Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When Things Don't Go As Planned

Looking back at all my blog entries, I realized that my journey didn't turn out as planned. I didn't plan to go to OZ or PNG, but I did. On the other hand, I planned to go back to Cambodia but still haven't gone. Also I planned to go to Turkey this year; instead, I'm going to Indonesia to start a career.

But if I hadn't gone to OZ, I wouldn't have gone to PNG or met an Indonesian sister who hooked me up with the school in Indonesia. Also, if I didn't go through so much emotional turmoil after OZ, I wouldln't have gotten serious about starting a career. In retrospect, my time in transit has been nothing but a blessing. I'm simply amazed at how God has been working in my life in the past eight months and the number of people I've met and the amount of things I've learned along the way, and only some of them were recorded.

So when things don't go as planned, maybe God just has something better. My plans, no matter how wonderful, just can't top God's...

"In his heart, a man plans his course
But the Lord determines his steps..." (Proverbs 16:9)

"As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts," said God (Isaiah 55:9)

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A Beautiful Heart (Special Gifts from Special Children)

"New eyes see no race
The essence of a child
The essence..."

~"Shimmer" by Shawn Mullins

In high school, I used to stay away from students with Down Syndrome. They were labeled "special" kids and had their own "special" classes and didn't mingle with the rest of us. Some kids would make fun of them when they danced to music during lunch. Some were so mean as to call them "retards." But we, the non-retarded ones, could never muster up the courage to do what they did. I remember having a crush on an alumni who was working with these special students. From afar, I'd watch how he put a smile on their faces and thought he must have a special heart for these special people. I wanted to have a heart like him.

On Monday June 4, 2007, Anna took me and the same group of medical students to Ban Nontaphum, a home for disabled children ages 7 through 18.

HOPE Worldwide Thailand offers to teach computer classes here three days a week. But that day we toured the whole facility in the morning and spent time doing therapy for younger children in the afternoon. Ban Nontaphum was established thirty-five years ago and is a government agency. The home provides various services and activities such as therapy, sports training, and schooling. There was a wide range of disabilities: cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, and physical disabilites.

One day while taking a bus to school in Huntington Beach, California, I remember seeing a kid with Down Syndrome and how he'd smile for no reasons. Maybe God created the smile on our faces so that we can give it away freely. This kid certainly did. I wondered if I were to smile as many times as he did, would I be happier? Or would people think I'm crazy?

Kids quickly responded to our presence. They got excited when we walked by their art class and couldn't wait to show us their works. The atmosphere at Ban Nontaphum was livelier than at the AIDS clinic. It didn't take much to make them smile. They clung onto us. One girl ran up to Dan, a med student, and held on to his hand. Dan is a big guy, 6'3", and the picture of him and the little girl was priceless. One boy in a wheel chair specifically asked Dan to take him back to the school after lunch. He wanted the big white man to do it.

All the med students seemed to enjoy this experience with the children, even Paige who had not been feeling well seemed to have fun playing with a boy who could barely sit or talk to her. She was patient with him and he smiled.

During therapy session, I got a chance to bond with a boy named George. When we first met, he was lying helplessly on a mat waiting for the worker to stretch his arms and legs that were tense and cramped up due to his conditions. He couldln't walk and when he sat on a wheel chair, his head fell forward and back bent, so it had to be strapped to the chair. At first I thought he was also mentally disabled because he didn't say anything. Then he turned to me and said 'hi' ,and we began our conversations.

He heard someone laughing and wanted to know who it was. I told him I didn't know the kid's name. Then someone gave him a snack and I asked if he wanted to eat it. He said after he was done with therapy. The whole time we talked he smiled a lot. At one point, I strechted his left arm and he said he was hurt. It was the only time he verbalized his pain. He had more problems with his left arm than his right, and it made it difficult for him to wheel his own chair because he couldn't use his left arm. He wanted to know my name and asked me if I could take him to the music room. We went to the music room and straight to the drums. It took a lot for him to hold a drumstick and each time he hit, he heaved his whole body. Even that, I could barely hear the sound. After awhile, I asked if he was bored. He smiled and said, "No, I'm starting to have fun." Later, he moved on to the piano and was banging on the black and white keys with his feeble right hand. Then he asked for a flute and blew into it with all his might. He was so excited to make all kinds of noise and wanted to know if I'd be back. I really didn't want to answer his question.

