Monday, August 25, 2014

Updates from Absurdity.

9/7 All I wanted was to restock my nare-ware stash that has suspiciously decreased since I began cleaning them with me in the shower. (Okay, not suspicious...some things are just not worth the save.) Within two minutes of walking into the store, the attendant follows me to a corner and I'm blocked. I give her a nervous whatamIsupposedtosay laugh and she walks away. However, when I walk into the store I'm surrounded by mom, and her two daughters, one my student. They all feel it's helpful to assist me in shopping for skivvies. Also necessary, was holding up much longer much much more conservative versions of underpants, as seen on, well, no one under 90. Even more necessary was grabbing an XL and showing me how much it would stretch...when they saw the concern on my face they misunderstood, and stretched them even farther. Thank you. That'll be no rice with the veggies tomorrow. All was redeemed when they took me to the back room (you don't follow) and showed me their sleeping little angel. The most precious baby. Before I know it, I'm looking through their old year books of my school and laughing with them, sorting through recent wedding photos, meeting their dog (who really like my, really) and acting out Collin's proposal. Eventually preciousbabyangel woke up and needed attention, which was my cue. There's no smooth exist when you are clearly in the way but need to pay for your underwear they just picked out for you.
Either friends. And possibly a student that will know far too much about her Kru Farang.

8/28 Today at the end of a very long editing session with my Go Tell students one student, Boat, tells me he is not sure who he should pray to, God or Buddha. (Just about every topic comes up during Go Tell meetings, from the finer traits of Doraemon, the Jesus.)
He asks my advice. I tell him how I love to pray to God because he gives me so much peace and love. I invite him a few steps over to my desk where I tell him he can take the pamphlets about Jesus that a missionary armed me with, and even a little DVD that is supposed to be awesome...if you have a sort of DVD reading medium (such as a DVD player, or functional computer.) He then decides he "cannot." He is "scared because now I must think and focus only on basketball and school." He tells me he doesn't want to put anything else into his head because it makes his stomach hurt to think about religion, because he is so unsure. He hurriedly gives the goods back to me. My other little student, Nut, pipes in "I love to learn about Christianity! Maybe...I can take?" She goes on to tell me she knows a student who reads her Bible every day...another student who happens to be in the Go Tell club. Nut likes to know all things about God and Jesus. She's excited to have new material and hopes to have a Thai Bible on the way from her foreign teacher, Kru Lynthee.

8/25 A lizard fell on my head tonight as I was walking in the door. It got caught on my earring.
The little dude was terrified. I hardly flinched.

8/22 My essay class had finished my planned lesson and there was 10 minutes until the bell. Unsure of what to do I try to think of what useful knowledge I could bring to them.
I panicked.
I find myself 2 stepping alone while my students scream "Country road, take me home..."
By the end of the ordeal I was flirting to my man-ghost and fluttering around the classroom screaming "THIS IS FROM TEXAS"
Well, it is.

8/19 As I was bucket washing my laundry a roach crawled up my back. Later, as I was washing my dishes in the spout outside my house a large centipede squirmed out from a bowl. I chopped the dude in half with my spatula. It still squirmed.

8/20 Today during Film club we got a lot of editing done until the students slowly gathered around my chair, sitting on the floor, and asked me every question they'd been dying to know about American high school. "Teachuh, when you were my age, you wear makeup?" They were enthralled.

8/17 7:00AM I took Peung and her fish back to the shop. Worst roomie ever.

8/16 I got a kitten. It's a little baby thing and I was buying a water bottle at the store next to my house when the old woman noticed I was goo-goo eyed over the little nugget. She gave me a box, the cat, and a full frozen fish. I named her Peung, friend in Thai. Best roomie ever.

8/15 A student I don't recognize rides up next to me on the main road. She strikes up a conversation but nearly gets hit by a car.
"No problem teachuh, I go to your house."
She then speeds away, and surely enough I get home and she was waiting at my house.
I now often get texts from her, or find her waiting by my gate. Recently, she asked if I would like to exercise by walking around the village.
Sounds ideal, my gregarious little friend.

8/11 While meeting for film club today my student worriedly asked me what they were going to do when I left. I nearly cried until she followed it up with "Don't remember me teacher."
English is hard.

8/6 My students are writing "How To's" and I've allowed them to use Google Translate for assistance. I'm checking my sweet little girl's essay on how to make boiled eggs.
Step three: Place egg in fallopian pot.

7/18 At JJ Market, the largest market in Thailand, there was a medium sized spider weaving a long web directly in the entrance of a store. I took it upon myself to perform a high kick to fix the spider, about chest level, under my foot then slam it to the ground. I remembered too late that in Buddhism, killing insects isn't acceptable. Instead of the anticipated round of applause my acrobatics were met with an awkward silence and a nervous laugh followed by "Oh, you spidah man."
Walking away.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A saint who calls me teacher.

There are few people who I take notes from WHILE they're talking.
(John Piper I'm lookin' at you, man.)
Even fewer of those are just every day people not walking on a stage above my head guided by spot lights.
My 15 year old Thai sister, Annie, is one of those people.

