Thursday, October 11, 2018

Summer's End, New Semester

It has been a while since my last update, so there is quite a bit to catch up on. The month of August started with us finishing up the rest of summer school. As mentioned in my previous post, there was some conflict within the employees that served at summer school, and the situation slowly came to an end. I can't say that there was an exact resolution to the problem, but without a doubt, God was working in it. Whether it be a greater understanding from the employees side to be considerate, or from the leader's side to be more aware of the cultural differences; at the end, God was clearly showing seeds of growth and change (albeit small). Finishing up with summer school means that what came next was the long awaited VBS. Now, right when Summer School ended, the weekend before VBS began, me and Visalia were blessed with the opportunity to attend the wedding of two friends from Gordon Conwell. It was an amazing time to celebrate in such a momentous occasion in their lives, and I am honored to have been a part of that. During that short weekend, it was also a great time to catch up with my old Suite mate who had graduated in May 2018. Going to this wedding also reminded me of just how fast life is going by. It never really occurred to me, but I only have one more year of seminary left, and then I'm out into the world to serve. This wedding was a good break from all the logistics and craziness of the summer, and it was also an entertaining wedding because of the musical and artsy talents of both the bride and groom. They performed some amazing music and even had a choreographed dance!!

Anyway, so VBS rolls around and this was one crazy week. Shout out to all my amazing volunteers who partnered with me to tackle this ministry that God had blessed our church with. I really could not have done it without the sacrifice of their time, and their daily perseverance. During this VBS, God taught me how little I can actually manage on my own, and even when it seems like everything is planned out and structured in our minds, things just don't always go the way we expect them to. Regardless of that, God always brings about His work, and carried out His plan to the fullest. The first day was pretty hectic, and I was running around trying to manage all the last minute details while teaching my classes. Thankfully, my partners and fellow volunteers helped fill in the gaps, and
were willing to go above and beyond to support the work that God was doing with the children that came. The next few days was more organized. Each day there would be more and more volunteers that took time out of their schedule to come and help out with VBS, and once again, I am just humbled by God's provision for His ministry. We were able to have a fun time while learning how to share the Gospel and God's love to the children that came. It wasn't easy teaching children the gospel, and at times it was actually quite stressful, but God continued to show me the fruit of our labor. Whether it be through the joy that the children showed, or the growth in the volunteers in learning to love the kids or lead them. VBS was a wonderful learning experience as well as another peek into what ministry looks like. I am constantly reminded that it isn't about me or how well I can plan or manage things, but in the end, it comes down to my willingness to ask for help from God and my community, and watch as He provides.

As VBS came to an end, I had a week or so left to hang around in New York before heading back up to school. It was a good time to just hang out with my family and friends and spend more time with them as most of my summer was pretty swamped. During this time, I was able to reflect more on the summer that had so quickly gone by, and recognized that God was really walking with me through it all. The crazy summer that I thought would be impossible to survive through was actually over and I felt that I was thriving through it. Besides the time to be with my family and friends, during the time I was back, I also had the opportunity to meet up with different pastors around the area. The English pastor at my church would have weekly meet-ups with other pastors in our area, and they would take
Punishments during youth ministry of course
the time to share and follow-up with one another. Whether it be situations at church, theology, or personal lives, they would meet up and encourage one another. To me, this was a really encouraging sight because this was something that I knew was rare. The more I thought about Pastoral ministry, the more I realized that I will no longer be in the Christian bubble of seminary, and things like "soul care" will look very differently. In seminary, most people there are ready to serve the Lord and care for each other, but outside of a seminary context, that is harder to find. It was encouraging to see pastors standing by each other and also feeding off one another's ideas. Literally, it reminds me of "iron sharpening iron" all within a context where they would also understand each other's cultural and theological context. While talking with different pastors at church, I also got more guidance on the ministry that God was leading me towards. I still want to do college and young adult if possible, but God also reignited my passion for youth ministry. I had the chance to serve with the youth at 3 Stone, and to spend the summer with them. Adolescents have really changed from when I was their age, and yet there are many things that are still so relatable. I was also blessed with the chance to lead a small group during Cross Bridge retreat in September. This year we decided to separate the youth from the adults/college and so I was tasked with being their leader. I was once again reminded of the joy of working with youths, and also the depth of the fears that they have growing up. God was once again teaching me how to love them not from some superior "seminarian" position, but to love them as He would.

