Posts Tagged With: Christianity

City of a hundred spires

We arrived in Prague after a 15-hour bus ride from Serbia, through Hungary, cutting through Slovakia, and finally up north through the Czech Republic. By the time we left the bus station it was midnight and the metro line had closed. So we took a cab. Usually this is highly discouraged in Prague (even though drivers use meters, they cheat). Thankfully, this time we weren’t cheated, and the driver took us quickly and directly to our hostel on Wenceslas Square.

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In the morning, we were up and at ’em at the wee hour of 11 am. We strolled toward the Old Town Square, stopping for a tredelnik, which was so delicious I wanted two. Then we stumbled down the cobblestone path and onto the square, right in front of the astronomical clock.

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Prague, nestled in the heart of Bohemian Czech Republic, is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities of Central Europe. About 1.3 million people live here now, and the city area was settled over two thousand years ago by Celts. Germans, then Slavs, roamed the area, making the land by the Vltava river. Modern Czechs, although now a distinct ethnic group, are descended from those western Slavs. The first fortress that would be eventually known as Prague Castle was already built around 800 AD. At the time, most of these people considered themselves Bohemes, hence the name Bohemia.

The city continued to grow, and by the 1300s had a prominent Jewish population, German population, several bridges, and churches. Unfortunately, the medieval dynasty pretty much died out. Only a princess, Elisabeth, was left. She married John of Luxembourg because he was very, very rich (and old and blind in one eye). They had a son in 1316 who became Charles IV. He became King of Bohemia and even the Holy Roman Emperor. Under him, Prague flourished. He founded the Carolina University, built the famous Charles Bridge, expanded St. Vitus Cathedral, and more.

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The famous Powder Tower was one of the original 13 city gates between Old Town and New Town, something Charles IV helped renovate. It was finished, however, until about 100 years after his death, when another king finished the decorations. It’s called the Powder Tower because in the 17th century they stored gunpowder there.

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Anyway, the Old Town Square used to be the marketplace in the 1400 and 1500s. Now a riotous clash of architecture with several spires towering over the cobblestones, the square is the iconic image of medieval Prague.

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The old city hall, as seen at night. It used to be a lot bigger, until Nazis accidentally blew up the right half of the church (thankfully, not where the clock is). It was also the site of Prague’s one-and-a-half defenestration in 1483 when rioters/protesters, fed up with the municipal government, threw seven aldermen and a portreeve out the window to their deaths. (Yes, I learned the word defenestration from this. Apparently when Czechs get really angry they throw people out of windows).

If you’re wondering where I’m getting all my information, it’s from a free walking tour and some of my own research.

And, finally, we came to the astronomical clock. The third oldest in the world and the only one still functioning, the Prague orloj was finished in 1410. Legend has it that the city councilors were so proud of the clock and so jealous that no one else create their own that they took the clockmaker out, got him drunk, and blinded him. In revenge, the clockmaker climbed the tower and jumped into the cogs, committing suicide and ensuring that they couldn’t have his precious invention. The clock didn’t work for another 100 years.

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The 26-second show is often rated the Second Most Disappointing Site in Europe (Mona Lisa being first), and according to 21st century expectations I suppose that’s true. But back in the 15th century, moving figures must’ve been amazing! The four figures on the bottom represent the four most respected trades during that period:  ruler, soldier, historian, or astronomer. Up above are the four things most despised in the 15th century: vanity (which, our guide pointed out, is ironic considering the number of selfies taken with this clock today), greed (helpfully depicted as a Jew), death as the skeleton, and lust/earthly pleasures (also helpfully depicted as a Turk). 15th century ain’t got nothing on stereotypes and cultural sensitivity.
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Across the square is Church of Our Lady before Tyn,with its uneven gothic towers. Although a church had stood there since the 11th century, this later Gothic style wasn’t built until the 14th century.

In the middle of the square is a statue to Jan Huss, commemorating the work he did in ushering in Protestantism and also the 25-year-long Hussite Wars, unfortunately. Huss was a pretty amazing guy, actually, a Catholic priest and a staunch critic of the hypocritical excesses of the church. I read some of his sermons in high school. His name, “Huss” means “goose,” and it’s where we get the phrase “his goose is cooked” because he was eventually burned at the stake in 1415, a martyr for the fledgling Protestant Reformation.
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Well, his death didn’t go over so well with the Czechs, who were loving this whole Bible-in-Bohemian and greedy-popes-profit-off-your-indulgences thing. There was the First Defenestration of Prague, which tossed several Catholic priests out a window in 1419, and then the wars.

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We strolled through what used to be the Jewish Quarter, or Josefov. For hundreds of years it was one of the worst parts of the city–poor, flooding in spring from the river, and cramped. But finally, when Jews were allowed to move outside the walls in the late 1800s, they did. Only the poorest stayed, and soon the criminal elements of the city moved in. The city government spent a lot of time and money cleaning up the area, building new stores and apartments around the turn of the 20th century, pushing the riffraff out. Now it’s the most expensive real estate in the country.

