A Reminder of Why I am Here

“So, why did you choose South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice as your placement?”

This was a question asked to me during a conversation with a cool Discover group from UNC Lutheran Ministry.  I have been fortunate enough to interact with a few of amazing mission groups who come to Miami to serve and learn through DOOR. First time I was invited to speak alone (without my super knowledgeable supervisor) about the work SFIWJ does, I was incredibly nervous but it turned out better than I could ever hope for and I was grateful for the opportunity to meet with such an open and enthusiastic group who wanted to learn about the work we do as an organization.

Tonight, I was invited to speak again and meet with a wonderful, engaging group of UNC students in Lutheran Ministry (Yay, Carolina!). I thought I could do better at explaining what we do and what we try to do to serve workers in our community. From an organizational stand point, I have witnessed and have been a part of a coalition of passionate people who work hard everyday so that people who are overlooked and abused in their workplaces and community will be able to stand with dignity and respect. Everyone has different ways, ideas, and values that they bring to the table, but the key reason that motivatea these different groups to work together is the people. And, through SFIWJ, I have learned and am still learning to do that. Stand with people in solidarity. Because we are all people who deserve respect and grace from one another.

Nevertheless, when the question above was posed to me tonight I was a little taken aback. Not in a bad way. I just had to shift gear to why I was working at SFIWJ to do the work I do, not why SFIWJ work as an organization. A brief flashback of my discerning process went through my mind. I remember coming to that decision with hesitancy. It wasn’t because I thought SFIWJ was a horrible organization or thought that the work was not worthwhile. The people, the issue, the heart. They are extremely important and shared core among most of people who work in this field and they bring everyone together to work towards better and improved lives for people. But, why was I doing it?

Initially, my hope and my dream doing a service year were that the work I take part in would have Jesus’ name on it. I came to this program hoping to put faith into action. Beyond my faith, I wanted the work and ministry I took part in to be done under the name of Christ. And, SFIWJ, an amazing organization representing multiple faith communities was not the most perfect example of what I envisioned. In the end though, it really didn’t matter what I envisioned. Because to be very truthful, I came to SFIWJ because I felt God lead. There were definitely aspects of the work that I was drawn to, but more than anything I really felt like God led me to where I am now to work wherever He leads, knowing that I will do it because of Jesus. It is not necessarily what it appears to be or where it is, as long as I am a Christ-follower and I do things because He is in the lead, then that work is done in the name of  Christ. Because of His presence in the work that I do, it is work that He uses to reach the people He loves.

I needed that reminder today. During my long commute up north (which I enjoy the public trans), I asked God why I was here. What was the His purpose in me being here? When I lose focus in the midst of struggle, I seem to ask God that a lot. And, with grace and gentleness, He nudges me and I have to stop and think. I am here because He wants me here. Whether it is to love, to fight, to stand, to fall , to share, to witness, to learn, to grow, to struggle, to hit rock bottom, to reach the peak, to be, to act. I am not entirely certain, but the fact that He led me here and it wasn’t my crazy idea alone is enough for today.

Update of Journey in Miami — Entering 2014.

It has been three months since I last posted! I really came to Miami thinking that I will blog at least once a month, but that turned out to be harder than I thought. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about or nothing happened past three months. On the contrary, LOTS of things happened. More thoughts went through my mind. As a person who processes internally, I didn’t want to write a blog post before I had my time to think and process what I have been experiencing and learning. But, I guess that process will be a never-ending journey. So, after many reminders and encouragements that I should share, I’m here!

Up till Christmas, I was a bit overwhelmed with challenges that I faced. Finding my place at a new environment, challenging my comfort zone, and learning about self and others, and seeking God in the midst of all these took time and persevering. And, it is still continuing, the process of learning, serving, and purging through – and I don’t think it will ever end. Christmas break was a nice, restful, and recharging time for me to think about and reflect. I saw familiar faces, places, and settings with a different perspective and thought if 4 months away can do that, what would happen when I come back after a year. I also realized my limits as well as my strengths. It was definitely a needed time. Regardless, first week back to Miami was incredibly difficult, more so than before. This was when homesickness hit more.

But, in ALL THESE, God reminded me again to be faithful. I tried multiple times before to be intentional about giving thanks to God who give so much, but whenever I struggled, I became really discouraged.  Then, I went to worship one night and I was reminded to look beyond myself and my little struggles and see Him and His greater purpose. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1. Isn’t God bigger than myself and His purpose good compared to any others’? I was so caught up with small and big struggles in my own life, I kept losing focus on His will and concern for others. And, I still do this all the time, but I don’t fear challenges as much anymore, knowing that following Christ will require more difficult challenges in life but I have greater hope in Jesus.

