Thursday, December 11, 2008

Peter....Simon Peter

As a child sitting in Sunday school, I never truly appreciated (or for that matter liked) Simon Peter. To me, he was a head-strong, impulsive, silly disciple. I liked John much better- he was the beloved one. I want to be the beloved one, I thought. But my understanding of these biblical characters was restricted to flannel graph presentations and picture-book stories. When I hit college and began studying the Scriptures more in depth, I finally started to understand Peter. In fact, I saw a great deal of myself in him. Like Peter, I am sometimes impulsive. I speak without thinking and I am more than just occasionally headstrong.

While studying the Gospels in my seminary course (via distance education), I have gained even more perspective on the life of Peter and particularly, his denial of Christ and subsequent redemption. I formerly judged Peter for his denial of Christ. Jesus had even forewarned him of it. Jesus had told Peter to his face that during the course of that very night, he would deny knowing Christ. Talk about a huge warning. I never understood how Peter failed to recognize the fulfillment of this prophecy even after his first denial (John 18:15-24). Rather, he went on to deny the Christ in two more conversations (John 18:25-27). What kind of person would do that? What kind of person would spend years following and believing the Son of God and then turn around and deny ever knowing him? Just like Peter, I too am that kind of a person.

I may not deny knowing or believing in Christ with my lips, but I continually struggle with following his commands and instructions as laid out in Scripture. I deny Christ with my actions; I know what I should do and then go and do the opposite. I’m in the same boat as Peter. While this principle in and of itself hasn’t altered my behavior or attitude, what happens next between Jesus and Peter has.

After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to seven disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He sat down with Peter for what most likely would have been their first one on one conversation since Peter’s denial. Jesus asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” (John 21:15). In the same verse, Peter responded with a certain, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus replied with instruction to “feed my lambs” (v. 16). Two more times, Jesus asked the same question with the same answer from Peter. Christ’s response is similar, “take care of my sheep” (v. 16) and “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Is it a mere coincidence that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him when Peter had just denied knowing Christ three times just a few days before? I had never connected the two events before or considered that Christ was giving Peter a chance to be redeemed. After all Peter had done (disregarding Christ’s prophesy and denying their friendship three times during Jesus’ trials) Christ was reinstating him as a disciple. Not only that, but Jesus designated Peter to be the rock on which he would build his Church (Matt. 16:18). Is Peter qualified for such an honor? He did, after all, deny knowing the Son of God.

The beauty of Christ’s conversation with Peter is not that he’s giving him a “second chance”. The beauty is that he’s giving him full redemption. Peter could have denied Christ one hundred times and he still would have been reinstated into fellowship with the Song of God. That’s what forgiveness is and this account illustrates it perfectly. Jesus didn’t hang Peter’s sin over his head; he didn’t say, “I told you so”. He didn’t even ask Peter why. He simply gave Peter the opportunity to affirm his devotion.

I can relate with Peter’s denial but it’s his redemption that has challenged my behavior and attitude the most. Am I worthy to be reinstated by the Lord? After all I do to tear down the kingdom, why would he turn around and use me to build it up? Am I capable of such things? Instead of constantly questioning my worthiness, I am learning to accept that I will never be worthy. I will fail- and many times. Yet Christ’s death and resurrection have provided a way for redemption. Hopefully I’ll learn to apply this principle in the future and relish in the gift of redemption that the Lord so freely gives. If I can remember this, I’ll stop wallowing in self-pity and strive even more to affirm my devotion for Jesus Christ. And just maybe, he’ll use me to do something great in the kingdom-despite my flaws.

Peter’s not such a bad guy after all. It took me years, but I’ve finally come around to appreciating his faults and unbridled fervor to do the right thing (even when he doesn’t realize what that is). May I never take for granted the redemption found through Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Election Pains

I think I'll make it a point to live in a foreign country every election year. I've heard account from people in the States saying that this year has brought more media, more mud-slinging and more annoyances than any election before. Goodness, I'm in South Korea and I still get my share of election news. I was getting on the subway in Seoul the other week and there was a news stand featuring a Korean magazine with McCain and Obama on the cover. Now, I highly doubt that the USA had extensive coverage of the S. Korean presidential election between Lee Mung-bak, Chung Gond-young and Lee Hoi-chang last year (but then again, I was here so I don't know). But the whole world has their eyes on this election. Why? What made America the world's super power? Is it all our money? Is it because we're perfect and have never made mistakes? Is it because we have the most guns? I know that events throughout time and many factors have contributed to making the USA such a super power. But that doesn't mean we know the best way of doing things.

I must admit, I much prefer the S. Korean way of going about elections. Sure, there is media covereage, but I don't believe I saw one commercial for a candidate. They do have these trucks that drive around with a banner of the candidate on the back with a speaker blasting the candidate's ideals and platforms. Also, on some street corners, supporters of a certain candidate will stand with sashes promoting their guy and they will do a little dance (see the sound-less video below). Needless to say, I was a little oblivious of the politics that were occuring around me. But I doubt that a foreigner living in the States could be oblivious of the media circus we create there.

Maybe all of this ranting is a result of my polotical apathy. Well, maybe not apathy but definite disinterest. Yes, I took the pains of applying for an absentee ballot. I researched the candidates (and heard about my friend's sister who works at a hotel in Grand Rapids, MI where both candidates stayed at one point, one treated her with respect and kindness and the other, well the other was a complete jerk and made her walk over 20 flights of stairs to bring him room service because he made them shut down the elevators...and he didn't tip her...yes please, I'd love for someone like that to be in control of tax breaks for the working class). I feel as though I made an informed decision that wasn't fudged by negative commercials and character-bashing. Nevertheless, I voted and that's the whole point, right?