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Okay, so ignore the stupid grin on my face. This is the Rudolfinum, one of the countless concert halls in Prague and is home to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (since 1946). You may have noticed that a lot of these buildings are old. And hardly damaged. That’s because Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia first, in 1938 (even before Poland). There’s a long, bitter history there, but the upside is that because the government surrendered, very little fighting or bombing happened. Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in the world due to that.

Which is where this great little story comes in. The Nazis, of course, took over all the big, beautiful buildings as military headquarters, including the Rudolfinum. The third in command, right after Himmler, was Reinard Heydrich (the guy who finalized the Final Solution). When he moved into the Rudolfinum, though, there was a problem. The building is lined with the statues of famous composers. It’s great, especially for art-loving Nazis, except that Felix Mendelssohn is up there, who was ethnically Jewish.  Well, that just wouldn’t do, not on a Nazi building! So Heydrich ordered two soldiers to go up there and take down Mendelssohn.

That night, they dutifully climbed up there, when they realized a problem: they didn’t know what Mendelssohn looked like! But, being problem-solving Germans who paid attention in Nazi history class, they found a solution. They measured every single nose up on that roof, knowing that the biggest nose had to be the Jewish composer. They found him, knocked him off, and were so proud of themselves that they arrived early the next morning to show off their success.

Heydrich took one look at the broken statue on the ground and flew into a rage. “What have you done to Wagner?” he demanded.

Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer. He was a strong anti-Semite during his day, and plenty of musicians hate him because he designed the modern orchestra pit they all despise.

That evening we went to watch The Magic Flute in the Estates Theatre. Our guide mentioned that if possible, we needed to go to a classical music event because they happen every night. The government apparently subsidizes the cost of tickets, so it’s pretty cheap to attend. We had to choose between Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons playing at the Klementinum and Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the last surviving theater he actually performed in. It’s just crazy to me that there’s so much music and culture in this city that amazing events only happen for one night.
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We picked The Magic Flute, my favorite opera. The Estates Theatre was the world premiere of Don Giovanni, Mozart’s most famous opera, in 1787. So obviously we had to go. We bought tickets day-of, so had some of the worst seats in the theater.

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The theater is rather small (though the stage is incredibly deep), and there’s the orchestra, two balconies, and three galleries. We sat in the top gallery, and yes, we had to lean forward and rest our chins on the railing to see the stage. I got a crick in my neck.

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See Jordan all the way at the top, near the chandelier, in blue? Yep.
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BUT we got student pricing, so we watched the whole opera in Prague at a historic theater that Mozart himself enjoyed for a grand total of 250 Czech crowns, or $13.81 USD. For the two of us! I KNOW! So those smiles on our faces are genuine.

And the soprano as Queen of the Night was amazing, and the overture made me feel like my heart would burst, and we’re still humming the arias days afterward. It was perfect.

Categories: Czech Republic | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Novi Sad

Serbia’s capital may be Belgrade, but culture, nightlife, and more are happenin’ at Novi Sad. Situated on the banks of the Danube river, Novi Sad’s most famous icon is the Petrovaradin Fortress.

Although Romans built a fort on the river hundreds of years ago, this fortress is much more recent–the cornerstone was put in place by the Austrian (Hapsburg) dynasty while pushing the Ottoman Turks out of the region.

We focused most of our time around the Old Town.

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Although Serbia is a mostly Orthodox country, Novi Sad does have a prominent Catholic cathedral: The Name of Mary Catholic Church. We admired the roof as we stood in the Old Town Square._mg_3654

Just nearby, as you can see from the other steeple, is the Orthodox cathedral of Saint George. _mg_3661

We mostly strolled around the town, soaking in the atmosphere (it was Orthodox New Year’s Day, so a lot of things were closed). If we had more time in the city, we would’ve seen more of the fortress and bused to a small traditional village nearby. As it was, Novi Sad was a relaxing break on our trip toward Prague.

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Orthodox Christmas Eve

Thanks to the Julian calendar, Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7. That means Christmas Eve, an even more important holiday to than to Protestants, falls on January 6.

Because Jordan and I were in Belgrade, Serbia we got to celebrate Christmas Orthodox-style! We were both so excited to experience Christmas in a way so different than our own.

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Belgrade has their own small Christmas market, which we strolled through ever day on the way to volunteering. I admired the candy stalls and mulled wine stands, wishing we had more money and time to enjoy them.

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And finally, Christmas Eve came at last.

Christmas has only been celebrated publicly since the fall of Communism, and so isn’t as commercialized or shown at large. They have Santa, of course, as well as Mariah Carey playing over the PA system in stores, but it’s not as big as what you’ll find further west, like North America. In some ways, I thought this was better.

Christmas is celebrated at home, sometimes at church, with a few gifts exchanged and a hearty breakfast with family. Christmas Eve can be spent with friends or extended family members.

