Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Camping Next to Clubs

There is something about heating up water in a little pot over a campfire to make MaMa (the far superior Thai form of Ramen noodles) with new friends chatting in Thai, warm tea in your hand, a tent at your back, a river and mountains before you, and lit lanterns finding their way up into the sky. Something that beckons you to ignore the club music pounding its way unabashedly through the cool night air, the drunk neighbors tenting two meters from you, and what feels like a floodlight hung on the tree next to your tent. And yet there is something about the noise and artificial light that makes you value the stillness, the glowing globes God placed in the sky, and the warm tea all the more deeply.

My life in Bangkok feels a bit like that moment by the fire sometimes. I am learning that you have to hold the two together prayerfully and in trust. If all you do is focus on the loud music and the city lights, you miss out on the beauties of the campfire and the people around you. If you focus too much on the pursuit of peace in the midst of the noise, seeing only the coziness of your campsite, you lose touch with the reality of those beyond your firelight. We are not called to ignore what is uncomfortable, what is challenging. But neither are we called to live a life void of peace and rest. God promises that in this world we will have trouble-- but He has overcome. He promises that His peace will be with us, even in the chaos. So there is both.

Post-soccer snack? Mystery-meat-green-papaya sandwich! 
Much has happened since my Cambodia trip in December-- too much to write about here. I have gone on a couple camping trips, spent a couple days back in Cambodia with our students and their families (village soccer included flipflops flying, dust blowing, old ladies biking through the "playing field" of a road, and push-ups for the losing team), visited a southern beach with the Thai family that "adopted" me, started learning to read and write Thai, and have begun volunteering with a separate organization that works with women who have come out of sex-trafficking. Life is busy, often offering only a 4 hour window of "time off" on Monday mornings to compensate for working Tuesday-Sunday. I was recently surprised when I biked home at 5:30pm and could still see the sun. What a gorgeous time of day! The sinking light bouncing off of the high rise buildings, the birds starting to nest in the trees (raising internal wishes and prayers that I wouldn't get a milky white shower from them as I biked below). Sidewalks filled with people on a mission to get home and buy their street-food dinner. I usually bike home at night-- near or past midnight at least 4 days a week. Friends and family sometimes seem concerned about me biking home that time of night, however I have found that apart from the risk of drunk drivers and possibly ill-willed individuals, the traffic situation is much more relaxing than the adrenaline-pumped traffic weaving I do when biking the rest of the day. I could write a blog post about that alone: the different maneuvers used on the daily to avoid being Bangkok roadkill. A few of my favorites include the elbow-tuck and shoulder-duck to avoid the car mirrors, along with the median-push (when you have no room stay vertical on your bike because of an uncomfortably close taxi-- you have to master the art of walking/pushing off the median or curb as you lean into it).
Trip south with my Thai family :) 

Regardless of what time of day, there is noise, and in all the noise, God is still my place of rest. Having the Holy Spirit inside of us, our constant companion and true peace, enables us to face any challenge of schedule or situation. So we embrace the club music and loud neighbors, even though we might rather be alone in the mountains with only the starlight and the sound of the river. There is beauty in every place to which God brings us.

My weekend job:  Farmers' Market Vendor.   
My mountain transportation to reach a waterfall hike and hot springs. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Scars He Sees

A couple weeks ago I jumped on that train to Cambodia really needing to see God.  Not because I was going to be on my own for a few days before my friends arrived (I felt confident in His care), but rather because I had been feeling overwhelmed by all the lives around me that seemed to be forgotten by Him. I had so many questions, yet was challenged all the same to keep trusting, continue hoping, expecting God to move. But that is much easier to tell myself than to actually do, especially when I am looking at some really difficult situations, realizing I only see a fraction of the real picture. My time in Cambodia showed me even more need for God's work, but He also affirmed His presence even in the midst of all the darkness and pain. 

It all started off with a day of transit, catching a taxi, a train, my feet, a truck, a stranger’s personal vehicle, and a motorcycle to reach my destination in Siem Reap. And though I got locked out of my hotel room right before I had to race out to pick up my Half Marathon registration packet from some posh hotel across town, EVERYTHING worked out that day. God blessed my interactions with people: 1) from making some friends on the train by telling a joke in Thai (friends who proceeded to share green mango and fried worm/grub? with me), 2) to giving me a new Austrian friend to navigate the border crossing with, 3) to giving me a kind woman in Poipet to end my fruitless wanderings in search of a bus (she had a friend going to Siem Reap that night who was willing to take me along and drop me at my hostel), 4) to making a new friend over street dinner at 9pm who agreed to meet at 4:50am to bring me on his motorcycle to the race the following morning. God told me going into that trip that I wouldn’t be traveling alone, and He made good on His word in ways that I never could have predicted! The following morning He even provided me with a running buddy for about a third of the race, answering my prayers for a running buddy. 

