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 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 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" 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!