Thursday, October 22, 2015

Come on Down! (O.S.F. in October)

God has been working abundantly in O.S.F. this year in ways that I wouldn't have imagined. Not only is there a great group of American teachers who are willing to help out (more than I expected!), but there has been a steady student attendance that sits right around 35 kids (which is way more students than we've had for years on a regular basis). God always has a plan, and He is able to do more than we can ever dream.

So, without further ado, here's a little bit of what's been happening in O.S.F. these past couple weeks in October.

Last week, Emily led. Her lesson started with the students taking turns playing "The Price is Right." She brought three paper sized white boards and dry erase markers and handed them out to three brave students. Then she put a picture of some snack food from 7-11 up on the screen. She asked them to guess how much it would cost to buy those snacks (and just like the Price is Right, the goal was to be as close to but remaining under the actual price). The three boys wrote numbers down, and it was time for the reveal. Then the white boards were passed on to the next group of students and another image came up on the screen. This happened several times, and the items continued to become more and more expensive. The final item was an apartment in Taipei with a pool and a mountain view. (I really enjoyed that one student when urging on his friend said, "You need to put more nines after the first number!"). Emily followed up by asking, "How do we figure out what something's price is?" Or to put it another way: How do we determine the value of something? For the apartment, students answers included: "It has a pool," "You can see the mountains," and "It's in Taipei." Then Emily asked, "How much would YOU cost?" Kids were quick to offer prices for my friend. "He's free!" or "You can have him for $1N.T!" And after talking about good qualities that we possess and bad traits that we have, we looked at what the Bible has to say on the topic of our worth. Mainly, that to God we cost Jesus - His Son. Not only is our cost Jesus, but God thought that was a price worth paying for each and every one of us. And even if it only saved one person, God would still have seen the value in giving Jesus to death for us. Of course, Jesus didn't stay dead, but it was still quite a sacrifice He made for us: taking our sins and our separation from God for us. This was a particularly good lesson to have last week since the students had just finished taking their monthly tests and had just received their grades and class standing. No matter whether you are first or last, God loves you. 

The students playing "The Price is Right"

Collaboration on how much the apartment should cost

This week in O.S.F. we just had a fun night. We played different board games (courtesy of Tim). Tim brought three different games, and we had a total of five tables going to accommodate all the students who showed up. And even with five different tables, a few of the students still ended up just watching others play, but they were satisfied with this, so, no harm, no foul. There were three tables in the middle of the room playing "Pluckin' Pairs," one table was playing "Cash and Guns" and the last table was playing "Telestrations." I was at the Cash and Guns table, which was being played by the maximum eight boys, plus there were three boys watching. However, even the kids watching got in on the action as players would talk with their friends to decide what to do. It's great to watch the students learn how to play the game well enough that pretty soon their explaining it and debating different moves with their friends. It was a bit chaotic with all those games going on, but at the end of the day, I think the kids had a lot of fun. One of the students from my table stuck around to help me pick up the game. I asked him what he'd thought of it. "I really liked it!" he said. "I had a lot of fun!" Even some of the students that would normally be tempted to be on their cellphones for part of O.S.F. were engaged in either playing or cheering their friends on to victory! Sometimes, it's good to just have a fun day. :)

My table - the boys playing Cash and Guns.

So many kids and so many games! :)

The Telestrations table

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10

Sunday, October 18, 2015

I've Got Just What You Need: Fall Retreat 2015

"O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways." Psalm 139:1-3

Twice a year, Team Taiwan (the American teachers at CMS and CELA) go on a weekend retreat. It's a time for us to spend time together outside of school and work. We have a chance to study God's Word together, to pray together, and just to enjoy each fellowship with one another. Usually it takes place somewhere other than Chiayi, so it's also a chance for us to get to explore the wonderful island of Taiwan a bit more too. And this past weekend was our fall retreat. 

