• 2014 Orthopraxis Testimony | Annette Chan

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

    This famous quote from Lewis perfectly encapsulated my experience at Ekko Orthopraxis 2014. The story began when I joined Ekko just in time to sign up for Orthopraxis. Having recently moved across the globe to the area, I had a difficult time settling down in Southern California. I felt stifled in my new environment, as if a heavy wet blanket was putting out the fire that was burning at the core of my heart. At the place where there was once peace and joy, anxiety and unsettledness took over.

    It was at that place where I learned that the ability to open up to others was a gift, not a choice. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, I was able to share my heart with my group members the first time we met as a group, even though I didn’t even want to be there. Looking back, I am so grateful for the experience, as it opened me up to a group of warm-hearted people who were empathetic, caring, and willing to listen.

    Brene Brown, in her TED talk on vulnerability, defined courage as the ability to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. Orthopraxis provided me with a safe space where I could share my heart with a handful of trustworthy people. Through tangible actions of love from my sisters in the group, I understood experientially that I was loved regardless of my value, my productivity, and how “good” I am; this is the type of love that God has for us. I have always struggled with understanding that not merely as head knowledge, but as a heart-felt belief. Because of my experience in Orthopraxis, today I am happy to say that I understand the mystery of His love just a little better.

    Annette is currently enrolled in the clinical psychology Ph.D. program at the Rosemead School of Psychology in Biola University, and it is her hope to help bridge the gap between psychological research and the church's view on wholeness and healing. She enjoys cooking, baking and playing ultimate frisbee. She attends Buena Park Ekklesia.

  • Faces of Ekko | Rina Yoo

    Jean Vanier called his L'Arche community, “a sign that love is possible.” Through reading Vanier’s reflections and being prayerful for this new extension of our church, I’m just beginning to understand what Vanier truly meant when he said that. Vanier stated that being part of a community that loves the “misfits” of society deepens our humanity, as well as our spirituality, and it also teaches us more about our Father through the disabled community’s fragility and simplicity of their lives. It’s humanity as God intended to have a spirit that moves us to “grow in the love of all people in the human family.”

    Vanier stated that through the disabled community, his eyes were opened to a world full of heart, vulnerability, communion and celebration. What’s been pressing most deeply for me is that our society views the disabled community as tragic and burdensome, when all along, they may be the ones that truly reflect the heart of God. Vanier wants us to shift our views of the disabled community to be about hope, joy, freedom and nourishment. I still find myself struggling with removing these false beliefs that I’ve had about people with disabilities my entire life. They are so deeply engraved that it’ll take conscious effort to replace them with truths. As Vanier put it, God is opening up our hearts to the cry and anguish of these people that despite all their fragility and weakness, continue to transform and call others to the heart of the gospel.

    While reading Jean Vanier’s book, one story about two boys named Phillippe and Raphael stood out most to me. Vanier stated, “as I began to live with Phillippe and Raphael, the first thing I discovered was the depth of their pain, the pain of having been a disappointment for their parents and others.” Their needs were exactly the same: to be loved and to love, to make choices and to develop their abilities. I believe God has called me align my heart to His and to feel the anguish and hear the cries of his people that are hurting and suffering. Strangely enough, I feel God working in me--changing my heart to yearn more for a life that’s not quite as comfortable; a life that includes much grief and struggle, but also healing and new freedom.

    This is the spirituality of L’Arche that we wish to bring to Ekko.

    Rina Yoo is pursuing the path to become a registered nurse, and is currently finishing a program to become a certified nurse assistant/patient care technician. She serves with the Ekko Kids department, as well as rEcess, a respite program for parents of children with special needs, which officially launches in September 2014. She attends Cerritos/Buena Park Ekklesia.

