Thailand Mission Trip
May 8 – May 23, 2011
May 23 & 24 – Homeward Bound & the Unwasted “Ugh”
We arrived in Bangkok around 10:00 or so the night before and had to repack some things for the flights home. We were up around 3:30 and made it to the airport around 4:00 am. We flew to Tokyo (7 hrs), then San Francisco (7.5 hrs) and then Chicago (4 hrs). This was the longest Monday of my life. We were looking forward to sleeping in our own bed and not eating rice. But the Lord had other ideas. He decided to allow a thunderstorm to in Lexington to cancel our flight. We were stuck in Chicago. All the cheap hotels were full. The hotel we booked had a shuttle, but it had inconveniently stopped it’s shuttle service only 5 minutes before. Frustrated. Tired. Never a good combination. We finally got into bed after 1:00 am, with our stand-by flight leaving at 8:00 am. Another short night.
We arrived to find the airport very crowded at 6:00 am. I was beginning to worry we wouldn’t make our early flight. Thankfully, we made it to the gate in time…but only the find this flight delayed. Ugh.
But the great Author would not waste our “ugh”. As we waited, we started talking to a flight attendant (her name is Carla) who was catching a ride back home to Lexington. As we talked, we discovered that she was new to the area and it didn’t sound like she knew very many people. At this point, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to ask her if she attended church anywhere. Despite my momentary anxiety that welled up inside as the words crossed my lips, she responded positively. She told me it was funny that I would ask that. Her mom had just recently told her that she needed to get connected to a church. The anxiety melted into chills. We continued talking. Amanda gave her our church’s website and our email address. By this time, our plane had finally arrived and we were ready to board for home. Carla was so appreciative of our conversation. She kept thanking us. It was a surreal experience. And it never would have happened if our flight home from Chicago had not been cancelled.
Our discomfort and frustration had a purpose. There is something bigger going on here. My own small view of the world blinds me from it. But every now and then, the curtain gets lifted and I can see. My life is not about me. My life is but a small roll in much larger and grander story. And so is yours. The options that lay before us are these: embrace our role and be swept into the greatest drama ever written or live in misery as we fight against a story we have no control over. One path is wisdom, the other is folly. One path is repentance, the other is rebellion. One path leads to life, the other destruction. Which will you choose?
May 22 – “This is a Bible…”
Our time is almost at an end. This afternoon, we will head back to Bangkok for an early flight home. But before we head home, God had one more eye-opening experience for us.
We returned to the English Center in the around 9:30 for church. This is not church as you and I know it, or even as we experienced in Bangkok a week ago. There is no church in Ban Non. For the majority of those attending are children. What happens at the English Center is an attempt to plant a church. We sing worship songs with the children (both English and Thai). The young Thai leaders do a skit based on the Bible story that will be shared. Then one of the team will teach a Bible story to the children. This morning, Dr. Nantachai taught the children.
It was completely in Thai, so Chris would lean over and explain what Dr. Nantachai was saying. I was blown away by how he started. Due to the sports day, there were maybe 10-15 students there who had never been before. Instead of launching into the story (Jesus feeding the 5,000), Dr. Nantachai started by holding up his Bible and saying, “This is a Bible and it contains all the words that God has spoken to us.” I was shocked, though I should not have been. As we were sitting in that upper room of the English Center in Ban Non, we were probably the only Christians for a 50 mile radius. There is no gospel witness in this rural part of Thailand. In fact, the Esarn people are recognized by the Joshua Project as an unreached people group. So it was entirely necessary that before the lesson began, the Bible would be explained to these children who had never even laid their eyes on one, let alone know what it is.
It’s easy to get callouses when it comes to the unreached and unengaged peoples of the world. They are over there. They are hard to reach. Some are dangerous to approach. Many do not want us to come. Surely, Jesus wasn’t really that serious when he said to make disciples of all people groups? I mean, it’s hard. True. It’s hard work. But most things worth doing are hard. Atoning for our sins was hard work, but Jesus did not shrink back. How can we shrink back from the hard work he has placed before us? How is it that we have allowed our hearts to become hard to those who have not yet heard of our Great God & King? I pray that these few posts from amongst the unreached people of Thailand would stir in your heart to pray and sacrifice for the sake of the unreached.
That afternoon, we packed up stuff, said our goodbyes to Dora & Natalie and made our way back to Bangkok. Home is on the horizon. But I am quite sure a piece of our heart was left in Ban Non.
May 21 – The Olympics Come to Ban Non
Today was the day to which we had been looking forward. Plans had been made. Games devised. Logistics handled. Food ordered. Water balloons filled. It was Olympic Sports Day. And we had no idea what to expect.
We made it to Ban Non early in the morning. I walked out to the field to mark off the base paths for kickball and the end-zones for ultimate frisbee. It wasn’t even 9:30 yet and it was already oppressively hot. Probably in the mid-90’s with humidity to match the sun’s intensity.
One thing I was praying was that we would not encounter any snakes. I prayed not for my sake, but for the sake of my wife. The Lord was gracious, for my wife saw not one snake. I, however, almost stepped on one as it crossed the road as I was headed to the field. Only reason I stopped, was that Lila (who had come with me to figure out where to mark off the fields), stopped and stuttered, “s-s-snake!” I froze as the vile creature continued on it’s way into the bush (hopefully to meet a skull-crushing end at the heal of a greater foe).
As the students began arriving, Mod & Pure began organizing them into teams. We had the red, blue, green and purple teams. After singing the Thai national anthem, Pure sang the Star-Spangled Banner in our honor (check out the video page to hear Pure sing). It was amazing. We ended the opening ceremony with a parade through the little village of Ban Non with Chris & Dora playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” on the saxophone and trombone, respectively.
