Friday, March 11, 2016

God is Sovereign and Loving

Liquid crystals, discovered at Kent State, draw scholars from around the world.
There are no coincidences.

Our friends Ernie and Lois Carnes have often been taking a Chinese scholar and his wife to church over the past year. The Carnes’ asked this scholar, “If you could meet your hero, who would that be?” The scholar, a post-doctoral fellow in liquid crystals at Kent State, responded that he most highly regarded a Chinese scientist who developed Apple's touchscreen technology.

Ernie and Lois, who serve alongside us as International Friendship Connection volunteers, are snowbirds. As they departed NE Ohio in early winter, they prayed that the Chinese scholar and his wife would continue to seek the Lord and grow in faith. Soon after arriving in their second home, The Carnes’ were excited to learn that an academic conference would afford the scholar from Kent a visit with them in Florida.

One week before the scholar’s arrival in Florida, the Carnes’ visited a local Chinese restaurant. They struck up conversation with a Chinese man in line at the restaurant and learned, to their amazement, that the scientist whom the Chinese liquid crystal scholar so revered had become a Christian--the pastor who discipled him was the very man the Carnes' happened to meet.

Through this new connection, the Carnes’ arranged a face-to-face between the two scientists. The hero was able to share the testimony of his faith journey as well as the doubts and questions about the Bible and the Gospel he had early in his Christian life. The scholar from Kent was greatly moved by the words of his hero since he has struggled with the very same issues in regard to faith in Christ.

As we listened to this tale retold over dinner with the scholar and the Carnes', we were all rejoicing. God’s goodness in orchestrating events, calling full time pastors and missionaries, and providing earnest volunteers are overwhelming evidences of his personal care for us, his beloved ones.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Spring Festival week following Chinese New Year traditionally reunites individuals with their families in rural hometowns across China. After seventeen years of ministry in Kent, our Chinese community is "home" for many Mainland Chinese scholars who are long-term residents in the United States.

Last week, Hunter and his family returned to celebrate the New Year's Spring Festival with us. Hunter graduated from KSU and then received a graduate degree from CUNY before returning to NE Ohio for his new employment.

By reconnecting to the Kent Chinese Christian Fellowship, this family is putting down roots in their spiritual home, and honoring what God has done in their lives.

Matthew 13:3-8 Jesus told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."

We are blessed to see how God has taken the testimony of the Gospel and brought it to life in this family. Thank you for your support that keeps us in the field of service to many Chinese individuals and their families.
David and I in Central Park, NYC
The weekend before Valentine's Day, David and I spent a few days in NYC. I was interviewing for a position as a PhD student of Ethnomusicology at City University of New York. We scouted around for a neighborhood we might call home if we have an opportunity to live and study there. We feel so blessed to be healthy and united in our quest for the next step in our journey together.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Song That Transcends

Tom Wait sings a great bit of 12-bar blues—a song called “Get Behind the Mule.” How were the blues born? The answer lies deep within African musics that are vast and varied, and within unique experiences of African descendants in America.

What were those experiences? Most of them included suffering throughout the period in which the blues were born. The blues cry the labor pains of a community in physical, emotional and often spiritual agony. The weight of oppression on body, mind and spirit crushed the conscience of African-Americans to the breaking point, and gave birth to the soul in song. In a state of desperation the mind took flight in an exquisitely forlorn cry, a wail that escaped the boundaries of time, space and matter and brought the lament of the heart to the ears of mankind and of God.

The human voice that engages in working with the pain, instead of against it, exudes the beauty of the blues.

Just imagine the mule driver. Exhaustion and dehydration are constant, nagging pains throughout endless days under the sun. Feet ache as they plod over the fields, ankles contorting over unseen rocks that lie just beneath freshly excavated earth. The stench of rotting mules, worked to death, stings the nostrils and threatens the driver with thoughts of his own mortality. Hunger twists the gut and torments the mind. Fear reigns as the foreman tramples through the mass of humanity on his lunging horse. Whips crack to keep men and mules in line and in time with the agenda of their masters.

One thing remains unharnessed—the song of the mule driver. The rhythm of his own feet, the cadence of the mule’s, the jingle of harnesses punctuated by the snapping of leather and the clatter of stones, all accompany a simple refrain. The mule driver’s mind sinks deep into the layers of rhythm and settles there, rocked by a lullaby, as it were. He croons to himself. The words and notes drip out of his mouth like honey—so sweet, so delicious. His work begins to take on new meaning. Every painful step is no longer taken in service to the demands of the overseer. He’s driving to manifest the song. If he falters, the elusive chorus will evaporate into thin air…so he’s pressing in, pressing on to maintain his stake in the virtual ensemble.

