Friday, January 30, 2009

More Brokenness

It was my intention to report on the trip I took to Hua Hin on Wednesday and Thursday where I visited my friends from China, however, my time on the beach today must take precedent.
I am staying in the home of Sandy T., who ministers to those with HIV. At the moment she is residing right across the street from Jomtien Beach, which is in Pattaya. This area attracts people from many countries. At first appearances it is the typical tourist town; bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops line the streets. The beach itself is not deep, but it is filled with beach chairs with umbrellas. You pay thirty baht to use them.
Some of the people who populate this area have retired here or have come for an extended vacation. It is relatively inexpensive. If you look more closely, you will realize that there are many more men then women. In one section you will only find men.
This is the home of ladyboys and gays. Transvestites are ladyboys. Men who are so inclined come in large numbers to indulge themselves.
One of my friends in Khon Kaen had referred to this area as Sodom and Gomorrah. Pretty apt label. It was difficult to walk past all of this and it has stirred up many emotions in me. My heart breaks for those trapped in such a lifestyle. Then there is the disgust and anger. To see older men, who have come here for such purposes - makes me want to deck them!
We stopped to visit with some of those who Sandy ministers to regularly. There were a couple of mats laid out where they sat and all their worldly possessions were piled on them. Actually, piled is the wrong word, as that would imply a lot of stuff. Not so. Just a few beat up pillows and maybe a few items of clothing. What there was an abundance of was alcohol. Thai whiskey is suppose to be pure alcohol and that is what they were downing at eleven this morning. Most were feeling no pain. People in pain like to numb that pain. Jaba is also very popular. It is a narcotic.
One of the fellows, Soc, who is gay, was not drinking. It seems that he has had an encounter with Jesus and has lost his desire for much of his former life. Why was he there? Because he has no job and no where else to go. He told us that his few possessions were stolen recently and so he only had the clothes on his back. We promised to help out when we finished our walk.
After a few more minutes with Sandy's friends we continued our walk. She wanted me to get the whole picture. It is a very sad one. As we traversed the beach, I wondered how those who are not caught up in such a life style can sit there relaxing and acting as if everything is fine? How does one close their eyes to such darkness and pain?
On our return trip we stopped to collect Soc. Another man had joined the group. He had more grotesque tatoos than I have ever seen. He had a spike through his neck and one through the skin over his checkbone. It was difficult to look at him, but when I did, I saw desperation. He was there, he said, to help these people out. Every day he gives them money for food, but he knows that they buys drugs and alcohol instead. He says that was up to them. He just wants to help out. I don't understand his thinking, which, I guess, is not surprising. Such a lost soul.
Soc came back with us to Sandy's place so we could gather a few things to help him out. A Young Life t-shirt from Connecticut has a new home in Thailand and is now being worn by this man.
He told us his story. He was never wanted by his father. As a matter of fact, when he was born, his father tried to throw him into the fire. We asked why he would try to do that and were told that the man was crazy.
Soc spoke of men who 'befriended' him and one who even taught him English. He was vulnerable and they knew it. He does not understand much about his new life in Christ and needs discipling, which is not easy to do. However, he is on the right path and Sandy, along with others, are speaking into his life at every opportunity. One thing he does understand is that God is with him and keeps extending His grace to him in situation after situation.
Next Wednesday we will be gathering up all who show up at the designated spot to go to the HIV clinic to be tested. Soc is suppose to come. He doesn't know whether he has HIV or not yet. Pray that he shows up. He does not have anyway to know what time it is and he, like many of them, does not wake up early. Life on the beach does not allow you to sleep well or early.
From the moment I arrived in Southeast Asia I have seen so much and so many that are broken. However, the greatest brokenness that I have sensed has been in God's heart for each and everyone. And not only those that I have encountered, but for all that they represent. Father, do not let me forget, but make my heart as Yours!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Life versus Death

We just returned from a funeral at a Buddhist temple. Jane, a fourteen year old girl, died yesterday. She had HIV, which she got from her mother. Both her parents died years ago. Jane also had TB in her liver, but what actually killed her was malnutrition.
When she got sick her uncle, who had been caring for her brought her to one of the HIV homes that Sandy, my current host, is connected with. Jane met Jesus there.
That knowledge made the difference for the Christians who attended the funeral. It did nothing for those who follow Buddha.
The coffin was covered with twinkling lights and flowers. In front of it incense burned alongside a stack of robes that were gifts for the monks. The upper walls of the temple are covered with pictures that depicted some very violent scenes. One scene showed a chasm that people were falling into. Buddha hovered over the chasm. It reminded us of the tract that shows the separation between God and man with the cross of Christ bridging the gap. Jesus makes the way for reconciliation with the Father. While Buddha just hovers there watching people fall to their doom.
Before the monks came to chant, which they do to send her spirit onto the next realm, the Christian pastor got up and spoke about the sure hope that Jane was in Heaven. Then the Christians gathered together and sang three praise songs. I prayed and snapped pictures. Before the body will be burned the monks march around the crematory three times to confuse the evil spirits so they don't intercept her spirit.
One of the ministers there was telling me how fearful the people were after the tsunami. Fearful of all the spirits that were wantering around because they weren't able to have the monks send them off properly.
This religion is so superstitious. You will see strings with beads around many necks and wrists, even small babies. The monks chant over the strings and beads to ward off evil spirits. They will wrap a new home in this string!
Superstition is maybe not the best word for to me it means a fear of somehting that is not real. The evil spirits are real. In Southeast Asia they have the liberty to be very obvious. In our culture they have to be more subtle. Either way they are dangerous.
Whether in Thailand or the US everyone can find protection and power in Jesus. Praise God that Jane did!

