A Day for Hope

I love those days when my mind and heart suddenly ignite with fresh ideas and hope for making helpful life changes. On days like that—er, usually nights, about the time I should be getting ready for bed—I whip out some notebook paper or pull up a new document on the computer and write down goals and changes to be effective immediately. Usually I group my hopeful ideas into a handful of categories—relational, spiritual, intellectual, financial, personal—and set out implementing them with disappointingly short-term success. But that’s OK, because little by little, those bursts of energy still manage to lead me closer to where I want to be. And the bursts themselves are refreshing to my spirit. Today is one of those days, and I want to revel in it, squeeze every last delicious drop out of it. Like most of my refreshing days, it’s a weekend, and a Sunday at that. I think that’s significant. When I want to be refreshed, psyched about what could be, and awakened to healthier, holier ways to live, I have to take a time out from my normal pace of life and seize an opportunity for newness, for re-creation.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, other than to say it’s been a good day and a good week, and I’m anticipating a tomorrow laced with newness. Highlights from the past week include a backpacking trip up and down Seorak Mountain’s highest peak (5,603 ft.) and a delicious feast at the neighbors’ house last night. I’ll leave you with a few pics that do neither event justice. Have a good one!

August Adventures

Since I’ve been back I’ve been able to enjoy a lot of leisure time before school starts (tomorrow!). Here are a few pictures from white-water rafting on the Hantang River and hiking at Bukhansan in Seoul. Fun times!

Seeing Him Who is Invisible

I’m sorry my thoughts are a little scattered today. I find myself compelled to speak about a variety of things God is revealing to me, and I fear the result is a less than cohesive blog post. But perhaps you can find something in this smorgasbord of thoughts to encourage and edify you.

Manna. That’s my word for this third year in Korea, and also what I’ve chosen to name my new journal which God is faithfully filling up with insights into His heart. This weekend I’ve just been mesmerized by the love of God. I’m realizing in more concrete ways how everything God does is because of His love. The last couple weeks have been kind of hard, really. I wasn’t ready to go home last month and the culture shock was definitely more intense than last year; then after a week I got back into the swing of things and had a really wonderful vacation full of good times with family and friends, so wonderful in fact, that I really wasn’t ready to come back to Korea. But God is good! In the midst of recent trials, He is growing me and encouraging me so much. I’m realizing that God’s commands are as much to bless us as they are to honor and bless Him. I’ve been trying to memorize Romans 12 lately, and I’ve been struck by the first few verses especially:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

First, I was impressed that God would tell us exactly how to know His will. Why do we wonder about that all the time, if the answer is written plainly before us? Then I was struck by the connection between the physical and the spiritual. “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices” is a very vivid picture of something PHYSICAL going on, and yet Paul calls it our “spiritual act of worship.” It seems the physical, outward expression of man, is closely, if not inextricably, connected to his heart and what’s going on inside him. I was then encouraged by the practical way we can be transformed—by the renewing of our minds. There are so many ways to renew our minds—studying God’s Word, praying, praising God, going for walks, spending time in solitude, spending time in fellowship with friends who encourage your faith, listening to sermons (online, in my case), and on and on—that it seems the biggest temptation might be to live a life too comfortably insulated from the world. But what impressed me MOST was the awesome character of God’s will—“his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Good, pleasing and perfect. I want to live in belief of that. Trusting in God’s good, pleasing and perfect will should bolster me to press on in the trying times.

These days I’ve been seriously wondering God’s will, begging Him to make it clear to me so I will know what to do. And I kind of have the mindset that He either wants me to go down a certain road or not go down a certain road. But Friday on my walk, I felt God spoke to my heart and said, “Yeah, I do have a plan for you which either does or does not include that avenue, but what I really want is for you to just look up. Take your eyes off the ground for a second and just look up at my face.” As God has expressed to me before, He wants me to keep my eyes on Him all along life’s journey, not just when I get to an intersection.

Finally, I want to share a short journal entry I wrote recently with paraphrases and excerpts from Hebrews 11 and a couple of my responses. Sometimes I’m tempted to look back longingly at a more comfortable period in my life, or I feel disillusioned with where I’m at, but these verses encourage me to keep walking in faith like Abraham with my focus on the eternal.

