Monday, January 18, 2016

Counting My Blessings

January is a limbo month. It falls between the craziness that is the Season of Feasting and the much anticipated two weeks off of school for Chinese New Year. It's both an end and a beginning. And often times, at least at the beginning of the month, it's a real struggle for me (I don't down-shift well). That being said, it's also a huge blessing! January gives me the time to slow down after a hectic November and December so that I can really rest up and enjoy my vacation time. Of course, just because we're not planning feasts, decorating trees, or baking cookies doesn't mean that life has stopped in January. Classes are still going on, as are most of the extra-curricular activities.

So, I thought I'd share a few of my "blessing" moments from January thus far (in no particular order)...

1. Enjoying a delicious meal with friends on Dec. 31st, and then having a rocking time at KTV with friends and co-workers after

2. Having the chance to play Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

3. Acting out "Jesus staying in Jerusalem (at age 12)" and "Jesus calming the sea" with my K1 students

4. Sharing one of my favorite 90's classics "The Three Ninjas" with one of my friends and our students

5. Having days where the sun is shining (it's been unusually rainy this January) but it's not 90 degrees F.

6. Watching "The King and I" with the girl that I tutor

7. The women at one of my favorite places to eat here offering me some dessert soup on the house, since "[They] made a big pot and didn't want to get fat it eating it all." 

8. Former students shouting greetings to me across campus

9. My bike

10. Good books

Of course, the list could go on. There are thousands of little things every day that make me smile. I praise God for all the ways He works - through the difficult things that bring me closer to Him and by providing many things to be thankful for everyday that show His unique love for me (and each and every one of us)!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas at Concordia (聖誕節在協同)

The weeks leading up to and the week of Christmas itself is always buzzing with excitement and bustling with activity. It's a time where campus comes alive! For the middle school and senior one students there's Christmas tree judging and a choral competition. It's also a time of year when many parents and alumni come (back) to campus to see the trees that the different classes have decorated. The kindergarten and elementary aged students are also usually preparing for some sort of Christmas festivities of their own that will take place during the week. And the American teachers are involved in a variety of Christmas activities both on and off campus.

So... here's a glimpse of the Christmas craziness that takes place at Concordia (and in the community) Christmas week.

K1 Strawberry class singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"
Tuesday was when the kindergartners had their Christmas, and it was the office Secret Santa. K2 and K3 went out to local nursing homes. They sang carols for the residents and acted out different parts of the Christmas story. K1, being pretty small, stayed on campus. They did go caroling to different offices (one of my K1 students, Hendrix - his class went caroling to his grandpa's office. His grandpa works at CMS), and then decorated cookies and did a craft in their classroom. In the afternoon then the teachers gathered in one of the classrooms for our office Secret Santa. This year we were given a price cap and were told to buy a gift that would work for anyone in the office (this year, there's one boy in our office, and all the other teachers are girls). We each drew a number out of a tin can, then we were allowed to pick a present based on our number. This year I was number one! After examining the presents under the tree, I pulled a promising looking one out from under the tree. Now, unlike, some Secret Santas where you open the gift right away, we did not. Although, that did not mean that someone couldn't steal your present if they wanted to. So, one by one people took presents, either from under the tree or from someone else (Vivi had the worst luck. Everyone kept stealing her present!) Each present could only be stolen twice though. Finally, at the end, everyone opened the gift that they had. Then Jo gave us each a custom cookie with our name on it.

The American teachers in their skit garb. Post skit.
Wednesday included the American teacher skit for CMS, the Love Feast, looking at the middle school and S1 Christmas trees all lit up, and caroling with O.S.F. Every year the American teachers perform a skit/play for the big all school chapel service. Although, the gym isn't actually big enough for the whole school, so the skit gets performed twice: once for J2-S3, and then for J1. Our skit this year followed two cops on a very strange night where they met partying shepherds, Wise men bearing weird gifts for a baby, and a couple sleeping in a stable with a newborn. Then I had my normal classes (kindergarten, CELA, and CE still had a normal class schedule). After classes were over, I headed to the Love Feast, which is a huge dinner that the school puts on for it's staff at Christmastime. I arrived just after the first courses had been set on the table. In the true Taiwanese way, dishes are served family style and the food is endless. After the meal, I always enjoy perusing the students trees all lit up at night (I'd be helping to judge in the morning). Then it was off to go caroling with O.S.F. before calling it a night. It all made for a long day, but it was really good!

