Friday, November 27, 2015

Photo Challenge, Week 1

The challenge: Take 1 picture a day, for 30 days (in this case, the month of November), according to an assigned set of rules. Post the pictures with #nov30dpc on facebook. Learn something along the way from others and yourself.

Day 1: Self-Portrait (Panasonic FZ200f/8.0, 1/50, ISO 400)
I'm not really a fan of this genre. Especially when it means running back and forth with a timer on my camera and a tripod. But despite all my insecurities, I ended up having fun. Luckily I live close enough to a college with photography classes that I could pretend I was a student working on a class project - which I kind of was. Lesson take-away: A remote clicker for my camera would be really helpful!

Day 2: Rule of Thirds (Panasonic FZ200, f/4.5, 1/8 sec, ISO1000)
I've known and used the horizontal rule of thirds since 4H photography days... but decided to challenge myself to work with the vertical thirds and play with lines. This one is of the stained glass rosette window in the balcony of Hope's Dimnent Chapel. 

Day 3: Black and White (Panasonic FZ200, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec, ISO100)
My modern, design-oriented black & white husband will tell you my mind only works in color, so this was a bit more challenging for me. Here's my first attempts at viewing the world through texture and contrast... and controlling blurred background through the use of aperture!

Day 4: Texture! (Panasonic FZ200, f/4, 1/640 sec, ISO100)
I wandered the streets of Holland looking for more texture. It didn't take long to find some - I just had to look down! Though I was glad I got to use color again to show variations...

Day 5: High Angle (Panasonic FZ200, f/7.1, 1/6 sec, ISO1600)
After searching Holland looking up for a "high angle" photo opportunity, I finally gave up and headed home... only to realize the stairs at our apartments provided a perfect shot! I just had to climb up, lean over and take (20 or so) shots to get one I liked the most. I learned today that high ISO means grainy photos, so aperture and ISO are now both in play for manipulation.

Day 6: Low Angle (Panasonic FZ200, f/3.2, 1/8 sec, ISO 1000)
I didn't want to take the regular "looking up at the branches of a tree" picture, so tried something a bit different. Despite my aversion to black and white, I decided this one popped more in monotones than in color. This is looking up at the organ in Dimnent Chapel's balcony at Hope College.

Day 7: Silhouette (Panasonic FZ200, f/4, 1/400 sec, ISO 160)
Two girls braved the windy beach with me to take these shots. It was my first chance to really just practice taking pictures of people - and they were super-compliant and fun to work with! The first one reminds me of my gymnastics days...

Also, my awesome husband helped create a watermark for my pictures for when I put them up on the internet! Kind of excited ;)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Photo Challenge

There was that moment. When my camera had gotten stolen for the second time, and I realized that thanks to Wycliffe’s great insurance, I could get a much better camera half-paid for (instead of replacing the old, smaller though good point and shoot). I did research, picked out a camera, and then realized that (one of) my good photographer friends in Musoma had the same camera. I ordered it, had it carried over by friends who were coming back from Christmas in America, and started shooting.

One of the first photos I got to take with my new camera, untouched.
Thanks, little monkey, for coming and posing as we left the restaurant after lunch!
I was pretty excited with the detail in the shot.

And suddenly, I realized that all the things I had wanted to do with my camera before, and couldn’t, wasn’t perhaps because of my lack of ability, but potentially because of my lack of adequate equipment. Apparently the things I wanted to do with pictures, the ways I wanted to capture the world around me – were possible. I was shocked, delighted, and so excited.*

My friend with the same camera and I set to work trying to figure out the technical aspects of our camera, without a lot of luck. We took some amazing photos, which I loved, and the auto-setting served me/ us well. But I still wanted to learn more.

Fast forward about two years. I’m in the States now; previously mentioned friends are still in Tanzania. Another photographer friend submitted the idea of a 30 Day Photography Challenge Project he’d found online, and I was hooked. Finally I had a good reason, excuse even, to pull out my camera every day, go outside, shoot, look up information, and play until I figured some of the technical details out.