All of this is to say, every four years, I'd like to live in a country other than the USA. Living here has opened my eyes to how great and not-so-great my homeland really is. Who knows where I'll be come next election. But I am grateful that for the 2008 presidential mayhem, I'm here in Asia, where everything just seems simpler.




video

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Passion in Seoul

I can hardly put to words the experience of the last couple of days. But I will do my best to pain a picture for you...hunker down, it's gonna be a big picture.

For those who don't know what Passion is, let me give you a little background info. Passion is a movement started by Louie Giglio and a few others. It started out with one day conferences in the States and then grew into a whole movement, gripping college campuses across the nation. Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and David Crowder are the staple worship leaders for the conferences but others have been involved like the Nockels, Fee and Shane and Shane. Passion's mission is to mobilize the college-age generation (18-25) to make the Lord famous. They want to see a generation rise up, sold out for God. This year, Passion decided to take the tour to the world. They are almost done with their tour and Seoul was one of the last stops. They are going to 17 key cities around the world including Mexico City, Kampala Uganda, Cape Town, South Africa, Manila, Philippines, Jakarta, Indonesia, Tokyo, SEOUL and so many more. There's what you need to know, now on with the story...

On Friday, 8 of us RAs boarded a train and rode up to Seoul for the Passion World Tour. We unloaded all our belongings at our hostel and made a stop at On the Border (yeah for Mexican food finally being in Korea) before heading to the venue. The conference was held in the old Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul's Olympic Park. That in and of itself was pretty awesome. I got to walk around the grounds of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games and see where history was made. We waited about an hour in line and then entered the huge arena.

The evening began with a Korean strings ensemble playing "Bittersweet Symphony" and an amazing video (complete with Korean words I couldn't read fast enough since I read like a 2nd grader). This was such a POWERFUL way to start the night. I can't tell you how fast my heart started beating. If you want to see/hear exactly what I saw/heard, go to
http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=V--vAT0uffk. Only, change the highlighted city/country to Korea and change all the words to Korean. That's what we saw...amazing.

After that, Chris Tomlin took the stage and led us in a worship set that brought unstoppable tears to my eyes. Even as I write this in my dorm rec room, tears are filling my eyes. After two of the roughest months of my life, I finally heard the voice of God. It was during the first song that I felt the arms of the Lord holding me. "Why are you letting Satan hold you down when I've already beat him?" Those words resounded in my ears and I couldn't focus on anything else. The Lord was there, He was speaking and like a plant desperate for water, I was being covered in His love.

As the worship set continued, 5,000 people (mostly Korean) praised the Lord in perfect unison. Hands were raised, the ground shook with all the jumping and dancing going on. Everyone seemed to sing in English (though the Korean translation was on the screen). A little later in the service, Louie came on stage and instructed us to get into groups of three and pray. We praise the Father, we asked Jesus to enter this place and we prayed for Tokyo, the next stop on the World Tour. If you know anything about Korean history, they don't like the Japanese. The last invasion that the small nation of Korea experienced was from Japanese and in the process, a lot of culture and resources were lost (the cut down a TON of Korea's trees and brought them back to Japan among other things). It's perfectly acceptable to dislike the Japanese here. Well, on the Passion World tour, each city prays for the next one (Vancouver, Canada prayed for Seoul). How fitting that we prayed for a nation that was so disliked. Louie prefaced it by saying sarcastically "we're going to pray for your favorite nation...but in the body of Christ, there are no nations". He challenged this generation to put aside their prejudice and love. During the prayer, the entire arena filled with prayers, English and Korean. It was such an AMAZING sound. The body of Christ was crying out to God and it was beautiful.

Louie talked about grace and how our God stands apart from all other gods because of GRACE. Christ didn't take our D report card and sign off on it so we could show it to Peter at the Gates of Splendor and he'd let us in. Christ took on the sins of the world. I've heard over and over that Christ took on the sins of the world but when you live across the world, that fact becomes a little more intense. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ became the sins of the WORLD. Every country. Every generation. Not just the sins of today in our cities but the sins from every age, everywhere. It was such a crucial reminder and something that was so good to process for a bit. Louie talked about the difference between HDTV and regular tv(which didn't really translate cross-culturally very well since HDTV isn't very big here yet). Regular TV viewers like what they see and it's perfectly fine. But when you see something in HDTV, you're like "whoa..." and you never want to go back. You never knew what you were missing out on. Christians are like that. So many of us are content to live our lives where we are, complacent. We don't know what we're missing out on. He challenged us to live our faith in High Definition.

One more note from the first session: Tomlin led us in the song "God of this City". The words of the chorus are "greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done is this city..." It was so amazing singing that along side 5,000 Korean residents. These people were singing about their cities, about Seoul, Daegu, Busan, Daejeon and others. God is at work in cities around the entire world! Then Tomlin did something that made so many of us RAs stop and just listen. He changed the words to "greater things are still to be done in Korea". So many of us are drained in this ministry. A few of us are ready to leave asap. Contract time is coming up and many of us are on the fence about returning or not. Then we heard thousands sing about how God has so much in store for Korea. Are we supposed to be part of that? Tears welled up in my eyes again (let's face it, Friday was a really emotional night for me and I was all cried out by the end). I don't know if God was telling me to stay, but I do know that He was refreshing me and encouraging me to keep my heart in this ministry as long as I'm here...at least until June 09. Also, Tomlin led "How Great is Our God" and then surprised us all when he started leading the chorus in Korean. I was so pumped because I could read the Korean fast enough to sing along. It was amazing to hear the whole crowd singing that chorus in their native tongue.

