Senin, 29 November 2010

Things Are Never What They Seem

I don’t like long blogs, but just this once I need to break the rules. My oldest daughter, Kimberly, is teaching English in Bangkok, Thailand, through her church group. While it is true that I am prejudice like most Dads, her letter tugged at my heart and I thought I might share that experience with you. This letter deals with just one day in her life while trying to understand another culture and its people who live in the slums of Bangkok, Thailand....

So we ended up only five of us at Loy Khatron. The streets are lined with table after table of guh tongs for sale. Many designs and they’re all beautiful. Each must take an hour or more to construct but sell for twenty baht each – that’s sixty-eight cents to you and me. Some are made of bread, I am told. This reminds me of scripture. “Cast your bread upon the waters….”

We went to a temple on the khong – it’s insane, reminds me of Vegas only worse, because this is their religion. There were monks everywhere; their speeches blaring out from loud speakers so close together they drowned each other out. The smell of incense permeates the air. I think about how that’s probably all that is left of their prayers to the golden idols lined up everywhere: pay the money; rub the golden thing for luck, and your prayers and dreams will all come true – oy ….

We make our way to the khong and its madness – little boys from six to twelve years old jumping in the polluted water to retrieve the guh tongs people have lit and sent out because people put money in them for luck and for a promised return tenfold of their gifts to the river goddess. The boys are being “supervised” by a guy about twenty years old – if they find money, he will help them out of the khong and they can rest for a minute before being screamed at to get back in. Any reluctance and they are physically pushed back in! There’s an older, toothless, yellow-eyed skeleton of a man shivering and obviously in withdrawal, the twenty year old is screaming at him too. I don’t need an interpreter to know he is not welcome; this is the young man’s territory. My friend Ole sees me watching the scene play out. She tells me the twenty year old is angry because the sick man needed help to get out of the khong and the twenty year old already helped him once and will not do it again. He is telling him if he doesn’t move on that he will let him drown. Harsh and not very “Thai-like” as they are taught from birth that younger people always respect older people. I guess there’s an exception when money is at stake.

The boats on the khong are just like buses; they transport people all over Bangkok. One comes dangerously close to several boys, who all scramble to the dock with their arms stretched up as high as they can, but the twenty year old is too busy screaming at the sick man. I got a picture of him pulling a boy out of the water just in the nick of time. The rest of the crowd shows no reaction or emotion or concern. The Thai people are VERY non-confrontational. To them this is normal life. There are two women with infants on either side of the dock. One has obviously been severely beaten and recently at that. They are beggars. They say nothing; it is forbidden. They plead with their eyes and facial expressions looking down pitifully at their infants, then up at you, then down again, then up again. It is very difficult to hold their gaze or even to glance out of the corner of your eye. I already know on the way back by I’m going to drop some coinage in their cups – my head is swimming, my heart is aching, what more, if anything, can I do in this freaky circus-like atmosphere?

I can pray and I can bless in Jesus’ name. So I do. They each smile gratefully. One reveals no front teeth, which she is obviously self-conscious about. The other smiles gingerly, unable to complete the gesture due to the pain and swelling from her recent beating. My Thai friend Ole tells me, “They are form Cambodia.” I detect a hint of disgust, but my job is to lead by example, not to judge or condemn. The believers here are very new to the Lord; the church itself is just over ten years old. It must be very difficult to go in the opposite direction of ninety-five percent of the rest of the population in such an ancient, deeply embedded culture. I’m proud of my Thai brothers and sisters; they all work very hard for their church body and Jesus. I tell her I don’t care where they’re from, they belong to Jesus and my responsibility is to obey his leading. Besides, it must be terrible if thing are so bad in your own poor country that you have to go to another poor country just to beg. She smiles and takes my hand. We walk together this way; you can do that in Thailand without people thinking you’re a lesbian or something. It’s refreshing to see men walk arm-in-arm as friends and brothers!

So, our little group is finished with that portion of the outing. The Thais suggest we go eat some food. I couldn’t eat it you paid me. (As I write this it’s nearly noon the next day, and I still can’t eat a thing – this happens a lot to me when I’m here.) We end up walking very far because the roads are jammed with people going to the khongs and the temples. We end up at the sports arena next to the university where there is a man made fish pond packed with HUGE catfish and with beautiful fountains and lights – we’re back to our nice area of town. I can’t get the images of the poor and victimized out of my head but I don’t show it. If you’re going to be here, you gotta be cool. You have to maintain and handle it, and you have to handle it well.

There’s always a market here EVERY NIGHT, the place is packed – sardine can packed. Nobody looks angry. Nobody gets impatient. This is life. We just deal with it. Special care and extra room and patience are given to the elderly, children and the infirm. We baby step our way along and finally find a spot next to the water to sit and rest our sticky, sweaty bodies. It’s actually pretty nice. Fireworks are exploded intermittently with no regard for group safety. There’s not a cop in sight and there is no need for one; people manage themselves very well in Thailand – I like that a lot.

We watch couples and families come to the water’s edge to pray, light their guh tongs, and send them floating. I see a father, his wife, and three children come along. The father lights the candles and incense and prays so solemnly, deeply and sincerely. My heart is breaking; I don’t know if this is breaking the “rules” or not, Lord, but please forgive him in his ignorance and if you can, honor his prayers ANYWAY and bless and protect his family. The currents created by the fountains prevent the guh tongs from floating out very far or very long so they congregate along the edge. Pretty soon, along comes a guy and his maybe six-year-old son. He retrieves the used guh tongs, searches them for money (destroying them in the process). The particularly nice ones he stacks and carries to the street where maybe his wife or someone he’s working with will fix them up and resell them. And so it goes….

I had visions of grandeur, of a whole group of us singing praise songs and declaring Jesus as king and fighting and warring in the spirit – ugh! I realize this is not going to happen – again, the Thais are non-confrontational – even in spiritual things, something I’m thinking Jesus may want to change in his church in Bangkok. But as for me, there is NO WAY that I’m leaving this place without making some sort of declaration! So I stood up and raised my hands and said, “We declare that Jesus Christ is the one true God, the king over all kings, the God over all gods and goddesses; he is the creator and master, king of all kingdoms in all the earth!” While they (the Thais present) wouldn’t or couldn’t say it themselves, they heartily agreed with a resounding “Amen” and grins from ear to ear!

We leave that place after about an hour, weaving our way through the masses, past the food stalls and sidewalk sellers, back to our beloved center where I end up praying for Thailand harder and deeper than I ever have, long into the night….

Kimberly Wright

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