In 3 days I’ve learned more than I ever have about the technical details of photography. I still have a TON to learn and a LONG ways to go. But I’m excited. I’m glad to have more tools, more “informational equipment” in my bag that I can pull out and use to capture the shots and images I yearn to share with others. And I’m thankful for the chance to be stretched, challenged, and grown in new ways through this time.

So with that, instead of sharing 30 separate posts with pictures, I thought I’d share a weekly synopsis of the pictures I took and what I learned. If you don’t care about the details, just check in for the shots. Or better yet, go to #nov30dpc on Facebook to check out all the shots my super-amazing friends (and some of their awesome kids/my previous students) and I have taken. We have a long ways to go, and I’m hoping I don’t get too stuck along the way. But I figure as long as I'm learning something, I'm on the right track! :)

*Not saying that camera equipment is the end-all of good picture taking. Just that I was thankful for more challenges and for opportunities to play with settings/get clearer pictures!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Request for LVLC Teachers!!

The view of Lake Victoria just behind the school - an amazing place for kids to explore and learn!
If you, or someone you know, might be interested in working with some of the best kiddos (and some of the most amazingly supportive parents) in the world, check out THIS LINK. Then check out all the fun stories on my blog that will convince them/you that this really is the best.job.ever. It's challenging and rewarding and humbling, and a simply incredible, life-changing opportunity to live, work with, and serve families who are helping to make Bible Translation and the Jesus Film a reality for people in Northern Tanzania. 

Chai (tea/break) time
Their need for a teacher is urgent. One of the most common reasons highly-trained missionaries have to leave the field to go back to their countries of origin is due to a lack of high-quality educational opportunities for their kids. Quite literally, one of the best ways to help ensure the continued translation process of the Bible is to get great teachers to the places that need it most.

Learning how guitars are made...
They are looking for someone that can be in-country by January 2016, or at the latest July 2017, with a commitment of 18 months to give the two teachers there a much-needed chance to reconnect with people back in the States.
A temporary class pet, found on the playground
Is it worth it? YES. I've never been so well-supported by parents in prayer and practical help. Yes, I taught three grade levels - but there were 5 kids and I nearly always had a parent helping in the classroom. Imagine the possibilities!

My K-2 kiddos, from America, Australia, and New Zealand
These students are without a doubt some of the brightest, most caring, creative students I've ever worked with, and the mission team community is a fabulous chance to learn and grow with other believers committed to seeing God's kingdom come to those all around the world.

Would you join us in praying that God would both call and provide for the right person for this position?

The Ultimate Wedding Day

It was my wedding day. A day every girl, even me, thought about sometime or hoped for even if I hadn't planned the whole day out when I was 5. A day that didn't seem quite real. After meeting a guy I really liked, leaving for 2 years and ignoring him, then talking and finally meeting again... Praying praying praying and asking friends for wisdom, dating, saying "yes" and then planning planning planning as well as making huge decisions on jobs and living locations and everything else and re-prioritizing our lives together... The day was here. And it was all a lottle surreal. I woke up just like any other day (after missing my alarm, nothing new there!) and scrambled to catch up with the goings-ons and responsibilities of the world. It was a day like any other, another wedding I was in. except that no one asked me to hold a bouquet, to tie a bow, or run and find the photographer.

And all throughout the day, I kept looking for and seeing people around me from all around the country and the world. And as I walked down the aisle with my dad, I seriously wished I could stop and spend a couple hours hugging on and catching up with each of the amazing people I hadn't seen in so long, who came just for us and who we wished we could spend a week with but instead had to walk down the aisle to the front and the start my new life. Which I was so glad for, and which was why they all were there. And yet, in my heart, I still wanted to stop everything. Yell, "Halt! Wait!" Not because I wasn't ready to take my vows, but because I wanted to treasure this moment, these people all collected in one place, these memories. I wanted to capture them all in my heart and hold them tight and paint them into forever memories to look back on for the rest of (my) our journey.

At the same time, looking around in awe at the sea of beautiful beloved faces, I could see in my mind's eye all the people who had brought us to this point, the people who had played huge roles in our stories and lives and who couldn't make it because the "world is too big and life is hard and heaven's reunion will be all the sweeter for it." I wished for my Musomaland family and friends, for people in North Carolina who supported and encouraged and mentored me and all the people around Michigan we begrudgingly had to cut from the invite list due to the lack of space available at our venue.