George is a smart kid with a beautiful heart trapped inside a disabled body. He helped me find a new kind of courage that I wanted to have since high school. I miss him. Thinking of him brings tears to my eyes.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Miracles at an AIDS Clinic

"You don't have to sit outside in the dark. If however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it"
~Annie Dillard

HOPE Worldwide Thailand took on a project to take a group of medical students from the US to visit an AIDS clinic in Lopburi. I volunteered to come along as an interpreter. Initially, I was excited for a couple of less-than-noble reasons. I was dying to speak English since I hadn't used much of it for about 2 months, and I was bored out of my mind.

Anna, who was in charge of the project, took us to Lopburi, the land of the monkeys, on Friday of June 1, 2007. (Speaking of monkeys, I had never seen anything like it where they'd hang off power lines and climb buildings. We almost got attacked by one of them while walking on a street with bags of fruit. Oh, they kept their vigilant little beady eyes on us all the time from above, these monkey gods. Anyway, one scurried down the telephone pole and shrieked, and so we shrieked, and froze--until a man told us to put our bags of fruit under our shirts, looking like pregnant women scampering into somebody else's building wide-eyed and out-of-breath...)

Beside learning how to live with monkeys, we also made it to the AIDS clinic on our first day to survey what we could do tomorrow. Needless to say, I don't think any of us were prepared for it. I know I wasn't. We were given a tour around the facility. I saw a pile of bone bags the size of a small hill; each one represented a life that had passed away at this clinic. How was I supposed to repond to things like that? Then there was a museum of preserved body parts. I couldn't stomach it and opted to wait outside. We also went to the intensive care ward, walked through it, and I couldn't wait to get out because of the stiffling hot air and the looks of these patients. I mean, they were all skin and bones--not just any skin--but dry, wrinkly, blotted, flaky, never-felt-a-drop-of-lotion kind of skin. As if that wasn't enough, they all had to wear diapers and lied on their bed so quietly, so lifelessly. We were told that we could take care of these patients tomorrow. Really? I was kinda hoping that we could just hang out with the healthier ones.

Around the facility were pictures of Paradorn Srichaphan, a Thai tennis player and Natalie Glebova, a former Miss Universe and of Ashley Judd, a Hollywood star, kissing and holding these terminally ill patients. In all honesty, I wasn't planning on being that touchy feely. Initially Anna scheduled our visit the next day from nine to three, but I talked her down to nine till twelve. Even that, I wasn't sure if I could handle three hours of it!

Late that night, Anna and I looked at each other and knew that tomorrow would be quite a challenge. The thought of what to do with these patients sat heavily on our hearts and we decided to go to God early the next morning. We prayed for the strength to love these patients the way Jesus would. I personally would run from it and, believe me, I'm very good at that. But I remember how the sick and the lame were drawn to Jesus. This situation was a true test of our walk with God. While we read and prayed, I realized that if we could only brighten their day just for a couple hours, that wouldn't take much from us. After that we'd have the rest of our lives to do whatever. In Anna's prayer, she said something that struck me, that we too are ugly and dirty without Christ. Afterall, we are no better than them in God's eyes.

By the grace of God, I had the best time hanging out with the AIDS patients that day. Anna and I couldn't stop yakking about it the whole way back to Bangkok, so much so that it annoyed other passengers on the bus. But we were way too excited . It was like we didn't just pass the bar in Christianity but won a landmark case, or won the Grand Prix for immitating Jesus for a few hours. Go Anna and Nina! And of course, go God! Three hours just whizzed by and when the clock struck twelve, I wished I didn't turn into a pumpkin and had more time with these princes and princesses. For three hours, we mostly massaged them, but that was just icing on the cake. If you're patient enough to read on, I'll show you the different layers of this whole cake.

A scrawny blind man of 46, who looked 64 with good strong teeth, was so happy when I bought him a can of Sprite. Whoa! A can of Sprite can make someone all smiley like a kid with chocolate candy. Then Chris, one of the med students, fed him. The man only wanted vegetables and fruit. Anyway, he barely ate. He said Chris must be handsome, and I asked how did he know since he lost his sight ten years ago ( not that I didn't agree with him or anything). He said all white guys are handsome because they have pretty noses. He thought Chris was a doctor and asked him for a cane. He wanted to walk but the clinic doesn't want to give him a cane because he was weak and blind. So Chris took him for a short walk, so short it was about five steps from his bed before he got tired. He said I spoke good English and that he only knew a little and wanted to learn more. He asked if we'd come back. When I said 'no', he looked extremely sad. On our way out, I saw him curled in a fetal position and lied still with a blanket over him in this stiffling hot room.

