Community Building

Besides a hilarious TV show and the word we use when we want to make church sound less formal, what is community? Dictionary.com calls it a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common. At the Aroma, one of our desires is to build up a community that helps others become the Aroma of Christ. But how do we do this? Community Groups.

About four months ago, we launched three brand new Community Groups with the intent of creating a space for people to grow that particular common characteristic, specifically; Christ-likeness. Our goal was to give people a space to get to know their brothers and sisters in Christ and spend time forming community. Community that can then better help others smell and spread, the Aroma. We intentionally launched Community Groups on Sunday nights after our church service.

Since beginning, we’ve seen some pretty amazing things happen. Some expected, some unexpected. All of them full of Holy Spirit working.

“I crave time with people.”

This is what one young man said to me one Sunday evening. “My job keeps me so busy throughout the week. This time that we have to hang out with each other is so valuable because there is no other time that I have to be with our community.”

“I’m thankful for a group of people to come back to… I feel so well received.”

This was the response from an old friend who had left our community for some time and then came back. He has dealt with the passing of his father, much strife in his home country, and the recent revealing of a change in beliefs. Thank the Lord that He has worked through our community to provide a safe space for this young man.

Can we lead some activities tonight?

“Can we lead some activities tonight? We want to go even deeper with everyone.”

What a joy it is to see those whom you walk with stand up and make their faith their own. These two individuals met and planned out an entire event to be done during the Community Group that meets in our home. It started with some simple questions getting to know one another and forming community, which led to us talking about the sermon from earlier in the day and deepening community, and finally a time of prayer with one another in order to strengthen community.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” (3 John 1:4)

Whether it’s a Community Group like ours or a big community meal such as some churches have. Holy Spirit uses many ways to build the Body of Christ. This is what we do at the Aroma. What about you?

Adding to the Kingdom

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

Last month at the Aroma we received two men into the Kingdom of God. I am honored to call them my brothers in Christ and so I want to introduce them to you, our international family!


This is Sam.

A prayer of blessing over Sam after he made his decision to follow Christ.

Sam was brought to church by a friend who wanted to check out the Aroma church but didn’t want to come alone. I’ve watched Sam sit and listen intently to many sermons over the months. We’ve prayed over Sam, who has struggled with health problems for quite some time. Yet, it wasn’t until recently during a prayer meeting where he was asked, “Sam, do you want to give your life to Christ?” His answer was, “Yes.” Praise the Lord!

Sam’s story wasn’t an overnight conversion. His friend who brought him to church has been praying a long time for him. Sam’s asked many good questions and took time to consider who he is putting his faith in. And Holy Spirit has met Sam where he is.

Pray for Sam. His family, like many in Taiwan, and he has an ancestor shelf in his home. There they offer prayers to their ancestor’s spirits in hope for good fortune and health. Sam wants to remove it and, as the eldest son, has the right to do so. Yet, he has several older sisters who are opposed. So, we pray for Holy Spirit to use Sam in his family’s situation. We anticipate God working through Sam’s story.


This is Nick.

Nick + The Siemens took a trip to Yehliu Geopark.

Nick became acquainted with the Aroma through our English ministry; Coffee Talk. For quite a few months Nick would come every Friday night to release tension from work and practice his English. – Funny how some people think language learning and relaxation can go hand in hand!

I remember one Friday night asking Nick how he was doing since his composure made me think he wasn’t having the best day. It was then that he revealed to me that he wasn’t performing well at his job. His boss kept reminding him of this and he was becoming more and more disappointed and frustrated with himself. – I love how Coffee Talk gives us this opportunity to see into people’s lives and reach out with some Good News!

I ended up praying for Nick and I encouraged him to come to church because I knew he would hear more truth spoken there. He delayed a few weeks. Work was too busy… but eventually he came and he hasn’t stopped coming since!

Fast forward a month or two and Nick has left his job. He seems much more happy and he has a bit more free time on his hands. He asked me if I would be interested in reading through some of the Bible with him. We began meeting weekly and our conversations would go deep quickly. At Nick’s core was a worry, a fear that he would not be able to carve out a career that would be able to provide for himself and his parents, not to mention any future plans of having a family. He said he continued to attend church because the people there were different. They seemed much more happy.

