Thoughts and stories regarding my upcoming mission to Bangkok, Thailand. (June 19-August 3, 2012)
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
I was reminded of something that happened at debrief for the Trek as I was reading Isaiah 6 today.
Our Bangkok director asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves walking down this hallway, and to think about how we were walking, what we looked like, what we were thinking. We were about to go meet Jesus the King. We walk down the hallway, and open the door…then what happens?
This is what happened between me and Jesus:
I was walking down this oddly dingy hallway. Why would the hallway to the THRONE ROOM be dingy? I am reminded of Jesus’ intense humility that came before His resurrection. It wasn’t very wide, it had kind of tacky maroon carpet and wood-paneled walls. Basically, people would be dying to renovate it because it was unexpectedly gross, considering where it is supposed to be. But that is a lot like Jesus’ life, hmm? People were hoping and expecting the Messiah to come in glory, but He came to a working family, to an unmarried woman (Luke1-2), and He was nothing special to look at (Is 53).
So I was walking down this hallway, and the first thing I thought about was what I should wear. Then immediately, I thought to myself that there’s no way I will be thinking about what I am wearing when I am before Jesus, so I stopped trying to fix my hair and pick the right clothes to wear. I cannot impress a man who knows me so intimately with any clothes, praise the Lord. I was actually walking pretty confidently down the hallway, trying to think of the “right” questions to ask—after all, this is my chance to ask the hard questions, right? But as I got closer to the door, almost touching the doorknob of this really average looking door, I tensed up. My posture went from standing up straight to closing up a little, my hands came together, clenching together because I was hit with DANG I AM MEETING JESUS. Like, He is in that room, on the other side of this door. That’s JESUS. JESUS. I was trembling.
I turn the doorknob of this regular door, open the door not even all the way, and I walk in maybe half a step to be just barely in the room. I look up but at the same moment that I open the door and step in the room, I am struck with blinding light, incredible whiteness, and I drop to the floor immediately. I didn’t even make it half a second standing up in that room. So I was lying there by the door, paralyzed by the weight of the holiness of where I have entered, and I realize that this Man can see right through me. He knows everything I have ever done, and I cannot try to make it sound better or worse than it was. There is no fooling my Jesus. As I am lying there, with my sinfulness contrasted with His perfect Holiness, He rushes over to me.
He got off His throne. The King of Kings got off His throne to come to me, a filthy person.
He kneeled down where I was lying, in the fetal position or on my knees or something, avoiding His face. I was telling Him everything I had ever done, confessing all this sin, all these things that contrast so starkly in comparison to one who IS Holiness.
His response surprises me. He tells me, so gently, “I know you well.” I am taken aback by the gentleness of His voice, by the fact that He came off of His throne. I knew immediately that He knew everything about me, and that I had no right to come to Him, but that He came to me and took my sin so I could be with Him.
All the questions I had been thinking to ask in the hallway were gone, and in that place I knew full well that He is good, just, kind, and so merciful and humble.
In that few minutes of interacting with Jesus, I learned so much of how I see Jesus and myself:
-I see myself as still atoning for my failures. He sees me as atoned for. He knows me well. He came to me so I can be with Him anyway. In this moment, I repent for rejecting the atonement already paid for me. I am clean, because of the Word He has spoken to me and the death He died.
-I try to perform well for Jesus: I want to look right, I want to ask the right questions. It all melts away in seeing who Jesus really is. I choose to accept who He really is, and that I can be truly myself with Him.
-I will and do have many questions for Jesus. But He isn’t so much interested in answering them so quickly as He is interested in establishing in me a confidence in His character: His mercy, His goodness, gentleness, justice, compassion.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”
My ministry site was made of three sites:
1. Working with the children in our neighborhood, basically playing with them and “teaching them English,” aka, singing ridiculous songs with them.
These children each had their own story, their own background, their own joys and struggles and pains. See the one right in front of me? The one in the white shirt? His name is Duk, and he is 12 years old. His face always looks exactly like this -__- except when he smiles, and I thought it was the cutest thing ever. He was ridiculously inviting, loving to everyone unabashedly, and one of the most compassionate people I have ever encountered. I was so humbled by the life of Duk, seeing how freely he loves and how he has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever but rather gives all he has for the sake of others.