And recently, Annie's mom died.

In a previous post I explained why I'm so enamored with this girl's faith, her joy, her overall love for Jesus...and that precious smile. I also mentioned that I met her mom as a cancer survivor, currently battling the disease's consequences.

Annie's mother lost out to cancer about a month ago, and Annie started a metaphyisical battle of her own.

On Tuesday Taem told me Annie's mother had passed away. I was in Chiang Mai by Friday.

Annie had pleaded with me to allow her to pick "Teacher" up on her motorcycle but the idea of a 15 year old driving herself is terrifying enough.  Me and Laura met Annie at New Wine Skins church and are greeted with the fullest hug one could hope from any relative after a long time apart. In our case, two months. Before she'd learned Laura's name she'd already told her she loved her.
Annie couldn't stop telling me how much she missed me and loved me.

Eventually Annie brings up her mother's death beyond my asking "are you okay?"
This is the sermon I bear witness to:

When she die at first I was very sad and I don't understand.
I don't understand anything. I couldn't read the Bible. But now I know I'm okay because (she says this most excitedly) I have God! And's okay. 

Outside I was very sad. Inside, I can't explain it, I was very happy. Very happy.

It had been one month since this 15 year old's mother died and she can't tell me about it beyond 30 seconds without bringing up her "adorable" Jesus, and how he makes it okay.

Without even realizing it, she possesses the truth of "peace beyond understanding". She exemplifies the "joy in all circumstances" and even sings the praises of her unsaved father and brother as she honors that they must now be her father and mother and brother all in if it is only them who bear a burden.

Annie believed her mother had a choice, and chose to die because she was in so much pain. She said Jesus allowed her to see this. Annie watched her mother die a hard death, and now says she hopes she can see her mother when she goes home to Jesus.

Later Annie tells me of her current life, how she is getting along at school.
She deals with teachers and friends telling her she'll never be able to be a doctor, though that was her mother's request of her as she lay in the hospital bed dying. Annie is certainly stressed about school, but God shapes her character in even small convictions continually.

Annie told me it is "so fun, teacher, so fun" to talk with friends and call them "goo mung". She tells me it is very casual and not polite but fun to say with friends.

"One day God said, 'that bad speak is not for my fame, only kind, respect, honor, that is for my fame.' So I don't talk like that now." Annie tells me.

This girl sanctifies me through her obedience and strength, her peace and joy. It's so easy to "write off" the seemingly little things such as speech and small actions. My 15 year old Thai student honors a father and brother who are hostel towards her Jesus, and friends who don't believe in him. If she is more concerned with the fame of her God than being cool in the 10th grade, I must admit it's time to lay some things down at the altar.

I'd love if her brothers and sisters, who she doesn't even know exist, would bless her during this storm she is fighting.
She truly refuses to let this storm take control of her life.
Our sweet sister Annie, I hope she encourages you through heart ache and conviction.

Her faith has destroyed my paradigm of Christianity and given me new gratitude for Christ. Oh dear Annie, let me confirm, your life is for the fame of God.

"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the World." John 16:33
Annie believes that. She eats that stuff up for lunch.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A dark alley and processed sugar.

Ang, Dream, Eye and Leng. Those are the names of the precious ladies who sit outside the "club" in matching tiny dresses near my hotel at night. I saw them filing out together, each wearing a small heart shaped tag on their dress, but instead of a name, there inscribed is a number.

They are the club's merchandise.

I've only been in Bangkok two nights, but I was able to meet them my first night here. Their work is a few steps from my hotel, so I knew I'd be seeing them every night.

I saw the ladies before I went to dinner and hoped I'd get a chance to talk to them.
When I passed back by their work on my way home, a fruit cart stopped and they all piled around, buying fruit.

I doubled back and stood around them.
Clearly, I hadn't thought this one through very well. I was stuck...standing there watching them buy watermelon.

I have a terrible habit of, when I want to make a new friend but can't decide how to go into conversation (especially with non English speakers), I default on making them notice that I'm standing there and then they're forced to break an awkward glance by speaking to me.

Works every time.

I point to their dresses then mime the same on me, and say "yellow, beautiful" in Thai and English. I say same color, very very beautiful! They seemed to like that as an introduction. I was met with their gorgeous cautious smiles.

I pointed to their number tags and asked them tam may? (Why?)
One of the women answered in English that they were their numbers for work. I can't quite remember if she explained beyond that, but the interaction was brief.

Tonight, the ladies were there again and I had decided I'd do something equally as lame and buy them sugary snacks from a corner "family shop" in order to make it up to their stoop that serves as the entry way to the club without looking like too much of a stray cat.

I have a friend, Cori, who I know would be able to word well why these ladies deserved a small little gift, and how it's a small reflection of something Jesus would do to show how He values us, despite any of our circumstances...but that's Cori. I just saw Pokey sticks and went with it.

Walking back to their club stoop, I was reminded of the words that constantly ring in my mind, almost every day.

