Nov 20, 2009

Paradise Broken

On the morning of Septemeber 11, 2001, when I saw the towers in the flames, I felt an unusual pang of longing, a longing to be in America. My country was shattered, and I felt I should be there, with my people, sharing their grief, mourning with them. (And yes, of course Saipan is part of the United States, but nonetheless, I felt so far away).

I felt that same longing again this week, here in America, only this time, my heart was breaking for the islands that have been our home for over a decade. My islands were broken and hurting, and I feel I should be there, with my people sharing in their grief and shouldering a portion of their pain.

The first blow came with the news of the murder on Wednesday of student missionary Kirsten Wolcott on the island of Yap. I never knew Kirsten, never even met her. But because she was a student missionary, just as I once was; because she served on the islands I've come to love; because she set out on a morning run on the last day of her life, just as I did a hundred times with student missionary teachers in Saipan, I felt an automatic kinship with her, as well her colleagues at the Yap SDA School devasated by loss. She, and they, are my tribe, my people. And my heart hurts.

The second shock came hard upon the first, and this one closer still to home--a mass shooting that resulted in five deaths and a half dozen injuries in Saipan on Friday. Nothing like this has ever happened in Saipan, and the island, already beleagured by so much trouble, is reeling. The Facebook updates of friends recorded shock and confusion in real time, as schools were put on lockdown while police looked for the shooter. They found him eventually, dead by his own hand, at the edge of Banzai Cliff. When I first heard the news, my thoughts immediately went to our teachers at the Saipan SDA School. I knew based on the location of the shootings and the descriptions of the victims that they were physically fine, but I was concerned about their emotional well-being as well. These courageous young women have been through so much--wading through their first year of teaching (which in itself is quite ordeal), enduring multiple break-ins of their home, and now the murder of one of their colleagues on another island--and then this. I felt for them, these teachers who would have been my friends and co-workers if we had remained in Saipan. And I felt for my island and for people of the Marianas that have become extended family to me over the years. These--the teachers of Saipan SDA, and the people of the CNMI--are my people. They are my tribe and I feel I should be with them.

But I cannot be there, and so I mourn our paradise broken from afar.

Kirsten Wolcott. Our prayers our with her family, friends, co-workers, and students.

Last Command Post on the northern end of Saipan, where the gunman shot the second group of victims. Our prayers are with the families of those who lost loved ones in this tragedy, and with the victims who survived for healing for their wounds and a speedy recovery.

Mighty to Save

So lately I've been claiming a song as a prayer. Can you do that? I hope so, because I am.

I've come to realize that in the end there's only so much I can do for my students. I can reward them and punish them. I can threaten and cajole. I can try to inspire their curiosity and rouse their interest. I can listen and care; advise and guide. I can plead with them and I can pray with and for them. But in the end, I cannot save them. Only God can do that. It's hard to accept that there is only so much you can do. You don't want to lose a single one, and it's hard when you think you might. I've got a couple students right now that I'm really struggling with. Today, in particular, I drove him feeling a pretty down. And then that song I'd been claiming came up on my ipod. . ."Savior, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save. . ." I wasn't feeling it so much at that moment, but I decided that just because I wasn't feeling it, didn't make it any less true. He is mighty to save, and He alone can do what I cannot--reach a life where hope seems lost and turn it around. And so once again, I claimed, sang, prayed, that song for my troubled students, believing that Jesus can move the mountains in their life.

And tonight on that drive home, as I lifted my current students up in prayer, I thought of one of my former students, also going through a tough time though in quite a different way. I talked with her for a long time on the drive to work the other day, and I ended the conversation feeling as if I'd done little good. I wanted so much to really encourage her and make things better for her, and I didn't know how to do that. Once, again I had that horrible, helpless feeling we teachers sometimes get--the feeling that we can't do what we want to do most of all--make a difference. And so I turned once again to the only one who can make a difference--the Author of salvation, the One powerful enough to conqueor even the grave, and lifted my former student to Him as well.

I can't save my students, as much as I want to. But I know Who can, and so I turn to Him, every day.

If video doesn't play, you can go directly to the link, here.

Introducting. . .Shadow!

The Shadow Team: Year 1. These kids have the honor of being a part of the very first season of CAA's own drama ministry, Shadow. The nicknames will come as I get to know these kids better. In the meantime, I can identify my co-director, Mrs. Wayna Gray, in white on the right. All the members of the team are present in this photo taken at the end of our retreat, Sabbath, October 31, 2009, except for two. One boy had to leave early, and the other was out of town that weekend and was unable to attend.

It's been a new chapter in so many ways for me this fall. So much of what I've known for the past decade or more is now a memory. And yet so much of my new life here in America carries echoes of the old life in Saipan. I'm in another small Adventist school with 70-odd students, many of which are not Seventh-day Adventist. I'm teaching another 8th grade class, helping them fundraise for their class trip in the spring. I'm once again one of the few men on a mostly female staff. And, now once again, I'm co-directing a team of young and enthusiastic thespians--Columbus Adventist Academy's brand new drama team, Shadow.

People asked me if I would continue REAL Christian Theater in the states, and I always said no. REAL belongs at the Saipan SDA School--in my view it shouldn't be transplanted or restarted elsewhere. REAL is special--it can't be replaced or replicated. But I always had a sense that I would start a new drama ministry at my new school--one that would be uniquely CAA, special in it's own right. I thought I'd wait a year or so, to get a feel for things at my new school, but I guess God had other plans. And so Shadow was born.

