Posts Tagged ‘ Thailand ’

All About Community

I’m three weeks in to my time here and am starting to feel settled.  I even caught myself saying “I’m heading home” today after spending the day in language classes and meetings downtown, and it didn’t freak me out to realize I was referring to “home” here.  House keys, a few essential pieces of furniture, some “artwork” from my niece on the wall and some comfort food in the fridge have helped make that happen.  But even more than real peanut butter and homemade raspberry jam in the fridge, what makes this home is the community we have here.

Geographically speaking, we live just a short walk from The Well.  For those not familiar with the organization, this is where opportunities are provided for women coming out of difficult situations to learn English, develop vocational skills and most importantly be counseled and discipled.  It also provides a safe and healthy environment for their children.  It’s the bricks and mortar of the organization here, but the heart of it is so much more than bricks and mortar.

One of the greatest blessings of being here so far has been to have my understanding of this ministry transformed and deepened.  I no longer view it as simply an incredible ministry with a sound mission and vision, but it’s an extraordinarily unique family and community that is living out the principles of the Gospel with every breath.  If there’s sickness, the community comes around them.  If there’s mistreatment, the community comes around to teach and correct.  If there’s a relapse, the community continues to love and show support, welcoming them back with open arms if and when they are ready to return.  It’s an environment of continued healing and transformation made possible by relational investment.  It’s not without its messes, but even in the mess it’s beautifully Biblical.

This past weekend we celebrated all the August birthdays.  All the families, staff and other Well volunteers joined together for an evening of games, music and food.  All were equals; all were celebrating what God has done in our lives, our families and in our community.  I can’t describe the joy that overflowed that place and felt so privileged to see it, and even more to know that I have been given the opportunity to become a part.  To walk alongside our neighbors as God works on all of us together.

That’s the macro community.  I love it.  I want more of it.  I can’t wait to see God continue to grow and transform it as He continues to touch and transform lives.

On the micro side, I’d also like to take a minute to give you a glimpse into our immediate family/community at the Volunteer House.  (We’ve also been coined “the Love Shack” but that sounds misleadingly scandalous…)

I live with three other amazing people.  First, Brooke.  The HOH.  The boss. Our friend and counselor.  She’s from North Carolina and is another long term volunteer with an incredible heart for and gift of counseling.  She coordinates the short term volunteers coming through and is being instrumental in putting together a more intentional counseling process for the women and their families.  She also “counsels” me often and has been a great friend.

Then there’s Jup. She’s stinkin’ fabulous.  She’s on staff with The Well, takes seminary classes at a local university and has about eleventy billion other responsibilities.  She brings great joy and laughter to this place and makes sure we speak Thai often. I get to have guitar jam sessions with her on demand – I love it.

Frank is also pretty stinkin’ fantastic.  (There’s a theme here… have you noticed?)  Originally from North Philly, he has an incredibly genuine, generous, passionate heart that is driven to chase Jesus and see the Kingdom advanced with no regard for personal safety or gain.  He’s playing a vital role here at the Well as a strong, devoted man of God in an environment in which male role models are hard to come by. He’s been in Thailand for a couple of years; his Thai is ridiculously phenomenal and he has been a lifesaver in helping us transition into life, culture and language here.  We’ve also dubbed him our personal bodyguard.

Beyond the blessing of the macro community, these three have been an extraordinary blessing as we face what can be daunting daily challenges in life and ministry here.  Together.

Talk about an answer to prayer for this little extroverted farm girl…  Community is a beautiful thing.

The three stooges, amigos, whatever...

Wondering what monsoon season looks like in Thailand?  This:

Very soaked but very happy housemates

Looking ahead….

Beyond the day-to-day activities and projects at The Well, I’ve started an intensive Thai language course and am starting to make some connections in the agriculture community here in Bangkok.  I’m also starting to dive into my Master’s thesis process with the goal of landing on a research topic that will lay the groundwork to address some of the deeply rooted socioeconomic issues of Thailand’s rural provinces which are “home” to many of the women we meet in the bars. It’s a crazy, daunting idea and I’ll need some significant divine intervention (and some time….) to pull it off, but I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Future posts on that front, but prayers are appreciated in the meantime!

PS….. As I write about community here, I can’t help but give a shout out to YOU reading this, wherever you might be.  Though I have entered into a new community here in Thailand, I feel doubly blessed not to have lost my community at my “other” home.  Your continued support, notes of encouragement, investment of prayer, (and the simple fact that you care enough to read my crazy posts) mean the world to me!   THANK YOU!  I couldn’t be doing this without you.

