gorgeous white couples

that one time i was almost cool

I am coming back to this coffeeshop.

I just spent an afternoon working on a track for a beat tape that I’m putting out in November. It’s called Innamission, and it’s kind of a big deal.

Not that it’s super good or anything, but I’ve never done anything like this before. Half the time, I don’t know what I’m doing, which is kind of a fantastic and terrifying feeling.

The barista mixes my drink,
I mix my drum samples,

– two artists, busy refining their respective crafts.

Half an hour passes, and he walks over to me.
“Hey man, I got a question for you.”

I pull out my earphones.
“Yeah, what’s up?”

“Do you make music?”

“Yes.. *ahem*, yes I do!”

I quickly fix my hair. And my posture.

“Nice, what type of music do you make?”

“So I’m really into hip hop and R&B – I’m making a beat tape right now.”

Whoa. I get to say that.

“Oh nice, man. That’s sick. Can I hear some of it?”

Mom’s spaghetti.

“Err yeah uhm sure! I’m not really done with this track yet so I’m not sure if it sounds good yet… Wanna listen?”

“Sure!”

I hand him the headphones quickly, attempting to hide my palms sweaty. Haven’t been this nervous since I don’t know.

I can’t hear what he’s hearing, but enough hours of staring at the same MIDI drum patterns, I know when the beat drops, just by looking at the tiny grids and colored blocks.

And when it does, I catch him nodding silently, at 86 BPM, in the corner of my peripherals.

“This is dope. I can totally hear this on SoundCloud.”

HELL YEAH IT IS, I scream out loud, my voice echoing off the cement walls of the coffeeshop.

“Thanks, man”, I respond timidly, way too quiet for him to hear through the earphones.

We small talk for a few minutes. The whole time, alls I’m thinking is,
plug the beat tape. Just plug it, dude.

But in walks a young and hip-looking, gorgeous white couple and I lose my chance.

“Gimme a minute, gotta take care of these guys.”

That’s okay. He’ll come back, and when he does, I’ll plug my beat tape. Maybe I’ll even plug my SoundCloud, I think to myself, ignoring the fact that there are only two songs on there, neither of which are very impressive.

Only he doesn’t come back. But more customers do come in. More gorgeous, hip, white couples.

His shift ends 20 minutes later, and so does my short-lived moment of almost-coolness.

“Nice talking with you, man. Hope to see you back here some time.”

I pound his fist.

Oh you will, barista friend. You will.

 

mister deludo

There once was a man named Mr. Deludo who kept a monster hidden in his basement.

No one really knows where the Monster came from.

But then again, no one had been able to get a good read on Mr. Deludo as of late. Mr. Deludo was a family man but even his closest friends and neighbors started to suspect that something was dangerously wrong at home.

Some of the townsfolk noticed him making frequent late-night strolls to the local graveyard.

Each time he came home, he would be startled to see his wife sitting in the living room, waiting for him.

“Oh hiya, honey.
Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

After a while, people suspected that the Monster must have followed him home after one of his cemetery visitations.

For some time, no one knew about the Monster, not even Mr. Deludo himself. But each and every night, he woke up while the world was sleeping to go downstairs and feed the Monster.

By morning, Mr. Deludo would remember none of it and resume his normal life. His eyes drooped from restless nights as he drove his two children to school on the way to work each day.

Weeks passed and the neighbors caught on. They could hear the Monster’s rumbling at night, when the air was still enough. But whenever they tried to bring it up, Mr. Deludo would simply deny it, because even he did not know the truth.

This went on for months and months and the Monster continued to grow and grow.

Eventually, the Monster grew so big that Mr. Deludo could not deny it any longer that something was lurking beneath the floorboards.

One day, his wife caught him in the act of his nightly clandestine activities.

“Oh hiya, honey. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“We need to talk.”

Mrs. Deludo sobbed as she blubbered her way through the messy and tear-soaked intervention.

“How could you do this to us??
Think about the family… Think of our children.”

And Mr. Deludo sobbed with her, as he finally confronted the harrowing truth about himself.

“You have to get rid of the Monster.”
Mrs. Deludo managed to mumble through the tissues.

“And no more walks to the graveyard.”

The next day, Mr. Deludo bought a gun.

At this point, the Monster had already grown so big and so strong that Mr. Deludo wondered if a gun would get the job done. Not to mention that the Monster was cunning, perhaps more deceiving than its master.

None of that really mattered though because each night, Mr. Deludo still found himself helplessly opening the door to the basement and feeding the Monster.

He knew what he was doing and he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he simply could not help it. Because though he hated the awful beast, he had grown a strange affinity for it.

So he fed the Monster, night after night.
Like a slave to his own conscience.

A week had gone by, then two, and the Monster grew bigger still. Excuses were running out and so was his time.

“You need to kill the Monster.”
Mrs. Deludo demanded.

“If you kill me, I’ll kill your wife and kids.”
The Monster counterattacked.