April, another med student, started massaging and dancing at the same time, and the patient laughed. He thought she was Thai and started speaking Thai to her but I told him she's a Filipina princes who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. She told him in Thai that she doesn't drink milk "Mai Kin Nom", and he understood her. April was so excited she didn't say the wrong thing since Thai is such a tonal language and "Nom" has to be pronounced with a certain tone to mean "milk"; otherwise, it could mean "dessert." I wasn't sure how he heard it but, but he got it right. And he told us that he'd been at the clinic for two weeks and already wanted to go home but couldn't. As he was talking, something about the way he addressed himself told me that he'd rather be a she. At home, nobody would take care of him and he hadn't been able to call his family. He said his legs were numb and couldn't move them much. Later, like the blind man or a flower that blooms in the day and closes up without the sunlight, he went back to sleep quietly, facing the wall. Before that he told me he felt lonely a lot.

Another patient said that Sunna, another med student, was beautiful. And when she told him that she doesn't eat pork in Thai "Mai Kin Moo", he gave her the most confusing look. It's the tone thing. He thought Sunna was speaking Sanskrit or something really complicated. Then I laughed and she laughed, and when I told him what Sunna meant, he laughed. This man was a former monk and boxer with Khmer tattoos on his arms and had traveled to many countries in South East Asia. He said if he were strong he would take Chris to see Thai boxing near Channel 3 Station. At one point, three girls were massaging him and he told me he really loved it.

Anna, the project coordinator, sang a country song and many seemingly lifeless bodies rose and began to clap and dance as if she could raise the dead through music. She met a female patient who was from the same province, Kon Kean, and they began chatting away in their dialect. Anna is a great friend who loves to entertain people. There's never a dull moment with her. Many patients thought it was a recording and said she had a great voice.

Also a man with half a skull and long legs told me about how he had half a skull. During his narration, I noticed that he had big feet bones. I'd noticed many feet but never someone's feet bones. He didn't want me to massage him at first but later he called me over and gave me twenty baht for a massage. I couldn't be bribed to massage a man severely ill! That's a disgrace. So I said I couldn't take the money and he got really upset. All in all, I was harrassed into taking his money but later gave it back to the clinic. He wanted me to massage him harder and I tried to squeeze as hard as I could, but still, he said I didn't do it hard enough, which reminded me of how my dad always says I do a lousy job at massaging. Okay now the man with half a skull wanted hot oil for the massage, but the nurse didn't have it, and he didn't like that. He wanted to feel the burn in his muscles. His bed was near the door and he loved telling the same story to each person that walked by about how he had half a skull. I wonder how many times he tells the story of his half skull in one day. Like other patients, he asked if I'd come back, but then he added that there was this one Japanese guy who always comes and gives him a good massage where he could feel something. I really didn't want to answer his question, and he didn't like that either.

That day I was given a chance to love unconditionally and the courage to overcome my fear. After a couple months of feeling rather humdrum, this experience made me feel fulfilled in ways that money can't buy. Maybe God allowed our paths to cross, so these patients can teach me to see people for who they are on the inside. More than a label and decaying bodies, they are people with stories and they need love, just like you and me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel/ The Gift of Friendships

"True love it is a rock
Smooth over by a stream"

~"Shimmer" by Shawn Mullins

It's been about a month and a half that I've been in transit. Now I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I'm smiling as I write this because of the incredible joy that comes after suffering.

God is always at work and He never wastes pain. And yes, He's answered my prayer regarding work and family matters. I have a teaching job offer in Jakarta, Indonesia with an international school run by disciples. I'm excited, nervous, and scared. I'm starting to enjoy being with my parents after some major adjustments. I love them so much and don't know if I want to leave again but, deep down, I feel that I have to find and fight for my own destiny. They have theirs and I'm so glad to see my parents taking care of each other. It's been a recent phenomenon in my family after my parents have come to know Christ. I've said it before and will say it again that we are still together ONLY because of God.