One of the reasons I was so excited for this day was that we were going to teach the kids how to play kickball. If I couldn’t teach them baseball, kickball was the next best thing. At first, this was a little rough. In America, baseball is just ingrained in the culture. Kids in the states will organize a kickball game by themselves. But, in Thailand, they have no idea how baseball is played. We had to explain all the rules. In another language. Kickball turned out to be more difficult than I imagined, yet once we started playing, the kids seemed to have a blast. And the longer we played, the more they got it. The more they understood, the bigger the smiles. Watching a kid crush the ball and run all the bases for a home run has to be one of my favorite memories for that day.
Coming over to Thailand wasn’t going to be a traditional mission trip. We weren’t building anything tangible. We weren’t feeding the poor. We weren’t putting on a VBS or doing medical treatment. We were going to teach English and host a day of fun American games for children. It would be easy to dismiss our trip as a waste. No one was born-again while were there. The buddhist temple in Ban Non is still used. God continues to be ignored, because they remain ignorant of Him. Yet, I whole-heartedly believe that God was at work. Our coming was not in vain. Allow me to explain what I mean. Towards the end of the day, a man approached Chris & Dora. He was so glad to see Amanda and myself here that he was going to start bringing his kids to the English center. Our presence gave credibility in the eyes of this man to Chris & Dora. Our presence there means that a little girl and boy will now have the regular opportunity to hear about Jesus at the English center. Seeds will be planted. Oh I hope and pray that God would save them. That he would open their eyes to the beauty of Jesus and they would turn to him! This is why we went to Thailand. To plant seeds. To pray for hallowing of God’s name among the Esarn people. Never is time wasted, if spent in the pursuit of those who know not God.
May 20 – In the Footsteps of the Rabbi, Part 2
Today was to be our second full day in the classrooms and our last. Our Friday morning class was supposed to be difficult. It seems that middle school kids are universally difficult to control. This school splits the boys and girls up. So Chris, Lila and myself had around 40 unruly middle school boys waiting on us (well, actually they were playing soccer and had to be wrangled up for class). The class went surprisingly well. While we were going over our letter recognition and pronunciation, we taught them the “C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats” cheer. That was fun. We did a good job of keeping their attention for the hour long class and avoided a mutiny. Overall, a successful class.
We then headed to our next school. The class Chris & I had was much smaller and consisted of mostly seniors. And they could barely tell me their name. A lot of them had really given up on learning the English. There would be no college in their future. No well-paying job. No hope to get out of their poverty. A meager existence lays before them. In the moment, none of that really hit me. I kind of glad it didn’t. I would have been sad and distracted. Even a little angry at the injustice of a system that keeps them there. But instead, we had fun practicing our names and when we were born. We taught them a song and sang (badly). They were smiling. I hope they felt loved. We came for them. We traveled thousands of miles to spend time with them. The Author of all our stories wrote a scene that included us crossing paths. I pray that He sees fit to do more. That those students would come to church on Sundays. That they would hear and understand the Gospel. My hope is that one day we can talk about the day we were born again as we bask in the presence of the Author in the New Heavens and New Earth.
The afternoon was spent doing some more preparation for the Olympic Sports Day that would happen tomorrow. A few more informal English classes happened at the English Center in Ban Non, as Chris & I filled water balloons. A younger Thai man was there hanging out. His name was Ron. He had been in a scooter accident and lost one of his legs and also had some significant brain injuries. He was very kind. But he could not grasp the fact that I could not speak Thai. So he just kept talking to me. I have no idea what he was saying. I guess he liked me. I would just smile as I kept filing up my water balloons.
The rest of the evening we just hung out with our new Thai friends. Even though there was a language barrier, we still had fun just being together. We finally headed back to Chris & Dora’s house to get some rest for the big day tomorrow.
May 19 – In the Footsteps of the Rabbi, Part 1
I had been looking forward to this day. We were finally going to be in the classroom teaching English lessons. I relished the opportunity to interact with the students. Though at the same time, I was a little nervous. Will the kids like me? Will I enjoy it? As we approached the first school, I was still unsure as to what to expect.
The first school was great. We were greeted with cold drinks and many children watching us from the classrooms. The kids wanted to carry our things. They were eager to serve their teachers.
We began with reviewing letters. Chris had me write three-letter groupings on the board (ABC, CBS, GPS, etc.). We would then say the letters for the kids and they would repeat them. We were basically working on recognition of the letters and their pronunciation. The end goal for Chris & Dora is to teach conversational English. If they can at least do this, then the student’s job opportunities will be many.
After letters, we had decided to play a game with the students. We had cards with pictures of different animals on them. We went over all the cards, ensuring they were pronouncing them correctly (frog and pig are especially difficult). The game entailed showing one student a picture of the card, who then had to act out what animal it was. The next student was to then say (in English) what animal it was. If they got it correctly, they received a piece of candy. The students really enjoyed this. What was interesting was, they would help each other. If one student knew the right English word, he would tell the student struggling. They weren’t trying to steal candy or show themselves better, but I think that just wanted to help their friend.
Our last lesson for the class centered on the months of the year. We went over all of them slowly, again ensuring correct pronunciation. We almost had to show them how to form the words by over-exaggerating the pronunciation so they could see how our mouths and tongues would move to make the proper sounds.
The tongue is quite the amazing muscle. Subtle placement creates vastly different sounds. And when your not used to making those sounds, it’s a lot more difficult than you think. It’s like working out a muscle you never use. It’s weak at first. Only through continue use, will it gain any strength. Speaking English is tough. It takes concerted effort from the students to say the words correctly.
We end each class session with a story time. Since these are government run schools, we cannot teach Bible stories. Instead, we tried to find a moral story that would teach a biblical principle. At the end of story time, we would invite the students to come on Sunday to the English Center for church and more English lessons.
