Tuesday, June 27, 2006

489: Sunset in Baengsaen

Tomorrow is my last full day in Baengsaen/Chonburi. God willing, I will eat lunch and dinner with the Muslims and teach English one last time. I plan to "story" a narrative from Scripture, namely, Abraham's Sacrifice, so please pray that I have a chance to speak. I don't really know what the afternoon will consist of yet (I'm trying to resist the urge to make it filled with Superman Returns, as it will still be playing when we get to Chiang Mai.). Regardless of what happens, the point is that within 24 hours, this part will all be done, and the work that I have done here will be where it has always been, in God's hands. I hope to stay in contact with my Muslim friends; I hope to hear of great things that God does on the campus of Burapha in coming days. There are so many puzzle pieces that are falling into place, oh so many. But Thursday will see my supervisors and I head for Bangkok to meet the volunteer team at the airport, and the summer's itinerary does not take me back here. In theory, I could never return to this city as long as I live.

The finality and brevity are real to me. I leave and must trust God to work as He sees fit. There's a touch of guilt in the mixture too. We work with the volunteer team until June 6. On that date we journey north for a week of meetings and quite frankly, vacation. Not that I won't mind it, and probably, I really need one too. But still, I will be at rest and relaxation for over a week. So unforseen circumstances aside, my work in Thailand is nearly complete.

Here's how the calendar math works out. Tomorrow, Wednesday, June 28, 2006 will mark the seventh day of my fourth week in Thailand, as I arrived on Thursday, June 1. The fifth week will be spent in Nakhon Sawan with the Virginia team and the sixth and seventh weeks will be spent in rest, debriefing, and travel. The end is here.

I probably won't see my last sunset in Baengsaen; I'll probably be busy putting the "bad" back into badminton with the Muslim Club. I probably won't see the sun rise on the Thursday either, as I will probably allow myself a little extra rest before packing my bags. No, I'll probably spend the morning packing and cleaning and in the afternoon I'll be gone. I hope that my work has been acceptable to my Lord; I hope that I have glorified Him as I should, that I have honored Him in the sight of those who worship what are not gods. I hope. I hope.

"And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God's love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." Romans 5:3-5

"Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen." Hebrews 11:1

"So, what is Apollos? And what is Paul? They are servants through whom you believed, and each has the role the Lord has given. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth." 1 Corinthians 3:5-7

Monday, June 26, 2006

489: Life and Death

I just received an e-mail informing me that my Granddaddy (mother's father) has been given up to six weeks to live. His weight is down to 100 pounds and his white cell count is triple what it should be. He's an old man, really, at either 79 or 80 years old. (It all kind of blends together at that point anyway.) I will be sad to lose my last surviving maternal ancestor, but really, it's better for him, as he belongs to Christ, and Christ to God.

I'm hoping that this will be fuel for me. It hasn't really hit me hard. Grandma's death hit me hard (father's mother), but that's because to my perspective it was unexpected. Granddaddy's been on the decline for a long while now, so it lessens the blow. But I'm hoping the fuel comes in to my last days of ministry here in Thailand, as here, things really are a matter of life and death.

While in Taiwan last summer, I wrote the following, taken from this post.

On a sadder note, on the way back from the school at we saw a traditional funeral on the roadside. The family members were dressed in the robes of Chinese gods, and a man was walking around with an incense censer. Earlier this evening, I walked past the awnings where this funeral had been held, the incense still heavy in the air. Suddenly, it hit me. This funeral was for a person who was currently in Hell. One had been saved today, and the family of another had unknowingly commerated their beloved's eternal damnation. One saved. One lost. One lost. One lost. One lost. How many times do we have to read that before it hits us? Lost. Damned. Burning in Hell. Weeping. Knashing of Teeth. Lost.

Mere days before being martyred, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said "This is the end, for me, the beginning of life." That is the hope of the Christ follower, but to those who do not know, there is only hopelessness. May the peoples of Thailand, including the Central Thai with whom I (mostly) work know the hope of Christ that gives one peace in the fear of death.

And may God give Granddaddy grace to fall asleep in confidence and joy.

489: The How's and Why's of the Battle

I started through Job a few days ago. Brent Gambrell was the first preacher that pointed out an interesting feature of the book to me: God set Job up. Satan shows up in Heaven, and God's the one who mentions Job. It wasn't Satan's idea to have Job undergo trials, it was God's. Being in Dr. Lawless's Spiritual Warfare class merely confirmed this truth: God is soverign over the battle. He determines its perameters, and in this fact is the good of His people. Satan cannot get to us outside of God's direction and allowance. The Accuser of our Brethren absolutely cannot win, because, he needs God's permission for anything. Genesis 50:20 states that God plans things for good, even things as bad as being sold into slavery.

I saw this in action today. I couldn't get to sleep until late last night, slightly after midnight, by my estimation. As I slept, I had a frightening and grotesque dream, a dream that I blame partly on my poor choice to play a zombie shoot-em-up game at the mall the other day. Anyway, when I awoke, or, as I was in the process of waking, I heard a growling noise, growling like a fierce dog about to attack. Again, I don't know if this was in the dream or if this was in my room, but in my mind (a clue to me that it might have been in the dream) I began calling out for Jesus to save me. After a few moments of calling for His aid, I was fully awake and the sound gone. Even more remarkably, I wasn't afraid. Concerned maybe, but far from terrified. It was about 12:27. I hadn't been asleep for long.

