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Both in Heaven; Why not here on earth?

Updated: Feb 28

So far, two people who have had an impact on my life passed away during this world-changing COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been a part of both of their communities, but never at the same time because I’ve not found a space where BOTH these two men would be welcomed and fellowshipping together here on earth, not the gay-affirming spaces and neither the conservative evangelical space. Yet in heaven, they could very well be fellowshipping together. So I wrote a Facebook post as a memorial to both of them, and thus created space for both communities to be in the same on-line space. To me, that’s a small part of helping bring a piece of heaven on earth.

I was a little concerned that creating this space might incite negative feelings on both sides, perhaps conservative Christians feeling, “the nerve of Steve to include a gay leader in the memorial for Pastor Chan,” or gay friends feeling “the nerve of Steve to include a dogmatic Christian pastor whose church shuns our community.” My intention was not to write a provocative post on an already divisive issue, but to honor these two influential leaders, and with their passing, to seize a unique opportunity to fix our eyes towards heaven, and give honor to the One who’s prepared a heavenly home for both of them. This is an honoring tactic I use when I preside funerals…but never on social media, until now.

Here is what I shared on Facebook (if you’ve read this already, you can skim until the middle):

Two people I know passed away suddenly this past week. Both of them are in the presence of God, all love, no more pain. Perhaps dancing, singing, cracking jokes together even? Irony is, their earthly lives could not have been more different.

Pastor Pak-Fai Chan was born in Hong Kong before eventually settling in the East San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles, birthplace of boba tea in America around 1997. It was the newest, trendiest Asian epicenter of LA.
Robb Martine was born in Aurora, CO before moving to one of the major, if not the most famous gay epicenter in the US, San Francisco. Martine (as I knew him) settled into San Francisco’s underground, fantastical after-dark club scene.
Pastor Chan planted a church in this newest enclave of Asian immigration to reach out and lead people to the Lord. Robb Martine was considered San Francisco’s nightlife King, so much so that club queens and kings dubbed him “Lord” Martine.
Martine was editor-in-chief for N. Cal’s largest gay publication and a columnist for the two largest San Francisco newspapers covering the social scene. Pastor Chan’s influence was felt well beyond his own church. He was a respected speaker and preacher in many Chinese churches especially.
Pastor Chan gave decades of his life to the Lord. And Lord Martine just two years ago submitted himself to the true Lord through public testimony and baptism. I was honored to know them both. Such different stories and timelines, yet both now in heaven by grace.
I could go on and on about both of them. But both of them taught me how to love, how to love people different from me. As a pastor serving under Pastor Chan, he gave me unprecedented opportunities, like preaching and ministering to Cantonese and Mandarin speakers and learning how to be family together across ethnic and generational lines. And with Martine? I learned how to love people with such different backgrounds and sexual orientations. Both encouraged me greatly. What a legacy both have left in my life.
I’m in awe that the Kingdom of Heaven is big enough, inclusive enough to welcome both of these comrades into his presence. On earth, there are not too many spaces where these men could have met. Their respective spaces were “Samaria” to the other; at least, I can’t imagine either men visiting each other’s home base. Yet in heaven, there is space, and I CAN imagine these two men talking together, talking about their respective backgrounds, how different they are, yet in the same Kingdom family!

In addition, I wrote a post as part of the many memorials found on Robb’s Facebook page; he has over 4600 “friends.” From reading the many many posts people left in his memory, it’s clear that most knew Robb as the the Lord of SF’s nightlife. This picture is one of many left by people at his on-line memorial. But most of his thousands of friends did not know he turned to Christ and was baptized. So I wanted to update his many friends.

