Unlikely Friends

Unlikely Friends

This Is My Story, part 4
One of life’s greatest joys is meeting new people and finding kindred spirits, those you can resonate in particular ways of thinking. The effect is energizing, it’s as if you’ve been friends for ages, or should have been friends before.

What I love about this experience is that it can happen anywhere in the world, with any person of whatever background. This is what I love the most about my friends whom I count as like-minded: they come from all over the world.

Take my closest knit of friends, for example. I’m Chinese Indonesian. My two closest friends are a Zimbabwean girl (with a U.S. green card now) who philosophizes over many things in life, and a half Cuban, half black, American lawyer girl who is super articulate. Each of us is about one-tenth Korean because of the foods we eat and the people we hang out with. We love food and we love books. And because of that, we get along so well with our (just a tad bit) older, Korean American sister whose company brings out the nuttiness in us even more (in a good way. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this).

What is the likelihood that four people from, literally, four corners of the earth can get along so well? And not just get along, but totally in sync in almost every thought and opinion. Don’t underestimate the amount of talking we can do with each other and the breadth of topics that gets covered. (And no, we don’t just talk about girls stuff. Absolutely not!). We have different personalities, different areas of expertise, and even different ways of approaching problems. By most natural standards, we shouldn’t even like hanging out with each other. But we do. Hanging out is our life philosophy.

In the larger circle of friends we belong to, the ethnic composition varies even more. At any given hangout session with different permutations of people, at least three continents will be represented easily. In multiple occasions when some 30 of us went out to eat, random people approached us asking if we were part of some program, like a mock UN or global youth type thing (except we don’t look that young). They thought someone forced us to be together. The response, No, we’re just friends.

And we’re not together just for special events. We can roll like this all day long, for multiple days. We actually like each other (most of the time), and find the communion of minds invigorating.

I’m talking particularly about the family of friends I’ve gained in Seventh-day Adventist communities in Boston, Michigan, and the Mid-Atlantic. More specifically, those who love to talk and think about how to reach and change the world, and those who love to hang out. These are they with whom I resonate in the deepest core. It so happens that they are the same people whose lives are intertwined in public campus ministries.

Really, there is no likely reason why we should be friends. We don’t even like the same food, at least not in the beginning. But the wonder is that we are friends, and there is one core reason why this is so: God. We know that each of us subscribes to a culture that supersedes any of our individual cultural and ethnic background, namely the culture of Christ. As a result, our lives are enriched by each other.

This culture of Christ and embracing diversity is something I’m very adamant about in my personal life, and especially in the church. (Read articles on racial segregation that some of us have written here). I don’t get cultural insularity, especially when there is a greater purpose to serve. In the community of faith that I belong to, this purpose is to bring the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Rev 14:6).

When people see a diverse group of people who actually like and want to be with each other, no matter what skin color or hair texture, it tells the world that God has done something special not just in the individual lives, but also in the community. It bears witness that there is Someone who has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us” (Eph 2:14), more powerful than any cultural ties.

I’m not saying that this multicultural friendship experience can only happen to a Christian; I’m saying that this experience takes place in my life because I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. When I gained Christ and started letting Him order my life, I gained a family of unlikely friends as well.


Croissant, Degas, Chateau

How much butter is in a single piece of croissant? The answer: ignorance is bliss. Sitting in Paris’ la Maison Angelina, the question is not ‘to eat or not to eat’? It’s how many do I eat? But the real treat of the visit is Angelina’s hot chocolate, so rich, decadent, and internationally acclaimed, that many have said it is the best in the world. Yes, one does not go Paris to lose weight.

This indulgence in a cup, however, is too indulgent, that I would recommend moderation. And I’m an avowed chocolate lover. Sharing is ok, in this case. The main message from this café girl is, stop by Angelina if you’re in Paris. It’s quite an experience. Decorated like the inside of some palace and lit by a sunroof, the ambiance is perfect for a brunch-type of outing, although I’m sure dinner there would be just as delightful.

But by all means, France is a pastry heaven, so walk in to the ubiquitous boulangeries.

Musée du Louvre is obviously famous because of that lady in the painting. Tourists visit by the droves to take endless snaps of paintings and statues, which quite frankly, mean very little after the exit door. But if you go southwest from the Louvre, across the Seine River, there’s another splendid museum that will give an entirely different experience, guaranteed.