As we we’re leaving that first school, I had a brief sensation come over me. I had looked down and the dirt was muddy from the rain. The sounds of children laughing and playing was ringing in my ears. The sun was warm on the back of my sweaty neck. And I felt the Spirit say, “This is where Jesus walks.” Words fail to adequately express what I was feeling in that moment. In real time, the moment lasted a few seconds. But as I experienced it, time seemed to slow. For a moment, a brief fleeting moment, I saw with eyes not my own. The curtain was lifted. The fog cleared. Spiritual realities were more real than the physical. It was as if I was right behind my Rabbi, walking in His footsteps.
It is quite easy to think that as a Western Christian, I am brining Jesus to this unreached people group. How foolish of me. Jesus already walks there. I am simply walking in the footsteps of the Rabbi. He has gone ahead of me. If this were not true, I myself could not even go. Since this is true, we can go anywhere with the confidence that our Master has gone before us. He has bound the strong man. We simply join in the plundering. Jesus has established the beachhead. The question is, will we leave the safety of the battleship to join Him on the front lines? Will we take the risk? The harvest awaits. The spoil awaits. All we must do is walk in the footsteps of the Rabbi.
May 18 – The Outside of the Cup & a Concrete Strawberry
Today marked the first day that we were in the schools. Well, we weren’t supposed to be teaching, just driving around to each of the schools to invite them to the sports day that we would be hosting on Saturday. Amanda was not feeling well due to a headache, so she stayed at the house with Dora and Natalie. Myself, Chris, Kat, Mot, Pure and Lila all headed out to visit the schools.
As we are pulling out of the drive-way, Kat gets a call from a school. They want us to teach today. Plans are officially wrenched. The school is about 45 minutes away and class is to begin in 20 minutes. I was half-sick by the time we made it to this little school. We had hastily thrown together a lesson in the car as we drove. Sets of letters and numbers for the little ones. Tongue twisters for the older students (they really struggle with “R” and “L”…every “R” becomes an “L”). The lessons seemed to go well and we left to visit the remaining schools.
Meanwhile, since our plans had been disrupted due to this unscheduled teaching session, Amanda and Dora were left to run some errands we had planned on doing. That means Amanda had to drive again. She did great. She said that the Lord was definitely with her, because she never had a problem with stopping and starting. She even pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road (Thai people do it all the time)!
As we visited the schools, Chris pointed out to me that the signs and entrances to these schools are immaculate. It looks like you are about to drive into a really high class place. But as you pull in, something seems wrong. The bushes are over-grown. The buildings look worn and in disrepair. If the classroom has a fan, that’s a luxury. Some are still using chalkboards, ones that to appear to be older than I am. Chris explained that in Thai culture, the outward appearance is what matters. This is why you have beautifully gated entrances and buildings that look like they are about to fall over. The inside doesn’t matter. Just the outside. This was the quite the cultural insight. The more I looked around the more this was true. In Roi Et, there are some wealthy schools and their signs look like the entrance to Harvard. This makes sense with the people as well. Everyone will smile at you. Thailand is known as the land of smiles. On the surface, everyone is happy. Everything is fine.Which, when you think about it, isn’t really that different from most Christians I know. Sunday morning in America could also be called the land of smiles. Plastic smiles covering broken lives.
Jesus warned the religious types of his day about this. In fact, Jesus called them hypocrites. They cleaned the outside of the cups, but the inside was still full of greed and idolatry. A clean outside is useless if the inside is covered in mold. Who would drink from that cup? Yet, this is what we generally offer to friends and family. A varnished outside, while we’re dying inside. And that’s all we can ever hope to do apart from the Gospel. Only the Gospel can clean the inside of the cup. Only the Gospel can effect the heart change necessary for us to be clean on the inside. Only the Gospel will help me and help the Thai realize what truly matters. Only the land transformed by the Gospel can be described by smiles. For these smiles reflect the whole of the person. These smiles mean something. These smiles mean life change.
Now, about that concrete strawberry. The school where Chris and Dora live has an outdoor basketball court. Several men from the community are usually there playing basketball most evenings. They have been inviting Chris to come plate with them, which is hilarious. Chris is what we jocks would classify as a band geek. He’s tall and lanky and can play the heck of out of a saxophone, but is not the most athletic (which I’m sure he would agree with :)). Anyhow, they were playing Wednesday night and invited Chris and myself to come play with them. While I consider myself athletic, I am terrible at basketball. Terrible. I have no game (though this didn’t stop me from teaching them the Three Goggles when I hit a lucky shot). The two worst players on the court that night were me and Chris by a long shot. At one point, I was running to track down a loose ball and due to dirt on the court, I totally wiped out. Since the Lord has an invested interest in keeping me humble, this happened while a bunch of students were standing around watching us play. I can still hear the giggles as they watched the strange furrong (me) in the UK Basketball t-shirt bite the dust. My leg still bears the marks of my graceless confrontation with the concrete. Let the lesson be learned: Hustle on a basketball court in Thailand will only get you extremely sweaty and a concrete strawberry.
May 17 – Rocket-Wielding Prophets of Baal
Before setting about our activities for the day, we all got our Bibles out and spent some time reading together and discussing the text. This was a great time together. I had been doing this weekly with Chris & Dora for several years (we were in a bible study together), and it was good to open the Scriptures with them again and talk through what we were seeing and hearing.
After lunch, we needed to drive to Ban Non (about 45 minutes) so that we could meet with the rest of the team about the upcoming Olympic Sports Day. However, there was a problem. We needed to take an old truck to the English center in Ban Non, but since we were leaving it, we needed to take the new truck so we could get back later that evening. Both trucks are manual transmissions, so that meant that Amanda needed to drive. Besides Chris, she was the only one who could drive a stick. I can’t and Dora can’t. So Amanda drove 45 minutes (on some bad roads in spots) deep into the Thai countryside. We made it without incident and I couldn’t have been more proud. Driving a stick from the right side of a car on the left side of the road in a foreign country. My wifey is a trooper!
