Friday, April 29, 2011

Two Weeks In

I've been away from home for twelve days now, and I've been in Chiang Rai for ten. Within those days I've been promoted from "a team" that has to be hosted; to an individual missionary in training; to a supposedly qualified, experienced and adequate enough missionary to babysit, dash down the street to pick up guilty indulgences of ham and cheese sandwiches and jell-O drinks at the local Seven Eleven. I guess my host family thinks that my Thai diction is more than sufficient for this simple errand. The truth is, though, it's not that my Thai diction is "more than sufficient" at all, just that my hand gestures are.
Oh, and I teach English classes all by myself now, too. I taught my very first class solo Wednesday. All by myself. I suppose sitting in on several classes earned me this privilege--plus the teacher's daughter's appendix nearly erupted, so he was held up at the hospital the remainder of the day. One of the Grace Language School staffers paid me and my temporary desk a visit to personally ask if I could sub. Without a curriculum to follow. Just on the fly. Eleven students. Level Three, the extreme lowest level a forong [foreigner; doesn't it sound derogatory?] is capable of teaching. All the levels lower than that you must be fluent in Thai to just be able to communicate with your newbie students, let alone teach them a very complicated language.
Now, the staffer that asked me is a sweetheart. But he also looks like your typical television Asian FBI agent/assassin. He looks like the type who would break your pinkie with chopsticks if you dared tell him "good morning." Of course, he wouldn't actually because I've told him "good morning" several times now and both of my pinkies are still...unbroken. Still. It wasn't like I was about to tell him no, either. Besides, I love my language and gerunds and proper grammar (however, with that said, I now feel very self-conscious of my writing...which you are...reading. Yay), so I was excited for this incredible opportunity dropped nicely right in my lap.
However, with all that said, that doesn't mean that I didn't immediately start doing that thing I always do when I have an extremely nerve-wracking task to prepare for--and then perform!--in an extremely small time frame: Focus, and freak out. Focus on freaking out? Freaked out focus? Whatever.
Awesome God thing, though: I had been putting together a binder over the previous days that was filled with different subjects for English class. Pets and animals--pictures of grinning Labradors above the three-letter word "DOG" and kissing goldfishes above their four-letter word "FISH." Places around the world--Paris in France, Italy, bluffs in the west deserts of America, London in England. These were a couple of all the subjects my supervisor had me document. I decided class would be on Food that night, Food with its pictures of frosted over with chill Popsicles, cream cheesed bagels (they don't have those here! Mournful day), and oozy pizza.
I picked six foods, labeled them, and printed out eleven copies of each. Seventy-two hamburgers, dishes of fried rice, and fish and their names to be cut out separately and divided evenly into little baggies. Maybe two hours until I needed to be in my classroom, ready to greet my (emphasis on the my) arriving students, maybe less. It took me a whole half hour to just cut out the dang hamburgers alone. Thankfully, my life is a chocolate box, so there was a handsome Thai guy bumming in the office who was more than willing to be my hero of the moment. He cut up the remaining sixty pages as fast as I could print them. Thanks to him, everything was completely ready, in its baggie, and I was seated in my classroom at the teacher's desk almost half an hour before my three on-time students milled in. Pi, New, and what's-her-face.
The other five (only eight students that day) shuffled in late, attending class when they so chose, I introduced myself as their substitute teacher, Betsie, from America. I had them each introduce themselves in turn, partly for my benefit (I didn't know their names!), and partly for theirs (they come to these classes to speak English, after all).
I instructed them in matching the cut-out food pictures with the correct words (they got apple pie and bagel switched around), and then we played a memory game. I wrote questions up on the board in blue marker about different dishes, had them pair up, and had them ask one another the questions. While they asked away, I blasted nice and loud TobyMac music--pausing it randomly to assure that they wouldn't try to sneak speaking in Thai--so as to force them to speak loudly and pronunciate. I had to frequently chide two of my students, two University boys who would make moon eyes at me the entire time I rebuked them for only asking each other two out of the five questions; I had to define "pronunciate" and come up with a thesaurus of different words on the spot to ask the simple question, "Are you done?" I explained what bagels are, and I assigned homework. After they were finished with everything else, I named the foods and they repeated the words that just don't seem to roll off of Thai tongues the right way back to me. We sounded like an assembled class of moaning zombies, I'm sure; me with my "haaaammmmmm-berrrrrrrrg-errrrr"s and they with their "hommmm-bewg-urrrrrrr"s.
It was cute.
I savored saying, "Class dismissed!" promptly at 6:30 p.m. (Though the glamor of that perfect moment was slightly spoiled because preceding it was a moment in which I had to explain what "class dismissed" meant.) And I smiled contentedly to myself, filled up with a glorious feeling of accomplishment as I farewelled my students at the door; straightened the room in peaceful, solitaire silence; gathered my belongings; shut the AC off; turned down the lights; and closed the the classroom door behind me.
Nearly two weeks done. Six more to enjoy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Love Will Hold Us Together

