Tag Archives: missionary

What Is Missions?

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What is missionary life? After reading an article called This Is Missions by Brooke Vanguard, a description of missions in China, I was challenged by a friend  to write our own version of missions in Thailand. This is a glimpse of what it is. The photos are a bit random, some having to do with the words, and some not.

Again, a small disclaimer. Sometimes I hesitate to write anything about missions here, simply because so many people get the  picture that missions is some sort of really special work that only really special people can do. It is not!! Sometimes I cringe when I am labeled as a missionary, because of this.  It is a really special work that people with a really special God can do. And being a missionary does not mean that you need to go to a foreign country. It can be done on your very doorstep.

This is missions…..

It’s reaching up and finding spiders in your hair and going on wild mouse chases in the middle of the night. It’s brushing off the ants from that precious banana bread — and eating the banana bread. It’s waking up at night hearing rats running around attic. It’s setting sticky traps in the kitchen and having to haul off the results later, while choking back nausea.

It’s trying to make food that your Thai guests will enjoy and instead, it’s putting way too much water into the rice which leaves it sticky and mushy. It’s feeling like a bumbling city girl who can’t cook anything because you simply don’t know how to make Thai food. It’s ordering fresh milk and feeling stupid and naïve because no matter how desperately you calculate, you can’t think of how much 10 kilograms of milk might be in pounds. It’s feeling silly because you don’t know how to change children’s diapers Thai style— pull off the diaper and spray ‘em with the hose!

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It’s being told that you are way too trusting when you invite the lonely stranger you met at the bus station to stay at your house. It’s being told by your neighbors and friends how you should arrange your furniture, how you should put up your shelves, how you should always close your door to keep out the mosquitos, and how you should not go out into the sun without  long sleeves, or let yourself get wet. It’s feeling frustrated when you’re constantly told by your coworkers at school that you need to speak harshly to your children in order to make them behave, and feeling like you can’t do anything right because you don’t quite do it their way.

It’s trying to impress your hosts with your ability to eat spicy food, and then paying for your pride the next morning in the bathroom. It’s feeling frustrated by not being able to communicate the way you want to and it’s being tired of feeling like a 3 year old who keeps on using the wrong words and saying silly things.

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It’s feeling totally comfortable telling a male friend at church how much you weigh. It’s laughing at jokes you would not have thought funny 2 years ago. It’s eating with your spoon in your right hand and your fork in your left without a thought. It’s being ok with changing plans at the last minute, or not even having any plans in the first place. It’s going home and asking your mom if the mattress in your room is new—- because it’s so soft! It’s asking people if they’ve eaten yet and what they ate, as a way of being polite. Or asking them where they’re going.

It’s feeling like you’re brain is permanently fried by language study and hot weather. It’s feeling like you use so much brain energy just surviving that all the profound, cool thoughts you used to think have simply vanished from your brain.

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It’s wondering how on earth to help the bouncing ADHD student learn to control himself and stop shooting things with his imaginary gun. It’s holding tightly an angry child bent on hurting whatever he can touch in his little world. It’s feeling like all you do is tell little people what to do.

It’s going to church and feeling a heaviness on your heart because you wish so badly that your unbelieving friends could be there too. It’s driving home late at night and feeling the sadness of the city circle around your soul.

It’s being ecstatic about the fact that in a little over a week you get to fly home for an entire month. At the same time, it’s feeling terrified too.

It’s being on cloud nine after being able to carry an hour long conversation all in Thai, and then it’s crashing down to reality when you can’t understand a simple question.

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It’s always feeling a little self -conscious, wherever you go. It’s being told you are sooo beautiful all the time and you speak Thai sooooo well. It’s being used to the stares that come from passengers on the backs of trucks as you drive down the road on your bike.

It’s listening to your friend recount with glowing face  her new found faith and the way God is working in her life and leading her to witness to her co-workers. It’s listening to her bold statement of faith before she is baptized on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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It’s having a young student crying inconsolably after leaving school because she found out that Teacher Lori is going home to America, not realizing it’s only for a month. (Ok, not quite inconsolably. She was consoled by donuts eventually, I heard.)img_7065

It’s listening to a 4 year old student from a Buddhist family announcing to his friends, “When I grow up I am going to go to church!”

