For two years, I have read and studied the Bible with young people in Asia over Skype. It has been wonderfully effective. I have a daughter in the faith because of this tool. Her name is Karen and she is the sister of Melody. I actually met her when Skyping with Melody 18 months ago. I can still remember her peering over her sister’s should and smiling and giving a gentle wave and saying, “Hello!” Several months later we began reading online and she confessed her faith in Jesus and gave her life to him baptism a couple of months ago. This trip allowed me to be with her face-to-face for the first time.
Karen teaches several hours south of Chiang Mai, but came her to spend time with me and be a part of the equipping times with the interns. Melody is also here going to the university. While Skype is a great tool, there is nothing that takes the place of face-to-face time.
After preaching Sunday, I went to the Makro (Thai version of Sam’s Wholesale Club) and shopped for food with the Chinese girls. Melody, Karen, and Sonya wanted to prepare Chinese food for the interns and me. It was a “real trip” watching them all in action. You learn alot about folks by being around them in the ordinary times of life. You learn a great deal about their personalities, how they interact, and how they conduct themselves.
For a guy who hates shopping, it was really interesting and fun. But again, it was about getting to know Melody and Karen at a day-to-day level. Their personalities are very different. Both are smart and driven. Both are precious to me after two years of Skyping with them and reading the Bible with them.
I had met Melody on my previous trip and God attached her to a special place in my heart. Watching these two sisters shop for 2 1/2 hours at the mall on Saturday and doing the same at the Makro on Sunday afternoon was great. They each had different tasks, as did Sonya and Constance, and we blitzed through there grabbing fresh vegetables and meat for the food that would feed us the next several days.
Then, because we could not find a red taxi, Karen — in her typical take charge fashion — looked around the parking lot and found a guy who looked Chinese and had a friendly face. She went up to him and his wife and asked if he would take us back to The Christian Zone where we were staying. He did! This is Karen. She is a force of nature — but more on that later.
This means that in two days, on consecutive afternoons, I went clothes shopping with Melody and Karen (Chinese sisters), in a huge Thai mall, with me as an American “father-type” wandering around after them. Then we added Sonya and Constance — an intern from Singapore — and hit the Makro shopping the next afternoon. What a cross-cultural learning and relational experience! Then we went back to the zone and prepared food — well I didn’t do too much preparing, but they certainly did, and I enjoyed the eating part of it.
After supper, we read the Bible together, talked about what was important and then late in the evening, Karen and I walked Melody back to her dorm so she did not have to walk that long way alone after dark. It was great conversation both ways.
Monday was focused on getting the intern equipping portion of the time here started. With airport introductions, shopping trips, and time at the zone already, the door was open to talk about important things. A wonderfully mature Christian of Chinese descent, from Australia, whose husband was German is joining the group, too. Her son and Thai daughter-in-law are very important parts of the church here, and she is moving here to be part of their lives and watch her first grandchild be born this next year. We call her MomaZone.
Robert gave a brief introduction to the internship and what the focus would be. Then we lead the equipping time together during the “Inspire” time of the devotional. We did 5 loaves and 2 fishes and then Robert had me talk about the whole heartlight.org and verseoftheday.com adventure to help them see that Jesus still did that amazing kind of thing today. Then he showed a powerful video about believing and then seeing by a National Geographic photographer. Powerful and great. He went over some orientation stuff, then we had prayer together and then lunch.
After lunch, I spent a great deal of time talking with Karen. We were trying to read 1 John together, but then a question would come up and as Karen said, “We would fly away” for awhile and talk about her life and the big decisions she has to make and the things she wants to happen.
At age 8, Karen began to take care of Melody and their brother alone in a small village in southern China. Her parents lived 90 minutes away and sent them some money and occasionally they would go to town and see their parents. Mostly they lived alone — all alone. To understand Karen, you have to realize she has been a mother who shopped, washed, cleaned, cooked, and nursed herself and two siblings since she was a little girl. They were alone because of the China policy about 1 child per family and for economic and family reasons. Karen is determined, talented, and goes non-stop at full throttle. She is perceived sometimes as a little bossy, but she has the warmest heart and really tries to mother everyone. She is great with little kids. So we shouldn’t be amazed, these she and her brother and sister growing up alone won most of the awards at school without a parent to help, clap for their achievements or be there to help their hurts. They lived in an old house with a dirt floor and electricity for a light, but no running water. Their years as children were filled with hard work and some very scary times. They are remarkable … and Karen deserves much of the credit, as does our Father in heaven who preserved them through some very difficult times.