Mr. Deludo’s heart was torn and any more of this agony, he felt his life would split into two.

Finally, Mrs. Deludo could take it no longer. Her patience had burned out and she issued her ultimatum, threatening to leave the house and take the kids with her.

“Kill the Monster!”
She screamed in crazed desperation.

“I.. I- I can’t.”

A look of horror spread across her tear-stained face.

“You what??”

“I just.. can’t.”

More blubbering.

“It’s either us”, she said, grasping their two kids in her trembling arms, “or the Monster.”

That night, Mr. Deludo loaded his gun and went downstairs into the basement.

The Monster died a long and stubborn death. Multiple gunshots pierced the night and echoed throughout all of town, and when the bullets ran out, Mr. Deludo resorted to makeshift means of murder. The townsfolk shuddered at the sounds of Mr. Deludo’s deranged screaming, the Monster’s wailing, and the thought that they couldn’t always differentiate between the two.

Until finally, the house was silent again.
The neighbors went to bed, knowing that the belated deed of riddance was done.

Mr. Deludo carried the Monster’s still-twitching body out of his empty house and walked over to the local graveyard.

He strolled through the rows and rows of gravestones he knew so well, until he reached the cemetery’s edge. His pace slowed as he walked down the final row, grasping the Monster in his trembling arms.

Finally, he stopped and stood in front of three tombstones with the names of his wife and two kids engraved in them.

The Monster breathed its last.

It was the longest walk home that night.

As he trudged back home, Mr. Deludo replayed the murder scene over and over in his mind. But it was not the piercing gunshots, nor the Monster’s howling, nor even his own screams that still rang in his ears, but the ensuing silence.

It was too quiet.

When he got back home, he closed the door behind him and was startled to hear the voice of his wife echoing from the living room.

“Oh hiya, honey.
Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

 

help[less]

I always knew it would come to this.
From the start, our relationship was on a timer.

Last week, my therapist and I began asking the question –
“Do I need therapy anymore?”

So we dug into the soil of memory. We dug and dug, until we got lost in the labyrinth of tunnels. We found pieces of my childhood, fossilized stories of family.

I saw my dad’s face, though it was blurry like a faded polaroid.
I could never see too clearly in class and I didn’t get glasses until the 8th grade. But it mattered not. I had to pay attention, just in case I missed something. Just in case I messed up.

My dad was a sensei.
And, I, his apprentice. Being lectured and trained to survive the “real world”.

But I never learned much anyways.
I was always too slow.

I saw my mother’s face.
It was hazy from the sheer speed she traveled at, trying to take care of all of our family’s needs. All but her own.

She was everywhere and she was nowhere.

I’d catch a cold and her motherly instincts would kick into overdrive. There would never be a shortage of warm fluids and freshly-cut fruit. Her love language tasted like rice porridge and Korean pears.

My mom was a superhero.

Then I’d recover, but she kept cooking porridge and buying fruit. Taking care of needs that were not there.

She couldn’t switch off.

I never really figured out how to talk to them, or hold a friendship.
But they taught me a lot of things. And took care of me.

She sat across the room from me but we were always in the same group. She essentially saved me from flunking the first test, so naturally, I hung out with her.

Eventually, we developed a rhythm of meeting up after school every Monday by the blue lunch tables.
Then every Wednesday.
Then every Thursday.

Then almost every day.

I told my parents I had to see a tutor. A new after-school program. They bought it.

She was someone special to me.

Some days, we’d actually talk about english homework.

Other days, we’d talk about life, when life was not school and writing essays. We’d talk about things that made us feel alive, when studying made us feel empty, like robots. We’d talk about things we actually nerded out over, when it wasn’t chemistry and calculus.

In a hollow, ruthlessly competitive environment that seemed to value numbers more than people, I felt that someone actually cared about me. Saw me for who I was beyond my grades.

In a place so cold and lifeless, she made me feel understood. Known.

Warm.

“I’m not sure where to begin.”

“Well, why did you pick up the phone and call in the first place?”

“Because.. I needed help. Professional help. I needed someone to save me.”

“From what?”

“From destroying myself.”

“Mm. Tell me more about that.”

“Well.. I went to Thailand last summer on a mission trip. Little did I know I would meet my long-lost childhood tormentor. When I came back, the demons followed me home.”

“Which ones?”

“The ones that ridicule me. The ones that tell me I’m not enough. And call me B̂ā.”

B̂ā?”

“Means ‘stupid’ in Thai. Or ‘mentally retarded’, to be more specific.”

“He did all that to you?”

I nodded grimly at her.

“I’m so sorry.”

“Every day, he would teach us his way doing things around the house. Like how to wash the dishes. Or laundry. Things like that. And whenever I messed up, he would beat me with his words.”

“My goodness.. That must have been so painful.”

“The problem was, in his eyes, I was always doing it wrong. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get it right.”

She paused. Sorted through the soil.

“He was the sensei.”

I nodded.

“And I was his failed apprentice.”

