A journey of faith: The day I met my best Guide in Jerusalem

By Echo Chow

From a very unlikely messenger, Echo received her first gift from above.

I received my first Holy Bible when I was traveling alone in Jerusalem.

One afternoon in a restaurant, a middle-aged man came and asked about my nationality. After leaving for a while, he then returned and passed to me a Chinese Bible.

“Thanks for the gift,” I said politely with no intention to read it for the rest of my life. “Not from me but a gift from above,” he pointed at the sky and disappeared in the crowd.

What an odd reply to a non-Christian like me at that time! Only after nine years that I realized the true meaning of the word “gift”.

When I got back in China, the design of a book called “Desert in the Streams” caught my eyes in a bookshop. I opened it and could not stop reading. I wondered why I can see religious books in China. I was so curious and phoned my Christian friend in Hong Kong, just to make sure that it was not heresy.

Later, another friend gave me a book entitled “The Purpose Driven Life”.  Again, I finished it with keen interest. One day, an idea emerged that what I had been reading was “second hand” information on Christianity.  Why not try to experience the original version?

Among the Bibles she received.

Yes, in between those years, I received six Bibles in different versions from different people.

The year 2008 was the turning point. On Christmas Eve, I shared my sleeping problems with my friend since childhood.  Among the many strange dreams I had, the one about the struggle between “good” and “evil” scared me most.  “Go home and read the Bible. Only Jesus Christ can save you,” she concluded.

That night before bedtime, I was reading Romans 7:22-25 “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

These verses shocked me completely! It seems that the author from a thousand years ago understands me better than myself. I could not figure out why, but I felt a very deep fear in me. I could do nothing but pray for the first time accepting Jesus as my Savior.

The journey has its ups and downs, but Echo knows in her heart she found her best Guide.

There is no fear in love

Suddenly, the fear is gone. I felt like a baby sleeping in a cradle with someone comforting me. My hands were getting warm, and my heart was at ease. “It’s just an illusion.” I thought with disbelief. It was an instrumental prayer. I used Jesus Christ and denied him after that.

Two weeks later, I visited a museum in Singapore. Inside the museum was a church. Touring around alone, I felt a drop of cold water dripping on my left hand. I saw nothing on my hand but above my head was a huge painting of Jesus and his disciples. At the bottom of the painting was a sentence like “This wine is my blood”.  And I was just standing beneath the cup the disciple was holding.

Water … wine… blood…

I asked myself whether it was just an illusion again. But it would do me no harm to confess and follow Jesus. Why not have a try? The church people were happy to meet me. Yet I needed to answer them a few questions before attending classes.

“What is sin?” they asked. “Motivation,” an English word suddenly flashed into my mind. “It’s not just action and motivation matters, right?” I replied.

“Why do you trust the Bible?” They asked again. “Consistency,” another English word appeared in my mind, again. “I guess the book was written by many people living years apart, right? And the message is consistent even though some of these writers might not know each other,” I said.

Even a car she once saw on the road one day when she was upset reminded her that she should be thankful God too time to shepherd her.

With limited knowledge about the Bible, I could not understand why what came to my mind was English but not my mother tongue which is Chinese.  At that time, I could not even distinguish the Old and New Testament and misunderstood that the Bible had a “printing mistake”, for it repeated the story of Jesus Christ for four times!

That is not important, though. What matters most is that I have started a journey of love, faith and hope. There are always ups and downs in life, but I know with Jesus in the boat I can smile amidst the storm as we go sailing home.

Power is perfected in weakness

My journey seems to be pre-destined long time ago yet heading to somewhere to my surprise though I have never been a well-planned person.

It is natural that most people would like to use their strength to perform and achieve. The more confident we are, the more we will succeed. In my entire study and career life so far, I see the Lord has been protecting me from my weaknesses and strengthening me in areas I was never even aware of.

