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:

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!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Full Time Really Means

Today the seminar seemed to move much more slowly, and my impending sickness snapped at my heels the whole time. Aziz and I sat through six sessions on writing, one of which was an open mic, which was led by yours truly.

I actually did the writing exercises along with the kids, and was quite proud of some of the results. I wrote one short story without using the letter "e," which I might post here on a slow day.

After the seminar, I walked Aziz home to his apartment complex, where I got to spend time with some of my favorite Nigerian missionaries, Bayo Otiti and Bennet Eckandem. We had some trouble getting Bennett to look at the camera:

After leaving Clarkston, I went straight to Communicycle, where Eric had brough David and Miguel to wrap up their bike projects. Miguel finished rebuilding his bike, and David completed a small bike he was building for his younger brother.

My friend Stephen was at Communicycle, and I invited him over to our place to talk about some major decisions he's making. He feels like he's being led to move into the Chamblee-Doraville area to get involved in helping the community.

We talked over dinner, and then we prayed together, at which time yours truly started crying at the thought of all the good things that have happened here.

Tomorrow, I'll get to sleep in, so hopefully my body won't crash too hard from this recent sprint. It's back to work in the afternoon. Anyway, I'll close this post with a picture of Stephen, Eric, and me smiling before the conversation got so serious:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Conference, Schmonference

Oh boy. I'm looking at that last post and I'm so tempted to delete it. I sound like such a baby.

Anyway, the writing seminar was amazing (amazing? what a bland word. As I writer, I should be ashamed). As I hoped, it was a chance to meet and talk with other writers who volunteered, and several people were interested in helping the kids we work with in different ways.

I'm bringing Aziz back tomorrow. I think he'd get a huge boost from the whole thing.

By the way, I met someone running a big conference on medical volunteerism. Any of our readers do medical-oriented work? Water cleanliness? Health programs? Would you like to attend? Let me know. I'd love to get you connected.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Going, going, gone

I'm trying to recoup from the week as well as possible.

This Monday and Tuesday, I'll be volunteering with the Atlanta Writer's Club. They're running a young writer's seminar. It should be fun, but it won't be restful.

I've been battling fatigue on every front lately, and losing. Now Ruthie is sick, and I feel like I'm coming down with something too. Working three different jobs (although all of them are pretty enjoyable) is taking its toll.

Today was my only day off, but I don't feel rested. It's now 10:30 at night, and I'm wondering how I'm gonna deal with the coming week. We'll see what happens.