Ban Non (the name literally means “the house over there”) is very small village. You can walk the whole village in about 10 minutes. There are beautiful rice fields that practically surround the village. There is also a school and a Buddhist temple (each village has it’s own temple). I imagine that Ban Non is probably a lot like the small villages that Jesus would visit. There in the village is the Ban Non English Center. It’s a small, two-story building that houses a few of the teachers and has one large room used for classes and church on Sunday. The English center acts as a base of operations for the Chris & Dora and the other teachers who travel to the different schools.
After our meeting about the sports day, we were all standing around outside and noticed rockets being fired into the air. Our Thai friends explained that the village across the rice field was having it’s rocket festival (each village has their own festival). Eager to experience this rare cultural treat, we piled into a couple of trucks and went careening down a dirt road towards the rocket festival. On the way, Chris explained that the purpose of this festival was the awaken the rain gods so that they would have a good harvest. The irony of this is that the festival is held at the village temple. In Isaan (another name for the region of Thailand we were in), Buddhism has been mixed with animism. So the Buddhism isn’t like what you see in Bangkok, but more of a folk Buddhism. They pray to the Buddha, but still believe in rain gods. Talk about a double-dose of hopelessness.
The rockets they were lighting off were not like fire crackers or bottle rockets. These were 5 foot, hand-made rockets. The sound the made when they were lit was almost deafening. The atmosphere was party-like. There were food vendors and people everywhere. And we were probably the only furrong (white people) in 20 mile radius. That was a strange feeling. I never felt unsafe, but I felt out of place. Lots of stares. Most likely out of curiosity. Or that they have never seen that many furrong at their festival (there were 5 of us). The grand finale was a 20 foot rocket. It took 4 men to carry it on their shoulders. The crowd roared when it lifted off. Hoping against hope that 20 foot blue rocket will awaken the rain gods. The people need a good harvest.
I couldn’t help but think of Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. Baal was the god of fire. So the challenge to make fire fall, right in Baal’s backyard, seemed easy. So the prophets did all they could to appease Baal. Dancing. Chanting. Cutting. Bleeding. But the sky was silent. Baal did not respond. Then it was Elijah’s turn. A simple prayer to Yahweh and an all-consuming fire fell. Both sacrifices were obliterated. Baal was proved false.Yahweh proved sovereign. The hearts of the people were turned away from Baal, back to Yahweh. I wonder if God would be pleased to do the same among the people of Isaan? I think I’ll pray towards that end. That the rockets would be shown to fall on deaf ears and that Yahweh is the one who provides the rain. It is his grace that sustains them, even as they ignorantly worship idols and rain gods. I pray that God raises up a prophet to bring this to their attention. That they may turn from idols to serve the true and living God.
May 16 – Comfortable in Roi Et
Roi Et is actually a decent sized city, but this is definitely rural. Within a few minutes drive, you’re surrounded by nothing but rice paddies. They the scenery is actually quite beautiful.
Today was mostly spent helping Chris & Dora clean up their house, since it had been 3 months since they had been here (they moved to Bangkok while they waited for Natalie to be born. Hospitals in Bangkok are much better). Chris and I ran some errands in town and I was hoping to exchange some more money. We had run out of Baht and needed to convert a few more dollars to make it through the rest of the week. Unfortunately, today is some obscure holiday and all but one of the banks is closed. The one open bank had a two-hour wait. We decided it wasn’t worth the wait, so we finished our errands and brought KFC back to the girls for lunch. This was my first semi-American food in over a week. It was actually pretty good.
Chris and I also purchased a new air conditioner for Natalie’s room. So far, I have yet to see a facility or house with central air (I take that back, the really nice mall in Bangkok probably had central air). Each room has it’s own a/c unit. The Thai tend to build with concrete and so it’s a major pain to run wires and ducts inside the walls. My guess is that sheet rock would not hold up as well in this humid tropical climate, plus it’s far more expensive. It’s also more cost efficient to only cool one room at a time. In Chris & Dora’s house, only the bedrooms are cooled. The living area has multiple fans to keep it relatively cool (I’d say it stays at least 80 in the house). Utility over comfort. The distinction is there, but I think that the Thai would like central air, if they could afford it. It’s a gap in wealth, rather than mindset. Every man seeks to be as comfortable as his resources will allow. The shack in the rice field to provide shelter from the heat while farming is as much about comfort as a Lay-z-boy recliner. Which makes me think. What does this tell us about ourselves? Were we created this way or broken this way? Is it wrong to seek comfort? Is not the longing we have to be with our Lord and Savior a longing for comfort? I think comfort is a good thing. The desire to be comfortable is wired into our humanity. The problem is that comfort has become an end in itself. It is no longer pointing us to a greater reality. For there will be rest at the side of Jesus. There will be comfort one day. True comfort. Eternal comfort. Central air is temporary. The shack in the rice field will rust and rot. Why do we settle for such little, temporal comforts? Why are we more at home in the a/c than we are walking among the children of the poor as Jesus did? Two options lay before us. We are either hypocrites who just give lip service to the Gospel or we have not yet grappled with the depths the Gospel’s demands. Actually, a third option is available. This is where are brokenness comes into play. We believe, but we don’t. We cry out to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief!” I think this is me. I like my comfort. I like a/c. Maybe I like it too much.
Help my unbelief, Lord Jesus! Forgive my tendency to make comfort an end in itself. Help me seek a better comfort in a better city, at the side of a better Savior. Your side!
May 15 – Same Confession Different Tongue
I am now of the opinion that every Christian should spend at least a week serving and interacting with Christians of another context. It’s easy to associate our Christian faith with our own culture, since we grew up in it. Spending time with Christians who did not grow up in Christian context does wonders for your vision of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is so much bigger than we ever really think about.
