At this exact moment one year ago today, I was on a plane from Asia headed to Los Angeles. As I sit here in a Coffee Bean in Beverly Hills, two blocks from my office, I am thinking back on this day exactly 12 months ago.
You see, leaving Asia was certainly the most difficult decision I have ever made. I had poured my entire life in this wonderful region for 20 years. To say Asia was a part of me doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.
To be honest, one of the reasons I chose to not blog for over a year was that my life was just too emotional, my thoughts too scattered, my heart too broken. When you love a land, people, and calling as much as I did, the process of leaving is a death of sorts. I knew this intellectually, but I have just not had the emotional energy or bandwidth to “go there” with my heart. God had called me to Asia in my mid-twenties. I obeyed and went. God has now called me to Los Angeles in my early forties. I obeyed and came here 12 months ago.
Moving to Asia was a painful, stressful time of leaving family, friends, and the country of my birth. It was scary moving to a job and calling which by definition was unstable, uncertain, and even “dangerous” by the standards of 21st century America. I obeyed and went.
The first few years were awkward and riddled with doubt, loneliness, adventure, and clinging to Jesus to sustain everything from a good attitude to fighting persistent, death-defying stomach flues. I landed in several Asian hospitals (two examples; here and here), I watched from afar as friend after friend got married (click here) & started families, and longed to be present as various nieces and nephews were born without me present.
In those first years of life in Asia, I met some of the best people I had ever had the joy of meeting. Not only this, we became friends, real friends, spiritual friends. We often had NOTHING in common, but a love of spicy food and the desire to live our short lives on earth to the glory of our common savior, Christ Jesus.
These scattered and few Jesus followers in my city, region in Asia, and the entire country began to dream. We trusted that if Jesus could move in our lives, He would do so also in the lives of others around us and even in places where we currently knew of no one of faith.
God answered. God grew us, both in depth and number. God grew us in courage and faith and even in joy. Not the kind of joy you get at a football game or concert. It was not a joy based on fun. It was a joy based on knowing and seeing God work in the midst of the impossible. It was a joy that shined forth in the midst of pain and suffering; loneliness and longing; fear and anxiety. It truly was the best of times and the worst of times as constant companions.
As I look back on my 15 years of living in Asia, there are wonderful memories and memories of pain. However, what surfaces its head most prominent above the noise and clutter of 15 years of life in Asia is that of two things; a person and people.
The person is Christ Jesus. Asia taught me, first and foremost, that life is about Jesus. He moved in my heart towards the end of my freshman year in college and changed me forever. In Asia, he taught me He is my constant companion and friend. In the middle of the pain, fear, loneliness, longing, and even victories and happy times, He was there with me.
In America, it was always easy for me to coast through life. I’ve been blessed with a good mind, body (though rapidly decaying!), education, family, and overall situation in life. In Asia, I found myself needing God’s help to get through each day. In the beginning, I needed His help to find food and communicate in a way to actually get the food from the waiter to my plate and eventually to my belly. Then I needed God to keep said food in my belly through sickness and physical adjustments which took years of acclimation.
In Asia, there were constantly the struggles that comes from being a Christian in that wonderful, yet highly politically/religiously suppressed country. Through the challenges of Asia itself, Christ Jesus was present, real, and my constant sustainer. For this, I will always be grateful for what Asia taught me about Jesus.
The people are those I was fortunate enough to “do life with” over my 15 years as a foreigner in that great country. In the beginning, I was part of a force of mainly Americans and Koreans who were united in our hearts and desires to see the Gospel go forth in Asia.
I arrived to serve under the leadership of men and women whom were world class in talent, yet had given up all, left their homes, and given their lives to the people of Asia. I could go on for days about all I learned from this blessed group of “foreigners” in Asia, and I will in the coming months, but for now just know that they molded and made me in ways I could have never once imagined.
As time went on, local Asians became Christians and were immediately inspiring to my faith. I remember the first time I sat in an “underground” worship service. We sang in the local language. It was shockingly familiar, comfortable, and “right” feeling to sit back in the midst of worship in a language I did not yet know.
The first time I had the privilege of being with a local man when he first became a Christian was a wonderful experience. I was amazed at his young faith. Within 48 hours of his new faith in Christ, we sat on a bench talking and praying together as new brothers in faith. He wanted us to pray for and figure out how to share the message and love of the Gospel with his family and friends. Only 48 hours into his life as a Christian and he was already excited about seeing the love of Christ spread to others around him! This scenario followed suit countless times in the years to come.
Like so many of the other Americans and Koreans in Asia at the time, I went to that country with the motivation to be a part of Gospel expansion in this people. However, what I found in the locals were friends and men & women I grew to respect, love, and admire in inexplicable ways.
I honestly think I went to Asia for them, but stayed for me and my personal growth as a follower of Christ.
As the church expanded in Asia, I was amazed at the heart and leadership God was raising up from within Asia for the Christian church. Their faith was bold, fresh, spirit saturated, open, joyful, and hope filled. They were a people highly persecuted and under levels of stress I could only imagine, yet they were filled with peace, love, and joy in ways I had never experienced in my own life.
I went to Asia to help out the Christian movement, but I stayed because the local Asian Christians taught me more than my American church and seminary experience combined.
I went to Asia to be a blessing, but ended up being blessed far beyond my meager contributions. In this I am certain.
So as I sit here in a Coffee Bean looking out over a “Beverly Hills” street sign one year to the moment after departing Asia, I am filled with a sad, yet grateful heart. I am sad as I miss my friends, my dear brothers and sisters in Asia. Their fellowship was rich, their friendship sincere, and their impact upon my life was and continues to be immeasurable. Their memory is sweet, but I miss their constant companionship. In missing them today, I am sad.
My heart is filled with gratefulness, though, as God is good in and through all of this. I’m grateful I was a SMALL part of the story of the church in Asia. I am grateful that in all the times I wanted to quit, give up on my life in Asia, and return to America because of loneliness, God carried me through. I’m grateful for the people and life experiences which God lavished upon me during my 15 years in Asia.
My heart is full of gratefulness today, because of the impact Asia has made upon me. The people, both the “foreigners” serving in Asia and the local Asians themselves, gave to me far more than I could have ever given to them.
(This was longer than usual, but just wanted to pour out my heart on this date. I do love my calling to Los Angeles and the people I am here with. I will write about this in future posts. However, today, I wanted to focus on Asia.)