"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter..." Isaiah 64:8

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Roller Coaster Ride

In my girls’ small group at W&L, we always start off our meetings with highs and lows. I think that’s the best way to sum up my first two weeks at IHOP:EG.  I wish I could say that I’m unshaken by circumstances and that, no matter where I am, I am confident and at peace because of my identity in Jesus.  But unfortunately, I’m just not that mature…at least not yet. So this internship started out with a bit of a roller coaster ride.

Low #1:  Although I could eventually no longer attribute it to culture shock, I was still stressed and frustrated about our seemingly disorganized schedule and my loss of a plan for housing.  I would sit in the Prayer Room, get bored within 30 minutes, and accuse God for the next hour and a half with lines like, “Why did You bring me here for this whole summer?" and “What am I going to do with myself for the next two months? I don't even have a place to stay!”  (Yep, I was full of myself… thank the Lord for His grace and mercy.)

High #1: I’ve played the flute for 12 years.  A lot of time, effort, and my parents’ money has gone into lessons, band, auditions, recitals, concerts, etc.  But until just a year or two ago, I never really used my flute to praise the Lord.  I didn’t know how.  I could only play music written on a page, which just isn’t very useful in Spirit-led worship.  However, last year, Chris gave me some tips so that I can now play by ear.  Suddenly, this instrument that I love can be used to make music to Jesus!  This is relevant to my internship, because now, for the first time since starting college, I play my flute for several hours a week.  And I love it!  In the Prayer Room, I actually get to live out Psalm 150:4 (“Praise the Lord with harp and flute”).  What a privilege!

Low #2: The Prayer Room is freezing!  I’ve gotten used to it, but at first, this was a big struggle for me.  I would try to pray but be so mad about how cold I was that I couldn’t focus AT ALL!  I tried using a blanket, but naturally: Sitting on the floor + wrapped in a blanket + closing my eyes to pray = prayer???  Nope….sleeping!

High #2: The teachings that we listened to rapidly began to change my view on creation and heaven.  Talking to some of the staff at EG blew my mind, and I found myself telling everyone about how heaven is a REAL place, not an immaterial realm where we float around on clouds.  Like a child, I was easily excited by even the simplest things we learned.  For example, God stretched out the heavens after He created them (Isaiah 42:5).  I didn’t know that!  And there must be at least some animals in heaven, because Jesus will come down riding a white horse (Rev 19:11).  And there are at least 3 heavens (2 Cor 12:2), with God dwelling in the highest heaven (Deut 10:14, Job 22:12)!  The stuff we were learning was just so cool!

High #3:  One of Chris’ friends shared with us how she really believed we were in the right place.  She knew I was frustrated about housing and the disorganization, but she stressed the importance of learning to be sent.  When God tells us to go somewhere, our job is to obey, even before He actually provides the way.  Naturally, as humans, we want provision before we go, but that takes little faith.  Real faith is demonstrated when we follow God before we can see how He will come through.  The next day, I found a place to stay that was much closer to EG.  So she was right. God provides when we take the first steps towards what He asks of us.    

Low #3: Now that Chris and I were no longer staying with his parents, I couldn’t rely on Chris to drive me everywhere.  The first time I had to drive by myself on the Garden State Parkway, I cried the whole way home.  In retrospect, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  All I had to do was merge on, stay in my lane for 3 or 4 exits, exit, and make a few turns on local roads.  But that first night, it seemed terrifying.  SO MANY LANES!  And headlights...EVERYWHERE!

Low #4: It rained on our first day off.  So much for our plans to head down to the Jersey shore. L

High #4: It turned out okay because we went to the Liberty Science Center instead and got to watch a lady dissect a cow eye (gross!), see an IMAX about sharks, and lots of other fun stuff.

Low #5: On the way back, we got stuck in traffic for the first time.  Not fun.  At all.  I think traffic is a great way to become better acquainted with our sin nature.  So much anger and so little patience.  It's a very simple reminder of how much we need God's mercy.

High #5: We attended our first Encounter God Service and Sunday Expressions, both of which were unlike any church service I’ve been to in the United States.  It was amazing to see such freedom in worship.  Everyone praised God in their own way, and no one cared what anyone else was doing.  It’s a beautiful thing to see people dance for Jesus. 

High #6: I discovered that it IS possible to cook with no stove, oven, measuring cups, or Pampered chef utensils.  A slow cooker and a toaster oven is all you need!  The EG staff have a term for such things….MISSIONARY LIFESTYLE!

