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This Looks Familar// Two Hands

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I am sitting in the Bangkok airport for the 4th time this trip, and this time it’s not landing as a weary, jetlagged traveler, or to fly to Hanoi, or en route to Laos (on my birthday), but as one whose feet are homebound. My journal and camera are full and my backpack is now stuffed not with Bibles, but market souvenirs.
And my heart is bearing the all-too-familiar weight of farewells.

Why is God so good to me?

In front of me are 16 hours of airplane air and humming and sitting, then like a magic transportation – dadaah – it’s back in Seattle with my family and friends, back to school and schedules and working just a few minutes from the hospital where I was born, the world of Asia once again thousands of miles away.

I’m going back.
What have I learned? Is the thought that immediately follows.

I wanted to know so much, to have everything figured out. I still do. College degree, where, what. A big booming voice would be grand. I’m sure we all feel that way. I knew I wouldn’t get it, but still – I hoped.

Instead what I’m coming home with is a greater contentment with not knowing. An understanding that God has already made it pretty clear what my life work is to be, and that the life we tend to think of as ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ isn’t really: it’s just being obedient and a natural response to our salvation.
Kinda more simple than I make it.

I am coming back with two lessons, one in each hand.
In one hand, I have learned missions is not a conditional when/where life (when I’ve graduated or am this old, etc, if I move to another country), but rather living life intentionally, always. Missions is my life. As it’s been put so well, to know God and make Him known. To have as my highest aim, glorifying Him.

And in the other hand, the reminder that as I live ‘missions’ everyday, I cannot cannot cannot forget God’s heart for all nations. I lose out if my focus becomes too narrow and all I can love, pray for, and serve is in arm’s length. God’s plans are a lot bigger than that, and I don’t want to miss out on seeing how great is our God, and being willing to be His servant to those who have never heard wherever they be. Especially as there are brothers and sisters facing injustice, discouragement, and persecution even unto imprisonment or death. Today’s world is globalized, which is awesome – but I believe also holds us to a greater responsibility.

This song came to mind as I sit waiting for my next flight. And the story Kendall shared at the beginning really fits with what I’m learning.

I, sir, have never had clarity. What I’ve had is trust.

Regardless of whether I ever receive a messenger angel – wet/dry fleece – snake rod – scales falling off clarity from God as to my exact life purpose, I have His Word to go by, and I want to be obedient to that.

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Still in a Dream

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You may be surprised to hear this, but a busy trip does not free time for blogging make.

Whaaaa?

Somehow the days were completely filled what with plane rides, van rides, tuktuk rides, boat rides, hauling ridiculously heavy backpacks across borders, getting sunburnt – oh, and a bit of fun stuff like haggling with market vendors and sightseeing here and there. And then of course there was socializing with my team – *if I must* – and by the time evening rolled around my brain for some reason did not want to peck out a post on my tablet (tablet, why did they name it that?Β Calls to mind chiseling on a stone tablet..) or meticulously select and edit photos.

All right, enough excuses. Basically I’ve been having way too much fun. The cities we’ve seen have been entrancing, from the streets of Hanoi that flow with motorbikes like water, to the jungles in Chiang Mai we ziplined through (that’s, right, ziplined. Amazing!), to the 6 hour speedboat ride we took down the Mekong River in Laos, every turn revealing more mountains. We’ve wandered around quiet temples and through crowded markets where haggling now happens by exchanging bids on a calculator with the local vendors until an agreement is reached. We’ve tried food like snails, frog, eel (and they do say once you’ve eaten in these places long enough, you’ve most likely had dog). Mostly we enjoy dragon fruit, mango, the most natural bananas we’ll probably ever have, and the plethora of fruit shake/smoothie options at every restaurant. Oooh and restaurants. We’ve enjoyed Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Indian – with a bit of “regular” food like pizza or spaghetti here and there – at restaurants in the crowded city central, or a village where those chickens wandering across the road are probably tomorrow’s meal, or by the Mekong as the sun set across the river.

There have been so many moments I’ve sat back to watch my team talking and laughing while figuring out how to hold chopsticks, or squinting against sun and dust as we jolt through the city, crammed into a tuktuk, or humming along as a local church sings in Lao – and it feels like a dream to be here. It feels like a place that just exists as I move, unfolding as my eyes and body move.

I watch the Buddhist monks wrapped in orange praying to a golden head or monument, and cannot wrap my mind around how ancient this religion is, that this is truly what millions of people believe – not just to make pretty buildings or enjoy lighting some candles – and what they trust or lean upon in life. And people think Christianity doesn’t make sense?

That’s another post in itself.

