Tuesday, March 31, 2009

SoYoung Update

Yesterday, the hospice called me and asked me to come out to visit SoYoung. (I go every day now anyway, but they wanted me to come out in the morning.) She is now mostly in a semi-coma state. She's not really awake and not really asleep - moving her arms and legs restlessly. She won't keep an IV in her arm, so the strongest pain medicine is not available.
She has occasional moments of apparent lucidity. I saw her shake her head "no" to a question from her mother, and she sometimes wakes enough to take some water. However, most of the time, she seems to be only dimly aware of others.
The doctors at the hospice estimate that she has only a few more days to live. Please pray for SoYoung, her family (especially her mom, who is with her almost 24 hours a day), and us her church.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Miracle Visa Story

Perhaps this is a bit overstated, but I feel like I've experienced a small miracle. Let me explain.
In the Korean immigration system, there are three steps to obtaining a visa. 1) The employer makes the official application at an immigration office in Korea. 2) The immigration office sends the employer an "approval number," similar to a confirmation number when you make an airline reservation. 3) The prospective immigrant (like me) takes that approval number to a Korean embassy (outside Korea) and files for the actual visa which goes in the passport.
The immigration office said that the time between step 1 and step 2 could be anywhere from 3 to 14 days. We heard through the grapevine that the average wait is 5 days. I left Korea on day 9 because my old English teacher's visa was expiring the next day. Every day in the Philippines I anxiously awaited my approval number. I checked my email several times a day. I asked Sarah to call the Nazarene district office. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
Suddenly, on day 13, Thursday, my friend Chul-Hwan, the business manager at the district office, called me in the Philippines to tell me that the approval number had arrived! I was extremely excited, but I also started making plans to delay my flight. The normal wait for step 3 (getting the actual visa) is 3 business days. That would mean 5 days for me, since the weekend was coming.
Sarah, however, strongly encouraged me to ask for an exception.
Timothy Kim, a Korean missionary in the Philippines, called the embassy and asked for an exception. The embassy said that I was out of luck, that they don't make exceptions - 3 days, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Sarah, insisted that I keep trying.
Timothy sent a Korean student at APNTS with me to the embassy on Friday morning. Because I was there with a Korean citizen, I was able to skip to the front of the line (passing about 30 other people).
We talked to one worker, and she sent us to another. I asked for an expidited visa process, but she said it would take 3 days - just like everyone else.
I explained that one of my church members is extremely ill and in a hospice, and that I needed to get home immediately. She said that someone would have to work through their lunch break to help me.
I said that if no one helped me I would loose my ticket, and I might get home too late to be there for my friend. She reluctantly said they could give it to me in the afternoon.
I said that my plane left in the afternoon, and that I couldn't make it to the airport in time to make my flight unless they gave me the ticket in the morning. She put my passport on the shelf and told me to sit down.
I didn't know what was happening. I thought I was probably waiting to speak to the consulate - someone who actually had the authority to make exceptions like this. The thought also occured to me that she might just be putting me to the side to get me out of her hair.
After about 10 minutes, the security guard called my name and gave me my passport, telling me to check to make sure everything was correct. I opened my passport, and there inside was my Korean D-6 religious worker visa!! (This photo is not actually my visa, but it looks pretty much like this.)
I was shocked. I couldn't believe it was real. I anxiously checked all the information, and said "Thank you" about a dozen times.
Then, I got out my money to pay. (By the way Americans have to pay twice as much as people from other countries, and it was the same in Tanzania.) I showed my money to the attendant, and she said, "What you didn't pay?!" I said, "You never asked me to pay."
Then, I paid and found my friends and said, "I got it. Let's get out of here." I was kind of afraid they would stop me at the door and say there was some mistake, that I couldn't actually have the visa afterall. (Irrational I know, but still that's how I felt.)
I was only in the embassy for less than 30 minutes. The process that should have taken 5 days took less than half an hour!
I couldn't believe it. As we were driving to the airport (to catch my flight which left in 5 hours), I opened my passport about 5 times just to stare in awe at my new visa.
I made it back to Korea late Friday night (too late to catch a bus to Cheonan). Sarah met me at the airport, and we came back to Cheonan Saturday morning.
I have my visa. I'm now a registered religious worker in Korea!
Thanks be to God!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Visa Approved!!!

