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Photo by seminairecom

Photo by seminairecom

By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Last week I was supposed to be on a plane, heading home to California. My husband’s four-month project in Nairobi, Kenya, should have been completed. Today our family should be resettling into a comfortable, familiar life, full of family and friends and some semblance of normalcy.

But we’re still in Kenya. Instead of packing for home, I’m preparing to enroll my son in another term of preschool here. Instead of being reunited with loved ones, I am anticipating four more months of loneliness and isolation.

You’d think I would be used to this by now. It’s been about eight years since I’ve been able to plan my life in anything more than three-month increments. That’s when my husband and I went all in with his multinational startup, setting aside everything else in our lives to move to China.

Since then we have been on a wild ride of business successes and failures; opportunities and slammed doors; and nearly annual moves, both across town and across the world.

The company, and what it has asked of us, is perpetually changing, evolving, pivoting. Our personal lives pivot in response. Nothing feels certain or established.

When I was younger, I thought one of the ultimate signs of being a successful adult was to reach a point when I had everything figured out. I would know exactly who I was, what I loved doing, and my life would be organized accordingly.

But my thirties have turned out to be nothing like that. If anything, the only thing I know for certain is how little I know—about myself, let alone the rest of the world. I have little sense of where in the world I will be located or what I will be doing in just a few months.

Have I failed, then, at being a responsible adult? At living the way I’m supposed to? It certainly feels that way sometimes, especially as I think about the kind of life I want to model for my young son.

Yet there is nothing in the Bible that calls us toward a well-organized, well-planned life. If anything, the greatest biblical heroes were perpetually open to the call of God, willing to change their life plans in an instant.

Abraham packed up his entire household, including scores of relatives and servants, and large herds of livestock, and moved more than 800 miles at God’s command. David, with prior experience only as a shepherd, was unexpectedly anointed to be the next king of Israel. The prophets were regularly asked by God to do peculiar things—eat scrolls, wed a prostitute, lie down on the left side without moving for 390 days—with no further explanation from God as to what would be coming next.

If anything, their lack of plans, or their willingness to release any plans they did have, allowed God to invite them into more extraordinary things than they could have imagined for themselves.

To be honest, I would love nothing more than an ordered, predictable life. I sometimes catch myself daydreaming about having a regular day-to-day schedule, of being able to commit myself long-term to a stable job, of being able to live in a home for more than eighteen months.

But this isn’t the way most of humanity lives—throughout human history, and even today. A well-planned life is a construct of those of us who have fooled ourselves into thinking we can control our lives. All it takes is an unexpected illness, accident, pink check, or loss for us to realize how little we can actually control.

If there’s anything I have learned while living in Kenya, it’s that only those of us who are privileged think we can control our lives. Most people in the world must work with the circumstances they’ve been given. They have a far greater awareness of how little they can control, and instead focus on doing their best with what they have.

For me, it has been a long, painful road to learn this lesson—and I am still very much in the process. God has had to humble me significantly to break the illusion that I can dictate my own life path. Only then could I be open to learning the far greater lessons of perseverance and faithfulness. Only then could I release control of my life to a much wiser Father.

This adventurous, unexpected journey that God has me on certainly doesn’t feel comfortable. I wrestle with anxiety and frustration each time our lives take yet another unexpected turn. But predictable and well-planned isn’t what God wants for me. He wants something better, something greater than I could have imagined for myself.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer and editor who has found healing and hope through words. She is a columnist for Inc.com and regular contributor to Christianity Today and The Well. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, BlogHer, RELEVANT, and more than a dozen other publications. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the U.S. and Asia. She currently lives in Nairobi, Kenya, with her husband and adorable hapa son. Find her online at www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter @dorcas_ct.

Photo by Tim Green

Photo by Tim Green

By Jerrica Ching

I am a planner, through and through.  I love making to-do lists, I enjoy filling out planners and calendars, and ideally I plan ahead for a 3-month timeframe at the minimum.  I have embraced my Type A nature and have found that throughout college, graduate school, and now in the working world, being a planner has helped me succeed.  Although it may seem ironic and slightly humorous that a young woman who loves planning is writing about “The Unplanned Life,” I have come to realize that a lot of my life has actually gone not according to my original plan. Continue Reading »

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

By Chloe Sun

On the Meyer-Briggs personality test, I am an INFJ, which stands for Introvert, Intuitive, Feeling, and Judging. Although it says “Judging,” it actually means “orderly” or “planning.” The J personality prefers clarity, structure, and predictability. Continue Reading »

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Photo by Kevin Dooley

By Melanie Mar Chow

The call to follow Jesus — the cost and the joy — sometimes puts our life aspirations in tension.   God calls us in the Great Commission (Matthew 19:28-30) to be a part of the work of going forth and making disciples of all nations. But in church, we are often told we cannot make disciples unless we are disciples.  We are also told to be light, but in the same breath told we are darkness; we are not perfect people, we are sinners.  There seems to be a constant struggle in the church even now, of what it means to be a leader and how leadership is limited to certain people.  Especially in the Asian American context where excellence is often over-emphasized, why would we choose to do anything at all?

