Reflections on the things I’m walking through

What’s in Front of Me

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. In fact, last time I posted was early in the spring semester, which turned out to be my busiest semester since starting at Virginia Tech. Thanks to God and God alone, I not only survived the semester with my sanity intact (well, mostly…) but it was academically my best semester yet. Actually, it was a really good semester across the board, busy as it was. I also got an internship in the DC area over the summer, building a database system for a residential builder to improve their workflow and the flow of data—from subcontractor bids, to analysis of the bids, to award documents, to a historical cost database, and finally to budgets for new jobs. I really enjoyed the job, and they really appreciated my work. So it was a great experience for all of us. And now I’m back in Blacksburg, and classes have started up again—and it’s the beginning of my senior year.

It’s hard to believe how fast my time has flown here, and how far I’ve come in three short years. Now for fourth and goal. (Excuse the analogy—after all, it’s football season again. (Go Hokies!) Anyways…) Before I know it, my last year as a Virginia Tech student will be done. And then…then what?

That’s actually what I’ve come back to my blog to write about. Because notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say my last year at Virginia Tech.

If you’ve followed my blog much, you’ll know I’ve shared a lot about my church family here, New Life Christian Fellowship. I’ve shared about how I and a group of NLCF-ers have been building relationships with international students, helping them adjust to America and find a place here, and showing them the love of God. And I’ve shared about how God’s brought me from being a lost and lonely international student, to finding my place at Virginia Tech, and finding a family I love in NLCF.

So when, last fall, I and maybe a dozen other student leaders were invited to an interest meeting about going on staff with NLCF, it got me thinking. Thinking about how, of all the things that fill my schedule, the stuff I do with NLCF is the stuff I most want to be spending my time doing (and I get really frustrated with everything else for taking time away from that.) Thinking about how the stuff I and my Engage Group (that group I mentioned) are doing for international students is making such a difference in their lives, and how I’ve seen God moving in their lives through their interactions with us. Thinking about how my Engage Group, the NLCF staff, and so many others at NLCF have become my family, and how, because of them, Blacksburg has become home.

The point I’m getting to is this: after almost a year of thinking, talking, and praying, and listening to God and to other people, I’ve decided to apply to go on staff at NLCF.

The funny thing is that this is both really surprising and not at all. Not surprising because ministry of some sort has always been the direction I’ve been heading. Before I decided, almost four years ago, to get a degree in engineering, I already wanted to go into ministry. And engineering was only ever going to be a channel for that. But what blows my mind is the fact that I’m choosing to stay in Blacksburg to do it. The plan was always to go overseas somewhere—whether back to where I grew up, or elsewhere. Staying in the States was never the plan. But then, God’s never been too concerned with making sure all our petty little plans work out. Not that he doesn’t want us to be happy, or doesn’t have our best interests in mind. He absolutely has our best interests in mind. He knows better than we do how our gifts and passions can be used, and he has something so much bigger and better in mind than anything any one of us can dream up. A greater plan that we get to be a part of. An epic story that we get to play a role in. And over the past year, I’m starting to see where the next chapter is set for me.

So over the course of this year I’ll be going through the application process—some paperwork, a couple of (very personal) interviews, getting references. If I’m accepted, I’ll go to new staff training in June, and after that will start raising support. (Because this is a church for broke college students, all the staff raise support to be here.) When I reach 100% support, I’ll be officially released to come back to Blacksburg and start serving here full time.

It’s impossible to anticipate everything I’d be doing on staff. It involves wearing a lot of hats. But it will probably include the things I’ve been doing and enjoy doing—discipling, running sound for services and serving in other technical ways, and working with international students. Right now, we are just one of several Engage Groups at NLCF (10 this year.) Several of us in the group see what we’re doing as a really important part of NLCF (not that the other Engage Groups aren’t important) with the potential to expand beyond just an Engage Group and become a more full-fledged ministry of NLCF to the international community at Virginia Tech. On staff, I would be in a position to spearhead this ministry.