The bell rang and the daily exodus of pubescent teenagers formed towards the door.

I headed towards her desk.

“Hey.”

“Hey! What did you think?”

“It was hard”, I lied. “Should have just slept.”

“Wanna meet after school? Maybe I can work my magic.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Lunch tables?”

“Sounds good.”

She smiled.

I think I liked her but I didn’t know what that meant yet.

I would probably not retain anything she taught me but she meant something special to me.

So I went to the blue lunch tables every week. Perfect attendance.

One day, my parents caught on that my afternoon “tutoring activities” weren’t actually raising my grades.

Maybe this one will work instead, they thought, and promptly signed me up for yet another after-school program.

I could not fight back. Because that would unveil the beautiful lie I had spent the past couple months fabricating. Because that would make me a worse son than I already was.

So I found other ways of lashing out. Like yelling at them. Closing the door to the office den I worked in. Closing other, more important doors.

Shutting them out of my life.

We saw each other less and less.

We were not in the same friend group to begin with, and high school has a petty way of handling friendship. Now, the only space we shared – blue lunch tables after school – was taken from us.

Our meetings became shorter and shorter. Less and less often.
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, some weeks, if we were lucky,
then Wednesdays and Fridays,
then only Wednesdays.

Then nothing.

She became a senior and I jumped off the edge to college.

I spent many of my afternoons staring off into the crayon-vandalized walls of my new after-school institution.

I don’t think I ever properly mourned
her disappearance
my disappearance
from each other’s lives.

I did not know how. So into space I stared. Like a trauma victim in comatose. So much for raising grades.

I wondered what became of our friendship.
How did we get here? If I didn’t have her, did I have friends at all? Or were they all just robots?

I wondered if she found out about my affections for her.

Or if she found out that I actually had a thing for English and literature. That I tried my hand at creative writing and was actually pretty good at it.

That I didn’t need her help anymore.

I wondered if she found out what I had turned her into.

One time, I got sick. And her motherly instincts kicked into overdrive.

Freshly-cooked, warm rice porridge. Honey lemon tea. Korean pears.

Then, I got better.
But I stayed in bed. Told her that my throat still burned.

Just a little while longer.

At the moment, I didn’t really know why I did that.

But I think about how she made me feel in those moments – cared for and seen.

That in the coldest of colds, she made me feel warm.

I think about who she was, what she meant to me. She was a caretaker. A superhero.

My mom was also a superhero.
And I liked being rescued.

“Justin, you’re not just living.
You’re thriving.”

I looked at her, my mouth agape. Not because it wasn’t true but because it had been so long. Did I even believe her?

I sat on the couch, my butt on the very edge, staring into my favorite blank space on the wall of the warmly-lit room.

It was April and I sat on the very edge of a cliff, on the verge of transition. The verge of graduation, and “real life”, whatever that is. Adult things, like finding a job, paying my own bills, and waking up early.

Becoming self-sufficient. Buying my own rice porridge and Korean pears. Terrifying things of that nature.

I sat on the edge of a new chapter of relationship. I looked at the cliff and wondered which friendships would survive the fall when I jumped.

I always knew it would come to this.
From the start, our relationship was on a timer.

She spoke, snapping me out of my state of wall-staring rumination.

“So. What do you think? What would it look like for us to finish well?”

We spoke of seeing each other less. Twice, maybe even once a month.

Always Wednesdays. Always one hour, exactly.

But less and less.

Until nothing.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

I pulled out my weapon of choice and started writing –
“This is not a goodbye letter.

It is a bizarre thing, talking with your friends about how to be friends to each other. But sometimes, it is what we must do.

You walked in at a curious time of my life.
I was not entirely myself, and yet, I was more myself than I had ever been. And perhaps, it was the same for you. Funny how suffering does that to people.

I often wonder who you are to me.
Sometimes, I say friend. Other times, I do not know.

I think about the ways you’ve helped me through some of the most difficult and important times of my life. I remember the ways you comforted me and saved me from destroying myself.

In the darkest and loneliest moments, you made me feel like someone actually cared about me.
In the coldest and most lifeless times, you made me feel understood. Known. Warm.

Now that things are not so dark, now that life is not so cold, I think about that more than ever – who you are to me.

And the thought terrifies me. I fear I might lose you somehow. That as I sit on the edge of transition, maybe our relationship will not survive the fall.

Because,

Who are you if I don’t need you?
What is our relationship if I don’t need saving anymore?

I turned you into something you’re not. I made myself into someone I’m not.

I turned you into a superhero.
And I wanted to be rescued.

But I was never meant to need you.

I don’t want to be your friend because you can meet my needs, or because you can make me feel a certain way. Even if you are uncannily good at it.

I want to be your friend because you are uniquely and flavorfully you.

So I guess this is me saying,
I don’t need you anymore.

And that is a beautiful thing.

writer’s block

Of fresh starts, running away, and good storytelling.

“So you told her your story of betrayal. The truth.”

