Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christians and their attacks on Christmas

I'm fascinated by all these news of Christians attacking Christmas (who would've thought googling Christians, Attack, Christmas, would turn out with so many results!)

There's one camp of Christians, led by orgs like Focus on the Family, who stage campaigns and rail against the secular commercial industry for taking the Christ out of Christmas. These guys don't like how stores try to be PC and use slogans such as "Happy Holidays" instead of making Christmas a celebration focused on the birth of Jesus. They put up billboards with signs that say, "I miss you saying - Merry Christmas. Jesus." Or they rate various stores on how "Christ-friendly" they are on the basis of how they market their products.

Another camp of Christians says to the previous group, "Seriously? Seriously? You're gonna take issue over whether stores say Merry Christmas while going on spending sprees with no regard for the poor, sick, and hungry? You think Jesus cares about holiday slogans more than He cares about justice?" These guys campaign against widespread consumerism during the Christmas season and encourage everyone to spend less, give more to charities, and buy gifts from companies who take social and environmental responsibilities seriously.

Then there are those of us (and I say us because this was my context for the past 6 years) who celebrate Christmas overseas and are safely distanced from the marketing tactics of retailers in America. We live in a place where Christianity has not largely influenced recent history and tradition, and thus Christmas is superficially celebrated with some cheesy music and decorations and young people exchanging gifts. It's sort of like Valentine's Day with red and green. These guys celebrate Christmas by claiming this window as a precious opportunity to share the gospel in a context where precious few have heard of what Jesus is all about. These guys spend the bulk of the Season working on various evangelistic outreach events.

I actually park my feet pretty firmly in camp number two. Camp number one confounds me a little bit. Why would we expect non believers to care about celebrating Christmas? Retailers are trying to make a profit and if being PC gets more customers buying, then of course they are going to chant Happy Holidays. Camp number three is exhausting and I often doubt its effectiveness. I believe we need to share the gospel through a tradition that is meaningful and relevant to the host culture instead of forcing a very western Christmas on them and then trying to share the message of the gospel through that. That is an outdated missionary model, I believe. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ who came to bring us salvation. I believe it is a salvation which delivers those of us who are held bondage to our consumer oriented society AND a salvation who delivers the poor, neglected, oppressed, marginalized. So it is quite appropriate to celebrate Christmas by spending less and giving more.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint. We definitely have a very large tree set up with presents under the tree for our kids. I do see the value of creating a sense of wonder and excitement for my children who are only children for a short time. They deserve to imagine santa and eagerly anticipate what's wrapped underneath the tree. I just hope at the same time we can work towards giving more children around the world the opportunity to be the children they deserve to be instead of being worried about hunger, disease, violence, being orphaned, or risk of being trafficked.

However, if there was a camp (and if there isn't one, I guess I'll invent one) of Christians who see a need to decrease Christmas and increase Easter, I would stand in line to sign up. Like N.T. Wright says in "Surprised by Hope", if we lose Christmas we lose a couple of chapters in the gospels. If we lose Easter, we lose the entire New Testament! Easter is our Day of Celebration! Easter is when we need to hoot and holler, pause and meditate, adjust our year's resolutions to match up with the MEANING of Jesus being risen. Maybe more Christians ought to channel our passion against various issues during Christmas into uplifting the celebration of Easter.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Half the Sky

I just finished the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It was filled with gut wrenching stories of the suffering women endure, particularly in developing worlds. From rape victims to those sold into brothels to fistula patients, I often had to put down the book and just take a deep breath before moving on. At the same time, the authors highlighted amazing stories of women who have risen above their plight and, given the right aid and help, changed their own lives and the lives of countless other women. The hope is the book would inspire a movement to change the realities these women endure. They liken the oppression of women to slavery, and how we look back now and are appalled at the inaction of those who saw slavery simply as the way things were, in the same way, years from now people will look back and be appalled at our inaction on behalf of these women. The plight of women, the authors claim, is the biggest humanitarian challenge of our time.