I have found myself living amidst the most beautiful, united community of believers. They're incredible. Really. I am staying at a church in Northern Thailand that supports many ministries; teaching English to students, visiting HIV patients, playing an active role in orphans' lives, etc. In Thailand, a country almost completely Buddhist, being a Christian is a lonely lifestyle; so all the believers within an hour or so radius of the church seek refuge and company here. Sometimes when Thais convert to Christianity, they are shunned in their community, kicked out of their family. Sometimes when they convert to Christianity, they lose their fathers, mothers, brothers, we become their brothers, and their sisters, their mothers and their fathers. They have no community, so we create a new one together. They spend a lot of their free time hanging out here, at the church, because sometimes, this is the only place besides their own house that they feel welcome. The church office has a community table, and everyone brings an offering: homemade banana bread, octopus noodles, pineapple--and then we share everything an no one goes without.
When I arrived, I expected to be surrounded by mainly Thais because, hello, it's Thailand. Miss Obvious. So I was pleasantly surprised when I began meeting missionaries from Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Malaysia, Mississippi, Alabama, South Africa. The Lord had called the most diverse, unique people that each corner of the world could offer all to the same place, all at the same time. However, it's not so much that there are the Thais, then the Europeans, and then the Westerners. There's People. That have somehow come together.
Now, the church's CD stash is minimal, and we only have one WOW! Worship CD, so that disk gets played, and replayed, a lot. A lot. In the church vehicles, during church events, during any event that calls for music playing in the background, etc. etc. So we hearthe songs on that particular WOW! CD quite a lot, and a lot. Anyways, one of the tracks is that Matt Maher masterpiece, Hold Us Together. Besides just being awesome, it's kind of my anthem for the next two months, and how I view the dynamics of the awesome family in Christ I have found here:

"It don't have a job, don't pay your bills
Won't buy you a home in Beverly Hills
Won't fix your life in five easy steps
Ain't the law of the land or the government
But it's all you need
And love will hold us together
Make us a shelter to weather the storm
And I'll be my brother's keeper
So the whole world will know we're not alone"

Everyone here is such a role model for me. They really represent what it means to allow love to overcome language barriers, different lifestyles, and diversity so that they can be one body, accepting and welcoming and absolutely beautiful.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ecclesiastes 11:6

As I weaved through the crowds of jet-lagged Thais Tuesday night, I remembered what Mrs. Chrissy and Wikipedia had told me: Ninety-five percent of of the Thai population is Buddhist, four percent Muslim, less than one percent tribal religions, and the other less than one percent Christian. Everyone around me was Buddhist, possibly Muslim. Maybe one Christian for every one hundred, two hundred non-Christians.
I couldn't have gotten farther away from the South, the "Bible belt", if I wanted to. Even if they aren't acting like it,--basically--anyone in the South, if asked, would profess to be a follower of Christ. (And get a little un-Christianly mad if you didn't believe them, just sayin'.) Almost no one here would.
However daunting that is, it surprisingly doesn't intimidate me. Breaks my heart, yes, but not intimidating. Rather, I feel courageous, and honored. When you are a one who makes up less than one percent of something, it immediately makes you feel more noticed, set apart. I feel that with so much darkness around me, the light that was already inside of me because the love the Lord has for me, has been made brighter, been given more strength by being here. This is silly, but I feel like I have access to more of a straight up God because I'm no longer surrounded by hundreds of people all proclaiming to worship the same God, but each actually following a very watered down version.
All this made me realize something else as well: here, my actions, words, do represent who I am. And everything I do could have the potential to impact someone.
"In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good." -Ecclesiastes 11:6
In a country in which nearly everyone around you--the smiling college girls working at McDonald's (McThai) in the airport, the shuttle bus driver, the young children playing at Gate A--is missing out having an eternal life spent with their Creator (and they don't even know it!), that verse takes on such a different meaning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Fire

I am in Bangkok, Thailand.
Oh. my. God. I'm in Bangkok, Thailand.

