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24. Oct, 2011

Deep Respect for Different Cultures

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Heading into my India trip, I knew that I knew nothing about India. It’s fair to say that most people probably spend a good amount of time researching a third world country before they attempt to travel there. Well, not me. I didn’t buy any books about India. I didn’t google it or wikipedia it. I didn’t even look at a map of the country. I just went.

Not surprisingly, I was surprised by much of what I saw and experienced. Having no frame of reference for most of those experiences has forced me to spend some time seriously reflecting on how they have affected me. One major motif that really stands out from my trip was the recognition of and interaction with the distinctly different Indian culture. Different, of course, from my own “American” culture.

Wikipedia offers this definition of the word culture:

“The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group.” (Don’t you love that I used Wikipedia to find a word definition but not to learn about India?)

My understanding from my very brief time in India is that the religion of Hinduism shapes much of the Indian culture. Many, if not most of the “shared attitudes, values, goals, etc…” in India stem from the learned principles and practices of the Hindu religion. The intriguing thing to me is that the core of Hinduism is self-progression. Basically, Hindus believe that what they DO in this life will determine what the next life is like. The result: a country full (and with 1.2 billion people I do literally mean brimming full) of people looking out for number one. I should have been more prepared for this effect when I witnessed an India woman cut in front of four white people to steal the airplane lavatory on the ride over. It left me wondering, “How could she possibly do that? I don’t care what culture you’re from, that’s just not cool!” But apparently in India, that sort of self-pleasing, others-provoking action is totally acceptable. In Hinduism, you’re not worried about anyone else, especially strangers (and I would add, white people). You’re mainly concerned about yourself.

Chew on this for a while: that kind of thinking utterly destroys my “American” concept of “common courtesy.”

Since the day I was born, I’ve been taught to hold the door open for strangers, say “thank you” when the bagger bags my groceries, and let other cars pass in front of me while on the road. I’ve also been taught to smile and say “hello” when I pass by other people on the street. Up until this point, I would have argued until I was blue in the face that this is how people all over the world ought to conduct themselves. But after immersing myself for three weeks in a culture that is very near the opposite of my own, I’ve taken a giant step back. I’m still struggling to understand how a culture can be so self-absorbed. It’s still not making much sense in my American brain. But as crazy as it seems, and as different as it is, I now have a much deeper respect for India culture, and every other culture for that matter. One of the many things I learned in India is that my way of living life isn’t the only acceptable way. There’s a whole lotta people out there living life a lot differently than me, and that’s OK. I’m learning to really appreciate the differences between us that make us such a diverse race.

I will say, though, that when I went back to work the day after I returned from India, it sure was nice when someone actually stopped to let me pull out of my neighborhood in front of them :)

11. Aug, 2011

A Fully Committed Heart

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In Acts chapter 10, Cornelius receives a strong compliment to his character. He is described first and foremost as a “devout man who feared God with all his household.”

That’s important.

It’s important because he was a good man who did good things, like giving generously and praying continually. But before he was a good man, he was a God-fearing man. Without a total heart committment to love, serve and fear God, all the well-intentioned good works don’t mean anything. So many Christians, myself included, run around trying to please God with what we say and do, but in our hearts we don’t really fear God.

I believe God wants a fully committed heart on the inside before he wants a “good person” on the outside.

26. Jun, 2011

I Just Buried My Faithful Companions

It was a somber moment as I opened the garbage can and deposited my two faithful companions. I’m usually not the kind of guy who gets attached to material possessions. But for this pair of New Balance tennis shoes, I’ve made a colossal exception.

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I wish I had video footage of the day I went shopping for them. I needed a pair of all-purpose tennis shoes to take to New Zealand with me. The goal was to pack very light and take only what was crucial. One pair of shoes would have to stand the test of all my adventures. I debated for almost an hour over which pair to buy. This was a big decision! Should I get the sweet pair of Nike’s with the white stripe on the bottom, or should I go for the more functional New Balance pair that wasn’t as attractive?

I tried them both on multiple times and had almost decided on the Nike’s. Just then, I gave in to my conservative side and chose the New Balance pair instead. And the verdict was….

These shoes went with me all the way across the Pacific Ocean. They walked around Fiji with me. They climbed mountains and waded through rivers with me in New Zealand. They went running along the beach with me in Australia. They even spent their last days doing yard work around Grandma and Grandpa’s house with me, despite having huge holes from all their faithful service. In all, they’ve lasted nearly 9 months of everyday use!