Monday, January 26, 2009


Your friendly adventurer is safely back in Thailand. I have had a good bit of time to contemplate what I want to share with you, but am having a hard time sorting it all out. Let me say from a personal perspective I feel like I just took part in an episode of one of those 'Survivor' shows. I am not overly found of creepy, crawly things and let me tell you I had my fill of them!
The training center was infested with scorpions that thankfully I never saw. However, just the thought of them was making me a little crazy. Then there were the gigantic spiders, which I did see. I am grateful that the only tarantula that I encountered was grilled, as a treat. I passed on that one!
Throw in the rats, which indeed cohabitated with us, a few thousand red ants that passed through after leaving their mark on us, plus every other kind of insect imaginable and you get the picture of every day encounters. I was told about the centipedes that could be a couple feet long and caused much pain when they bit as if that was nothing unusual. For me very unusual, however, for those who live there, no big deal. If I had been in the States and encountered one fraction of what I did there, I would never have been able to stand the conditions, but what was I to do? Complain? To what end? I was there to encourage and support. I was determined to not be a hinderance in any way. I truly struggled.
The first few days found me feeling more and more wretched. You see I was on sensory overload. Actually, since I arrived in Southeast Asia my senses have been on overdrive, but upon arriving in Cambodia the increase in input was greatly multiplied.
I found much of what I encountered very distressing and to be honest all I wanted to do was flee! I felt so selfish and so helpless. Often all I could do is hang onto the LORD. I had to keep my eyes on Him and not what surrounded me.
Brokenness best describes this land and its people. The land itself has been devastated, but is being redeemed albeit very slowly. The people and their way of thinking is truly broken. It is a society that seems, for the most part, to be devoid of God.
They are very religious. Buddhism permeates every aspect of their lives. One can never forget it is a Buddhist society. Each home, shop and roadside has its shrine. All their actions are about earning merit in hopes of attaining a higher level. Along with this is the ever important witch doctor and the astrologists. There is no thought that there is any other way of living or thinking.
Relationships are not intimate, but it is all about your rank; how important are you in the hierarchy of the village?
Most nights we heard funerals or weddings being held. There were many weddings because the astrologists said it is the right time to marry. Since in many areas there is no electricity, they rent battery operated amplifiers so that the whole village hears and comes to join them. To come is to pay. Everyone must pay a set amount.
Children are left to their own devices or are put to work. It is not unusual to see a small child, maybe age four, sent to the market for something and have to walk along a very busy roadway.
The homes are on stilts with a wooden ladder leading up to it. I held my breathe more than once upon seeing a toddler teetering at the doorway!
The educational system is corrupt and to get anything from it you must pay the teacher a bribe.
It is dry season right now and the dust is everywhere. After a while I didn't recognize my own feet anymore! The children are covered in dirt and dust.
Every home has a dog or two without exception. I have never before seen so many dogs in one area. Oh - they really come to life at night!
Most homes are just one room with a 'bed' in one corner. It is basically a platform the size of a double bed. Everyone typically sleeps there at night. Sometimes they sleep on the floor. Everything is made of wooden slats. Since everything is done on the floor you either squat or sit on your feet. I did not master doing either comfortably, but do them I did!
There were times of beauty, such as the night sky. No lights whatsoever competing with the stars and planets makes for some sight!
What I found most beautiful was to watch those who have given everything to minister in such a broken land.
My friends, old and new, have adopted the Khmer way of life. They tell me that they actually have learned to think like them. This is critical. How can you possible help them, if you don't understand how they think?
These dear ones cook like the Khmer, which is over a charcoal pit, and prepare the same food. They tell me that to use any modern conveniences would become a stumbling block in relating to the people. Someone had brought them a coffee press and they love it. However they are concerned that a Khmer might see it which wuld be a problem. My friend, Heather, says the response would be "See your life is so much easier than mine because you have one of those".
Every aspect of their lives has become Khmer. Well, every aspect except that they follow the life giver, Jesus. The Buddhist religion is just the opposite. It is one that leads to death. I was thinking of how many in our nation are embracing aspects of this dark religion and wonder if they would continue to if they could see the effects it has had on a whole nation of people?
At the training center everything is being done in a way that can be replicated. That means to pump water from the well they have set up something like a 'stair stepper' and also a hand crank. I tried both and realized I better get back to exercising when I get home!
At each building there is a large clay pot that is about four feet high and maybe five feet wide. It is kept filled with water. This is where you bathe. Ladies wear a sarong and guys wear something half that size. You wash right there and then rinse and drip dry. No towels are available since the Khmer don't use them.
On a couple of occasions I accompanied ministry teams as they visited homes and shared simple Bible stories with those who were interested or just socialized. We sat on a mat in the yard or on the floor of their home. Always food and water were offered. I never actually drank any water, as it would have definitely made me sick, but I did eat whatever seemed safest, which usually was sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves.
Most often trips to villages or the market were via moto, which what they call their motorcycles. It wasn't unusual to find me on the back of one and many times it was with a third passenger behind me!
On Wednesday, after starting to feel a little settled, I accompanied my new friend, Ayra, to another village so that I could see where Rebecca Stinson ministers. We piled into a minivan and this time the driver did share his seat!
The village was alongside the Mekong River. We stayed in the Buddhist home of Ayra's former landlord. It came with rats and all. One plus was - NO SQUATTY POTTY! They had moved up in the world and had a toilet. No toilets have flush handles though. There is still the vat of water and the typical long handled plastic pot to scoop the water to wash and flush. The Khmer, along with the Thai people do not use paper. They just rinse! (Too much information?)
In the middle of the night if you had to make a trip to the rest room (If?), there was a lot of scurrying and squeaking with each step. One night upon arrival in said room I encountered a large lizard sharing the place with me. I figured on a scale with rats and giant spiders - what was a lizard or two?
The following two days Ayra and I joined hers and Rebecca's original team members, who were running medical clinics. On Thursday we walked to the adjoining village and had to cross a small river that branched off of the Mekong. There was a large raft being pulled back and forth by a young man tugging on a rope that was anchored on both river banks.
Both days we set up three medical stations; the first was manned by a medical doctor who is a fulltime medical missionary; the second by a fourth-year medical student, who plans to become a medical missionary, plus a translator. The third station was covered by a physician's assistant with Ayra translating. There was also a pharmacy and I was one of the pharmacists! I told the missionary, Dave, who was working with me as the translator, that if we had been in the States doing what we were doing, we would have been arrested!
One case that was treated, actually it was two, was very strange. Or so some of us thought. Mothers of two different boys reported that they were eating rubber. One ate a whole flip-flop! The doctors didn't bat an eye. It seems that this is a symptom of vitamin defficiency.
We dispensed a vast number of vitamins and worm pills along with many other medications in the course of two days. The total number of patients seen was one hundred. It was satisfying to be able to do something to help.
In the midst of the deep darkness and great need there were other marks of beauty. There was the grandma in the first village, who glows with her love of Jesus and the young man that has such a hard life yet desires to follow Jesus with all his heart. Then there was the woman who ran the kitchen at the trianing center, Mrs. Cook, as we call her. She works her kitchen chores around the classes because she is so hungry to learn as much as possible about her Savior and His ways. I do not have words to describe how moving it is to witness such pure hearts.
Upon arriving back at the center on Saturday morning I thought I would like to maybe get a piece of clothing to represent Cambodia. Nothing, of course, is made to fit an American, so I picked up a piece of fabric and had a local woman make me a skirt. She did it in less than a day and it was beautiful. What was her charge for this lovely job? Two dollars and fifty cents. I gave her five dollars and she was elated. If I were my friend, who lives there, I could not have done that. Everything has to be equal, so if you gave extra to one you would be expected to do that for everyone. I could get away with it as an outsider.
My last night I happened to stretch my leg and my foot touched the mosquito netting. What are the odds that something would be waiting right there to bite me? Pretty good. My foot has stung on and off for two days now and my small toes are still numb!
Yesterday Heather accompanied me to the airport, which meant a two plus hour drive one-way in a packed mini-van. There were around seventeen of us in it and if one more had joined us, the helper would have ridden on the roof! The way to connect with these vans is to stand on the side of the street and wave them down. You haggle about the price and then climb in.
I have never been so eager to leave a place. Doesn't that sound awful? I have struggled with my feelings so very much this past week. My heart is broken over all I have seen and I am committed to do whatever I can to help, but from outside. This make me feel so selfish. It is a hard land, yet so needy. I am so grateful and so humbled to know that there are those who have counted the cost and have still gone.
Once again I am convinced that the way to make a difference, a lasting, eternal difference is to train those who can lead. It has been a joy and a privilege to be able to witness people doing just that.
Now I am a new area of Thailand and in my next post I will share about the obvious brokenness of yet another group of people.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Who Cares?

