“’…to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’” - Acts 26:18

It really shouldn’t have taken a short term missions trip for me to experience God’s heart for the unreached nations; but, that is, exactly what happened. While I may not have Moses’ speech impediment, I do find it a lot easier to express myself through writing than I am speaking in front of people. Although I believe my words are inadequate to fully describe my experiences overseas, I will do my best to share about the things I learned this past summer. 

I, along with a group of other faithful brothers and sisters from across the U.S. had the opportunity to go overseas to preach the Gospel to a nation in the 10/40 window; a particularly volatile and unstable region in these times. (For security reasons, I won’t name here which country it was) I came into the short term mission trip with great expectations thanks to some great testimonies I heard from my friends. It was my first mission trip and I was really excited to share my faith with people who have really limited access to the Gospel.

When I arrived however, things definitely did not look like what I imagined before coming. For one thing, I didn’t arrive to a country filled with sand and I also didn’t imagine I would have to use squatting toilets. All ignorant, American jokes aside, I got to take part of the Rise 120 movement: where we would be given nothing but a small budget to live off of, our backpacks, and each other. With just those things and the Holy Spirit, we would travel to a new city each day to plant the seeds of the Gospel to as many people as possible. I got to evangelize to people in the city streets, play with children, learn about a new culture, try new food and enjoy God’s beautiful creation at a relaxing day by the beach. I’m sure I’ll keep even the small memories: of me and my friends singing God’s praises after spending a night in the park and haggling over hotel prices.

This being my first mission trip, I had no real experience sharing my faith. I first attempted to show who Jesus was and what God has done for us only by trying to prove Islam’s faults and through Christianity’s intellectual evidence. I would also get frustrated when they refused to acknowledge me. Although I was unable to see the spirit of self-righteousness in myself, God provided a brother who did and quickly stepped in to prevent me from continuing down that road. He took me aside and rebuked me and asked why I was evangelizing. Was it to prove them wrong? Was it to make myself feel superior?

He then went on to tell me, that if I wanted them to be wrong, or if I wanted to justify myself more than I wanted to show them the love of God, then I was being self-righteous. I was on the verge of tears as those humbling words instantly hit home. The only thought that ran across my head at the time was: “How did this happen?” Why, when I came into the trip to share the Father’s heart for His lost children, was I displaying the heart of the Pharisee instead? While I am not diminishing the great need for the ability to tackle challenging questions to the faith that is so dear to us, I have noticed that sometimes we, as Christians, (myself especially) may be more concerned about proving God more than we are about showing and revealing who He is to those around us.

In a cramped and dingy garage, my team and I heard a brother speak about how we reveal who God is by how we love others. He shared about his experiences being a missionary for a year in the nation we were serving at the time. He recalled a conversation he had with a close Muslim friend he had made during his stay there. That friend asked him if he knew just how much he was asking of him, when he was asking him to become a Christian. Through bitter tears: he said that even though the idea of Christ as Lord sounds good to him, our brother would be going home in a year, while he would have to remain there by himself, potentially without his job, and without the family and friends he grew up with.

Our brother then went on to say how Jesus, during His short stay here on Earth, was able to call upon legions of angels in order to prove His authority and make the unbelievers cower in fear of His power and majesty. But, while our God is majestic and powerful, the key characteristic that Jesus wanted to reveal to us and what every other characteristic of God is shaped by: is a love that is beyond this world. He explained how true love doesn’t shirk from the thought of self-sacrifice, and how Jesus showed us His love for us by pursuing us first with His life, and then gave us the perfect example of self-sacrifice with His death on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” - John 15:13. Our brother then went on to explain his personal decision to commit the rest of his life to the nation we were serving in order to show one Muslim friend that Jesus’ love is a love that will remain with us until the very end and even beyond that too.

            Back in the U.S., sitting in on one of Father Himes’ lectures, I heard him teach us about Origen of Alexandria and how Origen claimed that the greatest evidence for Christ as Savior was in the miracles that our brothers and sisters were performing a long time ago. I’m afraid I disagree with that statement. Our Lord came for a much greater purpose than healing the sick and raising the dead, so miraculous signs can’t, and shouldn’t, be our greatest evidence for Christ as Savior. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21.

