Mwasuze Mutya (‘Good Morning’ Plural Form)

27 02 2010

In the month since I have arrived in Uganda, this is all I have really learned how to say. I find myself speaking Spanish more to my colleagues Greg & Paloma whenever I can. I guess I have been lazy to start Luganda lessons. I have a great translator who goes out with me to the villages and most people have a working knowledge of English so I haven’t been motivated to start… yet.

One of the things I have come to appreciate about Uganda is the friendliness of most people. There are several children who wave and say hello to me every afternoon as I round the last corner on the hill before my house. The boda boda drivers are always friendly to me… because they want my business. The lady that I buy breakfast from every morning is very nice and asks how the food was the day before. And then there are the many people who want to sell me anything from electric fly swatters (looks like a toy tennis racquet but highly effective to zap the mosquitos at night) to sugar canes.

So it makes me want to be friendly back each time. I get the curious smiles and children following me especially when I go to the villages. Who can blame them, they don’t really see a Chinese American very often. Last Sunday was a great example. I spoke at a church in one of the villages called Takijunge and as we pulled up to the church, two little girls with beautiful braids and their shy smiles stood at the door waiting for us. I had just bought some chapatti (kind of like tortillas) for breakfast and asked if they would like some. I handed one to each of the girls and the response was so Ugandan. Many of the children and women in the villages will bow down to you out of respect when greeting you or receiving something. So these precious children bowed down to receive the chapatti, smiled and slowly ate them. Honestly, the first time this happened to me I was like “no, no please get up!” but since that time I have learned that it is how they show respect to you.

This type of greeting has been frequent especially when we have been doing our case intakes. After our legal educations where we teach the community about how to protect their rights, we invite those participants who may have been victims of property grabbing to stay and talk with us. The first legal ed I conducted, we had over twenty women patiently wait to talk with our staff. Every time they greeted one of my colleagues, they bent down and bowed in respect. I really want to figure out some way to honor them back. You see, these women are the courageous ones. I look forward to talking to these women because their faces light up when we teach them what the law says about property rights. They feel empowered and a sense of hope. As they wait to talk to one of us, I can only imagine what they’re thinking. Perhaps they have been a victim of property grabbing and this is their last option before sleeping on the streets. Or they haven’t had a meal in a few days and came to the legal ed because someone invited them. Whatever the case, I am beginning to understand a little more when Jesus said that he had compassion on the multitudes because they had been with him for several days and had nothing to eat. I think my favorite moments so far in the legal education have been watching my colleagues minister to the women who come for legal advice. Sometimes we are able to take on their case, other times we are not and we have to refer them to one of our legal aid partners. But everytime we hope to treat these women with the same respect that they greet us with. Some believe in God, others don’t. But we want to close each conversation with them by praying. We pray for hope, we pray for the opportunity for their land to be restored, we pray for peace and we pray for many other things. So while it is a case intake situation, it is so much more. It is a counseling session, it is a time of encouragement, it is the hopes that International Justice Mission can bring relief to a victim and secure justice for them.

Below are a few pictures of our legal educations.

Kaye (my translator) and I polling the participants to see what they know about Ugandan law

Here’s a great picture taken by our communications fellow Laura. Pictured from L – R are Jesse Rudy (aka my boss), Pastor Diana and myself. Pastor Diana helped me mobilize this recent legal education and was instrumental in inviting many community leaders. I love her heart for her community and desire to advocate for the rights of widows and orphans.



5 12 2009

As I look back on the last few months here in Mexico, I am most grateful. My good friend recently shared during our Thanksgiving meal that if he spent more time being grateful and less time complaining about other things, it would be better. He then proceeded to go around the table, thanking each and every person for the friendships, the impact and the examples they have been in his life. I did my best to hold back the sentimental tears (meanwhile, the girls next to me were tearing up as if they just saw the latest Twlight movie). Seriously though, it got me thinking – ‘What am I grateful for?’

The word grateful means ‘feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful’. Some verses came to mind as I pondered this word.

‘Praise the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires for good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ Psalms 103:2-5

I am grateful to be loved wholly and unconditionally by my Saviour. He loves me so much that He has crowned me with love and compassion. It is something that I am learning more and more each day.

I am grateful for the filling of the Holy Spirit each day. His supernatural power is what gives me the courage to live beyond my comfort zone and say yes to Him.

I am grateful for a country, culture and its people who have taken me in and welcomed me as one of their own for the past few months. I have learned much about their hospitality and genuine warmth. Being here has taught me to slow down and not be distracted by the pursuit of wealth and creature comforts.

I am grateful for my teachers. Interaction really believes in immersion and being part of the culture. My teachers have taken the time to get to know all the students, spend time with us outside of class and encouraged us to speak Spanish as much as we can.