Located on the bank of the river, Musée d’Orsay is a brilliant transformation of what used to be Gare d’Orsay, a train station operating in the early 1900s. But the edifice is a mere treasure box that houses a most impressive collection of impressionist paintings. It is currently my absolute favorite place in Paris. Standing in front of masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne… it just does something to your soul. They were truly, truly brilliant. I wonder what it’s like to live inside their heads for a day. I love Edgar Degas’ ballet paintings in particular.

Cameras are not allowed inside, which, I think, elevates one’s appreciation of the arts. All you do is look and be awed. The classy atmosphere created by this restriction is particularly enjoyable. On a side note, the éclairs on the 5th floor café are also very good (the chocolate ones).

Quite serendipitously, I read this quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer just last night in a book I’m reading, which eloquently captures the essence of artistic experiences.

Interpreting is generally one of the most difficult problems. Yet, our whole thinking process is regulated by it. We have to interpret and give meaning to things so that we can live and think. All of this is very difficult. When one doesn’t have to interpret, one should just leave it alone. I believe that interpretation is not necessary in art. One doesn’t need to know whether it is “Gothic” or “primitive,” etc., persons who express themselves in their art. A work of art viewed with clear intellect and comprehension has its own effect on the unconscious. More interpretation won’t lead to a better understanding of the art. One either intuitively sees the right thing or one doesn’t. This is what I call an understanding of art. One should work diligently to try to understand the work while looking at it. After that one gets the absolutely certain feeling, “I have grasped the essence of this work.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, p. 51-52.

I came away with this: the art is a crucial component of humanity.

Looking out from the clock on the 5th floor of Musee d’Orsay.

Vaux le Vicomte to Versailles is like d’Orsay to the Louvre. Less tourists, smaller in size, but just as grand and classy. Château de Vaux le Vicomte is somewhat of a precursor to Versailles. It is the castle that inspires the architecture of the royal palace. Located an hour outside Paris in the countryside, the castle stands in front of an expansive garden, all lit by candle lights on Saturday nights. It was simply gorgeous.

Of course, social class divisions are evident in the architecture, with the separation between the “upstairs” area, where each room is ridiculously decorated, and the “downstairs” kitchen, 18th century equivalent of a humungous garage, and even jail cells to detain, perhaps, trespassers or criminals. Also, with no electricity, the place is dark. I wonder how life was there centuries ago.

If you have a lot of money, you can have a wedding there, like the formerly married Eva Longoria and Tony Parker. Please invite me.

The Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, Sacré-Cœur, and Notre Dame are all grand and magnificent, but this time in Paris, I was struck by these three.

Honduras: Joseph’s Cave

The mission trip group was generally split into two main groups, the medical and construction team. The medical team would have clinic during the day either in El Suyatal, La Ermita, or Agalteca, come back to Buena Vista at about 3:30 PM to shower quickly and get ready to leave for the evangelistic series at 4:30 PM. I was on the construction team, so I stayed in Buena Vista. Each day, someone would be pulled from the construction team to help out in the kitchen.

On day 2, I was assigned to help in the kitchen. I thought that was funny. The kitchen is not exactly my playground; you wouldn’t catch me being in the kitchen all day. It was a great day. I got to hang out with Buena Vista’s chef, Joseph, who was a pretty neat person. We started with prayer, then proceeded to make lunch and sacked supper. We were going to make mashed potatoes, among other things.

There was a lot of people to feed, so that meant a lot of potatoes. I think I spent the first 1.5 hours washing potatoes. The chopped potatoes filled a gigantic pot to the brim (biggest one I’ve seen in my life), then steamed, and mashed manually by Joseph. The process transformed the kitchen into a sauna and steam bath altogether, and Joseph got his workout for the day. I didn’t know how he seasoned those potatoes, but they were amazing!

Joseph Nally used to go to culinary school in South Carolina. He had worked in restaurants and bakeries, fine dining included. I asked him what that was like, working in fine dining kitchen. Intense, he said, and lots of hierarchy. When he became an Adventist and God convicted him about the food that he made, all of those things he learned became not so useful anymore. But no experience is a waste with God, and now he’s a missionary chef.

He and Annie, his wife, were baptized about a month after they got married. They had Bible studies with someone Annie used to work with. They have two daughters, Olivia, a very mature 8-year-old who plays the violin, and Maya, a very cute 3-year-old. They moved to Honduras to be missionary about 2 months ago, and committed to stay for at least 5 years. “We told them, as long as they would keep us,” said Joseph. The Nally family has a fantastic blog. Follow their story here.

