Lessons from physics: how to glorify God in the new year

When I entered college, I already knew I wanted to take a couple specific courses: journalism, for one, and physics.

“What?! Physics? Why would you take that? It’s crazy hard!” Yes, so I’ve been told. But at my liberal arts college, we’re required to take one lab science and one non-lab science. I had a bad experience with biology in high school, and I had found chemistry boring, but I’d loved physics. Why not take it in college?

My mom discouraged me from taking the course, thinking my GPA would plummet. Admittedly, I became a bit anxious by the way everyone talked about the subject. Nonetheless, physics was still on my mind sophomore year. Should I chance taking the class? Would I regret it forever if I passed up this challenge?

That year a chapel speaker spoke on taking challenges, and it was settled. I resolved anew to take the physics. I signed up for the class for my junior year fall—this past semester.

Since I did not complete AP calculus, I took “baby physics,” the algebra based class. Still, I hadn’t taken physics for four years and math for three and a half. On top of that, I did not own the pricey textbook. Moreover, the professor, being a theoretical physicist, did not teach very clearly or understandably.

On the bright side, I had the privilege of sitting next to my friend MJ every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, celebrating when we actually understood something and questioning if that could possibly be true. I also loved walking from chapel to class with my dear friend Ann each day as well, sharing in her life through those walks. Since she studies engineering, she was able to encourage me that I would pass and be okay.

I did well in labs, thanks to my lab partners who understood the subject. My prof was kind and gave us homemade brownies (which he made sure we knew were his creation, not his wife’s) after a bad test. God also provided me with tutors to help with homework, as I was consistently and utterly lost without their help.

But I hated physics. (Sorry, physics major friends.) Unfortunately, I did not understand the subject. The day we spent on music was sweet, and I enjoyed the aforementioned relationships, but I couldn’t wait for the class to finish. All I needed was a D to pass.

For those who knew me in high school, perhaps you think I have stooped too low. But college is not high school, and my college is known for its “rigorous academics” in particular. Since coming to Wheaton, I’ve developed certain skills and lost others. Case in point, I am no longer smart in physics, and I have to be okay with that. I can write and influence people, and since that’s what I want to do (as opposed to being a hard scientist), I was fine scoring low. I just needed to pass so I could graduate on time.

I honestly was unsure if I could achieve this goal. Without any curves or special grading, my test average hovered in the low 50s. I needed a 60 to pass.

I fearfully avoided looking at my grades over break, but last night I checked them. Praise be to God, I somehow passed physics with a C-! Not a D, not even a D+, but a solid C-!

The point of this physics narrative is not actually about science—it’s about taking challenges. Had I not taken physics, I would have regretted it my whole life. I was miserable in this class this semester, but I passed and thus succeeded. In my lowest moments, I clung to the hope that passing would make it worth it, and it has. I can say that I faced and overcame a challenge, and I can take no glory for myself!

All the glory goes to God, who provided me with friends to support and encourage me, a kind professor, tutors for homework help, sustenance and stamina to make it through December, and finally, a passing grade.

Friends, when faced with a daunting challenge this next year, take it. When everyone seems to think you’re crazy and that you’ll fail, persevere. And above all, always lean on God and give him all the glory! We can do nothing without him.

Happy New Year.

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Following the red dirt road

When I was ten-almost-eleven, I visited some missionary friends in Kenya. I still remember the vivid red dirt roads of Machakos; the oil paint that would only come off my MK friend and me with kerosene; the ugali, chicken and chapatis the ladies cooked at the Bible college; and of course the visit to the hills where a local boy noticed my bleeding knee before I did and asked if I was okay.

I’d been interested in the continent of Africa before I visited Kenya, and I’ve wanted to return to East Africa ever since that January 2007.

God has developed this passion particularly in the last two and a half years I’ve been in college. During freshman year, I took advantage of my speech, research and geography classes to study rape in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, globalization (or the lack thereof) in Ethiopia and conflict in Sudan and South Sudan respectively. By doing so, I realized that I was especially drawn to DRC. I couldn’t place any logical reason why, and thus I accredit it to God’s calling.

In summer 2014 I worked as an intern with newly arrived refugees in Denver. I befriended several case managers at that organization, including one who taught me Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. (I haven’t been able to continue those studies, but I love the language and hope to learn it better someday.)

Sophomore year, I knew I was interested in DRC and Rwanda, but I spent all my time studying Rwanda via media (Gospel music on YouTube, movies, independent language studies for a while). According to the CIA world fact book, the Democratic Republic of Congo is geographically the 11th largest country on the globe, contains over 200 tribes and claims five languages commonly spoke throughout the country. I didn’t know where to start, so I decided to study Rwanda instead. I thought some of its culture might carry over the border to Congo. The countries differ, but I know my studies will not be in vain, especially if I work with Rwandan refugees in Congo.

God confirmed my call to DRC at Snow Camp in January 2015. If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I am part of an organization called Mu Kappa. Once a year all the Midwest Mu Kappas gather at a winter retreat, so last Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I had the privilege of hanging out with Africans from Cameroon to Kenya.