Thanks for your prayers everyone. My visa was approved today.
But now, I have to get the actual visa. So far, I only have a visa approval number. Tomorrow I will go to the Korean Embassy with a Korean student here at APNTS, and we will ask for an exception to give me the visa immediately (instead of the standard 2 day waiting period). This will help me to get back home as soon as possible in case I am needed for SoYoung. Please pray that God will work a miracle and make all of the people with whom we speak gracious and helpful.
If I have to wait the standard period, it looks like I'll come home late Tuesday night or sometime on Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday in Manila

I didn't actually get the camera out today. I got slowed down by a wrong turn on my way to the grocery store. Then, I spent the rest of the day in a long series of spontaneous but very productive meetings.
So here are a few pics of the campus that I lifted from google.

The white building is the chapel building - kind of like an old fashioned campground tabernacle - no AC, just screened windows and fans. It was hot but OK.

The big brown building is APNTS's newest building, and it is unfinished. The first floor and the basement are finished, and as I understand it, they are waiting on work and witness teams to finish the rest of the building - part of which will include a much expanded library.

One of my meetings today was with the director of World Missions Communication - Asia Pacific. Check out their services provided and the portfolio. Because they are located in the Philippines, set up house at APNTS, and get some subsidies from the Church of the Nazarene, they can do excellent stuff at low prices. Part of their mission is to serve churches on the Asia Pacific region to help them become more effective in ministry through better media. I am excited about meeting them. I'm already starting to assemble a wish list of how they can help our church.

I also had two other interesting meetings.
One was with a Philippino couple who will be coming to Seoul this summer to work with a Nazarene church there. They will teach in the church's kindergarten and lead an English worship service.
Another was with the director of the Asia-Pacific Resource Center, also on the campus of APNTS. This organization is working on establish some outsourcing systems within the Nazarene community. For example, I am typing this from within a call center for Nazarene Child Sponsorship. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quick Reviews

On the plane down, I finished Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native. It started out pretty slow, so slow, in fact, that Sarah and I gave up reading it aloud. However, the action got started in earnest after a few chapters. There was plenty of drama as the book progressed. Basically, it's a story about rash choices and their consequences, wrongs and reconciliation, patience and shrewdness. It was almost like reading poetry at times, but it was a bit too heavy with allusions to ancient literature. Overall, a very good read: jjjj.

A few months ago, I started The Art of Leadership, by Max DePree, a book recommended in one of my seminary classes. I loved it. Once I told Sarah, "I have never read a book that so clearly explains my own philosophy of leadership." I should add that I want to lead like this, but I often miss the mark.
The book is a bit rambling at times, but I guess leadership is too. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to lead (especially for those who are beginning to learn that leadership is all about relationships with people). Very, very good: JJJJJ.

Tuesday in Manila

Last night I finally got a full night of sleep, but I'm still feeling a little drowsy - probably due to the lack of coffee. (There are two coffee makers in my apartment, but both are broken. Each is missing different parts, and they aren't interchangable! Argh!)

I went for a walk this morning around campus - several times around actually. APNTS is built on a hill, or on two hills, so there are lots of stairs. That makes for good exercise, and I enjoyed looking at all of the flowers and vegitation. On the backside of campus there is a great view of the neighboring community. Maybe I can take some pictures tomorrow.

