14 May, 2011

The Faith Entry: Wherever I Travel, There's God 1995-2004

The very first time I left the United States was in 1997 for a summertime ministry program sponsored by The Salvation Army. The program was called Summer Service Corps, and they sent teams of college age to young adults to various locations on the Army's behalf. I was lucky enough to have been part of a joint program collaboration between The Salvation Army San Francisco Asian American Corps and the Service Corps in sending a Service Corps team to the transitioning Hong Kong and Mainland China. In July 1, 1997 Britain ceremoniously ceded Hong Kong back to the People's Republic of China. That trip to Hong Kong was one of those great lessons on writing and manifesting goals.

While taking a personal development and business course in 1994, I written a goal that I would be visiting Hong Kong before July 1, 1997. At the time I wrote it, I felt it was far fetched because at that point, I traveled no further South of the San Francisco Bay Area beyond San Diego, West of the Bay Area beyond Hawaii, East of the Bay beyond Denver, and North of the Bay beyond Vancouver. I had never traveled anywhere to a location that required a passport back in '94. On top of that, I had dropped out of college and lost my job at the bank. From a financial standpoint it seemed impossible to get a plane ticket. (My logic then was three years times my then annual salary of $1200=impossible) When I was cleaning out my Oakland home in 2005, I found the workbook where I wrote the goal down. It blew me away to say the least. The written goal.

"To be in Hong Kong before the date of July 1, 1997"

What made this particular Service Corps unique was the fact that the 8 members of the team including myself were all from The San Francisco Asian American Corps. Normally each team had a random group of members from various corps scattered throughout the Western Territory region. Our team members were handpicked for this particular project. We arrived in Hong Kong on June 14, 1997. I also remembered the day I stepped foot on China soil. It was July 4, 1997 and I felt an awkwardness because it was merely just another day for the people in China. There was no such thing as Independence Day for them. Throughout the entire trip from Hong Kong to China, we practically ate, breathe, drank, slept, and even sh*t Salvation Army. The purpose of Service Corps was to give the young adult members of The Salvation Army to perform a brief summertime missionary work on God's behalf. It was a way for them to recruit new Corps Officers (full-time pastoral positions) for those on the verge of starting new careers and new families. Therefore not a moment passed where we didn't deal directly with someone from the organization. And because the organization was supposedly an "evangelical" organization, the expectation to pray, read the Bible, be of service, and evangelize was at an all time high. Couple this with the public perception of The Salvation Army and there were a lot of expectations that were difficult in living up to. I recall that during that entire summer, there was a prayer meeting on a daily basis in addition to the "Holiness Meetings." ("Holiness Meetings" were simply the worship service held on Sundays by the Salvation Army; a lot of terminology based on the Old Testament military structure was utilized there) Even during prep time prior to the trip, our corps officer Captain Don (Was Lieutenant on my earlier blog, got promoted) would often warn our team: "I have good news and bad news about your upcoming trip to Hong Kong and China. First the good news, God will be with you. Now the bad news: so is Satan."

Ironically because of the rigidity, I personally felt the least connected to God during that entire time. Prior to taking that trip, I had my own personal way of being in communication with God. When I was placed in a living situation with 7 other "experienced" Christians especially in a foreign country, there breeds a lot of second guessing and questioning on right or wrongness. I was told that setting aside time in the evening was "all wrong" and the best time was in the morning. I was told that my journaling letters to God wouldn't be acknowledged or heard because I wasn't "in prayer mode." During that trip I felt that I was having a crash course in learning an additional language and I'm not referring to the Chinese language spoken there: Christianese with a Salvationist dialect. When we visited the Chinese Government sanctioned churches, I felt a little more freedom because of how different the congregants behaved. Because of the fact that they behaved differently, I felt more "at home." Compare that to the first service we attended in Hong Kong. We were required to wear the Army issued uniforms, and I left my currency in my other clothing. Because we were "guests" visiting from the U.S. we were under a little scrutiny. So when the offering bag passed by me and I was unable to place anything in there, I could hear the murmurs and the person who was passing the bag around burned a glare at me for the remainder of the service. If fact, I don't even recall an offering basket being passed around during service in China.

That was my first trip outside of the U.S.

When I became more committed to my spiritual life back in 1995, planning trips away from home consisted of answering the question, "where are we going this Sunday?" Any Salvation Army sponsored event that took place away from home meant we were visiting the hosting local corps. Otherwise from 1996-2002 my visits to the Los Angeles area meant that my church visits would take place at Evergreen in Rosemead. The reason being that coming from a church that consisted of 90% people of Asian descent, it was logical to visit like churches. Evergreen was originally a Nisei church that evolved into a "seekers friendly church" reaching out to the younger Americanized generation.

I didn't really travel anywhere outside of the Bay Area other than L.A. from 1998-2004.

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