Why do some of us consider those signs more amazing than the fact Jesus forever altered people’s hearts and continues to do so today? Why isn’t the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector repenting and following Jesus considered to be more amazing than those signs? Why isn’t the story of Paul who persecuted the Gospel and then died for the sake of that same Gospel, the Gospel that we currently live for, more amazing than those things? Why are some of us more amazed at how Jesus turned water into wine than how, after experiencing divine love, the twelve disciples were never the same? Jesus changed them from being selfish, petty, ignorant people to become people who spent the rest of their lives pursuing Him and sharing God’s love and triumph!

            While we are all certainly not called to spend the rest of our lives in some foreign country, we are called to be witnesses of Christ’s true miracles. The transforming love that we saw in action through the stories of our brothers and sisters long ago, the transforming love that we can see in each other and the same transforming love we can see in ourselves. I will always be grateful to have been able to see firsthand the true miracles God is working abroad and being able to take part in that work, and I’m looking forward to see what God has in store for us.                                                                                     

                                                                                                                        Running the race,

                                                                                                                                    Josh Cho, ‘16

"I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen." Isaiah 43:20

I always had a very specific image in my head whenever the phrase “missions trip” was brought up: a joyful, warm American Christian holding a helpless Honduran/Ethiopian/Burmese child in her arms, showing him the love of God with community service, medical supplies, and a free haircut and lunch. It was the act of giving from the powered to the powerless, from the loved to the unloved, my own weak imitation of that which I understood God to be to all of humanity and me. 

This summer, I myself went on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic with InterVarsity in the month of June. Quite interestingly (and thankfully), this image was never fulfilled in this third missions trip of my life; God showed me quite different things in this warm (literally and figuratively) country, and I believe that His same vision is to show exactly us that His Love contains and consumes will never cease for you and me. 

The Isaiah verse’s focus on water and its restoring, life-giving qualities was a highly recurring theme for me in this trip. However, as a Californian whose mood instantly gets strained by clouds and ruined by rain, I was not a big fan of the fickle skies of the DR. The sudden downpours accompanied by intense humidity were almost too much to bear at first, and I found myself often complaining and bringing down others’ moods with me. The different air pressure and humidity also gave me a sort of internal infection in my right ear, so that I experienced great discomfort all day and could not hear very well, inhibiting my already compromised Spanish comprehension skills. Last but certainly not least, I found that the most aggravating thing for me caused by water was what it nourished so well: mosquitos. My blood literally sang to them, and each day and night I would discover three to five new bites, swelling and itching intensely because of my allergic reaction to the insects’ saliva. 

So water wasn’t a great source of energy for me in this place to start. I had read the verse right before beginning our service in the DR, and it had rung so deeply and clearly in my heart for reasons I could not see clearly back then. With the help of a year of Biblical Heritage studies with Professor Morrison (I highly recommend the class, by the way), I understood the Jewish cultural and historical significance behind the verse, God’s promise to the Israelites that he would deliver them not only from the Babylonian exile but redeem them through incredible love and sacrifice later on. I illustrated it on the cover of my journal with the help of an artsy teammate, Grace, and I continued to ponder on the verse’s significance to me in the DR with God, but without much lead.

Upon our arrival at Elias Piña, a very poor town with high rates of teen pregnancy, unemployment, and general negligence by the government, we found out that there was to be a celebration held by the town to welcome us into the community, which was very special and surprising to many of us. We began walking over to the site where the celebration was to be held, just a little down the stony road. We passed by goat families blankly staring at us, men on beaten scooters staring at us foreigners with amused half-smiles, and even a penitentiary. I felt almost indifferent toward the upcoming event, mostly because I was beginning to feel overwhelmed from the constant lack of familiarity in my surroundings after a week in the DR and was preparing myself to meet even more people and more communities than I had in the past long week. I was taking in my surroundings half-heartedly, wondering what the residents saw in me and I in them, to each other strangers with apparently nothing in common. 