  • 2014 Orthopraxis Testimony | Robert Jewe

    It’s finally June, and Orthopraxis has come to an end. Doesn’t it feel like we just finished a school year? Maybe it’s because it also happens to be graduation season, but there’s a sense of closure and freedom in the air. I’ve heard my fair share of commencement speeches, so as we wrap-up Orthopraxis, I think it’s only fitting I begin my memoir in similar fashion.  

    Welcome, family, friends, distinguished guests, members of Ekko church, curious readers via Reddit and StumbleUpon, and of course, the GRADUATING CLASS OF ORTHOPRAXIS 2014!!! WE DID IT!

    I remember our first week of Orthopraxis, a brisk Friday evening in the back room—So much anticipation! So many people here! Are we all going to cry tonight? Are we going to speak in tongues? Are we going to sacrifice an animal? Are they serious about this strikes thing? Why is there so much reading? What is a covenant relationship and is it legally binding in the 48 contiguous United States, plus Puerto Rico?

    That was February, now it’s June. Five months later and along the way we’ve discovered that life is like a race or a journey and the people in our lives have shaped our future and—okay, I’ll stop.

    No one likes commencements speeches. They’re all boring, way too long, have forced humor, and you’re almost always praying for it to end quickly. Some of you probably feel that way now while reading my testimony. (Mission: Accomplished.) And of course, the worst thing about commencement speeches is you know what’s coming—a four part summary of what’s been gained throughout the educational experience garnished with a quote from Mother Teresa, a former US president, or Dr. Seuss. Luckily, this is where the connection between commencement speeches and Orthopraxis stops. Because I don’t know about you, but Orthopraxis was nothing like I expected.
    I thought it would be easy; It wasn’t. I thought I’d break down in tears every Friday; I didn’t. I thought I’d feel drastically different; I don’t. Truthfully, I brought a lot of presumption with me into the program,and as God often does, He surprised me. I think we often try to put God in a box, according to how we think He’ll move in our lives—after Orthopraxis I’ll feel more connected to people at church. I’ll be head over heels in love with Jesus. I’ll stop drinking. I’ll finally be ready to date. (It. Just. Got. Real.) But if there’s one thing I learned over the past five months, it’s that this whole Christianity thing, this thing we call faith, is nothing like attending school. You don’t graduate as a Christian. There are no finals. It doesn’t end; God doesn’t hand out diplomas.  

    Orthopraxis is the beginning of re-orienting your life towards intentionality in your relationship with God and with people. It’s practicing things like prayer, reading the Bible and Christian literature, missing out on your friend’s birthday Vegas trip because you have other commitments (#FOMO), and loving other people. It’s learning to establish a rhythm of discipline and improvement to continue your entire life—not end just in time for summer trips and day club season. Can we make progress? Of course, and I think we all have. But if you’re wondering like I am why you don’t feel like a completely different person, or like you’ve just finished becoming a “real Christian”, take comfort in the fact this truly is just the beginning. We got a taste of what correct living looks like. It’s up to us to continue the practice. There are no shortcuts. It isn’t easy. In all likelihood your milestones will be small improvements only you and God know about. But it leads to Life. And as we all know, life is a race, or a journey, or something like that.

    As I wrap up my fake commencement address, I’ll leave you with a cliché dictionary definition: Webster’s dictionary defines the word commencement as “The time when something begins.”

    Here’s to the end of Orthopraxis, and the beginning of correct living.

    Robert works in marketing for the Barna Group, a Christian research company. He enjoys good coffee, wearing long-sleeved shirts with the sleeves rolled up, and making anyone who rides in his car freestyle rap. He currently attends Fullerton Ekklesia.

