Day 5: Food and Fellowship Marathon

Monday was literally spent eating and spending time with people. It’s not what you would typically expect to see on a mission trip itinerary, but I suppose this hasn’t been a typical mission trip.

After our morning worship and prayer session, we drove to a Thai market where John, Kathy, and Bee each took a few of us around to see and try different vendors. Bee had the Chinese donut crew: Mitch, Sophie, and me. She was eager to show us all these delicious fruits and treats she wanted us to try. We ended up buying some freshly fried bananas, jackfruit, some kind of pastry, and authentic Thai iced tea served in a plastic bag filled with ice. Some of the other groups passed through the live fish section, much to their dismay. I think my group was disappointed we had missed it! John’s group bought durian, a fruit notorious for its sweaty gym sock-like odor.

We took our market purchases to Bee’s house, where we met her brother (Grace’s father), her sister, and her nephew (her sister’s son). Bee’s sister prepared a delicious lunch for us with three different kinds of rice (white, fried, sticky), two kinds of chicken (fried, spicy), vegetables, and curry. This meal was so good it demanded seconds. The durian, however, was more of a “once and done” type of food. Josiah and I helped ourselves to at least three servings of durian, though. Adventurous eaters FTW. In addition to lunch, we spent time in fellowship with the family, not all of whom are Christians. Mitch shared his testimony with Bee’s nephew to help him practice his English language comprehension. [Lesson of the day: American English words like “kinda” are difficult for English language learners to understand. Right, Mitch?] The women got a tour of Grace’s bedroom and took some time to pray over her room and for the time she spends there. We prayed that it would be a place of rest and peace and a place where she would encounter the presence of God. We sang a worship song for the family, which they may have viewed as a performance but we saw as welcoming the Holy Spirit into the home. We also prayed over Bee’s brother, who was left partially paralyzed after his stroke. He had been almost completely paralyzed on his right side but has been gradually getting better after receiving prayer for healing last year. He is currently able to stand and walk with a cane but remains unable to speak. We prayed for his ability to communicate to be restored, for the damage to his brain to be reversed, and for complete healing. While we did not see miraculous and instantaneous recovery, he was encouraged and deeply moved by our prayers. He seemed to feel something happening within his body, but without the ability to communicate, we are not sure exactly what he was experiencing. I look forward to hearing updates from Bee about any improvements to her brother’s health.

After Bee’s house, we went to John and Kathy’s old neighborhood to visit their friend Book. She served us brownies, cookies, chips, and tuna fish sandwiches. This was a welcomed selection of foods for those whose stomachs have not been entirely compatible with Thai cuisine. She said she would have served a better meal if she had time to prepare, but we assured her it was perfect. Book spent our time together telling us about how she became a Christian and the struggles she faces as a Christian in a Buddhist family/culture. She is seeking to find a balance between standing firm in her faith while respecting her family and friends’ Buddhist traditions. For example, what’s the best way to honor a friend’s loved one at a funeral without participating in rituals that go against your Christian beliefs? She was encouraged by the fellowship with other Christians, our prayers for her, and our time of worship within her home.

Our last stop was Auntie Pim’s house. She is a Buddhist friend of John and Kathy, and like our other hosts from throughout the day, she was very gracious and hospitable. While we did not get a chance to sing in Pim’s home or offer a prayer of blessing over her, it was a sweet time of getting to know each other. She took us down the street to a restaurant owned by her family. Food was constantly being brought to the table, and it was all incredibly delicious. After a while, though, many of us were beyond full and slipping into food comas.

At times, I think it was easy to think we weren’t doing ministry when we were just sitting around eating and talking, but based on the encouragement our friends said they received from spending this time together, God was clearly still at work in those moments. The key thing for us to remember is to remain engaged in the moment and the opportunities God may be opening up before us even when it seems like we aren’t doing much.

Prayer Walk in Pattaya

imageSorry to mess up the order, but I’d like to go back to Sunday and share my experience on the streets of Pattaya. Cindy is so on top of things, keeping you all updated on the happenings of each day. Meanwhile, I’ve flopped into bed each night as soon as we’ve gotten back, exhausted. Our days have been full. Full of people, food, experiences, and Holy Spirit encounters. A lot to process and reflect on. But today I’m awake early and feeling energized to write!

On Sunday evening, as Cindy mentioned, we drove to Pattaya. No one knew exactly what to expect. Since the format of the evening was similar to that of Saturday night, John asked some of us to join him outside. He partnered us up, prayed over us, and released us to the streets telling us to walk prayerfully and see who we could connect with.

