Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Last Night in East Asia

Unfortunately, tonight is our last night in East Asia and this will be my last post from the far East. We have had a busy two days but I do not have time to write a long summary, so I will give you the highlights.

Yesterday morning we went to the class of a new friend who is an English teacher. We spoke to her freshman level students and were treated like celebrities. It was fun but I wouldn't want to do it all the time.

We went walking in S&J's old neighborhood after our English class and had fun on the streets.

After that, we had dinner with some coworkers of S&J's at a hotpot restaurant. It was an amazing meal and we enjoyed some great fellowship and food.

Last night we went to the coffee shop where S&J work and met Stephen and our friend Annie Tracy. We didn't really get to talk about good things too much, but we encouraged them to read the book and will hopefully continue to communicate via email. There are other believers who know them who can begin sharing with them as well, so they are in good hands.

Today, Laurel and I ate some noodles for breakfast that are famous here in this city. They were not that good, but now we can say that we have eaten them.

After breakfast, Laurel and I went shopping at dirty alley and took pictures of the neighborhood. Then, we got ready for the day and went to a famous landmark in the city. It cost 50RMB though so we decided not to go into the park. Instead, we took a ferry across the famous river that goes through the city. It was a neat experience.

After the ferry ride we went to a walking street and then took a VERY crowded bus back across the river to eat dinner.

Now, I am getting ready for bed on our last night in WH. We fly out tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:15pm Asia time, which is 11:15PM (Tuesday night) in Louisville. We are due to arrive back in Louisville at 9:21pm Wednesday night. I am really not looking forward to the flight, but it will be good to see our friends from Louisville that we have missed. Nevertheless, we will really miss East Asia like never before. I am not sure why, but the Father has given us a love for this country that we can't explain.

I have much more to say, and more stories to tell. But, those will have to wait until we get home. The Father has been working on my heart, and I feel that overall, this trip has been spiritually encouraging. I can't wait to begin posting pictures so you can see the places and people that I have been blogging about. I also have some pretty rad video as well.

Thank you to those who have kept up with us while we have been gone. I hope that you have been encouraged by this blog and by what the Father is doing in East Asia. Thank you most of all to those who have prayed for us. Please continue to pray for us as we travel home. Our hearts will be heavy, as we leave East Asia and our family.

Thanks again for "Porchin' It" East Asia style.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Update am I on?

Last night we watched the original Back to the Future movie with S&J. I was so tired that I slept through about half of the movie. Laurel and I both slept really well last night without the aid of any sleeping pills. I think we are finally getting over jet lag, which is a blessing.

This morning I went a different way on my walk. I went past an important university in this city and found a little restaurant down the street. I ate bao zi this morning instead of jiao zi (dumplings). Bao zi are meat filled steamed buns. They can be large or quite small and the ones I ate were on the small side. I got ten of them for 2RMB, which is about 33 cents. They were OK but can't compare to dumplings.

I drank my second bottle of hong cha (red tea) on the way home. I also began drinking the jasmine tea I bought yesterday with Stephen. It has a great flavor that will forever remind me of my days in East Asia.

The temperature today was really cold. Actually, the temp isn't all that cold compared to the States, but there is just a difference. I think that on the whole, East Asia seems much colder in the winter than America for several reasons.

First, here in East Asia, people spend more time outside than in the States. People walk a lot more and it takes longer to get places since most people don't have cars. Second, even when people are inside, the heat isn't as warm as it is in the States. Most of the shops I have been in don't have heat and people just wear their jackets and coats inside. Third, even when people are traveling from place to place, most taxis and buses don't use heat. Taking all of these factors into account, it just seems colder here.

This morning, we met with the team for some worship, time in the Word, and prayer. It was a good time of fellowship as we discussed 2 Peter chapter 3.

As good as it was, I couldn't help but miss Third Avenue Baptist Church back in Louisville. If there is one bad thing about traveling, it is that we miss our church and fellow members back home. I have said it before and I will say it until I die, Third Avenue has been the BIGGEST blessing during our time in Louisville. When we are gone, we realize how much our church means to us. We prayed for our church this morning, and will continue to do so as they meet on this Lord's Day.