  • Faces of Ekko | Deborah Kwak

    Jean Vanier, a modern day saint, has given up everything to live in a community of people with mental disabilities. People with disabilities teach us so much more about the reality of human life and existence than we think. They teach us how to live with strength, bravery and fortitude despite daily challenges. They teach us how to love without inhibitions and the freedom of it. We learn to step in to relationships with people not because of what they have to offer us but simply because we enjoy them. When we open our hearts and befriend the powerless, we are taking a step in to the reality of human weakness and frailty, which we often mask or attempt to run away from. We have all felt, in one way or another, to some degree, the pain of loneliness and the pain of wanting to form relationships but not exactly knowing how to. When we offer presence, which Vanier defines as “helping the other to see their beauty and value,” we are offering the gift of friendship. We offer our vulnerable selves and we welcome our true selves, the beautiful and the messy. In walking in to these friendships with people with disabilities we discover that people with disabilities are far more rich than most.

    Every single human being has a great need to be seen, valued and appreciated for who they are, not because of what they can do or produce for us or for society. Our society prizes efficiency, competence and productivity at the expense of compassion, companionship and community, but the cry for relationship, the desire to love and be loved, is within all of us. When we walk with people with disabilities, we find that the gap we often flippantly create between the able bodied and disabled is far too wide. The barriers, misconceptions and fears are torn down so that we could live the “new vision of community Jesus” came to establish. With new eyes to see, we begin to pay attention to the giftedness of each and every person’s life as well as our own and appreciate the sacredness of each human being, made in the image of God.

    I think, before, I wasn't sure how to act or how to approach someone with disabilities because of the fear of rejection but the best gift you can offer any one is your self, your time, and your care. I think often I feared not only their reaction, but my own ignorance too. Befriending the disabled could be demanding and it does take a sense of responsibility but any friendship we sustain requires both love and responsibility. When I adore a friend, caring for them doesn't feel like a responsibility, but rather, a joyful desire. Jesus was a friend of the broken, the powerless and the weak and he sought after them in spite of the pain these very friends caused him. He accepted them, giving us the reality of God's kingdom.

    Deborah Kwak is a graduate of Biola University, and currently serves in the Ekko Kids department as part of the worship team. She is also a member of rEcess, a respite program designed for parents of children with special needs. She is a member of Cerritos Ekklesia.

  • 2014 Orthopraxis Testimony | Tiffany Kim

    Right before Orthopraxis, I made some drastic changes and sacrifices to my life to further my relationship with Christ. I had the expectation that God will bless me because I gave God what was most precious to me. I went into Orthopraxis with the desire for instant transformation to become a “perfect” Christian; however, that was not what exactly happened. The reality of Orthopraxis went far beyond my expectations. The perceptions I had of myself, from the beginning of discipleship to the end of it, had completely shifted. The content of my life was shaken as we started to deal with the root of our issues.

    I was not the greatest Christian girl, as I have perceived myself to be. All the issues and sins that I thought I got over in the past all came back. I was still shameful and broken. The enemy knew all of my weaknesses, insecurities, and issues of acceptance. He used that to his advantage and I found myself trying to find acceptance and security in temporary “lights” like I did in men. Eventually, those “lights” soon became dim and I had nowhere else to turn to. The lectures of Orthopraxis and my team really helped me come to terms that Jesus was the light that will always shine eternally. He has been faithful since the beginning even when I was not. I came to terms that no one is ever going to be a “perfect” Christian. However, I know there is always room for growth and improvements and the journey with Christ is challenging and long. Although I am still broken and scarred, I know God accepts and loves me for who I am. I gained something greater than instant transformation. I gained a better understanding of God’s faithfulness and unconditional love through my brokenness.

    Tiffany Kim is a junior at UC Riverside studying anthropology, and now serves with the Hospitality Team at Ekko. She enjoys making videos of her roadtrips with her sister and can sneeze with her eyes open. She attends South Bay #3 Ekklesia.