Now that I've read this book, I am without excuse. I have been educated and been made aware. If I put the book down and move on with life, I will be counted among those future generations are appalled at. And I will be made accountable at the day I meet the Lord, the One who says, "whatever you did to the least of these, you did for me." I believe there IS such a thing as the sin of omission.

But what can I do? What can one measly little Cindy Brandt do to change lives? Not much, I know. But I am so beyond saying "I'm too overwhelmed" and throwing in the towel. I want to do something that will utilize the limited amount of gifts and resources at my disposal and produce the maximum amount of change. Still praying over that one...

Read the book so you can be without excuse too! :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What I want to be when I grow up

Don't you just LOVE old people? I mean, the sight of an older Chinese couple strolling down Love River holding hands can just brighten one's day. A friend posted on their FB status about being cuted out by two old men in a bookstore talking about how they could spend all day in there. And how cute are the older couple who are learning English along with all the college students in Jason's class? It got me thinking about the kind of old person I'd like to become.

I want to be an old person who keeps up with the times and is not willing to CHANGE. I love how facebook is being used by the older generations. It's so neat that older people can be engaged with social media, get on youtube, and exchange wall posts with their grandkids. Just think what the technology advances will be like when I'm 60+ years old? Whatever it'll be like, I hope I can embrace and engage in that world.

Along the same lines, I want to keep learning. A Chinese saying "huo dao lao, xue dao lao", translated as "learn as long as you live", exudes deep Chinese wisdom. My great uncle got a PhD when he was in his 70s. What an inspiration! When I'm old, I'd love to go back to school, or engage in learning through other avenues. I echo the prayer for myself which I pray with Lizzy each school night, "God, help Lizzy to learn lots of new things about Your world."

I hope to be engaged in active ministry. My family obligations at this season of my life prevents me from being fully engaged in active ministry. I hope to become more active when I enter that different season. Hopefully, by then, I'll have accumulated some sort of skill/experience/wisdom that I can impart and contribute to building the Kingdom of God.

I am plotting some sort of deal with God that at the end of my days He can take both Jason and I at the same time so that I would not have to spend even ONE day in my old age without him. You think He'll sign on that?

Of course, there are tons of other things I'd like to be when I'm old: healthy, some grandbabies to hold, have lots of disposable income to travel the world, etc. But I don't feel like those are things I can control as much so I won't go into detail about those.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Blue Sweater

Just finished the book The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz. Because we have decided to invest both finances and heart towards an organization fighting global poverty (one days wages), I've been trying to read up on the subject. I enjoyed this one although some parts were hard to get through. Here are some of my reflection thoughts:

1) Cross cultural sensitivity: As a westerner going into various developing countries,she had little training on how to view things from a cross cultural perspective. She talks about some hard lessons she had to learn because of her ethnocentric perspective, the western tendency to see a problem and fix it. In the end, because of her can do attitude and strong personality, she was able to accomplish the task of lifting many out of poverty. However, I believe it is still vitally important to learn how to work with people of another culture with deep humility and willingness to learn.

2) I've read a few books by humanitarians who have done amazing things for the "least of these" of our world, and each time I struggle with what motivates these humanitarians when their faith does not lie in Jesus Christ. For me, a desire to help the poor/oppressed stems solely from my belief that the gospel Jesus brings is salvation for the marginalized, forgotten peoples of the world. Reading about non believers who have put more heart and work into these types of work than myself and other Christians both humbles and puzzles me. Despite that, I still rejoice these people exist and no matter what their motivation, I am grateful their work contributes to the Kingdom of God here on earth.

3) The story of the Rwandan woman recounted in this book was absolutely heart wrenching. The way her Christian faith pulls her through some of the toughest circumstances a woman can go through, and how Christ's power of forgiveness shines through her attitude towards the perpetrators of extreme violence done to her family is mind blowing and life changing. I'd recommend this book for this story alone.

4) I was very intrigued by the concept of running a non profit humanitarian organization as a business model. She invites people to donate money but uses the idea that we don't invest for monetary profit, but we invest for change. It's not uncommon to see aid agencies and government programs to help the poor go awry because of inefficient management, unprofessional human resources, and lack of attention to the real needs in a community. I think her organization Acumen Fund maybe a good model of the changes necessary in the non profit sector.