“You are not alone”

“You are not alone!”

This was the phrase shouted out to people who were moved out of Broward Transition Center (BTC) tonight. The BTC is a for-profit jail that holds undocumented immigrants in transition. And, right now, there is an on-going presence of students and many other members of community spending their time in front of Broward Transition Center to show their solidarity with people detained in BTC. The van that carried people out of the center tonight was probably going to another transition center or somewhere else to deport people. As a part of the work I do at my placement, I attended a meeting there with those who have been there almost every day this week.

My placement, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice (SFIWJ) serves and advocates for the low-wage workers so that they will be treated fairly and with dignity in their workplaces. And, issues and rights regarding immigrants are very relevant in protecting the workers since many of them are immigrants, documented or undocumented.  After many thoughts, struggles, and prayers, I have decided to serve my year of mission in SFIWJ because I felt God led me here to serve (and learn from, with my very limited skills and knowledge) the people often marginalized in this society. And, the people who are in BTC are, many times, neglected and hated in our society.

It is true that they have broken the law in place by not having papers. But, putting the law or papers aside, I think about people tonight. People who are separated from their families, who are locked away, who are hated, and who are told to “go home” when many of them already call this country their home. People who live to provide best things for their loved ones, yet the decision to do so came with risks and heavy price.  People who haven’t done any other crimes than not having papers. People who are alone with uncertainty and fear, not knowing what will happen to them and to their families. It is easy to suggest what we should do with people who break the law, until you realize that they are people, just like me, my family, and friends who deserve compassion. Because, in truth, they are not just people who “broke the law”, but people whom my God sent His Son to die for.  Knowing that these are people like me, the phrase, “You are not alone” resonates so deep within me tonight, I am not sure what to do.

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This week has been somewhat overwhelming for me internally. I learn so much every day about myself and the world around  me. Or, more so that every knowledge and pieces of information I knew in my head becomes so much more real. And, what Jesus has done for me and the world by coming in the flesh of man to be with the lowliest of the lows who are unworthy to untie the thong of his sandal is not an abstract idea, but concrete reality. And, this process of learning and realizing is painful to digest at times, but I know I can’t turn away from it. I still wonder what I should do, or can do. Or, whether I am supposed to do anything at all. And, all these, I ask my Father every day.

10 Things I love about Club Shirley

My laptop finally decided to connect to internet. So, I thought I would write a short blog post about 10 things I love about our house, Club Shirley.

1. Well, Club Shirley the house. I couldn’t tell from the picture before I arrived in Miami, but the peach/corral/pinkish color, whole bars on the window, grassy front yard, and all of what makes Club Shirley, I love it more and more daily.

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2. “Patty” the cat. One of many cats in our neighborhood, but special in our household as he visits us almost everyday and greets us when we return home from work, church, or any other events away. I have never been a cat lover, but almost all my housemates are and he makes them happy. And, it’s good to see a friendly face everyday even though he didn’t like that I didn’t let him in the house the other day.

3. Kelly’s Bakery almost every night. One of my housemates loves to bake and her muffins, cakes, brownies are awesome! The latest dessert: cupcakes. Jealous? You should be. Because they are Hershey chocolate with marshmallow filling and graham cracker bottom. Very yummy.

4. Family Meal. We have family meal many nights a week. And, the whole process of cooking is different every time, but I love the meal together. We pray together, holding hands and we also clean together afterward. It is nice to have family dinner with good food, good people, and good conversations.

5. Gecko in the bed. Okay. It only happened once, and I don’t particularly like them in my bed or in the kitchen. But, when I sent a picture of the little guy to everyone in panic, many suggestions and help came. After I calmed down a bit, I gently and respectfully removed him from the house.

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6. Ingenious shower curtain rod extension. Lanier and I realized that the our bathroom tub is longer than we expected. So, we put our creativity hat on and came up with a solution to the problem. Don’t worry about it breaking. It is held by the world’s greatest invention known to human kind. Can you guess?

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7. Language learning sessions at Club Shirley. Our house is unique in that all of us at least know some of different languages other than English. Spanish, French, Korean, Swahili, and American Sign Language, to be exact. There’s even a language wall in our living room. We are still working on it, but it’s a good start. ;)

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8. Spontaneous concerts. So, we have  two very talented musicians in our household and they have played guitar for us. Sing along, laughter, and music filled house. What more could you ask?