After one of the speaking sessions at the retreat, I hung out with some friends in the cabin, napped to recuperate from the active weekend and then spent a half hour alone with God in the snow. While on the swings waiting for dinner, I reviewed what the speaker had said. He had pointed out four main identity questions everyone asks, two of which have stuck with me to this day.

Surrounded by a shimmering landscape of white and the chilly caress of the winter breeze, I thought through the questions: “Who am I? A beloved daughter of God. Where do I belong?” Here God filled in the blank, confirming where he had led me up to that point: “In the DRC, where I have called you.”

Those were his exact words to me, and he couldn’t have chosen a better place to make his call known than when I was surrounded by students who understood such a calling and would celebrate it with me!

Since then, God has also made it “click” that I should also be a missionary. He let me know this one June morning when I was preparing for church and praying for Jesus Christ, my God, to draw a dear Muslim friend into His Kingdom.

So what do I want to do after all my schooling? The succinct answer I tell people is that I want to do journalism and work with refugees in Congo (as a missionary).

At this point, I’m looking into opportunities to visit eastern Congo in summer 2016. God said “okay,” and I long to make this happen! My basic goal this summer would be to visit the area in which I hope to spend my life, to get a feel for it. However, I would absolutely love to work with refugees this summer as well, as that is what I hope to do in the future.

I’m thrilled to be going to Congo. If you have any leads on how to make this happen, I’d love to hear from you! I also appreciate your fervent prayers as I follow God. May we all seek His face and proclaim His glory!!

As a final note for those of you who are already thinking it won’t be easy, I know; I’ve heard it before. But God doesn’t call us to lives of comfort or pleasure! He gives joy through His Spirit when we’re in tune with Him, whatever the circumstances. He also created Congo as a beautiful place full of valuable people like you and I, so I hope to break down some negative stereotypes or associations with “Africa” and DRC on my journey there. I’ll share this Pharrell cover from eastern Congo with you as a start. 😉 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsC23izciN4

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your prayers!

Are Syrian refugees safe?

(published in the Wheaton Record on 03 December 2015; edited and updated here on 06 December 2015)

I’m not surprised that well over half of the United States is essentially barring Syrian refugees, despite the illegality of officially doing so and the human rights violations any de facto or de jure laws induce. This country has a history of creating contradictory laws to allow “desirable” immigrants and keep out the “undesirable.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we welcome Mexican workers to our underpaid fields when times are good but blame the seasonal immigrants when the economy is bad. This occurs with other ethnic groups today, and the United States has been enforcing similar, seemingly subtle practices for centuries.

Take the Chinese for example. During the Gold Rush, we welcomed this group. But when the gold wasn’t shining from the mines anymore, we essentially stopped Chinese immigration via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. The U.S. picked and chose who was most desirable to immigrate, and the Chinese were no longer “it.” Ironically, we created the Chinese Exclusion Act the same year as the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, allowing goods to enter Korea from the West. Around the same time, Japanese inflows increased, only to be stifled 15 years later with the so-called “gentleman’s agreement.” Discriminatory laws later restricted land ownership as well.

To demonstrate more contradictory and unjust immigration laws, the United States upheld the Bracero Program from 1942 to 1964, allowing Mexican citizens to work here, while simultaneously enforcing Operation Wetback from 1953-58, deporting them on the spot if they didn’t have legal documents on their persons when stopped. Does anyone smell racial profiling? Or are you thinking of South African Apartheid?

The contingent manner with which this country creates and enforces certain immigration laws seems ridiculous to me. Now our issue is with Syrian people who are running for safety. We’re afraid because ISIS originated from the same country, but aren’t many Syrians fleeing their homes for the same reason?

Moreover, when we fear that the refugees are terrorists set on destroying this land of “freedom,” we demonstrate our ignorance at the processes refugees go through to leave the camps. My friend from Burundi spent about fourteen years in refugee camps in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo before coming to the States, where he received his green card in the first year and waited five years for citizenship. His wife and children had to wait eleven years before they were allowed to enter the States as refugees. And that hassle was for East African refugees, people not from a place of alleged terrorism.

For all refugees, the paperwork required of refugees entering another country is consuming, and the screenings are intense. Whether immigration is rushed or prolonged, we can be sure that Syrian refugees are not out to harm America. They’re fleeing the terror, after all. Whether they wish they could return to their old home or long for a new one, the camps are not homes. They are meant to provide temporary refuge only. Some of these refugees are well educated, and some are not, but all are displaced and hurting.

As Christians, God commands us to show hospitality to the stranger. He commanded Israel to welcome the stranger, since Israel had once dwelt in a land not their own. Israel had fled terror. Israel was a refugee state.

Are we Egypt, fearing and terrorizing meek refugees, trying to keep their numbers down and mistreating those already here through “protection” laws, unhospitable interpersonal interactions and Facebook posts? Or are we Israel at its best, when they welcomed the stranger because they knew what it meant to need a home?

As Americans, we are a nation of immigrants. As Christians, we are told to love and not fear, to serve and not be anxious. How will we interact with Syrian and Iraqi refugees and with our state and national governments as a result?