2016 February 19 – Update from Korea

As 2015 was ending, my pastoral internship drew to a close. Around this time, I told Bethany that I wanted to be with her and I was praying that God do something soon and unexpected for us to be together. Bethany’s best friend Charlotte visited her right at the end of 2015, and I got to spend time with them both (the dreamlike quality of this time cannot be exaggerated – I was done with my job, and I made another visa run to Japan after which I got to spend day after day with Bethany). After Charlotte had gone back to the States, Bethany proposed a plan to get married, just before her spring break. This was also unexpected, and an answer to prayer. We began to work on co-creating shared values to guide our decision-making. We also opened up to family for counsel.

You see, for this whole relationship to have worked, Bethany had to employ BOTH supernatural patience AND supernatural initiative. In the beginning, I was just a foreigner guy who had lived his whole life in the States, and would be returning there at the end of the year, knowing nothing of how diverse and unique Bethany’s upbringing and life had been. I had to wait and wait and see, biding my time to show romantic interest – our lives were so different and because of the events in my own family, I knew a marriage could not be built on unilateral action. There was too much to learn and process for a long-distance relationship. There had to be a back-and-forth for us to work.

I was just a seminary student doing a pastoral internship, talking about how I wanted to do cross-cultural work, so that by all accounts I seemed an outspoken proponent of the stereotypical Christianity of which Bethany, a missionary kid, knew better. I was just a 30-year-old guy who only had maybe one official girlfriend in his life and barely had a cent to my name. If I initiated a relationship, if I proposed marriage, where was I going to take her? What did I have to offer? I didn’t even have a residence to call my own. When Bethany initiated and showed up to the Incheon airport, it may have been a small action-step for her to take, but for me and my life, it was the giant leap I needed someone to make. Because Bethany waited for me to initiate and introduce things about our relationship and show affection, our love warmed and progressed naturally and intuitively but at a strong pace.

Around this time in the first half of January 2016, Bethany took me on a date to her old haunts in Seoul including Yonsei University. Something very important happened then. On February 14th, we returned to Yonsei University to hike Ansan. I proposed at the spot on Ansan where we had hiked to more than a year ago.

As the Lord allows, Bethany and I will hike together for the rest of our lives.

2016 February 5 – Update from Korea

Bethany made another trip to the States, this time for her sister’s wedding. Bethany said before she left that she wanted to hike Bukhansan with us friends as a way to celebrate her birthday. Keeping in mind that she would have her birthday while she was in the States, I gifted her the latest CHVRCHES album and messaged her as she returned to South Korea. I was about to make another visa run to Japan when she messaged me about meeting me after my flight. It was then that I had an inkling that she was actually interested in me.

In October and November, I visited Bethany on Mondays. We would sit and talk and have coffee, then dinner, hiking around Seoul. It was like a dream. I was following this beautiful girl around the capital city of Korea, hoping to God this particular dream would come true. Then, I began visiting Seoul more often during the week as Bethany expressed interest in spending more time together.

One Saturday afternoon in December, after a visit to the border of North Korea, we sat down and talked about our relationship. Bethany said a long-distance relationship would be so hard, and I said that I wanted to stay if that would keep our relationship going. That night I stayed and helped Bethany decorate her place for Christmas. On December 24th, I attended a Christmas Eve service with Bethany and the long-term possibilities of our relationship began to be real.

Fear of God

I am processing a situation which concerns fellow believers I met in Dallas at DTS. I think I am grieving the loss of relationship and ministry but, I think more deeply than that, I am being mortified by the effects of harbored sin. The Lord has just about rooted out all my lesser fears but one I still selfishly struggle to let go of is the fear of being disqualified from the ministry of the gospel.

I know the cure for that is placing ALL my fear in Him – but that requires a lot of faith and abdicating my right to have my own little places and times where I am master. But those times and places end up being so empty anyways. When I place all my fear in Him, I am satisfied by His provision which occurs exactly because He is present, and He is Boss. The sin I leave room for becomes the little reservations and appointments I make for “me” time without accountability. They not only lead to disaster, they are the travesty of my daily walk. How can I proclaim His sufficiency when I keep supplementing my life with my own medicines? I believe God can use anyone, but the minister who does not live what he preaches cuts himself off from the blessing of God’s presence that he hopes to confer on his audience.

Those of us who weep now, who grieve the loss now, who go into mourning at this time, can hope for a future perfection, a future joy. May I never stop repenting as the Lord shines His Light on my entire life and living!

My Trip To Japan

I recently completed a trip (to renew my visa) from Korea to Japan and back. Wow, that’s pretty easy to type. You see, I am not naturally gifted in traveling. Let me tell the story.

