Against All Odds

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MMMMMMMMM

Hi folks! Still alive and thriving on Graeter’s Ice Cream with my best friends 😀 (I dare you to guess how many times I’ve had Graeter’s since the start of my internship)

Might wanna grab a cup of tea or coffee and get real comfortable now – This is a lengthy update… but bear in mind that this is still only a taste of the countless experiences I’ve had this past month.

But for your convenience, feel free to skim through the headings and read about what sticks out to you.

Fasten your seat belts and enjoy the ride!



Personal Shenanigans

Guess I haven’t been doing so hot with *bimonthly updates* (was I busy… or just lazy? Heh. I’ll leave you to guess #imonlyhuman)… but I definitely wanted to squeeze in an update before our March Mission Week starts up!

*sigh* And of course I’d choose the last possible minute to write an update (*big hint if you’re still guessing between busy/lazy*), but truth be told, I’ve actually been feeling very tired and restless these past few weeks. Whether it’s from the sheer exhaustion from ministry, fighting against a severe stomach virus for several days, or from anxious thoughts for the near & distant future, this struggle has been going strong since my arrival in OTR.

Strangely, God has been teaching me how to pray very specifically through this particular struggle. One night, I actually prayed that I wouldn’t wake up in the middle of the night at 4am, as per my usual routine. To my dismay, I still woke up at 4am……. but this time around I couldn’t fall back asleep in the midst of the tossing and turning. So I guessssssss I technically woke up at the end of the night since my day pretty much began at that point.

Somewhere in that moment, I’m pretty sure God was laughing at me.

P. Johann remarked, “What if God just wants to talk to you at 4am?”

“Ugh… Could He have picked a better time? …… Err… I… guess there’s no better time than God’s timing *sigh*”

Somewhere in that moment, I’m pretty sure God was laughing at me… again.

Nonetheless, I was encouraged to pray more specifically over my sleep (details… details…) – Sleep has been kinda improving… but I’m sure that God is trying to show me something in the midst of these struggles… Whether the revelation comes soon, later, or even never, I really do have to trust that God has a specific reason in His will as to why things are happening in this particular way.

On one hand, this sentiment comforts me in the sense that God has it all covered under his control. On the other hand, the devil is tempting me to believe that God is just ignoring my prayers and struggles.


Interestingly enough, this sentiment coincided with my completion of the book of Genesis in my daily devotions. The last several chapters of the book detail the life of Joseph.

*honest spoilers below for those who have yet to read Genesis*

To briefly summarize for those who aren’t familiar, Joseph went through quite the roller-coaster ride! He was favored by his father, Jacob, and had the astonishing ability to interpret dreams (…How wonderful would it be to understand the meaning behind my random dreams of Taco Bell……). Life was pretty sweet for this guy! (Bueno!)

… Except his brothers straight up hated him out of jealousy and wanted to kill him (I mean, who can blame you when your brother dreams that you’ll be bowing down before him?)(No bueno…)

However, one brother was kind enough to convince the others that killing was no bueno. *whew* Safe and sound… (More buenos!)

… So they threw Joseph into a pit, who eventually got sold off to slavery. (Zero buenos…)

But the King’s Guard bought him off and eventually Joseph found favor with him and was left in charge of the house! (Throw more buenos at him!!)

… But not for long since the Guard’s wife framed him after Joseph (faithfully) refused to sleep with her. Off to prison for Joseph! (Negative buenos…)

Prison Guards dream. Joseph interprets. Guards amazed. Pharoah dreams; Pharoah frustrated that no one interprets dream. Guards recommend Joseph. Joseph interprets. Pharoah happy. Pharoah trust Joseph. Joseph has authority in Egypt (All the buenos!).

And in an interesting turn of events, Joseph’s brothers find themselves traveling to Egypt in need of food. Egypt harvested an abundance of food (thanks to Joseph’s  dream warning of an impending famine). Lo and behold, they bow before Joseph in a mix of gratitude and desperation, just as Joseph’s original dream illustrated.

TL;DR – God had Joseph’s back the entire time.

*disclaimer: My abridged re-telling of Joseph’s story is by no means a sufficient alternative to the Word. Read the Bible and be blessed (: *

It was ridiculously easy for me to jump to the assumption that God had abandoned me in my times of sleeplessness, loneliness, insecurities, and miscellaneous failures.

But life is inevitably filled with ups and downs, just as Joseph had experienced.