At university, my major was Communications but I scored highest in Philosophy and Religion. My news sense was not sharp but I was elected the chief editor of the school newspaper simply because I could communicate better with the Taiwanese professor who supervised us on this project.  When I was still puzzling what to do after graduation, I was offered a job in a renowned international news magazine as a staff writer per recommendation by the professor.

That was how I jumped into the media field, in spite of the fact that I had very little understanding of international affairs.

The job came with immense pressure. I found myself totally inadequate to write in-depth analysis on topics like regional conflicts or economic crisis. I drank six cups of coffee a day to keep myself awoke, and slept only three hours a night.

The journey of faith continues …

We can make our plans, but …

Such hard times continued six months until I resigned because I wanted to gain more front-line experience as a local news journalist. Out of my expectations, though, the newspaper I just joined shifted its editorial policy to intentionally nurture journalists with global perspectives. I became one of the potentials, perhaps due to my previous background.

A golden opportunity arrived when I was 26. I was offered a post stationed in the US for two years as a correspondent. That was my dream for a long time! But my mom opposed so strongly that I gave it up. Several months later, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she died two years later.

Lesson learnt – when the world values personal achievements and prestige, the Lord tells us that staying with our loved ones is more valuable than anything else.  And He loves me so much that even though I didn’t know Him at that time.

Frankly speaking, I was very nervous during those days. My English and common sense were far from satisfactory, but the job required me to deal with many unfamiliar technical topics from missile tests to human cloning, as well as natural disasters and international development conferences.  All these not only widened my perspectives significantly, but paved the way for my future career in the NGO sector.

Now I am working in an international non-governmental organization (NGO) operating in China, a place beyond my plan. I am not sure why and how long I will be here. But I know I am in God’s hands, for “we can make our plans , but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

Echo’s journey with God pursuing her is such an inspiring message that He is around watching and keeping us – an amazing message we can ponder on Easter celebration.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

I am the first Yazidi actress to star in a lead role and my first reaction was “Oh, no way!”

Dejin’s dream found her; and never let her go until she said yes. Some girls are just born with their silver spoon waiting for them.

By Dejin Jamil

I smashed a glass ceiling. It felt very similar to breaking borders.

I should perhaps add, I raised the bar for Yazidi women when I said “yes” to star in a film. I did not even realize that the break handed to me on a silver platter can also open the door wide – and on screen, so to speak, for all the women in the world.

I am an aid worker for four years in Duhok, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, working in the camps for the internally displaced people coming from the conflict zones in northern Iraq. I run an education and protection project for children and youth.

This project always gives me mixed feelings. I am sad to see children, women and men of my country displaced by the war, in the process losing family members and relatives. This kind of sadness is painful and indescribable.

On the other hand, I feel happy when I go to the camps and see how strong and resilient the Iraqi families are. It gives me joy to provide support, share in their sad and happy moments. I love it when I go with the children as they gather around me. Many of them would say, “Hey, we saw you on TV! We are proud to see a Yazidi woman as an actress.”

My journey in doing movies began with a friend telling me that a Kurdish friend of hers who is a film director was looking for a woman to act in his film. They need someone who can speak both Kurdish “Badini” and English. She said, “I thought of you.”

Many girls dream of walking in the red carpet. Dejin proved it is possible to make that dream come true.

I immediately said, “Oh, no way!” This came out of my mouth without even weighing the merits of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was also certain that my parents would not allow me to join the film.

The Yazidi men are very conservative. Thinking they will be restricted to do what they want anyway, the women in turn have created their own barriers. But there are also other reasons for such concerns like fear for the safety of their lives and those of their daughters’.

Days after, I told my mom Fairoz, I added that I said no. Surprisingly she said, “Why not?” My mom then said, “I once dreamed to become an actress. At least you will make it come true.” My heart almost screamed. I cannot believe she wanted me to do it. I thought my mom would never support me.

My mom later told my father who never had any adverse reaction. I know he is more open-minded compared to her. The Kurdish fathers love to spoil their daughters.