“Yeah. And she asks me, ‘What would you wanna say to them?'”

“Like in a hypothetical conversation?”

“Yeah, exactly. And I kinda freak out.”

“And then you broke up with her..?”

“No no, that’s not why I broke up with her. But it gave me an idea. An idea that would develop into something that would change the rest of my life.”

“That would lead you here.”

“Eventually.”

“I see. So what does that have to do with your um.. career crisis and stuff?”

“Slow down, man. I’ll get there.”

“Alright, alright. So how did you answer her question? Tell me about this hypothetical conversation.”

“Well the thing is, I already knew what I would say. I’ve already transcribed this…  ‘dialogue’ onto paper so many times, like drafts of a screenplay.
‘Which draft will be used?’, I often wondered. I kept writing and writing.”

“Did you ever use any of them?”

“Never.”

“Why not?”

“It was too painful.”

What is it, that I already know the words, but it still burns to say them?
I practice my lines for months, in some desperate attempt to be cast for the role. Yet the stage-fright still has its conniving way of sneaking under my skin.

I stand paralyzed in a lonely stage in front of a dark, empty audience, save a couple silhouettes. My shaky breath is too loud. Who decided that my microphone should be on. Now my fears are amplified for the world to hear.

“So you just.. didn’t ever talk to them.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t do it.”

“So what was this revolutionary, life-changing idea of your’s?”

“It was this thought that.. perhaps, we live in a world of cruel bloopers. I figured that conversations never play out the way we plan them. The characters always go off-script.”

“I mean, that’s one way to see it.”

“The scripts that I write in my head are always more preferable than what actually happens on-screen. Even if the scenes are hard and painful, I’d write them in an exaggerated, overly-dramatized fashion, which I prefer for some reason.”

“It feels better than the real thing.”

“Yes. So I obsessed over this concept and I found myself at a crossroads, which I often do. It seemed like there were only two paths that I could take: to live in a world of fiction or to lose my fantasy and live in the reality of the present.”

“Is that why you moved to the East Coast?”

“I’m afraid it was. That was how my new life as a recluse began. I immersed myself in this new, unfamiliar world, where I could start a new life. I could write my own story with new characters, new narratives, new plot twists. I even considered changing my name.”

“Damn. I had no idea. And how did that go for you?”

“It was exciting at first. Euphoric, almost. I was drunk on this idea that no one else could write my story for me anymore. The pen was in my hand and no one else’s. I reveled in this idea.”

“And the people back at home?”

“Well… I cut them off. I kind of just disappeared from their lives.”

His brow tenses ever so slightly. I look at the icy waters below us but I feel his concerned eyes pressing on my face. I don’t know if I like this feeling.

“What happened, then?”

“I started writing. I indulged in my newfound freedom. I had a fresh canvas to work with and I took advantage of that.”

“Fiction, I presume.”

I nod.

“Mostly short stories and what not. If you recall, I shared some of them with you a while ago.”

“Ah yes. They were pretty good. I hafta admit, I was quite impressed.”

“Yeah? Cool thanks, I guess replying four years late is better than never.”

“Sorry, man.”

“It’s whatever”, I mutter through my smirk. I knew he liked my writing.

“Wipe that stupid grin off your face.”

“No.”

“I’m gonna throw you off this bridge.”

“Hm. That would make an excellent opening scene. I’m gonna use that. Thanks, man.”

He rolls his eyes.

“You’re welcome. You were saying?”

“You crashed my train of thought.”

“You were writing short stories and…?”

“Ah yes. I was on a writing spree. My mind was overflowing with inspiration, it was almost too much. I could barely keep up. It had been a while since I created art that I was proud of.”

“Hm. Seems like Brooklyn did a lot of good for you.”

“Yeah. Everyday, the city had something new to offer me. New tools, new paints, new brushes to work with. It was a wellspring of creativity and innovation.”

“I wish more people thought of us that way.”

“That’s another thing. I had fallen so in love with this town that I almost felt this need to show it off to the world. I wanted people to realize its hidden beauty.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I suppose. It was complicated – wanting to show off my new home while covering my footprints so people in my previous life wouldn’t discover my whereabouts.”

“Did they ever find you?”

“A few did. They tried to get in contact.”

“What did you do?”

“I did what I knew how to do best.”

“…Write fiction?”

I nod again, slowly this time.

“You lied to them.”

“Well in fiction, you take the truth and you sort of… bend it. Twist it to your liking. Paint it with different colors.”

“I see.”

I can feel his skepticism. It is sharp.

“Do you regret that?”

“Sometimes. At the time, I had become so infatuated with the city that I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. My scars were still fresh. This was my new life and I had no intentions of going back.”

“That’s fair. Do you feel that your new self is incompatible with your old city?”

“Very much so.”

“I think I can understand that.
You mentioned previously that you had become a recluse?”

“Yes.”

“How so? As far as I could tell, you were still interacting with human beings when I met you.”

“Haha well, maybe not a real recluse.”

“Then what? A fictional recluse?”

