Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The More You Know

As a PSA, the kids, my friend Jake Warren, and I got together to demonstrate the real way to sing "The 12 Days of Christmas." here's the video:

(by the way, we just acquired a computer that makes videos WAY easier, so I hope to be posting more in the near future.)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Chica Chica Go Go

My dear beloved readers,

Not that I am normally very regular with this blog anyway, but I will be out of commission for a few days.

Ruthie and I are traveling back up to Chicago for a few days to catch up with friends and get a little R&R. I'll be working until about 1:30, then we'll be on the road for the rest of the day and well into the night.

Catch you on the flip side.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cancer vs. Bird

Betsabe wanted raise some money for cancer research. I told her that we could probably find a way to do so, and when a friend of our ministry donated secondhand clothes and household items, we got to work.

I presented the idea of doing a fundraiser yard sale in the community, then donating the money for cancer research. This way people in the neighborhood could get clothing and household items for cheap, and the kids could learn to run an event and help others.

Melvin thought it would be a better idea to raise money for a new bird since our dove escaped. Wanting to let the kids plan and execute the fundraiser themselves, I put it to a vote. Bird won by a landslide. On Saturday morning, some of the kids went out into the neighborhood promoting, others priced the items, and one worked security.

After the sale was over, we distributed the unsold items, then put the rest of the clothes in the donation box on our property.
The whole thing was a great hangout time, and a chance to work on cooperation, planning, and generosity (although judging by the vote against cancer research, we may have a long way to go).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Picture Round-up

Being the sort of person who loves to talk and talk and talk, I haven't been the best at posting pictures of our work lately. So here's a collection of snapshots from our recent activities:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Compassion and Chaos

Last night, I brought a few kids with me to the Communicycle shop to work on bikes. The shop is located in a large warehouse that is shared by a couple of other ministries.

The adult leaders, myself included, tend to have a peer approach, asking everyone to show respect to everyone else, and giving the kids a lot of freedom. We all want an atmosphere that leads to honest, uplifting relationships. We joke around and play while we work on bikes.

Recently, some of the kids have been acting up- picking fights with the other kids, distracting others from working on their projects, speaking disrespectfully, and refusing to follow shop guidelines. So we as leaders are wrestling with how to handle the chaos.

The usual approach is to crack down, to set the rules and assign all adults with the task of enforcement. This would be the easiest way to deal with the problem, and I've seen many of these kids respond well to loving discipline - it seems that having someone who cares enough to correct is actually a felt need.

However, then we get a dichotomy between the leaders and the youth that cuts against what we're trying to do - create a safe zone where we all interact on an equal footing. To create a heirarchy where we are at the top minimizes their responsibility and demands that we spend our energy enforcing a code.

The other option is to lead laissez-faire, letting the kids do as they please, hoping that they won't see us in the same way as all the other adults in their lives. This can lead to chaos as well as growing disrespect, and there is a suggestion of detachment inherent in this response.

So what do we do?

There's no easy answer. You always give something up when you pick your approach.

The solution that I lean toward is as follows: We spend time talking to kids about what they want out of shop time - I think any policy needs to spring out of relationships - and find out where their ideas line up or collide with ours. Then we need to work with them to find a medium we can all live with.

Once we have a shared vision worked out, we can depend on the natural leaders from among the kids to help the others, and when things go wrong, when boundaries are crossed, when leaders step away from the shared vision, we pull them aside and talk with them privately, providing consequences only if they are unwilling to work with us.

This way, we can provide discipline, and it still rests on the kids to figure out how to make a shared vision work. This way, we avoid becoming representatives of "Law," and we get to work together with the kids to establish a kind of liberty that doesn't lead to anarchy in the Communicycle warehouse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Like a Record

First, the video, then some thoughts about why it's so embarrassing:

If you made it through the video, congratulations. I had to turn it off the first few times.

As someone who has to live with the brand of "Christian," this stuff is really embarrassing. As someone who works with kids, I see it as counterproductive, if not profane.

I don't have any problem with translating for a given audience, or for allowing the local culture to discuss and embody the gospel in a distinct way. In fact, I'd encourage those things. I think the problem with the above expressions (obvious plagiarism, sock spinning, praying about honor then telling Jesus he spins you right round like a record, etc.) is that they only engage superficially.

They scrape across the top of the culture, looking for the benign, fluffy elements that they can use without actual thoughtful engagement. This way, they can present an "interactive" gospel that has no danger of pollution. Basically, the gospel becomes "contemporary" without ever having to deal with human complexity.

Those of us who are into "incarnational" ministry often have a hard time with the way Christians use mass media. We're into the relational connections, the kind of relevance that springs out of living among and with the people who we are trying to reach. When bigger, more formulaic ministries use what we see as "cheap" tactics to seem cool, it looks like a joke.

