To Dream Again

Dreams have been on my mind lately. The kind of dreams we dream as children, dreams of who we want to be. Somewhere along the way I lost that dream of childhood me. I forgot who I wanted to be when I grew up. I also forgot what I enjoyed when I was a child, what gave me energy, what excited me and spurred my imagination. 31 years old and not a dream to my name, at least no dreams for myself.

Last weekend I went to see my pastor about this. I was seeking wisdom for this crucial juncture in my life: a time for reinventing and rediscovering myself. These times are uncertain for all of us, so knowing part of my future (my end of contract) is a boon, one that endeavors me to self-examine during the upcoming months. I told my pastor there is a chance I could get reassigned elsewhere, but that I was tired of starting over- or rather starting over is not my “final frontier” to quote Star Trek. I have moved and begun again, it feels like I have uprooted myself and replanted myself my whole adult life. For me the next frontier is not about expanding or casting my net wider… it is about going deeper.

To stay and go deeper into the community that I have joined, to extend my roots deep and find the source of water, to find the firm foundation that I can sink my self into, and begin to grow higher than I ever imagined. My pastor said that was a sign of maturity: that wishing to go deeper expresses a desired to grow more mature. “It is not about going high. Too often we focus on going high, but how high can we go if we do not first go deep? You could be 50, 60, or 70 and have it all crash down.” To go deeper, you must answer the question: who is the ultimate me that I want to be? What is the ultimate thing that I want to be doing?

Which brings me back to dreaming: in order to find those answers, I must dream again. In order to dream again I must find time for myself to meditate and sit with myself, to listen to myself and rediscover that childhood self that was a veritable field of dreams, when compared to my tundra of dreams today. Spending intentional time with myself is something I have longer been terrible at. I would rather fill that time with distractions like books, games, movies etc… and yet now I find myself in a position where my survival depends on those times of solitude and reflection.

Where do I go from here? I read a few articles on how to proceed. Meditation, journaling. All things that have been mentioned to me in the past, things I have dabbled in yet have not committed too. Perhaps I will take a trip out in nature, bring my hammock and find a place to set it up, and do some remembering, reflecting and start that journey towards dreaming again.

화요일

Today I joined a press conference by the National Council of Churches in Korea and Kasammako held in front of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul. The purpose of the press conference was to denounce Duterte backed and recently signed Anti-Terror Law. While the casual reader might think “Hmm anti-terror what’s wrong with that?” the reality of the bill makes it easy, in the wrong hands, to label anyone to critiques the Philippine government as a terrorist suspect and enables philippine authorities to hold them without a warrant for 24 days.

In the most responsible of governments, this law is an infringement of civil liberties. Under the Duterte administration, a government already guilty of crimes against humanity in their bloody “drug war”…well it’s far worse than an infringement.

The press conference, held in the top of the morning, attracted around 20 people with passersby stopping to listen to the pronouncements in Korean and English. Participants were photographed by embassy personnel. Statements were read by the faith community and the filipino migrant community.

After the press conference was over, I joined my filipino colleagues for lunch at a recommended sandwich place. It was delicious and the change I needed from my strict diet. Though I stuck with chicken

Chicken sandwich from the Casablanca Sandwicherie

After lunch, I helped my colleagues find the bus stop back to the office. The path involved walking under this interesting underpass as we crossed under the highway.

The ceiling was a bit low for me.

As it’s my work from home day, I did not join my colleagues, instead I returned home to work on a bit of Fair Share Market cataloguing before heading to Korean class. The subway is a perfect place to write this blog. Today is the second half of level 4A- almost like the second half of Infinity War but the good guys (aka me) probably won’t win in this one.

Language struggles!

Peace.

A new page

I have decided to challenge myself to 7 days of blogging.

Usually, I write my blogs like articles and agonize over what to write, or what to cut out so much so that it drops off my priorities list, or off my radar entirely.

For the next 7 days, I am going to free-thought blog, about my day.  While itinerating a few weeks ago someone asked me what my day looks like, and honestly, I don’t think it looks like something too unique, but I see my days all the time.  So here in these next few entries, I will write down what I do, what I think, experience, see and possibly eat.

 

Let’s begin.

A Challenging October

This month as been equal parts reflective, weird and challenging with some strung together moments of joy.

