All the World's a Classroom

Something Different

Two weeks into 2011, I’m still in the spirit of reflection and preparation for the New Year. The year 2010 contained many tremendous blessings, specific lessons learned, with a lot of things to digest. Hence, I’m taking my time to go through them one by one. However, I also have a feeling that 2011 is going to go by very quickly (it feels like it’s pretty much over already), and if I don’t pay careful attention, suddenly it would be December again and 2011 would be “just another year.” But I don’t want “just another year” – it sounds so unappealing. Plateau-ing is one of the greatest dangers in learning, not to mention the utter boringness of such a state.

I’m very grateful for how God has led me thus far, but I’m not satisfied. 2010 was a great year, but none of its greatness will do for 2011. I want new experiences, new heights to attain, new challenges, basically something different than last year. In fact, I have this urge of wanting to do things that I’ve never done before in my life. To that effect, I’m setting a few goals and prayers that I really want to accomplish this year, God willing, and this exercise of publicizing the list will seal my commitment to pursue each point.

1. Discomfort

This prayer is led by personal convictions that God had laid upon my heart the past few months of 2010. It was simply a realization that my life is quite comfortable, which I acknowledge is a blessing. Of course there are certain pains and struggles, but they’re almost like the luxurious kinds. Most of the world population doesn’t even have the opportunity to suffer the things I call painful, like staying up to debug a program.

Additionally, I believe comfort level is also a dynamic thing. Meaning, if before certain line of ministry or sacrifice may be out of our comfort zone, God helps us to grow so that our comfort zone expands and those things are no longer or only marginally outside of the zone. When that time comes, it doesn’t matter how great the challenge was before or how great a sacrifice we’ve given already, it’s time to take it to the next level and expand.

Being comfortable can be very dangerous. It was a certain comfortable type of people that God spews out of His mouth in Revelation 3. While the comfort that the passage describes primarily applies to our spiritual condition, I think that there’s a strong correlation between physical discomfort and the intensity of the spiritual hunger and thirst for God. So, I’m praying for discomfort this year. Some of the few projects that belong to this category include:

–          Project deClutter – I’m simplifying life by saying goodbye to stuffs that have been around, which I don’t need, but I haven’t been willing to give or throw them away.

–          Mission Trip – Yes, I have never been on a mission trip, ever. So, I’ve made up my mind about going this year and looking at options.

2. Service

This one goes along with the previous point also, but maybe a little more specific. I want to get involved in working with underprivileged children this year. There are many ways to change the world, but this, I feel, is one clear way of making a real difference in someone’s life. I also want to look a little bit more on what this line of service entails. Maybe there’s a chance of God calling me to do some humanitarian work in the future? Who knows? So, how am I going to do it? I don’t really know yet and I’m looking around (if anyone knows of or has had an experience with certain programs, etc, please let me know).

3. Future Planning

At two-point-five years point into grad school, I think I should start planning about the next step. It’s kind of obvious that this next step is going to be much weightier than any previous “next steps”, so I want to be intentional in thinking about it. I don’t to just end up with a job; I want to do what exactly is meant for me to do. Right now, as my interest lies in the energy issues, I’m going to proceed in a somewhat systematic manner to look at the opportunities in this field all over the country.

4. Personal Investment

One of the biggest themes of 2010 for me is friendship; really valuing the individuals whose paths I have crossed in life and learning to actually communicate my appreciation. This year, I want to increase my personal investment in people. This category includes campus ministry, the ANEW network, and other personal projects.

5. Writing Aggressively

Ok, what I mean is writing more seriously, but I just felt like putting “aggressively” on the title because it conveys a certain umph-ness to the point. Whether the result is good or bad, I enjoy the process of writing. I think I’d like my writing to be more consequential this year and of course, to really find my voice and improve everything. I have a few specific goals in mind, but maybe they will change over time, so we’ll see.

I think that if by the end of the year I can look back and see these five things done, I would be very happy and I can truly say, “2011 has been anything but a regular year.”