I wiped off a raindrop off of my forehead as we turned the corner, seeing pink and white balloons and a throng of people waiting under tents. Then I brushed the few splats off my arm. Then I became covered in the sudden rain, with the tents drawing nearer and nearer. I looked up to the balloons and the water and the sky, and all of a sudden the verse repeated itself in my heart - “I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen” - and I was overcome with emotion. The verse rearranged itself in my heart, and I felt it say, “I am already here in these people whom I love. I have been loving them, springing up streams in their hearts. I am here with you now, and I am so happy that you are here. Welcome.” I ran. 

The people of Elias Piña were incredibly loving and welcoming, exposing within myself some ignorance and enforcing on myself great humility. When we Americans went in all gung-ho about building cinderblock latrines in families’ backyards, the Dominican workers that were supposed to help us actually built them almost in spite of us and our great incapabilities. The children taught me how to truly be a brother’s keeper; 6-year old older sisters would constantly be watching and carrying around their younger brothers, making sure they behaved and tending to their needs when they were troubled. The people sitting in plastic chairs and conversing on their front porch (as is very common in Dominican culture) almost expected us to join straight in on their slow storytellings, granting such hospitality and openness about themselves despite our ignorance as foreigners. I learned the love story of an old couple, was challenged by a woman’s experience volunteering to teach in the community school, and was even graciously offered precious Cheeto by a young boy before he even took a bite.

I was the powerless child in their arms, completely inexperienced to this part of the world and its deep forms of generosity, and yet in these precious people I saw the face of Love. Their seemingly infinite patience and grace wrapped me, taught me, humbled me, and in this the former image of “missions” was shattered. I was tenderly served, soaked in overflowing streams, and in all this I learned that to “love the poor” was not to take in a helpless being under my care. It was to be humble, to accept the opposite’s love and other-centeredness, to be open to their life-sharing and my own sharing. God showed me that to recognize my own need for love and to allow another to give it freely to me was a deep jar of water I could offer to the stream He flows through humanity, and to love them back, not with medical supplies or a plate of food but with the empowering, encouraging Love of God was the deepest jar. 

 

-Joanne Kang, ‘15
(joannekangster@gmail.com)

Below: An older sister keeping her younger brother near our latrine site.An older sister keeping her younger brother near our latrine site.

Below: A scene from the welcoming party; a team of girls performed several dances for us here. The girl in the center with the pink dress was the spotlight :)image

 

My goal for the summer was pretty simple: just to read at least one chapter of the Bible every day. In the beginning of the break, I was fresh and motivated to keep a good watch over my spiritual life, making sure that I wouldn’t fall away as I have in the past school summers. Yet, many times already, I have been humbly reminded of the popular response that I get from so many of my Christian friends, “summer is hard.” And I really do think that it is difficult, especially if you have been blessed at BC with a strong Christian community as I have been during the school year. Simple things such as setting aside a time to pray every day or waking up extra early to read the Bible have become such a chore and a burden that overtime, rather than being encouragements, they have become discouragements, reminding me of my lack of love for God.  

Spending my summer here in Boston and attending Cornerstone Church, I’ve had the opportunity of listening to one of Pastor Eugene’s sermons which made it extra clear that if you “love” God, then you will keep his commandments. Or as Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” When I think about it theoretically, it sounds as if it should be easy. God is calling us to obedience. He is going to tell us what to do. Then all we have to do is just do it. Sounds so simple, but still so insanely hard haha oh man. Even the simple act of delving deeper into his word by spending that extra 15 minutes that I waste on facebook anyways still stands as such a challenge. Yet, that simple act of sacrifice and commitment is what God calls us to.

I think this is true when it comes to people as well. It’s really the simple acts that go a far way to be a positive influence in other people’s lives. When I think about the people in my life that have been hugely influential, such as my parents or my close friends, I wasn’t changed by them because they have produced some type of extravagant life time achievement, but rather because they have done the simple things. Simple things like caring for me or encouraging me when I’m down or telling me that I’m loved or being patient in the moments of my frustrations or even just providing some food and a roof over my head. It’s those people that I’ve learned to cherish in my life; the people who have committed and invested in me through their small acts of love.

This is especially relatable to my time in Boston as a student, since it’s very easy to be swamped with the pressures of future success or career achievements. Yet, as I have been already told many times, the biblical understanding of the work that truly matters is merited under obedience and humility. It can be summarized as simply as love God and love others. Though the world often tells us that we need to achieve something or become something, our God who is the righteous judge of all, tells us that our identity is secure in Christ; that all we need to do right now is to simply commit and devote to his kingdom’s cause. Yayyy God!

