Loren Wong – Ensenada Testimony
I wanted to go on our mission trip to Ensenada to see if God would provide me with further discernment regarding what He would like me to do with my life. That is, what to do with my life in terms of His big picture. There are times when I wish He would make it crystal clear to me whether He has called me into full-time ministry as a pastor, missionary, or something else such as being on staff with Youth For Christ, InterVarsity, Asian American Christian Fellowship, or other para-church organizations. To be honest, this trip did not do that for me. Perhaps God knows it may be best for me if He doesn’t simply drop His calling to me on my door step because that would be too easy. Maybe that would require less of my trust and dependence on Him if things panned out that way. I don’t know. What I do know is this trip was an excellent eye-opener for me personally in terms of realizing that my life/our lives in Christ is/are to truly transcend every aspect of my/our everyday life/lives in an effort to make much of Him. Missions should not be a “mode” we get into only when we are explicitly on a missions trip. There is no on/off switch we can flip when we feel like proclaiming how great our God is.
Before going on the trip, I thought things such as living conditions and the people we would be serving were going to be more “rustic” and impoverished than what we encountered. My perception of those things was probably shaped by how they were “talked up” by others. I was expecting to endure conditions below anything I could have ever imagined. That didn’t quite turn out to be the case which was completely fine with me. The fact that I hadn’t really used my Spanish since my junior year of high school (1997-1998) was a little worrisome, but I figured I still should know enough to keep myself alive if “worse comes to worse.”
As our trip progressed, the truth that God’s hand was over us became increasingly clear as our team’s time in Ensenada progressed. The first example of this was the time when the van formerly known as Escargo (white Ford E250 or E350 cargo van driven by Sally Gin), a.k.a. “Cool Runnings” (peace be the journey), and Shadowfax (white Chevy Express 3500 15-passenger van driven by Ted Kau – How was I supposed to know the horse’s name? The only horses I really care about can be found in derbies or stakes such as the Kentucky, Belmont, and Preakness because racing is racing.) decided to wait for Nebuchadnezzar (white Ford E350 15-passenger van driven by Jerry Hwang) at the law enforcement station right before the first toll booth we would encounter in Mexico. Shadowfax pulled into a parking stall (horse and stall – anyone get it?) while Cool Runnings was left on thin ice (hahaha) because there were no more spaces. The space on the immediate left of Shadowfax was marked “El Jefe” which I knew was for the boss or “El Gran Queso” – the big cheese. The other stalls appeared to be marked for other superiors or prominent authorities as well. With our Ford Econoline cargo van sitting in the middle of the lot, we were as inconspicuous as Old Glory (the American Flag) on the Fourth of July. Before we knew it, an official wearing a yellow shirt, a cap, and sunglasses was making his way toward our van. I thought I would need some assistance speaking with him so I told Julia in the Ted’s van I might need her help if things go south. The cliff notes of our conversation is as follows: he asked what was up, I told him we were waiting for one more vehicle, he told us to wait in an area a little further up, end of story. I’d be lying if I said my heart rate didn’t increase. I also wondered if he may have been directing us to an area where they could raid our vans and interrogate us and “what have you.” Thankfully, the situation was incident-free and I was convinced that we would need to fully rely on God’s grace to get us through the entire trip. I later learned at lunch time on the first day that Shadowfax could have been pulled over for making a late left turn in an intersection (partly the fault of Cool Runnings making the turn when the light was yellow). It turned out (pun intended) the car behind Shadowfax also went and was subsequently pulled over by la policía/the fuzz/the 5-0/the black and white.