  • Faces of Ekko | Rachel Choi

    Each person is sacred, no matter what his or her culture, religion, handicap or fragility. Each person is created in Gods image; each one has a heart, a capacity to love and to be loved.” - Jean Vanier

    L’Arche is a special community founded by Jean Vanier that both people with and without disabilities call their “home.” The “volunteers” in this community don’t serve for several hours a day and return to their personal lives. They give up their personal lives to stay at L’Arche and do life together with those with disabilities. For them, doing life together means not just serving the other, but also becoming true friends.   Vanier paints a great picture of what it means to live like Jesus did. Jesus didn’t just serve his community for a certain amount of time and then do this own thing. He lived life with them. He didn’t view himself as someone higher, but emptied himself and became one of us (Phil 2:6-7).

    Unfortunately, our society views people with disabilities as burdens and objects of misfortune. But what hit me the most while reading the story of L’Arche is the realization that although many churches believe that they should “do something” for those with disabilities, they do not see that these people have something to offer the church as well. Having been in the therapy field for the past few years, I am guilty of that view myself. I viewed people with disability as people that I need to help – as if I was someone better. By thinking that way, I minimized their potential as people created in the same image as “normal” people. Vanier says, “Each person is sacred, no matter what his or her culture, religion, handicap or fragility. Each person is created in God’s image; each one has a heart, a capacity to love and to be loved.” People with disabilities offer us friendships in which we can learn what it means to live the life that Jesus lived. Our hearts will be stretched, our patience will be tested, and it will be very difficult and unfamiliar at times to have a real relationship with those with disabilities, but in the end we will have learned to love truly and deeply without expectations, just as God loves each of us. My hope is that rEcess will help to break down the walls between “normal” and “disability,” and encourage each and every one of us to see anew those with disabilities as people created in the image of God.

    Rachel Choi serves with the Ekko Kids department and is currently studying for her master's degree in human behavior. She also serves as a member of rEcess, a respite program for parents of children with special needs, which launches this September. She currently works as a Behavioral Interventionist for children with autism, and married to the love of her life, Eric. She attends Buena Park Ekklesia.

  • Faces of Ekko | Alex Kearsley

    I didn’t know quite what to write as a testimony for these last six months working for Ekko. I used to look at my own journey a lot, and felt like there should have been more defining moments, milestones, just anything that would make my experiences unique. My walk felt so basic… so ordinary. But then these last six months, God broke through in a most powerful way. He taught me that regardless of where I work or spend my time, I’m loved because I’m his son. And the road I walk is unique, and it’s good enough. I see the wisdom in following the footsteps of the great leaders around me, but there is also God’s soft gentle voice that is telling me where to go. That was a voice I scarcely heard before, but these last six months were a time of God uprooting my insecurities and sins so that I could finally listen and follow.

    I am grateful for my time in the Ekko office, because it was a place where I learned how to work hard. I began to see places of pride rooted in my heart, and with God’s help I chased after humility in a way I never had before. Now that I have left the office and am in a new workplace, I am seeing new places of pride burrowed in my soul, and once again I’m teaming up with God to uproot them. I’m learning what it means to be obedient.

    More and more as God leads me though each step, I’m seeing that this journey is really about partnering with him in my decisions and joyfully seeking out what he lays before me. I felt like God gave me a word to go back into the workplace, and from there I made the decision to follow that voice into adventure and uncertainty, to places where I would have to trust him like I never have before. I’m beginning to realize that my brave moments are really just following after him, and trusting that he knows my heart and he has good plans.

    God has shown me who I am, and he has given me a glimpse of the man I’m becoming. I can walk with a confidence that I have never known before. What a great God we serve, who corrects us with his unlimited mercy and always helps us get to exactly where we need to be. This last year of my life has been filled with transition and some crazy twists and turns, but it has been a fundamental time of growth in my walk.

    I’m so grateful for everyone who prayed for me these last six months as I was working in the Ekko office, your prayers were not in vain. I ask that you continue to pray with me as I venture into this next season of life, and I also ask that you continue to pray for the Ekko staff. I know God has put each and every one of them there for a reason, and as they serve with everything they have, let us fill this church with gratitude. Joy that we have such loving leaders, who are making themselves last each day, so that we can have a small taste of the kingdom.

