We have been in Thailand for about 5 months now, and as I write this I am enjoying sitting in our house escaping the heat and sipping on some cold water to rejuvenate my body from being bombarded with the sun all day. My Canadian friends and family are, as they read this, plotting my demise from across the ocean for even mentioning hot weather. We have been enjoying motorcycle weather for the entire time we have been here. We have seen things that are so exotic, and we have done things that leave us each time saying, “only in Thailand”. It is pretty amazing living here and every day, literally brings something new our way. We are starting to get a small understanding of the Thai language. (In fact we took our car to a mechanic today and had to do the whole transaction in Thai…woo hoo WIN). We post pictures on facebook that look like these ones (below) because most of the time we are excited and happy to be here…at least NOW we are.
But it wasn’t always the case in this last 5 months. As I write to you, I am now writing from the perspective of a survivor of culture shock. I have been unraveled, torn, wrung out, and trampled as my heart and mind have tried desperately to hold on.
I know, it sounds really melodramatic, and to be fair it probably is. What can I say, I’m artistic.
But the reality is even though we were told it would happen, when approximately it would happen, and even how it would feel, I feel like I was not really believing it would happen to us. But it did, as it does for everyone in some way who lives cross culturally. We are not unique, but our story of it is and I want to share it with you.
I remember the smell of the air when we walked out of the airport. I remember looking at the kids and smiling as I saw their faces just in awe of this new place we were going to call home. We couldn’t sleep right away so our friends took us out to eat at a local Thai restaurant. Our taste buds were on fire (literally) and our senses were getting pummeled with our new surroundings. This was the beginning of a great adventure.
In the next week or so we began to venture out and see the city. Everything was crazy fun and exciting. We lit up our facebook and Instagram accounts with photos and comments and we enjoyed the feedback from our friends. Sarena and I had been here before but we hadn’t seen everything, and we were now seeing it through our eyes and the eyes of our kids. It was a rich time.
We went to a Thai church the first Sunday after we got here. That was intense. And it’s from here that I am going to tell of our journey towards culture shock.
Our Area director, Mel Sayer came to visit us and the Willems within the first month and as we sat there in church that Sunday there was a definite sense of God working in my heart. Mel had just preached a great sermon and it was time for the Pastor to ask if anyone had prayer requests and testimonies of God working in their lives throughout the week. Everything seemed pretty normal, as people thanked God for provision, asked for prayer for loved ones, that is until this young man walked up to the front. He was kind of bent over a bit and had a hard time looking up. He began to tell his story and I was trying to listen to my friend Larry translate. He told about a spirit that was causing him trouble and had threatened to kill him if he lifted his head up. The spirit had apparently been causing him menacing back pain for quite a while. He said that one of the families in the church invited him to come. He was clearly not a Christian and scared doesn’t even begin to describe the look on his face. It was then that the Pastor asked Mel, Larry, and myself to come up and pray for the guy. We put our hands on him and began to pray Korean style (all out loud at the same time). Well I wasn’t really prepared for what happened.
As we prayed I began feel a confidence in what I was actually asking of God. I really sensed that God was going to do something. Not a feeling that I am normally used to. See, I know God is active in our lives, and I know that he CAN work miracles, in fact I would even call myself a continualist when it comes to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit of God. But, come on, I come from conservative Alberta. Stuff just don’t happen like dat in Alberta. So as my preconceived dogma gently evaporated, God moved and this guy stood straighter. We thanked God and asked the kid if he still felt the pain that had been tormenting him for months. He immediately said no. We told him of Jesus and his power that is beyond these spirits. WOW, I was blown away and I left there feeling encouraged and a little curious to what God had in mind for us.
Fast forward a few months and we are sitting down for a meeting with the director of The Garden of Hope at “The Café”, an aptly named coffee place that we like to meet at. Yea, no points for originality but I give them a break since English is not their first language. A few days earlier we were travelling to Mae Sai, when Larry (another Larry who is the director of Garden of Hope) told me he had liver cancer. As we were meeting and talking about our trip and upcoming to do list of stuff, I began to really feel like God was moving me to pray for Larry. Unbeknownst to me, God was doing the same thing in Sarena’s heart. So at the end of the meeting we asked if we could pray for him. We did and we really believed that God was going to heal him.