Anyway, here is a copy/paste of an editorial review pulled from Amazon:

Acumen Fund founder Novogratz blends two narratives in this memoir about her years fighting global poverty. In one thread, she recounts her early experiences in Africa developing microfinance organizations to assist women. Many of her reminiscences focus on relationships with the local women in government who were key to her success as well as the personal trials she encountered matching her Western vision with their ideas about the future. She also writes about later work in India and Pakistan. The other thread focuses on her return to Rwanda after the genocide. Although her inside view of global poverty initiatives and politics at the most basic level makes for interesting reading, her personal story intrudes in a manner that some readers may find self-serving. Her reflections on the genocide also detract from the economic discussion in India and Pakistan, rendering the book more Rwanda-centric (and thus more political) than she may have intended. In the end, Novogratz does provide enough information on microfinance to make readers curious to learn more. --Colleen Mondor

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Mommy, I want to die."

Quoted from my six year old daughter. With a bit of depression in our family history, I anxiously asked her why? Her answer: "because when I die, I can go to heaven!"

I'm not quite sure what her ideas of heaven are, but probably some version of a Disney-like fairyland. Already at six years old, she is being exposed to Christian theology, from books, from her Christian school, and from us. Somehow, her experiences are shaping her ideas of what heaven is and that it is a place where she longs to go after she dies. This is revealing of the popular Christian thought that heaven is a place, a happy place, that one goes after death. When loved ones die, we tell our kids they've gone to heaven as a way of comforting them (and ourselves). What I'm concerned about is that then limits our Christian hope to that life after death. And in simple six year old logic, the natural response to this theology is to "want to die."

Here's what I said, in a feeble attempt to guide her into the type of thinking Jason and I have come to adopt, that Heaven is here right where we are. It is already here! Each time she shows that she loves her brother (we are heavily indoctrinating her on this issue, as the daily fights are really getting to me), respects her parents and teachers, forgives a friend, that is where we can see a little bit of heaven. And Heaven is wherever those sorts of things happen: when someone is lifted out of poverty or oppression, when peace and reconciliation occurs between relationships, whenever love is demonstrated in acts of kindness, words of encouragement. It's not just about us and where we go after we die, it's about God doing His work, bringing His world to us. I think this will take her a while to comprehend because I hear six year olds are developmentally egocentric.

If anyone knows of good Christian books for kids, I'd love to get some recommendations to help supplement our child rearing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What our days are like

I just got an email from a supporter asking us exactly what we are doing in Taiwan. I realize perhaps we haven't been very clear in our correspondence (newsletter and blogging). Then I realized perhaps we haven't been very clear because we ourselves haven't been clear. After all, our whole reason for leaving China was to seek the Lord for clearer vision. However, over the past couple of weeks, we have settled into a family routine. Here it is:

7:30-8:30 I drive Lizzy to her school which is a half hour commute by car. :( I sure miss the bus service we had in Tianjin!
8:30-9:00 I drop off Hayden at his new preschool and I head off to work. I now work mornings at my Dad's company. I use the term "work" very loosely as I am not given much responsibility. But that's okay, I learn, I run errands, and I enjoy it.
12:30 - 1:00 I pick Hayden up from preschool and stay home with him in the afternoon. I do chores around the house, I clean, and I make dinner.
4:15 I pick Lizzy up from school (she does ride the school bus home so I don't have to go as far.)
6:00 Family Dinner Time!
8:00 bedtime for the kids.

Jason is now teaching adults English at a chain school in Taiwan called Global Village. He teaches part time and helps with Hayden in the mornings. It's been a challenge for him because for those who know Jason, he doesn't like to be center of attention and being a teacher requires him to be.

