Heroes

5 01 2010

It’s a new year and I thought my first post of 2010 would be to acknowledge some pretty incredible men in my life. When you think of heroes, some look to sports athletes, teachers or other people who have made an impressionable mark on their lives.

During the Christmas holidays I got to sit down and have breakfast with some more of my heroes. They wanted to hear what I will be doing in Uganda as well as pray for me. Each of these men left an indeliable mark on my Christian life. Each of these men were an integral part of my adolescent and college years and each not only taught the Bible in a way that was relevant but showed how to live a Godly, yet very fun and full life.

Carl, Harry and Walt are all in their late 70’s and early 80’s. Every Tuesday morning they go to the neighborhood Carrow’s restaurant, order the senior breakfast, give their waitress Lisa grief and then have Bible study and pray. I am so blessed to have had these men pour into my teenage years. Carl bullied me on the basketball courts while I was in junior higher, then showed me God’s love when he blocked my shots or stole the ball from me. Harry schooled me in tennis, picked me up to go to church every week and then supported me while I was in seminary. We even got to co-teach high school sunday school after I graduated college. Walt made the sacrifices every weekend so that college students at Cal Berkeley who didn’t have vehicles could get a ride to church. He even went and bought a brand new suburban to do that. Then he would teach us in college sunday school. Walt even took a vacation once to ride in Europe as he followed the Tour de France.

Harry Inn, Walt Lim, Carl Lee

If you ever grew up at CIBC, you would have met these great men. They still make an impact every week to people they encounter. Some day I would love to have had made a difference in a person’s life as they have had on mine. May we have the privilege and seek opportunities in 2010 to be heroes to people. To inspire, challenge, innovate and share a message of hope that can only come from God. Do you have a memorable story of these guys that you want to share?

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The Irish Pub

16 12 2009

So I spent my birthday with some great friends at an Irish Pub tonight. Now what’s a Chinese American who just spent four months in Mexico doing in an Irish Pub? It gets better. This evening consisted of topics and conversations that covered the whole spectrum. From sports, business, faith, church, you name it – we talked about it. I even spoke in Chinese. One of the guys asked me to share about what I will be doing in Africa because I promised his wife I would tell her why I’m so excited to go.

But before that, they wanted to hear about Mexico. The food, the culture, my host family and what I learned. I told them I learned to slow down. I learned about the sabbath. I learned that I am truly loved by some wonderful people (more on that in the next paragraph). And I relearned how to just talk to God. My school was about one mile from my house and I walked to and from school twice a day. During most days, I would just pray while walking. Just talking with God asking Him to show me things to do and asking for opportunities to share and talk with people about Uganda. Coincidentally walking four times a day helped me lose 15 pounds!

My friends asked how they could get involved with IJM and I shared a few different options. Then I shared with them why I’m so excited to go. I started to tell them that it’s ironic that the work I will be doing will be helping protect widows and orphans from forces of oppression. It’s ironic because some of my #1 supporters are orphans. I have over 125 children and staff from an orphanage who have committed to pray for me daily. And I know they pray because they’re up at 4:30 am during the weekdays for morning prayer (6am on weekends). And the times that I have been there this fall, the children and staff would gather around and lay hands on me and pray. They would also pray for my friends G & P who are going to Uganda as well. But here’s where I usually tear up while telling the story. The directors of the orphanage asked the children to pray about supporting myself, G & P financially. He said ‘why can’t an orphanage give to missions and especially to people they have known for many years?’ When they finished praying, he asked how many would like to give their money. ALL the children raised their hands…

The director told me the story the next time I came to the orphanage and true to their word, they have given and will continue to give financially and pray daily. That’s one of the many reasons why I am so excited to go. I have orphans praying for orphans to be rescued. I have orphans giving financially to the cause so that I can be part of the fight to loosen the chains of injustice.

When I finished sharing the story, I saw these men tearing up as well. The guy who asked me to share about Africa in the beginning of the story said that he and his family are going to commit to pray and support me as well. All of this happened at the Irish Pub. This is one of those memories I will cherish and look back with fondness.