So maybe some of it is preference. But really, spin your socks? A Holy Spirit Hoedown? Docey Do?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Few Opinions about Money

After lifting weights with my friend Stephen, we went over to the Waffle House and replenished our protein. Over eggs and bacon, we had a good conversation about money, how it affects us and what we think about managing it. I had three opinions which I thought I'd relay here:

  • I feel like it would be wise for some people to ease up on giving to ministries until they are out of debt. A lot of people make commitments with money they don't really have, and they compound their debt with religious giving. And as one who lives off donations, I would rather have someone knock out their debt, free up their money, then be able to give consistently, even if it makes things a little tighter in the moment.
  • It's good to determine how much money you need before the money comes in. Once the income starts flowing, it gets easy to think you need more and more. I want to sit down and figure out a healthy amount of income, and if it is surpassed, I want to put the extra money back into my faith and neighborhood communities.
  • It's important to be involved with ministries you support. Encouragement, prayer, accountability, and hands-on service are all crucial to missionaries. We appreciate checks, sure, but they mean way more coming from friends, family, and ministry partners. Plus, it's more rewarding for the giver if she/he can see the fruit.
I don't know a whole lot about money, so I wouldn't encourage my readers to go out and make huge life decisions based on these things, but you gotta fill up a blog with something or other, so now you know what I think about money.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Does anyone remember when the word "emo" referred to a genre of poetic, emotionally driven punk rock? When the word "emo" referred to the music of bands like Fugazi and Sunny Day Real Estate ring any bells?

The word has a different meaning to the kids we work with.

The other day, I was talking with Tito and Betsabe about my iguana, Rockette, and how she scratches me all the time. I showed them where her claws had cut into my forearm.

They responded, "Oh. We just thought you were emo."

Apparently, the subculture that formed around the music has evolved into a label for those who cut themselves.

Yesterday, one of our fellow missionaries heard one of the girls talking about how awesome it was to be emo. We've heard reports of a few other kids cutting themselves as well.

As far as we know, all of the kids who do this have made professions of faith.

I get so frustrated sometimes when churches think they can just drop in, do an evangelistic SWAT operation, then vacate. These kids, Christian or otherwise, need stable, longsuffering relationships.

Please pray for us as we try to introduce and demonstrate a love that heals. It sometimes feels like we're in over our heads.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CCDA Conference Bonanza!

Ruthie got to attend the annual Christian Community Development Association conference in Cincinnati this weekend. She traveled up in a caravan with some of our friends from Open Table Community.

She got to talk with hundreds of people from around the world who are interested in living out the gospel by living with and serving the needy.

Her aunt Laurie, who has been a huge supporter of Refugee Arts, traveled from Virginia to join her:

The group rushed from session to session, soaking up ideas and talking through them:

There was time for rich conversation and some deep relational bonding.

Ruthie also set up a booth for Refugee Beads there, and attendees helped support the refugees by purchasing handmade necklaces, earrings, and accesories. The Open Table people helped to man the booth so that Ruthie could enjoy a few sessions:

Um, whatever this picture is of also happened:
It was a great time to affirm or rethink aspects of the work here, grow relationships, and help the refugees financially, all in one weekend.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Future of Awesome

So for those of you who don't know, I was raised in the Philippines.

The only reason I mention it is because the single most awesome plant ever known to man was recently discovered back in my homeland. Hint: it eats rats.

Click here for more.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Night/Saturday Morning

At 42 minutes past midnight, I begin this post. It has been a crazy week.

I'm working on a novel which has moved forward a great deal in the past month, and I chipped away at it this week, reading it to a critique group and getting some good ideas for how to make it work.

I haven't screwed up at my day job for a while, so all's well on that front.

Ruthie has been checking in from Ohio where she is attending a CCDA conference and selling Refugee Beads jewelry. So far, the refugees have earned over 300 dollars each in sales, and there's still one day left to sell. She's also having a great time meeting like-minded people from around the world. She's told me specifically about conversations with people from Uganda and South Africa who were inspired by Refugee Beads.

So, with those brief synopses of the events of the past couple of days, I sign off, so that I can battle my iguana for the use of my pillow tonight.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kid Stuff

When we first moved here, and people asked us how long we planned on staying, I said, "I want to see these kids graduate from high school."

Right now, Ruthie's up at the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference, and I'm here alone at the complex. Today, after finishing work, I pulled into our parking lot and saw four guys all wearing matching black shirts and blue shorts, strutting around and jostling each other. They were headed toward the playground.

I pulled into my parking spot and hopped out, ready to chew out these gangsters who thought they could mess with the kids on our playground. Turns out, two of them were Melvin and David, the two guys I've been pouring my life into lately.

"Wassup, Ian?" Melvin called.

"Not much. Are you guys in a gang now?"

"No," said David.

"So you're dressed up in matching colors by accident? All four of you?"

"Yeah, man. That's it," replied David.

With that, they turned and strutted off. These guys are in fifth grade.