My freshman year of high school, my Pop told me that he was at Sam's club (insert choking noise, that place gives me consumerism hives) when He felt a nudge by God to look around him and recognize that every person was hurting and needed love. My Pop told me all he could do about it at that moment was to truly look the cashier in the eye and give her kind words and a "have a nice day."
But Pop is now always doing things like that, giving boxes of cracker jacks and gold coins to people with such sincerity. He's taught me that the gift isn't necessarily always the point, but rather that Jesus just wants to love His people and sometimes that feels smaller than its effect.

So I bought those 5 baht snacks and looked the cashier in the eye as I told her to have a great evening, in a language she doesn't understand.

Tonight, the ladies were wearing pink, and of course, they're beautiful.
As I neared, a group of four men stepped out of the club, laughing, and I tried to understand that they didn't know what they were doing to these women...but it's hard for me to give men the "out" like that.

It took one minute of talking to these girls at a fruit stand to see that they were untrusting of other women, generally uncomfortable in their "uniform" and physically showed they were unhappy with their jobs.

I told them they were wearing pink before I said hello, or my name. to a good start as always.

I gave them the snacks and wouldn't allow them to refuse. I practiced my Thai with them, and about half of my audience was amused, per usual. They remembered me from the night before which is most likely a bad thing, but it's progress nonetheless.

Leng was very kind and seemed unsuspicious of me. Eye kept saying goodbye before I wanted to leave.

I told them I was a teacher and we had small chat.
They asked me how long I would be here and where I was staying. When I told them the hotel name, Leng asked if they would see me every night walking by.
Well there's a no brainer.
Then she said "peung".

It's hard to finish writing just thinking about the honor of being called someone's friend on such short basis of meeting. Especially someone who works in an environment where they are not surrounded by friends or seen as a friend but rather surrounded by buyers, seen as merchandise.

Jesus, He is a friend.
He has given me grace upon grace when my actions and thoughts don't warrant a billionth chance.
He is the friend who goes down dark alleys and gives me silly gifts.
(Though Jesus' gifts are far less silly than convenience store snacks)

And He is the one who intimately knows these women, He treasures them, He loves them, He created them and He has a story and a purpose for them. He knows their worth is far more precious than jewels.

I think for now, I'm going to swear off my "Sex Slaves of South Asia" book...the stories are warping my mind. Just looking around, paying attention, shows me the real hurt that is being suffered all around me. Just as my Pop sees...just as Jesus sees.
But the greatest thing is that Jesus doesn't only see the hurt and validate it as real, but he meets us there and pulls us out of those dark alleys.

There is hope in those dark alleys. There is hope in friendship. And there is even hope in processed snacks.

Hope does not, however, exist in my tiny hotel room, hiding behind my computer, or a book, or whatever distraction I use as an excuse to ignore a world that is full of precious and valuable people who are constantly told otherwise.

People are ready to tell you exactly what Christians are against and how they feel about that.
Let's just put that aside and allow me to tell you what I am for: I am for people, loving them, giving them hope. I am for friendship. And I am for Dream, Eye, Leng and Ang.

Though, I am most likely misspelling everyone of those names.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A thief in the Light.

A sweaty girl pumps through the streets on her bike with a large backpack strapped to her.
She screams "thief" and points ahead as a motorbike carrying a young male and female passenger eludes her small bike.

It's weird when you're placed in your own story.

I woke up well, confused, per usual because the lack of windows in my Khmai cell still twists my mind. But mostly just cheerful.

I spent an hour on a beautiful patio of a coffee shop overlooking the river in Phnom Penh, and a perfectly manicured green lawn. I was reading Job and praying to God about committing the day to Him. I then talked to my sister mentor (that sounds like a spin off show about those polygamist wives) while she planned a flight to come see me in Thailand. I then got to hear from my boyfriend. Perfect way to start my day, thank you.

After spending a few hours editing footage I was excited to hop on Eleanor (have you not been introduced? She's my pink bike friend) to go meet a wonderful friend I'd made but never met. She was to be the first gal my age, working for IJM, that I'd meet during all my time in SE Asia. Pumped would be an accurate description for my state of being.

I typed the address to the MEXICAN FOOD restaurant. (cue the choir singing sweet hymns of burritos) I was using my iPhone as a map whenever I had a chance to stop at a corner and redirect myself on the cramped, maze-like streets of scorching Phnom Penh.

I passed a young couple on a motorbike going so slowly I figured something had happened to his tire.
As I passed them I remember hearing the young man driving hawking spit on the curb with such force it seemed to nearly knock the bike over. I wondered if the girl felt safe on the bike, if he'd ever fallen while she was on the back.

Suddenly, I realize a presence very close to my bike then as if something had flashed I see my phone in the girls hands as the driver is starting to speed away.


I debated putting my reaction here... but that was it. (isn't it interesting to see the gritty truth of our hearts when we don't have time to filter? "Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks", sweet overflow Lynds.)

It was so strange to see someone else holding my phone, and my only thought was of the little blue paper that resided in the back behind my phone cover.