This is the one opportunity that I will have to write from Cambodia.  Yes!  I made it!  I almost feel like I know what I am doing now - almost.  I did navigate the bus and taxi with no problem.  The airport only had one kink - the weight of my luggage.  The information on the e-ticket was incorrect.  It cost a few baht, but I was just glad that was the only problem.
My friends were waiting for me at the airport - Praise God!   
We stayed overnight in a very nice guesthouse.  It didn't feel right.  The place was surrounded by people in ramshackled (sp?) huts with many dirty , half clothed children roaming around.
Our drive out to the country was beyond description, but I will try.  The first leg of the two hour trip was by tuk-tuk (sounds and looks almost the same as Thai version).   A couple of times I was tempted to close my eyes.  It was very hard for one who has taught driving to witness!  Whatever I said about Thailand, multiply it by a hundred.  Every kind of vehicle was coming from every direction with no traffic lights to slow anything down.  Our driver just wove in and out of traffic and a couple of times I wondered if he was visually impaired!  In the heart of the city of Phnom Penh we transferred to a taxi.  The way it works here is they pile eight people into a five seat vehicle: four in the back, two in the front passenger seat and TWO in the DRIVER'S seat!!  You pay by destination per person.  We paid for two extras, so that the three of us, my very large backpack and my laptop could have the back to ourselves and the driver could have his seat to himself also.  Of this last fact I was very glad!
As we drove, I couldn't help but compare this (new to me) land to the one I just left.  Some words that come to mind are abandoned, devastated, poor, dirty, hopeless, sad, deserted and hot.  My friend, Heather, said that by all rights Cambodia should be on par with Thailand, however, they have never recovered from the war.  It seems that those who the people should be able to look to for help are not concerned.  The good news is that there are those from the outside who do care.
The one place where you see any progress and where there is a measure of wealth is Phnom Penh itself.  Unfortunately, the land in the city, which is the most expensive in the world (!), has been sold to foreigners and any prosperity never leaves the city.
Arriving at the Rural Ministry Training Center was to come to an oasis in the midst of barrenness.  I cannot wait to share pictures and the stories of what is happening here.  I do not have time to do that now, as I am working on limited electric and internet.  There are others who need to be able to use both.  The vision for this ministry is becoming reality.  What they have done, briefly, is to build a miniature village where the students can learn how to plant a sustainable food source, have a healthful water supply and preach the gospel!  There are many challenges in this educational process, but all surmountable!
They are in the center of a village and are developing good relationships with their neighbors.  We were not feeling very neighborly to one family last night.  There was a wedding, since that is when the astrologists recommended to be the best date to marry.  The celebration went from sunset to sunrise.  The very loud music that was amplified was interspersed with the Buddhist monk chanting.  My ipod came in very handy until the battery ran out!
On another note, the house I am staying in makes me feeling like I am living out the story of the Swiss Family Robinson - It is a house on stilts with a few of its walls missing.  Washing is done in a sarong at the well and, of course, I have found myself face-to-face with squatty potties again!
Wednesday afternoon I am heading to another village with Ayra, who is a coworker of Rebecca Stinson's.  We will spend Thursday and Friday in clinics and I will be able to better see what Rebecca has shared with many of us.
Sunday evening I head back to Thailand and hope to get on line the following.  Until then, please keep praying.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Lessons

