On Saturday, we all woke up early and dressed in our long black skirts and red shirts we had been given the night before. We walked out to the front lawn where we were given instructions about what we would be doing all day.
Saturday, we found out, was to be a day dedicated to immersing ourselves in a different culture. We would assume the values, manners, class-structure, and everything else about another culture and live as if we were an unreached people group.
My team was part of the Chinese/Buddhist culture for the day. The other cultures for the day were Hindu, Muslim and Atheist/Post-Modern.
Within our Buddhist culture, we had class restrictions we had to adhere to. We were part of the upper class which meant we had more money and more privilege to basically do as we wished. But some of our friends from other teams were not as fortunate.
Our first task was going to the market to get ourselves breakfast. Since we were upper class and money was no object, we were allowed to bypass the long lines and pay for as much food as we wanted. We were each had a bowl of roman noodles, tow plates of dumplings to share and a box of apple juice. We looked around and saw that other teams had just a cucumber and water, others had porage and still others had oatmeal and other food items. Certainly not as much as our team was able to eat.
We were all eating on the ground when there was a call to prayer. Anyone who had been assigned to Muslim faith had to pray as real Muslims do. We were all a little bit shocked to watch. I would have a hard time submitting to participating in Muslim prayer when I am a Christian.
But when the prayer was over, an alarm went off. The MOB director, Kristin, got on a bull-horn and told everyone there was a bomb threat and we all had to leave at that very second. We all grabbed our backpacks and food and hurried to another location.
A few hours later, we sat down to have lunch. This is when we were all challenged in a very new and real way.
They called teams in by which class they were a part of. If you were part of upper class, like my team was, you got called in first. Walking into the big auditorium where lunch was being served, we saw the room was clearly divided. In the front of the room were actual tables with nice chairs, and on the table was a bread basket, two jugs of water and an enormous plate of cookies. In the middle of the room were folding chairs, but no table. In the back of the room, there nothing at all.
We took our seats at the table and got situated. The first thing we noticed as we sat down was a disclaimer, typed on white paper, sitting on the table. It read, “You are part of the upper class. You may NOT give food to the lower classes, and you may bribe the police force with food in exchange for protection.”
We realized this would be a challenge. We, as Christians and Americans, live a country where it is all right and encouraged to give food to the hungry and water to the thirsty. You are considered insensitive if you do not do your part to help your fellow man. And anyone can help someone who is hungry. You do not have to be Bill Gates. You can just give whatever you can.
This is not true in other societies. In countries all over the world, the lower classes are stigmatized, and many people believe that if they talk to lower-class people or give them food then they will lose their fortune. Or be damned.
About halfway through our meal, the lower classes began to migrate to our tables, begging for food. After the third time someone walked over, we all resolved that we were going to do something to help those who were hungry. We got together and devised a plan: We would give food to those who would let us tell them a story.
It turned out to be a good strategy and we were able to learn that while we are overseas we need to be mindful of how we help others. We must always use any opportunity given to us to reach out to the hungry and needy in order to share the Gospel with them.
The next exercise we went through was prayer walking. In groups of two or three, we were to find something on campus that we could pray for and we would walk. Just walking and praying and bouncing prayers off one another. It was a humbling experience.
After that, our culture exercise was done. But we still had much ahead of us.
We played a relay game on the front lawn, and after we were had dinner. During dinner, we had team time and read our Bibles and just talked for a while before we were all summoned to the business building for a special exercise.
All throughout the business building, the MOB squad had set up all different prayer stations to teach us all about the different ways we can worship God and honor Him. In the breezeway, their was a small band set up and praise was ringing throughout the entire area. There was a cross erected at the entrance to the breezeway. All over the wood were red square pieces of paper with the sins of many written on them. They represented the sins we were all laying down. These red squares were all nailed to the wooden beams of that cross. By the end of the exercise, red covered the cross making to see if there was really wood beneath the paper. In the auditorium, the overhead projectors were on and the lights were off. Words describing Jesus were projected onto the screens. It was simply our time to meditate on who God is, and remember all of the things He has done for each of us. In another room (this was my favorite) the lights were off, but the room was illuminated by electronic candles. On the tables sat printed Scriptures, framed and lit up by candles. It was quiet and peaceful. God was there. I could feel Him as if He were walking right beside me. As I read each Scripture, it found its place in my heart. I fell to my knees and praised Him.
Worship came next. From worship, we were all grouped and then separated. Team leaders and students leaders had to go to the James Building, all of the men had to go to Copenbarger, and all the women had to go to Wallace Theater. We found out that this was going to be an information session for your specific gender.
While the two J3s on stage talked about what it is like to be women serving on the mission field overseas, we all heard sounds coming from outside. Without warning, the lights in the theater shut off, the emergency lights by the doors came on, and someone ran in screaming “Everyone out now!”
We quickly jumped out of our seats, grabbed onto each other and braved what was waiting for us on the other side of that door.
A bomb had gone off. There was smoke and fire everywhere we looked. The injured and dead were laying on the floor. We did not panic, but simply kept our eyes and heads cleared and tried to stay together. We decided that if we could not find our team leaders, then we would have to stick together as a group.
Before too long, our team leader located us and we figured out that our team leader was one of those lying on the floor. We located her and took her to the triage center to get her treated. After that, we were a complete team again. Within minutes the hectic bomb simulation was over.
Soon it was time to retire for the night. We had an early morning ahead of us.
Sunday dawned with the assignment to take our MOB and team photos.
Next, we went to give our two-minute testimonies, our entire life stories to be told in two minutes or less. We had our challenges, but nothing we could not overcome.
We went to worship next, and we had a church service where three different pastors got up to share what the Holy Spirit had laid on their hearts. One was all about staying committed to learning the Word of God and carving out time to know it and love it. Another message was about the responsibility we all have as Christians to stand up, to go out and to share the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection, and the saving power of His grace. Yet another simply encouraged us to keep on growing stronger in our relationships with Jesus.
After this, we had one last exercise. A cross-cultural game called (not sure how to spell it but this is what it sounds like) “Bu-faw Bu-faw.” It was the weirdest game I have ever played in my life. But even though it was a game that had no meaning in itself, it was a reminder to all of us that we can all be partial to our culture sometimes. If we want to be able to reach people, then we need to see things from their perspective and not expect the same thing in return.
When the game ended, we all sat down for lunch and team time before we headed back to the gym and another worship service. But this worship service was different from all the rest. It was more meaningful and powerful. The powers of worship and prayer were combined to make this the final worship service of ITW.
At this point, my heart was hurting. I was learning so many things about myself and about God’s people all around the world. It was overwhelming, and I could feel the weight of everything I still need to learn weighing heavily on my shoulders. So I got up and went to a prayer station that was set up and asked for prayer. I walked away feeling relieved. i never put too much thought into how much a prayer spoken on my behalf truly means to me.
It means a lot.
After the last song was sung, it was announced that ITW was officially over. We were all permitted to go home.
As I gathered all of my stuff and went back to my apartment, I found myself wishing that the weekend had not come to an end. I had never felt God’s presence as much as I had during ITW. Through the intense simulations, the team bonding, the life lessons and exhaustion God was there. He never left us. he reminded all of us that we are works in progress, nowhere near where we ought to be sometimes. But that is okay because He loves us just the same.
After experiencing ITW, I know for certain that it is part of God’s plan for me to serve in Japan and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it before.
I am excited for our next training session. God is showing me so much! How could I not be excited?