The sunrise over Angkor Wat
 God directed me to the following verse at the start of the trip, reminding me of His presence and love even in the darkest situations:

“On this mountain He will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; He will remove the disgrace of His people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.”-Is. 25:7-8
Beautiful countryside and MOUNTAINS!

Many blessings came through connections one of my friends has with local believers (my friends joined me the night of race day). I was not expecting to get to attend a Christmas outreach celebration hosted by a church group, teach English at a school they started in a small town (I found out we were teaching literally 1 or 2 minutes before I was standing in front of my new class of students), or get to worship with Cambodian brothers and sisters in their church. Turns out that the group of believing university students that we spent some time with in Phnom Penh loves to play Settlers of Catan, and the pastor we stayed with (from the USA) was willing to bring us with him to a traditional Khmer-Christian fusion wedding and share his 17-years-in-Cambodia-wisdom with us as we went, stopping by the ocean and a few villages along the way. I saw mountains for the first time since coming to Thailand (Bangkok is fresh outta mountains this time of year!), and we enjoyed drinking from a coconut as we walked down the beach. We also saw the village women who prostitute lounging in front of every shop along a specific street along our drive. We were warned against climbing a certain mountain because of dangerous men and probably land mines. We heard of extortion, of racism, of abuse. Of complicated situations in which girls are sold for their virginity, then used to gain benefits for being raped. Of good-willed organizations that perpetuate cycles of child neglect by trying to be the savior. And yet, the whole trip God was reminding me that He is indeed at work. That He does indeed see His creation and He cares deeply for it. He KNOWS where Cambodia's (and Thailand's) scars and present open wounds come from. I am reminded of Habakkuk’s prayer at the end of his book. Though there is no sign of God’s rescue in challenging situations, “YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.” God is at work, whether we see it or not. Trusting His word, remembering how we ourselves are changed by His grace, and knowing that His ways are not our ways give us the ability to carry on in faith even in situations where He seems distant. 
Mid-ride selfie: biking 30+ kilometers around Angkor Wat

Hitching a ride with Cambodian believers to the Christmas celebration.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Walking Wet

There was no rain that day.  There had been no rain for at least a week. Yet there I walked dignified through the mall, trying to pretend like I wasn’t leaving the unmistakable trail of water behind me.  Trying to pretend like my clothes were supposed to look darker than usual, hang a little funny, and appear wet-- new fashion?  Yes, a glorious moment, made slightly more glorious by the fact that, with witnesses, I had just stepped off of a ledge into a pond next to the mall trying to blaze my own shortcut back to my bike through a way I had never gone before... On a dark night when the wind wasn’t providing the pond with any waves as warning, it looked just like a walkway.  Exiting through a shortcut was necessary because I was running late to a karaoke night (it's true...) held in a ministry-run coffee shop in the red light area I have been frequenting each week to help teach some young friends of ours who sell roses at night. I had only stopped in the building to use the bathroom. Those are my excuses.  My plunge into the knee-deep pond that caught me so off guard and soaked me up to my head had further irony:  the only thing I was carrying were a couple paper towels I had collected on my way out so that if I arrived at the coffee shop sweaty from biking over, I would be able to dry myself off a bit, look more respectable.  They did nothing for me. I'm sure I made several people's days by taking that plunge, and I certainly made mine-- laughing to myself the whole way out of the building afterwards (further reinforcing the crazy foreigner stereotype).

When I met up with my friends after getting back to my bike and heading to the coffee shop, I was still soaked.  I couldn’t wait to tell them why I was so wet—to get to laugh with them at my failed unintentional attempt at walking on water.  I found there is nothing quite like pushing through busy streets, sitting in a coffee shop, and singing karaoke (some good ol' Lion King-- Zazuu sounded especially hornbillish that night) in front of a small crowd when your entire outfit is telling the story of absent weather.