Somethings never change. Friday night one of the teachers from CMS picked up dinner for those of us who work at CELA so that we could get out the door at a reasonable time - I think we were shooting for 6:30pm. (CELA classes end at 6:10pm). But, as usual, when trying to organize and move ten people, nothing really runs on time. None the less, we were finally all loaded up (people included) into our eleven passenger van, captained by our fearless leader Matt W, and on the road. It was estimated that it should take us two and a half hours to drive to Ita Thao, a small village on the bank of Sun Moon Lake. It was already dark when we left school, and we ended up having to drive through the mountains and several smaller villages on our way. Not all the roads were marked clearly enough to make navigating easy, so we ended up stopping twice to ask directions. Thankfully, both times we were basically headed the right way, we just needed to hold our course. No one hostel had room for all eleven of us, so the girls we staying in one hostel and the boys in another. It was a little after nine p.m. when we pulled up in front of the Runners' Hostel where the girls would be staying. The young woman working at the desk could speak English and was very helpful in giving directions to the boys so they could find where they'd be spending the night. By the time the van was unloaded and everyone had claimed a bed, most of the team just wanted to call it a night, but a few of us decided to get together in one of the common rooms and chat and play games a bit before heading to bed. 

Saturday was the only full day of "retreat" that we had.

I woke up around 7am and went out exploring before any of the team activities started at 9am. There's a boardwalk/trail that snakes its way around the entirety of Sun Moon Lake. I couldn't figure out how to get on it from our village, but I knew if I walked along the highway long enough, eventually I'd find an entrance. Sure enough, after about 25 minutes of walking I found it! By that point, I just started heading back towards Ita Thao on the trail. It was a nice walk. Every so often there would be a sign explaining something either about the surrounding nature (like the predatory carp that live in the lake, or how Sun Moon Lake is the largest natural lake in Taiwan) or the Ita Thao people (for example, Ita Thao actually means "We are Thao" in the Thao language, Thao people have four traditional ways to fish, and they are one of the smallest aboriginal tribes in Taiwan). There were also a bunch of butterflies out, which was really fun (and a nice contrast to the spiders the size of your hand!).

One of the butterflies that actually landed long enough to take a picture of it

At 9am the group gathered together (after a little confusion about where we were meeting) at the girls' hostel (because it had a piano). And the rest of the morning was spent in prayer and Bible study. Specifically, we looked at Psalms 138 and 139. Barb led a discussion on Psalm 138, and Emily led the discussion on Psalm 139. We talked about God's omniscience. He created us, knows us, and loves us. We are priceless to Him. There is nothing hidden from God. We also had the chance to sing a couple songs.

And before you know it, it was lunch time. We had a reservation at a Canadian restaurant in Puli (another city along the lake), which was about an hour or hour an half drive away, but it was supposed to have really nice views. The views didn't disappoint, winding through the mountains, the scenery was gorgeous. We even saw a paraglider floating down from the sky! The restaurant itself was a small operation, and since there were so many of us, the chef came out and apollogized saying that it would take awhile for our food to come out and that it probably wouldn't all come out at once. Not a problem. While we waited, we went outside and did the team building exercise our leaders had planned for us. Each of us was given a card with a picture on it (Spoilers: come to find out, the pictures were from the book "Zoom"). After looking at our picture, we had to describe it to the group so that we could put ourselves in the proper order (based on what was in the picture). It took us less than 10 minutes to order ourselves, and then it was time for the reveal! How had we done? 100% correct (we make a good team :)). Then we talked about the importance of communication within a team, but also, the different roles each of us has and how our individual gifts and talents can be utilized. After that we went back inside, and shortly thereafter, food started arriving.

The beginning of the reveal

Follow up discussion

Once we'd eaten, we piled back into the van and returned to Ita Thao. Since there were several options of outdoor activities that could be done during free time (boat rides, cable cars, walking, etc), the planners decided to push the next activity until closer to dinner, so that our free time would fall while the sun was still out. Some people napped, others relaxed in their rooms, and a few of us went out for a cable car ride. There was a station that was a short walk from our hostel and the five of us who decided to go bought tickets and hopped on a car (thankfully, the lines weren't too long). There wasn't really anything to do at the top, so we just got back on and headed down. But the views were nice!