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Dreams of Transformation

There are no simple issues here, nor are there simple answers or solutions.  I haven’t even been here two weeks and have already been floored by the complexity of the needs, the depth of the challenges facing the people of this nation, and the amount of time and energy it will take to see any sort of real, measurable progress by which we westerners measure “success”.

I’ve realized how much I have left to learn.

Thanks to Wikipedia you can quickly read statistics on the scope of Thailand’s deeply-rooted sex tourism industry.  The NY Times recently did a piece on the complex issues facing Thailand’s rural countryside, highlighting growing issues with drugs and violence facing the youth, added to a lack of economic opportunity, particularly for women.  Books are written about sex trafficking or sexual exploitation; causes spring up on Facebook; magazines are published to highlight the issues.

Each time I read a new article or see a new statistic I realize there are about a dozen underlying issues that are unimaginably more complex.  I’m overwhelmed enough just reading about it; seeing it firsthand and hearing the stories of individuals that are living it is exponentially more heartbreaking.

I just got back to Bangkok after spending a few days out in Buriram province – a province located in the Isan region which is known as Thailand’s poorest region.  Agriculture is the main economic driver there, but the area isn’t as productive as other parts of Thailand due to the socio-economic conditions and a hotter, drier climate.  It is a region from which a large number of men come to Bangkok to find work or women come to work in the bars.

Being there for a few days provided only a small taste of the countryside, but a taste that got my wheels spinning and my heart pumping nonetheless.

What did I see?

  • Beautiful scenery – bright green rice fields with some sugarcane, cassava and eucalyptus peppering the countryside. But it’s also peppered with small, rural communities that are clearly hurting.
  • Absent men – either physically absent as they’ve had to move to Bangkok to find work, or effectively absent as they’re caught in a vicious cycle of drinking, drugs and gambling.
  • Beautiful women and children – This truly is the “land of smiles” but behind many of those smiles is an environment where there is a severe lack of hope or opportunity for so many women.
  • Potential….. I saw a handful of Thai men and women with hearts and potential to invest in transformation.  Men mentoring young men.  Women popping up as leaders, willing to host educational seminars for family and neighbors.  I saw a few innovative economic ideas popping up with potential, spearheaded by a couple of motivated Thai families.

One of the current economic generators for women is silk-making.  It’s a tedious process but one that provides a unique opportunity for women to be able to stay home to care for their children, make some beautiful products and generate some income if they have some help marketing their products.  It’s not a panacea, but it’s one thing that can be (and is being) done now.

Women grow the worms, extract the silk, spin and dye it, and make gorgeous silk weavings.

Silkworms

Weaving

Despite the glimpses of potential I’m seeing, it would easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenges here.  It’s overwhelming for this western mind that wants to identify a problem, come up with a solution and fix it “yesterday.”  Or at least set up a plan where it can be solved and I can report back to donors and supporters and say “Look!  Check out your return on investment.”

But I’m afraid that might not be realistic.  It’s hard for me to comprehend just how long it might take before we see real change here in Thailand.  Waiting around for results is a hard thing for me to do, but I’m going to have to be ok with it. And I’m praying that those supporting my time here will understand and be ok with that.  Even more than that, I hope that we all will realize that it’s actually a good thing in the long term.  That this is a long term investment from which we may or may not be able to see the tangible fruit in the near term, but that this is what God meant when He told us to “preach the Gospel” and “make disciples”.  It’s to invest in transformational change, understanding that transformational change takes time.

It takes time to build relationships.  To understand cultural nuance.  To understand root causes rather than surface symptoms.  To wait for God to reveal His intention in changing people and building character, which is the only way that lasting change will happen.

That said, I’m going to have to get out of my accomplishment-oriented, results-based mindset and settle in for the long haul.  And I’m going to have to ask you not to hold your breath for riveting stories about the issues going away overnight.

However, what I do hope to be able to share is stories of the road to transformation.  The cultivation of character, and how that cultivation of character will lead to changed lives and families and, eventually, communities and countries.

What does that look like?  It’s my dream to see men invested in as leaders of strong character – regaining economic opportunity and a drive to produce and care for their family.  Women experiencing healing and restoration, along with economic opportunity that enables them to stay home and care for their families as they wish to do; not requiring them to move to the city and work in the bars in order to pay to fix a leaking roof.  Children with educational opportunities and strong male and female role models, raised as the next generation of Thai leaders that wish to invest in continued development and transformation of Thailand’s rural areas.

