Huay Malai is a special village, but an individual wouldn’t be able to see that with just a short visit. It takes time to see. To see the endurance and strengthen of the people, to see the beauty, happiness, but also sadness in their lives past and present, to see the beautiful place we live in, to see the wisdom and love in their words and lives.

Huay Malai is located about 30 minutes by car from Sangklaburi.  Sangklaburi is in Kanchanburi province located in SW Thailand. Kanchanburi is not only the name of the province, but also the name of the main city (located about 4 hours from Sangklaburi).  To get into or out of Huay Malai village to Sangklaburi or anywhere else one must travel with some that has a car as it is too far to walk or bike. An individual can take a hired motorbike or  song tao (a truck with an open back on it) , if it is a weekday.  Huay Malai is way up in the mountains. It is SO beautiful, but in order to get to Huay Malai one must travel up through the winding mountains for 4 hours, by car or minibus/bus.

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Huay Malai is located right near the Thai/ Mynamar border (about 15 minutes by car) and thus the people that live in Huay Malai and this area are mostly Karen people, but also Mon, Thai, and Burmese.

It’s hard to say how many people live here, but the village is filled with children. ❤

There is a market only once a week, on Thursday mornings, when people from the village and the surrounding areas come together to sell their goods.   One other stall has food (vegetables, eggs, and meat- so very healthy)  in our village people can get when it’s not market day. Many of the people in the village also love fishing in the nearby rivers and then come sell their fish and/or vegetables from tubs on their heads.

Most of the people live in bamboo houses or traditional Thai houses (as Lindsey – another American volunteer and I live in). There are 6 Thai houses owned by the school here. Lindsey and I live in one of the homes.

In the other houses live 1. Cru Wonpen and her family. Cru (Thai for teacher) Wonpen is from Sisaket, Thailand which is in Isan (the part of Thailand near Laos) and so she can speak and understand Lao.  Her husband , Mon, is also a teacher at a primary school in Ban Mai which is another nearby village.  They have 3 children, O, Annie, and A-fo.  O is also a teacher in Huay Malai, Annie is studying Pharmacy in Bangkok, and A-fo is in 5th grade.  Bell also lives with them who is a cousin. Her parents passed away when she was young, and so they have adopted her. She is in high school in Sangklaburi.

2.  Cru Joy.  Cru Joy is the pastor at the school. He lives with his sister and his sister’s grandson who is 3 years old. There are also 3 nieces/ nephew that live with them.

3.  Pi Mi La is the janitor at the school. He lives with his wife and many children.

4. Cru Komgrit and his daughters and grandchildren, one of the 3rd grade teachers at the school.

5. Mr. Soupha the director of the school and his family.

Our house is made of wood, but pretty open to nature. Since we are very deep into the jungle, our home is filled with geckos, about 5 lizards, mice in rain season, large snails,  and other animals. Every day is an adventure! 10178087_10152473188619120_7276769051917098155_n

This lizard has adopted my bedroom! It finally let me take its picture one day, but usually is too quick!

This lizard has adopted my bedroom! It finally let me take its picture one day, but usually is too quick!

 

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I cannot tell you how many times I have sat staring at a blank word document, thinking I should write about this new adventure I am having in Thailand learning even more about SE Asia, but I could never quite form the words for all the things I felt, so I would close my computer and forget about it.
BUT, I want to remember my time in Thailand, so it’s due time to start writing on my beautiful blog again.
I was so certain I wanted to return after only 4 months in the United States, but I don’t think I completely prepared myself for that. With so many people saying back then, “Are you really sure this is what you want?”, I wasn’t sure what to do/ what I really wanted then, I needed confirmation, so I returned to SE Asia.

I love Laos like I have never loved any where else, and coming back to a place that is, as the saying goes is, “same same, but different”, is truly really hard.
I have cried my eyes out so many times, I was angry and so sad to leave Laos. I can go back and in the meantime hold on to memories and remain in contact with my good friends. I found myself there, I found who I am called to be, ‘my vocation’ as many institutions like to call it. I found true unconditional love among people (and formed good friendships) among those who are very different from me. I found and saw God acting among the world in very powerful ways, unlike ever before.

I listened to people tell me for weeks…
“If you really wanted, you would find a way to stay there / go back.”
“God has lead you to Laos, God wants you to work among the Lao people”
“You are Lao. You are Lao people now”
among many other comments.

This didn’t really help, and I seriously started searching out other places where I may belong more and do again what I truly loved, but maybe I was just searching for a place that was what I had left behind. With the patience and love of many people I visited sites in Chaing Rai and Kong Kean to see if those were better fits- but maybe I am getting ahead of myself because I have not explained my current placement in Thailand…
I even went so far as searching masters programs that I am very certain I will pursue, and downloading applications, thinking it really was time.

But then I stepped back and evaluated what was really bothering me about my situation, and decided my present was important here and I needed to stay.

Time heals the soul. Thanks to time I have slowly seen that my place in Thailand adds a new perspectives and knowledge to what I have already gained in Laos.
I can still have relationships with my dear friends in Laos (and return, as I have 2 times already), Vietnam, and other places of Thailand. It’s not lost, its only expanding in new ways!

“No one can tell stories like the one to whom it belongs.” – SO TRUE – Heard from pastor in the USA.

So, I have many stories to share since April 2014 when I returned back, stay tuned!

Living in SE Asia as a GMI has greatly challenged and strengthened my faith and relationship with God, other people, as well as a how I see myself. While I would never deny my faith was developing for many years before I came overseas, serving in Thailand and Laos has tested and increased my faith in more powerful ways then I ever thought possible. I strongly believe that it is in those moments of most discomfort, questioning, and unfamiliarity where God and my understanding of church is most visible, and many of those moments have existed in the last couple of years. While I have served in both Thailand and Laos I have a unique perspective of the church in SE Asia. Nevertheless, supporting Christians has been difficult at times. Working to sustain the church in Laos and Thailand comes with many joys as well as challenges. To me, sustaining ‘the church’ is not about having a beautiful building or any building for that matter, memorizing and reciting scripture or fundraising , because the church is very alive without any of these elements. Church is found in relationships we build with others, (no matter how similar or different they may be from us), uplifting people, about places we can feel safe to be our true selves, about unconditional love, and about forgiveness.

What does the church look like overseas in Laos and Thailand? The church is found in among the Karen people ( an ethnic hill tribe people who have fled to Thailand) who gather at their homes every Saturday to worship and share fellowship with each other, and then again on Sunday mornings. The church exists in the refugee camps, safe houses, and children’s homes that care for Karen children and adults who have faced many struggles and need a place of love and refuge. The church exists on the faces and in the hearts of Lao, Karen, and Thai teachers who dedicate many hours of their lives to providing a school home for children to learn. The church is found in simple meals shared together with others. The church exists in the moments where we are not afraid to make mistakes, because it is in those instances we learn and grow the most.

