I’ve been slacking off on my writing output lately (sorry dad). Life’s been busy, the ministry at MiraCosta has been hectic. Today was the first day in 3 weeks that I slept in past 9:30am.
Last night, because I was all of a sudden free in the midst of my craziness, i caught up with a co-worker at Spicy City, my favorite Chongqing cuisine restaurant, over mouth numbing spicy deep fried chicken. We had both gone to Chongqing together a couple summers ago for a trip with some students. As we were talking, the topic somehow wandered to how much God has done at MiraCosta and changed me.
When I get to this topic, something in my voice changes. It’s because I am passionate about letting people know that the harvest is so plentiful, the stories are so unique… and it’s just plain fun. I’ve really fallen in love with the campus over these last 5 years. I had been spouting off for a really long time, and my coworker stopped me. “Daniel, you need to write this down. People need to hear the story.”
But I didn’t want to be here in the beginning. Ironic.
Senior year of college. I was a student leader at a booming ministry at UCSD with ~500 students, leading a dynamic prayer ministry. I had been playing coy with my staff workers about wanting to join staff. It’s perhaps how I function when an important decision or task is before me, I process it in my head, and try to be really careful about who I tell or let in to the secret. But finally, I realized I wanted to see what God had left to do at UCSD. I had seen so many of my friends come to faith. I had seen the prayer ministry explode at UCSD to the point at which we would have people lining up down aisles for prayer ministry. The Lord had also grown in me a passion to see Asian Americans activated to mission across cultures. So I figured after much thought that perhaps I should stop playing coy with my staff workers when they tried to recruit me on staff and actually go through with the application process.
And it was pretty fun at first. That 30 pg. application was a beast, but I had a lot of fun filling it out. (confession: I had no idea what justification was, so when they asked me about it, I wikipedia’ed it 😛 (don’t fire me for it, ryan)) The interview was intimidating at first, with 3 or 4 senior staff workers that I had never met interviewing me. And then the guys I mentored had to pull a prank on me by putting in their reference that “Daniel butt slaps and nipple twists”, which I definitely got red-flagged for (I hate nipple twists. I am still resentful at those guys for putting that in… but what can I expect- I mentored them, and I probably taught them to do stuff like that). It was brought up without a smile. I cleared it up nervously. silent nods… then one of the interviewers said, “Daniel, across the board, several of your references talk about your inappropriate humor and jokes. What do you have to say about that?” Awkward silence. I start to answer and before a word comes out of my mouth, the other interviewers just all start to crack up. Apparantly I wasn’t the only one with inappropriate humor. I took a scoop of candy to watch the show as my interviewers argued about which one of them had the most inappropriate humor.
But it stopped being fun when I got the call a week later.
“Daniel, currently, there’s no room for another staff worker at UCSD. We’d like you to consider working at a community college called MiraCosta. Would you like to visit it? We want to see how you would fit in at that campus… I know this is hard, and we could be completely wrong, but we want you to at least give it a chance”.
I was heartbroken. I loved UCSD. I had felt God had called me there for a purpose. I had seen God do so many things there. I still had vision for so much more that God could do there… I was sure they were wrong. But I agreed to the visit, just to show how much I would not fit in there.
During my 40 minute drive up to MiraCosta, I was talking my brain into not liking the place. I was saying to myself, “This place won’t be for you. You’re not going to like this place. Where the heck is this place? There are no asians here. why would God call me here? It makes no sense.”
And when I got there, it wasn’t so glorious to begin with. I was allergic to the grass. It made my eyes swell so every time the team leader, Natalia talked to me, it looked like I was crying. one more point against this place I thought. But as we wandered the campus and I pretended to listen to Natalia as she shared about the campus, a random guy came up to me and asked me, “Hey! Are you that one Asian dude that talks about God and stuff?”
“no. I have no idea who that is. …But I can answer questions that you have about God.”
“Great! dude. I’m so confused about Christianity and Catholicism…”
…And 2 hours later, I had just finished having my first spiritual conversation with a MiraCosta student. It seemed as if part of me was watching myself from outside myself, confused as to what was happening. Every fiber of my being wanted this campus to not be a good fit for me. But as I fell further and further into that conversation with Ignacio, there was a truth that would become harder and harder to deny- the Lord made me for this campus.
I denied it. I fought it. I kept trying to find ways for God to say “no”. I got a bunch of my praying friends to get together and pray with me and listen with me for God’s direction. And to my exasperation, they one by one heard God saying this was the direction I was to go. Even as they were praying and they didn’t tell me, I just saw in my mind the word “MIRACOSTA” in big bold capital letters.