I didn't accept what had happened. I began to pump hard and chase after them. They weren't going that fast, they didn't expect a bike rider to even try. Wrong-o.

I got within ten feet of them at one point, Lance Armstronging it to the best of my ability. I started screaming "THIEF!" "THIEF!" and pointing in their direction, hoping someone would be able to stop them. At the least I wanted them to know what they were doing. I wanted them to know they were thieves.

I followed them down a long street, to a turn then another long street. Making a spectacle of myself in my high waist jean shorts.

They crossed a heavily trafficked intersection and I made the choice to continue the advance, my legs feeling like they were not my own.

Finally, they took another turn and I knew their motorbike was gaining too much distance from me. My legs kept going but something in me resigned and I just kept screaming thief, pointing, hoping someone could stop them.

I watched them turn the corner, taking my property along with them.

I stopped on the rode and pulled to the sidewalk. Realizing the silence replacing my screams and the people merely staring at me, it's shaming to admit I cupped my face in my hands and sobbed.

I can't place the origin of the sobs exactly. I wasn't mourning a cell phone...that's absurd to think about. I refused to pity myself. But the whole situation was just so pitiful. It felt absolutely terrible to have something lifted off of me that so belonged to me. That held such important, irreplaceable information--and taken by a person who had no regard that those pictures were of my first look at the unborn niece or nephew inside my sister who I hadn't seen in months. Those notes were of future plans, sweet messages from friends, and funny moments I'd hoped I'd never forget. That phone was the first way of communicating with my family thousands of miles away, and navigating in a city alone. And that piece of paper was a letter I treasured from my boyfriend that I often looked at when I felt the weight of our distance.

That phone meant nothing to them. To be honest, it's a total brick and doesn't work but for basic functions. For my functions.

I cried for myself. I cried for feeling alone. I cried for injustice. I cried for anger. And it was hard to stop.

A dear Khmai man wanted to help me so badly, but we couldn't communicate. At last, he told me to put my bike on the sidewalk by his motorbike, which he had offered to run down the thieves. An American woman walked across the street to offer advice, solace and anything I needed. You can imagine I must have been a pitiful sight to insight such kindness over a stolen electronic.

I realized I'd chased the thieves without regard to where I was, and was indeed totally lost. As I retraced my journey I realized I'd made a miserable celebrity of myself. Police men reenacted my chase-scene and congratulated me, telling me it was good of me to run them down.
Solid...glad you're impressed.

It was a good thing I had made a scene, I suppose, because while the girl was ripping my phone out of the side holder of my bag, she had managed to rip out my hotel room key as well. A few blocks down in the middle of the street, a man had found it and the entire block seemed to congregate to give it back to me.

I still can't decide, when you've had your faced smashed in the dust, does it really feel much better to have someone hand you a tissue?
But this "tissue" I was taking.
I was my room key so that analogy actually sucks.
(moving on)

I kept reviewing the important notes I had written on my "notepad" app and came to the conclusion that the note from Collin in the back of my phone was the worst loss.

Perhaps the most appalling thing from the experience, is that I couldn't stop tearing up. I was angry...or sad...or felt insecure and unsafe...or violated? ...I just wasn't keeping it together well.

It's appalling because daily I witness people living such worse loss.
I see orphaned children. I see people begging for food. I see the tangible effects of discrimination deciding babies' courses before they can even count.

I began to praise God for my room key, and seeing as I'd just been part of a car chase...on a bicycle...I was also thankful for my health and general safety.

As I was riding around, lost, still processing, I realized that stealing has always been a direct consequence of human error...sin.

God even tells us the devil comes to STEAL, kill and destroy.
I'm thankful to now have a sort of reference to why stealing is something that God hates, and why it's a characteristic of satan. It goes further into our roots and makes us cry out "no! that's not yours, you have no right to it."

But if I'm honest, I have to find the characteristics of thievery in myself. I rob God...I rob His people. I withhold and misuse. The same sin that causes someone to make a silly little foreign girl sob is the same sin that resides IN that foreign girl.

But mine is forgiven.
I'm not captive to it.
I have promises and perspective.

My anger cannot reside in the realm of revenge...but in the glory of sanctification and the hope that one day Jesus will do as He says and crush the enemy under His feet for good.

And no matter how upset I am with those two people...I don't want them to be crushed.
And that's reality.

It's empowering to know that I cannot be moved...because for a hot second I felt pretty moved...I felt the helplessness of allowing my emotions to slip far away from the rock of truth and into selfishness and self pity.

Let's just add a necessary side bar here: I am sinful and my flesh still craves human vengeance...I've already planned out the speech I wish I could deliver to that girl and guy...just after I kicked them both in the knee caps. I also really hope they feel ashamed. In SE Asian culture public shaming (Ie: screaming "THIEF" after someone) is about as bad as stealing.

So there. I'm not righteous. It's just proof that God provides His wisdom and applies His words even when the darkest areas of our hearts are when we begin to mourn over a 5 year old piece of equipment and one very precious note.