When I shared this with my Engage Group, one of them asked how long I planned to be on staff. My co-leader took the words right out of my mouth: “Until God calls him somewhere else.” I could definitely get comfortable here, and stay for many years to come. But I could just as easily start getting restless after a couple years. My biggest hangup the whole time I was weighing this decision was my desire to go overseas. Like I said, my plan had always been to go overseas again. A piece of my heart is still on the other side of the globe, and it was really, really hard to give that up. In the end, I had to tell myself that I wasn’t. I still have plenty of time (I think) to go back someday. And someday, maybe I will.

That said, the really cool thing is that I can have an impact on the nations from right here in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech draws young people from all over the world. Dozens of countries are represented at this university. From here, I can reach out to these people from across the globe. And when their time here is done, and they go back to each of their countries, they in turn can reach people there. So even if I stay here, I can still live out that calling to the nations. That’s a really cool thought.

Two short years ago, I never would have guessed I would be making this decision. In fact, if you had told me that I would still be living in Blacksburg after I graduate, I might have just broken down crying. Or flat-out not believed you. And yet here I am. It says a lot about this church, and my Engage Group, who are my family. I thank God so much for them. And most of all, it is a testament to God and his faithfulness.

I’ve quoted it before on this blog, but Third Day’s “Mountain of God” is such a great song, and has become somewhat of a theme song for me (among a few others.) The bridge gets me every time, and comes back to me now:

Sometimes I think of where it is I’ve come from
And the things I’ve left behind
But of all I’ve had, and what I’ve possessed, nothing can quite compare
With what’s in front of me

Through the Valley

There is a bridge on the Virginia Tech campus. Actually there are a lot of bridges on campus. But one of them is a little concrete footbridge, tucked in between several dorms, spanning a driveway that leads to a couple parking lots. Nothing very significant, really. But it found significance for me my freshman year. It has haunted me ever since. (No, before you start freaking out, I never tried jumping off it or anything. Nothing drastic. Just hear me out.)

Last night, I was coming home from a friend’s house, where a bunch of us had watched a movie. I parked my car in “the cage,” the student parking lot on the far western end of campus, and started walking back to my dorm, on the eastern end of campus. I was crossing through another small parking lot near this bridge, and deep down I felt it calling to me. Like it has several times over the past year, when I’m walking across campus, alone, after dark, and I find myself nearby. Something draws me back, calling me to stand on that bridge again. To remember.

Freshman year I spent a lot of time walking around campus. Not just walking between classes and such; I spent many evenings, after dark, wandering around. There was a guy I discipled in 12th grade, who got to be a very good friend, whose family happened to come back to Virginia for a year the same time I graduated and came to Tech. We met up a few times that year, for a weekend or so, but because we had gotten so used to meeting every week for hours at a time, (not to mention all the time we spent together outside of those times) we decided to call each other every week to talk. Reception in my room was terrible, so every Saturday night, I would go outside, bundled up if it was winter, and call him. And while we talked, I would wander. Our calls consistently lasted a couple hours at a time. We would talk about how things were going, or just talk about whatever. Those phone calls may well have been the only thing that got me through that year.

Other times, when I was just feeling overwhelmed, homesick, depressed, I would drop what I was doing and go outside, bundled up if necessary, and wander around, just to get some fresh air, clear my mind, think, pray, vent, whatever.

I don’t remember when I first stumbled upon this bridge, and I don’t really know what about it drew me, but I soon found myself frequenting it, both during those phone calls and during my lone wanderings. Sometimes I would cross it and wander on elsewhere, maybe ending up at the duck pond or who knows where. Other times I would stop and just stand on it while I talked on the phone, or was lost in my own thoughts. I vividly remember standing on that bridge one night, all bundled up, watching the first snow of the winter float to the ground, caught in the light of the lamps lining the bridge, and the lights of the surrounding buildings. I remember another time, watching a raccoon dig through a garbage can next to the driveway below me.