We also hope to be involved in ministry. There are some opportunities for us that we are praying about and will update everyone as they become concrete.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's always somebody's Lizzy or Hayden

I read this story on NPR today:

And it really resonated with me. Every mother can probably relate to this: after giving birth to children, all the news stories, victims of tragedies that involve children, hits harder on the heart. When we experience the immense love we have for our kids, we can also imagine the deep pain of losing them. The names of those victims become somebody's Lizzy or Hayden.

I have obviously not been a war reporter. However, I have seen children in families/communities steeped in poverty. I can remember the faces of little nepali children playing in the hills when they should've been able to go to school. I think about the ladies who give me facials in China who tell me stories of being sent away from home as teenagers to work to earn a living. I see the migrant workers selling things on the streets and their children playing near the bustling traffic. I've always been an empathetic person, but after giving birth, it's almost become unbearable to hear sad stories that involve children, because it's always somebody's Lizzy or Hayden.

But at the same time, it gives me strength and resolve. As a Christian and a mother, I pray we run and not grow weary of the mission of creating opportunities for the Lizzys and Haydens in the world for education, health, freedom.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hayden's preschool (part 2)

Went to school with Hayden this morning and observed another cultural difference. I figure I better document all this for all my expat friends who might eventually consider sending their children to Chinese local schools.

I remember last year at Lizzy's International school, they had a Sports Day. There were several activities, potato sacks, relays, ball tosses, etc. the kids participated in. I found it amusing the teachers stressed there were no winners or losers. At the end of the day, everyone got a fun little keychain for the fun day they had.

Chinese society is extremely competitive. Think overpopulation: too many people trying to compete for limited roles and resources. From the very beginning of students' educational career, they are required to face immense competition in order to get ahead. The entire system is built around competition.

This morning, Hayden's school had a relay race. They divided the kids up into two teams. The six year olds did really well and practically finished at the exact same time. The teacher announced, "that was really close, but there is still a winning team and a losing team. Victory to the yellow team!" The kids on the yellow team all jumped up and down and waved their V signs. Amazing how they are already instilling the concept of competition into these little ones. I was amazed at how none of the green team members pouted or threw tantrums, they just accepted being on the losing team. that why my American husband is always telling me: "Cindy, it's not a competition."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hayden's Preschool

It's deja vu. Three years ago, we sent Lizzy to Chinese preschool in Tianjin. It was a completely local, Montessori preschool just like the one Hayden is going to now. At that time, our plan was to send Lizzy straight through the local system until perhaps 2 or 3rd grade so she can have a solid foundation in Chinese. However, after two years of observing her and sensing how she is not thriving, we pulled her out and sent her to the International school. Now, with Hayden going to a local preschool, I'm sensing similar struggles and challenges we faced with Lizzy.

The main issue is of course, culture. From the core worldview to the physical manifestation in the material world, Chinese culture is different from the West. This is not a subject I can even graze on in my simple blog post, but to present some of my observations from the experiences of my English speaking son (and daughter) going to a local Chinese preschool.

1) The authority of the teacher. In the West, teachers and educators work closely with parents as a "supplement" to the education and general well being of a child. Here, teachers are given much higher authority and role in a child's life. Many of the children are in school many more hours than they are at home. Many Chinese adults testify to the immense role (be it positive or negative) teachers have played in their lives as students. Students are expected to respect the authority of a teacher. Parents are also expected to respect the authority of the teacher as the "expert" in their child's life.

As always, when observing cultural differences, it's best to remember: it's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different.

But it creates conflict and tension when two cultures rub up against one another. I, with my western education (and let's face it, one who struggles a bit with respecting authority), don't respond well with having the teachers tell me what is best for my child.

2) Individual verses corporate nature. From a very young age, western little kids are encouraged to be little individuals, entitled to their own opinions and expressions of creativity. This manifests in the way kids are encouraged to make choices from everything including what color underwear they want to wear to the methods they want to go about creating a craft project. Chinese little kids are taught and encouraged to behave and act like others in the community. Children are expected to wear similar clothing, and perform activities exactly as they are taught.