My worries extended to what the bigger Yazidi and Kurdish community will think. I was concerned of talks about my reputation and that of my family’s. Working with too many men and being on screen are often frowned upon.

Nevertheless, when something is for you, it mysteriously finds a way. Visiting a neighbor, my parents learned that he knows the director and is a good friend. They discussed my refusal to star for the film and he told my parents to encourage me assuring that the director is a very good one and famous among Kurds.

Dejin with Mano Khalil, the first director who gave her a break in the film The Swallow.

My mom told me about the conversation in their visit. That gave me courage. I immediately contacted my friend who was also was having a small part in the movie to tell the director that I am interested. The director turned out to be Mano Khalil, a multi-awarded Kurdish-Syrian director whose documentary film The Beekeeper gained numerous acclaims.

My acceptance, I later learned, was a great news for the director and for the film crew as well, as they struggled to find someone who can match their requirements for the film. No many women are keen to do a movie because of family and traditional restrictions. I am fortunate my family is among those who are open-minded.

What happened next was almost surreal. My “yes” gave me two major roles in films by famous and well-respected directors.

In my first film by Kurdish Syrian director Mano Khalil The Swallow, I played a sister of a man on his 30th who falls in love with a half-Kurdish and half-Swiss girl who came to Kurdistan to look for her father.  During deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s time, her father was the reason why our own father got killed. My brother wanted to take revenge on her, but later falls for her.

My second was A Dream Before Dying (currently on post-production work) by acclaimed director Fekri Baroshi. My role was that of a Peshmerga soldier’s wife. While my husband was fighting the war, I was at home taking care of a sick father and son. This film shows how the dire conditions of the country and soldiers’ lives during the war. It also affirms the strength of Kurdish women left behind as their husbands serve the country, many of them becoming widows. My husband also dies in the movie.

In the film A Dream Before Dying, Dejin plays the role of a Kurdish woman married to a soldier fighting in the war in Iraq.

My first shooting of the first film was in April 2014 in Amedi district. The scene was welcoming my brother and meeting his Swiss girlfriend for the first time. Honestly, I was very nervous because that was my first time to stand in front a camera for a film. I once worked as a presenter in a TV channel but this was different.

The making of the second film is very emotional for me. The theme upholds the strength the Kurdish nation standing up to a group that is also a threat to the whole world. The films shows the sacrifice of men and women for the country and the people. I take pride in showing the courage and suffering of a Kurdish woman in this movie.

When I was around nine years old, I already dreamed of becoming a movie star. I would try to organize a movie shoot along with my younger sister Vajin, assigning my brother Danar as the camera operator. I would act as the director and at the same time take up the role of my father, hilariously imitating him. My parents found the short video we produced as very funny and shared it with my uncle in Germany.

My mom and I shared the same dream of becoming an actress. She did not have the chance. I almost buried mine without thinking. Looking back, I am so happy and proud that I took the challenge with the support of my parents. I take pleasure in the fact that I am sharing the achievement with my mother.

The highlight of these all was gracing the Solothurn Film Festival in Switzerland. I was nervous to be on the red carpet for the  first time in my life. It was also my first time to be in the country. So many strangers surrounded me but I did my best to be confident and show my best.

My parents and the whole family were very proud of me. While in the film festival in Switzerland, not many Yazidis and even Kurdish people got to know I was in a film. Most of the European audience were interested in the content of the film.

But when it was shown in Duhok Film Festival on September 2016, I got a lot of attention from media as a new Kurdish and the first Yazidi actress. For me that was an affirmation that my people are proud of me.

I have learned that I can lead the way for other women to achieve their dreams if I take the courage to say yes to an opportunity. In a way I am opening the door so others can follow. I should not be scared of what I want to do and always believe in myself. Belief in one’s self is very important. I finally realized a major lesson – that life is about taking chances; and taking the courage when daunting opportunities knock in our doors.

