Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'm convinced frisbee is a love language.

Makasih Ate E, we played in the rain for your birthday today!

Totally lit up my inbox yesterday
Warmed my heart today.
Leaving Malaysia tomorrow...

Monday, July 25, 2011


but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. when i was a child, i spoke like a child, i thought like a child, i reasoned like a child. when i became a man, i gave up childish ways. for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. now i know in part; then i shall know fully, even as i have been fully known. when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.

this year wean me from the world, dress me in your righteousness, carry me by your grace. grow me, LORD and let me see you more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On not hearing.

My temptation, whether in encounters in NYC/Chicago or in the five classrooms yesterday (20-60 students each, 20-30 minutes each) and the two mass evangelisms (one where I shared a brief testimony to 1700 high school students) was to construe the evangelistic distance as a rhetorical or discursive one, only. To attribute conversion to homiletical prowess, a keen understanding of the target human's condition and circumstance, an adequate grasp of the gospel, and thorough preparation.

But I'm not the Savior. And beyond those failures that we must rightly bear responsibility for, maybe we have domesticated the gospel, which takes a miracle to hear. I suggest that the nature of the gospel itself bears much responsibility for being incomprehensible. Edwards after all, great mind that he was perhaps knew and honored the gospel enough to be truly grateful and surprised when even one in Northampton had ears to hear and a heart to respond. He was genuinely taken aback and overjoyed when after seven years of faithful preaching, there suddenly stirred a revival. Does beg-pleading, like a used-car salesman, cheapen that field of buried treasure you would sell all your possessions to buy if you only knew its true worth? Desperation to be heard (at any cost) can swirl you into apostasy, as any idol pursued (at any cost). Today if they hear His voice, not mine--this is the evangelistic distance.

I guess my question, given that faith comes by hearing is, is it possible to hear, really hear, without conversion? I venture yes but that this is far less common than mmm... Well, Christ doesn't seem to count every seed among true hearers.

The temptation is to present the gospel as more accessible than it truly is, to offer false assurance, remove the offense––but also the power––of Christ's victory over death. Or to locate the solution only in my speech and performance, as though salvation were by works of man rather than confrontation with the person of Christ himself. Christ alone.

Holy Spirit, enable true preaching and evoke true hearing. True belief, true repentance, true religion. Risen Lord, continue to work out Easter in hearing hearts whenever the story is faithfully told.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On kind strangers and rowdy children in airplanes.

I had a window seat in my own row, but directly behind me in 3A was a screaming four-year-old boy, who kept pushing on my seat back, YELLING, counting the clouds as we flew past "MOM! Cloud! Two cloud! Fwee cloud! Mom! Look! Fo! Fye Cloud! ... Eleven cloud! ... Nineteen cloud! Twenteen cloud! Twenteen-one! ...wow! Twenteen-eight! Twenteen-nine! Tihrteen! Fourteen!" His count resets after 29 in an infinite loop from 13 to 30). "Moutain! Wow!" and so on. His mother and grandmother kept apologizing and hushing him.

Twenty minutes in I gave up my exasperated sighs and eye-rolls and vain attempts to nap, and befriended him instead. Incredibly humbled at and rebuked by Jesus' patient love for children. Rafa calls himself "Fafa," and together we counted clouds, mountains, trees, boats, the sea, and islands... in indoor voices.

His mother and grandmother (who had worked in Tianmu, Taiwan for several years) thanked me, asked the purpose of my trip, and exchanged contact information and offered to drive me to my hotel. But I didn't know where I would be staying. So they insisted on waiting with me or taking me to their home until I was contacted by the team or otherwise arranged my lodging.

The island's hospitality is quite something. Please pray that people would be hospitable to the gospel of Christ Jesus who is a rather intrusive stranger at times, but gracious to call and make us friends--and children--of God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On beautiful feet.

Beautiful. In Tagalog. Of course (thanks Mom and wiki). No wonder I couldn't find the meaning of "Maganda" in the Bahasa-Malayu dictionary.

She had touched her hair to my dirty feet and said beautiful. Curious. Scandalous. In every village, children salaam my hands and call me all sorts of things, mostly Ate E or Lita Aster or Teacher, but what she did I have not encountered a second time.