This may be my last blog for a week. I'm not certain. Tomorrow I head to Cambodia, but first I take a six hour bus at 6:30 AM to Bangkok, then taxi to the airport where I am to catch a 3:10 PM flight to Phnom Penh, arriving at 4:20 PM. Another flight was cancelled by China Eastern and I had to find a new one. Scratch them off the list!
After emailing Jeff and Heather Williams in Cambodia to notify them of the change I became a bit anxious when they did not respond. The LORD brought Rebecca Stinson, another missionary to Cambodia, who happens to still be stateside, to mind a few hours ago and I emailed her. She responded pretty quickly and gave me some contact numbers. Praise God!!
I know He is in control, but the flesh was feeling a little weak!
Speaking of weakness, we visited an orphanage today where all the children are HIV positive. It is a warm. loving place, bright and colorful with a good number of staff. The goal is to have a home setting and I think they succeed. There was a young man there as a volunteer on his weekend break from the military and you could see that he loved the children and they loved him.
The director shared some of the children's stories. Some of them have been at death's door and miraculously recovered. God has His Hand on this place and these people. It is His strength and Power that are at work in their weakness. I fought tears over and over as I watched and listened.
These past two weeks have been so full of everything you can imagine; blessings and lessons in abundance. I wonder what the LORD has in store in Cambodia? I am told that my heart will break. Pray that I stay teachable and that I leave my heart open to all He has to show me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Little Thai