I guess I can stay in Thailand if I choose to, but I still want to travel and throw myself, once again, into the midst of a new culture. The school in Indonesia, Sekolah Lentera Internasional, offers many benefits: a full-time teaching job, free accomdations, a decent pay, low cost of living, a round trip airfare to the US at the end of the contract, school run by disciples, work colleaques from various countries, a strong church, close enough to Thailand, Australia and Papua New Guinea. I'm not expecting this endeavor to be smooth sailing, but the package is pretty attractive. Also the school doesn't discrimate against Asian teachers like some do in Thailand. (Sadly, the last time I went for an interview in Thailand, I was told that I'd get half the pay all because I've got an Asian face! Needless to say, I was enraged. Foreign, actually Caucasian, teachers get paid more even if you have the thickest German accent and show up at an interview after ten hours at a bar with bloodshot eyes, beer breath and faded jeans!)

On to better things...I just got off the phone with my best friend, twin, and sister in Christ, Susan Wangai. It was such a delight to speak to her. Even though I've left the US for about eight months now, our friendship is still the same if not stronger. We continue to be in each other's life even though we live on different continents. I thank and praise God for this kind of friendship where we can speak the truth to each other in love and be there for each other through thick and thin. No, our friendship is far from perfect, but we've learned to look for the best in each other. We shared about how we're still single and happy in God's kingdom. Mind you we've had our share of suffering in that department. By our age, late twenties, people start to think there's something wrong with you if you're not dating or married. I believe that in God's time and if that's his will, he'll find each of us the right man who loves God more than anything in the world. God makes things beautiful in its time, but I think the problem is that we don' t like to wait on God. I get miserable when I focus on getting things my way. Right now, Susan and I are waiting for the best from God, and I tell you truly, deeply from the bottom of my heart that I'm happy and excited about my life more now than ever. No, it's not the superficial kind of happiness that happens because I had a good day or won a lottery. It's the kind of joy that comes after years of wrestling in my heart to let God be God in the love department. As I'm waiting, I'm also learning more about myself and what I want. There are hard days, but nothing is more than God can handle. I'm not denying my desire to be married, but hey, life's short and you can only live once. Carpe Diem before it passes you by. As for me, I choose to find happiness in pleasing God.

And then there are my friendships with Pat Hutasevee and Necie Royer, both residing in the OC. They are both single moms and have known me before I left the US. I also talked to them today. These women inspire me to persevere. If we single women have it hard, these single moms have it harder and I thank God for puttting them in my life as examples in the faith. They continue to live vibrantly for God through all kinds of challenges and share with me many of life's wisdoms.

There are more to say on God's blessings that if I were to record them all, the list will go on and may bore you. Let's just say that when Jesus said the kingdom of God is like "a merchant looking for fine pearls [and] when he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" (Matthew 13: 45-47), Jesus knew what he was talking about...

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Tribute to Disciples

I love disciples of Jesus. I've visited many of them during the past seven years. In the US--LA, NY, LV; in Europe--London (England), Cologne (Germany); in Central America-- San Jose (Costa Rica); in the South Pacific-- Melbourne (Australia), Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea); in Asia--Bangkok (Thailand), Seoul (Korea), Phonm Pehn (Cambodia), and Hong Kong (China). These were the places that I either had lived or simply visited, not counting disciples from all over the world that I've met along the way. (Well as a single woman, traveling is a perk. I do want to be married, but while single, I intend to live it up and to the full, which is the kind of life Jesus has promised to ALL who believes in him (John 10:10))

I've been given a privilege to see the work of God in more places than some, and one of the things that continues to amaze me is that the spirit and heart attitude of disciples are essentially the same everywhere. How amazing! Praise God!

Ok, I've traveled the world somewhat. I can honestly say that what makes each trip so amazing has to do with the people, especially disciples, that I meet along the way, so much more than what a place alone can offer. My heart is stirred when I see people who, despite their struggles to make ends meet, give of their time and money to love others whom they have adopted as moms, dads, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. My life is rich, not monetarily for sure, but with friends. Also the depth of friendship among disciples is incomprehensible to the world. I believe it's because we are connected on a deeper level, a spiritual level. We are not just friends, but brothers and sisters and fellow soldiers in Christ.

I met a Thai sister who's possibly in her thirties. Her name is Kop. I was moved by her heart because, despite her poor health, she adopted a five year old girl who was abandoned by her mother who used to attend church. Kop gave up the freedom of her single life to take care of a child when she didn't ask for it. It's that of heart that inspires me.