-Joo Youngster 0’15

It took being in an environment that is radically different from the kind of Christ centered environment that I got comfortable with, to see and understand how lost the world is and how desperate we all are for Christ. .

Coming into this summer, I didn’t expect much. I was very thankful for my internship where I would be teaching a middle school class, but that’s all it was going to be—an opportunity to boost my resume. What I didn’t see coming was the ways in which God would reveal the answers to the questions I had about alcohol, about the ways in which humans can fall prey to worldly temptation, the desperate need I felt to understand both Christians and non-Christians—not together, but each in it’s own separate realm—among other things. I’m slowly finding the answers, and so much more, and it took being away from the comfort of my Christian community back at school to help me really dig deep and (continue to) find the answers.

The students/faculty I work with come from all different walks of life. (I’m very blessed to have one of my closest friends from high school, a brother in Christ, a fellow bostonite, working with me as a fellow teacher. It offers a level of comfort and security, as well as accountability in my daily life here.) Most of my fellow teachers are black, four are white, two are Hispanic, two Indian, and I’m the Asian thrown in the mix. Many are financially independent, many are from colleges such as Parsons, Cornell, MIT, UNC, Berkeley, Tulane, and a few are high school seniors.

Frankly, at first, I thought many of these people hated me, and it wasn’t a very good feeling, but I was blessed to start having little conversations here and there about life, in general, and I realized that they didn’t hate me. The information that I started getting about their lives was overwhelming, or should I say, more than I’d ever been exposed to. There are so many things that people are struggling with—especially the financial independence—that I’ve never experienced before. It brought me guilt because I don’t have to deal with this right now at this age. I felt so bad as if I should be shouldering these burdens too, and feeling ashamed at the things I struggle with that seem so insignificant compared to these very real struggles that my coworkers have. Pardon my language, but I realized that I’d been such an ungrateful wretch, not really taking time to give thanks for the blessings in my life that God has been so great to provide me with. It was humbling. These financial burdens, among others, that people have led to some eye opening information about the world, for me. At first I was shocked because I, while knowing that this stuff existed, didn’t know that they were so prominent. It was really eye opening to hear different ‘things’ I didn’t know existed in that kind of context, and it made me a bit scared and shocked. Kinda crazy. I felt pretty childlike in the eyes of the world, which is perfectly fine with me.

They then started to share more about their lives, started being more like family through our support of each other in dealing with students, lesson planning, chilling during off periods, and making sure the kids are where they need to be, our conversations going a bit deeper each time we had time to share, and I began to finally understand why there is such an urgent need to share the Gospel. I finally started to truly understand why I felt such disconnect at school when people kept talking about missions and to spread His great Word, so urgently. I hadn’t understood because:

  1. I hadn’t witnessed the need for myself (oh ye of little faith…) and,
  2. I hadn’t had enough conversations outside of the Christian community to see the ‘different’ ways in which people Christians and non-believers talked.

As a communications major with a love for rhetoric, it was and still is, fascinating. There have also been events in the past few weeks that have left me a bit dazed, confused, and quite terrified of what is ahead in life, but these events have helped amplify the clarity that I’m getting these days—a very good thing, indeed.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s just so much struggle in the world that I’d never before noticed, and that it took me being removed from my security blanket to open my eyes and see why, sometimes, people don’t turn to Christ. It’s a huge eye opener, and I honestly can’t wait to see what more I learn from these next five more weeks with these people.

My prayer request for you all is that God reveals His will and grace and pours it out this summer and uses me to further His kingdom in His work here.

Love you all. See you all soon. Can’t wait to get back to campus and see and share together, again. 

- Jae

 Currently listening to: Lincoln Brewster on Spotify. Everyday. 

The entire year, I feel as if I’ve been stuck on an endless and cruel roller-coaster ride.

My spiritual life and my relationship with God was nearly non-existent this time last year. I had given up on God, thinking that He had given up on me. I didn’t grow up in the church, but once I moved to America with my mom and siblings seven years ago, we started to go to a church with my grandparents who already lived in New Jersey. In my time there, I thought I knew God. I saw how He guided my family through the difficult transition that so many immigrant families go through. 

