This is pretty long.
and to be honest, this recount is more for me than it is for whoever is reading. I want to remember every possible memory, moment, person, laugh or song that I need to keep this experience alive and real.
I would be doing an injustice and disservice to the stories I heard and the time I spent there if I did not share and recount them every chance I got. So this is where I start, I release it to the internet so that it is maybe temporarily hard to find but never lost, never forgotten.
If I were to sum up my entire Thailand experience in just a song, it would be Open Space by Housefires. They released a new album about a week before I left for my trip and this song was the one that stuck out to me. I have listened to it everyday since finding it and every day afterwards. I lead a devo halfway through the trip with the rest of the team and prefaced this song and its lyrics for reflection:
“My heart is an open space
For You to come and have Your way
I’m open, I’m o…o-o-o-open
My heart is an open space
For You to come and have Your way
I’m open, I’m o…o-o-o-open
Do whatever You wanna do
And say whatever You wanna say
And move however You wanna move
And change whatever You wanna change
Do whatever You wanna do
And say whatever You wanna say
And move however You wanna move, God
And change whatever You wanna change”
This was my prayer while being in Thailand and honestly afterwards too because I knew God was calling me to an extending, opening and restructuring in this heart of mine and overall in my relationship with him. It started with some heartbreaks and realizations that he was clearing space for whoever I would choose to love one day (different blog, different day) and then it continued with Thailand. I prefaced in my Heart for Thailand post (http://arielleestoria.com/a-heart-of-thailand/) that I struggled with fully understanding or accepting missions. I grew up as an urban missionary kid, so I saw all the work that has yet to be done within our own homes, schools and workplaces. Bitter, I think would be a good term for how I felt, just a little bit of a sour taste and quite honestly probably completely misplaced bitterness too. But by the end of the trip, I sort of understand what the root of my frustration really was. However there was not enough of anything that could convince me that I wasn’t supposed to go– not even finances. There was instead that tug, that this is for you, I need you to follow me sort of tug. I knew he would meet me there, I knew he would already be there and I so desperately wanted to see what he did in places I had never even stepped let alone, seen him.
So I went…and as cliche as it sounds, it absolutely transformed so much within me, from my understanding of what missions is to how to serve and how to love others, to even simply how to be an aware and feeling human being.
I didn’t necessarily experience much “culture” shock while first getting to Thailand, in fact it fascinated me when I came to the realization of how similarly we all live, just in different places and with various ways of doing so. But the art of sitting, breaking bread, enjoying the company of the people around you was very apparent from our first day there. We arrived in Bangkok early afternoon, unloaded our 24+ luggages into our rooms at a Christian center located there and ventured off to what would be one of many Pad Thai dinners paired with Thai Tea. We met with the majority of the missionaries we would be interacting with the whole week during that dinner. Each individual, I can say are genuinely the most kind, humble and hospitable humans I have ever encountered.
In Thailand, with every interaction beginning and ending with a bow, there’s a certain type of tender awareness of respect for the people around you, it is humbling to say the least. There’s something about that culture and they way they live that gratitude is almost a tangible thing and not something they wish to obtain—they already have it. Every single one of them were so gracious, towards us loud and zealous americans (with a good chunk of filipinos and african americans so we were pretty lit, to say the least).
Over the span of the trip we had the opportunity of hearing the testimony of three of the women—stories that broke my heart from even the first few years of their lives filled with so much brokenness, pain, abuse, lack of love and thus lack of awareness for their own worth. And yet? They had the most unspeakable joy and light — it is the most real and closest experience I’ve had to truly seeing the results of freedom. Freedom from shame and guilt, freedom from past and brokenness, freedom from abuse after abuse after abuse, the freedom of what it means to be loved fully and wholly in Christ. They were freaking powerhouses and if women who were strong and victorious made me slightly giddy before, I was over the roof with the walking victories these women were.
The focus of our trip to Thailand was to do two things:
1. Connect and engage with kids in the neighboring city of Pak Chong, through teaching english and playing a relay of games but also to set time aside so the Missionary Team can talk to the parents and them know what really happens when they send their children to Pattaya at thirteen, fourteen years old. Pattaya by the way, is unofficially and yet world wide known as the Sex Tourism CAPITAL.
2. To spend time in Pattaya, walking and praying down “Walking Street” (Red Light district), a night of bar ministry and teaching women who are trying to escape that life English and worshiping with them after.
The women we heard stories of, are women from those bars. Who sat at those tables, who were looked at as though there were price tags and not human beings. Now they are free and trying to do the same for the women around them.
