I eagerly returned to my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, in May of 2017. I arrived early, thankful that the light rail prevented me from having to seek out parking. Walking toward campus reoriented my ability to see and be drawn into this homecoming by a welcome of familiar and not so familiar views.
As I entered campus, I saw the updated library and prayer garden where I had often sat, a place where I often heard God’s invitation beckoning me to recall the theological issue of the day and process the different ideas shared by other students from my context. I was stirred by the reminder of how heeding the ongoing invitation to follow God’s voice has drawn me back to this significant place.
I was stirred by the reminder of how heeding the ongoing invitation to follow God’s voice has drawn me back to this significant place.
I journeyed by the cafeteria, feeling the habitual tug of wanting to walk in and find a fellow student to connect with. The times of engaging with others to discuss our current ministry joys or personal life challenges afforded a way to navigate the many opinions and teachings that bombarded us.
I recognized my usual anticipation as I headed past the post office, a reminder of many chance encounters and the opportunity to offer yet another life insight. Then, as if to demonstrate God’s constant faithfulness, I ran into two former classmates and shared in rich conversation before my conference began. This time of connection even afforded a moment for prayer. God is good.
It didn’t matter that I was on campus attending a conference hosted by former classmates. If there is any informative conference at Fuller, I make my best effort to attend since I live only one city away. Returning to Fuller becomes a pilgrimage for me, and like any place of return, it never is exactly the same as when I last visited. Familiarity hones my attentiveness to the speakers with a new willingness to join a group conversation and connect
Like any place of return, it never is exactly the same as when I last visited.
The new conversations were great, but I found myself listening to the Spirit’s prompting to revisit God’s invitation to my younger self. The Holy Spirit’s voice beckoned me to pay attention, in an eerie moment of déjà vu. At this intergenerational Asian American conference, I heard the voices of students just beginning their ministry journey, those deeply entrenched in pastorates, and seasoned veterans. Speakers updated the crowd with an instructional
Without the familiarity to evoke God’s faithfulness in the past, the leap to processing the unfamiliar could have distracted me from receiving what the conference
After significant conversations and hugs from new and old friends, the time ended. Walking to the parking garage to leave, my heart sensed a final invitation to savor one last view. My gaze caught the immediate car-lined street to my right and left. I wanted to wait for their owners as I began to unpack the feelings of renewed confidence, reassurance, and hope to see if they experienced the same.
Similar to stories told by friends about returning to the same campground where one made a first profession of faith, I was reminded of friends who shared the same feelings when making annual pilgrimages to high school homecomings. I don’t think it was about sitting in the stands with other graying friends watching subpar football.
Instead, it was about walking the halls, connecting to the “ghost” feelings of a time past fast-forwarded to our immediate future to re-enact desires yet fulfilled, reminders of what was and what is no longer. People tell me they go back to their high school, not only for the entertainment of seeing physical gains or losses (weight, hair, money), but to regain the ideals of their youth and rekindle hope to change the present. They revisit younger selves remembering the drive to test the limits in order to confidently dream again.
Homecomings bring hope. The adventures life brings us as we pursue the voice and leading of God force us to periodically seek refuge in the familiar and comfortable.
The adventures life brings us as we pursue the voice and leading of God force us to periodically seek refuge in the familiar and comfortable.
I recall Bilbo Baggins’s habit of yearning for home when he had been called out to adventure. Bilbo demonstrated what I feel at times — a sense of great distance from what is familiar — a yearning for home when the adventure calls me to leave the comforts of Bag End.
Recalling the famous journey, it was the hobbit Sam who shared reminders of beloved rabbit stew and family with his companion Frodo when they were far from home. Samwise Gamgee knew he was out of place, and that he would one day return to stay in the Shire, marry Rosie, and have children. Sam was the one who loved the tales of old, the elder lore, and strove to keep alive the memories of an age past and gone by continuing to create a place that fostered hope and dreams for others’ futures.
I also long to return home and find the Sams of my life to encourage and embody the continuing of life, built upon the sacrifices and journeys of others, so that my dreams and the future aspirations that sent me away continue as I return to the present.
• • •
My 2017 has had several homecomings. In January, after almost 30 years of absence, I had the privilege of taking my daughter to Japan over winter vacation to visit a Fuller alum couple serving as career missionaries there. Part of my cultural heritage, Japan is a country that has a small witness of Christians, and yet there is this odd feeling as I walk in the country that I am distantly related to some of them.
Every June, my organization has an annual conference for families to revisit memories of how God has called and continues to call them. On a more personal level, I returned because it is where my daughter, who year after year was “made” to go, just completed her third year serving as a youth cabin leader. She ministered to girls whose moms were in my group years ago.
Then in May came an invitation to honor my father by returning to the campus of the University of Washington. Its memories flooded my views: the renovated HUB (the Husky Union Building), Mt. Rainier above the famous fountain on that rare sunny day. The views recall and involve a personal connection to the past that can’t be regained.
When I was a college student, my father, an engineering professor, would drive me daily to the workplace he enjoyed and where I would study. His actions of investing in and personally encouraging students impacted me more than what he said.
Returning to the campus brought back reminders of the encouragements that no longer come, since it has been over a decade since both my parents passed away. Somehow being where they were helps me to hear their voices and personal encouragement more clearly, sometimes even louder.
It has been over a decade since both my parents passed away. Somehow being where they were helps me to hear their voices and personal encouragement more clearly.
I have found even a spiritual homecoming in going to Disney parks. I sat on a bench recently waiting for my family and was taken back to a memory of myself as a child resting on a similar bench between rides as my grandfather told me stories. Because of this memory, whenever I hear disgruntled complaints of waiting from my husband and daughter, we use the time in the crazy lines or when navigating crowds to redirect our emotions to find a new memory or enjoy being with each other.
I appreciate the opportunity to ponder a spirituality of homecoming. Homecoming has many different meanings. As a Christian, I realize that my ultimate destination is to go home to the Father, God, in heaven.
But before going to my ultimate home, these small acts of homecoming remind me of the significant influence and experiences that have connected me with God and enable me to re-engage with other like-minded people. Homecoming points me back to my as-yet, unfinished, God-given dreams and renews my desire to pursue them today.
Homecoming points me back to my as-yet, unfinished, God-given dreams and renews my desire to pursue them today.
By Melanie Mar Chow
Photography by Michelle Kwon
Melanie Mar Chow, an ordained American Baptist minister serves as Operations Director for Asian American Christian Fellowship (AACF: aacf.org). Serving college and university students for more than two decades, she loves watching them lead their peers for God. Besides writing prayer letters, she has written a chapter in a book contrasting Asian American-ness with women in the bible and blogs regularly for AAWOL (aawolsisters.com). Being extroverted helps her love praying for others, especially seeing how God answers. Married to an AACF alumni/campus minister, and mom to a current AACF student leader, they share a love for all things Disney.
Michelle Kwon is driven by the need to create thought-provoking images. She tries to better understand humanity through books, conversations, and traveling on her two small feet. For more, visit her website at michkwon.com or follow her Instagram @agentlegraph.