God has been putting rain on my heart lately.  This is tied to expectancy, to faith, to hope.  I recently finished the book “Tread Upon the Lion” by Sophie DeHaye about a pioneering missionary to Nigeria, Tommie Titcombe.  Tommie shares about a time when they had no rain in the land for a long time— food was scarce for everyone.  Finally, each religious sect started performing rituals to bring the rain.  The animists performing ceremonies and sacrifices to appease the spirits, the Muslims calling out to Allah, everyone pouring everything they had into cries that they hoped would reach the ears of a god who cared and could answer.  No rain.  Finally, the believers in the village decided that they should hold a prayer service and make an appeal to God on behalf of their community.  When the appointed time came, amidst the ridicule of their neighbors, the believers all showed up to the service wearing their umbrella hats in expectation of the coming rain! As they started praying, drops from the sky started falling. Louder and louder the noise became, drowning out the voices of the worshipping believers. They had come before God with assurance that He would hear them and answer. What faith! I am very challenged by this story, by their simple trust that God would provide. While His faithfulness is not shackled to answering our prayers the way we expect, He does love us and will not forsake us (2 Timothy 2:13 says though we are faithless, He will remain faithful—it is in His immutable nature). 

Which brings me back to my story of falling into mall ponds.  I’ve been thinking about what it looks like for us to share God’s love with people who have never known how to perceive it for themselves.  People who feel as if they have never been loved, especially by God. Sometimes all we can do is sit with someone and hear them.  Not try to offer answers and solutions, but when they ask, relay the message to those living in drought that rain exists. We can share the account of why we are drenched in dry season. Maybe walking wet through crowds of people isn’t so bad after all (but seriously-- go try it!). Wearing an umbrella hat with no clouds in the sky likewise shares a story, and an expectation of the seemingly impossible. I have been praying that I will wear my umbrella hat each day, going in faith that God hears His people’s cries—no matter how hopeless a situation may appear. Social injustice is overwhelming. And yet, God sees and sends His rain in His own time and way; He has been faithful before and He will be faithful again. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Don't Eat Plastic

"Don't eat plastic, Jodi! It's not good to eat plastic!" She reached over and plucked a gum-stick sized piece of plastic out of my bowl. Her words were spoken with such sincerity, it was as if I had placed it there on purpose, determined to sample this tasteless inedible object.  It took me less than a minute to realize this lunch bowl contained far more surprises than I expected when I bought what the street vendor said was "chicken and veggies."  Unless of course chickens grow tentacles now, and have an addition to white and dark meat that is reminiscent of squid.

You don't always know what you are getting yourself into (or what is going to be getting into you) when you buy street food, but it is almost always delicious in its own way.  Not always in the way you are hoping it to be, but the flavors here are fantastic! I am living without a fridge.  I have no appliances, actually, and I am thankful for this daily reminder that my daily food comes from the Lord.  I cannot simply open up a fridge, pull out a container, pop it in the microwave, and BOOM. Dinner. This means I have to be more generous as well, since food goes bad sitting out in the heat of my rented room all day.  I am overwhelmed by God's goodness in the area of food.  I do not want for food, especially since I have been unofficially "adopted" by a small Thai family who sells some of the best food I have tried yet.  They sell right by the corner of the ally I live on and have determined to take care of me. I have loved getting to know them.  They truly are a blessing straight from God.

Sticking with this theme of food, however, I want to share something that God put on my heart during my first month here in Thailand (a message that has continued to hold true).  During immersion week, God directed my thoughts to Psalm 81:10, in which He says, "I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it."  To me, it has meant being open to whatever God wants to bring into my life. To whatever He wants to cut from my life.  It has also meant I am seeing His tangible blessings on the daily, coming from places I would never have expected.

This idea of "opening wide" can be difficult on various levels.  It requires trust. I can't help but picture my response when someone comes up to me and tells me to "open wide and close my eyes." UMM excuse me?! What are you going to put in my mouth? Something nasty? Tasty? Let me see it first. Common sense tells me that people like to play pranks, that knowing before trusting is the wiser choice. And yet, God does not typically offer us the option of knowing what He will bring our way.  He calls us to trust. Will He actually put something good into our lives? If we open up to Him in trust, do as He asks and be vulnerable, will our tongues be burned? There is this underlying assumption that we know what is best for us.  Yet, isn't God the Creator of our souls? We have to trust that the Giver knows what we need more than we do. Opening wide to God requires action.  You cannot be filled by refusing to follow the Giver's invitation, and a life woven with these threads of refusal is marked by spiritual starvation. Faith beyond obedience directs us to not simply open up to God's plans in a tangible, action-driven way, but to also let that trust and that obedience permeate our heart.  It requires patient expectancy. God choses to fill our mouths, our lives, in His own time and way. You cannot chose when and how He will act. You can wait in expectation that He will not leave you sitting there like an idiot with your mouth open, however. Comforting, yeah? :) I think so.