In all of this seeing, traveling, tiredness, joys, and new things, I had the absolutely best team and leader. You know how they say you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family? Same same – I had no idea what kind of people I would be traveling with for 2 weeks, but was blessed with brothers and sisters of kindness, generosity, laughter, and love. Every one of them challenged me with their strong love for Christ and His Word.

In imagining each of them now what I see is their smiles, and their listening faces. They were always ready to quietly and fully listen to what someone else or I had to say – which says a lot more about someone’s character than just that they’re willing to listen, if you know what I mean.

I’m getting choked up, just writing this. That’s happened quite a bit since I said goodbye to them. Always goodbyes in my life, to the most amazing people that make it so hard to leave.

And then you meet more people that show you more of Christ, and life moves on, and God is sovereign, and praise Him that someday there will be a massive reunion in heaven. I can’t wait.

But for now? For now I am staying behind in Laos while the rest of the team has gone home. I am staying with missionaries and really just humbly taking in a lot right now, meeting missionaries and seeing ministries and taking in what God is doing against this country’s darkness through His people.

In ten days I’ll return home, to a very different world.. and we’ll see what’s next. God is good, God is faithful, and again all I can speak is humbled, and privileged.

Bangkok// Surface

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It’s been only four nights now I’ve spent in Asia,Β  a place of mixed chaos and calm, poverty with patches of wealth, delicious food and roasted dog, everything adding together to become an entirely different world than my American hometown.

I got to my hotel in Bangkok about 11pm Monday night, and spent the next day eating breakfast, reading, and generally just hanging around the hotel waiting for the rest of the team to come in. I stood at the window and watched the traffic flow outside on the busy street but wasn’t quite brave enough to walk around by myself. I moved around my room and the hotel lobby like I was in a stranger’s house, cautiously examining everything and feeling aware I didn’t know what was culturally acceptable.

I did finally step out of the air conditioning and was chatting with a taxi driver when the team arrived around 2pm. They piled out of the van and after a hello exchange headed to their rooms for a quick nap, being pretty exhausted from their long flights.

Afterwards we grabbed some cabs (3 to fit us all) and headed to the Bangkok center. Hello, driving in a third world country! The lines are completely ignored and the shoulder is used to create another lane – motorcycles weaving between everyone. All the locals do just fine, following the unspoken rules of how to merge and move – but I’m positive I would last all of ten seconds driving on these roads before hitting someone.

We walked down KhaoSan Road, a popular place for tourists to come that’s lined with restaurants, stalls selling clothes and souvenirs, and bars. We ate our first local meal together (one of many to come) at a restaurant just down the road, and as we were eating in their outside covered area it began to rain – hard. Hello, tropical rain.

During a break in the rain they also shot off fireworks – for the king’s birthday, I believe. We were at first startled and unsure what was going on, as the sound was more like a gunshot. Funny how small things, things you don’t even realize can be another way, are different.

The next day we took easy: taking another excursion into Bangkok, this time escorted by a local missionary from Ireland, Johnny. He took us to several prominent monasteries with the Reclining Buddha and other Buddhas. Everything was beautifully made – they press small pieces of colored mirrors into the walls to make mosaics that glint and sparkle in any bit of light, then paint the trim with some sort of gold lacquer. Within these sites everything was clean, whitewashed and swept, a stark contrast to the city outside that was filled with debris and piecemeal buildings.

The whole team enjoyed 30 minute Thai massages as well – an experience that was relaxing though a bit painful at times. πŸ˜‰ The massage was about $9! Everything here is incredibly cheap, though being unknowing tourists we often go to the touristy places which is comparatively more expensive. Taxis are only about 9-10 dollars for a 30-45 minute ride.

We used just about every form of transportation that day: tuktuks, train, ‘tourist boat’, and taxi. The evening meal we would enjoy with the Johnny and his family, relaxing in their community’s salt water pool after.

I know. What a hard trip. πŸ˜‰

That night the real purpose of the trip began (no, we didn’t just come to sightsee! πŸ˜‰ ), as we carried boxes and boxes of Bibles into a hotel room and divided them amongst our backpacks. We figure we had about 200 Bibles total, as each of us carried about 15-23 between our checked and carry-on. We stuffed clothing around the Bibles to make our bags look less “boxy” and weighed our packs on the hotel lobby weight/horoscope machine to ensure they were below the 20kg limit.

The next morning we sunk the hotel shuttle low with the weight of our bodies and packs, and rode it back through the weaving traffic to the airport where we took a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi airport seemed more quiet than usual, the guards more serious and a bit intimidating – but that may have just been in our minds.

