Thursday, April 26, 2018

When Dreams Change

As most people in my circle know, for the past 3+ years, I've been planning to go on a year-long co-op placement in the Global South as part of my undergrad, in my 4th year. These past few months have been spent working to secure a placement and prepare to leave over the summer.

I think this has been a dream of mine since reading Kisses from Katie in grade 9. I think a part of me has wanted to spend extended time in the Global South since I first travelled to the Philippines in 2011. It's been something I've been working towards and dreaming of since I heard about this program at the University of Toronto.

A few weeks ago, I found myself with an offer to live in a beautiful country for a year, working with a local, grassroots, church-based NGO. I would be working with youth, doing communications, and using my international development degree.

It was my dream placement.

I had every intention to accept it. "Unless God writes in the sky," I texted a friend.

But sometimes God writes in the sky even when you don't want Him to, and especially when you least expect Him to.

So, on the Thursday before Easter, I declined my dream placement.

I don't expect everyone to understand. It's hard for me to articulate the intangible feeling of knowing and understanding exactly what I needed to do deep down in my soul. I won't launch into the full story here... it's one that needs to be told over a coffee, not on a blog. There isn't really much of a story, other than that where there should've been peace and excitement about this placement, there was instead division and uneasiness.

It wasn't my dream to hold onto anymore. I think part of me has known that for months, but another part of me, the part that's been dreaming about this for more than five years, didn't want that to be true.

It's sad when dreams die. I cried more tears over losing this dream than I had cried in a long time. But the day after declining that placement, I entered into a weekend that was a reminder that resurrection doesn't happen without death. That full and abundant life doesn't happen without sacrifice at the cross. That something can be celebrated on one Sunday, killed on Friday, and then raised to new life the next Sunday.

Things change. Outlooks change. Sometimes very quickly. And in this case, very quickly is exactly what happened...

I thought I would have to drop-out of the co-op stream of my program, and graduate a year earlier (which would've been nice, honestly, but...).

But don't I know that God's grace reaches infinitely farther than I can ask or imagine.

In the matter of a few days, a new plan was in motion, and I will now be completing my co-op placement at Compassion Canada, continuing in a similar role that I have been working in for the past two years. I get to stay in Toronto and continue investing in the places, spaces and people I love, while continuing in this amazing program, doing something I love, and contributing to an organization I am so proud to work with.

It's the dream placement I never even knew to dream of.

And that's just how much the Lord desires to lavish His love on His kids.

I'll also likely be taking a bit of time to travel throughout the year to visit some of my Compassion kids. And, as part of my program, I will also be conducting some primary research, based here in Toronto, for a thesis paper that I will write in 5th year.

Yeah, it does blow my mind a little, too.

I want to say thank you, to those that prayed through this process with me. You prayed me to a different outcome than I expected, but one I am fully at peace with and one that I couldn't be more delighted with.

I also want to apologize for my inconsistent updates. Things happened fast and suddenly, and it was hard to keep up with updating everyone, remembering who was updated up until what point in the process... etcetera. This post is my attempt to do a sweeping catch-up for everyone. Thank you for grace in this.

This has definitely been a weird space to be in because over the past several years, everything in my life had been barrelling towards this placement that is no longer going to happen. Everything has been about placement, everything fit around the big block that was placement... and maybe that was part of the problem.

Throughout this process, I've been hearing God tell me to trust. To step off a cliff, even if it feels like I'm free falling, and trust that He is going to catch me.

I thought many things of this picture. I thought that stepping off the cliff meant going on placement. Or maybe that I wouldn't be offered a placement.

Turns out it meant that I would be offered what I thought was my dream placement and He would ask me to let go of it. Step off the cliff into the unknown of giving up a long-held-on-to dream.

And to know that sometimes, dreams change. And that's okay.

In fact, sometimes that changing dream is the very best He has for you.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Dear 45, on behalf of children of colour...

Dear Mr. President,

First thing first... I’m Canadian. You’re not my President. Yet time and time again, you’ve dragged all of us—women, people of colour, advocates, allies, global citizens, Kingdom people—into this through your comments and your actions.
Yesterday, you called the homes of millions of people a term that I struggle to repeat on my blog. You—the man that holds the most powerful political office in the world—used a vulgarity in one of the highest offices in the world that many, if not most, people rarely to never dare to use in their own offices, schools and homes. That alone is an abuse of your power.