Someday there will be heaven, and the skies will open and Christ will be reunited with His Bride, and the celebration won't be about me (thank goodness - I'm SO not a center-of-attention person!) but on the Creator and Savior and what He's done. On His true servant leadership heart that we yearn to be more like, laid out for us in a beautiful picture of grace and love and yes a recounting of how we've used our gifts for Him in the time we were given. I can't wait for this meeting, one day, when we get to not only celebrate but be in the ceremony as the bride of Christ, His church. And when we get to experience fully His Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love*... a love that we hope our own relationship and marriage reflects for the world.

* From The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The O'Chungs

Once upon a time, when he was about 13, the man I get to be married to now moved to Seattle, Washington from Seoul, South Korea to do a study abroad with his older brother. Besides learning the all-important lesson that no middle-schooler in America thinks a proper “How do you do?” with a handshake is an acceptable greeting, he also learned that his Korean name of Sang Hoon might be a bit difficult for some people to connect with. So when his family officially immigrated to Canada a few years later, and it was time to pick a technical name, he started going by Sang Mark (slightly easier but still confusing for those Westerners who weren’t used to two first names!).

At the same time, their family had to choose a proper, English-based translation of their last (or sur-) name. Since the people translating their birth certificates were also a bit confused, they settled on one popular spelling of Chung. (Turns out, Jung would have been a lot more phonemically accurate… but who goes for accurate when there’s a new culture to assimilate into?) And so, his name became Sang Hoon Chung… or Sang Mark Chung for every-day Westerner life.

Fast forward past college in Canada, a masters in Sweden, and a job in Singapore, to where this incredibly talented designer landed a job in a little unknown town called Holland, Michigan. After about six years he met this crazy American girl on an unknown blind date… then promptly watched her leave for Africa and ignore him for a couple of years. Then she started emailing… and dating… and finally agreed (much to his relief) to spend the rest of her life with him.

About this time, said crazy girl’s mom had the chance to make her daughter a cool 3-D printed key chain with her up-and-coming new last name! And so, she did.

And all of the middle-schoolers who had heard about this crazy African-based but now in America daughter of their teacher looked at her and asked, “Her new last name will be O’Chung?!”

Upon hearing this story (and receiving the keychain), we laughed, and realized it was the perfect blend of Sang Hoon-Mark’s Korean heritage and Crystal’s European but almost non-existent Irish heritage. And it just seemed to stick. And so, with that, we became the O’Chungs. (On the non-official documents… like when we use Sang Mark. Names and filling out forms have gotten a bit more confusing these days!)

As an extension of this unique last-nickname, O'Chung fits the mix of cultures that I – and the man I love – and our marriage encompass. While neither of us have much Irish in us, we do have a fabulous mix of Tanzanian, Ugandan, Korean, Bulgarian, French, English (the British variety), Australian, American, and several other inter-continentally-confused influences pervading out perspectives. And as I we continue to transition into “oneness” and are challenged in our journeys of faith, these world influences will lend to the people, places, and perspectives we grow in Christ along the way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


One of the biggest lessons God has had to teach me over, and over, and over again throughout my life (and that I have often utterly failed at) has been how to rest in Him. No, this doesn’t mean doing nothing. But this does mean not striving for His love that He’s already given, not trying to earn what I’ve already got. And it also means not filling my schedule, my life with so much “good” that I miss out on what He’s got for me that is “best.”

It was about the time in college when I got mono at Urbana 2003. How I got it, I have no idea (and no, I wasn't kissing anyone!) But how I made it WORSE? That I know. I ran on adrenaline… kept going to classes, pushing myself to do one… more… thing. Because that’s what I was supposed to do, right? I knew how to overcome, and there wasn’t much that could slow me down. 

But God could.

And He did.

