Happy New Year!
For me, 2017 was an exceptional year of travel. I took 22 flights and slept in 47 beds in 11 countries and 11 US states, living out of a suitcase for a cumulative of 6 months of the year. As I paused to reflect on how I experienced God in 2017, I realized that I have worshipped with so many nations tribes and tongues! This is one of my life’s goals and passions (as described in my bio) to experience God in as many cultures as possible because each one reflects a part of who He is.
What a privilege to have worshipped with believers all around the world in 2017! My most profound realization is this: He is the same God all around the world. Though languages, locations, and forms of worship may change drastically, the same Spirit of God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3, KJB). One of the blessed benefits of being a follower of Christ is that I have family members all across the earth, and even if we cannot share words, we can recognize one another by the Spirit that dwells within us.
I began 2017 in Orlando, Florida, worshipping in many tongues at InterVarsity’s triennial national staff conference. Most memorable are singing with my Syrian brother John Charbro (a refugee) and learning a song written by a Native American brother (“Fly” by Guy Peters)—that song gave me chills! Little did I know in January, how much the threads of Native American cultures would be woven into my year.
In February, I was back home in Honolulu, and had the opportunity to join a Chinese church service and baptism as we celebrated our Taiwanese friend Jeff’s new commitment to Christ! I was amazed that though my Mandarin is limited and rusty (I learned as a kid growing up in Taiwan), I could still understand about 80% of the message!
For the next 2 months I traveled to 10 countries in Europe as part of my Sabbatical, experiencing worship in many of these nations. March saw me journeying through much of England and Ireland, soaking up the rich tradition in my own mother tongue (English). A few weeks later, I was in Italy celebrating Easter Mass at the center of the Catholic church, the Vatican. Though I grew up Protestant Christian, I recognize that my faith also stems from this tradition. I appreciated the reverence for Christ seen in the Catholic brothers and sisters, relished the many peoples and languages woven into the liturgy, and laughed as the pope sped through the crowds in his Pope mobile (his suped-up golf cart) like the ultimate church celebrity as loving crowds yelled after him, “Papa Franchesco!”
In Switzerland and Austria, I worshipped at international churches using English. Each time I was surrounded by many colors and nationalities. Swedish church was quite hard for me to follow (what a difficult language!), yet this was the language of worship of my great-great grandparents who emigrated to the “new world”. The service in Istanbul, Turkey was special—bilingual English and Turkish. I was deeply moved by the passion of this tiny minority of Christ-followers and in large Muslim nation. How sobering to consider that this former center of Christendom (Constantinople) is today less than 1% Christian.
Back in the United States mid-May, I experienced some culture shock at a Baptist church in Virginia which felt so predictable like it was straight out of a low-budget Christian movie. I crossed the country and joined a special annual gathering of Christian Native Indigenous people of North America and friends (NAIITS). This time worship involved solemn drum songs and ceremonial cleansing with smoke and feathers and prayer in the four directions. I experienced “smudging” for the first time. In June I stayed in Redding, California where I danced at the Holy Spirit mega church, Bethel, sat among the houseless at our little crumbling church building “Light House” and visited my home church of 9 years—Trinity Alliance (CMA).
My return home to Honolulu, Hawai’i in July, my soul found refuge again at the little gathering of Native Hawaiians and friends “Ka ‘Ohana o ke Aloha” (The Family of Love) under the kukui nut tree at Ke Alohi (The Shining). Here the gentle strumming of guitars and ukuleles with shouts of praise in both English and Hawaiian are sweet and familiar. We open service with the ceremonial blowing of the pu (shell), a chant to welcome Ke Akua (God’s) presence, and worship the Creator with the hula.
The curtain closed on 2018 at a joyful gathering of Japanese Christians in LA for the “Equipper Conference” hosted by JCFN (Japanese Christian Fellowship Network). I came to learn how to support my Japanese friends who study in Honolulu, as they return home to Japan where churches are few and far between. Though I don’t speak Japanese, I enjoyed singing along with the phoneticized lyrics and admiring the passion of my Japanese brothers and sisters. We rung in the new year with joyful shouts of praise to the God of every nation, tribe, and tongue!
I’m grateful for this gift in 2017 of worshipping around the world. God is good!