Sabbatical 16: "Shades of Jade" (July 18-August 3)

It’s late January, 2016 as I write this, and I am approaching the 20 year milestone of serving as pastor of VEV. I have seen a lot of things over these years of living, working, and worshiping in my Vancouver neighbourhood (25 years in total). Our church community has hovered between 80-100 in attendance. We’ve seen the planting of two churches, served thousands of chili-wagon meals on Commercial Drive, and have enjoyed a remarkable relationship with a tiny remote First Nations community on the Yukon Border for 21 years. We’ve had a steady stream of Regent students come through, many of whom fulfilled their supervised ministry requirements in our church while serving as pastoral assistants. While they received mentoring and training, they also etched their own positive mark on our church, and have now moved on to fruitful service elsewhere. Some of these remarkable people included Alec Arnold, Patrick Wicker, Susan Harrison, Christa Gerber, Dawson McKay, and our son-in-law, Markus Akert.  

One of the greatest difficulties of the past 20 years has been having to say “goodbye” to so many deeply loved individuals and families. My heart has been shattered over and over again. There have been seasons where we’ve enjoyed vibrant children and youth ministries, only to see them dwindle at the end of that season, when kids have grown older, or leaders have moved away. When I was younger, I could scramble to fill the holes. I can’t do that anymore. How do I keep from becoming "jaded?" What do I mean? Probably the greatest risk in a place like this is vision, and a close second is the state of my own heart. It means allowing myself to default to merely being “faithful” and just going through the motions. It means no longer embracing paradox: the paradox of surrendering dreams over and over again, without giving up on those dreams; the paradox of being realistic about “what is” while continuing to “see the unseen.” It is a "realism" that does not take into account God’s promises. All this results in jadedness. Jadedness is the loss of innocence and the sense of wonder we had as children. Last Saturday at our inter-church prayer gathering, Pax, now 7, declared, "I may be small but I have an imagination as big as this building!" These were important issues to address in my own heart going into the sabbatical. I had been in danger of “shades of jade."  

A Soft Re-Entry

Kathleen and I returned to Vancouver on Friday, July 17, and attended church the following Sunday for the first time since departing for sabbatical in early April. We enjoyed a peaceful and joyful reunion with our church family. Indeed, we felt free to just "be there," without having a role at that time and for the rest of the summer. This was such a remarkable gift and testament to the maturity and character of our church!   
The following week, I was scheduled to perform my first wedding at St. David of Wales Church, our new VEV home. The story of this wedding began 15 years ago at VEV when a lovely Korean woman, her teen daughter, and six-year old son began attending our church while we were meeting at the old Grace Chinese Mennonite Church on Graveley and Commercial (2000-2003).  They caught my eye immediately and memories stirred in me of my first trip to Korea in 1985. We found out later that the Shin family’s father was a missionary who was constantly taking covert missions into parts of the world that were hostile to the Gospel, and so had to stay “under the radar.”  The teen girl, whose Korean name is 신해원, (Haewan Shin), we came to know as Jessica, or “Jess.” She became great friends with our daughter, Danielle, also a teen at the time.

It's Best Not To Know Some Things... 

Dee and Jess, still great friends, oh, and
Hannah too!
We found out only recently how the Shin family came to our church. Danielle was enjoying her new-found independence as a teenager, and was involved in the high school party scene at various venues around the city. Jessica, who was going through a time of reaction and rebellion against the church was intrigued to find out that Danielle was not only the life of the party, but also a pastor’s daughter. She insisted on her mom taking her to our church to check us out! It resulted in a friendship that continues to this day and she became a part of our crazy VEV youth group.

Eventually, this family also moved on and Jessica went on to be a youth pastor in Surrey. She began speaking to teens on the topic of Sexual Integrity in high schools. We had her speak to our church a few years back, and late last year, we connected again relationally. Early in our sabbatical year, she asked Kathleen and I for mentoring support for a romantic relationship she had formed with a young man, Peter Lillehoj, who was a research professor at Michigan State University. Peter had just recently obtained a 1.8 million US dollar research grant to develop a rapid response diagnosis of malaria, one of the most infectious diseases in the world, through cellphone technology. For more information, read here.

At the end of last year, we were able to meet Peter for the first time and we instantly felt a common bond with him. He was very familiar with the Vineyard, having attended the first Vineyard church in history in Hollywood during his college days. (Just to be clear, he wasn’t there when it started - he’s not old enough for that!) Peter had a humble and disarming demeanor. We enjoyed watching him and Jess together. We felt they were a great match. We were honored when they asked us to consider doing their pre-engagement mentoring. With Peter living in Michigan, and Jess still living in BC, we went through the material from January to March, with the help of google hangouts, except when Peter happened to be in town for a visit. We were able to get the preparation done before our sabbatical, and by then, Peter had proposed to Jessica, and she had accepted.

The Gift of Memory

I was honored, indeed, overjoyed, when they asked me if I would perform the wedding ceremony for them at St. David of Wales Church. Their plan was to have only us with their immediate family present along with a professional videographer who would document the ceremony, and edit it into a presentation that could be shown at several wedding receptions they would host in different parts of the country and world - including one here in the Lower Mainland, then the eastern USA, Southern California, and Korea. The date we had planned for was July 23, just a few days into our “soft re-entry” from sabbatical. This took a lot of our first week back. It involved a wedding rehearsal followed by a dinner, meeting family, and practical preparations, followed by the reception in Langley. Nevertheless, it was the perfect re-entry for me. We enjoyed meeting Jessica’s parents again, 신문철 과 오예리 (Moonchal and Yeiri), with whom we had spent a wonderful evening in Seoul in April.  We also enjoyed meeting Peter’s wonderful parents. His mom, 현순 (Hyun Soon) Lillehoj, is a world renowned researcher in poultry immunization. She had just received a lifetime achievement award from President Obama for her work. You can find more about that here.

It was a remarkable first week back and the wedding was breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps the most moving moment for me, next to watching Jess being brought in by her parents, was watching Peter declare his vows to Jessica with tears flowing down his cheeks. Not far behind was meeting Jess's Korean grandma and seeing the delight on her face when I introduced myself to her in Korean.  

Experiencing this event was like looking back through a telescope and seeing afresh the wonderful memories of how God has been faithful through the years – through the ups and downs, the tides that had come in and had receded, from the end of one season to the beginning of a new one; all being woven into a story that isn't finished yet; all an antidote for “shades of jade.”

ok, probably against my better judgment, I have added this photo but it was Jess and Peter's FB post with the photo that meant so much to us and another cure for any residual "shades of jade." 

From Jess and Peter: "To our most wonderful wedding officiants, marriage mentors, spiritual umma & appa and the actual parents to one of my most oldest and closest friends: thank you for being the source of Light, Love and Learning you have been and continue to be for us! We honor you. 사랑해요 oxx — withKathleen Lagore and Gordie Lagore."