He's my righteousness and He is sovereign. Those two things mean it will always be okay, and my life will always mean glory.
And maybe even one day...a new phone.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A pink bike, a patient Father.

"Why in the world are there people crawling around with steam pipes outside of my door?" was my first thought waking up.
At least that's what it sounded like.
"It's gotta be like 2am...what the heck?"

...then my alarm goes off. Somehow my body has this amazing malfunction that involves me ALWAYS waking up four minutes before my alarm...even when I'm living in Phnom a cell block that has no windows thus my body has zero sense of time. still knows how to rob me four precious moments of rare sleep.
"Bollocks. It's 6am."

I was happy to start the day with a great latte and a meeting with the Sarus Exchange Program that I've been working with in Cambodia. I have this idol of being productive constantly, so even early meetings get my blood pumping.

Aside from being a no-sleeping, productivity psychopath, I am also constantly time-mapping in my head.

I rarely realize the last hours that I've planned have passed because I'm already programming my mind for the next few. It's quite strange, and only convenient when I have too much to do and not great when I just have free time. (Those nasty two words.)

I spent the first two hours of my "productive day" (a way I rephrase a free-day so no one thinks I'll just be sitting around watching Desperate Housewives of the Planet reruns) walking around trying my Thai debit card at EVERY ATM I passed.

I finally realize it's not going to work and I am penniless...well, nearly. And in SE Asia a penny actually could help a sister out.

I recognize the stench is no longer coming from the streets by my soaking wet I stop in a second hand thrift shop, buy a three dollar short-sleeved shirt, spill the entire contents of my wallet out on the floor, fall over entirely while trying to pick everything up, then leave gracefully.

The next two hours I try to upload a video to youtube to send to a composer...unsuccessfully. For two hours. What is this madness?

I look up my Thai bank online and realize they've got a sister bank in Cambodia so I start out, against the wishes of the coffee shop staff, to find this bank on foot.

A few liters of sweat later and I've found the bank! ...and its ominous "Closed" sign as well.

I begin to sing worship songs, thanking God for my life...realizing how I'm really not a kind, joyful person. I just normally have things so comfortably with plenty of money, directions and water to keep the dissatisfied L Evans from surfacing. How lame am I? But also, incredibly grateful because I'm reminded in these very hot, very sassy moments of mine that my righteousness will never be enough and I couldn't doubt a savior who is so much stronger than my need for withdrawing money in a foreign country right now.

I begin the trek back where I came from, trying to find a place to rent a bike when I realize I'm lost and have been given wrong directions.

Eventually I give in to the 243,684th tuk-tuk driver who asked if I wanted a ride.

After completely unsuccessful communication, I find myself pantomiming riding a bicycle on a random street in Pnom Penh Cambodia.

"Ahhhh, Pksaar Ou Roussie, ok I take you."

I tried to bargain him lower than 2$ but he just laughed at me and told me to get in.
Whatever, dude.

He then takes me a short distance and brat-Lyndsey thinks "it wasn't even far, homeboy is ripping me off."

He then gets out of the tuk-tuk and begins to inspect some of the bikes. After finding one he likes he pulls it out of the row of 105,137 bikes and gets on his knees to inspect the tires, the brakes, the gears and even spins the wheels to check the light.

He then asks the woman what price she'll give me. $37.
Did the woman think I was made of money??

He bargains for me but to no avail. He motions to me to get back in the tuk-tuk and takes me to another market bike-vendor.

This goes on for an entire market street and still I've got no bike but am utterly confused at this man's kindness.
I had tried to talk him down from two dollars and he's on his knees making sure my bike will brake safely.

Oh, tears come to my eyes thinking about the Father's love for us. He's got His hands everywhere.

I realize now that I should start praying. Just talking to God in general. I can't communicate with this kind man but I can sure talk to the one who sent him.

Finally, another street down we're speaking with a young woman who speaks very clear English. She specifically picks out a pink bike for me (ThAnKzzz Gurrrrl) but the man is not satisfied until he has given it his full-proof test. This time, he's concerned about the seat. He makes her take the seat off and put on a better one.
They fix up of the bike, add a light, grease the gears, add a basket, add a lock and clean the sucker while this man is sitting, approving every detail, double checking every aspect.

Let's guess what Lyndsey is still doing...
Trying to argue the price down.

Old habits die hard.
I would have merely paid for this experience had I not been so obsessed with my dwindling funds. This man's kindness flipped my day around.

Finally, I pay $34 for the bike, a cool $3 less than the first woman offered 40 minutes ago.

I tell the woman where I'm going and she communicates to the driver that I will drive my bike's not far.

That must have been unacceptable to my tuk-tuk friend because he enlists the help of the bike shop owner, who has now become this man's subordinate, and mounts my new bike friend into his tuk tuk.

I'm confused.
He then opens up the back and begins to safely secure the bike in the seat opposite mine, with ropes.
I assume this is when I get inside myself?

I sit down opposite my bike and giggle as my bike shop friend waves good bye.
Tuk-tuk friend overtakes curbs and looks back at me, laughing, to make sure I realize how hilarious his illegal driving is...especially with a large pink bike sticking out either side of the tuk-tuk cab.