At the same time, gathering with the team here was special and now I think that we will remember them even more in our prayers when we return home.

After we gathered, we had an awesome lunch with the team. It continues to be wonderful to get to know the people S&J work with here.

Following Lunch, Laurel and I went to the giant walking street I mentioned yesterday. We planned to spent a couple of hours looking around, but we got side tracked trying to take some goofy pictures in one of those little photo booths. It was WAY more complicated than we thought and took WAY longer than we planned. Nevertheless, it was fun and now we have some new pictures to remember our time here.

Tomorrow will be a big day for us as we will meet with several people. In the morning, we are meeting Annie Tracy to meet some of her students (she is a teacher) and have lunch. Pray for opportunities to share the news as we visit with them. In the evening, we are going to the coffee shop to visit with people and hopefully meet Stephen. Again, please pray that the Father would provide the opportunity to share the news.

Again, thank you for your prayers. The Lord continues to bless our time here. It is hard to believe that we only have 2 days left. We fly out on Wednesday at noon. In the mean time, look for another update soon. By the way, if you have any specific questions about our trip, or want me to give more information about anything, just leave a comment or shoot me an email. There will be many pictures coming when we get home. While you wait, please enjoy this photo of Laurel taken during her CCTV 9 days when she visited the Northeast.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

East Asia Update #4

Last night we had a Christmas party with some Chinese brothers and sisters. We ate some pizza, played some games and had a great time of sharing what the Father has done over the past year. It was humbling to be in the same room with people who are walking with the Father through various trials and sufferings.

One young lady told us about how when she became a sister, all of her roommates treated her very badly and stopped talking to her. In this culture, that can be a very painful thing, as relationships are very important and harmony among friends if valued. Nevertheless, she kept taking them before the Father, and now she is reading the Book with several of them. Several of the sisters shared their testimonies and it was encouraging to hear how they are growing in their faith.

I woke up early again this morning and had breakfast at my usual restaurant where I eat dumplings each day. Now the dumpling lady doesn't even ask me what I want, she automatically knows and gets the dumplings ready when she sees me. Speaking of that, I began thinking today about the amazing bargain I am getting on my breakfast.

For example, each day I eat 20 dumplings for breakfast. Some people lose weight when they come to Asia, but unfortunately, I think I am gaining several pounds. I am fatter than ever so now I can fit more dumplings in my belly than any other time I have been here. OK, that was free. Anyway, I get 20 dumplings for 5 RMB, which is about the equivalent to 0.80 cents. In America, dumplings in a Chinese restaurant usually cost 5-6 dollars for 5-6 dumplings. As I was eating this morning, I began doing the math and was amazed at the deal I am getting. What I am eating for 0.80 cents would cost around 20 dollars in the U.S. I suppose that is why I feel like I need to bloat myself on dumplings everyday. I won't have this luxury back home. I wonder if I talk about food too much?

After breakfast, Laurel and I went to meet Stephen to buy tea. We had a nice taxi ride around a beautiful lake, and through some older sections of the city that had very Chinese architecture. We had a good visit on the way about what the Lord has been teaching us this week. Both of us feel that it has been a spiritually encouraging trip.

Next, we met Stephen and took another taxi to a tea market with several tea shops. Anyone that knows me knows that I love tea so this was an exciting place for me. After looking in every shop, we decided to buy some tea from a merchant that Stephen's uncle knows.

After finding his shop, he led us to a back room and we all sat down. He then proceeded to pour us some tea and we made small talk for a few minutes while enjoying some fresh jasmine tea. It was a neat experience because he seemed to know a great deal about tea and he gave us samples of each tea he told us about. We were in the shop for over an hour drinking and discussing tea. In the end, we bought 3 kinds of tea that we will take back to Louisville with us. So, if you are in the Ville and you want to try some of our new tea, just give me a call and you can come over for a sample.

