Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Basketball with the Boys

This is Brian writing. I am aware that I rarely post, but am trying to discipline myself to get better in this respect!

A year and a half ago I felt strongly that God was calling me to interact with some youth who live across the street from our campus. This is a squatter area of small shanty-houses constructed of loose boards and tin. The young people here have typically limited English because of limited education.

I began conversations with them, which started with me learning Tagalog slang that they thought was hilarious! Slowly I began to learn some of their names. Last year some other students invited them on campus to play on our basketball court. These guys love basketball! Most of them are not in school and are unemployed, so basketball is a welcome diversion. We played 3-4 days a week last school year!

This school year some students left and others have schedules that limit their ability to sponsor these guys to be on campus to play. I was busy with work and school and for the first few weeks I did not see or talk to them often. But God continued to lay on my heart the critical importance of being in the community where I live and among non-believers. To be honest I gave excuses to God. "I'm so busy studying and my job with NYI is my ministry," I told him, but when I was honest these were smoke screens for my own laziness. So I put in my schedule to finish work early and play ball with the guys every Tuesday.

While I feel like I have a good relationship with these guys, it is a somewhat superficial one. I have quickly found that to discuss issues of the heart, issues that deal with emotions typically don't make their way into less-than-conversational-english conversations! I've struggled with this but Julie continues to remind me that as long as I am there and care for these guys God will do the rest. One thing I have felt God leading me to do is be intentional to pray for them both in my quiet time and also when I am playing with them or watching them play.

Last Tuesday I had a meeting that ran late. I hadn't gone out and reminded them that I would be at the gate at 4:30 to play, so I thought I wouldn't play ball that day. However, I told Julie I should go check just in case. As I walked towards the gate I saw one of the guys and he looked at me, smiled, and made a dribbling motion with his hand. They had been waiting! Five minutes later 25 guys were filling the court playing or watching. Since I wasn't in playing clothes I decided to just talk with the guys.

As I sat next to one boy, U-choy, a unique thing happened. He began really talking to me! He was asking questions, struggling to find the English words with his limited vocabulary. This is rare because often we are content to let my limited Tagalog ability and his limited English be what they are and just hang out, but not really talk. But here we were having a meaningful conversation. It was a huge encouragement to me, a sign that our relationship was growing, even if it was a slow growth.

I have to continue to pray and trust that God can and will do the work that I can't do. I want to make myself available completely no matter the results that I see or don't see. I want to be bold when God leads me to be, but also to be consistent when I don't see anything happening. This is hard for me to do because I feel my value as a missionary rests in results. I have to be reminded on the one hand, that one plants, and one waters, but only God makes things grow. And I must be reminded, on the other hand that I must be ready to be obedient whenever God provides the opportunity to be more direct about Jesus.

Please pray for U-choy, Jerky, Ivan, Rene, Jun, JR, Din Din, Doods, Andrew, Edward, and all the other boys who play basketball on the APNTS campus on Tuesdays from 4:30-6.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Justin's new friends

Justin has many friends, but we thought we would introduce you to a few special friends that have become more and more important in the last month...
Justin absolutely LOVES playing with his rubber ducks in the bath. He simply can't get enough of them - chewing them, splashing with them, throwing them... really, I think he could stay in there for days and be totally happy. :)

When our good friends Daniel and Melissa (Nazarene volunteer missionaries) found out we were having a baby, the first gift their family gave Justin was a very special giraffe stuffed animal. Their middle son, Ian, had a puppy from the same company that he slept with as a baby, and 'Puppy' still remains a very special character in his life. I would tell you the name of the company that makes these great stuffed animals/blankets, but Justin is currently hugging 'Giraffe' right now while sleeping, so I dare not take it away! ;) Anyways, Justin loves sleeping with 'Giraffe'.... in fact, he doesn't sleep that well without it! We highly recommend one of these great stuffed animals for any baby! :)

One day a week we have class at the same time, so God has blessed us with a wonderful Filipina woman who watches Justin all day. Janet has 2 children of her own, so they also come with her to spend the day with Justin. This is a picture of Justin and EJ.... Justin loves EJ SOOOO much! He is so thrilled to have a playmate and EJ is really good at interacting with Justin. Any time Justin sees EJ around campus, he immediately starts smiling and laughing, no matter his previous mood. We are incredibly thankful for God's gift of Janet, EJ, and Joanna and the incredible friends they are to us and Justin! :)

Thanks for your prayers!