And my trying to push through this exhaustion made the illness last for over six months.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. - Ps 23:2-3

God used this time to show me things in His Word I’d been too busy to notice before. In fact, I’d been too busy, in general. Sleepless nights, restlessness, and darkened days when all I wanted to do was sleep (my poor roommate! It’s amazing we’re still friends) gave me lots of time to think, and pray, and read, and learn. And the more I struggled to “do” – reschedule my next three years of classes at Hope, start a Spanish minor (I’d need that for missions, right?)… the more God chuckled, lovingly and knowingly, and allowed my plans to fail. Over and over. As did my energy levels. And my understanding of what living for God meant. I was too busy trying to be everything for Him that I missed the fact that He was already everything I needed. So I slowly (and oh so painfully) learned to slow down. To rest. I took time off classes, and read the Narnia series for the first time - all the way through - just to make myself stay in one place and rest. I started asking God at the beginning of the day to lead and guide my time, my directions. And He did. And often, it looked like slowing down, like listening more and doing less. It looked nothing like what I thought I was supposed to be doing for Him.

Fast forward a few years to Tanzania. I’d learned a lot, but the mission field (which is everywhere) is a tough place to accept you can’t do everything. When you’re constantly surrounded by evident needs, and you see amazing people doing incredible things every day to meet just a few of those needs… it’s hard to be ok with going home and just sitting at Jesus’ feet. Or making a good meal from scratch and getting a good night’s sleep. In fact, it’s hard to sit still at all.

And so, that first year overseas, I nearly burned out.

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Mat 11:28-30

It got to the point where sometimes I wished I’d just get so sick that someone would have to send me home (from school, from the field?) so I’d be forced to rest, really rest. Because I didn’t know how to give myself permission to do so. I was fueled by guilt, by trying to match those around me (who apparently had WAAAY more stamina for teaching PLUS everything else than I did). I knew it was too much, but I didn’t know how to stop. I was filling my life with so many good things, that I had no time for rest. And apparently, that was important for sustaining. I was barely surviving, let alone thriving!

I heard God whispering, “Crystal, I called you here to teach. You’re doing that well. It’s ok if you don’t spend your evenings in outreach and Bible Studies and other “ministry.” Your ministry is to these kids… and that is enough.”

So I dropped pretty much… everything. The attempts to connect with after school ministries, the small group Bible Study from church… Everything besides teaching, dancing with middle-schoolers, and living in a tough place… which was enough. For me. I couldn’t handle any more, and, thank goodness, God didn’t expect me to. He didn’t even want me to. I was doing what He put before me- and that was enough. In fact, doing more was disobedience and sin, and it had taken its toll.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. – Mat 6:31-32

I’d trained myself from an early age to fit things into the schedule. Is there time in the day? Then fill it with good. I used to think that sleep was wasteful – that if I could survive without sleep, I could accomplish so much more! I’d long-since dropped that idea before heading overseas, thankfully. But the waking hours were still fair game to fill to the brim. Which was fine… for a day. Maybe a week. But a month? Year upon year? Teaching overseas and cooking from scratch and making sense of life in a different culture and language, moving and living with (amazing) roommates I’d never met before arriving… then spending springs and falls prepping for summer grad classes on a different continent… only to start all over again… I didn’t realize just how much wear and tear it was taking on me. 

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. – Ps 4:8

I loved it. It wasn’t always easy (following God never is) but it was without a doubt what God called me to – and I would do it again in a heartbeat. But I’d do it differently. I’d take more time to write. To enjoy sitting under a banana tree, or on the front porch taking in the Indian Ocean breeze instead of fretting that the power was out – again – just as we were getting ready to make dinner. To not worry so much about what I wasn’t doing or couldn’t do, but give thanks for the opportunities God gave me in the classroom, in the ministry He had put in front of me. To stop living in a sense of guilt, but to embrace a sense of God’s grace and the Truth that I am enough. Already. That yes, there are huge needs out there, and they need doing. But that I’m not God – and that He is.

That I am enough.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Boot Camp

(It's been a bit of a hiatus since I last posted... but writing has continued along the way, and I'm excited to share a bit of it with you! This post was written July 7, 2015)

Some people say the first year of marriage is the biggest challenge.

I wouldn’t know. We haven’t started yet ;).

But for us, the challenge has been ongoing from the beginning. Not because we don’t fit well together – God is making it very clear that this is the direction of our relationship we should be taking! But because, well, He’s bringing us through some serious training before the actual marriage begins.

