Monday, August 27, 2007

Day 5. Shooting...up? Culture. Shock.

This morning starts off, for me, on a rather memorable note. We were sitting in Starbucks having our quiet time before our day started (as we have been doing for the last few mornings), and Dennis comes by. I don't think i've told you about Dennis. Dennis is the friend we made that sweeps Commercial Drive everyday (seriously, he goes up and down this crazy, busy street and sweeps the street corners). He comes into Starbucks, sweeps it, and gets the newspaper for those that frequent Starbucks. Our relationship became one of us sitting, reading/writing and Dennis coming over to give us the paper. He looks over at Marion and Deb and asks if they were Americans. They told him 'yes,' and that we were all from California, and he proceeded to ask, "Is she (in reference to me) an American, too?" What's funny is that, on this day, our focus was submersion into culture, understanding how broad the idea of culture is preparing to take part in it. To Dennis, I looked different, and it led him to believe that I may be from someplace else.

So after our time spent there, we headed over to the Warkentin's where we all came together and headed towards a park near Downtown. On our way there, we stopped at one of the biggest community gardens in Vancouver. Before we headed in, Tim prompted us to conjure up a metaphor for culture as we went throughout the garden (garden-related or not), and we would share our thoughts as we reconvened at the park. This garden is a massive lot of plants and plots of land that people rent/buy. They are responsible for their particular plot of land. Some people are very vigilant and dedicated whereas others are rather careless. You see dying, dried out plants up against these flourishing bushes of flowers and trees.

As we saw in the garden, for community to thrive and grow, there are needs and responsibilities to meet those needs. When we gathered at the park, Tim began to describe culture as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg that we do see above water represents the behaviors of a any given culture. But beneath the water, we see three sub levels: 1)values 2) beliefs 3)worldviews. When you understand someone's values, you understand their beliefs and from there, you are able to understand or know from which worldview they are coming from. We also come to understand that values determine how one behaves. The "beneath" needs to be addressed in order for us to understand the surface part that so easily becomes a target for judgment. What tends to happen is we (I) see behaviors, and that is what I tend to react to, not a person's values or worldview. The truth of the matter is, this mentality affects our ministry. We need to be careful that our goal and purpose is not to replicate a desired behavior or set of behviors, but rather, to know and understand one's worldview. (This, again, emphasizes the idea and significance of community. In order to get to know someone's worldview, time is involved. We live in a culture of power where time seems limited.)

We were given examples of how behaviors are judged within the city. In some areas, they have homes called "Vancouver Specials." These are pre-built houses, and all of them look alike. They maximize the amount of space within a home so that the most number of people can live there (cultures where families live multigenerationally). At first glance, there is the common propensity towards thinking that the houses looks a certain way, but where that thought process falls short is forgetting how that house actually functions for the family(ies) that are living in that house.

Years back, there was an epidemic of cultural genocide that occurred in Vancouver. Residential schools came into play, and the goal of these establishments was to "train" the native out of the native children. Children were taken away from their family and forced to unlearn their native culture and to learn behaviors that were seen as acceptable to the new society around them.

The danger in doing things sometimes is that we have the mentality of "bringing God" into someone's reality. The truth is, we need to be sensitive enough to see how God already is in their worldview.

After this, we all started walking to China Town for lunch and our afternoon activities.

After lunch, we were going to split up into groups and do a listening activity. We were going to go through Gastown (where the Old Money is) for 45 minutes, then pass through Downtown Eastside and arrive at China Town again (where the New Money is, for another 45 minutes). The goal of this was to listen to see how God was speaking to us in our surroundings. None of us were supposed to talk to each other, but we had our journals in hand, and we set out.

Our prompts were:
1) What do you hear? What do you see?
2) Is God speaking to you? If so, how is He speaking and what is He saying?

The common thread throughout all of my journaling were these words:
-lack of time
-details, the small things matter (There was a janitor in the train station that was sweeping every corner of the place very meticulously, he took his time, and he wasn't hurried.)
-lack of relationships
-sense of waiting on someone or for someone
-money; having it, not having it
-people wanting to be heard (A homeless man walked by and tried talking to a hostess at a restaurant. Even though she wasn't listening, he kept on talking. That was the closest he could get).