The fields disappear. The pain is part of the performance. The driver and his song create a world truer and more tangible than the circumstances surrounding both.

In life, longing is a constant. Pain is a given. Suffering is ever present—the kind we bring upon ourselves and the kind inflicted upon us. No change we can make can outmaneuver this inevitability. The experiences we have in time, matter and space are not our overseers. Figuratively speaking, the field, the mule, the plow, and the foreman are provided by our Creator to help us find our song. Our audience is the living Christ, the One who transcends the boundary between time, space, matter and infinity.

“Get Behind the Mule” explores pain that slaps us upside the head and causes us say, “How on earth did I get in this deep? How could I possibly get so far off track?” Pain from needs, longings and expectations that remain unfulfilled; pain that makes us desperate for help and a way out; pain other people put themselves in that makes us shake our heads in disbelief; pain we bring upon ourselves by our own wrong-doing; pain of answering for those wrongs and paying the price of justice and restitution; pain that can't be explained or rationalized--pain must drive us to our Creator.

When Paul was troubled, in prison and vexed by false teachers, he wrote:
So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!
And I’m going to keep that celebration going because I know how it’s going to turn out. Through your faithful prayers and the generous response of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, everything he wants to do in and through me will be done. I can hardly wait to continue on my course. I don’t expect to be embarrassed in the least. On the contrary, everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit! Alive, I’m Christ’s messenger; dead, I’m his bounty. Life versus even more life! I can’t lose. (Philippians 1:18-22, The Message)
Here’s the summary of living: Christ!

I’m His. I’m made for Him, and I am with Him forever. Rejoicing, I go on; I get behind the mule and plow. Some days we feel like we’re getting the worst of it. That will never change. We can raise our fist to the demands. We can slump in defeat at the challenges. We can grieve the loss until our hearts break, or we can sing.

Zephaniah 3:16-17 says,
Fear not;
    let not your hands grow weak.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
He will exult over you with loud singing (ESV).

If you're like me, you're probably hurting. Let the song God sings over you translate the clamor of everyday life into a rhythm with which you can sing. Yoked to Him, you can throw your weight into the traces and drive through the pain. Everything you are experiencing will coalesce into the fabric of the song. If you hesitate or shrink back you, you will likely be drug down the row rather than creating it.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says,
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
When agony is translated to song, you are living the eternal in the now. I want that quality of life for you. I strive to find it myself—often failing—and often choosing to act out in anger, spite or despair rather than operating in trust, cooperation and hope.

“Get Behind the Mule and Plow” ends with these words:
Pin your ear to the wisdom post
Pin your eye to the line
Never let the weeds get higher
Than the garden
Always keep the sapphire in your mind
Always keep a diamond in your mind

You may be overwhelmed by weeds, but just below their sprawling tentacles lies the beauty of a garden—true friendships, new opportunities to express your gifts and abilities, new people and places to experience, and a life! Life filled by the goodness of your gracious Heavenly Father.

Every day is another row. From this side, it might not look like much and it might feel like even less. Trust it holds the eternal weight of glory, and throw yourself into it with joy.

I’m going to try to do the same according to the power of the Holy Spirit at work within me.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Evergreen Bible Study

Not all of KSU’s Chinese students are young undergraduates.  We still have many grad students, visiting scholars and professors on our campus.  Many scholars are married and have children.  If the scholars have children, the grandparents are also likely to live with the family for an extended time. Every year, Alice Koo helps to lead a Bible study for Chinese grandparents who are visiting Kent.  Alice was surprised when I chose the book of Daniel for an evangelistic Bible study.  She knew several grandparents would only be in Kent for a short time, and she wanted to make sure they understood the Gospel.

Reading the first couple chapters of Daniel led to many interesting discussions about God’s providence and the rise and fall of nations.  These people have witnessed great changes in their lifetimes, both in China and around the world.  I was able to engage them about God’s purpose and direction for China, America and for each of us personally.  Alice was overjoyed when all six of the other grandparents made decisions to follow Christ by the end of October.  Three members of this group have recently returned to China.  Please pray that they will get connected with a local body of believers in their home cities and continue to walk in their newly found purpose and meaning in Christ.