Too Late To Turn Back

“No Turning Back” was the seventh GYC conference that I’ve attended. I started attending in 2004 and never missed a GYC conference since then. However, as I’ve come to know the circle of friends who were intimately connected with the movement ever since it started, those who were there in 2002 and 2003, I often hear the sentiment that goes something like this: GYC is just not the same anymore. Back then, it was small, intimate, and organic – truly like an upper room experience. There were no strangers. Everywhere you turn and wherever you sit for a meal, you only meet fellow brothers and sisters. Those two first conferences seem to be so powerful that the impression just lasts for a lifetime, and no matter how good a subsequent GYC conference is, it simply cannot top 2002 and 2003. As a matter of fact, even though I wasn’t there, the conference that impacted my life most drastically was GYC 2003.

This phenomenon occurred to me as a fitting illustration for the point of this entry, which is the following: Once you’ve tasted something marvelous, you just can’t turn back. It seems to me that those who attended GYC 2002 and 2003 kept going back (chronologically) to their experiences then because they could not turn back from that first, refreshing encounter with God as a movement. They’ve tasted something good; those conferences had become the standard, and anything less than that will not do.

Not turning back becomes something that is very easy to do when you know what’s ahead of you is better than what you’ve left behind (although not impossible). While our experiences attending a GYC conference may not always be so revolutionary that our standard and expectation increase every time, with God, we don’t have to fear disappointment. God can always top our past experiences with Him and He will do a new thing. Incidentally I believe that He is doing a new thing at every GYC. The glory of GYC 2004-2010 may not be the same as the first ones, but God’s glory still was present.

We can’t make commitments to not turn back with gritted teeth, peering back on occasions to the things that we’ve left behind. The issue is, have we seen and tasted the goodness of the Lord? And if we have, we can ask for more and more, so that we don’t have to have the aching longing for the things that used to be. As we walk with Him, our level of satisfaction will increase, and He will always fulfill it. No turning back, then, will be so natural.

Now that I’ve come this far, it’s too late to turn back.

Top 10 GYC 2010 Moments

This post is dedicated to those who in one way or another shared these moments with me.

10. Presence of older generations

There was a significant presence of older generation at this GYC, especially leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist church. I felt like I was seeing a bit more of Malachi 4:6 – “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers…”

9. Presence of old friends

While reunions at GYC are old stories, I was very pleasantly surprised to bump into people I knew from 5, 6, 7 years ago. I thought I’d never see them again.

8. ANEW booth

I thought it was amazing that people actually stopped by our simple booth and we actually met important contacts, including someone who works at UPenn, incoming students to Penn State, current students in Virginia, etc. Considering that we didn’t even have anything that says “Campus Ministry” on our banner, I think those were definitely divine appointments.

7. Strategic Plan

Amy’s 2nd seminar was titled “Strategic Plan: Is God Calling You?”, talking about how we can discern God’s calling concerning our life work and the questions that we can ask ourselves to evaluate the distinct gifts that God has granted. Elder Skeete went over some of these principles during CAMPUS MTP about three years ago, and it was very enlightening. As I’m coming into the mid-life of my PhD program, I’ve started an on-going conversation with God about the next step, what would I do, where would I be, and who would I be. I realize that I need to go over those questions again, which will assuredly provide more clarity. This will be an exciting process.

6. Being prayed for

I got the opportunity to speak to Mrs. Kathy Irizarry to listen to her thoughts on some potential future plans. The content of the conversation is not something that I had not gone over in my head before, but it was nice to talk it over with someone who’s older. At the end, she reached over to lay her hands on mine and asked to pray for me. I wasn’t struggling, I wasn’t in any turmoil, and I wasn’t being convicted of any particular thing, but as soon as she started praying I began to cry. And I couldn’t stop.

I was so touched by her gesture, even though it was a very simple one. It’s been a while since an older woman offered to pray for me, and I really appreciated this little encounter.