There are a lot of people that have been here a lot longer than me and that learned these lessons long before I did. They’ve been making this investment and dreaming this dream for a long time.  The folks at The Well and the other long-term volunteers I’m working with here are an encouragement and an inspiration and I feel privileged to be able to come alongside and learn from them.

It may be discouraging to face the depth and complexity of the issues here, but our encouragement comes from knowing it’s not up to us to fix everything.  It comes from knowing that God’s heart is all about transformation and He’s the one moving here.  We’re just along for the ride.

We just have to be ok with the fact that it could be a really long ride.

All Things New

New things can be scary.  New sights, people, language, culture, climate, smells, foods, routines.  And that’s just the short list.  Add to that new lessons, new paradigms, new worldviews… These are the things I’m absorbing on a daily basis.  I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that it’s downright terrifying at times.

Timeout  for a quick example?  “Ordering” lunch (read: pointing and grunting) from a street vendor and having NO idea what I just received.  I found out later it was noodle soup with pig’s blood. Quite good, actually.  So good that I ordered it on purpose today.

The thought of not knowing how quickly or slowly I might absorb the language and culture here and regain my independence is unsettling.  The thought of not really knowing what my time here will look like or what I may or may not be able to contribute or “accomplish” is awkward and uncomfortable.  The thought of not using a western-style bathroom or a normal shower for an unspecified amount of time is….well….frightening.

Above all, the thought of being here in a new place, facing the immensity of the issue of sexual exploitation and the magnitude of the hurt and brokenness that results from it, with seemingly little to offer other than an available heart and willing hands is downright terrifying.

But I confess I can’t help but find joy in the “new”.  I’m sitting here wondering where this inexplicable peace – this comfort in the uncomfortable – is coming from.

The Revelation passage that speaks of God making all things new has been ringing through my head these last few “first days” in Bangkok where everything is new.  In the process, I’ve seen a different side of this verse.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said,

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:4-5 (ESV)

In reading this passage, I’ve always simply absorbed the imagery of  God taking away all the “bad things” and replacing them with “good things” in His time, and I’ve found great joy in anticipating that day when all things are new. It can’t seem to get here soon enough, particularly when I’m exposed to sides of this life that are far from what I would consider “good” like the devastating issues of poverty, hurt and brokenness.

But I’ve always put this passage in a box.  I’ve only ever thought of it in the context of the end of time.  No more tears.  No more death.  No more “bad things.”  It’s going to be one big, happy party.  But we have to wait around for it. It’s not in our nature, I don’t think, to seek the “all things new” that God might have for us in the meantime.

We tend to think new in the here and now is scary.  It’s usually challenging and sometimes highly uncomfortable.  Sure, we all know and generally like the thought that God can make us “new creations”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) but we don’t generally like it when we’re thrown into a situation where we actually have to be new.  Or seek something new.

The little box that I’ve put this passage in is getting thrown wide open. And I’m sure my first week or so in Bangkok is only the beginning.

What I’ve learned so far:  I’ve learned it is indeed the nature of God to call us to “all things new” in the here and now.  Of course it won’t be truly finished for a while, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase it now.

Don’t get freaked out by this.  I’m not saying everyone should move to Bangkok.  (Although I would LOVE it if you did….)  That new can look different to everyone.  For me, it was being thrown into a new culture with a new commissioning, in order to see a new side of God’s character as He changes the lives of those around me. For many of the women I’m meeting, it’s God calling them to a new environment where they are cared for, invested in and challenged as they experience healing and restoration.  I have no idea what it might look like for you.  Maybe healing. Maybe re-commissioning.  Maybe a change of heart or a restored relationship.  Maybe something totally different.

But I’m convinced that God doesn’t call us to homeostasis.  He calls us to allow Him to make “all things new.”

We just can’t be surprised when the way it happens isn’t comfortable.  Healing and restoration aren’t comfortable.  Restored relationships aren’t comfortable, whether it’s to God, ourselves or each other.  The process of discovering and pursuing passions and callings isn’t comfortable. Being repurposed or re-commissioned isn’t comfortable.  Moving across the world – or even across town, if that’s what you’re called to do – isn’t usually comfortable.

Pretty much everything outside of complete homeostasis is uncomfortable.  On the cover, it doesn’t look like a “good thing”; in fact, we tend to equate uncomfortable with bad.  And that incorrect equation robs us of greater, “new” things that might be in store.

So, my conclusion.  Finally.  It’s the anticipation of what this “new” actually represents that’s causing this inexplicable peace and joy.  This is God’s way of yanking me out of homeostasis and re-commissioning me to live with, learn from and learn to serve these beautiful people halfway around the world.