This evening I returned to the Muslim Club for badminton (in which I put the "bad"), dinner, and another English session. The last item never occured because we ran out of time for it, but as dinner was ending, my friend "Travis" turned to me and said that the conversation that was currently taking place amongst the Thais was about ghosts. "Sherry" said that as she slept, she felt a ghost come and sit on her. Another student said that his roommate claims to see ghosts in their room. "Travis" explained to me the Islamic doctrine of Satan.

As he talked, I prayed to God for guidance about what to say. My experience of the night beforee came to mind, so I told the story. I told Travis how Jesus power saved me, calmed my fears. I related to him how the Bible tells many stories of how Jesus drove out demons, and I told Travis that I did not think a mere man could do that. I said that I believed Jesus could do that because He was the Son of God.

He seemed to like the story, and I hope he understood it. As I left just over an hour ago, I thought about how God's allowance of the battle last night had been used that very day to (hopefully) testify to the greatness of His glory.

Spiritual warfare is part of out struggle as Christians. Dr. Lawless defines spiritual warfare as "to love Christ and to live and speak for Him in such a way that God is glorified and an already defeated Satan is threatened." If this is indeed spiritual warfare, may the battle rage, for that is indeed all it is, a battle.

This is no war, because the war has been won from eternity past. I was thinking the other day about the concept of military rebellions. Take the Irish Republican Army, for example. The IRA did a grand job of making life hell in Northern Ireland, but what they could not do is change the fact that they were fighting in Northern Island. The ground was contested, yes, but the ground was still in the British Empire. They could not change the fact that the soverign was still Queen Elizabeth. So it is with Satan and his demons. No matter what part of the cosmos they run too, no matter what hell they occupy, they are still where they have always been: right under the thumb of God, absolutely restricted by His greatness. Satan is no god; he is finite created being.

Enough theological musings for tonight, which it is in Thailand. I need to head back to my apartment for what I hope is a much better night's sleep. (Jesus did say to pray that we be delivered from evil.) I think that in closing though, for those who wish to be encouraged, I will leave with the English words of Martin Luther's great hymn, "A Might Fortress is Our God," a song in which I have received much strength over the weeks here. May you all be encouraged as well, or as Ephesians 6:10 says, "Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength."

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.
Our helper He admist the flood, of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate.
On earth is not his equal.

Should we in our own stength confide, our striving would be losing.
Were not the right Man on our side, the man of God's own choosing.
Doth ask who that may be? Christ Jesus it is He!
Lord Sabboath His name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undue us,
We will not fear for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.
The Spirit and the gifts our ours, through Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindreds go, this mortal life also,
The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever!

Soli Deo Gloria.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

489: Fortaste of Heaven

We returned to the "City of Variety" on Sunday, that being Pattaya, Thailand. There is variety in everything, from food, hotels, diversions, and prostitutes/venereal disease. Anything one could want and doesn't need is found there. Pattaya is a place of great darkness that needs to see the light of Christ, but to God's eternal praise, he has left a remnent in the city.

We went to Pattaya to worship at Jomtien Baptist Church. I've had the opportunity to get to know the pastor, Saeng, and his wife, Maliwan, during my time here, and it was a delight to be there for worship Sunday. In keeping with Pattaya's variety, many nationalities come to Pattaya to work, and many more to "vacation," but a good number was represented in the congregation, as we woshipped alongside of people of Thai, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Indian, Italian, and American descent. It's was kind of a foretaste of heaven, so many nationalities together in one place, worshipping the God who doesn't care about what nation one is from, but rather has redeemed people from every tribe tongue and nation.

The existence of Jomtien Baptist Church means that Pattaya indeed has hope.

489: Sin and the Saviour Inside My Heart

As I was reflecting the other day, I came to the realization that the sin I so detest, the sin that I see on every street corner and in every action is as close to me as my shirt, and as much a part of me as my own heart, in which this sin resides. I then thought about how the Saviour of the world also lives in my heart, and that 1 John tell me that Christ came to "destroy the works of the devil."

Thus we see the problem of sin, the hardship of having sin struggle against the Saviour inside our hearts.

It's a good thing we know who will win.

489: In Da Club

A few posts ago, I referenced an outing of bowling with lamentation at my poor gameplay.

On Saturday, however, everything was different.

I have finally broken the 100 point barrier with back to back games of 104 and 101. Thus I am now in the 100 point club, an exclusive group reserved for only the mediocre players.

From this point forward, when it comes to bowling, no one will be able to spell "mediocre" without "me."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

489: Saturday (What a Day)

Today began way earlier then any Saturday ever should, as Rick and Cooky and I went to get breakfast, and after that, to check out a shopping mall in a nearby town. To my delight, it had the only Thailand outlet of what is my favorite Asian clothing store, Giordano. I was able to pick up a dark grey polo for 413 baht, thus filling the need I had for an additional collaredshirt that wasn't as heavy as my American polos. Yay.

That aside, this Saturday will probably be filled with some housekeeping items, such as laundry, and not much else. Tomorrow we return to Pattaya, Thailand's very own Sodom and Gomorrah, but this time it is two worship alongside of Thai believers at a Baptist church their. I've had a chance to get to know their pastor and his wife a bit and I must admit that they are awesome.

Off to laundy.

