The rooster’s crow pulls me out of my sleep and, despite the stereotype, I am convinced that this animal never seems to realize what time of day it truly is. My suspicions in the rooster’s incompetence are confirmed as I open my eyes and see the darkness still cast over the room. One look at my too-bright phone screen and the time tells me that it’s extremely early in the morning. Locusts scream in the jungle brushing against our walls. The wooden shuttered windows swing wide open, geckos and crawling things are scattered across the walls, the floors, and resting atop the mosquito net covering my bed mat lying on the floor. The humidity and heat hang thick over me, and the accompanying sweat is like a second skin that I’ve become accustomed to wearing all day every day. Daily showers can be quite necessary.
This week my team is staying with a Karen tribe’s pastor and his family in their village tucked far out into mountains peppering western Thailand. To get to this particular Karen village we drove four hours from Chiangmai, Thailand, up and down narrow, winding mountain roads. Whilst sliding back and forth across the back seat of the pastor’s truck I gripped tightly on to the door handle just to keep from shoving into my friends sitting on the seat beside me. Once we arrived to the village, we discovered that there were mosquito-borne illnesses in this region and we needed to take precautions. The mosquitoes only came out at night, hence we kept insect repellent on us at all times, wore long sleeves and pants, and slept underneath mosquito nets. At first, this brought about much fear for me. I had to actively seek God and His heart for these people to get a feel for why He brought us all the way out here. Not long after asking that question, He answered it during a time when we prayed for several sick children at the public boarding school within the village. It was a few hours after sunset on our first night in the village. Somewhere between thirty and forty children sat in rows in an open dining hall. They perched on wooden benches in their pajamas, waiting for us to come and pray for them. Fans whirled about in the open room and fluorescent lights above our heads attracted many flying bugs. The pastor spontaneously asked someone from our team to share a message about God healing us. To my surprise, my hand shot up and I offered to share. I was surprised that I volunteered because I was having such a difficult time coping with our new living conditions, but once we got to the school I understood what God was showing me in it. I stepped in front of the room of wide eyed, sleepy children and shared a personal testimony of God miraculously healing my family. Following my brief testimony and encouragement, we prayed for the sick little ones and then went back to our temporary residence. Seeing those children without any parents to be there for them daily, to love on them, and care for them in times like these when they are sick, it shook the fear out of me and struck a drive to love beyond my capacity.
Since then, our daily schedule has been quite consistent. The school we visited that first night is where we now teach English every day throughout the week, creating and preparing lesson plans taken from stories out of the Bible. Thus for the most part, I know what today will look like. Even though it’s quite early in the morning, I sit up on my bed mat, turn on my phone’s flashlight in an attempt to avoid waking the others and begin spending time with God before the events of the day unfold. Soon the blackness of the night changes into dark purple, then sapphire blue, light blue kissed with a layer of yellow, and finally breaks out the sun over the horizon. My rooster friend surpasses my expectations and begins crowing once again, only this time it is done appropriately. As I reflect back on that first night here, I find myself quite grateful to have woken up so early, if only just to talk to God about all that is happening here. This brief moment, where it’s just me and Jesus is so precious; our quiet time together creates such valuable sustenance to keep me thriving throughout outreach. After some movement upstairs, the kick-start of a motorcycle’s engine sputters alive outside the home. Mordang, the pastor’s daughter, is heading off to high school. Slowly the rest of my team begins to stir and eventually wake up. A few brave souls journey to the shower which only runs extremely cold mountain water during this time of the year. The pastor’s wife cooks our team breakfast in the kitchen housed in a small wooden shack behind the main house. The breakfast is always a chicken and rice soup with fresh vegetables and it is delicious! We eat rice for all three meals a day here in Thailand.
Part of the Karen culture is that they feed their guests first, wait for us to finish eating, and then eat whatever is left over. They consider guests and foreigners first and do not share meals in the same room as their guests. We eat quickly, and then the remaining pot of soup is taken to the back kitchen where the family will eat away from our team’s presence. This may not be a modern practice for all Karen people, but it is the case here in the village we are in. We have twenty minutes before the pastor’s brother picks all of us to go teach English at the village school, and so we begin our daily worship and devotional. Today my teammates and friends, Islam and Kristine, lead the worship and then I begin the devotional by sharing the word from God I received early this morning. These devotional times can be hard to genuinely engage in because we are all frequently challenged by our circumstances, such as, being in a different country, undergoing constant ministry, and having such close living with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Yet being in Thailand on outreach we get to see the value and power that fixing our eyes on Jesus has, especially in giving us the endurance needed to press forward despite the intense spiritual and emotional battles happening around and within us.
After our morning devotion, Pastor Pong’s brother arrives and we hop into the back of his pick up. As we pull into the school all of the kids are lined up outside waiting for us. Today the children are wearing their traditional Karen clothes which are beautiful hand-woven dresses with embroidered designs and tassels hanging from the bottom, and the men’s shirts are similar but shorter in length. Many children laugh, some beam up at us with smiles, but all are excited to see us foreigners come to teach and play with them. Our team is split into classes with different age groups. This week my friend from Switzerland and I have been working with the four to seven-year-old children. Today we sing songs about Jesus, finish going through the final letters in the English alphabet, share the lesson on David and Goliath, and then close by making crafts and playing games with them. Soon, the smell of chicken and steamed vegetables begin to seep out of the open dining hall windows as the teachers mill around the grounds preparing for our team’s departure. The bell rings and the students line up at the dining hall’s door for lunch, which means it’s time for us to leave for the day. After giving many hugs and ‘high fives’ we pile into the back of the pickup truck again and return to the pastor’s home.
We have a few hours to rest this afternoon and prepare for tonight’s message in another village a few hours away. Every night after dinner we travel to other villages where Pastor Pong has planted small churches. We preach, lead worship, do skits, pray for and build relationships with the people. The days serving here are long and full. We are witnessing counter-cultural ways of living, harsh conditions in a developing country, people bowing down to tangible idols, children going hungry, and the immense poverty that masses of people are trapped in. Many times we have to fight for unity, to function well as a team while undergoing so many changes in our outer circumstances and inwardly within our hearts. Maintaining connection with God through daily prayer and worship, even when we don’t feel like it, has become as necessary as our need for oxygen during outreach. Periodically we do grow tired and often are quite challenged, and yet this is still exponentially more rewarding than it is a struggle. God loves these people, and the weight of that hits my heart every time I look into their eyes. This is why we are here, for them and for us. For relationship. To share Jesus, to share life, to experience the love of God together as one. To show our brothers and sisters across the world that they are loved and deeply pursued by God. So much so, that He would send strangers to come and find them in the jungle and proclaim to them,
“You are seen and known. You are loved by our Father. You are loved by us. God wants a relationship with you and so do we.”
We are here to welcome sons and daughters into the family of God.
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