5. Something Is Happening – ANEW

As Amy interviewed David, Hillary, and Eunice during the Something Is Happening session, my heart was stirred once more by the importance of campus ministry. When David said that we were just a bunch of broke college students trying to make a difference on campus, I was struck by the magnitude of our ministry – it’s so small, yet big, but small, but big, all at the same time. Here we are, just a bunch of nobodies who oftentimes don’t know what we’re doing, yet something is truly happening. We’re like as close to the dirt as a grassroots movement can be. In terms of numbers, our campus ministry groups mostly consist of 20 students or less at each school. ANEW’s conference attendees are an order of magnitude less than GYC’s. Yet none of these really mattered. Each committed student at a secular campus is a miracle in itself, and God is awakening more and more each day.

But there’s another reason why I was stirred by this moment. In the context of the youth movement in the Seventh-day Adventist church, ANEW and campus ministry in general have a niche that is very specific and of great importance, simply because we have no back ups. There is no back up to ANEW, or CAMPUS, or STRIDE’s ministry. If not us, the students on campus, who else is going to do campus ministry? The forty- or fifty-somethings may dream, plan, and talk about campus ministry, but it is the late teenagers and the twenty-somethings who can in actuality execute the plan to completion. Our feet are on the mission field, literally, and campus ministry simply must be done.

4. End of David Asscherick’s message

Pastor Asscherick’s conclusion completed my “No Turning Back” experience. While I can say “No Turning Back” in a courageous way, like a soldier who’s committed to the general until death, I know too well that this commitment can wane and fail. Saying the same phrase to a father, however, is a different story. Why would you turn away from your father? It’s unthinkable, just as it is unthinkable to turn back from our earthly father.

When I walk hand in hand with my Father, why, of course I would never turn back. Of course it doesn’t matter if anyone wouldn’t join me or if I had to leave the world behind. My Father loves me and I love Him, and that’s it. It’s the love of God that constrains me to serve Him as a Master. So I said, I have decided to follow You, Father, and I don’t ever want to turn back.

3. Micah Christian Ramos

Micah is one funny boy. Natasha and I were babysitting the Ramos babies while their parents had lunch with some of the GYC leaders and GC officials. At some point, Micah decided to pull his dress-pants down and totally just ran out into the living room with his underwear showing where they had the meeting. Yes, into the gathering of the leaders of the Generation of Youth for Christ movement, the President of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and other church leaders, all with a grin on his face, cracking himself up as I ran after him and brought him back to the play room, myself cracking up. Definitely one of the most memorable moments of GYC.

2. Seeing Thando preach

Watching Thando preach with power morning by morning was literally beholding a miracle. When I met Thando for the first time in Boston, she was the quietest, most soft spoken girl I had even known. She was so shy and I couldn’t hear her most of the time. But God has given her a voice to preach the Gospel to the entire world. The fact that she was standing there bears witness that God can liberate us from ourselves.

1. ANEW New Year’s Eve Gathering

Students from the ANEW network gathered together for a worship service during New Year’s Eve to spend time in fellowship, singing, and testimonies. I don’t know if I can accurately describe what happened in words. It was simply powerful. People kept coming, whether they were students in the network or other GYC attendees. No one really knew about this event except the ones in the ANEW network, but the room was almost filled. What made it powerful, though, were the testimonies from the students. We had asked a few to share, but then we opened the floor for anyone to share their stories. And the testimonies kept coming, both from students we know and those we just met. All of us were surprised at how many testimonies there were. The word that ringed in my head during the whole thing was “awakening”. It was like seeing student after student waking up to realize God’s purpose of placing them on campus. For some it took one ANEW conference, for other it took years. It felt refreshing, organic, and real.

We have a vision of actualizing “A great awakening of secular campuses that stand ready for the return of Christ”, and I think on December 31, 2010, 9:00 – 10:30 PM, in Room 325 of the Baltimore Convention Center, we witnessed some evidence of the start of this awakening.

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