Yes, we come from two different cultures. We’ve lived in very different places. But somehow, God has used these experiences to bring us closer together. Our views on family, marriage, money, so many things are so similar it’s crazy.

At the same time, we’ve both been single for thirty-something years. We’ve both lived by ourselves, he longer than myself, and have developed ways of doing things that are particular to us as individuals and that haven’t necessarily been challenged by my multiple housemates along the way.

It’s easy to get selfish and self-focused as a single. Without even knowing it.

And so, when presented with how to do things in a home, how to make a meal together, how to do little and big things… conflicts discussions arise. Let’s just call them “bumps.”

And it’s been amazing. Can I just brag on my soon-to-be husband a bit? I’ve never met anyone so willing to work through hard stuff, get to the root of whatever issue we’re having, talk through it and figure out how we can do better next time. And then CHANGE. Make the changes himself, and support me in doing the same, changes that we need for a strong foundation for our future.

He’s willing to do the hard work of talking, praying, examining, letting the junk fall away as we seek to become more like Christ and more unified as we prepare for a life of marriage together.

So after all this hard work, it seems like we’d be doing pretty well. And we are! But then the last couple of months, God had some more training in store for us.

We got news that the campus where Sang Mark has worked for the past 8 years is closing down in September. He was given the offer of a transfer to Detroit, and GM started pursuing him as well. We were amazed at the opportunities before us and excited for what God might be doing – he would love to work at either of these places with the amazing people and projects and opportunities there! At the same time, we are entering our first year of marriage, I’ve not even been back in the States for a full year yet after years overseas, neither of us are big-city people per se, and he (we) have an incredible church and friend community that I’ve been adopted into here in Holland.

So the question, with 34 days till we get married, was is… do we add a move and new community to a new marriage and new job situation? Three of the biggest stresses in life all at once? And if so, where to go?

We checked out Detroit and found a couple of places we liked, but still struggled. We needed to make a decision by Monday, and then God granted an extension of a week. But pressure was still on. A potential job was in the works in Holland but not guaranteed (and still isn’t). Do we take what we know, the obvious amazing offer we have? Or do we do what we feel better about at this time of our lives?

In the weeks leading up to this, and as things changed with every passing hour of every day, God started making changes in us that showed the reason behind this difficult process. As we sorted through priorities and what is most important to us in our lives, our relationship, our marriage... we moved from being individuals to being united under one head - Christ. We pondered whether community and stability this first year were most important, especially since I’ve been through so much the past few years? Or was money and career opportunities what we valued most? And even more importantly, what exactly was God saying? Because that’s what we really wanted.

We learned to pray together – not just the happy-go-lucky prayers we’d started our relationship with, but the heart-cry for help and guidance and wisdom and surrender giving everything over to the Lord, no matter what He says, and telling Him we’ll follow Him prayers.

We learned to share what we thought God was saying. To pray for one another, to listen to what God might be telling the other person, and what they were processing themselves. We learned to be convicted by what God was saying through the other person and to change our habits, our minds, our attitudes.

Sang Mark learned that girls' tears are ok – and to comfort me when they came. We learned what it meant to be cheered on by a church of people who were rooting for us to stay, even when they hadn’t known me for very long yet – and the blessing of having them throw me a Bridal Shower just a few months after we’d all met. And give me a place to live the month before we got married when I needed a place to stay.

We learned that asking God to show us His path as soon as possible wouldn't come in our time - but definitely would happen in His sovereignty. We were some of the first people to know what the path ahead looked like job wise, which was a blessing leading up to our wedding for sure! And this difficult but precious Boot Camp time allowed us to face some of the issues and decisions that most couples go through over the first few years of marriage. Because, seriously? Why not just get it all out of the way before you even tie the knot? ;)

And in the end, 4 long, “we’re trusting in You to come through God!” days after turning down job offers with companies in Detroit, Sang Mark was offered a job on the other side of the same building where he’s worked the past 8 years. We get to stay in Holland! And we are so thankful, not only for this time of staying in one place and fewer transitions (and not trying to house hunt the month before the wedding!), but also for the ways God used this time to prepare us for whatever He has to come.