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Around 11 pm on Christmas Eve Jordan and I went to St. Sava’s Temple, one of the oldest and most famous Orthodox churches in Belgrade. Attending midnight mass is a time-honored tradition among Serbians, as well as burning badnjak in a community bonfire.

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Traditionally, each family has an oak log or branch chosen for their holiday tradition. In Belgrade, where few families have forests to walk through, nor fireplaces or bonfires, families typically pick branches up at the supermarket and burn them at the bonfire at St. Sava’s. The badnjak is very similar to the yule log  of other European lore.

Jordan and I hadn’t bought a badnjak, so we enjoyed the heat of the bonfire while everyone else threw their branches in, laughing and singing and joking loudly.

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Firecrackers and little fireworks went off everywhere. The loud noises and pops so close to the ground alarmed me at first, especially when I saw one firework spraying sparks into the nearby hedge. But no one else seemed to care. I think it was a combination of holiday cheer, beer, and the nonchalance leftover from wartime.

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We wanted to attend Orthodox mass at midnight, but the line to get into the church was already long, and I was sick and probably shouldn’t have been out in the weather at all. So we instead looked up and enjoyed the fireworks.

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It was a lot of fun. Upon returning home we realized the music and firecrackers weren’t going to stop until late into the night. I think I finally fell asleep around three, when things quieted down. The next morning, Orthodox Christmas Day, everything was peaceful and sleepy as you could imagine.

Next time we celebrate Orthodox Christmas, I’m getting a badnjak for us.

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Our Future plans (explanation)

So you already know we’re going to volunteer with Syrian refugees for five weeks. Let me tell you the backstory of how that happened.

Ever since the Arab Spring in 2011, I have been trying to follow Syria’s civil war (this was before most Americans knew about ISIS). I wanted to help, but I wasn’t an aid worker. I was in college, preparing for a wedding, trying to figure out if I could afford grad school. But I often looked for more news as the years went on. Still, I never donated money because 1) I wasn’t always sure which organizations were legit, and 2) We were living hand to mouth a lot of the time. I didn’t have extra money to donate.

Right before we left for Korea in November 2015, we were invited to a Halloween party. I was excited–it was hosted by my best friend, and we take our historical costumes quite seriously. I drove to JoAnn’s Fabric Supply and bought materials to go as Robin Hood and Maid Marian. It was so much fun. I borrowed my friend’s sewing machine, got to use skills my grandmother taught me, and even took a weekend trip to visit my mother-in-law so she could help me with her serger. We bonded, it was a blast, I had a lot of fun. I don’t regret any of that.

Then I realized how much money I’d spent on Halloween costumes: $190. Yep. A lot of money.

That same night, I saw on the news that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing in Hamlet in London. After the curtain fell on Oct 12, 2015, Cumberbatch gave a short speech, urging British citizens to lobby their government, to get involved, and to do whatever they could to help the Syrian refugees. He said, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark….You have to understand that no one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

I immediately felt chastened. I had just spent $190 on something as trivial as a Halloween costume when I had been so morally indignant about the plight of Syrian refugees and how no one seemed to care about them. I cried on the way home from the Halloween party, coming face to face with my own hypocrisy. Jordan and I both promised to do better. He asked if we could donate money as soon as we got jobs and a steady inflow of cash again, and I agreed.

We came to Korea, and exactly one month after the actor’s speech, on November 13, Paris was attacked by ISIS insurgents. We read online in horror, struck by the blood and the death and the grief just like our fellow Americans back home. We thought, “something has to be done. France needs to change their security systems. And we need to make sure that ISIS doesn’t kill anyone else, be they French or Syrian or Lebanese or American.”

The very next day, there was a massive outcry against accepting refugees. Although none of the Paris attackers were refugees, suddenly, both of our facebook news feeds were filled with fear and alarm that all the refugees coming to America were really terrorists in disguise. Then I saw this facebook post: “Obama says that it is our moral obligation to take in these Syrian refugees that terrorists WILL infiltrate. Question today about the legality of state governors refusing to allow the federal government to place refugees within their states…

Hear this: Whether or not it is legal for us to refuse refugees in [my state], when I hear of the bus coming into this state full of these refugees I and those who are like-minded will be at the border, armed to the teeth. I will not tolerate my family being intentionally placed into harm’s way.

And our jackass president can take his moral obligation and shove it.”

My jaw dropped. This came from someone I respected, a mild-mannered, quiet Christian I had looked up to. He had been fed misinformation and lies and then reacted in a violent manner.

Jordan barged into the bedroom, upset from things on his newsfeed, too. “Don’t they know those memes about thousands of refugees landing in New Orleans and escaping are false?” he demanded. “Don’t they know there’s a vetting system already in place, and America’s got the best vetting process in the world?”

I shook my head. “The posts with the strongest language, the loudest critique, are coming from Christians. I don’t know what to do.”