My family hired a truck company to drive all of our belongings to NJ. Seven years later, they still haven’t shown up. Stripped of everything save a suitcase with some clothes, we had nothing but God’s grace. We lived with our uncle and his family for a year until we moved out, my mom found a job, we went to school, we had new clothes, and we made a new home. I knew that this would not have been possible without God.

Yet in the following years, it seemed as if God had completely abandoned me: my Mom had to work every day of the week so that we could match the rising cost of living, which led to her developing arthritis; she later got into a car accident that deeply injured her hip; my family stopped going to church because of strained relationships; my grandfather passed away from cancer; my older brother hated his life in college and is now suffering from serious depression — so yeah, roller-coaster. 

But despite the God-awful (pardon the pun) plunge that my life took, the ride was not over. I was introduced to some amazing people who helped me reconnect with God to whom I was so furious, later so apologetic, and now so thankful for; I found a community of brothers and sisters who I can call my Church and my Cornerstone; and I found true happiness and healing through Christ. It was awesome.

But then again, as school ended, and I returned to good ol’ Jersey, my experiences at BC seemed to have never happened at all. Caught up with trying to make time for my family, catch up with friends, and finish my data analysis report for work before tomorrow’s meeting, I have been neglecting God completely. And because I knew I was neglecting Him, I felt even worse. I was stealing pears and throwing them to pigs, fully aware that it was wrong. I’m a Christian. I know better now, why am I doing these things? I have met God and He worked through me all year, why am I back to how I was last year? My Augustinian dilemma only drove me deeper into this trough of guilt and confusion. Had I learned nothingat all?

I came across some very encouraging words this morning from a book called My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. My best friend and roommate-to-be gave me this book at the end of freshman year, telling me it would help me. Reading it, I was reminded that your growth in grace is not measured by the fact that you haven’t turned back, but that you have an insight and understanding into where you are spiritually. And the continual inner-searching we do in an effort to see if we are what we ought to be generates a self-centered, sickly type of Christianity, not the vigorous and simple life of a child of God. My flesh is weak and imperfect and I am bound to fail. If I look inwards in order to find righteousness, I will never find it. I forgot that salvation is found within Christ, not within myself.

I realize now that the roller coaster never existed in the first place (what an ontological nightmare). Spiritual life only seems to have its ups and downs because we view it only from our perspective. If you think of spiritual life as a relationship between you and God, you’ll notice that even though we may stray left or right, as long as we keep going forward, looking towards God as our only destination, we’re going steadily towards Him. 

"The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand." (Psalm 37:23-4). 

 

- Michael Myung
  Boston College ‘16

i don’t quite remember where i first heard that quote, but i think it came out of a book called “the happiness project,” a book that teaches its readers how to find happiness.  now, i’ve never been a believer in the concept of happiness as a far-off, achievable dream — but i can definitely sympathize with the idea that time is fleeting, and often travels faster than we want it to.  though it’s a difficult thing to do, especially if you’re like me and like to worry about the future quite a bit, i’ve been trying to live in the present as much as i can, and hang on to each precious moment for as long as i can.

yet, i think summer is one of those seasons where it can be so easy to live in the moment, or so difficult, depending on what your circumstances are.  we all remember those summers spent doing absolutely nothing; how easy it was to sit back, enjoy the time with loved ones, and have the only thing on our minds be where we would go next to play.  while i do hope that spirit of innocence, childlike freedom never leaves my heart, i do acknowledge that eventually, things will change, and i may find my summer days filled with activity rather than impromptu adventures.  

this summer, i find myself in the same boat of you who are working — i’m spending my few months in Stamford, Connecticut.  to be honest, i was definitely not looking forward to being here.  though my home state of wisconsin may not immediately come to mind when you think of hot and poppin’ locations, i love it, not merely because of the farms, cows, cheese, and cream puffs — but primarily because of the people that i know and have relationships with.  for me, being close to my friends or family, the people i cherish, is of the highest importance, which is why the first thing on my mind after moving to Stamford was thinking about when i could leave to visit friends.