The past few sermons I have heard had similar themes of God granting all of us salvation. At some point in my missionary work I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least those who perpetrate and inflict violence, hate and injustice on their brothers and sisters will be locked out of heaven. Those who amass wealth for themselves only and do not care about their neighbors or God will not inherit the kingdom of God…only to be put firmly back in a humble reflecting attitude with the sermons of Rev Chong-Ah Kim and Eugene Choi. In particular the verse from Matthew 20:15 “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ and also from Eugene’s sermon about the lame man, his friends and the Pharisees surrounding Jesus with us being likened to the Pharisees, practicing the laws and the work but somehow missing Jesus in the midst of us.

I forget that despite my commitment to this work in the kingdom of God, I do not own God’s salvation: it is not up to me to decide who gets to receive God’s grace. If God, like the landowner chooses to offer the same salvation to those who came to God late in life, then who am I to question that?

I feel shame because in my heart is an unspoken prayer that the people who do these terrible things will never repent and be banished into an eternity separated from God.

I feel sad because of the self-revelation that it is easier for me to live in disagreement with a sister or brother while relying on God’s judgement waiting around the corner for them.

I feel unbalanced because I took verses like the Beatitudes i.e. ‘Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God’ to mean the rich will not inherit the kingdom of God.

I feel confused as to why I am actually doing this work if there is no ‘exclusive reward’ for pursuing love, faith, justice, generosity, mercy and why/when did I begin to feel deserving one? If the reward is the same, what is preventing me from going away and living life large and YOLO and for myself then coming back when things get bad, or I get sick or old, or feel devoured by guilt…much like the prodigal son who went away and had a YOLO lifestyle, fell on hard times and came back only to be welcomed and celebrated by his father? What are the benefits of not being a prodigal child?

I feel frustrated by God’s logic: A life of faithfulness and repentance yields the same reward as a life of faithlessness and boasting if both end in confession, acceptance of Jesus Christ and repentance.

I feel disheartened because after all these years, I still have neither internalized what it means for me to be loved by God nor what it means for my neighbors and my enemies to be loved by God.

The ‘Why’

This past week I have been in a pilgrimage hosted by the Ecumenical Youth Council of Korea. This journey has been a pilgrimage of justice and peace; of love and hope; of shame and mourning. The past 7 days brought together Christian young adults from around the world to uncover and confront injustices in the modern history of Korea, especially the struggle of Koreans martyrs for independence, peace, and democratization.

at Gwangju cemetery with Methodist youth
Pictured with the grave of Kim Eui-Ki, (1959-1980)  a chairman of the Korean Christian Youth Council who broke through the information blockade imposed by Korean Martial Law to break the story of the Gwanju People’s Uprising to the Korean nation, and the military dictatorship’s violent repression thereof.

As a United Methodist missionary and as a Christian young adult, it was a responsibility and a blessing to join the pilgrimage. Though I have been living in Seoul for 6 months now, I had already been exposed to a traumatic violent history of Korean people through a previous pilgrimage during Holy Week. For me, this last week has been a relief – yes, still the sadness and mourning of continuing injustices preventing peace persist, yet I have hope now that the voices of those who know the truth, the truth beyond the fantastical versions of history edited by those who commit atrocities to their fellow humans; the voices who know a more whole truth have multiplied. These voices of Christians who have committed to uncovering more truth and sharing that truth with others in their home communities, these voices of Christians in whom I can see the Holy Spirit agitating – voices who give me hope and clarity and determination in a field of work where I am often accused of “anti-American sentiments”, for shining the light Truth onto the dark underbelly of our touched-up American fantasy of 20th century history.

sodaemun prison
Jailed independence and democratization activists pictured here in their processing mugshots.  Keijo Prison was one of the largest prisons the Japanese Imperial Army operated in Korea and used for torture and interrogation.  It remained active as a prison after the Japanese surrender until 1987.

 

 

During the pilgrimage, I was asked by many how I ended up on this path of a missionary working for peace and justice. Why did I choose this path?  What continues to lead me to a vocation of mission? I gave many answers – Love of God, economic reason, desire to learn beyond university campuses, the pursuit of ‘glocal’ community’, a sense of home in living as a stranger, passion for God’s people, fear of apathy, love of neighbor, hope. Today after arriving home exhausted whereupon I passed out for a few hours;  I watched a few videos and stumbled upon one of a Detroit United Methodist pastor sharing her parish’s passionate witness. She quoted Mark Twain:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” 

Those words said aloud by a faith leader in my church invoked an upwelling of emotion spilling out my soul.  Sadness, grief, shame, hope, steadfastness, faith, love, love, and love. I know the first important day of my life 30 years ago. The second most important day is harder to pinpoint, but I know I am on the most important journey of my life. Being a missionary: committed to Christ, committed to community, to peace and justice, committed to love, and following God’s Voice leading me into this life is ‘the why.’