Ashley and I set out together. I think we were both thinking, why us? What exactly does this look like? How do we know who speaks English? Do we only approach people who we think might speak English? Do we both need to sense the Holy Spirit drawing us to a certain person? We tried to be very observant as we walked. We looked for opportunities, but it was easy to make excuses for not approaching people. I was feeling the desire to speak with street vendors, but worried if they would know English or if I would be inconveniencing them but trying to start a conversation, as many of them on the beach were packing up for the day. Finally we told ourselves, we’ve got to start somewhere. I saw a young couple down on the beach taking photos and figured, there’s an easy in, we’ll offer to take their picture! They allowed us to take their picture, and that allowed us to begin connecting with them. They also offered to take our picture. They were Chinese, visiting some of Thailand’s beautiful beaches. They were pleasant, but seemed to want to go on their way. Before we parted ways, we asked if we could pray a blessing over their relationship. The girl, who did most of the talking, had an interesting response. She seemed very shocked by the question, hesitant, and then said ok. Almost as if she was thinking, what have we got to lose? Afterwards they thanked us and were on their way.

While this connection didn’t seem so significant, we pray a seed was planted. And now I had the confidence to seek out another opportunity. As we walked along the beach, a vendor caught my eye and motioned us to come. She wanted to rent us a beach chair, but I noticed she was also selling cokes. So we bought some cokes for ourselves, and one for another lady sitting there, and had a seat. We found out the other woman made a living by doing massages on the beach. We began asking both women questions about their business, and about Pattaya, and then about their families. They answered in broken English, occasionally advertising different services, like jet skis and boat rides. The one lady asked if I’d like a massage. When I asked how much, she said whatever you want to give, so I can eat. Finally, I gave in. I know, what a sacrifice! Actually, it kept the woman close so we could keep talking. Meanwhile, Ashley was able to talk with the other woman. We found out their names translated to Moon and Star. The women seemed to be good friends. We got to meet Moon’s daughter and grandson. They said they were strong Buddhists. We didn’t really tell too much about ourselves, just tried to get to know them. Finally, it was time to meet up with the group. We asked if we could pray a blessing over their businesses and families and both women agreed. I prayed for Moon and Ashley prayed for Star. The women seemed touched by the gesture and the time we spent with them. As we were leaving, I thought I heard Star telling Moon that we were praying to Jesus Christ. This was such a beautiful experience. It was quite natural and enjoyable, and only slightly uncomfortable because of the language barrier. Moon also commented on our smiles and how happy we were. Again, praying a seed was planted here.

As we made our way back to meet the group, my eye caught a women selling fruit. I had noticed her, and her radiant smile, several times as we were walking. As we waited for the others, I sensed God telling me to go back to her. So I did. She did not speak any English, but I tried to use gestures to express that I was touched by her beautiful smile. She started pointing, I believe thinking that I was asking for directions. Finally someone who came to buy fruit was able to translate. I asked her if I could pray a prayer of blessing over her, which I don’t think translated correctly, but I went ahead and she allowed me. It was definitely an awkward, confusing situation and I’m not sure what she understood, but I pray the Lord touched her in a special way.

Finally we met up with Sean and Ian. Since it was beginning to get dark, we split into guy-girl groups. We decided to look for someplace to sit and have a drink and try to connect with people. We found a bar that was rather empty, except for a man at the bar and a group sitting at a table. We decided to sit at the bar hoping to connect with the bar owner or the man sitting there. However, the man had his back to us and was on a iPad making music selections. Finally he turned and Sean was able to make a connection through his interest in soccer. We learned his name was Michel and he was from Belgium. He works in real estate and enjoys traveling. He said he just has to make it home for Christmas so he doesn’t disappoint his mother! He was very open and our conversation covered a wide variety of topics. This was not his first trip to Pattaya and he alluded to the fact that he was there for the top tourist attraction, the women. We learned that he grew up Catholic but was turned off by the corruption and hypocrisy in the church. He seemed very bothered by all the sin in the world, but very hopeless. He now calls himself an atheist. He was intrigued that young people like us where on a church trip to Thailand. He had complete respect for us, but said Christianity was not for him. When we asked if we could pray for him he said no, but allowed us to pray for his niece and nephew as he desired to see them live a good life and respect authority. He thanked us for talking with him and for praying. He seemed encouraged and a little less hopeless. On our walk back to meet the group, we prayed for our new friend. We prayed for breakthrough and for an encounter with Jesus.

This was definitely a step in my journey toward boldness. It’s so interesting hearing people’s stories and seeing the voids that can only be filled by Jesus. It was surprising how open people were to prayer. It’s hard not knowing the impact we’ve had, but we expect great things from the Lord!

