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

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!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Glimpse Back in Time: Part 6

It’s funny how, although it’s only been a month and a half since junior year wrapped up, it already feels like so long ago.  It was a great year, but part of me doesn’t know what to write that would entertain you as the reader.  So much of my story in college seems the same:  We prayed.  No one came.  We prayed.  No one came.  We prayed.  Someone came and was touched, and God reminded us that it’s all worth it.  Repeat.  Boring, right?

But it’s not boring!  Because each of those times, there was a real person at the center of it.  A real person giving their life to Jesus or recommitting or being changed.  And that matters!  As does all the time in between, where it was just me, Chris, and Joy huddling around the space heater, praying in the cold.  Because it was not just me, Chris, and Joy in that room.  It was me, Chris, Joy, AND the God of the Universe.  And regardless of how I felt during those meetings, He was never bored.  During every meeting, Jesus was on the edge of His chair (well, throne if you wanna be technical), listening to our every word.  What a special thing!

So though the year may seem like a lot of the same, there are amazing stories between each of the periods where God seemed quiet or distant.  One night, we had a friend bring a student from a nearby community college, and although we thought she hated the prayer meeting (which is generally our conclusion when someone sits stiffly with their eyes open and doesn’t speak), she returned a few days later and shared that she had committed her life to Christ because of that visit.     

Later in the semester, a Jewish student came to the Prayer Room.  I’m still not exactly sure why she came, but she kept on coming for many weeks.  And not only did she come, but she asked questions, started attending Joy’s Bible study, and began to read the Word.  Eventually, she concluded that Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life.  Praise the Lord!

A few weeks later was our craziest night yet.  We were having a pretty average prayer meeting when one of our friends knocked on the door and motioned me to come out.  She explained that there was a girl in her car who had possibly overdosed on drugs.  Not knowing what to do, she had brought her to the Prayer Room.  After some VMI cadets (who happened to be praying with us, thank God) determined that she didn’t need to go to the emergency room, three guys who were also in the car carried her into the Prayer Room.  I couldn’t help but think of the paralytic man who was brought to Jesus on a mat by his friends.  Like him, this girl was helpless as the guys laid her on the floor with a blanket.  We prayed silently as she shook and cried out, and Joy often recounts that she was preparing for the girl to die before her eyes.  It was scary!  But as we prayed, she began to relax and her breathing slowed to a normal rhythm.  Finally, as Joy played “You Make Beautiful Things,” she stood up.  It was crazy...the closest thing that we’ve seen to healing.  At least so far.
Those are just the Prayer Room highlights, though.  I did other things of course.  I stood with one of the middle schoolers that I work with as she announced her decision to give her life to Christ at Young Life Camp.  As an RA, I prayed for and with freshmen girls that I had the privilege of getting to know.  I wrote a 30 page poverty capstone, which was the most difficult school assignment I’ve ever done.  And I went to a Switchfoot concert with Chris to celebrate the end of our first year of dating.  It was an awesome year!  But the best part by far was Spring Term, where some of the underclassmen who had come to the Prayer Room on and off really began to catch a vision for wholehearted pursuit of God.  

To be continued…