Monday, December 23, 2013

The Best Books I've Read in 2013

I have been voraciously reading a lot of books this year; some were highly recommended, and some were barely good enough to keep me awake. I know there are many people who will come out with strong resolution to read more books next year. So, to ensure that those determination do not fizzle out in the first weeks of January, here are some excellent books which I promise will keep you entertained. 

 Sycamore Row John Grisham
Fiction: John Grisham at his another best. Somewhat a sequel to his best-selling book, "A Time to Kill", this one is as gripping and entertaining

 Stumbling on happiness
Non-Fiction: Learn how our brain processes past, present and future events, and why what we think will give us happiness usually fail us

Non-Fiction: Since I read John Wood's first book "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World", I was hooked by his passion and determination to make Room to Read, a global and life-changing non-profit organization. Inspiring. 

Christianity: Why many of our problems stem from our failure to keep Forever / eternal perspective at our sight. We don't have a financial problem, or relationship problem, we have a Forever problem 

Christianity: I heard many sermons elaborating on this passage before, but I never read a piece so moving, so warm, and so tender . This is Nouwen's reflection of Rembrandt's painting: The Return of the Prodigal Son. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nelson Mandela - The Gift of Prison

Most of us aspire to be big. We desire to leave a lasting legacy or to have our name recorded in the book of history. As we observed the life of the late Nelson Mandela and the tribute that the world gave him, we aspire to be like him.

What frequently being overlooked is, the pathway to success is not the one with the least resistance. We forgot that what augment Mandela's tribute was not his presidency nor his freedom from prison, but his 27 years of imprisonment. It was in that lonely isolated cell that he meditated and shaped his vision. It was out of adversity that his greatness was born. Suffering begets greatness. In every success, there's a price to pay, and in Mandela's case, it was not a cheap one.

Most people start strong in a marathon, but only a few finish it well. Hebrew 13 urges us to consider the outcome of the faith of those who brought us to faith. Look at a person's final outcome and then, imitate it. My fear is not many people will manage to get through the finish line, as the trials of adversity often prove to be too overwhelming to bear. Pure gold is obtained after it has been forged out of all its impurities by the blazing heat of fire. Like everybody else, we want to escape that. But unlike everybody else, Mandela went through that fiery trials, gracefully.

Do you aspire to be big? Start with yourself, and most probably that will entail trials, sleepless night, radical sacrifice, and some "imprisonment" in whatever kind of forms - maybe it's your freedom to relocate to a bigger city, maybe it's your desire for a comfortable lifestyle, maybe it's your rights for a one-week vacation. Whatever that is, greatness does not come out of a magic wand, but out of the gift of adversity.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Appalachian Mission Trip with World Vision

Philippi, WV.

That's where we went for our 4 days and 3 nights mission trip. Philippi is located in the Appalachian region and with a sparse population of 3,000 residents, we joined World Vision to help this struggling small town.

Admittedly, each of us had different expectation about the town and the community that we would be serving, and what we saw there seems to defy all of our expectations. I guess we were still struggling to reconcile the definition of poor in the US compared to what we have brought up seeing in Indonesia. The family that we were serving seems to possess things that low-income Indonesians would be considered luxury: flat TV, fully stocked refrigerator, electricity, plumbing, and comfy bed.

However, this initial shock did not last long. We had a debrief the first night and took the chance to unite and align our perspective again to the Bible. God is teaching us that He does not discriminate any of the disciples when He washed their feet, including Judas. Thus, regardless of their poverty level, we were called to serve, and serve we will.

Our main goal is to finish painting one living room. First, we started the day getting to know Rosetta and her family (this is the family that we served), and quickly started to work. Before the wall can be painted, we needed to sand and chalk the wall. So majority of our time was spent doing these, while some of us (Eva, Upik, and Maria) were assigned to repaint another room.

During the course of three days, we slowly got to know Rosetta and her family. She shared how she was raised in a church, but hardships and disasters that came later in life pushed her away from believing in God. She could not understand why a loving God would put her in an alcoholic family and allow suffering to happen in her life: bankruptcy, medical bills, and many other calamities.

Despite the disappointment, she also shared how she was touched by the kindness of World Vision and all the volunteers who had come to help her renovating her house. Teared up, she confided that she was not ready to accept Christ yet, but all these gospel-adorning activities by Christians around her definitely softening her heart.

One personal memory with Rosetta was when she invited all of us to watch her son's football match. We were more than thrilled to take part in this family event and quickly agreed to attend. We arrived at the field, her brother insisted on paying all of our tickets (such an act of generosity) and we all sat down together cheering the home team. That game was a special moment because at that point, I believe we were bonded deeper when all of us cheering and shouting together for her son. No label, no presumption, no I-am-the-volunteer, and no I-am-the-poor, just people having fun together over a game.

The last day of service, we started out with a morning devotion from John 13 about Jesus washing the disciples' feet. We meditated on Jesus' servanthood: that He loves in spite of who the disciples are (no discrimination, including Judas), in spite of what He is facing (single focus to serve although He would be crucified the next day), and in spite of who He is (King).

Then, we painted the outside of the house and by the end of the day, we finished painting two sides of it. Quite an accomplishment. For our last dinner, Rosetta and her family came to our campground. It was truly a delight to have her over, and we discovered that she was a very friendly and sociable person. We thanked God that during the course of three days, the ice had melted, the racial and demographic gap had been bridged, and a memorable friendship was built between Rosetta and us.

As I looked back over the experience, I, and I'm sure I'm speaking for the whole team, was truly blessed by this trip. First, it is true what the Bible said that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) and we experienced that first-hand. Not just the acts of service, but the satisfaction from being a blessing and to do this in the context of friendship and fellowship. Second, it humbled me: that my life is undeservedly blessed, that I complained more than I need, and I give thanks less than I should (we also had a no-complaint rule during the trip :) ). Third, God's unconditional love is far more radical than I imagined. Love views the world in opaque: no cultural, racial, socio-economic black and white and ultimately, demanding no response.

All in all, thanks to World Vision, Kris (the coordinator), and Rosetta and her family for the experience. Hopefully we can come back next year, with a different team!!

The Team, Rosetta (in pink), her husband and children, and Kris (in orange) from World Vision