We left the arena, rode the subway for an hour to our hostel (had a midnight Burger King dinner), and headed to bed in anticipation for day 2.

We jumped on the subway early in the morning and arrived at Olympic Park to grab seats and settle in for a day of mobilization and revelation. Matt Redman took to the stage and led us in some more powerful songs, some original like "Blessed be Your Name", "You Never Let Go" (which really resonated with my current situation) and others (also, there was a surprising presence of Hillsong songs, which of course brought a giant smile to my face). He also led the chorus of "How Great Thou Art" in Korean...very cool. Francis Chan was the speaker and he hit a cultural home run. He's ethnically Chinese but was born in America. However, his father was from China so his message was so appropriate. Let me explain. In Korean culture, there is a huge drive for success and education. Kids are expected to study their rear-ends off so they can get into a "name" college in the States or Korea. Starting in elementary school, kids go to school all day then go to hagwans (tutors) where they learn specific subjects (they have music, SAT, English, art, math and more). They get done with hagwan at varying times but I'll sometimes see 10 year olds walking home, still in their school uniform at 10 pm. THEN they have to do their homework. Oh, they also go to their tutors on the weekends. Fathers are traditionally distant as well. Many of my students have told me that they have never gotten a hug from their fathers. The mothers traditionally raise the kids and the fathers provide. (now, these are generalizations based on what the majority of my students have said and what the Korean books I have read say). Anyway, Francis talked about how hard a time he had thinking of the Lord as Father since his father didn't show much love. He did an amazing job of depicting our Father as loving and graceful and if the tears around me were any indication, he really spoke to a culture crying out for Fatherly love.

We had a lunch break and then session 3 started with the David Crowder Band leading worship. Songs like "No One Like You" and "You Are My Joy" just refreshed me. I can't tell you how liberating it was to be myself in worship. I feel like since coming to Korea, I've had to "conservatize" myself. As bad as it sounds, I haven't felt free to lift my hands, dance or jump (and if you went to my international church, you'd understand why...but it's the only church I can really go to here). But this weekend, I could raise both hands up to the heavens and just be one of the thousands doing so. For the longest time, I thought that Koreans just didn't do that. The people at my church don't, the students in chapel don't, even the teachers at the school don't (well, some do...sometimes- mostly the South Africans). But seeing thousands of Koreans praising with such emotion and movement, wow. I was blown away. It really encouraged me to see so many young people throwing off all their dignity and just praising! But at the same time, it was discouraging to know that it's not a cultural difference at TCIS...it's a heart difference. Our kids just don't do that. If the Christians raised their hands in chapel, they would undoubtedly get made fun of. The few times I have raised my hands in church or chapel, students have said stuff to me. It's really disheartening. But this weekend, I could jump, cry, dance...whatever and not worry about what anyone else was thinking. I felt FREE. As I read this, it sounds like I'm really letting other people affect my worship, but you'd understand if you could experience it here...

Francis Chan spoke again and we ended the session with David Crowder again. There was one more big, 3.5 hour session that night, but unfortunately, I had to go back to Daejeon in time to go back on duty. So, I missed Louie Giglio's last talk and Chris, Matt and David leading all together. I also missed the massive prayer for Tokyo. BUT, I don't consider it a loss. I was able to go to 3 sessions, hear all the worship leaders and both speakers and truly enter the presence of the Lord.

As I walked out of the arena, I felt more alive than I have in a long time...spiritually alive. I'm motivated to finish this year strong. I'm excited to minister to these students, Christian and non Christian alike. I'm prepared for hardships but I feel more equipped to deal with them. I'm not saying that one weekend with some famous Christians did it all. Rather, being a part of a movement this big, seeing so many worshiping the Lord, being able to worship freely, hearing the Word of the Lord preached...that all attributed to it. But ultimately, the Lord spoke. He showed up and put me in my place. I was convicted for my spiritual weakness. The Lord revealed things that I'm sure He's been trying to reveal for a long time but I haven't let Him. I've been "too busy" or "too tired" or "too depressed". But this weekend, I was able to slow down and sit in a place where I couldn't do anything BUT encounter the Almighty. And boy did I ever...

For more pictures and videos from Passion Seoul, visit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rDMHSdo3yc

http://268generation.com/blog

http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=4tlw0LpECwo

http://kr.youtube.com/watch?v=tfuXijPSBm0&feature=related

The group of us that went from TCIS (and a couple more)



Part of the opener...in Korean (translated: Jesus is alive)


The masses (photo from www.268generation.com/blog)


A view from the top (photo from www.268generation.com)

I feel as though I haven't even come close to painting an accurate picture of this weekend, but I did my best. Thanks for hanging in there...and thanks for praying.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Desert

