NINE YEARS AND COUNTING

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I have been chasing Lorna for 15 years. The moment I laid eyes on her in the old Hong Kong airport in 1997, I was love struck.

There are a million details between the time when I met her in 1997 until we got married in 2003, but this blog will just relive our wedding and anniversaries.

Here’s a yearly look at our lives.

2003: Joannes Wedding
After 7 years of pursuing her, Lorna and I were married in Puerto Real, Intramuros in Manila, Philippines. December was dry from the 1st to the 12th, and the 14th till the 31st. But our outdoor wedding was drowned in a heavy downpour until all the decorations were soaked. It was terrible at the time, but such a fun story as we look back. We had our honeymoon in Boracay Island.

2004: 1st Year Anniversary
We went to the ancient city of Lijiang, where I proposed to Lorna in January 2003. We enjoyed getting lost in the labyrinth of cobblestone paths that spiderweb through the old city. We hiked up Lion Mountain for a view of the ancient city and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the distance. We had a Korean dinner at Sakura along the riverbank.

2005: 2nd Year Anniversary
We went back to Manila for our first Christmas season since we were married. Makati is the perfect date place. We walked around the malls and gardens in Greenbelt 3, and ended that warm Manila evening at Bubba Gump.

2006: 3rd Year Anniversary
The Christian community at our church in Kunming, China had a Christmas party that doubled as our anniversary. We hung out with close missionary friends, danced, and had a wonderful evening at Harbor Plaza Hotel near Green Lake Park.

2007: 4th Year Anniversary
It was a simple and relaxing morning in our new apartment in Kunming, China. I made breakfast for Lorna, and she gave me the comics of our marriage that she had made the week before. We walked across Beijing Road to Silver Spoon, and had a great lunch together in the cool China weather.

2008: 5th Year Anniversary
After a week of heavy Christian training and underground meetings in China, I surprised Lorna with a trip to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta soldiers. We flew up to the historic city with our local missionary and partner pastor from the Philippines, then checked in to our own hotel so we could finally be alone. We dressed up like Terra Cotta soldiers, visited the Drum Tower, and ate some incredible food. All around great date!

2009: 6th Year Anniversary
Our one and only anniversary in America was in Prescott, AZ, my hometown. We couldn’t pass up a cozy breakfast at St. Michael’s Cafe on a cold winter day. It was a nostalgic moment looking across the park where I had penned many letters to Lorna while we were dating. And now there she was, looking across the table at me, my beautiful wife.

2010: 7th Year Anniversary
After sharing the gospel at a Within Reach Global English Camp with over 80 Chinese college students, we drove 3 hours west to a natural spring that was recommended to us. When we arrived, we were surprised to find a dirty, dilapidated hotel overrun with a million Chinese tourists. We were so tired after 3 days of ministry, and decided to head back to Kunming. We got stuck in traffic, and ended up at Grand Park Hotel late at night. But we were comforted by the beautiful hotel and each others’ presence. The next day we fed the thousands of seagulls that flock to Southwest China to escape the freezing winters of Siberia.

2011: 8th Year Anniversary
It was our first anniversary after moving from China to Manila. We needed medical help after years of stomach problems, and stage four endometriosis (the cause of our infertility) that Lorna had developed over the years. We had a fun time writing letters to each other, having afternoon dessert, drinking coconut juice, and watching a movie together.

2012: 9th Year Anniversary
After 9 years of a marriage filled with adventure, we looked at each on the 27th floor of Diamond Hotel—where we spent our first night of marriage—and giggled with delight. Our baby girl was finally here, kicking inside Lorna’s belly. Our miracle baby brought us new joy, and we felt like this was a new season of blessing for us. We were thrilled to have spent so many memorable years together before our child arrived, but the thought of our family growing brought us greater joy.

Happy anniversary, Lorna! We have many more years of making memories ahead, and each year will only get better. I love you with all my heart. Thank you for taking this journey with me.

