A Chat With Karen
Today I am featuring a dear friend who was also a neighbor of mine for one year. Karen and I taught English to college students in rural North-Central China. China is one of several countries that Karen has lived in. She is one of the smartest women that I know and has wit to match. Karen and I have never shared coffee together (rather tea or hot pot // huǒ guō) but the mission we shared oversees is a special memory and bond.
"So Karen, I know you keep busy with women's bible study, learning languages for fun (who else does that?!), traveling often, and biking or hiking when you can in WI... but please tell our readers, what is a regular work day for you back in the US?"
"Sure! I work for a company that is a non-profit organization and evaluates the credentials (degrees, courses, grades) of people who have been educated in other countries to determine the US equivalent of their education. Our clients are individuals from many different countries seeking further education, jobs, professional licenses or immigration status in this country. Sometimes we also get requests from US schools and other organizations asking us to evaluate the credentials of their foreign-educated applicants.
I am currently being trained to be an evaluator. The training period for new evaluators can last up to a year, because the world has numerous educational systems, some related to each other, and some completely different. Being an evaluator is nominally a desk job, but I don't actually spend as much time at my desk as one might think. I'm continually hopping up to visit the library for research. As for the kind of research I do, well, what’s the difference between a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Music? And which one does the Korean program I'm looking at more closely resemble? Can a program be considered the equivalent of a Bachelor of Business Administration if there are no Marketing courses? Is the funny feeling I have about the signatures on this diploma enough to justify holding up the file while we try to verify the documents? And why on earth can’t I find any information about this Korean college, except the college’s own website which is all in Korean? (Turned out that they’d changed their name in May, and the other sources of information hadn’t caught up yet. What would I do without Google Translate??)
I like my job. There's plenty of variety to make the day go quickly, I like my co-workers, and I get to decorate my cubicle with all kinds of international stuff (I finally found a place to hang my Japanese flag!) You know, I've always loved languages, but the only one in which I'm fluent is English. I've just acquired bits and pieces (and occasional chunks) of other languages. Most jobs requiring another language require some degree of fluency, but it's fun to have a job where my random fragments of multiple languages actually come in handy."
"That job sounds perfect for you! What a great way to use all of your cultural experience. How would you describe your unique role as a woman?
"I don't know if I can define what my role is. The role of an unmarried (and therefore childless) lay-woman is not very clear-cut. Scripture doesn't give us guidelines specifically for this, and I have noticed that such women can easily be overlooked in the church. But I have been very blessed. I may not be sure exactly what my role is, but every so often, God hands me something new (like a Skype Bible study with a friend on the other side of the country) or points me in a different direction (like China). I have always been amazed at the opportunities for service that he puts right in front of me. And if I don't notice them right away, he makes them impossible to miss :-) I guess I often feel like the passage from Ecclesiastes that says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might" (9:10), and do whatever God has put in front of me at the moment."
"Excellent thoughts, Karen! I like that passage from Ecclesiastes, what bible passage is your personal favorite?"
"When I was quite young, I discovered the passage in Hebrews that says "'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'" (13:5-6) That was the first passage that I memorized on my own (as opposed to school memory work). Years later, my confirmation verse was Psalm 46:1: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." Both these passages underline the same truth for me: God is always with us, always ready and able to help. People can and do fail us, but God never will."
"Who is your strongest Christian mentor?"
"My parents were the ones who showed me how much lay people can do in God's kingdom. From the nightly devotions they had with their daughters, to the women's Bible study my mom hosted in our home, to the Bible classes they had with Hispanic and other international people, to planning their retirement in order to do overseas volunteer mission work, I couldn't begin to count the number of lives they have touched with God's Word. And it was always very obvious to me that they did all this, not from a sense of obligation, but from the joy of knowing Christ and wanting to share him with others."
"How did you get started traveling and sharing the gospel?"
