Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

That's right.... in the Philippines Christmas anticipation begins with the first of the 'ber' months... Septem-ber, Octo-ber, Novem-ber, and Decem-ber. Last weekend when we went to the mall to do our weekly grocery shopping, we were greeted with the first few Christmas decorations and Christmas music playing. Some might say they don't like all the commercialism and the meaning gets lost when you start this early, but personally I love beginning to think about Christmas even now. I LOVE Christmas music and have always felt that only the month of December was not long enough to fully enjoy it. And I LOVE the anticipation for a wonderful time of year with family and friends. In Guam Christmas was special because of church plays, special parties, and bell ringing with our Salvation Army friends. This will be our 3rd Christmas in the Philippines (and maybe our last, sad), and even though our bank account suffers from so many pot-lucks and gift exchanges, I can't wait to go to all the parties and spend tons of time with friends and family. I love reflecting on how Christ came to earth and the significance of the life he lived. I love hearing about the birth of Christ through the context of so many friends' cultures and personal experiences. So, yes, to Brian's chagrin, I proudly sing along with the Christmas music playing in the store.... may the Christmas celebrations begin! :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

72 Hours of Prayer

We are requesting your prayers! We have had the privilege to help organize a 72 hour prayer room for our APNTS community. If you're not familiar with the concept of 24 hour prayer rooms, it's a focused time and location where people come together to seek God. But instead of just praying silently, people can do whatever they want - sing, play an instrument, draw, read the Bible, paint, etc. We were able to experience this at the 3rd Wave Conference in South Africa a couple years ago, and it was extremely meaningful. We've since been wanting to do one at APNTS, and here we are!

So, please be praying for our campus community for the next 3 days. It begins at 11:30 AM on September 16 and will continue until 11:30 AM on September 19. Our seminary's theme for this school year is "Out of Many, One", borrowed from the Church of the Nazarene's centennial celebration. So, the focus of this prayer time is unity, understanding, and community. Please keep us in your prayers, and we'll let you know how it's going. We're expecting God to do amazing things - things bigger than our dreams! Also, please enjoy the video Brian and our friend Junichi created. :)

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Choir Practice

So, most people don't think of me (Julie) as a singer. I am DEFINITELY more of an pianist than a vocalist. But, as some old friends remember, I had a music scholarship in college... and one of the requirements to keep my scholarship was to sing in a choir. This was not something I looked forward to, but it ended up being quite a rewarding experience. It was during my short choir career at SNU that I formed some of my closest friendships... amazing and talented girls who are still some of my best friends today. I was reminded of those choir memories this afternoon....

The General Church of the Nazarene is celebrating its 100 year anniversary on October 5 of this year. Anniversaries are a REALLY big deal in the Philippines. So, on October 5, every church will have their own special service in the morning, and then all the churches on our district will gather on our seminary campus for more celebrations that will probably last into the night. As part of these celebrations, our church and a few others are forming a 100 voice choir that will perform. Last year, Brian joined our church's choir for their anniversary celebration, but I was pregnant at the time, and it didn't quite work out. So, even though singing in front of people is not my most favorite pastime, I promised Ate Enzy (our choir director) I would join for this special occasion.

We went to our first practice today. Some of the members have already been practicing, but we weren't able to join together with them until now. One of the songs we are singing is the 'Hallelujah' chorus from Handel's Messiah. Let me first explain that this is not abnormal for Nazarene churches in the Philippines. While growing up in the states, it seemed the only time anything from Messiah was performed was at extremely large churches, colleges, or by professional musicians at a concert. But Filipinos are quite ambitious and indescribably talented musically, so this is something people have definitely sung and heard before in a small church setting. So, back to the story.... We started practicing the 'Hallelujah' chorus, and I was immediately flooded with memories of my freshman year of college... sitting in choir practice with Shelley, Jeanna, Stacy, Shelly, Rachel, and Jessica, my fellow Music major and minors..... laughing at Dr. Alexander's antics as he guided us in our vocal practice and played all parts on a grand piano.... singing my part over and over and over and over again until I actually remembered it.

Today's experience was quite different.... there was no piano... Ate Enzy simply gives each group their starting pitch... without any assistance! This amazing woman knows the song so well, she can sing all the parts, direct a huge choir, and hear when a few people are off and need more practice. :) Everyone has music in their hands, but the majority of people don't read music... they can simply hear their parts and memorize when they come in. Thankfully, I actually remembered my part from 10 years ago (Thank you, Dr. Alexander!)... or I would have been in a lot of trouble. ;) And today I was singing with friends from seminary and church - Linda, Jana, Emz, Ate Marnie, and Ate Nenita..... amazing ladies that have also become close friends and will be for life.

As we sat there sweating (no air-con) and singing our hearts out, I was overwhelmed by how God works in our lives. Ten years ago, when I was complaining about having to sing in a choir, who knew that that experience would open the door for me to have this experience right now... making new friends and memories and being so amazed at our surprising God. In my English class the other day, one of my students from Myanmar was talking about the gift of music. He said that in his opinion, the music made by instruments is quite remarkable because it needs no translation. Anywhere in the world, we can use instruments to praise God and it doesn't matter if we speak the same language. So, thank you God for the gifts of music, of choirs, of friends old and new, and exciting adventures that exceed even our wildest dreams! :)

This is our choir director, Ate Enzy, when she came to visit Justin and me at the hospital. :)