A Seoul Impression

Today I have been living in Korea two days shy of to months.  Like many other experiences, it is hard to believe that time has passed so quickly.  img_1764

I arrived in a mostly empty terminal,  pushing my life’s items in front of me was quickly impressed with the sleek modernity of Seoul’s mass transit. A feature that has long been lacking in the cities I’ve lived in since leaving Hamburg, Germany 16 years ago.   The first days were spent meeting the current staff for the Global Ministries’ Asia-Pacific Regional Office – where I will be spending the majority of my time.  I also moved into my Dongdaemun-gu apartment, went on a bike ride with Bong, a fellow missionary, who reintroduced me to the exhilarating feeling of cycling along dedicated paths without fear of sudden death by automobiles.

My work so far has been attending a smattering of events like the Centennial of the March 1st Movement and visiting the Demilitarized Zone.  I have been meeting and networking with leaders in the ecumenical movement for peace and reconciliation of North and South Korea.  I have also spent a good deal of my time researching, relearning and reading histories of the Korean Peninsula conflict.

“Humility helps me learn faster”

One of the most important tasks I have undertaken is learning the Korean language, as such, I have been enrolled at a private learning institute since March.  I successfully completed 1/3 of the first level and am currently enjoying a unique feeling of accomplishment, tempered by an overwhelming weight of how useless my scripted conversations are for daily interactions.  I can only get better (I hope.)

I think one of the coolest things about Hangul is a completely different alphabet.  This makes it fun (and somewhat frustrating) when deciphering some of the Konglish often found on menu signs or information posts.

Last week, while biking from the office to my language lesson, I missed the green light at a, particularly large intersection.  The red light grated on my time-centered awareness so I opted to practice my reading on the information card in the front bike pannier:

‘ABCs:  브레이크, 타이어’

I sound out each syllable, mumbling to myself.  “Buh rae ee kuh,  Ta ee eoh.”  Realization hits with “Brake, Tire.”   I feel less accomplished than if it were actually a Korean word that I stuttered through, rather than the Konglish equivalent.  Pride while learning a language is unsustainable.  Humility helps me learn faster… humility and colleagues I can test my limited Korean with.

On the weekends I have fallen into a semblance of a routine.  Saturday morning I life easy.  Wake up whenever.  Make coffee. Have breakfast. Do some household chores.  Do nothing.  Have lunch and depending on the weather/my energy level. Go for a walk, go biking, go explore more of Seoul.  Saturday is my recharge day.

Come Sunday,  I sleep in, make coffee, have brunch, take the subway to City Hall station in order to arrive at Chung Dong First Methodist Church before choir practice at 1 pm.  I have joined the church’s wonderful choir as the only ethnically non-Korean! It’s fun. (Thanks to Mrs. Gilbert for all the choir foundations you taught in high school and Prof. Wei for the advanced shaping in Chamber Singers at Denison-without you, I would have no idea what is happening in rehearsal)  Rehearsals are held in Korean, though the songs we sing are in English because I attend the English language ministry.  A notable exception, this Easter we are singing with as a full Chung Dong Chorale with the main choir.  One of the songs is in Korean.  I really need to practice it more!  After worship, we have another choir rehearsal before being dismissed for the day.  The rest of the afternoon is for studying before looking for dinner. Whether or not I actually study is dictated by the ration of Sun to Sunday…however this weekend I really need to catch up on my vocabulary.

Through it all, including the microdust, I am trying to adapt as best I can to life in Seoul and while being faithful and useful to the mission of the work here.  While it certainly is a new assignment and a different culture with many new possible irrecoverable pitfalls, I find hope in the renewed hospitality extended to me every day by my colleagues, church acquaintances, and strangers.

 

The Second Best Day to Plant a Tree.

Warm greetings from the island of Mindanao!

Today is May 23rd 2018.  I have been in mission in the Philippines now for 1 year 4 month and 26 days serving in my new assignment with community schools for the indigenous Lumad peoples on the island of Mindanao.  It has been one crazy ride.  Many geopolitical events have shaped my time here so far.  Most notably the declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23,2017, a declaration that until this day is on going.

Still, I have been able to carry out the work of the Save Our Schools Network, visiting remote rural communities, accessible by rough unpaved often muddy mountain tracks only accessible by motorcycles, horses and helicopters.  Through these visits I have listened to stories of hope from Lumad Datus (pronounced Dah-too), the community leaders, of their people’s ongoing struggle in asserting their right to self-determination and ownership of their ancestral domain.  I have walked through villages so underserved by civil services that they must build their own community schools to teach literacy, mathematics, composition, critical thought, analysis, history, economics, traditions, sustainable agriculture, music, art and composition to their children, so that they have a leg up in advocating for their future communities.