This was very much on display for me today at church. Well, I guess I should start before we even got to church. Since Chris was rehearsing with the worship band, we had to walk to church from the guest house. I imagine a lot of people from the church walk. Driving in Bangkok is insane. Most of the time, walking or riding the SkyTrain is much faster. Our walk took about 30 minutes and it was muggy. I could have showered again by the time we got to the church. I wonder about my own culture. Would we walk a long distance to be with the people of God? Or would the discomfort of a muggy morning keep us in our air conditioned rooms? It is definitely something that challenges our beloved notions of comfort.
The service began at 10:00 and even though I could not understand most of what was spoken, I felt right at home. And why shouldn’t I? These are my brothers and my sisters. We have the same Father, the same Savior, united by the same Spirit. We will one day gather around the same Throne, singing the same anthem. I could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room as they sang songs. Towards the end, they sang some hymns, with the Thai words. I loved this. It was encouraging to know that on opposite sides of the globe, we sing the same songs. Their faith is encouraged by singing the same songs that encourage my own. A glimpse of the new heavens and new earth was before my eyes and ringing in my ears. By this time, I had tears of joy welling up in my eyes. How I loved this time of singing with my Thai brothers and sisters.
When it came time for the sermon, we all stood out reverence for the reading of the Word of God. The text was Genesis 22:1-19 and the title was “God is Lovingly Stern.” I did not understand a word. Chris said that he even has a hard time to keep up. After the service, a nice lady named Dim came up and introduced herself. Her English was pretty good and she asked if I understood any of the sermon. Since I didn’t, she gave me a brief synopsis. Abraham and Isaac both were trusting God despite the hard thing He had called them to do. They did not ask to delivered from the trouble. But they trusted that God was working for their good. Jesus did the same thing. He faced the troubles and did not ask they be removed. Likewise, we face many troubles in our life. We should be trusting God that He is going to give us victory in the midst of trouble, rather than just removing the trouble.
I was getting excited at this point. The same Gospel I hear at church every Sunday is the same Gospel being proclaimed at the Muang Thai Church in the middle of Bangkok. I conversed with Dim a few minutes more and thanked her for sharing the sermon with me. We ate lunch at the church and enjoyed some fellowship with some of the congregation. Afterwards, we began packing up and driving towards Roi Et. We did have a scary moment as we were leaving Bangkok. At a toll booth, police officers were pulling people over. It was some sort of checkpoint. The cop did not like how we had tied down a few boxes on top of the truck. After a few tense moments, the cop asked for a 200 Baht ($6) bribe. Chris paid the bribe and we were on our way. For being a fairly modern city, the police are so corrupt. This is the second time Chris & Dora have had to pay a bribe for a police officer to let them go. Just another indicator that life here is vastly different than in America (not to say we have no corrupt cops, the good ones are just more prevalent).
We made it to Roi Et around 10:00, did some cleaning and unpacking and hit the bed. It was a long day.
May 14 – Pornos & a Korean BBQ
After such a long day in the heat yesterday, we slept in a little bit. We were really tired and couldn’t decide if the jet lag was catching up with us or the sun had just zapped all our energy. Regardless, we were tired. Thankfully we woke up refreshed and ready for a new day.
We spent our morning doing a little shopping. We were looking for some souvenirs to bring home, as well as some gifts for our family and some friends. We had an opportunity to visit a fair trade market. This market specializes in helping poor, rural villagers use their skills to create products and give them access to a customer base. There was a lot of cool stuff there. The Thai people are very skilled artisans and it was clearly evident in the products available for sale.
Chris also took us to the largest electronic market in Bangkok, Pontip Plaza. Three floors of nothing but cameras, computers, video games, illegal software, computer hardware, video cameras, cell phones and a whole lot more. While we were looking around, guys would flash porn DVDs in front of me and Chris. Porn, it seems, is not just an American problem. Exploitation for the sake of Mammon is as rampant here as in Pattaya. There is no guarantee those women were willing participants in the making of those DVDs. Pornography, whether in Thailand or the States, is an empire built on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. Men of the church, how can we prop up such an empire by using it’s products? Are we not the protectors of the poor and the vulnerable? Is that not what pure religion consists of? Visiting the widow and the orphan, rather than using them? If you want to do something to help the poor and vulnerable, start by quitting porn. Get help. Soak in the gospel. Then you can become a champion for the poor and vulnerable, rather than a willing participant in their exploitation. Let us not be hypocrites, giving lip service to caring for orphans and widows, while at the same time consuming darkness made from those very souls we claim to protect.
Later that evening, Chris and Dora took us to a Korean BBQ that one of their friends from language school had recently opened. We had never been to a Korean BBQ, so we weren’t sure what to expect. Well, if you ever get a chance to go to one, go! They bring you raw meats and you cook them on a grill in the middle of your table. It was a very cool experience. At the end of our meal, Choi (Chris & Dora’s friend), knocked 1000 Baht (about $30) off our bill! This was a really big deal. We all felt humbled by Choi’s generosity towards us. Chris & Dora are really hoping to deepen their relationship with Choi, because he is not a Christian. Would you pray for Choi? Please pray that he would believe the gospel through his interaction with Chris & Dora. Please also pray for his restaurant. It had only opened about 10 days ago and so far it has been a slow start. As I shared with Wallipon’s story, when God answers prayers for tangible help, this seems to really connect with Asian people. So pray that Choi’s restaurant becomes successful and that the would know that it was God who brought about this bounty.
Another good day. However, I’m really excited for tomorrow. We will be going to church and then heading up to Roi Et (Roi is pronounced “Roy”).
May 13 – Hopelessness Observed & Defeated
The agenda for today was mostly about visiting a few Buddhist Wat (Thai word for temple) in Bangkok. Why would we, devout followers of Jesus, want to see these places of pagan worship? Well, If we really want to learn to love the Thai people, we must understand from where they are coming from. Buddhism has so wrapped it’s tentacles around Thai culture that to be Thai is to be Buddhist. Whether they strictly follow the teachings of Buddha or not, Christianity means turning away from family and friends, from the very community that defines them. But there is hope. For the Gospel can overcome any obstacle. The gates of Hell will not stand against it’s advance. Buddhism will be no different.