Christianity in Laos and Thailand are in different stages of development and so supporting and being a witness looks a bit different in each place. For me, the most important aspects in sustaining the church overseas are understanding where people are on their faith journeys, and the history of Christianity in a certain place, as well as also understanding a person for who they are (what are their likes, dislikes, dreams, etc. ) and their families and communities. Reasons always exist for why people act the way they do or why something is the way it is. The truth is that the more one understands someone or something the more appreciation and love he or she has for that person or thing. The same applies for the church in SE Asia.

Christianity in Lao is new, and since few foreigners visit or learn about the church, Christianity exists in many of the same ways as when Christ was first introduced to Lao people. Christianity in Laos is growing and evolving however, especially with the youth, who have shown me more Christian faith than I have seen anywhere. Sustaining church in Laos involves recognizing and honoring where people are spiritually, but also gently sharing with them what Christianity is like in other places, and imagining what could be in the future.

Thailand is more diverse and westernized in Christian practices than Laos and so Christianity has a longer history of growing and developing. With more foreigners visiting and working in Thailand, Thai and Karen people are faced with more perspectives on how people live out their faith. The situation can also be hard for foreigners who struggle to hold on to their own beliefs and traditions in a place that is much different than their home country. It is not the outsider’s job to change what exists in a different place, not to make it like their own, but, more so, to honor, love, and learn from how it is. Thai and Karen Christians, especially children and youth, still struggle with the question of what they believe and whether their friends and family will accept that or not. In both Thailand and Laos Christian people are confronted with a pull between the beauty and importance of Buddhism (the dominant religion) in their culture and the hope and joy found in a life with Christ. Many Christians have converted from Buddhism, and in some places Christian people are told to leave behind the ways of Buddhism. For many individuals, the division between Buddhism and Christianity creates conflicts, often strongly separating beliefs and values of family members, as well as lots of confusion. For many Thai and Karen students that attend a Christian school, such as the one I volunteer at, Saha Christian Suksa School, they are faced with many questions. For many Karen students when asked if they are Christian or want to be Christian, they will tell another person that they cannot be until they are older, as they must continue to honor their families and the Buddhist tradition.

Sustaining the church is important, but brings with it difficulties for SE Asia. With love, understanding’ and respecting others beliefs, and learning and growing in mutual relationships with others, the church in SE Asia has a bright future.

Located about fifty kilometers from Sangklaburi (in Kanchanburi Province, near the Thai/Myanmar border) lies a beautiful village called Huey Malai. I have lived in this village since May 2014. Huay Malai is home to mainly Karen hill tribe people. Over the years, many of the Karen people have been pushed into Thailand as a result of violence in Myanmar. Thousands of Karen people are now living in Thailand, often in refugee camps along the border. Dozens have fled to avoid killings, forced labor, rape, and other forms of conflicts with the Burmese government. It is estimated over 150,000 Karen people have fled to Thai refugee camps and now live in Thailand. While Karen people may be displaced, Huay Malai is one place they call home. Huay Malai is also home to Saha Christian Suksa School, part of the ministry of the Church of Christ in Thailand, which serves over six hundred young individuals in the area from kindergarten to sixth grade. The school faces challenges because many students reside in area homes together (their families cannot afford to care for them, their parents are in Myanmar, or they really are orphans), must be supported by NGO’s in order to attend school, and are not always Thai citizens. Nevertheless, school teachers and staff are committed to working to provide safe, loving, and enriching learning environments for all the students. Thai schools have a high reputation for giving students a well- rounded education (often more advanced than the educational systems of bordering countries) and educators and Karen people are proud to provide this to Karen children and youth. Students at Saha Christian Suksa School not only learn mathematics, history, Thai language, agriculture, health, sewing, physical education, and music, but they also benefit from having a Christian influence. They are taught not only about God’s love and care for them through songs, prayers, and relationships with others, but also grow from the encouragement they receive from peers and teachers to be the best that they can be every day!

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In recent years English has become very important in Thai schools. In southern Asia, where every country speaks its own language, English has quickly become the universal language. Likewise, with the opening of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) projected in 2015, the people of Thailand face a greater pressure to learn English. Being able to understand and speak English provides individuals with more opportunities within and outside of their home country. English is still very new for many students in Huay Malai. For older students English is their fourth language, as they can already speak Karen, Thai, and Burmese, but most of the younger students can only speak Karen. As their teacher, I try to provide more hours per week for their English classes. With continued repetition of words and phrases and creative activities, the students’ English abilities are improving greatly. Educators here are excited to provide English to Karen students! Despite living in a remote village, often lacking resources others take for granted, and facing many daily struggles, these children are blessed to receive an excellent education, similar to any other Thai student, so that they may go on to serve and be leaders in Thailand or other countries throughout the world.

From 14 June to 5 July I took a trip back to Laos. It was an extraordinary time, my heart was so happy. Lao people are special in ways that no one else in the world is.  Life is so real and alive there.

I arrived at Wattay International Airport, Vientiane,  on the evening of 14 June and were greeted  by 2 friends and one of my friend’s father who owns a tuk-tuk. After finding me, we went to one of their homes so we would be together for church in the morning. Only, my friends were so excited (as was I) we didn’t stop laughing or talking for a while. My friend’s, Chanbang, house is located near the airport. For a long time she wanted me to come to her house, but saying it’s uncomfortable and dirty. After repeated conversations of bo pen yang (no worries), she decided it was a good idea. After that day she ALWAYS wanted me to sleep with her at her house!

Her family’s house , similar to many Lao families, is small, only a couple rooms, but what makes a home is definitely the people not the structure. Lao people like to live together.   Chanbang’s family is definitely full of lots of happiness and life. Since I first met her many of her family members have come to live with them in Vientiane from other provinces – because they want to be part of the church.

As Chanbang’s English has gotten better and my Lao, her family members have also got to know me. On this trip her aunt and uncle wanted us to come stay at their home. Their home is located way outside Vientiane near lots of rice paddies and the Mekong, of which we went to one night.

Chanbang also wanted me to go to the graduation of 2 of her friends. The graduation was held very far away at a school we didn’t really know how to get to, but eventually we made it and Chanbang was able to take pictures with her friends!