Friday, June 23, 2006

489: Ponderings

I'm sitting at one of the better net cafes I use, one that charges 15 baht an hour (with 37 baht to the U.S. dollar), has recliners in which to sit and air conditioning. I can't help but feeling a little useless today, well, at least so far today. The Muslim Club apparantly did not meet for lunch today, because when I got there at about 11:30, the door was shut, a sign on the door (in Thai and thus unreadable to me), and perhaps most tell-tale of all, the rice cooker was off. It doesn't bother me too much because Friday is the Muslim Holy Day, and my friend "Travis" was going to go to Mosque for today, and also being Friday, a lot of the students go home. But I am excited about what happens next with the club, because if God wills, I will eat with them Monday-Wednesday of next week before leaving Baeng Saen on the 29th, and they have asked me to teach English again Monday night. By teaching, I really just answer questions in English, and the cool thing is that I've had the chance to talk about Christian beliefs, and I hope to keep building on it. May I receive grace to lay a foundation, the foundation of Christ, and may the Lord of the Harvest send someone to build upon it, send someone to harvest from the field I till.

But anyway, here I sit, wondering about life, the universe, and everything, wondering about the implications of things I have learned today. "Good news from a distant land is like cold water to a parched throat" says Proverbs 25:25 so consequently bad news is like sea water in the mouth of a castaway. I doesn't help the fact that today I feel, well, spiritually "blah," waiting by the phone for a call perhaps from Ohm to go do something or from Rick and Cooky. I wait for a call because my phone probably only has a handful of minutes left and in Thailand, you don't have to pay for incoming calls. I've made a sort of contact with the Christian Club on campus and I hope to head back there tonight with Ohm and see what's their M.O.

Speaking of Ohm, we spend yesterday afternoon hanging out, and I got the delight of teaching him how to bowl, and the disgust of bowling as bad as I normally do. Well it could have been worse. I picked up a few spares and the second game's score was 79. I swear that before I die I will break 100. I swear. We also got some ice cream at Swensens, from where you can get a three scoop sundae with brownie chunks, syrup, whip cream, and an ice cream filled truffle for 59 baht, or, less than two U.S. dollars. We started off the afternoon by hitting the aquarium, which was fun, especially hearing a yong Thai toddler cry "Nemo!" after spying the orange and white anemone clown fish.

And thus I am here, pondering why things happen the way they do, but instead of wondering about God's soverignty, I wonder why the American national soccer team doesn't just own up to the fact that they blew it and couldn't live up the hype, rather then blaming refs. I mean, we earned one draw and two losses. Landon Donovan, highest paid player in the history of Major League Soccer took one shot in three games, and the statistical lack of brilliance continues. I wish our defeaters, Ghana, all the best as I would like to see the "Black Stars" (as their squad is named) to take down Brazil, who they face next. They already defeated the Czech Republic, who joins the "Stars and Stripes" in the graveyard of round one shame, and the Czech Republic was ranked number two, second only to, well, can you guess? My dream final would have Ghana squaring off against Mexico for the FIFA World Cup, as I would enjoy seeing either side take home the prize and neither nation has ever won one before.

Well, I'm about pondered out, so I think I'm going to take this show on the road and walk around now that the rain has past.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

489: Quick Hits

Just a few quick thoughts/comments.

I read the book of Esther this morning, and it was a real encouragement to see God's soverign hand orchestrate things even when His name was not spoken.

Happy Birthday to my dad, Rick Butterworth, on his 50th birthday (currently happening by American time) and to my brother, David Butterworth, for his 17th birthday (currently happening by Thai time).

Team USA faces a must win versus Ghana tonight. Whatever happens, you gotta love the FIFA World Cup. If we survive this match, we just have to face some team called "Brazil." So, no sweat, right?

Tonight I get to teach English to the Muslim Club at Burapha University, so I need to figure out what I'm doing within the framework of being open to last minute changes and complete changes of plan as the Spirit leads. I'm not very good at either.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

489: Finding Farang

I visited the Baengsang Aquarium today, and while it's no Sea World, it had some pretty neat exhibits, especially the giant fish tank where they had about 7-10 different species of deep sea fish, including some zebra sharks, sting rays, and some massive (as in 6' by 2') grouper.

The good news is that Nemo is doing quite well, and I have the photographic evidence to prove it. Unfortunately, the little orange and white clownfish wasn't the only creature I encountered as a significant farang tour group crashed my party. Farang is the Thai word for foreigner, and boy is it annoying to have a quiet afternoon overrun by representatives of the world's countries that can actually afford to travel these days.

In related news, I'm pretty sure I found Dory too. Mr. Turtle and the Jellies were definitely in residence as well. I asked them if they were signed for a sequal, but they didn't say much. I think the glass the was too thick.

Monday, June 19, 2006

489: The Lunch Club

I love how God has a way of introducing options in a way that can only be described as providential and soverign. It all started as I was walking on campus two weeks ago, and saw I a sign advertising a Muslim club. Seeing that sign was the spiritual equivalent of watching Santana Moss break out into the open. I wrote down the numbers on the sign and made plans to call them. I never got the chance, though, as I later found the building in which they hold activities, a discovery that would seem an "accident" if it weren't for God's guidance. That same day of discovering the then empty clubhouse was the same day that I encountered the Mahayana Buddhists, who had a place next door.

Yesterday, however, I knew that I needed to actually meet these guys so I headed back to their building. I walked up to the door and sort of poked my head inside. I looked straight ahead and saw nobody, panned my gaze to the left around the room in a counter clockwise motion, and finally stopped two feet from where I was standing where a short female student wearing her school uniform and a white head scarf, concealing everything from the neck up that was not her face. I was slightly startled, but asked her if this was the Muslim club. She excitedly asked me if I was Muslim, to which I said no, and something to the effect of that I wanted to visit. She invited me in to the room and went back to work cooking lunch.