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JOURNAL ENTRY 12.06.1999

wa woman black teeth
A Wa woman with teeth stained from chewing betal nut

Excerpt from David Joannes’s journal while traveling among unreached people groups and villages in Southwest China.
Journal entry 12.06.1999

At 6:15pm last night our 3:pm bus decided to leave. Right now we still haven’t arrived into K*****g. We’re taking a bathroom break, and everyone is peeing on the side of the street, squatting in ditches. We’ll soon be home… 8:16am

At 10:am we finally arrived into K*****g. It was a long haul, but I actually slept ok on the bus for the first time. Zhong and I were both wanting to beat up the bus driver for being so lazy. The bus station that goes to all the L*****g county stops is called Jinwan Bus Station 金湾客运站。It takes about 16 hours from L*****g to K*****g.

7:55pm:
Back here in K*****g. I’m beat. Henrik called me a while ago. He got back around 4:30pm. He said two guys from the village did come! That’s great. Elder Li was one of them. They are both around 50 years old. Anyway, I pray they catch the fire of God at this training seminar.

D*****g village, outside C******n, is supposedly a Christian village. It seems to be fairly lax there as far as persecution because they say that 70% of the surrounding villages are Christian Wa. The police are mainly looking for drugs and things of that nature. The problem with most of these villages (I’m thinking) is that they are very nominal. For 80 to 90 years they have existed, and are presently living off the thin stream of life coming from the vein of tradition. Most of the young people could care less about Jesus, and most of the villages still smoke, drink, etc. I would only consider them (only from my few days experience in the area) nominal Christians. They still have hymnals and Bibles in Wa script, but a lot of youth can’t read wa script, and sometimes can’t even speak the Wa language. Everything is becoming “Han-ized”. If they are to be passionate, and re-enter the life of the vine, they must surrender. There are still so many unreached Wa. Where now do I direct my energy? But I am praying that Elder Li and this other man become impassioned with the living Christ. I feel that young men are more adequate, but Joel 2:28 says, “your old men shall dream dreams…” This is the beginning of the Wa revival! And don’t forget Tian Guangzhong under the stars of M****o village, for he is God’s chosen…

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David’s actual journal entry

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A Wa woman cradles her child in front of their grass hut

our team in a wa village
Traveling with missionary heroes from Denmark, Ireland, America and Holland.

wa smoking old folks
The Wa mafia? Maybe not. Just enjoying a quick smoke on their silver pipes.

wa village bawei
A Wa village where we saw great breakthrough

OVERCOMING MY MYOPIA

I can almost hear the guttural crackle of passion in Jesus’s voice as he says, “Open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you!” His eyes are aflame with a joyous secret that we had not realized before. “These fields are ripe! It’s harvest time!”

A thin layer of sunlight sits atop the crisp tips of cumulous clouds above the Galilean. Beads of perspiration gather on his forehead, as the canvas of the sky bursts and shifts in slow motion. There is a high contrast, heavy color saturation, and Instagram-esque focal blur on everything but the face of the Savior, pushing the scenery into the distance, pulling his expression closer toward the viewer.

Suddenly, I respond with the disciples. My earth-drawn brow lifts, and I raise my gaze to the level of the horizon opposite Jesus.

“Oh my God! How could I have overlooked this once again?”

———

I have an astigmatism in my left eye, and the onset of Keratoconus. The farther the object, the greater the likeliness of double vision.

I am nearsighted. I have myopia.

But the physical condition of myopia is not my only problem. Sometimes I get lost in the canvas.

I cannot see the beauty of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I become enamored in the swirly globs of oil paint. I cannot see the overall details of shadows and motion in Rembrandt’s colossal The Night Watch. I am fixated on lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch’s beige hat. I struggle to comprehend God’s rendition of the universe and all it’s nuances. I squint to see beyond the Milky Way, the earth, my own geometric coordinates.

I ludicrously become the focal point of the universe and all its macro realities.

———

I live in Asia, and am daily in contact with the juxtapositions of wealth and poverty, the sharp contrasts of hope and desperation.

I have shared meals of grub worms and rice wine in the huts of the poorest of the poor tribal people groups on the borders of China and Myanmar. I have smiled at the sad faces of child beggars outside my taxi in Manila. I have kissed wide-eyed Liberian orphans in the outskirts of Monrovia.

These experiences should have brought me to a place beyond myself—a new global coordinate of empathy and compassion. And they have, to a degree. But when I return to the comfort of my 450 square foot apartment of Cubao, I am again riveted on my own concerns, both great and infinitesimal.

“Then Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. ‘What a huge harvest!’ he said to his disciples. ‘How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!'”

C.S. Lewis realized that a little bit of myopia occurs in all of us. “There exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God, to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave it.”