Praise the Lord, soon after this conversation I had another with Nick… But this time it was about him making a decision to put his hope in Christ and leave his worry behind him. He’s still working on letting go of those worries, but now he has Jesus helping him every step of the way.

Andrew Got Baptized!

Do you remember this past summer when Justin and I managed the Aroma Ximen cafe? We got to work with some pretty great people, and one of them is Andrew. If you don’t remember him, read this post first!

Andrew gave his life to Jesus almost one year ago; last April. He’s growing and learning a lot! In fact, Justin and I have the privilege of having Andrew in our weekly microgroup; a small discipleship group Justin leads. Also, Andrew is our new church intern! What this means is that he helps us with projects and events, serves in the church in many capacities, and will eventually begin shadowing Justin more as time goes on.

Andrew has quickly become a huge part of our community. It’s hard to imagine him NOT in it!

We’ve watched Andrew overcome much. One example of this is his struggle to follow Christ while also honoring his family. Honor is deeply rooted in Taiwanese culture and so you can understand his dilemma. He had desired to be baptized several months before, but when his family found out they threatened to kick him out of his home. With Holy Spirit guiding, we spent time with Andrew, trying to wrestle with what the Lord wanted him to do and how he could respect his parents. This struggle finally came to an end one week when God met Andrew in his kitchen. It was there that he heard a clear call to take a leap of faith and trust that God would work on his parents hearts.

Last Sunday, Andrew made a public declaration for his faith in front of our church community (and many new friends!) and was baptized. And so we rejoice!

It’s always a good thing when someone new joins God’s family, but it is so, so special when you get to walk along side that person in so many aspects of life and experience the journey with them!

We aren’t sure what God’s plans are for the rest of Andrew’s family… but we have confidence that God has good plans, and we wait in anticipation, ready to be used by Him.

Congratulations, Andrew!

Pizza and Jesus

My family loves pizza. My family loves Jesus. So when the occasion arises to spend time teaching our friends about Jesus AND pizza, we spring into action.

Some of you might know that Brittany and I are really into huddles. We’ve talked about them before, but to summarize quickly… A guy named Mike Breen wrote a book called Building a Discipleship Culture. In Breen’s book, he talks about building disciples in micro groups and he uses shapes to describe the Christian life as modeled by Jesus. Together, with Holy Spirit’s guidance, we’ve been doing life with our huddles ever since we read the book.

Most recently our huddle learned about the half circle.

We used this shape to learn what the Bible teaches in Genesis 1 as God shows his creation how to work from rest, not rest from our work. Also what natural rhythms look like as seen in John 15 as Jesus describes seasons of fruit and seasons of pruning.

God calls us to seek him in these natural rhythms. He has made both work and rest good, and so we must make sure not to sway too far to one side of the pendulum for too long. After all, too much rest leads to laziness and too much work leads to burn out; something that I’ve experienced first hand.

Together as a huddle, we practiced resting. We heeded God’s command to keep a Sabbath and refrain from work. We took time to listen and let God show us what gifts he’d given us to enjoy and relish while we rest and receive energy. Enter pizza, stage left.

When we rest and work well, this is a testament to our trust in God. We wanted to live this out with others… and so we had a pizza party. Our huddle of five invited a couple of friends and we went out and enjoyed some of our favorite pizza in the city. (Shout out to Little New York!) Why? Because God loves us and wants us to work hard, and play hard, too.

The group, minus one. Photo credit goes to Andrew Chen

Grandpa, the man who taught me to hug and bow

Growing up I (Justin) can easily split my life up into neat chapters because my family moved around and I never lived anywhere more than six years. The last chapter in my ‘growing up’ story was unique in the sense that it was the first time I’d spent any significant amount of time in the United States, the country I called home. It was also the first chapter in my life that had me living away from my parents. At the age of sixteen I moved in with my grandparents and, without really understanding what I was doing, moved my entire life into a different country and culture. I displaced myself from my parents and siblings, all my friends, and every other safety net that I could have had as a young teen. With over 4,400 miles between the Netherlands and South Dakota, I would definitely not be in Kansas anymore. 