Thailand is my “all things new” right now.  And it’s not comfortable, particularly.  But it’s good.

What’s yours?

A Day in BKK

Top 10 random thoughts and observations from my first few days in Bangkok (BKK).

1. The Well is amazing — Great vision, amazing staff.  Picture a number of women making beautiful jewelry – laughing and sharing a very different, new life together.  Kids running around the four-story building that houses the activities of the Well while their moms work, making jewelry, artwork or helping run the organization.  Women practicing their English and teaching us Thai, and laughing a lot.  It’s a beautiful thing.

2. Moto-taxis (translation: death-defying, two-wheeled “flying objects” that zip through the crowded rush hour streets of Bangkok and help you actually arrive at your destination on time) are treacherous but SUPER fun.  And the only really efficient means of transportation to and from the BTS (train station).  Can’t think of a better combination of joy and terror, and rainstorms only intensify both emotions.

3. Cooking Thai food is much more fun (and tasty) when ingredients come from the local market.  Fresh chickens, green curry paste, hot peppers (really, really hot peppers)…. so good.  Looking forward to being able to do more than just point and grunt when I find something I want.

4. The Thai language is ridiculously hard.  There are five different ways (tones) to say the same three-letter word “maa”.  I find myself wanting to use a much more familiar four-letter word that I’m told is inappropriate for use by missionaries. 😉

5. I’ve met a number of folks passing through or recently relocating to Bangkok committed to investing in incarnational ministries similar to The Well.  Amazing to hear their stories and their hearts to live with, learn from, love and serve the Thai people in new and creative ways.

6. Skype is an amazing communication tool.  I was skeptical.  After “joining” a get-together of a number of friends in DC while in my pajamas (thanks to the time change), I am no longer.

7. Our kitchen floods when it rains.  Which is every day.  I’m getting used to cooking with bare feet in a few inches of standing water.

8. The “entertainment districts” of Bangkok are just as dark as they were during our visit two years ago, despite some new facades and updated neon lights.  But the women are just as precious and hungry for hugs and new friends.

9. I have loved getting reacquainted with a few folks we met at the Well two years ago, and to see how much they’ve grown, changed and developed into budding leaders, committed to investing in and loving those that remain trapped in a life that they themselves knew so well so few years ago.

10. I love my Bangkok house-mates and look forward to this being a true place of refuge as folks travel through or need a safe place to lay their head.  It’s a blessing of a house and I couldn’t ask for more amazing people to live life with here.

Bonus (#11)… I’m currently obsessed with the book “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Ourselves” by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett.  A must read for anyone interested in either short or long-term missions, poverty alleviation, economic development…or simply loving your neighbors.  Looking forward to continuing down my book list…

Looking ahead:  Heading to check out Buriram province on Monday for a few days.  Buriram is located in the Isan region, the region from which a vast majority of the women that end up working in the bars in Bangkok come.

More soon…..

The Journey Begins

After more than a full day of traveling, I’m now in Bangkok, settled into what will likely be my new “home” during my time in the city.  Lucky for you, I’ll post something I wrote a on the first leg of the trip when I was slightly more coherent.  Here goes…

I’m settled into my window seat, flying over the mighty Pacific Ocean en route to Narita before heading on to the long-awaited “final destination” of Bangkok.  What better time to document the myriad of memories, thoughts and emotions that have been swirling through my head over the last few weeks?

I meant to update the blog a little more frequently over the last several weeks, but spent more time in a raspberry patch, on the back of a horse, in a combine harvesting wheat, chasing nieces and nephews and exploring miles and miles of U.S. scenic highways rather than with a notebook in hand.  I did, however, have a camera.  Check out photos from the last month on flickr.

I have few words to describe how valuable this last month has been.  I’m grateful for the chance I had to simply take a breath and enjoy the change of pace, place and perspective.  To leave what has been a whirlwind in DC and look ahead to the next chapter, and enjoy time with family and friends and a myriad of adventures along the way.

I’m now sitting here wondering just what God has in store for this next chapter.  I’m en route with no expectations other than to keep my eyes, ears and heart open; not unlike my journey to Thailand almost two years ago.  Only this time I have a little more luggage and an uncertain return date.

With no expectations, my first order of business is to simply listen. Watch. Absorb. Learn.

To listen to the Thai language and begin to hear the thoughts, challenges and hopes of those I meet… and hopefully learn to speak well enough to ask some questions.