“I figured I could have people in my life, so long as I didn’t have to get too close and personal with them.”

“And what did that achieve you?”

“Safety.”

“From what?”

“Robbery. I was scared that if I shared too much of my story, if I had let someone in too much, they would steal my pen. Because that’s what tends to happen. I didn’t want someone else writing my story again. It’s too painful.”

“Don’t you already share your stories though?”

“Yes, but only the fictional ones.”

“Hm.”

“For a while, people were nothing more than free ideas for characters I could build and write about. I would have a meaningful conversation or two with a new ‘friend’ and leave the rest to my imagination.”

“That is… fascinating.”

“That was the scariest part though. I needed to know them enough to have something to write about but that usually meant sharing myself with them as well. So once I had enough ‘content’ to work with, I would draw the line and keep the friendship from going anywhere further.”

“So… people were just creative fodder for your short stories.”

I look back down at the waters.

“Yeah, basically.”

“You’re a sick man. A genius, but… sick.”

“I know.”

“Was that all I was to you? A resource you could exploit for your writing career?”

“I may have used you for a few of my characters…”

“Fuck you. I want them back.”

“I’m sorry. I really am.”

“You know, you’re so scared of having your story stolen from people… but isn’t that what you’re doing to everyone else? You earn your friends’ trust, they share their story with you, then you take it and run away without ever returning the favor.”

It made too much sense. Maybe I should jump the bridge now.
We sat in the silence together.

“You know, it’s okay. You can use my story if you want. I don’t mind.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, man. I’ve shared so much of it anyways. I trust you. You’re still an asshole, though.”

“Wow. I’m… baffled.”

“You know, as good of a writer as you are, your scars still sometimes show. I could always tell you were in pain.”

“Hm. I suppose fiction can’t hide everything.”

“There is a fine line between writing fiction and writing lies.”

Wow. I think I almost throw up.

“You know… you were always the most inspiring and the most difficult character I’ve had to work with.”

“What do you mean?”

“You always give out your story so freely… It confused me, yet it amazed me. I was always afraid I’d have to respond in kind. At the same time, it gave me plenty of content to work with. Maybe even too much. Too much truth. I was scared of it. So I decided to stop using it after a while.”

“How long has it been?”

“Years. I looked to other people for stories instead.”

“I bet my story was far more exciting.”

“Well… actually, yes. Remember what I said about how fiction is written?”

“Bending the truth?”

“Yeah. Well, I eventually ran out of truth to bend. If I could only get so close to my friends, there was only so much material I could use. I could always find new friends but I grew tired. I was meeting new people, only getting to surface level, and running away.”

“Sounds exhausting.”

“Especially if you’re trying to be a recluse. I ran out of juice. And that would drive me into the deepest pit of writer’s block I’ve ever had. I guess I’m still in it. And I never figured out how to escape.

My stories became stale and colorless.”

Another moment of shared silence. The sun had set for a good while now and the city slowly ignited its nightly skyline glow.

“You know what. I think you have what you need to escape this hole you’re stuck in. I think you know what to do.”

I paused.
I wondered, how much of this story was real, how much was fictitious? I thought about this new life that I had spent years inventing and how I had ended up in another dead end. I thought about why real life was so terrifying to me. I saw truth as fire and I still live with the burn marks.

“Stop writing fiction?”

“No. Stop writing bad fiction.”

“Excuse me?”

He smiled.

“There’s nothing wrong with writing fiction, my friend. But the best fiction is real fiction.”

“Ah. The great Albert Camus. How could I forget.”

Perhaps I had been asking myself the wrong question.
How much of my life is fiction, how much a lie?

I thought of truth as fire still – that had not changed. It was dangerous. But maybe if I allow myself the risk of playing with explosives, I just might be able to make fireworks.

Talk about grip strength. The pen is slipping from my hand.

#gettrekt16 – “why you came?” (entry 4)

On good days when our Daa finds himself in a good enough mood, he will crack jokes with us, teach us some Thai words, and practice his choppy English vocabulary. On one of these seldom days, he kept saying this one phrase over and over, “Why you came!” Michael and I looked at each other and laughed. We’re still trying to figure that one out, my friend. We’ll get back to you on that one.

 

If God is all powerful, why does He call us into Mission? Clearly, He can just do it all Himself. If He wanted to, He can bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, fulfill the Great Commission, and it would be a cakewalk. So why would He call us, messy human beings, to do His work when He is perfectly capable of doing it Himself? That doesn’t sound very efficient to me. Is God really perfect?

The trek is quickly coming to a close and it’s about that time that we start taking inventory of the things that God has done and is continuing to do. If the trek were to end tomorrow, what can we point to and give God glory for? What testimonies will we hold onto and savor in the years to come? What convictions and lessons will we carry home?

Here at the Ruth Center, God has shoved us beyond the limits that we defined for ourselves and taken us to places we would have never dreamed of going on our own. He has shown us what His cup of suffering really tastes like. He has taught us how to love those we have forgotten how to love, even ourselves. I personally received deep inner healing last week when my team dedicated a couple of hours of their afternoons to pray for me.