Like everything Karen tackles, she knows what she wants and what she believes. Her faith is the same way.
At 4:00, Melody came in from the university and we all three began to talk about important things. Then it was time for dinner and they launched into that with gusto along with Sonya and Constance. Karen, of course, was in charge. Another delicious dinner with lots of laughter and talk. Ven, the other guy in the group is a great young man from Malaysia, and he was very much a part of the dinner proceedings and conversation. We all visited, then Karen and I walked Melody back to the dorm talking about boyfriends, how and when I knew I was in love with Donna, and things they don’t have a dad they can talk to about this kind of thing. Late back to the zone to make sure Karen was in OK and then I walked to where I was staying.
Tuesday was a great day. We all boarded Robert’s truck and headed to Phaoyo to eat Brick Oven Pizza and visit a mission team there. Along the way, we stopped at beautiful waterfalls and took pictures for a few minutes, then Robert and I led the “Inspire” devotion for the day. Robert talked about the amazing way God had brought each of us together to this point from Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Austin, China, and Abilene. How his plan had made this happen and how so many little things had to work just right for it to be so. Then I talked about Psalm 139:13-16 and how God knit us together in our mother’s womb and had a plan for us and knew us before we were even born. This is a very big leap of faith for some of the Chinese to believe — that there would be God who could know everyone and care for everyone. Then Robert came back around and talked about as we were in this circle that we were like a reed basket that God had woven together. Some of us long time Christians, some new Christians, and some seeking to understand and have their hearts open — all praying together with open hearts. It was precious and powerful.
Another hour down the road, we came to the Pizza place. It was a three hour experience. We ordered and ate, then as the Pizza place cleared out, the owners brought us samples of new things on their menus and we began to visit with the mission team there.
The Chinese girls played with the three little boys and the boys were delighted to have someone besides their parents playing and speaking English with them. This allowed for some great side conversations and prayers with the mission team and exposed the interns to another group of believers. Karen met Haley, a single young woman living passionately for God and part of the team. It was a special blessing for her because she saw another strong, forceful, passionate single Christian woman of God to help her know she wasn’t alone in being a strong woman who knew what she wanted in life.
The trip back was rainy and cold for Thailand. Some were in the truck and then we rotated and some of us were under the cover in the back, scrunching in tight to stay warm. Ven shared his story with Melody on the way back. It was story that faith is not always easy and yet it is worth the effort and God is real and good and close, especially during the tough times. I could not ask for her to hear better things as she struggles to believe and I know she heard them.
We got back late, ate dinner at an open market, and then went back to the Zone. Karen and Sonya and I read from the book of James and prayed together before bed — rich discussion and such honest prayers! Karen has been so special to remember Megan, whom she has never met but only seen in pictures, praying that God heal Megan’s problem she is facing right now and that the doctor visit goes well Friday. It was a sweet and emotional way to end a long day — I left the interns at 11:30 for my walk to where I stayed a few doors away.
I know this is a lot and probably confusing. But I wanted to get it down before I forget it. In between the words are tender and sweet moments with each intern, Robert, my Chinese girls, MomaZone, and God that can’t be put into words.
My prayer for them, these precious young adults both believers and those struggling to believe, is what Paul promised the Philippians in 1:6: that God will bring to completion what he began in them! This is my heart’s longing.
For those who are not yet part of my family of faith, I yearn for that gap to filled soon.
For those who are strong in Christ, I pray that God use them mightily.
For Robert and Jan and their family, good health and powerful ministry.
For those at home in Abilene, grieving for Matt Phillips, comfort and thanksgiving.
And for my family, healing and health and adoption.
By God’s grace,