When we arrived in the Philippines, one of the first things we were told was “never judge a missionary by the things they say while driving in Manila,” and while it didn’t make any sense at the time, it didn’t take long at all to understand what they meant. There were no familiar fast flowing freeways in Manila, so going from any one place to another involved taking miles of clogged city roads. Major roads were often two lanes in each direction, but where space allowed, the road widened to three lanes. Traffic would quickly expand into the third lane in an effort to get ahead in the painfully slow congestion, but a few hundred feet ahead, a neighborhood or bridge would collapse the road down to two lanes again, forcing the traffic to merge, and creating even more congestion in the process. Continue reading “Getting around in Manila”
“Normal is an illusion. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.” – Charles Addams
After the first few weeks of being in the Philippines, the realization set in that we weren’t in California anymore. It seemed that with every new task, there was a learning curve of how life would be different in this new land. Even the simplest things like buying a soda came with unexpected changes. When it was time to buy a soda from one of the sari-sari stories down the street, I selected my soda, asked how much it cost and forked over a few pesos. The lady behind the counter then popped open the soda cap on a glass bottle, poured the contents into a plastic bag, stuck a straw in the bag and handed it over to me. Holding the bag tightly, I thanked the lady and walked back to the house confused as to what had just happened. As it turns out, the Philippines had not yet switched over to using plastic bottles or metal cans, and almost all soda was sold in glass bottles. There was a bottle deposit added to your purchase so that you would return your glass bottle, which would then be picked up by the bottling company, washed, refilled with soda, and shipped out again. To save the hassle of paying for and returning bottles, many Sari-Sari stores would simply pour the contents of the glass bottle into a clear plastic bag, and not charge you the cost of the bottle deposit. As long as you held the top of the bag tight enough, the whole thing worked quite well. Continue reading “Culture Shock”
June 28, 1990
After spending the previous night in a hotel after our long flight across the Pacific Ocean, my Brother, Sister, Mom, and I prepared ourselves for the relatively short three-hour flight from Taipei, Taiwan to Manila, Philippines later that morning. Before long, we were watching the blue ocean and puffy white tropical clouds stream by under our wings. Starting our descent into Manila, banking left over Manila bay, the ocean water changed from a vibrant blue to an emerald brown as the shoreline appeared. The land was swathed with vivid green palm trees and dotting the outskirts of the city were small collections of homes built out of corrugated metal roofing with intermixed colors – shiny sliver, rusted red, and painted black matte. As the plane lowered to the ground you could start to see office buildings, neighborhood developments, and every piece of spare space filled in by shanty towns. Nearing the runway, the plane finally touched its wheels down onto our new home. The plane loudly rattled down the rough runway, like a car quickly driving over a pitted road. The plane slowed, turned off onto the taxiway, and made its way to the nearby terminal. We disembarked through a flight bridge into a bright and airy terminal lined with plants, posters of tropical island beaches, and images of blue city skylines. Continue reading “Arriving in the Philippines”
In the years that we were living in Pasadena, Mom and Dad had watched as the political climate in South Korea become increasingly nationalistic. The government started pressing Protestant mission organizations to prove that their missions work in South Korea was necessary, and that they were doing tasks that the South Koreans themselves could not. The number of visas were being restricted and several missionaries with other organizations had already had to send missionaries to other countries instead. In addition, the group our mission organization had been working with had splintered and was no longer considered by the government to be a stable sponsor. By the start of our fourth year, the writing was on the wall that the door to return to South Korea had closed, and our missions organization, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, asked my parents about changing their field of service. They were interested in having my Dad become professor at the Alliance Biblical Seminary (ABS) in Manila, Philippines. The change was a disappointment for my Dad, who really wished to return to South Korea, but he accepted the new assignment it faith. Serendipitously, the leaders of the South Korean churches we had worked with had previously approached ABS about training their South Korean missionary candidates there, so Mom and Dad were encouraged that their work with Koreans would continue even in Manila.
During this time, my parents had remained silent about the changes to us kids until they knew for sure what they would be doing and where we would be living. One seemingly normal evening after dinner, Mom and Dad called us kids around the dining table for some news. “We’re not going back to South Korea,” they solemnly said. Continue reading “Preparations and Plane Flights”
Before beginning his work as a pastor and then missionary, my father had completed a Masters in Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. In the years that followed, our missionary organization (the Christian & Missionary Alliance) had recognized my father’s gifting in teaching, language and leadership and had marked him for further study. With the completion of our four-year term in South Korea, the C&MA felt it was time to further his studies and suggested he attend Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Fuller, at the time, had one of the premier programs in Church Growth and some of the best Missiologists or teachers in missions. The expectation was that after he had completed his doctorate, the door to return to South Korea would be open and if not, he would serve somewhere else, most likely in a seminary capacity.
My mother was also interested in furthering her studies. Over a decade earlier, she had walked away from her dream of earning a Ph.D. in linguistics in order to marry my father. Throughout my father’s years at seminary, as a pastor in Oklahoma and on the mission field in South Korea, Mom had quietly and faithfully served by raising us children, leading children’s groups and having women’s Bible studies. But her desire and leading was to be a true partner in her husband’s ministry. Some people assume that living abroad alone is preparation enough for cross-cultural ministry but that is rarely the case. Even though Mom had lived in Germany, Great Britain and Korea, had learned several languages, and had completed thirty units of Bible and Theology, she still had many lingering questions and relished the idea of being properly trained for ministry. While the C&MA would not pay for her schooling, Fuller offered a grant of nearly matching funds to couples that wished to study and serve together, and Mom enrolled as a student as well.