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It may sound like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but I couldn’t have made it without my shoes. I’m so glad I didn’t give in and buy the pair of Nike’s. Nothing against Nike, but that pair would have fallen apart in the first month. I chose “function over fashion” as it were, and hindsight says it was the right decision.

With great remorse, I bid them adieu. Gone, but never forgotten.

20. Jun, 2011

On a Mission to India

You should totally come!!!”

Years ago, my friend Katie Beth used that line to hook me into a spontaneous, last-minute trip to see one of our favorite bands perform live in concert. It seems she has a knack for planning outrageous trips and convincing me to join her.

This September, if the Lord allows, I’ll be joining her on a 3-week trip to India that is anything but a spontaneous, last-minute decision.

Why am I going?

Over the past several years, I’ve become more and more aware of how fortunate I am to live in the freedom and comfort of America. I feel that it’s time for me to get a small glimpse of what life is like outside of “western culture.”

“Who am I going with?”

I’ll be going with a group of like-minded young adults through an organization called Ashraya Mission.

“What is Ashraya Mission?”

Ashraya Mission is a brand new organization being founded in India by Katie Beth and her team. They are dedicated to providing children’s homes in India for at risk children. Human trafficking is a disgusting problem all over the world, and India is no exception. While there are many organizations focused on rescuing trafficked children, there are few focused on helping them start a new life and keeping them from sliding back in.

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“What am I going to do?”

I have been asked to put my photographic skills to good use to help document the operations of Ashraya Mission. Since they’re so new, they need lots of photos and video to help communicate the severity of the situation and what they’re doing to change it. As you may know, I’ve spent the last 7 months in New Zealand and Australia where I’ve been able to hone my photography skills while taking over 10,000 photos.

I will also have the chance to interact with the people of India, including orphaned children, and share the love of Jesus with them.

“How am I going to pay for the trip?”

I believe in Ashraya Mission and I believe in what our team is going to do. That’s why I’ve worked hard this Spring to earn the money to cover my trip expenses on my own.

“So why am I telling you all of this?”

Because now, more than ever, I want to share this experience with you. This is not a vacation. It’s going to be a difficult, challenging trip. I wouldn’t dream of trying to go this alone. So here’s what I ask of you, if you’re willing:

  • Pray – I believe prayer is powerful and effective. Pray for the whole Ashraya team and for me individually as well. Pray that our efforts would be blessed and would yield much fruit. If praying’s not your thing, that’s okay. Maybe you could send me a message of encouragement as I prepare for this challenge.
  • Stay in Touch – I’ve created a Facebook Group for my trip. I’ll use this group to keep you informed of our progress. If you would like to receive these updates, click here to view the Facebook Group page, and make sure to click the button in the upper right hand corner that says “Ask to Join Group”.
  • Give – As I mentioned earlier, I’ve already covered my trip expenses. However, Ashraya Mission has a real need for financial support as they begin their operations. If you would like to give a financial gift, please click here to visit the Ashraya Mission website, and click the button that says “Donate”.

This is going to be a challenging trip, but I am excited to serve with Ashraya Mission and to share God’s love with the people of India. I am so thankful for your support, and I’m looking forward to sharing this experience with you!

15. Jun, 2011

The Most Afraid I’ve Ever Been

“Have you heard about what happened in Japan?” my friend asked as he came through the front door. “There’s been a huge earthquake and tsunami wave.”

Are you kidding me? What is going on?

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It had only been a matter of days since a devastating earthquake rocked the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 180 people and causing 12 billion dollars of damage. I had just spent a week there, witnessing the devastation firsthand. Over in Australia, they were experiencing terrible flooding, and now the news from Japan. It was nearly too much to bear. And on top of all that, there were predictions of another major earthquake happening in New Zealand that next week!

My journal reflects how I was feeling:

“Right now, I’m legitimately concerned for my physical safety…”

“I feel troubled…”

It seems a little silly now, but I remember seriously thinking that I might not make it out of New Zealand. I might never walk through the garden and Grandma and Grandpa’s house again. I might not get to drink another 9 Fruits smoothie again. I might not get to hug my little sister again. But can you blame me? I felt totally helpless, like I was center stage for the unraveling of the world. Fear was waiting on my doorstep, begging me to give in.

