If you know me well, you’d know that it is quite rare for me to be up at 8:32am writing something. Yet, here I am. Thanks to jet lag, I have actually been wide awake since around 5am. I hear my brother now, who also went on the trip, waking up too.
Time is funny that way. Honestly, have you ever considered how crazy time is? We use it to structure all of our days, yet it is entirely made up. Hours pass regardless of our recognition of its number. I say this because I am fresh off about 30 hours of travelling in which the actual time was completely irrelevant.
We arrived at the Thailand airport around 11pm and left the ground at 2am, flew for 6 hours, and then magically arrived at Qatar’s definition of around 4am. After a 4-hour layover there, we flew for another 15 HOURS (please understand that this is like sitting down for a WHOLE DAY surrounded by crying children that you can’t escape). By the time we reached America, it was around 5pm here. But honestly at this point my internal clock was so messed up that recognizing the “official time” felt pointless.
I’ll never forget how God moved in me during that miserable 15 hour flight though. I wrote this in my notes:
In God’s presence, peace & joy can be found high up above the clouds….where the good & bad of daily life aren’t striking. You’re just sitting. Yet fullness of joy is accessible. It isn’t confined within the boundaries of human declared space and time zones. The hours pass & all I know is that that I am made ALIVE in Him.
I don’t need a clock or to know where I am in the world to know He is with me.
God operates outside of humanity’s “settings”. We like to set times. Set boundaries. Set outfits. Set divides. God conquers ALL divides. Here up above the clouds, all is CLEAR. We focus far too much on minuscule things & forget that God operates way BEYOND these self-prescribed restraints on ourselves….on humanity. This is why we stop praying for miracles- by believing they simply aren’t possible. But that’s what MAKES it a miracle. Don’t doubt God’s power. Don’t listen to the lies that like to question His validity. He is ABOVE it all. So stop focusing on things so small.
This idea of God being above and available at ALL times in ALL nations to ALL people was a common theme for me throughout my time in Thailand. I just realized it more prominently during the flights. So the first lesson I learned before and on the way home from Thailand was this:
- Sitting, resting, and reflecting is GOOD. Learn to take a break and realize that very few things matter on this earth. Focus on God. Taking a flight and being legitimately above every human stress and event made me see them for what they really were- tiny and irrelevant in comparison to a relationship of faith and love in The Lord.
But going back to the idea of God being in ALL nations, I have to explain what God told me about culture during the trip. Yet, I first must explain to you how AMAZING this country was to live in for two weeks. The people, the culture, the architecture, the diverse aromas that filled the streets…& the FOOD….it was all breathtaking.
Yes, it looked, felt, and smelt different than good ole Georgia. There was no Chick fila (but there was a KFC- except the menu was in Thai, so Alexis and I accidentally ordered too many of the WRONG meal…and we didn’t know how to ask for utensils or napkins in Thai so we ended up eating our chicken like animals- sorry America, we lived up to your stereotypes). There was usually no toilet paper in the bathrooms. I typically fought massive battles with mosquitos in our showers. I never once saw a Christian church- unlike here where there is one on every corner.
Now before you start judging Thailand as strange and weird- I need you to understand that where we lived, this was their normal. They would look at us as just as insane for our giant portion sizes, obsession with fried food, ridiculous amount of churches, and the necessity of having a McDonalds and a Starbucks nearly every 2 miles. I was also told Americans have a distinct odor that we REALLY should take more showers to fix. That was one of the main reasons I braved my mosquito infested shower more intentionally.
So what am I saying? Everyone has their normal. Everyone grows up a certain way and doesn’t typically question it. It’s not my job to judge it, but learn about and celebrate it. By the time we were finished with the first week, living in Thailand quickly became MY normal. It’s amazing how much humans are designed to adapt.
However, here’s something crucial to realize about the world that will become my second lesson:
- While cultures may LOOK different, they are all rooted in the SAME things.
Think about it. People are not so different after all. Places & things vary, but love for one another, a desire to connect, to change the world…to change one’s OWN world….it’s all the same. Everyone wants to matter. Everyone wants to be valued, loved & treated as so. Everyone wants to find purpose- something greater to live for- even if it’s just something solely found in their personal world view. These are universal traits.