Unfortunately, since we spent so long buying the tea, we didn't get to talk to Stephen about the good news. Nevertheless, we hope to see him at the coffee shop early next week and if it is the Father's will, we will visit with him then. Even though we didn't get to share, it was nice spending time with him. He helped us a great deal with our tea purchase.

Next, S&J took us to an area of town where there are street food vendors to eat lunch. It was fun because the street was so crowded and there were so many kinds of street foods to eat. After lunch, we went to some Christian book stores to look at books. It was a long afternoon of walking and shopping so we are all tired this evening.

Yesterday, I walked to the world's longest/largest walking street. I have never seen anything like it. I think that I could spend 12 hours there and not make it to every shop. It was amazing. To get there, I had to walk down a filthy alley with many makeshift shops selling everything from clothes to rocking chairs. It was really dirty and there was even a section with rivers of raw sewage flowing down the street.

The reason I mention this is that there are thousands of people who work and live in this area. For the most part, they are very poor and live unbelievably difficult lives. As I was walking, I was saddened by the fact that many of these people have probably never even heard the name Jesus. There are thousands of foreigners who come to East Asia to spend their lives sharing the good news with people who might otherwise not hear. However, the vast majority of foreigners concentrate on reaching students, business men, and other people of influence in this society. Very few foreigners, if any, would be willing to plant themselves in such a poor, dirty area to share with the lowest class in this society. I was saddened as I prayed for these people because they are not a group that is targeted for sharing the news.

Actually, as I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that foreigners are probably not the best people to share good news with the "alley people." Foreigners would not fit in if they lived in an area like the alley. The would stick out and draw too much attention to themselves. As I walked among the people, everyone looked at me and probably wondered what in the world I was doing there. On the other hand, other Chinese people were there buying things and walking and no one paid any attention to them.

As I was walking and praying, I came to realize again just how important discipleship is in the ministry here. As Chinese people begin a relationship with the Father, it is crucial to teach them how to share the good news and pray that the Father would give them a burden for people who have little access to the truth. I think that it is the Chinese who, for the most part, must reach other limited access Chinese people, like the ones in the alley.

There are SO many people in this land who have NO access to the good news other than a personal conversation about the truth. Even though there are many workers in this country, the need is as great as ever. The gap between the poor and the rich is becoming greater and greater, so the workers here must remember to teach new believers why and how to share the good news. Churches must reach out not only to people they are comfortable with, but also people who are the hardest to reach.

Please continue to pray for Laurel and I as we are here. Maybe we could even encourage some of the brothers and sisters here to take a walk down that alley and pray and look for opportunities to share. Pray for this country because so many people will NEVER EVER have the opportunity to hear the good news. Millions of people have no means by which to hear the truth. Anyone who can casually pass over the "man on the island scenario" has probably never been outside of the United States. It is hard to think about what will happen to so many people who have never heard. How will they hear, unless some of us go?

Friday, December 26, 2008

East Asia Update #3

Yesterday was a great day. After I left the internet bar, I bought some red tea at a little shop. As I left, I said, "Merry Christmas" to the lady working there. As I walked out the door, I stopped and went back in and asked her if she knew why we have Christmas. She didn't know so I told her that it is someones birthday that is very important. I asked if she knew who and she didn't. I was able to tell her that it is JC's birthday and that he was the Father's one and only son. Then, I handed her a little book explaining the good news. I can only ask the Father to help her understand the good news. There are so many opportunities like this here in East Asia.

We had a good Christmas day with S&J and had pancakes for breakfast and opened some presents. We gave them an ESV Study Bible that we hope will help them in their own spiritual life as well as help them prepare lessons for their work here. It was nice to spend Christmas day with Laurel's parents.

Later in the afternoon, we went to dinner with the team here. We had some great Chinese food including some delicious dumplings. You know that it is a good day when a person can eat dumplings for breakfast and supper!

We went to another Christmas party last night. Both of us were able to meet people that we made appointments to meet with later. That was my prayer and goal and the Father was faithful.