No know, it's a ironic that the words "desert" and "dessert" are so similar to each other. One holds great joy, pleasure and chocolate. The other id dry, tiresome and just plain hard. I'm currently finding myself in a desert. My spiritual landscape has dried up and all that remains is sand and mirages of what used to be. Where is the girl who was bouncing with joy for the Lord? What happened to the girl who could get up in the morning and look forward to the day? She's gone now and what remains is a girl who dreads the morning, is tired ALL THE TIME and can't seem to hold a steady conversation with her Lord. I don't like this new girl. After being in Korea for over a year now, I'm finally understanding the full cost of a life of ministry. Only one year on the field and I am spiritually, physically and emotionally exhausted. I feel as though I'm just walking on a treadmill that's running at full speed. I don't know how missionaries can do this for years upon years. It would be one thing to actually seem progress and people come to Christ. But I'm really struggling with even feeling welcome here by some students. To some, I am a glorified nanny. My father reminded me recently to minister to those who will let me. I can't force relationships and I can't make kids feel loved. But those who allow me to, that's where I can be the most effective. The problem then lies in the 24 students who push me away. I can't just pour all my effort into the 8 students who let me in and forget about the rest. I'm finding this ministry setting to be harder than I ever anticipated. There's no spiritual accountability or encouragement for the staff. We don't even have staff meetings anymore. There is nothing pouring into us from up top. How am I supposed to have something to give when nobody is equipping me? I just long to be spiritually refreshed and revived.

I've heard it said that some missionaries in Africa have "ticket days". These are the days that if they had the plane ticket in their hand, they would be out of there in a second. Some missionaries from Senegal where here at TCIS this weekend for our dorm staff retreat and they told us how lucky we are to have the facilities we do. They said that ticket days came usually as a result of the poor living conditions, the heat or other geographical factors. Here, we refer to ticket days as "I hate Korea" days. It may sound harsh, but that's what it is. We have nice buildings, we have air conditioners and 4 seasons. But that doesn't mean that ticket days are fewer for us. See, the big difference I've found between this Christian boarding school and others is the sheer demographics of Christians. I envy those working in missionary kid boarding schools. Those people get to disciple students, mentor them and come along side of them in their spiritual walks. But here, with only a handful of Christians (who generally don't seem to "have time" for their faith walk in the midst of the highly educationally competitive society that is Korea), I can go the whole day without one faith conversation. I see what an amazing ministry I have here with Buddhists and atheists living on my hall but at what point to we stop being a "Christian school" and start being a "secular school with a Christian staff"? With 80% of the students here being non-Christian, there exists even a form of social persecution of the believers. If a kid raises their hand to praise during chapel, they are mocked. Bible class is a pain and chore for most of these kids, not a reverent study of the living and active Word. How can I battle this? What can I do?

I'm coming to the end of myself here in Korea. The only thing I can do is live my life daily reflecting Christ and hope that someone finally thaws out their heart and becomes receptive to the message of the Gospel. Because without being effective, I don't know how much longer I can be here. It's like the faucet is running into a full sink and the drain is clogged.Nothing is going in so now everything is pointless runoff...

I have 9 months left here (maybe more if the Lord decides that He wants me to stay)
I don't want to spend all that time in the desert. Oh Lord...grant me some dessert!

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's About Time

My life of the past few months have been completely crazy. A whirlwind trip to the States to see friends and family ended all too soon and I'm back in Korea, back to the daily struggles and triumphs of ministry. As I write this, I'm sitting in the dorm office, waiting for the kids to come down for morning announcements, prayer and breakfast. I still have the "how did I get here" moments but they are few and far between. This is life and I'm living it. Sarah Erdmann is here...she's a great friend from IWU and I couldn't be happier that she joined the staff this year. On top of that, she's in the same building as me so not only do I work with her, I live about 10 feet from her. That's closer than we ever lived in college. I'm truly thankful for her presence and look forward to a great year. It's kinda funny: she's going through those all too familiar emotions of "I can't believe that I'm actually doing this". It's fun to be along side of her for that.

I'm finding it difficult to settle into a routine here. I haven't had the chance to just sit and talk to people from home on the phone (sorry for that) and I'm feeling the effects on my morale. I need those conversations. I need to hear how everyone is doing and what is new and newsworthy from the lower 48. Above all, I need to process things that I can't do here....maybe soon.

In other news, I have to decide by Nov. 1st whether or not I'm coming back here. See, I thought that senior year of college was challenging because the whole world was at our feet...we could do anything. I was grateful when the Lord finally led me to a decision and I believed i was set. How naive! Am I going to feel this way every time change is looming? I feel, once again, that I could do anything. I could stay on in Korea for another year. I could try and get a job with the International Justice Mission in India or Thailand (advocating from a Christian mindset for abused women and sex slaves). I could move back to the States and try to get a job (I'd love to be a resident director at IWU...but only if the Lord will have me). I salivate at the thought of going to Hillsong in Australia for a year to study under some of the most dynamic worship leaders in the ministry today. Perhaps there are yet more options out there. All I know is that for the next couple of months, I will be under great pressure to make a decision and make the "right" one. Pray for clarity. Pray that no decision will be made out of obligation or emotion but as a result of intense prayer and Divine guidance. I want to be an instrument...but where?

Well, the students are filtering in and the clock is ticking. It's go time...

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer of Reunions

Well, I'm home...as in the USA. June has been a crazy crazy month. I flew in on June 8th (ate Taco Bell as soon as I left the airport) and things haven't slowed down since. Jen flew to Chicago to see me and Kristin, Dan flew in to meet my fam and now I'm making the rounds in Indiana, seeing some of the most important people of my life. This last week has been so good for my heart. Getting to kick back with old friends, share stories of the past 12 months and just be in each other's company is what I've been needing for so long. So, am I ready to go back for another year? Not just yet. I've still got places to go and people to see (not to mention eat as much Mexican food that I can get a hold of). But I appreciate your prayers as I prepare to enter another year of ministry in Korea. Sorry I've been so bad with the blog...it'll get better, I promise.