The first wat we visited was Wat Pho (pronounced “Poe”). This wat houses the largest reclining Buddha in the world. This thing is massive. It is probably 50 yards in length and at least three, maybe four, stories high. The whole statue is plated in solid gold, with the bottoms of it’s feet covered in mother of pearl. The walls of the building which houses the Buddha has artwork from floor to ceiling. The art is meant to be read like a book, as it tells a story.
On the back side of the Buddha, there is this place where you can convert 20 Baht (less than $1) into small coins. The coins are then placed in little buckets that line the wall. People do this in order to earn merit. Merit is very important in Buddhism. Merit is how you get into “heaven.” However, there is one huge catch. Only Buddha and the best monks will ever earn enough merit to stay in heaven forever. Eventually, the average Buddhist will run out of merit and be reincarnated again in this life. What a hopeless belief system! Tossing worthless coins into buckets when they know in the end, all their efforts will have been in vain.
Do you see why we asked that you pray for hope to spring forth in Thailand? The people have none. And the Gospel has an eternal spring from which hope flows! There is a harvest to be had among the Thai! Pray to the Lord of the Harvest that he would send workers out into the field.
The wat also has more Buddhas used for worship. Buddhas line the walls of this giant courtyard. As I was looking at the Buddhas, I noticed something about them. They were all different. The pose was the same (seated), but the face, hands, finger length, hand/arm size were all different. Not one Buddha looked the same. I was intrigued by this. Why the variations? Why not uniform dimensions? Chris postulated that it was because each was done by a different artisan. This was entirely plausible and also quite telling. The Buddhas I was standing before, was nothing more than the creation of the man or woman who made it. Their interpretation of the Buddha colored the way the statue was made. These Buddha teach, whether on accident or on purpose, that it’s up to the individual to define reality. Reality is relative. So when a man comes and prays to a certain statue, he is not praying to Buddha, but some artist’s interpretation of him.
Have you ever wondered why God was so specific that no images be made of him? I think this has something to do with it. God will not and cannot be defined by an image. He will not allow the imaginations of men to define Him. Only He can define himself. Only through the special revelation of Scripture can we truly know him. We are wholly dependent on Him to define Himself and our own reality. How blessed are we, that God has revealed Himself to us? How blessed are we that God is the one who provides our merit for us? How blessed are we that we have been chosen to carry His Name and Fame to those who do not know?
We also visited Wat Arun, which isn’t really a functioning Wat (I don’t think any monks live there). It looks like something out of the Mayan ruins from a distance. Up close it has intricately designed patterns and colors that cover every square inch of the structure. You can climb half-way to the top, but the stairs are almost vertical. Each stair is probable 5″ deep and probably a foot high. But the climb is worth it, because the view is incredible. In the distance we could see a thunderstorm rolling into the city. I pray that just as the storm suddenly rolled through the city, that the Gospel would likewise roll through Bangkok. It seems unlikely. But so did the resurrection on Saturday. There is still hope.
As visually stunning and thought-provoking as these Wat were, nothing compared to our evening. An older Thai lady from Muang Thai Church wanted to take us to the tallest skyscraper in Bangkok to an international buffet (we were eating on the 77th floor!). Her name is Wallipon (pronounced Wal-e pon) and our time spent with her was truly a gift from the Lord. Her English is excellent. Most of the evening she was telling us a little about Thai culture and her time living in the states. I really wanted to hear how she came from Buddha to Jesus. Towards the end of our evening, the conversation drifted toward her conversion. Wallipon grew up in a Buddhist family in a rural village. When she was 13, she moved to Bangkok to finish her education, because her village didn’t have schools past that age. After her schooling, she got a job as a typist. She decided that she needed to work on her English skills so that she could get a better job. There was a Christian missionary in Bangkok teaching English, so she decided to go there, but said that all she wanted was English, no Jesus. After she finished her English studies, she was so grateful for the free teaching, that she wanted to give back (quite the foreign concept to many in America!!). So she began teaching the children English who would come to the Christian English center.
Yet, Wallipon was still adamant that she wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Not long after, Wallipon attended a evangelist meeting. Towards the end, the evangelist invited everyone to pray to receive Christ. But Wallipon was still hard-hearted. So she prayed, “If you are God, I want my own house, a better job, good health, peace of mind, and to study in America, then I will give you my life.” She left the meeting, never expecting that God would show Himself powerful and able to do all things. Over the next few months, God began answering her prayer. First, a house. Then a job. Because she was busy with the new job, she didn’t realize that her health had dramatically improved and that she was also beginning to experience peace of mind. However, she was just attributing it all to good luck (luck is huge in Buddhist culture). She remained stiff-necked, despite the Lord’s pursuit of her.
One night, Wallipon could not sleep. She also began to feel all the energy drain from her body, as if she was about to die. Suddenly, she remembered her prayer at the evangelist meeting all those months ago. She saw how God had answered four of the five requests and so she repented that night in her bed and submitted her life to the service of the Lord. The next morning, all the energy had returned and she felt alive once again. She had been born again. That was 50 years ago. Her joy for the Lord and her love for people is contagious. Though her life got more difficult after her conversion, her joy in the Lord sustained her. Eventually, she was able to lead her mom, brother and sister to the Lord! The Lord also answered her fifth request and Wallipon was able to study in America. I could have sat for hours and listened to this old saint. We’ll catch up again in the new heavens and new earth, I’m sure of it.
I went to bed blessed beyond measure. I hope and pray that Wallipon’s story has blessed you and encouraged your faith as much as it has for me.
May 12 – In the Garden of Good & Evil – Part 2
We spent the night at a relatively nice hotel on the beach in Jomtien (just outside of Pattaya). Interesting thing I learned about hotels in Thailand is that your key is tied to a circuit beaker in the room. You have to put it in a little slot by the door in order to turn the electricity on. So when you leave your room, your electricity (read: A/C) is turned off. This keeps their electricity rates low and your room hot. A much different mindset than you find in the States for sure.
