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A stroll in Chiang Mai
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It is a bustling ancient Thai city. People are everywhere. Gentle, polite, beautiful people … everywhere.
I eventually worm my way across the road, which swarms with motorbikes, cars, little red truck-like taxis, motorized rickshaws and bikes. Young adults enter and leave the ‘computer city’. Children head into the small amusement park. A man with terrible burns sits begging outside a large shopping centre. Older men, wearing safety fluorescent vests and broad straw hats, mend the footpath. A row of women, sitting at the feet of a row of black vinyl lounge chairs in the shade of a large shop, massage the feet of well-dressed Thai people and poorly dressed tourists. Teenagers dressed in navy blue trousers or skirts and white shirts leave the gates of the local technical college. A woman with a pretty skirt and blouse cycles out the gates of the ‘London English School’. People are everywhere.
Walking into the smaller streets of the ‘old city’, the atmosphere changes. Life is slower. Bouganvillea covers some of the fences. Pretty flowers grow outside homes. Potted poinsettias line some of the larger streets. Magnificent gnarled old trees bear witness to the comings of goings of the many generations that have lived in their shade. The wide variety of plants and flowers create a beautiful oasis of colour in the middle of the bustling city.
An old lady sits hunched over on a seat in the courtyard in the front of her home. Mothers, grandmothers and young children are out soaking up the late afternoon sun. There is quite the variety of dogs, most of which are sleeping, the reason for sleep this late in the afternoon remaining a mystery to me. Enclaves of tourist hangouts, with cafes, tour operators, internet bars and English signs, are a recent addition to this Asian city. Some of the foreigners hanging around the streets look a little less than healthy.
And there are temples. Temples EVERYWHERE. Over three hundred in the area, I’m told, although I only pass about seven in my casual stroll. Covered in gold, they form a magnificent sight as the late afternoon sun reflects off them. Mind you, this is the religious centre for a large province of northern Thailand. Still, many common people also take their religion seriously, evidenced by the number of spirit houses on the corners of properties.
An orange robed young monk sweeps the gateway to a temple. Peering through the gates of a monastery, I see a wet young man with only the smallest piece of orange cloth providing a little modesty. Several long pieces of orange cloth hang from a line stretched between two sticks. Ducking into the cool of an air-conditioned shopping centre, I am amazed to see two bald teenage boys in orange robes, demurely riding the escalator. No non-religious pair of teenagers would be so quiet!
Where is God in all this? There is a lot of religion, but what about the Truth? These people sincerely believe they have truth in a way that less-religious people miss. But what IS Truth? And where can it be found?
I’m an outsider here. Yet I believe I have the Truth. Am I being incredibly imperialistic in my belief that ‘my’ way is right and ‘their’ way is wrong? Scripture tells me that Jesus is the only way to be made right with the Creator God. That there is a Creator is obvious, and that a man named Jesus lived, was crucified and was reported to have risen again is a historical fact. Yet in a city like this, it all seems so distant. If the gospel is indeed the Truth, then these religious wonderful people are incredibly pitiful. A beautiful gentle people with dignity, yes, but without the Truth, for what purpose do they live such good lives?
I’m sure there are foreign Christians here who can speak the local language and seek to share their faith. I hope that there are local Christians here, who actively reach out to their own people with the Truth. Yet where do they start in this huge job?
As I return to my hotel, walking down a small tree-lined street, I am thrilled to see a church. A church with an English and Thai sign. It opens right onto the street … and I mean opens RIGHT onto the street. There is no front garden here. The church doors hang wide open, and the six steps lead right onto the footpath. On the third step sits a clean young foreign man. A smaller sign advertises English classes held at the church. The man gives me a friendly smile. He is doing his best to make a difference.
In one way, it doesn’t really matter what that clean young man does. If all God asks of him is to sit on that step, then that’s good enough. I’m sure this fellow does more though, in obedience to his God. I’m also sure that whatever he does is just a drop in the bucket. Yet does it really matter? Reaching this community is beyond us. Only God can do it. What He asks of us is simply to walk with Him and be obedient.
What difference can Christians make in this city? Are we right even to try? And yet if the gospel is the Truth, as we believe, how dare we do anything but live in obedience to the Creator, seeking to make a difference, one life at a time?
People. People everywhere. People who need the Truth.
Step in, Creator God, and establish your kingdom in this city. Look down on these beautiful people, and have mercy. For your name’s sake. Amen.
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07 Jul 2010
I'm new to Faithwriters, but just wanted you to know I do appreciate your article. Two of our children were born in Chiang Mai, and I could easily picture the scenes you wrote about.
I think you did an excellent job of expressing the frustrations we sometimes feel, but you emphasized God's grace to bring us back to understand His sovereignty and help in doing the work he's called us to do. Very encouraging. Thanks!
04 Mar 2006
Suzanne, Marvelous! I like that you gave us such a wonderful tour and then brought in a heart for the people, God's heart.
"If the gospel is indeed the Truth, then these religious wonderful people are incredibly pitiful. A beautiful gentle people with dignity, yes, but without the Truth, for what purpose do they live such good lives?"
The challenge to us is how to we reach them. And you ask it later, and then answer it.
04 Feb 2006
'people are everywhere' - Girl! Did you forget you live in CHINA?!!
Sorry, :) You're right. It really makes us need to step up our prayer ministry.
But can we just pray for 'EVERYONE' or should we make things personal...
Remember: Jesus IS the way, the truth and the life.
I spent my teenage years in a pagan mother nature worship and it is not much different for the Thai's.
Don't question your faith and whether they are really wrong or not as an option, Suz.
23 Jan 2006
Suzanne, once again I enjoyed your story . You drew such a clear picture. this is a subject so much on my mind even here in America . Church buildings crowd our cities but how many really know the truth? We have way too much of man and we need a closer relationship with Jesus.
God Bless you
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