Waiting for Others

“Let’s go, Ellie. We are ready to go to the next attraction now. You wanted to go before, but now you don’t?” That’s what we were saying to our daughter as we wandered around the Littleton Historical Museum (best part, it’s free).

We thought she was losing focus, but really she hadn’t at all. Our little girl knew exactly what she was doing. We soon realized that Ellie had seen another little girl a few months older than her and her family. She wanted to wait while they finished looking at the school house before going with them to the next site. We traveled around with the family for the next 15 minutes, all the while they didn’t know why we kept so close to them. In Thailand, where Ellie was born and spent her first two plus years, she learned life in a collective culture. In a collective culture, people wait for each other and travel together. The collective works on shaping the individual, while in America, we are quite the opposite. The individual works on shaping the collective. Secondly, time is totally different in Asia. They have no problem waiting for the group. While we are wrestling through issues of reentry, but Ellie is learning to live in a new culture.

In America waiting goes against our nature, right. We go when we want to go, and wait when we want to wait, but our individualistic society rarely has us waiting for others. We just thought Ellie was being a burgeoning individual.

But in fact, she was being the collectivist she was brought up as in Thailand. She learned we do things in groups. We share memories together. We live life together. When she spied out a new friend and family to join on our fun day out, she took them on as her own.

At one point, the family even told her that she didn’t have to wait for them. Ellie would have none of that. She went ahead only when they caught up to her. Sometimes she lagged behind as she got distracted with history, but she ran to keep up with the group.

Processing culture happens for us all at a different pace. It is fun watching how our little girl processes life at her young and impressionable age.

How do you do in waiting for others? What is hard or easy about it?

Connecting Through English

Have you ever heard this joke? “What language will be spoken in heaven?” “English, because Americans can’t learn another language.” Without taking offense as a family who has learned Thai…sometimes English speakers get a bad reputation. I want to offer another perspective after ECFC.

In Sri Lanka, dozens of nations gathered together for prayer and encouragement as the church. These nations gathered under the banner of Foursquare, connecting people from this nation and that throughout the Asia pacific.

English of all things binds these nations together. For some English is the national language. However, nations that have a low, low English proficiency have joined together for these meetings and worship sessions as well. Here English opens the door to networking like never before in history, aside from the Greek speaking world of Jesus’ time. I wonder how many have calculated the affect of English and the spread of the gospel has been. Hmmm, thoughts for another day.

As we mingled with leaders from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Myanmar, and many other parts of the Asia pacific world, we saw English as the bridge. I am fascinated how much English has penetrated this half of the globe while everyone talks of it’s soon demise.

One presenter spoke in Chinese having her presentation translated into English. At the same time I could hear the soft hum of headsets all around the room translating the message into their native language. However, English allowed the connection. In this unprecedented era of partnership in the global mission, I am interested to watch as the Westerners continue to move from parenting the mission to partnering with the mission. Will English vanish from the center of these meetings or continue to play a pivotal role?

At the same time as communication and information made its way through the conduits of English, worship was another matter.

The conference’s worship leaders led us in English songs, but in some commonly translated songs I heard a brief foretaste of Revelations 7:9-11 being fulfilled. I could hear Thai, English, Singhalese and other languages sung out in unison as we all worshipped the lamb that was slain. What a beautiful day that will be when God draws all nations before him in worship. What a glorious sound that will be before his throne.

Rubber Time

In a recent conversation with a friend from Malaysia, I found a new term that fits how time is seen in this part of the world.

I struggle with the fact that not everyone means the same thing when they say “on time”. To some people 6 pm means 7 pm. The idea of punctuality varies from place to place.

I always found it a little amusing that we give an addendum to Adolf Hitler’s legacy like this: Well, at least the train ran on time. I guess I would trade some late trains for a little less atrocity.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

Living in Thailand, we get accustomed to Thai time. That means things will start when the people arrive. To our Western minds, we think, make the event start, and the people will come. The further we delay, the later people will come next week. The endless cycle of tardiness will spiral out of control. Or will it?

Timeliness just doesn’t play the same roll in all parts of the world as it does in the West.

My Malaysian friend explained how in Malaysia when they set a time for an event, they have to tell everyone the time is 6 pm sharp. They have to say sharp, you see. Sharp. That is so people know for certain that the event will start at 6 pm. He went on to say that everyone still comes later than 6 pm.

The term for this kind of time in Malaysia is rubber time. We can just stretch the time to fit what we want, my friend explained.

In high school, my coach implemented “Lombardi time” which meant unless you were 15 minutes early, you were late. That just wouldn’t fly in most of the world.

How does punctuality fit you? Are you an early arriver or a fashionably late comer?

Life at the top of the mountain

This week we visited people living in the mountains of northern Thailand. They live simple, basic lives.