I remember forming a gang in fourth grade at our missionary school in the Philippines. We had a big brawl on the playground. A bunch of my best friends were on an opposing gang. It was a generally fun time until recess ended and we got caught.

The reason I can't shrug it off when David and Melvin and some of the other kids from the complex start strutting around in matching outfits without a decent explanation, is that their default is different than mine was.

Our families were usually there to catch us, give us a talking to, and make sure we straightened up. For these kids, with parents who don't speak the same language, whose schools are violent places, the default is not such a sure thing.

If you talk to them in group, you don't stand a chance. But I have one-on-one relationships, so I'll be getting involved. When I said I want to see these kids graduate high school, I knew that I might have to dive in to help them make it that far.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Books Music Movies

So I've been interacting with a lot of media lately, and I felt like I would like to write about it, but this and my other Ghost Town Revival blog didn't seem to have room for in-depth personal reactions to books, music and movies.

So I started a new project called Books Music Movies. Instead of giving media thumbs-up, thumbs-down type reviews, I aim to dig in, digest, and respond to creative pieces regardless of the quality, although I may make mention of it from time to time.

The first entry is up. Enjoy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Truth about Missionaries

Ruthie and I have fallen ill several times lately.

I feel like it has a bit to do with our work load, a bit to do with hosting 20-something kids in our apartment every day, and some to do with personal stress.

A friend called to check up on me today, and said that he had bought an air purifier for our apartment. I thanked him profusely. He and his wife have us over for meals frequently, and constantly encourage us about the work we are doing here.

So here's the truth that I promised in the title of this post: Missionaries are a needy bunch. We exhaust ourselves easily. We live on unstable income. Every day, we face a task that we cannot accomplish on our own, and sometimes we see miracles, but most of the time we simply put in what we can without knowing what will happen.

That's not to say that I don't love it, because I do. It's just to say that supporters who are willing to be friends and friends who are willing to be supporters are pretty much a neccessary factor in the work getting done. If the missionaries get exhausted or burn out or lose hope, no matter how great the plan or facilities or ideas, the work doesn't get done.

I've had three different friends remind me of this in the past week, and I'm thankful that they are the ones who remind me to care for myself, to rest, to put the work aside when I need to so that I can return to it with the energy it deserves.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Poco Trabajo, Mucho Dinero

There is one neighbor with whom I am friendly, and I see him regularly around the apartments. He is a small, kind man from Peru. He tolerates my dicey Spanish, and tries out English phrases and statements on me. We usually laugh a lot.

Today, something happened that surprised and troubled me. I was on the porch having a cup of coffee when this guy pulled up.

"Hola, mano." I called out.

"Hola," he replied

"Que Pasa?"

"Mucho Trabajo, Poco Dinero, Amigo."

"Ci," I said, with a sympathetic smile.

Then he walked right up to the porch, put down his grocery bags, and looked at me.

"You, poco trabajo, mucho dinero."

"No, amigo. I don't make much money."

"Yes," he said, and stormed off, unwilling to discuss it further.

Then I walked inside and looked around at our apartment. It's true that we've been able to eat, and have purchased some new furniture lately, but I was trying to figure out if there was anything obviously excessive about my lifestyle that would make him say that.

My friend who was with me at the time said, "that was an interesting race conversation."

So here are my thoughts about the whole thing, which was very troubling to me.

1) Race is an issue that affects me personally. Although I feel ill at ease around Georgians, have lived in the Philippines most of my life, and moved to the international village to interact with different cultures, I am easily categorized by my whiteness. I knew this I guess, but I'm reminded of it when someone assumes something about me, and especially when someone acts so unexpectedly angry.

2) The goodwill I hoped we had from working in the afterschool program and serving the community may not be as secure as I thought. I really need to be able to handle conversations like this more humbly. I need to take my language learning more seriously in order to communicate love for and interest in my neighbors.

3) He's right, in a way. My life has been full of opportunities to make money, which I have taken for granted. The bottom line is, I was born into privilege. I don't suffer from the kind of discrimination and cultural roadblocks that the people around me do. And this will be a barrier. How do I live with that?

4) I'm part of the solution, I hope. I need to avoid taking for granted that I am doing a service to the people around me. Would it be better for them if I left well enough alone? Not for the kids we work with. Probably not for their parents. But I need to evaluate where I'm helping and if and how I'm hurting.

There's much more. I somehow want to communicate with this guy, but I don't have the words. I'm in such a frustrated state of mind right now.

I'm thinking about how, right now, I stink like diesel and sweat because of my day job, which is an arrogant and off-topic notion.

Anyway, if anyone out there wants to help me think this through and counsel me on a response, comment away.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reeling and Rolling On

This weekend was so packed, so rich, so energetic, that I find myself sitting at the computer on Wednesday still wondering how to write about it.