We spent the morning walking on the beach (which was sadly marred by garbage, both in the water and on the sand) and lounging by the pool. This was a really great time to spend with Chris, Dora & Natalie. They don’t get many opportunities to really unplug and I’m glad that our coming to work with them has afforded them the chance to recharge the batteries.
For lunch, we decided to head back into Pattaya. Before finding some food, we went to a lookout point that overlooked the city. The place exists mainly as a place of worship. A statue of the most beloved king in the Rama line (currently, King Rama IX sits on the throne) is there and people come and offer prayers to his spirit. Their hope is that he will help them. In order to get his attention, the people will light off really loud fireworks just to the right of the statue. Tis a vain hope, lighting fireworks for the dead who will not hear.
After lunch, I wanted to see the most famous (or should I say, infamous) part of Pattaya. Walking Street is quite well-known. This is a narrow street filled with bars and clubs on every side. The sex trade is rampant here. As you walk by bars, you see a wall with pictures of girls. Those girls are available to rent, if you catch my drift. I would be willing to bet that many of them are not here by choice. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of women will be raped tonight in the name of a quick Baht (Thai currency). Mammon rules this street and it’s effects are devastating. The souls of women deeply ravaged. The souls of men sinking deeper into despair. For all the venues of pleasure this street has to offer, there was an untenable sadness that hung in the air. A deep sadness, yes. An exceedingly dark vileness, for sure. Yet, it remains untenable. It remains vulnerable to attack. Sweet hope! A sadness that will not remain. For the Light of the Gospel can illumine even this deep darkness. So we prayed. In the middle of the Walking Street. Surrounded by worst effects of the Fall. We prayed that Walking Street would one day be known for it’s Gospel-fidelity, rather than a modern day Sodom or Gomorrah. Would you pray that as well? Please pray for Walking Street and Pattaya. Pray that the gospel would sprout and grow. That light would over-take darkness, all in the Name of the only One who speaks to dead men and they hear (Interesting side note: the song “God of this City” was written in a bar on Walking Street).
Our day was not yet over. We still had a date with the elephants. This was the one thing I told Chris I wanted to do in Thailand. I wanted to ride an elephant through the jungle. And that is exactly what we did. It was a blast. They are such amazing creatures. Their power is unmatched. Yet, their spirit is gentle. It’s quite the meek animal.
After our hour long trek through the jungles of Thailand, we headed back to Bangkok. As we entered the city, it began to pour. I used to think that only Lexingtonian drivers freaked out in the rain and cause unnecessary traffic jams. Well, they ain’t got nothing on Bangkok. What should have taken 10 minutes took and hour and half. I have never seen traffic this bad. If I ever complain about traffic again, just remind me that it’s not as bad as Bangkok (unless, I’m in Bangkok when I complain).
The silver lining in the dark cloud of the traffic jam is that we had to eat street food for dinner (since it was 10:00pm by the time we got back). This place was amazing! And it only cost $1.50. We also had dessert on the street. It was dough fried in oil, covered with condensed milk, and sprinkled with sugar. I have no clue what it’s called, but it was one of my favorite things I’ve eaten over here.
Overall, another great day. Tomorrow, we are going to see the largest reclining Buddha in the world. Should make for an interesting day!
May 11 – In the Garden of Good & Evil – Part 1
Today, we traveled about an hour and half south of Bangkok to the city of Pattaya. Chris & Dora wanted to take us to a Thai beach and also show us these beautiful gardens on the outskirts of the city (in a town called Jomtien).
The drive was beautiful. The further south we got, the more the mountains came into view. The combination of palm trees and mountains has always been a favorite of mine. In order to get to the gardens, we had to drive through Pattaya. It’s actually a very western place. The main drag through the city reminded me of the ones you find in Panama City or any other large beach town. Scooters galore. Lots of furrong (white people). Busy streets. 7-Elevens. All standard beach fare.
The Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens are stunning. The care and detail that went into creating some of these gardens is unbelievable. All of us were marveling at their beauty. I couldn’t help but think about that first garden. The one God made. I wonder how beautiful it was. I wonder if what I witnessed today was even close to the glory that Eden had. Most likely, Nong Nooch bears the image of Eden. For her makers bear the image of Eden’s Maker.
Again my thoughts wander. Why all this work for this beauty? What utility has a garden? It produces nothing to sell. Most don’t produce anything you can eat. It’s hard work to maintain. Beauty is useless, yet all men seek it. Some grasp hold of momentary beauties, but they all fade. The flower blooms, then falls to the ground to rot. The gardens are just a memory in my mind and in my pictures. Their reality (to me) has faded. I long for a more permanent beauty to behold. I long for a beautiful reality in the presence of the One who defines “beautiful” (Maranatha!!).
Yes, there is some good in Pattaya. His image bearers glorify Him, even as they ignorantly and blindly bow to dead idols. Pattaya is broken, just like Lexington. Just like every other city in the world. Yet, Pattaya has a brokenness that runs deeper in way not experienced in the States. A vile and detestable pattern of rebellion. One which we will see tomorrow.
May 10 – Busy Bangkok
After all the travel and the massive time change, I was expecting to be suffering from some major jet lag. Surprisingly, Amanda and I slept about 6 hours. It seems as if we have adjusted fairly well. So thank you for the prayers! I know that without them, our adjustment would be much worse.