When Hayden was introduced to an activity which involved clipping clothespins to a basket that had tapes specifying where to place the pins, he picked it up right away. At first, he placed the clothespins where it was marked. But then he started to explore and place it in different places, and then he started clipping them with each other. From my western educational perspective, I believed it was good for him to explore and try new things. But he was reprimanded by the teacher and told to start over and clip the pins at exactly the places marked for him.

Again, it's not right, it's not wrong, it's just different. It irked me that the teacher reprimanded him for that, but it's not wrong to expect kids to conform to a set of rules and become like their community. In many ways, we want our kids to become like us, especially in our Christian character (whew, that's a scary thing to say!).

3) Use of material resources. Chinese people, in general, are a lot more "frugal" in their stewardship of material resources. From a young age, we are taught to not be wasteful. Before each meal at preschool, the kids pray to thank God, thank the farmers (for growing the rice), and to thank Wang ma ma from the kitchen for making the food. Then, they are expected to completely clean their rice bowls. Wow, what a standard for our very picky Hayden to uphold! He had to eat mouthfuls of his most hated bean sprouts at school lunch today.

4) Language. This is pretty self explanatory. Hayden can understand simple Chinese but normally doesn't ever speak in Chinese. We are hoping he will pick it up quickly, but for now, he's just mute at school. (three years ago, Lizzy was mute for two years before we decided enough was enough) Although the teacher reports to me that when he's frustrated he screams. It's kind of like he has reverted back to toddlerhood before he learned to speak any language, he expresses himself by screaming.

Overall, though, he's done really well. He was happy when I dropped him off at school this morning, and comes home fairly happy. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, August 31, 2009

A quick and fairly boring update

When we moved out of our home in Tianjin, we felt like we packed and packed and packed and there were still more stuff. This week, we moved into our new place in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and we unpacked and unpacked and unpacked and still there were more. Conclusion: we have too much stuff. This week has been filled with chores, buying household items, signing up for phone line and internet, fixing the air conditioner, installing shades, etc. All the while, helping Lizzy work through a stomach bug, getting Hayden ready to start preschool for the first time ever, job interviews for Jason, and me trying to stay sane through it all. It's hard to complain because we've been blessed with so much, but transition is rough. Jason and I feel it as we are adjusting to the changes, but we are sensing the children struggling with all the changes as well. The result is we are all a bit more grumpy than we'd like to be.

Some praises this week:

Lizzy's stomach bug has gone away after a trip to the doctors - praise God for universal healthcare in Taiwan!
Jason got a job offer! Not too many hours, but a good start!
Fairly smooth transition into our new apartment.

Please pray for:

Apparently there's a confirmed case of H1N1 virus at Lizzy's school - pray for health for both the children in their new schools.
Continue to pray we settle in and learn the ropes of living here.
We will try to visit a church this Sunday. Pray we find a church family here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Finally a Local

I spent about seven years (college and seminary) in America as first an International student, and then an "alien" spouse. (why oh why do they use that word to describe non natives?) Then we relocated to China for five and a half years as definite foreigners. Finally, we've moved to a place where I was born, spent the majority of my growing up years, and where my parents/relatives still reside - Taiwan. When I went out to buy some bubble tea the other day, the bubble tea maker looked me up and down and said, "you're not from around here, are you?" I stared the poor girl back down and stated firmly and indignantly: I am a LOCAL. (wo jiu shi ben di ren) Desperate to finally feel like I belong somewhere, hoping my words consciously spoken in the most colloquial Mandarin accent will help convince this innocent stranger that I really am born and raised in Taiwan.

I looked up the definition of a "Third Culture Kid" on the internet and found this:

Third-culture kids are those who have spent some of their growing up years in a foreign country and experience a sense of not belonging to their passport country when they return to it.

I am a TCK through and through. Although I didn't spend my growing up years in a foreign country, I might as well have since I grew up in a community of expats and was educated in an American school system. I had American teachers and classmates from America, Japan, Taiwan, Europe, India, etc. I've lived in four different countries and speak three languages. I have never been able to adequately answer the question "where are you from?" I have lived with a messed up cultural identity from a very young age. Now I have returned to my "passport country", and am just bracing myself for the kind of cultural impact that will have on myself and my equally global family.