As scary as this must have been for my parents who loved me dearly, they strategically released me into a home where they knew I would be cared for.

At the time, Roger Hunt had been a husband to his wife Sharon for almost fifty years. He’d raised three children who grew up to love Jesus dearly. He had served in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps for over twenty years and had over ten years of serving as a South Dakota representative under his belt. Surely, if Roger could care for so many people he could take care of his grandson as well.

And he did. 

Through simple things like helping him re-shingle his house and building retaining walls, he reinforced in me the need and benefits of doing a job well. He gently reminded me regularly of the urgency to serve others when, while sitting at the dinner table, he’d ask me “Justin, how have you served your country today?”

Even more valuable though, Roger created a safe space to let me fail. He patiently pressed in as I learned to drive. He didn’t complain or nag when I was wasting my time or didn’t want to bother to help around the house. (This last one is a bigger deal to me than you may think.)

Roger was humble, too. It wasn’t beneath him to ask his grandson how fix his email app or which wireless router would best suit his needs. He would often ask my opinion around tech and even a bit when it came movies and which might be worth seeing.

In many ways, my grandpa was a constant. He was always a phone call away and his diverse life experience, do-it-yourself attitude and overall knowledge gave comfort, because if you called Roger, you knew he’d be able to help.

Grandpa taught me what it looks to hug & bowRoger wasn’t perfect. No one is, but Roger modeled a life that warranted respect in a way that made you want to be a part of what he was doing.  Through his example he showed me that God is a loving Father and powerful King who wants to interact with us, both in covenant relationship and Kingdom partnership. (That’s from this book!)

Roger Wayne Hunt of Brandon, SD, passed away on, November 9, 2018, at the Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls, SD after a 5 week hospitalization from a complicated surgery. (Read his full obituary here.)

I lived with Roger and Sharon (Grandpa and Grandma) for two years before going off to college. I’m thankful for those two years because of the home they created and the lives they modeled in which I could learn these things. I’ve heard plenty of stories of Missionary Kids moving back to the U.S. to start college and those first years being horribly difficult due to not having a safe space to process their transition.

Grandpa’s legacy seems huge to me. It’s one that I don’t think I could ever replicate myself. Yet, it brings me great comfort to know that Roger’s legacy was given to him by his Father and King. In the same way, as I take up Christ’s call on my life, I am able to pour into that same legacy. Praise the Lord.

Novembers Happenings

This last month has had a bit of radio silence on our parts. If you follow Brittany on Instagram you may have gotten a glimpse of what the last month has brought. (I’d encourage you to follow her if you aren’t already! She’s great at documenting our doings!)

 

The month of November brought with it some unexpected challenges.

Justin’s grandfather was hospitalized after a complicated surgery to repair his gall bladder. After four weeks of hospitalization his family asked us to return. Thank the Lord for his provision as just weeks before we had received a one time gift that matched the price of our plane tickets back to Sioux Falls, SD.  While we would have liked to have visited on other terms, we were glad to be able to be with family, even if for a relatively short visit.

Once in Sioux Falls, we were able to spend time with Roger, Justin’s grandfather. He would pass on November 9, 2018. It was peaceful and his wife and children were able to be with him during his final moments on Earth. Praise the Lord, Roger was a man with a steadfast faith. We are certain he is now rejoicing with his Savior. 

Being back in the U.S. did mean that we were able to do some special things. We spent some time with our family and friends. We were able to visit Parkside Church, in Minnesota and spend some time with their congregation and encourage them. Plus we celebrated Kennedy’s birthday!

Together with (cookie) cake and presents Kennedy was able to celebrate her sixth birthday with our close family. Originally she had planned her special day thinking it would be in Taipei, so her plans had to change, but we still fully intend on taking her out for a post-celebratory hot pot birthday meal as is our tradition here in Taiwan. We thank God for our daughter and how God uses her every day to encourage us and many others!

Meanwhile, back in Taiwan, work went on! We are blessed to be part of a team that can step up in these times of need. Praise the Lord! November saw our new initiative in the Aroma Church begin; Community Groups. We saw a need for a safe place that people could develop their belonging, in our community. Only then would they then be able to believe and become the Aroma of Christ.