Now at this point in our journey we had already faced a small bout of culture shock. It was accompanied by feelings of frustration, wanting to quit, anger, sadness, and serious loneliness. Also, facebook was being inundated with articles about this doctrinal war going on between the Neo-Reformers and the Charismatics about whether or not Charismatics were in or out of the flock. That was not helping. But, it was manageable. We were waiting for it to happen and when it did we prayed and talked our way through it. That wasn’t so bad. Well that was the rain before the hurricane.
We all waited for about a week for Larry to go into the hospital and get the cancer checked and for the doctor to determine the course of action to take. Well, I was really anticipating an amazing story of the Buddhist doctor finding that the cancer was gone and Larry having the chance of a lifetime to share Jesus and we would all rejoice and praise God. Umm…no. Instead he told us that the cancer was there and he was scheduled for an operation in three weeks.
Well this is where my faith took a turn for the worst while, simultaneously, our journey into culture shock was at its peak. Questions like, “why did God ask us to pray for him and then not heal him?” quickly became, “maybe I misunderstood feelings for God’s voice” and eventually, “Is it true that God doesn’t speak to us?” The final question made me feel so alone. I just could not put together a good answer for the questions and that was tearing me apart.
Sometimes the formulated answers for these kinds of questions just don’t work…period
Then God stepped in and introduced me to a lady I don’t think I will ever forget. We had been helping out Larry and Diane Willems with a small group of Karen believers. Well one of the people had found themselves in a tough situation and needed to go to her village in the mountains and speak with her parents. She asked if the Willems and our family could come for support. We said yes and we all spent the day in a remote village. It was awesome. Great food, amazing people, and some huge cultural insight, but I was still plagued with this nagging sense of utter faithlessness. As we were walking to the cars to begin our trip back home I noticed out of the corner of eye this old Karen woman slowly making her way to me and making a gesture for me to come to her. I walked toward her and I could clearly see that she was in some discomfort by the way she walked and held herself. She couldn’t speak English or Thai, but her son was with her who could speak Thai. I was able to make out that she wanted me to pray for her.
“Lord, what are you doing?” was the first thought in my head. “Of this whole group of believers why would you ask me to do this?” In my mind I was super resistant to the idea of praying for this woman, but I did it. I laid my hands on her shoulders and I began to ask God to heal her. She couldn’t breathe very well and was in a lot of pain. As I finished my prayer I asked her if she had any pain. She looked at me and I could tell she was still in pain, but she didn’t want me to lose face so she said she was OK. I knew that wasn’t true. This was a true crossroads moment for me. I totally could have walked away from the situation with my honor intact and then had to deal with the emotional fallout. But instead, my heart wouldn’t let me. My soul was clinging to the hope that Jesus would come through, even if it was just a whisper in my heart at this point. I asked her if I could pray again and asked her to point to where the pain was. I asked if I could put my hand on it. With the other hand on her back where her lungs were I began to ask Jesus to restore her breathe and relieve her pain.
That is exactly what he did! As I was praying, with Sarena now by my side, I felt her lungs expand and she took some deep breaths and I could feel her stand up straighter. Well I was beside myself with joy. I asked her if she was OK and she looked at me and smiled and nodded yes. Praise Jesus.
I took a picture of her and we walked towards the car reeling from what just happened and asking myself what I do with this now. The lady walked over to her friends and began talking and laughing and she seemed completely restored. I felt like the father of the man that asked Jesus to heal his daughter. “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
Well Jesus did help my unbelief. He has restored my faith and through a simple act of obedience I have received healing in my heart. About three weeks ago now I was sitting in church listening to the Pastor pray for Thailand and something happened that hasn’t happened for a few months. I wept. Jesus was again giving me his heart for the Thai people and I am thankful that even when I feel like I have lost all faith…he remains faithful.