Wholehearted Pursuit

This past Friday marked the 1-month milestone for my mission trip here in OTR… To echo back to a previous post…

“NAAAAAAANI!?!?!?!?!?!?!?”

(Roughly translated to “REALLY NOW!? ‘CAUSE-IT-FEELS-LIKE-I’VE-BEEN-HERE-FOREVER-ALREADY” – I’m still not an expert in Japanese linguistics, but I’d like to think it still captures the essence of my shock…)

I suppose this “cry” of disbelief is a sure sign that I’ve made myself well at home here in OTR! With all that has unfolded in the past month, it honestly feels like I’ve been here for waaaaaaaay longer than a month. I’d believe you a little more if you told me I already spent 6 months here or something to that degree.

I want to say I’ve been adjusting pretty well to the rhythm of things here (Plot twist: there isn’t a rhythm) ….. Okay…. Things have been pretty unpredictable here. The children are unpredictable (more on this in just a moment~). Day-to-day plans & tasks outside of the usual scheduled things are unpredictable (As in a, *when P. Johann asks if you’re a “handy” person after morning devotions, be prepared to drop your personal Friday plans for all-day construction projects*-type of unpredictable). Even the weather here… Of all the things that could be predictable… still remains somewhat unpredictable (When Google may have slightly overestimated the 50 degree forecast that really felt more like 20 degrees that one time… Yeah, no big deal… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

The spontaneity is certainly something that won’t change here, but I’m thankful that I’m learning to be flexible. Bottom line is, the time I spend here in OTR is not my own. Sure, having some sort of plan/structure as a baseline is nice to have, but who am I to place limits on God’s ultimate plan; a plan far greater than anything I could possibly imagine?

With that being said, here are some highlights in how God has been moving in some of the ministries in OTR:


All Nations Fellowship – UC Outreach

We spent the past couple of weeks flyering on campus for our *Chinese New Year* lunch that was held this past Tuesday. It’s strange… I used to dread flyering back at UCSD (Granted, I only actually flyered like… 3 times total… Wonder why I didn’t do it more often.. ^____^”), but I felt pretty relaxed flyering at UC. I honestly don’t know what happened –

  • Maybe Cincinnati students are friendlier than San Diego students (Sorry, no offense to my fellow Tritons reading this)
  • Maybe I just stopped caring about what random strangers would think of me as I shoved flyers in front of their faces (The accompanying shameless plug for FREE lunch is worth the interruption, okay?).
  • Maybe nothing about flyering actually changed, and my struggles in the ministries outside of UC Outreach are just making flyering seem like a walk in the park…

Whatever it may have been, out of the hundreds of flyers that we passed out, we were blessed to have 13 ELS students (Coming all the way from Saudi Arabia & India to study English) stop by our luncheon! Coming from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, it was surprising to see how open and receptive they were to the gospel presentation shared by one of our staff, Christine. They were pretty engaged during small group discussion, and I managed to connect pretty well with one student, which I hope to follow up with and continue our dialogue as time goes on!

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ANF CNY Outreach Lunch – Christine delivering a brief gospel presentation to 13 ELS students

It’s been encouraging to see some of these students come out to our other events, such as a YA Game Night we hosted last Friday night, or even our surprise potluck dinner for Alice, our fellow intern soon leaving in February. They seem genuinely engaged by the community! We hope that as we build our relationships with the students, they will come to know more about the gospel and who Jesus Christ is in their hearts. Praise the Lord!


Kids Club / Sunday School

Every week, a handful of volunteers head over to local public schools – Taft Elementary & Rothenberg Prep Academy to host an after school Bible-based program called “Kids Club.” First of all, the fact that we even have an opportunity to share the gospel in two public institutions really is none other than God’s grace at work! During the program, we host a variety of activities (games, praise dance, lessons, small group time, snacks, etc.) as a medium for ministering to the children.

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Kids Club @ Taft Elementary – I believe this was game time…? You tell em’, Pastor Jason!

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Kids Club @ Rothenberg – Bible Lesson time led by Christine~

The curriculum is kind of similar to Sunday School at OTR LWC – Worship, main children’s message, classroom time, dinner, etc.

Now, I’ve personally never worked with children to a substantial extent in my life before coming to OTR, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect during my first experiences at Kids Club (and Sunday School)… The only experience I had to go off of was my own time in elementary school a long time ago in a galaxy city, far, far away…

I was overwhelmed, quite frankly. The children at both Kids Club & Sunday School were, for the most part, really difficult to work with (and still are, in all honesty). I have never witnessed so much rebellion unfold in front of my own eyes *_____*. And at face value, I was tempted to walk away with the conclusive, judgmental question: What is wrong with you all!?

… But I stopped for a moment and realized… You know nothing, Jon Mendez.

I don’t know where they are coming from.