In college, I was invited to join a class where we learned that in spite of being sinful people, we are all gifted by God to do wonderful things to build up the body and glorify Him. These gifts are defined by God, not by race, gender, ability, or financial status.  In this class, we completed gift inventories, which revealed several of my gifts, one of which was pastoring. One of our teachers approached me the next Sunday to ask about my gifts, and informed me that the next Sunday School year would offer opportunities to help strengthen our gifts by practicing them.  In years since, I have been more conscious about how best to steward my gifts for God’s purposes. In a seminary leadership class, I learned to notice when some my gifts would not be expressed.  This would happen when I faced battles with personal doubt, discouragement, or others not including or being aware of my gifts or suppressing my gifts in the attempt to overexert their own.

Henri Nouwen’s reminds us that the best ministry happens in community.  He notes that in order to thrive for God’s purpose, we individually need to time to be with God to learn of what He has for us, and then we need to spend time in community to be intentional about how we serve together to corporately use and value our gifts to then do ministry.  What better a community than the church to grow our gifts!

Those college years were important in deepening my love of Jesus and my understanding of serving in community through learning about my spiritual gifts.  This is why I serve college students in a ministry that values the use of spiritual gifts. Use of gifts in community allows the church to grow so others in and out of church can be brought into deeper relationships with God.  I know serving in community with others, even with those who think differently or have different gifts than me all exhibits God’s creativity and best effectiveness to grow people.

Today I also give God thanks for growing pains in community. Although I am so thankful for that leader from my college class who encouraged me to practice and develop my gifts, I’ve since learned that that kind of affirmation is sometimes hard to come by in church communities.

One example of such growing pains in community is with the advent of voluntourism — when our well-intentioned short-term missions trips turn out to be ultimately harmful for the locals in the land. For instance, orphanage children who already bear the scars of attachment issues feel a sense of abandonment by those who only serve short-term. Another example of voluntourism was when ten students raised $3-4K for a 10-day trip to build a home in an impoverished country. Each day they built, only to learn that at night while they were sleeping, the locals rebuilt their work because the untrained students did their work without collaborating with others.  Upon returning, they were told that the sending cost of $30-40K would have been better used to build a church or school for this town with electricity, lighting, books, etc.

These concerns have left me pondering ways to redeem voluntourism. For instance, perhaps groups of college graduates with their $25K+ educations can be sent for longer terms to coordinate and collaborate with local leaders to create assistance programs that provide sustainable drinking water, seminaries, or any form of long-term change.

In his book, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities, Wil Hernandez, reminds us that “without the suffering of Christ, He would not be valued for His glory.  How is it possible to appreciate the tensions of perspectives and see the value of God’s intentions in both?” Dr. Hernandez goes on to outline an exercise in his chapter called “Suffering and Glory:”

Pick a coin you can carry around in your pocket.  Each time you touch it, let this object bring to mind the notion that suffering and glory are akin to different sides of the same coin. Such an object can serve as a gentle reminder that both sides represent equal realities that must be lived in tension.  Each time you feel the coin, you can choose to openly embrace the experience of tension in your journey and prayerfully claim its transformative value.

This can be applied to other tensions in our lives. Our lives as followers of Christ can be testimonies of how we consider the testimony of our service as we focus on the continued work of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 4:10 calls us to this ability to be like coins, embodying the Christian tension of life and death.  Yes, we need to die to our sinful ways. Yes, we strive daily to do the transforming work of following Christ’s model.  It is not for us to be destroyed in a challenging moment but to live knowing His grace indeed is sufficient.

The call then is to navigate the tensions as followers of Christ. After all these years, I’ve flourished in growing in healthy communities because of leaders that are aware of teachable moments, instead of condemning effort.  After all these years, my hope is that I am almost that type of leader.  Are you?

Rev. Melanie Mar Chow serves God through Asian American Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry division of the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society (JEMS). She has been an ordained American Baptist minister since 2004. A Pacific Northwest native, she currently lives with her husband and daughter in Southern California.

Photo by Juanedc

Photo by Juanedc

By Diana Gee

My journey with the Church has, in some ways, gone in reverse. I came to faith as a youth in an immigrant Chinese Canadian church, one of the largest in the city at the time. When I was introduced to it in the 90’s, it was a community of about 450 people (rough estimate) with three congregations partitioned by language. Continue Reading »

Photo by KMR Photography

Photo by KMR Photography

By Young Lee Hertig

In last week’s blog, Angela Ryo addressed a poignant point that often falls on deaf ears:

We all want change and growth in our churches, but I wonder if we are willing to  take on the pain that comes with such growth. Too many times, the pain becomes the inevitable lot of those who are most vulnerable and disposable within the faith community so that the dominant group can continue to thrive and grow.

Continue Reading »

Photo by Nick Kenrick

Photo by Nick Kenrick

By Eun Joo Angela Ryo

Some years ago, I had attended a conference geared toward Asian American church leaders who were either involved in a second-generation ministry (i.e. English Ministry) within Korean immigrant churches or multicultural ministries. I was one of three women in a sea of male pastors discussing the future of the English Ministry within the Presbyterian Church (USA). Continue Reading »

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