But this letter isn’t to tell you to watch your language—you should probably know that. This letter isn’t even to tell you that I’ve been to Haiti and that it’s beautiful, or that one of the most precious girls in my life is from Africa and that she is beautiful. Plenty of people are doing that, and I will let them speak on behalf of all of us who work every single day with the resilient, beautiful, incredible people of the Global South to breathe beauty and love and wonder into this messy world.

No, this letter is on behalf of children of colour who live in America.

You see, in this season, I’m trying to work on giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m trying to work out of the overflowing grace of Jesus in the way I respond both privately and publicly to events, people and situations in my life. So even though the cynical side of me absolutely does not want to, I’m going to try and approach your comment under the assumption that you are simply ignorant. That your racist comment comes because as a white man that grew up in America, you are simply ignorant to the experience of people of colour in America / North America, and you are ignorant to the ravaging effects that your comments have on young, impressionable children of colour.

So, I humbly ask you to hear me out for a few minutes as I explain.

I grew up as a first-generation Asian-Canadian in a primarily white neighbourhood just outside of Toronto, Canada. I was privileged to have some exposure to cultural diversity, since Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. But my primary experience was one where whiteness was default and everything else was Other.

It starts innocently enough. Maybe it’s Remembrance Day (that’s Veteran’s Day, for you) celebrations at school. The history class that goes along with it is about the trenches in Europe and the men and women that fought those wars—for freedom, for liberty. The assignment that goes along with it is to see if your ancestors fought in those trenches. My classmates go home, and come the next day with stories of their grandparents who are war heroes. Their ancestors are celebrated for their contribution to the peace and freedom that we enjoy here in Canada today.

But my ancestors did not fight in those trenches. So these little doubts enter my mind: Are my ancestors weak? Does my family not contribute to making Canada peaceful and free?

Then maybe it’s a trip to the movies. Maybe it’s every trip to the movies I ever took throughout my childhood and youth. The main character is always white, by default. Their experience is always one that white people have, or at least “default Americans” have, so why not just cast a white actor, since, remember, whiteness is always default in the world I grew up in. It’s the same story when I turn on the T.V. or read books.

There are never people of colour in those stories. Definitely no Asians. Definitely no Asian heroes. So those little doubts are reinforced: Is the experience of people like me not worth depicting in the media? Is my experience always second to the default of whiteness?

Then maybe it’s a few innocent enough comments I heard ever so often. “Your dad says that word funny.” “Nothing’s more Canadian than summers at the cottage and winters at the ski resort!” “I love Chinese food. You’re so lucky, your mom must make Chinese food every night for dinner.” “Can you say something in Chinese?” “There are terrorists in the Philippines, right?” “I would never go to China.”

But I’ve always understood my dad, even when he enunciates every syllable in comfortable as if it’s a Filipino word. My family has never had or wanted a cottage, and we’ve never been skiing. And so on. And those little doubts start screaming: Is there something wrong with the way my family operates? Is there something so exotic or different about Chinese food and language that makes people so interested in it? Is there something wrong with the countries that my family is from?

Are the places I’m from sh*tholes?

I’ve come a long way, Mr. President. I am so proud of where I’m from. I am so proud of the diversity that I and my fellow people of colour bring to this country, and the stories we can start to tell.

But yesterday when I heard about what you said, my mind immediately went to the black, brown and yellow kids all over North America who have had those little doubts bouncing around in their minds all their life. And I was bowled over with grief at the realization that the most powerful man in the world had just validated their deepest, darkest doubt by stating that the places they're from are sh*tholes.

I know it’s hard for you to understand because you’ve never experienced what I just described to you. But I hope you can try. I hope you can start to listen to the experience of people of colour in America.