I flew over Canada, the North Pole (*checks off: Saw the midnight sun on bucket list*), Russia, China, South Korea, and now I'm in Thailand. There are still two more hours of waiting in the Bangkok airport (which, in itself, is a mini-country) and five more hours of flying until I reach my final destination, Chiang Rai. But that's fine; the next seven hours will give me a chance to process all that I have seen already.
My dad (who is escorting me) and I landed here last night at around 10-ish p.m. While we were still in the air, I saw the very first light below me on the ground (because it had been pitch black, Bangkok is the starless, moonless city), every fact concerning the sex trade I've ever learned ("more than twenty-seven million people worldwide are victims of slavery--more than in the days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. ...Half of all victims of modern slavery are children" etc.), every face I've grown to put on those facts (Nhu, 146, the teenage girls in Posmus not much older than myself), the inhuman stories, the horror stories, the heartbreaking stories--they all rose up to meet me as I descended and impacted me harder than our whale of a plane I was in meeting the runway strip after flying 581 miles per hour for five hours.
In my mind, every neon light I could see in the distance represented a child, a girl, a boy, a man, a woman I knew was out there being sold at that very moment. Soon the only thought I could maintain was, Where is It? "It." The Red Light District. I wished then that I knew how close or far away I was from it... I found out the next morning that I as I slept in my hotel room, I was only a mere exact twenty-eight minutes away. Twenty-eight.
Honestly, I was afraid of it, nervous of coming even a continent's span near it, like it was The Plague or something. And yet, something inside of me wanted to run to it; wanted to pick up and embrace every single girl, boy, woman, baby, and man that The Plague was victimizing. Who cares if they were shunned by society like lepers? I had nothing to fear, really. The darkness around them could not infect me, I could hold them and never grow sick.
"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." -1 John 1:5
I have only been in Chiang Rai, Thailand for less than two days, and yet the Lord is already revealing to me so much that I will need to know if I'm going to be here. The scales are falling from my eyes, and what once was seen through a fog and unclear is now made clear. The straight up God truth is that no matter where you are, no matter what situation you're in, when the darkness is all around and covering everything and is at its very darkest, a light, even a small one, shines all the more brighter. There's nothing else like it. From the moment I stepped off the plane, giving the next two months completely to the grace and mercy of the Lord, I didn't feel intimidated. Scared, yes. But not intimidated. I felt bold. Courageous, even. Absolutely on fire.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Come, Follow Me!"

"Jesus said to them, 'Come, follow me! I will teach you how to catch people instead of fish.' They immediately left their nets and followed him."
-Mark 1:17-18

I remember what it was like when I could say that there was only forty days until I left on my mission trip, and then thirty, twenty seemed to pass by before I even had a chance to acknowledge it, and then there was only ten. Five. Four. By this time, I began not being able to sleep at night anymore. I lay awake for hours thinking about what the next week would bring. Last night at my going away party, as I sat among my closest friends and family as they encouraged and prayed over me, and then when the reality of the time and situation hit that there was only one single day that separated me from leaving for two heart began beating like a jungle drum.
I don't understand it; last year I was more than ready to leave on my month long mission trip to Romania, and even after three long weeks I wasn't even close to being ready to come home again, either. But this time around, I'm not overcome with relief or excitement, but rather an overwhelming, immense...fear. I'm afraid. I'm so afraid that I can't even swallow the feeling that is so strong it's become tangible. I know, same old song, "I'm going to miss my family, I'm so inadequate, false humility, false humility, bleh." But no really. And then on top of this terror and anxieties, I'm sad. I'm sad to leave. I have been blessed with the most beautiful biological sisters, incredible brothers, and inspiring parents, and then there's my church which congregation consists of one hundred and twenty people--give or take--whom over the years I have learned to see as my family in Christ, and then you have all my close friends and acquaintances whom I also think of as my brothers and sisters. Also this emotional outlook I've developed over the past few days that there are only a few days until I leave has effected the way I see everyone, so in my abundance of good thoughts and appreciation towards everyone even the random store clerk who checked me and my milk out Friday is counted as my sister in Christ. Yay.
However, through all this hesitation and even dread, the Lord has ceaselessly whispered into my heart, "Come, and follow me, and I will teach you My ways. And Betsie, through leaving and giving up, I will give you so much more."
It's not enough for me to just leave tomorrow on my flight, and it's not enough to just give up two months. It will only be enough--and not even then!--when I am leaving everything to follow the Lord every single day so as to learn His ways, to learn to be a fisher of men. Not just every day in Thailand, though, but every single day of my life beginning this moment, right now.

It is my prayer and hope that all my sisters and brothers, biologically and through Christ, all my friends, acquaintances, friendly store clerks, would grab my hand and that we would do just that together.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

"There's something in the water!"