Sah-wut-dee-ka! This is hello in Thai. The 'ka' at the end denotes a female speaker. You say this with your hands together, as if in prayer, and in front of your mouth.
Prajaw s'ong rak khun! God loves you! (Dennis if you are reading this, I thought you could add it to your repertoire!) Regarding that last word, I was having a mental block and had to ask Beth, my Philippino, Thai speaking friend how to spell it!!
Remember the Tuk-tuk, I mentioned previously? Well, their t's are a cross between a 'd' and a 't', so it sounds most like 'duke-duke'.
Onto foods! Fruits, fruits, fruits!! There is tamerine, papaya, mango, rose-apple, mandarin orange, pomelo and the little banana to mention a few. Anything we might have in the states does not compare at all! My favorite is the little banana and the tamerine. The tamarine looks similar to a line of peanuts in their shells that are attached. You crack open the shell and find this sticky fruit covered seed. It is delicious!
Besides traditional Thai I have experienced Esarn, which is the Northeastern area of Thailand. They have a distinct culture of their own. They are known for their sticky-rice, which is a harder rice. The Thai overall tend to eat with their hands; just rip a little fish meat off those bones and then scoop some rice up into your mouth! If the food needs more than fingers, they use a fork and tablespoon. You use the fork to guide the food onto the spoon and then eat with the spoon. It is actually a very sensible way to eat!
Little did I know that I would come to Thailand and not only experience their culture, but also that of the Philippinos. I have had quite a bit of their food, since I am surrounded with these lovely people who work here!
Yesterday I had the experience of eating at a Vietnamese restaurant. We had noodle soup. It had vegetables, some not known to me, and pork. It appears that the Asian cultures that I have encountered on this trip believe in using every part of whatever food is available. That means the soup had quite a bit of fat and grizzle. They also served spring rolls, which were very good and a rice crepe of sorts that was stuffed with meat and vegetables. Yummy!! Lettuce and other raw vegetables were served, but this traveler passed them up, along with the ice cubes!
As I have said before, this is a very generous culture, yet, I am learning that part of it is because of the importance of appearances. They do not want to offend, nor lose face. This is essential. That means that you must read body language quite well!
They are also easily offended. With age and position comes respect. You dare not address someone incorrectly. My friend, Janice, offended someone in her first term because she did not recognize her position, but saw her as equal because of similar age.
This thinking causes many a young graduate starting in ministry to be discouraged, as they are not encouraged or given support until they have proven themselves for many years.
Body language is very important to the Thai also. You never show the bottom of your feet to anyone. It would tell them that you consider them lower than your feet and worthy of being stepped upon!
Years ago a young missionary came to this country and was moving into his home. His hands were full and one of the Thai helpers asked him where he wanted a box that he was carrying. The missionary gestured with his foot, pointing to where he could place it. The Thai man carried great animosity toward him for years!!
When a person enters a new culture they have to leave theirs behind in many ways. It is essential to learn to think like the people if you want to have a positive impact at all. What a disaster when anyone enters a culture like this expecting the people to adapt to them!
I have to say, that I have loved my time here and all the lessons along the way and I could even see myself being comfortable right here for a long period. Yet - ah yes there is a 'yet'! I would need so many of you here with me!!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Servants One and All

I have never been in a place where there is such a spirit of servanthood. In this culture they think as community not as individuals. This means when one acquires something it is to be shared, whether a bag of chips or a motorcycle. Speaking of chips they have the most interesting flavors here. On my bus ride last week they handed out seaweed flavored Lays potato chips!
The past couple of days I have been feeling ill. Nausea being the major player. Beth, who is the director here has insisted that I continue to stay in her's and Janice's home and she has given me her bed. (I had been there the night before due to the snake incident.) Where is she sleeping? On a mat on the floor! I really tried to switch, but she wouldn't hear of it. She explained that in her culture (Philippino) this is what you do and anyway she grew up sleeping on mats. It is a very humbling experience for me.
My friend, Janice, earns about eight thousand dollars a year and that is more than amble in this place. Yet, when you add in travel near and far it adds up. This woman always has her purse open. A student needs medicine? Someone is having a birthday? (Remember birthdays are BIG here!) She and Beth have been feeding me most meals and brush off most of my offers to contribute.
Today I was suppose to travel into the country with Janice to visit an intern, but had to opt out, which was disappointing. However, I am learning afresh that my life is in God's Hands and His plan is best. I may not always understand why, but I can trust Who. That perspective is critical for one who desires to be a servant. I have a lot to learn, but am surrounded by wonderful teachers!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Worth of a Soul

Since my plans have changed I have had the opportunity to spend more time on campus. Each morning is chapel and yesterday I was able to give a word of encouragement to these precious students. This morning I gave my testimony, which I hope touched hearts. I know that the testimony I heard last night touched me.
A young Lao man, who will remain nameless, shared his story last night. Laos is a communist country where the people are monitored very closely. You can imagine what that means for a Christian. Whenever there is a school break students either go home and hopefully minister there or sign up for some sort of outreach. This young man goes home, because he is needed by his family and church. The church is hurting for leaders and he certainly has the gift of leadership and evangelism.
Periodically the students all need to renew their visas. The Lao students need to do it more often and the yearly cost is greater than the cost of attending the school! These are very poor people. During one of the breaks this particular Lao man was home and preaching at an underground church when it was raided and he had to jump out a window and then work his way back to the school without stopping anywhere to renew his visa. That meant that he had to go back soon after returning to do this, which added to his expenses. His Christmas break was bitter sweet. He had the opportunity to minister and to see God do many wonderful things in many lives, yet he also witnessed the death of his fifteen year old sister. They do not know what killed her. The father tried to borrow some money to rent a vehicle to get her help, but could not do it in time. She knew she was dying and on her death bed she encouraged her family to be faithful to the LORD and remember she is going to be with Jesus.
Since coming back to school the young man has struggled with concentrating as he grieves the loss of his sister. This was the third sibling to die.
As he spoke my heart moved within me. I was able to pray for him and found it to be a very humbling experience. How much I take for granted. How many luxuries I have. How many choices are mine to make. I pray that I do not go back to my life in the US unchanged or that I would forget easily what God is showing me.

Where Do I Rent a Mongoose?