as my stint in the corporate world began, i quickly fell into a routine.  i would go to work, go to the gym, go home and shower and cook, and then soon after, it would be time for bed.  days passed by without notice, and the conviction i once had about “living life in the moment” had seemingly become a distant memory.  where was all that talk about intentionality, being ‘missional’, spending time with others?  being away from the campus atmosphere really began to illuminate how deeply i relied on convenience for my desire and determination to really share jesus’ transformative love with those around me.  at BC, most of the people i know live within 5 minutes of me, and late night conversations about spirituality and faith are the norm, and there is quite a strong supportive community behind me…without these things, i began to realize how easy it is to fall into a routine.  it becomes so easy for me to compartmentalize my life.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.(Acts 1:8).

alas, jesus is lord of heaven and earth, of the campus and the corporation.  the biggest thing i started praying for is for open ears, eyes, and a heart for others around me, and for opportunities for genuine conversations to happen.  though it is hard, and results don’t always come quickly, i am choosing to believe in the power of prayer to change circumstances.  on the surface, my co-workers do not demonstrate a desire to explore new ideas or grapple with the question of jesus.  but as i pray, i am reminded that whether at school, work, or halfway across the globe, the people i encounter share the same humanity in God’s image as i do — and with that, comes a common desire to be loved, comforted, and understood.  i am reminded that God is at work in the hearts of the people around me, whether i see it or not, and it is often through the little things — a conversation in the break-room here, an invitation to dinner there — that i am learning to open my eyes to what He is doing.  

i am limited by length on this blog post, but if you’d like to talk with me more, i’m always open!  we’d also love for you to share your reflections and thoughts on the blog.  it is my prayer for you that as we jointly pursue jesus’ calling to be his witnesses to the people around us wherever we are, that we would learn to live in the present by letting him guide us.

-justin


p.s. here’s a picture of my baby niece, hanna
image

i can’t help, but to quote c. s. lewis’ words:

if i find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that i was made for another world.

throughout everything that happened in the past week, there have been few things i have desired. but although they may be few, they are big in… content? i guess i could use that word. i desired peace, justice, mercy, compassion, wisdom, humility, love… the list goes on. even if they were not things i desired for myself personally, i still wanted them for the community, the city, and the nation that i’m currently living in.

as the events unfolded in the last few days, i realized i didn’t spend all of my days in prayer and worship and reading the word. to be honest, i think it was because i didn’t believe that God could help. i didn’t believe anyone could help. it was just so discouraging after watching everything happening on the news. once the bombings was over, then there were images of suspects that nobody seemed to identify, then there was a shooting at MIT, then there was a shootout at watertown, then one suspect died and one was on the run, then it seemed like nobody could find him after an entire day, then there were more gunshots, then they got him, then it was over. but even if that was over, then there was an earthquake in sichuan that killed over 150 people. then there was a 5 year old girl in india who got raped. then there were more people suffering and dying. who could help a world like this? who would even want to help a world like this? it really seems like we are so broken, to the point where fixing and healing and restoring everything would never work. thus, in the midst of that hopelessness, i shoved Jesus in the corner, telling Him to only come back when He could actually make things better.

one thing that this week made me learn is that although i say that i am a christian, i don’t think i am capable of putting 100% of my faith in God yet. from the moment that i heard of the bombings at the marathon’s finish line, my first instinct was not to pray. it was to ask, why? how? who? it was to look at the humans that might have the answers, like the police, govenor patrick and mayor menino, and even the news itself. it was to talk and discuss and speculate with everyone around me about what was going down in boston. but after awhile, i realized that i never got anything out of what i did. there were still no answers, no definite explanations, and no possible ideas about what happened. nothing could bring about peace to calm the chaotic thoughts in my mind, nothing was able to dispel the fear that made me lie awake in bed every night, and nothing could bring about hope. no matter how hard i tried to smile and carry on with the day and try to ignore the news around me, there was a constant dissonance within me that never went away.

it is in the midst of that dissonance when i finally realized how much i needed God. and when everything around us is full of despair, i needed God even more. i’m learning now that despite what i say i believe in, i have only given a teeny tiny part of my life to Him. the rest of it has been left in humans’ hands. i am living on this temporary peace, i rely on makeshift knowledge, i am content with things being run by humans because, for me, things never got bad when humans were in-charge. and thus, i never found a need for perfect peace, perfect justice, and perfect love.