A local church, Open Table Community, decided to replace its yearly retreat with a "Core practices weekend." This time was dedicated to engagement with each other and with the local community.

Most people have to do work like mine for years before they find others who buy into the same vision and are interested in both partnering in and reproducing it. Open Table clearly invited Ruthie and me to link them with the community, and several volunteers decided to either help with the afterschool program or move toward creating their own programs.

Now, aside from having two excellent new partners helping the kids with their homework, we are discussing ideas for computer classes, fitness clubs, and a community food co-op. We'll see where it all goes, but we've seen a lot of action from this group. They aren't just talkers.

I think people are generally empowered by looking at our work here. They see that this life of love, hospitality, and service is not only doable, but that it is often rewarding and enjoyable. I hope that we can see more of those who dream of helping others have the courage to stick their necks out and do it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Into a Home

Back in the old days, before a hoard of untamed children overran our apartment, we had seperate rooms for study/office work, sleeping, and movie viewing.

Now we have just one room of private space. We've been keeping things in piles or jammed into our closet for a while, but we recently decided to hunt for affordable ways to make our little space more homey.

Enter IKEA. First, we found a shelf and desk combo on sale that fit perfectly in our corner and consolidated DVD storage, book storage, and office space. My friend Jonathan led the effort to build it, and it transformed my work space:
Second, we found a set of CD shelves that mount on the wall, which is great because we have a shortage of floor space. They cost $5.99 each, and three provided more than enough room for my little collection. I organized my music and stored it like so:

Finally, we went to Goodwill and found a small couch that, unlike the futon we were using, didn't leave bruises on the butt and put the legs to sleep:
Thanks to these bargains and time spent on recent Mondays, we've been able to make this little mission apartment into a home.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Village Gathering at NAMB Headquarters

Thanks to the North American Mission Board for hosting a village gathering. It was a great time despite the torrential rain. To illustrate:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rain on the Burning Heart

Here is something I can tell you from the trenches: Relationships are the weakest link in any ministry.

To some extent, you can protect against sex scandals or substance abuse or even financial greed, but when pride moves in, when trust falls apart, when love cools off, ministries fail quietly, and it is tragic and ugly.

I've been watching my friendships these days with a wary eye, because no one is immune. We must care for our love so tenderly. I don't want to go into too much detail, but I heard a story from a friend recently that was very familiar. A ministry was up and running, lives were being changed, the gospel was taking root, and then a small offense turned into a battle for territory.

Then the people being reached suddenly became weapons. Long-standing friendships were used as leverage, and damage was done that will not be undone.

I've been praying a lot about love lately. The world is meant to identify us by our love. We are so careless with it sometimes, and when it is lost, the damage to our testimony and to our lives is irreversible. To my friends and ministry partners: we must live in love and drive out the pride, fear, lust, greed, and corruption that keeps us from it.

It is the easiest thing to let go of, and the hardest to repair. When rain falls on the burning heart of our union, we must fight to keep the embers burning. There is no higher call upon us than love.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to Biz

My dear readers, we have much to catch up on.

I started my day with three meetings. First, I got together with Bob Mulloy, who will be helping me teach English to some of the men in the community. After finishing with Bob, I met my friend David Park downtown to observe a food co-op in action. David and I are plotting ways to get a co-op running for the families here at Huntington Creek.

Finally, at lunch, we got to meet Marlene Haller from Movers and Shakers, a ministry that helps furnish homes for immigrants and refugees.

After that, it was back to the apartment/ministry center to run the afterschool program. I was in charge of the story today, so we read a book about a kid who gets an alligator in the mail. We had a great time reading it together.

Of course, everyone had to finish their homework first:

This shot is an older one of Jennifer going to school with one of the guitars that Ruthie's aunt donated. Because of this donation, Jennifer has been able to join guitar club and start learning this instrument.

Here's another one of Junior trying to smile and hide his teeth at the same time:

Jennifer and Vanessa have become like part of our family. We let them in last week to borrow a few movies.

Here's a few shots of the kids eating chicken noodle soup. We feed all of them a hot meal every time that we run the afterschool program:

Well, if you're still reading, thanks for sticking with us. More to come tomorrow.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Day Off?

I realize that I have not blogged about our actual ministry activities for a few entries, and since today was our day off, a bunch of non-ministry-related stuff happened which was thoroughly enjoyable but which I will not blog about for fear of exhausting the goodwill of my readers and making this one-sentence blog entry even more of a run-on than it already is.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

Whenever I watch a movie, I log in to my Netflix account and give it a star rating. One star means I hated it, and five stars means I loved it. I reserve five stars for the very few movies that blow me away.

Tonight, after a rough day for both of us, Ruthie and I kicked back and watched The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Roger Ebert does a great job of reviewing it, and I doubt too many of my readers come here for movie reviews, so I won't say too much, but I gave it a whopping five stars.

It was also interesting to see it after having seen Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Both movies borrow from this one repeatedly in pacing, style, set design, and even a latin phrase (sic transit gloria).