Enjoying the ride

What goes up... 

... must come down.

In the late afternoon we had two more sessions. The first was just time to come together and pray with each other. The second had us discussing team goals. There was a break after that to pick up some food and stroll the market streets if we wanted. I ended up sitting by the lake and listening to some Taiwanese musicians perform for a bit. Then, anyone who was interested (which was the whole group) gathered together to play games. We played two different card games. And it was a lot of fun to just spend time together hanging out!

After games it was back to the hostel and time for bed.

Sunday mornings start time was up to each individual and their prayer partner. We had agreed to meet at 9:30am, so I woke up and walked a bit before meeting up with mine. After some time in prayer, it was time for our morning service. The devotional/words/"sermon" also focused on God's omniscience as seen not only in Psalms but various other parts of the Bible as well. We sang a few hymns. Then it was time for a quick picture by the lake before loading up the vans and starting the journey back to Chaiyi.

Group photo!

And with that, another retreat weekend had come and gone.

"I will praise you with my whole heart; Before the gods I will sing praises to You. I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your loving kindness and Your truth; For you have magnified Your word above all Your name." Psalm 138:1-2

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ghost Month and Moon Festival (鬼月和中秋節)

"But He [Jesus] laid His right hand on me, saying to me, 'Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death." Revelation 1:17-18
 他 用 右 手 按 著 我 , 說 : 不 要 懼 怕 ! 我 是 首 先 的 , 我 是 末 後 的 ,
又 是 那 存 活 的 ; 我 曾 死 過 , 現 在 又 活 了 , 直 活 到 永 永 遠 遠 ; 並 且 拿 著 死 亡 和 陰 間 的 鑰 匙 。
启 示 录 1:17-18

Our first month or so back in Taiwan usually coincides with Ghost Month. This is a time when many Taiwanese people believe that the ghosts of people who have died are allowed to go on vacation and they come to roam the earth. Many Taiwanese families set tables in front of their houses loaded with food and drink, believing that the ghosts don't get food except when on vacation, and you don't want angry ghosts to give you bad luck or make bad things happen to you. They burn ghost money and incense, much for the same reason, to appease these ghosts wandering the earth. Aside from what individual families are doing, temples put together large parades which include shooting off a lot of firecrackers. But all of this is done out of fear

This past week in O.S.F. Barb lead a lesson on why as Christians we don't have to be afraid of ghosts, during Ghost Month or any other time of the year either. She showed pictures of the tables laden with food, people burning incense, parades, and firecrackers. She had some pictures of people who had caused themselves physical harm in parades, and one of the students gasped and quietly said, "They have a bad ghost in them." But the lesson didn't end with us just talking about why people do what they do during Ghost Month. It continued with the students reading Revelation 1:17-18. She talked about how Jesus had defeated death and now He is in charge. Jesus wants us all to be safely with Him. Jesus wants us to believe in Him so that when we die we don't have to be afraid of turning into a wandering ghost, or of being hungry, or trapped somewhere. Instead, if we believe in Jesus we know that after we die we will go to heaven where there are no bad things. But before dying, we don't have to be afraid either, because Jesus walks with us. He is more powerful even than the ghosts or evil spirits. Jesus has already conquered death. We ended by singing an "Amazing Grace" mash up. 


Towards the end of Ghost Month comes Moon Festival. Taiwanese holidays always follow the lunar calendar, but it usually falls sometime at the end of September. For the past three years, David and Lily (who are friends with Lucy) have invited the Americans out to their house to join in a Moon Festival Block Party of sorts. There's food, music, and a variety of gifts/door prizes to be handed out. It's always a wonderful time of celebration and fellowship. This year was no different. As we ate, performances were given by several different students in attendance. Children were running around playing games with one another. There was a karaoke machine set up (no Taiwanese event is complete with karaoke). Lily had asked if the Americans would be willing to play some Friday Night Bible Study songs, so we did. David had procured a keyboard from somewhere for me to play, and Lily had recruited a guitarist to play with me. Rachel, Tracy, Hannah, and Chuck led the singing and actions. The kids really got into it! It was a really nice evening. 