bringing it back to lewis’ words… this week, i have never felt a greater desire for a savior. yet as i looked to all the earthly things to help save me from the fear i felt, they did little to extinguish the hopelessness within me. this world cannot deliver a savior. instead, we have already been given one, and with Him, He brings a love so perfect that it overcomes all sins and injustices.

there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. - 1 john 4:18

love,

johanna

The events of these past months have shaken me hard. It has made me angry, it has made me sad, but most importantly, it has made me realize just how thankful I am.

After spending what seemed like hours reading through stories about the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting and reading the brief descriptions of the victims, there was only one thought that ran through my mind: how could God let such a horrible thing happen?

How could God, this loving God that I’ve begun to know… how could He allow such a terrible thing to happen? Why did this have to happen to these pure and innocent children who have no wrongdoings? WHY?

Is not God all-powerful and all-knowing? I know that love comes from free will, but why does God even allow us to choose evil knowing the hurt it can bring?

Despite my frustration, I only feel more love for God. I am thankful for Him, thankful to Him, but not for being spared of this tragedy. I am just thankful. But why is this?

The fact that the victims of this shooting were 6 and 7 year olds breaks my heart. I have a sister, Elena, who is 7. If there was someone who I could love more than God, it would be her. After hearing the news of Newtown, all I could think of was her. I cannot imagine a world without her.

I can only imagine the grief that the parents of the lost are feeling. If it hurts so much just imagining the pain, just think of how unbearable it is experiencing this pain. If, God forbid, anything bad happened to my sister … no words can describe.

It was while thinking about how I would react that made me realize – God knows this feeling. The fact is, God lost His son.

“About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46).

I have heard this passage many times, but I don’t think I’ve truly understood the meaning of this cry. This is not just a plea for help. In many ways, what Jesus cried out is like how we question God today. During this moment, as Jesus hung from the cross on the brink of death, God turned away and Jesus was forsaken. He was deserted. Abandoned.

Not even God could bear losing His son. This great and powerful God who could conquer all things… He turned away and deserted Jesus because not even He could stand watching His son die on the cross.

As Christians, our first message to the world is often of God’s love for humanity because He sacrificed His son on the cross.  However, we often do not fully appreciate this message for its true meaning.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

God loves us eternally. In fact, this love is so deep, so real, so committed, that God willingly allowed His son to forfeit himself to evil. Imagine knowingly sending your child to die, and to die for the sake of those who do not even know you. No words can describe the feeling.

There was one father, Robbie Parker who fights back heartfelt tears as he talks about his daughter, Emilie. As he describes his wonderful daughter, who he says actively found ways to brighten others’ days, he smiles as the joy she brought to those around her.

“She never missed an opportunity to draw and picture or make a card for those around her.”

Why her? No one will ever be able to understand. But I also ask the question: why Jesus? He was the purest of the pure, the most perfect and innocent human to ever have existed. Yet he died the death of a traitor, a scoundrel … a nobody.

God’s love is so unbelievably real. What could possibly be greater than this self-sacrificial love of God?

While I continue to struggle through trying to understand this tragic event, I do realize one thing. God is not against me, or you, or anyone. Through all the pain and sorrow, the misery and the despair, God is there every step of the way, feeling the exact same thing.

So why do I believe in this God who is so confusing and frustrating? Because His love for me is greater and more vast than everything. This is love that God is willing to die for so that his love may reach every one of his children. There is nothing greater than a Father’s love for his child. Now isn’t this something to be thankful for?

-Robbie

There once was a priest who was greeted one day by a woman.  She said she had traveled a very far distance just to speak to him. She said, “Father, it seems that over the course of the years I have lost my faith in God. It wasn’t in a big traumatic experience, but slowly, and surely, I have lost my belief in God. Is there any way to retrieve my faith once more?” The priest smiled, and calmly answered: “Be patient and love the people around you day by day. If you do this, you will surely see God.” The woman, frustrated by the simple response of the priest, snapped back at him: “How can you reply with such a simple, easy answer? Have I traveled such a distance, just to hear this simple message?” To this, the old priest responded, “If you think loving others is that easy, then you must not know what love is.”