Day 4: YWCA and Pattaya

Sunday morning began a little earlier for John, Mitch, Sophie, and me. The four of us left the guest house at 6:30 am to go to the market for fresh Chinese donuts. We rode a tuk-tuk (motorcycle rickshaw) to the market, where we saw tons of vendors preparing for the day. A pickup truck filled with full butchered pigs. Endless rows of fruits and vegetables. Large pots of curry, soup, and other meals. Live fish, turtles, and snails. Durian. We also saw Buddhist monks standing throughout the market collecting food offerings that people give to them (an act to earn some good karma). It was a successful excursion, and the donuts were delicious!

After breakfast, we gathered for worship and asked God what he wanted for us that day. Lindsey heard the name Darlene. Josiah saw a salt shaker. Ian saw a time lapse of the Bangkok cityscape and a tree. Mitch saw a man sitting in the church: second row, glasses, balding on top with hair on the sides. We left the guest house for a church service at the YWCA, and soon after we sat down, I saw two rows behind us in the third row a man: glasses, balding on top with hair on the sides. Mitch prayed for verification that this was the man from his vision, and all he heard was “Yes, yes, yes!” After a wonderful time of worship in both English and Thai and a message that John preached (in Thai!), Mitch went up to the front to share about his vision. The man joined him at the front, and through a translator, Mitch prayed over him. Lindsey and Ian then began to lead another time of worship as the rest of our team began to spread out and pray for people in the congregation. I prayed some quick prayers for some young women in the back, but then an older woman a few rows ahead turned around and made eye contact with me. As soon as I began praying for her, I began to cry, unexplainably overcome by emotion for her. She, too, began crying. I had no translator, so I did not know what she was experiencing. It was clear, though, that God was doing something, so I continued praying. I noticed that her right hand was resting on her abdomen, so I laid my hand on hers and began praying for healing. I didn’t know what needed to be healed, but as I prayed for a wholeness of body, her hand began to shake and she continued to cry. The pastor came over and explained that she had been experiencing pain from a recent kidney stone operation. Through him, I learned that she had pain when she got to church, but after I began praying for her, the pain was gone. This was a completely new experience for me. Healing was something God did through other people. Not me. And yet here I was in a YWCA in Bangkok praying over a woman who did not understand what I was saying and seeing God heal her from pain. God was powerfully at work. He used Mitch to heal a woman from a rash that disappeared before their very eyes. He used Lindsey and Kathy to bring a woman to accept Jesus as her savior.

After a home-cooked lunch at the church, we drove two hours to Pattaya, a city known for its red light district. It was not in our original itinerary to go here, but John and Kathy felt God directing them to change plans. We attended another worship service where Living Streams was playing the music and Leif Hetland was speaking. Originally we thought the service was part of an event called Pattaya Praise, but we learned that the event had ended the day before. Half of the team (Sean, Sophie, Ian, and Ashley) left to prayer walk around the city, and the other half (John, Kathy, Mitch, Lindsey, Josiah, and I) stayed at the service. During worship, we sang “God of this City,” which we learned was written IN Pattaya in response to the darkness and hopelessness that the writers saw there. Together in singing, we declared that greater things are still to be done in this city, and that God would redeem it to himself, transforming it from a sin city to a son city. Leif presented a different message that night about God as our good father – this first face seen, the first voice heard, the first love felt by Adam and Eve. He talked about how God as our good father took our shame upon himself so that we may be righteous just as the father did for the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable. He also talked about seeing ourselves as God sees us – as his treasure, his beautiful child.

Leif’s message reminded me of various people we had prayed for earlier that day. At the YWCA, I prayed for a woman who said she struggled with accepting God’s love and seeing herself through God’s eyes. I thought of Grace, Bee’s adopted daughter, whose father is partially paralyzed from a stroke and cannot communicate with her. During Saturday’s service, Grace began crying during the song “Good, Good Father” and clung to John’s side. She likely craves a more typical father-daughter relationship, but it is our hope that despite earthly circumstances, she would come to know God as her Heavenly Father.

At the end of the message everyone gathered at the front, where we prayed together and Leif prayed over people throughout the crowd. All around, people were being slain by the Holy Spirit, compelled by the power of God to fall to the ground. As Leif got closer to where our group was standing, I admit I got a little nervous. I’m somewhat of a skeptic. This is something I see televangelists do, not something that happens to me. I stepped back, allowing the others in my group to go before me, volunteering to stand behind them and catch them when the fall. But then I found myself face to face with Leif. He asked, “May I move your hair?” and then brushed my bangs to the side. He gave the “I’m watching you” gesture, but more gently as if to say “I see you.” And then he just softly brushed my left cheek with the back of his hand. I felt my weight shift into my heels and allowed myself to fall back into the arms of someone who then lowered me to the ground. As I lay on the ground enjoying the presence of God, I felt someone vigorously rubbing my left knee. I wanted to open my eyes to see who it was, but at the same time did not want to interrupt my experience so quickly or make whoever was doing it feel uncomfortable by watching them. But as I rejoined my group and shared my experience, they said that no one was there. They did not rub my knee nor did they see anyone standing over me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. Like healing, this was something that happens to other people. One by one, members of our team went down to the floor, overcome by the presence of the Lord.

