Rejoice Always

Rejoice Always

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Philippians 4:4

When I pastored a small rural church on the island of Kaua‘i, I once asked the church leaders about their experience after Hurricane ‘Iniki destroyed their church building and many homes. One of the elders said, “We learned that God does provide—not a moment too late, but also not a moment too soon.” He said that they would pray for something to happen (it took them ten years to raise the funds and rebuild), and they would eventually get it, but there was some uncertainty in the meantime.

We are experiencing some flux in our presbytery staff, and there is some uncertainty with the transition. Today’s Monday Morning Update is the last compiled and edited by Amy Marmol. Amy is traveling to Europe for the second half of March, and with Carrie Kohler now on board, Amy is able to go back to her several other jobs that she currently carries. Carrie will pick up the MMU (among her many skills is as a journalist), but we expect to hire another staff person to do the MMU on-going. Thanks Carrie!

I can’t say how grateful I am for Amy’s willingness to help us these last nine months. Amy is a good friend of Ally Lee, and when Ally moved to Georgia, she recommended Amy to join the presbytery staff temporarily. Amy jumped in and gave critical support with our Presbytery meetings and commissions, and the weekly MMU. Amy is a full-time high school French teacher, and also works with the founder of an international non-profit. She is married to Joshua Marmol, who was our Ruling Elder Commissioner to the 2022 General Assembly, and they have three children. Because she has so much on her plate, and since I rarely managed to meet the weekend deadline for my weekly columns (including today’s column), Amy ended up doing some of her work between midnight and 3 am! And she did the work exceptionally well, and with unfailing good will. Because Amy is an active member of Knox, she does not leave the presbytery family, but she was just the right person to step into presbytery staff work when we needed her the most. Thanks to Amy, thanks to Ally, and thanks to God for both of them!

Sam Bang is also leaving the presbytery staff effective the end of this month. Please pray for his health to be restored. In Sam’s tenure on the presbytery staff, he made a significant positive impact on several of our churches, and he has been a wonderful colleague, giving insight and encouragement to us in our various initiatives. He handled business matters for the Presbytery (and often helped churches with their business needs), such as developing a new benefits policy and helping with property tax exemption documents as well as managing the basics of payroll for the Presbytery and new worshiping communities. His deep understanding of the roots of our polity made him the “go to” person for guiding sessions on polity issues. Just last week he was thanked by name at the chartering service of GKI LA for providing crucial help to them as they met the requirements of joining the PC(USA). Like Amy, Sam continues in the Presbytery, at Northminster in Diamond Bar. Thank you Sam, and I look forward to seeing how your leadership will flower in new ways as you regain your health.

The Personnel Committee recently met with the staff and some presbytery leaders to assess how staffing might change. Carrie Kohler is very ably taking on her responsibilities as Stated Clerk for Administration, and expressed gratitude for the warm welcome she has received. We have been blessed with temporary help from Melinda Forbes and Aimee Epstein in this time of transition. While we are not settled yet, I am so grateful for all these folks and more as we strive to support the ministry of the Presbytery without disruption. Thanks to you for your patience and your prayers.

We are, of course, navigating this time of transition as the world faces wartime suffering, and the Presbytery enjoys wonderful new ministries. Live Oak Community Church in Temple City is working hard to reach out to the community, inviting all to their grand (re-)opening on Easter Sunday. I preached at First Presbyterian Church Altadena yesterday, and I could see the renewed commitment and growing faith of the members as they walk forward with their new pastor Elizabeth Wang. And several dozen of us have been meeting weekly in the “Becoming the Beloved Community” Lenten series, and the experience has been wonderful—not only content-filled, but it has been a great opportunity to come to know others in the Presbytery at a deeper level. Thanks to Tracey Shenell and the dozen small group facilitators who have provided such able and insightful leadership. And we continue to pray as a body for peace here and in Israel/Palestine. Please plan on attending EEE’s learning event, “God’s Word in God’s Land” on Saturday, March 23, 9 am—noon, that we may better understand Scripture, and what Scripture tells us about the conflict in the Holy Land.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church to rejoice in the Lord always, he is experiencing a mix of challenge and joy when he does so. Our life of faith is not devoid of struggle, and certainly as we continue through the season of Lent we are aware that Easter only comes after Good Friday. We are an Easter people, and so we can face whatever uncertainty or even difficulty with the sure hope that God and God’s plan of salvation will overcome. I do ask for your prayers as we continue to serve through these uncertain times, but I also say “Rejoice,” because there is so much to be thankful for in our congregations and fellowships, in the staff and leadership of the Presbytery, and in the life of the Presbytery as a whole.