Whatever dude, you can drive how you want I think I'd put my life in your hands at this point.
(Okay, strike that...and don't tell my mom)

Tuk-tuk man stops close to my area and apologizes, telling me he is busy and must stop here.

I try to convey my gratitude but he begins the long process of trying to get my number. That's a rather normal thing here...but I've never given my number to a tuk-tuk driver, just taken numbers in case I ever need a ride. We spend ten very unsuccessful minutes exchanging numbers and at the end, he still doesn't have mine (so you also don't need to worry my mom about that one, okay?)
It would have ended so sweetly, however when he was saying goodbye he hugged me just so awkwardly I don't know what to make of it.
It wasn't a close-pressing hug...I almost feel like he was trying to be awkward...but thats ridiculous, right?

He begins to get back on the motorcycle pulling the cab and I realize I haven't paid him!
Tuk-tuk friend wasn't planning on taking my money.

I gave him all the money in my wallet that wasn't $2...which still was only 5 dollars so don't call me Robin Hood...but he was very thankful.
Really, man? You just gave me the busiest hours, and probably most profitable, of your afternoon!

What's the point in overviewing my day as good/bad, lazy/productive or pointless/successful?

God reminds me that He's got good things planned for me always and gives me chances to praise Him in a myriad of ways. I look for a way to complain or second-guess His kindness, or most often, I just don't recognize it as His kindness at all. Mere chance or my own good choices somehow become praise-worthy over the King Himself. But He is a kind, loving, faithful and patient Father...I know it's true, I know it personally.

I smell like a men's locker room, I haven't checked off much on my to-do list, and my videos are lost somewhere in cyber-purgatory.
But I do have a shiny pink bike with a seat that was chosen for me...and somehow in a silly reminds me I'm chosen... and that's worth far more than any "assurance" productivity can bring me.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Fences to the Faceless

I'm spending March in Pai, a city in the far north of Thailand, filming and doing media consultancy for the Burmese Refugee Project, now called Kwah Dao. Visit BRP's Site! I'm working with another Fulbright ETA, Andrew.

Pai is a tourist attraction of Thailand, made especially popular after the Chinese released a film about love in Pai, and the Thai followed suit in producing a similarly-based film.

In five years, Pai has grown from a small, lush mountain town with a constant curious aroma of garlic in the air, to a tourist haven, offering foreign food more accessible than Thai food.
Due to its green, mountain terrain and secluded-feel, Pai attracts a specific type of tourist. The nightly walking street is filled with masses of unwashed hippies, sporting dread locks and no shoes.

This seems to be the way they prefer to be described as there is nearly a fight as to who can be more "off the wall" so I consider it to be a fair description.

This town is also, incidentally, one of the few provinces that legally allows Burmese immigrants to enter public education.

There is an estimated population of 400,000 Shan Burmese-Thai in Mae Hong Song province* but it feels like they're outnumbered by tourists.
When you walk the streets, these Burmese-Thai are the unseen. The scantily-clad foreign world travelers overwhelm the business, economy and attention.

The Shan are unseen, but they are not invisible. They are cleaning the kitchens, sorting through the trash, and harvesting the fields. As I learned while filming, they are absolutely present...behind the fence.

Part of our filming took us to a Shan "village." In Thailand, the Shan are not recognized as refugees, or Thai citizens, under the Thai government, they are not people. They are invisible. Thus, they are not allowed to own a house or land. Groups of Shan will move into abandoned guest houses that no longer serve the tourist population and build their communities on unstable ground, knowing at any moment, the government could legally burn everything they own, forcing them to find another place to squat.

While I was meeting the people in the Shan village, I began poking around their small quarters and filming the aspects of these peoples' homes that made them unique...honestly, that made them more destitute than the last village I shot.

Then I came across a fence.
I saw a break in the fence and figured fields would greet me on the other side. Instead, I found a well-manicured ground with white people playing games.
Confused, I stepped across the gate and realized I was on the grounds of a guest house, famous in Pai.
On just the other side of this fence, separating the incredible poverty of the Shan people, were travelers staying in bungalows offering free wifi, electricity and running water at the Pai Circus School.

The Pai Circus school is a Bungalow Hostel unique for the circus and yoga classes it offers everyday. Certainly, it appeals to an eclectic crowd. All day, while they're not picking garlic or sifting river rocks for a meager pay, the Shan can hear foreigners learning circus tricks, Skyping their families back home, or eating at the cafe.

I was stunned. I was sitting with an elder Shan woman who was sleeping a baby on her lap as she sat amongst chickens and trash, using this fence for shade. I felt incredulous.

I asked the Shan about the fence and the school and they told me that they used to have a beautiful view of the Pai mountains, but when the Pai Circus School set up their guest houses, they built the fence, blocking the Shan from their mountains.