Laurel and I met with Annie Tracy this afternoon and were able to share the whole good news with her. She did not believe, but she agreed to read the good book. We will give her contact information to a member of S&J's team. It is a sad reality that so many people here do not even believe that the Father exists. She really doesn't believe that He exists. Please join us in praying that as she reads the Word, that the Spirit would give life to her dead heart.

We are having a party with all brothers and sisters tonight. It will be fun getting to know some of the people that S&J have been telling us about.

Tomorrow, Laurel and I will be meeting Stephen. We will be praying for an opportunity to share the news with him too. His grandparents are both believers, so that should give us a starting point. His English is pretty limited, so we will need to use a lot of Chinese to share the news and explain things. Please pray for this meeting. He is going to help me buy some tea, and then Lord willing, we will find a place to chat. Pray that the Spirit would go ahead of us and be preparing his heart to hear the news.

Things continue to go well here. It is a blessing to be here, even if our time is really limited. I hope that everyone had a merry Christmas. Thank all of you so much for your prayers. I will update again as soon as I can.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from East Asia

It is 6:44am and I am sitting in an internet bar on a dark walking street here in WH. It is a large room filled with hundreds of computers and probably 50 Chinese people. Since it is so early, most of them have been here for most of the night. Most of them are smoking and playing internet games or watching movies. TIC (This is China) baby!

I have been awake since about 2:00am. I have tried to do everything right to counter jet lag but it seems to have caught up with me. I have not napped at all and have gone to bed after 10 each night. The first two nights I slept well, but it must have been the sleeping pills that helped and not my strategies for fighting jet lag. I will try to stay awake all day today so hopefully I can sleep well tonight.

Today is Christmas day here. We have a somewhat low key day including time at home, an early dinner with Sam and Joan's (S&J) team, and a Christmas party at the coffee shop where S&J work. If you have a minute, I would like to tell you about yesterday.

What we did Yesterday
I started the day off early with Laurel on a hunt for dumplings (Jiao Zi). Dumplings are my favorite Chinese food and I woke up at 3:00am with a hankering for some dumplings for breakfast. We went to the same street where I found the steamed buns the first morning and we hit the jackpot. We found a crowded, dirty, smokey restaurant that served just what we were looking for, steamed pork dumplings.

After breakfast we went walking down this very "Chinese" street and enjoyed seeing all kinds of strange foods and mingling with common people. Again, I have been blessed with more of a desire to pray for this city and the people here so walking and praying is something I have been doing quite a bit of. It is especially wonderful to have Laurel here with me. This is the first time we have been back to the land we love as a married couple. It is such a blessing to experience the sights, sounds, and people of this place with my best friend and partner in ministry.

After breakfast and our walk, we went with S&J to visit their tutor. This was an amazing experience that reminded me of everything I love about China. Their tutor is an old man in his 70's that has been teaching foreigners for many years. He seems to be an expert in Chinese culture and we quickly found out that he is a master storyteller. We spoke to him for about 45 minutes in Chinese and listened as he told us about the history of WH's most famous landmarks. We sat in his freezing apartment and were humbled by the kindness and patience of this wonderful man. Please pray for his salvation. His name is teacher Zhou.

After visiting with the tutor, we went to a restaurant frequented by S&J for a lunch with several of their American friends and their team. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, and other great foods. It was fun meeting everyone they work with. Moreover, the food was great.

After lunch, we went back to S&J's apartment for a Christmas party with the team. They lead 4 college graduates who are here for a year or 2. They all teach English and live on campuses. We had a good time together.

After the party, we went back to the coffee shop for a big Christmas party/program. It was awesome being around 100 or so Chinese students who are studying English and want to practice with native speakers. During the party, we talked about several Christmas traditions, had some games, sang some songs, and read the Christmas story. There is another similar party tonight so we are excited to go back.

My Heart
I must confess that so far being here has been a blessing. There are several things that the Lord seems to be doing in my life.

