Visiting an ICE Detention Center

A stunning rainbow lights up the brooding sky above the Northwest Detention Center. It’s been more than a year since my friend was free. I want to see him before Christmas.

I walk past a barbed wire fence to the steel front door of the building. It turns out the guards had to recently replace it because an angry visitor pulled the old one off its hinges.


Why I haven’t posted in a lonnnggggg time…

Writing is like installing a screen protector on a smartphone.

You blow off all the electrified dust bunnies and painstakingly try to lay on the clear sticker without creating ugly bubbles of doom. The first try is usually pretty good, but you see a few annoying bubbles near the bottom of the screen where your keyboard is, so you gently peel back the sticker, undo the bubbles and lay it flat again–only this time a flying dust bunny wafted right under your fingers and made its home in bubble #2. So you peel back the sticker AGAIN and lay it flat, this time vigilantly cradling your phone to protect it from the dust bunnies of doom.

Sometimes, your effort pays off and your phone’s screen looks brilliantly clear and safe. Other times, the sticker loses it’s stickiness and your screen protector is slaughtered by the army of lint bunnies living in your jeans.

All this to say, one reason why I haven’t posted in a long time, despite having many ideas to write about, is that I never feel like I have the time to polish my thoughts for publication (or peel and reset them to airtight, bullet proof, heart moving, page turning, mind blowing perfection if you will). Since that feeling is unlikely to change in the near future, and the first try is sometimes good enough, I plan on posting thoughts more frequently as they come, accepting the consequences of not thoroughly revising them before publication. Hopefully only one or two dust bunny warriors will get through…


How to ruin a brand new car in less than 24 hours and still give thanks

The jarring jolt unleashed a flood of adrenaline through my veins. A stunned silence follows the moment of impact. In disbelief, I look down at the bright blue “R” glowing in the dark under my right hand. After shifting the car into park, the silence is broken by my sisters’ wild yelling, “Why did you accelerate?! What did you do?!”

My mind can barely process their questions as I slowly open the door and walk around the back of the car to see the damage: a broken taillight, a popped bumper with scuff marks and a circular bump the size of a nail-head protruding through the metal, and two ugly grooves scratched into its upper edge. The bitter cold numbs my nerves so much it makes everything feel doubly surreal.

I had managed to ruin my brand new car in less than 24 hours.

In the darkness, my blank mind slowly reconstructed what happened. The car was parked facing up an incline. A violent, icy breeze made me eager to hurry home. The moment we were all buckled in, I immediately switched gears and let go of the brake. The car started rolling backwards and since I was on an incline, I pushed the gas. Big mistake. I had put the car in reverse and sent 200 ponies charging into the car behind me. How could I be so stupid?

Distressed, I asked my sister to drive the rest of the way home, the events of my mistake replaying over and over again like a scratched DVD. I still wince every time I visualize the damage to my brand new car and avoid looking at the symbolic shard of plastic from my taillight. The car was so perfect, a source of great delight and I had ruined it in a single moment of folly. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wish could simply wake up from the nightmare. Was there no way to undo my mistake?

That night I lay in bed engulfed in feelings of disbelief and regret. Did I really damage my brand new car? It seemed too ironic to be true—the stuff of sitcoms and dramas, but real life? I felt a deep sorrow at my own stupidity and the fact there was no way around it. I was at fault and that was that. It was so humbling: all the late nights spent researching the best car and the best deal and all the time spent negotiating a great price and getting the right color were undone in a split-second of complacency. All my efforts and merits did not matter; God reigns over all and I was utterly at his mercy.

Earlier that day, I had just said that Christ is more precious than cars. I talked about how sad it was that I am more easily excited and passionate about my new car than I am about Jesus and that I and everyone who shared my sentiments ought to repent of idolatry. Now my claim was being put to the test. I could imagine Satan bringing accusations against me like he did against Job, “Of course Chris would say that Christ is more precious than cars—you just blessed him with a beautiful, brand new one. Damage it and watch how he responds.” As much as I wanted to pass the test and prove that I love Jesus more than the new car, my muddy mind could not figure out how to glorify God through the situation beyond a token thanksgiving for safety.