I'm not one to say that movies are going downhill, because there always have been duds and gems, but it's a thrill to stumble upon masterpieces that deliver a kick in the teeth from a long-gone era.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It Ain't Over Till the Fat Lady Outruns You

I've been mildly sick for about two weeks now. I just feel tired and stuffed up most of the time. It's probably because I haven't gotten used to all the germs that the kids bring in with them.

As a result, running has been a pretty ugly thing lately. When I think I'm getting better, and I hit the trails again, I feel exhausted at the point where I normally feel warmed up and ready to roll.

Yesterday, I was climbing this hill ever so slowly, hoping I would die so I wouldn't have to finish the run, when I heard footsteps pounding beside me. I saw this runner go sailing by, and he looked back over his shoulder at me.

My first thought was, is this guy really looking over his shoulder at me as he passes me? Is he gloating? What a jerk.

It turned out it was an old friend of Ruthie's and mine from back in our pre-moody days. We started chatting about recent developments in our lives, and I realized that he was slowing down for me. Feeling embarrassed at my snail-like pace, I sped up a little.

The route I run is pretty hilly, but there are two long climbs right at the end that are difficult even on my good days. We chatted most of the way up the first climb, but I had to spit out one or two words at a time, catch my breath, then try to finish the rest of the sentence.

By the time we were two-thirds of the way to the top, I knew that I was out of my league.

"I'm probably going to walk at the top of this hill," I told him, "so don't feel like you need to wait for me."

At the next cross street, I bid him farewell, strolled into the grass, and heaved. It was pretty gross. After catching my breath and walking back onto the trail, I watched this heavyset woman chug up the hill past me.

I thought this was a pretty interesting story, but now that I'm at the end of it, I think some of my readers will be searching for some kind of a moral, so here's one that works, if you need that kind of thing: trying to keep up with others can cost you the run. Don't compare.

And actually that lesson has all sorts of obvious implications for ministry and social work which I won't even get into. The main thing is that I tried to fake like I could run fast, but I ended up throwing up and watching a fat lady outrun me.

Also, this might mess up the moral, but I'd like to say that it was worth the talk I had with this guy.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

To Our Readers in Timbuktu

To the reader sitting in Timbuktu who really digs the blog but cries herself to sleep every night on her native-made Timbuktu pillow (she apparently is a big supporter of local business) because she can't receive our newsletters,

Rejoice! Our newsletter is going out today and tomorrow, and you can even get it in Timbuktu at no cost. Here's why: The thing is going out via e-mail.

You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll wish that Timbuktu was closer to the United States so that you could come over to our house and give us a hug and tell us how inspired you were when you read this beautifully-designed, heart-breakingly well-written masterpiece of a missionary update.

Anyway, if you'd like to get a copy and you haven't recieved our previous ones, just drop me an e-mail at northpapers@gmail.com and let me know you would like to be added to our list. That goes for our readers in Costa Rica, The Philippines, Canada, and the US of A too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Labor Day Getaway

After a thrilling first two weeks of homework help/feeding/bible lessons, we were excited to have my friend Jonathan come down from Chicago and check out our new lives. He dove into our activities here, helping us manage the demands of complicated ministry and family situations.

Here he is playing accordion for Jennifer and Vanessa:

We got out of town for the weekend, camping at Elijah Clark State Park with our friends Josh and Margaret, Jonathan, my brother Eric, and his friend Gordon. The only group activity was a rousing game of mini golf on an aging course. We spent the rest of the time lounging, feeding the fire, conversing, and making music together.

Although the end of the weekend brought with it a new set of pains, stresses, and opportunities, I am thankful that we at least had that time to get away and recharge. Now it's back to the tasks at hand:

Monday, August 31, 2009

In answer to Desiree's question on the last post, it went very well!

The kids listened very closely, their leaders were very supportive, and I feel like we're going to have a great relationship with this church.

I had a feeling on the way over there that it was going to be a rich morning, and it really was. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had a few urgent tasks to take care of.

The idea of using whatever you've been given as a way to show love to others seems to really strike a chord with churches that we visit.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why I'm Not in Bed

I just spent the evening preparing to preach tomorrow. I'm so excited about speaking in children's church because you get an opportunity to plant uplifting ideas that can really change lives.

My central message is usually that anyone can show the love of Jesus. To illustrate, I usually talk about my interests which are writing and movies and music. I am not what you'd call missionary material. But here I am, using those things to show love and feed the hungry and meet all sorts of physical and spiritual needs. If I can do it, anyone can.

But all this exciting stuff is not the reason I'm still up. Honestly, it's because of my iguana. She has a huge tail that she uses as a whip and she is super strong and she hates to be waken up. Right now, she is sound asleep on my pillow. Quite frankly, I'm just putting off dealing with her.