Dejin’s passion for her work and pursuit for her dreams is infectious. Crossing boundaries and breaking barriers must be in the to-do list of every woman. She has proven it can be done.

Dejin Jamil continues to work as World Vision’s Project Coordinator, Education and Protection Project for two Child Friendly Learning Spaces in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?

By Alina Rajbhandary Shresta

Alina met her knight-in-shining armour with a lot of help from her family. Her resistance was no match to the powerful pull of destiny.

In Nepal, it is normal for a woman to be married with the man selected for you.

Raised as a very independent Nepali woman, I could never imagine doing that. Not my cup of tea. Just thinking about how I would spend my entire lifetime with a stranger chosen for me bring shivers up my spine. I resisted the idea – much more the reality.

Thus, in 2002, when there was a proposal to meet up with a man who passed the criteria of fitting into our family requirement of a suitable son- in-law, I was distressed. Terribly. The potential groom’s photo got especially delivered to me at our house. It was actually a group photo of men and one of them, of course – was my future.

When I saw Pushkar for the first time in that photo, my immediate answer was a big “no”. However, my over-eager family interpreted my “no” as a “yes”. Eventually, I got persuaded to meet and see him in person. I invented many creative excuses I can imagine. To no avail.

Finally, my youngest sister Namrata came up with an idea that was so simple yet did not strike me earlier. She said, “You don’t have to marry him, just meet him. Enjoy a good pastry at his expense (if he is generous enough to pay for it) and come home.”

It was brilliant, for me at least. It sounded like a hilarious solution to my dilemma of being an obedient daughter who cannot go against my parents’ wishes. I thought I had nothing to lose and it would be a good end to the ongoing conversations at home.

The meeting was set up at Hotel Himalaya in downtown Kathmandu. I drove to meet him with the wise matchmaker seated beside me in the car. Families often engage with a matchmaker for arranged marriages. As soon as we reached the hotel, he pointed to the man at the door who seemed very excited. He was friendly and overly accommodating. Of course, I told myself, he will show his best foot forward.

Pushkar had lived in the United States for 11 years and came home for a break after acquiring his engineering degree. I suspected he also came home to find a wife. His acquired accent reminded me of one of the American shows I watched on TV, which I found very funny. This made me chuckle.

We talked about our interest and hobbies in general. I concluded we were poles apart. He shared his love for fishing and I was like “yeah right — fish in the heart of the city” (add an eye-roll)! Since my mind was already made-up, half of what he said flew past my head. I did not find them interesting. This concluded our brief (and in my mind, our supposedly last) meeting.

“I was raised as an independent Nepali woman. I cannot imagine not making my own choices.”

When I reached home, everyone wanted to hear how he was and my answer was ready, “He is not my kind of guy”. I confidently closed the chapter and life became peaceful. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later, I received a call from our landline telephone that was not working for a while. It was Pushkar, and I got alarmed. I soon recalled this was the number I shared with him when we had our short and forgotten meeting. I pretended to be my sister, trying not to sound like myself, informing him about the distant possibility of talking to a girl who was extremely busy with work. I was then working as a teacher.

He did not give up. When he called the following day, I picked up the phone again and this time, I got caught red-handed. He asked, “Is this Alina?” and running out of alibi, I have to admit I am the one on the phone. He immediately added, “I heard you do not like me? What is it about me that you don’t like – was it my looks?”

Before I could answer he continued, “There’s a face cream in the market I have heard about- called Fair and Lovely- do you think I should start using that?” My jaws dropped and I was lost for words.

Eventually I responded, “Yes, do that!” That did not faze him. “Which cheek should I start with – right or left?” My response- “Your call”. The conversation did not stop. He went to say, “What if I am fairer on the right side and dark on the left side”.

I have no idea if it was a joke or part of a vengeful plot to spite my decision. It was a hilarious chat for sure, but I was scared at the same time. I ended the call but this was just the beginning.