But wait a minute. What about the things that changed in Thailand? What about the difference that we made in the peoples’ lives here? As we reflect, we are forced to wrestle with a realization that may be startling to some. It seems like Jesus was doing a lot more work in our lives than the lives of our hosts. As far as I can tell, we spent a lot more time dealing with my long-forgotten childhood trauma than that of the Thai people. What’s up with that? Jesus, what exactly did I sign up for?

As difficult as it is to admit to ourselves and our church friends, Bangkok isn’t going to go through that much transformation by the time we leave. If we are being truly honest with ourselves, we didn’t change Thailand that much. What am I to say to my friends at my InterVarsity chapter when I come home? What am I supposed to tell all those people who donated so that I could afford this trip?

It is a scary place to be, when we are no longer able to hide behind our accomplishments or a nicely-packaged testimony. But that is exactly where Jesus wants us. Because it threatens our source of self-worth when we live and breathe a culture that has idolized achievement and success like golden calves. Because we can no longer shield ourselves behind the damaging notion that the poor need us as much as we would like to believe. Because it is in this place of vulnerability and nakedness that we are forced to face who we truly are.

When God called me to commit to a short-term mission trip this summer, He was not inviting me to change Thailand. He was inviting me to confront the brokenness of my own heart. Is the North American evangelical church ready to face such a scandalous truth that they are just as broken as the third-world countries they so fervently claim they are called to serve? It is easy, even comforting, to point out depravity when we walk the Red Light Districts of Thailand but are we willing to let Jesus walk through the depravity of our own souls? Are we willing to let our consciences be disturbed when Jesus reveals to us that the sin we see in the consumers of the sex trade is the same sin that plagues our own hearts?

That is what Jesus is doing in my life and I firmly believe that is why He asked me to drop all my plans and travel halfway around the world this summer. Yes, to see the messiness of sin in Thailand, but more so, to see the messiness of sin in my life.

Jesus doesn’t need us to complete the Mission. We need the Mission for Jesus to complete us. Because it is in the Mission that we find not only the healing of the nations, but also the healing of our hearts. It is in His perfection that He calls the imperfect to do His perfect will, thereby perfecting them.

 

Why you came?” Whether out of genuine curiosity or just to give us some laughter, Daa poses a serious question that has haunted us the whole summer.

Maybe it’s not so much about us missionaries bringing change to Thailand. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that Jesus is already doing that, with or without us. Maybe we’ve romanticized the short-term mission trip so much in the church that we’ve forgotten that Jesus is on a mission after our hearts. Maybe we’ve obsessed over the idea that “the poor need us” and lost sight of the reality that we are just as in need of Jesus as they are. Maybe our stories of redemption are actually intertwined and we’re just in it for the ride. Together. Maybe that’s all Mission really is. Not the rich saving the poor, not the missionary changing the world, not even the churched converting the pagans. Because to both the Rich Men and Lazarus’ of the world, Jesus is the true Savior, the true bringer of change, and to our greatest surprise, our true reconciler. So maybe Mission is just Jesus’ invitation for us to learn something we’ve forgotten how to do with Lazarus: to share a relationship together.

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – dying incarnationally (entry 3)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”  –Mark 8:34

Ever since Michael and I arrived on-site at Daa’s household, we have been gradually compiling a list of “deal-breakers” that would send us home immediately. It was a fool’s errand. Every time we added something to the list, we would unexpectedly find ourselves doing that very thing we promised ourselves we would never do, only a couple days later.

On the fourth day, I told myself that if I fell into the trash-filled black swamp water of the slums, I would quit. Send me home, Lord. Within a few days, I fell in. Two days later, Daa told Michael to climb into the trash dump to fetch firewood. There have been nights when we’ve woken up 5+ times to unload diarrhea because of food poisoning. Other nights, we’ve been rudely awakened by monster cockroaches inside our mosquito net and we had to beat them to death with our water bottles. Just a few nights ago, I woke up with 48 mosquito bites on my right arm alone. The list goes on. I’ll leave you to your imagination.

In essence, we were creating boundaries for where we were willing to go and every time we drew the line, Jesus would take us there to cross it. He tends to do that a lot. It’s pretty annoying.

One thing I can be sure of now is that following Jesus into a ministry of Incarnation is much harder than I anticipated. Scott Bessenecker was right in saying in his book (The New Friars) that the Incarnation is not merely a one-time decision that we make when we fill out the online application to the Global Urban Trek. We must choose into the Incarnation daily. And that is no easy task.

I often laugh to myself whenever my friends and family ask me what I’m doing in Bangkok this summer because, quite frankly, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I know Jesus has called me here but as to why He has called me, I am wrestling with that question even as I write this article. It doesn’t help that all we are doing is taking care of grandmas and grandpas and getting harassed by tropical insects all day. In times of stress, exhaustion, physical and emotional pain, I get especially impatient with God and I want to shortcut the process of finding answers.