Sorry bubble tea lady, I didn't mean to be rude, I just want to finally be a local again.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Why we recycle...and only want two kids

Between the two of us, Jason is the bigger treehugger. I'm always a bit uncomfortable when he talks about recycling and how he induces paranoia in our daughter when it comes to leaving lights on in the house. Mainly because I fear being labeled a crazy liberal environmentalist. But our reasons for recycling are really a response to our Christian faith. First, God gave us a beautiful earth and He wanted us to be responsible stewards. Second, God promises to renew this earth; contrary to some current Christian beliefs that God will eradicate every part of our existing world at the end, we believe the efforts we make to preserve our earth today is not in vain. God will not eradicate everything, but renew what is existing for His glory. Therefore, it is for this future hope that we choose to take action to take care of this earth. Third, our lifestyle and the way we live affects others. Especially in our global village, our actions no longer have isolated consequences. I know global climate change is a controversial topic (although becoming less and less disputed), but this is our take on it: Even if it's all a hoax, then what harm have we caused by trying to recycle more, cut back on carbon emissions, creating cleaner air, and developing new sustainable energy resources? However, if it IS true, then our generation stands to be responsible for the disastrous effects climate change will have our children, and our children's children's world. And the effects of climate change will have the most devastating consequences for those most vulnerable in our world, the poor. As worshippers of a God whose heart for the poor is evident throughout Scriptures, we cannot afford to be nonchalant about our actions and its effect on the earth and her climate.

Having said all that, we could do so much more than the little bit of recycling that we do. Jason would love to trade in our car for a Prius (but that's expensive). We could stand to travel less. We could invest more of our finances in alternative energy companies. We pray God continues to convict us in these matters so we are moved to change more than we have.

Related to this issue of preserving our earth: overpopulation is a problem for our earth. And when people ask why we only want two kids, our answer is we don't want to contribute to overpopulation. Most people just laugh at us it sounds so ludicrous, and we laugh back. But in all seriousness we decided on two even before we had the kids and realized two is all we can handle anyway. Having lived in overpopulated China, we've seen firsthand the social problems that arise when there are "tai duo ren le." (too many people)

Family size is a very personal decision and this is the one of the reasons we've limited the growth of our family. But I certainly am not passing judgment on any large families as we personally know of some amazingly beautiful large families.

To sum up: go green!!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Talk around the dinner table

Food is one of my greatest passions. You know how most people go out to dinner with friends and family, and they just enjoy the conversation along with the food? Well, I enjoy the food along with the conversation. And planning meals out and looking forward to the food takes up a large percentage of my thoughts.

Recently, let's say in the past six and a half years, something(one) has spoiled my fun around the dinner table. Yes, the addition of the responsibility of feeding two little ones. No longer can Jason and I enjoy our food in peace - one or both of the children are usually complaining about something I've made. It makes me so mad and fits of rage are a frequent occurrence around our dinner table. (I'm not proud of it, but just telling it like it is.)

At lunch today, I had another bout of lecturing about how the kids need to be more thankful than they are for their food. In a huff I said to Jason, "these kids really spoil my appetite!"

Few moments later, with quivering lips, Lizzy says to me, "Mommy, if you didn't have children, you wouldn't have anyone to love."

Can you tell I have a sensitive one?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Asking for money

For the past five and a half years, we've lived on full time support. Meaning, we haven't had an employer paying us to do the work we did in China, but have had family and those in the Church family provide us our living expenses. Living on support is a delicate way of life. Let's face it, it's just awkward to ask people for money. Despite all the good and valid reasons we have of choosing the lifestyle of living on support, in the end, it is still uncomfortable. We'd like to feel independent, and feel like we can spend the money that we "earned" with our sweat and blood.

Of course, if we were in the reverse situation of thinking of supporting those who are working in non profit sectors or ministry, it's a totally different story. We delight in helping others and would wish they wouldn't feel awkward asking us at all.

