BY THRESHOLD STAFF
“Stories Open Doors” is a people project organized by the Threshold to help promote Dan Allender’s “To Be Told” conference at Open Door Presbyterian Church. Partly inspired by Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York”, we venture to answer Dan Allender’s question of “What happens as a result of a person choosing to really engage their story?” Pastor John Cha in his introductory article of the same name already gives us some answers: our stories open doors to welcome others and our stories open doors to life change.
The photo-narrative compilations presented here are real life stories and quotes from everyday people who attend ODPC. Through this series, we hope to capture the richness and diversity of Open Door and offer a glimpse into the minds, hearts, and lives of our congregation members. And finally, to borrow from Dan Allender once again, we all have a story and it is a story worthy of being told and known.
“I think I still have to figure out love. I think love would be like going head over heels. All you see is them and, at the same time, that person appreciates it and returns the favor. It’s going through all this turmoil, and then you figure out each other’s true character. And even past that, you still appreciate and like each other. Then more and more, little by little, you grow on one another. That’s very beautiful. I want to get married pretty early. I want to settle down.”
“In the early spring of 2012, my college friends and I decided to run a half marathon – my first race ever. I was not a runner by any stretch of the imagination; I had probably run ten miles combined over the previous ten years, but I was excited to get together with my friends and curious to see if I could, in fact, complete the race. I trained hard over the next three months and was feeling ready, but on April 16, just a few days before the race, my formerly healthy dad had a sudden aneurysm in the shower and fell into a coma. My husband and I went home immediately for two weeks to sit at his bedside at the hospital and be with my mom and siblings, and we made the long trip from DC to New York nearly every weekend for the next several months. I cancelled my race immediately, but as time went on and the stress and emotions built up inside, I found myself longing to run again. So I laced up my sneakers, cried, and ran. I found release and peace in those miles, and often poured out my frustrations and fears to God on those runs. As I continued to run and my mileage increased, I hesitantly signed up for a marathon in the fall.
The day of the race was chilly, probably in the low 40s or high 30s. A few hundred of us were gathered at the start of the race, located in a beautiful wooded park in Ohio, ready and anxious for the trial that lay ahead. I prayed over and over that my training would prove sufficient and that I would cross the finish line on my own two feet. The first twenty miles or so went perfectly. The course was beautiful, winding through the woods on a wide limestone path. We ran over wooden bridges spanning the marshes and through the trees clothed in the beauty of autumn leaves. I rejoiced at the strength in my body and the ability of my mind and muscles to bear hours of running. But, around mile 22, my right foot began to ache so badly that I thought I couldn’t take another step. A medical exam later would show that I had developed tendonitis throughout the course of the race. As rain began to fall, I told myself that I could NOT give up so close to my goal, and that I had trained too hard to quit now. My run turned into a slow shuffle, and then a hobble.
Just then, a friend that had been waiting at the finish line came to find me. She had a feeling I would be struggling at this point, and she had come to run the last few miles beside me. Her encouragement and cheerful presence got me to the last mile, and all of a sudden I could hear the spectators and volunteers waiting at the end, cheering me on by my number. “Number 20, you got this!” “You’re so close to the finish, it’s just up ahead!” As the arch came into view, I began to sprint, injured foot and all. I crossed the archway and received my medal with tears streaming down my face – tears of pain, yes, but mostly of overwhelming joy and gratitude. My dad passed away that following January. I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what he found when he entered heaven – millions of people and God Himself cheering his life-long race, watching with pride, and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant” as he crossed the finish line.”
“In the summer of 2016, I went on a mission trip to San Telmo, Mexico. I served as a teacher at a local private Christian elementary school called El Porvenir. There are many broken families within the community. Many of the kids’ parents have trouble finding a job, and those that do have jobs do not get paid enough. Almost all of the parents are alcoholics and abuse their children physically, emotionally, and mentally. So due to the lack of love the kids don’t receive from their families, they rebel and act out in many ways with others. They push away those who try to show them love because they either don’t trust them, or don’t know how to receive it.
While I was there, more than teaching the kids English, I wanted them to show them love. I tried to be affectionate, caring, and attentive; but mainly out of my own understanding and ability. As time went on, I found myself at a dead end. I was so drained from trying to love the kids and it was only halfway through the trip. The feeling of discouragement and hopelessness suddenly fell upon my shoulders and I started to question as to how I was going to continue the rest of the month.