I went to faculty chapel at 10:30, and we listened to the graduates share testimonies of their time at APNTS. That was cool. The music was much more traditional than I expected, slow hymns.
Then, I exchanged some money and tried to round up transportation to my afternoon appointment at Faith Academy. At lunch time, I learned that Timothy Kim (Korean missionary to the Philippines would be going at the same time, so he gave me a ride.) At Faith Academy, I talked with the guidance counselor about KNU's Owens International College. He was very kind, and he said he might try to set up a meeting with some of the Korean parents.
Entering Faith Academy was kind of like entering a military compound. There were 2-3 layers of security checks on the way in. (Also we got frisked going into the mall last night.) I guess that makes sense in a country where terrorism is an ever present threat. Faith Academy is an interesting story. It is a Christian private high school, almost exclusively for missionary kids. They just upped their cap to 15% non-missionary kids. They ahve 500 students, over 50% in the high school. It was very surprising to me to see this many missionaries in one place. I've never been anywhere with such a high concentration of missionaries. (That makes me think twice about doing a long-term partnership here. Maybe our help is needed more somewhere else.) The school was pretty big, with several basketball courts, a few soccer fields, a swimming pool, and a large auditorium (paid for with a 1 million dollar donation from a Korean-American church). The students come from all over the world, but mostly North America, Korea, and the Philippines. It seems like an incredible ministry. All of the teachers (and maybe staff) are volunteers - raising their own support. As an almost-missionary, I can say with definity that an international school is a great service to missionaries.

After my meeting, I continued reading my current book - Brian McClaren's The Last Word, and the One After That. Most of the people here are very busy, so I'm trying to spend my down time reading some of the books that had been piling up on my shelf in the office. I made a vow last fall that I would not buy any more books until I had read all of the books I have already purchased. (I have almost kept that vow, but I bought two books this spring. I'm still holding to the fast, though.)

Tonight, Dr. JungHo Lee, a KNU professor on sabbatical at APNTS, has invited me to his house again. I look forward to the company. It is interesting feeling a little lonely in a place full of activity. I expect that this is how many of our new people in Cheonan feel, especially on the campus of KNU. Maybe this experience will make me a little more eager to show hospitality with more intentionality.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Manila, at APNTS

I arrived in Manila early this morning at about 12:30am, and I was unpacking less than an hour later. Trafic is really light in the middle of the night!
I am staying in a good sized one bedroom apartment on the campus of Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary. I went to faculty chapel today (more of a morning Bible study), and I discovered that I already knew four or five people. The Nazarene world really is small!
Today, I don't know what my schedule will be exactly. Dr. Lee (a KNU prof on sabbatical) has invited me to his apartment for lunch, so I will do that.
Tomorrow, I have an appointment with a high school guidance counselor to recruit students for Owens International College at KNU), but I think that I'll probably spend the afternoon reading and/or getting to know the campus.

Please pray that my visa approval will come soon!

Paul and Hoom's Baby

Here are the happy parents and baby Samuel. Emma and Sarah are looking on. In Korea, even the parents have restricted viewing time for their baby. At the time of this picture, Hoom had only held her baby one time - right after giving birth!

And here's a close up of the little dude.
The details:
Jeong TaeHyun (aka - Samuel)
3.36 kg.
Born: Friday March 20, 2009, 7:01pm

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Going to Manila

This Sunday evening I'll fly out for the Philippines. One of Korea's odd rules is that if you want to change your visa status, you have to leave the country. I'm changing from an English teacher's visa to a religious worker's visa. (Hopefully! Please, God, please!)
I'm not sure exactly how long I'll have to be gone. Right now, my return is booked for Friday, March 27. If everything goes smoothly, then that should be no problem. But, if the approval process takes longer than normal, then I might have to stay in the Philippines for a few extra days (or weeks).
I'll be staying on the campus of Asia-Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary, in Tay Tay, just outside Manila. I'm excited about that. I've heard a lot about it, and I've been wanting to visit for a long time. Sometime in the distant future, I think it would be great to teach there. In the meantime, I look forward to meeting the Nazarene leaders in that part of the world. Maybe we'll be able to talk about some options for a long-term partnership for our church.
Also, I'll spend some afternoons recruiting students for Owens International College, a new department here at KNU that offers 100% of its classes in English. I'm excited about the potential of OIC, and I'm excited to be able to offer KNU some practical help.