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The first Sunday I was there I spent the entire day at Nongtha (Nakham Church).  It felt so good to worship with so many very proud and faithful Christians , as well as familiar faces all day. Many of my Lao Christian friends used to tell me, “Thai Christians do not love God.”  I thought what they were saying was ridiculous, but now that I have lived in Thailand there is some truth to that statement.  Thai people love God, but in a very different way.  Lao Christians love God with all their heart, body, and soul.  For Thai people and many others, many other things get in the way of God (their jobs, a materialistic lifestyle, etc.).

Nakham Church is still being built. It is expected to be completed at Christmas! Lao Christians are very excited and proud for the new church.   Below a few recent pictures of the progress.

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For most of the 3 weeks I was there I stayed with one of my Lao families (the 2nd family I had lived with). My 2nd family has had an MCC volunteer living with them this year, Kris (see previous blog entries). Kris is ending his MCC Lao work this week and so they were all glad I came back before he left. We spent a lot of time together, much of it spent into the early hours of the morning each night watching the World Cup! I never really liked football that much before but when you are with one of your many Lao fathers, MCC friend, and 2 Lao brothers football definitely gets more excited, even at 1 AM!

My Lao family all sleep together  (5 of them) in one of the rooms of their home on blankets on the floor! That’s the way they like it best (!), even though they have mattresses and other rooms to their home. 🙂 Kris and I joined them for part of some nights while watching the World Cup!

Kris, the MCC volunteer, and I also spent much time helping Mina,  our Lao mother, learn computer skills. She has a new job where she is the manager of a Korean school and English volunteers programs, so she needed to learn about the computer. Mina is such a busy lady, not like your typical Lao person. She is always taking on new projects, eager to learn new skills. I helped Mina a lot with her evening English classes. Every evening about 40 students come to learn English at her home. There is no permeant teacher though – they are all volunteers.  Many of the students don’t have money to come study, but are still invited to study! Mina’s dream is to open a Kindergarten and computer classes in a few years.

I spent a lot of time at Proviedence School and Donkoi Primary School. Since I came during the summer, there were fewer students at Providence School and at Donkoi summer camp was in session!

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After the teachers at Donkoi realized I had come back to Laos they wanted me to come teach English and help with activities, so I went back a few days to do just that.  For 1 week a group from World Friends Korea were visiting Donkoi.  World Friends Korea is a South Korean government-run overseas volunteer program, similar to the Peace Corps. There were about 10-15 volunteers that came from South Korea that came to help at Donkoi school. They taught the students English and Korean, but also worked to build the final school wall!

 

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Since I have left to come back to Thailand the wall has been completed and the students and teachers are now working to replant a garden in the empty spaces. What do you think? It is very beautiful!

 

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While I was in Vientiane I also volunteered at the Children’s Hospital. Activities were created at the Children’s Hospital a few years ago to keep the children busy and happy while they wait for visits with the doctors. Many of the Lao social work students volunteer in this way. On many days the students go around with a cart of books to read and spend time with the children, in this case especially the children who are too sick to come down to the activity room. I recruited Mailo, a very active social work student and friend to help me.

mailo and I

After volunteering at the hospital, I went to a different hospital.  Since it is rainy season, it is hard to stay dry and clean always and so I got ‘nong’ infection on my foot.  It hurt to walk and when I went to show my friends they all said go to the hospital. While you know your  Lao language skills are OK when you can communicate with the doctor and he prescribes the right medicine.

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I also spent some time with 2 of my best church friends, La and Kor,  who have had their babies since I last was there. I had fun seeing them for the first time and talking care of them.  Both of these friends are teachers at Providence School. When I saw them again for the first time after 6 months I was crying in happiness. They were confused because Asian people very rarely express emotions in public, but I told them I was just very happy. They just smiled and laughed!

Afterward, they had me come back to teach English at Providence School many days, as school is still in session during the summer there, just with less students. It felt as if I had never left!  A world that was once so different and foreign has become a place that is comfortable, a place that is just as much home as in Iowa, and will continue to be that forever.

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I also spent time visiting and spending time with lots of other friends and family. I spent a couple days at Pastor Khamphone’s house (where I used to live), visiting with him and his family members.

I spent time with one particular individual and friend who has had mental illnesses, but is now getting better. She now teaches English at a school in her village and weaves during the summer. She is really talented at weaving. We spent lots of time weaving together!  Two pictures of us below, the one on the right with friend that works at her family’s home.

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I had a wonderful visit to Laos getting reconnected with my best friends and volunteering in many different places.  After 3 weeks I was able to get a new Thai VISA and return to Thailand, but I left very happy and rejuvenated, until I return again.

Love from my home in Laos ❤

About a month ago I came back to SE Asia, to Thailand, as a Global Mission Intern. I spent a week in Bangkok and then  a week up in the north in Chaing Mai (both at training). I will explain more in a future writing, but now I in Kanchanburi province at last. Were I am living is near the Burma/Thai border, near Sangkhlaburi, in the village of HuayMalai.

I will write more soon, but for now I under lots of transition and new people/ environments, and let’s face it transitions are really really hard.  No one warns one about this…

I am very safe though from the events that have been occurring in Thailand over the last few months and especially this last week, but it is important to stay informed and keep all the people of Thailand in your thoughts.

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Here is some information about the state of the Thai govt.  This is kind of long, so you can read all  or scroll to the questions / question you are  most curious about. Questions in bold.

Article titled: “9 Questions about Thailand you were too Embarrassed to Ask”

Updated by Max Fisher on May 23, 2014

On Friday in Bangkok, about 24 hours after the Thai military had announced that its declaration of martial law and seizure of government buildings were in fact a coup, the now-deposed prime minister and about 150 other government officials marched dutifully to a military facility to turn themselves in.

This is Thailand’s 12th military coup since 1932 — its last was in 2006 — making it the country with by far the most military coups, practically a routine here. But Thailand doesn’t look like the sort of place to have so much political turmoil: it has a healthy middle-income economy, reasonably decent democratic institutions, and no big ethnic or religious conflicts. It’s a nice place.

So you may reasonably be wondering, What is going on in Thailand? Why did it just have a coup? Why are its politics so messed up? What follows are the most basic answers to your most basic questions, written for people who might not be Thailand experts but would like to understand what’s happening.

1. Why did Thailand just have a coup?

This is a surprisingly complicated question. There are three ways to think about it. The first is that Thailand has some very unusual characteristics that make this otherwise healthy country unstable and extremely susceptible to coups: impossibly divided politics, a big political establishment that isn’t totally sold on democracy, and a king who is powerful enough to mediate but weak enough that he doesn’t very often, leaving an opening for the military to mediate ostensibly on his behalf (more on that later).

The second is that this coup was not a stand-alone event, but just the latest chapter in a political crisis that’s been continuously ongoing for many years, in which the country’s mostly-rural population elects a pro-rural government, which is then ousted by the political establishment and its urban and middle-class supporters (more on this later as well).