I am grateful for the orphanage that I have been able to visit regularly while I’ve been here. The directors are my heroes and I do not know of a couple who sacrifices more than they do. They love each child unconditionally, pray unceasingly and give generously.

I am grateful for my mom. She prays for me daily, encourages me as I do things that make no sense at all and continues to be my #1 fan.

There’s more that I can be grateful for. I probably don’t tell my friends and family often enough how grateful I am that I have them in my life. I know I don’t tell God that enough.

The Faithfulness of God

2 11 2009

Lately I’ve been praying that God would give me more faith. Faith to trust Him more, faith to do things that I’m afraid of doing but know I need to do it, and faith that He would give me enough to get through the day.

Of course, God is funny in the way He has answered my prayers. He has been faithful to me all along (c.f. Hebrews, 13:5-6). The last month has been a whirlwind sending in paperwork to IJM, making a trip back to Texas to share with friends and family about Uganda, and probably experiencing a lot of joy and frustration during the process.

God has been faithful to me because He constantly gives me enough to get through the day. I’m a planner and I like to forecast and think years and years in advance, but God has been teaching me to live the fullest of each day. Just as He gave the Israelites manna enough for one day, he has put people and events to remind me that He’s got my back. For example, I have been praying for people to surround and encourage me during this preparation time and I have received an outpouring of emails and phone calls from people saying they are behind me praying and giving financially. I have also received discouraging emails, but not enough to dissuade my decision to serve in Uganda. The best encouragement has got to be knowing that I will not be going alone. My friends Greg & Paloma will be joining me in Uganda. They have also joined IJM and will be doing some incredible work regarding planning and forecasting for the future. It has been a blessing and encouragement to know I can talk to them when I’m having a tough day because they understand what I’m going through.

God has also been faithful in stretching me. I preached my first message in Spanish. Well almost… I had written out my message in Spanish last Friday and finished around 5 pm. At 5:30pm, I got a text from the pastor that he would like me to share about Uganda, my life and vision, and a challenge to the youth about some important steps I took for God when I was young. Needless to say that is about four messages compacted into one. I had only written about my life and my upcoming opportunity in Uganda. One thing about Mexican culture is learning to be flexible and adapt on the fly. I didn’t have time to write and translate another message so I went with the one I had. I was determined to speak as much as I could in Spanish until I went blank. When I got there on Saturday, I was greeted by some of the youth and one of them turned out to be the pastor’s nephew. He said that he would be my translator!!! So I was able to share about my life and ministry for ten minutes in Spanish and then I switched to English. It was a great time getting to know the students. When they found out that I was from the same church as many of the students they know, they got very excited.

I really don’t know what the next day holds. Many of my material possessions are uncertain. Dwindling savings account, home up in the air, and belongings in storage. Yet God has given me enough for this day to trust Him. I read in Joshua 4 the other day and it’s the story when the Israelites crossed the Jordan river. God commanded Joshua to set up a memorial with twelves stones. It was to serve as a reminder for generations to come that whenever their children asked ‘what’s that pile of rocks for?’ they could tell them how God faithfully provided by helping them cross over to the Promise Land.

What’s your pile of rocks? What is it that you look back to when you need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness?

International Justice Mission + Uganda + Me = 2010

29 09 2009

The Boston Red Sox, Arizona Cardinals, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Cubs. Professional sports team with a common theme. They were all long shots. Granted the Cubs have not won a World Series since the 1900‘s, the Cardinals came close and my Warriors can’t keep good players, but the fact remains that these teams share a common theme of being underdogs in some ways and long shots in others.

I happen to resonate with long shots and being an underdog. If you asked me a year ago what I would be doing, I would have told you that I would be enjoying my job as a youth pastor in Texas spending time mentoring and discipling students. If you asked me what I thought of Africa and the country of Uganda, I would have had compassion and told you I would pray for the people serving there. Honestly, Uganda was the farthest thing on my mind. The thought of an AIDS pandemic and extreme poverty caused me to file these situations as someone else’s problem. I rationalized that I was doing my part by praying and giving financially to people and organizations serving there to alleviate the poverty.

A few years ago I became acquainted with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM is a human rights organization founded in 1997 by Gary Haugen to combat the injustice going on throughout the world such as slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of oppression. You can read more about what IJM is about right here.