What are beautiful feet? Pedicured feet? At our first 007 meeting this summer at Laura's, Lucy said my month old chipped navy blue nail polish made my calloused feet look diseased. How many southeast Asian women have massaged and beautified my gross, neglected feet? Monday night I got to reverse this for Dutch, Darling, and Tetet.

Lord, send me with your words. As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" Give me maganda feet. Shoed with the readiness given by the gospel of true salaam.

Monday, July 11, 2011

SEAsia Update #3.5

Some visuals, as promised.

The toilet pictured was reasonably clean, but if you see the little glimmer at the end of its tunnel... That's the sun shining on the open, oft pooped-upon sea. Sad. As for the other toilets... I'm glad that numerous trips to Asia and some genetic squatting gene have warmed me up to the squat pots here. Which drain to nowhere.

For the village houses pictured (mind you this is the least materially poor most solidly constructed of the kampung-airs), you really have to be here to know what it's like.

Let's just say, if I could send you a scratch-n-sniff Polaroid, I would not because I love you.

SEAsia Update #3


School has been suspended for the next week or two, and I am cleaning to make the safe house safer and more house-like. Yesterday's events do not shake me behind my diplomatic safeties but this is not the case for the messenger pigeons here or the smurfs at the YMCA.

Speakin of shakin, a 6.2 earthquake hit Negros this morning around 5am. Expecting aftershocks and minimal damage but still grateful to have been here, not there. The messenger pigeons phoned home and their broods are safe. As for the SMCI campaign I was supposed to join this coming weekend, so far 37000 students have been splattered with good news and 22000 have asked for follow-ups. I don't know if I will still be flying into Dumaguete City. Waiting for a word.

The Martians invaded one of the YMCA's yesterday morning. I am truly humbled at the smurfs courage and determination to smile and laugh for each other. After teaching math and English at a YMCA yesterday morning, I spent the rest of the day with three teenage smurfettes and one of the pigeons. They joked around over the anxious undercurrent to be strong for their friends. We had girl time and an English-only rule and I gave them pedicures. They were very interested in my love life, so I began by talking about being hung up on an ex and ended with a story about this impossibly good invisible man who washed and bandaged my feet. Sometime after, last night, the pigeon took me aside and was in tears and we called Papa up about it. This morning a smurfette came to my room crying and admitting fear but saying not to tell the others because we need to lol together through the tension. We had breakfast together just us two and talked to and about Papa before the smurfettes went back to the Y. Now two pigeons and I are hangin at the house and we await further instructions.

The pigeons and smurfs are laying low for now. Continue to yell at the sky for their safety, that the Martians won't invade the YMCA. And for health--theirs moreso than mine. I'm never as diligent at home about spf, sleeping, vitamins/supplements, hand sanitizers, and washing with soap, so I am probably in better health abroad than usual. I doubt the slums are much worse than the subways and Harlem, and at the end of the day I'm air conditioned and showered. But smurfs live and swim in poop. Such is poverty. What poop are you swimming in? Even before he got pwned on the plus sign, even before he got borned in a poopy barn feeding trough, Massuh became a fetus swimming in a bag of his own poopies. Though he had castles in the clouds he became po' to make us rich and filthy to make us clean.

Sorry(but not that sorry) to be ridic and cryptic. It was fun and not that necessary. But just in case the Bahasa-Martians are on the line. Thanks all. Miss you and grateful to be body surfin on the things you lift up when it looks like you're talking to yourself. Today's a good day to write or chat me at least for the next few hours we just chillin.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SEAsia Update #2

10 July 2011, 4:30AM.

Good morning Islamic morning prayer bullhorn! Good morning punctual rooster! Please let me sleep more. If I find you, I will eat you, although...