Several more people came that day, including women with and without head scarves (but most with) and a few guys. The meal was served, which was delicious, and some conversation was had as well. I told them that I was a Christian and enjoyed talking with people from other religions about what made our religions similar and different. After the meal, it was time for noon time prayer. Carpets were arranged in the form of a pyramid facing Mecca. One of the older male students sat on the lone carpet at the tip, two followed him in the middle, and three women sat in the back (as is common throughout the Muslim). The women, most of whom were already dressed with supermodesty (floor length black skirts and head scarves), donned an extra layer of clothing, a loose skirt and large loose shawl. When wearing these, all that could be seen was their face and perhaps their hands. Essentially, they had donned berkahs. Having already washed their face, hands, and feet, they began their prayer, assuming different postures, from prostrate on the floor to bent over at the waste horizontal to the floor. The leader's softly murmed chant of Allah ackbar drifted from his lips and hovered in the air, absolutely and thouroughly haunting.

I came to the decision that I would, and must, return. That night, after my supervisor pointed out the biblical example of going to the devout first (Paul in the Synagogues, Paul at Mars Hill), I decided to adopt what I dubbed Pauline Religious Group evangelism: keep going back until they kick you out. So as not to be a total leech (seeing as I would score a free meal out of ministring to them at lunch time), I decided to bring some fruit and headed back today, same time, same place. I worked hard this time at getting people to write down their names so I could learn pronounciations, (and for that matter) remember them. Today I had a chance to meet another man, a man who is not a student, but enjoys fellowshipping with them. I had a chance to talk with him and ask him questions about Islam, such as, "When you pray to God, what do you say to him?" We talked about similarities between Islam and Christianity, a fact that he was first to acknowledge. We also briefly talked about some differences between them, about Thai and American religious culture. During the words, a connection began to grow, and he extended to me an invitation that I was planning to use, but overjoyed to know that it was their response: "You can come back anytime you like."

I had done a lot of prayer and Scripture reading before I went, praying that like Esther, I would have favor in their sight, reading in the Servant passages of Isaiah that "The coastlands will put their hope in Me, and they will look to My strength." (51:5b). I have about 5-6 more lunch times I can spend with the Muslims, perfect time to let relationships build and God willing - the gospel to go forth.

489: Sleepless

I slept for about 2 hours last night, and after I woke up, I could not get back to sleep. It was a weird, uneasy, restlessness. Waking up was like sleep walking, or something equally half-conscious. And so, after trying to fight it, I decided just to stay up. I watched Spain tie Tunisia at the 70 minute mark, and then proceed to take the lead at 78 minute mark, and rub salt into the wounds by converting a penalty kick into their third point.

After the game, a commerical played. In the commerical, a man sits at an easel with a pencil in hand, sketching a man who's very countenance is composed in serenity. From the sketch, he proceeds to fashion a clay model in the image of the sketch, that of a man meditating: legs crossed, eyes closed, hands held so as to testify to his Buddhahood. From the model of the Buddha, a cast is made and then filled with molten metal. Once freed from the cast, a shining image of the Lord Buddha is brought to a temple where he is adored by the worshippers, who bow to it out of respect and place small leafs of gold on it, as an offering to make merit.

The commercial could have been ripped straight from Scripture, as the sight of humamity crafting the object of their reverence, immediately drew my mind to the passage of Scripture (Isaiah, I believe) in which the craftsman takes a strong piece of wood, carves it into a god, and proceeds to burn the unused portions as fuel.

Sleep's been something that hasn't come as easily as it does in the states. I wake up a lot; dreams are often disturbing, and have been terrifying. I can't help but wonder what role the spiritual dimension has, but their are more important things to consider, namely, how to follow Christ in a country where few do, and how to testify to His grace in a way that will be understood. If I slept like a rock everynight, but did not accomplish anything, would good would that be?

No good.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

489: World Cup Check

The World Cup is huge all over the globe, with the lamented exception of the Land of the Free and the home of the Atlanta Braves. As has been reported in other sources, one billion people are expected to watch the final match. I decided to get into soccer while in Thailand, and have been watching a lot of games. Team USA faced a rough challenge versus Italy this morning, so like a good American, I promised myself that I would watch the game, which was scheduled for 6/16/06 at 2 a.m. Thailand time. My bright idea was to sleep for an hour and a half or so before the match, set my alarm, wake up, and watch said match. The alarm part and the wake up part went according to schedule, but after my cell began blaring, I made a "mature adult decision" that I would later regret. I went back to sleep to get some rest for church. In 20/20 hindsight, I can't believe I did that as one commentator called the match the best of the Cup. USA battled Italy to a fierce 1-1 draw that included three red cards and an own goal (Italy). Goal keeper Kasey Keller was named the Budweiser Man of the Match. Oh well. Brazil and Australia's show down tonight should be pretty kicking, if you catch my drift.

For those of you who have not been following the cup (read, nearly everyone in the Union), here's the World Cup Check for Group E, which contains the Czech Republic, USA, Italy, and Ghana.