How do we live today with all of our distraction-making devices, or rather how did we survive without them 10-15 years ago? I often wonder that when I am using Face Book, or my mobile phone, checking Google, or watching YouTube, but this week we visited a place mostly void of such technology.

Sometimes things seem out of place. When you arrive into the mountains of northern Thailand where various people groups live off the land, technology still creeps in. These people groups, known as hill tribes, hold onto traditions and beliefs that go many generations back, and aside from seeing a satellite dish outside of the village to bring in the Thai soap Operas, some scattered cars, and cell phones in the hands of teenagers, one might think they are walking into a time machine. Life is simple for the people living in the hills bordering Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and China.

We experienced our first taste of the life in the village this week while visiting our friends Paul and Lori Vernon who serve among the Akha people with the Akha Foundation. They are among a small number of Westerners that speak the Akha language. The Vernon’s train pastors by teaching in the Bible College, offer basic medical aid to the village, and support the community in any way they can. We spent two days soaking in the life they live with their village in Mae Salong, and let me not forget to mention the cool air atop the mountain they live on in their own version of a mile high city, err village.

During the two days, several people stopped by their semi-permanent hut for needed medicine to help with fevers and colds that were going around the village. Several more people came for their teeth to be pulled. The villagers rarely have an opportunity to visit a dentist, much less pay for dental care, so when their mouth hurts enough from the rotten tooth, they come have it removed.

We even were able to be part of a ceremony with one of the families in the village. One of their children had a fever through the night and slept poorly. In their previous beliefs of animism, they knew this to be a demonic possession. This family was still new to Christianity, so they did what many young Christian families do in the hill tribes. The substituted a Christian ceremony for their old witch doctor ceremony. They invited the pastor over along with friends and family to have a big meal and pray for deliverance. The pastor who came taught them that they don’t need to wait for the pastor to come, and they don’t need to live in a life of fear, if now under a new religion. He went on to tell them that they have the power of God in them to defeat Satan.

We enjoyed watching as the pastor taught the people how to live their faith, and not just substitute Christian formulas for animistic formulas. He is training them how to grow in their faith and live out what they believe with passion. We ate with them and celebrated the maturing faith among the people of this village.

We could easily see the genuine love and tender care this community exhibited and why Paul and Lori have fallen in love with them.

Thoughts While Sitting on the Freeway

I am writing this blog while parked on the freeway leaving the Bay area. I was traveling along the 101 at a nice pace when all of the sudden the whole freeway stopped. After sitting for a few minutes I put the car in neutral and then park. Well, now the car has been turned off and I even went out to get my laptop from the trunk.  Many emergency vehicles have passed by and I have offered prayers, but now I must just wait. So I thought, why not write a blog post.

It is fun watching the other cars as we all sit and wait. I am listening to some random rappy pop music emanating from the car next to me…let them use up their car battery, I don’t want a dead car when we start going. People are poking heads up from sky windows, sitting on the back of their trunks, and even standing on the side of the road talking.

As I look around at the hills, I am reminded of a comment a friend made recently. Andy and I went to the lake the other day to eat lunch and go for a walk. Trying to help Andy appreciate the surroundings, I was describing the hills and other sites around the lake. To me the hills seemed so dead as they were completely yellow from dead grass with only a little shrubbery to color them. Even the shrubs didn’t add any color as they were a dark green that looked almost black in the sun.

The next day we were talking with our friend about the lake and she said that it is one of her favorite walking places because of its beauty. I was a little surprised. Trying to mask my disbelief, I asked her what she thought was so beautiful. She said that at this time of year, the hills looked like gold. What a change of perspective for me. What I thought looked like dead hills, to another looked like golden hills. Now as I sit and wait for the freeway to open up, I am admiring the golden hills all around me.

I just heard that the reason we are stopped is because of on overturned truck on the freeway. A helicopter just flew low overhead, so maybe that means we will get to go soon. But if not, I will get to enjoy the beauty of this place and wonder about how else my perspective could change.

Banging into Things

Last week, we went on a week vacation to Puerto Vallarta with my wife’s family. It was a nice time of relaxing and building fun memories as a family. We flew through the jungle on zip lines, swam in the beautiful hotel pool, walked along the beaches, and rode horses over rocky hills to a water fall. Every day, we ate lots of tasty Mexican food, even though fish tacos were much harder to find than I remember from past trips to Mexico.

While there are many good memories from this trip, the last night brought some pain and will leave a mark for a long time.

I raced my 4-year-old niece, Amanda, down the hall to the elevator at our hotel, pushing just hard enough to make her run her little heart out. Just before arriving at the elevator, I leaned down hoping to edge her at the last second. The wall that that jutted out at an angle just before the elevator halted my progress. At the same moment, my head and toe crashed into the corner of the wall. Stunned momentarily, I paused before saying, you win to Amanda.