I hear the arguments people try to justify. I hear the complaints about immigration, refugees, and economics. But these people were stateless in their own country. They belong to no government. Their villages were burned down, cut off, and evacuated. Their own country didn't recognize them and they were persecuted by their own neighbors. To return is not an option, to flee to safety they gave up their right as citizens in any country. But coming to Thailand has made them more than stateless, they're faceless.

Unable to legally work, their opportunities have been cut off at their inability to receive education. Recently, the Thai government in Mae Hong Song accepted Burmese immigrants to enter school, however, these children are so far behind, they often don't make it past middle school and get married, having children at the age of 15 or 16.

Thailand must answer for its own discrimination, and though we aren't the ones building the fences, we are the ones who stay behind them.

I can't be angry with those who stay at the Pai Circus School, what difference does it make that I stay in a fancy bungalow that doesn't border a shanty village? I am still separate.

I'm unendingly grateful for the Burmese Refugee Project and the work they do tirelessly, to do everything in their power for these people.

But the most amazing aspect of their NGO, to me, is that these people have become their family. They are members of their community. They know their needs, they feel their needs.

Though I'm doing free videography work for the BRP, it's quickly dismissible work in light of the great need.

I didn't have a clue of what to do when faced with the village and the fence, but to befriend these people as if they were my own. And if I take Jesus at His word, I have to know that they are my own because they're His.

I spent a short time today filming one of the BRP scholarship students as she did her "side job". When she wasn't finishing up high school and working to be the first in her community to go to college, she was in a field with her family, picking garlic from dusk until dawn.
I followed her picking garlic along with 50 members of her community.
It was scorching, but they were covered in flannels, sweat pants, socks and neck-covering hats.
In Thailand, white skin is beautiful and tan skin is called "black" and "ugly."
These people live in a society that deems them unworthy, stateless...and ugly.

Then Lydia, the executive director of Kwah Dao, pointed out the "Rainbow Bar" just a hundred meters from the field we were working in.

Another fence moment. This was the first bar a friend from Kwah Dao took us to one night to acquaint us with Pai.

And it now stood in front of me, this place of drinking, partying and vacation; and I found myself as the fence between this, and the Shan people picking garlic.

The only command I could think of was Jesus telling me to feed Him...His people.
These people don't know my Jesus...much less my language. Though I couldn't take care of the spiritual thirst, I knew I could provide for the immediate thirst.

Buying 50 bottles of juice and riding them back through very rough, hilly terrain on a crappy motorbike is difficult, but passing up such an easy opportunity was impossible.
(My current film partner, Andrew, definitely took the brunt of the work, which I am grateful for.)

It's a tiny act. So small it doesn't even deserve the three letters ACT. But it was movement and that's what Jesus pushes us towards, and it's much more effective than my hours spent bawling alone, helplessly after the fence-fiasco.

Jesus put us on the Earth and gave us a commission. But He also confused our languages, and gave us culture barriers. He knows His plans as He knows His people.

While we may not always be able to share in pain and provide words of truth, I believe He always has a plan for His people as He knocks down fences to reach His lost.
*This statistic taken from the director of the Banyan Center, Kwah Dao.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Faith at 15.

After dear friends sent money to send Taem to see Taylor Swift, I was all prepared to tell her of my scheme to take her to Bangkok to see her star. First, she absolutely refused, then once I’d explained the situation, she gave in to ask her parents. I later received this text:

The next morning, sweet Collin had to navigate the absurd Thai ticket site for me, but to no avail. I received the sad news Saturday afternoon.

Which led to this:

However, Sunday, things turned around.
I was in Chiang Mai, en route to Pai where I am working for the month doing videography for the Burmese Refugee Program.

I knew Taem had told me that her sister lived in Chiang Mai so I was put in contact with her (the precious Facebook message is in the blog post preceding this one)
Annie and I were all set to meet Sunday morning for church.

Annie’s parent’s drove 30 minutes out of the way to find me at some hotel on a road I couldn’t pronounce. I insisted I take a cab, but that was no option for 15 year old Annie.
I hear an excited scream across the street, “Teacher Lyndsey!!”
It’s Annie. We meet in a large embrace during which I hear Annie exhale, “Oh, Praise you Daddy. Praise God.”
Annie grabs my hand (something I’m getting used to) and leads me to her car.

Like all Thai cars I’ve ever been into, the back seat is stocked with tissue boxes in knit coverings and more animated character pillows than could fit passengers to make use of.

Also very common, I’m unable to properly thank her parents for driving so far out of their way, because they don’t understand English and it would be rude to try to communicate with them and embarrass them, so thus starts a long car conversation with Annie, while she explains her life story.

“These are my parents. That’s my mom. She’s sick. She has cancer. We found out in August, her 
birthday month.” Annie shoots out information rapid fire.

I then notice her mother’s lack of hair and frail frame.
I’m at a loss of words and look to Annie for some way to respond.
She’s smiling.
“It’s very sad. I pray though and I know it’s God’s plan. Everything is God’s plan.”