But for now, I'll continue my road trips, my long talks and my thankful heart for the people the Lord has brought into my life (and continues to bring).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

This was an email I recently wrote to a few girlfriends of mine. It pretty much sums up my life right now...


"As I sit here in my apartment, watching Nanny McFee on television (here, it's written in Korean, "Noni Macpee") I'm contemplating the last year (and how bazaar this Emma Thompson movie really is). I talked to Tiff Todd today as she was packing up her car and getting ready to spend her last night as an IWU student. Yes, graduation is tomorrow (well, today in Korea), as I'm sure most of you are aware. We will no longer be the "freshly graduated class of '07". We graduated a year ago. What''s happened in that year? Looking on the surface, we've scattered. Some are still in Fort Wayne, Detroit or Indianapolis, some have moved to Chicago, Houston, Asia, Booneville (but are now moving to Denver) and some went straight to Denver (after getting married and stuff). But aside from the obvious differences, how else have we changed?

I don't mean this to be a super sappy note, but I can't help but look back and reflect on one of the most life-changing years I've had. We went from comfortable and familiar to foreign and new (if not in location, then occupation or other ways). How have we adapted? What has the Father taught us through it? For me, I know that the Lord had to take everything away from me that I held dear in order to hear what He wanted to say. Now, I know that these things weren't actually taken away, my family is still there for me, you are all still my friends (right? ehem...right?), but it's surely not the same over the phone. The Lord has taught me the extreme importance of demonstrating His love through everyday tasks. I've been challenged with my use of sarcasm, my tendency to shut down when I'm hurt and my laziness when it comes to being intentional with my students. Above all, the Lord has challenged me with contentment. How am I supposed to be content when I've been in Asia for 9 months, I can't communicate with the shopkeepers that I see every single day and my students are making constant trouble for themselves? The better question is how can I NOT be content? This contentment can't come based on my job, my friends or even based on the part of the world I'm living in. It has to come from Christ and Christ alone. I didn't really grasp this until just this month. From January until about March, I was in a serious funk (as many of you know). I wanted to go home and I was just biding my time until then. I wasn't content with being where I was. The Lord really slammed me upside the head and reminded me that besides all the temporal blessings He's given me, He gave me His Son so I should never be anything but content. So whether we're working a minimum wage job and living at home while awaiting the Lord's guidance or moving across the country to do ministry in a field we love, we need to find contentment. This isn't a soapbox or anything, just sharing what God's been doing in my life. I finally found that elusive state of contentment in Christ a few weeks ago. Almost instantly, I started having amazingly deep conversations with my students. They started writing me notes of encouragement and of appreciation. I've been able to better disciple the two girls that accepted Christ this year. In short, I LOVE it here. When I think about the end of the year, I'm saddened, knowing that I will miss these kids so dearly. BUT, I'm also stoked to go back to the States...to eat Taco Bell and Wheat Thins. Spend time with my family. Call you girls at normal hours and sit and chat with many of you. The point is, the Lord wanted me to find contentment in Him before bringing a shower of blessings. Because if I can be content in the midst of blessings, where's the lesson in that? It's when we are in the pits and find contentment that the Lord is evident in our lives.

One year ago, we were walking across a stage and into the unknown. What has this year held for you? What will next year hold? Whatever it is, know that I will be praying for you along the way. I have needed each of your friendships more than you could possibly ever know. Thank you for making the effort to stay in touch despite the miles. I love you all."


Although you may not have bee in the IWU class of '07, I hope that you can still relate to these thoughts. We serve a good God who wants us to find a state of contentment(not "happiness"...that's an emotion) in Him. I pray that you can do that today.


On a much lighter note, I'm sure many of you would be happy to know that I've had my first break out of pimples...ever. Sure, I've had the occasional zit here and there, but nothing earth-shattering. Moving to Korea and dealing with the pollution and yellow dust has made me break out. I had to buy my first face wash and zit cream since the ripe age of 13 when buying face wash was a right of passage into puberty. So, I hope all those who gave me a hard time throughout college for my clear skin are "content" with the fact that I too, am not invincible to blemishes.

Until next time...

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Philippines: Beloved Country

I wasn't prepared for this trip. Emotionally, I didn't really want to go. Spending spring break building houses with 11 students in a third world country sounded great on paper but I was completely exhausted from the school year and just wanted to spend my spring break in a more productive manner...in bed. Couldn't I just skate by the last two months here easily, go home and see friends and family and prepare for another year of ministry here? Well, clearly the Lord had something entirely different in mind.

LASA (Love All Serve All) trips are sent out by TCIS during Lunar and Spring breaks. This break, three Habitat teams were sent to the Philippines and two orphanage teams were sent out (one to India and one to Thailand). So, my team traveled to the Philippines and began work almost right away on houses in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. The work was manual labor to the core. I'm a relational-type person. I best relate to others and show them love in conversation or small tasks. Not in mixing cement for 4 hours. I knew it was going to be hard for our students, but I didn't realize it would be so difficult for me. But, the Lord provided, as He always does and gave me the strength to get through the week. We built several sections of houses, laid some foundation and showed love to those needing homes. But the manual labor was only a small part of this life-changing trip.