While I was in China, I was asked by a brother in the Lord to help him raise money for an effort to train other locals in ministry. I came back and it took me a long time to sit in front of the computer and ask people. Why? I guess I just felt like I was ready for a break from asking for money. Finally, I sent out some emails to some of our faithful financial supporters, and was overwhelmed by their generous response.

There are so many needs, so many wonderful people who are doing amazing work out in the field. And there are many who are willing to give. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are you always looking forward to something?

I am. I'm one of those people who really need to learn to live in the moment because I am almost always looking forward to the next exciting thing/event/people/food.

Good news: we received our visa in the mail!! Unbelievable considering the long drawn out process (see previous post), and so very thankful to the Lord for giving us favor. We were hoping to receive it in time for us to return on our flight booked at August 10th. And since we received it way ahead of time, we got greedy and tried to change our flight to a few days earlier so we can get home. Few emails to the travel agent, few phone calls to the airlines, and we just kept running into walls, so finally we gave up.

But I'm bummed. Not that I'm not enjoying our time here in the U.S., but we are ready to start our new lives in Taiwan and six weeks is a long time to just "vacation" here in Colorado. I'm eager to get back to start job hunting, figure out a preschool for Hayden, and go furniture shopping for our new home.

I guess I need to just stay put for a couple more weeks and just live in the moment.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I don't need Jesus to be my "personal" Savior

I love to worship. One of the things I missed the most in our years in China is opportunities for great worship experiences. (Especially coming from Wheaton, where we were so privileged to have been led by extraordinary Christian artists and gifted worship leaders in amazing worship experiences.) But recently (well, actually for the past several years), I've started having to change the lyrics to many common praise/worship songs in my mind as we sing them. This morning at church, for example, we sang these lyrics,

"Amazing love, how can it be? That you my King would die for me."


"...altogether wonderful to me."


"I have come to say that You're my God."

I just have a hard time singing these kinds of praises because my King didn't die for ME, He died for US. He's not wonderful to ME, He's wonderful to US. And God is certainly not MY God, but OUR God. One of the gifts of having grown up in Chinese culture, and having lived in it for the past years, is that it has revealed the individualistic aspect of the Western version of Christianity. In the West, the gospel is that Jesus can become each individual person's "personal" Savior, and that one's faith is predominantly about one's "personal" relationship with Christ. It seems to me our faith cannot become isolated to an individual faith, it simply isn't practical. We all know we need community and each other to survive and thrive, why is it the faith community continues to encourage this individual focus?

I recently read in N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope", and in it he suggests that just as the Israelites misunderstood God, thinking He wanted to save Israel for the sake of Israel, instead God meant to save Israel in order to save the Gentiles; in the same way, today's Christians perhaps has misunderstood that Jesus isn't saving individuals for the sake of each person, but through us to bring in His Kingdom here on earth.

I think for some people, it is mind-blowing to feel the love that the God of the Universe would care and love and save little tiny me. But isn't it even more mind-blowing that He came to earth, died, and rose again, to save the entire world, and THEN, through us as a faith community, to participate in bringing in His Kingdom? I really don't need Jesus to be my "personal" Savior, I need Him to be the Savior of all, and I need Him to use me in the church, to serve in His Kingdom.

So if I could just change those lyrics...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Road to a Visa in Taiwan

When we decided to move to Taiwan, we needed to figure out a way for Jason and the kids, all of whom are U.S. citizens to legally reside in Taiwan. Now let me dispel a very common myth here: just because you are married to someone of another citizenship does NOT mean you can automatically legally stay in that country! It does, however, mean that you are qualified to apply for some sort of visa. Thus begins our road to applying for a residence visa for the family, enabling the U.S. citizens in our family to stay for at least one year with a fairly easy renewal process beyond that.