I reach for my glasses. I have been trying to read these situations with strained eyes, and should have been viewing life through the lenses Dr. Bundy prescribed for me. I see much clearer through the convex intended for my eyes.

Alan Hirsch reminds me that “what [is] lacking is an overarching perspective that takes into account a more global and regional view of strategic issues relating to mission.”

Finally, I am able to say something like, “I am amazed at how all the infinitesimal aspects of life come together to make such an incredible symphony. Mind you, I am not always this introspective and cognitive. The present details of my life have just brought this epiphany.”

And I recall Brennan Manning’s contemplation: “[Christ] ends our indecision and liberates us from the oppression of false deadlines and myopic vision.”

Jesus is still gazing at the fields behind me. I turn to take in the landscape. The harvest is indeed ripe with white tips of wind-blown wheat. I pause for a moment, hear the Savior’s steady breathing behind me, reach for my plough, and take another step toward the field.

WALK THE LINE

The Seasoned Explorer » Walk the Line

Original blog from Elias Popa, Within Reach Global intern: The Seasoned Explorer » Walk The Line.

After almost 11 hours ride, we finally made it to the tiny village on the top of the mountains near Vietnam. If the car ride didn’t make us uncomfortable, the intense heat and humidity did. Surrounded by tropical forests, banana trees, and pineapple groves, we made our way up the steep windy path. The fierce beauty juxtaposed the intense darkness that was there. I still can’t get it out of my head. How would a place so beautiful, have so little light?  Nevertheless, the light was there. On the very top of the mountain where our underground co-workers were preparing a meal inside their humble home. Tired but in awe we made our way into the house and sat around the table. The dim light lit our table enough just to see each others faces. Together we ate with the body. We heard the testimonies of the miracles and wonders God has done in some of the most intense circumstances. We finished our food and gathered in a circle. Together we prayed for each other, for healing, for life and joy and peace. Then we sang together songs of worship. In that tiny, humble home, the Holy Spirit came in glory. My heart melted within me and yet again my love deepened for the body in chains.

On the next day we visited another village. Yet another hour passed by as we waited to get to the village. I rode on the back of a motorcycle through the vietnamese chinese tropics as the coworker steered the bike. I felt like an adventurer. Like Che before the revolution. The ride was beautiful. The village was at the highest point of a mountain deep inside the plantations and hills. There was a school there. The teacher allowed us to come and and hand out backpacks to the children that had John 3:16 on the back. The children, dressed in their traditional minority clothing, repeated a prayer after us. This was one of the first times anyone had heard the gospel there. No one in that village knew who Jesus was. For all they know he could have been a bar of soap. After praying with the kids we sat down to a traditional meal of snails and other delicacies shared by our co workers. When we headed back down from the village I hopped on the motorcycle and the rest of the team was in the van following behind. As we swerved in and out of the green mountains a team member gave me a call.

“The police have stopped us. They are interrogating us.”

I immediately told him to grab my camera out of my bag and remove the card from it and hide it, along with our bibles. The police men, yelling, began searching through the bags to find any evidence. That card had pictures and video if the kids praying and the co workers. I began praying fervently as myself and three of the co workers stopped on the road asking Jesus to cloak them and let them free. After what seemed like hours, the team members give me a call and say we are free to leave, everything is ok. One of the co workers lets out a deep Hallelujah as a sign of relief. Later I was told that my bag was sitting right there in the open and on the seat for the cops to see, but it was the only one the cops did not check…it was the only bag with all the evidence. In addition, whoever called in us in to the cops gave an exact number of the guys and the girls in the bus. But I had decided at that time to take the motorcycle back into town. So when the cops numbered out how many were in the bus, their numbers did not line up. There was no proof. Jesus is greater than any other. Truly, he walks the line.

Afterwards we climbed the southern most peak of China overlooking Vietnam… we prayed. We prayed that the gates to Vietnam would be opened and that the workers would make their way in to reap the reward of the suffering of the Lamb of God. He deserves those souls…and we want everything to do with making sure he gets them.

Later that evening we gathered around another meal and heard the awesome and great testimonies of some of the most humble and heroic men and women I have ever met. Really, when we get to heaven, you will see these guys as giants. Stories of grace and hope as well as despair and pain. But Christ had center stage the entire time. One of the people there is even translating songs and stories for his minority group to hear the gospel, which they have never heard. After time and time he said, for 10 years, the government took everything they had and even destroyed their house, he still is compelled to preach the gospel. I am proud to say he is also my friend.

