“There you are Paul, good. I want to interview you for the church newsletter, now that you and the others are back from your missionary orientation trip to Thailand,” said Mrs Walker.
“Um, how about next week,” I prompted, too exhausted for this today.
“Now’s good for me,” she said. “So, tell me about Thailand.”
“Well, Thailand is a land of contrasts. We saw immaculate temples glittering with gold dot the river bank with run-down hovels on either side of them…”
“No, don’t tell me things I can find in a travelers’ guide.”
“Ah, okay, I was impressed by the Thai people’s positive outlook on life--even if they were poor. This is largely due to their Buddhist beliefs…”
“I can find that in a travelers’ guide too.”
I breathed in to mask my irritation--did she want my impressions or not? “Okay then. Robert Woodal, our missionary guide, took us to a slum beneath a freeway overpass. There were endless rows of wooden shacks, no bigger than my bedroom, each housing a family. One family asked us into their hut just because we were Christians. After we crowded in there and sat down, they gave us fresh water to drink--expensive, clean water they had bought. After that we played soccer with their kids with a scrunched up newspaper ball.”
“Better--more like that please.”
“Okay, one day we were travelling across Bangkok in the back of three Tuk-tuks--they’re covered, three-wheeled rickshaws...”
“I've seen the photos...”
‘...well, we got stuck in a traffic jam at this massive intersection--they don't have traffic lights, you know. When a car wants to turn onto the road they just honk until someone lets them in. It looks like utter chaos, but you get used to it. We were stuck there for over an hour. Bet you can’t guess what Lizzie did.”
“Surprise me, what did our Lizzie do?”
“Lay back and fell asleep--she can sleep anywhere. If I got even two hours sleep over the eight days, I’d be surprised.”
“So that’s why you look so ragged?”
Subtlety was not one of Mrs Walker’s strong points. “Anyways, while Lizzie slept I spent the hour singing ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.’ Feeling God’s presence pour over me while stuck in the midst of that noisy, polluted chaos was an experience I’ll never forget.”
“Anything touch you there?”
“Some things made me mad. We saw a few middle aged Western men sitting with their arms draped all over skinny Thai boys. I felt like grabbing them and shaking sense into them, but the expressions on their faces--it would have been a waste of time. The Thai’s abhor such behaviour but turn a blind eye because it brings needed tourist dollars into the country.”
“And then there was this street around the corner from the Christian Guesthouse that doubled as a local market. We went there a lot, buying food and new clothes. But it also had these clubs, you know, where guys go. Now Lizzie warned us menfolk not to look inside if their doors were open, and I followed her advice. But I knew about those clubs from a news article I saw on TV. The clubs exploited young Thai women as though they were nothing more than livestock, just so they could satiate the perversions of Western tourists--men who go back home to families and act all innocent. It broke my heart--I wanted to set those girls free, but what could I do?”
“It was weird too, though. Those clubs sent out men--not women--with business cards in an attempt to entice us Westerners inside. But Robert Woodal taught us to say, ‘Phom ben Christian krup,’ which means, ‘I am a Christian.’ That got rid of the guys real quick.”
“Your most positive impression?”
“You can’t tell what a country is really like until you meet the Christians native to that country. And the Thai Christians, wow, they just blew me away. The young pastors we met were so open to God, and the rest were so enthusiastic, so committed. None of this half-hearted Christianity we see so often in the West. They inspired me, they really did.”
“You glad you went?”
“Honestly, not at first. The bad odours, stifling heat, choking pollution and noise were too much. But by the end of those eight days I had fallen in love with the Thai people--I can't wait to go back.”
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