First performer of the evening

The Americans with Lily :)

Several of the younger boys thought that the drumming performance was worth a pause in their game of tag.

No Taiwanese meal is complete without steamed fish.

"...and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
Matthew 28:20

我 就 常 與 你 們 同 在 , 直 到 世 界 的 末 了 。 
馬 太 福 音 28:20

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Am... God's Special Possession

The first O.S.F. of the year is always a little crazy, but I waited for it in eager anticipation anyways. For the past several years, we used the first night as an introduction both to each other and to the group. This year wasn't all that different, as I drew from previous years' experiences and ideas when planning our activities for the evening.

I was already down in the religion department when the bell rang freeing students from their mandatory study time. The power point was up (I couldn't find the remote, but I'm tall, so turning on the projector manually was no problem), snacks were off to the side and ready for the end of the night, and stools were arranged around the table. Minutes later the students started arriving. At first it was a group of five girls and three boys, but more and more kept coming. It's always great to have a large group as long as they all truly want to be there! I was planning on doing an activity later and had brought thirty copies of it with me... it was soon apparent that that wouldn't be enough. So, when Rachel, one of the other teachers arrived with Hannah (one of the new teachers), I asked if she would mind running to our office to make copies (we couldn't get the copier in the religion dept. to work). Many hands make light work. There were several familiar faces, but there were also a lot of new faces! By 8:30pm (go time), there were 35+ students crowded around the large table.

It was time to start!

First, we looked at what O.S.F. means. What do the O, the S, and the F stand for? No one knew. Next slide: On Campus Student Fellowship. Well, what does that mean? And what are some things that we will be doing in this group? Some of the students who came last year remembered that we watch movies sometimes. But as I clicked to the slide containing pictures from last year of baking, Capture the Flag, acting out the story of Job, and all the Christmas activities, there was a buzz in the room.

Copies arrived. Just in time!

The next activity was Name BINGO. First, the kids had to fill in some blanks on the page with favorite seasons, number of brothers and sisters, other countries visited. Then the rules were explained. You need to get five names in a row. Each friend (or person you talk to) can only sign their name in one square. Etc. Etc. Etc. And then it was go time! This year kids did really well mingling, going around and asking not only other students but also the teachers different questions and having them sign their papers.

Finishing filling in the blanks and starting to ask questions...

The most BINGOs achieved in the time allotted to BINGO this year were two, but there were several students who got two BINGOs. Then, I asked them to flip their papers over and write a statement: I am... There was a slide on the board with several examples (in both English and Chinese) in case anyone wanted help. I passed out markers and told them that their statement should be big enough to see from across the room.

I am happy!
They wrote all sorts of things:

I am happy.
I am excited.
I am beautiful/handsome.
I am hungry.
I am a philosopher.
I am smart.

In turn, each student read their statement to the group. Then we listened to Jason Grey's "Remind Me Who I Am." In the video, different people hold signs. At the beginning, they say things like: "Empty," "Rejected," "Alone," but by the end each person is holding a sign that says, "Beloved." We talked about how sometimes life isn't always easy. Maybe we are worried or hurt. Maybe we feel alone or afraid. But that God loves us. We read several verses from the Bible talking about how God views us as His special possessions and how He cares for us.

Although there'd been a lot of chatter throughout the night (it's a lot of kids), it was quiet now.

Then there was snack, and the kids went home for the night.

Was it a perfectly planned lesson that went off without a hitch? No. But it was still a great kick off to O.S.F. with a lot of energy! 

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

神 愛 世 人 , 甚 至 將 他 的 獨 生 子 賜 給 他 們 , 叫 一 切 信 他 的 , 不 至 滅 亡 , 反 得 永 生 。約 翰 福 音 3:16