During the many tasks to be done that day, our conversation included TED, energy issues, and Boston (he used to live in Jamaica Plains for some time) – some of my favorite things to talk about. I also found out that he went to ARISE the year after I was at CAMPUS, which meant that he met some of the CAMPUS folks. Small world.

Lunch was really good. Joseph really is an amazing chef. For the amount of cooking he does, he must really love food. I think, for the first, I saw in an non-theoretical way how cooking is a ministry. Food in the mission field must taste the best. People really liked the lunch. Some of them were working on the road, so all the more appreciation from them. Joseph’s ministry is to enable people to do God’s work – literally. I was blessed to be a part of it.

Joseph's Cave

I left the kitchen at about 4:20 PM to shower and get ready quickly to leave for the evangelistic series. I was part of the La Ermita team. There would be 3 meetings running in parallel, in El Suyatal, La Ermita, and Agalteca. The El Suyatal team would walk from Buena Vista (20 minute walk), while the La Ermita team got the van and the Agalteca team rode in the back of a truck.

The view on the way to La Ermita was indescribable. Jose Mario Franco, the director of VIDA who has committed his life to this mission, drove the van. At one point, a pick up truck overtook us and there was a guy in the back of the truck, not in uniform, holding a big gun. Not sure what that was all about, Jose pulled back and although we didn’t see them come back, he decided to return to El Suyatal to check with the villagers what that was all about.

Some people had seen the guy earlier in the day. Everything turned out to be fine, they were selling something in the village. The VIDA staffs just wanted to be safe because there had been a case of people asking for money in the past.

For the evangelistic series, I was assigned to help Monica coordinate the programming of the meetings. Jose, translated the sermon for Nina. He’s a remarkable people-person, very dynamic, kind, and friendly. He also has an amazing testimony, which I’m hoping is written somewhere so I can post a link to it… By the way, check out VIDA’s amazing ministry and stories here.

Honduras: Mis cosas favoritas!

1. The mountains

The richest person on earth cannot buy them, but there they were, grand and majestic, at your disposal. Lush green hills and ridges that surrounded Buena Vista were to me the epitome of a luxurious life.

Buena Vista from the mountain ridge

2. Avocados

Oy, the avocados were plentiful. I mean, how can that not make you happy. We had huge bowls of guacamole multiple times for our meals. AWESOME!

Guacamole - heavenly

3. The sound of rain

I love the sound of rainfall, on the ground and on clay-based roofing. Honduran rain made me think of my home country. Living in American glorified boxes that are apartments, I don’t get to hear it very often. But there, you can even hear them drip on your sleeping bag when you sleep… I love how refreshed the earth is after a rainfall.

“He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.” Psalm 72:6

4. No electricity

How liberating it was to be free from the ties of modernity. There, nature dictates the rhythm of life. You can’t do much after the sun sets, the rest is sweet, and you wake up when the sun rises (or before). The day is day and the night is night. The moon shines very brightly too that you get shadows from its light. I could use this electricity-fast more often or longer.

Bright moonlight

5. Riding in the back of the truck

Soo much fun –  more fun than any rollercoaster ride! It wasn’t so dusty and the view was breathtaking. Some things to do on the ride: wave hello to people you pass by, enjoy the view of herds of cows and donkeys on the street, dodge branches and trees, and if you’re a girl, make sure to hold down your skirt.

The view during the ride

6. Working with my hands

I really appreciated how much people work with their hands there, from cooking, washing clothes, washing anything, fruit and lettuce picking, construction, writing… It’s so much healthier!

7. Chaotic city experience

I got to go on visitations in Talanga, a more city-like town about 45 minutes from Buena Vista. We visited a family who hooked us up to a local TV channel to advertise the clinic we would hold a few days later. On the way back, we took the public bus back to La Ermita, where the rest of the medical team was working. Every time the bus stopped, vendors would come on to the bus and sell food, snacks, etc. The school kids got on the bus and filled the aisle. We had to push through the crowd to get out. Again, just like chaotic Jakarta. Not the most comfortable for sure, but I was amused.

8. Friendly people and kids

Enough said.

9. The lifestyle

The rhythm, the food, the daily activities – everything was just teeming with health. I felt so healthy. I even said, “I’m starting to feel too healthy” towards the middle of the trip. I covet the life there…

10. Morning prayer

A few of us would meet and pray at 6:30 AM every morning, led by Erick, VIDA’s evangelism coordinator, committing the day and laying out whatever burden that is in your heart. Precious times.