In these schools I sat in classrooms made of wood or cement walls with grass thatched or tin roofs, rooms baked by the heat of the sun often with no breeze to move the humid air around; in these rooms I sweated and learned.  I learned from young Lumad teachers, recent graduates themselves coming back to teach other Lumad scholars. I learned with these children about biology, algebra, Filipino literature, physics and soil preparation for the planting of mung beans.  All of these I learned in scarce resource classrooms where creative teachers take practical applications and make these subjects relevant to their students, grounded in their experiences as indigenous peoples.

 IMG_8312

I celebrated in graduating “moving up” ceremonies recognizing achievement of Lumad scholars in advancing in spite of the odds to the next academic level.  I listened to songs presented by children of all ages, songs depicting their struggle for education and for their livelihood as well as songs paying homage to the Lumad way of life through dances stylizing daily chores like planting, weeding, washing clothes, cooking, separating rice from husk and school.

In short, I traveled and lived among indigenous peoples for short durations, sandwiched between working on grants, advocacy campaigns, embassy visits, fact finding and disaster relief missions all around the plight of the indigenous people of Mindanao.  For while the schools and communities may sound idyllic in my description, the truth is these communities, schools, teachers and even students are persistently threatened by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the current administration’s martial law and all out war against the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

I am in grief for students like 6th grader Obillo Bay-ao who was killed by members of the state’s paramilitary forces.  I am disheartened by the increasingly violent and disparaging rhetoric from national politicians regarding these schools, as well as the closure of 89 schools.  These tragedies of harassments, red tagging, trumped up charges, threats and killings existed long before martial law and the Duterte Administration, and yet, martial law has emboldened state and corporate security forces, giving them leeway to accuse anyone who disagrees, doesn’t comply, stands up for their rights – of terrorism.

Unfortunately, as a missionary I am not immune to martial law.  Facing mounting international scrutiny with regards to the murderous anti drug campaign of the current administration, the international expat community of missionaries, human rights workers, peace builders and social justice activists has been on the receiving end of investigations for deportations from the Department of Justice, Bureau of Immigration.  I have been embroiled in my own suspect investigation, having been accused of violating my missionary visa as the former should preclude a visa holder to doing “missionary works and nothing else.”

My future here in the Philippines is uncertain.  Should my visa extension be denied or revoked, will I be ordered to leave… or worse – deported?  Should I be granted a stay by the special prosecutor than perhaps I will be relocated to Manila, where habeas corpus is not suspended and free of martial law. Will I get to stay in Davao?  Whichever the outcome, having been here 16+ months with intent to stay longer term, I set down roots and bought larger household items than I should have (my TV nooo!) than if I had I known I might leave. I have some anxiety, regrets and sadness about leaving behind my home: transitions are hard.  In an email to from my parents I received wisdom an Iowan farmer shared to my dad once:  The second best day to plant a tree is today. The best day was 15 years ago. In other words: Do not worry myself about what I would have done or wouldn’t have done had I known this was coming.  I had a good run with the people here and a good life in the home I found here. Today is a day to praise God, make peace, plant trees, and be thankful for the times I had.

Invitation to Prayers:

o   Please pray for the Lumad communities in the Philippines, for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP.)

o   Please hold UMC missionaries and other human rights workers in your prayers for safety, fair trials and resolutions of cases against us.

o   Please pray for awakening of the Bureau of Immigration officials to an advanced understanding of God’s Mission – that it encompasses ministry with the poor and respect of rights for God’s creation.

o   Please pray for me, for reliance on God in a time of uncertainty and for open mindedness to future whatever may come.

Invitation to support.

If you feel moved or led to support the work of UMC missionaries and want to make a donation in my name you can do so here.  100% of your donation will go to supporting missionaries serving in mission fields around the world.

If you feel moved specifically to support indigenous schools through the Save Our Schools project, you can do so here.  100% of your donation will go to supporting the indigenous community schools I have been working with the past 15 months.

If you want to visit a school, interested in learning more or just want more stories please email me at ashaw@umcmission.org or for the Save Our Schools Network at sos.mindanao@gmail.com

Thank you so much for the support you have continued to shower me in gifts and in prayers.

 Whatever comes, I know that I will be where God wants me to be.

On Christ the solid rock we stand,

Adam Shaw

Global Missionary, The United Methodist Church

Davao, Mindanao, Philippines

Sisters

Mihaima. She is a curious 9yr old. Right away she jumps on the wall next to me as I sort medicine. 10 pills in every sachet.