It’s watching the even rising and falling chest of a young girl as she sleeps and running your finger over her smooth cheek, praying that God would give her a hope and a future, even when all the odds are against her.

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It’s feeling that odd tug at your soul when you crest the mountain peak – on those few occasions that you do get to the mountain – and seeing smoke rising from a valley village, far below. It’s that heartfelt connection that you feel after stopping at a roadside stand to escape the rain for a few minutes and striking up a conversation with the vendors and customers, finding that they too know the true God. It’s seeing the delight on a market vendor’s face because you speak their language and eat their food.IMG_5290

It’s feeling the small strength of a child’s hand in yours. It’s seeing the solemn trust in a little girl’s chocolate eyes and hearing her say your name. It’s hearing the squealing laughter of 30 children loose on the playground. It’s giving piggy back rides and bouncing wildly on big rubber balls and roaring like a tiger and rolling on the ground and doing other quite unladylike maneuvers.

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It’s sitting at Wednesday night cell group, singing Thai songs and sharing struggles and realizing over and over again that we are brothers and sisters.

It’s knowing it is all worth it.

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I’m Alive

Today is rich.

Green is the color of life and today is full of it.

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Photo- July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit, Lori Hershberger

 

This Saturday morning I ride my motorbike up Doi Kham mountain, through some of the greenest foliage I have ever seen in my life to one of my favorite spots in Chiang Mai, Doi Kham Horseback Riding.

We ride through the thick green landscape, rich, rich, rich in all its greenness where two months ago it was a dry dusty brown. The green feeds my soul, my dry dusty soul.

Afterwards we sip coffee in a little cafe surrounded by rice fields in a small valley. Mountains rise on the side and light glints off the top of a temple spire built on the tip of the mountain. My coffee is perfect, not too strong with lots of milk. The sky has cleared from its early morning storminess, and color like I have not seen in a long time splashes the world with its life-giving vibrance. I savor the gift of friendship, the gift of coffee, the gift of being able to speak a language that 2 years ago was foreign, the gift of resting my mind from the daily challenges of work.

The day passes and the gifts keep coming. Sunflowers- yellow, brown and green- from a friend, cookies, summer sounds,  tall, tall thunderheads towering in a brilliantly blue sky. Green grass in the shadow of palm trees with light shafting and glinting and dancing. I long for a camera since words cannot do justice. It seems like every waking moment is full of color. Why? Was it not there before? Or has God simply allowed my soul to see again? All through these sights and all through the day, two words keep on running through my mind.

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Photo– July 2015, Chiang Dao, Thailand. Photo credit– Lori Hershberger

I’m alive.

Later rain torrents down from the thunderheads that now pour out their fury on the world. I am on my bike heading to the airport to meet a friend when it comes, and it is the worst rain I have ever driven in on a motorbike. But it brings a glory of its own— the challenge of driving in the rain with wind lashing and water coming up to mid tire at times. I feel at one with the rain at times like this. It seems to embody the human spirit— a lashing out at the sadness and evil of the world.

But the one most precious gift of the day keeps on coming back to me as I drive home late at night from a friend’s house. It is words that I keep on puzzling on, over and over again. This morning as we sat on the balcony of the cafe after our ride, drinking coffee, my Thai Buddhist  friend says of his 14 year old son, “Chawin ok gab Pra Jao laao.” Literally translated  he says, “Chawin is ok with God.”

I keep on mulling over these words, wishing I knew exactly what he meant. Chawin goes to a Christian school, and as I look back at memories of conversations about religion when he was present, I remember the look of understanding and empathy in his bright eyes as we talked about Jesus and Christianity. But does he mean that he believes in God? Does he mean that he has found peace with God?

I wish I knew. I wish I had asked.

But for now I am grateful at least this. Chawin is ok with God, whatever it  means. And perhaps one day his father will be too.

Thank you, Jesus.

 

 

Identity

Sometimes I get very confused.

Who am I anymore?

Each of us is born with the legitimate longing to be known and understand. A child wants his mom to know when he hurts, or when he is happy, or when he is scared, sometimes not even for the words of comfort or praise that he knows will be reciprocated, but more because he wants to be known and understood. To not be understood and known catapults into the feeling of not being valued.