As we went into a store called Revival Art, I saw a painting that showed a little girl wandering off ahead of her mother. As I looked at it, what came to mind was this: sometimes we want to walk ahead and see things but we're supposed to linger and stay behind. This way, we see how God changes the environment we are in. This puts into perspective how much we just need to be willing vessels of change.

At this point, we realized we were way behind schedule and had to get to Chinatown within 15 minutes, which meant-walking...really fast!

On our way, we found ourselves on Corrale (I think that's what it was called). Not much longer than 2 minutes in, our environment changed completely in a very drastic manner. Vandalism, mass crowds of homelessness. I saw a man yelling at the top of his lungs with knife in hand, furious at something. As we continued on in silence, we were coming up on a street corner that was just PACKED with hundreds of homeless people crammed tightly into this area of the city. I have never in my life seen such open drug use, blood, a lingering sense of death. There were rigs (needles) everywhere, pipes, bongs, tubes with other questionable substances...everywhere. People were shooting up freely. We had entered into a place that was their home. I can't explain to you how I felt at this point. Apart from the fear that I felt because we came into Downtown Eastside unknowingly, there was just a deep heaviness on my heart. I felt like I was just walking into a place of complete and utter brokenness, hoplessness. I was frustrated, and very emotional, but I wasn't sure to what I was feeling all these things.

Culture. Their home. Their lives. Their idea of normal. I remembered the truth of looking for God where He already is rather than bringing Him in. I was struggling with this big time. My eyes had seen something that my heart couldn't really understand, and I knew I was going to have to unpack this.

We met up with groups (we met w/ Kat) to discuss what we heard and saw. That heavy, helpless/hopeless feeling mixed in with fear and sorrow were shared sentiments throughout the group. We were overwhelmed.

Psalm 62:1
"My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him"

Day 4. The Earth is His.

Today, we practiced the posture of Remembering as worship during our spiritual formation time. We went over about 10 old testament passages that demonstrate God's people worshipping Him for all He's done or passages that call God's people into a posture where they acknowledge His faithfulness in their lives.

As a group, we went around and shared moments we remembered as an act of worship. The one that immediately came to mind was 4-year-old Megan (who's a big girl now!) at the church I grew up in. When my grandmother passed away, she came up to me one Sunday, tugged on my shirt and said, "lizzy, i'm praying for you." One day she'll know how much that impacted me. Until then, I can only share with others how much of the Lord's love and favor I was able to experience at that very moment. As the group share, we all realized and acknowledged how powerful it can be to worship in remembrance. It calls us to be vulnerable and to lay ourselves bare. Sometimes, remembering takes us back to dark places, but often times, those dark places only lead do the deliverance that the Lord is.

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, Blessed be your name

Lord, thank you for being directional, personal and just. Thank you for your faithfulness. I ask that you would teach in me these things.

The earth's is the Lord's, and everthing in it; the world, and all who live in it. Psalm 24:1

We headed out to A'Rocha after our conversation time. A'Rocha is an " international, Christian organization working to care for God's world" ( At this location, we delved further into the idea of creation care, what it looks to be stewards of God's creation, the world we live in. This challenged all of us radically. Most of us were from Southern California, and we live pretty wastefully. Now, you may be thinking ," I don't live wastefully." But let's break it down. How many of us recycle? Do you drive everywhere you go? Is it fuel efficient? I am so guilty of using paper towels like a crazy person! (i've adopted the usage of cloth napkins at my apt. now :)) As a nation, the United States average cost of living is higher than it is anywhere in the world. We use more than we produce. This in mind, many take a political stance at some point. Ah! Liberals, the Greens, etc. I truly was able to embrace the freedom that is so beyond the parties we put ourselves in, to embrace the freedom that we are the Lord's people. And if you need some theological proof, it is everywhere. We are given dominion, responsibility as we live in creation, as creation. It says we have rule, and in the original context, to have rule means we are to work, to serve, to cultivate the land-to care for, to guard and to keep. People in Vancouver are really bing on purchasing produce/goods from local growers. Not only does this support the community they are in, they know exactly where there food is coming from. When God gave Adam the duty of naming creation, He was inviting Adam into something very intimate and personal. He was inviting Adam into a relationship of stewardship-stewardship of God's handiwork. Picture the world we live in as God's artwork in a museum. You don't go into a museum and destroy, disrespect and deface the things that you see. Rather, you take care of, respect, and are in awe of the things you see. We are the image-bearers of Christ, and as such, we need to tend to this earth the way God did when He created it-with care, with thought, and with great love.

