KD was a big man, who could have doubled as a TV star. He was a former college athlete and a clear leader within the underground Christian movement. In short, he was a stud!
We met at the home of John Ellis, who was a mentor and boss to both KD and me. I remember that night being a joy. We laughed. We ate. KD shared with us some of the stories of the local church movement. We walked away as friends.
For the next fifteen years, KD and I served together in various ways and from the vantage point of several roles. We were co-laborers and brothers-in-arms until I departed Asia in October 2014. My respect, admiration, and enjoyment of him only grew over the years.
KD was with me here in Los Angeles yesterday. He is now over a large movement of church networks all over my former home in Asia. He is in town speaking at a local Chinese Christian conference all weekend. KD came in a day early so we could spend time together. He was gracious enough to speak to our church staff yesterday afternoon as well.
KD shared about the work which is ongoing in Asia. He showed pictures of my former colleagues, my friends and brothers in Christ. I was overjoyed to hear and see that the Christian church in my old region of Asia is going stronger than ever. As I talked with KD all day and then watched him presenting what is happening in Asia to our staff, I was filled with emotions. My heart and mind were jumping from joy to pain to hope.
As I sit here now processing yesterday’s time with KD, several themes are coming to the surface.
…amazement at the continuation of the Gospel in my old Asian home
God started a great work in that country several hundred years ago. There was very slow, arduous growth. The Christian church in this country experienced one of the greatest seasons of persecution that any people have lived through in human history. The work of the Gospel began growing in the 1950s and then it accelerated massively in the 90s. This growth continues to this day. It was an absolute privilege having a front row seat for a 20-year window as the church in Asia grew at a historic pace.
I left on October 14, 2014, but I was confident the work of Jesus among this wonderful people and country would continue. It has and in ways I could not have dreamed. It was with amazement that I sat there listening to KD talk about all that is going on in Asia right now.
…joy in knowing that my friends and brothers & sisters are doing well
Life is hard in Asia for the Christian church. Even though the growth is exceptional, it is still a war. It is lonely, exhausting, and fear-laden. Most of the Christians have been rejected by their families as a result of their decision to follow Christ. Many have been arrested, interrogated, and harassed by the police, as my friend KD has on many, many occasions.
I sat in many tea houses just listening to local Christian brothers share of their hurt from the rejection of their families and their broader culture. I worried for them and I still do. The pressure upon them continues to be profound and all encompassing. However, as KD gave me update upon update of my friends in Asia, I was overjoyed. As I sit here now having time to take it all in, I find myself celebrating all the more. Complete and total joy.
Many times in Asia, I thought that if I left certain friends in Asia, this might be their “final straw.” They would crack. I was wonderfully wrong. They are thriving and moving forward in life and ministry with the strength I never imagined.
…I deeply miss my friends, that time period, and the exhilaration of being a part of that movement
Upon praying with KD in my office as he was about to leave, I began tearing up. I walked him to his car, we hugged, and he drove off. I then walked the streets surrounding my office building and wept. I’m sure it looked strange. These streets of Beverly Hills rarely see disheveled messes like they were presented with yesterday at 4:15pm. But there I was; walking, crying, and processing life.
I miss my friend, KD. I miss being in the midst of his commitment to Jesus. I miss my other brothers and sisters over there immensely. I miss that time period in my life. I miss the dreams we were all collectively dreaming; dreams of what God would do in our midst. I miss the work.
I miss seeing Christ work in and through men and women so utterly different from myself. We were from different backgrounds, countries, and life experiences. Yet, it worked. It really did. I miss having faith in Christ and our common desire to see the kingdom of God expanded in and around us as our only real and tangible commonality.
As I walked the streets here in Los Angeles yesterday late afternoon, I felt acutely the pain of missing, of distance.
…as I grieve missing my life in Asia, I am filled with hope
This is one of the many strange phenomena of the Christian life of which I appreciate more with time. We can grieve loss and yet cling to hope at the same time. In the beautiful story of Christ himself, we see ultimate hope and final victory wrapped up in the execution of our Savior, father, friend, and hero. In the crucifixion of Christ, we find pain and suffering ending in hope and joy eternal.
Today I am honestly grieving the end of a time period in my life of which I will always cherish. I will never see many of the people I used to do life with again on earth. Even if I do see them again, as I did KD yesterday, it’s just not the same as it was. The love and respect is the same, but the presence of daily life will almost certainly never be there again.
However, today I am also hopeful.
I am hopeful, because there will be an eventual reunion. There will be a time when we all meet again. And the next time we meet, there will be no more pain, no more suffering, no more loneliness. There will be no more fear or longing for home. We will be home already. We will be home together and we will be celebrating.
I’m certain there will be joy unspeakable. Our pains of this world will be forever removed. The inconveniences and temporary suffering we all carry here will be a thing of the past.
I am hopeful, because I am choosing to enjoy what I have been given, rather than fixating upon that of which is no longer mine. God gave me the gift of 15 years of living and serving in Asia with some of the greatest people I have ever met. I still can’t believe I was able to do life with KD, John Ellis, and many others. I still can’t believe that God gave me the gift of being able to experience history, not merely read about it. Even as I type this, my heart is filled with gratitude beyond description.
I am hopeful, because there are good people everywhere and God is working here and now, just as He was there and then. Just as there were wonderful people in Asia, so are they here in Los Angeles as well. Just as God was working in East Asia in 2001, so is He here in California in 2017. The people might enjoy different movies and prefer differing levels of spice in their food, but there are wonderful people of God everywhere and in all times. This is the case in Los Angeles and my old home in East Asia, we well as Peoria, Atlanta, London, and to the ends of the earth. I have experienced this the world over.
So today I am both grieving the pain of missing friends and a cherished time period of my life, while at the same time I am grateful for all that is currently going on in, around, and through me.
Most of all, today I am celebrating a time of which all of our striving will cease, all of our “missing” will end, and perfect joy will begin.
As in all things, I’m grateful for my Savior and friend, Christ Jesus, who brought and brings together longing and hope in a way that is impossible to explain but wonderfully true all the same.