Parable of the Lost Sheep

Cool light up cross

Tower of Babel skit
Thursday morning was Christmas tree judging, which is a BIG deal. It's a lot of fun! Each class has decorated a tree based on a particular Bible story or theme. Not only do they talk about the story, but many classes often perform a skit too. Popular stories for the J2 trees I judged (which was also fun because I got to see a lot of my former students) included: Moses Parting the Red Sea, Adam and Eve Fall Into Sin, the Tower of Babel, and Peter Pulls the Temple Tax from the Fish's Mouth. Admittedly, I was probably most excited about Moses and Peter with the temple tax, simply because I hadn't seen them before. But I always enjoy seeing how the students explain the Tower of Babel. Many of the groups had skits. One of the Moses groups actually performed Moses's whole life! And they invited the judges to cross the Red Sea with the Israelites (which was pretty fun!)! Another Moses group actually squirted water on the Egyptians to show the sea falling on them as they tried to chase the Israelites. Good stuff! For one of the Babel trees, one of the students was actually the tower. That skit was a lot of fun to watch too. :) The students did well this year. Then it was classes as usual for me, and no classes for the middle school students/teachers. In the evening, we had a Christmas Eve service at church, which was nice.

Tower of Babel (the winning tree)

Peter and the Temple Tax

The Egyptians having the sea fall upon them

Friday was the big CELA/CE Christmas Pageant in the afternoon/evening, and then there was caroling with FNBS. This year's Christmas for CELA/CE included a small scale Christmas tree decorating contest judged by their peers (each student was given a ballot. no voting for your classes tree), and then a pageant which included songs and stories. I was the host. Seeing as the students had never actually had an all school rehearsal (it was 3rd-6th grades), there were some bumps at the beginning, but it turned out alright. Then it was off to caroling, which was a lot of fun! This year we visited several of the apartment complexes that are around church and sang for them.

E6 Students sharing about Jesus being born in a stable.

Everyone reading John 3:16 together.

Caroling with FNBS (Picture courtesy of Graham)

Singing "Silent Night" together to close the evening (Picture courtesy of Graham)

It was a busy week, but it was certainly a blessed week! :)

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:1-5

太 初 有 道 , 道 與 神 同 在 , 道 就 是 神 。這 道 太 初 與 神 同 在 。萬 物 是 藉 著 他 造 的 ; 凡 被 造 的 , 沒 有 一 樣 不 是 藉 著 他 造 的 。生 命 在 他 裡 頭 , 這 生 命 就 是 人 的 光 。光 照 在 黑 暗 裡 , 黑 暗 卻 不 接 受 光 。約 翰 福 音 1:1-5

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!

December is one of those simultaneously crazy beyond belief but totally worth it months of the year. Because of being an American missionary teacher at a Christian school, it's probably the hands down the busiest month of the year. Although Christmas isn't a holiday in Taiwan (I will be working, actually longer hours than usual, on Dec. 25th this year), the school makes a very big deal out of it - both as a way to share American culture but even more importantly as a means of sharing why Christians celebrate Christmas to being with. The point of Christmas is to remember and celebrate Jesus coming to earth, the greatest gift of all, to save us!

In O.S.F. we basically spend the whole month of December either talking about or preparing in some way for Christmas. This year, O.S.F. met four times in December, and that gave us a chance to cover a lot of ground.