Not taking care of the earth affects everyone, especially the poor. As a resource, we need to use wisely. Rather than use up all the goods of the world, how to be sustain and cultivate what's already around us?

According to David Suzuki, here are ways to conserve
1. Reduce Home Energy
2. Energy efficient home appliances
3. Eat a meat-free meal once a day
4. Eat locally grown stuff (Farmer's market)
5. Replace dangerous pesticides
6. Use fuel efficient vehicles
7. Learn more and share with friends and family
8. Cloth napkins instead of paper ones.
9. Avoid buying things that are individually wrapped in large packages.
10. Rather than buying new clothes, exchange clothes w/ friends.

I hope to gain more knowledge in this area of creation care. I don't feel like i have a tight enough grasp yet to spur others on. For now, I plan on implementing what i learned, and through that, gain a deeper undertanding that affects those around me.

After we discussed the realities of the correlation between "deficit financing" and how many of us use the world's resources, we split up into teams, and helped the A'Rocha team with whatever they needed done with the land and with the plants. A few of us split off for some major weeding in a vast area of land as we spoke to a new friend we made who was interning there from South Africa.

After we left A'Rocha, we went home to the Gravely house and had dinner. I got to play w/ Tessa and her friends for a bit. Now, tiredness consumes me, and i'll continue next time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Day 3. Fall afresh on me.

August 12, 2007

I found myself waking up engulfed by my ever-deflating air mattress. After swimming my way out, we headed out for our Sunday in Vancouver. (We found a startbucks on Commercial Drive. It opens @ 5:30. From here on out, we went here each morning, we started to see the same faces. Keep that in mind. This, to be continued :) )

My paraphrase for that morning (the end of of Psalm 84):

God-you give me life and protection. You give grace and glory.
You don't keep any good from your children that have said "yes" to the life you have for them.
My God. How blessed I am to know you!

The night before, we had all signed up for which church we wanted to go to. There were three options, and I chose 10th avenue. To me, this was the combination of the Vietnamese church I grew up in and Rock Harbor, the church that i'm attending now. It was a beautiful picture to me of unity, something that i struggled with, still do, in fact. I remember growing up and just wanting to see a body serving in one accord rather than being discordant and self-seeking. As I sat in 10th avenue, a lot of healing happened for me. An image of unity permeated me in a place where the idea of my two experiences were rather dichotomous.

The speaker, David Wood, spoke on "A Well-Ordered Life." The reason why it wasn't called a "Well-balanced Life" is pretty awesome. The idea of balance is the manifestation of the myth that we can somehow control our lives. The phrase actually connotes the divided life: work/school/family, and the attempt at controlling each aspect completely separate from the other.) St. Augustine said to "cultivate a well-ordered life"... to love the right things, in the right ways, to the right degree.

After we had lunch at Stephos, this Greek restaurant that just gives you mounds and mounds of amazing food, we were headed to Stanley Park. Our whole team was going to bike around the island. As we got into the car, we noticed these two people standing side-by-side, holding a sign that said they wanted money for food. At the bottom of the sign, it said, "And if you want to give us a smile, that'd be great also." We all got out of the van and asked if we could take them to the grocery store for their needs. On the way, Rachel and _______ shared their story. They had lost all their money through some bad interactions and were now force to live in a crack hotel, where Rachel was getting fiercely attacked by bedbugs. They fear leaving the complex-the fear for their lives. We slowly got to see their guards come down, smiles take over their faces, and laughter escape into the loud bustling of the busy street. In one accord, we lifted these two new friends up in prayer. We were blessed by having spent time w/ them and even more blessed when, as we drove away, we saw them share what we had bought for them with a few other of their street friends.