Round 2, and a Ring Dang Doo

So the first person to name the movie where the title of this post comes from wins a spot in my Book of Cool. That basically means that you feel the reward of a job well done without me having to spend any money or send you a prize or even care about you personally at all.

In other news, we made it through our first week of activities. It was quite an achievement, getting 22 kids registered, setting patterns for behavior and relationships, and feeding the whole crew on about 8 bucks a day. Ruthie took the lead on this stuff because a) she is better at it, and b) I work two of the days that we have the program.

Last night, we watched The Big Kahuna with some friends, and we stayed up super late talking about the scars, discomforts, and passions it brought to mind. The movie had some pretty powerful things to say about honesty, evangelism, and marketing.

Today, I took Melvin and Lesly out to Mellow Mushroom to celebrate Melvin's birthday. We had a great time.

In the meantime, Ruthie is currently at a market in Virginia Highlands selling jewelry for Refugee Beads. Let's hope she makes some money for them. All of them seem to be in desperate situations. Thanks to David Park for taking and posting these pictures:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Art and Food

These are some of the kids' watercolor pictures from today's program!

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me;I was in prison, and you came to Me.'

"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

"The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'

- Jesus to His Disciples

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

24...TV Show, or a Crazy Bunch of Kids?

Today we managed to help 22 kids with their homework. Two more participated in the afterschool program, but they are not yet in kindergarten, so today had to be their last day.

It went well, considering the volume of kids. We were able to get all but four of them through all their homework. We had to send a few home with some unfinished math worksheets due to time limitations.

Also, we have decided, as a step of faith, to feed a healthy meal to every kid that comes through our program. Many of them go home to empty refrigerators. Ruthie, a master strategist in the kitchen, has devised ways to feed the whole crew on less than ten dollars per meal. We feel that some of our partner churches will probably help us meet this goal.

Tomorrow, I will be at work and Ruthie will be alone running the program. On regular weeks, it looks like Ruthie will have at least one volunteer to help on each day the kids are there. This, however, will not be a regular week. Let's see what happens.

Back to Afterschool

Ruthie and I have been dealing with a very difficult and demanding family situation, which has kept me from communicating as much as I should.

Big, thrilling things seem to be happening every day. Yesterday, I went down to WonderRoot, a creative collective, to talk about community projects where we could collaborate. We spent some time talking about my vision to restore relationship between the Church and creative communities. They seemed very excited to see where that goes.

We left the meeting with two great ideas - 1) work together on a community mural 2) develop a film program for our kids, with the goal of holding a small festival/showing during their spring break. The films would come from all over the international village, and would focus on an inside view of the immigrant/refugee life.

Yesterday, we re-opened our afterschool program, and we had a new group of kids. We're dedicating the first hour to homework, so Ruthie and I scrambled to make sure everyone got the help they needed.

I had to leave halfway through to round up and bring some youth over to Communicycle, where David showed Aziz how to dismantle a bike for cleaning and rebuilding. It was great to see David go from knowing nothing to being able to teach another kid how to do everything. That's the dream result of our work- mobilized workers from within the community.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

Work went better today. And at the end, I got to hang with Tim Cummins. He's one of my heroes, and we're like family.

We went together to pick up my car from the shop. It was about 100 more than I expected, but the money came in just in time and all was well. I'm just thankful to have a working vehicle again.

I went out to my father-in-law's place, and we watched "Inglorious Basterds." I love Tarantino's gleeful, dark sense of humor. The movie was full of slow-building dialog, which some reviewers get tired of, but to me it was all worthwhile. I haven't enjoyed a movie this much in ages.

Tomorrow, I'm going to help my father-in-law with some stuff around his house, then go back to my apartment and prep it for Ruthie's return. I've been living like a bachelor for a week, and it shows. I can't wait to see her again and return to our shared life together.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rock and Roll

I love music. I practice it, seek it, listen to it, and drink it in. Tonight, my friend Meredith Huff came through town with her band The Winter Sounds again.

Adam Fites, a friend of mine who lives down in Locust Grove, drove all the way up to Doraville to pick me up from my day job, since my car is still in the shop.

It was one of those days at work. I wondered why I ever thought I could do this job well, why I'm still employed here, and how my bosses will respond to the mistakes I make. I sank into the passenger seat of Adam's car feeling tense and exhausted.

Going to hear Meredith play, standing by the stage as the music launched itself across the room, I felt a bit revived. Many of the songs were about pain. I think one thing I love about art is its redemptive power. Artists can take their own pain and weave it into something beautiful that will lift others up.

So this blog entry is a little prayer of thanks. I am thankful that my friends Adam, Meredith, and Aubrey were there to share in the joy of art with me. I am thankful that God wired creativity into us, and that he shows his love to me through others' artistry.

