Written by Molly Evans
Someone in a Bible Study once posed the question: “Why do we try so hard to make this place our home?” I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately. I recently moved to Bangkok, Thailand, a city of contrasts, a city that never sleeps, a city where nearly everywhere you turn, someone is selling something. Poverty and affluence live side by side and the pressure to buy, rent, splurge and indulge is splashed across every mode of transportation and high rise. I have been here for two months now, but the first seven days as the intern with WMF Thailand were especially intense and life-changing. A beautifully painful introduction to the art of ministering to the poorest of the poor.
I arrived in Bangkok late on Monday night. From the airport we took Sky Train and Tuk Tuk to the place that would be my new home for the next six months. Tim and Amy led me through a Thai market to a sliding gate opening up to a restaurant. We walked up the stairs and arrived at a wooden door with a padlock. The door opened up to an 10×10 foot room enclosed with plywood walls plastered with pages from old Thai magazines. On the floor was a mat, a pillow, and a fan. The bathroom, located on the third level and used by everyone in the building, consisted of a toilet seat, and a concrete water tank for scoop showers. My primitive amenities were not exactly what I had expected when I pictured myself participating in this Thailand Adventure, but it was about to get a little more interesting…Before heading back to their house around the corner, Tim and Amy handed me an envelope explaining what would be happening over the next seven days. I opened up the envelope to find 50 baht ($1.50) and a paper explaining that I would be participating in an Emersion Experiment. This experience would help me get a taste of what it’s like to arrive in Bangkok as a refugee with no real connections and very little money. The next morning, Tim took me to register for Thai Language School, showing me the bus route and also introducing me to some cheap street food options. School would start in a couple days and in the meantime, I was left to figure things out for myself. With the exception of a meal on Saturday and church on Sunday, I had little to no contact with Tim and Amy except for when they would bring me another envelope with money and instructions for the day. In just 24 hours, nearly all the things I thought I would need to enter into this internship well were stripped away: comfort, community, and guidance.
You have no idea the strength that He supplies until all the things you think you need to function are removed and all that’s left is you and Him. Each morning required the surrender of my fears and doubts of whether I could handle another day alone. Each morning I had to make the choice to leave my room and trust that He would direct every step and provide for every need. I was required to be back in my room each night to reflect on the day. Listing out all the things I saw, did, and was grateful for each day helped me to recognize His hand in every small detail from catching the bus on time and missing the torrential downpour to the conversations with people at the bus stop. I might have been poor in community and finances, but I was rich in time. Most of which was spent either waiting for the bus or discovering other free places to sit and observe the city. I couldn’t afford to go to any of the cafes or restaurants, so I had to rely on public parks, benches, stairs and anywhere else I could sit without having to purchase anything first. Once I found a place to sit, I would just sit, observe and reflect. It was the classroom in which I learned everyday social cues and practices. It was strange to pass people on the street or sit in my language classroom with nine other foreigners, and know that they had no idea the situation I was in. From the outside, I appeared to be just another foreigner staying in the comfort of an air conditioned condominium minutes from the nearest Sky Train stop. There was no way for them to know that I was hungry, sleep deprived, and all alone. It was that silent, solitary suffering that was most difficult and made me cling that much more to the truth that He leads and upholds me with His righteous right hand. One of the lowest points of that first week was opening up the envelope for day 2 to see the original activity for the day, “Worship at the Hupes,” crossed out and replaced with “Unfortunately, you have nothing to do today.” Filled with dread and some frustration questioning how in the world Tim and Amy expected me to handle this, I prayed for the strength to venture out and trust Him. “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation’; for you I want all the day long.” (Psalm 25:5) This dark day turned out to be one of the best. Not only because I discovered the air conditioned Library in the middle of the public park, but because it provided an abundance of sweet moments of observation, reflection, and learning. The day had the potential to be full of stress and self pity but instead he replaced those with peace and confidence. I came home that night blown away at how He came through on His promise to lead and provide.
As difficult as those first seven days were, there was a bit of relief in knowing that it would end eventually and I would be welcomed into community. I spent a lot of time thinking of the men, women and families for whom this suffering is a reality and wondering about the circumstances that motivate them to come here and start all over with almost nothing. My experience merely scratched the surface as far as what it’s like to arrive here from your home country in search of work, safety, food, shelter, community, etc. but as I am now in the process of coming alongside the relationships Tim and Amy are invested in, I hear their stories with different ears than I would have if I had not been left to figure things out alone in the beginning. I know now what it feels like to be alone. I know what it feels like to be hungry and counting every Baht to make sure I can buy lunch. Being on the other side now, I can see how the stripping of the comforts I had the audacity to believe I was entitled to including community, guidance, a real bed, my own bathroom, removed some obstacles previously hindering my ability to hear from and be in communion with Him. It deepened my relationship with Him, teaching me to walk each step with him and giving me glimpses of this city through his eyes. I had nothing else to rely on but him, literally. It was painful and there were definitely some tears shed, but it resulted in something beautiful: a heart that leans even harder on Him because it understands more clearly what it means to be in need.
“Why do we try so hard to make this place our home?”
It would not be difficult to find and live in “comfort” here, traveling from one air conditioned mall to the next, eating at familiar Western chains, indulging in inexpensive entertainment. The Truth is, though, as followers of Christ, we aren’t called to be comfortable. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier get entangled in the civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (2 Timothy 2:4) God gives us good things. Fortunately, sometimes they comes in the form of a really good cup of Starbucks or a cozy air conditioned hotel room. The best part about this experience so far is how my perspective of “good things” is changing. Whether it’s an invitation to join friends for a home-cooked meal or the simple blessing of a room with a window, the key is to not find our satisfaction in the good things. Instead, our satisfaction should be found in the Giver of good things. That’s where our home is.