Well, it's official; China is off the itinerary. However, my friends, Don and Lynne Picker, who I was to visit are not! It turns out that they will be in Thailand during my last two weeks and we are going to meet. It seems that they have a conference they need to attend in Hua Hin. I will be in Pattaya, Jomtien Beach and it will not be too difficult to connect. I will not, obviously, be able to see their ministry, but I can at least encourage them. Don and I met many years ago, but Lynne and I have never met in person. We have developed a friendship via Skype. Technology has some great attributes!
On a different note I am sitting on the edge of my seat ready to jump while writing this. Additionally, there are many lights on along with the television, which I have no idea what is being said. All of this is due to my latest adventure. It seems that I encountered a snake in the bathroom! Many of you know how I feel about these creatures. Not warm and fuzzy to be certain! I don't think it was a full foot long, but I ran and got my friends. In retrospect I probably should have just beat it to death myself, because when we return it was no longer visible. How lovely. There goes a good nights sleep!!
How did it enter my little nest? Most likely via a drain. There is a young wife of one of the students who earns money by doing some housekeeping. After she cleaned yesterday, she did not put the screen back on the drain. I had no idea just how important that is or you can be sure I would have taken care of it!!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Change of Plans

Last night and this morning I was feeling especially sad about leaving the school. I haven't had much time with the students and it felt like something was missing from this visit. Well, I think my wonderful Friend and Savior agreed!

We had been told that we didn't need to confirm the flight to China, but wanted to anyway. China Eastern Airlines was closed yesterday, so the plan was that Janice would confirm and then text me, as my bus to Bangkok was at 9:30 AM. While waiting for boarding to begin Janice decided to try calling to confirm while we were still together. Just as we were going to hand my luggage over she found out that all flights have been cancelled for the next two days. They have rebooked me on a flight for January 16th, but would try to get me on the flight for the 15th. Hello?! I fly out of China on the 17th!! Now they aren't answering their phones.
How grateful I am that the LORD prompted Janice to call just then. Otherwise I would have been on a six hour bus ride to Bangkok with no where to go!!
This morning Beth, Janice's coworker/roommate prayed that people would be kind and helpful to me in my traveling today. Well, He answered, of course, in His grace! The rule for refunds for bus tickets is that you can change the ticket for another time only once and it has to be at least two hours before your scheduled ride. A KIND man worked it out by changing the time to a bit later and then had a teller sell it to the next person who came to purchase one for that time! I got a refund, which is very unusual! Actually, in Thailand there are no such things as refunds. I take it as an indication that the LORD doesn't think I am done here or that He isn't done with what He has for me here!

Blessings in Disguise

I have had so much to say, but the internet has been uncooperative. Let's start with me relunctantly taking the shopping trip with the ladies. I wouldn't have missed it for anything!!
We headed out around 7 AM for our five hour drive - yes, five hours! However, these women are a delight! I heard one story after another from them. Three of them grew up in the Philippines and none of them were well off. The tales of how they worked their way through school and found their way to the mission field with all the adventures that entailed passed the time quickly.
Much of our travel was through rural areas where I felt like I had stepped into National Geographic; people in tradional Thai hats in rice pattys and water buffalo dotting the landscape. There were small towns interspersed through our trip. As we were just leaving one of these towns and rounding a bend, we had to stop quickly for the water buffalo being herded across the road!
Upon arriving at the Cambodian border in the town of Aranyaprathet, where the market is located, we checked into our cabins, as we were staying overnight. Janice and I shared one cabin. Each cabin actually had a bathroom with a real toilet! Ask me about squatty pottys some time! The bathroom was one big tiled room, which is very Thai. There is a hand shower on the wall which runs through a small heating unit. However, to truly bathe like a Thai there is a plastic garbage can filled with water and a small plastic pot for dipping. You just pour water over yourself.
Lunch on both Friday and Saturday was at a small open building where the woman prepares traditional Thai food. I was the big spender, as I bought a Coke. The meal cost about $1.25. I love all the food that I have tried so far. I did pass up the fried crickets and silk worms for dessert Saturday night though - I just knew I would not enjoy them!
In the cabins and on food tables alike one finds a plastic holder that has paper sticking up out of it. The container holds a roll of toilet paper. This is what is used for napkins, tissues, etc.
Friday afternoon found us at the market and it was a very difficult time for me. There were more buildings than you could count and the best way to describe them would be that they remind me of storage units. Some of these units are open from one side to the other. Filling everyone of these units was stuff, mostly clothing. At least half of what was offered was new and every brand that you could find at the mall is represented there. It seems that most of the clothing we buy in the US is made in Cambodia or Thailand. Due to imperfections or overstock they find their way to this market. You can find most anything, if you are willing to explore, for practically nothing. As an example, you can buy a Holister shirt for 60 baht, which is about $1.65 US.
There is also used clothing and much of that comes from the US. It made me wonder if anything from the ministry, ACTS 4, might have ended up there.
So what was so difficult about any of this? The people and their situation. People of all ages sitting at sewing machines mending clothes or on top of piles of bags of clothes sorting. Whole families work there and many live right there. There were children, large and small, who know no other way of life. How much can these people make to live on? Do they ever know anything else?
I struggled with even being there. Should I buy anything? Would it help them or help to continue this situation? Being one person and realizing the situation isn't going to change I thought I could show kindness with a smile or a nod. Words wouldn't work as we had no idea what each other was saying!
Everywhere that I have gone thus far in Thailand the people have been warm and welcoming. The people at the market were no different.
Saturday was my birthday and I was woken up by my three Phillippino friends serenading me with "Great is Thy Faithfulness" followed by three birthday songs; a Philippino one, of course, then Thai and the traditional American one. When I opened the door they presented me with a basket of oranges and flowers and a small cake! We breakfasted outside at a table with a roof. My birthday was cause for celebration the whole day through. Boy, did I feel special! I told them I think I need to celebrate all my birthdays with them from now on!
Today, Sunday, Janice and I went to one of the leprosy villages to attend church. They asked me to speak to them, which I did with Janice interpreting. How humbled I was by how grateful they were that I would visit them and that I have been praying for them. As I have prayed for Janice for years and part of her ministry is to these people, they have been in my prayers.
We had lunch at an orphanage and this just added to the sweet sorrow one experiences being with such precious, humble, loving needy people.
How can the people of Thailand be helped? I have been asking the LORD the answer to this question. I believe the answer is right in front of me. The Bible school. Pastors and leaders are needed. If we try to reach out to one Thai person we help them, maybe. Maybe their family, but without guidance they will not change. You need someone to come along side them. The lepers are an example of this. Many were given medicine, but took it back to their village to save it and so the leprosy spread. Those who were in a village with a nurse or doctor took their medicine because of their constant guidance. Thus the leprosy did not progress.
This land and its people have so many needs. Their religion just compounds the problems. They need to hear the Good News, but how can they hear if there is no one to tell them? Sound familiar? They need leaders to guide them.
Please pray. There are those who feel called, but have no financial means to go. They need training. It costs a whole six hundred dollars a year for them to attend school.
Tomorrow I head to Bangkok via bus to catch a plane to China. The next leg of the adventure and, I am sure, more lessons for this one wants to follow her Savior wherever He leads.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Thailand - A Land of Many Contrasts