Thanks be to God for all of you, and for God’s continuing blessing—in ways we know and ways we don’t even recognize. For in Christ we have life now, and life and love everlasting.


With thanks,


From Death to Life

From Death to Life

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

This last week, the death toll in Gaza passed 30,000. Over 100 people were killed while trying to get food from an aid truck. There seemed to be a possible breakthrough in ceasefire talks, but Israel chose not to send their delegates to Cairo for the next session in the negotiations.

The Synod Commission of Assembly met on Saturday, and at the end of the meeting Rev. Dr. Charles Marks asked for prayers for a ceasefire, and for all Middle Eastern people—and those who love them—who are suffering so much as the people of Gaza continue to be killed through bombing, guns, and slow starvation. For myself, it’s not just about an affinity for Arabic people or even the general concern for humanity in general; right or wrong, I have always held a very high regard for the Jewish tradition and the community I know, and I cannot comprehend how this violence is being perpetrated by a people who have so often advocated for compassion and justice. (Yes, many have tried to say it’s the government, not the people, but Israel claims to be a democracy, so the government acts on behalf of the people.)

I’ve been told that some Christians are saying this suffering is regrettable, but justified as the fulfillment of Scripture. I cannot believe that our role is to justify the death of tens of thousands of people, including many young children, and claim it is God’s will. But perhaps I’m wrong. The Education, Equipping, and Empowerment Committee is holding a seminar on Saturday, March 23—the Saturday before Palm Sunday—at Knox with biblical scholars discussing what Scripture says about Israel, and how this is applied to the current conflict. You can register to “God’s Word in God’s Land” by clicking HERE.

In light of the violence in Gaza, Ukraine, and in our own nation, it feels like death is pressing in on us. But Jesus often told us that he himself would suffer death, but that death would not be the final answer, and pointed out the ways that death leads to new and greater life. We mere humans mourn the losses we see around us, and we imagine that God weeps with us. But we do pray that even in our grief, we also can see how God can offer new life even in the face of death. For instance, in San Gabriel

Presbytery, we try to be intentional about the property of congregations that are dissolved, that we don’t just spend down the funds by failing to adjust our budgets down to the size of the membership of the Presbytery. Rather, we want to set aside at least some funds towards building up new ministries.

And we are indeed blessed to see vibrant ministries in our continuing congregations, and in new ministries. Yesterday was the chartering service for GKI LA, and it was indeed a great celebration, for the people of GKI LA, the other Indonesian Presbyterian churches (GKI LA is only the second Indonesian church in Southern California to be chartered), their partnering congregation Praise Community Church, and San Gabriel Presbytery. What a joy to see our Presbytery, through the Chartering Commission, bless this newest of all PC(USA) churches. Blessings to Organizing Pastor TE Pipi Dhali, and their brand-new session: Hendrie Tatilu, Grace Manampiring, Robert Tanadi, Yonatan Widiantoro, and Melvin Rebiono. Thanks to COM’s appointed committee to shepherd GKI LA through the final steps towards chartering: Revs. Ann Oglesby-Edwards, Peter Tan-Gatue, and Bryce Little, and CRE Sam Bang, who provided crucial help as they revised their bylaws in compliance with the PC(USA) Constitution. Members of GKI LA have already contributed to the life of our Presbytery, and I look forward to all of us getting to know each other better over time.

