoting the ministry of witness to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in our society.

The loose definition of saints is being “set apart” and all Christians are in a sense set apart for God. 1Peter 2:9 says “But you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. That you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

John Wesley, the Anglican priest once told his fellow clergy, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. Therefore spend and be spent on it. It is not so much to do this and to do that or to become a members of society but to save as many as you can and to bring them up to the holiness, without which they cannot see the Lord.” The Holiness Movement paved the way for the formation of the United Methodist Church.

So the name of our mentoring program is ANDREWS---Asiamerica Network of Disciples Revivalists Evangelists Witnesses and Saints. 

May God bless this vision to the praise and glory of His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, May 9, 2016


(Sermon by The Rev. Canon Dr. Winfred Vergara at Grace Episcopal Church, Massapequa, New York on Mothers’ Sunday, 5/8/2016)

Since this is my first time speak here, I would like to teach you an Affirmation Prayer which I named The Episcopal Tai Chi:

TAI CHI: I am a child of God; I stand on His holy word. I breathe the Holy Spirit. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I push out negative thoughts; I take in positive thoughts. I push out sickness; I take in good health. I push out poverty; I take in prosperity. I push out hatred; I take in love. I push out despair; I take in hope. I push out sadness; I take in joy. And now, I will share the Good News to my family, to my friends, to my neighbors, here and all over the world. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

This week, I received an email from a famous Department Store and it reads: “Dear Winfred, congratulations for being an excellent mother. Now click here for your reward.” When I clicked I was given options for several ladies cosmetic products.

I bet they emailed it to millions of their customers indiscriminately and maybe they thought Winfred is a female name, but it kept me thinking: “Is motherhood a gender identity or a character identity?” If so, what makes for an “excellent mother?” 

I shared this news to Facebook and there were many who got interested with the issue. One friend said that she had a bad experience of her earthly father so that affected her imaging of God as Father.  So she suggested that that since it is Mothers’ Sunday, that I preach on God as Mother. 
I am not here to define God’s identity but let me cite at least three characters of God as closer to my characterization of a mother: 
1.     God Cares like a Mother cares
I think the first character that I associate with mother is the quality of care. I do not mean that fathers don’t care. I simply mean that mother’s caring is often called TLC – tender loving care. 

When I was a child, I remember my father as a strict disciplinarian, always reminding me of the rules. And whenever we, children, break the rules he set, he did not hesitate to use the rod. I guess he believed in the saying, “spare the rod and spoil the child.”  I appreciated being taught the laws but I seldom cherish the punishment, so where do I go for comfort? My mother! She would often enfold me in her arms and hide me under the shadow of her wings.
In the Bible, the prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s motherly care when God said, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you”( Isaiah 49:15) and again in Isaiah 66:13, God assured God’s people, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
When I was a child, one of the songs I learned sound like this, “I once had a dear old mother, who loves me tenderly for when I was a baby she took good care of me.” Someone said, “A caring mother is sweeter than homemade bread.” The caring mother is like a magnet that attracts even erring children to return home. So when God beckons His people to return, God acts as a mother.   

The prophets often warned the nations saying, “When the Lord speaks concerning a nation that He will destroy it because of its sins, but when that nation repent of their evil, God will forgive and bring blessings again.” Destruction and punishment seem to be God’s male image, the image of fatherly discipline. But after warning of destruction, the prophets would suddenly shift to the Mother image and cry ”Turn, turn, turn to the Lord; turn to him now with all of your heart. Turn now with weeping, fasting and mourning, then will His spirit move over your land. Then will his spirit move over your land.”

Turn to God with weeping and mourning. I could not turn to my father weeping…he would belt me up for he did not want me to cry. But I would run toward Mother with weeping and she will dry my tears away! Yes, when God wipes away your tears, as in the Book of Revelation, God is acting like a Mother.
2.     God Protects as a Mother Protects 
In Exodus 3, God compares himself with the mother eagle, fiercely protecting her young. “Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself.(Exodus 19:4) 

How does a mother eagle protect her young? Moses himself answered this question. In the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 32 a “Song of Moses” says of God: "For the LORD'S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.  He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.” That was the Mother Eagle!
Perhaps this was the motherly image that was imprinted in Jesus, when beholding the apostasy and hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees and the disobedience of God’s people, Jesus cried, “ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Yes, God cares and protects us like a mother. Because of that motherly protection, God will never leave us nor forsake us, because He has looked upon us like the apple of His eyes.

3.     God loves like a Mother loves
We often quote John 3:16 that says “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever lives and believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” God’s love is unconditional, self-giving and boundless. It is boundless and universal. 

In the gospel today God’s people are not only those who openly confess His name. God’s sheep are not only the flock within the boundaries of the hills and valleys. “And I have other flocks which are not of this fold, I will call them also so there would be one flock and one shepherd.”
In the Book of Hosea, there is a poignant story of God who was experiencing pain in decision-making. God wanted to destroy His people as in the Noah’s Flood for their sinfulness. But God’s righteous judgment  was being tempered by his motherly love. And so God was suffering and in extreme agony. In Hosea 11:8, God wept saying,”How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I destroy you like Admah or demolish you like Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me and my compassion overflows.”
I remember an Asian story about a mother and her son. She was a loving mother but he was a stupid son. Not only that he was stupid; he also had a face "only a mother can love." He became infatuated with a woman on the other side of the mountain who told him, “I would accept your offer of love if you can give me the heart of your mother.” Maybe it was just a figure of speech or that the woman was wicked. The boy however thought about it and in a moment of stupidity and madness, took a knife, stabbed his mother and took her heart out. He then ran towards the mountain to offer the heart to his object of affection but he stumbled on the rice paddies and the heart fell down in the mud. He scooped the heart and as he was wiping it, the heart spoke:” Son, are you hurt?”

Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lays down his life for his love.”  The mother’s love in a way illustrates the extraordinary, lavish and self-sacrificial love of God. God also forgave our stupidity in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Christ’s suffering and death (like that of the mother’s) was substitutionary.  The prophet Isaiah aptly said, “He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, upon Him was the chastisements that made us whole and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53). 
I remember how my own mother suffered every time one of us children got in trouble or got sick. When I was a child, I got sick with dysentery and as I lay very ill and almost dying, I overheard my Mom prayed, “God, let the sickness be upon me, for I can’t bear to see my son die.” That was a terrible prayer and thank God, that prayer was not answered but it motivated me much to take bitter medicine and cooperated with my healing. Mom taught  me faith, hope and love but most of all, unconditional and  sacrificial love.
So today I honor all of you mothers, grandmothers, god mothers to be, mothers to and wanna be mothers----both male and female---like God and you and me. Amen.