Following the Railroad Tracks

The train station manager saw Mi Yun wandering around the empty train station, knowing she had been there for several hours. She had previously told him that she was waiting for her uncle to pick her up. He said, “‘You cannot wait here. Do you hear me? No one is coming for you!’ Hanging her head in confusion and alarm, [Mi Yun] obeyed. The thumping in her chest started again. Tears burned her eyes as she stumbled back to the ox cart… Mommy, I need you!” After being abandoned on a train by her mother, four-year-old Mi Yun spent her childhood on the streets of war-torn South Korea, scavenging for food, warmth, and love. Because her father was American and her mother was Korean, no Korean would accept her, and she was repeatedly beaten, tortured, and purposefully starved because of her origin. However, every time she was near death or so cold and hungry she wanted to die, someone would be placed in her path to remind her to never stop trying to survive. In her book She Is Mine, Stephanie Fast uses differing perspective, realistic details, and heart-wrenching events to communicate that Someone had a plan for Mi Yun no matter what happened to her.

Throughout the book, I felt as though I was in the mind of Mi Yun because Fast uses differing perspectives based on the age of Mi Yun to unfold the details of the story. When Mi Yun is young, the thought process in the book portrays that of a very young girl, who cannot understand what is going on as her mother puts her on a train alone; a girl gullible enough to believe after several days of being abandoned that her mother would still take her in if Mi Yun could only get back to her. As she sat in the cardboard box she had called her home for several days, while waiting for her uncle to pick her up, “She repeated again, ‘It will be all right. It will be all right. I will find my way back home… I will get back to my mama” (60-61). Then, as more and more people hurt her, beat her, and torture her, Mi Yun’s innocence turns to fear and hate. She stops trying to get help from the local villagers and instead hides as much as possible in shacks, burrows, and caves, stealing food and warmth whenever she could. Each encounter she has with strangers, I was immediately placed in the mind of the young girl, reading her words, thoughts, and fears. On one particular occasion when Mi Yun is caught stealing, she is grabbed by a farmer. As the farmer drags Mi Yun down the street and into a crowd of angry villagers, she cries, “‘Please don’t hurt me… I will leave… Just let me go.’ …Is there any kind person here… someone who will stand up for me, someone who will protect me? She could only see hatred, anger, and disgust on the faces of the villagers” (101). This switch between dialogue, Mi Yun’s thoughts, and narration made me feel thoroughly engrossed in the book, as if I were right there alongside the little girl.

In addition to differing perspectives, Fast also uses realistic details that kept me thoroughly engrossed in the story. For example, there are accurate descriptions of the Korean countryside scattered throughout the book, so I could picture where the events were taking place: “She saw the train tracks running along the rugged mountains… She looked to the right… and scanned the train tracks surrounded by the grass, rice paddies, and more mountains. Turning, she saw behind her only the empty countryside and even more mountains” (75). There are also many descriptive portrayals of Mi Yun: “She was tiny and beautiful in a way that was both Western and Asian. Her eyes were a bit rounder than the other children… Her hair, lighter in color than the rest, had a soft curl to it” (37). These are two of the many examples of Stephanie Fast’s excellent descriptions in She Is Mine. There are also depictions of Mi Yun’s encounters, the places she goes, and the experiences she has. These depictions allowed me to visually picture the characters and scenery, so I could imagine what Mi Yun saw as she suffered.

Finally, there are many events in this novel that caused me to deeply empathize with Mi Yun. One time, when she was caught stealing from a farmer, Mi Yun was dragged to a water mill and tied to it, and the water mill was then turned on. “[Mi Yun] didn’t quite know what was happening, except that the wheel was moving. Its slow rotation took Yoon Myoung to the top, where a flood of water spilled into her face, causing her to sputter and choke…With no time to catch her breath, she was thrust under the murky water as the wheel continued its rotation. Scraping along the graveling bottom of the pond, she felt her face being cut and bruised by the mud and gravel” (103-104). She was raped, beaten, run out of villages, suffered a fall from the hands of strangers that killed the baby she was taking care of, and nearly died from sickness. Many times, I found myself mentally yelling at the other characters, aghast at the inhumanity of the Koreans that Mi Yun encountered. However, no matter how much she went through, someone was always put in her path that cared for her, encouraged her, and helped her to keep going.

The story of Mi Yun is one that captures the interest of every reader, as they learn about the horrors she endured as a result of her origin, from being abandoned by her mother to being refused food by villagers. However, the reader is constantly reminded that someone is watching out for Mi Yun through the little things that happen to her along the way. The end of the story renews one’s confidence that God is always watching over us, no matter how hard life becomes. But, if you would like to know what this incredible ending is, you will have to read Stephanie Fast’s She Is Mine.

Written by Michelle

Image Credit

 

Advertisements

Vashti’s Rejection

“Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes” (Esther 1:19, New International Version.) For those unfamiliar with the book of Esther, this verse records a conversation between King Xerxes and one of his officials. After literal weeks of feasting with his friends, “drinking with no restrictions” and gorging himself on whatever forms of leisure and entertainment he deemed relaxing, King Xerxes asked his wife, Queen Vashti, for one more favor. I can only imagine that this was likely the request which broke the straw on the camel’s back.