To watch and absorb the cultures and traditions of the Thai people.

To watch and learn the ways that those at The Well have learned to serve God and serve the men and women of Thailand.

To keep watch for unmet needs, and keep an open mind as to creative ways to contribute.

And in the process, watch and listen for the ways that God wishes to reveal Himself in Thailand.  What He’ll reveal about His character, and just how much He cares for His children.

Am I anxious?  Nervous?  Scared?  Excited?  I’m not really sure. My extremely gracious sister that dropped me off at the airport might have a better idea… she got to witness the multiple packing and “pesky details” meltdowns that occurred prior to the launch.  But all things considered I feel uncharacteristically calm as I sit here on the plane.

I know this calm has nothing to do with me, but I attribute it to the following:

The support and prayers of family and friends. God answered those prayers for a smooth journey in a big way.  No visa issues.  No flight issues.  Easy peasey everything.

The reminders of the journey that brought me to this place.  The silent but unmistakable call to go and continued “green lights” and open doors that made it possible.

The faith of those that have gone before me.  Whether that be the missionaries that have served in Thailand previously, those that are there now, or those that have launched elsewhere in the world (not to mention any names…. Adam Taylor…..) Each offer the gift of inspiration.

I’m grateful to be here. Grateful for those that sent me off with such generosity. Grateful in advance for the work that is ahead.

So, here we go.  The journey begins.

Tick Tock

Less than a month out from the DC exodus, the reality of “limited time” is hitting more than ever.  Why is it that we never feel like there’s enough time?
I read that the Chilean earthquake this last spring was so powerful that it shifted the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of a day by 1.26 millionths of a second. (True story.) No wonder I’m feeling so frantic these days. I’ve been robbed of precious milliseconds by the earthquake.
But really. Time is short and my list of Thailand to-dos seems to be growing rather than shriking. You know, small things like getting plane tickets and a visa. Finding health insurance and changing addresses (when you don’t really have a new address yet.) Road trip planning. Purging, packing and storing. And now adding car repairs to the list after sacrificing a car window and an ipod to the DC “you can’t POSSIBLY leave here without being vandalized during your DC tenure” police. The last couple weeks of the job and keeping up with schoolwork still have to fit in there somewhere too.
Oh yes. And so do PEOPLE.
Admittedly, my list of to-dos is piling up in favor of savoring every last drop of the people — the extraordinary community — that I have here in DC. Be that Saturday morning waffles at Buzz, kayaking on the Potomac, hitting three bbqs in a weekend, coffee dates with my youth group girls or a super-short weekend getaway to backcountry camp at Assateague, these are the important things in life.  And they’re important not just because they’re fun adventures. They’re important because they involve PEOPLE and RELATIONSHIP.
Don’t be fooled – this is not my excuse for procrastination.  It’s a reflection of a major life change last fall that taught me that people are more important than things. Or to-dos.  So I’m determined to live out that lesson well in my last weeks in DC.  And I’ll pray hard that God will multiply my time to allow the rest to fall in place.  In time.
If you knew you only had three weeks left in DC, how would you spend your time?  In WHOM do you need to invest time this week?
(PS – this blog post was written instead of doing homework. I’ll be honest and admit I’m not sure where that falls on the procrastination spectrum…. Don’t judge me.)

It Takes a Community

Check out my letter for more details on how to join in with the Thailand adventure!

Thailand Update!

After spending the weekend moving out of my apartment and looking ahead to my last month in DC before the next chapter, I’m finding myself dealing with a whole myriad of emotions.  The first of which is forced humility, and realizing just how hard it is to relinquish my independence.

Nothing brings me more joy than being on the giving end of things.  But for some reason I find it extremely hard to accept help. Well…. I’m being forced to get over that.  I’m entering a new chapter of being dependent on the help and support of family and friends to send me off on this new adventure overseas.  It’s an uncomfortable place to be, but I’m thankful for the lesson in humility.

I’m humbled daily by the generosity of family and friends that are coming alongside to support, encourage and give of themselves to help me make this transition.  What has the potential to be a pretty scary place to be is manageable with a community behind me, quick to remind that I’m not in this alone.

I’m thankful for friends lending their muscles (and patience) to help me move.  For a wonderful friend letting me crash in her basement for the month of June before I peace out of DC.  For those quick to encourage and affirm that this is, indeed, the right decision, no matter how crazy I feel.  And now that the support letter is sent, I’m grateful for those that have been so quick to lend their prayer and/or financial support.

Thankful for the adventures ahead and the community that has come alongside me!

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