“I do!” Jordan declared. “We’re going to help Syrian refugees.”

And so, after 12 months of praying and planning and thinking, we are doing just that. We hope to be very open and post often about the work we’re doing and the people we meet in December and January. We welcome questions, concerns, and more either on facebook, this blog, or in private messages. We only ask that you keep things civil and respectful.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Serbia, South Korea, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our Future plans

Jordan and I have been very vocal in our support of Syrian refugees and how the world (and especially the Church) should welcome them. We’re excited to say that we’re finally putting our money where our mouth is!

For five weeks Jordan and I will be in Belgrade, Serbia to work with the Syrians seeking asylum.

What led us to this decision? For me personally, a  Halloween costume, Benedict Cumberbatch, and a facebook post. It sounds like the beginnings of a bad joke. (Maybe it is.) But God has used these three things to take me here today. More on that in a different post.

Post script: We had already made some of our plans before the results of the 2016 election, but based on the president-elect’s First 100 Days plan in response to immigration from war-torn regions, we’ve decided it’s even more important that we act.

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Post-election thoughts

Dear non-Americans,

I’ve seen your protests, (Tel Aviv and London are two) and I share your concern.

I’ve thought long and hard on what I want to say, and it’s really just: You are heard. By me. By other expats. By millions of Americans. I would like to offer a sincere apology for what we’re about the unleash on the world.

Not all Trump supporters are racists or bigots at heart, and they have legitimate complaints with the way the country has been run for the past 25-ish years. Complaints and grievances that absolutely should be addressed and corrected without ridicule. Unfortunately, Trump cares about Trump, not about addressing those real concerns. What you (and I) have learned, however, is that while most Trump supporters would never hurl racial slurs at someone on the street, they’re okay with turning a blind eye to others that do it.

We’re going to work on that. Just like the British are connecting with their own citizens after the Bexit hate crime spike, just like Filipinos are working to save one another from Duterte’s harsh punitive policies, just like much of western Europe is working on their response to the refugee crisis, just like Egypt is fighting tooth and nail against ISIS.

This worldwide rise in ethno-nationalism and fascism is troubling. But I refuse to give up hope. With compassion and understanding for all Americans, we’re going to hold the line and stand in the gap. Non-American friends, you can help, too.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day in the life of working with refugees

Guest post by: Brynna L.

Waking up in Greece is a wonderful experience. But waking up to the knowledge that your goal today is to bless people who are overlooked by the world and are overwhelmingly grateful for every kindness is an entirely different kind of wonderful.

I woke up at eight o’clock, per usual, to have time to myself and to prepare spiritually for the day. As my fellow volunteers migrated from bedrooms toward the main part of the house, I enjoyed our heartfelt greetings and offers of shared breakfasts. I reflected on my surprise that, by the beginning of week two in a house with 12 other women, this introvert was nowhere near the overwhelmed breakdown she had anticipated when she arrived to find such a small house filled with so many volunteers. In normal circumstances, I could never have handled it, but these were not normal circumstances! These were not sorority sisters or college roommates. These were skilled women with hearts of gold who traveled across the world in response to cries of help from a struggling people. Their love and desire to serve was not about to be broken by clashing personalities or petty quarrels. This was a volunteer role requiring selflessness and emotional support all around.

As eleven people got into two five-seaters (and this is a European’s idea of a five-seater, not the American five-with-room-for-ten-seater) we had the last volunteer in pile the supplies on top of the ones already seated (who needs rear view windows anyway, right?). We knew the drill, and most of these women had spent the last hour hauling the daily supplies up from the store room to make sure babies would have diapers and moms would have some nutritious food. Then we were ready for our day!

Though our house was always full of laughter and shared meals in the mornings and nights, car rides to and from the camp were usually quiet. Not from awkwardness, but from the need to prepare ourselves for or to talk ourselves through the day we had just had. Each car went to a different camp and each camp had its own personality. Today I would go to a smaller camp, and also my favorite. Though less supplied, dirtier, and with only one other NGO permanently in place besides ourselves, this camp had captured my heart. The refugees who had been placed in this camp were Kurdish and, as a people group who have been oppressed and discriminated against for generations, there was less formal education and fewer English speaking refugees.

We drove through the gate and walked to the Greek military guard house to show our passports and with which NGO we were affiliated. Our day would be from 10-4, and our team divided into two tents. One tent was for our infant feeding specialists, consisting of midwives and lactation consultants, and in the other tent was our baby Hamam (bath house) volunteers. Here we kept a constant kettle of hot water going to provide baby baths so mothers could have a time of bonding and a clean environment to bathe their little ones.

Our NGO goal was to care for mothers and children under two years old, to provide education, lactation support, diapers, ready-to-feed formula if needed, and some weekly food packs for moms. It was our way to care for these people and show them that they were not completely abandoned.