            This semester I’ve been going through a lot of transformation in the way I view friendship. Looking back, I realized that I often got into friendships because of what I can gain from them. I was looking for ways in which my friends could make me feel more significant and bring meaning into my life. Therefore, I had all these expectations of what should be reciprocated in a friendship, and although I might not have consciously known it, that was always what I was seeking. And that’s why in a couple of my friendships, I felt like I should just walk away because it seemed as if my effort or my attention wasn’t valued. I thought that I could better use my time with other people, and that I really didn’t need or want my love to be cheapened by some neglectful friend.

            However, my professor once said that to love someone truly and wholeheartedly is to love them for the sake of loving them, expecting nothing in return. He said that this love is not focused on what I get, but rather focused entirely on the other person - what they need, how they can benefit, and how you can give yourself away to them. This kind of love is not a feeling because feelings can come and go; this kind of love is a commitment. It’s something you choose willingly each and every day to do. It does not matter how you feel about the other person; it doesn’t matter if you’re mad at them or really hurt by them. He also said with this kind of love, it does not matter how the other person responds to your love. They can treasure it or think it worthless and toss it aside, but that doesn’t stop the love because it’s not dependent on their response. You love them simply for the sake of loving them.

            It was at this point when I realized that most of my friendships do not exhibit this kind of love. I had been looking for friends so that I can feel better, so that I can feel more significant. And whenever people pissed me off or made me feel less of myself, I was easily able to walk away without stopping to think about how the other person might feel. I realized this semester, as I tried to incorporate this love without conditions, how difficult the advice of the old priest is. I realized how difficult and inconvenient it is to love others for the sake of loving them.

            A strange thing has been happening to me as I attempt to practice this self-giving love. I expected it to be draining, tiring, and leaving me empty inside. But instead, it’s been life giving. Something I’ve always said is that I’m a lonely lonely person. Recently, however, I discovered that the reason for my loneliness has changed. Before, I was lonely because I was confused; I felt like I needed something and I wanted something but I wasn’t receiving it. However as I practice this self-giving love, I realized that a new kind of loneliness was replacing the former loneliness in my heart. This new kind of loneliness, although it can be just as painful sometimes, is rooted in the realization that I have so much love to give, that I want to love more and more. It’s not a “needy” loneliness that craves attention, but rather one that casts my attention unto other people so that I can better be with them, better hear their stories, better learn about who they are, and better love them.

            This loneliness and Love is something totally different….

always,

-sang

My (almost-unedited) laundry list of Thanksgiving:

Dear Jesus,
Thank you for my family that You hold together in love, true friends, health, spiritual and actual food, peace throughout everything, financial provision, safekeeping, and new strength every day through life and school.

Thank You for Your goodness, forgiveness, grace, and faithfulness; for being THE peace and joy in my life; for being the enduring love that said “I love you” to me first, and every day; for Your patience with me.

In short, thank You for being who You are, for being who You are in my life, and for Your promise to always be.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

In the thanksgiving laundry list that I formulated in my heard in an attempt to be in the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I realized that being grateful to God should inevitably lead to a thankfulness that goes beyond my laundry lists of “things.” 


There are so many different things that I can give thanks to God for. Even if I name them one by one, I bet I would neglect to mention the blessings that I have nonchalantly forgotten about. This is why it is important to understand that ultimately, God wants us to recognize the importance of simply saying “Thank You, God,” rather than “Thank You, God, for…” Of course, it’s not bad to thank God for blessings, but the first one suggests that thanking God is for everything (the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uglier), and not just for whatever we consider as worth thanking God for.

The Bible says a lot about giving thanks and praises to God, and this is just one of them:

Psalm 118: 28-29
"You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.”


Unlike the laundry list of things that I first came up with, these verses state to give thanks and praise to “the Lord, for He is good…His lovingkindness in everlasting.” Our gratefulness should not merely be for the blessings in our lives; rather, we need to look beyond the blessings and give thanks for His very nature; for without God’s goodness, love, and kindness, nothing ever will be.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with their loved ones!

Sincerely,

Denice