“Abraham… when called… obeyed and went… though he didn’t know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
→ Me too! Now I must keep on with living here…
“He made his home in the promised land… like a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents… for he was looking forward to the city with foundations.” (Hebrews 11:9-10)
→ I must make my home here, but keep my eyes on my eternal home. I am not just an alien and stranger here (in Korea), but an alien and stranger on earth.

“If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:15-16)

“He persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:27b)

Wouldn’t that be a great mantra for life! I want to see Him who is invisible.

April-May Highlights

Goodness gracious, there’s a lot to write about! I’m ashamed at all the time that’s passed since last I blogged. . I have to go back through my pictures to see what all happened in the last two months… When spring arrived, I went to Seoul to see the cherry blossoms. I also had a birthday near the end of April and was excited to turn 24—my favorite number—for the second year in a row (since they do age differently here)! The most unique gift was Dr. Pepper that my best friend ordered online for me. :-) It’s funny the things that become so special and favored after you leave home and rarely come across them anymore…

…like your college roommate and her husband, for instance! I was SOOOOOO delighted to spend a week with Sami and Justin in May!!!! They were my first visitors from home and it was my great pleasure to show them around and just spend time with them. The weather was absolutely beautiful all week and we got to travel and see a lot in a short time—from the royal tombs in Gyeongju (far south) to Seorak Mountain on the East Sea. Our two days at Seorak Mountain were the highlight for me, along with being all-American making s’mores around the campfire, enjoying a pancake breakfast outside, and just being able to relate fully and comfortably without cultural or language barriers. It was certainly one of my best weeks ever!

Just before they came, I visited the Park family in Gyeongju to tag along on a cousin reunion they were having on some island in the South Sea. Turns out that “some island” was Oedo Island, the beautiful botanical paradise I visited last year on a school trip and was eager to revisit! We took a boat over just before the sun went down, and since it’s only open to the public during the daytime, we enjoyed it all to ourselves in the evening and before the crowds arrived the next morning. It was quite surreal to go to sleep and wake up on a private island paradise! It was also fun to spend time with Jaesung’s family and his cousins who were all young and lively.

May was an exciting month at the church and in our home. Baby Baekhap was born to my Chinese housemates on May 4th, a precious, healthy little girl who sleeps all day and rarely cries. :-) When I remember the scares they had early on in the pregnancy, I can’t help but think what a marvel she is. Our church had its annual ping-pong tournament last month also, and you wouldn’t believe how serious they are about it. I mean, it’s the only time I see anyone wear shoes in the building—I guess wearing sneakers gives you a real advantage—and most people come dressed like they’re ready for an incredible workout at the gym. Representatives from each of the small groups played each other and there were also a couple relays. Our team didn’t win, but it was still fun to watch… though I couldn’t last the full 7 hours, even if it was split between two Sundays. :-P

I recently went to my first Korean wedding, which turned out to be pretty similar to American weddings. There were a few exceptions though—no bridesmaids or groomsmen, no time to “kiss the bride,” an announcer for everything written in the bulletin, and a long sermon (though I hear they’re usually short). My dear friend Karen, who moved to Korea roughly a year before me, is getting married here in just a few weeks, so I am very excited to see what her wedding is like! Her fiance is Korean and they plan to stay here indefinitely; I’m glad that she’ll be here at least as long as I will. :-)

Last week the schools took a day off for field trips. True to my nature, I turned down the amusement park for the national arboretum. I’d rather walk nature trails than ride roller coasters any day! So I hung out with the Kindergarten students instead of the high schoolers. Last Saturday, as I’m sure you all commemorated, was June 5, 2010, the day that the cousins and I decided upon years ago as my future wedding date. Well, it didn’t turn out to be my wedding day exactly, but was still a good one. :-)

This week I got my ticket home for the summer! I will be in the States from July 11 – August 10 and will hopefully get to see many of you!! As of now, I’ll be visiting folks in TX, MD, OH, IL, MI, and WV; KY and IN are also in the running. :-) Hope to see you soon! Take care until the next post.