But these common traits that make up EVERY culture in the world are what PEOPLE are dependent on, not God. Just like how God operates outside of time and space, God is INDEPENDENT of culture. Yet culture is dependent on the traits of humans that display a need for God. It comes full circle doesn’t it?
People want purpose. People want love. People want acceptance. People want to be with other people.
These are the common threads of all of humanity. And I saw them in Thailand loud and clear:
-Family was an extremely important component of life there. Kids yearned for their parents, siblings, and friends just as much, if not more than in America. I saw this beautifully displayed in the English Center we worked in each day. It was there that we also got to share the Gospel. More will come about this later.
– The desire for a specific kind of beauty was evident, just as in the USA. However, in Thailand it was all about skin tone. A lot of money was clearly being spent on facial creams to appear whiter. Billboards were full of extremely white skinned Thais advertising the products. Their definition of beautiful was white skin…which was hard to swallow considering that most people in America desired to be tan. This a particularly clear example of 2 cultures expressing their exact same desires of acceptance in 2 different ways.
-Religion there was largely idolatry. Nearly every house or business had shrines and intricately decorated “spirit houses” that people woke up early to give offerings to. Massive temples dedicated to Buddha were widespread as well. Each was extremely ornate and stunning. I got to visit a few while I was there- it was truly an incredibly beautiful construction of humanity….which brings me to my next lesson God taught me:
- We view people bowing down and worshipping statues that they created as foreign and strange. The irony is that in America, we do the EXACT same thing without realizing it…which is even more disturbing.
I remember the moment. I was sitting bare-footed and on my knees in a strikingly grand temple. An enormous and elaborately decorated gold Buddha stared back at me. All was silent. I watched as people went before the statue and bowed reverently multiple times with their hands clasped above their heads to show the greatest amount of respect. I looked around and noticed how every inch of the temple seemed perfectly designed to appease the eye. That’s how it was in every temple I visited. Everything LOOKED beautiful by human standards…just like our perfectly designed Instagram accounts am I right? Its attractiveness was undeniable. It got me thinking how hard we work to perfect and worship our own images in the USA. We simply camouflage what we worship. For example, we may not be physically bowing down to our social media accounts, but how often do girls stop eating to appear perfect on them? And we may not be giving offerings to a shrine each morning, but how much do we offer up our precious time by mindlessly scrolling through those same social media accounts instead of spending that time in community with loved ones?
These are things to contemplate…but another is the power of God amidst these spiritually dark places in our lives. This leads me to lesson 4:
- God is with you. Always. Even in a temple devoted to an entirely different religion. God’s love, power, and presence is greater than a single piece of gold in that entire temple.
Going back to that silent moment, I remember saying one powerful thing in my head that changed the whole experience for me. It was simple. But it meant so much to me that I knew it was The Spirit reaffirming His presence:
I prayed in that moment to my Father. My FATHER. Not some statue that sat and stared at me blankly. Not an image created by broken human hands that leaves me empty. Not a set of Buddhist laws that are impossible to fully uphold. No. I was with my Father- who LOVES me. Who WANTS me. Who CARES about me…not just how pretty of a temple I build for Him. My body IS the temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). What I DO with it is what matters, not whether or not it meets the acceptance of perfect human standards. Jesus is the ONLY way to true freedom and love.
See I was told that Buddhism, while typically thought of as a very peaceful religion, is actually a very difficult religion to fully follow. It is based around cycles of karma, strict lists of rules, curses, and ultimately good works as a result of fear. This taught me yet another lesson:
- Works for Jesus are done as a thankful RESPONSE to His love already freely given. Works for anything else are done out of fear as a REQUEST for a love that they desire.
And I am not just talking about religions that aren’t Christian. Even if you don’t believe in anything, the universal traits of humanity are still in you and desire to be met. As a result, we find ourselves doing anything to achieve the love of someone else in a way that fully fills us. When one person can’t fully fill you, you move onto the next. Without Christ’s unbroken love and acceptance of us, we often get lost in the cycles of trying to find a perfect love in a very imperfect world. This disappointing cycle can lead to a very depressing world view built on desperation and fear….fear that you’ll lose someone…that you’re never going to be enough for others. This is because you weren’t meant to be enough. Jesus is the only One who can be fully enough for anyone- because He is the only One who says you already ARE enough for Him. It’s amazing how that works isn’t it?! He made you just the way you are and LOVES that about you. Why is this so hard to grasp for us? Why do we run away and decide not to believe so easily???
