– Don’t Ever Give Up –

   No te rindas. Não desista. あきらめないでください. 포기 하지마. 不要放弃.  Huwag Susuko. Don’t  Give Up

As well as continuing our work in South America and the U.S, we also want to touch Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe and Asia and are praying for the Lords leading and provision. Recently, we were able to find inexpensive plane tickets and save up enough to take a trip to Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo, Japan, Manilla in the Philippines and Shanghai, China. These are among the largest cities in the world and it was an absolutely incredible trip. We touched so many people from all walks of life. We performed on the streets, in prisons and for orphans. It was quite a challenge not speaking the languages at all, besides memorized phrases. We communicated a lot through theater and dance. 

Performing a theatrical act with my brothers that conveys redemption and forgiveness. 

After many phones calls, emails and faxes sent, we were miraculously able to get authorization to visit the prisons in Manilla where they brought out all the men to see our performance and listen to us. It was such a privilege (and a big gulp). If you follow world news, you’ll know a little about how bad the situation in the Philippines is. The current president has a very strong stance against drugs and has basically given the cops a “shoot on sight” ordinance on anyone reported as using or dealing drugs. As a result many people who are involved in any kind of drug use will turn themselves in so that they don’t get killed. The outcome is extremely overfull prisons with terrible conditions. There is literally no space for all the men the prisons contain. They have to sleep on stairwells, standing up or take turns sleeping (you can look up pictures and info online if you are interested). Most of the men have been in for years and not yet received sentences.  It broke my heart talking to the prisoners and having so many tell me how hungry they were all the time because there is just not enough food.  Things in the Philippines are pretty inexpensive and so we were able to get them some things. 

It was around 107 degrees with high humidity. They had a huge parachute they strung up to give everyone shade. A head director in one of the prisons actually translated for us our entire presentation into Tagalog to ensure that all the inmates understood everything (they all speak some English).  There gratitude was incredible and they all begged that we would come back. 

In one prison, the wives and families of the inmates made shelters for themselves near the prison entrance so they could be near their loved ones. It was so sad to see. They were killing and cooking chickens right by where they were sleeping and trash and sewage filled the streets. You can imagine the smells of such a situation. 

We use Tae Kwon Do to help teach a message of not giving up and fighting to engage our mind. “Don’t give up” is a common expression, but so powerful because giving up and going along is closer to each of us than we would like to admit and can start with the most subtle of thoughts. Those thoughts can develop into attitudes, attitudes into actions and actions into habits, habits which can shape who we are.

I know that life can be so tough sometimes my friends, so fragile. The world can be cold and cruel and leave us feeling lost and irrelevant. We try to consume ourselves with outward things, in attempt to forget inward pain. We strive to go “somewhere” but often end up “nowhere”. A tragic accident can leave us in a situation we never imagined and don’t know how to deal with. But whatever you do, don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t let the current of this world sweep you away and crush you. We cannot change what has been done, but what we do, can change us forever. 

There may be things we do not have and wish we did. But no matter what situation we are in, whether in a physical prison or walls within our own mind,  we have one thing that is so powerful it can change our life and the lives of others. A free will. The power to choose, to change. It is a gift, a weapon and nothing and no-one can take it from us. No matter our outward situation, we can choose the attitude that will determine our inward state. So don’t give up, go up. Be bigger, think deeper go against the current and fight to care. Believe beyond what you see and start to communicate with Him who you can’t see. 

“Huwag Susuko”, is don’t give up in Tagalog and we said it over and over. When we were leaving and saying goodbye, one prisoner came to me and said in hesitant English, “Don’t give up”. He had tears in his eyes. 

At one prison they set up big speakers and sound equipment for us so that everyone in the whole prison could here. They introduced us and gave us a warm welcome. It was like they were just stunned that someone came to them here in this terrible, forgotten place. 

I do a magic trick where I take an invisible seed, plant it and it becomes a flower. I communicate the point that even if we start with something very small, just one new thought, one change of attitude, one decision to contemplate deeper things, this “seed” can grow into something big. If instead of just thinking about God, we would actually start to talk to Him, a seed would begin to take root and even in a horrible place, we could find another “place”.  After we were done, a man said to me, “you can’t call this a show, it is so much more. I feel touched very deep and will never forget you.” 

One man I spoke with was from the US. He spoke 7 languages, had worked for Wells Fargo and had a family. He told me they mistook his identity for that of a drug lord and he should not be here. He has been in for two years and is still waiting for his case to go to trial. The situation here is just tragic. Just think how helpless you would feel if your brother or father was trapped in this hell and you were trying to fight to get them out. 