Unfortunately, Sarah and Emma won't be able to join me for the weekend like we originally planned. The timing just didn't work out. We were all really looking forward to spending some time on the beach together. Next time, next time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Afternoon of Poetry

Yesterday, I spent several hours on the roof of KNU's JungNamSoo Building. It was a warm, windy, cloudy day. I was melancholy, thinking about SoYoung. The flat roof was lonely and quiet and full of dust, the residue of rain puddles. When I looked at the dust of those dried up puddles, something connected with how I felt, and I began to write.
I used to write lots of poetry, mostly in college. I wrote about love and girlfriends or unrequited love, mostly, but I also wrote about God and life and other stuff. I don't write much any more. I usually write only when I have some deep emotional experience, and going through all of this with SoYoung is moving me deeply.
Listed below are four poems I wrote yesterday. They may not be on the level of Longfellow or Poe, but they are genuinely mine, so I thought I'd share them. I also wrote two more poems which I might post later.
Also, I should say that I wasn't fully as sad as all of this sounds, but I felt a sadness in this direction. Often, it feels good to give full dramatic vent to my emotions, even if the expression is overstated.


The residue resonates
within me
water long gone
swirls of dust
drug from deserts
mined by the wind
caught by the clouds
wrapped in rain
pooled into puddles
left to dry
swirls of dust
water long gone
within me
The residue resonates


Fleeting, fleeting,

Life is fleeting.

Bitter, bitter,

death is bitter.

Life and death,

death and Life,

Ever mixed


Joyful, joyful,

Life is joyful.

Mournful, mournful,

death is mournful.

Life and death,

death and Life,

Ever mixed


Passing, passing,

death is passing.

Lasting, lasting,

Life is lasting.

Life and death,

death and Life,

Ever mixed


"Eziekiel's Field"

Breathe on me
Dry bones walking
Dry bones sitting
My scattered heart
Across Ezekiel's field.

Breathe on me
Dry bones searching
Dry bones waiting
Gather my pieces
From Ezekiel's field.

Breathe on me
Dry bones mending
Dry bones forming
Make me whole again
On Ezekiel's field

Breathe, Breathe
Breathe on me, Lord.

March 18, 2009

(I imagined this as a lament, sung quietly with a guitar. The “Breathe, breathe on me” parts could be repeated and varied.)

"Let It Be"

Let it be.

It is.

What is

already is.

It cannot

not be.

It is.

It already is.

Let it be.

{I am not a fatalist. Anyone who knows me knows I am a raging optimist. However, some things simply cannot be changed, and sometimes the best thing to do is to stop and let it be.}

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Night - Elie Wiesel

This is a short but intensely powerful book.
As a young teen, Elie Wiesel was crowded into a Romanian Ghetto with his family and neighbors. Later, his entire family was taken by train to the concentration camps. He was separated from his mother and sisters and spent years trying to survive starvation, beatings, disease, and random killings with his father.
Night tells the haunting story of how his life and faith and hope were mauled by the beast of human cruelty. Great clouds cemented in his soul blocking out the sun from his heart. He was stripped of meaning even as he was stripped of his clothes for the full-body shave and de-licing.

As an interesting aside, I read this in close conjunction with other works that despaired of meaning - such as Ernest Hemingway's short stories and several movies. It seems that great suffering and great wealth often lead us to the same end - meaningless existence.
For anyone who has never read a personal account of the Holocaust, I would highly recommend this book. I only wish it was longer. Perhaps this was all Wiesel could stomach to retrieve from those dark places of his memory.
The Josh rating: jjjj.

Psalm 19 - Prayers to Connect Us with God

Read Psalm 19.

“God of wonders, beyond our galaxy, You are holy, holy. The universe declares your majesty. You are holy, holy.”1

The first six verses of Psalm 19 use a very ordinary, generic name for God: El. El was the ancient all-purpose word for God. El was the word you used when you looked up and thought, “Wow! There must be Something Great up there or out there that made all this.” The “Something Great up there or out there” was El or God.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller tells the story of when he went on a long road-trip to find God and to find himself. He says he found God at the Grand Canyon. He was tired and hurting from a long day of hiking, and they camped beside a river.