We biked around Stanley Park Island and ended up at one of the beaches for dinner. Gorgeous creation, amazing people. It was really a sight. Over and over again, God speaking so loudly through nature and all His handiwork....and kentucky friend chicken...haha.

After we rode our bikes back into the city, we headed towards another conversation, formation time. We, as individuals, used props/craft materials provided to make something that represented something that has spoken to us in our lives or during the time that we had spent in Vancouver thus far. When we were done doing that in our smaller groups, we all drew timelines of significant points in ourl lives that have made us who we are today. The stories were powerful, and i'm continually reminded that in each story I hear, i see another glimpse, another facet of God's faithfulness.

And in the same words that caught my attention that morning:
God-you give me life and protection. You give grace and glory.
You don't keep any good from your children that have said "yes" to the life you have for them.
My God. How blessed I am to know you!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Day 2. When the city wakes up.

Coffee shops in California. Opening time is probably around 5AM. We're used to having that luxury. Here, in Vancouver, the city mostly wakes up around 10AM. In search for coffee, Deb and I walked around and finally found a place that was open. Sitting here, we did our quiet time for that day and people watched. A few people in the homeless community began to emerge. And in their exchange of dialogue, transactions were made. Phone call-drug deal. I sat there wondering, where is God in all this? And I was led to reading John 5. This came alive as i compared the story of the crippled man at the pool of Bethseda to the city of Vancouver and its broken, homeless and drug addicted. As we, in our brokeness as well, consider the others, we realize that we are all "waiting for the moving of the waters." The man at the pool of Bethseda had been there for years, and his response to the healing that was being offered was a simple, yet incredibly somber truth that there had been no one to lead him to the place of healing. This just screams out the need for community and for the need to come alongside and know someone well enough to know where the Lord is leading us to serve in whatever capacity we're called to. As I sat there, my heart broke and just had this heavy sense of whether or not this man had ever seen love-if he had ever seen the Lord. I looked up in my frustration and saw a sign across the street-a restaurant sign. It was called "arriva!" And in that, the still small voice reminded me that He has already arrived-His kingdom has come...already. It is at hand. Lord, break the destructive patterns in our lives. May we find freedom in Your name.

In our team's discussion time, we just went over the 5 points that exemplify mission being lived out (Example used: Peter and the disciples seeing Jesus walk on water): 1) the Call from God. God calls us to something. We don't make it up 2)The call is risky; there is fear involved. It the call is big enough where it requires God. When Peter saw the Lord walking on the water, he asked for an opportunity, not a guarantee. 3)There is always reassurance: He is present, and he is I AM. We're not doing things for God, but we're doing things with God. 4) There is a decision to be made. (Do you stay on the boat or do you get in the water?) 5) There is always a changed life.

In communion, we reflected: "May you hear God's voice and feel his presence."

The day's main focus was to help out at the community garden down the street from Grandview (one of the local churches). A huge emphasis with NieuCommunities is Creation Care-to be stewards ofthe land the Lord has given us. A while back, the church bought this lot of land where a house used to stand. They've cleaned and cleaned and begun a community garden there. Often times, those that walk by will stop to see what's going on. Others will see the progress being made, and many conversations are sparked this way. Some families bring their little kids and let them play at the garden. Our job for that day was to take up rocks, pieces of foundation, and laid in soil from which new life will emerge.

Then, to close off the night, we went 5-pin bowling. The balls were the size of...shotput balls... Good talk with Becks and Carl.

Community. Responsibility. Life. Love.
On our walk home, it rained. =)

"He will also send you rain for the seed you sow in the ground, and the food that comes from the land will be rich and plentiful." Isaiah 30:22a