There were so many kids living on the streets just trying to survive. In 2013 Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 10,000 Philippines and left many with no where to live. Many families came to Manilla seeking to start over and ended up living on the streets. Malaria is something they constantly have to deal with and we had to take great measures to avoid. 

Manilla was definitely one of the poorest and most desperate cities I have ever been to. There was a board walk by the water that was literally full of people sleeping on it. In some case whole families had little camps made up. They wander the streets in the day, and then spend the night here. Its really sad. The need was just overwhelming and the only answer I could offer them was the only real answer there is…for all of us. That we have a loving Father who is kind and patient and wants to help us. He can come to us even in the worst most difficult situation and give us an answer. 

They used side cars attached to motorcycles for taxis. The traffic was so bad everywhere, like complete grid lock, if you wanted to get anywhere one of these things was the fastest (all though not the safest…or cleanest..).  The price and speed depended on how many people the driver could cram on (one fat guy and your in trouble:)).  A taxi driver we had cracked us up telling us that unless he had “two barrels of patience” each day, he would end up smacking someone. 

In general everything was very cheep in Manilla, especially the food so that was great. It cost 8 cents to take a Jeepy which was an extended Jeep used as a bus. I thought it was interesting that all though most of these jeeps were the exact same size, the “Maximum Passenger Capacity” sign on the backs of them were all different. Some said, “Capacity 19” while some said “Capacity 30”. So I guess some drivers figured out how to cram in an extra TEN passengers? Or allowed more to hang out the back…or maybe sit on the roof:). And then does passenger 29 really count out all the passengers already sitting to make sure he will fit?

I looked like a bandit with a bandana around  my face so I could try to breathe clean air :)

Our room in Seoul, Korea was really small but we were so grateful it had a heater in it because it was freezing there.

On the streets of Tokyo.

Some may think that the things we do seem odd, or extreme. But honestly, nothing is more extreme than a man rising from the dead and  I will do whatever I can to bring that hope to this lost, dark world.  As Paul say, ” … that I may by all means save some…(1Cor.9:2)”

It was a challenge communicating in countries where we did not speak the language at all.  We used theater, dance and music to communicate on the streets. Japan has the highest rate of suicide in the world. There is actually a forest outside the city known as the “sea of trees” where people specifically go to commit suicide. It is so disturbing and tragic you don’t really want to think about it. The parking lot is full of abandoned cars and the forest is so thick that no signal or light can enter. Once you go in, you probably will not come out. Its like something from a haunted movie.  

It would take a lot for me to communicate to you the ways and tradition of the culture (from my limited understanding). The youth is raised with high expectations, and if they don’t meet those, they feel they have brought dishonor on their families (This goes back to the days of the Samurai when they would fall on their sword if they dishonored the emperor). The Japanese fought to keep God out of their society and killed thousands of Catholics who first tried to bring Christ. Without God, forgiveness or redemption being in anyway apart of their belief, and with no where to turn for some, the only way out is death.  It is absolutely tragic. Many had a hard, cynical attitude against God and we had to really work to reach individuals beyond the majority. No matter what it takes, there is no greater joy then communicating Gods love to a fallen world. 

We did theatrical performances and skits to communicate different messages. The one we were doing in the picture above depicts a man spending his whole life chasing the dollar bill. Gradually he grows old and dies miserable and empty still chasing money. It really hit home to a lot of people, especially in Japan where their culture revolves around success and everyone is consumed with the newest, best things. 

Our typically dinner consisted of Asian ramen noddles :). One, because it was cheep and two, since we would start each day very early and end it very late so we just didn’t have the time or energy to cook or eat out much.

We performed on the streets, parks and subway stops.  It was really cool to use laughter as a way to break through their wall and find a crack in their armor. In one act we depict a child playing with a ball. Eventually the ball is stollen away and he is given a heavy burden instead (such is life as we loose our innocence and take on the world). In the end someone depicting our Lord, takes back the burden and gives him back the ball (just summing it up, long skit short). In it we throw the ball to the crowd to engage them and it was amazing to see how quickly everyone just wanted to play. In an instant, business men in suits would set down their brief cases and want to catch the ball. I was so surprised. The peer pressure to be cool and the same, was so strong it kept everyone almost robotic.  For the most part, they considered being and thinking as an individual a bad thing. But right behind the image of “cool and together” a part of us just wants to be a child again, and play.  

