Thursday, March 10, 2011


I am one who believes God is always trying to get our attention. Most of life is just paying attention.

Yesterday, our staff went out to lunch at CafeWest in Fullerton, a great little place in downtown. After we finished our meal, we moseyed to the back of the cafe where they have an eclectic mix of art, a rack of women's vintage clothing, and a single bookshelf of used books, which patrons can help themselves to (like "on-loan" forever). To my surprise, I saw Lonely Planet's Thailand. (I happened to be at AAA just the weekend before, looking for a something on Thailand to no avail). But this was my lucky day. So I lifted it, legally.

The backstory is that just a few weeks before, I had received an e-mail out the blue that Becky Mann wanted to meet with me. I had heard about her, her husband Mike, and their wonderful and important work in Chiang Mai as American Baptist missionaries. Mike and I had corresponded briefly two years before as I inquired about their ministry, particularly their clean water projects, but had lost communication. Then to my surprise, Becky had instructions from Mike to hunt me down while she was back visiting in SoCal.

We sat down at Starbucks and I learned about the Mann's work with Burmese refugees in Thailand, near the mountainous hills in Chiang Mai. Firstly, the Mann's teach the Burmese how to farm their land with coffee beans, which they sell direct to Starbucks in a FairTrade exchange. Secondly, the Mann's help whole villages access clean water by setting up projects, often with the aid of teams from the States, who pay for the materials and dig the trenches from the water source to the villages. Finally, the Mann's discovered that the Burmese would often send their children into the city with the promise of work, only to never see their children again, victims of human trafficking. So the Mann's began building schools in the villages so that the children could stay and get an education. The hope is that as the children graduate, the Mann's will scholarship further study at the University if these students will return to their villages to teach at least two years.

I left that meeting amazed and inspired.

During our conversation, I had been invited to come and see their work as part of a scouting trip, having in mind the possibility of taking a team(s) over from Epic at some point.

Ever since, I have been in prayer about going, even sending out feelers to some of my friends to see if there is any interest in going with me.

And then I saw the book.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Some cool things I've read lately about story...

"The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth." - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

"We were created for stories, not propositions; for drama, not bullet points." - James K.A. Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

"If I have a hope, it's that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you." - Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

"We are not outside observers, as if we were watching a movie. We stand within the landscape. We are affected by the landscape. Since we are people of faith, we can even say that we are defined by the landscape. We are also part of the view that other observers see, from their own perspective. And they too are part of the total landscape that we see. Part of the beauty of a landscape is that it draws me, the observer, into it, so that I am engulfed and in a way defined by its greatness. In the case of biblical interpretation, we are people who stand in faith, who believe that the Bible speaks to us, and who therefore are quite conscious that what we are describing is not simply a landscape "out there," but rather, something that is at the very heart of our lives. We are not speaking of the biblical text as if it were dead letter, ancient history, distant memories. We are speaking of a text in which we find ourselves, our very lives." - Justo L. Gonzalez, Santa Biblia

"The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to stop herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well." - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

American Baptist AA Colloquium

Last month I had the privilege of spending a week in Seattle with a wonderful group of American Baptist pastors, all of us part of the denomination's first Asian American Colloquium. For one week each year, the AB Ministers and Missionaries Board treats us to a time of learning, community, and R&R. It is quite a treat.

For me, it's a refreshing opportunity to get away and enjoy another city, and also to be around such a wise group of seasoned pastors. It's fun and enriching to hear their stories, to ask questions, and to glean from their experiences. I am continually amazed at what they and their churches are doing. My soul is always full by week's end.

During this year's trip, I was struck by two "firsts" regarding my AA identity and history:

The first came on a tour of the Japanese Baptist Church of Seattle, where our colleague Paul Aita is senior pastor. As we moved from room to room we got a sense of the history of the place. When we arrived in the church's gymnasium, Paul told us the story of former senior pastor Rev. Emery Emerson, who was minister at JBC from 1929-1976, which included the years during WWII.

As American citizens of Japanese decent were being rounded up to spend the next several years in internment camps all along the West, Rev. Emerson transformed the gym into a storage warehouse. To make ready for camp, each Japanese American family was allowed only what they could fit in a suitcase. So Pastor Emerson took masking tape and marked off 4X4 squares on the wooden floor in which Japanese American families from the community could come and leave keepsakes and possessions that they were unable to take with them. Looking at the floor, I wondered if each square contained belongings that were impractical, unnecessary, or too valuable for the unthinkable trek toward an unknown future. How difficult those decisions must have been. Yet, this small act of kindness surely brought some measure of relief knowing that what little remained of their former lives would be kept safe until their return.

I was moved upon hearing this story for the first time. Immediately I was both proud to be a fellow AB pastor and deeply grateful for what this Anglo American Baptist pastor had done - surely not without severe dissent and criticism from the majority - to extend love and care to so many Japanese during their time of dislocation and disillusionment. Remarkable.

The second was a reflection I had upon returning home. In the history of the American Baptists, the M&M Board has had the foresight and generosity to invest and thank pastors for their service to the Lord and to the denomination. Because of this, over 30 years ago the first colloquial was formed. Subsequently, a colloquial for pastors serving Black congregations and another for Latino churches was birthed. I am part of the first colloquial for senior pastors serving mostly Asian American churches. I was struck that although the denomination is nearly as old as our country, here I am in the 21st century still part of "a first Asian American..." On one hand, I thank my lucky stars I belong to a denomination that is attempting to include and give voice to the minority in their midst, while also realizing how far we have yet to go.