9. Cards and packages from friends and family. Love receiving them. Feel like I am remembered, valued, and appreciated even from afar. And, a piece from home as I got a package that contained plethora of Korean ramen noodle from mom. :P

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10. More than anything. My amazing housemates make Club Shirley home. Their passion and gifts. Their stories and journeys. Their willingness to listen and carry one another through difficulties and hardships and celebration of blessings and joy. I think Club Shirley wouldn’t be the same without them. And, I am genuinely grateful for a house full of GREAT people. Thank and Praise God for that!

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A year in Miami — A call to “suffer with”

It has been more than a month and a half since I last blogged. I’ve been meaning to multiple times in past two weeks, but I had to think whole lot about it before I could actually sit here and write (And, my laptop refused to connect to wifi many times too).  Honestly, I still don’t know what to write.

Definitely, a lot of things happened since last blog post. I left home to go to orientation at Stony point, NY on August 19th (Wow, that was almost a month ago) and met many wonderful people in person, including my amazing housemates (Kelly, Lanier, Michelle, and Molly) and incredible site director, Heidi. And, two weeks ago I came to Miami, settled in Club Shirley (our house name), prayerfully decided on my placement at South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and started working there.

The whole experience so far has been an emotional, spiritual roller coaster, if that makes sense. Not just because I left home and miss home (which I do — miss my family, my church family, friends, Charlotte as a whole – the season change, dancing trees, fireflies, and the list goes on) or because I don’t like Miami (which is not true because I love Miami with its diverse cultures, people, and beautiful ocean!) or even because I don’t care for my housemates (this also is not true — my housemates have been great blessings in this whole experience).

But, more so that God pushed me to be in places where I HAVE to entirely trust Him or otherwise I will crumble to pieces. He certainly has nudged me to open my eyes and heart bigger so that I can see what He does in this city, among people, and in the world. He shone light in my heart and faith to see the fear, walls, and vulnerabilities. I have been kicking and screaming, resisting every way to not trust Him. This sounds so horrible to me because I have prayed for so long that I can trust Him with anything in my life. And, once again, when all the strength left me to resist, conviction comes so that I can really listen to what God says. And, He seems to say, “suffer with” people around me.

As I listen to many people around me who have walked different paths of life, I do see many hurts, suffering, and pain just as much as joy, passion, and love. As I listen to the stories of faith journey with other believers, hear the news of those in our society being neglected and taken advantage of, and walked with workers on poverty wage strike last week (a cool and overwhelming experience of solidarity that I need to share, perhaps in another blog post), I hear God say, have compassion and suffer with people around me. Even if I do not have solution to fix their problems, even if I do not agree with every decision they have made or values they hold, even if I cannot experience the same thing they do physically or emotionally. I should be with and suffer with people. This is one of the hardest call to be in. The ministry of being present. Standing still, knowing that He cares and loves. And, I care and love because He does. That is being His hands and feet at this moment. I’m not good at this and it’s hard. His invitation to join Him in His ministry – not a church program, community outreach, or any other ministries that I could think of but other places that He works in daily – is incredibly difficult at times. But, I try to remember that He wouldn’t call me out to be harmed, but to be with Him, just as I asked.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

On a much lighter note, I am going to work on writing more regularly. Aside from these internal reflections, I do have really fun adventures at Club Shirley and all over Miami, navigating through public transportation and new job. But, for tonight, this would suffice. :-)

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Weak to shame the strong – A week in ATL, GA

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Last week, some of our youth members, youth director, children’s ministry pastor, and I went to Atlanta, GA for mission trip. There were fourteen of us. And, until we went, we didn’t know what to expect. Despite uncertainty, a week in Atlanta was peaceful experience with great things that I know were present but seem like they were beyond my understanding. It taught me humility,  healing, and maybe a little bit of how God works.

We as a team stayed at a local church and went out to do at least two ministries a day. Homeless dinner, women’s kitchen, communities with refugee kids and others, concrete jungle, and park ministry. We went around different parts of Atlanta where I’m sure people who live there do not visit often unless they intentionally look for them, just like a lot of us do not usually know where refugee communities or homeless shelters are in Charlotte.

It was an amazing week in many aspects. At the end of the mission trip, I remembered the quote,

“God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the call”

I felt like God was equipping us and using us before and during the whole mission. Who was ready and qualified for this mission trip? Not me. There were times when I was distracted in our purpose, inept in what we had to do, awkward around strangers, and just totally not ready. Regardless of all the flaws within myself that I would have found frustrating if I didn’t keep reminding myself that it was God’s mission and He called us to be there, there really were some great witnessing of God’s work, sharing His greatness and love, and fellowship among the believers.