On one of the nights of worship, the Lord came to me and said, “You can’t love these kids how I love them. My love is true.” Because I went as a teacher, I had the mentality of having to lead. But God humbled me and said that I was not there to be a leader, but instead as a servant and a vessel. So instead of always trying to lead and tell them what to do, I tried to start serving them. I didn’t know how to do it, but God led me as he made Himself known. Serving kids in general is very difficult because they usually don’t show an immediate response from prayer or worship. But what I learned is that serving kids requires a ton of faith. I learned that there is “invisible fruit” when serving kids. The fruit or change may not show on the outside, but God really works within them and changes them little by little.”
“I started drawing when I could barely hold a pencil. That’s always been my life passion, I guess you could call it: observing real life and turning that into creations on paper. I didn’t think I could use it to sustain a living though, so I started engineering because I really love robotics and programming, too. After three semesters at college, I was withdrawing from the same classes over and over, and I was really stressed all the time. I had no time for anything except studying, but despite all of that, I would draw sometimes in my dorm room. I thought, “What am I doing? I could be studying drawing and doing what I actually enjoy doing instead of struggling constantly at something I’m not as passionate about.” So that’s when I decided to try to switch my major and transfer to an art school.”
“The road to being Christ’s disciple is not easy but a person has the help of the Holy Spirit to finish the journey. One needs to be totally committed in mind, body, and spirit to follow Jesus. I totally committed my life to Jesus during college and since then the road has not been easy. My family does not speak to me, my friends have left me, and people make fun of me for following Jesus. But, the reward is good for those who follow and keep Jesus’s command. One is looking forward to running the race to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Jesus said, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.” One cannot run after the American dream and at the same time commit time to God’s work. There are not enough hours in a day to do both; one needs to start making a conscious effort to follow the one that will provide the most satisfaction. I have stopped running after fame, money, and worthless achievements.
There are several applications I have learned to keep running the race: have a mission statement, evangelism focus, prayer focus, and activities to bring one closer to God. Servant evangelism and service evangelism needs to be practiced to be a light in the dark world. The Bible states, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The application for every Christian is to love God, and love others. In addition, the church is called to glorify Christ, baptize others, teach others, and send believers to heal the broken world. I am working toward the goal and want all to take part in His journey.”
“The question that I get asked the most is, “How did you end up at Baylor from Northern Virginia?” Sometimes, I’m still not sure of the answer. I was born and raised in Northern Virginia. I loved growing up in the area and it was truly home. When I was 18 years old, I decided to move across the country and attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas. As an over-thinker and a creature of habit and consistency, I made a choice that seemed out of character for me. I like things the way they are and don’t really like too much drastic change, yet I made this decision somewhat spontaneously. As I thought about my future post-high school, I wasn’t really nervous about college and didn’t have a sense of where I wanted to attend or what I really wanted to study. I was given the opportunity to blindly take a step forward into my future and trust that Baylor would be a great school that would provide a solid education and fruitful community. It’s been two years since I graduated, and I have to admit that I still have a hard time answering the question. I took a leap of faith and spontaneously decided to go where I felt like I was being called to. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
“Once I watched “In the Mood for Love”, I watched everything else. Once you find an auteur, an artist, that you really admire, you feel like they’re your kindred spirit, and you want to know everything about that person. Wong Kar Wai’s films make you nostalgic out of nowhere. I really appreciate him because the first films I made on 16 mm were all about love. That’s what I was trying to understand. You’ll see repeating themes in people’s filmographies; those are the things that they continue to struggle with or think about. At the time for me, it was love. It seemed like something I wanted to put my finger on, but I didn’t know what it was. Wong Kar Wai’s films are largely about love and relationships, what could have been. People really feel for that because we’ve all had that. We’re all living in the present, but we all wonder, “What if?” That’s a story in itself.”
“This is my first screenplay. My professors have told me for years to work on storytelling. So, last spring, I decided to write a movie script. What better way to learn than to try? I was never a drama person or literary geek. I’m not witty or quick with my words. I’m not a movie nerd either.
I finished writing 105 pages with three acts and scene sequences. I read dozens of books on how to write a screenplay. Then, last summer, I sent it to a contest so three industry readers could see my script. Out of thousands of entries, mine scored in the top 20 percent! A few months later, I got a fourth read and scored a 4 out of 10. Well, I haven’t rewritten the script yet, and I might not. “Bachelor Pine,” an animated film of porcupines kidnapped by a crazed scientist, is a first draft and marks a start.
My heart went on a journey. There’s pain in wanting a dream and finding that it takes work to get there. I don’t believe talent is fixed, and 10,000 hours of practice matters very much. Am I the next William Goldman? No, but at least I’m learning technique and staying engaged with my heart, and movies, in a new way. Our God is a Creator, and we, made in the image of God, are meant to be creative too.”
Compiled by Aeda Chung, Brian Choi, and Sarah Choi of Threshold Ministry. Cover image designed by Sue Kim; Photo Credit: Brian Choi