Thank you so much for your prayers for our trip to Boracay! We had a great time! God answered our many prayers by giving us safe travel, keeping our group safe and happy, and every minor problem being quickly solved without too much stress (forgetting ID for the airport, losing ID in the ocean, you know, the expected when you're traveling with a group of 27 people and a baby!).
Since it's rainy season, it was cloudy most of the time, but we actually didn't have too much rain. It did make the ocean and pool water pretty cold, so Justin wasn't too sure how he felt about it. I'm sure next time he will be ready to jump in no matter the temperature. ;)
We had a wonderful time relaxing with the students and our friends, Dick and Mary Ann, the other couple who went as sponsors - thanks again for your prayers!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Prayer for this weekend...

We have the privilege this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to accompany Julie's English students from Korea to the island of Boracay (in the Philippines) for a weekend of sun, fun, rest, and relaxation. Yeah, yeah, we know... 'suffering for Jesus' on a beautiful tropical island is really tough... haha. :) But seriously, please pray for us this weekend! As we mentioned before, many of the students are not Christians, so this is a great opportunity for us to interact with them on a more personal level and build deeper relationships. There are 21 students, and we will be going with them, along with another couple. This will be our first time to do something like this with Justin, so we're also praying that he will adjust to yet another crazy part of our lives. :) So, we covet your prayers for safe travel, meaningful interaction, and a fun final weekend for the students before they return to Korea. We'll let you know how it goes - thanks so much!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Birthday Blessings

My birthday (Julie's) was last week and I just wanted to share some of the special blessings that surrounded it.  We are still very close to the couples that live in our old apartment building on campus (married without children), and many of us have birthdays in the month of July, so we had a combined party with food, funny games, and blessings for each other.  Since Brian serves as Regional youth coordinator, we're also included in regional staff activities.  They also have a lot of July birthdays, so we had another combined party at Tita Gen's house with hamburgers, hot dogs, and more fun games!  We fit in well here since Filipinos love to have parties and so do we! :)
My birthday happened to fall on a Friday, one of the days my APNTS 'English Development' class meets.  I'm not a person who makes a big deal out of my own birthday, so I was super surprised when I walked in the classroom and all the students were waiting with birthday messages written on the board!  They sang 'Happy Birthday' and we shared snacks together that they had prepared.  I cried as we prayed together - I am so overwhelmed by their love and compassion.  No job is perfect, and many times it's easy to complain about administrative issues surrounding my teaching positions.  But recently, I've started to realize how much God has blessed me with my students.  They are all very serious with their studies, and we have a lot of fun in class, but more importantly than that - every day when we finish and are about to leave, they ALWAYS say, "Thank you, Julie." Why do they say that?  We never do anything life-changing or extremely important... we just work on pronunciation. But they always say thank you.  And every day I'm touched by how much they impact my life... I should be the one thanking them every day!  So, here are a few pics of my amazing friends in 'English Development'.....

Brian gets an award this year for being such a great husband on my birthday!  He arranged for a babysitter, so he and I actually had a real date!  Those don't happen too much these days. ;)  He also got me a very exciting gift that I have been wanting for a really long time! After college, I fell in love with baking, but ovens aren't very common in the Philippines, so our apartments don't have them.  After we had been here one year with no oven, we finally splurged and bought a toaster oven that I use for my baking.  But, it's hard to find baking pans to fit in it! :)  So, Brian bought me silicon muffin cups!  I can bake just the number I need since they are separate.... and they are so easy to use!  The muffins literally fall out and the muffin cup is practically clean!  They are great - I highly recommend them! 
my first batch of muffins :)
my precious oven :)

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Singapore reflections

In May I (Brian) had the privilege of attending Nazarene Missions International (NMI) Re-visioning meetings in Singapore. NMI has been a hugely successful way the Nazarene church has emphasized and supported missions over the years. Yet as our times are changing so quickly there has been an increased awareness of NMI’s need to also re-focus for a successful future. I was invited to represent youth, along with a friend from Australia. We met together over three days representing 10 countries across Asia and the Pacific.