The third way is to just look at the current crisis, which comes down to a national political fight between people who want majority democratic rule versus people who think that majority rule has led to a bad government that is not-so-secretly controlled by an exiled telecom billionaire living in Dubai. Yeah, welcome to Thailand.

2. So what caused this most recent coup?

Let’s take a step back. In 2001, billionaire telecom mogul Thaksin Shinawatra — that name is really important — got elected prime minister. He championed the long-neglected rural communities, who are the majority in Thailand, and challenged the political establishment. He also grabbed lots of power for himself and stifled media freedom.

In 2006, urban Thais protested Thaksin’s government. The military, which is very close to the political establishment that Thaksin had so alienated, deposed him in a coup. He fled the country in 2008 to escape corruption charges. But Thaksin was still popular after the coup. His allies won a national election in 2007, and then again in 2011, when his sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister.

The spark that started all this came in October 2013, when Yingluck’s party rewrote an amnesty bill, which was supposed to pardon civilian protesters swept up in political instability during earlier years, and expanded it to also absolve Thaksin for his corruption charge. It looked like Thaksin was manipulating the Thai government, through his sister, to give himself a pardon. Thaksin’s opponents were convinced that the telecom billionaire was still running the government from Dubai, that their 2006 coup hadn’t been enough.

In response, an opposition politician named Suthep Thaugsuban helped lead mass protests calling for Yingluck’s government and her pro-Thaksin political party to be ejected from power entirely. That party has won so many elections that it was clear they had enough support to keep winning them, though, so Suthep and his protests didn’t ask for a new election: they demanded that the democratically elected government be replaced by an unelected “people’s council.” In other words, they wanted to get rid of majority democratic rule, at least for now.

Suthep is a canny guy. He knew that the military was sympathetic to his cause, that in times of turmoil the military becomes a lot more likely to intervene, and that if there were a coup Suthep would get the non-democratic government he wanted. So his demonstrations did a lot of provoking: they stormed administrative buildings, blocked off major roads, and generally tried to force Yingluck to crack down, which Suthep knew would lead to violence that might provoke a coup. Meanwhile, the opposition party resigned from the parliament en masse, saying they wouldn’t return to work until the people’s council was in charge. Yingluck held snap elections to replace the parliament in February, but the protesters blocked many of the polls.

It was a lot of chaos. And it worked. On May 7, they got a judicial coup: the constitutional court ordered Yingluck to step down from the prime ministership, allegedly for abusing authority in removing a national security official back in 2011. On May 20, they got their military coup, when the army declared martial law and took control of the government.

A Thai military vehicle drives over pro-Thaksin “red shirt” protest barricades in Bangkok. PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

3. You said this coup was just another chapter in a years-long crisis. What’s the crisis?

Since Thailand became democratic in the 1990s, these coups have been part of a long-running fight between the rural majority, which has enough supporters to keep electing governments, versus the political establishment. The rural majority can take power by winning elections; the establishment minority can take power through coups. So that’s the cycle the country has been locked in for years.

The political establishment isn’t just a group of a few dozen bureaucrats: it includes most urban middle-class as well as almost all of the country’s political elite, its business leaders, judges, military officers, and most of the royal palace officials. It’s millions of people. The middle-class and establishment aren’t numerous enough to elect governments, but they are powerful enough to kick out those rural-elected governments through military and judicial coups. And they think they know better than those rural voters.

At its most basic level, this is about an unwinnable fight between Thailand’s two main political factions that’s been going on for years. The conflict is that each of these two sides is strong enough to take power, but not strong enough to hold it: each wave of the crisis tends to be one side pushing the other out of power. It’s stalemated political trench warfare that sometimes leads to actual bloodshed.

Think about how bad the political divide is in the United States. Now imagine that there were way more Republicans than Democrats, such that Republicans almost always won elections, but that the Democrats represented almost everyone with real political power, from judges to generals to business leaders. Now imagine that the military and supreme court openly prefer Democrats, and isn’t afraid to use its power to kick out Republicans. Throw in a few more problems — an ailing king, rural poverty, a habit of using mass streets protests to force political change — and you’ve got the basics of Thailand.

4. How did Thailand get so addicted to coups?

“THAILAND HAS OVER 1,700 GENERALS AND ADMIRALS”

Thailand has what scholar Nicholas Farrelly has called a “coup culture” — to be clear, that doesn’t mean that Thai culture is somehow prone to coups, it means that Thai politics have developed an artificial culture in which coups are an accepted way of getting things done. So each coup makes more coups more likely. “Thailand’s elite — and, to some extent, the public as well — have deeply internalised the ultimate acceptability of coups,” Farrelly wrote in a 2013 Australian Journal of International Affairs article.

The first coup, in 1932, was the military replacing Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy, which still has real political power. The problem is that both the military and the king still see themselves as above-it-all mediators who can step in whenever there is a political crisis. This encourages political leaders (like our buddy Suthep from above) to actively foment crises if they think it will lead to a coup and the coup will favor their interests.

Coups have become so normal that Thailand’s political institutions, as well as its regular voters, have not felt compelled to find another way to resolve political conflict. The fact that people expect a coup, and that it is not seen as quite as objectionable as it is in other countries, makes those coups more likely.

Thailand’s coup culture also partly comes from the country’s military culture. Here’s southeast Asia scholar Joshua Kurlantzick:

Other countries also had such coup cultures-think of Turkey-and eventually broke the cycle to the point where coups became unacceptable. Thailand has not done so. That’s in part because, compared to nearly every army in the world, Thailand’s military is particularly bloated with senior officers who are not needed for defense and war-fighting. Despite having no obvious external enemies, Thailand has over 1,700 generals and admirals-proportionally a vastly higher percentage than in the U.S. military. Most of Thailand’s senior officers have no real jobs. Instead, they have come to believe they can gain prestige, work, and money only by intervening in politics.

5. Can we take a music break that is thematically relevant to explaining Thai politics?

Sure! Americans mostly experience Thai culture through its fantastic food, but Thailand also has great film and music scenes. Thai popular music really picked up in the 1970s, as part of a national political awakening among university students and the urban middle class, who fought against military rule.

In 1973, Thai students who held mass protests against the military dictatorship that had seized power two years earlier in a coup (yes, this is Thailand) started a new kind of music called “phleng phuea chiwit” or “songs for life.” The genre blends Thai folk with Western rock and political lyrics — think of it as like the 1960s American protest songs that gave rise to people like Bob Dylan. Here’s a song by the popular phleng phuea chiwit band Carabao:

 

The song, titled “Kaw Thoon Lei,” is about Thailand’s ethnic minority the Karen and their quest for their own independent country. It’s not immediately relevant to the cycle of protests and coups, but it does show how engaged Thai society became with politics in the ’70s. The 1973 protests against the military were ultimately resolved when the king stepped in, declaring on national television that the military had behaved irresponsibly, which the generals took as their signal to step down and allow civilian rule. (The military did retake power in a 1976 coup, though.)