I have stories for each of these children, but now isn’t the time for that. Ask me about it in person if you’d like to hear more. :) Also, some of you might notice my girl NongMoo next to Duk :)
2. I worked in 4 different schools. I taught English in 3 of them and math in one of them.
I taught 3-5 classes each day, depending on the school, and rarely saw students twice in class as they tried to have us go to see as many students as possible. At first, I was pretty bummed because I was really looking forward to getting to know the students, but I was thankful for seeing so many students because by the end of the term, I knew most of the school and had a lot of favor with the students. They now stalk me on facebook. It’s really really cute. At first, I was really focused on teaching the students English. Then, I remembered that it’s not about getting more english in their head, that it’s about bringing Jesus to them, loving them, and caring for them. So I changed my tactic from being so teacher-y and became more like….a friend I suppose. I would get to know them and ask them about their lives (seriously, teaching english lets you do anything because you can teach whatever you want hahaha), I would share about myself and why I am here, we would play games and draw pictures and at the end of each class, I would have a stack of love notes and a FLOCK of kids (depending on age) surrounding me, hugging me and asking for me to write my name so they can FB me.
I have a million hilarious, adorable, sad, heartwarming and heartbreaking stories from these schools. I was blessed to develop good relationships with the teachers at some of the schools as well, which was really meaningful to me. I really loved the students and miss them a lot. It was super funny because as I walked through the hallways, after about a week everyone knew me (cus I stuck out like no other, way taller than average and blonde hahaha), and I would always hear, “Hello teacher, how are you? I love you,” and then we would sing Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Lady Gaga. I loved it.
3. I would spend time with children who sell things in the Red Light District. I went to a particular district called Nana and Soi Cowboy (for those of you who have seen The Hangover 2, a scene took place there. I have serious outrage at that movie after having gone to Bangkok, though I have never seen it) and I would play with the kids until they had to go to work.
I don’t have a picture because you can’t take pictures of the children there because it is dangerous and also suspicious, as you can imagine.
My heart broke instantly for the children we met there. Two kids, both around 7 or 8, named Jem and Nokia, a boy and a girl, particularly had my heart. They have their own stories and now is not the place to share, but I have incredible memories that changed my perspective on so much from sitting with them.
We would sit outside of 7-11 with them in the neighborhood where they worked with our partners Tim and Amy Hupe who work with Word Made Flesh, and we would eat Mama ramen noodles and play Sesame Street Memory. We would color and ask them questions and laugh and tickle them. They had their guard up for a long time and kept such walls between us, which is sadly understandable, but after we played with them at Tim and Amy’s house, they trusted us and would open up to us.
My strongest memory of this time is this one night when we arrived around 10-1030pm, shortly after they have started working (they work until about 5-6 am, when the city switches from nightlife to people going to work—really trippy to see). Jem and Nokia and Som had stamps all over their faces from when they were playing earlier. We had just played Monkey in the Middle with them earlier that day, and so we had just seen them hours before. I remember that Nokia’s sister immediately grabbed my arm and started walking with me, though the week before she wouldn’t talk to me (the difference in the trust built in that time was astounding), and we went to 7-11 and sat down, took of our shoes (I wrote a piece about this moment—ask me about it), and played memory. Jem and Nokia and Som were playing with the stamps still all over their faces, and Jem had put on this adorable Jason Mraz type hat, and Nokia asked me why I was still wearing the same thing as earlier, because the kids had all changed their clothes. Then, Jem got a text from his mom and knew he had to go to work soon (we usually play with them until 1 am, when it gets busy because bars are about to close). We kept playing, then all of a sudden Jem and Nokia sprinted away, Som and Baw ran in a different direction. The police had come and the children can’t get caught or else they will be put in a home (I have a lot to say about the justice piece of this, to come later). Jem taps on the window behind where I am sitting at the 7-11 and makes this hilarious face, so happy he evaded the police, and then he and Nokia run back outside and keep playing. They then go to work, and we start walking home but see Nokia bawling on the corner of the street because her mother had gotten picked up for begging with her baby, which is illegal, and had gotten taken to a detainment center. This happens every other month or more frequently. It is difficult to get out for many reasons, and Nokia was terrified and so sad.
In nights like this I see the resilience of children, the purity of being a kid, mixed with the realities of the life they are living. I learned so much that I deliberately did not include in this post for the hope of being objective in saying what I did.
We also spent a ton of time with our family,
ate a TON of delicious food,
played soccer with church friends,
and spent time with the entire Bangkok team.