Tomorrow could be the end of my job. I know that. I'm worried about it. But tonight's experience reminded me that I am profoundly thankful for the unpredictable, messy nature of life. It's out of this mess that beauty emerges unexpectedly, creatively, redemptively, and I can't help being thankful to the author of the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Two Fires, Three Reunions

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Jay Leno said that he knew who his true friends were by whether or not they were willing to take him to the airport.

When I asked my friend Josh if he could pick me up when getting back from Lynchburg, he agreed. We rode back into town and grabbed some vietnamese soup and had a great conversation about all sorts of stuff, including faith and mystery.

It was the best and final reunion of a day full of reunions. On my way in to Barnes & Noble, I heard my name called. I turned around to find one of my old floormates, AJ Scanlan, driving a van full of in-laws. He was taking his sister-in-law to Liberty, and happened to drive by at the exact moment I was going from the car into the store.

Back at Liberty, I saw one of the daughters of my dorm parents back in the Philippines. It was crazy seeing her again.

We almost died on the way to the airport. A torrential downpour hit and on a curve the car started sliding across the road. Eric cut hard right, and the wheels grabbed and sent the car shooting toward the other side of the expressway. He was able to get the vehicle under control just in time.

At the airport in Virginia, I noticed smoke pouring from the top of the escalator. I alerted one of the security guards, and as I was boarding, six people gathered around the thing to check it out.

Upon my arrival in Atlanta, the emergency lights were flashing and a voice was saying that the fire alarm had been activated and to stay calm. I didn't see a fire, and everyone was going about their business, so I exited the terminal and found Josh waiting.

My arrival and subsequent time with Josh filled me with a sense of contentment. I was so glad to be back in Georgia with a close friend. Josh dropped me off and I spent the evening reading, thinking, and watching a movie. Back to work tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Falwell Country

Well, we're up in Falwell country right now. Specifically, Lynchburg, VA (is there some history to that town name other than what it sounds like? Even if there is, I'd rename it just for PR reasons).

The initial plan was for me to bring Eric up then crash in his room for the night, then fly down to ATL tomorrow. However, they have a rule that no visitors can sleep on campus until school has been in session for a whole week.

Plan B was to stay with Ruthie's relatives. Unfortunately, they turned out to live 2 1/2 hours away, which would cost more than I can afford in time and gas.

Plan C: find a cheap motel. No dice. No room in the Inns while families are bringing their kids up to Liberty. The small town of Lynchburg swells to bursting for about two weeks while school gets up and running.

Plan D: sleep at a rest stop. This one sounded unfun to me. It would require me to either run the car all night for the AC or roll down the windows and let the bugs in along with the balmy air.

Finally, we found a pleasant alternative. A family in town used to work as missionaries in the Philippines, and had an extra bed where I could sleep. I didn't know them personally, but Eric did, and they were so cool about this last-minute request. So now I'm using their internet connection and typing this update before I try to get a couple hours' sleep.

See y'all when I'm back in GA.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Up and Away

Ruthie is in Florida right now recuperating from a hectic summer, and I'm heading up to Virginia to drop my brother off at Liberty tomorrow.

Our car is in the shop for a second round of costly repairs, which will not fix everything, but will keep the vehicle running. Fortunately, I won't need it for this trip. Not sure how I'm going to pick it up.

Today, after a fruitless search through the refrigerator and pantry, I ended up eating tortillas with peanut butter and jelly on them for dinner. Then, halfway through my first one, I'm like, wait. We have a freezer too.

The freezer contained two frozen burritos, which I promptly microwaved and devoured.

Then I watched House of Sand and Fog which is a movie about a horrendous chain of self-destruction that ends up with a murder and several suicides. Who sits down and decides to make these movies? There were so many points where one small thing would have brought everyone around, but the filmmaker just wanted to destroy all the characters. I kept thinking things might get better, which is why I stuck it out, but they didn't.

So now I'm feeling pretty gloomy, and Eric's packing his things up for college. I'm feeling like an empty nester.

It will be nice when this week is over, and life gets back to usual, and we can report on what God's doing in the kids' lives, etc.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Aziz Tody's War Memoirs

Today I helped Aziz, a young Liberian refugee, start his own blog.

Aziz is thirteen and going into eigth grade, and he has a tremendous passion for telling his story through art, writing, and music. We're going to interact more as he discovers his voice in the coming years.

His blog is called War Memoirs. I've put a permanent link to it on the right hand side of the blog. I can't wait to see what happens as he keeps writing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Upon a Stone

Today, my brother Eric and I finished recording a song.

I wrote the lyrics and music last year after my friend Mandy died in a bicycle accident. Eric recorded me singing and added some guitar and vocal work.

Check it out here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

We Can't Seem to Get Ahead

So the sting of yesterday's car problems set in this morning. It turns out that the repairs needed are pretty costly. It will be about $650 just to get the thing running again so they can assess the other needed repairs.

