By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“Don’t imagine that you are safer than any other Jew just because you are in the royal palace. If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows—maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen!” –Esther 4:13-14
UCCP HK 4th Anniversary
(This is an excerpt from the message I gave to the members of the UCCP Hong Kong Fellowship on the occasion of their 4th founding anniversary held last July 7, 2019).
We bring you the greetings for and in behalf of the whole UCCP North Luzon Jurisdictional Area as well as our Ecumenical Theological Seminary community in Baguio City. It is our fervent hope and prayer that you would indeed continue to have that faith which can move mountains, that hope which can open future possibilities, and that love which can bind us together in unity and mutual understanding.
Faith, hope, and love in the Almighty God: without which this congregation may not be established four years ago, and sustained through the years in her life and ministry. We must congratulate you for your faithfulness. And together we must thank God today for His empowering and sustaining grace. Happy anniversary to everyone!
Now, I was asked to share with you a message on the theme: “Making the Teachings of Moses and the Prophets Come True in these Changing Times.”
Indeed, time is constantly changing. I came here in Hong Kong for the first time in the early ’80s. I was then a Senior Seminary Student and I was asked to chair the Second Asian Youth Resource Conference held at a Baptist Church facility in Fan Ling, near the border to China. It was then unthinkable to have a UCCP congregation here in Hong Kong.
I understood then that there was an unwritten agreement or arrangement with our partner churches here in Hong Kong or even elsewhere in Asia that they should include in their ministry UCCP members who were living or working in this former British territory. We did not see at that time the need to send UCCP pastors to minister to our UCCP members living or working abroad.
Then, in the succeeding years, there was an emergence of what we call the OFW phenomenon, wherein thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), including our Church members, have been leaving our country every day to earn a living in distant lands. New Religious Movements (NRM’s) in our country saw this as an opportunity to expand their operations abroad, particularly in countries where there are lots of Overseas Filipino Workers. And so, they started sending their lay leaders to organize religious or fellowships groups among OFWs here in Hong Kong, in Singapore, in the Middle East and in other parts of the world where OFWs are largely concentrated.
These NRMs have been preaching and teaching a different gospel, which is called Prosperity or Success Gospel, a gospel that is exactly the opposite of the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They capitalize on the emotional needs of our OFWs in order to get their hard-earned money. And consequently, their leaders have become enormously wealthy at the expense of our OFWs. One of them is now considered the wealthiest religious leader in the whole world!
But worst of all, when our OFW church members would come home they would no longer worship in their home church. They would rather join the NRMs. Or, if they would ever return to their home church, they would become a source of misunderstanding among members or even split in their home church.
And so, mainline churches in our country have finally seen the need to send their own pastors in other countries to go after their OFW members and minister to their spiritual or religious and social needs by organizing them into Bible Study or prayer groups or worshipping congregations. It is at this point that I must express our deepest appreciation for your initiatives in organizing this UCCP worshipping congregation here in Hong Kong. We do hope and pray that God will continue to add more fruitful and meaningful years to your life and ministry as a UCCP church here in Hong Kong.
Asserting our Rights and dignity
Now, the question for us this afternoon would be: how do we make the teachings of Moses and the prophets come true in these changing times? I would like to approach this question in light of the Story of Esther found in the Old Testament. The Book of Esther is one of the latest books, if not the latest, to be included in the Old Testament canon. Many are questioning its inclusion in the Scripture, because it does not even mention the name of God, at least in the Protestant version of the book. But nevertheless, it is included in the Old Testament canon, simply because it talks about the story behind the Feast of the Purim, which is one of today’s important Jewish religious festivals.
The immediate historical context of the Book of Esther was when the Israelites were under the Persian Empire. Through the leadership of Cyrus the Great of Persia, the Israelites were freed from the Babylonians and were allowed to return home to Judah. However, many of them remained in Babylon, now under the Persian Empire.
The Book of Esther is significant for us because, first of all, it would provide us some lessons on how to live and survive in a foreign land. Besides, it contains two very important stories of women: the stories of Queen Vashti and Queen Esther. These stories are significant for us because they would point to us the roles women are playing in society, especially in crisis situations. Let us then look first of all, at these two stories.
First is the story of Queen Vashti of Persia as recorded in Chapter One of the book (cf. Esther 1). According to the story, King Xerxes of Persia had a drinking session in his palace with his invited guests. When they were all drunk, the King asked his wife Vashti to dance in front of them. But the Queen vehemently refused to obey the King’s order. By doing this, Queen Vashti actually defied not only the King’s order, but also the whole patriarchal system that consigned women to be mere objects of sexual desires, and to be their husbands’ blind followers.
Consequently, King Xerxes of Persia removed Vashti as his queen, because according to some of the King’s advisers, she was not a good example for other wives in the Empire. Other wives, they say, might also start disobeying their husbands. But nevertheless, the Queen stood firm in her principle and conviction. For Vashti, respect for husband and wife must be equal and mutual.