School started on September 10, and it has been a pretty crazy month so far. Going in, I had a few fears. I was worried about how working for instacart would look, as I would have to spend my time driving around throughout the day, on top of ministry and school. Thankfully, everything went really well, and by the second week I pretty much had a set structure. I pretty work Monday-Wednesday afternoons and have classes every morning besides Wednesday, and instead of my original plan to take 3 classes and audit one, I ended up taking 4 classes. I am currently taking: Pastoral Counseling, Evangelism and Discipleship, Lifespan development, and Exegesis of Genesis. All the classes have been really great, and surprisingly my work load is much more manageable this year. Even though there is a lot more reading than previous years, because I am not taking a language this year, there is no need for constant drilling of vocab and grammar, which does take up most of my time. Anyway, my Pastoral Counseling and Lifespan Development classes have been mostly theory, so most of the learning comes from the triads that we have to form. In the triads, we take turns being the counselor, counselee and observer. My Evangelism and Discipleship class has been super practical. We are constantly discussing how Evangelism and discipleship looks in our day to day lives while bringing it back to Scripture each time. One of the biggest challenges that I got from that class was the fact that nowadays, we don't know our neighbors. I remember when there was a time where we would learn about the passage where Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, and we would be taught that it doesn't just mean our next door neighbors, but everyone is our neighbor. I remember taking that to heart, and wanted to get to know other people more and more. During this class, Dr. Singleton brought up some facts about how people nowadays very rarely even talk to their neighbors, much less know the names of 8 people that live beside them. That just struck me because here we are as Christians thinking about reaching out into the world and sharing the gospel with all kinds of people, but when it comes down to those that God has directly placed beside us, we fail to even recognize their names. It really hit me to consider that we as Christian's talking about loving others when we don't even take the time to get to know those directly around us!!! My Exegesis of Genesis class has also been amazing. We spend most of the class going through our translations of the Genesis text, and cementing theological truths that we may already know. The class has been really helpful whether in terms of theological grounding or practical applications to our daily lives. The class also helped to shed light on God's amazing plan, and His constant working through everything that has happened since the beginning of time. On top of Instacart and school work, I am also serving on the Cross Bridge core team this year, as well as participating as one of the leaders for their young adult fellowship (CHARIS). This has been a learning experience as well, and being in ministry really does give me joy.

Now for my reflections throughout the past few months. God has really been challenging me to rely on Him more and more. As I continue on this last year where graduation and the future seems so imminent, it is easy for me to start stressing about the unknown and fearing the life to come after seminary. Where will I go after seminary, what church will I serve at, when to take my relationship with Visalia to the next step, what will my finances look like, and so many other questions. During this time, I have been blessed with many people to share in these burdens with, as well as consult on how their journeys with God has gone. God has constantly shown that no matter the situation, no matter the future, He is always with me. He has always provided for me since day 1, and even now as I struggle with the unknown, I can know that all I have to do is be faithful. I have also been learning more and more in my relationship with Visalia. The sanctification is real, and I think God is constantly humbling me, whether it is to move beyond my pride and need to win in arguments or to learning how to be considerate and view things from other's perspective. Even though I think I am usually trying to think from a neutral perspective, I realize that many times I fail to be considerate and "feel" from their perspective as well. If that is the case, then am I really loving others if all I do is try to be rationally correct, but neglect the feelings? Another thing that God has been putting on my heart is this idea from a song I heard, "Ruin Me" by Jeff Johnson. As I was listening to the lyrics, I realized how true I wanted it to be for my life. I feel like I always go through life trying to have God work to my plans, or for Him to fill in the blanks for a set agenda that I already have. Like: "who should I be with..." but what if God calls me to singleness, or "God, this is my five year plan, help me be faithful through it..." but what if God has other plans. I wonder if instead of all the plans that I have come up with, shouldn't I instead be asking for God's plan to be carried out. The chorus just really stuck out to me especially when I realized that if I want to live the rest of my life serving God, then what that means is I need to follow God's plans and not my own. This doesn't mean that I don't plan things out and have some kind of structure to my future, but this means that I shouldn't be the one to dictate my decisions. Nor should I be doing anything for selfish gains or selfish reasons. God has been challenging me to live a life that is willing to surrender my plans, my desires and even my future into His hands, and that is something I know I will be working on even into the future!

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