The humid morning air hangs thick and a little sticky, and the pale gray sky is beginning to lighten like an opaque curtain hanging primly in a window. I can hear the sounds of Jeepneys and motorcycles honking at one another in the street below me, and a rooster crows steadily above the din of the traffic. Already a steady stream of padjak (for-hire bicycle taxis with sidecars), uniformed school children, and hospital workers are making their way past the apartment to their morning destinations.
A blanket of rain appears, and the street is suddenly dotted with brightly colored umbrellas. It first patters the corrugated rooftops, then bangs like a snare roll, and then yields to a gentle drizzle.
Eventually, these clouds will clear, and the magnificent Mayon volcano will appear, large and looming, filling our second-floor apartment view with a quiet, imposing beauty. It too, like everything I experience this Wednesday morning, is a reminder that I’m not in California.
So far, I’ve taught two sessions on worship and the arts here at BCCL. Twenty enrolled students, as well as twenty-five additional audited students and BCCL staff, are attending my class, by far, the largest class given at BCCL to date. I was reminded that many of these people, both young students and older professionals and pastors, are coming each evening at great personal inconvenience, which is an indication of the great hunger that they have for teaching in worship. It makes me humble, diligent, and a little anxious for the class.
Understandably, the first session was a little hard for me to read. In cross-cultural exchanges, I’ve found it good to not lean on my own American sensibilities, and field director Gregg Evans has been extremely helpful in coaching me to communicate more effectively. After the first break of the first class, Gregg kindly encouraged me: “Don’t tell them you’re passionate about worship. Show them.” So we entered into a time of worship that was both sweet and unifying. The classroom time since then has been much more open and animated.
Teaching worship in this context begins with definitions. And the word, “worship” has many connotations. It is both a big word and a small one. It can mean the way that we live our lives in obedience to the Lord (Romans 12), and it can mean the singing portion of the Sunday morning service. So the first few sessions have been a series of deconstructions and theological reconstructions. But more than just shake up their ideas of worship, I’m trying to give them a bigger, grander understanding of who God is, and what our role is in helping His people enrich and deepen the transcendent dialogue.
I have found the students earnest, eager, and respectful. They love the Lord with passion and obedience. None of them are “full-time” pastors or ministers in the sense that we understand the term, and yet they fill their time with Bible studies, discipleship, and service. I find it refreshing—and somewhat humbling—to be with people for whom following Christ is so deeply integrated into their lives. In particular, there are many younger people (university students and others) involved in the leadership of these churches, particularly in worship teams. It’s great to see the movement of God in this cultural, inter-generational, and interdenominational context.
Please continue to pray for the class, particularly that God would impress upon all of us what He wants to form in our hearts regarding worship. Fifteen local churches are represented in the fifty or so people attending my class, so what we learn together has the capacity to affect many people. Once again, I thank you for the support and the opportunity to represent you here in Legaspi.
• I think Debbie would be appalled (but not surprised) by the amount of white rice I’m eating.
• The Super Bowl was pretty much non-existent here. Flipping through all the sports channels during the Super Bowl (it began about 7 AM Monday morning, by the way), I think we found soccer, rugby, and two basketball games (one US college and one NBA). They love their basketball!
• We are cooking on a hot plate in our apartment, so we’ve been to the grocery store a few times already. The grocery store is always a revealing cultural indicator of any society. Lots of things are different, from cookies to fruit to dish soap. Of greatest interest: the dairy section doesn’t have milk, butter, or cream. And the rice section is huge.
• At Gregg’s encouragement, I played Justin’s Asian-market toothpaste commercial for the class. They immediately recognized the commercial, and if he were to ever come here, he would be an immediate celebrity (especially among a few of the younger female students!).
• Some of you expressed concern to me about the recent earthquake. It was a large earthquake (I was told 6.9 on the Richter scale with aftershocks), but quite a ways away from Legaspi (near Cebu), so we didn’t feel it. Thanks for your concern.
[Top two photos: My second day of teaching at BCCL. Please pray for each of these people, and for the ministries they represent. Bottom photo: Some of the children at the Ligao City Bible Community pile into the main mode of transportation for many here, a motorcycle with roofed sidecar. I counted twelve adults and children on this one as it sped away.]