Countdown: 5 Weeks

8 12 2009

Have you ever tried to pack for a two week trip? Then you probably know the dilemna I’m facing trying to pack for one year. Typically on a two week trip, you pack more than you will ever wear. You bring back from your trip even more than you pack. After sitting on your suitcase, kicking it a few times and calling friends and family to help you zip it up, you’re on your way.  The fun part is trying to come under the 50lb weight limit at the ticket counter.

So here’s my dilemna. The culture that I will be working in is very formal, therefore I will be dressing business formal most days. You’re probably laughing because if you know me, you know that I love wearing jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops. I’m also going to be living near the equator so that will mean African heat + suit/tie = sweaty American.

The other thing about packing your life in two suitcases for one year is wanting your creature comforts. I’m pretty laid back, but I like the brand name toiletries I’ve been used to. I checked before and they don’t carry some of the products at the local supermarkets.

Finally, when packing for a trip is figuring out if you will actually use those items there. Do I really need all my northface gear? Do I need boots or just tennis shoes? Should I buy bug spray there or pack it. How many Bibles should I bring? How many books will I actually read in a year?

As the countdown approaches I am trying to say goodbye to friends and family and satisfy my cravings for mom’s cooking and other comfort food.

Here’s the reality:

  • Getting used to frequent power outages
  • Being okay with internet that is sometimes equivalent to dial-up speed
  • Toilet paper that resembles party streamers at your local Party City store
  • No DIM SUM. Though there are a few Chinese restaurants, the food reminds me of Panda Express.
  • Driving with an International Driver’s License. This should be fun
  • Great Indian Food. Large Indian community thanks to colonization.

Actually to be honest, I’m really trying to enjoy my favorite foods in five weeks. It’s not about going to visit places one more time or seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s more like going to places like Yogurtland, In & Out Burgers, Beard Papas, that greasy Chinese restaurant on 8th street in Oakland, my favorite noodle shop on Franklin/8th Street, eating gai-mai bows and mom’s ju yook ben (pork pancake with pickled radish).

If you were moving to a new country in a few weeks, what would you crave or want to eat one last time?





Grateful

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.





Building Inauguration

24 09 2009

I had the opportunity to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new teen home for young men at Lirio de Los Valles today. Many high ranking officials from DIF and other government agencies were in attendance. The older children were given a free pass from school so that they could help and be part of the festivities.

Almost five years ago I walked on this piece of land with Mama Rosa and she started painting this picture of wanting a home for the older boys. She also showed me plans for a similar building for young ladies. Back then I thought this was an impossible dream because Lirio did not have the funding or resources to make it happen. But Mama Rosa and Papa Ed began to pray. Through a series of random conversations and providential encounters, Lirio somehow got the funding to build the homes for both the boys and girls. Coincidentally, the land was donated free of charge. Praise God.

The children were great today helping out in the kitchen by cutting fruit and making horchata. The house was given a thorough cleaning Sunday and the new home has four rooms, four bathrooms and two small living areas. It can house sixteen boys and now the main property has more living space for the smaller children. Lirio has never turned away a child because of lack of space and now they have the freedom to continue to grow.

The highlight for me had to be the slideshow. It showed before and after pictures of Lirio over the past fourteen years. As the pictures began to progress, I recognized every child’s face and their success stories. Stories like Martha Castillo who two years ago was adopted by a family in Michigan and was given a chance to succeed in the United States. I saw pictures of graduations from high school and I saw Brenda’s graduation. Brenda was the first child to graduate from college at Lirio and now she is the business administrator for the orphanage. Then I saw Belem’s graduation picture. Belem has a cool story because at the end of next month she will be moving to Boston to attend college. A family in Southwick is paying her tuition and housing her. She starts school in January but is moving up there early to adjust to her new surroundings. I joked with her that she better start getting used to cold weather.

Ed y Rosa were wonderful today sharing with passion and conviction the desire to provide a house and home to any child who is abandoned. The story of Lirio is truly one of miracles. Children have been adopted, others have gotten married, and still others have been given the opportunity to get an education.

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Belem (center) will be starting college in Boston in January