Happy Birthdays!

My English Bible Study birthday cake at the hospital
I have titled this blog Happy Birthdays with an "S" because last week I celebrated my birthday here in Korea several times. Actually, my birthday celebration began more than a week before my birthday when I received this birthday card from my parents.
Believe me, it means a lot to receive a card or a letter delivered in the mail when you are living in another country. Other than a flyer from Costco that arrives every two or three months (which I can't read since all the text is in Korean), the once-in-a-great-while card or letter from someone back home is a real treat. Yes, an email is nice, but there's something about holding a piece of paper that has traveled thousands of miles over many days that is special, especially when you see somebody's handwritten message inside. Whoever organizes the periodic sending of a card from people at GGWO in Baltimore gets a big, "THANK YOU!" from me. (If I knew who you were, perhaps I'd send you a card...)

My birthday week began in an odd way, with me ending up making my birthday cake. Nobody planned for this to happen. It simply worked out that way. Monday, September 26 was the first day of Bible college at Grace Mission Institute, and I taught my first Essentials of Teaching class that morning. After class, I began working on making an applesauce cake using applesauce I had made over the weekend from apples given to me on Chuseok, the Korean Thanksgiving holiday. I wanted to make something for my students to snack on during the class break the next day. Well, instead of eating during our break, the cake was used for my "Birthday Eve" lunch celebration. The ladies in class that day prepared two kinds of pasta and some garlic bread for lunch that day, and it was SO GOOD! I had the option of eating out at a restaurant or eating homemade food at the church, and I chose the latter and was glad I did. 
Pasta and ravioli with Alfredo sauce, broccoli, and chicken
Spaghetti and ravioli with meat sauce
Garlic bread with big pieces of garlic on top!
Before eating the meal, the ladies brought out the cake topped with two candles shaped like 5's on it and sang to me. I blew out the candles and cut the cake. I learned this is the order of things for birthday celebrations here in Korea. Sing, blow out candles, cut cake, and then eat the meal.

The next day I learned something else about birthdays. At the English Bible Study class at the hospital, I was asked if I had called my mother yet. I replied, "My father and mother called me to wish me a happy birthday." The next question was, "Did you thank your mother?" It took me a second to process the question, but then I recalled having seen people celebrating birthdays in Korean television dramas thanking their mothers for giving them birth. This is what the doctor was asking me : "Did you thank your mother for giving you life?" It is wonderful to be a missionary and live among people and learn something beautiful from their culture. 

I used this incident when I preached yesterday morning about the meeting of Jesus and Nicodemus where Jesus tells Nicodemus, "You must be born again." Just as we did nothing as infants to bring about our first, natural birth, so we did nothing to bring about our second, spiritual birthday. The first time we were born of our mothers who travailed to deliver us into this world. The second time we were born of the Spirit through Jesus' travail on the cross to deliver us from our sin and the world system. I have thanked God often for my second birth and the gift of eternal life, but I don't think I have even thanked my mother for my first birth and what she went through to give me life. Both my first and second births were acts of love toward me for which I should be grateful.

Thank you, Jesus! Thank you, Mom!

Besides the cake, the doctors gave me a card they had written in and two gifts - some handcrafted soaps and some excellent vitamins. I guess they want me clean and healthy when I show up at the hospital to teach.

When I returned to the church after the hospital study, there was a card in the church mailbox addressed to me. This time it was from a faithful saint in Maine, Barbara Shorette, thanking me for coming to speak at her home Bible study last May and giving me news of her life and ministry in her droll way. She wished me a happy belated birthday, but her card arrive exactly on the day of my birthday.
At our midweek church service that night, I received a necktie, the blueberry leaf tea (see above) a sandwich for my next day's lunch, and two hamburgers for my dinner from the Burger to Burger shop down the street from the church. I ate the sandwich for breakfast the next day and wore the tie to church yesterday morning and received several compliments. None of my other ties got compliments, so maybe I should ask the giver to get me some more...

I thought my birthday was over, but after the Sunday service yesterday, the young people surprised me with another birthday cake and the gift of some face lotion. Minutes later, another card and gift arrived from some of the ladies in the church - this time it was hand lotion.
Hmmmm... soap, face lotion, hand lotion, vitamins... Is there a message in these gifts? Maybe it is TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!

I also want to thank everyone who took the time to send me one of the bazillion Facebook birthday greetings I received and enjoyed reading. Your kindness and thoughtfulness blessed me. I am very fortunate to be doing what I am doing where I am doing it. Korea is an amazing place and I hope someday you will have the opportunity to visit here and meet the people, eat the food, and see the sights. In the meantime, you can probably do the first two things wherever you are. I hope that God has put or will put some Korean people in your life and that you get to share a Korean meal together and, I hope, fellowship around Jesus Christ. 

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