I’ll end off with this:

To my white friends... This isn’t about anti-whiteness. This isn't about discounting who you are, what you contribute to this world, or implying that your whiteness is wrong. I want you to know that from the deepest parts of who I am. What this is about is recognizing that people of colour experience a wildly different America than you do, especially in times like the one we’re in now. And we want you to hear our experience so that you can begin to link arms with us in change. It’s not just about the way we teach history, or represent in the media, or the passing comments we make... it’s much more systemic than that. But we can start to change those systems of oppression when we hear each other, hold each other, and build each other up.

To those from Haiti, countries in Africa, Mexico, El Salvador, and other countries in the Global South, and especially first generation kids in North America... I know for many of you, it will be a long time—maybe never—before you get to see the place you’re from again or for the first time. And based on what you see in the media, sometimes it’s hard to believe that those places are beautiful. But they are. They are not sh*thole countries. They are even so much more than “very poor and troubled”, as the President put it when he tried to rescind his vulgar comment today. They are places that were created by Creator God—just like you. And even in the midst of messiness and brokenness, that same Creator God has a deep desire to reconcile and redeem and restore and because of that, the place you are from is home to many beautiful, wonderful, divine stories of hope and restoration—stories just. like. yours.

Stories just like the one I hope we can start writing as we move forward together.

Monday, August 14, 2017

On Charlottesville...

I'm trying to put into words right now the range of emotions I've felt this weekend as I watched Charlottesville unfold.

And the only words that surface are: Lord Jesus, come.

It's all I can think to say. Well, okay, I can think to say a lot, and yes, I did and probably will continue to keep letting words flow, but I keep coming back to these three words. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

And somehow, it doesn't feel like a small and helpless cry, but as if there is power in that name. Because there is.

And this is what I come to, after an exhausting and horrifying weekend: Christ-followers, we need to be declaring the name of Jesus right now. We need to be establishing His Kingdom with our words and our actions because if not, the anti-Christ of white supremacy, or Nazism, or violence, or racism, or war, or whatever evil might be coming next weekend will take root in far too many hearts, and honestly? I am sick of losing souls. Aren't we all?

So look--Church, at this moment in history, we can't just be about justice. Or peace. Or love, in general.

There will be a lot of voices that call for justice, peace, and love.

No, right now and always, we need to be about Jesus. 

Because being about Jesus means being about justice. Being about Jesus means being about peace. And you better believe that being about Jesus means being about love.

But if we believe that His Kingdom is where all things are made new, then we cannot just declare our own kingdoms of justice or peace or love. Because declaring their own kingdoms is exactly what those people in Charlottesville are doing and oh, did we see what a dangerous road that is to walk.

No, we need to establish, with our lives, the Kingdom of Jesus.

This weekend--in the between refreshing Twitter a million times, hoping to get just one more image of Charlottesville that might finally tell me that it wasn't real--our church family was working tirelessly to prepare for the arrival of the second Syrian refugee family that we are sponsoring to come to Canada.

There have been so many miracles in this process thus far, such as mid-month occupancy at an apartment in a crazy housing market, but the miracle I'm personally holding in my heart is the way that the Lord simply knew that I would need those preparations this weekend.

If white supremacy was going to rear its ugly head this weekend, then God gave me the gift of being able to counter it with preparations to welcome this family to Canada. To respond to the shouts of "You will not replace us," with an emphatic, Jesus-centred, community effort to declare, "We welcome refugees."

Friends--now isn't the time to just be peaceful, or just be anti-Nazism, or just be for defending marginalized communities.

Now is the time for intentionally establishing the Kingdom--on earth as it is in heaven. All those other things--good and vitally important things--are all by-products of Christ's Kingdom. So let's be, live, declare, establish it.

There is power in the name of Jesus. If you happen to believe that, then more than anything else you could do, the world needs you to declare that power right now.

The world needs you to establish a space and live a life where Jesus is King.

Because in that Kingdom, the King Himself suffered under all the evil humanity had to offer and declared it is finished.

In Christ's Kingdom, it is finished. White supremacy. Racism. Nazism. All evil--all of it--is finished. 

All that's left is for us to deny the kingdoms of this world--deny ourselves, our own kingdoms, and the evil that often lurks even in our own hearts--and instead declare the Kingdom of heaven.

