Monday, August 31, 2009

Makati United Methodist Church

I had one of the most excellent days of my life this Sunday.

I should first begin by explaining that I have the uncanny ability of finding the red light district no matter where I go. In Thailand we stayed at The Christian Missionary Guest House and it was smack dab in the middle of the Red Light District. I booked a nicer hotel (with a pool) that I found at a really good rate for my trip to Manila. It was just a few feet away from the Korean Embassy, the only place I had to be the whole time I was in Manila. Well, the street of my hotel was the red light district.

Also, anywhere I go I try and find a United Methodist church to worship with on Sunday. I asked at the front desk. They had never heard of the "Oobited Betherdust Church. Only Catholic." So, I went on-line. I found the address of a United Methodist church in Makati. I asked the girl working at the counter (a different girl than before) how to get to the address. She immediately recognized the address and the church and began to explain to me how to get there. This is the actual conversation:

Her: “Do you know where the bar Ringside is?”
Me: Is that the one where “ladies” box every night and they have midget fight Monday?
Her: Yes. And then next to that is High Heels, it’s the third and fourth gender strip club.
Me: Ok.
Her: And then down the street is a Korean butcher.
Me: Yes, I saw the sign for that.
Her: Good, the church is right in between the strip joint and the butchers.
Me: Good. Thank You.

Thus began my adventure at Makati UMC. I showed up around 10. I didn’t actually know when the service began, but I figured 10 was a safe bet. I arrived, noticeably late, and was directed to a pew. It was Mission and Evangelism Sunday. The District Superintendent was preaching.

Ta-golog is the native language in the Philippines. But, everyone speaks English perfectly well. People just swap back and forth from one to the other – using whichever brings more clarity to the situation. So, the DS used a little bit more English to accommodate me. It was pleasant. He preached a sermon I’m all too familiar with. Going to the ends of the earth is kind of my forte.

They had me stand up and recognized me as a visitor, which felt awkward, because – I mean – who didn’t know that I was a visitor? The average height in the Philippines is 5’1”, so I’m like Big Bird to these people.

At the end of the service we sang two songs. Here Am I was predictably powerful. Go Now in Peace (the song I sang at my sister’s wedding) was a real shock to hear. I was so surprised to hear one of my favorite songs being sung thousands of miles away from home.

After the service everyone was very cordial. After I met the pastors and the lay leaders I almost left. Almost. But, I wanted to look at the youth group’s bulletin board. In the Philippines a youth group goes to age 24, so I could still qualify! I was looking at the board when I heard a chorus of friendly hellos. The youth and young adults from the youth group had surrounded me. They held out a leaflet with a schedule and asked if I would like to join them for the days activities.

And did we ever have fun. We went to a park and played games and did Bible studies. I was very impressed by the depth of their understanding of the Christian faith. They were really challenged by their leader, 21 year old Hannah (the pastor insisted that Hannah and I get married. We are of the same age and the same mind. It was a very awkward conversation. I really felt like he might start pulling out a marriage certificate for us to sign. But, he didn’t and we’re both still happily single!) and they also really challenged back. Their names are all just terrific. Pow, Gold, Jaja, Resty, Guillermo-Patrick; just to name a few. Their faith is vibrant and bright.

They were enthralled by my call to missions and had many questions for me. Filipinos are very open and generous and they expect the same. I answered some questions that Americans would never dare to ask, and it was very liberating.

After we finished I was planning on going to the movie theatre. At $3 a ticket it’s a super cheap way to spend some time – but still prohibitively expensive for Filipino people. I felt stupid leaving my new friends to go sit by myself in a theatre. So, since I had lived within budget and still had money left over for my trip; I decided to treat my friends to a movie. Eight of us were free for a movie and we had a blast. We watched UP. After the movie they walked me to the taxi stand and we said our goodbyes. It was a perfect end to a great week.

I really fell in love with the Philippines while I was there. And, I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I think I'm a little sick. I'm having a very relaxing time in the Philippines. I went for a walk, went to the library, and read a lot today. I ate at McDonald's today (I wasn't feeling well and MickyD's is the closest I could find to comfort food. :-( -this is surely my first emoticon use ever)I had Chinese for dinner, it didn't taste like American Chinese. But, enough complaining.

I really love it here. I think that if I was in a smaller town in the Philippines I would be super happy here. I'm such a small town kid!

I miss everyone back in the states and can't wait to get back to Korea and start the new quarter.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Love from the Philippines.

I pretty much love the Philippines. I arrived early in the morning on Wednesday. I had to be at the Korean Embassy at 9, so I didn't want to go to a motel, spend a lot of money, sleep for a few hours, and wake up groggy (or oversleep and miss my chance at a visa) so I decided to stay up all night. I know, I'm such a college kid.