It feels like we haven't stopped eating the last few days, as we've been getting acquainted with the various slumvilles along with the band of food bloggers who have been raising tremendous financial support for Goducate's work in Sabah--their goal this year is 100,000SGD. The fifteen of them, led by Dr. Leslie Tay, are united by passion in eating. But through the budding relationship between I Eat I Shoot I Post and Goducate, many of these epicureans are hearing about the Lord of the Feast for the first time. Many of them were moved emotionally, especially by the "sacrifice" of those who are the gears of Goducate. Who though they were rich in the world, poured themselves out as an offering for their fellow poor. With us constantly the last few days were a Filipina missionary who oversees the work in Sabah and who is often away from her three children and her husband, a pastor in Kuala Lumpur, and from her homeland where she has legitimate papers and jobs... A local Chinese recycling tycoon who is an elder at his church, who donated Land Cruisers and other 4WD's as well as a house now used as a training center, and who chauffered us around since our arrival... And of course Dr. Paul Choo (now Papa Choo) whose wallet is thinner than it once was but whose heart is fuller and whose ministry is larger every day...

Praise God for the many conversations that were had since we all met Thursday. They marvel at "sacrifice" and compassion for the least of these. And they ask why, how. May there willingness to ask, seek, and press in bear fruit. We are grateful for the opportunity to share the way we understand all that we've encountered (I've been praying, as a foreigner in SEAsia and in this world but also especially for our times spent in the slums, that God would tell me what I am seeing and help me see things the way He does). The way I see it, poverty is swimming in your own poop.

Pray for those foodies to know Christ and to hunger and thirst for righteousness. May their curiosity deepen and our new friendships continue. Maybe I'll even follow through on their many invitations to show me what Singaporean eating is all about, and on their inviting themselves to food-tours of Chicago/NYC now that they have a host/friend in us.

Pray for Ali and Steve and PC's return home. I'm so thankful for them and I learn so much from these brothers who plant one developmentally minded foot each in both the City of God and the City of Man. Remember Ali especially as he flies to NYC Thursday, he has been away from Wendy and you all for six weeks. He and his gargling stomach have endured much especially from traipsing around with Singaporean foodies, ever since a spicy pawn he ate in Indonesia. We did have high tea yesterday during which he taught Steve and me how to play croquet, which he then did not win. They've just left for the airport and will be attending church this morning in Kota Kinabalu, then returning to the Sings--Steve to his work and his Lish, Makeila, and the gestating one. I'll be staying here, living with the missionaries and walking alongside the teenage teachers, girls who just a year ago were themselves Goducate students. When I look at them I see God's gracious hold on Ellen, Connie, Carissa and such girls.

Please continue to pray for the locals. Both the majority Muslim Malaysian population of the town and the displaced, stateless migrants of the slums, who constitute the largest unrecognized refugee population in the world. The UN has taken no action here and Malaysia is not a signatory to the declarations for the protection of children's health.

Pray for me both at home and abroad to love the LORD with all my heart, soul, and strength, and my neighbor as myself. And against falling through rotting wood planks into poop, mosquito-borne malaria, farmer's burns (not tans), theft and assault. Also I may need to drop another $250 to rebook the correct flights to and from the Philippines and anti-malarial pills tickle my gag reflex. Will be heading to a local church for service soon. Until then I will be thanking God for you while I improvise my "universal" travel power adapter with a nail file to accommodate that darned American third prong.

Love, peace and fried chicken grease (the foodies' last meal was KFC for yesterday's dinner... they were not pleased),


P/s Feel free to write back, let me know how you are and how I can pray for you. I'm textable! Technology is amazing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On clean hands and dirty feet.

The missionary said that if the villagers name you, you accept the name. Not only does accepting their acceptance demonstrate humility, but for the missionaries also this helps preserve anonymity in the event of immigration raids on the village. A frequent thing. Just last week a teacher and a TA were taken into detention, which technically means 90 days in custody then deportation. But the police, of course, accepted bribes for their release.

Yesterday under the high noonday sun in a slumville--the poorest of our kampungs, a group of seven young girls of varying ages no older than nine or so were laughing and walking with me. I tried asking their (very long) names, shaking hands, telling them mine when the tallest among them took my hand and suddenly dropped to the ground and bending her forehead to my feet called me Maganda, which the other girls approved with nods and smiles, What, don't do that, I wanted to say, I froze. Quick what do I do, stoop down with her? Pull her up? But it was over before my shock was and so I did not carry through a response in time.