Trusting can be challenging. And yet, what kind of God do we serve? Not One who will sneak plastic into our lunch, but One who sees us, who knows us, who loves us intimately and completely. This love gives us the space and freedom to trust.  May God grant us a deeper knowing of His love that we may trust and love Him in a mouth-wide-open capacity!
View from the wash-area on my room's floor. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

No Toilet Paper-- No Problem!

Bangkok.  It could have been the bloated sewer rat bobbing in the recently dug open drainage ditch running along the inside of the back wall (the kitchen area) of my friends’ apartment (where I stayed for my first 2ish weeks).  It could have been the sewage covering the bathroom floor from a clogged squatty potty.  It could have been the prayers that God would give us our daily food as we were living on about $1.70 a day for an “immersion” time with little contact with anyone who spoke English.  It could have been the feeling that an iced coffee or a street-cooked meal costing $1.10 was beyond what I could afford.  It could have been any of those things or more that made it feel very real here from the start.  No mountains with snow frosting the rugged peaks, no aqua alpine lakes begging the hiker to dive in, no old-growth forests with their ripe huckleberries drawing you into the surreal fairy-tale feeling.  Not anymore.  This is Bangkok.  This is a concrete (literal and figurative) land of daily struggle and joys, where many of my neighbors rise hours before the sun starts thinking about getting up to start preparing their food vending carts and stands for the day.  Many continue to work hours after the sun goes back to bed, trying to make enough to continue living.  I am privileged to catch a glimpse of my neighbors’ realities, to get to experience some of what they experience, to get to hear parts of their stories. 

I live in a market neighborhood.  To be precise, I live in a rented room (8x10ish ft) on the 4th floor of a building right on the market street.  None of my 5 or 6 neighbors on the floor speak any English, an excellent opportunity for me to practice my Thai (I study Thai in a classroom 15 hours a week).  We all share a squatty potty in a small room with a shower hose and water spout for filling up the bucket with which you flush and wash yourself (who needs toilet paper anyways?!).  This bathroom is almost always completely wet, either from showering or from flushing any traces of business away from the squatty.  I have come to appreciate the wetness of the room, however. It feels cleaner to me somehow, though it must be the catch all,  given the lack of a sink in our building.  In addition to a bathroom, we share a little 1.5 x  2.5 meter area for hand-washing our clothes.  This area opens up to the back of the market area, overlooking the rusted tin rooftops of the neighboring houses and giving an excellent look at the south-western cityscape.  I love the view from this part of our floor, especially at sunset.  What a blessing to have a view!

I have begun my work at the Foundation.  The long-term staff started a school that their kids attend alongside children who used to work in areas related to the nightlife.  Part of my role is to free up the long-term staff by assisting in the lunch preparation for the school— an unexpected joy since from the beginning it was my ambition to learn to cook Thai cuisine.  We are working with the children to teach them how to make a menu and cook; who knew I would be kitchen supervisor one day!  I help our business as well, both in the creation of the products we sell (peanut butter, pesto, fresh salads, etc.) and in the market days themselves.  Markets remind me of when I sold sap and roots at a roadside stand in Senegal over a year ago-- my product line is a bit different this time.  Still quite organic though! 

There is too much to explain, so I will write more soon.  God has been humbling me, challenging me, and encouraging me every day.  I know that He is up to some pretty amazing works in this time, something He keeps confirming through Scripture.  Some people have expressed concern for my safety.  I appreciate the care communicated, but I need you to know that I am safe in my Father’s hands.  Please pray that I will be faithful in trusting without borders and in going to the scary places.  As believers, we are not called to live behind padlocks, afraid of interacting with those God has called us to love.  The greater risk is nothing physical that could happen to me—it is in failing to communicate God’s love to my neighbors, both for their sakes' and for mine.  I appreciate prayers for protection, especially from the evil one, but know that God holds me.  I am filled with His peace that I am right where I need to be in this time, and He has been flooding my life with blessing upon blessing: from the bike to ride to work each day to the generosity of my neighbors.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Anchor- Destroyer

I had an incredible summer with YD Adventures, and though I am now moving on to the next part of the journey, it wouldn’t be fair to do so without noting just how faithful God has been to us, both in providing us with challenge and in restoring our strength.  I am leaving this summer filled by the ministry we did and the adventures I had on my days off.  I can say that I KNOW God moved in our community.  I saw Him show up on each trip we took with the youth, and I am convinced that there is nothing quite like seeing Him work in a human life.  What a privilege to be a part of it!  The following by Henri Nouwen sums it up quite well:
"The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God."