“God, you’re in control. I trust you, even as the world seems to be in utter chaos…”

“I’m learning finally to just enjoy each precious moment…”

Somehow I made it through. Dozens in Australia didn’t, hundreds in Christchurch didn’t, and thousands in Japan didn’t. I grieve for them. But life goes on. And I do my best to enjoy each precious moment.

07. Jun, 2011

5 Invaluable Traits I’ve Learned from One of My Heroes

My grandpa is one of the few heroes in my life. I’ve admired him for as long as I can remember, since way back when I used to be the bat-boy at his softball games. He’s a soft-spoken man, a man who taught middle school math and science for 39 years….yeah, that’s a long time. I always enjoy staying with my grandparents when I come back to my hometown of Sacramento, California. This time through, I’ve had the privilege of working alongside my grandpa on his magnificent property for the past month.

Here’s a short list of traits that I’ve observed in my “Gramps.” The young people of my generation would do well to take notes and learn from one of the best people I know.

1. Handyman Skills – Gramps continues to blow my mind with his handyman skills. This grandpa can build anything, fix anything, and solve any problem. If I tried to tackle one of his projects by myself, I would have to spend hours researching online, drawing up plans, and probably making a lot of mistakes.

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2. Ingenuity – This is a necessary ingredient for any serious problem solving. Example: Gramps and Grams got rid of their truck and upgraded to a pair of fuel-efficient Toyota Prius-es. Gramps needed to haul some oversize gas cans to the gas station, so what was his solution? He turned his Prius into a “Prius-truck” and got the job done.

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3. Hard Work – In an age where so many young people(including myself) are determined to “find their passion” and “enjoy what they do,” Gramps’ work ethic truly sets him apart. Just as he did during his 39-year teaching career, he still busts his butt to keep things going around the house. He’ll crawl under any deck or don a pair of waders to get in and fix his pond. Seriously, I’ve had trouble keeping up with him, and he’s almost three times my age!

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4. Adaptation – I can confidently say that my Gramps is the coolest grandpa out there. Think I’m biased? He’s got a Kindle, a laptop, he uses Wi-Fi, he’s an active Facebook user, he text messages, and he checks his email at the dinner table! I am constantly astonished at the way he embraces new technology. But that’s not to say he’s a reckless spender. He’s a very frugal man. He still has wheel polish from the 1960′s in his garage!

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5. Enjoying Life’s Simple Pleasures – Last but most, Gramps possesses the ability to stop and enjoy the simple things in life. He can settle down from a long day of fixing things, working hard, using his brain, and checking his email, in order to enjoy a tasty slushy mixed with soda and a little pecan pie.

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Obviously, I’m pretty proud of my Grandpa, and I know there’s a lot I can learn from his example. I hope that when I reach his stage in life that my children and grandchildren will look back and admire the way I’ve lived my life.

Think about your grandparents or someone you really admire. What are one or two traits you’ve learned from observing them that the rest of us should know about?

18. May, 2011

Learning the Hard Way that Good Health is a Gift, Not a Guarantee

HEALTH

That’s what I realized as I was sitting in the doctor’s office this afternoon. For many, this may be an obvious fact. But for me, as active 25-year-old who’s had a clean bill of health all his life, it was a frustrating wake-up call.

It takes a lot for me to go to the doctor. I’d rather eat raw Asparagus for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week than go to the doctor! But I’ve been feeling way under the weather for almost the past month now. It started out as a bad cold after Easterfest in Australia, morphed into jet lag in Los Angeles, transitioning nicely into allergies in Sacramento. It seems that all my travels are finally catching up to me. I actually spent 40 hours in bed at one point last week! Just when I thought I was going to emerge victorious, yesterday I came down with the worst sore throat I’ve ever had. It was time to throw in the towel and go see the doc.

Now, I share all of this to say: I am so thankful that God has blessed me with a normal, working body in the first place!

It’s true that since I’m not used to dealing with lingering sickness, I generally don’t cope with it very…maturely (I may have thrown a temper tantrum or two this week). All kidding aside, this latest bout with bad health has helped me to really appreciate the gift of good health. I’m learning that blessings like good health are never guaranteed in this life.

May I choose to be thankful for the gifts I am given, and cherish them as long as I have them.

What other things in our lives do we take for granted until they disappear?