I met another English teacher in Korea and we stayed up all night at a McDonald's. It was fun. The Korean Embassy was a hot mess. Considering that we are in an English speaking country, one would assume that the workers in the embassy here would speak English well. One would assume wrong.

I checked into my hotel around 11. My hotel was once a very posh 5 star, not it's a little bit sad and seems kind of spooky. But, it's cheap and it has a pool. So, I'm thrilled. I ate lunch at a Filipino chain restaurant and went to bed. I woke up the next morning (18 hours later!) at 6. I watched TV, in English, and then headed out for the day.

My perfect vacation is: unplanned, cheap, educational, a good value, and ritzy. You would think these are non-compatible, but I make it work. I went to a museum which featured a comprehensive history of the Philippines, it's artists, and an entire vault of all the gold found throughout their history. It was very cool and only $6 for about 3 hours of musuemery. I ate lunch at a very upscale restaurant. I ate a 3 course meal for under $10. I attended Catholic mass at a beautiful dome-shaped cathedral in the middle of a lake in the middle of a park. I was nervous about refusing the wine (it is my understanding that non-Catholics may take the bread but not the wine) but they didn't use wine because of the swine flu!)

I watched a movie for $4. I went to a huge bookstore and bought 3 books for $12 (English language books in Korea start at $10 and go up. There are usually 5 different books on sale in English.) I sat in a comfy chair and read an entire book instead of purchasing it. It felt great. I ate ice cream mixed with a Filipino candy bar. I watched TV. I swam in my pool (yes, my pool). It has started to rain since I got back to my hotel. After the rain I will go to the Filipino chain restaurant and eat dinner.

Jollybee's is the McDonald's of my parent's childhood. I've heard them tell stories about it. You can buy a hamburger, a non-obesity-enducing portion of fries, and a cold glass of cola for a dollar. I figured I would buy more to fill me up after I had finished my first serving, but I was surprisingly full. Go figure. Maybe we don't need ginormous servings of food.

I love the English here. It's definitely English, and very understandable, but they write it the way we speak it. Even in newspapers it will say, "...cause I donwannabe ugly nomo..." and things like that. Very funny.

I'm having a wonderful trip and everything is in order for my visa.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bible Boy

I'm teaching one class in the Beka program. Our students are first graders, but their English skills are really advanced and it's a lot of fun to interact with them.

We're reading Aesop's Fables, so every story has a moral lesson and a Bible verse with it. The only problem is that the Bible Verses are in King James Version English. Sometimes it takes me 2 or 3 reads to understand what the verse is supposed to say. So I keep an easier translation Bible on the desk and we find the book, chapter, and verse.

I learned in my CE course to always have the physical Bible in your hands when you are quoting scripture, even if you have it memorized, so that the children know where your words come from. It's also been a really great experience teaching how to find things in the Bible. The think "God Eats Pop Corn" (Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians) is really funny - but they remember it and can find any of those four books faster than most Americans their age.

One of our students, Thomas, is from a Buddhist background. It makes me really happy that he has taken a special liking to finding the verses in the Bible. Sometimes they fight over who gets to look up the verse; a little lesson in missing the point, which always makes me chuckle.

Thomas proudly declared, "I'm Bible Boy" after he found a passage in Ephesians (Eats). Yes, Thomas, you are. And I hope you always will be.


I wanted to share a little about my new job at the kindergarten. I love it.

The kindergarten is on the grounds of the church. It's a two-story building with a large fellowship hall and kitchen on the ground floor and a chapel upstairs. Each floor has 3-5 classrooms full of kids. The kids are ridiculously cute.

I start off my day at 9AM getting ready. The bus comes at 9:30 to pick me up. My schedule is different every day of the week. Different classes, different subjects, different times. It's super confusing, but it makes the time go by much quicker than doing the same thing every day!

Basically the Korean teachers just want us to interact with the kids and to let the kids hear English spoken with an American accent. Some of the kids are really smart and will speak English really well some day. The four year old class knows all the countries by their flags! Isn't the just crazy? Four year olds!

I eat lunch at the kindergarten every day. I simply cannot eat enough to make everyone happy. I get so full so quickly on rice that I never manage to finish my whole bowl. The food is always really good, and it's been great to try a variety of Korean foods. I've been in such a rut of eating the same 3 things every week.

The pictures here aren't mine, they were taken by Molly Lowther. I haven't brought my camera to the kindergarten.

I'm going to the Phillipines next Tuesday for 5 days. It's a visa trip, but I will definetly do a little exploring. Hopefully I can find a United Methodist church to worship with on Sunday morning and Wednesday night while I'm there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thank You

I would like to thank all of my supporters.

I have a wonderful network of loving individuals who encourage, support, and build into me. I greatly appreciate all that they do for me and will be forever indebted to them.