  1. I have been praying more than I have in a long time. I am not sure why, but I have had more of a desire to pray and intercede for many things. When I couldn't sleep last night, instead of getting up to watch TV like I would normally do when I have trouble sleeping, I prayed. I prayed for whatever came to mind. It was great just to speak to the Lord about whatever was on my heart. If you are reading this and are a member of 3ABC, please know that you and our church were especially prayed for. I miss all of you and hope you have a merry Christmas.
  2. For some reason, I have been uniquely sensitive to sin in my life. I am not talking about a few of the big sins I struggle with, but just the sinfulness of my whole heart. Much of the praying I have been doing is confessing and asking forgiveness for sin in my life. I am not sure why the Lord is making me aware of this now, and in this place, but I am humbled by my sin, and in the awesome grace of our Father.
  3. I have a strong desire to share the good news with people I meet. Last night I was very burdened for the good news and I spent a lot of time asking for boldness and opportunities to share. I prayed for my wife as well, that the Father would put someone in her path to share the Truth with. If you would join us in asking for these things, I would appreciate it.

Well, I guess that is about all for today. I am sorry I couldn't write last night. I hope that all of you have a great Christmas. Please remember to pray for East Asia today. There will be thousands of evangelistic Christmas parties all over the country today. Please pray that the Father would lead many people to Himself. I will write again as soon as I get a chance.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to hit the streets again in search of some dumplings to eat, and some people to share the true meaning of Christmas with. Sheng Dan Kuai Le!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

East Asia Update #1

Laurel and I made it safely to East Asia last night. For those of you who don't know, we are spending Christmas with Laurel's parents, who live in a city of over 10 million people in East Asia. I hope to update my blog daily to give my friends and family back home an idea of how we are spending our time.

Our flight over was uneventful but really long. We flew from Louisville to Atlanta and then from Atlanta directly to East Asia. The trip from America to East Asia was almost 16 hours! The trip was made easier by lots of movie and television selections. I always plan to do lots of reading on the plane, but always end up watching movies and TV instead.

When we landed in East Asia, we had to hurry to another terminal to catch our flight to Sam and Joan's city. The last leg of the trip was the hardest. We had been traveling for almost 24 hours and both of us only had about 5 hours of sleep during the last 48 hour period. We took a few short naps on the last leg and were so tired that both of us started dreaming the minute we closed our eyes. We were desperately trying to stay awake to help fight jet lag.

We arrived in WH a little after 7 and after an hour taxi ride, we made it to Sam and Joan's apartment. It is really nice and we had a comfortable bed waiting for us. We went to bed a little before 11pm and both of us slept really well.

I woke up about 6am this morning and after getting ready, I headed to the streets. I love waking up early in new places and walking around to see what there is to see. When I left, my main goal was to find some bao zi. Bao zi are steamed buns with various meat or vegetables inside. It is a pretty typical Chinese breakfast and that is exactly what I was looking for. After walking several blocks and asking several street vendors, I finally found some good bao zi. I bought 6 total, 3 for me, which I ate on the way home, and 3 for Laurel.

So far, I am pretty timid speaking Chinese. Since I have been back in the States for so long, I have forgotten probably 80% of the Chinese I knew, so it is more difficult to get things done. Nevertheless, it feels great to be back and I love getting off of the main streets and into the back alleys where no one speaks English and I am forced to communicate in Chinese. There is just something about this place that warms my heart.

As much as I am enjoying being back, I am struck with the overwhelming sense of the lostness of this country. Since all of my Chinese friends in Louisville are highly educated and successful, I have forgotten how difficult everyday life is here for most people. My heart aches when I consider the hopelessness of most people here. So, as I walked this morning, I prayed for this city because there are few opportunities for the everyday people to hear the good news. As always, being here has reminded me of the need for more workers to bring the truth to this land.