It's Been Forever!!

Wow, I think a month and a half is the longest I’ve gone without blogging and I sincerely apologize, first to cousin and site provider and maintainer John Einselen, and then to all of you neglected readers who for some reason keep coming back. Thanks for putting up with me.

Well, my last 3 articles have been about Mozambique, but now Africa seems like a lifetime ago. Though, fortunately, I’m still in touch (from time to time) with the other visitors I met there. I’m soooo excited that Hannah from Australia will be visiting me for a week in September!! Wahoo!!!! Who would’ve guessed that a friend from Australia whom I met in Mozambique would visit me in Korea on her way back from a festival in England?! God is good!

And that reminds me of the most recent holiday, which of course was Easter! Easter here is treated way differently from in the U.S. Here I didn’t see a single Easter bunny or colored Easter egg, nor any jelly beans or anything at all commercialized for the occasion. It’s a religious holiday which hasn’t spilled into the secular world yet. The church here also commemorates it differently from what I grew up with. For the 40 days leading up to Easter, we were encouraged to meditate on the suffering of Christ, but there was no suggestion of giving something up as many Christians in the U.S. are inclined to do. Here the focus is on having a sincere and contrite heart before the Lord. During the 2 weeks before Easter, we had a 24-hour prayer relay in which each person was supposed to sign up for a 3-hour block to pray. My first year here, I couldn’t believe we were expected to pray for 3 hours—sometimes 10 minutes feels like a long time! But the pastors make a really detailed prayer, Bible reading, meditation, and worship outline that leaves you with just about an hour and a half to pray after you’ve sung all the hymns and pondered all the questions and Bible readings laid out for you. Anyway, then during the final week before Easter we had a (more strongly encouraged than usual) 6am daily prayer meeting. On that Sunday there were no kids singing “Hosanna!” and waving palm branches—it was just another Sunday to meditate on the Passion of Christ. On Wednesday and Thursday, we were encouraged to fast breakfasts, on Friday all meals, and all week to abstain from eating meat. Saturday was supposedly a day of silence, though it was the annual church-wide spring cleaning day so I think everyone probably talked more (not less) than usual that day. Anyway, I didn’t completely follow all the suggested guidelines, but enough of them that—I’ll be honest—I was pretty thrilled when Easter came at last. I understand commemorating and humbling ourselves in appreciation of the suffering Christ endured on our behalf, but I don’t think it necessary to mourn like we don’t know the rest of the story. Christ is risen! Easter day we had a regular morning service, a special lunch with meat and rice cake, and an evening cantata in which every small group sang a song and then prizes were awarded based on the unity, participation, and attitude of the groups. I sang part of our group’s selection as a solo, a first in my life!

In addition to church stuff, school started last month and I’ve been happy to be teaching again! There is such a thing as a too-long vacation, believe it or not. :) The 2010 school year started off with a trip to Seorak Mountain, the most famous in Korea. That week we got the most snow of the season, so we enjoyed a snowball fight and snowman-building contest as well as a handball tournament on a snowy turf. It was hilarious to watch the students and teachers try to clear the field by rolling gigantic balls of snow to the sidelines. I couldn’t believe they were serious. :) As far as classes go, my load is way decreased this year. The theory is, if class quantity decreases then quality will increase, so all the teachers have far fewer classes now and the schedule is changed a bit from last year. They also made all the English classes ability-based instead of age-based, and I’m only teaching the highest level for conversation and grammar. I love that group of students and that I can challenge them so much more, but I’m sad I don’t see much of the other students. I need to push myself to participate in their afternoon activities. I’m still teaching a couple classes at the elementary school as well as a weekly song class in the Kindergarten.

In my free time, I’ve been hiking quite a bit and hanging out with my close friend here, keeping in touch with the fam, stalking friends on facebook, beating myself up over time wasted and goals unmet, and wondering how to re-motivate myself to study Korean and do other constructive things. Like writing this blog article, for instance. I will try really hard to write again in the next two weeks!! That would be amazing. I’m also still meeting with the neighbor ladies about once a week to practice Korean and English and Western and Korean culinary skills. Last week I learned how to make Pajeon, which consisted (in our case) of green onions galore, squid, clams, oysters, and shimp, fried in an egg and flour batter the size of a small pizza. It was quite delicious really.