    God bless our church, our tribe, what we call home. Amen.

    Alex Kearsley now works under human resources as part of the video game industry, having recently ended his internship with Ekko this past July. He is gifted in impersonating voices and enjoys eating hamburgers. He currently attends Culver City Ekklesia.

  • Faces of Ekko | Esther Kim Moon

    "In this divided world Jesus longs to create places of unity, reconciliation and peace, by inviting the rich to share and the poor to have hope. This is the mission of L’Arche, of Faith and Light and of other communities: to dismantle the walls separating the weak from the strong, so that, together, they can recognize that they need each other and so be united. This is the good news." - Jean Vanier

    This mission is vital for our community. I believe that God will use rEcess as a vehicle to evangelize the good news to those who need to experience the message of hope, peace, and love in a tangible way. I’m praying that through rEcess, God will bring reconciliation and peace to the brokenhearted, and for those who serve, may we continue to take the downward path of humility so that we can truly see the beauty and value in each of those we are serving, just as others in Christ have seen us.

    My hope and vision for rEcess is that it will be a place where children can come and be loved for who they are, rather than being judged for who they’re not. They will be able to come and receive love and individual attention, while having FUN! in a safe place. I pray that parents will also be able to come and find comfort and true rest in this community. May they experience God’s love over them and be deeply refreshed, so that they can be empowered to love and steward their children with even more grace and love, just as we have experienced God's love and been empowered to love and steward the resources God has given to us.

    I pray that we at Ekko will take time to check our hearts and throw off any strivings to become more “rich” and self-focused. Instead, let’s adopt this mission of actively breaking down the walls that separate the rich and poor, healthy and sick, strong and weak, and come to an understanding that regardless of how you view yourself in light of others, we are one body and we all need each other. Let's learn to look at people with unveiled eyes and softened hearts, and speak over them the truths of God’s love. Let’s be the vessels that God can use to bring the good news to those around us.

    Esther works in the fashion industry and serves with Ekko in the Ekko Kids department. She is also a member of rEcess, which is a respite program for families who have children with special needs, which formally launches in September. She attends Torrance #1 Ekklesia.

  • "Can I Have One More?" | Steve & Andrew on Mozambique

    "Can I have one more?"

    For a second I was transported to Mozambique - or what I think it looks like - and imagined the timid squeak of a little child, nervously fumbling with his already-finished glass Coke bottle, trying to absorb the merged courage of the crowd of the other children around him.

    "Of course you can," said Pastor Bryan.

    Then with a wave of his hand and a twinkle in his eye, the bottles jumped out of the crates that had kept them imprisoned from their destiny - the stomachs of smiling Mozambican children.  

    And of course I can.

    In the average workday I guzzle down numbers four or five before 5 pm. Excess is best, especially when my drink of choice is Diet Coke. I have totally, purposefully, bought into the ploys of red tie wearing Coca-Cola executives. I can just picture them rubbing their hands, gleefully slotting me into the "whale" consumer demographic, someone who drives to the market just to purchase one or two boxes of the 24 packs. I get the last laugh though, some days I buy Diet Dr. Pepper instead.  

    I'll be real with you - I think I am an actual soda addict. I had given up soda for six months last year, and the way the body yearns for something was otherworldly. The things I would do to feel that fizzy burn hit the back of my throat, I vowed I would never give it up again. So when the end of my self-imposed soda ban came up in March, I vividly remember the moment I took that first sip - I was living out a real-life Diet Coke commercial.

    And it's this same reason that Pastor Bryan's story resonated with me. Soda - a beverage so seemingly common to us in the States - was such a meaningful gift to the children. To a much much lesser extent, I think I had undergone the same feeling of excitement those kids in his story had experienced.