6. I hear a lot about Thailand’s king. What does he have to do with all this?

The king is part of the problem in Thailand. This is more for structural political reasons than because he is any kind of anti-democratic villain. As Thailand scholar Thongchai Winichakul wrote recently for Al-Jazeera, “Ultimately, while many foreign observers credit the Thai monarchy for the country’s stability, it has become a destabilizing force and an impediment to democratization.”

THERE’S A BIG CHUNK OF THAILAND THAT DOESN’T WANT FULL DEMOCRACY

Bhumibol Adulyadej has reigned as Thailand’s king and official head of state since 1946, making him the longest-serving national leader alive today. He does not meddle in day-to-day politics, but he has sometimes played the role of a mediator who can step in to resolve disputes.

The fact that the king has acted previously as a political mediator is actually part of the problem. Thai democratic institutions didn’t develop systems for solving problems democratically because they had this royal mediator. But now the king is 86 and he’s not so involved anymore, which has left an opening for an outsider mediator — a role that the military is happy to fill.

Partly it also gets back to Thailand’s dispute over democracy and majority rule versus rule by a minority elite. The minority elite naturally likes the idea of keeping the monarchy involved in politics, partly because it perpetuates rule by a small elite, and partly because the military and bureaucratic elite are tightly linked with palace officials and institutions; they’re all part of the same establishment.

The other problem is that it’s not year clear who will succeed the 86-year-old king when he dies; while the crown prince is next in line, there are long-running rumors that someone else may take power. This uncertainty worsens instability. “The unspoken backdrop to all this is the coming royal succession,” journalist Mark Fenn wrote recently.

This uncertainty has the pro-monarchy political elite feeling paranoid — when the king dies, will they lose their influence forever? — and acting unusually aggressively to protect their role in politics. Thailand political observer and activist Pavin Chachavalpongpun explains:

The upcoming royal succession will place the unpopular Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn on the throne. Members of the old power fear the day when Bhumibol will no longer be the force to protect their power interests. The protests in Bangkok reflect their anxiety over losing control as much as they do their antagonism vis-à-vis Thaksin, Yingluck and their supporters

Add on top of all this that Thailand’s crazy-strict lese majeste laws make it illegal for journalists or analysts in the country to openly write about the king or his succession. That makes it really hard to have a national conversation about him and his role in politics.

7. So is Thailand a democracy or a monarchy?

It’s both, and that’s the conflict.

“Almost all coup attempts, successful or failed, occur in countries that are relatively poor and have political regimes that mix features of autocracy and democracy,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies coups and other forms of state collapse, told me recently in explaining Thailand’s many coups. While Thailand is not so poor anymore, Ulfelder explained, “These mixed regimes are especially susceptible to coups when politics within them is sharply polarized, as it has been in Thailand for nearly a decade now.”

What we are seeing in Thailand is in many ways a fight over whether to let the country be fully democratic or keep some element of elite rule. This week’s coup was the people who want elite rule asserting themselves.

On the surface, this coup and the crisis that led to it were about the middle class and establishment trying to put out the influence of Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecom billionaire who won office by appealing to the rural majority. That fight is partly about a telecom billionaire maybe exerting undue and oligarch-like influence, but it is also about the fact that he shifted power from the urban elite to the rural majority and the urban elite does not like that.

Because the fight in Thailand is over whether the rural majority can be allowed to dominate the government, as majorities tend to do in democracies, the fight often appears to be over democracy itself. The mostly-rural, pro-Thaksin majority obviously wants as much as democracy as possible because that helps them. And the establishment minority wants less democracy because that makes it easier for them to hold on to power.

This is why, for example, the late-2013 anti-government protests that played such a big role in sparking the recent coup were calling for a “People’s Council” to replace the democratically elected government. You also saw this happen in 2007, when the parliament passed a constitutional amendment to finally make the Thai Senate fully democratic (currently, about half of the senators are elected and the other half are appointed by a committee of mostly judges; the amendment would have made all senators elected). The political establishment pushed for the constitutional court to reject the amendment, which they got, thus keeping the senate half-appointed and half-elected.

8. Is there a bizarre anecdote about cooking shows that demonstrates Thai politics at their craziest?

You bet. Samak Sundaravej, who was the prime minister for about eight months in 2008, was booted from office because he had hosted a couple of cooking shows, one of which was called “Tasting and Ranting.” It’s an awfully colorful story, but also a pretty serious one, and you can read all about it here.

9. I skipped to the bottom. What’s going to happen next?

It’s really difficult to say. So far the coup has been bloodless, and that’s good. Given Thailand’s reliance on the Western democratic world, the importance of its tourism industry, and the fact that the military is not exactly novice at this whole coup business, things will probably stay relatively calm.

That said, it is entirely possible that there will be massive pro-Thaksin, anti-coup protests, as there were in 2010 after the last pro-Thaksin government was ousted and replaced with a pro-establishment government. Those protests led to some very bad street violence that killed up to 100 people. There’s no sign of this happening yet but the point is that there’s a recent and worrying precedent.

Longer-term, there are basically three options. First, the Thai political establishment can finally resign itself to accepting democracy, even though that means the rural majority will keep electing people they don’t like. Maybe the establishment will even figure out how to appeal to those rural voters. Second, the Thai establishment can use its overwhelming political power to just insist on stepping away from democracy altogether, as Suthep wants to do with his “People’s Council” government, which would almost certainly lead to lots of protests and instability. Third, and perhaps most likely for the time being, Thailand may just keep its mixed, sort of democratic and sort of not democratic system. This system creates lots of problems but the status quo is always the most likely thing to persist.

Written by: Julie Berg-Raymond
Appeared in the Decorah Newspapers on Thursday, April 24, 2014

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“Ultimately, human beings are all the same, equally important and loved, but different in such areas as what we define as home, what language we communicate in, what we eat for food each day, or where we find/buy clothes. In the end, we live differently, but at the core are all the same.”

— From Nicole Betteridge’s blog post, September 2, 2012, before embarking on a 14-month stay in Laos.

When 2008 Decorah High School graduate Nicole Betteridge first decided, in 2012, to go to Laos as a mission intern and teacher, she experienced mixed emotions.

According to her blog, started before the trip: “The opportunity to live, serve, and learn from the people of Laos gets me pretty excited. However, it would be an understatement to say that I am not equally nervous or scared. I will be moving to a country whose people live very differently than how I have been raised … I have learned, however, experiences that are new, uncomfortable or challenging or the ones I learn and grow from the most.”