Having hit a proverbial wall, I read Revelation chapter 2 before going to bed and was stunned by the piercing words, “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Look how far you have fallen!” It was so true. There was a time several years ago when I had an irrepressible desire and passion for God. I gobbled up Scriptures, sermons and theological books like teenage boys at a Thanksgiving banquet. I longed for sweet times of prayer like snow-stranded commuters long to be home. I was enthralled that God accepts and loves me just as I am, apart from anything I have ever done—that I cannot impress him and do not need to impress him, but that in his great love he already gave Jesus to die for me and save me. In those days, Jesus was so dear to me that I actively sought out opportunities to tell others about him. I was zealous to obey him and fought hard against sinful desires that obstructed my holy pleasure in God. I felt full of grace and ready to listen to others and pray for others and help others.

As I pondered the past that night, I felt even more sorrowful than I did over my damaged car. Where did my compassion and boldness go? Was it killed by the scorn I suffered for telling people about Jesus? Was it choked by my personal failures that seemed to undermine the good news I once believed with deepest conviction? I had become so fearful to speak up, keeping silent on nearly everything, but the safest and most mundane topics. My former joy and peace gave way to stress and anxiety. Old familiar sins returned to haunt my life. Where I once felt a blazing passion for Christ, I now had a faintly burning candlewick, gently dying of ennui. How could I return to the love for Jesus that I had at first?

While agonizing over this question, an image came to mind of trading in my damaged car and receiving a brand new one in return. You can imagine how happy I was to entertain this idea—such a dealer would be getting a lot of referrals from me! Nonetheless, my crude initial interpretation soon gave way to a more marvelous perspective, that the new car symbolized the righteousness of Christ: spotless, gloriously perfect and beautiful, more precious than anything in the world. Jesus trades his pristine, mint condition righteousness for my sinful mess and pays for the damages I caused (2 Cor 5:21). He lets me enjoy the benefits of his doing everything right, while he covers the cost of my wrongdoings. He suffers the judgment against me on the Cross, being brutally executed for my sins so I can receive the reward of his righteousness: eternal life.

Amazing. Timely. What else could endear Christ to my fallen heart, but this reminder of the gospel? What else could be more fitting for Thanksgiving? God restored what I ruined; he turned my stupid, embarrassing mistake into a stunning reminder of his grace. Praying he will do the same for you today.

Glory be to the sovereign God who uses fender benders to manifest his splendors.

“O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever” Amen. 


Why today is not my day

Today is not my day.

My computer’s network connection went awry last night so I couldn’t make more progress on my work (it was after midnight, so technically it’s today).

This morning I woke up and felt a sharp sting on my left tricep when I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth.  I reached over and felt something like a ball of loose thread so I tried to pulled it out (all the while wondering why a sharp needle-like point would be in said ball of thread)

To my surprise I found a monstrous ant!!!  I leapt back and tossed the ant into the sink, slamming my hand against the wall because my reflexes aren’t calibrated at 6:30am :-P.  It was big, red and ugly–fire ant perhaps? It fell in the sink on its back, wiggling its legs and madly spinning its head looking for an angle to bite its prey.

I turned on the faucet thinking the adventure was over.  Unfortunately, my grandma soon informed me that she found an infestation in my room.

So my dad and I start taking apart my bed, smacking an ant here and there as we go, but even so, we can’t find the source of the problem.

Since we have to go to work, we leave my room undone with the lights on, anxious to return to the conquest of the ant colony when we return home.

When I arrive at work, I have to restart my computer several times because of DNS issues, which prevented me from connecting through the network.  Instead of idling at my desk, I go to the bathroom. 

While sitting there, minding my own business, I discover that the back of my pants is wet, so I spend the next ten minutes drying them off to spare myself the embarrassment of walking around the office with dark splotches on my back.

It’s now only 9:54am.  That’s alot of adventure packed into a 3 hour timespan.  A part of me wants to laugh, a part of me wants to cry–and my left arm still aches from the ant bite.  I want to complain, but I can’t help thinking this is exactly the kind of test where I can see if the gospel is good enough for everyday life.  Can I rejoice in God and the hope that He has promised?  Or will I resort to c’est la vie or whining?

Pray for me please!

 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

So that’s my unpolished blogpost for today.  Raw, real life.



Serving the Homeless on MLK Day

It was a chilly Monday afternoon with a bright sun doing little to dispel the cold and wary atmosphere. As we walked towards the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter, there were several homeless men in puffy, black jackets loitering around and I sensed my party apprehensively draw into a tight formation as we approached the entrance. There were five of us: my dad, two sisters, grandma and myself. We quickly scurried into the building, not knowing what to expect.