Us Americans received Vietnamese visas OK (the Europeans didn’t need one), and we all piled our bags onto wheeled carts and pushed them through customs without incident – no one stopped us to scan our bags. Praise God!

Just to be clear, it is not illegal for us to bring the Bibles into Vietnam. It is illegal for the tribal people these Bibles were printed for to have them. It is humbling to know that while what we’re doing is very needed and good, it is others who daily face the real danger – if caught, they face eviction, pressure to give up their faith, and even death.

Our next drop will be in a few days, so again we are sightseeing, as well as daily devotions talking through concepts from the book Radical by David Platt.

This trip has been cross-cultural in more ways than one, as within our team we have a Scot, an Irish, a German, two other guys also from America, and the rest are from England – in all, twelve of us, seven guys and five girls. We curiously compare everything from education to terms to candy, and so learn about many parts of the world at once.

Annnd this is where the rest of the post I’d written has dropped off a cyber cliff into cyber space for an unknown reason. *heavy sigh* Twice now I’ve compiled pictures into a gallery only to have it disappear. Technology is a gift from God to teach me patience.

Really I was just going to wrap up this blog post by talking about what I’ve not talked about – and by that what I partly mean is, in these 4/5 days I have experienced two countries and cultures that are different from my individual experiences, from my home world. Just a bit. And I’ve no idea besides a long dinner and slideshow when I get home how to tell you what I’ve seen, where to even start on this blog post, so it’s been a struggle writing (and rewriting) it.

The other part I mean is that no matter how well I capture in words what I’ve seen, ultimately these days and this trip are but a glimpse, a skim, of a rich world with a deep history. I see only the surface, but I know there is so much more I could learn and understand. This trip I’m doing little more than snapping pictures, but I could sit and learn and attempt to slip over the language barrier to truly know these people.

The words that have come to my mind a lot during this trip are “humbled” and “privileged.” In many ways – for this chance to be a part of this important work, with such a solid and wonderful team under a strong and godly leader, shown around by missionaries that inspire me with their examples of obedience and service. To be given this chance to see these cities and lives.

The pictures below will fill in this blog post a bit more. I’m not sure when my next post will be, as these take ridiculously long when I’d rather be spending the free time with my teammates or journaling… but I’m still taking photos, and I promise there will be another post, someday, Lord willing. πŸ˜‰

Sarah

The Timeless Beginning

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My life has become sitting down. And sitting down. Hallo-ing again my dear friends the clouds. Eating whenever food is brought, and sleeping when I can, and no longer caring how my hair looks, and wondering vaguely just what time it is here – there – how long have I been traveling anyways?

I believe the answer is about 17 hours. 3 of those hours were in the Tokyo airport and the rest of been in flight. My tailbone would appreciate it if I could be vertical – horizontal – just straight, someday. Movies are great (especially a rewatch of Guardians of the Galaxy, yeesss), but a current count of four + no human conversations (as my seat neighbors sleep) is quickly turning my brain to mush.

Fierce hugs and prayers from my family 17 hours ago officially sent me back into the world of travel, aka everything revolving around figuring out where to be when and clinging onto several small possessions (passport and boarding pass), constantly worrying I will misplace them. In the Tokyo airport I was returned to a world where everyone speaks a different language, writes in a different language, watches TV shows that are… not American, and has way more buttons for toilets than are necessary! I am reminded how huge the world is and it is wonderful and daunting all at once.

In about 3 hours I will land in Bangkok (10:45pm their time), and hopefully with little ado make it to my hotel and a horizontal position fairly quickly – then the rest of the team will be landing and joining me tomorrow afternoon. Our first few days will be spent in Bangkok, adjusting and orientation.

I am hoping… along this trip to take you with me. To show you the sights, through my eyes. That’s dependant on me getting thoughts together, on having time to type things up, but I hope to. Thank you for thinking of me, for loving/supporting/praying for me during this trip, depending on who you are reading this. πŸ™‚

Since I’ve gotten on the plane, the trip has felt unreal, like I’m floating outside of time and space, inbetween worlds, just waiting to land. Planes are weird portals, but I’m sure glad not to be on a rickety ship for 3 months, all of my things packed in a coffin in case I die on the way/there. But what a great commitment that required from people in that age, during Hudson Taylor’s life.
Anyhow. My brain is half lucid right now, as for me it’s about 6am and did I mention I’ve watched four movies…? I just wanted to let you know I’ve (almost) made it. πŸ™‚

Soundtrack during blog post: Prince of Egypt. Singing along silently while the rest of the cabin sleeps.
P.S. Posted after flight, once I had internet again.
P.P.S. Forgive any spelling errors por favor, I am typing all this on my tablet. πŸ˜‰