We spent our morning with our friends, Chris & Dora Barbee, taking their baby, Natalie, for a check up at the doctor. We rode the Sky Train (which is like the subway, only with tracks above the road). While on the train, I met a Burmese man, who was kind enough to give Chris his seat (Chris was holding Natalie). He said his name was Dr. Tim. He used to be a dentist for the Burmese Army, but now he works for an off-shore gas company. He was so kind, and I just feel the need to have everyone pray for him. I don’t know why he struck up a conversation with me. God does. The Author of all things saw fit to write a scene where my path crossed with Dr. Tim. This was no accident. This was no random meeting by the hand of chance. Rather, the Sovereign One brought us together. So would you mind taking a moment to pray for Dr. Tim? Pray that he believes the gospel. And if he does already, pray he would be strengthen in his faith.
After Natalie’s doctor appointment (poor thing had to get shots), lunch time arrived and provided us with the first opportunity for authentic Thai food. In order not totally shock our systems, our friends opted for a mall food court, rather than the street vendors (but we will eat some street food soon…smells too good to not try!). My lunch consisted of chicken & cashews (with onions & peppers), chicken with peppers & basil (spicy!!) and a side of white rice, all for a grand total of 60 baht or $2! Amanda had chicken pad thai, which was really good.
Our first cultural experience was a visit to the Jim Thompson House. This place was beautiful! I will post some pictures soon when I get more time. Jim Thompson was an American who was stationed in Siam (Thailand’s previous name) with the OSS and fell in love with the place and the people. He is credited with reviving the Thai silk industry. His home has been turned into a museum due to all the religious artifacts (mostly Buddhist) Mr. Thompson collected and the unique architecture employed when he built his traditional Thai house (click on the link above to learn more). On his 61st birthday, Mr. Thompson went for a walk while traveling with friends in Malaysia. He was never seen again. It seems that conspiracy theorists live in every country, for there are all sorts of theories as to what happened to Jim Thompson.
We also met new friends, Kat (who is Thai) and Lila (another American interning here). We met with them and Dr. Nantachai (spelling here is questionable, I’ll work on that) about out back to school party we will throw for the kids of Esarn (which is the region of Thailand will we be teaching in). This is going to be huge party. Seems almost too big to handle. This is probably a good thing. It will require much prayer and depending on God to make it a success.
Our day ended with Thai massages ($6 for 1 hour!!), dinner with our new friends and hanging out. A long day, but a good day. One in which we did a lot of walking. Experiencing the busy streets was interesting. My feet hurt. But in a good way. I saw a lot today. Stuff that broke my heart. Downtrodden beggars. Men sleeping on the sidewalk. Boys who look and act like ladies. Hope-stealing idols. Dead gods. But I saw stuff that made me smile. Children laughing. New friends. The possibility of gospel awakening (it’s possible anywhere, ya know). Today was a mix of emotions. Sorrowful, yet joyful. I’d call that a good day.
May 8-9 – Arriving in Bangkok
We made it! After 24 hours of travel, we landed in Bangkok, Thailand around 11:00 pm on Monday, May 9th (which was about 10:00am (EST) Monday).
Amanda and I both felt like we were in a time warp. We really had no concept of time or where we were. During our layover in Tokyo, we stopped at a McDonalds to get a snack. We then realized we were chowing down on french fries at 4:00 am, our time! But strangely enough we were wide awake.
After we landed in the Kingdom of Thailand (this is my first visit to a kingdom), we had a small adventure in the airport. There are several immigration checkpoints along the way, but we had no clue which one to go to. By the time we found someone to ask and actually clear immigration, our bags were the only ones left on the carousel! The sign telling you where to claim your bag was really confusing! The airport staff were kind and asked if those were our bags. I began walking around the carousel trying to get all our bags. This is why Amanda is much smarter than me. She just waited for them to come around again, while I’m chasing after them!
The part I was most nervous about was customs. I was nervous, because we were bringing all this extra stuff for our friends that we are working with here. I had visions of interrogations in dimly lit rooms about why I’m in Thailand. I think I’ve watched too many movies (that or the Lord was graciously watching over us! They are probably both true!), because not only did they not ask any questions, they only scanned 3 of our 4 bags and we were through in 2 minutes.
Our friend Chris was waiting for us after customs. It was so good to see him! As we began following him to the car, as soon as we walked outside, the heat and humidity washed over us like a wave. Amanda said she was surprised her hair didn’t instantly curl!
We finally made to the place where will be staying in Bangkok. It’s a Christian guest house run by the Missionary Alliance. The room is simple, but clean. We can’t ask for much more.
Well, that’s it for this update. Thank you for keeping tabs on us and praying. I know that the relatively smooth travels had much to do with your prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit. Please continue to be fervent in them!
May 6 – Preparing to Go
Thank you so much for visiting this page and keeping up with us as Amanda and I travel to Thailand. We are very excited about going to serve the children of Thailand by teaching them English and throwing them a back-to-school party. I’m not sure how often I will be able to post things here, but my goal will be to at least throw up a quick update each day.
We have begun to packing process. Pulling out two-weeks worth of clothing and packing it is quite a job. We’ve got two suitcases almost full of clothes and it looks like we’ll need one more to get it all in there. I expect that this trip will present challenges to me in my faith. In fact, I think the Lord is already working on me, even before we leave! As I looked at my closet after pulling out all the clothes I was going to take, my closet still looked full. My first thought was, “I have too much.” I’m rich. And I don’t say that with an air of gladness. Jesus warns us that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom (Matthew 19:24). It’s easy for the typical American to think that when Jesus warns about the rich, he’s really warning Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. “Those guys are the rich,” we think. But this is only a dangerous delusion. For, if you are a typical American, like myself, you’re rich. I had no idea a closet full of clothes in the midst of packing would convict me. I didn’t expect this type of conviction until I was in Thailand, seeing others much poorer than myself. But I guess that’s another lesson. God doesn’t work how we think. He moves in ways we cannot comprehend. We ought not be surprised by this. For is not the Gospel the most unlikely rescue plan ever devised?
Please keep us in your prayers as we go! Pray that we keep our eyes open to see these little lessons and simple convictions that the Lord is bringing to bear. May we have soft, pliable hearts!