Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Reach Your World

Ruthie and I spent the weekend at the Reach Your World youth conference in Dacula, GA. We received several extra tickets when we signed up for a Refugee Beads booth, so we brought along two of our student leaders, Miguel and Jennifer.

As I was running the booth, several thoughts occurred to me:
  • We set up next to a ministry called "Project AK-47," a ministry to rescue and rehabilitate child soldiers. While we avoid using terms like, "Social Justice" and "Community Development," they describe concepts we love. We felt thrilled to see that two out of five booths at the conference represented ministries dedicated to bringing the kingdom to bear among the poor and oppressed.
  • Jennifer and Miguel are two gifts from God to us. They are honest, funny, straightforward, relational, and helpful. Ruthie and I couldn't do what we do if these two weren't there with us, impacting the kids around them.
  • While "Christian Illusionist" Brock Gill did his show, which was pretty impressive, I had to wonder, "Would you be wise to accept the gospel as presented by a guy who just spent 30 minutes tricking you?"
  • I grew up in the Philippines, and the American Christian Youth subculture often baffles and embarrasses me, with all the lights and sound and money and politics that flood it. However, Seeing Jennifer and Miguel enjoy it helped me see it in a more positive light. Or at least open up to seeing it in a more positive light.
  • Finally, I thought about the future of Refugee Beads. This concept, and the women who are involved in it, are headed in great directions. Seeing the way the youth connected with the message, approach, and products of Refugee Beads made me excited about the future.

We arrived home exhausted, thankful, and optimistic about this conference, our student leaders, and the direction the Church seems to be heading.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Record-Setting Day

Today, we had four volunteers show up to help with the afterschool program. Which turned out to be a lifesaver, because 36 kids showed up.

That's a record for our little apartment, and it only went smoothly because of the excellent help. So today's blog post is dedicated to Sharon, Cliff, Jarrett, and Mr. Bob.

We have a few kids with special needs, and our volunteers adapted well to the situation. Sharon was able to walk Julissa through some of her worksheets:

Jarrett is our resident math expert. Here he is trying to focus on helping Bryan while Cliff does some posing:

Kids who finish their homework get to do puzzles until the lesson begins. Asberry and Natalia worked on one together today:

Ruthie rounded the kids up and warmed them up for lesson time:

Sharon and Cliff had prepared a lesson on the Ten Commandments. They taught them all from the perspective of LOVE, which is the central message and the driving force of the whole afterschool program. It's great how these things line up sometimes:

And, to demonstrate love to all the hungry kids, Mr. Bob ran the kitchen. He made enough chicken noodle soup to feed all the kids and the volunteers:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Clean-up Time

Sometimes I am stunned by how rewarding the afterschool program is. We have a rotating group of over 30 kids who are relational, funny, intelligent, helpful, and eager to learn.

The end is always the most fun, where we pick the more mature kids and allow them to stay late and help with clean up. It gives us some more focused time with the older kids, and we don't have to work as hard to keep order, so we can relax, joke around, initiate meaningful conversations, and learn more about their lives.

We had a new eighth grader with us today named Susanna. She volunteered to help clean up, and took charge of the dishes from the meal we fed the kids:

While Susanna washed the dishes, Maritza and some of the other girls brought some fresh greens and carrots out to our rabbit, Leonard:
Karina, who is usually diligent during clean-up time, roamed the apartment harrassing the other helpers. Here, she snagged Vanessa's power cord. It took Vanessa a while to figure out what was going on:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Purna's Crisis

Ruthie spent the morning with a Refugee Beads artisan and a good friend of ours named Purna.

Purna has three children and she is far along in her pregnancy with a fourth. Purna's husband, Santi, has stopped paying the bills for Purna and her kids, and has decided at this most inopportune time to seek a divorce.

So now Purna has no help with her kids, no heat, no hot water, and a baby about to be born. Obviously, a divorce would probably work in Purna's favor from a legal and financial perspective, but in the meantime, she's about to have a baby in extremely stressful and dangerous conditions.

We will be working with her and with some of our other ministry partners to figure out some options, but the whole situation would warrant as much prayer as our readers can muster.

Below are a few pictures of Ruthie's time with Purna and her two daughters, Susan and Selena:

Valentine's Day Party

This Saturday, Cornerstone Christian Academy threw a Valentine's Day party for the kids in our neighborhood. 40 kids came for games, a craft, and a meal time.

The party gave us a context to express love to our neighbors, allowed us to initiate new relationships, and resulted in four kids coming to church the next day. Behold:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Creek Kingdom (Part 2)

There was a part of the story which played into my distress, which I omitted in the first post because it seemed petty. In January, I bought a nice coat for traveling to Nepal with a gift card I got for Christmas. Upon checking out, I asked them what would happen if it got ripped.

-Don't worry. We'll just swap it out and get a voucher from the manufacturer.

I tore the fabric of the coat on a car door handle. I brought it to the store on Sunday, after that sermon on Acts, before seeing the cop run down the homeless guy, and they refused to exchange it.

So, while there were plenty of big issues to be upset about, I was already predisposed to think of the world as a cruel place. Sometimes my big distresses come from embarrassingly small incidents.