The message of Holy Week and Easter is that God’s power to love and save through Jesus Christ is much greater than death. We do believe that no sin is so great, no pain so deep that God cannot overcome with mercy and healing. In these difficult times, I am thankful for this season when we are reminded of all that God will do to show us that

neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

May we never forget this—and recognize the great things God is doing in our midst. May we live with the confidence and compassion to be part of Christ’s mission of love and salvation. And let us rejoice in what God has in store for our new life.


Praying for peace,




My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1

During Lent, we often reflect on our mortality. And Lent concludes on Good Friday, when we think of the mortal side of Jesus. One Good Friday tradition is to reflect on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the last sayings Jesus made while on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

“It is finished.” John 19:30

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

I would guess that I am not the only person who thinks at some point during every season of Lent, “why did it have to happen like this?” That is, why did Jesus have to suffer to save us? I remember my internship year, so many years ago, at Immanuel Presbyterian in Los Angeles. We did pretty much every Holy Week observance, including a full-on all-night Saturday Easter Vigil, which is really a beautiful service. On Good Friday, we led a Via Cruces walk all around Koreatown and a service of the Seven Last Words, with different people speaking on each of the words. I got “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I reflected on that moment when even Jesus felt abandoned, when even Jesus gave up hope. After I was finished, drained by the weightiness of the message and having gone without sleep for a few nights (those Holy Week rituals don’t plan themselves), I sat down, and started sobbing.

We all may know of people who are feeling like the burden of life is too heavy, and feel out of touch with God, as if God isn’t listening anymore, or God has turned away. The ones I know happen to be men, and I wonder if part of their suffering comes from the sense that they should be able to withstand any burden, or deny their feelings of grief or abandonment. Being Japanese, I was taught that I

shouldn’t cry, especially in public. And yet, sometimes the best thing we can do is to cry out our pain, or have a good sob.

For whatever reason, whenever I think of Jesus’ cry of anguish from the cross, I also see the slightest glimmer of hope even in this pit of despair. Actually, those old Christian leaders who put the

lectionary together gave us a hint. Yesterday’s Psalm reading is the second half of Psalm 22, which begins with that cry of anguish that Jesus uttered in his suffering. And most of the first half of Psalm 22 acknowledges the suffering that sometimes fall on us humans. But by verse 21, the Psalmist moves from crying out for help to an assertion that God has already rescued them, and the Psalmist can then give testimony of God’s saving grace to all.

And the lectionary reading, starting at Psalm 22:23, proclaims to future generations what God has already done:

23 You who fear the Lord, give praise!
All you offspring of Jacob, give glory.
Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For the LORD did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
neither is the LORD’s face hidden from me;
but when I cry out, the LORD hears me.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear the LORD.

26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
Let those who seek the LORD give praise!
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall bow before God.

28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
who rules over the nations.

29 Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust,
though they be dead,
shall live for the LORD.

30 Their descendants shall serve the LORD,
of whom they shall proclaim for generations to come.

31 They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying, “The LORD has done it.”

Maybe because I cannot live forever in that moment of abandonment and despair, I like to think that when Jesus uttered that cry of anguish, he chose to quote the 22nd Psalm, knowing that even when we think God has forsaken us, God will save us. Indeed, God already has saved us!

Yet it is hard to remember this when people are suffering. As I wrote this, I received a message from a Palestinian peace activist who is such a strong and caring person. She just wrote, “so much destruction, so many many deaths . . . I can’t take it anymore, my heart is breaking . . .”

As we continue our Lenten journey, as we face the fragility of our human condition, as we witness the third year of aggression and violence in Ukraine, as we hear of vengeful killing by bomb and starvation in the land that Jesus loved, let us preserve the faith that even in this moment of utter loneliness, the seeds of hope and eventual new life are just starting to germinate. God has not forsaken us. And yes, there will be spring. There will be blossoms of beauty. There will be life, and life everlasting.

In the peace of Christ,


Tended by Angels

Tended by Angels

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.                                                           

Mark 1:13

We are now in the season of Lent. There have been many meanings and practices associated with Lent. One early practice of Lent was to use this time to prepare through teaching and self-examination those people seeking to be baptized, which was traditionally done on Easter. Of course there were parallels drawn between the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. These days, Lent is generally acknowledged by Christians as a season to reflect on God’s love through Jesus Christ, and our need for God’s grace, as mortal, broken humans. Some fast in some way, whether it be as an act of penitence, or cleansing, or to help us resist the things that we risk trusting more than God.

