When I was younger, I would often scroll through Google Earth, trying to find the smallest islands in the Pacific Ocean. I imagined myself having the ability to teleport to one of the islands, as I dreamed it would bring me a sense of peace in the midst of all my school responsibilities. It felt good when I could escape for a short time–even if it was merely a mental escape. I never thought that one day I would actually end up in one of those islands spreading the love of God. Or maybe, receiving the love of God?
On February 26, 2019, I got the opportunity to visit one of the outer islands of Pohnpei for a few days. We took a small plane and landed in Sapwuahfik. The island was magical right from the first moment I stepped out of the plane. More than that, the life was completely different than what we are used to. I was beyond blessed to spend the time with Mr. Kapino, whom I now consider as one of the wisest men I have ever met. Because of him, I was able to experience the daily life in Sapwuahfik and discover a new wisdom in the simple life there.
One thing that makes me very excited is the lessons that God is teaching me through this whole experience. While I am sure God has still more of them for me to learn, there are a few lessons learned already.
Many times, when students return from mission trips, they are happy to finally be back at home; they are glad to return to all the comforts to which they are accustomed: hot showers, the food, the “drinking”water, and the list goes on. Yet this has provided one of the biggest learning experiences for me. When I was in Sapwuahfik, there were definitely things missing that didn’t give me the comfort that I am used to back at home, but I think God wanted to teach me something through this. When I am back home, would I really appreciate going to Walmart and buying whatever I wanted? And if so, is it something to be proud of?
Being far away from home, I slowly began to understand the exact opposite. Spending time with the people amidst the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the island nature, I realized that many of these islanders do not even realize how fortunate they are and how much they should appreciate what they have. We mainlanders tend to lose the ability to fully depend on God, as we become accustomed to relying on ourselves without even realizing it. Islanders are free from all the material things with which we occupy and entertain ourselves; this gives them so much more freedom to depend on God amidst the purity of nature. I am talking about life-dependent on God, which leads us to how we understand life, of course. Doesn’t it sound beautiful to freely depend on God without any distractions? What a profound experience! Being able to freely depend on God provides space to think, reflect, learn, grow in wisdom, and be able to apply it to life.
While I was staying in Sapwuahfik, surrounded by the ocean and coconut trees, feeling the breeze and hearing the shift of the leaves, I felt God’s presence as never before. I had a lot of time to think and reflect on life. One of the things I spent a lot of time thinking about was how those who love God struggle to find ways to reach new people.
Coming as a student bible worker to a completely different environment to evangelize door to door, with the goal of ultimately converting the whole island, is an illusion I had created in my mind. Facing the reality was disappointing at first, and I had to quickly learn to not blame myself for not meeting the goal I set myself for. (By “meeting my goal,” I mean baptizing many people. Yet I question if I had it right. Does “reaching” mean “baptizing?”)
There was no poverty in Sapwuahfik. How does one measure poverty? By the income? Well, there’s no money in Sapwuahfik. In fact, there’s no need for money. There are no malls or supermarkets. They have all they need. The ocean is full of fish, and the land full of vegetables and fruit. Wow God, you really do provide! The men in Sapwuahfik go fishing every morning. One morning, I decided to join them. As I was pulling in the nets and saw all the fish flying around, I could not stop feeling the joy. I felt like one of the disciples who were with Jesus Christ, the great Fisherman who shared His secrets of fishing with them. When I saw all the fish, I dreamed that Jesus is approaching me and calling to me, “Come with me, and I will teach you how to fish for people.”
During the training before going to Pohnpei, I felt the responsibility – almost a pressure – of “playing” the game of baptisms. In other words, my mind was occupied with the thoughts such as: the more baptisms the closer to the goal; the more baptisms the better reputation for myself, as well as the churches of Pohnpei; the more baptisms, the happier the conference, etc. What about the people who might be baptized? “Just keep going! No time to think about that.” But over time, I became quite overwhelmed and frustrated because the desired results were not coming; I was not accumulating the number of baptisms for which I had hoped. Instead, there were more funeral ceremonies. I had to deal with the thought that our churches are losing people instead of gaining them. That was draining to me, and it made me think I failed.
By spending time reading and reflecting over the gospels, however, I found that there is something significant that must be done before people are ready to be baptized; relationships must be formed with these people. It is just like the time Jesus spent with His disciples. It appears so obvious, and yet it’s like me going to a supermarket, seeing “push” or “pull” sign on the door, and yet somehow doing the opposite. Jesus put so much effort into His disciples and had a deep love for them. It is so obvious a lesson, and yet it’s like I was blind, missing this process and placing baptisms above true relationship because that gave the feeling of victory. But without the time and effort put into those dear people, they might eventually be lost.
Working as a fisherman for people, I found that it’s far more effective to invest my time into a few people. That is my passion.That’s what I am good at, and that’s what I enjoy. I have a few “sheep” in Pohnpei, and I praise God for them. That’s enough. I love them and won’t let them go, ever! Even when I leave Pohnpei, I won’t let them get lost. I enjoy nurturing them, listening to them, singing with them, laughing with them, and praying with them. Even if I do not have any or just a few baptisms, I must remember that everything has its own time. Baptism and making a commitment to Jesus are the best decisions we could make in our lives; as such, this process can’t be pushed or rushed, just for the minister to have a feeling of victory. I cannot push my “sheep” to be baptized. That’s not my job. They know they have the freedom to make that decision when they are ready. However, once they reach that point, they won’t get lost; on the contrary, they will continue to bring new sheep. The goal will be reached when, one day, they will be able to freely depend on God and “fish” for other people. Let us strive for the freedom to depend solely on God and have enough time to learn, gain new wisdom, and become better ministers!