Monday, June 17, 2013

What You'll Learn in Asia About Missions

There are over 7 billion people in the world. 1.344 billion in China alone. That's over one thousand million people populating one country, the vast majority living in the eastern half. So what do you learn after living as a foreigner for 4 months in Chinaand another month in Thailandaltogether five months in Asia? 

This life is not your story.

Francis Chan said it well: you are an extra in Somebody else's movie. You're that face in the middle of the crowd, slightly to the left, in that two-second scene half way through. That's you.

When the realization hits you, it's hard to figure out what matters. It’s hard to continue striving after your goals and expecting great things from yourself.

You’ll realize it’s the little things that get to you. It’s hearing another language, or multiple languages, being spoken all around you and suddenly feeling so small because you had forgotten that the majority of the world doesn’t understand you, and you don't understand them. You’ll come face to face with hundreds of people every day. The faces will all begin to look the same to you. You start being unable to tell the difference between one person and the next. Then, not only do you feel small, you feel alone.

“Where am I? What am I doing here?” You ask the questions in a general manner, but your uncertainty goes deeper. 

It’s the little things that get to you. It’s not knowing how to interact. It’s constantly questioning yourself. You're always questioning--the insecurity never stops but just clings to you like a scared little kid. You are a kid, you realize. Something about this place breaks you down. 

You'll learn that if you want to go into missions, that's great, you could go. But you cannot, under any circumstances, no matter how great the opportunity, go to prove to yourself that you're devoted enough, or that you're worthy of His love, or that becoming a missionary reflects a more meaningful, sacrificial life. 

Doing international missions to impress God is like scraping your knees a couple of hours before seeing the president. You put bandages on, and when you go to meet him, you take them off and say, "Look, Mr. President of the United States, I have these bandages for you, that's my blood." 

You would never do that. That's disgusting.  

God doesn't want your used bandaids. God wants you. He doesn't have a measuring stick where deeds are assessed based on merit. That's what you do. God doesn't care if you rescue the entire population of China from poverty. To Him, that's just another dirty bandaid. 

If in those five months you start to understand your smallness, the surface of His infinite existence also begins to dawn on you. Perhaps you weren't able to glimpse the latter without first feeling the former so thoroughly. 

If you want to make a difference in the world, identify yourself with God until you don't have to look up in the sky anymore to a strange, abstract ideato the impossible concept of the Divine. He's not "up there" somewhere like the aliens. He's within and every ordinary minute of your life. 

You don't know much about Jesus before he was 30, but you do know He was no less Christ in those years. You are called to be like Christ; Christ in all 33 years of His life. He was faithful in the ordinary. 

So don't hold out on someday. Don't plan on going out and becoming a great missionary...someday. When you find joy in what you're doing now, in the person He is manifesting Himself in nowthis very ordinary momenteternity begins. When eternity begins, God is known, His purpose is heard, and the world shakes.

Eternity begins in the mundane things, in washing dishes, in cleaning bedrooms, in saying "I love you" and really meaning it; in watching the rain fall down the windowpane and thinking, Wow, that's amazing.  

"also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."  —Jesus (John 17:20-23) 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Way Back

— A journal entry 

Saturday, May 25 2013

I’m in the Chiang Mai airport. I already feel worlds away from Thailand. I wasn’t expecting to become so attached; I love the people, the culture, and the way of life. I cannot forget these experiences and faces and this country I have fallen in love with. 


The world looked like a sepia photograph through my sunglasses as I walked down Huay Kaew road dragging my luggage behind me. I was decked in Thai attire—my favorite baggy shorts and blue tribal-patterned tank. I hailed my last songthaew and threw my suitcase into the back. I wasn’t in a good mood. I didn’t want to leave.

As I looked out the back of the songthaew, memories of Thailand came and went like the shops lining the street. I remembered meeting my classmates on the first day of the course and having lunch in a Chinese restaurant. I remembered the Thai barista at her little coffee stand. She always put too much ice and not enough coffee, but for some reason I kept going back.

The songthaew passed my favorite noodle restaurant where I went almost everyday for soup or Pad Thai. I'd miss that place. My eyes eventually wondered up the mountain; I remembered all the times I ran there. I never wanted to go at first, so ungodly early in the morning on an empty stomach, but when I started I didn’t want to turn around. On the mountain, I felt so strong and free and hardcore. 