11. Meeting the VIDA staffs

Amazing people with amazing testimonies. I admire each one of them. They come from all walks of life, many left behind worldly ambitions to pursue something higher. They are so happy and positive. Things don’t go according to plan, they don’t seem to get stressed out. Always bearing about a cheerful disposition and showing love to people – I learned many things from them.

I also love their model of ministry there, from the glimpses that I got to see. These are a few of them.

Joseph, Annie, and their two daughters Olivia (8) and Maya (3). They moved to Honduras to be missionaries about two months ago and will be there for at least 5 years. Joseph is the chef at Buena Vista. I got to spend 2.5 days in his kitchen.

Monica, the first Adventist woman engineer who is sold out for ministry that I have ever met.

Naomi, world traveler, organization extraordinaire.

Jose, director of VIDA Internacional. His life is for this ministry. Amazing testimony. Also studied engineering once upon a time passed.

12. Super long devotion

The sun rises at about 5:30 AM. For some reason, waking up to beat the sunrise was super easy there. I think it was something about sleeping in open air. There were no windows for the dorm we stayed at. So we were pretty much sleeping in open air, exposed to anything that could and would come in through those gaping openings on the wall. In fact, one day we found a snake…

But I loved the direct access to the sky for devotions. It’s like your prayers don’t bounce back to you. I was joking that maybe I should take off the windows of my apartment.

Another thing that was a blessing in disguise for me: malaria pills. I was taking those pills, per my nurse’s recommendation, and I was suffering from their side effects. I took the version that has psychosis as its side effects. Yeah. Nothing too bad, I didn’t get depressed or anything, but I was having vivid dreams. Thankfully they were not nightmares or crazy ones, but I was just too aware in them that I didn’t feel rested. After two pills (= two weeks of side effects), I decided to stop. There’s no malaria in El Suyatal anyway.

Since sleep was torture for me, I would rather be awake than asleep. So for many days I would wake up at 4 and not want to go back to sleep. That was a blessing.

Dawn. On the mountain ridge behind Buena Vista

13. Massage at the medical brigade

Thanks to CAMPUS Missionary Training Program, I wasn’t useless in the medical team. On the last day of outreach we all did medical ministry in Talanga. I was stationed at the rest and relaxation booth to give anyone who came by a 5 min back massage.

Truly, “in our life here, earthly, sin-restricted though it is, the greatest joy and the highest education are in service (Education, p. 309). It was a most incredible day for me and it deserves an entire blog post (and so are the next two points).

14. Naomi’s devotion on character development

Naomi, VIDA staff, gave the morning devotion on Sunday which summarized and answered one of the main questions I asked myself on why I went on this mission trip. Will write about this soon.

15. A personalized curriculum of true education

God had a 10-day curriculum for me in Honduras. And I’m craving for more.

Amazing place.

Needless to say, I LOVED HONDURAS! I didn’t want to go back to the US. I felt privileged to be there every single day and there were many moments where I was overwhelmed with gratefulness. God willing, I’d visit again. Many thoughts are being processed right now, mainly about ministry and how I would change the way I live my life. I’ve caught the mission trip bug – this is only the beginning.

A Cure for Monday Gloom

The Chronicles of Jo & Jacqui – From Jo’s Lens

One of these days, I’ll wake up on a particular Monday and shout, “I love Mondays!!” But since that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll have to make do with working the gloom out throughout the day. There is, however, a quick formula to this problem: good food and good company.

As the adventures of Jo and Jacqui continue, the setting of our second episode was an Indian place called Mehék on Nassau Street (note: Nassau Street is pretty much where everything takes place in Princeton), with featured guests Daniel and Catherine McGrath (siblings, not couple) who were en route from Tennessee to Maine. It seems like we’re having featured guests every time we meet!

It was an honor to be part of Jacqui’s first tastes of Indian food, as well as witnessing the third bubble tea she’s had in the past 10 days ;). We then chilled at my place, with some keyboard playing and singing. This is one of the greatest things of having Adventist friends, just give us a piano (or keyboard) and we can entertain ourselves all night. This too is what I miss the most about living at the CAMPUS house. Dan and Catherine stayed over for the night, so as usual, some talking were in order before bed time. Despite all of us feeling tired at first, it ended up being a nice, not so regular Monday. =)

P.S. Who’s in town next week?!?