My shoes are disgusting. Maybe my name means Smelly or Poopy. I don't know, but I do know from that silly Urbana 09 song that Magdan in Arabic means glory maybe they're cognates somehow? This is a predominantly Muslim community after all. The only English they were saying to me was hello and thank you. Not a bad choice of first and only two words to learn in a language, I think.

I looked at their feet.
Some were crusty and dirty, bare and bleeding.
Would I wash them? Wouldn't He?

Lord, grant me a pure heart to love like you do. Give me clean hands for their dirty feet.

On swimming in poop.

In the South Bronx with Harv and Robyn Bowman was when the idea first began to entertain me, that poverty means sitting in your own filth. Poverty means you cannot be clean. Worse, that you do not know you are unclean.

We cleaned that basement of dilapidated 1800 Grand Concourse, where the kids from the hood snuck in to play, despite three years of sewage backed up over the floor. They didn't know how toxic it was. Or maybe they did but didn't mind. Liked it, even; they called it Turd Surfing. Here in Sabah too, the children sleep above and play in their poop.

I shoveled crap with work boots and gloved hands those days and washed up before dinner and bed. And these days I hold sickly children in slums and breathe the stench of their waste, excremental and non, covered by muddy high tides for half a day and baked in the tropical sun the other half. But at night I return to AC and running water. I am a visitor, with bottled water and soapy showers and shoed feet.

Why do you come? Why do you bother with us? Why do you care about our people, you are not even Filipino. Says the missionary who left her legal permanent residence to minister to the stateless refugees who could ask her similar questions. Resounding in every testimony is the memory of first being visited by Christ, who though he was rich, became poor.

Though he was holy, became filth. Even before he bore the world's wrongs and rags on the cross, he laid in a dirty manger. And before that even, he swam in an amniotic sac of his own poopies.

Poverty means I cannot make myself clean.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Visit us and make us clean, LORD.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

SEAsia Update #1

7 July 2011

Hello from an air-conditioned condo in Singapore! It's 2:30AM here and I'm enjoying the AC while I can and the jetlag while it lasts.
Tomorrow morning I'll join up with teammates from EPC, and in the afternoon we'll be flying to Malaysian Borneo with _____ and with ____'s group of fifteen or so. Please be praying for us for wisdom to perceive the potential, power to do the Father's will, freedom to enjoy His promised provision, joy in the work Christ has done through His body, safety, unity, and preparedness. 

After everyone else leaves, I will be staying on in Sabah, then traveling to Dumaguete City, Negros (a province of the Philippines) to participate in Student Movement for Christ International's evangelistic campaign there. Including the two segments that bore me safely to S'pore Tuesday/Wednesday, I'll be on 11 different flights before returning stateside! Transportation and accommodations have been arranged but please do pray for me especially for my alone times in transit around Southeast Asia with my papers, cash, electronics... And for lonely times in general, that I would find and feel the Lord hiding me in His word when I crave comfort and company. I'll remember and be grateful for your thoughts and prayers! Feel free to write me.

I'm excited that God has prepared me for and led me to this point. I spent the last month in Chicago with my parents and with the church community that I was raised in. I also did a lot of Bikram to prepare for this saran wrap + blowdryer weather. For all the different ways I have been readying myself for this trip, I'm finding--and they are my witnesses--that God has used the last month to empty me. And that this is the preparation He has chosen. I hope to run faithfully before you as we watch and wait to see how He fills me and moves me toward greater freedom to choose Him! Pray that all my encounters with people will be a spilling over of His life in me and that I would not shrink from these opportunities despite knowing I may never meet the people I'll be meeting again after I leave Southeast Asia. I am grateful for the ways NYC in particular has stretched me in this area of welcoming people in and then letting them go.

I'll try to keep these letters short but will be blogging and reflecting more personally at http://estherogen.blogspot.com.

Thankful for you!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On airplanes and my praying mom.

When my planes begin to taxi, I begin to pray. Not that I've ever been afraid of flying, as far as I remember. In fact I loved riding in airplanes as a child, and I always took the window seat. For the view. And because then I get to be the arbiter of lighting.

I always took the window seat, and I always sat next to Mom who was usually the buffer between Josh and me. At takeoff she would always take our hands and pray, for safe passage and smooth sailing I think. Watch over us, Father, keep us. 

