Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Do I Feel Discouraged . . . . ?

I spent a couple hours in a cemetery yesterday morning as I needed privacy for a telephone appointment. This may strike you as odd, but I spent five of my teenage summers mowing that cemetery, so it's not such a foreign place to me. It is quiet and it's on a hill, so it has better cell phone service than much of my home town.

After the phone call, it was an appropriate location for some self-reflection. I've been discouraged lately: I'm living temporarily with my parents, I'm not seeing great success in support raising, I'm questioning how long it will take to raise the needed support, I'm worried that I'll go through all of my savings during this process . . . .

Walking around the cemetery, I saw the grave stones of many people I knew as a child -- many more than when I worked there. Some I knew because I had delivered their Sioux City Journal. More of them I knew as members of my church for as long as I can remember. Some of them always were old people to me, but a growing number were friends of my parents. I even went to school with a few of them. Many wonderful memories came back to me: neighbor ladies whom I would visit knowing they would offer candy, fishing with my "adopted" grandfather, church picnics, road trips, multi-family vacations, playing in these peoples' backyards with their kids. A few "other" memories came up as well: people who were not known for their kindness.

I noticed a new trend in grave stones as well. Many still are inscribed with a Bible verse or Christian sentiment, but a growing number are choosing to engrave a hobby, or something else that the person valued. I saw antique tractors, pianos, fishing, needlework, farm scenes, mountain scenes, Kiwanis Club, masonic symbols, and even a large engraving of the church where I grew up. Epitaphs for a new day? This caused me to wonder what considerations went into these monuments. Do the engravings reflect what was MOST important to these people? I don't think so -- not in most cases. I'm sure most of them valued their families more than their hobbies. But in death, as in life, it sometimes doesn't show what we most value. I pray that they all valued their relationships with Jesus Christ most of all.

Back to my self-reflection . . . .

What do I value most? In my current discouragement, I'm valuing ME the most.

"I'm living with my parents . . . .
I'm not seeing great success . . . .
I'm questioning how long it will take . . . .
I'm worried I will go through my savings . . . ."

It's all about me! Am I really trusting God to provide the means for me to serve in Japan? What if I do end up going through all of my savings during this time of raising support? What happens then? Is it of eternal consequence? NO! I'm on this earth for a very short time -- most likely not more than 90 years. (My mom does say that Koois are too stubborn to die.) Eternity is . . . eternal! Will it matter what my bank account was, or my retirement account? Of course not! I've never really been all that concerned about finances before. Why now -- when I've put my finances in God's hands and out of my own (like it was ever really in my own hands in the first place)?

A good friend of mine at Belhaven College says, "If you're gonna worry, don't pray; if you're gonna pray, don't worry." That's good advice.

My scripture reading yesterday brought my mind to an old hymn, one that my church choir loves to sing:

Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart feel lonely?
And long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion;
A constant friend is He.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Prayer Requests

I've been living at home, with my parents, in Iowa for the last week. It is easy to become discouraged as I no longer have a place of my own and feel like somewhat of a failure just for being here. I need your prayers in this area; and please pray that God will soon encourage me in the area of fundraising, even if it's only churches or individuals who are interested in hearing me speak about the work in Japan.

I have had three speaking engagements this past Sunday. All three were very different from each other . . . here's a little about each:
  • Asian-American Church in Bigelow, MN: Bigelow is a tiny town of 232 people on the Iowa border. The old Bigelow Christian Reformed Church (CRC) closed a number of years ago. In its place grew an Asian-American CRC serving primarily Laotian and Burmese people, but also many others. I enjoyed the multi-lingual service with them, said a few words during the service, and then joined them for a meal in the church basement (primarily Lao food!).
  • Pastor Lammers (who previously served the Bigelow CRC and now pastors the Asian-American church) then took me to the "Community Church" which is comprised of a handful of former CRC members and former Methodists. They meet in the old Methodist church with Rev. Lammers preaching every Sunday. I addressed approximately a dozen people (mostly elderly) and was very encouraged by them as they prayed for me, etc. There was even a daughter of the congregation visiting who is flying to Japan on Wednesday to teach at a university in Osaka for two years.
  • On Sunday night, I spoke at the Hawarden (IA) Christian Reformed Church. I have many exended family there from both sides of my family. I had a good time visiting with many people after the service, answering their questions about Japan and teaching them the finer points of chop sticks! They will be taking a special offering for me this next Sunday.

I'm hosting two informational meetings in NW Iowa for old friends and extended family. These will be at the Sioux Center Pizza Ranch on Friday, August 28 (6-8 pm) and Saturday, September 5 (noon-2 pm). Please pray that God will bring many people there, that it will be a good time of reconnecting with many people whom I have not seen for many years, and that these meetings will jump start this fundraising process.

Pray too for my upcoming travel. I am making contacts with family, friends, and churches in western Canada and the US. My trip will likely include stops in Alberta Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Nebraska. This is obviously a long trip, requiring a lot of driving, planning, etc. Pray for my safety and that the trip will be productive.

Thank you for your prayers and support!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Not My Home

Since returning "home" on Friday, following 38 days away, I've been confronted head on with my immediate plans for housing. If you've read my previous posts, you know that my apartment lease has expired and the rent (which was already quite high) went up. I have very mixed emotions about leaving my apartment. I've been here for four years, have painted and decorated it, fixed up a number of things . . . . It's been my home; I identify with it.

Over the last several months, much of my identity has been slowly ripped away from me. First, I left my job at Belhaven College in May. I had been there for nine years. As with most men, my job was the first thing I mentioned in response to "who are you." In June, I stepped down as the webmaster for my church. Although a small thing, it was a hobby, of sorts, that I enjoyed and I took pride in it. (Nevermind that I don't know html, and that there were definite shortcomings to the site as a result! Justin Brock -- you're doing a great job with the new site!) Now I am about to move out of my apartment -- my home. I think I have decided to not move to a temporary apartment, but to focus on traveling, live out of my car, and to set up my home base with my parents in Iowa. While I am feeling peace about this potential decision (having a hard time committing to it, though, as you can tell), that means I won't have my own home at all! Makes me think . . . .

Makes me think that my identity has been too tied to this world: job, hobbies, and home. My identity as a Christian should be in Jesus Christ. My home is not of this world, but in heaven! We are only here for a short while, serving in the various ways in which God calls. Missionaries have told me that this time of raising support is very difficult, but that God uses it to sharpen the individual. I've been wondering what God might have in mind to teach me. One thing He is teaching me, and will continue to teach me, is to identify with Him and not on temporal things of this world.

Life is rarely what we expect. God has far better plans for us than we could ever imagine ourselves. Trusting Him is difficult for me as I want to know the plan myself. He has always proven faithful, yet I struggle to trust Him with the future. Anyone else ever feel like those foolish Old Testament Israelites who just couldn't learn from their mistakes?!

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths."
Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, August 10, 2009

August 2009 Newsletter & Prayer List

In this edition:
- Back in Mississippi after a month of missionary training in NYC
- Target date to depart for Japan
- Pre-Departure move from Ridgeland apartment
- Fundraising travel plans

(Right-click on photo to open in new tab.)