I am currently sitting in the SEATAC airport, waiting to board my flight across the ocean.  I honestly do not know much about what is waiting for me on the other side, but I know that God has promised His presence.  There is a song line that seems rather fitting, like God sending me a clue as to what is ahead:
“I have a plan for you, I have a plan for you.  It’s gonna be wild, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be full of me.”
Any plan that is wild, great, and full of God’s presence sounds like one I want in on!

In YD we talk with our youth about the anchors we have in our lives--- and how necessary it is to have a solid anchor in Christ.  What if God, knowing that He is our highest good, knowing our need is for Him alone, chooses to take away the weak and faulty anchors we try to set in anything other than Him?  What if what we might so often perceive as painful and trying circumstances are actually the mechanisms God uses to destroy all but Him as the anchor of our lives?  I’m so thankful for this love that chooses what is best, not what is most comfortable according to our human understanding.  May I be able to say with everything in me, "Hallelujah, all I have is Christ! Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!" 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lightning, Water, Fire

The God of Tempests
The thunder and brilliant lightning breaking up the sky like cracks in a ceramic pot were amazing to watch, and my two friends and I would have been perfectly content to sit where we were and enjoy the light show God was hosting if it weren't for our front-row seats.  The fact that we were sitting on a ridge above the highest ski lift on Mt. Hood, hot chocolate in hand, after completing the summit I had dreamed a year about boded ill-health for us in the approaching lightning storm.  Conversation was broken up between sips of the warm drink and pauses to count the seconds in between the thunder and lightning.  Brave the rocky ridge to get down, stay low here on top of it in lightning position, or glissade down the very conductive snow to get down faster? All excellent options.  We chose to slide down the mountain, stopping for cover at the top ski lift station.  Now we had second-row seats without being exposed on a ridge up high.  And what a show it was! Lightning just screams to me of God's power.  And the God of the lightning calls us "beloved." 

A few days later I was rafting down the river on a multi-day trip.  We raft by day, camp on the shore at night.  While the wilderness feel is broken up by the occasional outhouse on the banks, what you see is miles and miles of seemingly untouched hills.  Guiding the raft down that river, hearing the stories of my young paddlers, and seeing God's creative artwork in every direction I looked-- I thought to myself, "What a great life we live! What a privilege!"  I'm learning more and more about these waters; the waters that can wrap boats helplessly on rocks, the waters that provide a life for birds, critters, fish, and plants alike in the desert, the waters that quenches our thirst in 100+degree weather.  The river both thunders and whispers of God's powerful love.  And the God of the mighty waters sustains us. 

Our last night on the river during this multi-day trip we experienced God in a new way still.  The God of fire.  Apparently the lightning storms from when I was on Hood started up fires in many other places, the smoke of which we had witnessed the past few days.  Just before 5 runs of body-surfing a class-3 rapids with our youth, the ranger told us we would probably be okay if the fire stayed on the other side of the ridge across the river. By nightfall, the fire had climbed to the top of that ridge.  I woke up in the night, a gust of hot air passing over our tarp.  The wildfire probably would have looked even more spectacular had my contacts been in, but what I can tell you is that the whole opposite shore was glowing orange.  A river of dancing flames consuming the dry grass and leaving behind charred earth and ashes.  We monitored the fire that night, having already talked through our options of a night-evac or an early morning departure.  God's flame consumed the entire opposite bank, but the wind coming from our shore prevented any embers from finding new fuel on our side.  One of the times I was awake and watching the fire, I noticed the girl next to me was afraid.  My immediate thought was, "When I am afraid I will trust in You" (Ps. 56:3), a line that my parents told me over and over growing up.  Whenever I was fearful of what was in the dark, whenever I was afraid that I would never see my Dad again, whenever I was frightened over what could happen-- that Scripture was a constant reminder that God is still in control.  I got to pray with that girl, and I felt the peace of God over our camp even with the fire so dangerously close.  When I rolled on one side, I saw the all-consuming flames.  When I rolled to the other, I saw the beautiful moon shining down on the hills.  Both reminders of God's power.  Both reminders that God is with us.  And the God of the fire calls us to trust.  
Shadow of Mt. Hood as the sun rises