God knew what he was doing when he created the Philippines. We stayed in a town just south of Manila called Taygatay City. It just so happens to be a vacation spot as it overlooks a glorious lake, surrounded by mountains with a volcano in the middle of it all. Getting to spend time with Abba while looking at this beautiful country was enough to energize anyone. I admit that I was mentally beginning to check out for the year, ready to get home and see people. But when the Lord got me all to himself during my times with him, he reminded me that there was still much to do. So many conversations can take place in 2 months. So much witnessing can be done. The Lord used this exhausting experience to give me HIS energy for the rest of the year. He knew that if I relied on myself, I would fail. He had to take all of myself from me.

One afternoon, we took the team to a group home of sorts. There were 10 adults, all bed-ridden with various mental and muscular diseases. They couldn't really communicate with us so all we could do it sit by their beds and talk to them. Cots were strewn about the room in a haphazard fashion. Screams were repeatedly heard from certain beds. The room was hot and muggy. I felt as though I were in the middle of a "donate to the poor" campaign....you know the ones that play "Amazing Grace" in the background. I was worried for our kids. We hadn't prepared them for this. In fact, the leaders weren't prepared either. We were told that they were taking us to an orphanage. So, we brought candy and were prepared to run and play with kids for a couple hours. This was a far cry from the image we had painted for ourselves. Most of the students on the trip come from wealthy, privileged families. Some had never seen disabled people before. I was afraid that they wouldn't be able to function. But I was proven so wrong. The nurse in charge let us loose to talk to the patients and another leader and I went to the bed of a woman named Malone. She could muster a smile and tried over and over to say thank you. We learned from the nurses that she likes to play the little keyboard and sing sometimes. I told her that I play the piano and sing too. She got really excited. While talking to Malone, I was overcome by the all-too familiar emotion that has gripped me throughout this entire year...
"how did I get here?" I think back to last year at this time. I was preparing for graduation. I knew that I was going to South Korea but I had no idea what that entailed exactly. I was getting ready to leave IWU, not knowing that I could never fulling "get ready". But, just one year later, I was in the Philippines, building houses and spending time with people who spend their life in a cot. I was reminded of Jesus and his ministry. The Pharisees scoffed at people like this and Jesus loved them.

We left the home a little later and I got to sit with some of the students and process. I asked them what they thought. For a few, it was truly the first time EVER communicating with someone who couldn't communicate back. The general consensus of the group was "we are so blessed". We were already feeling blessed that week because we have homes when over 4 million families in the Philippines don't. But this "blessed" feeling went so much deeper. We have limbs that work and minds that function properly. We can run and jump, we can build houses. There are some people who spend their lives in cots. The Lord has been gracious enough to bless me with no physical handicaps. But what have I done with that? God has given me a tongue and legs, he's given me the power to profess his Name to all and what have I done with that? Am I spending my days in a cot even without having a disability?

Only about half of the students on the trip were Christians. However, I got to see students who don't know Jesus, giving of themselves in ways I never thought possible. While we didn't see any major, life-changing decisions made for Christ that week, many of the kids started asking questions and probing deeper. Some expressed a desire to talk more with the leaders about Christ. I don't know if any will come to the Lord through this, but I know that along with houses being built, seeds were planted. For that, I praise the Lord.

The trip to the Philippines will most likely fade in my mind as all memories do. Years from now, the colors won't be so vibrant, the smells won't be so identifiable. But I pray that the lessons will still be as sharp. God's given us so much. What have we done with it?

Below are some pictures from the trip: a little boy who was always at the work site, some of the beautiful landscapes of the area, the team hard at work, a couple of ladies who helped out at the site and more...and notice the IWU World Impact shirt...those shirts have been around the entire globe!












Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Nervous Breakdown of '08

I've finally done it...sort of. I've finally processed 4 years of college (and less than a year after it's conclusion, whoa). In order to describe this blissful yet painful process, let me tell you about my day last week Tuesday...

It started like any other Tuesday. I woke the girls up at 7am, grabbed a shower, called Katie C. (because Tuesday from 7:15-7:30 is our talk time), headed downstairs for announcements and prayer and then took the kids to breakfast. After that, I headed to chapel where I would spend the rest of my day until 3pm. First chapel went well, the student worship teams are doing an AMAZING job and I'm so proud of them. During the break between chapel 1 and 2, I went up to the piano to practice a couple of pieces that I agreed to play for one of my students (she has a flute recital this week and I told her that I would accompany her). Surely a piano player of 16 years could manage to play a few challenging classical pieces. I couldn't have been more wrong. Intense fear set in as I realized that I wasn't going to be able to pull it off. For the first time in a VERY long time, I couldn't "cheat" my way out of something (as in, I couldn't make up something and hope it sounded right to fill up that last paragraph in a 10 page paper, I couldn't turn the classical notes into lead sheet chords, I couldn't look up the answer in the back of the book, I couldn't use a thesaurus to make me sound smarter...you get the picture). I held back my frustration as second chapel started and once again, the kids amazed me and I felt refreshed and confident that I COULD play the music (yeah, along with processing college, I realized that I kinda have a false sense of confidence when it comes to music). I ate lunch with Dan and headed back to the piano for another practice session. No good. No progress. Two of the songs I could play with ease but the 12-pager was a lost cause. I ran to the sound booth, biting my pride, and emailed a few other piano players asking for help. I got quick responses of a negative nature and I was back to the drawing board. Then, middle school chapel started...bless those musicians' hearts but playing with a full band of 11 and 12 year olds who don't all speak fluent English is one of the hardest things. But for some reason, this week was extra rough. In fact, it was the worst chapel ever when it came to the worship music (that sounds bad, but when your musicians stop playing in the middle of "How Great is Our God" and start talking to each other and laughing on stage, it's a bit hard to take)...I left feeling completely defeated...again. I went back to my apartment with half an hour until dorm duty and I remembered that I had a TON of homework for my grad class due in a couple of days. Then it happened, I collapsed on my couch and BAWLED. We're not talking little tears of frustration but hyperventilating sobs of inadequacy. At IWU, I did everything. If a prof needed something from me, I could do it. I volunteered for everything. I served on committees, lead worship anywhere and everywhere, played gigs, got good grades, worked, made time for friends, had coffee dates with people who needed a shoulder to cry on...I said YES to almost everything. I remember one time in Townhouse 600 my senior year, my friends started asking me really dumb and obvious questions just to see if I could even say the word "no". "Sarah, do you want to eat moldy bread?"...but those girls aren't here in South Korea. If they were, I'm sure we'd be having the exact same conversation...