When we left the service, we drove by Walking Street, the red-light district. Wikipedia refers to it as a “tourist attraction.” Bars, strip clubs, and prostitutes as far as the eye can see. Massage parlors with waiting rooms full of men. Unspeakable and horrific acts hidden behind closed doors, waiting for the men who are looking for such opportunities. A very dark place despite the bright neon lights. Greater things are still to be done here.

Day 3: Wat Pho and Living Streams

It’s hard to believe that we’ve only spent two full days in Bangkok so far and still have another week ahead of us. Our days have been so full and we have experienced so much, so it feels like we have been here for a week already. I realized last night that we only met Bee and Minnie Saturday morning, but they have quickly become a close member of this family. The past couple days have been packed with no time to post an update, so I am up early this Monday morning (it’s 6:30 am here, but breakfast isn’t until 8) to catch everyone up on some of the highlights from Saturday and Sunday. I’ll post Sunday’s update separately so it won’t be too much to read at once!

We started Saturday morning with breakfast at the guest house followed by worship and prayer. This is how we will start each morning in Thailand to prepare our hearts for ministry and listen for what God may want us to hear for that day. We prayed that in Thailand, the Land of Smiles, our smiles could communicate the love of Christ beyond any language barriers. We also prayed that the people would see more than just our smiles but the joy of the Lord within us, that they would be drawn to that and desire that for themselves.

Bee and Minnie, friends of John and Kathy, joined our group at the end of our prayer time and then helped us travel to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple grounds are full of intricately decorated towers and shrines, often built by people to earn good favor or karma. As we toured the area, Lindsey pointed out how beautiful everything was, but how sad it is that all this beauty is in honor of a false god. The purpose of our time at Wat Pho was to gain an understanding of how Buddhists see the world. When we understand their world view, we will have a better understanding of how they see Christ. John explained to us that Buddhists view sin like salt in water: you cannot take it out but only add more water to make it less salty. You cannot undo the bad things you have done but only do more good things to balance out your karma. Jesus turned that whole concept around. He took our bad karma upon himself so that we would not need to earn any favor or do a certain amount of good deeds to balance everything out. Instead he gives us a new life – a fresh start, a clean glass of water – as a gift.

After our visit to Wat Pho and our first Thai meal, we spent some time to rest at the guest house and then headed out to an evening service at Minnie’s church, Living Streams. Along the way, we stopped for dinner at a food court, where you could get pad thai, noodle soup, sticky rice with mango – just about any delicious Thai food you can imagine. While there, Mitch and Josiah sat and talked with Joe, an American ex-pat who was raised in Hawaii but has lived in Thailand for 20 years. He was raised as a Christian but is now a non-practicing Buddhist. You’ll have to ask Mitch and Josiah for more details about their conversation since I only joined them for the last 10 minutes. Joe was very kind and open to talking about Jesus, asking questions to clarify his understanding of who Jesus is. Before we left, I asked if he had anything we could be praying for. He answered no, saying he was in good health. Pray for Joe and the work that God may be doing in his heart as a result of his time with Mitch and Josiah.

After dinner was the service at Minnie’s church, where they were having a special guest speaker, Leif Hetland. It was a powerful time of people encountering the Holy Spirit with many people experiencing physical healing.

When we arrived back at the guest house, we were all pretty exhausted. It felt like much more than one day had passed since the morning, so we were ready for sleep but excited for the next day to come.

Day “Two”

As I start to write this, it’s 11:43 pm on Friday night, ending our (technically) second day of the trip even though it’s been only 30 hours or so since we left the church for the airport. So far we have been blessed with smooth travel, facing few to no complications or unpleasant surprises. It only took 40 minutes to check in and get through security at the beginning of our trip, and when we arrived in Bangkok, so did all of our luggage. We were able to fill our 20+ travel hours with conversation, a few meals, and several movies. (One of the movies I watched was basically the Filipino version of She’s All That.) We are now settling into our rooms at the Bangkok Christian Guest House after walking around the surrounding neighborhood to see what is in the area. Not far from where we are staying, the street corners were filled with girls and their pimps – the girls sitting in rows of plastic patio chairs like a showroom – and it’s hard to see how common that is.  Pray for the women on our team who will be ministering directly to women in Bangkok’s red light district later on during the trip. Tomorrow will begin early with breakfast and worship followed by a trip to Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. Pray for our team as we navigate the public transit system and make connections with friends and ministry partners tomorrow! Pray for us as we adjust to the new time zone, though I think sleep will come easily tonight!