I was in a lot of pain from the hike, so I was in no mood to mess around. There was no trying to impress Him, no speaking the right words. I simply began to pray and talk to God the way a child might talk to his father.

Beneath the billion stars and beside the river, I called out to God softly.

“Hello?” ...

To continue reading this post, click here.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Prayers for Guidance - Psalm 25

Imagine a story with me. Somehow your friends convince you to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. After three planes, an old pick up, and a sputtering boat, you are in the heart of the Amazon Jungle.

Your guide leads your group into the thick forest. For the first two days, you walk along in awe as your guide points out the various kinds of plant and animal life. On the third day, you are walking at the end of the line. You see a Bird of Paradise, a rare and beautiful bird. When you take out your camera to take a picture, your backpack comes unzipped, and everything spills out onto the muddy trail.

By the time you get everything cleaned off and back into your backpack, the Bird of Paradise has floated off into Paradise, and you are alone on your jungle trail. You can't see the rest of your group anywhere.

You run ahead to try to catch up, maybe a little too fast. Suddenly the trail just disappears. There is a hint of a trail to your right, so you try that, but no luck. You tumble 20 meters down the side of a hill. Now you’re standing in the middle of the jungle with no trail and no people in sight, and you’re not even sure where you left the trail. You scream, “HELP!!” But the only thing that answers is a little monkey in a nearby tree, and you're pretty sure he's just laughing.

You search desperately in a hundred different directions trying to regain the trail, but eventually you must face the bitter truth. You are lost. Hopelessly lost. It's just you and the wild animals and the jungle.

Max Lucado says that life is a jungle. ...

To continue reading this post, click here.


The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway

I'll continue the catch-up reviews for a while. A few months ago I finished a monumental journey through The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, some 650 pages.
It was a bittersweet experience. Hemingway's writing is both depressing and entrancing. It's like watching a car accident. You want to look away, but it's so powerful that you can't pull your eyes away. He writes so well that I continued reading even though the topics were continually disappointing.
After a while, I sometimes commented to Sarah, "Well, at least no one died in this story." Almost every story is fraught with death and angst. Someone is either dying or getting royally screwed over. The cumulative message of the stories seems to be: "Life generally sucks, so you might as well get some pleasure out of it if you can, but be prepared for that to turn out backfire as well."

Nonetheless, he is a great story teller, and I enjoyed the stories on that level. He is a master of irony and character building. I'll give it a good 3j's - lower on the enjoyment level, but higher on the appreciation level. jjj.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Economic and Spiritual Reform

"Prosperity is when people buy things they can't afford; recession is when they stop doing it."
- H. E. Martz, The Wall Street Journal, 1963.

"There is something about the possession of wealth which is not good for the soul, perhaps. It places artificial value on secondary things. A man losing a million metal tokens will put a revolver to his temple and pull the trigger. But he has lost nothing but money. He has deprived himself of life because misfortune has deprived him of luxuries."
- Clarence Budington Kelland, The American Magazine, 1930.

"The economics of installment selling [buying on credit] is far worse even than at first it seems... Installment buying, as a habit, is enervating [weakening] to character because it leads straight to serfdom [similar to slavery]. If anything is un-American [or I would add, un-Christian], surely that is!
- J. George Frederick, The Independent, 1926.

"In a forum at Washington National Cathedral, historian Thomas Cahill said that because of his Christian faith, he believed there might be a silver lining to the dark cloud of financial crisis hovering over all of us. He said this might be an opportunity for the people of our nation [and world] to discover that they are more than shoppers."
- James P. Wind, Congregations, 2009.

The surest path out of this economic recession is the long slow path of teaching ourselves and our neighbors the basic virtues of patience, planning, compassion, courage, and discipline along with the fundamental growth skills of innovation, collaboration, and foresight. We have placed ourselves in a hole dug by our own foolishness, and we can only escape it in any lasting way by learning true wisdom. There are no quick-fixes.
- me