I hope you all are doing well. It’s always great to hear from you. Take care, and check back in a couple weeks for a not-so-generic update. :)

Mozambique: Nothing Good in Me Apart from Christ

When I originally set out to keep a blog, I wanted to share my struggles and weaknesses with the same openness in which I share growth and victories. I wanted to give a full picture of my experience in Korea—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted to be real. But that’s hard. It’s especially hard when your audience is as diverse as this one—grandparents, church friends, cousins, best friends, acquaintances, teachers, students, and so on. It’s hard to write something that will speak to everyone. But when I write letters—personal letters—to my bestest of friends, I find my fingers flow more freely with honesty and humility. When I write to my closest friends, I feel no need to impress, just a need to be known and accepted as I really am. For that reason, as I share with you one of the more bittersweet realizations I came to in Mozambique, I’d like to quote from a letter I wrote recently to one of my best friends:

“I realized [in Mozambique] how inadequate my love is for others. It shames me to say it, but it was hard for me to stir within myself feelings of love and compassion for the many orphans I encountered every day at the center where I stayed. And of course, it made it worse that I was surrounded by other do-gooders who sincerely and faithfully loved on those kids every day and seemed to honestly enjoy it. I found it tiring and it really tested my patience and the scope of my compassion. I was repulsed by some of the ugly things I found in myself. Like the desire to love on clean kids. Not grimy, dirt-streaked kids, but clean kids. And I didn’t want to clean them up either, just have them presented to me that way. I was disillusioned by the limits of my love. I expected that for three weeks I could lay all comforts aside and spend every day embracing the ones the world had cast aside. I thought three weeks wasn’t asking too much. In fact, I couldn’t live one day like I wanted to like that. It made me realize that without Christ there is nothing good in me. Apart from Christ I can do nothing. I can’t even love on my own. I especially can’t love on my own. That was both a disappointing and liberating truth to recognize.”

This feeling of inadequacy ran deep during the three weeks in Mozambique as I compared myself to the remarkable Christian servants around me. I could go into detail about what made them so admirable, but I won’t at this time because the point is quite the opposite. Depending on whom I compare myself to, I feel very small or very smug. I sometimes feel strides ahead of the other, or sometimes lightyears behind. When I compare myself to others, I can never be sure how I measure up because the standard is always changing. But when I compare myself to Christ, there is no confusion or uncertainty: I always fall short.

A couple days ago I enjoyed the great blessing of a tri-way conference call with Benny from Australia and Courtney from Texas, two of the dear friends I met in Mozambique. Benny shared with us a quote he’d read recently by Charles Spurgeon. The words were antiquated in style but relevant as ever in meaning. I hope they will encourage you as they did me. For on our own we are nothing—no, not even as neutral as nothing, for we were sinful from birth. But with Christ, we have everything. Thank you, Jesus, for trading our sins for your perfection on the cross, that we might be made right with God by your holy sacrifice. Help us to lay down our lives as an offering of love to lead others to You.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “All the blessings which thou wouldst have had if thou hadst kept the law, and more, are thine, because Christ has kept it for thee. All the love and the acceptance which perfect obedience could have obtained of God, belong to thee, because Christ was perfectly obedient on thy behalf, and hath imputed all his merits to thy account, that thou mightst be exceeding rich through him, who for thy sake became exceeding poor. Oh! how great the debt of love and gratitude thou owest to thy Saviour!”

Mozambique: The Unforgettables

In terms of people, stories, and experiences, there are some which were especially significant that I’d like to share with you.