Annie would later tell me that she prayed over her mother’s tumors, though it must have been a forced event, as her mother is Buddhist. Annie said once she prayed, the tumors stopped enumerating and they decreased rapidly. Then her mother believed that Jesus truly was healer, and began to go to church with her 15 year old daughter. Annie’s father remains devout in his Buddhist faith, little Buddha figurines draping his life, filling his dashboard and hanging from his mirror. However, he happily drives the two to church and waits outside for two hours every Sunday.

Annie continues to tell me the plight of her family. Her brother once believed that Jesus was God but she said he doesn’t really care anymore. Annie is 15 and more alone in her faith than I could have understood in America, a country so evangelized, “Christians” are most often the gospel’s worst enemy.
Annie tells me that she prays every day and that when she is sad and cries about her family she just trusts God and He has given her friends to pray with as well.
“Oh do not forget to pray for my family.” She says quickly as she moves on to the next topic.
I will not forget, Annie.

Someone told Annie about Jesus when she was 13 and she studied and prayed and knew Jesus was king by the way her heart changed after she began to pray to him and read the Bible.

“I asked my mom and dad, I want to be Christian. Can I be Christian? And they say ‘up to you!’” Annie said with the most satisfied grin, as if she’d just bragged about an incredible test score…but she was bragging about her God.

“Oh, I love when I pray to him and he makes me so happy. He makes my heart never alone. He is such an adorable God. I love my daddy. Jesus is so full and lovely.” Annie goes on and on. “When I talk about him, I have to cry!”

This girl is powerful.

I’ve known this little girl for 10 minutes, I’m riding in the car with her mother, whose health is deteriorating and whose father is lost in a religion Annie felt the full emptiness of. Meanwhile, she is tearing up talking about her adorable savior, Jesus Christ.

Annie isn’t remarkable in everything she talks about, by every standard she is still an 8th grader. She complains about how hard school is and how much she has to study, but her complaining is entirely different. It’s littered with “but God has a plan.” And “praise God.”

I kept attempting to chime in an encouragement and give her scripture responses, knowing she’d hold onto them, but she would just hold my hand tighter, give me a knowing look and continue to the next topic, and I just wanted to keep my mouth shut to hear what she’d say next.

“I think I want to be a doctor, I thought. But it so very very hard. You have a test in Thailand you must study three years before. That is right now. So hard, so crazy.”

Annie goes on about her dilemma in school, and common to girls her age, the confusion about what she wants to be in the future.
“So I ask daddy, okay, I trust you, I have faith in you so you tell me what you want me to be and I will do that. Show me that way you want me to go.”
She mimics her prayer stance as she tells me the story.
“And you know what. He told me He wants me to be a missionary.”

I could tell her confusion by the way she told me the story. It was obviously something she hadn’t figured out the possibility of in her head. After her Buddhist parents had paid exorbitant amounts of money to put her through private school, was she to end after university, not an option, and somehow find a way to be a missionary? Through what organization? With what qualification? What if she doesn’t feel equipped? What if she won’t want to do it?
I could see the questions in her eyes. Simultaneously, I saw the most amazing expression of trust as she almost physically laid it aside and said “but I trust God.”


Church was overwhelming, when we finally made it to “New Wine Skins Church.”
I couldn’t hold it together as I watched people worshipping Jesus so full heartedly, and dear Annie jumping and fist pumping at random during the very off-key worship time led by her 15 year old friend. Annie could hardly contain herself the whole time.
Annie translated the entire service for me and others were so sweet to welcome me, they were wiling to be humbled and talk to me through Annie, though an elder would normally never do such a patronizing act in Thailand.

Every now and then during the service I could tell Annie was summing up the message for me and asking me application questions to make sure the point was well received.
“So, God is our father. He made Noah make the arc for so long but he kept his promise. So faith. We must always have faith. Faith in God is another way to worship Him. You see?”

One of the female leaders came to me at the end and asked me exactly what God had said to me during the service. After introducing her children Joy and Bible to me (said Bibun…because Thais don’t see a difference between L and N sometimes) she wrapped her arms around me and Annie followed. She then began to pray over me mightily as Annie rapidly translated the prayer with much enthusiasm. Then she kissed my face a few times and was done with it.

I think I’m missing a few “Praise God”s but the joy has been captured I’m sure.

They forced a bit of food down my throat as I was trying to leave, and I somehow ended up with two boxes of rice and chicken to go and Annie and her parents dropped me off in the middle of Chiang Mai. Annie gave me a huge hug and told me she would send me a message every day and that she would see me soon.
And that was it.

Even as I type I’m at a loss of words as to how I will wrap up the events. The story of a 15 year old girl who brought another one of my dear 16 year old students to Jesus. The same girl who accidentally gave me a sermon in the back of her parent’s car as Buddha hanged from the rear view mirror in false gold glory. And the same girl who doesn’t see how God could make her a missionary.
It’s a lesson for me and at least someone willing to read four pages of my rambling. God didn’t prepare David to save the tribe of Israel by making him stronger and more intelligent. He gave David a heart that yearned for Him and seemingly unceasing joy.

Praise our adorable Jesus, indeed, Annie.