This time in Thailand, I've made a special effort to spend time with the disciples in Bangkok. It's special because I have to commute three hours each way from Chonburi, twice a week. Each time I go into Bangkok, I would spend the night with different sisters: Julie, Pom, Ari, Anna, Aae. I prefer to do the rotations and don't want to overstay my welcome. The other night we fellowshiped with Sally who was visiting from Burma and played cards till one in the morning. I think the Thai disciples really know how to have fun with the little that they have.

Right now some of us are planning to go to the Jubilee in Manila, the Philippines. I'm so excited. What a feast of fellowship will that be!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Diamond in the Rough

" Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." ~James

Trials + Perseverance = Maturity

I've spent a month in Thailand. It's been a difficult month in confusion and the great unknown, aimlessly wandering in a disoriented sort of way. I want to record ways in which God has refined me through trials, as the Bible says, " Some of the wise will be refined, purified, and made spotless until the time of the end, for it'll still come." I don't think I'm "wise" now; but after the trials, I maybe a little wiser.

Trial #1 -Career Move

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next with my life. It took weeks to wrestle with all sorts of feelings--insecurity, doubts, hopelessness, and anxieties.

Results: After weeks of misery, the first revelation was that I need to start my career and can't keep bouncing around the globe aimlessly. I'm 27 and have no solid experience in the teaching field. I need to start teaching... somewhere in the world. I've applied semi-across the globe: US, UK, Cambodia, and Indonesia. Right now, I just have to pray that God will choose the right one for me. Second, I need to settle down a bit. Moving around too much is not healthy for my sprituality. I need a solid network of friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, who can help me make it to Heaven. So for my next destination, depending upon work, I do intend to stay for at least one year, preferably two. While working in my chosen career, I can continue to travel here and there and still have a base to come back to, and will already be adding my teaching experience to my resume.

Trial #2 - Family Matters

I got into an argument with my mom and brother. After nine years of living on my own, it's difficult to move back home. My parents have their own expectations of me. They love me in their own way, but it doesn't feel like it sometimes, and I'm sure they don't feel loved by me at times too.

Results: Lots of grace, patience and space. I have to convince myself that my family loves me, especially during times when they hurt me the most. I'm trying to walk in my parents' shoes and my brother's. I have to admit I don't understand many things about them, but I'm trying. One thing I'm grateful about my family is that, afterall that we've been through, we're still together as a family.

It is my belief that God wants you and me to be sparkling diamonds someday. He always has this goal in mind and knows what it takes for us, individually, to become one. He sees our potential and believes in us enough to let us go through difficult times. Although I've stumbled greatly, I know I won't fall because He's there to catch me. Right now, this rock is being refined and purified, and it doesn't feel good. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, it will begin to shimmer and shine.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In Transit defines "transit" as "the act...of passing... through."

I'm back in Thailand and am currently in transit. I'm merely passing through. Some transits, like at an airport can take up to a couple hours; unless you're at LAX, well, that can take days. Still, other transits take much, much longer. Like the one that I'm in, I can't even see the exit sign. Being in transit can make one feel restless and question many things in life. You either want to get out and move on to the next stop, meet the people on the other end, or be on your way to accomplishing your goal. Being in transit is like dangling in mid-air. For a two hour transit, people try to sleep through it, read a book, or get on the Internet. But what if your transit takes weeks or months and you've done all the sleeping, reading, and chatting on and offline. I don't think anybody wants to spend weeks and months in transit. But I'm in it.

The apostle James said, " Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

It's not the easiest thing to record one's unpleasant experience for the whole world to read, but sharing it is-- and will be-- my contribution to humanity.

Like I said at some point ealier, traveling isn't always a glamorous bit; life, for that matter, isn't either. I had planned to be working and traveling for two years, but after six months of it, I'm ready to abandon ship and settle down! Leaving the land Down Under made it hard for me to keep moving. I had grown deep roots in five months. It was my desire to stay somewhere more than a week or two, so I could learn and absorb the culture. I did just that but didn't realize the emotional toll it took on the constant moving after establishing myself. I don't feel like I was done with Melbourne. For some strange reasons, it felt a lot like home, and five months weren't enough. I had some lows but also lots of highs during my trip down under. The people really made my trip--both in Melbourne and Papua New Guinea. Aussies and Papua New Guineans aren't hard to love. I want to go back, but the plan was to continue on. And I need to find work soon. Being out of work for too long isn't good for a healthy and sane human being. There was a time when I couldn't wait to be on holiday, but not right now...not now