The shelter reminded me of a middle school cafeteria.  Everything seemed rather clean, if a bit musty, and the place was well lit and inviting.  Immediately at the entrance was a booth where two or three people were chatting on the phone, eyes on computer screens, but someone noticed us and asked if he could help.  My dad said that we were volunteers from Indonesian Presbyterian Church (IPC), there to help serve dinner for the night.  Then he signed off on a form and we were all sent back to the kitchen for orientation.

The people in the kitchen were friendly. One was a tall black man with a smile on his face and the other was a short, tough guy who might have been Hispanic. We later found out that he was the football coach of one of our fellow volunteers, which helped us all relax. We waited awhile since the full force of 15 people had not yet arrived and got started by storing our jackets and bags in a locked closet. We were soon busy putting on aprons, washing our hands, putting on gloves and learning about the different roles in the cafeteria. I would be assigned to serve salad from the middle of the cafeteria with several other men who would serve dressing, cheese and desserts. The ladies got to stay behind the kitchen counter and serve meals on trays.

Union Gospel Mission has about one hundred residents who actually live in the shelter and go through a recovery program called New Creations.  These men get one-on-one counseling through the Genesis Addiction Recovery process, participate in Bible studies and take daily responsibilities within the Mission.  We started serving these residents at 5:00pm—they get first dibs.  At 5:30pm, the doors opened for everyone and anyone to come in from the streets and have a free meal.

My friends and I were ready around 4:45pm, so we joked about school and girls while waiting for the clock to run down to dinner time.  Eventually several residents filed into the cafeteria.  They were all clean and most were friendly as they collected their food.  One of the residents who I’ll call Jim chatted with my dad while he ate.  He was a tall white man with tattoos on both arms and a short, orange beard.  I had no idea what they were talking about, but it seemed engaging.

Soon the doors opened for everyone else; the panoply of Seattle’s homeless.  Some smelled of urine while others looked like they were fresh out of the shower.  Some wore dilapidated shirts and pants with grimy jackets while others may have shopped at Nordstrom’s.  I couldn’t help but think that some of these folks weren’t homeless at all—just freeloaders looking for a free meal—but who am I to judge?

Even though it was a Men’s Shelter, there were women in line for food as well.  One older woman was very well dressed and even brought her own plate and silverware.  This sharply contrasted with others who looked really dirty like kids who had just played out in the rain.  It was a sad and joyful scene.  Sad that people had to endure such difficult lives, but joyful that we got to be of service and experience what it’s like to love like Jesus does.  There is a sense in which His love is indiscriminate, people who are so poor you can’t help but help them, people who don’t say thank you when you serve them, people who freeload, and people who shine with gratitude—Jesus Christ is kind to all whether they are grateful or not.

As I served salad out of a giant tub, Jim ambled over and sat down next to me, surveying the room.  I asked the next man in line “Would you like some salad, sir?”  He nodded his head with a big smile and said, “Yes, yes, thank you!  God bless you!”  I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it, except that Jim stood up and whispered to me, “You hear that man thanking you?  That’s the Holy Spirit thanking you, right there.”  And a few moments later he said with soft-spoken passion, “Jesus died for every person in this room.”  While I was somewhat wary of the theological imprecision of his statements, I was moved too.  It was as if God were so pleased with us and delighted to see us serving the poor.  His pleasure is contagious.

It turns out that Jim had a really broken background.  He was smart, no doubt, having discovered a way to automatically generate credit card numbers and using them to get the works: babes, booze, big TVs and drugs.  He had been in and out of jail several times, but what always amazed him was that UGM would still take him back.  I think he put it best when he explained, “Rehab doesn’t work.  Detox doesn’t work.  But the gospel—it works.  The gospel of grace.”

When dinner was over we helped clean up a bit while other residents came down and mopped the floor.  I was relieved and rejuvenated.  A lot of my worries and suspicions about the homeless gave way to compassion.

After feeding everyone freely, UGM has a chapel service.  No one is required to go, but everyone who attends is allowed to sleep on the foam mattresses they setup in the cafeteria.  They do this tirelessly day after day: serving the poor, feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel and watching God do the impossible.  If you find your soul in need of refreshment, I highly recommend going.  The grace you experience serving at UGM is a great way to remember (or encounter for the first time) the grace everyone—homeless or not—can experience at the Cross.

Contact for more information.

Article written for Indonesian Presbyterian Church.