To know that someone understands you is like a damp cloth on a delirious brow, like a fresh breeze blowing after a rainstorm, or like steaming cocoa on a snowy day. It touches something deep inside of you that cannot be touched by anything else.

But no one can fully understand us. Ever.

Neither can we live in this world and be known by everyone around us for what we truly are. No one will ever fully understand our background, our thought patterns, our deepest struggles, even though they know us better than any other human.

And it hurts. It hurts to live in a world that does not understand you or know you or even tries to find out about you. Because all of us are like specks of dust in this life compared to eternity and compared to the vastness of the universe.

Do we really matter?

What gets really confusing is when I don’t understand myself anymore. Sometimes after living in another country for so long, it is hard to know who you really are. Am I the Lori who lived at home in Kansas and taught school and milked cows and penned poetry on the back of dairy records while milking? Or am I the Lori who rides a motorbike for transportation and teaches three year olds the ABC’s and sings the doxology in Thai at the end of every Sunday service?

I can never fully understand myself either.

There are three parts of identity, and all of them seem to be closely intertwined. One is our physical identity- our name, our face, our physique. The next is our soul- our mind, will and emotions, our personality. The last one, the deepest and hardest to understand, is our spiritual identity. When one of these three is affected by the outside world, the others are affected as well.

The identity of my soul is what feels dethroned right now. I am not who I was, neither will I ever be that person again. Can I accept that?

But I’ve listened to too many voices telling me who I am. It’s time that I stop listening to them. While my soul needs to be understood and known (it’s a desire planted in when we are born), as long as I know the identity of my spirit- a child of God- then I can walk on, even when I do not understand the identity of my soul anymore.

The question God is asking me is this, “Am I enough?” Is God enough when dreams and desires lie on the bottom of our busy lives, untouched? Is God enough when no one else can fully understand? Is He enough when our souls are stifled for the sound of prairie winds and rustling grass and slow German hymns and horse hooves on blacktop highway? Is he enough when our body craves, craves, craves a juicy hamburger, or a T bone steak marinated in Italian dressing, grilled to perfection? Or when we long for the cold touch of snow kissing our cheek on a twilight winter evening?

He is. I believe He is. Oh God, help mine unbelief!

So when being a cultural bridge between two (or three) vastly different groups of people twists me about in ways that a bridge should not be twisted, I will listen to God.

When I am indescribably lonely for someone to sit and listen and say, “Uh huh, uh huh. Yes, I know exactly what you mean”, then I will listen to God.

When I long for a quiet pond to sit beside to soak up the silence of the night, I will listen to God.

I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.

Psalms 143: 6,8

There and Back Again

There and Back Again

After 3 ½ weeks at home, I’m back in the Far East, wondering sometimes if this is really where I’m supposed to be, wondering if I am equipped for this work, wondering if I’ll last the two years I signed on for, feeling at home yet not at home.

When home was within my grasp 4 weeks ago when I left for America, the thought wasn’t as delightfully welcome to me then as it would have been 3 months earlier. My time to go home came at a time when I was finally feeling more at home in this country and friendships were being built. But when I walked down those last few feet into the arms of my waiting family, I knew why I had come home. My nephew summed it up later. “Everybody was crying. But it’s ok for big people to cry.”

I didn’t do any super amazing things while I was home. Mostly I just soaked up being at home, yet on the last day, I still wished I had spent even more time at home.

My time was filled with those little moments that I love. Like when my 6 year old nephew sized me up on my first evening home and asked, “Can you still run?” Or it was holding my newest nephew for the very first time.

It was moments like these that made up my time, like when my sister and I made lattes with her new coffee and espresso machine on the evening before I left because this was the last time in a long time that we could do this, and then we took our books to bed with us and read late into the night because we couldn’t sleep.

Or it was milking cows in the new dairy barn and trying to see how fast we could milk. It was stumping around my sister and her husband’s farm in dirty boots, letting my niece show me the baby chicks and looking at the prize yearling filly of my brother- in- law’s. It was riding my horse one sunny Sunday afternoon through grassy fields and listening to the prairie wind speak to the world, or sitting in the silence of a late Saturday evening by myself, listening and praying.