It was a challenge navigating the metro system.  A massive network of trains that spanned the entire city all written in Kanji.  Not many people spoke English so asking directions was tough. Every station and every train was absolutely mobbed with people and you were not allowed to carry more than one small bag each (of course we had five large ones:)).

Performing in a plaza that is just mobbed with university students on Friday nights in Seoul Korea.

Shibuya is the worlds largest crossing, a million people a day pass by and we spoke with so many there. Preparing for this trip we made beautiful color pictures and wrote a message containing the hope and forgiveness of the Gospel. After a lot of time and work, we were able to translate them into Japanese, Korean, Mandarin and Tagalog. It was very difficult for a number of reasons. The letters,  to our eye, are just unrecognizable symbols and every space and order of the letters completely changes the meaning. Words and terms we are familiar with growing up in a Christian culture, do not exist in theirs. For example, we realized that there are two words for “God” one meaning “a god” or “spirit” so we had to really work to get it right by cross translating, using the Scriptures and explaining to the people helping us translate exactly the context of what we wanted to say.  The name, “Jesus” is nearly unheard of in Japan. 

I talked to a number of young people who had no Bible and no way to get one. The religion of the nation is called, Shinto, “It is defined as an action-centered religion, focused on ritual practices to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past by making offerings and burning incense to statues (idols). Many of them have never heard the Gospel or read the Scriptures. We had a number of Bibles and it was thrilling to give them to people who said they would sincerely begin to read and open their mind. 

In Korea there was a massive protest going on to impeach the president (who is now impeached). It was a gathering of a few million people. We found a spot up on a pick up truck where we could get above the people to share with the crowds and hand out a lot of flyers. The evangelical churches in Korea (as in so many places across the world) are very corrupt. The church with the highest attendance in the world is in South Korea and the head pastor was recently exposed as being corrupt and using church money for personal profit (wow what a shocker). So the people were very grateful and enthusiastic to hear a message to seek the Father and His Son Jesus apart from any “church”. After the event we received many emails from individuals who were inspired and had never heard this before. Conformity and being the same is a way of life here, so when we stood for something different, many were taken by our courage and both Catholics and Christians were inspired to do more in their own country and unbelievers were inspired to start thinking differently. 

A simple phrase I learned in each language was, “Don’t give up!” (like I shared earlier) I would say it over and over to the crowds on the streets and when we performed. I would see it lift peoples countenance and even make them smile. Sometime, when you see someone who is down, try it, tell them not to give up, lift them up. Kindness is like a strong medicine that sadly is so rare today. If God Himself is “kind to the ungrateful (Lk.6:35)” How much more should we be. A little kindness can go so far to pulling someone back from the edge of despair. I notice that even as I serve as a waitress at the restaurants where I work, I can change peoples demeanors just by being genuinely kind to them. Sometimes I can tell that perhaps a couple had a fight, a father is trying to bond with his kids, or someone is having a tough day. I notice that bringing kindness to their table can bring them all together and lift them up. Just think about this power that you and I have! You can really change someone else and help lift the burden of life from their shoulders. 

It’s too cloudy to see, but Mount Fuji is in the picture right behind my brother and I. Just use your imagination:) (Or google a picture of it).

It snowed one day we were there and it was so awesome! It was the first time it had snowed this early in 50 something years! It was magical.  There was also an earthquake that shook us awake one morning. It canceled and delayed a number of trains.

We took a bullet train that went over 200 miles an hour in a layover we had in China. We visited down town Shanghai. Since it is a communist country we had to be careful, but we were able to give out a lot of our colored flyers and talk to people (between English and memorized phrases). The Chinese are a really beautiful people.  I believe that China is in our future and we are praying that God would provide the wisdom, means and finances for us to spend an extended time there in the future. 

One day when we were down town in Seoul Korea, ministering on the streets, we realized that we were only a few blocks from Kukkiwon, the world head quarters of Tae Kwon Do.  My brothers and sisters and I are all second degree black belts in the sport and incorporate this art in our performance. It was cool to see the center where we originally got our black belt certificates from. 

Life is not a game my dear friends, it is a battle and we must fight. If we just float through life as if on a raft without oars, than the current of life will take us in a direction that we do not want to go.  Don’t let the enemy called “routine” steal your life away. Fight to go deeper and be bigger. Fight with kindness to touch another life and genuinely care about someone else. Don’t just think about things, or dream about things. Engage your free will. Choose to change. Choose to believe. Start to live. Fight my friend, and don’t ever give up.