The next day he called again. He said, “You know what, you are the first girl to say no to me and I find that quite attractive – I always thought I was good looking.” The calls got frequent. My sisters and I sat together almost every evening to hear his endless tales just to burst out into peals of laughter.

Here was a man who was so confident that his charm would work on the girl he wanted to marry. I strongly believed it was just a passing phase of my life and would end soon for all of us, including the uncalled-for laugh sessions.

The beautiful bride on her wedding day. “It was destiny.”

My parents noticed the buzz in the house and decided it was time for them to meet Pushkar. A meeting was arranged between two families- his and mine.  This formal meeting usually culminates into marriage.

My resistance broke down. I had no time to think when my parents finally decided he was the one. They added to remind me he was better than the Bollywood actors I admired on screen. Yes, they also did question my earlier decision to say no.

After six months of courtship, I happily married the man I have not imagined would be my husband in the first meeting. It was destiny.

This became the most important lesson in my life.  Sometimes the best gifts in life come as a blessing when you have no clue and when you least expect it. Our choices may not be right but when God has plans for you, they find their way to come full circle.

My husband was not a choice I made, but he is my destiny. He was my perfect fit. He became a friend, a mentor and above all my inspiration.  After 14 years, we were blessed with two boys Pratyush, 12 and Pravaath, 7. Both of them asked me once, “Mom, why did you say no to our dad?” adding, “We don’t like this story of yours.” I just smile.

I guess they love that the story has a happy-ending.

“Sometimes your best-laid plans may fail for something much better to happen. Go for your dreams but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen exactly as you want. Better things may replace them and surprise you. For girls on pressure to get married, don’t give in easily. Enjoy life and what you love to do. Your knight in shining-armour will find you, if he is your destiny.” – Alina

Now. Alina is a happily married woman to Pushkar and a loving mom to Pratyush and Pravaath. Yes, there are still fairy tale endings. And they lived happily ever after …

Alina R Shresta is currently World Vision Nepal’s Communications Manager and a very passionate humanitarian worker and advocate for the better future of girls and women.

Stop counting years, let the adventures begin!

The Canopy Walk in Swaziland’s pristine forests was one of the most exciting glides I have done. Doing it with adventurous friends doubled the fun. What is your most daring experience ever?

This March, istoryya.com is excited to share the lives of over 36 women from all over the world. Telling us their life, love and lessons, these women will show us how beautiful life is, and how we can go for the adventures we want – that impossible does not exist.

Limits exist when we impose it on ourselves. You’ve read that so many times. But you must have decided it can happen only to others. Are you crazy? Why not?

My life is a fascinating journey of storytelling. Whether I did it in a silver-chromed chair in a sleek office in Singapore, in a colorful rug under a scorching warm Indian sun, in a freezing tent in a camp in Iraq or a decaying wood in a thatched-roofed African hut, the stories never failed to enchant me.

I was once upon a time, a skinny-weeny girl who wondered how her life could be the same with those who can have dolls that blink and lovely dresses with frills.

Apart from the fact that my life is no fairytale, all I wanted was to afford a truckload of books and write non-stop. These are my definition of luxury those days.

Fast forward, I can now buy books more that I can read them. Do not get too impressed, my favorite hangout was a nearby second hand bookshop.

Honestly, I did not even consider traveling would come with it –too expensive for me even in a dream. It came as a bonus! My succeeding jobs just swept me off to places responding to global emergencies. And yes, my job does a lot of writing, 90 percent of it.

The best part is, I get to listen to stories of people – all colors, all walks of life, all the drama and suspense. Wherever we come from and no matter how boring we think our lives are (we always assume that) – we have a unique life, a story to tell. It can never be the same with anyone.

Nevertheless, there is always that common ground that binds us together. Trust me.

My story as a woman who got married at 18 and have three children before my 30th can be as common as your next-door mom’s life. But mine did not stop there. I took it a bit further – and I did it!