Last Tuesday, I had a breakdown not because I couldn't play a piano piece but because I realized that I WILL let people down. I can't be the people-pleasing IWU girl anymore. While it burnt me out in college, it will destroy me here in Korea. In full time ministry, if I don't take time for myself or for the Lord, I will fail. If I keep saying yes to anything and everything, I will leave Asia a shell of my former self, burnt out at the ripe age of 25.

I collected myself and walked down to the office to continue on my day. Allen and Angela, the dorm parents, came in and could see immediately that I had been crying (maybe the puffy red eyes and running mascara tipped them off). I told them the story of my day and my realization. Just then, their 5 year old bounced into the office, stopped dead on her tracks and said "Miss Sarah, what's wrong?". Her mother replied "Miss Sarah found out today that she's not perfect." Well said, Angela. Well said.

My student who I was supposed to play for came through a little later and I sat her down to tell her that I just couldn't play for her because it was too hard. Those were some of the hardest words I've said in a long time. Not only did that mean letting down one of my girls in a really important event for her but it meant admitting that I failed. She took the news so well and was very understanding! I hadn't ruined her life after all...

I headed up to my apartment to grab some homework and glanced at my syllabus only to discover that I was actually 1.5 weeks ahead in the class. Bonus! I had time to breathe! But before I could to that, I had to run to the auditorium for the student-initiated praise night (which, of course, I said I would play for). What started as a stressful event with hours and hours of practice during my minimal free time ended as an amazing and intimate time in fellowship with students who worshiped in Spirit and truth. We sang and prayed for 1.5 hours and I left completely refreshed and renewed after one of the toughest days in South Korea to date.

So, I finally processed a bit of college. I saw the girl who woke up every morning to please others melt away to awaken a girl who lives to please Abba. What happened those 4 years at IWU have SHAPED me but they don't have to DEFINE me. I'm sure I'll glean more lessons from those years in Marion but for now, processing and realizing my people-pleasing tendencies and how they've followed me here is lesson enough. May I not forget how this feels. May I not forget the JOY I can have from living to please only the Lord. May I not ever again forget the word "no".


RANDOM KOREAN FACTS:

-At Outback Steakhouse here, they have "coffee steak". Yup, it's steak marinated in black coffee...yum?

-We're in the middle of "yellow dust" season. Yellowish colored dust from the desert in Mongolia is blown over the China sea to Korea where it fills the air and subsequently, our lungs. There's a yellow haze in the sky and everyone is warned not to spend too much time outside because inhaling the said dust can be bad for you. People are walking about with "health masks" but it really just looks like there's a SARS outbreak again....people are kinda paranoid about their health here. They go to the hospital if they have a common cold. They go to the hospital if they run into something and a bruise forms...I only wish I were kidding.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Little Corner of the World

So, this is really for the benefit of a friend who wants to know what my apt. looks like (you know who you are) but you all can enjoy it. There are inside jokes, zoom-ins and points because I was videoing with this person in mind. But, anyway, here you have it...my apartment in South Korea... video

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Time for Lunar

I'm soon discovering how different holidays over here truly are. Take Christmas for example. On Christmas day, me and my friends could walk down the street and eat at pretty much any restaurant along the way...they were all open, regular hours, no biggie. But now we're in the midst of the Lunar holiday. Yup, just 3 weeks after having Christmas break, we have another break for this holiday. We are leaving the year of the pig and entering the year of the rat. As a result of this immensely celebrated holiday, pretty much everything will be closed this Thursday. Is this just because the New Year is more popular and Christmas isn't. Well I have to remember that I'm in a society where Christianity isn't the religion of the majority or even close to it. We have Buddhism to contend with and plenty other beliefs. It's only natural that New Year, a completely secular, traditional and deep-rooted holiday would be a bigger deal than Christmas, the day of our Lord's birth...

While I won't be participating in any Lunar celebrations (goodness knows I wouldn't even know how to celebrate ushering in the Year of the Rat) I do appreciate the week off of work I'm getting. So far it's consisted of partaking in American food at Bennigan's, a Mexican fiesta night with friends, waffle fest, Gilmore Girls, movies and best of all...a trip to Seoul.

Seoul has a population of over 10 million people. Needless to say, it's a big place. We took the 50 minute train ride to the city and visited an area around the US Military base which had, hold your breath, a COLDSTONE CREAMERY!!! I was simply on cloud 9. From there we went to an artsy, cultural shopping center so we could buy a bunch of Korean stuff. I was surrounded by American tourists who couldn't communicate at all with the Korean shop owners at all. I helped out a few with some Korean language hurdles and found myself not feeling like a tourist at all...I felt like I belonged there. It was truly a strange feeling. After that, we headed to a downtown area with tons of shopping, a GAP (which was super expensive thanks to import taxes) and, you ready, another COLDSTONE. Those who truly know me should know that it wouldn't be past me to visit that beloved ice cream place twice in one day. And that's just what I did. All in all, I'm a fan of Seoul. The fast-paced city, the sights, the sounds, it was a great place to visit.