[Now that I am typing this out, I am remembering multiple other navigation-fail stories. One time in high-school, I ended up in a big van pulling a trailer down I-75 in Dallas . . . during 5:00pm traffic . . . The one to follow is the most paradigmatic.]

On my first day of kindergarten, before I went to school, my mom told me the number of the school bus I was to get on in order to come back home after school. She said that I needed to remember the number to get on the right bus and make it home. Kindergarten-Nathan immediately put the number from his mind. There were other things, more urgent, more relevant . . . I am sure of it.

The final bell rings and the school day is over. Everyone rushed out and congregates in front of the school. The school buses are all parked in a row and kids are streaming on to them. Kindergarten-Nathan immediately remembers that he was supposed to remember a number. This number would be the correct bus to get home. Kindergarten-Nathan did not remember this number. He immediately concludes that his only recourse,

is to hop on a random bus.

He did not ask another student for help. He did not consider asking any adult standing around for help. He did not deem it necessary to converse with a bus-driver or two to explain his problem. It did not come into Kindergarten-Nathan’s mind to ask his teacher. That’s what other, intelligent kids would do.

I have many good character qualities which when combined with willing ignorance and a pinch of laziness and pride explode into disastrous predicaments. I hopped on that bus with no clue. Not a clue in the world. I wasn’t praying to God for help, even. I wasn’t scared, wasn’t thinking it through, considering the consequences. I was just along for the ride. I eventually picked a random bus stop and started following a group of kids home and they, through rational discourse, determined that I was as lost as a calf at a new gate.

So when I was told that I would be on my own to fly from South Korea [a country really far away from my home but where I had at least lived for 3 months and could survive day-to-day] to Japan [a country even further away from home whose language and culture was wholly opaque to me], I had not two options, but three. Preachers often say we can choose to live in worry and anxiety or we can choose to rest in God. Too often I choose a third route: complacently put forth the most minimal effort and cross my fingers that I don’t die.

Thankfully, I chose, this time, to rest in God. This rest gave me a foundation of confidence from where I could seek advice and be vulnerable enough to ask for help. I did some of my own research and got expert input from multiple sources.

My trip to Japan was almost anti-climactic. The final leg of my trip was, you guessed it, catching a bus for the 1.5 hour trip back to my apartment from the Incheon international terminal. Now, the Lord often infuses my life with doses of recapitulation, but in this case He might as well have been floating there big and blue outside the terminal with a flashing, light-bulb-and-neon, Las-Vegas arrow-sign, Robin-Williams-Genie style, that read “REMEMBER THIS?”

I stepped out of the terminal and there were big buses (they call them airport limousines here in South Korea) lined up with different, 4-digit numbers on them relative to where in Seoul or South Korea they were headed. Everyone else – Korean, Indian, and otherwise – was cue-ing up / crowding around the bus they needed to take home. I was Kindergarten-Nathan once more. There was about 5 seconds of mental dialogue, “Oh no, I hadn’t thought this far ahead . . .” hurriedly walking bus-to-bus, looking around for the right number, before an off-duty Korean bus-driver spoke up to me in his broken English asking where I was headed. I told him, Migeum Station, and he pointed me in the right direction. Boring, right? My trip was totally uneventful. Except for the siphon brew for breakfast and the sushi to-go box for lunch. Uneventful, I say!

I have been on the Lord’s curriculum long enough to know that His provision is mandatory. When I preach a sermon in my own power, when I get done talking, I feel like I just ran a marathon. I am so worn out by that. When I preach a sermon, trusting God like a child, I feel refreshed afterwards. It was the same way on this trip. God has brought me so very far along, and so I can not wait to see where He takes me next.

My time in Vickery Meadows

Last year [2014], Northwest Bible Church officially launched its outreach movement to Vickery Meadows. That summer, my roommates moved on and I was looking for a new place to live. I began asking around in leasing offices in the Vickery Meadows area. I visited 8-10 different apartment complexes, checking availability, pricing, terms, etc. That summer, I also got to drive the van for the outreach ministry, taking Vickery Meadows kids to a summer reading program at Half-Price Books off Northwest Highway. I talked with Brian Newby and he said that Northwest was renting space at the Sunchase Aptmts in order to have a sort of ministry headquarters there. Also, I applied for the Vickery Meadows ministry positions Northwest was filling in the outreach ministry.

So, I went to the Sunchase aptmts leasing office and asked for their availability: I just needed an efficiency apartment for one person. The lady at the desk said that there was no availability at the moment (it was a little more than a month before I needed to move out of my old apartment) but I could keep checking back for availability, closer to my needed move-in date. A little disheartened, I felt like I needed to seek the Lord’s will on this. So, I decided to do a prayer walk.