Behold, this beautiful child. We tried to get her to smile for a picture but this is the closest we got, which is still adorable but kind of a bummer because her smile was extremely precious.
This girl is named NongMoo. It took us three times of seeing her before she would tell us her name. Needless to say, NongMoo is a very guarded, very tough 8 year old.
She lived in the karaoke bar next door with her grandma, and she would come over after school and on weekends and spend hours with us when we were home. She doesn’t speak a word of English except for what every school kid can say, “Good morning teacher. Thank you teacher,” which never applied at home for us. She was violent and pretty erratic in her behavior, and very poorly behaved.
I loved NongMoo with all I had. When she came over, I would greet her, “sawatdee ka, NongMoo! Sa by di mai ka?” (Hello, NongMoo. How are you?) She would always say, usually before I even could see her, “P NATALIE!” (“P” is an article you give to someone who is older, Nong is someone who is younger), and she would run up and hug me, getting about as high as my hips. I would ask her about school, and she would reply in long answers in Thai, most of which I couldn’t understand. I could fake it about half the time, but eventually I had to tell her I don’t speak Thai (which didn’t make her answers any shorter or easier to understand, bless her heart). She would always tell me that she learned English in school that day, so I would ask her what she learned, and everyday it was always, “Actually, I just learned Thai.” It was so sweet, seeing her know me and know that I speak English and try to accommodate me.
That’s the thing that struck me the most about violent, poorly mannered, abrasive NongMoo. She is so incredibly compassionate. There was one day where she saw that I had a bruise or something, and she said, “Jep?” (Does it hurt?) and I would tell her no, or explain what happened, and she would massage it or kiss it or sit down and put her head on my lap or something. She would so faithfully spend time with me, and the rest of my team, though she and I definitely had a special connection.
There was this one moment that has become one of the most memorable, impactful parts of the Trek for me. One day, I was downstairs by myself for some reason (usually our team was together or at least 2 of us were together) and I had my journal and Bible out. NongMoo ran through the door of the church (remember I live in a church) and pretty much jumped on me, screaming, “P NATALIEEE,” and sat down next to me, grabbed my journal, and asked me what was written inside. Starting with the first page, she would ask me what it said, slowly turning every page (this took a long time, since the journal was almost done and was pretty big). With each page, I would say some combination of, “This says, ‘God loves you,’” “This says, ‘Jesus loves NongMoo,’” “This says, ‘P Natalie loves NongMoo,’” “This says, ‘Jesus loves children,’” “This says, ‘God loves P Natalie,’” and pretty much every combination of that. It was so precious, so intensely precious, so heart-shatteringly precious, to see NongMoo respond. At first, she thought it was a little strange and would turn the pages slowly, wondering, surely, if I was making it up or how it could possibly say that, but as we kept going, page after page, one page at a time, she would squeal with delight, erupt with joy and giggling at what each page claimed to hold.
This is one of the sweetest, most precious moments where I saw my beloved NongMoo love being loved. It was a critical turning point in our relationship and our trust. After this point, she would come to church if I asked her, where she would not pay attention, share her snacks with me, and ask me what my Bible said. She would run up to us before she went to school, shout if she saw us in the market, and nap on our laps (this got tricky when we had to pee…). I was so STRUCK with how we SO NEED to know we are loved. All I did was love brash NongMoo (though often I would be annoyed—one of the biggest lessons I learned was loving when I do not want to), and her tough attitude melted away in front of me. Instead of punching me, which she did the first few times, she would run up and kiss my back (as high as she could reach). She would hold my hands and sit next to me. She would answer my questions and come to me crying when she was upset.
Near the end of our time at home, we learned that NongMoo’s parents left her a long time ago. She lives with her grandmother who owns a karaoke bar, where women are trafficked out front. NongMoo lives a difficult life in that she is usually alone, and having been toughened by this life, she doesn’t get along well with other children. But being consistent with her, with this 8 year old beautiful child, her heart softened to trust someone, to receive love.
And today I miss her so much that all I can do is pray for her. I am praying that someone will tell her she is beautiful, that she is so dearly loved, that they will take her in and eat dried taro flavored fish snacks with her (she loves that), that she will have someone to cry to, to nap with, to care for, to trust.
The worst thing about a 6 week trip is that your heart is torn and left with people you may never see again. The best part about a 6 week trip is that your heart is left with people you have loved, and their heart is with you as well.