My view of the world started changing back in the summer of 2008. That August my church hosted a Willowcreek Leadership Summit and one of the keynote speakers was the president of IJM – Gary Haugen. Gary shared his story of working for the US State Department and how he came to start IJM. He shared a childhood story of his family frequently going on hikes. On one particular hike to Mt. McKinley, he was not feeling like making the journey to the top with the rest of the family. About halfway up they stopped at a visitor’s center. The center was great with pictures of the mountain top and a lookout point to see the summit. He decided to stay back while his brothers and father continued to the summit. He shared his regret of staying back and related that even though he could see the summit, he missed out on the adventure. Sometimes our lives as Christ followers can be like staying at the visitor’s center. We have opportunities to follow Christ passionately and serve whole-heartedly yet we often stay back because of fear, uncertainty or we just don’t feel like it. Gary shared that in the journey of following Christ many of us miss out on the adventure. He challenged those attending that Jesus didn’t come to save us so that we could be safe, He came to save us so that we can be brave. He concluded his session with a question: “What brave thing are you doing for Christ?” I, of course, started to rationalize that he wasn’t talking about me. Heck, I was doing my part. I was being brave. I was working with high school students and in Texas. God didn’t buy that excuse. He started putting long shot dreams in my head and ideas that I would never want to do. I started thinking about working overseas. I didn’t know what country but the thoughts started coming into mind. Yet Africa was still not on my radar. I was thinking more of Latin America or Asia.

Months past and then around March I decided it was time to do something. I had no plan, no clue and no logical reason why I should resign my job. But I did it. Shortly after I resigned, I had lunch with some dear friends and they asked me: “Ray what do you want to do and where do you want to serve?” I responded “I don’t know, but here are some organizations that I would like to look into”. I rattled off a bunch of great organizations and then I said IJM. The husband immediately got excited and said that his former college roommate had just moved to Uganda to become the field director of the IJM office there. He asked if I would like to get connected with him and I said yeah.

I was able to visit Uganda and the IJM field office in July and in late August I submitted my application to become a Church and Community Relation fellow for 2010 in Uganda. Long story short, IJM has offered me the fellowship and I accepted today. I was the underdog and long shot in a lot of ways. I was the one who would be the last one to volunteer to live in a country thousands of miles away and without pay. I was the one who would be the first to recommend someone else more qualified.

Yet I find myself filled with excitement and joy with the prospect of being able to learn more about a continent, a country and a culture steeped in tradition. Long shots do pay off. I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing and how you can help support and pray for me at a later post, but I want to close by encouraging you to pray about your journey with Christ. What sort of adventures is He putting in front of you? It could be completely out of your comfort zone in another country or in your backyard. Maybe it’s time to pray about being a long shot.

By the way, don’t write the Warriors out. One day… one day they will reign victorious as NBA champs.

Who Really Lives Like This?

7 09 2009

One of my favorite chapters in Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” is titled Who Really Lives Like This? It tells the stories of people who don’t live normal lives. They live sacrificially hoping the way they live will spur on a conversation with someone about a God they love. Some are famous, some are not. If Francis knew the couple I know, he would have included them in that chapter.

I met Ed y Rosa Salo about five years ago. Back then I thought they were nuts. I still do. They are the directors of an orphanage – Lirio de los Valles (Lily of the Valleys) in Aldama, Chihuahua. The orphanage houses about 125 children from 0-18 years old. It’s run like a house and it works for them. They wake the kids up at 4:00 am on school days to pray and have morning devotions. On weekends, it’s 6:00 am. Some of these children have the most horrible stories of neglect and abuse. But through the love of Ed y Rosa, they have learned their abandonment is not their fault. They learn to know a God who loves, cares and protects them. They learn to live sacrificially.

Most of them work very hard – going to school, cleaning the orphanage, cooking meals and fixing things that break (which tends to be daily). Ed bombarded me with a million questions when he found out that I had visited Uganda. The Salos have a heart to want to start a Lirio III in Kenya someday (The first Lirio is in Tijuana). On Saturday he spent the morning praying for Africa. He found me and Court later in the day and we talked for about an hour about what God was placing on his heart and Rosa’s. He then proceeds to hand me 2200 pesos and says please give 1000 pesos to IJM Thailand so that they can continue to fight the injustice of forced prostitution amongst children. The other 1000 pesos went to World Vision’s orphanage in Uganda where they minister to children who were once forced soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army. The final two hundred he wanted me to give to an organization of my choosing. That’s about $200 USD. Now that’s a lot of money for anyone but for someone who doesn’t receive a salary or assistance from the Mexican government, that’s a gold mine.

Ed y Rosa live by faith knowing that God will always provide and that their situation is far better than other people in the world. Who really lives that way? Who would give up a lucrative chance to make money, a name for themselves and a comfortable life. Oh by the way, Ed has his master’s from Harvard and was an Div II All American football player. He hates that I know this and doesn’t like to talk about his pedigrees.

He is no fool if he could choose to give the things he cannot keep to find what he could never lose – Jim Elliot


Papa Ed showing off his boots

Three Girls – One Common Passion

7 09 2009

I’ve had the privilege of being a pastor to students for over thirteen years. It never ceases to amaze me the creativity, drive and passion students will have if you nurture them and give them the freedom to chase after their dreams. In my short time of ministry in California and Texas, I’ve seen students grow and succeed in life, survive tragedies and ordeals, and most of them continue to follow Christ passionately. My students in Cali are doing great – two are helping lead their college group at their church, one is on staff with Intervarsity, two others are teachers at a Christian school, and one just got back from a month in Kenya. Meanwhile, I have kept in touch with most of my students in Texas. I was close with two classes – the class of 2005 and 2009.