It stressed me out. There was this irrevocable call to MiraCosta from God, and I didn’t want it. How was I going to explain this to my parents? All my life, they thought that I was going to be a missionary to China. Staffing at UCSD would make sense since I was reaching Asian Americans and made sense in terms of reaching overseas chinese… but this was just totally different. Not many asians at MiraCosta. I had a nightmare one night, where I started arguing with my mom at a funeral at my home church about my decision to pursue coming on staff for InterVarsity, and I remember yelling in Chinese (which I never do), “你不懂！你不懂！” (YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND)… and I yelled it as I ran into an empty dirt lot away from the funeral… and all of a sudden the dream for some reason (who knows how dreams work…) cut to a scene of a cactus with thorns, and the thorns exploded into flowers.
…I woke up in a cold sweat. I was almost crying as I woke up, because it wasn’t just my mom that didn’t understand what I was doing, I myself did not understand what i was doing, or why I was getting called to this campus.
However, as stressed as I was, being taught in my culture that one should not resist or rebel against one’s authority, I decided to say yes to the offer, because I had heard so strongly from the Lord to go no matter how I tried to make Him say no.
Literally, the day after I graduated from 6th College at UCSD, I was on a 5 AM flight to Madison to InterVarsity’s headquarters. My eccentric small group leader for my orientation asked us all how we were doing coming into the orientation… “Oh, I’ve spent a year thinking about going on staff blah blah” “Oh I think for sure I’m called here” “Oh I spent an intern year, and I’m definitely called to be here” “blah blah”… when it came to me, all I could say was “I graduated yesterday night. I don’t know why I’m here. I just know God told me to. I’m not sure if God is right. But I’m here”. I’m pretty sure there was an awkward pause as the small group puzzled over my answer.
During those 10 days, I learned more and more about InterVarsity and it was confirmed that although I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be at my campus, I sure loved the organization for its heart for multiethnicity, evangelism and prayer. But I still was not convinced God had gotten me to the right campus. Just like that first drive up to MiraCosta, I was still making plans for when my supervisors realized they had made a mistake, and that all the ways I thought God was telling me to go were wrong would be found out as false words, and that where I really was supposed to be at was at UCSD…
Ram, my small group leader pulled me aside one day. He said that he wanted to have some one on one time with me and spend some time praying with me. This eccentric South Asian is one of the funner people I have met with InterVarsity, but when he prays, it’s scary. He’s one of those prophetic prayer ministers that hears God way too well, where you feel like you need to have a spiritual firewall. When he prayed for me, he was calling out things in me that few people know about me, even my closest friends. The things the Holy Spirit was bringing up were freakishly accurate, but I’ve made my rounds in the charismatic circles, so it didn’t bother me much…
… and all of a sudden he stopped. “Daniel, I feel God has one more word for you. I feel He’s giving me a picture for you as a confirmation of your call on staff. I see a cactus with thorns on it. But all of a sudden, this cactus bursts forth in flowers… does this picture mean anything to you?”
There are moments in prayer where you find yourself weeping like a helpless baby uncontrollably… I couldn’t even tell him the meaning at first. I literally flipped back in my journal where I had written it down. I had even written “I don’t know why… but THIS DREAM IS IMPORTANT” at the very bottom.
5 years later… I don’t regret it. I’m still at MiraCosta. I am more in love with this campus and its students than I have ever been before. I’ve seen pain here. I’ve seen death here. I’ve seen frustration. But I have seen life. …I’ve seen the desert cactuses flower in wild bursts of color where nobody expected anything but dead grays and browns. I have seen racial reconciliation that few of my asian friends have even dreamed of being a part of. I’ve seen people set free. I’ve seen healing. I’ve seen 50+ students decide to follow Jesus in these last five years. I’ve seen student leaders rise up where nobody expected leadership. Flowers in the desert.
And this is my story at MiraCosta. Dead looking cactuses that everyone ignores, avoiding even touching those cactuses with fear of getting hurt… and leaning on the hope that God would turn the dead, desolate and abandoned into something beautiful and beloved.
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her vindication shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
2 The nations will see your vindication,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.
3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
4 No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah (“My Delight Is In Her”),
and your land Beulah (“Married”);
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
5 As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.
6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem;
they will never be silent day or night.
You who call on the LORD,
give yourselves no rest,
7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem
and makes her the praise of the earth.