(A reflection on 14 years of Cross cultural Service in Thailand)
For those of you who do not know me, I am a person who loves order, plans and predictability in life. Our 14 + years of cross cultural service in Thailand ticked none of those boxes!!
I came to Thailand with a clear sense of what I’d gone there to do, and how I was going to do it. “Really?” said the Lord, “are not my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts, than your thoughts?”(Is 55:8)
It’s taken some teaching, but I can now categorically say, “Amen to that!” My years in Thailand taught me a new appreciation of the sovereignty and endless creativity of God in achieving His Kingdom purposes. Ps 40:5 says, “Many O Lord my God are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us, no one can recount to you. Were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” Even so, I want to have a crack at highlighting three such areas.
God in the Unappealing:
I grew up with animals, yet as a child, I was indifferent to them. Who would have thought that after having two animal loving children, and living in a country with significant animal welfare issues, that I’d become passionate about animals, and that God would use my newly found passion to give me a regular presence at the local temples, crematorium and surrounding communities? Who would have thought that it would become one of my most significant ministry focuses? Who would have thought that God would use my care of needy animals, to enable me to connect and share the love of God with people? Certainly not me!
I knew before going to Thailand, that teaching English as a second language would most likely “be on the cards” as a means to building relationships. For me though, I thought it sounded deadly boring, and I privately and pointedly told God that I wouldn’t be doing it! “Really? says the Lord. “Are not my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts?” Sorry Lord, I’m a slow learner…
Teaching English to adults, actually became a major ministry focus for me for many years, and I grew to love it! I found a hidden passion for teaching, and really felt in my “happy place” in the classroom. God fuelled that passion, by giving me almost weekly opportunities to share my faith with my students, both in spiritual dialogue, and because the Bible was our primary text.
God in the Unexpected:
In our 10 years of preparing to go to Thailand, I met countless retired missionaries who used to return to their host countries in order to visit churches that they’d helped plant. How awesome was that?! That was going to be us in the not too distant future! That dream was never fulfilled however, and we had to learn to bury it, in order to embrace God’s wondrous plans for us as mobilizers and seed sowers of the gospel. A combination of the transient nature of the urban setting in which we served, combined with Paul’s student ministry, meant that every person we helped lead to Christ and disciple, eventually moved on to other locations and countries. In hindsight however, we can see that God’s ways certainly are higher than ours, as a large number of these believers are now living and ministering powerfully in closed countries where we could never have gone and are building God’s kingdom! Hooray for dashed dreams!!
God in the Uncomfortable:
Plans….. I have plans, and plans within plans! Plans for me, equals comfort and control. The “go with the flow” Spirit-led life used to be very uncomfortable. No longer! 5 years ago, I had an experience of what can happen when you’re open to the Spirit, and there’s been no looking back ever since!
One morning, I’d dropped my girls off at school, and was on my way to the library to visit with some of the staff there. To get to the library, I had to drive past the sports stadium which was another of my ministry sites. As I approached the sports stadium, I felt the Lord prompting me to change my plans and to go to the sports stadium instead. I refused, God persisted in telling me to “go,” and I persisted by saying, “no!” Crunch time came, and I was at the roundabout in front of the sports stadium. Straight to the library, or hang a right to get to the sports stadium. As I continued to be rebellious, the Lord had no choice but to take over. He placed his hands on top of mine on the steering wheel, and drove us into the sports stadium. In slight shock, we parked the car, and I wondered what to do next. To say I was peeved, was a bit of an understatement. So….I decided that sulking was a good option! After a time, I appealed to the more mature side of myself, and rationalized that if God had fought so hard to get me here, then it must be for something important. I became mildly excited! I walked over to my regular table under the shady trees, pulled out my Bible to read and pray, and waited for something to happen.
Thirty minutes passed, when a young lady in a running outfit approached me and asked me if I could look after her backpack whilst she went for a run. I smiled and said, “sure thing!” but inwardly I complained to God. “Are you kidding me?? This is my divine assignment, babysitting some random lady’s backpack?!!”
Forty five minutes later La returned from her run, and sat down for a chat. “You’re a Christian aren’t you” La said. “Yes” I replied, “are you?” Given that 95% of Thai’s are Buddhist, I was ill prepared for her “yes” answer. Again, disappointment welled up inside me as I surmised that my divine appointment for the day was to talk to a Christian. “I’m a missionary,” I silently retorted to God, “and I’m here to share the gospel with the lost. This lady doesn’t need me.” “Really?” said the Lord, “Are not my ways higher than your ways?”
La proceeded to tell me that she was having significant relational issues with her sister. Usually, that being the case, she would seek support from her church. Right then however, her church was too busy with infighting to be able to provide it. In desperation last night, La had prayed- “Lord please send me someone to talk to and pray with tomorrow!” La said to me, “I saw you sitting here this morning, and I knew that you were the answer to my prayer!”
I was in awe of what had just happened. There wasn’t, and still isn’t words to sum up this incredible experience! Despite my stubborn, disobedient and willful heart, God had used me to be an answer to prayer for La. I wanted to be used by God like that again and again. The Spirit led life had become intoxicating to me. “I was no longer paying lip service to “God’s ways being higher than mine,” I had experienced the truth and wonder of that statement first hand, and my life has never been the same since. I still start each day with my plans, but my prayer is now “if you have a better plan for me Lord, please hit me over the head with a brick, and remind me of La!”
I’m so grateful to God for 14 years of pushing me out of my comfort zone and destroying my plans. In the “messy” of my life in Thailand, I found new passions, went so much deeper with God, and most significantly for me I learnt how to live a Spirit-led life. I have become more useful to Him, and that is my purpose here on earth. Get “messy” with God! You’ll never be the same again!!