Already we’ve seen fruit from this. One woman who attended these groups has been a Christian for sometime already. Through conversation she shared her passion to be a DJ and how she previously thought this would be something God would be against. Another woman used this space to ask a key question, “What language does God speak?” (One that we hear often, believe it or not!) These thoughts and questions are then able to be talked about and new life is able to be spoken into their situations!

Please pray with us as the Aroma Church takes steps into planning next year. Taiwanese love taking classes in their spare time. We want to meet these friends where they’re at and offer more of this! Whether it’s a class about how to read your Bible, or what Biblical Fatherhood looks like. We’re excited for this!

You can also pray for the Aroma Ximen cafe. While our second location is still moving forward, since the end of September Ximen cafe has remained closed. Praise God though, November brought with it two new individuals that we’ve put in place to reopen. We’re looking forward to reopening as the new year begins under new management and with a new look and feel that still replicates what the Cafes have been doing the last six years; providing a safe space for people to walk in, smell the Aroma of Christ, become the Aroma, and go out and spread the Aroma.

 

Meet Angela

This is part four of a four part series in which we want to connect you with the Aroma cafe staff that we’ve been working with over the summer. The reason we’re writing these blogs is because we want you, our family, to know who a little about who we’re working with here on the ground. It’s our hope that this will enable you to be more effective in prayer for the ministry we’re doing here! Thank you!

Justin and I have known Angela about as long as we’ve lived in Taipei. It’s was really fun and encouraging getting to know her even more this summer and I’m so excited to share her story with you!

One day after school, Angela went to her friend’s church for an event they were having. At this event, they were also having a meal. What middle schooler is going to turn down free food?!

Well, by the time they got there, the meal was done and the food was gone. Even still, the pastor’s wife bought them some food and offered to let them stay and hang out at the church. After some time, Angela started going to the church quite frequently to study and do homework after school.

Like many kids in middle school, Angela would sometimes disagree and fight with her parents. After one particular incident, Angela left her home and headed to the church. She was hoping to talk with the pastor’s wife, but she wasn’t there. Instead, Angela ended up spending time with her classmate’s mother. They spent time chatting, and she even taught Angela a worship song!

Angela told me it was in middle school that she started believing in God, but she laughed when she told me,

“But I didn’t know Him well.”

Like many Taiwanese high school students, Angela was BUSY! She didn’t have much time outside of school to explore her new faith, and she didn’t attend church.

When Angela started college, she needed a job. She had applied to a few places, but either didn’t hear back or the place didn’t have any openings at the time. One day when Angela was in Ximen, she found Aroma. She started chatting with the baristas a bit and decided to ask the manager (our friend, Miki, at the time!) if she could work there. She interviewed with Miki and was offered the job in about a week. Talk about perfect timing!

After a few months of working in the coffee shop, Angela started coming to church on Sundays. In 2014, she was baptized and dove head first into learning everything she could about what it means to be a Christian. She studied the Bible, joined small groups, and even joined the worship team (if you haven’t heard her sing yet, you should)!

Angela kept working in the cafe and remained a part of Aroma church until this summer when she moved to California.

Angela is currently doing a one year program at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Going to BSSM was a difficult decision for Angela. Her parents weren’t totally on board, and didn’t understand why she wanted to leave Taiwan. Her parents aren’t Christians, and it was very hard to explain to them the reasons for her decision, but despite that, Angela kept her eyes on God and followed where He led. Even though they don’t fully get it, they love their daughter and her parents accept her decision.

I’m so excited to see what God does in and through Angela this year, and to see what He has next for her! If you think about it, please say a prayer for Angela right now:

  • Pray that she falls more and more in love with God during her time at Bethel.
  • Pray that she adjusts well to American culture and life in California.
  • Pray that she hears clearly from God on what’s next.
  • Pray for her family who are not Christians yet, and pray for their relationship to stay strong.

Angela is raising support for her rent and living expenses while in California; if you’d like to contribute, you can learn more here.