The Czech Republic entered the FIFA World Cup ranked #2, second only to certain national team that goes by Brazil. The Czechs showed their strength in a 3-0 overpowering of USA in the first match, and Italy beat Ghana 2-0. As a result, both of the losing teams stood on the bubble, for in the first round of the World Cup each team plays three matches, one against every group member. A match win earns the team 3 points, and a draw earns both teams 1 point, with any losing team receiving no points. The top two teams out of the group of 4 advance. Team USA came through in the clutch to tie Italy, and Ghana stunned the Czechs with a 2-0 victory, the first African win of the Cup. The current standings have Italy on top of the group with 4 points, the Czech Republic and Ghana tied with 3 points a piece, and USA in fourth with 1 point. The next matchups will occur on June 22, and have USA squaring off against Ghana, and Italy facing the Czechs. Quite simply, the teams that win are the teams that will stay alive in the World Cup, with the exception that Italy can advance with a tie.

That said, let the games continue.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

489: Nakhon Sawan - Hard Hearts and Harvest

I've been absent a few days from the blogsphere and e-mail on account of a trip to Nahkon Sawan, Nahkon Sawan Province. To my dismay, the N.S.C. Sports Hotel's internet terminal was broken, but on the bright side, the room only cost 700 baht a night, which is in the ball park of 15 U.S. dollars. Thailand hotels are an interesting breed. With the exception of the super ritzy touristy ones, as my supervisor put it, they build things here to last ten years, and at the end of ten years, tear it down. The N.S.C. Sports Hotel seems to be very near, if not past, the ten year mark, hence the dingy carpet and the furniture with large sections of paint missing. It wasn't all bad, really. The bed was good, the AC worked, and there was English language TV. It's a good thing that it works well, because by the time this whole internship thing is said and done, the N.S.C. Sport Hotel is going to have the honor of being my second-longest place of resident, as we head back there June 29 for more work in the province.

This week in Nahkon Sawan was spent in providing two mobile medical clinics in two villages (think small towns) about 15-30 minutes outside the city. My supervisor, Rick Kuter, is the Strategy Coordinator for the Central Thai people group. One of the members of the Central Thai team he leads is Dr. Doug Derbyshire, who leads the Bangkla Baptist Clinic. Dr. Doug is a physician, and backed by his "Dream Team" of Thai clinic staff (amazing Christians all) and volunteer teams from America, they head out to the boonies to take the medicine to the people. The Thai villagers don't just receive a check-up, and medicine, however. The Dream Team shares the gospel with every person who comes. That number is never small. Between the two clinic days this week, 500 patients were treated. On the first day we saw300 patients (I believe), and about 12 prayed to receive Christ. The second day saw just over 2o0 patients treated (again, I believe) and about 30 prayed to receive Christ.

The passion that these Thai believers have to share their faith is amazing, but the work is never easy. I was attached to a teaching team, and we did a bunch of English teaching songs in Thai schools during the two days. On the first day, the school we were at was on the same campus where the clinic was. The U.S. volunteer team was from none other than Casas Adobes Church in Tucson, and its leader was David Mann, the Director of Evangelism and Missions for the Catalina Association. We had just got back from doing our routine when Bro. David told me to pray for hard hearts. There weren't many people open to the gospel that day, an oddity at these medical clinics, but the norm in Thailand. As the combined group debriefed later that night, one Thai worker talked about how she had to take a break during the middle of the day, get alone, and just cry out to God because of the hardness of hearts, praying that God would break hearts. We did see God work in might ways that day. My favorite testimony is of a woman who came to the clinic in the morning, received the medical care, prescriptions, and gospel materials that came with the medicine, not to mention had the gospel presented to her by one of the Dream Team. She expressed her disinterest in the gospel and left, but later that day returned. The woman said that she had gone home, read the materials, and now wanted to follow Christ.

The next day saw more pray to follow Christ, but of course, only God knows how many decisions were genunie, and He will use his servants, the Thai pastors, to sort it out. I'm now back in Baeng Saeng, where for the next 12 days I will be focusing on Burapha University, and the task in front of me is mighty. I'll hopefully be back online later today and talk through some of the issues.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

489: Cross-Cultural Cross-Section

I thought it might be useful to post about elements of culture that Thailand and America share but on which have radically different takes. They range from the absurd to the absurdly tragic, but are definitely interesting, and definitely accurate. I'm not making this up.

In both nations, auto manufactors like Ford, Toyota, and others are popular, but instead of the Explorer or Tundra, Thais drive the Everest and the Hilux. Also, the driver sits on the right of the car, as one drives on the left side of the road.

In both nations, tatoos are extremely popular. In America, this is done for several reasons, such as fashion or rebellion, but in Thailand, this is done for magical protection against spirits.

In Amercia, when one sees an ornate, multi-colored box on a piece of property, one assumes that it is a birdhouse, and that the owner is fond of the great outdoors. In Thailand, one can be certain that the box is a spirit house and that the owner is a typical Thai that blends animism with his Buddhism. At these spirit houses, daily offereings are made to the spirit of the property. These may come in the form of flowers, incense, food, drink (usually red Fanta), and figurines (servants and guards for the spirit).

In America, if one sees stone decorations in a neighbor's yard or at their gate/door, one simply assumes that their neighbor is fond of kithcy decorations. In Thailand, one can safely assume that the stone statues are spirit guardians for protection.

In Thailand, if you order buy Pepsi in a glass bottle and want to take it to go, it will be first poured into a plastic bag, since the bottles are recycled whole, and some of the ones I've seen apparantly have been in use for a decade.

Thai culture looks fairly similar but is radically different in its worldview. The people here live in binding fear of spirits and worries about life. Pray that Holy Spirit would work in their hearts.