So now, though I've mostly flown alone since that first time in August 2007 when New York City upturned my life and God invaded my heart, whenever the seatbelt clicks and tightens and the airplane rolls to the runway, I instinctually begin to pray.

Because Mom taught me in the way I should go, when she would take my hands to ask for travelling mercies, that it's not ultimately this heavy, metal gravity-defying tube that upholds me in the air, nor its hurtling through the clouds that ultimately bears me to my destination. She taught me to pray.

Airplanes remind me of my praying Mom and her desire that I, too, would rest my faith beyond , airplanes, and that I would commit my sinner self into the hands of God who is merciful at home and abroad.

Airplanes help me to be grateful for her. Thanks Mom, for picking up my antibiotics, hemming my linen pants, and for doing and buying everything you could think of to make my trip even a tiny bit more comfortable. I didn't choose to come to be comfortable, and I know that this frightens you. I am thankful for your heart behind the meticulous care. Don't worry, Mom I am in good hands. The ones that hold airplanes, the universe, those nails, and me. And you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On praying on airplanes.

These last four years I've flown in and out of NYC a lot. My plane-ride prayers are different now than when both of my clasped hands could fit neatly into one of Mom's.

It's not so much now "please don't let us crash or get lost" (quite literally--I used to marvel that the pilot never had to stop and ask for directions at a refueling station or something)... Sometimes now I pray for that great city as it shrinks below my window. Should I not love it? Surely it's not so overwhelmingly out of control from Your side of the sky. In fact it is quite small and still shrinking... What is NYC that You are mindful of it?

Or sometimes I pray, LORD ready me for where I am going. Because whether it's Naperville or NYC I have variously felt trapped--crap, why did I get onboard?--a lamb to the slaughter.

Today though as UA 835 lurched away from O'Hare, it was simply, Thank You Jesus for staying beside me, for staying with my heart.

My heart that sometimes needs airplanes in order to remember that He's there beside me. But He is kind to remind me. You always stay. I was moved to grateful tears that He would comfort me this way at the beginning of this vision trip, there is nothing else, no greater vision, that I need to glimpse but the face of Him who says Take heart, do not be afraid, it is I.

It was enough to settle yesterday. A thousand yesterdays. But yesterday in particular, was not a celebration of freedom for me, but a day of eating, drinking, and being... sorry? Quite possibly the weepiest shakiest 4th of July ever. The Independence Day that laid bare my misdependent heart--divided over many losses and the heartbreaking incompleteness of relationships. I ran to and from the wreckage, through which You stay beside me. I know I am Your choice. There is joy beside You, so thank You for yesterday. For making me Free.

Grateful for the hugs hankies and prayers of so many sending friends. Ellen Carissa Steph Christina Jessica Pearl Selina Danny Charlie Mike Jerry Jon Rebecca James Andy Jimmy George Michael Larry Franklin and the ones who will forgive me for leaving them out. Who have seen how the last month has emptied me. Who will see how the next month will fill me.

Christ commissioned, "Go... I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28.18-20)... so here I am. Shanghai airport now, Singapore tomorrow, Kota Kinabalu the day after, Sandakan Sabah... Coming because He invites me, going because He is with me always. May every move we make be made toward Him, to be with Him, to see the One who stays beside us, Emmanuel.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

finds all its strength in the heart of the King

thank You for loving us enough to conquer our hearts without coercion.

- - - - - - - -

The soul does not love like a creature with created love. The love within it is divine, uncreated; for it is the love of God for God that is passing through it. God alone is capable of loving God. We can only consent to give up our own feelings so as to allow free passage in our soul for this love. That is the meaning of denying oneself. We are created for this consent, and for this alone. // S. Weil

Naught of good that I have done, but simply being a conduit, a vessel, of the Godhead's Trinitarian self-Love.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Team Rocket!!

to protect the church from condemnation!

to preach the gospel to every nation!

to pronounce the goodness of truth and love!

to extend our praise to heaven above!




Friday, July 1, 2011

along the Way

teacher, how do i know if it is Zion i climb?

there is joy. much, much joy.