When we got to our tent, we would assess the tent’s most recent child-inflicted damage and clean up any knocked over drawers or supplies. Though we locked up the tent every evening, one can do a lot of damage by kicking the outside or climbing to the top of the tent. We swept and organized, while early-bird mothers occasionally came for diapers. We never wore shoes in the tent and had a mat at the door, but we still couldn’t keep the floors very clean. Fortunately, however, it had not rained last night, so we were spared the hour-long ordeal of mopping and moving equipment around. We unloaded the supplies from the car, and I hid the food under a sheet as I carried it into the tent. A coworker explained to me when I first arrived that even the best of people find it hard to watch food being given to a mother just because she has an infant when their own 3-year-old is hungry. No one blames the grumbling and discontent of parents who are worried for their children, but we didn’t have the resources to give food to everyone, and our NGO was for mothers of 2-year-olds and under. To avoid causing trouble, we were discreet.

Next, we filled our eight water jugs for the Hamam, five gallons each, and carried them back to the tent (sore shoulder much?). As I rested from this I looked around at the camp full of people whom I was coming to know and love. Each family with their joys and sorrows, with their qualities and their flaws, with love and pains just like me. They are all waiting to be accepted into a country that will welcome them as people in need, not as an inconvenience.

The first impression I got of this camp is hopelessness. Tents lined up in rows inside a warehouse labeled with a letter for each row and a number in the row. Each family, usually of 5-7 people with the possessions they were able to carry in their flight from Syria, were living in tents less than a foot apart. The air of purposelessness and hopelessness is stifling. One wants to give them an occupation, but refugee status doesn’t allow them to make any attempt to earn money.

The women, looking tired and sad, clean their tents, cook food, and wash clothes all day, sometimes with the help of husbands and young daughters. Day to day, I saw the transition from two mindsets; one of hope, that surely after seven months of the torment of life in the tents, it won’t be much longer! But another of tired hopelessness: working all day with no chance for improvement, watching children without education disobey and fight, and self-conscious shame at their lack of control in this hectic environment. These women are tired and insecure, but they have a purpose and are kept busy. I surprised myself by finding I had an almost greater pity for the men.

I watched from morning to night while fathers and young men walked aimlessly around the camp, looking dejected and weak. They are stripped of the ability to protect and provide for their families. With no control over the future, they are unable to earn money and are culturally awkward with housework. I couldn’t imagine the lack of purpose they were suffering under. Young men with no way to learn a trade or prepare for a wife and children milled around. They behaved like children, unable to become anything more, in this stifled and stagnant life. The future is completely blank to them as they rely solely on the political decisions of foreign countries who seem to only dislike and fear them.

The children had school some days, provided by an NGO, which lasted for an hour a day. When not engaged in this activity, there was a general crowd of children, ages 3-10, who ran around the camp without regard for adults or infants, playing in whatever fashion they chose. As we have all seen in children play can often be more fun if it is destructive, so our NGO tent was often under attack. Fights between the children, who continually felt the stress of their parents, were constantly breaking out and some were so in need of attention and affection that they would cling to us and cry when we had to let them go. This cycle of people in pain creating more pained people was very difficult to bear each day. It was hard work as a volunteer to maintain a joyful and encouraging demeanor when I was completely unable to give them what they truly needed, a place of safety from war, where they could create a home.

This cycle of people in pain creating more pained people was very difficult to bear each day. It was hard work as a volunteer to maintain a joyful and encouraging demeanor when I was completely unable to give them what they truly needed, a place of safety from war, where they could create a home.

In the children, however, were also some of the first glimpses of hope. In the children who carried the full responsibility of their younger siblingss, I saw the tending and protection of the natural human capacity for love. They showed me their ability to forget all the pain in little moments of joy and small pleasures. Children showed their desire to help, to learn, to be loved and their unfailing desire and ability to love other people. This was how I saw the joys and sorrows of the camp.

Mothers came to us for a moment of rest, a cup of tea, to get supplies and, on a good day, a piece of clothing for their children. Fathers would sometimes come too, proudly carrying their little ones and yet humble to receive our help. Children were always around u,s being their complicated selves, one moment tearing holes in our tent then, when caught and scolded, hugging my neck as though they would never let me go.

I spent my days at our small Hamam tent, and the beauty I saw there nearly made me forget the pain outside. A baby who doesn’t know anything of life can sometimes draw us out of our own weary cares and remind us that joy, in its simplest form, will always be available to us. Mothers seemed to be really at peace for a moment when they were able to step away from their troubles and just care for their little ones. Sometimes, if we weren’t busy, they would just step into the feeding tent and breastfeed for a while and have a quiet respite. In these moments every pain and discomfort was made beautiful for me. Knowing that just showing up, cleaning, unpacking, filling jugs, and the constant up and down of cleaning baby tubs and refilling water was not just busy work. They were the building blocks that created this moment of tranquility and a mother’s ability to have time with her baby.