Whatever your practice, the first observance of Lent—the Ash Wednesday service—reminds us of our mortality. We are marked with ashes, and told that we are nothing more than dust. And we are often reminded to think of our vulnerability, and our sinfulness that can only be cleansed by God’s grace. So it’s no surprise that yesterday, the first Sunday of Lent, I heard a sermon about weakness.

The sermon started with a reference to the muppet Elmo’s online check-in, “How is everybody doing?” Many people responded to Elmo with poignant notes about their emotional states—some positive, some worrisome. When the preacher asked us “How are you doing?” I almost started to cry. I’ve been sharing with folks how so many people are struggling, especially with multiple, seemingly disconnected health concerns. A vibrant young woman gets bronchitis that turns into pneumonia and she ends up in the ICU. A strong and able man struggles to balance possible organ damage, depression and anxiety, and susceptibility to every virus floating around (and there are a LOT of viruses floating around). One mother who worries about her young adult son keeps experiencing symptoms that seem to point to lupus, then ends up in a hospital getting a pacemaker, then ends up in the hospital again due to tuberculosis. And the few people who are healthy are spinning around trying to keep everything going—and, as one of Elmo’s responders wrote, “Elmo, we are tired.”

One of our pastors shared how he is faced with challenges in his family’s health, and several folks in the church are struggling as well. I said that it seems like we’re in a different world now, when the level of uncertainty is such that it seems foolish to make plans, because things can change so radically without any warning. We weren’t sure if there was a time when life was more stable and we could plan things out, and have confidence that the plans would go as we expected, or if we were just fooling ourselves. Honestly I do think we have had enough privilege that shielded us from the vagaries of life. Most of us have shelter to keep us warm and dry, good food and medical care to keep us healthy, and we live in the part of society when people are able to pay their bills on time, control their own schedules, and access resources to help us take care of our loved ones when needed. Nowadays, we are experiencing medical conditions that the doctors could not predict and can’t even diagnose, folks are living in a gig economy that does not provide for a steady and predictable income (or a manageable schedule), and especially those in “sandwich” generations are stretched to care for aging parents and dependent children. How can we take care of each other, and get everything done?

It occurs to me that for some of us, the thing we need to fast from is not chocolate, or meat, or whatever popular Lenten practice we habitually fall into. Perhaps we need to fast from thinking we can do it all, that we can create perfection (or control) out of chaos. Maybe we need to go into the wilderness as Jesus did, and see if God will send angels to wait on us as we need it. That means we dare to stop trying to make everything work, and step back and try to slow down our too-busy lives.

We might then notice that just as we were fooling ourselves into thinking that we can make everything work the way we planned it, we have also failed to notice the ways God takes care of us already.

Instead of giving thanks for God’s care, we work to show that we earned everything we receive. But there might be angels waiting on us now—or trying to—whether or not we notice. I recently shared the ancient saying which comes to me quite often these days, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” And God provides, whether or not we appreciate the many ways we are loved, protected, cared for, and saved every day.

As I think you know, I’m a doer, so I don’t always give God credit for God’s extraordinary grace showered on me. I continue to live by the simple rule that we do the best we can, and turn to God for what we cannot do. For some of us, perhaps Lent can be a time to slow down—maybe even stop for a breather—and appreciate how God takes care of us, if only for a moment, or for 40 days. Because even during this season of humble reflection, we cannot forget that we are already a saved people, tended to by the life-giving power of the love of Jesus Christ. Even when we are in the wilderness, may we never forget that. And may we uphold in prayer and hope those who are even deeper in the wilderness—God’s children who may wonder if those angels know how to find them too.