At the Templo Cristiano de la Nueva Jerusalem, I believe we were treated to a glimpse of heaven. Look no further than Revelations 5 and just imagine every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping our God. Although I was only able to understand somewhere between five and twenty percent (being generous) of Sunday’s message, I definitely felt a little more “alive” during the service. I also found it very interesting that the van driven by Jerry was named “Nebuchadnezzar” after the ship in The Matrix, that Hanley said something along the lines of, “How does the grass taste?” (See Daniel 4:32) when we were leaving camp for church that Sunday morning, and that the pastor giving the message spoke about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego in Daniel 3 early in his message. Some would say it was a mere coincidence, but I would be inclined to disagree. When Jerry asked near the end of the day if what we had witnessed was the result of the congregants’ cultural manner of worship or if it was God moving through them, I’m confident we all unequivocally thought it was the latter. So the question we should ask ourselves is, “What’s holding me/us back?”
Our time spent going door-to-door inviting children to VBS brought back memories of the two treks I made to Whiteriver, Arizona in August 1998 and 1999. The new twist was going door-to-door with the language difference trying to bring our two worlds together. The people we spoke with were very gracious listening to my rudimentary Spanish. One little girl even offered me some corn from the can she was eating. I was able to have some nice conversations with a few of the kids throughout the week. The most notable was telling Eddy on Monday morning that I’ll teach him how to throw a curveball if he brought a baseball to VBS the following day. I never got the privilege to do so, but if/when I return, I’ll make sure I bring some baseballs, gloves, and a bat!
What I really wish I had more of during our trip was interaction with adults. Although the language difference would again seem to be an apparent issue, the adults I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with were very gracious and patient with my limited Spanish speaking ability. There were two notable exchanges I had with Mexican adults during the week. The first was working with Cyrillo on the church’s construction project. Cyrillo would easily rank among one of the most humble and hard working people I’ve personally met. Even though I was unable to fully understand him on multiple occasions, I still had a great time working alongside him. During our Thursday afternoon meal, I found out he was 34 years-old, had been a Christian since he was five years-old, and had been going to that church for six years. If I remember correctly, his regular work was working with aluminum and other metals. After we had completed the floor, he came to me while I was taking inventory of work gloves, tapped me on my right shoulder, and wanted to shake my hand. That moment in time will be indelibly etched in my memory for the rest of my life.
The second memorable interaction I had that week was with Ignacio, the groundskeeper at the park the team went to on Wednesday afternoon. What had happened was my pocket Bible fell off the park bench I was sitting. I never noticed that it fell until Ignacio mentioned it to me as he was passing. I was floored, not literally of course, that I could have possibly left something so dear to me in Mexico! The next time he passed, I thanked him again and thought it was worth a shot to initiate a conversation with him. I asked him if he personally knew Jesus Christ. With my limited comprehension, I was able to pick out that he believed Jesus Christ was the only way to be saved. He asked if we were from a Christian group which I suppose wouldn’t be too hard to figure out since we were a non-indigenous group toting Bibles and using 15-passenger vans. I told him we were from a church in Los Angeles which I think he thought was neat. As we left the park, I thanked him again for finding my Bible and thought how great it will be that we will be re-united with him one day worshiping our God.
My experience with Ignacio got me thinking about how we evangelize. In this instance, it seemed almost easy to bring up the topic of Christ with a complete stranger. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by that, but this interaction shook up my thinking that “cold turkey” or “cold contact” evangelism is for the most part ineffective except in certain situations when God simply allows it to work. During my college years, I became so sold on relational evangelism that my perception of cold turkey evangelism pretty much whittled away to a drop in the ocean. I thank God for showing me how He still can work in unexpected ways.
Later that same day, we traveled to Taqueria de Las Brisas (or something like that) for our dinner. While we were there, I felt we were further perpetuating the perception that Americans are loud and overbearing because our relatively large group was crammed into such a relatively tight place. I’m guessing a few of the locals who had dinner there probably thought the same, maybe even, “There goes any chance of enjoying dinner in peace and quiet tonight.” The main center of attention was us. It was like we subconsciously forgot we were on a mission trip and became tourists. I was glad Jerry had us pray for the people who operated the taco stand after we had dinner to remind us we were/are still on a mission. Being confined to ourselves had hindered us from working toward our objective. This is another moment I will remember because it was the most defining moment God used to show me that a missions-oriented mindset needs to be continually within us—His ambassadors. It was because of this I chose to sit with Cyrillo to try to get to know him better instead of simply sharing a meal with the rest of my team the next afternoon, not that there is anything wrong with the latter. It was just something I felt compelled to do having learned my lesson not only of the prior day, but of the entire trip.
