as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
These words from an awesome psalm of praise that reminds us of so many of God's qualities have been given new meaning after my trip to East Asia with the rest of the Academy. Even with the technology of flight it is a long and, as we found out, potentially difficult path to get from one side of this planet to the other. A journey that my body has yet to fully adjust to.
Our adventure began early morning as we left about 4 a.m. to head to the airport and the first two and shortest legs of our flight seemed to go effortlessly as we landed in New York on Schedule. This is where things started to get a bit interesting. Weather delays had plagued JFK in the week prior to our departure but we expected to get out of the country with minimal delay. Our flight, originally scheduled to leave around 3:00 got pushed back to 6:00 because of baggage delays then again to about 9 because of issues with the plane itself. We boarded and sat on the tarmac for 3 hours before the flight was ultimately cancelled and rescheduled for 6 p.m. the next day. This wasn't totally bad news as we got to spend the night in a very comfortable hotel, get some rest, break up our long trip, and even venture into the Manhattan for lunch (even though we were probably only out of the car in the city for about 20 minutes.) Returning to the airport we were delayed again before finally getting off the ground around 9 p.m. that night. Needless to say my Tourette's was going crazy as it acts up more severely in situations of stress, tiredness, and nervousness of which I was experiencing all three.
We landed at our destination about 2 a.m. and actually missed New Years as we entered the 1st time zone of 2011 after the clock had struck 12. We gathered our bags (only missing one, which was reunited with us a few days later) and were warmly greeted the former SOSer who would be leading our trip. Even though our time in the big city was cut short by a day and a half we still made the most of it. After a very familiar yet subtly different experience at McDonald's near our hotel we set off for the Great Wall. After about two hours of driving and listening to Daniel's stories about East Asia, the wall perched atop the mountains came into view. We passed on the climbing option and took a gondola to the ridge of the mountain. The view was magnificent, the sky was clear, and the ancient wonder was breathe taking. It stretched as far as we could see disappearing and reappearing from behind the mountains. We visited the oldest part of the wall that is open to tourists and it was dotted with lookout towers along its length. Being the nerd that I am I was even impressed with the thoughtfulness of the drainage system built into the walkway atop the wall. i caught myself all too often stopping to take pictures and falling behind the rest of the group. The way back down the wall was potentially the most fun aspect of the expedition as we got the privilege of riding toboggans down what I can only describe as a long winding metal bobsled track where we met at the bottom by men dressed as Samurais. The rest of our time before leaving for our next city included yummy steak at Outback, a trip to Olympic Park and an unfortunate visit to a closed Pearl Market. All in all a successful 24 hours.
After arriving and getting settled in the hotel at our ultimate destination we headed out the campus where we'd be spending our time that week for a short bit of training and a chance to walk the campus and pray for our week. After that we headed back for some authentic East Asian food at a restaurant just around the corner from where we were staying that we would eventually and affectionately refer to as "our restaurant". We ended up eating there 4 of the 6 night we were in town and loved it every time. We'd sit at our tiny little seats and order a bunch of different dishes for all of us to share. It was a fun and intimate time where we'd be able to share and relax as we reached across the table feebly trying to grab things with our chopsticks and downing more Coke than I think any of us have drank in the past year.
Our first day on campus began as the rest of our days would from that day forth, with all of us gathering together in one of the girls rooms to pray and worship and even hear a quick devotional teaching from Daniel. That morning I specifically asked people to pray for my Tourette's, that it wouldn't be a distraction to me or anyone else that I might have the opportunity to talk with. So after a short time together came the moment of truth. We were going to campus. As we walked up the hill and the campus started coming into view we were greeted with a very intriguing sight. Thousands of students were dressed in identical wind breaker jackets with match pants and caps. They literally filled many of the outdoor areas. We walked around in confusion for a while trying to ask anyone else there if they knew what was going on. We soon found out that all of the freshmen were required to do military training exercises (which basically consisted of standing in order) all day for the next two weeks with only about an hour and a half to two hours break for lunch. This wasn't the greatest news for us since our goal was to focus on meeting and getting to know freshmen. Still, we continued on with our tasks meeting upperclassmen most of the day and focusing on freshmen in that two hour window and hoped that God would take care of things. Of course it turned out to be a blessing because when we were able to meet freshmen they were like walking billboards and all went back to their rooms to rest so we could meet a whole group of people at once. The first day on campus ended up going great and it wasn't until I got back to the hotel that afternoon that I realized I hadn't noticed my Tourette's at all the entire day. That, combined with the fact that we almost met our two day goal of getting contacts and setting up appointments all in one day, helped assure me that God was in control. The next day was more of the same and equally as successful as the first, Tourette's included. In fact I've still yet to have much of a problem with my disorder since being back home. Dad was definitely with us.
On Wednesday we got a chance to break up our week and help work on an orphanage in progress. The orphanage is a project that has been in the works for about 7 years and lead by a Dutch family who we got the pleasure to meet and spend the day with. The father of the family is a large stern man with one of the biggest and most joyful hearts hearts I've seen. He told us the stories of the orphanage, his personal call and even his efforts to avoid his call to East Asia. He and his family hope to start moving children into the facility midyear and will eventually have room for about 80 special needs children, children who are often overlooked and hidden in society. They have even adopted two children who suffer from hydrocephalus which results in an enlarged head and possibly severe damage without proper treatment. Our task on that day was to paint and prepare one of the buildings to be ready to move children into. This was especially enjoyable as a couple of the stinters (people who make a 10 month commitment to be there) were able to join us and tell us how their time in the country has been.
The last two days of our trip were spent back on campus meeting for longer periods of time with groups that we met earlier in the week. The goal of this was to be able to share with them more in depth. We split up on our own as usual that morning and went off to meet our new friends. I had scheduled meeting that first day at 9:30, 12:30, and 2:00. Fortunately all of my friends showed up and I literally went from meeting to meeting to meeting getting the chance to share with a total of 11 people that day all of whom had little to no previous knowledge of God. Six of them even decided right there that they wanted to believe the message I had the privilege to present to them. God was working, not only through me but within me as well. One of the things we shared with the groups was the idea of having a throne in our lives where we seat the most important thing in our lives. I got to explain to them a diagram of a person who sets themselves on this throne and a person who sets JC on their thrown. As I went through this with my second group it hit me that I needed to ask myself who in on my throne. Unfortunately my answer is all too often myself. This is a lesson I've been wrestling with a lot over the past week and a half and I'm sure it will continue to weigh heavy on my mind for some time to come as well.
On Friday we returned for more meetings. This day I only had one which gave me a lot of time to chat with God reflect on the week. By the time we left the campus we had met almost 300 people and shared a message with close to 200 who had never heard it before. I don't say this to brag about our team, nor am I practicing false humility because I think our team did great and was faithful to our task. People heard who have never heard before and people believed who may not have had the opportunity otherwise, but we know that true transformation takes place in the heart, a place that only God can enter. This is evidenced by the change that He worked in our own hearts while we were there.
I don't know exactly what God will do with the work that we did, but I do know there are faithful people in East Asia who will follow up with and continue to equip the people we met. We've seen what He can do when people are faithful and I can only hope that He is extremely glorified by what He does on that campus, in that city, and in that country. As for me, I'm sure Dad had a plan for why I was there and experienced what I did. I don't know what my time in that country and on that campus means for my life, but I'm sure He'll reveal that to me when the time is right. One thing is for sure, however. You can listen all you want about reaching the nations and unreached people groups with Dad's message of forgiveness, but when you actually speak to someone who has never heard the name Jesus before, it all of the sudden becomes so much more real. And now I have to figure out what to do with that.