In the peace of Christ,


Black Presbyterian Excellence

Black Presbyterian Excellence

Lift up your eyes and look around;
  they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
  and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Isaiah 60:4

February is Black History Month, and on January 30th we had an opportunity to begin the month with gratitude for, and inspiration from, the life of Mrs. Erma Walks. Her memorial service was held at Claremont Presbyterian Church, and it was a celebration of her life and impact, of her accomplished and faithful family, and of their ministry with South Hills Presbyterian Church. You can see the full memorial service by clicking HERE—you might want to fast forward about 26.5 minutes in, when the service actually starts.

Erma Walks and her husband, Rev. Ivan Walks, have something in common with many of our San Gabriel Presbytery members in that they were immigrants to the United States, having come to Southern California from Guyana in 1959. She carried on her family’s tradition in education; her mother was a deputy headteacher and Erma taught in Guyana, and then gained additional training at USC and Claremont Graduate School. For 23 years, she worked in the Pomona Unified School

District as an innovative teacher and administrator. As a school principal, one of her students was Tim Sandoval, the current mayor of the city of Pomona. Mayor Sandoval spoke at her memorial about her impeccable style and professionalism, but more importantly, the caring encouragement she gave to him that enabled him to seek elected leadership at a young age. As it turns out, she had that impact on many young people, at her schools and at South Hills church, telling young people, “You can do it!” even before it was clear what the “it” was.

Her focus on education, the confidence she had in the potential of all children, and her partnership in life and ministry with Rev. Walks propelled her own children and grandchildren to colleges like Harvard, Morehouse, Spelman, Duke, and Boston University, from where they entered the professions of medicine, law, and of course education. Her daughter Cecille married Rev. Dwight Peace, another PC(USA) pastor, who was once a member of San Gabriel Presbytery and now serves in Maryland.

Erma was vice moderator of San Gabriel Presbytery, and the leadership of Erma and Ivan and their significant work partnering with community leaders—and raising up community leaders in school and at South Hills—is one of the pillars on which our presbytery stands. The legacy of South Hills lives in the people of the church and their children, and also in the ministry of Interwoven New Worshiping Community, whose vision also includes seeing and nurturing the potential in young people. Erma and Ivan’s son, Dr. Ivan C. A. Walks (aka Claremont), has stored the considerable wisdom with which he was raised, and I remember that when South Hills closed, he shared how he saw his children acting with compassion to others, and he realized that the lessons he learned at South Hills had been passed on to his children, and so South Hills was not contained in a building, but lives through the people of South Hills. The people of South Hills include not only the Walks family, but leaders such as Rev. Dr. N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, Rev. Dwight Peace, Elder Yvonne Harmon (now with Northminster, and currently the Moderator of the Synod of Southern California and Hawai‘i), the extraordinary international opera singer Nmon Ford, and so many others.

I only got to meet Erma Walks once, but I give thanks for her faithful wisdom and leadership in our presbytery. And I give thanks for the next generation of leaders in our presbytery family such as Rev. Harlan Redmond and Dr. Tracey Shenell, who are bringing us into the future with their own wisdom and compassion. This last Saturday, Tracey began the Lenten series “Becoming the Beloved Community,” and participants were enthusiastic as they learned some important concepts in social justice but also shared with each other with laughter and depth. Tracey’s leadership has beautiful facets of insight, intelligence, humor, humility, and organization that create an environment where we all are learning. Tomorrow we begin the Zoom-based meetings; if you want to join you might email her at and see if she can put you in a group.

There are many other people who personify Black excellence, in our world and in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but as we seek to know ourselves better as San Gabriel Presbytery, I want us to remember those whose faithfulness, strength, love, and leadership contributed to the kind of faith community we are today. I pray that we take the time to give thanks for past, current, and future leaders of all cultural backgrounds who have helped and who now form San Gabriel Presbytery’s ministry, for today and tomorrow. As we enter Lent this Wednesday, may we reflect on who we are, and who God is, and how much God loves us. And as we cannot help but feel grateful—for the saints who go before us and most of all for Jesus Christ who gave his human life for our sake—may we commit again our lives to serve our God, who raises us up and fills us with the Holy Spirit, in whose power we are free to serve and love.


Giving thanks,