I want to give you a glimpse of the class of 2009. This is a generalization and represents the heart of most of this class.

Britton or Belen:
She loves to swim and teach swimming to her class in Plano. In her spare time, she volunteers in an apartment ministry where most of the residents speak in Spanish. About nine months ago, she decided to defer her first semester of college to immerse herself in Spanish. She never talks about herself, rather she sings the praises of others and would rather spend her weekend at an orphanage playing with children.

Abby needs coffee in the morning or else she doesn’t function. She is fun to be around and laughs at anything. Some say she is the life of the party. Abby has spent the last two summers working at a camp in Wisconsin doing every job imaginable (even the ones no ones wants to do like cleaning bathrooms). In her spare time, she’ll ride horses, volunteer for various causes and roam around Walmart if she’s bored. She’s been dreaming about Chihuahua, Mexico ever since she set foot here in 2005. Oh and she loves her church here and will spend all day playing and laughing with her siblings Uriel (Udi) and Mimi if she could.

This girl is like her mom. She’ll give everything away to help others. I’ve seen her fight through her diabetes for years and continues to not let it bother her. I’ve seen her grow through seven mission trips and she works harder than most boys. She told me in 9th grade that she was going to live in Chiwas when she graduated high school. Now here she is. Court spends her weekends going to help others. She loves making friends, hanging out at an orphanage, and laughing at herself. Or maybe I always laugh at her?

Most eighteen year old young women would rather be doing something for themselves versus for others. Most would be wanting to accumulate material things, make money and finding the man of their dreams. These girls shatter the typical mold and stereotype when we think of youth. They don’t live for themselves. They live to serve and share their love of Christ with others.

I’m so proud I get to continue to see them grow over the next four months. What a blessing to be able to see young people live in such a way that demands an explanation.

Dying to the American Dream

31 07 2009

Growing up in Oakland Chinatown, I had always desired the American dream. You know what it is. It’s the idea of being an American and acquiring all the material wealth and successes that come with moving to the States. I remember learning in California history all the people moving out west during the gold rush to mine for gold in the ‘gum san’ (gold mountains). I remember growing up with the mantra driven home by my parents of ‘you study hard, you become doctor, lawyer or engineer’ (Yes I know I’m perpetuating the stereotype). My parents worked very hard in blue collar jobs and my friends and I reaped the benefits of my mom’s last job before she retired from a certain apparel company. We had the suburban home, the hondas/toyota cars and began to live fairly comfortably. I thought that was what you were supposed to do – make money, buy a home, settle down, raise a family.

I started my journey in college doing that. I would be a business major so that I could start climbing up the corporate ladder. That plan failed miserably after my first accounting class. After several attempts and a couple majors later, I graduated with a psychology degree. What do you do with a psychology degree? Somehow I managed to land a nice paying job working in an engineering department for a local city. Engineering is 10% engineering/90% dealing with people. I got the people part. So I worked and started making good money. In the back of my mind was what was driven to me growing up – make money, buy a home, settle down, raise a family. I wanted that American Dream. Every time I saw my friends have new cars, possessions or even homes, I began coveting. I wanted what they had. I wanted to be them.

Eventually I left that job to move to Texas to go to seminary. I thought I would die to the American Dream. My mom just wanted to know if serving the Lord came with benefits. Somehow I was able to save up and actually buy a home. And then I felt the desires of coveting slowly coming back to me. I still wanted the things – the gadgets, the flat screens, the nice car, etc.  I knew what God had to say about possessions and money. But I had bought into the lie that this was mine, all mine. Sure I gave to the church and supported people in missions and thought I was doing my part, but God has been speaking to me during my travels this summer. I tried my best to get a new car, but my rice rocket will not die. 220,000 miles and still going. I think this is God reminding me that He has taken care of me with a car and I should be grateful.

So I have some big decisions to make over the next few weeks. Pray for me. The first one is this – MY HOUSE IS FOR SALE. So if you know someone looking, pass them along my way.

Second, I need to have some final discussions with some organizations and pray through where I can best serve God in this next chapter.

Finally, it is putting to death this idea of the American Dream. It’s hard for me. And I’m sure it’s hard for you. I like my gadgets and my toys. But I need to simplify. I am sure that I will be out of the country by 2010. Who needs a house and car? The furniture can be sold and the clothes can be replaced. I hate this part though… every time I get to that place of attaining or acquiring, God has been saying three words to me: Am I Enough?