A journey begins
Betteridge, the daughter of Margaret and Brian Betteridge, of Decorah, says she had envisioned working overseas for a long time.
“I wanted an opportunity to learn more about myself and the world in a new way, not in a classroom setting, before I went on to study more or find a more permanent job,” she says.

During her senior year at Wartburg College (from which she graduated, in 2012, with a double-major in religion and social work), she looked into various opportunities for working abroad with Christian non-profit organizations.

“I knew about Global Ministries from growing up in the UCC church, (United Church of Christ), as well as the Iowa Conference of the UCC church, with youth and children at the state camp,” she says. “After much exploration, Global Ministries was the organization I felt most inspired to become a part of. Global Ministries was the best fit, and would allow me to continue learning about social work and religion, two areas I had studied, as well as continue to grow as a person in a different setting than ever before.”

She chose to work in Southeast Asia because it was somewhere she had never been before and knew nothing about.

“I have had many experiences in my local church such as mission trips around the Midwest that made me realize I wanted to spend my life working with people and help to make a difference in their lives,” she says. “I wanted to not just see pictures and stories of people struggling for clean water or enough money to go to school, but to actually make these stories real, and build relationships with individuals on the other side of the world.”

Living in Laos
Laos, a largely rural, mountainous country with a population of about six million, is bordered by Vietnam to the east, Thailand to the west, Cambodia to the south and Myanmar and China to the north.

“People are very calm, kind, hardworking and family oriented,” Betteridge says. “Many do not have much money or resources but they live very happy and complete lives. Most people practice Buddhism but I mostly worked with Christians who make up only about two percent of the population, because Christianity is relatively new in Laos. Lao people are somewhat shy but very eager to learn English to expand their opportunities.”

She was in Laos for 14 months, from October of 2012 until December of 2013, working as a mission intern with the Lao Evangelical Church. She taught English in a primary school in the capital city of Vientiane, and also was connected with Church World Service, where she volunteered teaching English at another primary school.

For most of the time she lived in Laos, Betteridge stayed with the head pastor of the Lao Evangelical Church and his family, which included his wife, children and grandchildren — about 12 family members in all — in Vientiane. For her last couple of months she stayed with cousins of the head pastor. Her second family was smaller, consisting of six people, plus another North American volunteer.

In addition to teaching, she assisted with social work projects — specifically at the Lao Disabled Women’s Development Center and the National Rehabilitation Center of Laos, organizations which assist individuals who come to seek treatment or learn vocational skills, often after being harmed by unexploded bombs.

“Throughout the Vietnam War thousands of bombs were dropped on Laos,” Betteridge explains. “Many of these bombs are still active and dangerous today; and many people get very hurt from them.”

Life lessons
After having lived and worked abroad for more than a year, Betteridge has learned a lot.
“This type of work changes who you are in ways you might not expect,” she says. “It can be challenging and uncomfortable; but also very inspiring, surprising and fulfilling.”

She says anyone interested in working oversees needs to be open to new ideas, beliefs and ways of life.

“It’s helpful to like working with people, to be flexible and to be able to accept cultural differences,” she says. “And it’s important to understand your own beliefs in order to live among people who act and think differently. If you have had time and other experiences to find your identity and know what you believe, it’s easier to feel confident and accepting of others.”

Happy memories
“Some of my happiest memories happened over time as I learned about Lao culture, routines, values and as I learned more Lao language,” Betteridge says. “As a result, I was able to communicate and build stronger relationships with Lao people — many of whom do not know any English.”

In particular, she enjoyed experiencing Lao New Year — a week-long celebration in April, during which people often travel to visit family living in other parts of the country.

“April is the hottest time of the year in Laos,” she notes. “Due partly to the heat, Lao New Year has become a water festival. Buddhist people go to temple to pour water on the Buddha — a sign of newness and cleansing. Christians worship and celebrate at church. People line the streets throwing water at everyone that passes by for several days straight. Baby powder is rubbed on peoples’ faces, shirts and arms. It is a fun time of the year; it’s nice to see Lao people (who are often shy or reserved) share so much laughter and silliness together.”

Betteridge made some good friends during her stay.

“I think over time my connections with people will fade a little, but there are a couple people I was close to that I will always stay in touch with,” she says.

Next step in her journey
This week, Betteridge’s journey continues – as she embarks on an extended stay in Thailand, where she plans to work for at least eight months, if not longer.

She’ll be working at the Saha Christian School located in Huey Malai in Kanchanaburi Province west of Bangkok, near the border with Myanmar, and living with another North American volunteer.

“It is one of the poorest schools because it is in a very rural area and because the school takes in so many hill tribe and refugee children,” she says. “The predominant group is Karen, an ethnic group of Southeast Asia, who have fled from Myanmar (Burma).”

(Note: “Since Burma was granted independence from Britain in 1948, the Karen people have sought political recognition and autonomy from a centralized, Burman-dominated government … For over 60 years, the Karen people have faced brutal political restrictions, economic exploitation and cultural suppression at the hands of Burma’s military regimes.” Source: karenwomen.org).

As for the future, Betteridge knows she wants to continue working with children. She plans to one day pursue a graduate degree in religion or social work, or both. And she says she’ll carry her experience in Laos with her, wherever she goes.

“Southeast Asia will always be part of me.”

The UCC Daily Devotional seems so appropriate today, so I will begin by sharing it with you.

Goodbye

By: Martin Copenhaver

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – John 14:27

One of the reasons parting is so difficult is that, in parting, we confront our limits. We cannot be both here and there. We cannot be with all the people we care about. We cannot lay hold of what is ahead without in some way letting go of what is past.

So over and over again in scripture we read of people who, in parting, remind one another of the promises of God. And what other way are we to part, in what other way can we? How else can we leave those we care about, unless we entrust them to the care of God?

That is, after all, what the word good-bye means—”God be with you.” What else can we say in parting that does not simply whither and fall at our feet as soon as it is said?

God be with you, because I can no longer be with you.

God be with you, because though now we will have limited ways of expressing care for one another, we are still—all of us—in need of care.

God be with you, because if God is with you and with me, somehow still we will be together.

God be with you, because though none of our lives is much more than a collection of fragments, some of them with jagged edges, God promises to make them complete and make us whole, in God’s time.

Indeed, there may be no way to part from those we love without either kidding ourselves or being drawn into the shadow of despair—unless we say, “Good-bye.”

Prayer

God be with those who are dear to me and hold them close while we are absent one from another.