It was just sitting at home and eating a simple supper with my mom and dad and sister. Or that time I spent with friends, around a campfire on a misty Friday night into the wee hours of the morning. That morning that I spent on a friend’s porch, enjoying a deluxe brunch and laughter and companionship. Or when I ate supper with a friend one evening and we shared our hearts, even after 8 months of absence from each other. And it was baking cookies with 4 lovable tykes, and even an afternoon of teaching former students. It was looking into chocolate brown eyes and listening to my nephew’s solemn dissertation on why Jesus is more powerful than Satan. It was visiting my grandma and wondering if I would ever see her again on this side of heaven. It was singing “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be” and letting the tears come, because that is my real-est home.

And somehow, no matter how much you might have prepared yourself to come back to your “other” home, and no matter how much of my heart is here in this country, good-byes always color those last few days with sadness. And that’s why tears rolled down my face as I opened a card from a friend at the airport, and as we taxied down the  runway for the first flight, and as we flew over unknown territory on Qatar airways. And I was glad it was rainy that last day I was home. It fit my mood.

(I know I’m sentimental. There’s no getting around it.)

But God wasn’t angry with me for having a hard time leaving. Instead, He gently showed me again the burden He had given me as I sat in the Chicago airport, watching people. On my longest flight, I sat beside a young Indian woman flying home to India to await the birth of a child, while her husband stayed working in Arizona. In Qatar airport, I was doodling horses on my drawing notebook when the Arabic man beside me noticed and started asking questions.  I was delighted to sit beside a Thai lady while waiting for my flight to board to Bangkok, and even more thrilled that Pasa Thai still flowed from my lips. On my flight to Bangkok, I sat beside an Islamic Thai student studying in Jordan and we had a few long worthwhile conversations. And as I read from John 3 and looked out the airplane window at the hundreds of city lights below me, and thought of the millions of people we were flying over, I realized again why I want to do this. Even when it is painful and I cry.

Of things that go bump in the night

It is night once more and once more I cannot sleep.

But this time there is a different reason- a resident under my bed. We met about a month ago when he appeared from beneath my bed in broad daylight. For a while I wasn’t sure if I should play the part of the brave strong, pith-helmet-clad missionary and aim valiantly at the rodent or if I should act the part of the pale, heroic, languishing maiden and befriend the wee mouse and feed him crumbs, but since I don’t really fit any of the latter description, I decided to go with the former instead, even though I don’t necessarily fit that description instead. Neither was he a wee mouse. At all. He was (and sadly still is) a rat.

I don’t mind mice. They are actually rather cute. But rats are a different story. ESPECIALLY if they are trying to eat my precious snacks.

Usually we get along quite well. Whenever I hear rustlings of any sort under my bed, I will give a nice respectful thump on my bed, and he will do a nice respectful getaway. But the respect part has been rubbing away, and tonight as I was just drifting off, I heard him. Quite clearly and quite boldly, bumping something.

I sat up in bed and emitted some sort of roar. It was the sort of roar you emit when it is 12 o’clockish at night and you are awakened by a rat and you want to throw something and you don’t have anything handy and so you sort of let out a strangled yell/grunt/bellow/rumble. Yeah. Like that! Exactly! And it disappeared. And for a moment I thought I was dreaming.

The two oldest children of my host family and their mom were still awake. I decided not to say anything and try to go back to sleep. Meanwhile I heard them discussing the yell/grunt/bellow/rumble they had heard, and where it came from.

Meanwhile the rat decided to make another appearance. Again I didn’t have anything handy, so I sat up in bed and thumped the bed and again made some sort of noise (but this time without the foghorn effects) and it scuttled under the bed.

This time my efforts attracted the attention of the children, and thus began a jolly rat hunt under my bed. I was handed a club-like thing (I don’t know what it’s called)leftover from a Tae Kwon Doe class and the hunt was on, but it turned out to be fruitless. The Son climbed up as well, and the Oldest Girl dived under my bed and nearly got stuck in the process.

But no rat was found. I doubt that he will appear again tonight.

I feel like the Son and the Oldest Girl quite enjoyed the hunt. As I tried to settle down again, they were still calling up comforting phrases to my room.

“I hope you are ok tonight!” “You know sometimes rats bite people.” “Yeah a rat bit my grandmother once!” “It can really hurt!”

Thank you. I appreciate it very much!