- The world tells us we are simultaneously both enough and not enough all at the same time. Think about the competing messages: “You are beautiful just the way you are!! Be different!” and “If you want to look like ______, buy this!”
Due to fear of not being accepted, it’s easier to listen to the conflicting messages of culture than it is to Jesus. It’s this fear factor that often drives our entire lives. The irony is that you’d think we’d be more fearful of a life apart from God. Yet we aren’t. And in Thailand I realized why:
- In America, we are pretty numb to the Gospel. When telling someone about it for possibly the first time, you realize the immense power in John 3:16.
I’ll never forget that first day of ministry at the English Center in Thailand that I wrote about in my notes. We were to do a Vacation Bible School style teaching of who God is. We didn’t realize that very few of the kids really had any real understanding of God or Jesus at all. A lot of them were there simply because it was a free hour and a half to possibly make crafts. Here’s what I wrote that day:
Ian, my trip leader asked the class,”Who is God?” Crickets. Does anyone know who God is? Or Jesus?” More crickets…maybe a nod here or there slightly. It was then that I realized the difference between American children and those of other nations. A lot of us, especially those in the South, are socialized into knowing a lot about Jesus at a very young age. We can answer the questions perfectly. These kids have no clue.
But then God hit me with a large glimmer of hope about the matter:
What a grand opportunity to show them who God is without any preconceived notions of who He is?! There’s no “boring church” thoughts. Just Jesus & who He is. Christians in the USA struggle to convert because some people see LOTS of “Christians” who do a poor job of showing what Jesus is like. Here there are barely any. So the few that are here get to set the tone….it’s a beautiful thing- getting to teach the gospel to people who don’t just see it as common place- but drastically countering to the cultural norms. The few on fire can make a greater impact if they truly live like Jesus. That’s a different lifestyle foreign to here. However, just like the original 12 disciples, it doesn’t take much to start a fire if the first sparks are authentic. The USA has too many sparks that fizzle out but still identify themselves as a flame.
Something I need to mention is that the two people in charge of the English Center we worked in were NOT American. They were a married Thai couple that had both found Jesus on their own. Both faced banishment from their families for choosing Christianity over Buddhism. Yes, they were cut off- that doesn’t really happen where we live. However, they explained that their separation actually made them stronger in Christ because it created a greater dependence on Him. So many miracles occurred as a result of their trust in God through all of the seemingly impossible scenarios. This reminds me of another lesson you may have heard before:
- When God is all you have, all you have is all you need. God truly does provide.
Every part of their story was covered in prayer. It was an extremely pivotal part of their story. And what better reminder is there to close with in this very long blog?? I know this was a lot, but God moved so much in our hearts during these past 2 weeks. Honestly, I am still trying to process everything. I hope it brings you some type of insight to the world and God’s unlimited heart for it.
I also hope you realize that God’s heart is not just for the nations, but for YOU. He goes to the ends of the earth to reach His people just as much as He goes to the ends of individual logic to reach your heart. Never doubt His work in the world through His work in you. I wrote this in my notes in Thailand and I hope it speaks to you somehow:
You are worth more than what pixels define you as. You are a human being. You are valuable. You have a purpose. You are loved. You matter. While The world will simultaneously tell you that you both do & don’t matter, look elsewhere for worth. A worth that isn’t dependent on an outfit, a photo, an aesthetic, or an outside perceived persona. It’s dependent on the Creator of worth. He is unsinkable. So therefore when you place your trust & faith in Him, you too become unsinkable. For humanity truly CAN be infallible…in Heaven: the place where we were MADE to thrive in. This broken place is but a temporary mirage in the journey to our true Home. So don’t get too caught up in the mirror…it will only fade with time. But the hearts of people, when truly invested in through the infallible power of Christ, can last forever. Let people be the mission of people.