Week one was spent discussing Christmas traditions. Barb led, and she turned it into a trivia contest of sorts. It was boys against girls (few rivalries are greater in the middle/high school realms it appears no matter where in the world you live). Questions covered a gamut of Christmas-y things from traditional Christmas song's origins to how the holiday was started. The kids had a lot of fun and were able to learn something along the way. After the trivia, she put up a picture of the Nativity, and asked the students what they knew about the Nativity story in the Bible. I was very impressed in particular with one middle school student's response: "God fulfilled His promises from the Old Testament by sending Jesus." Those weren't his exact words, but "fulfill," "promises" ... it was an excellent although unexpected answer (at least on my part).

The boys hard at work under the watchful eye of a teacher.
Week two included singing Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story from Luke 2, and making Christmas cards. Every year (that I've been here) we've gone caroling around Christmas, so I put the lyrics in a power point, and I played piano, and we all sat together singing Christmas carols. Then we read the Christmas story as found in Luke 2. I had it up in both Chinese and English. We read aloud together, alternating groups of verses between the two languages. We stop and talk about things as we went. I was fighting a cold that week, so I didn't have much a voice for all of this, but God is good and things went smoothly. Then the kids were each responsible for making at least one Christmas card to hand out while caroling. I had put some ideas up on the board in case they needed inspiration, but many of them were card making veterans, and, in general, they did a good job.

Our card making group

Finished products
Let the cookie cutting commence!
Week three was the traditional cookie night. A couple of us had mixed up three batches of sugar cookie dough earlier in the week so that it was thoroughly chilled by Thursday night when it was time for the kids to roll it out and cut out their cookies. This is usually a pretty popular event, and this year was no different. The girls went to work needing very little instruction (to be fair though, most of them are senior high students). The boys needed a bit of a watchful eye, but they were enthusiastic and did a great job! We had tons of cookies! Snowmen, bells, snowflakes, hearts, angels... As cookies started to finish baking a few of the girls helped to scoop them off pans and onto the counter to continue to cool. Once the last ball of dough had been claimed, another group of girls started working on icing. This year we had yellow and pink to choose from. While the last tray of cookies was baking, the students cleaned up their stations, rolling pins, and cookie cutters. After all the cookies were out of the oven, the decorating began! We had icing and sprinkles. Although, we didn't have quite enough icing to decorate all the cookies, but the kids didn't seem to mind eating un-decorated cookies either. :)

The girls bagging some cookies to be handed out while caroling.

Singing at a teacher's house
Week four was caroling. Every year the O.S.F. kids and several of the American teachers go caroling to local businesses and then to some of the houses of teachers who live on campus. Songs include: Angels We Have Heard On High, Joy to the World, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and We Wish You A Merry Christmas. As we sing, the kids hand out the cards and cookies they've made. We started the night off at Family Mart. They always make sure to have candy of some sort to give to the kids, and really seem to enjoy us stopping by. We also stopped by several drink stands and a 7-11. At 7-11 a college student who was there to shop asked if he could sing with us, so he joined our merry little band while we were there. Then it was back to campus to carol at the teachers' houses. Most of them know in advance that we're coming. It's always a lot of fun! We sing a few songs for them, and they usually have something snack-y or sweet to give the students.

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

那 天 使 對 他 們 說 : 不 要 懼 怕 ! 我 報 給 你 們 大 喜 的 信 息 , 是 關 乎 萬 民 的 ;因 今 天 在 大 衛 的 城 裡 , 為 你 們 生 了 救 主 , 就 是 主 基 督 。路 加 福 音 2:10-11

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Exploring the True Meaning of Christmas in Songshan

A local church up in Songshan (松山) in Taipei (台北) is reaching out to the community to share about the true meaning of Christmas this Advent season. To kick off the different weekend activities that they have planned, a few of the American teachers were invited to come up and hold a Christmas activity day for three hours on a Saturday afternoon.

So, yesterday morning, myself, along with Emily, Hannah, Rachel, and Graham hopped on the HSR up to Taipei to share about Christmas.