After breakfast, I went to the bank to exchange money. On this walk, I was reminded how helpful it is to know the language. I was able to ask the guards at our apartment where the closest bank is, then get a taxi to get there. While there, I handled my business all in Chinese and asked which bus I could take to get back. I rode the bus back to the apartment and then decided to walk some more. On this last walk, I saw both a dog and a woman get run over on the same street. The lady got tagged pretty good but she got up and was discussing the accident with the driver so I assume she was OK. Again, I was reminded of the need to share the news as often as possible because there is a really good chance that if she would have been killed, she would be spending eternity apart from the Father.

We just got back from the supermarket and are taking it easy for the rest of today. Beginning tomorrow, we will be busy all day every day with Christmas parties, meals, and tagging along with Sam and Joan as they do their thing. I will try to post a little each day to help you keep up with our East Asia adventure.

Finally, here are some tips that I have picked up for fighting jet lag. 1. From the minute I take off from America, I adjust my watch to whatever time it is in the country I am traveling to. From that point on, I try my hardest not to think about what time it is back home. 2. I try to sleep when I should be sleeping at my destination. This is sometimes hard to do, but it is worth it in the end. Therefore, since we left Louisville at 7am, I pretended that it was really 8pm. 3. 4. Another key to fighting jet lag is to eat and drink often on the plane. Sometimes the symptoms of jet lag are actually from becoming dehydrated from travel.

I'll try to write some more tomorrow. Until then, please pray for us!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Goon of the Year

Lord willing, I am quickly approaching my last semester of seminary. I am taking a class this December and then four in the spring. Baring any complications, I will graduate with a Master of Arts in Missiology degree in May. I surely won't win any awards for my academic greatness, or my astronomical GPA, but if Dr. Mohler handed out awards for goons, I would be Summa Cum Zoom.

Case in point. Today was the first day of my December class. I checked the schedule before I left to make sure I knew the correct room number. The schedule said Norton 102, so that is where I headed. There was an accident on I65 northbound so I was nervous about not getting a seat next to an outlet so I could plug my laptop in. Nevertheless, I made it to room 102 at 7:45, a good 15 minutes before class.

When I arrived, the room was empty and dark which seemed strange, so I didn't go in. I sat outside, ate a bananna that Laurel packed for me and waited until I saw the professor. About 5 minutes till 8 some guys showed up and asked if I was waiting for the Reformation class. I was like, "Naw, I'm waiting for the leadership class." One of them pulled out the syllabus from their class and sure enough it said that the Reformation class was meeting in Norton 102.

"OK, this stinks," I thought, "Now I am going to have to talk to people and try to find out where my class is." So, like a freshman on the first day of high school, I went room to room asking if the Leadership class was meeting there. Eventually, I went to every room on the hall and asked several students if they knew where the class was meeting. No luck.

I even went upstairs to see if I could find the room. The only thing up there was New Testament II (a class I wish I was taking during the winter term) and some PhD. looking group. So, as a last resort, I went to the main office of the Graham School. A girl I know was working there and I asked her if she knew where the class was meeting.

She didn't know anything about the class but another lady offered to look the information up on her computer. She found the class, and interestingly enough, the computer confirmed that the class was meeting in Norton 102. I thought, "This is going to suck if they canceled the class without telling me."

Then, she called the professor's office to ask if they knew where the class was meeting. The person on the other end said, "I didn't know that he had a class today." Now, I started to wonder what in the world was going on. The was mucho weirdo. Everyone involved was puzzled until the lady on the phone looked at her computer a little closer.

She got this strange look on her face and then said, "Wait, Dr. Armstrong's class doesn't meet until JANUARY 15th!"

Ladies and gentlemen, today I solidified my position as the biggest goon at Southern Seminary.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kirbyville must overcome Muleshoe's stubborn D to win state

Kirbyville must overcome Muleshoe's stubborn D to win state

Click on the title above to read a story about the upcoming Muleshoe game from the perspective of Kirbyville I found in the Beaumont newspaper.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mules buck Pilot Point, earn shot at state title : Lone Star Varsity

Can you believe it? The Mules are heading for the state title game!!! This article says it all! I am sure that there will be more to come.