I never spoke with any of these moms, the children knew more English, but to say “Hello” and “How are you?” There was something so much deeper than words to every encounter. These mothers had so much gratitude and gave it so freely. We were always being given food and coffee and invited to their tents for lunch. Though my first impulse was always to refuse, knowing that food for them was scarce, I soon came to see that the joy of giving cannot be only one sided. Everyone needs to help others and feel the gratitude of those they helped! I can only hope they felt our gratitude as much as we basked in theirs.

After a long day, I was always tired. The car ride home was quiet as we each processed our many emotions,  and thought about the men, women, and children who had welcomed us into their homes and lives in their most vulnerable time. I was always ready to go back. Every day was a new, beautiful adventure and every day I further realized a beauty in humanity that I would never have been able to see in my routine, comfortable life at home.

God did not call Christians to a life of protecting ourselves or our prosperity. Though I don’t feel called politically to change policies or to write petitions, I can still serve God in the way he has called me. As a normal Christian living my normal life, how can I use the knowledge of people suffering around the world to serve and glorify God? By giving of my time and money to bless and share the gospel with people in my life and community. There may be Syrian families resettled in your town, or there may be people living in a cycle of poverty or abuse. We will always be surrounded by people in need and we are ALL (no matter how ineffective we may feel) uniquely gifted to serve people and honor God. As Christ washed the feet of his disciples so should we be living!

What will you change? Who will you serve? What new joy is God calling you into? Be prayerful, my brothers and sisters! Life becomes so much deeper and people so much more valuable when we meet them in this way, not for what they can do for us, but for what we can do for them.

Note: There are currently 57,000 refugees waiting in Greece for their asylum papers to be processed, over half are women and children. Because they registered in Greece, not any other country, they must stay until their claims have been processed, which can take over a year. Until then, they live in camps as described in this blog post.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Why I believe in social justice

“I appreciate your passion for politics and subcultures,” someone recently told me. It wasn’t exactly a compliment based on other things that were said, but I was troubled for a different reason.

I had spoken out over an #Alllivesmatter “news article” published by the ConservativeTribune, explaining that it was rather inflammatory considering several unarmed black men had recently been killed by police, and that this website strays pretty close to the Alt Right movement. And while the response to my comment was tolerant, at least, it bothered me.

Because I don’t speak out about #Blacklivesmatter because it’s a hot topic or a political issue. I don’t think the “liberal media” is driving me into a frenzy, or that I have to be knowledgeable about stuff because I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in international affairs.

Okay, yeah, obviously, I like politics. I like debating and sharing and discussing ideas. But that’s not why I speak out, nor why I believe in social justice.

The Christian Right, for better or worse, has been tied to the Republican party for the last 40ish years, and are a pretty vocal bunch. Unfortunately, because some of these social justice ideas (prison reform, welfare aid, education reform, etc) are championed more by the Democrats than Republicans, many Christians immediately view it as suspect.

I once read an article basically saying Christians had no business even using the phrase “social justice,” let alone getting involved, because the word “social” came from Marxist “socialism” and is therefore heretical to anything Christian. (This is where I could go on a very, very long rant about how American Christians hold onto their Republican/American identity more than they care about their Christian identity, but I’ll try to end that here).

I didn’t speak up about that news article because it disagreed with my political beliefs. It did, but that’s not why. I spoke up because I believe that every human is made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. I spoke up because my faith demands that I point out injustice (By the way, the Hebrew word for justice doesn’t actually mean what most Americans think it means. Christian political scientists differentiate between two types of justice: restorative/primary justice, and punitive justice. We’ve forgotten than the Bible refers to both, not just punitive).

Contrary to some family members’ opinions, I don’t oppose Trump because I’m a flaming liberal (actually, I’m still registered as a Republican, but I feel no compulsion to vote for someone just because they have a red R by their name). I don’t consider myself liberal, nor a Democrat. I’m independent and a centrist. And I got that way because I read Deuteronomy, Numbers, Psalms, Jeremiah, the minor prophets, the gospels, Ephesians, and James. I became that way by reading about Christian martyrs and leaders through the years.

Don’t knock on social justice, guys. Christians have long been involved in movements that expanded personal freedoms and justice to oppressed people, and  they did it not because it was a convenient political tool, but because they believed that to be true to their faith, they needed to act.

As a Christian, it is a lifelong journey to view and review my political and social beliefs in light of what the Bible actually says. If I’m not careful, I can cherry pick any verse to support whatever cause I want. I can focus on the few times the Bible talks about marriage and divorce (important topics, yes) and build my entire one-issue voter profile and support, or I can view those verses alongside the hundreds of times God called the Jews and Christians to care for the stranger, the widows, the orphans, the vulnerable in our midst. And I can adjust my political beliefs accordingly (Okay, so maybe I have more in common with the Evangelical Left than I thought–and yes, they do exist).

This isn’t about political issues. This is about human beings.

