Saturday, April 28, 2018


View from a park

The first 24 hours...  

First stop was to get a SIM card, second was to hire my first Grab (Asian company that bought out Uber).  It was fine except for the language barrier.  I wasn't prepared for him to ask if I wanted to take the interstate.  I'd read that there are fees, but I didn't really understand the options; so I said it didn't matter.  Well, I'm not sure how long the Interstate would've taken, but it took an hour and a half to get to the guest house where I'm staying.  

Though it is my very first time to this bustling city of Bangkok, I felt so comfortable and almost as though I were coming back to a place I'd been to before.  All I can think of is that Phnom Penh was such a different world for me that this seemed more normal.  The fact that the roads are paved and the vehicles stayed in their lanes--excluding the mopeds 😉-seemed so civilized and structured!

One Street Away From Where I Stayed

My SAMS director had recommended that I contact the bishop who is serving here at an Anglican Church for 6 months, so I had been in contact with him over the past couple of months.  He had invited me to a noon-time service followed by a lunch and ESL class for refugees.  As the clock got hit 11:30, and I still hadn't arrived at the guest house, I wondered if I could make it.  Finally, we made it!  

After a quick check in, I went up to my room just to set my things inside and immediately headed out about 11:45 or 11:50, relying on some vague directions from the front desk along with my map app.  I think it was noon on the dot when I made it through the side door of the church, just in time for the opening prayer.  

Image result for christ church bangkok
As a guest and out of respect for the situation, I didn't take pictures, but this is the building and
website of Christ Church Bangkok.

I'm so thankful for this invitation and time with the refugees from Africa, Pakistan, and India; and yet, it's so humbling and has left my soul troubled.   They live very hard lives and shared openly some of the difficulties.  For example, when people meet them, they ask "Where are you from?"  followed by "Do you work?"  The unspoken or even spoken question is "How do you eat and live?"  The hardest for them is that even Christians can be unloving or judgmental.

Linda is from the Congo.  I didn't reveal that I spoke French until it was getting difficult for her to share deeper things in a second language; so I offered that "Je parle francais."  Her eyes lit up, and she hugged me as she continued in French.  

A Pakistani man was imprisoned and is now separated from his wife and daughter who are held in a detention center.  He, like many, shared how they are not allowed to work because they are not allowed to get a Visa.  But they cannot return to their home country because of the hostility toward Christians.  He asked for me and my friends to pray for him and his family.  They have been on the news and are hoping to get asylum in the UK, but they are still waiting after four years.  

And the same for the Pakistani woman who asked me to walk to the bus stop with her.  They are hoping to go to Canada, but it's been four years for her family as well.

My experience gave me a tiny taste of how I can only imagine that Jesus must've felt during his 3 years of ministry.  I'm not sure if it's because I'm from the West or a missionary or both, but I felt such a strong sense of expectation for me to be able to help them; and this left me feeling like a bit of a failure and once more with questions whirling around in my head.

As I prayed this morning, I found some comfort and help by Jesus' example in John 4 with the woman at the well.  She had a lot of stigma and rejection as well as emotional and physical needs.  Jesus wasn't intimidated by her needs or her reputation, but He loved her as she was and helped her realize that her deepest needs were beyond her present circumstances.  I think it helps that He willingly chose a life of little--without wealth and things that would put Him in a higher category than the poor and needy.  Rather than offering people things they thought would help them like money, material things, or status; He gave them Himself who was free of such needs.

I have a long way to go so that my heart and life match those of my Master, but I'm thankful that His love is able to change us and grow us so that we're more like Him.  

Friday, April 27, 2018

Phnom Penh!

If I'd done things my way, I would've arranged to stay in the Bangkok area for my 10 days.  I'm so glad I didn't do my way!  First, Chiang Mai (especially Juniper Tree) was perfect for what I needed.  Second, I found out that week that the girl I'd wanted to visit in Bangkok had to leave unexpectedly!  So glad I followed how I sensed the Lord leading rather than what I wanted to do--good lesson for me.  Third, I certainly wouldn't have added another country to the list!  But...