Both Bangkok and Khon Kaen are busy cities. In many ways they are just like any other city. Busy streets. Business after business. People, many people. Yet, they are so unlike any city I have visited. Shrines and pictures of their beloved king are numerous. On many store counters you will see dishes and baskets of all sorts of foods. No, not food stores. No, not the workers' meals. This food is set out to appease the spirits.
Vehicles drive on the left here. Well, kind of. The roads are good and well marked, but all markings must simply be suggestions. Many use whatever open space is available! There are cars, trucks, many, many motorcycles, varied public transportation and the occasional elephant! When making a turn, it seems that they like to do it in mass and if they can pass each other at the same time - why not?!
Public transportation comes in many sizes and shapes. There is the motocycle that will carry a passenger or a package and it really doesn't matter how big either might be! Then we have the tuk-tuk. Imagine an open cab over a motorcycle. We road in one of them yesterday. Most interesting. There are also trucks that are shorter than a pickup truck that have benches on either side and a roof. You could flag down a carriage (of sorts) pulled by a bicycle. Should you choose a taxicab don't climb in until you negotiate. They don't always want to go where you want to go!
The elephants are seen more often in the evening, but are not available to ride. They are there to help people earn merit with the spirits. You buy fruit from the handler to feed the elephant and in some way that benefits you!
Now the buses are something else. We took one yesterday afternoon from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. I felt like I was in some luxury bus. The seats were roomy and comfortable. The ride took six hours and cost about ten dollars. Not bad.
Before having to catch our bus we took time to climb on the river taxi. Such contrasts to be seen! Old ornate buildings, shrines, slums, and luxury hotels are alongside one another. The selection of boats is wide. There are narrow gondola shaped ones that fit a few people. The water taxi we were on was a ferry type boat that seated quite a few people. It zigzagged back and forth to stops all along the river as it worked its way down the river. There are much smaller ferries that only cross back and forth between two stops. A very busy river to say the least! The river itself was not inviting and we saw a few suspicious creatures swim by. Definitely not a place to take a swim!
At the end of our water taxi ride we walked a bit to catch the elevated train. It gave us a great view of the whole city of Bangkok. Great may not be the best choice of words. Everywhere you look you see the contrast between the well-off and the poor.
Many buildings look in dire need of painting, but in reality it is just that no paint jobs last in this climate.
In any city you will find all kinds of smells. In Thailand's cities you get a real combo. Exhaust fumes are in abundance, which is a good reason to not make a habit of riding in any of the open forms of transportation. When walking through the city you will encounter many different odors. A great variety of food is being prepared on the street, along with a great selection of fruits all for sale. Numerous flower stalls dot the street and contribute their fragrance. Then there is the trash. If you see an open bin down the path you are taking it is a signal to hold your breath!
In the midst of the city of Khan Kaen with its enslaving Buddhist roots you can find a place that is in complete contrast. A place that proclaims the One Who offers to set each person free. It is the Northeast Bible Seminary. This is where I am staying at the moment. The students are Thai and Lao.
This morning I had the joy of joining them in chapel. To be able to join them in worshipping our Blessed LORD was the highlight of this trip thus far. This school has been in my prayers for many years and to be able be here and see how God is working in these precious lives is a great gift. One of the seniors gave the message and my friend, Janice, translated for me. At the end I was introduced to them. I would have loved to be able to speak with them just to give them a word of encouragement. Maybe the LORD will work that out.
Janice and her roomate, Beth took me to lunch where I had the best fruit smoothy ever! Speaking of fruit, it is in abundance and delicious!
Tomorrow we head out at 6:30 AM to the Cambodian border. It is the once a year shopping trip for the women who minister at the school. I just found out it is more than a four hour drive. (Janice kept avoiding that bit of information sharing!) If it wasn't for the opportunity to spend time with these women I would opt out! It will be my friend, myself and three Phillipinos.
The drive is through the countryside, so I will get to see yet more contrasts!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Stay Tuned!