We looked at the three times in Matthew (9:1-6; 10:1-7, 17-20; 22:35-37) where Jesus sent out his apostles. As we looked it became evident that in every passage, though the circumstances changed, there were consistent themes: God was with them, they experienced suffering, they were proactive, and ultimately they saw success from their labor. While God has been doing exciting things within Asia-Pacific we could and should be seeing more fruit and doing more. We were told “You are here so that the God who lives in you will splash out on the people around you.” It made me examine my life. Am I intentional in the ways I interact with people, so that they would see Jesus in me and hear Jesus from me? These apostles in Matthew had no church membership or buildings. They went out to share the good news that God has come near in Jesus and real life was offered! The key is that they went out. Jesus sent them out. God’s heart is always ‘out’, out to the communities where we live, out among the people that we pass by, out in the schools we attend. Many times our church buildings lead us to believe that people meet Jesus by coming in, but this is not what we see in scripture. Often, in my life, church has become a bunker, a safe defensive haven in a frightening and sinful world. But this is not salt, this is not light. This is a light hidden under a basket.

Across the Asia-Pacific region there are 2.6 billion people. Roughly 104,000 are Nazarenes, a number which has not changed significantly for the past few years. Half of the region’s population live in cities. There are currently 135 cities with over a million population, 108 of which have less than 3% believers in them. By 2023, including the rise in population, two-thirds to three-fourths of the total Asia and Pacific population will live in cities. The challenge is clear. There is a huge need for missionary-minded believers across the Asia-Pacific. It made me reflect, if we are being who Christ calls us to be in our world, would the Nazarene Church look like it does right now? I do not say this to be critical or to lessen the tremendous commitment on the part of believers, but this is a critical question. We are known by our fruit. What is the fruit of my life? Who is encountering Jesus through me? Is my heart moved by these figures? Is my heart moved by the hundreds of faces I see as I walk through Manila every day? Second Corinthians 5:14 says “The love of Christ compels us.” May I be compelled more. May Christ’s love open my eyes and ears to what He sees in the faces, the lives of these people that surround me every day.

As we began to honestly discuss the challenges to Jesus’ command to make disciples in the nations I was shocked to discover that most of the issues were internal to the church rather than external. Things like busyness, lack of prayer, fear, lack of discipleship, the exodus of young people from churches, these things were derailing churches from their mission from the inside. External factors, such as government opposition, issues of communication (language, culture), and resistant people groups, were not the primary challenges. This was so revealing to me. Yet it was also a word of good news, because we all have the ability to address the internal issues!

Despite our range of ages, differences in language, culture, and country, and our backgrounds we discovered that as we center ourselves in prayer God will give us his heart. The issue was a heart issue, and the solution is a heart-response. As we spend time with Jesus he makes us more into his image. As disciples grow closer to Christ they develop as leaders. As we focus on Christ together, and share His heart the church is united in purpose. This moves us out into our neighborhoods and workplaces with an entirely different mindset. Because Christ’s love compels us we are willing to learn a new language and culture, even if it is with non-believers in our own country. We are willing to be uncomfortable and challenged by the pain of sin in people’s lives.

As I have thought about these few days over the past weeks God has continually been speaking to my heart. These issues are not exclusive to Asia or the Pacific but are experienced in every country because these issues are fundamental heart issues among believers. I have been praying that I would stay alert in all situations, especially when I am ‘out’ for where God is working in the hearts and lives of people around me. I have been praying that God would continually let me see people through his eyes.

Justin at 6 months

It's so hard to believe, but Justin is already 6 months old!  Here are a few pictures from the last month... enjoy! :)
Falling asleep while eating.... he's still learning the significance of naps... :)

always ready to play...

Justin's friend Elanor had a princess party for her 3rd birthday... meet Prince Justin!  Prince Justin had a wonderful time watching the other princes and princesses blow bubbles, eat cake, and open presents. :)

having coffee in the morning with Daddy....

so happy about life....

beautiful Manila sunset!