Low #6: Just when I was getting used to things, it was time for my 6:30am flight out of Newark.  But it's probably unfair to count that as a low...I was headed to PUERTO RICO!  More on that in my next blog...

Liberty Science Center

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New Jersey: My First Taste of Culture Shock

It’s a little surprising, but in all my trips to Peru, Honduras, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, I've never really experienced culture shock.  Yet somehow, during my first week in New Jersey, I showcased almost every single one of Google’s top culture shock symptoms: homesickness, feelings of helplessness, disorientation, sadness, increased irritability, and excessive critical reactions to surroundings.  Looking back, I can’t even explain why.  There are a lot of things about New Jersey that are different (traffic, more people, more buildings, traffic, complicated roads, traffic…), but there are also lots of things that are just like West Virginia (trees, rolling hills closely resembling what us West Virginians like to call "mountains", bunnies, people who speak English, etc.).  For some reason, though, being in New Jersey really stressed me out at first.  Staying with Chris’ family, I was a bit less independent than at school, and I was very anxious about the fact that my initial plan for housing had fallen through and I might have to stay in Ridgewood and commute 40 minutes every day (plus traffic) for our internship.  Plus, I was unaccustomed to life in the Hu household, where they eat Chinese food, use the dishwasher as a drying rack, and walk around the house barefoot (which always results in a scolding at my house).  Of course, none of these are bad things, but when thrown in with feelings of homesickness, helplessness, disorientation, sadness, increased irritability, and excessive criticism, they felt overwhelming and kept me from seeing all the really amazing things about staying at Chris' house, such as the overflowing generosity and hospitality that I was receiving from both of his parents whom I'd only met a handful of times.  Most of all, though, I was flustered by the fact that our internship turned out to be very flexible and could not be carefully penciled into my color-coordinated planner as I always prefer things to be.  Unfortunately, it took me a while to get my eyes off myself and thank the Lord for bringing me to a place where I could learn and grow in so many ways. 

On my first night in New Jersey, one of Chris’ friends treated us to dinner.  I was surprised to see someone I’d never met give so generously and share so openly about his life and faith.  Through this occasion and many others, I've been encouraged by how easy it can be to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ just because we are all seeking the same thing.  That evening was especially interesting because a random stranger came up to us in Starbucks after hearing us pray and performed a magic trick sermon using a quarter.  His little show explained how the devil can distract us and steal away what God offers, a great reminder that God had something special in store for the summer that I would likely miss if I continued freaking out about the little details. 

The following day, I visited the church where Chris grew up.  It’s a Chinese church, so for the first time ever (at least in the US), I found myself in the clear racial minority.  There was only one other white guy in the church, and because he stood out like a sore thumb, I knew I must also be as easy to spot as a gringa in Huancayo, Peru.  Since I was so clearly a visitor, the man doing announcements had me stand up to be welcomed by the church.  Ironically, he misheard my name and introduced me to the church as Chris’ girlfriend, “Jersey.”  But that was practically drowned out by the crowd's "Awww" as the two of us sat down.  I'm pretty sure my cheeks matched my bright pink dress for a second there.  

On Monday, Chris and I finally got to go to the International House of Prayer: Eastern Gate (which I will often refer to as “EG”) where we would be interning for the next 2 months.  Still suffering from some culture shock symptoms, I was uncharacteristically irritated about the fact that the person in charge of our internship was not there on our first day.  This irritation rapidly transitioned to panic as we were informed that our time at EG would kick off with an on-the-spot audition.  Shaking like a leaf, I played my flute and sang a few lines of “Set a Fire” so that Chris and I could lead the 2pm set that very day.  It was pretty scary, but as soon as that was over and we entered the Prayer Room, I realized that EG is no so different from our Prayer Room at school.  Yes, it’s open almost 24-7 and is a lot bigger than our space at W&L.  And yes, the Prayer Room has a full sound system and a stage.  But just like at school, we simply worshiped. There was no big audience or crowd of people joining us in prayer.  It was just me, Chris, Jesus, and one or two others.  And for those 2 hours, my culture shock symptoms subsided.  Because in the presence of God, there’s just no place for such things.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Glimpse Back in Time: Part 7

As far as Prayer Room attendance, junior year was a roller coaster.  Although it was often just Chris, Joy, and I, several freshmen got involved early in the year and came on and off.  One guy was immediately drawn to the Prayer Room and joined us faithfully for several weeks.  But one day he stopped coming and never really came back.  Love and hunger for God can so easily be choked out by the pressures of college, especially at W&L.  High academic stress + social pressures + extreme busyness make it very difficult to devote regular time to God. 