I got to blogging (as most of the bloggers I guess) to inspire more women never to give up on their dreams even when balancing them with motherhood and bills. All because I have proven it is doable.

Ask the person seated next to you. She has a story to share, I bet. Imagine how rich our lives will be if we are able to stop, ask and listen? Have you even listened to your grandma, mother, your sister, your aunt?

I hope this new phase of istoryya.com will give you the courage to pursue the life of adventure you want. Tell us if you have done it. Tell us if you are at it.

One thing for sure, if you can think of it, you can do it. Stop counting years, start logging adventures!

This weekend, our first guest blogger is Alina Shresta from Kathmandu, Nepal.

Alina is a communications manager in an humanitarian organization and a happily married mom of two boys.

Growing up watching Bollywood films, Alina always dreamed of marrying the man she will fall in love with. What if fate intervenes in the form of her parents and saves her the trouble of finding her knight in shining armor?

For all their good intentions, Alina tried to duck and dive from an arranged marriage. Did her parents succeed? What will you do if you are Alina and tradition gets in the way of your plans?

Please join me in welcoming Alina in istoryya.com and her funny but insightful story “Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?” about settling down in Nepal and finding the man of your dreams in a way you least expected.

Then tell us if your courage and your zest to life are as bold as Alina’s!

 

Hold it! Istoryya.com is also coming with a fantastic bonus.

Ready for Taiwan!

Madison the explorer, your tiny adventurer, will soon join us in the Traveling Mom & Toddler page with her mom Diane sharing their travel exploits in Japan, Hong Kong and soon – in Taiwan.

Maddie, as we all fondly call her, will give us tips how to be one-year old and start traveling. Watch them and their fun trips!

 

 

 

Thought of the moment: Desire over meaning?

“What do you want a meaning for? Life is a desire, not a meaning.” – Charlie Chaplin

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Life’s sky has no limits. What you can work hard for, you can achieve.

You’re free to choose – would you choose to go for meaning? Sometimes it’s confusing. Oftentimes mind-boggling. Can we just simply desire then cross-over to meaning?

Maybe I did this unconsciously. Once a young mom with 3 children to raise, my desire to get this job done was overwhelming. There was never even a chance to think of quality and balance. When you are in a survival mode and you’re down to your last peso bill, you just think of nothing else but not drown. You cannot afford to. Many moms can raise their hands on this.

Eventually, living life has turned to meaning. They said it’s “giving back”. On what? I now believe it is just doing what it right when there is a chance. If I may add, just do what makes you inwardly happy.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”- Rumi

 

For travelers: Aside from the usual tips, 5 essential things to remember

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Armenia’s centuries-old monasteries are awe-inspiring!

Bags packed. Farewells done. All set and ready to go. Wait a minute – have you checked this out?

Flying groggy from Bangkok, I headed straight to a domestic counter in Manila requesting for a window seat and my bags prioritized. Philippine Airlines’ friendly check-in staff looked for my name and never found it. “You were not booked, ma’am,” they said.

After a two-week travel combining holiday and work in Thailand, I totally forgot I haven’t bought my connecting flight to Cebu City. Embarrassing! But what if it was an international connection? It would have been an absolute nightmare especially if you have spent all your money on shopping and can’t afford to buy the connecting flight ticket.

Flight time

If you’re flying at 12:00, look again. Is it midnight or noon? I once sauntered languidly at Jakarta’s international airport thinking my 12:00 flight was at midnight only to find out it has left 12 hours ago (while I was enjoying lunch with friends).

Many airlines and travel agents are now conscious of this confusion and puts am and pm clearly on the ticket. But then, it’s good to check one more time. Remember the difference on military time. It is much better than getting through the trouble re-booking and spending an unwanted extra money on missed-flight-penalties. It was good that the Philippine Airlines booking office in Jakarta followed up on my re-booking and even called me at the hotel to make sure things were in order.

More? Continue reading, just click here in Rappler.