Humility is something I usually believe comes fairly easily to me. The reality is, as easily as it comes, it goes even easier and quicker. During construction, I was humbled that some of the younger guys on the team are physically stronger than me, not that I was ever that strong for starters, and that I should let them do the work they probably would be able to do better than myself. With this realization came a sense of pride not in myself, but in these young men that God will hopefully use them even more in the future of His church, not necessarily being limited to First Chinese Baptist Church, Walnut. I also learned to ask for help without as much hesitation. For example, there were a couple of times when Bryant, one of the local youths, poured a lot of concrete into the wheelbarrow I was using. Once I saw the concrete level, I enlisted the help of David Wong, our workhorse for the week, to assist me. After all there’s no “I” in team, right?
Now don’t think my mission trip was perfect by any means. Like several others, it was difficult to find time to be alone with God, granted we probably could’ve been better stewards of our time as well. There were also a few times when I became irritated by some things other team members would say and/or do. Now I’ve never been the type of person to blow up at people. However, when I am irritated by someone, I know I can speak with a less than loving tone in my voice. When it came time to check myself during the week, this was the first thing that came to mind. After this, I tried to consciously remember this throughout the remainder of the trip. This is also something I hope to implement in my life to improve my interaction with people.
When all was said and done, this Ensenada mission trip gave me a greater “big picture” desire to make much of our God and see others do the same. As I watched the local children play a simplified version of “Prisoner Ball” on Thursday, all I could think about was the song “Much of You” by Steven Curtis Chapman as I looked into the distance at the hills in the background and the vast open space in front of them. For those of you wondering if I had any fun on the trip, I definitely did. I know taking showers was pretty high up on the list for many of the ladies. For me, the most fun I had on the trip was riding in the van driven by Pastor Ted on the gravel road going into and out of the camp. Let’s just say that it’s part of the rally enthusiast in me.
But imagine this, how much more “fun” it will be to worship our great God with the children and adults we interacted with in Ensenada—a place geographically closer to us than cities in northern California yet a world apart in almost every regard—that being the saving scarlet thread that is Jesus Christ that runs in-between all His followers. Although our time in Mexico ended on Friday, August 5, 2005, the mission trip has not ended nor will it ever come to an end. Life is not to be lived in a compartmentalized manner with work or school in one, church in another, and so on and so forth. The life God’s given us in Christ is to transcend every facet of the lives we’re stewards of in this world to make much of Him. As some people say, “Life’s a trip.” It’s up to you whether you will live for God or for yourself. Why not spend it making much of the Famous One and telling how great His name and fame is in all and beyond the earth? I can only imagine.
How could I stand here
And watch the sun rise
Follow the mountains
Where they touch the sky
Ponder the vastness
And the depths of the sea
And think for a moment
The point of it all was to make
Much of me
Cause I’m just a whisper
And You are the thunder
I want to make much of You, Jesus
I want to make much of Your love
I want to live today to give You the
That You alone are so worthy of
I want to make much of Your mercy
I want to make much of Your cross
I give You my life
Take it and let it be used
To make much of You
How can I kneel here
And think of the cross
The thorns and the whip and the
Nails and the spear
The infinite cost
To purchase my pardon
And bear all my shame
To think I have anything worth boasting in
Except for Your name
Cause I am a sinner
And You are the Savior
This is Your love, oh, God
Not to make much of me
But to send Your own Son
So that we could make much of You
For all eternity