Then I felt the blood on my eyebrow. “Oh no, what did I do?” began the thoughts in my head. Later we found out the corner didn’t budge in the slightest, a steel reinforced corner for the elevator, but my shoulder that smacked into the drywall next to the corner left an imprint. I don’t even remember my shoulder whacking the wall. Of course, I had to be the one getting hurt on our vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Then a wave of regretful thoughts raced into my mind. I felt so bad for slowing everyone down as we were on our way out to a nice dinner. That’s right, I was delaying dinner. How could I be the culprit for halting our progress to any meal, especially dinner?

I tried to keep my niece from knowing what happened, but when Christina was wiping the blood from my forehead away in the bathroom, Amanda wanted to know what happened. I didn’t want her to think it was her fault. I was the one recklessly running down the hall not carefully using my cane to warn me of impediments in my path. I ran the hall several times earlier with her without damage, but this time I ran into a wall gashing my forehead. Usually, I bounce off the walls just holding my head for a few moments. This one left a mark. Fortunately it just took a well placed butterfly bandage to hold the cut closed. However, the bandage leads to plenty of questions and just as plenty of new story opportunities.

After the initial thoughts of regret and disappointment in myself for hurting my head, reflecting more introspectively what I did, I pondered if I should rethink how I go about life. As expected, the thought of slowing down and being more cautious came to mind, almost in the form of a rebuke. Something like you idiot, how could you be so careless. Use some restraint and wisdom before you go flying down a hallway. Then I thought, man, I zipped down the jungle mountains on zip lines, climbed rocks at the waterfall, slid off the rocks into the pool at the base of the waterfall, and then whack myself in the head on the way to dinner. How ironic.

I answered those thoughts by telling myself that the zest for life that makes me connect so well with my energetic, fun loving niece so well has shaped me into the person I am. My passion for life and not holding back out of fearful caution allows me to step out, grabbing the zip line and jump not knowing how I will land on the other end of the 1,600 foot cable. The love for living life to the fullest gives me memories of sliding down a waterfall not knowing where I would end up after I was pushed forward by Christina’s brother, Jonathan.

More than that, my willingness to step out and go for it, a couple of cliché’s that mark my personality helps me accomplish the calling God has on my life. Living in Bangkok doesn’t come easy. The sidewalks are difficult to navigate for sighted people considering the obstacles, potholes, and uneven paths. The busses and boat taxis don’t come to full and complete stops, you just hop on and off as they slow down at the stop (maybe they should call them something other than bus stops). Trying new food, living in new cultures, meeting new people, these often threaten people’s sensibilities. Many are not able to do this well. That doesn’t mean I am better than another. We are all called to different arenas and work. But we are all called to something and following God is one step at a time. I just know my steps end up being out of the ordinary in a far different place than Chicago or Southern California where I am accustomed. I am willing to put my foot out there and take the step toward God’s leading. I’ll bang my head every now and again, sometimes my fault and sometimes not, yet God will always be there to hold me together.

We are not all designed or wired with a reckless abandon. When I was 4-years-old, my mom thought I needed a crash suit to protect me from all the walls I ran into, and I could see then. One time, fell down the basement stairs exploring the different doors and hallways in my house. Another time I thought it would be fun to go down the laundry shoot and land on all the clothes. I accumulated my share of bumps and bruises. But that was me.

You be you to the fullest intent that God designed you. That’s my takeaway from this incident and many previous accidents before this. Live my life to the fullest. We all have different lives, so let’s live them out fully.

Relaxing in Laos

100_1385 by swimntina.

Tad Nyeuang Waterfall by swimntina.Our travel to Laos included great views and wonderful landscape. We spent one day going to waterfalls in southern Laos. The water came rushing over the rocks and into the pools at the bottom. As we went exploring the breathtaking pieces of God’s creation, I told my wife, I want some adventure, some fun. There just wasn’t any of that on this trip, just quiet, pristine slivers of peacefulness to give us rest and refreshment.

At the middle water fall of the three we visited that day, I did get a chance to swim around, enjoying the sound of water crashing in front of me.

The next day, we visited an ancient temple, Wat Phu (pronounced pooh). We kept imagining it was Winnie-the-Pooh’s temple, and searched everywhere for him. Sadly, this was not his temple, so we never found him.

Wat Phu (16) by swimntina.Wat Phu (21) by swimntina.

We also spent 24 hours at 4,000 islands on the border of Laos and Cambodia. The goal was to locate rare fresh water dolphins. We ended up on a tour that included SE Asia’s largest cascade, which blocked French shipping efforts over 100 years ago. It reminded us of Niagara Falls.

Khone Pha Pheng Waterfall (1) by swimntina.

We then went onto another boat down the river further to watch for dolphins. We saw them every now and again pop up out of the water for air. They didn’t jump or play with us, but when they were sighted all the other little boats full of people all pointed and yelled.

What we took away from Laos was a sense of hidden beauty in the small country to the Northeast of Thailand. We enjoyed the visit and returned to Bangkok full of life.