    As our departure for Mozambique approaches and as Andrew and I prepare, we would like to invite Ekko to remember the children with us; but more importantly, to pray for the children of Mozambique. And to corporately exercise this in a tangible way, Andrew and I would like you to join us in giving up soda from today to the end of July (July 29th).

    I'm not naive, I don't believe that giving up soda for a week will magically transport every unopened bottle into the hands of a kid in Africa. This isn't even about soda, but this corporate exercise gives us a tangible way to remember those children - to create internal space - every time you open up the fridge to reach for that cold soft drink. 

  • Faces of Ekko | Haein Hwang

    While reading Jean Vanier’s book, The Heart of L’Arche, I was very challenged by his  stories and the heart of those living in L’Arche. In today’s society, there is a growing amount of children and people with disabilities and mental illness. There is a great need for support and love for these people, all people.

    While working with families who have children with disabilities, and studying therapy myself, I find myself in the midst of all the different experiences: the diagnosis, the grieving parents experience, the therapy sessions that go well, the therapy sessions with no progress or gain, the rejoicing of something new, love that is big and strong for their child, and getting a real glimpse of what it is like to live with someone with a disability.

    From my four years of being in these homes and parent support groups, I have seen and felt a lot. I have had many questions about disabilities and why they even exist. Why would our God choose not to cure every single person when he is so capable of everything? One story that sticks with me is of a 3 year old girl who would come to therapy, and for the 30 minutes all we would do is clean her with baby wipes because at home she is put in a crib all day (with food given to her, her diaper changed) but because she is so low functioning, parents did not know what else to do but to keep her in the crib so she is safe. That was so sad to hear, but the reality is…disabilities are hard to live with. And yes, while that is true, Jean Vanier has taught me that disability is very hard to live with if you strive to live a life that is reluctant to selflessness and change.

    Jean Vanier writes, “We are called to use all our energies and gifts to create a more just and loving society, where each person, whatever their culture, religion, abilities, or disabilities has a place.” That is the calling of a Christian, to love the other regardless of what labels or background the person comes from. The people who worked with the intellectually disabled sacrificed and this act of love without saying a word told the people of L’Arche that they were worthy. The people who chose to live among the disabled had reduced salaries, longer working hours, loss of certain friendships and of course cultural activities. These people let go of “self pleasing fun” and embraced a deeper calling. They chose to love on those who were seen as burdensome, unpredictable, people that usually are associated with fear because we don’t know how to be with them. The people who served at L’Arche found community life, love in a grander form, and a new meaning and purpose of living in which our faith, gifts, and competence are integrated. So maybe God does not cure because he is at work. God doesn’t see these people with disabilities as people to cure but as people that will teach us how to love and be joyful in every circumstance.

    The people with intellectual disability felt valued, loved, and important, but it really did something more to those who lived with them and loved them. God must ask us -- If we love only those who love and affirm us, is that really love? Every time I left a home, my heart and mind would still be on those parents raising the child. Parents who quit their jobs to stay at home, parents who live on the bare minimum to provide their child the best resources, parents who don’t care about all the eyes that stare and voices that whisper when their child is being them self, living with their disability, parents who love so greatly and are constantly serving 24 hours a day. God is really amongst these families and these parents experience parenting like never before, because they are living their calling on loving those who may never be able to express their full extent of love in words or actions back.

    Jean Vanier’s heart gave me much insight, but to keep it brief I end with this quote – “We need God. We are not a fortress but a fountain that gives life.” God’s plan for his people is unity. In the church, each person is called to live a certain aspect of the life of Jesus. We are called to live humbly, open to those who suffer. We will discover his presence in the poor (poor in worldly terms, but the rich to God). People with disability are not a burden, but a glimpse of God’s love and an invitation to be closer to the heart of God.

    Haein is currently studying speech pathology at Nova Southeastern University and serves at Ekko with the Ekko Kids department. She is also a member of rEcess, which is a respite program for families who have children with special needs. She attends La Mirada Ekklesia.