When it came for our family to travel, it quickly became obvious that airfare for a family of five on a missionary budget was prohibitively expensive. That could only mean one thing: road trips. Our trips were planned out with three goals in mind: seeing the sights, stopping to see old friends and supporters, and reaching our destination. Our longest road trip was to visit our Grandparents’ house in Chicago. Packing up our grey diesel Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon, we headed out east of Los Angeles. After several hours on the road we approached Death Valley and Dad asked us to roll down our windows slightly. “I’m turning off the air conditioner so that the car doesn’t overheat going through the valley” he said. As we sat three kids across in the back of the now sweltering car, the arguments started. My brother, sitting to my left, had a regular habit of what is now described as “manspreading,” where he would sit with his legs wide open. For me in the middle seat, I would then have to move my legs to the right side of the car where my sister would have her space taken up. For whatever reason, the greatest source of arguing in the car was always my brother’s spread legs which after several years, hundreds of discussions and several fireman drills to switch people around, never seemed to have any lasting effect. Fortunately, before we killed each other, Mom and Dad had arranged a steady stream of sight-seeing adventures. Continue reading “Furlough Summers “
While both of the boys had received answers to their prayer requests, there was still one prayer request unanswered. After two years of our family of five living in a two-bedroom apartment, my sister desired a space of her own. My sister, always the introvert, had claimed a tiny hallway closet as her safe space upon moving in, but as she had grown older, the space was shrinking. We had prayed for years about being able to move into a larger, three-bedroom apartment, but the opportunity never arose. As it was, we were receiving generous support to help pay for our current apartment from our missions organization, the Christian & Missionary Alliance (C&MA), from our grandparents and even Christians that we did not even know. Many of my clothes came from the “missionary barrel” – a collection of donated clothes meant for poor or needy families – missionaries often fitting both requirements. Some clothes were the wrong size, some were tattered and the ones near the bottom had a funky smell. But they were free and even my picky self was happy to have something new – even if it was something new to me. But I digress. Dad had pondered buying lumber and subdividing part of the living room to give my sister the space that she needed, but there were other needs as well. Mom was going through a crisis of her own. Despite doing well in her studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, she was worried about an uncertain future returning to South Korea, the noisy apartment neighbors that were a constant interruption to her sleep, concerns over my sister’s needs, and the crux of all of the problems, the lack of funds to change the situation. Feeling the weight of her problems, she drove the car to a hilly park where we often played, stopped the car and wept. As she opened her Bible and reflected on the Psalms, she understood the need to trust God alone as the provider of peace, of respite, and of our family’s needs. Then and there, she had a change of mind and heart. She would trust the Lord, even in the difficult times, and even if it meant doing what she did not want to do.
Continue reading “Lambert House”
At Jefferson Elementary School, while I did not necessarily fit in with the kids around me, I did find places where I did fit in. GATE stood for the Gifted and Talented Education program. Students recommended by teachers and administrators were assessed for the program and, if qualified, became participants in a curricula designed to stimulate academic achievement and research-based skills. As I recall, it provided me with a lot of unique learning opportunities. My favorite memory from GATE was when we had a scientist come in to visit who had brought all sorts of samples from her ocean studies. We sat and read a book about ocean creatures and she would bring out physical samples for us to look at and touch to understand what the book was talking about. I was amazed by touching whale baleen and thinking about how much water needed to be filtered out of a huge gulp of the ocean to get at a bunch of tiny krill. Continue reading “Settling In”
Somewhere between the first three to six months of being back in the States, the adventure of moving to a new place and all of the exciting activities that accompany it had drawn to a close. Life began to settle into new patterns and with each day that passed my life began to feel “normal.” Everyone in the family started going to their new schools: elementary for me, a combined middle and high school for my brother and sister and seminary for my parents. The routines of the morning became commonplace again: waking, eating, lunches, backpacks. It was good to be settling into routines again, but that’s not to say it was easy though.
One of the biggest changes was adjusting to living on a missionary budget in the United States, and it meant a lot of belt-tightening including sacrificing the little things. We didn’t buy something we needed unless it was on sale and we got hand me down clothes from friends or from the “missionary barrel” (used clothing from churches). Buying a toy was a special treat on birthdays or as presents from others. Mom clipped coupons and comparison-shopped for supermarket deals. We ate a modest diet of made-from-scratch meals with few snacks, and eating out was a very rare treat, made possible by supporting churches or birthday gifts from family and friends. Continue reading “Third Culture Kid”
May 2, 1986 Chicago – United States
It was the last flight home after our two-week whirlwind 12,600 mile trip home. Mom, as only a Mom would do, had prepared me for my journey back to the United States by warning me of a new danger I needed to be aware of: drugs. “If someone offers you drugs, you need to tell them no and walk away,” she said sternly. But in an act of hypocrisy, before we had even landed, Mom was telling Dad that after landing she needed to visit “the drug store”. My attention was peaked and I began to plead with Mom not to go (in light of all of the horrible drug effects that had been previously described to me). At that point Mom stopped and informed me about the difference between street drugs and prescription drugs. In South Korea, it seems she had always used the word, 약국, “ Yak-kuk”, to refer to a pharmacy and now she was using the American term “drugstore.” This was going to be the first of many things I would need to learn about my home country. Despite the fact that I had been born in America, I had left for South Korea when I was two years old and my home country was all but foreign to me in memory. My parents, siblings, friends and media had taught me about the USA, but this was the first time I was going to experience it for myself. Continue reading “Tourist in Your Home Country”