When we went to women’s kitchen and I just stood there, not knowing what to do other than serve food with a smile — when they were leaving, two women hugged me with thanks. The ones that I would have hard time approaching in a normal situation came to me first and showed me deep appreciation that I felt in my heart. Romans 12:9 says that love should be genuine and their love was genuine. I struggle so much to show genuine love everyday while they were showing it through simple hugs to a stranger who served them food. At refugee community, a little girl’s grandmother came to me a second day and gave me a big hug. I really wanted to talk to her the day before about Jesus and I just didn’t know how as she barely spoke any English and she seemed upset about her granddaughter covered in chalk. The next day, she just came to me first and while I tried to strike a conversation just get to know her, she gave me a hug. I’m not sure what she said before, but her smile and love were genuine. When we went to Homeless dinner under the bridge, we met the most sincere, open, and kind man who shared with us his life story, faith, doubts, and struggles. Despite his struggle, he shared with us the faith he has in God. God loves him. I know it. He knows it. He is just going through a valley. All I could do was encourage him, but he encouraged me more in return through his openness, respect, and smiles. And then, there were smart kids, smart lunch where we served local community of kids. They were so loving and open. They embraced us like we were life-long friends and we not only had good time, but were eager to go back the next day to see them again.

Though I thought I couldn’t physically feel His presence at times and often was confused about the circumstances around me, I could see what He meant by “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:27). Where the homeless and the hungry were, people of God seemed stronger in their faith in God. They may be broken, hurt, and beat around by the world and life  and have doubts and discouragements every day. Their worries — different from mine and people around me– didn’t keep them from believing in and loving God. They really were no different than me, except if I were in their situations, my mouth and heart would flow out complaints and bitterness; the people we served exhibited gratitude and love that I have hard time showing to people around me, let alone strangers.

In all these, I still hesitated to step out of my little bubble and reach out to see and be an active part of God’s great work and love. There were some people that came into my eyes and heart, but they passed by as I asked God what to do. In all this, God used the other people I was serving with and those who were served to reach out to me and really showed what He does out of His love, and taught me that loving is  just small gestures with sincerity, grounded in faithfulness of Christ. There were His great hands working beyond my sight or understanding. In the downpour of rain and flash flood, all I saw with my physical eyes were vulnerability and questions of why. Somehow, someway, however, I still do believe that He did something amazing that afternoon in the park in pouring rain. We were all huddled under a shelter, looking for people who might want our encouragements. There were joy, closer bond, and encouragement within our own team and people we talked to. And, I’m thankful for that.

It makes me have hope in that His greatness cannot be covered or hidden by my weaknesses. And, I have butterflies in my stomach knowing that there will be more growth in me with Christ during YAV year. There will come those moments when I will feel shaken and broken, but I know those are God-given opportunities to be stronger in faith and love. I know it will be just a part of His molding and shaping me as His daughter and His disciple. And, He will never leave me alone to struggle.

God’s way, not mine

God works in me daily. And, this week, I felt like there was a big breakthrough.

In all honesty, there has been an internal battle going on for some time, trying to “figure things out”. And, in that, I have been arrogant, blinded, and stubborn. With fear, anxiety, and prideful heart, I tried to do things my own way. I tried to judge everything around me based on my own – not God’s – strict  ”rule”, intentionally and unintentionally. Unconsciously, I acted as if my effort and discipline would bring about God’s approval. Even though I knew it wasn’t true, I stubbornly stuck to this and this was harder to break as I struggled with my own thoughts and sin.

And then in my moment of utter brokenness, I finally felt peace, coming before God as just me — broken, imperfect, and completely clueless. Not trying to be someone better or worse than who I am, but just me. I remembered God’s constant reminder that it is His grace, not my will, that makes me whole. My effort to surrender my will has been actually a hindrance to letting God take control and trusting Him. It was when I acknowledged myself as I was and am, even the most weak and vulnerable, that I could truly surrender. And, I was reassured that the voice that condemned me was my own, not His. His voice, no matter my weaknesses, faults, and flaws, is always loving (which I cannot understand fully how it could be).

As I am preparing to be a YAV, I shared before I struggled some internally. Aside from all the excitements and expectation of amazing mission that I will take part in, I struggled trying to “figure out” where God’s will is in this journey. I was a bit anxious that I’m going out of my comfort zone. Worried that funds won’t be met because I have been hesitant too long.  Yet, I’m gently and sternly reminded once again that as long as I trust and humble myself to my Father, I will be alright. His redemption and love are bigger than anything that I fear will consume me. As He told me through my lovely sister in Christ,

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7