Picture one’s husband inviting his bros over for a football-watching party, not unlike a typical Superbowl bash. He informs you that there will be lots of soda, chips, yelling, and maybe a little rough housing. Most wives aren’t opposed to their man having a few friends over; however, what if he asked to have hundreds of friends over for multiple months, just to party it up? I’d like to meet the wife who would agree to this, ask her what is wrong with her, and then beg that she not subject herself to such juvenile carryings on. Realistically, Vashti probably didn’t have a choice about whether her husband could take over their palace with a myriad of friends to do as he pleased, but I assume that she had a few opinions on the whole ordeal. It seems natural, then, that when King Xerxes issued a formal request for her to come “wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles,” that she scoffed and refused to be paraded around like a trophy wife. Right on, sister! You’re a literal queen, and you shouldn’t stoop to becoming mere eye candy for a bunch of drunken lads.

As a child and an adolescent, when we went over this story in a church or small group setting, there was a popular and understood consensus: Vashti was a bad wife for refusing her husband’s request. She, as Xerxes’ officials also claimed, set a bad example for women everywhere and caused “no end of disrespect and discord.”

I’ll be honest with you: I think that outlook is missing the whole point.

You see, Xerxes, at that time and in that state of mind, was not being a good husband. Scripture clearly states that he was drunk beyond reason and had been in that state for some time. The Bible asks us to be sober-minded and watchful in all that we do; considering that the king was quite the opposite of sober-minded, it stands to reason that the requests he was issuing weren’t good ones. However, that’s not even the worst part.

It becomes particularly infuriating a few verses later when he banishes Vashti, the queen and his wife, from ever stepping foot in his presence. It is never fully explained if they obtained a complete divorce, but either way, Xerxes immediately started looking for a new wife. He held a nation-wide beauty contest to find the prettiest replacement because who cares about Vashti, right?

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like one of the worst forms of human rejection one could possibly receive.

As I read this passage a few days ago, a new thought occurred to me. Keep in mind that, up until this point, the only sermon I’ve ever heard regarding Esther chapter one was in agreement with drunken Xerxes: “Bad Vashti. Bad example. Don’t be like her. Comply!”

The thought that came to me was this: God would never treat us like Xerxes treated Vashti. The king made an unholy request of his queen while he wasn’t thinking clearly. Not only that, he didn’t so much as offer her a second chance. In his rage, he dismissed her forever and went on a quest to find someone better.

Although God may make difficult and unforeseen requests of us, He does not ask us to do anything wrong. Don’t mistake me, Christianity is uncomfortable. If we’re walking as Jesus did, we will likely be urged out of our comfort zone constantly. The most peaceful part is this: when we don’t follow His commands, either knowingly or unknowingly, God does not reject us in return. As Martin Luther said, we can “sin boldly,” not because we are banking on forgiveness, but because we know we don’t have to walk in shame because of one, one hundred, or one million mistakes. Our God is the King, but He isn’t at all like King Xerxes. Like Vashti was to her husband, we are His bride, made to serve Him in holiness, rest in His protection, and delight in His grace.

Written by Karoline

Image credit

Shades of Dirt

Ever since I was a little girl, my parents have taken me on mission trips around the nation and into surrounding countries. For some, the idea of being dragged from place to place every summer for the better half of their lives seems exhausting and unappealing, but for me, nothing sounds more intriguing, more comfortable, or more like home.

Traveling has always been one of my deepest passions. I love to see new places for the first time: the way the air smells, the color of the ground, and the mixture of noises that roll down the streets are the very first things I notice and document (because one should always document the brown-ness of the dirt when traveling).  I am a sucker for aesthetics, and there really is something beautiful about observing the physical characteristics that make a town, country, or village unique. However, in the midst of God’s extravagantly stunning terrain, there is something about each new place I visit that never fails to captivate me the most: the people.

I have never journeyed to a place where the people weren’t completely and whole-heartedly hospitable to me. Yes, this might sound ridiculously naïve of me to say because, hello, we’re living in a world where people tend to thrive off of nothing but hating, shaming, and ridiculing others. However, I’m here to tell you that, for the most part, people are generally good at their core, at least to those who are sincerely interested in knowing them.

Don’t read me wrong.

I know that there are rotten people in the world. I know that violence, hate, discrimination, and terrorism are real and prevalent today. I know that the world isn’t full of rainbows and unicorns, and trust me when I say that I know that not everyone is nice, accepting, or honest. I know that the media reports more on arbitrary acts of brutality than random acts of kindness. I know all of these things and understand them to be true, but I also know that warmth and sincerity are appreciated. I know that compassion and generosity do not go unnoticed by their recipients. I know that, by taking the time to truly get to know someone, strangers can be made family.

I could tell you a hundred stories about the mission trips I have gone on, the places I have seen, or the shades of dirt that I have written about in my travel journals, but the thing that I feel most passionately about today is hospitality. Being hospitable is most commonly associated with the idea that one should welcome others into their homes, feed them, and care for them when they are in need, and while that association is appropriate, it isn’t exactly the only way of showing hospitality to others. Hospitality can be as simple as welcoming a stranger into a conversation, showing kindness to the driver who can’t pick a lane, or accepting the fact that someone else can hold an opposing opinion on politics. Showing hospitality isn’t difficult. It isn’t costly or even that time consuming. It’s important, it’s cherished, and it has the power to change someone’s world.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2

Written by Haley

Image credit: Haley Briggs