Sure, I’ve had my fair share of “downs” (and then some)… But I dare not discount the wonderful blessings that have come about if it actually weren’t for the hardships – Deeper relationships with the OTR staff & members through vulnerability, deeper intimacy with God that I don’t think I could have easily developed any other way (to my human knowledge, at least), learning (first hand) how to discipline and love children… And ultimately, being slowly (but surely) healed in my insecurities and understanding my identity as a child of God; His “glorious inheritance”. It has undoubtedly been a very painful process, and I still have a long way to go quite frankly. Truthfully, there’s nothing really that pretty about the remolding process in the Refiner’s Fire…

“But he knows the way I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold”

– Job 23:10

Remembering that God knows everything that I’m going through; remembering that God has a purpose for everything and everyone; remembering that God trusts me enough to “test” me… and remembering that God treasures His people as “gold”… It’s no wonder Paul rejoiced in his suffering… Oh yeah, he definitely suffered (2 Corinthians 11 outlines a pretty comprehensive list of the difficulties he went through).

I can’t imagine how any other thing in the world could sustain my hope for the future with everything that I’ve been experiencing…. It doesn’t really make sense by thinking with human wisdom, but somehow… Just somehow by God’s wisdom, it’s a hope that is able to stand against all odds.

 

Still going strong!

 


 

Ministry Updates

1) Kids Club/Sunday School:

 

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Teacher Trixie joining in on a game of “Go Fish!” with my Rothenberg Small Group (: (And for the record, I absolutely destroyed everyone in Go Fish)

We’re approaching the end of the semester for the Cincinnati Public Schools. We have just about a month left (~4 sessions at each elementary school) with these kids before they hit summer! Although the difficulty in working with the kids hasn’t changed, it has honestly been very rewarding! We’ve been building relationships with a lot of the kids through our time spent at Kids Club, in addition to home visitations that we’ve been making on a weekly basis!

It’s interesting – In a previous post, I wondered where exactly these kids were coming from in their homes and schools. Home visitations gave us the perfect opportunity to discover just that.

To cover some highlights… Many children come from homes with broken marriages. Some kids don’t even get to spend quality time with their parents since one parent might be working double shifts while the other doesn’t even have legal custody. Many kids are in the middle of/finishing testing season, and are in danger of repeating their current grade.

Bullying has also been a consistent trend among most of the kids we’ve talked to. Several have consequently gotten suspended and/or expelled (even the victims who try to defend themselves, as per the school system’s Zero Tolerance Policy). As much as we want to encourage the kids to show grace to others in the face of bullying, I can understand how difficult it must be to resist fighting back… “An eye for an eye” as many in their society would encourage (including their own parents!). It’s definitely an area that we want to continue in praying over the kids.

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Jesse’s last Sunday Service w/ some of our 8-11 boys! This picture does not do our actual class justice…. heh.

Even as the semester comes to an end soon, we hope to continue building our relationships with the kids as we spend time with them over the summer… And we hope that one day we may see complete restoration in these families! Hope may seem lost in the world’s eyes, but once more in God’s eyes, it’s a hope against all odds.

Prayer Request: Please pray for the kids’ relationships with one another. With bullying so rampant, we really want to see kids (and even ourselves) learn how to love one another!

2) UC Outreach:

 

God has been opening big doors for us to reach out to the international student community (ELS students) as of lately! We’ve built steady relationships with a couple of Saudi Arabian students, which have given us a handle into the rest of the ELS community.

The pictures above were from a birthday party hosted by one of the ELS students! I wanna say there were about 40-50 students (which is about 30-40% of the entire ELS student body – Yeah… This guy is p o p u l a r! I mean, it’s hard to dislike such a friendly guy with a smile on his face 24/7! What amazed me even more was how tight-knit and diverse the community was! Cultures were meshed together and you could see Saudi Arabian students playing a competitive game of ping pong with Japanese students! At one point, we were singing Happy Birthday in English, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese (Wish I took a video of that… *sigh* I’m still pretty terrible with documenting memories here – Another area of prayer, perhaps? :3 )

I’m very thankful for how we’ve been able to connect so well with the international students lately – They really want to make more American friends! A huge barrier exists between international and American students all across the nation (I’ve seen this trend in UCSD and am making an assumption that this is also valid for other universities). I don’t think it’s a mere coinkidink that God has been facilitating these bonds in such a convenient way…

We’re on our way to starting up an “Alpha Course,” an introductory course to faith beginning with the question: Is there more to life than this? Our hope is to create a safe atmosphere for seekers to ask questions about faith. So far, we have a couple of students interested! However many we may be able to reach out to, big things can have small beginnings!

Prayer Request: Pray that we can connect with more UC students and have them come out to our Alpha Course!

3) Drama Ministry:

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First rehearsal! The beginning of what we hope to be a very fruitful ministry!