We held auditions in mid-October and the kids who came out blew us away with their creativity, energy, and talent. On October 31st, we held our first retreat at in the school cafeteria. It was an all-day affair, from 9 in the morning until 7 in the evening, with the emphasis on teambuilding, drama workshops, and most importantly, a spiritual focus for the year. Ten kids made it to the retreat, and they became the official new drama team, joined later by one more student who was out of town the weekend of the retreat.

After the retreat, we began meeting for rehearsals every Friday afternoon from 2:30 to 3:30 in my classroom, and last Friday we finally settled on a name for our team--Shadow. The name references many things--God's Light, for example, casts a shadow: us! We seek to remain in the shadow of the cross, under the shadow of His wings. And of course the whole idea of shadows has a uniquely theatrical feel to it as well. I'm excited to see how Shadow will reflect God's light and love on stage in the months and years to come.

This year's Shadow team consists almost entirely of 5th and 6th graders. We have only one older student, in 7th grade. This is great because it means we'll have three or four years together as a team to work together and hone our skills. It also means a team that is literally bursting with excitement and energy--which is great, but can also sometimes be bit draining! Still, I love the kids in Shadow, and I look forward to seeing them grow in their performing abilities and even more importantly, in their love for the Lord.

Pray for our team this year as we seek to be His shadow!

Three "Shadows" work on creating an original skit during the retreat, October 31, 2009.

Another group of three Shadow actors working on their skit.

Two "Shadows" taking a break during the retreat. The girl in the yellow is our youngest member. She is in either third or fourth grade--I can't remember which. Shadow auditions were open to all students in grades 3-8. This girl was the only 3rd/4th grader to make the cut.

Two "Shadows" perform their skit for the group.

Shadow circles up for some team sharing.

Nov 7, 2009

Autumn in America

The Maycock Family, November 1, 2009. We're a world away from the tropical environment Elijah was born into, but we're still surrounded by beauty.

The leaves are mostly gone from the trees now, the brief but brilliant season of color is already passed. But we managed to capture the tail end of that beauty last Sunday afternoon, the first of November.

The only reason I'm having so much fun is because I only raked for about 15 minutes before I went inside to work on my lesson plans. Mom Leen says she'll be raking through Thanksgiving!

The Little Fella in his favorite place: Outdoors!

Down the quiet street we live on.

Mom Leen labors on the never ending task of raking leaves.

An Afternoon in Yellow Springs

Yellow Springs, Ohio: A little bit of San Francisco dropped into Middle America. I believe this building used to be a train station. Inside are public restrooms which contain about a dozen original paintings by regional artists. That's Yellow Springs for ya. . .

Babs and I have always had an affinity for the bohemian. From our earliest days of dating we found in each other a kindred spirit--one drawn to the artsy, funky, vaguely hippie aesthetic. One of the things we loved about Saipan was the kind of people it seemed to attract--those that were interested in the wider world, those that sought the less-traveled roads. We were never going to be the sort of people that considered living next to a mall with a Starbucks and Applebee's around the corner the pinnacle of good living. No disrespect to those that do find the suburban American lifestyle satisfactory, of course. It's just not us.

So we worried about moving to the epitome of middle America--Ohio. Babs worried--especially after visiting places like San Francisco this summer-- that we couldn't possibly find an artist colony or organic coffee shop here in this part of America characterized by either farmland or big box stores. I, however, was convinced that even here, there had to be some kind of bohemian outpost. And it turned out, I was right. Just 40 minutes from home is Yellow Springs, Ohio, a small town with a good number of local artists, a collection of eclectic restaurants and cafes, a "green friendly" store, and funky mom & pop shops. Nearby Antioch University with it's population of young adults and older academics adds to Yellow Springs open-minded ethos. I'd heard about Yellow Springs through the local NPR affiliate that broadcasts from the town, and also from a friend on Interference who lives in Columbus and who does work with a recording and visual artist. She recommended the town as a place we should check out. Babs had read about the town as well, and it sounded interesting.

And so it was, that two weeks ago,on a sunshiney Sunday afternoon, our family piled in the car and headed out to see Yellow Springs for ourselves.

It was like coming home. We wandered the quaint streets--stopped in at the green store where the clerk gave Elijah a free grape-flavored organic sucker; browsed the used bookstore where they let you have one free children's book valued at $5 or less on the weekend. We checked out the local market, picked up a cup of steaming spiced cider at one of the cafes (caramel cider for me, and "Autumn Bliss", the chai cider for Babs), and snacked on freshly made french fries from a roadside stand. Yellow Springs was small-town without being parochial, open-minded without being pretentious. It was wonderful, and Babs immediately declared she'd like to live there.

Well, I don't know that we'll actually move to Yellow Springs--after all the drive to Columbus from there is still pretty substantial--but I do know we'll be visiting again. When we get tired of the Wal-Marts and subdivisions, the Olive Gardens and freeways, we know we can always head over to Yellow Springs, where the pace is slower, the art is omnipresent, the vibe is funky, and the food is free-range, fair-trade, organic, and/or locally grown.

For more information about Yellow Springs, Ohio click on their chamber of commerce link bookmarked in the post above or on this link for Explore Yellow Springs. It really does look like a great place to live!

Our boy with Daddy and Mommy in downtown Yellow Springs. He's in a pretty good mood after having consumed the organic, cane-sugar lollipop they gave him at the green store.

They even have an store featuring Asian decor. We didn't go inside this time, but I found the exterior to be quite interesting in it's own right.

Walking down the main drag through town.

A nearby park brilliant in fall foliage.