This isn’t to draw a line a divide evangelicalism from social justice. I think we can work together, learn from each other, and even learn from each other’s different interpretations of Scripture. An example:

All my life, I grew up listening to the Widow’s Mite story in the gospels, learning that it was important to sacrifice everything for Christ, even my financial comfort. The widow was praised for her trust and sacrifice, and it was pretty clear that one day, I should hope to do the same. This is good, true, theology. (The Christian Right does a decent job focusing on the theology of a person’s relationship with Christ)

Then, when I was 22, I moved and started looking for a new church. Our first Sunday at an Anglican church had the Sunday Bible study meeting about the Widow’s Mite. “Okay, I grew up with this, I know the drill,” I thought. But instead I was taken through commentaries, translation of Greek words, and the religious/social customs of 1st century Jerusalem. And then I learn that Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees, the elite religious leaders, for creating a system of oppression, for forcing the woman to tithe her last mite rather than taking care of her in her old age. This was a scathing review of how the religious group focused on their own needs rather than ministering to their community, like synagogues are supposed to. (The Christian Left does a pretty decent job of focusing on the theology of a person’s relationship with the rest of the world).

So, which one’s right? Which one has more truth to it? If you were reading the last two paragraphs trying to pick apart one argument, you missed the point. Both are true and important to learn.

So why do I believe in social justice?

Simply put, because Jesus tells me to.

Categories: Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Korea crazy”

So we English teachers in the land of the morning calm have this catch-all phrase that we use whenever describing something we see as illogical, ridiculous, disturbing, or just plain weird. We call it “Korea crazy.”

Example:

Person 1: My boss is crazy.

Person 2: You mean Korea crazy or crazy?

So let me break down for you what we mean by this. “Korea crazy,” like I said, is a bit of a catch-all phrase, a subgenre of the normal word “Crazy.” In my time in Korea, from experiencing Korean culture, Korean workplaces, and other English teachers, this is what I’ve come across. Interestingly, being called “crazy” in Korea is a much bigger insult than it is in the West. While it’s certainly rude in the West, in Korea it includes the connotations of “useless” and “worthless,” so while English teachers use “Korea crazy” as shorthand to explain otherwise strange behavior, we wouldn’t say any of that to a Korean’s face.

Crazy means:

  • Anything that offends our Western sensibilities, is flagrantly opposite Western values, or just doesn’t make sense
  • Parts of Korean culture that really don’t make any sense or are flaws in an otherwise fascinating, rich, ancient, and amazing culture
  • Illogical, irrational human behavior, often accompanied with mental illness, personality disorders, and actions that should require medication.

“Korea crazy” covers the top two bullet points.

The first bullet point, of things that don’t make sense to Westerners include

  • A monument to how humiliating and degrading South Koreans treated Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean war, with loud, patriotic music in the background
  • A play based on folklore at a festival that has magical farts as a major plot point
  • A lantern festival with an entire row of lanterns portraying Japanese soldiers being tortured
  • Koreans lining up for a bus before there’s ever a need to, but refusing to follow a line in any other situation
  • Tiptoeing around a problem rather than addressing it
  • A highly paternalistic work culture and expectation of the government to educate and care for the people
  • Strong desire to “fit in” and not stand out in any shape or form
  • Absolute insistence that Dokdo matters to the world and is Korean land.

Some of it is just weird by Western standards, and I don’t know the reasons behind it. Some of this is just like humor, I think–some people love puns, others hate them. Some people love quirky behavior found in East Asian countries, other prefer quirky behavior found in North American countries.

And the rest of this boils down to culture differences, right? And much of the things that rub Westerners the wrong way have their roots in Confucianism. It is an ancient, highly paternalistic, respect-driven culture. From that stems the rigid hierarchy of elders telling young people what to do (even strangers), expectations that the government will handle most problems, the saving face and pretending problems don’t exist (if Korea ever has a natural disaster, saving face will not serve them well), and the belief that bosses can rule your life and deserve lots of respect.

And while I respect Korean culture and realize that in many ways Confucianism has served them well, I think there are significant flaws. Which leads me on to the second bullet point.

Every culture has weaknesses and flaws. Although I love my own American Western culture, I am intimately aware of all the problems that come with an individualistic, polarized, and materialistic culture. There are significant problems with the way we do things in the States, just as there are significant problems in every country and in every culture. I’m not trying to bash Korea, Korean people, or suggest that their culture is in any way inferior to the rest of the world. It has great strengths, but this blog post is about its weaknesses as perceived by Westerners. Most of these points are also strengths of Korean culture, just played out a little too far so that they now hinder, rather than support, the culture.

