I’ll be honest; before I came to Bangkok I was afraid I would be unwanted and unloved here. It was a HUGE concern of mine. After all, I came from an extremely loving home, and by all standards I had it all. I had a great relationship with my family, I had friends who would always go the extra mile for me, I had open doors in several ministries, and I was surrounded by a church family that both challenged and poured into me (I haven’t lost any of these blessings in the long run, but I’m letting God hold these relationships in His hand while I’m abroad). The icing on the cake was I lived in Colorado! I couldn't go anywhere without running into an old friend or having my breath taken away by a magnificent mountain backdrop. Despite my deep love for home, I knew God wasn't calling me to stay there forever. By the time God opened up the door for me to move to Bangkok, He had opened up my heart to letting go of my home in every essence of that word. It was a process that had taken all my life to get me to step outside my door.
Though I felt confident that this was the time and place God had ordained, I still struggled to let go. It has been difficult for me to give up beautiful Colorado to move to a massive city. I never knew how much I craved nature until I was deprived of gorgeous parks and sunsets for my first two weeks here. Bangkok has its own beauty, but it looks very different from Colorado. Bangkok’s beauty can be found in the people I meet. I love watching a Thai person’s face blossom with a giant smile when I struggle to speak broken Thai with them. There is beauty in the slow moving daily life of slum communities, and there is beauty in the sleek grand business section of ultra urban Bangkok. God is showing me how to love a new place as my home. I've found that the feeling of being wanted has to start within my own heart. I have to want to love this place and my neighbors.
This brings me to my fear of being unwanted for who I am. Before I left, I was torn apart at the thought that I was giving up the feeling of belonging. What if the community I was moving into didn't want me there? What if no one wanted to be my friend? What if they slammed the door in my face? What if my teammates couldn't stand me? What if I couldn't stand Bangkok? What if I wanted to shut myself in and never venture outside my door? What if I was chased out of town? These were all very real concerns that now seem silly to me. First of all, I love my teammates and the leadership in Servant Partners. There is not a single person who I've felt my heart harden towards, and I can feel God knitting us together for His glory daily. Now as for my fears of not being wanted by my community, well God answered that prayer mightily!
Here’s a little glimpse into my community:
Last Monday, Sarah and I moved into a low income apartment community. While the other interns are living in slum communities, our community is full of people who have been relocated out of slums. We are still living among the urban poor, but it looks different from other communities. The apartment is located in the Dusit district of Bangkok. According to our internship leaders, there is no church active in this district that they are aware of. It’s said to be the spiritual stronghold of Bangkok because the royal palace is in the Dusit district, and it holds the most famous Buddhist temple in all of Thailand (Obviously when I heard this my feelings of being unwanted grew. Of all places in Thailand, this is where I expected to be the least wanted). Sarah and I live about an hour and a half to two hours away from anyone else we know. At first I was highly concerned about being too isolated, but God has gently showed me that He has a purpose for us here. The truth is, Sarah and I are extremely blessed and have some major comforts. First of all our apartment is CLEAN and cute! We are lucky enough to have a shower and a ceiling fan! The squatty potty is still an adjustment, but it just takes getting used to (I guess that’s my only choice anyways).
Sarah and I are the only people nearby who speak English. A couple of the kids and adults can speak a tiny bit (about as much as we can speak in Thai) so we HAVE to learn Thai quickly. We go to Thai school for four hours a day Mon-Fri, and then put our learning to the test at home. Ironically, it’s a major blessing no one speaks English yet in our community because we will learn Thai all the faster. It also is our open door into the community. I am so impressed by our community because they desire to grow and learn. They have aerobics in the evenings, badminton on Sundays, Buddhist monk teachings periodically, and our English classes. This community is a real melting pot! Their main desire is to learn English, and that’s where we come in. Our main role will be as English teachers in a small community center at the end of our parking lot. At the moment our leaders have a Saturday afternoon English class with about 15 students. Our dream is to grow that class. The community is so excited to have us there. WE ARE WANTED and our community shows us that through their generosity and acts of love.
We often have lunch or dinner with the president of the community, and someone on the board always walks us home at night (which is funny because it’s just across the parking lot). It’s a quirky and cliquey community. By chance the leaders have taken us under their wing. Apparently they fought to get us there without even knowing us! It’s a huge honor and opportunity for them too. We are their “fur-ongs” (foreigners) and they love to show us off.
Actually here’s a funny story…we were invited to a “convention” in the community center, but we couldn't understand what that meant exactly. All we knew was we had to be there at 5pm. Well we went, and it turned out to be the blessing of the new community center. It was a huge event! A rep from the Thai House of Representatives was there (and she invited us to stay at the beach sometime as her guests), and the greatest honor for the community was a monk who would do a ceremonial blessings. Apparently the Thai government donated a lot of money to build this community center and the blessing was the event of the season. People from all over were there for the festivities.
Well Sarah and I were so caught off our guard that we tried to slip into the back, but our community would not let us lay low. The House of Reps lady made it a point to introduce us to EVERYONE as the new “Khruu”s (teachers) and seriously bragged on us. Then the monk came and taught, and there was a time of meditation. Sarah and I were serious prayer warriors while we sat in the midst of everyone. We were careful to be respectful, but maintaining our faithfulness to bowing to no god but Jesus. It was interesting to observe, and no one was upset that we didn't actively participate. However, there was one very embarrassing moment.
One of our neighbors (a sixteen year old girl in our English class) slipped our names into a raffle. Apparently the raffle was to receive a gift from the monk himself. This is a major honor for those who are chosen, especially for women. If a monk touches a woman he must go through a long period of ceremonial cleansing, so for a woman to even approach a monk is a big deal. Guess whose name got called to receive one of these gifts?? You guessed it, this girl right here! When they called my name the community erupted in applause and cheering. It was so funny because they were so animated and I was so red with embarrassment. The president of our community grabbed my hand and led me to the front of the room where she showed me how to greet and receive the gift from the monk. Luckily because I’m so new, I could play the “dumb foreigner” card and not do it as properly as customary. I was uneasy about greeting the monk at a god level so I awkwardly “why”ed him (a typical greeting that entails placing my hands together near my mouth and slightly bowing), then I squatted down a bit, and stretched out my hands while intentionally not kneeling before him. Luckily the Thai are VERY forgiving of a foreigner not doing things right, so the monk smiled and handed me a T-shirt. Everyone made me put it on right away. Roughly translated the T-shirt says “this is a very good person in this place.” After that, Sarah and I were the most popular people in the room. Everyone kept introducing themselves and forcing their kids to say a couple words in English if they could.
I love how God uses all things for His glory. See, Sarah and I were definitely praying about whether or not we should stay, but we never discerned that we should leave. Through this funny story the word got out that there are English teachers in the area, and it’s in those classes that we can find ways to tell people about Jesus. We can build friendships and even teach out of the Bible. It’s not a forceful “you must learn the Bible and be saved,” but an invitation to hear interesting stories. It’s up to our neighbors if they are interested in taking the next step. We are always there to talk and pour into those who are interested in Christ.
Unwanted is one thing I do not feel at all! Yesterday after I got ready for the day I heard some little voices babbling outside our door. I looked out and there were three tiny smiling faces pressing against the mosquito trapping. I went out and they took me by hand to have lunch with the leaders in the community. I feel like I live in one giant family.
God has opened doors and opened hearts here in Bangkok and I couldn't be more excited to be here for the next two years! I feel more at home every day!!