And the Good News of this all is that the Kingdom of heaven is near--and not in the way the obnoxious street preachers mean it. No, the Kingdom of heaven, the one where all evil is finished, is so near that we could maybe even see it here--if only we choose to stop chasing our own kingdoms and seek out Christ's Kingdom.

If only we choose to declare that Jesus is Lord.

A related MUST READ (Please. Sit and listen to this!): After Charlottesville, the Question We Absolutely Have to Answer: Who Is Willing to Pick Up their Cross? by Lisa Sharon Harper

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Story We Live By

It's funny how reading can convict you to write.

I'm taking The Canadian Short Story in summer school right now--a fun elective for the summer.

And it is totally convicting me to write.

We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives. 
--Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri

That quote resonated with me deep.

I hoped to be around this blog more this year. But many times I've felt word-less. Why write? I thought, Is there really any thing left to be said in this world?

Yes. That's what I hear zing through my heart as my professor reads it out: We live stories. Stories change lives. 

The writer deep inside me always knows this, of course. But sometimes I needs a reminder.

And when the world feels like it's imploding on itself, it can be hard to comprehend the power of a simple story.

But what about that story of a God who loved us so much that He refused to leave us in this imploding world all on our own?

So He made a plan and suddenly--God with us, showing us the way to live our stories. To live compassion and humility and servanthood and peace.

Then He spread his arms wide at calvary and took the brunt of the worst this imploding world had to offer... and He defeated it.

What. About. That. Story?

Yeah--that's the story that gives our life meaning.

And until every heart knows the immense, overwhelming beauty of it, we must tell it again and again and again. No matter how many times it takes--because the Love in this story is relentless.

So yes, yes, yes. Artists and singers and filmmakers and thespians and yes - writers, too. We must tell stories, and live stories, and change lives.

Because until every life lives transformed by the Greatest Story of a Man on a cross, defeating death and inviting all to the resurrection...

There are still more stories to be told of lives transformed by the Good News that He is making all things new.

Does this mean I'll blog more? Perhaps. I do know that words are slowly coming back, and that feels good.

Monday, January 30, 2017

There Is No Neutral

I don't know about you, but I am starting this week feeling incredibly heavy. burdened. weary.

The weekend started with the Muslim ban. People were detained in airports because of the passport they carry. Families who had been going through a gruelling application and vetting process had their hopes of starting fresh in the safety of a new home totally crushed. Some had been in the pipeline for 3 years and had just a few months or weeks left before boarding the plane. Instead, they were told they had to stay where they were--in their imploding cities or nearby camps, living in extreme poverty.

And still, so many people carried on cheering for this policy.

By the time Sunday night came around and news came through of a mass shooting at a Quebec mosque, I just wanted to shut it all out. As if that would make it stop.

photo source

There is no neutral anymore. This is the time for the Church to be the Church.

We're no longer allowed to say, "I don't do politics." Because this isn't about politics. This is about humanity. This is about the Kingdom. This is about Jesus.

Church, this is not the time to disengage. This is not the time to preach recycled sermons and have quiet small groups and be apathetic and have shallow fun at youth group and spend another night at family midweek getting spiritually fat.

This is the time to engage like never before. To not only engage but shape, inform, and cultivate culture and society like the Church has been known for throughout history. To passionately preach subversive peace and radical love. To roll up our sleeves and get to work welcoming strangers and feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned.

Church, if we hadn't yet, we have officially lost the ability to be neutral. Either we stand up for the marginalized, or we oppress them ourselves. Either we pick up our cross, or we are the Romans cracking the whip and driving the nails.

There is no other way around this. This goes beyond borders. This goes beyond politics.

This is what the Church is on this earth for. When governments won't protect the marginalized, when nobody else will... the Church will. That is who we are. That is who our Saviour is: One who was so often moved with compassion. One who was a refugee. One who protects the vulnerable.

Perhaps, this is the very moment for which we were created. And no, we can't afford to sleep through this moment. We just can't.

Pray like you have never prayed before. Be the Body of Christ in real, tangible ways. Contact your elected officials. Welcome a refugee. Raise awareness. Learn. Donate to people spreading Christ's hope on the ground.

And love. Love like you never have before.

Because Love conquers all.

Jesus conquers all.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Build Your Kingdom here.

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