And so this bridge has come to represent all those nights. That year, with all its emotions, is encapsulated in it. And now that I’ve found my place here, found a family here, there it stands, in stark contrast to where I am now, reminding me of where I was not all that long ago, and how far I’ve come. How far God has brought me. So you could say that just as it is a symbol of the valley I walked through, it has become a monument to God’s faithfulness through that valley. And a reminder that whatever valleys come my way in the future, his faithfulness will prevail through all of them.

The sermon today was about Joseph. The Old Testament, coat-of-many-colors Joseph. It is the second part of a series my church, [nlcf], is doing on Covenant and Kingdom. Jim talked about how God’s covenant that he established with Abram (last week’s sermon) applied to Joseph as Abraham’s descendant. As part of that covenant, God promised to walk with Abraham and his descendants through whatever came their way. And so when Joseph was sold into slavery, and then was wrongly accused and imprisoned—through thirteen years of slavery and imprisonment—God never left Joseph’s side. And while he did not orchestrate those circumstances, he used them to transform Joseph, from an arrogant, spoiled teenager to a man of God, who finally realized that he was not at the center of his own universe—God was.

What’s interesting is that I actually started this post last night, when I got back to my room after standing on that bridge for a while. I drafted the first few paragraphs before calling it a night. And now I’ve picked it up again, having just listened to that sermon.

Back in the spring, if you remember, God was talking to me a lot about surrender, abiding in Christ, and such. Now, this seems to be his focus.

It might be because, for all my good intentions in the spring, my discipline in abiding in him has been…lacking. It might be because things have been surfacing in my life that I realize still need a lot of work. It might be because of how great it felt to come back to Tech a week ago, after a summer away…and be excited about it. How awesome it was to walk into Squires for church last Sunday and see all the faces of my brothers and sisters here that I missed, to hear them saying how glad they were to have me back. And to respond, and really mean it, that it was good to be back. Most likely, it’s all those reasons combined. But whatever the reason, it seems that now he has me thinking a lot about this—the truth that he has stuck with me through thick and thin, and he will continue to. And whether it seems like it or not, he is continuing his transformative work in me. Just as Paul said: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

By the blood of Christ, we are participants in the covenant God offered to Abram all those years ago. He offers it to us. His terms of the convenant are this: no matter what we’ve done or will do, no matter what we go through, he will not walk away from us. He will walk us through it, and continue to transform us by it, until that day when we breath our last on this earth or the day Jesus comes back, and his work in us is complete. Once we accept the covenant and enter into it, whether or not we hold up our end of it fully—namely, to give him our love and worship, our lives, our everything—he will uphold his.

A parting thought. Yesterday evening, before I left for my friend’s house, I was listening to music, and a song came on—namely “Mountain of God” by Third Day. I first discovered Third Day—now one of my, if not my favorite, bands—in the summer of ’09. Fittingly, I discovered this song during our two-week family vacation that summer, among some of the tallest mountains on the face of the earth. It quickly became one of my favorites.

Thought that I was all alone
Broken and afraid
But you were there with me
Yes, you were there with me…

Even though the journey’s long
And I know the road is hard
You’re the one who’s gone before me
You will help me carry on
And after all that I’ve been through
Now I realize the truth
That I must go through the valley
To stand upon the mountain of God

This song, and the album as a whole—Wherever You Are—became a rally for me freshman year. Those songs kept me going. I still remember one night, listening to “Mountain of God,” when the bridge (no pun intended) hit me like a wall:

Sometimes I think of where it is I’ve come from
And the things I’ve left behind
But of all I’ve had and what I’ve possessed
Nothing can quite compare
With what’s in front of me

I couldn’t even imagine life here even being close to what I left behind, much less better. But it was something to cling to. It didn’t feel true, but I had to tell myself it was. And now…well, it’s not quite there yet, but it’s no longer an impossibility. I still don’t have all I had in high school—someone to pour into and disciple, a handful of close brothers I could be real with and go through life with—at least not quite to the degree I did there. But now I can be sure that God really does have greater things in store than I could imagine, here at this campus and beyond. The bittersweet side of finally feeling at home here is knowing that in a couple short years, it will be time to move on again, to say goodbye to everyone all over again, and move on to God knows what. But I know that he will continue to be faithful. He will have even better things in store for me beyond. And he will stick with me through whatever valleys I have to walk through to get there.