Hope (Counting Our Blessings)

The last six months our church has read through the Old Testament together. I’ve taken note of how often God reminds the Israelites of what He’s done for them and recently I’ve been encouraged to take a look at how God has blessed me and my family. God’s past faithfulness motivates my hope for the future. Thank the Lord for Jesus. In order to look back I want to count the blessings I’ve seen in our Aroma community the last eight months!

Since we returned to Taiwan in January we opened a new cafe. Aroma Dongyuan is doing well and they’re growing into their new community. It’s great to see and work with them to fulfill the felt needs of south Wanhua’s people. 

February was the start of my first real attempt at language learning. Everything up until that point had been sporadic and unorganized. My studies at the Mandarin training center were intense. Fifteen hours of class a week plus lots and lots of homework. 

March led to a chunk of my molar falling out. It freaked me out, but the local dentist did a stellar job. Brittany started a part time job teaching English at a kindergarten and Kennedy went back to school as well. 

April marked the official beginning of our journey with the Christian & Missionary Alliance as we were interviewed and conditionally accredited to work on a pastoral apprenticeship under Aroma’s founder, Chris O’Dell. 

May was full of new life as two couples we’d mentored were married and a young believer in our community was baptized. 

June began a crazy summer where Brittany and I were made responsible for the Aroma Ximen cafe since several leaders would be State-side for the summer. We jumped in as two staff members were leaving, of which the manager was one and two more were planning to leave later that summer. 

July had a couple trips to do video work for both the Taiwanese Alliance Church Union and the Chinese Alliance World Fellowship. One happened in Taiwan and the other in Thailand. Both were filled with encouraging experiences seeing how God is using our brothers and sisters around the world. 

August meant the end of our summer cafe experiment. As we reflected on the past three months we started to really take note of how we saw God working in our employees lives. We started writing these stories down. Then September hit.

Throughout that cafe experiment I mentioned, Brittany and I quickly realized that the business wasn’t where it needed to be. The cafe has been in Ximen for six years and in many ways we hadn’t fully matured into what we could be. We proposed an internal review to evaluate our problems and procedures and prayerfully find solutions that would further our ministry’s vision of helping others smell, become, and spread the Aroma of Christ.

This year Envision has sent seven short term teams who have been a part of our ministry. We’ve gained two new interns. We’ve baptized three individuals that I can think of off the top of my head. We’ve successfully read through the entire Old Testament with our church and Chris, myself, and others have preached through it as well. But we’ve also experienced some downs. Two of our good friends and colleagues moved back to the US early and rather unexpectedly. Our vision wasn’t communicated as clearly as it could have been and our Ximen manager left with little noticed which prompted the sink or swim situation for Brittany and I in the cafe. Our church remains in a community that is fairly transient. Two of our Taiwanese staff also moved on to new opportunities. Now in the last month I’ve found out that my grandmother has developed acute leukemia and my 80 year old grandfather has gone through emergency surgery to remove a gallstone that had eroded part of his gallbladder. It’s easy to feel like things are crashing down right now.

And yet… Jesus. His death and resurrection give us hope. Christian hope is a choice. It’s not based on some fluctuating facts. To quote my friends at the Bible Project, “Hope is based on us waiting for our God to bring a future that’s about as radical as a dead man coming back to life.”

We’ll continue to report back on what’s happening. On how the Aroma ministry is moving forward and how my family is doing as well. Until then though, we put our hope in Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 1 Peter 1:3

 

Tied

The National Football League has started up again and as the fall approaches I (Justin) once again have got myself excited for a great season. After having a great debut, the Minnesota Vikings took their game to the road against their long term rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

Last year, the Vikings made it to the semi-finals. They were one of the teams to beat with a defense like none other. So, us fans went into this game with great optimism, despite having to face up against a good team and a quarterback legend.

I won’t lie to you… it was a tough game to watch. It felt like each team was doing their best to lose. Yet, in the fourth quarter, the Vikings quarterback led several a triumphant march down the field to tie up the game. It was glorious! This is what Vikings fans had been waiting to see! The game went into overtime and I was pretty positive Minnesota would be able to pull off a W.

After an additional ten minutes of play, no one had scored. The game would end in a tie. No one would win. 28 – 28

But Justin, no one lost either! 