Other freshmen would come daily for a whole week but then not again for a month.  We saw desire in them to really surrender everything to Jesus, but that desire was so easily overcome when homework got heavy or other fun activities seemed more appealing than singing and praying in a dim, lonely basement.

Spring Term, however, which at W&L means the last 4 weeks of school, was different.  Knowing that everyone was only taking one class, we decided to offer a challenge.  It was for anyone and everyone but especially targeted to our freshmen friends who wanted to commit more to God but needed a push.  And it was AWESOME.

First, we issued the challenge.  A week or two before spring break, we wrote a commitment on the whiteboard in the Prayer Room, signed it, and encouraged others to consider signing it as well.  The commitment was to come to the Prayer Room for all 25 nights of Spring Term.  It wasn’t about attendance or checking “God time” off a to-do list, but it was really about providing an opportunity for those that said they wanted to give God more of their time to actually do it. 

When Spring Term finally rolled around, we had eight signatures counting our own.  It seemed like a small number.  Eight?  Who would be excited about an event with eight people?  But coming from our usual three, eight was pretty miraculous!  Eight people would be praying for W&L EVERY NIGHT of Spring Term! 

The first night of the challenge was awesome.  I remember sitting on the floor and listening to the sound of the worship.  I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a group of 8-10 people singing in a small, open room, but it sounds AMAZING!  Especially when people begin to sing their own songs to Jesus.  It all blends together in this beautiful harmony, literally a new song for the Lord.  And I’m pretty sure we’ve been blessed with a greater than normal percentage of talented singers.

That night, a freshman guy who had never been to the Prayer Room before showed up and added his signature to the list. Already, our little group was growing.  And with nine people, there was an opportunity for community that hadn’t really existed before.  It suddenly became easier to imagine a group of students living lives abandoned to the Lord, forsaking the temptations of college, and enjoying fellowship with God and each other.  I really believe it was a glimpse of what we’re praying for down the road.

During those four weeks, we held many special events to better focus our time in prayer.  We did a prayer walk, where we prayed at different locations on campus, asking God to move there and touch hearts.  We visited freshmen dorms to pray with people and chat about their beliefs.  We invited the other campus ministries to the Prayer Room and met Christians that we hadn’t known before.  And we had post-prayer events such as game night and prayer for gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen both our friendships and our hearts.  It was truly a sweet time and such an answer to prayer.  Seemingly out of nowhere, people were hungry for God and acting upon that hunger.  Nine people were signed up, but on some nights, we had even more come to pray.

Of course, there were also nights when some of our committed friends were unable to make it.  But even those nights were sweet!  On one Friday or Saturday night, there were actually only three of us.  But as I looked at the freshman guy praying with Chris and I, I was touched by the fact that his experience in the Prayer Room was so different than mine.  In those 25 days, he came to our prayer meetings consistently, but he only experienced one prayer meeting with less than five people.  To him, the Prayer Room was exciting and full of life, not lonely and boring as I had so often experienced.  I wouldn’t trade my first two years in the Prayer Room for anything, but if no one else has to experience the difficulty of two-person prayer meetings each night, it will be a cause for rejoicing.

The last night of the prayer challenge was by far the best.  I cry every year at the last night of prayer, but this night was special in a different way.  For the first time, Chris and I were surrounded by a circle of faces, a circle of friends who had been deeply affected by the Prayer Room and by our prayers for them before they even started coming.  When I think back to each of those friends at the beginning of the year, it’s amazing how far God brought them.  One girl wasn’t sure she had a relationship with God.  One girl didn’t acknowledge Jesus as Messiah.  One guy couldn’t make God a priority.  One girl constantly said, “I’ll be at prayer tonight,” but rarely made it.  And me? I wasn’t sure if God was ever going to bring people to the Prayer Room.  But He changed us all.  And He gave us a hunger to keep on pursuing Him through the summer months.  Because the Spring Term Challenge was just the beginning!  Summer is round two.  And then comes the fall.  I pray that they all come back.  But regardless, it’ll be my last year at W&L, and I am going to give it everything I have.  Jesus laid down His life for me. Why should I do any less?

This is my last post for now about my time at W&L.  Through these “glimpses back in time,” I hope you have a better idea of where I’m currently at in life, ministry, and my relationship with the Lord.  Now you are ready for my posts about this summer!!