Always at the front of my mind is Elita. It’s funny, her name comes from the word “elite,” which comes from the French word “eliré,” meaning “to choose” (I just checked it out on a hunch). She couldn’t have been farther from elite, but she definitely was chosen. I met her on my second trip to pray at the hospital…

“I entered the room full of women sitting in their beds and was immediately drawn to one of them, a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties and had her hair up in beautiful corn rows swirled around her head. But it was her eyes that caught my attention. So sorrowful and resigned, like she’d given up and couldn’t bear to be disappointed by hope even one more time. Despair and stoicism were etched in her eyes and I went over to pray with her, Courtney following soon after. Her name was Elita, she had three boys at home, her husband had died, and she herself had already been in the hospital for five months and was dying of AIDS. I had already been given a huge compassion for her, and when I heard she had AIDS my heart broke completely. I began crying and praying like I have never prayed in my life. Soon I was weeping uncontrollably like it wasn’t even me but the Spirit of God over me and I cried out to God for peace and healing for beautiful Elita. I wept as if she were my own blood sister. I prayed by the blood of Jesus, blood so clean it can cleanse us from the inside out, something that especially hit me as I thought of her own blood which was her death sentence. I sang and wept and prayed some more. And when we finished, I followed Courtney in embracing her and saying what I too had felt so strongly, that she was my sister. My sister. And I kissed her head where before I had loving stroked her hair. She also cried as we prayed and it was evident that she’d been deeply touched by our heartfelt care for her. She asked what church we were from and said she’d visit it if and when she was well enough to leave the hospital. A couple times she had to turn and spit up into a bucket that also apparently served as a toilet, as the smell was so atrocious you couldn’t breathe out of your nose for a second. But it wasn’t even an issue when I was praying as I didn’t have any distractions at all then. We promised her we’d continue praying for her, and she was so appreciative and obviously blessed by what had transpired there. Oh, but my heart was broken and has still not recovered. . .

“I think God was preparing my heart and mind before I went in the women’s room because as I sat on the bench waiting to go in, I found myself asking the “Why?” question. Why is there such suffering? Why do babies get cancer? (We were on the oncology floor.) And my heart was stirred with compassion for hurting people and I wanted to provide them with prayers and with a heart that would give them space to ask those questions, space to lament, space to be COMFORTED. . .Praying with Elita opened my heart and connected it with another’s and with the Spirit in a way that’s never happened before.”

From just moments afterward until now, I have been reflecting on that experience. I remember sitting down right after I prayed with Elita and feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. It was the first time I experienced prayer as hard work. But what a satisfying and glorious feeling it was! I want to live from that place more and more. So that’s the story of when my heart broke, which accomplished one of my hopes for the trip, which was that my heart would be broken with the things that break the heart of God. Now I know—not just in my head but with my heart—that God’s heart breaks for AIDS patients, for those who are lonely, for those in despair, for those who feel hopeless, for those who endure with misery and stoicism the burdens Christ already died to take from them. And so you see, Elita was far from elite. But she was definitely chosen, for God was thinking specifically of her when he led two young women from opposite sides of the world to fly to Mozambique, sign up for hospital ministry on a certain Sunday afternoon, visit her room, and gravitate to her bedside where God had planned all along to love her through their prayers, tears, affection, and compassion which all came from Him. How deep the Father’s love for us!

Another “unforgettable” was my second street ministry experience. It was even more awesome than seeing the Milky Way that first night in the bush. A small group of us drove to a busy street in Maputo, the capital, where we parked our van and waited as a group of young guys and middle-aged men gathered in expectation of the weekly service and the bread they’d receive at its conclusion. After ten or fifteen minutes a group of 25 had formed and we began to worship. “We all stood in a circle and clapped, danced, raised our arms, and praised Jesus! It was amazing freedom and amazing joy. And it kept reminding me of my dear friend’s beloved Bible verse: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein.’ It was like, ‘Yes! The earth IS the Lord’s! And all of Mauto, too! We can worship God anywhere!’ What a magnificent privilege it was to lift my white hands with their black hands and praise God right there on the sidewalk, undeterred by the sound of traffic or stares of passersby. The whole earth is the Lord’s!

There are many more powerful experiences I’d like to share, but they’ll have to wait for another entry. Here’s a few more pictures to satisfy you until then. Thanks for your patience!