The good news is, we had a recent financial provision which will help. The bad news is, when that provision happened, it seemed like we were finally going to get ahead on our finances. Now, we're pretty much back where we started. It seems like every time the Lord giveth, He taketh away soon after.

However, there are some good things happening. Some of our friends responded to our newsletter with financial support, which came right when we needed it and kept us fed for the first weeks of August. Ruthie also has some work opportunities brewing which we'll write about soon.

Our lives right now are so rich in every area except literal riches. Maybe that's the cost of choosing to do something we love. I think everyone in the nonprofit world is feeling the pinch right now.
If you're a praying person, please pray for us to keep at the work and for the money to come in so we can focus on more important things.

We Barely Survived

Yesterday, everything was clicking for us. Ruthie saw some of the Sudanese Refugees who she hadn't seen in a while, and she had a great time reconnecting with them. I spent the morning writing and catching up on e-mails.

But disaster hovered over us like a dark thing that hangs over someone...

I call Tim Cummins "Uncle Tim," because in missionary culture that's what you call someone who you look up to. So Uncle Tim called me with an invitation to go to El Torero's, a mexican restaurant.

I was recently a finalist in a contest to write a column for McSweeney's Internet Concern, but I didn't quite get the gig. As Uncle Tim, his son Jesse, and I sat there discussing my ongoing mission to connect the immigrant/refugee community with Atlanta's creative scene, we decided to go to Borders and scope out magazines where my writing might fit.

Little did we know, a call would come in that would change the face of our day forever...

I was able to write down seventeen different magazines where I am going to pitch stories. We also found a great resource in the Novel & Short Story Writer's Market, which I will purchase as soon as I have the cash. It would pay for itself in one published piece.

In the midst of my research, the phone rang. The sky grew dark. Lightning crashed. Actually, scratch that. The weather pretty much stayed the same.

It was Ruthie on the other end. Our Buick, which was recently donated to us and which we recently had to pay a hefty sales tax on thanks to Georgia's crazy laws, had died on the expressway. Ruthie had just been able to pull it off the shoulder, and was waiting for rescue. Mayhem ensued.

As Ruthie fought off State Farm rescue attempts and random tow truck drivers who wanted to make a quick buck, we zoomed toward her at a harrowing speed, or more specifically as fast as the speed limit allowed.

When we arrived, she was nearly dead. Actually, she was fine, but she had to go to the bathroom. Uncle Tim worked it out to have the car towed to a trustworthy mechanic, and we went home, having barely survived the whole ordeal.

That evening, as Eric and I jogged around Stone Mountain, feeling the August heat boiling our blood, we felt strangely alive. Something about narrowly avoided death does that to you. Or at least something about running after something unfortunate happened. Or something about dealing easily with a minor setback. Actually, I think it just felt good to be out running again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Old Time Fiddler's Convention

Much has happened since our last blog post. I will summarize the main events below:
  • The kids have started school, and we are ramping up for our afterschool program. This year, we're going to have an intensified focus on homework help. We feel that we would do a better service to the kids and their families if we work with them to raise grades and enhance their education. Since Ruthie is going out of town on Saturday, we are going to open our doors on the 25th.
  • We took our iguana, Rocket, in to the vet. He had some discoloration that we were worried about. It turned out that Rocket was actually a female, and a very healthy one. Upon hearing of this, I made some comments about her bad moods, etc., which were not appreciated by the opposite sex. So I will refrain from making them here. Although they were funny. You can imagine. We're trying to figure out how to handle this paradigm shift. We have been calling her, "Rockette," or "The Iguana Formerly Known as Rocket."
  • Over the weekend, we attended a small family reunion with Ruthie's relatives in Virginia. They are a great bunch, and we spent a great deal of time staring at a fire, conversing, and sitting around. On Saturday, we went to the Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, VA, which was pretty amazing, of which we took many pictures which somehow vanished from our camera.
  • On Sunday, we spoke at Children's Church at Lyndell Taylor's church. My whole message was about how any talent or interest can be used to minister. I gave numerous examples from our work here, and sent them home with an assignment: find one thing you enjoy doing, and use it to show someone kindness. Lyndell's gonna let me know how they do.
Okay. I reckon that's enough for now.

Friday, August 7, 2009


My friend David Park over at Next Gener.Asian Church posted a letter that I wrote about an American-Asian's perspective on the Asian-American community. He also included a very flattering introduction.

His is one of the friendships I'm very excited about developing over the coming years.

In case the link above doesn't work, here's another: http://nextgenerasianchurch.com/2009/08/07/an-open-letter-to-asian-americans-from-an-american-asian/

Thursday, August 6, 2009

School Supply Giveaway

Jeanne, our star volunteer and resident art teacher, was joined by her husband and Pam Mize from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Snellville to give away bookbags to all of the kids at our apartment complex.

Ruthie got some great pictures of the event, where over 45 kids got bookbags for the coming year. What an amazing way of making a positive impact in this community. Thanks, Mt Zion!