Getting around in Manila

Getting around in Manila

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”

Culture Shock

Culture Shock

“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”

Arriving in the Philippines

Arriving in the Philippines

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”

Preparations and Plane Flights

Preparations and Plane Flights

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”

Globe Trotting Kindergartener

Globe Trotting Kindergartener

Most missionaries leave their home country for the mission field for a period of several years (usually four) in what is called a term.  At the end of their term, they return to their home country for furlough, a year where they can re-connect with their home culture, churches and family.  After their furlough year, some missionaries return to their previous field, while others due to changing politics, needs elsewhere or a myriad of other reasons, are sent to a new field.  The number of terms a missionary serves becomes a symbol of their service, much like the stripes on a soldier’s shoulder.   But one of the main effects of the term system is that from the moment the missionary arrives on the field, they, as well as the people they serve know when the missionary will return home for their furlough; barring any problems, of course.  Continue reading “Globe Trotting Kindergartener”

{South Korea} Finding God in Rough Places

{South Korea} Finding God in Rough Places

November 15, 1983   Seoul, South Korea

Boiling water. It is such a mesmerizing thing…. watching a myriad of tiny bubbles form out of nothing from the bottom of the pan, billowing up through the water column with dozens of its friends and bursting forth with a puff of steam in its dying moment. It is one of the many reasons that since as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to watching things happen the kitchen. I would love to watch Mom cut with a knife, mix bread with her doughy hands, and cook things in steaming pots. It was a full sensory experience punctuated by the skill of a talented cook. The sound of a knife bearing down through a crisp carrot; the vivid palate of onions, leafy vegetables, eggplant, carrots, squash and potatoes diced and splayed for the pan; the lifting aroma of garlic, onion and grated ginger sautéing in a roasted sesame seed oil.  And the taste… the taste! There are few human pleasures quite as desirable as an excellent meal.

So one fateful evening, Mom had started to cook dinner after a busy day in language school and left for a moment to go check on something elsewhere in the house.  I knew that I was not allowed to be next to the stove, especially unattended, but my desire to see the cooking in action was greater than my three-year-old will to follow the rules.  I fetched a three legged stool, pushed it over to the stove and carefully climbed up to the top of the stool where took my usual Korean position of squatting.  As I was squatting there, watching the boiling action in the pan before me, I heard Mom’s voice call out from behind.  “Joel David!”  Quickly, and without thought, I tried to hop off the stool. Unfortunately, this was a three legged stool, and as I jumped, the stool simply fell out from under me.  I found myself in free fall, and in an instant, one of my arms caught the pot handle slightly sticking out over the edge of the stove.  A split second later, I landed chest first on the kitchen floor with the boiling contents of water and macaroni spilling onto my back. “DAVID!” Mom called out with one of those other-than-human sounds that imprint the emotion of the moment into your memory. Dad rushed in and took note of what happened.  In one fell swoop he picked me up and charged to the bathroom, turning on the shower and plugging the bathtub to fill with cold water.  The boiling water had soaked into my shirt and pants, and Dad quickly removed my shirt as the cold water poured down on top of me.  I protested my father’s actions! First I was burned and now I was going to be thrown into a freezing cold bath, and I didn’t see the point of needing an ice bath at this moment in time at all.  I remember hitting the water and taking the short stuttered breaths that accompany a dive into cold water.  I struggled to escape, but Dad was unrelenting.  He pushed and held me down into the water even as the spigot flowed more cold water into the tub.  Then suddenly, in a mixture of boiling, freezing and pain, I passed out.  We would find out later, that Dad’s act was instrumental in saving my life, the first of several circumstances God would use to save me. Continue reading “{South Korea} Finding God in Rough Places”

{South Korea} Our Ministry

{South Korea} Our Ministry

1982-1986  Seoul, South Korea

If anyone had asked the four-year-old me why we moved to South Korea, I would have simply responded, “My parents are missionaries – and missionaries live overseas.”  I gave little thought to why we moved there, and even what my parents did there.  Apart from the fact that they learned the language and worked with pastors, even into my youth I never inquired as to our purpose there; at least until recently.  My parents, however, thought about it a lot.  In the 1980’s, the South Korean church was already mature, with red crosses glowing atop steeples throughout all of the major cities; and Seoul was full of churches, including the largest church in the world on Yoido Island.  Christian schools, seminaries and ministries were also in full swing.  Mom and Dad were not needed as church planters, that was for sure.  Rather, the Korean denomination that contacted us wanted partners in faith and mission; people who could link their Korean congregations with the C&MA and further their missionary vision.  A type of ambassador of missions, if you will.  Continue reading “{South Korea} Our Ministry”