My beloved director of SAMS encouraged me to visit Phnom Penh while I was there; and though I desperately wanted to have a slower pace, I wanted to listen to, I'm so close!  Also, Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam have been of special interest to me and were hi-lighted on my prayer map when lived in the condo.  When I learned that the couple I could stay with were from Wheaton and their sending church was the church I often attend when I visit there, it helped. :)

Street where I stayed while I was there

They were sweet to pick me up from the airport since it's nearly impossible to find their house.  Some roads there have names, but not all.  There are lots of alleys and unpaved roads.  In case you don't know much about Cambodia like I didn't, it's one of the poorest countries in the world.  Having endured the Khmer Rouge genocides in the 70's, which massacred the educated people, education is only just beginning to be welcomed and embraced by the newer generations. (Disclaimer: I haven't done much research and am not. reliable source for Cambodian history, but this is based on conversations I've had.). Anyhow, that can help explain the economic and daily life situation.  

Back to the airport pickup: the family's car which had been in the shop earlier that day, wouldn't start; so I would get my first tuk tuk ride!  (A little canopied wagon with seats being pulled from a moped).  Woo hoo!  That's their version of a taxi. It's open air, which means a combo of heat and dirt, but fun!. :)

Speaking of heat, wow.  Thailand also had been extremely hot--in the 100's!!!  My app said it was only in the mid-90's in Phnom Penh, but it felt just as hot!  In fact, it was so hot that I welcomed the cold shower in my room (when I could've used the family shower with hot water)!  That's a first ever. 

Funnily, the week I was in Albania, the Colombian girl who visited roomed with me; and we learned that the husband of her friend would be in Phnom Penh for 3 days, too--that overlapped with my 3 days!  He and his wife were both Wheaton grads!  So I met with him my first morning and got to hear all about his medical outreaches in Thailand and now Cambodia.  That afternoon, I met up with Audrey.  A lady I'd had lunch with in Chiang Mai told me about her, also a Wheaton grad from my program and now teaching ESL there.  So great to see someone from "my world."  

I rode on the back of her scooter to get home since she lives in the "same neighborhood" as the family I stayed with.  If you don't have assurance of where you're going after you die, I don't recommend this, ha!  There were a few times my imagination applied to sheer logic could've sent me into panic, but my strategy was just go with the flow.  I mean, I never saw anyone fall or get hit/hurt during my two days there (unless you count the time a Prius backed into the parked tuk tuk I was sitting in waiting for the driver and another rider, but I'm not counting parked vehicles 🤣).

View from the tuk tuk :)

Thankfully I had my own tuk tuk driver who speaks English.  The family recommended him, and I stuck with him since I don't speak a lick of Khmer  (I think it's the first/only country I've ever visited where I didn't at least know how to say one thing! :( ).  He took me to a museum which I thought had artwork of Vann Nath--one of 7 survivors of the genocide--but it was mostly Buddhas and ancient relics.  Oh well.  I learned a few things and realized there is so much I don't know about this religion.

Lotus garden at the Royal Museum of Art

As I waited at the Phnom Penh airport yesterday morning, it was difficult for me.  It seemed like one of the nicest, cleanest airports I've ever been in--which I appreciate--but seems so out-of-place when the conditions are so difficult there.  A lot to think about...

Chiang Mai!

It was quite the journey to get there.  I flew from Tirana to Milan, an overnight to New Delhi, afternoon flight to Bangkok, and evening to Chiang Mai.  I thankfully had a friend-of-a-friend pick me up which was so helpful since the SIM card station was closed at the airport; I was quite exhausted, and it was my first time to Thailand.

What was I doing in Thailand, you may ask?  So, I had 10 days between the conference in Albania and another conference in SE Asia and couldn't go back to Switzerland (no Visa).  Since SAMS has workers in SE Asia, I had planned to visit them and have a low-key and legal work/rest place between conferences.  

I had wanted to stay in one location and planned to visit a short-term worker in the Bangkok area.  When the accommodations weren't working out, I wondered where I would stay.  As I was falling asleep one night, I heard "worker (m) retreat in Thailand" and the thought to google that; so I did and found the Juniper Tree.  Its whole purpose is for rest and retreat!  It sounded perfect, so Chiang Mai it would be, at least for a few days.