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Maybe you can guess now, maybe not…

I am leaving tomorrow to continue my time as a Global Mission Intern! Due mainly to visa complications, I will not be going back to Laos (although I most definitely will visit sometimes). I will instead be in rural Thailand. I will be living in Huey Malai in Kanchanaburi Province west of Bangkok near the border with Myanmar. It is one of our poorest areas because it is in a very  remote, rural area and because the region has many hilltribe and refugee children. The predominant people group is Karen. Karen people are hill tribe people, that have come to seek safety in Thailand, after fleeing Myanmar.

I will be an English teacher at the local school, as well as helping with other community events and projects.

I am excited to make more connections with people in SE Asia and learn more about the similarities as well as differences between Laos and Thailand.

I have spent the last 4 months or so in the United States. I have had a chance to see my family (around both Christmas and Easter), speak to some incredible churches in California, Oklahoma (where I also got to see my old pastor- very good), and a couple places in Iowa- including my home congregation.

I also had the opportunity to learn about FIRM, Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries, while living in Fresno, CA, and volunteering/ interning there for 2 months. Fresno is a city in the central valley of California with a large Lao and Hmong population. FIRM serves many of the needs of Lao/Hmong people living in that area. While at FIRM I helped with their Lead program, mental health services, as well as advocacy work and policy programs- such as BRT- a new bus system they were trying to pass in Fresno. I didn’t always like all the macro work, as like connecting with people more personally (micro level). Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun learning about the lives of Lao people in the USA and building friendships with them! I am very blessed to have added this connection to my experiences!

While there have been good moments though out my break in the United States, there have also been some challenging frustrating times. I thank everyone along the way who (in their own sorts of ways) convinced me I should go back to SE Asia for a while, especially during the times where I grew very unsure about what to do and my thinking grew quite foggy.

People along the way through the last several months were right! I do need to go back to  SE Asia for a while. I belong there and have more to learn about.  Society tells you to go to school, because the more school and better education you have – the more opportunities you receive and better respected you become. Maybe true, but I don’t need that yet.  Not in the sense that I don’t think education is unimportant or that I couldn’t do it.

I DO believe I have the confidence and skills needed to go on and study, get a job within a particular area, and be just fine., if that’s what I wanted/ feel I needed, but I don’t yet. (  I also think if I ever or when I do, do different things within ministries, I will have so many connections!)  Nevertheless, I don’t need another experience to prove that to me, nor will another experience change very much of what I already know about myself and my passions. I do however feel this experience will  clarify different things about where my life may be headed and teach me more beneficial things about SE Asian people and cultures. For that I am very excited!

Stay tuned for more stories and updates from my time in Thailand!

 

WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL YOUNG

By: Jeff Goins 

From: Coverage magazine 

June 26, 2012

(A wonderful article explaining a bit of what inspires, motivates, and makes me love living and working in SE Asia). 

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As I write this, I’m flying. It’s an incredible concept: to be suspended in the air, moving at two hundred miles an hour — while I read a magazine. Amazing, isn’t it?

I woke up at three a.m. this morning. Long before the sun rose, thirty people loaded up three conversion vans and drove two hours to the San Juan airport. Our trip was finished. It was time to go home. But we were changed.

As I sit, waiting for the flight attendant to bring my ginger ale, I’m left wondering why I travel at all. The other night, I was reminded why I do it — why I believe this discipline of travel is worth all the hassle.

I was leading a missions trip in Puerto Rico. After a day of work, as we were driving back to the church where we were staying, one of the young women brought up a question.

“Do you think I should go to graduate school or move to Africa?”

I don’t think she was talking to me. In fact, I’m pretty sure she wasn’t. But that didn’t stop me from offering my opinion.

I told her to travel. Hands down. No excuses. Just go.

She sighed, nodding. “Yeah, but…”

I had heard this excuse before, and I didn’t buy it. I knew the “yeah-but” intimately. I had uttered it many times before. The words seem innocuous enough, but are actually quite fatal.

Yeah, but …

… what about debt?

 … what about my job?

… what about my boyfriend?

This phrase is lethal. It makes it sound like we have the best of intentions, when really we are just too scared to do what we should. It allows us to be cowards while sounding noble.

Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did it. Conversely, plenty of people who waited for grad school or a steady job still did those things after they traveled.

It reminded me of Dr. Eisenhautz and the men’s locker room.

Dr. Eisenhautz was a German professor at my college. I didn’t study German, but I was a foreign language student so we knew each other. This explains why he felt the need to strike up a conversation with me at six o’clock one morning.

I was about to start working out, and he had just finished. We were both getting dressed in the locker room. It was, to say the least, a little awkward — two grown men shooting the breeze while taking off their clothes.

“You come here often?” he asked. I could have laughed.

“Um, yeah, I guess,” I said, still wiping the crusted pieces of whatever out of my eyes.

“That’s great,” he said. “Just great.”

I nodded, not really paying attention. He had already had his adrenaline shot; I was still waiting for mine. I somehow uttered that a friend and I had been coming to the gym for a few weeks now, about three times a week.

“Great,” Dr. Eisenhautz repeated. He paused as if to reflect on what he would say next. Then, he just blurted it out. The most profound thing I had heard in my life.

“The habits you form here will be with you for the rest of your life.”

My head jerked up, my eyes got big, and I stared at him, letting the words soak into my half-conscious mind. He nodded, said a gruff goodbye, and left. I was dumbfounded.

The words reverberated in my mind for the rest of the day. Years later, they still haunt me. It’s true — the habits you form early in life will, most likely, be with you for the rest of your existence.

I have seen this fact proven repeatedly. My friends who drank a lot in college drink in larger quantities today. Back then, we called it “partying.” Now, it has a less glamorous name: alcoholism. There are other examples. The guys and girls who slept around back then now have babies and unfaithful marriages. Those with no ambition then are still working the same dead end jobs.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle once said. While I don’t want to sound all gloom-and-doom, and I believe your life can turn around at any moment, there is an important lesson here: life is a result of intentional habits. So I decided to do the things that were most important to me first, not last.

After graduating college, I joined a band and traveled across North America for nine months. With six of my peers, I performed at schools, churches, and prisons. We even spent a month in Taiwan on our overseas tour. (We were huge in Taiwan.)

As part of our low-cost travel budget, we usually stayed in people’s homes. Over dinner or in conversation later in the evening, it would almost always come up — the statement I dreaded. As we were conversing about life on the road — the challenges of long days, being cooped up in a van, and always being on the move — some well-intentioned adult would say, “It’s great that you’re doing this … while you’re still young.”

Ouch. Those last words — while you’re still young — stung like a squirt of lemon juice in the eye (a sensation with which I am well acquainted). They reeked of vicarious longing and mid-life regret. I hated hearing that phrase.