"My parents met in Peru. My dad was a volunteer with a mission there, and my mom was teaching at an international school. So even though I was born and grew up in Wisconsin, international missions were familiar to me through their stories and their continued work with various multicultural ministries in Madison. When I was a senior at Wisconsin Lutheran College, I had no idea what I was going to do after graduation until one day I saw a notice on the bulletin board about opportunities available through WELS Kingdom Workers. I wasn't a man, and I couldn't speak Spanish, so that narrowed my options to bookkeeping in Bulgaria and teaching English in Japan. I always knew I didn't want to be a teacher, but I did work at a bank, so I thought bookkeeping wouldn't be too hard. God had other ideas, however. A few months later, I was on a plane to Japan with no idea what I was getting into, but a complete sense of peace. I learned then, as I've been reminded many times since then, how God prepares the task for me, and he prepares me for the task."
"Ah! What a great story! What is your favorite memory teaching?"
"There are so many! One thing that I'm still in awe of is the fact that, in four and a half years of teaching English in China, I was able to share the true message of Christmas and Easter with more than 1500 college students. The work wasn't easy; it could be incredibly frustrating, but the opportunity to plant so many seeds was worth it."
"Is there anything specific from Titus 2:3-5, our blog’s inspiration, that you can comment on to encourage women?"
Titus 2:3-5, Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.
"I appreciate the reminder that Christian women of various ages and stages of life can learn from and encourage each other. The world we live in attacks or mocks pretty much every aspect of the way of life set forth in this passage, and it's so easy for us to slip into the same way of thinking. But God has blessed us with other Christian women---mothers, sisters, friends, etc.---to help, support, and encourage us in our Christian life."
"What do you feel is a threat to a woman’s faithfulness in her home? How can you encourage us to be alert against it?"
"Our culture encourages us to be self-centered---Indulge yourself. Achieve self-fulfillment. Don't let anyone hold you back. You deserve to be happy. You owe it to yourself. The messages we get from the media, entertainment, other people, sometimes even other Christians tell us to put ourselves first, and how eagerly our sinful nature follows along! But this is in stark contrast to Jesus' words: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself." (Mat. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) Or God's words through Paul: "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others." (1 Cor. 10:24) And Jesus gave us his perfect life of selfless service when he took away our selfishness and our failures and nailed them to the cross. By his grace and in his power, we can serve God and our families as he has called us to do. "I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Php. 4:13)"
"Can you share a time in your life that was difficult that God strengthened you by?"
"When I was in college, I had two roommates who both struggled with severe depression. It was horrible to feel so helpless in the face of the pain they were going through. I learned then what it means to wrestle with God in prayer. I had never before prayed so intensely and so continuously. And he did bring us through. I wish I could say I've been able to "pray without ceasing" since then, but when there's no immediate crisis to remind me, my pray life often lapses. Still, through that experience, I learned to get past formal words and really pray from the heart."
"Is there a moment that you saw God's hand so clearly guiding you?"
"Some years ago, I quit my job as a bank teller and went to New Zealand to study creative writing. After ten months of doing something so fun and frivolous (it's hard to make a living on creative writing), I came back to the US with the plan that I was going to get a "real" job, settle down, and stay in one country for a while. Exactly two weeks after I got back, I received a phone call. Would I be able to teach in China for a semester? My first impulse was to say, "No way!" I'm not a teacher, and besides, going to China didn't fit my "settle down and stay in one country" plan. But I said I'd think about it, pray about it, and let them know within a couple weeks. Before the week was out, I knew I would go. And once again, God gave me great peace in that decision. I had made my own plans, but God turned me completely around and sent me off in a different (and much better) direction."
" Your trust in God's plan, even when it was something you did not want to do, is encouraging. It reminds me a bit of Jonah - only you didn't hide at first or get swallowed by a large fish... LOL! So, what’s next in life?"
"For the moment, I'm content to be in Milwaukee, singing in my church's choir, participating in a couple of different Bible studies, spending time with my nieces, and writing devotions for my sister to use with her K-2 class. If and when God has something else in mind for me, I trust that he'll show me, and I pray I'll be willing to follow."
"Karen, it was so good to talk again. Thank you for sharing your story with us. Your hard work, faith, and sincerity is a great example. I agree that there should be more open dialogue for single women in the faith. As you said, single laywomen tend to be overlooked and that is a disservice not only to the church but to God who has blessed them with gifts. You are faithful in any circumstances and it is an encouragement."