God is so good. Once I was a chief of sinners. Living my life like hell on earth. But he was long suffering. He never gives up. He never backed off. He chased me and chased me until I listened. Now, I chase him with all my heart. I crawled, stumbled, walked, ran over fields to find him. It brought me to China. To Vietnam and who knows where else. He sat me at the table where I don’t belong. I am truly blessed beyond measure. I never thought I would find myself at the corner of China ministering the gospel with our brothers and sisters in chains to a group of people who have never heard. But I am glad I am. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. I just want to be where I can hear them sing with joy, despite the deepest pain.

Original blog from Elias Popa, Within Reach Global intern: The Seasoned Explorer » Walk The Line.

A CRIPPLED HERO

He is an unlikely hero brimming with unassuming nobility.

But the reality is, if you were to walk past him on a crowded Chinese sidewalk, you might not recognize it. You would notice him, no doubt, as he hobbled past you with shriveled leg, his body suspended in mid step by a pair of worn aluminum crutches. But you might not see the warrior within.

Brother Hu fell from a tree while climbing with boyish vigor at age eight. His parents were too poor to take him to the hospital, so he laid in bed for months in his rural Hani village.

Without the medical care he needed, the muscles in his right leg atrophied and shriveled to a fibula wrapped in skin.

The only thing his parents knew to do was to call the village witchdoctor to perform demonic rituals over their son.

Chickens were sacrificed.
Offerings were made.
Blood was spilled.
But the heaven of the gods was brass.

He was doomed and damned in a nation that had no need of a crippled child.

But God has a funny way of lifting the unassuming from the ashes.

I first met him in 2005, after he was set free from demon possession, and introduced to a Savior by a local Christian missionary in his village. The foaming at the mouth and writhing in the dust halted immediately, he stood up to follow Jesus, and never looked back.

After years of discipling Brother Hu at Within Reach Global, we sent him to an underground Bible school and intensive leadership training. He matured in his walk with God. He grew in his gifts of intercession (he has a keen sensitivity to the spiritual realm) and—surprisingly—his gift of healing.

It’s a unique sight to behold, as a crippled man lays his hand on people, prays for healing, and sees miracles happen in the villages he is church planting among.

I was recently near the China/Laos border with Brother Hu, traveling to unreached people groups in 26 Tribes region. Our team of local missionaries hiked up steep mountains, sharing with people who had never heard the gospel before. And leading the pack was—you guessed it!—Brother Hu, hobbling up the minority trails with a knobby homemade wooden walking stick. (He prefers his wooden cane to crutches while hiking Chinese mountains.)

“Slow down, big guy!” we joked as we followed him up the trail. “You’re making us look bad!”

He smiled, encouraged, but kept his rapid pace.

“This is nothing,” he said. “When I hike into unreached villages, I usually walk 10 miles into the jungle until nightfall. Then I sleep under a tree, wake up, and continue a few more miles to the village!”

“Okay, now you’re really making us look bad!”

I can almost hear heaven cheering as if for an Olympic athlete as Brother Hu hikes into forgotten regions.

As dusk colors the clouds orange and pink, a farmer leans on his hoe, tired from a long day’s work in the fields. He squints into the distance as a shape begins to form on the trails rising to his home. He wonders why a crippled young man is headed to his village. In a few minutes, the tribal farmer will hear about how God loved him so much that he sent his Son to die for him.

His first chance to ever hear the gospel will come in the most unexpected form.

Because Brother Hu agrees with Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

It’s inspiring.
It’s ridiculous.
It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on my own commitment to the call of God.

Brother Hu has led innumerable people to Jesus. He has prayed for countless people, and seen them healed. He has trekked hundreds of miles on a leg and a cane for the sake of the gospel.

He has enough excuses to stay at home, content to simply pray for the lost. But he needs a little more action than that!

Sometimes I don’t think Brother Hu even realizes that he is crippled, which makes me rethink the validity of my many crutches.

What’s holding me back from action for God?
Do my excuses hold that much water?
When will I get off this warm pew?

A crippled young man is fast becoming my hero, shaking me from lethargy, and inspiring me toward greatness.