Friday, June 09, 2006

489: Marvelously Helped Until...

I was reading in 2 Chronicles this morning about King Uzziah, the ruler who most Christians in America probably know as the guy who dies in verse 1 of a popular chapter of Scripture, Isaiah 6. King Uzziah was a real Renaissance man. We invented advanced weapon technology, he enjoyed the great outdoors, and Jerusalem prospered under his reign. All this came to a turning point, however, when he became powerful and conceited. The Holman Christian reads that he was "marvelously helped until he became powerful." I think that verse is true of me, too.

I got to Thailand no sweat, and until the past few days, I've had no problems adjusting. But I grew conceited in my mind, thinking, "Man, I'm really cut out for this," not "Wow, God made me to do this," or more accurately, "God is helping me." And now, I'm feeling it, the python squeeze of culture stress. It isn't full blown culture shock, fortunately, it's just a lot of little things. I'm sick and tired of seeing spirit houses (shrines) on every piece of property. I'm tired of being living alone in my apartment, and wandering campus alone. During our trip to Pattaya, yesterday, we passed out evangelistic materials in a red light district and that too is wearing on me.

Please pray for me friends. Pray that I will persevere through this momentary and light affliction, but more so, pray that I will pursue humility. Pray that God will get me through all this, but more so, pray that His kingdom come and His will be done in Thailand as it is in heaven.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

489: Meeting the Mahayanas

As I was exploring campus today I stumbled upon some buildings behind the student center, buildings that are the homes of student clubs. I went up to one of the open doors and enquired as to what it was, and I learned it was a Buddhist club. In the course of a following conversation, I learned from a young woman named Pakkad that they are Mahayana Buddhists, a rarity in Thailand, as the nation is almost exclusively Theravada Buddhist. (Without going into the nitty gritty, Theravada Buddhists follow the teachings of the Buddha much closer than the Mahayanas. Mahayana Buddhist groups include Tibetan and Zen schools of Buddhism. Think Protestant versus Catholic.) After a while, they invited me to join them for a meditation session. I asked them if I could watch, and not participated. One of the students, who had served two years as a monk, told me that I would feel happy afterward. I replied that I did not need to meditate to feel happy because Jesus had made me so. They granted me permission to observe only.

Before returning to their building, I spent time in prayer to prepare for what I was about to face. When I arrived, they invited me into their worship room. Centered in its middle was a three foot high shinig gold Buddha. In front of the Buddha were meditation mats, with the spots for the women on the left, and spots for men on the right, as Buddhism places men of higher importance. Pakkad asked me if I would like to honor her Buddha. I realized that I had come to a moment of truth. To say yes and bow three times before the statue would be nothing short of idolatry and was rephrehenisble to me, but saying no might offend her. I delicately replied that I would gladly honor her, but that my God would not allow me to honor Buddha. She accepted this, and in fact, brought me a chair so I would not have to sit on the floor.

I watched the students worship their god (and in Mahayana schools, Buddha is essentially worshipped), for an hour and a half. They chanted, sang, and sat in silence. As they worshipped, I prayed. Amongst other things, I prayed for their salvation, and prayed that they would know the Jesus who takes away all karma, both good and bad. When they finished, Pakkad asked me what I thought of it all. I responded with the same words that my namesake used in a nearly identical context in Acts 17. I told her and her friends that I could see that they were very religous, and I added that it was obvious that it meant a lot to them, was an important part of her life. I went on to ask if they did this everyday, or just on Wednesdays. She responded that they do this every night, and every morning. They spend 3 hours a day praying to what is not a god, and the average American spends about 10 minutes praying to the Ancient of Days, and I'm fairly close to average.

I got Pakkad's e-mail and phone number, and I hope to follow up with her. Other than that, Scripture is what's on my heart right now, so Scripture I will relate.

"Who will you compare Me or make Me equal to? Who will you measure Me with, so that we should be like each other? Those who pour out their bags of gold and weigh out silver on a scales - they hire a goldsmith and he makes it into a god. Then they kneel and bow down to it. They lift it to their shoulder and bear it along; they set it in tis place, and there it stands; it does not budge from its place. They cry out to it but it doesn't answer; it saves no one from his trouble." Isaiah 46:5-7

But we must not despair, for verse 10 reminds us that God is in control. Take heart and rejoice, friends, rejoice and join the fight in your prayer.

"I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will."

489: He Will Direct Your Paths

Bear with me to the end on this one, or, if you are pressed for time, just skip the first two paragraphs.

An absolutely essential component of missionary work is flexibility, so when my supervisor told me yesterday afternoon that the trip to Pattaya had been bumped back to Thursday, and that today I would get to hit Burapha University again, I said, okay. Looking back, I can see God's sovereign control of my circumstances even in this little detail because simply being here today has changed everything. Here's how the story goes.