I don’t know what happens to them in school during the day.

I don’t know what happens to them at home.

… Do they even have a safe place to come home to…?

Simply put, I don’t know their story. It broke my heart when I started to wonder about all the difficulties the children could be facing outside of Kids Club/Church. For some children, a Kids Club snack could be the only meal they get all day long. For some children, Kids Club could be the highlight of their entire week. For some children, Kids Club could make all the difference in shining God’s light in what seems to be a life surrounded in darkness… And even for the children that are actually okay in their circumstances, they aren’t any more or less valued in God’s eyes. Everyone is in need of God’s love.

And over the weeks, I really do feel that God has been steadily growing my heart for the kids. The difficulty in working with them certainly doesn’t change, but I am learning to connect with them a bit more intentionally. It can be tempting to think that nothing is getting to the kids in the midst of all the chaos… It can be tempting to be discouraged if only 1 kid of out 20 was actually paying attention to the lesson. Above all of this, it can be especially tempting to just treat these programs as a routine; just “another job to get done”

… And it makes me wonder… What if God treated us as “just another job?” What if God only halfheartedly pursued us, left us where we’re at now, and just said, “Meh. Good enough.”

Jesus could have given up at any moment in his ministry. He could have given up when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. He could have given up when he was abandoned by his family and followers. He could have He could have given up when he was sentenced to death on the cross…

But Jesus remained faithful and laid down everything for us. He took the cross all the way for us. And in the pursuit of being more like Christ, am I willing to do the same for the children? In the several hours that I get to spend with them every week, am I willing to pour out my entire heart to love upon these children?

“We love because He first loved us”- 1 John 4:19

Even if only 1 kid out of 20 pays attention to the lesson, even if it’s something as small as a child being able to stay in one place for 5 minutes… It may not seem like a big difference in a worldly perspective, but it means everything in God’s kingdom. It’s not about the results. It’s about being faithful to God today, and trusting that whatever unfolds, is precisely what needs to happen for God’s plan to work.

I do firmly believe that God is capable of radical transformation in everyone’s heart. No one is beyond the reach of His grace. As *lost* (loosely using this term) as these children may seem, they are most certainly worth fighting for.



Prayer Requests

  1. Kids Club/Sunday School Children:
    • We are beginning home visitations in February as an opportunity to spend time with some of the kids outside of school and build relationships/minister to them. Some kids really just want to be heard; to know that they really are loved.
    • We need more volunteers for our Kids Club programs! We’ve been a bit short on hands lately, so extra hands would be wonderful!
  2. ELS Students @ UC Outreach:
    •  Pray that we can continue to build relationships with those who came out to our CNY Lunch, in addition to faithfully continuing to reach out to others on campus during our weekly outreach.
  3. Negative Thoughts:
    • This past week, I had difficulties struggling with negative thoughts. Honestly, I’ve been subconsciously setting up expectations for myself to “perform” or contribute in certain ways to the ministries. Is it pride in wanting to prove to myself & others that I am useful? Is it fear of not being able to “keep up” with everybody else here? Whatever it is, I’ve been selfishly projecting these expectations through the people around me.A wise friend recently shared with me what C.S. Lewis remarked in one of his books – “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I’ve only been here a month and here I am, running around in circles (kind of like what a kid would do at Kids Club) comparing myself with people that have been here way longer than I have. But why make comparisons to begin with? If this isn’t already feeding directly into pride, then what else am I honestly trying to prove or gain from “performing?I recently heard a sermon delivered by Francis Chan at the Passion 2017 Conference covered on the following passage:

      “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
      neither are your ways my ways,”
      declares the Lord.
      “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
      so are my ways higher than your ways
      and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

      Followed by this passage:

      I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:18-19

      Wait a minute, Paul… You mean to tell me that the God of the universe and all of creation actually considers me his “glorious inheritance?” Even in the midst of insecurities and brokenness? If such an almighty being like God cherishes us that much, then do my own thoughts (minuscule in comparison to His higher thoughts) really even have any power?

       

      Bottom line is, the longer I dwell in negative thoughts, the greater the hindrance in ministry. All the time and energy wasted away in insecurities could really be spent on God’s kingdom work! If I can genuinely believe that my identity truly is secure as a child of God… At the end of the day, would I actually know any better than the God of the universe and all of creation?

      If you could please pray for the renewing of my thoughts, the purifying of my heart’s motives for serving (not out of performance but out of genuine love), and for me to really stop letting comparison hinder my relationships, that would be greatly appreciated!

 


Thanks for tuning in! Will try to have more pictures and stories to share in February (:

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(I think kids are starting to grow on me. Heh)

Until next time,

Jon

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One Response to Wholehearted Pursuit

  1. Pingback: And Still You Know Me… | Somewhere Over-The-Rhine

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