Sunrise in the Prayer Garden at Juniper Tree

I have to admit that it was hard to stay put as I wanted to explore, and I'd seen a day trip that would let me do almost everything I wanted in just one day, including riding elephants and visiting both the Shan and Karen--two people groups I've taken interest in over the past year.  (A church I frequent in Switzerland has actually adopted the Shan people group and pray for them regularly).  But I sensed my purpose in Chiang Mai was to rest.  So I limited my outings to meet with one person each day for coffee or a meal, and Sunday I visited two church services and went to the night market.

Thai Church

I actually had two invites to a local Thai church and wished that I could have been in two places at once!  But I'd already accepted an invitation to one and decided to keep that.  I was so encouraged by this church who reaches out to those in the slums.  The beautiful worship leader was one of the first believers from the slums.  And while I was there, they were preparing to have to leave because the government is going to shut it down.  The pastor did such an excellent job teaching from the book of Ecclesiastes and the New Testament, speaking to them in their circumstances with a message that is relevant to us all: that life brings changes.  Both good and bad changes bring stress, but the key is that God is with us and even gives us opportunities to prepare ourselves for the changes.  We can bemoan them or welcome them and trust Him with what He is doing and how He wants to lead us and help us during each season of life.  It was more than that, but so good!

Flower Display at First Thai Church campus

I didn't intend to go to the international church as well, but since I got home early and also wanted to visit the night market, I went in with a girl I'd met the day before who happened to know the expat I'd had lunch with the previous day.  They meet at First Thai Church which was all decorated to celebrate its 150th anniversary!   Some conversations left me wanting to know more about Daniel McGilvary, a missionary to Chiang Mai from North Carolina.

After dinner with a few, my new friend and I were at least was able to see much of Chiang Mai by car as my other new friend's husband shuttled us to/from the night market.  I wish I could've taken  more pictures of the city, but there's always Google. 😉

Side alley off of the Night Market

I cannot thank the Lord enough for my time in Chiang Mai and especially at the Juniper Tree.  I met such interesting people, and it was the perfect setting to relax.  I'm also thankful for those I could spend time with who live there--a couple of expats, a couple of locals.  Thank you, Lord, for my time in Chiang Mai.


Catch up time!  From the minute I arrived in Tirana till the minute I left, it was nonstop!  I so wish I had had time to blog while I was there as it was so fascinating.  The culture is more southern mixed with Arabic.  The ways this was evident was in the weather, the mentality, and way of life.  It was funny because even the Ukrainians commented that it was dirty. :). Many streets were paved, but some were not.  Rules are more like suggestions, and you can't really take people's word on things.  It's not that they're being dishonest or deceptive; they just don't always follow through or have the same priorities or concept of time.  That can get interesting when you're running a conference!  Wi-fi was so spotty, which made communication and tasks difficult.

The first half of the trip was our tri-annual continental conference.  It was such a joy to be together.  Each nation shared their challenges and successes, and we spent time praying together for each.  This was so encouraging so see all that is happening through each nation's ministries, but also an opportunity to fellowship.  Each meal became a meeting, which made for long, draining days; and I so believe that the prayers of others carried me through!

This last meal was a non-meeting!  You may remember Valerii (from Ukraine!) to my right.
Also with some from Team Finland, Switzerland, and a guest from Colombia.

Immediately after the conference, we held a training for a new tool.  This was a smaller group, and it was nice to be able to participate and learn how to share with those who have grown up in a religion very different from ours.  Each afternoon, we had our outreaches; and we met some very interesting people!  Some were more open than others.  Come to find out, Albania is very open and pride themselves that they have churches alongside mosques and all get along.

Perhaps the tolerance comes from their historical background.  This iconic statute of Albanian hero Skander Bei is a former prince who was Christian, converted to a Muslim, then re-converted to a Christian!

One young man who my partner and I shared with said that if this were true--Jesus actually raising someone (Lazarus) from the dead--then he would give his life to him.  We were able to share more and prayed for him after he left that He will encounter this same power that is true.  While Jesus Himself said that those who believe without seeing are blessed, He also performed so many signs and miracles which were the means for those to believe.  

Please do pray for the many we had conversations with as seeds were planted.  Please pray for the church in Tirana to be committed and strengthened.  Also, since this is the location of the next Congress of Nations and another meeting next year, many on the team will return and be able to follow up with some of those we have met.

Much smaller group for the Come & See training. We're celebrating
that we completed the training in 3.5 days!