I arrived on campus this morning and began to gather to do some research. Namely, I suceeded in tracking down an English language map of the univerity, (which is a huge improvement over the Thai one I used yesterday), and overjoyed at my new prize, I decided to head to a campus copy center, had ten copies made, and then got one of them laminated to boot. I headed into a stationary store, and was in the middle of purchasing markers for use in making specialized maps (i.e. a campus bus route map, etc) when my cell rang. It was my supervisor, Rick, asking where I was. I told him where and asked me to meet him in a nearby parking lot in 9 minutes. Sure enough, not to long after the call, his white Toyata Hilux pulled up, and I hopped into the back seet, as at the front was occupied by Ohm, my new Thai acquaintance and partner in reaching out to the campus. We needed to drive Ohm to the bus station, which we did, but this part of the story isn't much more than one dominoe striking the next. As Derek Webb said, God can't plan the ends without planning the means (derived from Jer. 29:11). Anyway, after taking Ohm to the bus station, Rick and I had lunch, attended to an errand, and then, it was around noon, the time of the day where one doesn't want to be outside, so, I decided not to be. Long story short, I felt the pressing need to just take some time to stop, pray, think, etcetera, and there wasn't a chance in heck I was going to do this outside. I headed into Laem Thong mall and made a beeline for an ice cream parlour named Swensens, that was advertising this three scoop ice cream sundae for 59 baht (less than $2), and that was where the path directing became more readily apparant.

After placeing my order, I cracked open my Bible, and read some psalms. Psalm 67 came up after a minute or two, and it spoke to me.

May God be gracious to us and bless us;
look on us with favor Selah
so that your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.

Let the peoples praise You, God;
let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy,
for You judge the peoples with fairness
and lead the nations on eart. Selah
Let the peoples praise You, God,
let all the poples praise You.

The earth has produced its harvest;
God, our God, blesses us.
God will bles us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.

I flagged down the waitress for a refill glass of water, and she asked me, "Are you a Christian?" I thought for a moment that perhaps she was assuming I was a Christian be virtue of being a farang (foreigner) but I decided that it was probably because I had been reading my Bible. I answered her question in the affirmative, and she replied that she was a Christian too. Her English was good, but I wasn't able to learn much more than that she goes to a Christian school and that her name is Nennie. I told her that it was nice meeting her, but as she walked away, i was struck by the thought that God didn't send her to my table just so I could meet another Christian, he wanted me to do something with this contact. I flagged her down again, told her that I have a Thai friend who is starting at Burapha this semester, and that I wanted him to meet some Thai Christians. I got her phone number and e-mail address, and hopefully Ohm and I can follow up with her.

Nennie is not the first potentially strong contact. Two days ago while at the Forum Mall, a young woman named Orm (pronounced Ahm) came up to Rick and myself, and it turns out that she too is a Christian, and on a later date, I will post her story here. Nennie, Orm, Ohm - perhaps these could be the start of a Thai (house) church. When you factor in Aw and Athit, two lost Thai students, this could definitely be the start of something. A phrase I read once comes to mind: "His army is being assembled." Only God knows what will become of what happens here in Baen Saen, but I definitely know that the work has not finished. It has barely started and it must continue.

I struck out from there and long story short, ended up at a Mahayana Buddhist student club, talked with them in broken English for a while, and to shorten the story further, was invited to join them for meditation at 6 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes from the writing of this post. After receiving permission from them just to observe and not participate, I told them I would come back, which I will. They know I'm a Christian, but I don't think they know that they are going to be prayed for while they meditate. But that said, it is back to the battlefield, for this really is a war. Give me cover fire through your prayers.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

489: Walking Tour

I visited Burapha University's campus for the second time today. The purpose of my visit was to get accustomed to where buildings are and so forth, as the last visit I made was at nighttime and I didn't do much more than ride shotgun (which is left of the driver in Thailand) as my supervisor dropped off two students at the dorms, and then took us to dinner at food stall with "poor college student" priced food. ("Poor college student" seems to be a universal truth.) So anyway, today was one grand excursion, as I made a few laps by the trolley bus and walked what seemed to be 100s of kilometers. The real kicker is that one, my ultimate goal of finding the international college building was not met, although I think I came close, and two, that my walking is not over yet for the day, as I am currently giving my near-blistered feet a rest at an air conditioned Internet cafe across the street from B.U. In other words, I have about two kilometers (a mile plus) left to go.

It's easy to write all of this in a grumbling spirit of "suffering for Jesus" when in reality, I have it pretty darn good, as last night found me sitting in a canvas chair on Baeng Saen beach, taking photos of the Gulf of Thailand at sunset, and two, I have a friend who is doing her Boyce missions internship in a pretty volatile part of South Asia, where violence has been constant for years. Besides, any "sufferings" are typical for missionary work, and have been since the days of the Apostle Paul, who was shipwrecked, stoned (with stones), and more on a large number of occasions. The real trick is to count it all joy for the sake of the gospel, and please pray that I will.

If all else fails, I'm still in walking distance of the beach.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

489: Red Like Blood

I woke up this morning after having a crazy dream. It was essentially a sort of puree of psycho-thriller The Butterfly Effect with a touch of Scooby-Doo, as I found myself forced to kill these horrorifically brutal men with scissors, alongside my crime fighting partner, the prolific author Donald Miller. Before you feel too sorry for the dudes who got unceremoniously offed, these guys were child abusers and poured cocaine into milk bottles. I blame the dream on, well, having seen The Butterfly Effect a few weeks ago and thinking about it yesterday, and reading Don's newest book To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up without a Father the other day. But anyway you cut it, that was still a jacked up dream.

The trip to Pattaya was nice. We picked up a lot of tracts and evangelistic booklets and had dinner with a Thai pastor and his wife, newly weds of about a few weeks. We're going back to Pattaya this week, which is cool because it's on the Gulf of Thailand, but not cool because it's a beach town, filled to the gills with farang (foreigners), many of whom are there for the sex tourism. Anyway, the drive's always nice, because the car has AC. Also, Air Conditioning is not a luxuary item here, it's a life preserver.

