Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Good Shepherd

A couple of weeks back, the assistant pastor at my parents' church in Wisconsin (who also happens to be the principal of the elementary school there [Pre-K through 8th Grade]) asked if I'd be willing to lead one of the chapels this semester, since I'm around for a bit longer this year anyways. Although I had no idea yet what I would do, I agreed. As I was brainstorming ideas, the parable of the Lost Sheep came to mind. It's one of my students' favorites in Taiwan. And slowly but surely how this parable could be tied to mission work which would then segue into talking a bit about Taiwan all fell into place.

Chapel starts at 8:45am, but I showed up a little before 8:30am. The computer and projector were already set up, so I plugged in my flashdrive and opened up the power point and video that I planned to use. Then, I played FNBS songs on the piano while waiting for the kids to arrive.

The first group of kids to show up were the 5th and 6th graders. As they sat down, one of the boys asked, "What song were you playing as we walked in?" I smiled, "All God's Creatures Got a Place in the Choir." I hummed a few bars. "Yeah!" he exclaimed and started wiggling in his seat, "We were dancing the whole way down the hall!" And as the class and I talked, the other students soon arrived as well.

One of the students introduced me and then "chapel" began. The first slide was a picture of a sheep. And as we looked at the sheep, I asked the students, "What are some things that sheep need?" A bunch of hands shot up. "Grass!" "A shepherd!" "Water!" At which point, we talked about what a shepherd's job is: to take care of the sheep. I shared the story of Shrek the Sheep with them, which all of them thought was pretty funny. We talked about how sometimes we're all like Shrek - we just don't want to follow directions, instead we try to run away or hide or just say 'No' - but how our shepherd always comes looking for us, because He wants to take care of us. I played a video of the Parable of the Lost Sheep (my students in Taiwan really like this video) and all the students laughed. We talked about how parables teach us something about God. We're the sheep. Sometimes we're good, like all the sheep who followed the shepherd; sometimes we're not. But, our good shepherd, Jesus, always comes looking for us. He never gives up. He always cares. We read John 10:14-16 together:

I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.  And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

And this led us into talking about how Jesus wants to be a good shepherd to everyone, including the people in Taiwan. Which then led got us started talking about Taiwan. I had maps and pictures and stories to share. They learned the refrain to "Jesus Loves Me" in Chinese. And then time was up. 

There were some general announcements, and then Pastor dismissed the Pre-K through 2nd graders. The 3rd and 4th graders asked if they could stay. And we had Q&A time. The students asked thoughtful questions. And once they were dismissed, Pastor mentioned, "The Pre-K teacher wondered if you'd just come to their classroom for a few minutes." So I did. We sat on the floor and looked at a globe, so that they could put were Taiwan in in perspective. We talked about what school is like in Taiwan. And, as all four year olds love to do, they shared stories with me about things they thought relevant: talking about things they'd lost (like the lost sheep in the parable) and trips they'd taken (like I have to fly from Taiwan to WI).

It was a really encouraging and fun way to spend my morning!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Martha, Martha

"Now it happened as they went that He [Jesus] entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." 
Luke 10:38-42

This is one of my K1 students favorite stories. As we read it out of the BIG book "Sit Down", they can repeat with me: sweep, sweep, sweep, yum, yum, yum, and work, work, work. We also have actions that go with each of the phrases: sweeping with an imaginary broom, rubbing a satisfied tummy, and wiping a hot brow. The BIG book version of the story also has a little mouse that the kids like to try to find in each of the pictures. When we learn the story in K1, we talk about how Jesus wants to be our friend. 

And this is true, Jesus does want to be our friend. But God has been using this story this year to also teach me another lesson: Serving Him is good, but listening to Him is better. 

This has been a long lesson that God has been working on me with, continually finding new ways to drive the point home, or sneaking it in when I least expect it. As a teacher and a Christian, and just as a girl who likes to be busy and help others, it doesn't take very long for my schedule to fill up - tutoring, teaching, leading Bible studies or other activities both on and off of campus, spending time with friends, exploring, practicing my Chinese - the list could go on forever. And none of those activities are bad in themselves. In fact, they are all good things (which is why it's so hard to say "No"), but when I start doing them for the wrong reasons and they start taking my eyes off God because I'm too worried about all the things I have to accomplish, they are no longer serving Him. 

My schedule is full. There's nothing wrong with that until it gets in the way of me being able to listen to God. Because when that happens, I start to get stressed out, and then I'm no longer trusting in Him and serving Him, I'm trying to trust in myself. And, much like Martha, then when I go running to God saying, "God, I can't do all of this stuff by myself!" He quietly says to me, "Amanda, Amanda, you are worried about many things, but only one thing is needed. Come and listen to me. Talk with me." And as I focus on Him, I notice the worry melting away.