When things are trying and difficult I am especially grateful for those who come along beside me in prayer and in the sharing of wisdom.

Thank You, Love, Michael.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Independence Day

Friday morning the photos went up. The train station occasionally has photos on display; an odd little display of Asan City related events. Pictures of the natural spas, the former president who hails from our little city, and other paraphernalia that surrounds small town culture around the world finds a place in the hallway of the train station.

Friday's photos were different. A black and white well aged photo of a very sad older woman graced the end of the hallway. Then there were the four emaciated teenage boys. The picture of the two criminals being taken away in chains with wooden buckets over their heads so the townspeople couldn't identify them. The one of the convicts on trial before a royal Japanese court. A hanging head, the body severed, hung on display to warn others of the cost of rebellion. The naked young women forced into prostitution by the ruling colonizers. The piles of dead young men, who had fought for freedom moments before this picture was taken. These were the snapshots chosen to celebrate the Korean Independence day, which was Saturday. The photos were taken down by Saturday evening.

No parades graced the streets; fireworks noticeably absent. Only sad memories and grateful appreciation for the right of self governance. Only a few waving flags and this small photo display to mark the day of Independence. Only a day, a Saturday, no school holiday this year to mark the event. Only a few photos of the brave to celebrate.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I had a great visit to Seoul today. After a 2 hour metro ride I met up with some friends from back home we are also teaching in South Korea.

I didn't make it to the Kimchi museum, but I explored some new parts of the city. We ate free samples at a huge grocery story for lunch (and paid for a pizze) and we ate dinner at a really fun trendy restaurant. I had Thai food. I love all Thai food. I think I should be there and not here!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I'm sorry for blogging less than usual. This has been a difficult week. The other new missionary left this week. Our schedules were flipped around for the final 3 weeks of classes this quarter.

Last week I was teaching 9 - 14 year olds. This week I'm teaching 4 - 12 year olds. It's a pretty radical shift.

I will fly to the Phillipines near the end of the month to secure my proper visa. I'm thrilled to get a chance to travel to the Phillipines. The United Methodist church there is very strong.

This morning I gave a speaking test to first grade students who speak English very well. The test revolved around healthy eating and living. Each student managed to work Kimchi and Rice into every answer. "What do you eat for breakfast?" "Kimchi and rice." "What is a 'balanced diet'?" "Kimchi and rice."

It was super cute, and I honestly believe they really do eat Kimchi and rice with every meal. I also found out that they make training-chopsticks for little kids. They are chopsticks with small finger straps to teach the kids proper finger placement.

I'll try and update more regularly. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It's been a difficult week. One of our teachers is leaving. She came to Korea the same time I did and we are close friends.

While our teaching schedule isn't difficult and the culture is loving and accepting (we once got stuck in a town about 30 miles away after the public transportation had shut down and a Korean family saw us in our situation and offered to drive us home ... 60 miles round trip!)there are certain difficulties.

Our students have a lot of school related stress. Parents put a huge emphasis on grades and academic performance, but our kids are still kids - they would rather be outside running around and having fun. They feel pulled in many directions and often come to class tired, unhappy, or worse.

Our school is new and doesn't quite have its act together. There is always a sense of deep confusion regarding teaching policy, visa issues, and power structure.

We didn't recieve any training before we started teaching, but we got yelled at by korean teachers every time we made a mistake. After 2 months and a trip to Thailand to obtain my English teacher's visa, I'm still on a tourist visa. Although I have all of my paperwork in, the school can't seem to get it's act together and I will have to travel overseas again in a few months for another visa trip*. The Pastor is the director of the school, but beyond that we have no idea who holds what positions. Different people yell at us for different things, but we never know if they are actually our superior or not.

Add into that some very serious internal issues with the foreign staff and you have the recipe for some stressful weeks. I'm very sad to see my friend leave, but can't wait to see what God has next for her life.

Please continue to keep all of the foreign staff in your prayers. Love, Michael.

* I'm not complaining about traveling to different countries. I take full advantage of every opportunity God gives me to see new and interesting places. I plan on visiting General Board of Global Ministries missionaries in Mongolia in October if that plan can be pulled off. Nonetheless, having the proper visa would be best for everyone.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I'm back in Korea. School's back in session, but a lot of parents have vacation time this week and only half the kids were at school on Monday and Tuesday.

It's been a crazy week. I had to take another teacher's classes for 2 days, which was a lot of fun. It's always a crazy experience calling role for kids you don't know. The names here are all fairly similar and I can't quite pronounce the sounds yet. So it was a confusing day.

We finish up the lesson books for this quarter at the end of this week and next and begin reading stories with the kids. I will find out on Monday what stories we will be reading.