The past week has been particularly strenuous on both my body and my soul and in the midst of the pain, the Holy Spirit has illuminated some profound truths to me. Sure, our site (Ruth Center) may not have a program or “agenda”, per se, but our mission is to learn how to love our Daa and Yaay’s (grandpas and grandmas), as aforementioned in the previous post. Other sites may have more intense programs, such as dealing with victims of trafficking, but our site has one of the most difficult living situations by far. But I think that’s the point. Our living situation IS the program.

If love is the mission, then living with Daa is our ministry. It is the vehicle with which we must learn to navigate in order to embrace the Mission. Just as Jesus incarnated and dwelled among His people as an outward expression of His love, we live and dwell with Daa to communicate Jesus’ love to him and to make Jesus’ love our own.

It has dawned on me this past week that in order to choose the Incarnation and live with the people, I must first die to myself. That is why it is so hard to live with Daa. To choose into living the life of Jesus is to also choose into the death of myself.

Since coming on the Trek, there have been many opportunities for me and my team to “check out” and mentally quit the Mission. Needless to say, the temptation only intensifies in moments when Michael and I check off items on our deal-breaker list. But those moments are not just opportunities to quit. They are opportunities to let those parts of ourselves die for the sake of continuing the Mission of Jesus. To let our love of comfort die when we are getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the shower. To let our need for other people die when no one visits our Daa. To let my need for verbal affirmation die when all I hear is rebuke and disapproval. To let go of the reality that I’m probably not going to leave behind a tangible legacy when I leave Bangkok. To let my accomplishment-driven, task-focused ministry paradigm die when I realize that I won’t be able to measure the impact that I made in someone else’s life because that’s not the point. Opportunities like this come on the daily and each time they come, we have to ask ourselves: will I choose my own life or will I choose to die to it? Will I choose the Incarnation? Will I choose Jesus?

 

I think I may have found the Way of the Cross. The road marked with suffering. I don’t quite see Jesus yet but at the very least, I think I found footprints.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be.”  –Jesus [John 12:24,26]

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – the mission (entry 2)

When Jesus walked the earth, He didn’t teach His disciples how to lead a bible study. Nor did He teach them how to convert people. Jesus didn’t send His students to seminary or to ministry-training conferences. No. His heart was set on far more important things. When Jesus walked the earth, He taught His disciples how to love.

Love is the mission.

 

Today marks the 10th official day that the Global Urban Trek of Thailand has been on site (post-orientation). Each of the four teams have a unique opportunity to learn from and partner with organizations that are trying to figure out how to bring the Kingdom of God to some of the most marginalized populations in the world, such as victims of human trafficking, modern-day lepers, and refugees. For decades, these “ministry veterans” have been pouring out their lives in sacrifice to ensure that love and justice are delivered to those the world has deemed unworthy of it.

My team (of 4) and I have the privilege of partnering with the Ruth Center, an 8-year old ministry that is working to address the issue of the large elderly population that has been literally cast aside by society. Many of these elderly have been abandoned, ignored, and forgotten because of relational crises, financial problems, etc. and are left to live on their own.

This summer, Michael, Janet, Victoria, and I will be taking care of some grandmas and grandpas. We will be making sure their daily needs are met and building a relationship with them. We will be grocery shopping with them, doing laundry with them, watching dramas with them, and the like. Yes, I know, it’s not the most glamorous testimony, but I believe Jesus is presenting to us a special invitation: to practice the Incarnation. To be subject under the same living conditions as their own. To share meals together. To breathe the same sweet fragrance of the slums. To use the same squatty-potty. To share the same mosquito net at night. To share life together. To make their struggles our struggles and to make their joys our joys. To weave our own thread of life into their’s.

This is how we met Poon-Tam. Michael and I call him Daa, which means “Grandpa” in Thai, and we will be his grandsons for the summer. Daa is quite the enigma, to say the least. He has tough skin (literally and figuratively) yet he’s a softie for little children and kittens. We’re still trying to figure him out.

To put it lightly, living with this man has been one of the most difficult and mentally straining challenges we’ve had in a while. Communication with Daa quickly saps are our energy to the point of exhaustion and simple house chores that should take 10 minutes can take up to an hour. Daa doesn’t have RBF per se, but I have yet to meet another man who can match his level of stoicism. He is a man of few words and his expressions rival that of a brick wall.

Perhaps the most challenging obstacle I have yet to surmount is Daa’s lopsided tendencies to balance encouragement and rebuke. The past 10 days have been a draining trial-and-error process of learning how to take care of Daa’s needs and get household tasks done. Because of the language barrier, we often have to play a time-consuming guessing game with each other before any work is accomplished. I have quickly observed that it is really easy to know that you are making a mistake, as Daa has quite a talent for letting you know you messed up. On the contrary, his affirmations are subtle, almost invisible, so you best be paying attention.