Thinking of the people of Israel at Jericho, I knew that there was nothing I could do to force my way into a Sunchase apartment by my own clout, so it would have to be the Lord. I decided to walk around the block of the leasing office 8 times. This walk was a spiritual discipline. As I have practiced spiritual disciplines, I have learned that they are NOT ways of bargaining with God. The principle of spiritual disciplines is NOT quid pro quo. For me, I have learned that spiritual disciplines are largely communication to God: I am ready. I am ready to hear You, God. I am ready to do Your will. I have set this action or time apart for You. So, I walked. I prayed a little, but it was the actual walking 8 times around the block that was my most important communication. Thy will be done! I want what You want.

I came back a week later to the Sunchase aptmts. This time, the Sunchase aptmts manager was there. I was able to talk with her, and explain my relationship with Northwest Bible Church and drop Brian Newby’s name. Immediately, Sally wrote my name at the top of the list. I had an efficiency apartment, for $25 less a month than I had said I needed! I was relieved at that moment because it was less than two weeks when I would need to move out of my old apartment. My walk had not bought this opportunity, but the Lord has responded to my communication with, “Proceed!” I moved into the Ivy apartment complex across the street from Northwest’s ministry space, #903.

Now, you may imagine that I moved in and immediately had a monumental impact on the Ivy community. This, also my expectation, was not to be. My first night in the Ivy, I didn’t even sleep in my own bed: Thang Lian, Burmese pastor, and recent Th.M. graduate and member at Northwest, let me sleep at his apartment as the electricity was not yet turned on at my apartment and the AC was therefore not working! I was able to see some members of the Burmese congregation I had gotten to know in Northwest’s CLC building, but not knowing their language, I could only greet them and say a couple sentences. While I was in the Ivy, a man coming from Liberia was discovered sick with Ebola! I felt a little helpless. So many people whose languages I knew not; people with sicknesses I in myself could do very little to assuage. As it turned out, I didn’t get any of the Vickery Meadows ministry positions – I didn’t even get a second interview.

The Lord, I think, was teaching me some priceless lessons. I want to do cross-cultural ministry in the future; one important thing I learned was that I was going to need to be helpless and vulnerable in another language and culture before I could minister in it. Before I could give what I have to give, the gospel of Jesus Christ, I was going to have to accept help in learning and care from the people I am sent to. Another important thing, too, was that before I did go somewhere new, I would do well to prepare and learn as much I could SO THAT I could at some point function and be useful in the target culture, even if it was merely equipping myself with learning and acculturation techniques that would help wherever I go.

November 5th, as I was nearing the end of my 6-month lease at the Ivy, I got thrown a curveball. My good friend, Paul Lee, recent Th.M. graduate and 2nd gen. Korean, extended a full-time internship at his church, Global Mission Church, in South Korea. Over the next few weeks, I prayed and sought counsel and sent in my application documents and did one video interview. The church offered me the job! But now, in the context of Northwest’s ministry in Vickery Meadows, I had some more questions for God. What was my impact? Where was my contribution? Was there something I could do in the next month and a half to make this worth it? to show that the Lord knew what He was doing in having me here? Once again, I felt small.

December 18th, feeling a little desperate about what to do with my furniture (for one guy living in an efficiency apartment, I had a lot of stuff: flat screen TV, bunk bed, love seat, lay-z-boy recliner, desk and chair, etc.) I emailed Randy Craven to see if anyone needed some furniture. Almost as a throwaway line, to make my plea for help disguised as an email not seem so desperate, I asked him in the email if there was anyone who might want to take over the lease. I immediately got a reply saying to call him ASAP. Apparently, as Randy was reading my email, there was a single guy from Iran who needed to move out of a bad situation and didn’t have many earthly possessions to his name. Randy as a Northwest minister was ready to pay for his apartment, but didn’t have resources to furnish it easily OR have an efficiency apartment readily available. The Lord provided all of that because I communicated to Randy. Once again, Northwest and I partnered up to be used by the Lord to minister to someone.

This lease transfer was awesome. The Lord was definitely at work. Further, He was preaching to my heart. You see, God didn’t reward me for moving into the Ivy. He didn’t reward me for stepping out in faith to Vickery Meadows, even if I wasn’t an official staff member of Northwest. He didn’t reward me for my patience or courage. I found something different. God rewarded this Iranian man for all of those things I did, all that I fought for. God rewarded my neighbor for my obedience. Just like my walk or any spiritual discipline, my faith bought me nothing but showed God that I was ready to contribute, and God accepted my contribution, and gave it to someone else. I don’t get to maintain command over my sacrifice to God. I followed God, and God rewarded my neighbor for my efforts. And I can say that statement in full joy, full confidence – a supernatural utterance. As I understand it, I have no more need for anything because God has given me His Son. And if God has given us His Son, how will He not also freely give us all things?