We arrived in Taipei around lunch time. Sean met us at the MRT station closest to the church and walked us over. The weather was stunning yesterday! The sky was blue, a nice breeze was blowing, and it was neither too hot nor too cold. As we made the short walk from the MRT station, I reveled in the beauty of the day as I took in the sights and sounds around me. At the same time, Sean was explaining that there was also a visiting pastor and his wife from the Philippines who would be joining us for lunch, along with Barbara (whose husband works at the church) and her children. Once we were at the church, Sean gave us a quick tour (and there was a quick round of introductions) before heading out to grab lunch boxes. Over the meal, we were able to become better acquainted with each other before starting to set up for the "Christmas Camp."

We had prepared an opening activity, three stations (the Christmas story, making Christmas cards, and making rice crispy treats), and a movie; Sean and the people in Songshan were in charge of snacks and little gifts to hand out to the kids at the end.

After lunch, we started setting up. Several of the women from the Filipino fellowship that is also connected to the church had volunteered to help out and they started arriving as well. Stockings were stuffed (those were the gifts to hand out) with candy and a cross. Craft supplies were set out. Power points and videos were tested to make sure everything would play smoothly. And a sign to welcome the kids and their parents was made.

Naomi and Virginia helping Rachel and Hannah (and Martin and me) stuff stockings.

The finished products...

Merry Christmas! 聖誕快樂!

And before you knew it, the kids were coming! As they arrived, Celia (one of the volunteers) helped them write out name tags, and one of the moms helped to get everyone settled in seats. For the introduction we started with a simple question: 你聽到這個詞的聖誕節你怎麼想?(When you hear the word Christmas, what do you think of?). The camp wasn't meant to be an English camp, and we had been told not to plan on the kids knowing a lot of/any English, so we tried to be bilingual and there were people on hand to help translate as well. Of course, the first thing one boy shouted out was, "Gifts!" But that was about all we got. So, we moved on to the next slide, where I had put some pictures of different Christmas-y things (snow, cookies, Christmas trees, Santa). We talked about what we saw in the different pictures, and then we transitioned, "But this is not WHY we have Christmas. It's not for the gifts or Santa, or cookies. We celebrate Christmas to remember Jesus's birthday!" (我們慶祝聖誕節紀念耶穌的生日)Then there was a picture of the nativity scene and we talked about that. Finally, we introduced ourselves and a part of it was sharing about a Christmas tradition from our family. I talked about going to the Candlelight Christmas Eve service at my grandparents' church with my family as  a child. 

The kiddos and their parents getting settled

Sean sharing about Advent calendars

Then it was time to split up into the three groups and rotate through the various stations. Emily and Graham worked at the story station (which probably could've used more time), Rachel and Hannah headed up crafts, and I, along with some volunteers, spearheaded rice crispy treat making. All in all, I think the kids had a good time and were allowed to try some different Christmas-y activities. 

Story center - making books to take home of the Christmas story

Making cocoa crispy rice crispy treats!

Making Christmas cards

After an hour of cycling through various Christmas themed activities, the kids were given some down time to take a break, eat a snack (the treats they made, along with some other cookies, and hot chocolate), and go to the bathroom. Then we watched the Christmas Veggie Tales with Buzz Saw Louie. It was in Chinese with Chinese subtitles, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. After the movie, Emily said a few closing words - Jesus is the reason for the season. Sean handed out the gifts. And kids started to go home. 

We cleaned up a bit before heading out to dinner, and then I caught a southbound HSR home. 

My new buddy and me making fish faces at dinner.

"But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:10-12
那 天 使 對 他 們 說 : 不 要 懼 怕 ! 我 報 給 你 們 大 喜 的 信 息 , 是 關 乎 萬 民 的 ;因 今 天 在 大 衛 的 城 裡 , 為 你 們 生 了 救 主 , 就 是 主 基 督 。你 們 要 看 見 一 個 嬰 孩 , 包 著 布 , 臥 在 馬 槽 裡 , 那 就 是 記 號 了 。路 加 福 音 2:10-12