Going hand in hand with this, because of my busy schedule and my American independent nature, I often want to be the one in charge. I trust God, but I find it hard to let go of the reins. This has been another lesson that He has been working with me on this year. And as I lead a discussion group on the book "Kisses for Katie" by Katie Davis and came across this quote, it made me stop and think:

“Sometimes I still think what I do with my life should be my decision. God asks, and reasons, and encourages. He gently explains that I do not know what is best for me and that I do not always get what I want. And I just look at Him, not understanding at all what He’s trying to say. Sometimes, I even whine and sob and shriek, just like a tired, angry three-year-old. So, God picks me up, exhausted from struggling, and plops me in the center of His will for my life. And then a funny thing happens. As I kick and scream and struggle, I remember: I like being in the center of God’s will for my life. God’s plan is usually pretty great. It is a whole lot better than mine anyway. I am so glad that He does not allow me to win.” 
How often am I the same way? (If you haven't read "Kisses for Katie," I highly recommend it). When I let go and let God lead, when I listen to Him, that's when I get things done and am not stressed out or worried. 

Throughout the school year, this lesson, these verses came to mind. And whenever I was feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, I'd remind myself that "This is the day that the LORD has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24), and then start listing the things that I was thankful for. And I have MANY things to be thankful for! :) But it's a lesson that I'm continuing to work on learning even this summer as there are many things that are out of my control, and I have to turn to God and say, "It's in Your hands. I trust that You have a plan." And the more I let go, the more I am able to find peace. That doesn't mean that every day is easy, but Jesus continues to patiently walk with me, encouraging me along the way.


Friday, June 17, 2016

"As You Like It" - A Day Trip to Taipei

Stephanie, who used to be a Concordia Middle School student and along with regularly attending Friday Night Bible Study, is now a college student at National Taiwan University studying theater. While back visiting, she shared with us that she was helping with costumes for a rendition of Shakespeare's "As You Like It." Being an avid Shakespeare fan and also wanting to support my friend, I asked the other American teachers if they'd be interested in taking a day trip up to Taipei to see the show, and I had several takers.

Stephanie and I at FNBS
The play was only running one weekend, and because the C.E.L.A. teachers had school on that Saturday, we decided to go up on Sunday to see it. There were five of us heading up total. The C.M.S. teachers ended up going up to Taipei on Saturday, and then Sunday around lunch time we all met at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Those of us who took the bus Sunday morning ended up getting in a little early, which worked out nicely because it allowed the new people to explore the memorial. We were even there to catch the changing of the guard! Once Matt and Emily arrived, we wandered around looking for lunch. (The theater wasn't far from the memorial).

Changing of the guard
It took us awhile to find a place that was open, but we finally found lunch. Then it was off to the theater.

Outside of the theater

"As You Like It" was being performed in Chinese. The set and costumes were both really interesting too. The beginning of the play took place in a traditional Japan setting, whereas most of the rest of it happened in a more Bohemian compound. When the set changed, foam pads were tossed down for scaffolding in the back so as to create layers of squish on the stage. There were a variety of uses for the foam, from allowing actors to faint on the stage without bumps or bruises, to acting a means of hiding props, etc. during a scene. All in all, it was really well done and a very enjoyable show!

Before catching the H.S.R. back to Chiayi that night, we stopped at our favorite Macho Taco for dinner. :)

It was a full day, but a fun one!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Baking Cookies in O.S.F.

Baking cookies with 25 junior and senior high school students is always an adventure. To be sure, since this is my fourth year leading this activity, some adjustments have been made to make it less exciting - for example, I pre-measure out the vanilla now (no coffee cups of vanilla going into any cookies these days!). But since each year's students are different, so are the experiences. And even though it's loud, and the kitchen is hot because there's no air-conditioning, and everyone is sweaty (because there's no air-conditioning), I wouldn't stop baking with the kids.

The students broke themselves into four groups: two groups of boys and two groups of girls. We had enough ingredients for a fifth group, but everyone wanted to work with the people in their groups... so we only had four groups. I explained the recipe. This year, I even remembered how to explain "1/2 an egg." And as usual, the kids did a pretty good job sharing, taking turns, and helping clean up at the end. That was after we were able to actually get into the kitchen. Usually, on nights when O.S.F. is baking in the school kitchen, it's left open for us, and we lock it up when we're done. But tonight, when Rachel, Hannah and I arrived, it was locked tight. After a few phone calls, someone came and let us into the building. By that point all the students were waiting outside with us, but that's alright.

The girls tend to be quieter and more focused. Tonight, they were the first ones to be scooping out their dough onto the cookie sheets.

On the other hand, the boys take different approaches to getting their cookies done. Usually, a few boys will emerge as the leaders and they will rally the other boys to their cause. Tonight was no different. I had to remind the boys, as they were mercilessly pounding the butter and sugars together, that "the best cookies are made with love, not aggression." I received the standard response, "Okay. Okay" with some minor alteration of behavior. But their cookies turned out alright in the end.

I'm always amused because in spite of following the same recipes and using the same ingredients, every batch of cookies turns out looking different. :) '

They all enjoyed eating the fruits of their labors, along with taking some cookies back to the dorms (either to eat later or share with their friends). So, I'd say tonight was a success!