As someone who has not heard, “I’m proud of you”, a whole lot growing up, I crave for any verbal affirmation I can get, and to an unhealthy extent, I might add. As you can imagine, I would not thrive in an environment like Daa’s home. I feel like a fish out of water and I don’t like being reminded of how that feels. It is as if salt is being rubbed on a wound that has been open since childhood.

One of my favorite things about reading the biographies of Jesus is being able to laugh at the disciples for how bad they are at following Jesus, only to be promptly notified by the Holy Spirit that I am actually just like them. “How hard could it be to love your neighbor? You guys are noobs.”

Within the first five days of being on-site, God had already reminded me that I had a limit to my love and that Daa was outside of it. Before I had even met him, I had already unknowingly trapped Daa with an unrealistic expectation to show me affirmation in the way that I needed it. And if he didn’t meet those expectations, I shouldn’t have to show him any of my love.

The reality is, direct and verbal affirmations will probably always be of utmost importance to me but I may go through the entire summer without receiving any of it from Daa. Even if he does give it, I probably won’t understand it because we speak different languages.

And therein lies the question of the century: How do I love this man? How do I love someone who I don’t know loves me back? Some dude once said, “relationship is a two-way street” but what if the other person isn’t willing to meet you in the middle? What if they can’t? Are we still expected to love?

It’s hard for me to even fathom that type of love but Christ did it, and it kind of changed everything. I guess I haven’t fully discovered what unconditional love means. I get the feeling that Jesus wants to show me and that may very well be the reason why I’m here this summer. That maybe this trip isn’t so much about the change I can bring to Thailand, but rather, the change that God is going to bring into my heart.

“Jesus, I thank You that You did not wait for me to reciprocate, or even know Your name, before showing me Your love. Remind me of how good Your Good News is. Take my withering heart and expand my capacity to love those whom I have forgotten how to love.”

 

After Jesus was resurrected, three times He asked Simon Peter, “Do you love me?”, to which Peter would respond, “Of course, dude.” Jesus would then command Peter each time, “Then feed my sheep.”

Love is the mission.

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – scavenger hunts (entry 1)

Following Jesus is like a box of chocolates. One of my greatest warnings to my brothers and sisters in Christ is to never get used to following Jesus. When following Jesus becomes comfortable, you should be concerned. It’s not that Jesus changes, we just keep discovering more and more of Him. It’s kind of like a space journey.

One place that the Lord never fails to surprise me is in the Harvest field. We just finished our week of orientation in Bangkok and many of us are already getting floored with challenging questions and heavy convictions. “If You love me, why won’t you heal me now? Why don’t you free the oppressed right now? Why do You wait? Why am I here?” I get the feeling that God wants us to wait before answering our burning questions. Wild guess.

A consistent tension that has been mutually shared among the team is the balance of noticing and appreciating the beauty of the city while simultaneously acknowledging its brokenness. It is a tricky spectrum to navigate. As Christians of the North American first-world church, we carry a specific lens that tends to blow some things out of proportion. It is particularly easy to focus on Bangkok’s brokenness while overlooking its beauty.

The topic of empowerment has been on the hearts and minds of Christian / social justice leaders for generations. What does it mean to empower a community? How exactly do you do it? To this day, these questions still baffle even the world’s most-respected humanitarians and sociologists. But one thing that we can be sure of is that we will never empower a people if we can only see their brokenness. When we enter a slum community, what’s the first thing we see, a helpless people group or a thriving collective of intellectuals? Do we see a charity case or the next generation of leaders and world-changers? Do we see them as poor and incapable or do we see them as an untapped well of ingenuity?

Why is it so easy for us to notice, and even define, people (esp. poor people) by what they lack, rather than what they already have? Has our vision become so distorted that we cannot see people for who they truly are, image-bearers of God? I think many of us are still unpacking why Jesus has called us to Bangkok this summer but I firmly believe that for many of us, one thing Jesus wants to do is shed our Western Christian lens that we didn’t know we were wearing and sharpen our vision to see people not only for their weaknesses, but especially for their strengths and resources. Jesus wants to heal some blind people this summer. Forgive us, Lord, for we still see men as trees.

To traverse the tightrope of seeing brokenness and beauty is no easy task. Granted, we still must acknowledge the community’s areas of deficit/poverty, for indeed, they are dire needs. But Jesus doesn’t need to teach us how to do that, because we’re already so good at it. Too good, I would argue. We’re so talented that we’ve invented fields of study about it.

God needs to give a hard shove to reorient us back to the center of balance. The people we will meet this summer have strengths, talents, and abilities that will surprise us. They are God’s gifts to us. It is only until we see them as such that we can begin walking hand-in-hand with them on the windy road to empowerment.

The Kingdom of God is like a great scavenger hunt. And the Harvest Fields are, indeed, plentiful. In fact, the fields have treasures in them, waiting for us. Jesus’ invitation to us, as His laborers, is to go out and look for them.

 

#gettrekt16