I'm obsessed with Peter Pan. The obsession was created when I was eleven years old, right before monthly visits from "Aunt Flo from the Red Sea" or pimples, and heard of the fairytale for the very first time. When I watched the movie, Jeremy Sumpter basically sealed the deal. My obsession soon rubbed off on my two brothers, whom enjoyed a good adventure story as much as myself, and soon enough we were John and Michael and Wendy (or Tinkerbell, Hook, and Tootles, depending on our moods). Whenever we had control of the TV, we would watch the movie over and over and over again. So many times, in fact, that we had all the lines memorized and--we thought--recite them better than the actual characters themselves. ("Oh, the cleverness of us!")
One of my favorite scenes is when Wendy and the Lost Boys are captive on the pirate ship and they are about to walk the plank when Peter rescues them...disguised as a crocodile, Hook's greatest fear. It's very on edge, you know, for a kid's movie. Havoc and pandemonium are wreaked on the deck as the crew run around like beheaded chickens, so struck with terror by the combination of the unknown monster in the water
and their captain, so beset on having them kill the beast. Above the pre-pubescent shrill screams, one pirate could be heard yelling, "There's something in the water!" That one statement expressed all the terror, horror, and confusion that the scene was impregnated with.
Now. I am in a play of Peter Pan. I have the role of Tinkerbell and over the past three weeks we have had rehearsals every, single. day. So The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up and his story have been on my mind.
A lot. So this morning during church and the sermon (which was on "Facing the Storms of Life"), when the story of Jesus walking on water and calling out to his disciple Peter to come to him--on the water--was retold, I got such a better picture and understanding of what that encounter must have been like on the disciples part. Thanks to Peter Pan.

"Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It’s a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'
'Lord, if it’s you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.'
'Come,' he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' he said, 'why did you doubt?'
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'"
-Matthew 14:22-33

"When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost!' they said, and cried out in fear." Can you imagine? I think we sometimes overlook the other disciples in this story since Jesus and Peter's walk-on-water stunt kinda demands our attention. But just think how terrifying and supernatural that night was for all of them. Peter might have been the only one to actually walk on water, but he also was the only one who believed the impossible thing coming towards them in the dark of the night was their Teacher; unlike his fellow disciples who just thought they were being visited by a ghost who was about to inflict a massacre. People walking on water? There's no possible way! I think I would have almost have rather it of been a ghost then that. I'm already scared of the dark, but think what it would have been like to be in the middle of a vast lake at almost the darkest time of night, stuck in some boat with your comrades while this supernatural approached you and your buddy, Peter, stepped out of the vessel to greet him! I think I would have handled the situation a lot more like the beheaded chicken pirates in Peter Pan, screeching, "There's something in the water!" over and over like the others didn't already very well know that, instead of bold Peter. (And not Pan, the apostle.)
They were so...petrified of the unknown. Of not being in the safety of a tiny boat. Isn't that ridiculous? They preferred the stability of a man-made sailboat over the arms of their Creator's Son and ultimate Savior. When it's phrased like that, I can see the folly in it. However, even still I envy Peter's bravery and faith to step out because I know that I wouldn't have been able to step out with him. I would have trusted what I knew even over the assurance of the Teacher who was Love and Terror and always Faithful. I would have missed out.
Later on today while I was at We Will Go and during the worship service, with the little revelation I had about the disciples and "something in the water" on my mind, we sang the hymn I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. Have you ever had those days where it seems God is just very nice, and has something so important for you to realize that He smacks it in your face...twice? I love those days. That was today.

"I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.

Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
No turning back, no turning back."

"But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.' 'Lord, if it’s you,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to you on the water.' 'Come,' he said." I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back.
"Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" Though I may wonder, I still will follow; No turning back, no turning back.
"Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him." Though none go with me, still I will follow; no turning back, no turning back.
When the disciples saw him...they were terrified, [they] cried out in fear." Though none go with me, still I will follow; no turning back, no turning back.
"And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, 'Truly you are the Son of God.'" Will you decide now to follow Jesus? No turning back, no turning back.
I am in utter awe of Peter and his faith. The Lord called out to him, and so he challenged, "If You really are who You say You are, tell me to come to You. Tell me to do something crazy. Show me your glory." How many times have I said the same things to God, but ended it at that. Spoken words. Peter requested, and when he was answered he answered by stepping out alone to the unknown in faith. He wouldn't settle for the stability and normalcy of the boat, he wanted something more; he wanted it so badly that he was willing to do the impossible. He stepped out of reality and safety and gave himself up just so that he could reach his Lord. And yes, he faltered and had to be saved, but still: he stepped out. There was something unreal in the water, something unsafe and unfathomable, but he still trusted in it.
Like Mr. Beaver said in C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, "Of course he's not safe. But he's good." While Peter's friends huddled in fear, and then most likely attempted to discourage him (and assuredly questioned his sanity), he had faith in his Teacher's goodness and risked the unsafe part.
I aspire to be more like Peter. I aspire to instead of spend the first half of any mission trip I go on crying out to God, "Why am I here?! Where are You?! This is scary!", but rather running straight towards the goal by not looking behind or to the side, just running straight ahead: to Jesus Christ.