| A Few Weeks Before Myanmar |
Singing was Lisa Kim’s thing. But never onstage or in a choir. Nothing like that. Lisa loved to crank up the volume in her headphones, sit on her bed, and let the melodies fly. Sometimes she sang the same song over and over. Sometimes an instrumental played in the background as she made up choruses and verses reflecting how she felt. But one thing always remained each time: she sang to God. With the music continuing in the background, she would start to pray or read her Bible. Lisa refers to these moments as her “quiet times.”
In the summer of 2009, however, these quiet times looked quite abnormal.
As a grad student pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Politics at Seoul National University, one of Korea’s most prestigious schools, her plate often looked full. But for that summer, it spilled over. A few months prior, she had stepped into the role of Missions Coordinator for New Philadelphia Church. In partnership with the organization Native Pastors for World Missions, Lisa plowed through the organizing, planning, and accounting for the 44 people about to go on week-long trips to either Australia, Cambodia, Thailand, or Myanmar. These short trips, commonly called “missions,” send out church members to partner with local churches and pastors.
Lisa was scheduled to travel with the team, bound for politically-oppressed Myanmar. Torn apart by religious and regional strife for generations, the nation formally known as Burma began shifting politically and steadily opening its borders to foreigners. Safety was certainly not guaranteed for Lisa and the eight other church members. No one on the team had ever stepped foot in Myanmar, and for Lisa, as she planned, the trip’s uncertainties unravelled daily. At one point, the realization of persecution became so real that the team wrote out wills...just in case anything were to happen.
became so real that the team wrote out wills...just in case anything were to happen.
Concerns spun throughout every crevice of her brain. And usually, when this happened, her headphones waited by her bedside, songs to God at the ready. But at the end of that summer, there was no singing. For Lisa, the emotions of it all crippled her. She felt incapable of completing these tasks. Burden and hopelessness smothered her.
That is why, as the departure date for her trip to Myanmar crept closer, her quiet times became a series of nerve-piercing screams into her pillow.
“Why, God?” she would scream. “I’m a volunteer...I’m a student...Why do I have to do all of this?”
It was clear. This trip to Myanmar was going to make or break her.
| Sri Lanka | Stamps color every page of Lisa’s passport. A source of pride for any world traveler. Lisa, however, remains very humble about her unique lifestyle. She has tasted all the food, learned the greetings, said the thank you’s and slept in the huts of almost every Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian country. From India to the Philippines, back around to Cambodia, trudging through Bangladesh, and hiking through Indonesia, her globetrotting began early on.
Between her sophomore and junior year of college, in the summer of 2004, Lisa received a scholarship to intern at a nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Sri Lanka for a conflict resolution program.
South Asia punched Lisa in the gut, but it felt good.
The NGO strategized on how to best prepare local communities for the integration of the two most prominent people groups: the Tamils and the Sinhalese.
integration of the two most prominent people groups: the Tamils and the Sinhalese. Through workshops, Lisa and her team attempted to educate the locals.
Lisa approached every aspect of her first international internship earnestly. But two moments stick out.
The first brings a beaming smile to Lisa’s face as she explains the afternoon she got invited to “The Tank.”
Lisa sat amongst a group of Sri Lankans and to her surprise, most of those staring back were her age. As the day progressed, one guy started to stand out. His facial features, the way he carried himself, and even his sense of humor, bore a striking resemblance to a good friend from Lisa’s high school days. After the day of workshops wrapped up, the guy, along with a few other locals, invited Lisa to go swimming at “The Tank,” a man-made reservoir that locals frequently swam in.
Twenty-year-old Lisa saddled up on the handlebars of a rusted bike while the Sri Lankan peddled along the dirt roads of the lush landscape. The wind flipped up her hair, the locals on both sides casually peddled and laughed in a group, the dresses of the girls flowed with the breeze: Lisa felt Sri Lankan. This is where I needed to be, she thought. She felt at home.
But that high didn’t happen everyday. The second monumental moment occurred during a conflict resolution workshop.
A middle-aged mother raised her hand to speak. She hesitated briefly and began to weep. Straining to hold in the tears, she expressed the extreme difficulties of raising children in that area. With no money and an abusive husband, the mother’s burden grew as her young child’s health depleted. She blamed herself. The more stress the mother carried, the sicker the child became.