I move into my apartment tomorrow, although I will only live there until the end of this month, and about a week will be spent out of town, but anyway, it will be home sweet home for the time being. It has a perfect locale, near my harvest field, Burupha University, and one of the many beaches on the Gulf of Thailand. Works for me.

It's off to bead soon for me, and here's hoping that I don't find myself fighting bad men alongside a good author, and instead find myself waking up in the morning after a sound night's rest. Either way, sweet dreams to you all, and have a good Sunday. Mine was alright.

Friday, June 02, 2006

489: Creature Comforts

I had just finished up an internet session a few minutes ago when Rick came into the office room and apologized for not thinking to see if any games were on. He switched on the television, and there it is, ESPN showing game six of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals live, at 9:28 a.m. local time. You gotta love the time difference, and you've gotta love British-accented sportscasters even more.

489: Take-offs, Touchdowns, and Wal-Mart Religion

And so, here I am, at long last, in Thailand. Months of e-mails, thoughts, and much too little prayer began their culmination with a short plane ride from Phoenix to San Francisco, a "short" plane ride from San Francisco to Hong Kong, and a short plane ride from Hong Kong to Bangkok. After taking a few wrong turns in the Bangkok airport, I finally met up with my supervisors, Rick and Cooky Kuter, and began my journeys in Thailand.

The Kuters live in Chon Buri, which is about an hour away from Bangkok. The majority of my time (or at least, the largest block of time), will be spent in what is essentially the same town that has a different name about ten minutes down the road, Bang Saen. In this town, I have a rented one-room apartment, with a bathroom, balcony, mini-fridge, and television on which to watch World Cup matches. It's a nice place, and I'm particularly stoked about its proximity to the essentials (resturants and grocery stores) and the perks (the beach and a movie theater), but most importantly, to my primary assignment: Burapha University.

Burapha (pronounced PAHH not PHAH) University has not, to the Kuter's knowledge, been strategically engaged by Christians. This is where Ohm and I come in. Ohm is the son of a Thai pastor from the south, and will begin his studies there when they enter their new semester, June 12. The plan is simple: make friends and tell them about Jesus. The implementation of the plan is where we get to get "strategery." The current strategy I've been thinking over isn't much more complicated than make friends and tell them about Jesus, and will just probably involve lots of prayer and lots of conversations. I'm stoked out of my mind about the chance to think missiologically though.

Other things are definitely going to be big on the agenda. I'm goin to get the chance to see other parts of the nation and do other missionary tasks, including helping at a medical clinic in a small town/village and assisting a youth group from Virginia when they come out to evangelize and teach English. I've already decided that these youth are going to be my little buddies, that I'm going to be that "mega super cool awesome young adult missionary's sidekick" that you always encounter when you go on a mission trip. (To get the full force of the quotation-marked phrase, one needs to hear it in the voice of Neil goldman from Family Guy.) My summer will end in the second most important city in the nation, the northern city of Chiang Mai.

But anyway, yesterday was my arrival, and this morning, I woke up in Asia for the first time in some time. My time thus far has been essentially spent hanging out, learning bits and pieces about Thai culture, some Thai phrases and so forth. Basically, I've spent the time learning what it's like being a missionary, in ways that I might detail at a later date. Probably the most prolific experience came earlier today, while shopping at a store called Lotus, which is essentially an Asian Wal-Mart Supercenter.

I was looking at some items on an aisle that had paper/picnic products when I turned around and saw a package of candles marked "Lucky." They weren't the scented votive type employed for odor masking in the U.S., they were plain candles, somewhat like the candles one might see at a Christmas Eve candle light service, at least the ones I grew up attending. Next to the candles was a value pack of incense, and next to incense was a package of small faux flower garlands. These were items for worship, offerings to present before the spirit housed in the shrine on your property, for nearly every Buddhist Thai home (i.e. 95-99% of all homes in the nation), has a relatively ornate spirit house on their property, to which sacrifices are made. A few minutes later, on another aisle, I noticed the nicely packaged Buddhas one could buy to place in a personal shrine. Here was religion, available at your nearby neighborhood Wal-Mart clone, and make no mistake, these were no trinkets, these were not nick-nacks. These Buddhas, candles, and flowers were part and parcel with the spiritual darkness the Thai are plagued by. These things keep them enslaved as cogs in the machine of karma, doing good works in hope of a better rebirth.

A few minutes ago, while writing this post, it hit me just how similar this aspect of Buddhism is to American Christianity: as it were, one buys it at a store. The only difference is to the Thai Buddhists (and other people with animistic tendencies and orientations), this owns their life. It must be noted that it does not change their life for the better or make them better people, but it owns their life. In America, Christianity just owns Sunday mornings, and occaisonally, Wednesday night, but to the accusation of both Thai and American, salvation cannot be bought for cheap, and even the offerings of the most extravagently faithful Buddhist are ultimately cheap, because God values the material value of the entire planet as less than the cost of a single human soul. No, this is what the gospel costs:

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure, buried in a field, that a man found and reburied. Then in his joy he goes and sales everything he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one priceless pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-45)

"'If you want to be perfect,' Jesus said to him, 'go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.'" (Matthew 19:21)

"Summoning the crowd along with His disciples, He said to them, 'If anyone wants to be My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me and the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35)

The gospel costs everything, and we (my inclusive way of saying "I") hold it so cheap. My friends, this must not be. In the words of the band Copeland, we must "fall in love and hold nothing back." May it be so in all of us.