Many if not mostly of those thousands of OFWs leaving our country every day are women. They are leaving behind their own families and children to earn a living in distant lands due to lack of employment opportunities in their own motherland. The billions of dollars they are remitting to our country every year is the one single factor that is making our economy float. Thus, people in government call them modern-day heroes, without even admitting and without even a feeling of shame that it is actually their mismanagement of our country’s economy that is forcing women to leave their country and to risk their lives in the concrete jungles of distant lands.
Of course, many of our women OFWs have been quite successful, but unfortunately, many also have come home with broken dreams to broken homes, broken marriages, and neglected children. Thus, they began to wonder if it is worth all their sacrifices. They sometimes realize too late that there are a lot of things in life that are far more valuable than money and all the things that money can buy.
Queen Vashti’s defiance of the King’s order is actually an assertion of her right and dignity as a woman and as a human being. Many of our OFWs might have experienced something like that of Queen Vashti. Hence, to make the teachings of Moses and the prophets come true in these changing times is to stand firm in our principles and convictions and to assert our rights and dignity as a human being.
Instruments of Salvation
Moreover, the Book of Esther is also a story of a woman named Esther who risked her life to save her own people from death and destruction. King Xerxes had to conduct a massive search for Vashti’s successor as the queen of Persia, and Esther, a Jewish woman was chosen after a year of preparation.
Esther was an orphan who grew up under the care of her own cousin Mordecai. When Esther became Queen of Persia, her cousin Mordecai also became a close aide of the King. Haman, the King’s former close aide felt bad about it, and he wanted to eliminate not only Mordecai for not bowing down before him, but all the Jewish people in Persia.
Haman was able to convince the King to issue a decree punishing by execution anyone who would not follow the Persian religion and way of life. Thus, he scheduled the execution of Mordecai and other Jewish people. But Mordecai sought the help of Queen Esther. In their conversation, he said to Queen Esther, “Don’t imagine that you are safer than any other Jew just because you are in the royal palace. If you keep quiet at a time like this, help will come from heaven to the Jews, and they will be saved, but you will die and your father’s family will come to an end. Yet who knows – maybe it was for a time like this that you were made queen.”(Esther 4:13-14).
Queen Esther agreed to help prevent the mass execution of the Jewish people. Thus, Mordecai and Queen Esther planned how they would be able to convince the King about Haman’s evil plan. They thought of having a feast wherein Esther would dance to the delight of the King. Then, as usual the King would promise Queen Esther that he would give anything that she would request from him. Then, Queen Esther would take the opportunity to expose Haman’s evil plans.
Now, everything happened as planned. Haman was caught by surprise, and he tried to ask favor before the Queen, but the King thought that Haman would hurt Queen Esther. And so, the King ordered the arrest and execution of Haman on the same day that Mordecai and the other Israelites in Persia were supposed to be executed by Haman himself. And to commemorate this significant saving event, the Feast of the Purim was established.
Indeed, the story of Queen Esther would show us how women could be powerful instruments for the salvation of their own people. This is no different from our OFWs today who are risking their own lives and limbs, braving the concrete jungles of distant lands to earn a few dollars in order to have food on the table, to send their children to school, and to have a more descent home to stay. They seek to save from economic deprivation through their dollar remittances, not only their own families, but also our nation’s economy from its ultimate collapse. Indeed, like Queen Esther, the OFWs, I would say, are also saviors of their own people.
And so, to make the teachings of Moses and the prophets come true in these changing times is to be instruments of salvation to people. This reminds me of a consultation held here in Hong Kong many years ago. A participant from Japan, who was a Psychologist, said that Filipino domestic helpers in Asia, including Japan, are doing a great job of maintaining sanity is Asian homes. Filipino domestic helpers in Asia are actually serving as shock absorbers of the many pressures within the families in Asia. Without them, perhaps many families in Asia might become even more problematic. He was saying this from his own personal experience as a practicing Psychologist.
I have this wild suggestion. Perhaps, Filipino domestic helpers here in Hong Kong, in Asia or even elsewhere, should not only be here to earn a living, but rather to be witnesses for Christ our Lord to their employers and their families through the words they say and the life they live.
Living and Surviving in a Foreign Land
Finally, the Book of Esther is also a story on how to live and survive in a foreign land. The Israelites in Persia were able to survive even in a very hostile environment, because they stuck together. They cared for each other. They bore each other’s burden, so to speak.
The Israelites have a traditional social support system which they call Kibbutz System, wherein several families will come together and live as one family, helping and mutually supporting each other. This was the reason why the Jewish people were able to survive even when there was a very strong anti-Jewish attitude in Europe in the Medieval Period. They were able to survive in a foreign land, even in the midst of persecutions, simply because they helped each other.
This is a very important lesson we Filipinos must learn from the Jewish people.
In order to survive in a foreign land, like Hong Kong, we must stick together. We have to care for each other, instead of destroying each other or being divided among ourselves.
This is the message I would like to leave with you. And thank you very much, indeed, for this opportunity to come over and join you in the celebration of your 4th church anniversary. Happy anniversary to everyone! God bless. Amen. # nordis.net