Lisa could only stare back. As a workshop facilitator, she was ill-equipped for this conflict. Inward conflict. Emotional burden that was rooted in something deeper than getting along with hostile people groups.
“We knew how to calm down conflict. That was in our training,” Lisa remembers. “But when it came to trauma and inner healing issues, we were not prepared.”
In that moment, Lisa’s heart broke for that woman. But she also felt helpless. The NGO she came with did not address these issues. And whereas the summer in Sri Lanka birthed Lisa’s affinity for South Asian cultures, it also birthed a desire to see something substantial done for the people in these regions.
| Myanmar—On the Field | The trip to Myanmar had arrived. And while stress lingered behind the logistics of the trip, Lisa felt like she had to just give it all up to the Lord. She came to a firm conclusion in her heart. Being a missionary was difficult. Very difficult, indeed.
Her master’s degree was one semester away from completion and a route toward international politics typically followed. Lisa clearly saw herself influencing governmental agencies to better aid developing nations through diplomacy. She never envisioned a life of missionary work. But the task at hand had nothing to do with governmental agencies. The trip to Myanmar did not include an NGO like the one she worked for in Sri Lanka five years prior.
This didn’t sit well with her. She felt torn in two directions. So she asked God, very clearly, I would really prefer to not do this anymore. God, I am sure there is someone more qualified to do this...but...if you make it really, really clear that I am supposed to be a missionary, then I will do it.
there is someone more qualified to do this...but...if you make it really, really clear that I am supposed to be a missionary, then I will do it.
The flight took off and the anxiety-riddled months of planning ended.
“Those couple of months were particularly tough,” Lisa says. “But I know that God had to do it. He had to allow me to break and completely exhaust all of my own resources. That way, when His power showed up, I would know it had nothing to do with me, my gifts, or my strength. It was all Him.”
Once in Myanmar, the team traveled to a local church in Myitkyina. Lisa, still tired, still exhausted, suddenly felt a rush of excitement in her chest.
After a sermon by one of the preachers on the team, attendees approached the front. The team began praying for them. And in that moment, Lisa witnessed intense emotional encounters in the room as men and women, young and old, began sobbing.
“The power of God was falling on them,” Lisa recalls. “I had a taste of this on a previous mission trip, but nothing this powerful. Everyone in the room was being ministered to.”
This continued for six more days. From village to village and city to city, almost every sanctuary the team entered, they witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in the room.
| Growing Up | Lisa believes the Bible to be her guidance manual. But like most others, she has yet to fully memorize it. So, she relies on its teaching about the Holy Spirit for guidance as well. That when Jesus ascended into heaven, He left his spirit here on earth. And in Lisa’s life, she relies on the Holy Spirit all the time.
Lisa’s reliance on the Holy Spirit, however, did not always exist.
As a sophomore in high school, Lisa’s days followed a steady progression of anger and deep depression. The hovering pressure to snag good grades consumed the emotional fibers of her being.
She attended a private academy nestled in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, called The Brearley School. Historically the oldest all-girls school in New York City, it attracted students from the city’s most affluent families. Lisa, however, was there on scholarship.
“Think about the show Gossip Girl,” Lisa jokes. “And you know the kind of girls I went to school with.”
The Korean-American from Roosevelt Island, New York began her schooling wide-eyed and eager. As the daughter of immigrant parents that owned a small business, finances were never something to boast about. Not really poor but also not living in that upper echelon of New York’s elite, Lisa found herself surrounded by girls that lived in a different reality.
And in her sophomore year, when reality struck, she struck back.
An edge came over her. She witnessed the growing gap between the privileged life her classmates lived and that of her lower-middle-class neighborhood. On one hand, it birthed a desire to help those in need. On the other hand, she became fueled by angst. Only to crash and fall into phases of depression.
“I was actually clinically depressed in high school,” Lisa says. “I took medication for a bit. But, in actuality, I was just really angry. Ironically, it was at this time that I started to cultivate a heart for justice. But that heart was fueled by anger.”
This determination to see change within the underprivileged increased when she attended Brandeis University, a mid-sized liberal arts school just outside of Boston, Massachusetts.
when she attended Brandeis University, a mid-sized liberal arts school just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. And as Lisa matured out of her teenage petulance, she began her life as a diplomat.
| Myanmar—Final Day | The Myanmar trip came to an end. The trip was nothing short of life changing, and Lisa and her team drove in a cramped van back to the airport. Like any road trip scenario, goofiness prevailed.
