Honestly, all I was thinking the 2/3 days before I left was why in the world did I sign up for this. I had a choice. I actually went looking for mission trips to go on on my own during the 3 weeks of break I would still have after my internship, and now I was kind of regretting it. I just came back from family camp, I had a lot of fun with everybody, and just when I was getting some freedom and realizing how much I enjoy it, I remembered I signed up for 3 weeks of loneliness and uncertainty. The night before I was almost sure I made a mistake. We played monopoly deal all night, and I wasn't ready at all to go. Let's call this feeling Feeling 1.
I have totally forgotten the certainty I had that it was God's will that I go, when I planned the trip 2 months ago.
So I arrived, I wasn't exactly homesick, but I sure could think of a whole host of more 'fun' things I could be doing. First few days was alright, Jessica and Hannah were there, and they helped me adjust faster than I would have done by myself. I met many new people on the first day itself, but I was so ready to just fade into the background and mope in solitude instead of making the effort to make friends. They hardly spoke English, and those who did spoke it minimally. Sign language was important. I smiled and went through that whole motion of meeting new people, but I was sore inside, already counting down the days to going home. I am not proud of Feeling 2.
As the days passed by, it got better. I mean, I was sure this is one small step God wanted me to take, so as hard as it was learning to speak Thai and trying to make friends with adults and children there (children of course were easier), I started making the effort. It's not like I was gonna be there for a couple of years, just 3 weeks. I had to make the most out of it. People there don't open up to you easily. They are friendly, but that is what everybody (or most people anyway) is to a stranger. Building relationships from scratch with the language barrier seemed almost impossible. One thing I held on to when I was there, was that famous quote,
Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.
-St Francis of Assisi
I knew I could not use our language barrier as an excuse not to love these people, so I resolved to serve in deed, wherever I could, however small the deed. I also always replayed the words of Andy Stanley in my head - Where there's a need, meet it. When there's something to be done, do it. (Principle taken from Galatians 5:13) My struggle in this was when it came to washing the dishes. No really. I hate doing the dishes. It grosses me out, especially when you're doing other people's dishes. And honestly, no one sees it when you do the dishes. But it was just another lesson to be learnt in real life. You serve in the smallest way you can even when no one will ever know/appreciate that you ever did it.
When you live daily routines of consciously serving others, it starts off really hard. I don't know if it's just me, but when I start to try to do something consciously, it suddenly becomes 10 times harder than before. It seems to take every fibre in my body to carry out the deed.
After Jessica and Hannah left, I was faced with about 2 weeks of living alone. New dreading feeling. Now I don't have handy Thai translators (they were there for 2 months helping out!) and I would be alone in new terms again. I moved to a new place to stay, and at first coming home to an empty room, with absolutely nothing to do at night, was quite a daunting thought. Feeling 3. Phrao (the place I went to) is very small, and shops close around 8-9pm. And when people say they are going 'shopping', it means they are going to 7-Eleven. True story. And that happened to be where my breakfast and dinner came from after Jess and Hannah left.
Guess what? I started memorizing Scriptures in my solitary time. God's word became so important to me, because when I was alone, I was forced to face my fears/struggles in life that I could conveniently run from when I am around many people, or when I am busy. God did not fail me. He showed up every morning, with renewed mercies for me to go through my day with, always always meeting me where I am that morning, whether it was a good one or a really lousy one. I started enjoying the routine of waking up real early (5.45am) everyday, go to the kindergarten, finish work at 6.30pm, grab dinner from 7-Eleven and go home. Either I watch DVDs to pass the night, or I would be playing the guitar.
At first, without Jess and Hannah, with whom these people spent the last 2 months with, I felt like a stranger again. They didn't really know me, and I sure as anything didn't really know them. But I replaced those silent moments where there didn't seem anything to talk about (or indeed, did not know how to talk about it in Thai) with serving wherever I could. It didn't feel good to feel so friendless and alone, but that's that- Feeling 4.
Working with children, besides giving you good workout and near heart attacks (exaggeration hehe), it shows me how I should live my life. It shows me the ways in which God means when He said
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Honestly, I have learnt principles of living life from observing these children.
Of course, as things would go, I started to see fruits of the slow but sure building of a relationship. We still had language barriers, but I learnt quite well to communicate via some English, some Thai, and a whole lot of sign language. I always somehow thought we'd never get far, cause honestly, we can only talk about so much with such language struggle. But people started opening up to me. Especially a girl about my age, who told me a lot about her family and her life when we were having dinner together once, although our language barrier still existed. It came out of nowhere, and I didn't expect it cause usually they prefer to talk about general stuff. Hey, language or no language barrier, it didn't matter. I found out so much about her life and why she is the way she is. And I became friends with older adults that I thought were way out of my generation. With 1 week left to going home, I was starting to feel heavy-hearted. I felt like my work here was not done, and God knows how much more there is that needs to be done. Feeling 5.
I didn't feel good, to leave just when I start seeing fruits of friendship and trust blossoming. But God is Sovereign, and that was my only comforting thought.
So I am back, and of course, as you would predict, I miss the people and children there excessively. Feeling 6. My final year of school starts on Monday. It's going to be another chapter of my life and I am nervous to see what God has in store for me this year, and after that. Feeling 7.
So, numbering all those major feelings in the post above, what does it really mean? I mean if I were to number all the feelings I encountered during my trip, it would be a very very long post. But I think we all know where I am getting to. My feelings change like the second hand of the clock. One minute I feel great, the next second I don't. If I were to live my life guided by my feelings, chances are my life will not be very effective for God. Are my feelings more controlled now after all that I have experienced? Fat chance. They continue to change and change and affect me. But I am learning to distinguish between feelings and the truth. I keep failing, but by God's grace, I am going to keep trying.
I don't know what God's plan for me is tomorrow, or for the new semester, or for after I graduate. But I know His promises are true, and that
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
If there is one thing I have learnt from Thailand, it's that every smallest thing that happens in my life is part of God's big puzzle of my life. Whether I feel it's wrong or right, it will fit together. What I need to do is in this moment that I have, right now, is do the thing that honours God. Although I have a worry about something that's happening later, right now I honour God. Although I am burdened by tomorrow, I surrender it to Him and right now, just honour God.
Like a child, I try to live life by every moment that comes.
And at this moment, I think I am going to grab a snack! :P