  • Lying to save face, especially in serious situations like crime, natural disasters, and office mistakes. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one, and Koreans usually aren’t willing to do that. This is also probably one of the main reasons alcoholism is rampant–no one will admit it’s a thing.
  • Expecting employees to come to work when sick. Colds and viruses spread like wildfire out here because people aren’t allowed to quarantine themselves when sick.
  • The hierarchy stifling otherwise a vibrant, creative, productive generation of young people into following their grandparents’ desires. While I love the fact that the elderly are respected in East Asia, rather than ignored like in the West sometimes, I think this goes too far. It also hurts my American individualistic beliefs, too.
  • Materialism. I was quite shocked to come to Korea and find many people far more materialistic and focused on flashy, expensive cars and clothes than people I’d met in the States. This is a flaw that Korean culture shares with American culture, I think, though Korea’s materialism stems from the confucian belief that the outside reflects the inner (a beautiful woman is a kind woman, a flashy car doesn’t just mean a man’s rich, but that he’s a good person). The rates of plastic surgery in Korea are some of the highest in the world.
  • Societal pressure to perform really hurts everyone. This is something that happens everywhere in every culture, I think, but because this is a blog post written by an American about Korean culture, I’ll keep my comments germane to the topic. This issue also affects the United States, but I think the pressure to live up to your family’s name, to be successful in all that you do, is even stronger here. Alcoholism is a real thing here, though they pretend it’s not. Korean kids are stressed, sleep-deprived, and always worried about their schoolwork, and Korea’s depression rates are some of the highest in the world (Japan’s rates are also high). The speed of industrialization in the 20th century also may have something to do with pressure and expectations.
  • Strong nationalism and suspicion of “the other” will really hamper South Korea’s growth on the international scale unless something changes. Korea has a difficult history, and it’s sandwiched between China and Japan–two regional powerhouses. The fact that Korea has kept hold of its identity and homeland over the past two thousand years, defeating both Chinese and Japanese invasions multiple times, is astounding. It’s worth celebrating. They’ve kept their language, made their own alphabet, and have progressed rapidly in just 60 years. But this is not without cost. Many (not all) Koreans are very racist. Not just curious about other types of people (which I fully support and think is healthy) but actively racist. I’m just lucky we somehow convinced Koreans that white people are cool. Korea is the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world. 20% of Koreans have the last name Kim. Four last names make up about 50% of the population. Every human, every culture, has a suspicion of the other (which isn’t of itself is bad), but the Korean government has encouraged its people to make value judgements based on people’s skin color, last names, and other characteristics.

And finally, the last bullet point, actual craziness. Sh*t you don’t want to be around. (I have so much personal experience with this I’ll have to document it later, when I’m out of Korea). I think one reason English teachers come across so much “Korea crazy” is because many of us work in hagwons and even a few iffy public schools.

Hagwons, or private, for-profit schools, are in it for the money. That’s the name of the game. So while Korea is full of wonderful, amazing people we’d be lucky to know, hagwons are full of administrators that care about money, not people. And when they have a steady influx of foreigners who don’t know the language, culture, work expectations, or anything else, really, it’s very easy to abuse the system. I think English teachers come across power-hungry men at a much higher rate than regular Koreans living in their own country do. And these power-hungry men know they can get away with so much more because we’re, well, clueless. This can seem like “Korea crazy” because it’s most of what we see, but it actually takes up a much smaller segment of the culture/population than we think.

As for the actual mental disorder stuff? Well, mental illness “doesn’t exist” in Korea, so that’s just your imagination. Get with the program, folks.

A video on Why Not to Teach English in Korea Hilarious with a lot of truth in it. A critique of the ESL industry.

Final words: Korea is an amazing culture, but everything has its flaws. This is just an American’s explanation of a common ESL teacher view of the country, with a little explanation of how the culture got that way. If you’re interested/concerned with something I’ve said, comment and share your thoughts. And do some research on your own to learn about Korean culture and the subculture of ESL in Korea.

Categories: CEV, Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, South Korea | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seeing friends

We had the awesome opportunity while in Tokyo to see some family friends!

Ralph and Miho, missionaries with OMF in Tokyo, have stayed with my family when on home leave in the past. This time we got to see their hometown!

But before we did that, we rushed through the largest fish market in the world–Tsukiji Market. Normally at 9 am the place is massive, bustling, and full of fresh catches from the night before. But a typhoon had hit the coast, so few fishermen went out early that morning, and the market was much smaller than normal. It was also raining, so we kind of rushed from awning to awning rather than taking our time and sniffing tuna.

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Still, if you get the chance, definitely go!

We had originally planned a lovely trip along the coast with Ralph and Miho, but the rain made sure that didn’t happen. Instead, they took us to the church they volunteer at and showed us. I had seen photos before, when they were in the States and telling us about their mission, but it was a lot of fun seeing it in person.

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They took us to a local sushi joint, and Ralph kindly told me what to order and how to eat it.

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That’s my face before I tried the squid, I believe.

Visiting with friends was a wonderful experience, and it was so nice to be around people that spoke Japanese and could navigate the suburbs of Tokyo like a native (because they are natives!).

Jordan and I were a little sad to leave them so early, but we had to catch a bus to Hakone before the weather got worse.

 

Categories: Japan | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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