The morning after the nightmares and the writing of the preceding post, not having slept more than an hour, I picked up Nivin for a Refugee Beads event. Ruthie had to leave early, so I gave Nivin a ride to the school where they were speaking, and she asked how I was.

I told her a little bit, mainly the part about not sleeping, wondering about the disconnect between our ministry and the ministry done in the Bible. Saying it seemed to me like broken things stay broken.

She said, basically, that I just don't see the results yet. That God uses us in ways we don't understand.

I wish I had recorded it. I have very little memory of the exact words, since my mind was somewhat disengaged at that point, but I remember watching the road, listening, thinking about the kids and what we hope for them, and knowing that whether or not we turn the city or neighborhood or even one family upside down, that Love is doing a small, good thing here.


That evening, I walked up to my door to find the words "FUCK IAN" written in sharpie on the wall by our door. I know who wrote it. I had asked him to apologize for calling a third-grade girl a whore, and he stormed out instead.

I kicked a chair over when we got inside. I fumed around the room. I was just barely hanging on.

Ruthie's sister told us to try nailpolish remover. It took about two minutes to clean the graffiti off. I didn't know what to do about the kid who wrote it. He wasn't talking to me apart from the writing on my wall.


Today, my friend Jarrett called the store about my coat. I asked him to act on my behalf since I'm non-confrontational. He told them the situation, asked what could be done, and, upon hanging up, announced that corporate had e-mailed the store, and that I could get my coat back.

When we went to the store to make the exchange, we found that the coat was now on sale for $70 less than I bought it for. So I got a new coat and $70 back from the purchase.

It was hard not to feel elated leaving the store. If the store had accepted my first attempt to exchange it, I wouldn't have made the extra $70.


Inevitably, as we drove away from the store, I thought about all the other, more significant injustices that were wearing on me.

At first, I felt stupid for feeling happy about the coat. Then later, I wondered if somehow I couldn't read this as a sign of greater things to come. If this little working out could precipitate bigger workings out, or at least it could show me how limited my perspective is.

Which was the whole point of my first post. That there is too much I can't see. That I experience and respond to this tiny sliver of what's really, actually going on.

The difference is whether I feel hope or despair in response to that fact. That's a question of Faith, and mine is admittedly weak. Sometimes a coat can make or break it.


Today, a new tag appeared on the wall. In the same handwriting, "Ian is Gay."

I took about 30 seconds to clean it off the wall with nail polish remover. My new goal is to spend less time removing the graffiti than this angry teenager spends making it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Creek Kingdom (pt 1)

I dreamed nightmares, one after the other. I was pinned to my bed, unable to breathe, trying to call out the name of Jesus, but there was no air in my lungs. Each time His Name came to me, the torment slowed, I awoke muddle-headed, and I drifted off to the next horror.

The first one I remember with clarity had me suffocating under my sheets as they ballooned around me. I watched shapeless shadows play across the translucent fabric. I knew if I could reach Ruthie, I would wake up, but I was paralyzed.

In the final dream, I prayed for God to open my eyes to His truth, and the room flashed before me violently like a caught reel of film, on and off, meaningless and horrifying with the silhouetted outlines of pines and empty branches clawing at the walls. I couldn't breathe. Then I woke with one bright flash into a dark room.

When I came out of the dream, I went to the book of Acts, where I have been reading sporadically. It seemed like the thing to do.

The story goes that when Jesus was here on earth in skin, he did his own work and teaching. Then when he had died and risen, and it came time for him to get sucked back up into the sky, he promised that something better was around the corner.

No one knew what to expect, especially his followers.

Then, in a rush of fire, they found out what had been promised. That the kingdom, the power, and the glory that Jesus had held in his person was now loosed in them. And that through them it would overturn the world.

And when they went out and preached, their message was some variant of this: The Kingdom is here.

On Sunday after we heard a sermon on Acts, a police officer nearly ran Ruthie over in his haste to bully a homeless man for blowing bubbles in a parking lot. We saw the policeman slam on his brakes mere inches away from the homeless man, get out of the car, and charge over to establish his kingdom in that parking lot.

It was an injustice like all the others I witnessed during the week. I have been worn down by the laws which guarantee that kids we love will never be able to find legal work in this country. I am oppressed by the collapse of families all around me. The damage done by physical and sexual abuse to the kids and adults we work with will not go away. And despite all our hopeful stories, money pretty much tells us what we can and can't do.

Everything that I see suggests that what is broken must remain so, and that everything is broken.

And the church nowadays seems mainly interested in getting people zapped up to Heaven instead of announcing that The Kingdom of Heaven is here. It seems like they've admitted that Jesus, while He can do some pretty cool things in the unseen forever, is pretty much impotent for now.

I'm sitting in front of the computer now at 2:28 AM, contemplating my nightmares, trying to understand how they fit with the distress I feel.

Are they my mind's way of grieving and letting go of a false faith? Some physiological result of the Indian food I had for dinner? Are they God's Spirit, awakening me to know his power? Are they demons, come to torment me so I will be impotent for the Kingdom work?

As I write this, the answer is out of my reach. I feel though that writing this entry is the task before me. I stare at what I have written. I wonder how it will be read. With no conclusion to draw, I commit the final words to my readers and place the period that ends this moment in the story.