Yeah, well… A tie doesn’t mean you’ve won either. Kirk Cousins, Vikings quarterback, said in a post game press conference, “I don’t know how to feel right now.”


I tell you that story to illustrate what the beginning of September felt like for Brittany, myself, and the Aroma ministry here in Taiwan.

After taking over the cafe for the summer, we learned the in’s and out’s and went to work. It was hard work, but it felt good to not only be doing something different from our normal ‘behind-the-scenes’ roles, but also to be helping sustain the ministry until the end of the summer when we would step back to re-evaluate. I love making coffee for people! I greatly enjoyed leading our local team to work hard and push each other to grow in more than just being great employees.

Yet when our time serving as managers had ended we felt like not much had been won. The cafe had stayed open, we had played a role in changing the internal culture of the cafe staff, but our bottom line, creating long lasting sustainable kingdom impact, was not where we felt it should be.

So we shut the cafe down for a month.

It wasn’t just my (Justin) decision, but we talked with leadership and they agreed. It might not be a best business practice, but we know that God has more in-store for this ministry.

I imagine Kirk Cousins and I felt similar feelings. Finding joy in things the world tells you are not ideal can be hard. It can feel daunting. As I write this blog we are three weeks into our four week review. We’ve talked a lot internally. I’m excited for where God is taking us regardless of what it looks like. Thank the Lord our hope is not reliant on W‘s, nor is it reliant on our own understanding. Our hope is in the Lord.

We, at the Aroma, know that what we’ve been doing in the cafe and church has had impact. We know that God has worked through us here in Ximen (西門). However, we’re not currently firing on all cylinders and so we’re checking the engine, while we ask God what’s next. How can we stay ahead of the curve instead of fall behind. We can’t wait to see where God will take us… so stay tuned and Brittany and I will keep you up to date.

Please pray that we’ll listen well to what the Lord is saying to us. Pray that we’ll be open to change and that as a team we will rally around what Holy Spirit places on our leaders hearts!

Meet Zion

This is part three of a four part series in which we want to connect you with the Aroma cafe staff that we’ve been working with over the summer. The reason we’re writing these blogs is because we want you, our family, to know who a little about who we’re working with here on the ground. It’s our hope that this will enable you to be more effective in prayer for the ministry we’re doing here! Thank you!

It’d been seven years since I’d become a Christian, but I didn’t know anything…

Zion told this to me with a huge smile on his face. It wasn’t the sort of smile one has after they’re caught sneaking the last piece of candy from a jar, or even one of those smiles people have when they aren’t sure of what you’re saying but nod their head anyways. This smile was one of real joy because Zion was recalling where he’d started and how far God had brought him.

Zion worked for us this last summer for three months in between college semesters. He loves music and is quite the amazing composer and pianist. I first met Zion when he asked my fellow colleague to join his a cappella group. He started coming to Aroma Church and then we were able to connect and bond over a common love of tunes.

It wasn’t until the end of the summer that I was able to sit down and go through his testimony in detail though. When I asked him to start from the beginning he gave me another big smile and started, “It began when I was playing basketball with some friends.” These friends had asked him to go to their church and so he did. What initially started as a way to bond with his new-found friends would eventually become something more… but at a slow pace.

I quickly became a Christian, but I went to church for seven years and still didn’t really know anything.

I asked Zion what changed that pattern and he cut to the chase. I broke up with my girlfriend. It was really painful.” He turned to satisfaction in all the places a typical twenty year old might look. He even decided to drown himself in his work, playing and composing music.It felt empty. I couldn’t make the songs perfect. Something wasn’t right.”

One day as he walked into his classmate’s dorm room where a teacher had left a book; a Chinese translated copy of Return from Tomorrow by George G Ritchie. My teacher just said the book was really good.” Holy Spirit would then go on to use this story to soften Zion’s heart and prepare him. His teacher lent him the book and, “I saw the author’s relationship with Jesus and I really wanted that too.”

Shortly after, about two years ago, Zion would rededicate his life to Christ through baptism. Since then he’s experienced the peace of God in his life and loves (literally) singing His praises! While Zion has now returned to school, would you continue to pray for him? Like Andrew, Zion is the only Christian in his family. Pray that this peace would manifest in very real ways to his parents!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33