Until one of the teammates looked around and told them he had something to share. He had had a detailed dream in which God spoke to him directly.
There were many elements to his dream, but one that obviously stood out to Lisa was what God had specifically said about her.
“And Lisa,” her teammate said, “God wanted me to tell you that you are supposed to be a full-time missionary.”
Eyes wide and eyebrows up, Lisa shook her head. She just couldn’t believe it. God answered her request directly. This guy didn’t know about the times she screamed into the pillow. Those conversations were between her and God.
This single moment, on a busy highway in the middle of Myanmar, changed the direction of Lisa’s life forever.
| Today | “Dang! God is so good, right?” Lisa says. This would be her catch phrase if she needed one.
Today, she sits in a café in Seoul, South Korea beaming with giddiness. She loves testimonies. She loves when people reflect and share. To her, nothing beats a good story of someone experiencing a miracle healing or tear-filled encounter with God’s impactful love. So as she shares about the bus ride to the airport, her smile holds nothing back. She loves her story because it is so filled with God.
Lisa’s travels have opened her eyes. She walks the streets of this bustling metropolis like anyone else, in a hurry. Yet, she understands that with each step along the paved sidewalks to an air-conditioned coffee shop with friends, a mother takes a step down a dirt road en route to gathering water from a well for that night’s dinner.
Lisa has seen and heard the turmoil and devastation of families ripped apart by civil war and military coups. She has eaten goat at a local’s table, fingers sloppy with orange-ish curry while a pile of rice sat on her plate. She has quietly held young children at orphanages in rural villages and prayed for the terminally ill with no doctor in sight. Only to pack up after the week-long missions trip ended, hug goodbye and just tuck away any helpless emotion that might say, I’ll probably never see you again.
And yet she keeps going out.
“I know this is what I am called to do,” Lisa says.
| Myanmar—Three Years Later | The common argument against short-term mission trips by Christian-based organizations or churches is that they do nothing. These trips accomplish nothing practical for a struggling economy or impoverished region of the world. No infrastructure is established over a week where passionate Christians pray for and encourage the people they come into contact with to accept Jesus.
Lisa has heard it all. But in her experience, anytime she studies international relations and geo-political outreach, she finds that something is missing.
international relations and geo-political outreach, she finds that something is missing. And after her trip to Sri Lanka, where she actually worked for an NGO, she stands convinced.
“You can attempt to help a region with all the material things they need,” Lisa says. “But from what I have seen, all that effort is good. But what happens when another disaster or war comes? What really lasts is a complete heart change towards having hope. Specifically, hope in the Lord. And that can only come through Jesus.”
Lisa went back to Myanmar with another team in 2012. She couldn’t wait to get back. Remembering the crazy trip in 2009, she expected what she saw back then: powerful encounters with God.
But she got something completely different. She witnessed a changed people. The local pastors that the team partnered with in 2009 had continued to lead and influence local communities. And as a result, the people grew in their faith and lived life with hope.
“After the trip in 2009, a team member made a video recapping our time in Myanmar. I watched that video over and over again,” Lisa says. “Well, the next time we went to Myanmar in 2012, I saw this old lady that I recognized from that video.”
The old lady lit up. She remembered the team very clearly because they prayed for her in 2009.
“This lady then tells us about how, at the time, she was struggling with uncontrollable bleeding,” Lisa says. “The inconvenience of it took over her life.”
Lisa pauses as the she tells the story, and a huge smile comes out. “Oh man, this is so crazy!” she shouts before continuing the story.
The woman, then, explained that when they prayed for her, the problem immediately stopped. She was healed instantaneously and no relapse has occurred. Lisa was blown away.
“You see,” Lisa ponders momentarily. “As humans, it is so easy to fall into the temptation to limit God to what we see. But God is always working behind the scenes...I think for me that is what makes it all worth it.”
As Lisa grew up in the tension between the rich and the poor, God worked behind the scenes to change her heart of angst to a heart of compassion for the needy. While she worked for an NGO in Sri Lanka, God worked behind the scenes to reveal to Lisa that in addition to environmental transformation, these people needed a hope that would strengthen them. And over a total of 18 trips to Thailand, Nepal, India, and Cambodia, to name a few, God worked behind the scenes to use Lisa to reach the people He loves.
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