“What is your name?”

“Adam. Ano pangalan mo?”

“Mihaima…” She stops and smiles before jumping down and running off.

After awhile I take off my sunglasses and keep working: 7…8…9…10 pills sorted without contaminating them. Grab a new sachet.

“What is your name?”

“Adam. You are Mihaima?”

She is back this time with her brother who whispers something to her while I continue to sort, seal, sort and seal.

“Are you my man?” She repeats aloud to me.

“No” I reply, “I’m here to help”

“Are you my money? What is your money?”

“I have medicine: gamot “

“What is your name?

“Adam. Ano pangalan mo?”

“Mihaima,” she smiles pleased that we had a conversation that tested both of our language skills.

“Adam. This my sister”

“Ako si Adam, Ano pangalan mo?”

“Nurhaida”

Emboldened by each other they reach out and poke my freckles, laughing, and pointing at my blue eyes as only two curious children who’ve never seen a harmless, friendly foreigner up close can.

Mihaima and Nurhaida are two of the many children of the 400,000 people affected by the widespread airstrikes during the Marawi siege.

They’ve been living with their families at an evacuation camp since they were evacuated in May 2017. Millions of dollars in aid has been given by international organizations and foreign governments yet only meager low quality rations and destitute living conditions exist for the evacuees. Where is the money going?

Nurhaida and Mihaima’s family just want to go home, even if there is no home standing after the destruction.

“What is our money”

I smile. “No no, this is just medicine. Kung sakit mo.”

They pose for pictures with other missioners. I ask them to if I can take a picture with them…they run away.

Perhaps I’m too tall 😊.Nurses fill patients’ prescriptions after they finish being examined by the doctors. Here I helped by sorting pills.

Day 2 : International Interfaith Humanitarian Mission – Bara-as, Iligan City

Just Arrived at the site, yet already turning to leave? No -to get the intake forms of patients who patiently wait for doctors but have zero patience for injustice.

Children wandering the site, I perch Phone in hand to photograph the medical services. Mothers, daughters, sons, soon to be mothers, soon to be older sisters and brothers. What will they tell their children? How will they remember the days they fled from violence and death? Will the children remember? What do we say in the face of aerial bombings that are used by “peace keeping forces” that force us to scavenge for pieces of our lives, of dignity, of humanity destroyed in the name of a war on terror that sows what it claims to fight.

Medicine in both hands a little boy stares at me. A smile offered, a gesture costing me nothing given to someone who’s family has lost almost everything. Given, received and returned.

To decorate or not?

Well we are now officially past All Hollows, Saints and Souls days so that means there are no more holidays from here until Christmas in the Philippines.  Of course that didn’t discourage malls from setting up Winter Holiday decorations as early as September, and playing songs that I have already grown sick of…yes especially you oh pop version of Little Drummer Boy.

To Decorate or not to decorate.  The holidays just don’t feel like something I should celebrate on my own.  My idea of celebrating Christmas is very much tied to my identity as part of a family unit.  I am so used to decorating with Shaw family decorations, that in a way, home holiday decorations don’t seem ‘real’ without that familiarity of decorations that have been built put up for as long as I can remember.  Yes, ornaments get updated, wreaths appear, some older decorations make way for new ones…yet the overall feeling of it remains the same.  Probably because the main decoration architect is my mother.

I haven’t decorated for Christmas at all in the 6 years that I’ve been living away from home.  I do put up ‘Christmas lights’ but I use them as lighting in seasons other than Christmas.  This year, I will not be celebrating Christmas with family.

I do want to celebrate and decorate and I hope I can find some simple decorations that move me to remembering Advent and celebrating Christmas.  No, I will not be buying a fake Christmas tree.  I hope to get some Christmas lights and a few things to put around the house.  I still don’t know how to handle Christmas without cold weather, yet the meaning of Christmas isn’t tied to the weather…although it seems most of popular Christmas & holiday songs are tied to it somehow (Jingle Bells, White Christmas, Winter Wonderland etc…)

Tons of people have a tropical holiday season, Hawaii thrives on it 🙂  I just need some good ideas for tropical Christmas decorations, and I need an adventurous and open mind to try out my own way of decorating, knowing that it’s okay if it’s not as nice, artistic, well planned or as tasteful as how my mother decorates. I need to learn how to appreciate the decorations I come up with as well.  I already picked up a scented candle that throws a cozy light and pleasant aroma around the house.  I don’t know what I’ll do for a tree, or if I even want one but…

At least I will still have Christmas lights!