A pretty awesome thought hit me tonight.

There is now just over a week left of classes here at VT. After which is a week of finals, and then summer. It’s ridiculous how fast time has gone this year, and it sure ain’t slowing down now. Pretty much everyone is in the mindset of so much to do, so little time. These last days are going to fly faster than I can believe. But that’s not the thought; that’s just the context of the thought.

Tonight the thought of leaving for the summer crossed my mind. Not the thought of going to Thailand to stay with my family and intern for the summer, which has been on my mind for a while now. The thought of leaving Virginia Tech for the summer. (To clarify—that’s not the thought either. I’m getting to it.)

Now, just about this time last year, the imminence of leaving for the summer was also on my mind (for obvious reasons.) Last year, as you may know or have read, was not an easy one. I was transitioning from life overseas, at a small, Christian, international boarding school, immersed in an Asian culture, in a country that I had grown up in and considered home almost all my life, to the massive secular school of Virginia Tech, to America and American culture. I had left behind friends who were family to me, many of whom had graduated with me and were now also scattering across the globe, returning to the countries their parents were from. I was a stranger in a foreign land, isolated, and all my attempts to relate to the people around me fell flat. And in response, being the reclusive introvert that I am, I withdrew from the world around me. And as all this dragged on, I found myself drifting even away from God. Not intentionally—by no means. I was really doing everything I could to fight it, to rekindle the flame. I prayed, I cried, I struggled to keep myself afloat, and cried out to God to save me. But I found myself sinking nonetheless.

In the middle of all this, I started going to New Life Christian Fellowship—or [nlcf]—in January, because the church I had been going to discontinued their evening service, and that bus route didn’t run Sunday mornings. But [nlcf] conveniently meets on campus. (Yes, God works in mysterious ways.) For the rest of the year, I went to church there on Sundays, but that was pretty much it. I signed up for their summer program in Virginia Beach, because I knew God was telling me to go, and out of sheer desperation for God to show up.

When the end of the year came around, and as I thought about leaving for the summer, I realized that I wouldn’t even care if I never came back.

To cut a long story short, while Leadership Training, as the summer program is called, was an awesome spiritual experience for most everyone who went, I can’t say it was for me, at least at the time. God was definitely working in me over those ten weeks, but he didn’t show up in some awesome way and get my faith back on track, save from the depression, all that. But he was laying groundwork. Because when I started my sophomore year a few weeks after LT ended, suddenly he flipped the switch. And over the next six weeks, I woke up. No, I came back to life. Through those relationships that began at LT, I started to plug into [nlcf]. For the first time since graduating from high school, I found a community that I could become a part of, and I’ve thrown myself into it wholeheartedly. And it has been awesome. And through that, God fanned my faith back into flame.

And here I am again, facing the end of another year. But this time it’s different. Because the thought hit me tonight (yes, this is the thought that all this has been building up to)—I’m actually gonna miss this place over the summer. I’m gonna miss these people, who have come to mean so much to me. Especially the people who won’t be here when I come back. Of course, I’m definitely excited about going to Thailand and all, and I fully intend to enjoy every minute on non-American soil. (Yes, right about now you Americans are calling me weird. And you fellow TCKs know exactly what I’m talking about.) But for the first time, I will be anticipating the beginning of a new year at VT. I will be excited to be reunited with people here. I will feel like I’m coming home. (Well, from one home to another. Again, you TCKs know what I mean.)

This is not the first time it’s hit me that in many ways I have come to feel at home at [nlcf]. There have been several times over the course of the year that something or other has stopped me short and made me realize just that. But this is very much a milestone, because I can look back at a year ago, when I was in the same position—but this time it’s different. Because a year ago I would not have believed what I’m writing now. It’s a milestone because I can look back and see what God has done over the past year. How far he’s brought me. And it is so awesome to see.