The paperwork we needed were as follows:
1) application form (easy)
2) two pictures (easy)
3) our marriage certificate, which needed to be a NOTARIZED copy, TRANSLATED into Chinese, and AUTHENTICATED by the Taiwan embassy in jurisdiction of Colorado where we were married. (which was in Kansas City)
4) the children's birth certificate, same deal, NOTARIZED, TRANSLATED, and AUTHENTICATED in the area where they were born. This presented complications for us because our daughter Lizzy was born in Los Angeles, and Hayden was born in Beijing, China. This meant we needed to send the appropriate paperwork to the Los Angeles office for Lizzy's BC, which was not too bad, but Hayden's BC needed to be notarized in Beijing, and then taken to a Cross Straight Council in Taiwan, to be authenticated.
5) Jason's criminal record. This proved to be stressful as in order to apply for a clean bill of criminal record from the FBI, we needed for Jason to get fingerprinted. At this time, (April 09) we were living in Tianjin, and the U.S. embassy in Beijing would not help us get fingerprints. So, I went out to the local grocery store and bought ourselves a black inkpad (not as easy as you'd think because in China, the stamp/chop colors that made anything official was of course RED). Jason spent an entire afternoon trying to get all ten of his fingers rolled in prints, his two thumbs, and two sets of four fingers. It was SUCH a shot in the dark when we mailed that fingerprint card in because we clearly had NO IDEA what we were doing. Off it went in the mail to FBI and three weeks later, we received a clean criminal record for Jason. Whew! This of course, also had to be AUTHENTICATED by the Taiwan embassy in the area jurisdiction of the FBI, which was in Washington D.C.
6) Household Registration - going into the household registration office in Taiwan to add Jason's official Chinese name and to add him into MY registration, which required us to have #3, authenticated marriage certificate.
7) Health examinations for Jason and Lizzy (Hayden is fortunately exempt because it is only for children 6 and under). This was another trying day as we found out they needed to test their stool samples, and no, we could not take it home and wait until my six year old (and husband) were ready to do their business, it had to be RIGHT THERE in the clinic. Lizzy had already gone that very morning so I knew the chances of her producing some samples were slim. I timidly approach the kind nurse at the counter, "Excuse me, miss, what if my daughter can't go?" "Don't worry, we can give her an enema." For those who might not know what an enema is: it involves inserting a bulb syringe up the opening through which one's stool is produced, and administering a liquid medicine through the syringe, which will result in the desire in most people to "do their business". Okay, you can imagine it was a difficult morning, but Lizzy was amazing and even got her blood taken without putting up too much of a fuss.

Six months later, mail sent back and forth between China and Washington DC, and Colorado, and Los Angeles, and Kansas City, and trip to Beijing and Taiwan and finally back in the U.S. We finally have all our documents ready to send it in. The processing time is one month, but we paid extra 50% to have it expedited. I prayed really hard at the Fed Ex office when I sent it in, because if something was wrong with the application, I might just go insane.

Will keep people posted when we get that hard-earned visa in our passports.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Missing China

I'm a bit emotional at the moment as I have just written our last newsletter (for those who are interested in how we tag team as a couple, I write the newsletters, and Jason edits, puts up pictures, formats, and sends them out), to be sent out soon. Oh boy, it's just an end of an era, to think we had been living/serving in China for five and a half years. I honestly don't think we have even begun to process it, things have been too crazy busy! I miss different things about China at different times. Right now, our ayi is on my heart. Just try to imagine being a part of a family, she made lunch for us every day for three years, taking care of Hayden from birth (she was the only non parent that Hayden allowed to hold him when he was a baby), and then having them leave your country and go where you cannot go. As much as we miss her (and her delicious food), I'm worried about how she's dealing with losing us.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pilot Post

I'm so excited to start this new blog. I had been managing another blog that was mainly for the purpose of posting pictures of the kids. Then I decided pictures are a lot easier to upload on facebook than on blogger so I kinda stopped blogging. Besides, the title of that one is "Brandt kids in Tianjin", and we're not living in Tianjin anymore. Time for a fresh "beginning". Family/friends, I really hope this will be an effective way of keeping in touch with all of you. We've lived in many places and alongside the joys of getting to know the people on our globetrotting adventures comes the pain of leaving and the holes you leave in our hearts. Thank God for internet! Keep in touch, friends!