Many posts for Robb of course offered the typical but heartfelt “Take up your wings, Robb! Rest in peace! I know you’re watching over us!” But with most not knowing his spiritual journey towards the end of his life, I wanted to connect those dots to suggest that Robb indeed is in a better place, and more than that, in Paradise with Jesus. After I published the post, I received welcoming replies, and even invitations to meet up with Robb’s friends after the pandemic is over. Those kinds of replies are sparks of heaven to me breaking through unto earth…specifically Facebook. This is what I wrote for Robb’s friends on Facebook:

I’m saddened and shocked at the passing of Lord Martine. I’ve only known him the past few years, but from all the tributes I’ve read, I know we’re talking about the same Martine. He was a mentor, an advocate, an artisan soul so selfless and so humble. I’m saddened and shocked at the passing of Lord Martine. I’ve only known him the past few years, but from all the tributes I’ve read, I know we’re talking about the same Martine. He was a mentor, an advocate, an artisan soul so selfless and so humble.
I met Martine through his flower shop partner, Gabriel Herrera at New Leaf Florist. At the time, we and a few guys were meeting in his flower shop to talk and pray through the intersection of love, God, our lives, and the world we lived in. Martine apparently deemed us “safe” even though he knew we were Jesus-followers from the SF Lighthouse church around the corner. (I say that to acknowledge the obvious, there are a lot of “unsafe” church goers out there who present with unkindness to people who are different in sexual orientation).
I felt so honored that Martine allowed us to get to know him for who he was. He never once rested on his old accolades nor fame. It was understood; i never asked him “Why didn’t you tell me you were a newspaper columnist, and dubbed “Lord” Martine by club queens and kinds alike? He seemed so comfortable in his skin. To me, my wife, and my son, he was just Martine, spreading joy and love.
One day, I witnessed Martine stand up in front of San Francisco Lighthouse church, and share his story. He did not sugar coat it. He shared his joys, addiction, and sobriety…and then he was baptized to signify his wanting to identify and follow whom I believe is the most inclusive, selfless, love-filled man who ever lived. Martine gave us the honor of his trust, even when he relapsed. He trusted that our love for him wasn’t conditioned on sobriety.
Martine was a master with words, and used them to bring beauty and encouragement. One day at the flower shop, he began naming the arrangements and they made their way to the website. How does a guy make such a huge difference through naming flowers? I’m not a writer; it’s more like a tool for my non-profit. But Martine nevertheless called out where ever he saw creativity, and encouraged me in that.

I’ll never forget his 50th held at AsiaSF. Other people had birthdays there and received a little cake w a candle, but Martine received the royal cake with so many candles, i thought surely this’ll set off the smoke alarm. I saw a glimpse of his legacy.

I know that God has prepared a place for you. I wonder what the experience of heaven is for San Francisco’s Nightlife King? I wonder what Madonna sounds like there? Thanks for your friendship Martine…I’m hopeful to see you again when I too pass from this life.

WHAT IF? WHAT IF there existed a space where BOTH Pastor Chan and Robb could have fellowshipped together here on earth? Dare we imagine a space on earth where these two leaders could be together, offering a different, perhaps a more heavenly face of the church? That’s not to say that we ignore the concerning issues on both sides at all. And by not touching them in this post, I’m not suggesting at all that they are not important. But if there was a space on earth to include these two brothers, it would be a place of relationship, of covenant, of giving and receiving honor in spite of the differences.

“For all have sinned” – both Pastor Chan and Robb. Sure, there are theories to categorize “sin levels.” But that focus can cause us to miss the present work of our sanctification. By that, I mean the process of reorienting where we derive our honor from, the process of redirecting ourselves unto instruments of righteousness, of blessing, of lovingkindness. This needs to happen in a relational context with God and with others. The whole biblical narrative is framed upon covenants and relationships, the words used, all beg a relational framework. Damn the inadequacy of the English language to capture this honorific, relational essence. Heck, unless you read the “southern” version of the Bible, we even lack 2nd person plural pronouns!

But thank God heaven is more than adequate to include people with even MORE diverse backgrounds than the Pastor Chans AND Robbies of the world. That’s the power of the resurrection, the power to be together in spite of the animosity members from each of their circles has on the other. Through these men, I have been ushered into more of heaven on earth. We can’t force two communities together here on earth…but we can displace ourselves as Jesus did, into our own Samarias, into spaces that don’t expect our presence with the vulnerability and humility of Jesus.

I started Kingdom Rice because I wanted to create more spaces of belonging across lines that typically divide people. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’re interested in learning more, and possibly stepping into the conversation. Until then, we’ll keep on praying, “on earth, as it is in heaven.”

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