Pattaya is eerily beautiful. Everything about it from the white sand and clear waters and almost so beautiful that it’s downright creepy. You’re almost stunned at how beautiful it is when you know about the extent of darkness that is encapsulated in those city walls. It wasn’t necessarily fun being in Pattaya because we knew what we were doing there— there to break down some spiritual walls and make way for new ones, not exactly light beach stroll chat. When we did our prayer walk through Walking Street—while flyers if inappropriate photos are being shoved in your faces and both women and men calling to you to partake in the tourism and foreign men staring at you as though they were looking for your pricetag it was overwhelming and yet underwhelming at the same time. We walked in separate smaller groups throughout Walking Street and prayed some outloud and some to ourselves, making our way through crowds of people and then the rain started. And people started to move from the streets to cover underneath the entrances of bars and soon it was just our groups walking down the middle of Walking Street, praying. That visual, that presence of heaven literally opening up and most people shielding themselves from it was so powerful— one of our leaders, Joy (who has lead this trip for five years now) said that it was almost like God parting the red sea, making a way for his people to walk through— wow. I am still stunned by it, by the electricity of it and the thickness of God’s presence. **
When we returned and debriefed, I found myself realizing that I hadn’t talked much for most of that time walking down Walking Street, or on the travel back to the hotel, or during debrief. I wanted to speak, I wanted to talk but I was stuck, my voice held hostage outside of some heavy sobs once I finally took in what I had just seen. I was trying to process why I was struck so quiet and I could hear God say to me, “I needed you to physically embody what was happening in those women you just saw.” They were Speechless, living and breathing but not truly alive, their voices held captive outside of what comes natural to them now, their eyes struck with such a emptiness it was heartbreaking. I so desperately wanted to pass out roses or flowers to each of them, tell them how beautiful and loved they were over and over again until they felt it and started to believe it for themselves maybe….prayerfully. But this is where my bitterness comes in, where my hesitations with missions stirs up because we left. We got back on a plane and came back to our comfortable (loosely defined) United States, I drove my car again, we went back to work, our schedules begin and our routines fall back as they were. I don’t like that part. I saw these hardworking, diligent, servants who literally have dedicated their entire individual and family lives to fighting the hold on that city, overcoming poverty and defeating odds. What a heavy thing to carry every single day and for only eight days I got to help lighten the load but what about the other 357?
So, WHAT NOW?
That’s the tension I am currently sitting in. I barely even covered most of the trip in this post, these were just snippets of the monumental moments. What do I do with this experience? These stories? These laughs and images that are engrained in my mind and heart? And most importantly how do I keep them there? I don’t want the euphoric “summer camp” experience—I want this to last. I don’t want to forget, I want to act, I want to move, I want to do something. I want to do what I can to help what’s being done on the other side of the world.
While I was there…my what now sort of was answered for me.
I was hit with the understanding and reach of the platform that I’ve been given. While introducing ourselves to one of the missionaries who was our age: Darwin, born and raised in the Philippines, now living in Thailand working for Bridges to the Nations (the organization we were there to work with). When it was my turn to introduce myself, he sheepishly responded with “oh yeah… I already know you.” I sat there baffled and gasped out a, “What?!” he said matter of factly, “yeah, I’ve been following you on instagram for awhile now.” The tears didn’t fall then because I was seriously so shocked, but they fell that night, at the realization of being known halfway across the world in a place I hadn’t even stepped.
“I told you I was going to meet you there.” – God
I haven’t quite understood until that moment the voice I’ve been given, the words He’s given me and how they’ve impacted the people he’s placed in its sphere of influence. I want to continue thinking and knowing that I am so small but used so greatly in the hands of a Great God. That’s how I continue these stories, I make sure not to forget them, the people, the laughter, the massiveness of worship filling up the smallest of rooms, the mango and sticky rice and too much thai coffee and tea. The adventure, the humid evenings and quiet mornings, the way Thai children dance and Thai women exude joy and strength. I want to take all of it and recycle it so that it is never forgotten, never lost. It’ll look like a poem or two, it’ll look like a blog post from now of things I’ve remembered or chewed a little bit more carefully on, it’ll look like open mics and sharing the story of P-O and her perseverance and P-Khaek and her faithfulness and P-Tom and the way he cried when we had to say goodbye.
It may be the jet-lag…but it felt like a dream.
Thailand, the whole thing now that I sit here on my bed and type this for the past hour…it didn’t feel real and yet I know it was, so very real and so deserving of being shared.
Will I go back? Goodness I’m definitely going to try. I’m also bringing you with me. You who this impacted or tugged on at all. You who got this far (props to you). You’re coming with me. You’re next. We have to keep telling these stories yes, but also bringing people back, urging people to go. Create a ripple of experience because the less people who can say “they didn’t know”, the more chance we have at creating a difference.
rooting for you always,