Hopefully, later, when I have time my brain will still be functioning. I have so much to report on this land of contrasts!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Few Observations

As I laid in bed the other night hoping to fall back to sleep a number of thoughts were buzzing around in my head. If I didn't have a roommate, who was sleeping very peaceful (reported with envy!), I would have gotten up and posted my thoughts.
I am an observer of people. The peoples of Asia have always held a warm place in my heart. Encounters over the years have drawn a few general observations that have rung true on this trip thus far.
The Japanese are a very polite people, polite, proper and reserved. Everything is to be done with dignity. When we were about to board our plane in Tokyo all the boarding staff stood and bowed in unison before they started to board us. On both flights all the attendants were extremely polite, but very reserved.
In contrast I have found the Thai and Chinese much more welcoming and warm. For all three on the surface all is nice, nice. Yet, any closer look often reveals fear, hopelessness and for many despair.
I wonder what do people see when they observe me?
If the examination comes up with the conclusion that I am a 'nice' person, but nothing richer and deeper is seen then I am missing something. Passion is what is missing. If my relationship with Jesus is not passionate then I am not only cheating myself, but also those whom I encounter. Remember the word 'lukewarm'? That word fits in with the word 'nice' to me.
A relationship with the Living God is to be dynamic. How often have I settled for a distant relationship with Him. Is my God One who is far off; One that I send petitions to from afar? NO! He has called me (us) to an intimate, vibrant relationship.
The God who left the glories of Heaven is a God of Passion. Motivated by a pure love and desire to be in relationship with us He set aside everything to make a way for that to happen.
The relationship is marked by an indwelling of His Holy Spirit! The God of Passion dwells in the believer! Whoa!
Every moment of every day can be a continual exchange with Him. At no time do we need to be on our own. At no time to we have to figure it out for ourselves. He is here with us. Let's engage and stay connected! This is an advenuter with Jesus not for Jesus!
At all times I desire to have Jesus in the forefront, unhindered by my flesh, free to touch lives. There are so many who need to find joy, freedom and hope! I cannot give it to them, but He can! How I want that fragrant aroma to permeate every place I go!

Up, Up and Away!

I have arrived in Thailand and am settled for a couple of days in the CMA guest house in Bangkok. Hooray! So has much transpired to get me to this place.
Everything has flowed so smoothly overall. I have felt so spoiled. I am spoiled! The LORD reminded me that He is very fond of me. How did He get that message across to me? In so many ways! First and foremost through my time with Him and in reading "Reflections for Ragamuffins". Then, on Saturday, He moved so many of my dear family and friends to write, call or stop in to show support. Ray dedicated the day to helping me with whatever!
Upon arriving at JFK at 6 AM Sunday morning everything went quickly and easily. I even was able to get a seat in an emergency row so I had plenty of leg room!
For the next twenty-four hours, over twenty-one of them being in the air, I read a book (The Barbarian Way), watched three movies, did a number of crosswords, and thoroughly enjoyed my iPod! Thank you, honey! Notice that I did not list sleep in that list, as it only came in brief times now and again.
A lovely young Japanese woman sat next to me, but only spoke Japanese. It is pretty tough on this blogger when she has no one to converse with!
There was a two plus hour layover in Tokyo and I took the opportunity to do a bit of walking. The tailbone was numb!
On the flight from Tokyo to Bangkok I did sleep a bit. At one point when I awoke something out the window caught my eye. It was a bright light that seemed to be heading right for the plane. As I watched it I considered what it was. I figured if it were something actually headed our way, the pilots would be aware of it. It dawned on me that years ago I would have been panicking - afraid of dieing. Now that is not a fear, so I can relax in His arms no matter the situation.
A few minutes later I realized what I was seeing-a light on the tip of the wing!
Once we landed in Bangkok I had to go through immigration and customs. By the time I connected with my friend, Janice, I felt as if I had walked the whole airport. Actually, I think I did!
Today my head is a bit fuzzy, but not too bad. Janice and I had breakfast here at the guest house. We were joined by a number of people who are in fulltime ministry, who are either on holiday or just passing through the area. Two young woman who serve in a MK school in Malaysia, an older couple that travel from place to place and a young family working in a Northeast city in China. He told us the name and said in five minutes we wouldn't remember its name and he was right!
Today I learned how to exchange money, barter in markets, order food in a food court and get a visa for China. Before I picked up my visa I thought how little things cost here, but the visa made up for all the other savings!
The Thai people are warm and welcoming. If they know any English they love to talk with you. In one little shop a man was singing a the hymn "Washed in the Blood" and then was quoting scripture to us. We asked him if he was washing in the blood, but at first all he did was laugh. Finally he explained that he had gone to a mission school as a child, but was not a believer. Even in Thailand there are those who have seemingly heard, yet have not truly heard.
Tomorrow afternoon we take a six hour bus ride to Khon Kaen. Janice lives and works at a Bible school there. We will be there for the duration, except for an overnight on Friday to the border. Which border I have no idea. I'll keep you posted!