Then we went back to good, ole' Daejeon, population 1.5 million. It felt like a small town in comparison. I felt like I was (dare I say) back home. When talking to the foreign staff here at TCIS, they always refer to their native country as their "home". I have several friends who went "home" to the states over Lunar break. But if the old adage is true, if home really is where the heart is then where would that place my heart? I want to pour all I have into these kids, into this culture, into this ministry. If my heart isn't here, what will I have to give (sorry, Mom and Dad if you're reading this. It has no affect on how I feel about old Green Bay or being with you...it's just part of growing up). I still haven't been able to call this place home (not out loud at least) but I know that it's a necessary step into fully "being present" in this ministry.

One final note: I'll be back in the states from June 8th through August 1st. I'm pretty excited...I hope you are too! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Asia: the Southern Side

It was a long two weeks for sure. I wish that I could detail everything I did, all the sights, the smells (oh, the smells), the sounds and the emotions. But, I fear that's quite impossible, even for my long-winded tendencies. But, I'll try to sum up my excursions as best as I can.

On Wednesday, Decemeber 26th, we took a cab to the bus station at 3:45 am. After a bus ride, two flights and a van ride, we arrived at our destination in Malaysia. The whole purpose behind these travels was the ASCI boarding conference at Dalat International School in Penang. I grew up hearing about this MK school and actually seeing it, right on the beach in a beautiful city was simply amazing. Sometimes I catch myself in awe of where the Lord has taking me. I'm actually doing something that I love, something that I've wanted to do and something that allows me to see the world. But, I digress...

The conference was 3 days long and I got to help lead worship, which was great. Our hotel was right on the beach with a view of mountains in the distance. Malaysia food consists of a mixture of Indian, Chinese and Thai. Therefore, I was in heaven for a week. There was a giant mall (the first one I've seen in 5 months) and amazing night markets with all the knock-off purses and perfumes that you can handle. But aside from the conference, the food, the beauty of the country, the biggest aspect of Malaysia that hit me was the religion...Islam. It's illegal for a Malay to be anything but Muslim but immigrants and foreigners can be anything. There has to be a mosque within walking distance from everywhere. You could hear the call to prayer throughout the streets...an eerie sound. My heart broke for the Malaysian people and it gave me a renewed passion for seeing the world come to know the Living God.

After Malaysia, 6 of us headed to Vietnam for leg two of the vacation. We flew into Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) and my first reaction was...wow. I was completely overwhelmed by the roads. There aren't very many cars but tons and tons and tons and...well, a lot of motor bikes. There aren't really lanes, you just fit as many as possible across. When turning, you just kinda edge yourself out there, slowly and let everyone else go around you. Pedal-driven bikes are also on the roads, right in the midst of all the motor bikes. The streets are dirty and the faces are sad. But, despite religious persecution, the Church is alive. There are high fences around every church and the government has the right to come in and take over the building at any time. We stayed right in the city, went to markets and got to truly see the city. This is when the culture shock set in. The smell of filth and the sight of destitution broke my heart but made it almost shut down at the same time. I wanted to leave after just one day. I didn't want to see the prostitutes on the street anymore. I didn't want to see 4 year olds, shoe-less and alone crossing the busy downtown streets. I was grossly reminded of how wealthy America really is compared to the rest of the world. I wish I hadn't rejected the city so much- I'm sure I emotionally missed out on a lot.

We headed to the Cu Chi tunnels north of the city on the second day. These were built by the Viet Cong during the war. It was strange to go on a tour in a place where just a few decades ago, Americans were given their lives. We lost that war and for those giving the tour, they won. They celebrated VC soldiers who killed many Americans, they showed traps set for our soldiers and a big American tank that was overtaken is on display. It's no surprise that pro-American sentiment is absent, but it was strange to actually experience it and feel it. I shot an M16 at a shooting range near the tunnels, the kind of gun used in the war and I couldn't help but think that these guns were used to kill so many people...

The following day, we headed down to the MeKong Delta River, which is the major waterway for Indochina. We went on a boat ride to a nearby island, I drank juice out of a coconut, had a python snake around my neck, stuck my finger in a bee hive to get honey, went on a horse-drawn cart ride through a small village, went on a row boat through a small jungle-looking tributary back to the river, saw a coconut candy factory and ate a fish...while it was staring at me (yeah, I've seen that on TV, but actually eating it off the bone was, well different).

After a couple days in the city, we headed to an amazing beach resort in Phan Thiet. Beautiful bamboo rooms, a pool next to the beach and an Indian restaurant across the street. What more could a girl want. It was the perfect place to process my time in the city and finally get some relaxation before heading back for another semester.

We traveled over 27 hours to get back to Korea and I'm still processing the break. But I do know one thing...I'm grateful that I finally experienced culture shock and know that I'm not immune it's effects. I feel blessed to have a job that lets me do this and friends who will go with me. After seeing all the Islam in Malaysia and the various religions in Vietnam (we went to a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple and a couple others), I feel a deeper burden for the world to know the One True God. I know it's not my burden alone but I will do whatever I can for the Kingdom.

All in all, spending Christmas break '07-'08 on the beaches and cities of SE Asia wasn't too shabby.