Drama Ministry has officially begun! We are currently starting out with 3 girls and 1 boy for our first *production* set to premiere in late April (I mean, it’s only a 5 minute Sunday school skit, but hey! Big. Things. Have. Small. Beginnings!).

Trixie and I didn’t quite know what to expect for our first rehearsal, but it went pleasantly well! (: At first, the teens were opposed to writing their own skit, but 30 minutes later they ended up churning out a pretty gnarly skit! The idea is to give them ownership of the script – to weave their own voices and experiences into a more natural, relevant script.

The teens seemed to have a pretty good time with it! Script writing, check. Actual rehearsals…. We’ll see how that goes 😛 3 more rehearsals until *showtime*!

Prayer Request: Please pray for unity among the teens and teachers as we rehearse!

4) Miscellaneous Ministries:

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Moments before the tower was knocked down by Little Deandre ;___;

I’m absolutely clueless when it comes to babysitting kids while the moms practice for Praise Dance or participate in Women’s Bible Study…. But I’ve found that simply bringing myself down to their level; to their world of imagination (whatever that may entail for a baby), playing along with them really helps with 1) connecting with the kids and 2) preventing them from tearing each other apart ^___^”.

“Oh, you think that‘s a lego tower…? We can make it bigger bwahahahaha” (Evidence shown above – Read it and weep folks!)

“Oh, you think you can sing How Far I’ll Go from Moana? Let me introduce you to my little friend, Jasmine (my guitar – I guess I can’t really stop you from judging me for naming inanimate objects)”

Kids bring out a strange, competitive side of me… But is there really much competition between a 2 year old and a 22 year old to begin with? Pathetic, Jon… Pathetic.

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Worship Practice BTS at 12am… Q__Q

Worship Leader Isaac has been kind enough to allow me to sit in on worship practices for sound and backup guitar. It’s been pretty neat seeing the hours of prayer and practice that go into the 20 minutes of worship on Sundays. While I don’t foresee myself actually playing on stage for a long time (Somebody’s gotta be the Sound Boy… or Girl – We don’t discriminate here :P), it’s been really refreshing being able to feel like I’m an actual part of the worship team (I mean, I guess I am… Can’t have worship without sound!).

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Construction Projects w/ Pastor Johann (I promise that I helped LOL)

Lastly, from time to time we’ll have random construction projects around the church (or in one of the ministry houses) led by Pastor Johann. Would you believe me if I said we had to set up all that scaffolding shown above just to repair the lights on the cross? Twice? (There was an unfortunate mis-wiring the first time around… sad). Believe it. If you think about it though, it’s worth the effort! The cross stands for everything in our faith! (Hmmmm there’s a sermon somewhere in this… *bookmarks for future reference*)

It’s dirty work getting everything set up and installed, but it has undeniably been a wonderful opportunity bonding with the brothers throughout the process (:


 

Prayer Requests

We are starting our March Mission Week on Sunday! We have missionaries visiting from our sister churches in San Diego and New York helping out in some big events that we have going on… Please pray for the following:

  1. UC Outreach – As mentioned above, we are hoping to hit the ground running with the Alpha Course. Please pray that we can get connected with UC students (ELS in particular) who are interested in exploring faith as we reach out on Mon-Wed and wrap up with our introductory dinner on Wed night.
  2. Spring JAM (Jesus And Me) – We are hosting a “Kids Camp” for our Kids Club/Sunday School children on Thurs and Fri afternoon. There will be crafts, games, music, Bible lessons, and skits! Please pray that our kids can come to Spring JAM and have a fun, blessed time!
  3. Safety and Salvation of People during Campus/Street EV
  4. Chinese Scholar’s Dinner & Refugee Children Visitation: As we continue to reach out to the international population in Cincinnati, please pray for us to build relationships and take opportunities to share the gospel with them!
  5. WEATHER. WEATHER. WEATHER. The forecast predicts several days of rain, which can be a hindrance to our outdoor events (campus outreach, inviting kids to Spring JAM, etc.). Please pray that God can clear the weather for us and provide favorable conditions for us to commence with our ministry!
  6. Unity: We have 12 missionaries visiting from San Diego, New York, and Atlanta! With more bodies to help out in the ministry, it can provide more opportunities for the devil to create division and conflict. Please pray that we may experience unity as one body, serving under the same God, for the same commission.

 

Major props if you read through the entire update! I honestly do not blame you if this was challenging to get through… haha *___*”. It’s a nice reminder for me to be more intentional in the timing of my updates…

 

If I had to summarize this post for the truly busy and/or lazy out there:

TL;DR – God Is Good.

Peace and Blessings,

Jon

 

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