Wednesday, August 28, 2019

New home

I'm moving!

I didn't really feel sad about this until I came on here to write this post, but here we are and I am getting a little bit sentimental about leaving this space behind. It held my very first internet words, has gone through dozens of redesigns, helped me meet some dear friends and was my space to process through some of the most heart-transforming seasons of my life thus far.

I love this space dearly... and I'm not totally leaving it behind! I've transferred some of my favourite blog posts over to my new website, but I'll be keeping this blog up as a home for all my previous words. So I'm sure I at least will still visit here often when I want to read back.

But enough about that! I'd love for you to visit me at my new internet home:

I'm excited to continue sharing my words and work with you there.
Thanks for all the beautiful words and connections here.


Sunday, December 9, 2018

Ethiopia and Christmas

I came home to Christmas.

There was a pretty tree on the baggage claim carousel and evergreen tinsel hanging from the ceiling.

The Western world—often unknowingly—inviting God to be with us for one month of the year, every year, with plastic decorations and a rush of capitalism.

So maybe I'm cynical.

Or maybe it's that I haven't been able to stop thinking about—something—in the weeks since coming home.

I finally made it to our home church this week, after almost two full weeks of being home. The Christmas buzz has only become more intense with the start of Advent and Christmas shopping. It doesn't help that I go to church at the busiest and highest-grossing mall in Canada.

And we're singing Christmas carols at church now, too.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel. God incarnate, here to dwell. 

Don't get me wrong—Emmanuel is for all of us. God is with all of us, in all of our mess, in every circumstance and context of life.

But as this Sunday's Advent reading is read, the scene of where God specifically chose to come to be with us, at that specific point in history all those years ago—the place He chose when He could only choose one—comes barrelling into my mind.

It's the thing I can't stop thinking about—the thing that's been resting heavy on my heart since coming home to Christmas.

And I'm suddenly back in the small home of a single mother in Ethiopia, reaching across to squeeze her arm in reassurance as tears flow while she tells me her story.

God is with us, there.

Tigist + Yeabsira

We like to invite him into our big and bright white Christmases of the West—without even a thought that His choice for where He would come be with us and spend that first Christmas was a small, messy, quiet, humble and dim brown Christmas in the Middle East.

I'm not saying He won't meet us where we are—He will fight every distraction and all our excess to get our attention and capture our hearts.

But I just can't stop thinking about how close He felt as I listened to the stories of mothers who were afraid when they first heard of their pregnancy...yet chose to say a brave yes anyways.

That's all I've been thinking about, actually.

I came home to Christmas...but in so many ways, I came home from experiencing all that Christmas was, is and should be—and no matter how many times I do it, it keeps on wrecking me, shaping me, forming me...and I couldn't be more thankful.


Hi. I decided to write a thing and post it on my blog! Crazy. A little tag to it...

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that it's never the same twice. Each time, it's different and it doesn't necessarily get easier, but it's never quite the blinding intensity and year-long anguish of the first time...nor does it follow the same path as the last time. It's a unique story every time.

What they don't tell you about reverse culture shock is that sometimes you might feel incredibly entitled, childish and privileged for experiencing it, particularly when it's part of your (dream) job...and that writing about it in a public forum sometimes helps like it did when you were fifteen, and sometimes that just makes you feel crazy vulnerable in ways that you don't want to at twenty-one (or ever).

But I think vulnerability is good? Or I'm just part of the narcissistic generation that puts their lives on the internet. At least I'm self-aware...or maybe I am cynical. ;)

Anyways, I just wanted to pop in on this highly-neglected blog to share some reflections and give some (very small) peeks into what my experience of travelling to and back from Ethiopia was like, to add to (or in case you missed) what's on Instagram. To take the responsibility seriously of stewarding the stories of those I met—and my own story—well.

And also to wish you a very Merry Christmas! ... Because apparently I really can't promise that I'll write here again within the next 6 months.

May you experience Emmanuel—God with us—wherever you find yourself in this season. Wishing you and yours expectant hope, subversive peace, radical joy and boundless love throughout the holidays and in the New Year ahead. —ae

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

My Case for Youth Ministry

It was a whirlwind month of May, and I left so inspired. And I just had to get around to telling you all about it...

First, I hit the East Coast of Canada to represent Compassion at the first-ever One Conference—a gathering of ~2000 youth and youth leaders from across denominations, coming together to learn, worship, and have a ton of fun.

Then, I made my way to the prairies along with my brother to represent Compassion Canada at YC Alberta—a gathering of ~5500 youth and youth leaders, again, from across denominations, coming together to learn, worship and have a lot of fun (and, as it turns out, to sponsor 157 Compassion kids! WHAT!).

photo credits

Finally, I came home and made my way north to the Muskokas to gather with my own youth group... ~500 of us gathering for a weekend at camp to build our relationships with each other and with Jesus.

Then, on top of all that, I got to finally come home and in the first week of June watch 10 people from my youth group get baptized, 2 of which were girls in my Jr. High group that I got to help baptize. It was an absolute joy.

video credits to my super talented brother!

There's several things I'm convinced of at the end of this mini-youth ministry marathon, but here's my biggest one. If you are not involved with a youth ministry at the moment, I highly recommend it.

Seriously. There's just something that's good for your soul when you stand with dozens, hundreds or thousands of teenagers and declare the name of Jesus in song, word and community.

It's a balm to cynicism. It's a reason to hope. 

When teenagers have the courage to say yes to Jesus, I am confident that we are going to be okay. 

When teenagers decide to sponsor dozens and dozens of children through Compassion, I see a generation that sees the messy brokenness of the world and is relentless in its pursuit of shalom anyways.

When teenagers lift their hands and declare the reckless love of God, the powerful name of Jesus, I know that the Spirit is going to move in mighty ways through them.

I've had the privilege of going nearly coast to coast this spring, hanging out with teenagers. And I just want you to know that it's not bad news. It's not the desolate landscape of hopelessness that we sometimes think it is. 

It's a movement of kind, relentless, passionate, tenacious, bright young people who love Jesus and are committed to His peace, His shalom, His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.

It's pretty cool, friends, and it is a joy to be a part of it.

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.
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