Yet, it wasn’t the mountain that had won me over to this place. Most of all, I knew I would miss the children. This realization caught me by surprised. I had never considered myself good with kids, I usually politely tried to avoid them. Still, the children in Thailand were different. I remembered their innocent faces. I loved teaching them. They were endearing; their eyes lit up when they knew the right answers to my questions. They wanted to learn. Teaching them was fulfilling. 

As I sat in the back of that truck, watching the familiar streets pass by and disappear forever, I told myself over and over that I was coming back, I needed to come back. I knew I would have options after college, but this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach English. 

Despite my gloomy mood, I had to smile when I remembered the last words of advice Kristina, a fellow classmate, gave me before we parted ways: “No matter what they tell you, don’t get married or knocked up. There’s too many places to see and experience for that.” It was heartfelt advice. I knew marriage and children were adventures in themselves, yet perhaps her words were true for me. 

When the songthaew finally pulled into the airport, more memories flooded into me. The first day I arrived in Chiang Mai at this exact location I was so overwhelmed. There were so many unknowns—and I was completely alone. I had grown in the past month, I realized.

The world was a different place. 

View of Chiang Mai from the Mountain


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Getting Over More Than Just Jet Lag

Now is the season of graduations and weddings; with these milestones come a readjustment from familiarity into something new and completely different. Change is an absolute of life; regardless of circumstances, we know life never stops changing. Right now, I am trying to figure out how to move from something new and completely different (traveling Asia for 5 months), to settling back into the familiar.

Since being back, there are aspects about small-town America I have come to appreciate. Below is a list of comforting things about the U.S. you also may be taking for granted:

1. Understanding and being understood by everyone - yes, English!
2. Grunting, pointing, and charades are unnecessary in daily life
3. The ability to read...everything
4. Drinking water straight from the faucet
5. An expanded wardrobe
6. Friends and family being awake the same time you are
7. Understanding the rules of traffic
8. No bones in your meat / knowing what kind of meat you're eating
9. Dirt roads / green, wide-open fields / clean, fresh air
10. Actually waiting in a line
11. Putting your feet on furniture
12. Blending in with the people around you
13. The general understanding that running is a common and acceptable recreational activity - something not unusual or worthy of overt staring

Also, here is a list of things about Asia that I already miss:

1. Public transportation
2. New experiences / the adventure aspect
3. Thai food - authentic curry!!
4. Job opportunities
5. Milk tea
6. Cheap, real fruit smoothies
7. Unpredictability of daily life
8. Successfully ordering mocha-flavored ice cream in Mandarin at McDonald's
9. Mentally converting Chinese yuan or Thai baht into USD and feeling very satisfied with how little I spent
10. Meeting other expats with intriguing stories

The strangest thing about change is we are often unaware that it's constantly taking place. I didn't feel like I was growing or changing in Asia—I was just living. Yet, when I was finally taken out of the new and unfamiliar, I found that even the previously known and understood had changed, or at least my perception of it.

I was expecting to be mildly depressed after returning home. I anticipated that the transition back into normal American life would be quite difficult...if not boring. Those feelings haven't set in yet. Granted, it hasn't even been a week.

However, I think my worldview has changed, which might save me from my fears of disheartenment. I shared a moment of this realization in my last post (Lost in Chiang Mai).

A good word to describe my life during and after traveling: deflated.

It's the little, mundane, pointless, insignificant, annoying trivialities that make up the majority of our lives. Yet, these meaningless moments are where purpose is found, we can't escape them, no matter where we are.

We don't need to make the mundane magnificent, we just need to acknowledging that the mundane is the reality of life. There's no need to search for something better; instead, we should stop for once and say, I want to be in this moment. I want to be present in the moments, not because they are thrilling or captivating to the imagination, but because they are life—they are what it means to be human—not to simply exist, but to appreciate one's own existence.

Even the most exciting experiences will eventually become ordinary. Excitement is not enough. The human condition requires more.

Change—whether it's graduating, a death in the family, taking off your socks, getting married, travelling to Europe, or replacing your toothbrush—constantly takes place. Even if we don't like the change at first, we know it's in the discomfort of the unknown that we grow.

We also grow in the small moments of life. Everything was once unfamiliar. No matter how great or small our experiences might be, the unfamiliar eventually must become familiar. As a result, our world constantly stretches outward; the small ways are just as important as the big ones.

I suppose that's where I'm at right now: acknowledging the fact that I don't need to be far away or engaged in stimulating experiences to grow. Even the magnificent becomes mundane eventually. Also, in the mundaneness, there is still so much to learn—it's just harder and less fashionable.
“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.” ― Elizabeth Lesser