I wanted to shout back,

“No, this is NOT great while I’m still young! It’s great for the rest of my life! You don’t understand. This is not just a thing I’m doing to kill time. This is my calling! My life! I don’t want what you have. I will always be an adventurer.”

In a year, I will turn thirty. Now I realize how wrong I was. Regardless of the intent of those words, there was wisdom in them.

As we get older, life can just sort of happen to us. Whatever we end up doing, we often end up with more responsibilities, more burdens, more obligations. This is not always bad. In fact, in many cases it is really good. It means you’re influencing people, leaving a legacy.

Youth is a time of total empowerment. You get to do what you want. As you mature and gain new responsibilities, you have to be very intentional about making sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important. The best way to do that is to make investments in your life so that you can have an effect on who you are in your later years.

I did this by traveling. Not for the sake of being a tourist, but to discover the beauty of life — to remember that I am not complete.

There is nothing like riding a bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge or seeing the Coliseum at sunset. I wish I could paint a picture for you of how incredible the Guatemalan mountains are or what a rush it is to appear on Italian TV. Even the amazing photographs I have of Niagara Falls and the American Midwest countryside do not do these experiences justice. I can’t tell you how beautiful southern Spain is from the vantage point of a train; you have to experience it yourself. The only way you can relate is by seeing them.

While you’re young, you should travel. You should take the time to see the world and taste the fullness of life. Spend an afternoon sitting in front of the Michelangelo. Walk the streets of Paris. Climb Kilimanjaro. Hike the Appalachian trail. See the Great Wall of China. Get your heart broken by the “killing fields” of Cambodia. Swim through the Great Barrier Reef. These are the moments that define the rest of your life; they’re the experiences that stick with you forever.

Traveling will change you like little else can. It will put you in places that will force you to care for issues that are bigger than you. You will begin to understand that the world is both very large and very small. You will have a newfound respect for pain and suffering, having seen that two-thirds of humanity struggle to simply get a meal each day.

While you’re still young, get cultured. Get to know the world and the magnificent people that fill it. The world is a stunning place, full of outstanding works of art. See it.

You won’t always be young. And life won’t always be just about you. So travel, young person. Experience the world for all it’s worth. Become a person of culture, adventure, and compassion. While you still can.

Do not squander this time. You will never have it again. You have a crucial opportunity to invest in the next season of your life now. Whatever you sow, you will eventually reap. The habits you form in this season will stick with you for the rest of your life. So choose those habits wisely.

And if you’re not as young as you’d like (few of us are), travel anyway. It may not be easy or practical, but it’s worth it. Traveling allows you to feel more connected to your fellow human beings in a deep and lasting way, like little else can. In other words, it makes you more human.

That’s what it did for me, anyway.

 

While I was in Laos interesting, but remarkable things happened somedays , on one occasion inside the US Embassy Vientiane.  I had gone to the US Embassy to get official pages  added to my passport. While I was sitting there waiting for them to process my passport, an American couple came in (for US services too), sat down, and started asking me questions, curious of my story. The conversation moved quickly and then before I knew he, mainly, was asking me personal questions about myself. What had happened to me? What was wrong with my hand? I explained that I had a weakness on the right side of my body from a stroke at birth, but than they processed to ask if they could pray for my hand.  Now for anyone that knows me well enough, you would know my response to this question/ thoughts on this action.  The question ,” Can I pray for your hand?” does not bother me so much, nor does praying  with strangers, etc. What bothered me was how he prayed about my hand for it to be fixed and healed.  Now I know he meant well and there are all types of people in the world, but it caught me off guard. I don’t want people to pray for my hand to be healed. I don’t need it ‘fixed’, it defines/ shapes who I am. Not everyone realizes this though.

Afterward, I went back home to eat breakfast and my Lao mother asked how my time at the embassy was, I than processed to tell her what had happened. Keep in mind my Lao mother (explained in a different post) didn’t know much about what had previously happened to me either, re my hand. She just smiled, listened, and then said, “Only God really knows you.” This very  direct, but clear reminder was all I needed to be at peace with the situation.

This small response has stuck with me in many cases, especially now in the United States.  Only God knows the whole story of what has happened, what my eyes have seen, who  all I have met, and what  my core values are/ what I think on various topics. Not everything can be told to anyone ,as would be helpful.

Coming back to the United States has been interesting. I want to share my experiences, passions, and stories with different people. It is healing of sorts. What I have found though is many people care, but I have met so many new people and friends, so much has happened, and my experiences, in some cases, have been way beyond their understanding of what they have ever done or can imagine. They can’t fathom what I have to share. Their lives are different.  Others care, but only want a short answer. They are looking for the answer, “It was good.”

Many Americans have busy lives. Going from one thing to the next, they barely slow down to spend time with those around them. Really spend time. Many Americans turn toward television or computer games/shows in their  ‘free time’. Activities where they don’t have to interact with those around them. They are at times uncomfortable with others and use technology to ease their discomfort.  I have found this to be mainly why it is so awkward to meet and be with some Americans. Others Americans have jobs where they sit in a tiny cubicle all day or scurry from one meeting to the next ( not that meetings are bad- there just comes a point when it’s too much and takes away from other important things.) Those are sometimes important jobs with people in the “background” doing important work, but I can’t have one of those jobs ever! I need a job, not behind a desk, not at daily meetings, but with people. Really with people.  Americans are private individual creatures. Many Americans are worried about all the wrong little “problems “, I don’t get it anymore !Lao people are  shy, but open about everything, sharing their lives with others always. The difference has become more obvious since coming back to the United States.

Now I am at a turning point. Do I stay in the United States, do I start a new adventure of sorts in Thailand, go to school, or do something else. ? I have learned so much from being in Laos , I have made so many connections with people and places, life is quite different now. I am so much closer to finding my real passion, working with children, and social work, to name some. My very good friend from college says , ” It is your life, right? Your adventure. Take as much time as you need to figure out where you want to go with it.” She’s very right.
What am I going to do? Why am I worried, God knows and that is all that matters.

Lately I have been told, ” Now is the time to listen to God’s calling in your life. ” This is NOT helpful. Firstly, because it Is just frustrating and stressful when people say that, but mostly because that is not how I see the relationship between God and humans happening. I see life as a house being build and with every next set, job, or experience you add more to the “house”. I don’t see people usually having one calling in life, but every bit of their life puzzle is a calling from God. As the saying goes , ” It is about the journey , not the destination.” Very very true statement, also applying to God’s calling in human life.

So, as I continue to process my life in Laos, the adventures to come, and the decisions to be made, I must remember that only God really knows, (always); this statement brings incredible peace.

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