Coming Home Empty and Full (8 of 8)

I’m on the longest leg of our 8,000 mile journey home—a nine hour United flight from Tokyo to San Francisco. Before our short sample sake and eat sushi stop in Tokyo we enjoyed a wonderful five dish lunch on ANA Airlines—soba noodles with a little package sauce, wasabi and sprinkled seaweed; cubed fruit salad with a fresh mint leaf; teriyaki beef with grilled vegetables and sticky rice; simple salad with Japanese cucumber, cherry tomato and a little turkey roll with something inside; and sort of sweet creamed spinach. It was all so neatly presented with chopsticks, covered dishes and a warm towel.

We are wrapping up a unique twelve day experience with Compassion International in the Philippines that also included some great components to make a full meal: Hawaiian Island Ministries Conferences, Medical Mission, Community Service Team, Compassion site visits and lots of time for fellowship, Filipino hospitality and meals.

Our conference team of twenty was a diverse group of pastors, dancers and lay leaders who brought their own unique calling: returning with passion for the Philippine, a desire to say yes and be used, wide eyed first timers and child sponsors connecting with their children. God used all of us and God used us all. We leave as new friends and partners in ministry.

Both in Manila and Puerto Princesa our team gave workshops on topics like God’s will, studying the bible, marriage, prayer, serving with spiritual gifts and finding a mate, and we presented six plenary messages focused around the theme of encouragement. In addition, we had large group games, meals together, and the beautiful ministry of the Halau Dancers from Inspire Church on Oahu.

Our desire was to have fellowship, inspiration and teaching. Last fall the Philippines was hit with Hurricane Yolanda, destroying homes, taking  thousands of lives and leaving thousands still homeless. Compassion was on the ground Day 1 and continues to help in the rebuilding. Regardless if you were in its path or spared, Yolanda rocked the psyche and faith of Filipinos.

What could we say or do to connect? Personally Amy and I dug deep into my heart and transparently shared our stories through our workshops and my plenary. People are people, and although we have different kinds of loss, we all know grief and disappointment, and we all want to trust God in whatever circumstances we found ourselves.

We talked about our own struggles in marriage, and our desire to love sacrificially, intimately and faithfully in order to bless others through our lives together. We encouraged the discovery of spiritual gifts, heartfelt passion, abilities, personality and past experience, which informs our personal, unique design for marriage.

I wrapped up the conferences with my plenary talk, “What Every Leader Needs to Know about God.” It’s actually what I need to know: God is always present, God is always at work, and God is always making things new.  I shared my skydiving story and our attachment to the Holy Spirit—like my guide who fastened himself to me as we jumped out of a plane two miles high.

I also shared about the new thing God is doing in my heart as I grow as a grandfather. Aidan calls me Papa, the same word Eugene Peterson uses for Abba in Romans 8:15, with hearts that cry out, “What’s next Papa?” My relationship of trust and safety and adventure with my grandson informs and shapes my relationship with God as my Papa.  I can trust him as my Father in heaven to be there, to provide, and to transform me and others I minister to.

After each night of the conference we invited prayer with our team. At the Life Church we prayed for an hour with hundreds who waited in line to pray with us.

Life Church is a dynamic ministry led by Pastor Ancho Buenaventura: 30 church plants, thousands meet in their church and the coliseum down the street, everyone organized in life groups—groups that are open, evangelistic, family and accountable. Each person is encouraged to invite their friends, and then start their own group within nine months.

Life Church’s media is sophisticated—check them out on YouTube, Facebook or Twitter—and their worship is energetic, with smoke, stage lights, video announcements and dance. Pastor Ancho clearly has gifts of leadership, hospitality and evangelism. Even for Ancho, this time of prayer is a relatively rare thing, and we are all open to what God has in store for us.

This is one those times of feeling totally inadequate. I don’t have the gift of healing or intercession. I do have a pastor’s heart, some wisdom and the love of a father I can share. 

In the Philippines something like 40% of children live without their parents because they are working elsewhere in the country or abroad in places like Dubai. So we prayed for their sense of abandonment. Filipinos, despite the government efforts, are unemployed and underpaid, so we prayed for the stress in families that often leads to physical and emotional abuse. Many of the students and young adults come to church without their parents, so we prayed for their parents to come to faith. Healthcare is not accessible to everyone, so we prayed for children whose parents died young and are grieving.

More than praying a prayer that would fix their lives; I searched for a word of truth or encouragement to be a blessing to each person. You are God’s beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made. God is your Father in heaven who will never leave you or forsake you. You are not alone, God promises to attach him to you. God loves your parents as much as you do, and is pursuing them.

Maybe the most poignant prayer time was the young adult woman who came forward with a teenage disciple from her life group. She had been abused as a child, which made her wonder how she could be a good leader for her girls.

Fortunately Amy had finished her line and I asked her to join us. We prayed for her heart to be healed, for her to see herself as God does: It wasn’t your fault, you are white as snow, you are beautiful in his sight, you are his beloved and God is using you to lead others.

Disciples and discipleship are very important at Life Church. Everyone, from the pastor down, is asked to be discipled in a life group of twelve, and to form their own life group of twelve. So it was a big deal that she came forward with her disciple in this very vulnerable prayer request.

After we prayed I asked her disciple,
“What do you think of her story?”
“I am inspired by her story.  Many of us have also been abused.”
“Are you ashamed or embarrassed of her story?”
 Incredulous, she answered, “No.”
“How do you feel about her being your small group leader?”
“Blessed. Lucky.”

Then I turned to the leader and asked, “Can you hear God’s blessing through her? You are modeling vulnerability to your small group in a beautiful way and God is using you. We feel privileged to hear your story and pray for the healing of your heart.”

It’s almost eleven and we’re exhausted; empty yet filled. As we left the church a few of us were invited into a four on four pick-up game.  Of course we were and we played to five. 

God is always present.
God is always at work.
God is always making things new.

For information on making a difference through sponsorship:


  1. Mike, thanks for so faithfully and articulately sharing this experience. You do have a gift with words. I am blessed for sharing this experience with you and Amy. I've already been talking with my wife about what I learned from the two of you - thank you for your transparency and encouragement.
    I look forward to continuing to collaborate with you for the Kingdom!


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