Living Away from Home

As we have written before, we have been homeless now for 11 days as flood waters wrapped around the streets of our condo. Since we left, the flood water levels rose up to one meter at the intersection by our home. Down the road a bit more, the flood completely swamped Kasetsert University, leaving the campus under 1-1.5 meters of water. With this murky, pungent black water flowing down our road we are glad we decided to heed the government warning and skedaddled out of the area.

In retrospect, we are glad that we left as the only transportation from our home has been the army trucks that are acting like buses. We would have had to walk almost a mile to the local mall to catch the truck, only to pack into the truck and move at a snail’s pace out of the flooded area.

Despite having enough food and water and plenty to occupy our time, we left our home behind. What good is it to be stuck at home and unable to do what we came to Thailand to do?

The past few days, we have been living at the 7-story church building and center for Foursquare ministry in Bangkok. We moved in with friends at the church which houses several people on a regular basis.

The catch word of flexibility on the mission field becomes ever more the reality we live in during this crisis. We’re just going with the flow. It makes it nice when you don’t have to spend time thinking about what you will wear in the morning. I have three dress shirts to rotate through the two church services each week and one pair of dress pants.

The first few days seemed fun and even a bit thrilling as we waited for the waters to keep creeping down the road from our condo to the place where the church building sits. We kept checking Twitter to get the minute-by-minute updates of shops in our old area closing due to the flood, water levels in our neighborhood, and updates on where the water was now.

The water has yet to come here and force my wife and daughter to the north of Thailand. So we just keep waiting. As days drag on, we wonder when the water will finally recede by our home…only to wake up yesterday morning to read that the Governor of Bangkok says his present to us for New Year’s will be a dry city. Thanks for the optimism. This morning brought better news, the major roads should be dry within 7-10 days.

We keep doing what we can to make the most of our change of scenery. Last night, we threw together a movie night with others from the building and community. If nothing else, this time as new pastors of the church is drawing us closer and closer together with the people of the church…and hopefully knitting them together as well.

The other morning, my wife spent a little extra time making a yummy breakfast, some eggs and toast. Well not really toast but bread. She apologized for the bread knowing that I understood the situation we were in. Yet when I bit into the bread, I was a little more surprised than I expected. Where was the butter!? I asked her why she hadn’t buttered the bread yet? Yet? She answered me, we don’t have any butter here. What can you do? I just shrugged my shoulders and ate the bread happily. If you have no butter, you have no butter. I knew we just have to keep doing to make the best of what we have knowing that a lot of our normal amenities are at home.

Now I know that our situation by no means is similar to many who are suffering at this time. Our neighbors a couple of floors down at the church building are Burmese migrant workers. With the factories they came to Bangkok to work in flooded and closed, they have no money to purchase food. Now they are returning home to Myanmar. Others from the Burmese congregation are flooded out near their factories but afraid to leave the legal migrant zones for fear of fines or worse, they are staying in their cramped apartments without electricity or food. In that area there is no place to buy food, and without jobs they have no money to buy food with. The Burmese pastor treks out there to chest high water via army truck a couple of times a week to deliver food to his people.

I think of other friends just north of Bangkok that have stayed in their home to protect it from thieves. They have stuck it out on the second floor of their house for nearly a month now. My friend cannot wait to get out of the house again. I can’t blame him.

…and for me, perhaps one of the biggest sacrifices comes at the hands of limited internet access. In the building, there is only internet on the first two floors. This means, between my wife and I we probably check the internet twice a day…

We do know that others have it far worse off than we do…but we can’t wait to get back to things as normal. You know with butter on the toast and a few more shirts to choose from. Or maybe this simplified lifestyle can go farther?


Loi Kratong

Loi Krathong splashed onto the scene this year with far less fanfare…almost as an afterthought to all of those in central Thailand affected by the flood or the soon coming flood. We went out this evening to participate in the festivities with some friends from the church and experienced a subdued Loi Krathong Festival.

Loi Krathong comes every November in conjunction with the full moon and celebrates the river goddess. This Buddhist folk festival honors the spirit of the river, thanking the spirit for everything they have received this year as well as a sort of atoning for this year’s sins. People build Krathongs from banana leaves and place a candle in the middle with decorative adornments around the side of their little boat like creations. The environmentally conscience build their krathongs from bread or fish food to help keep the waterways clean and feed the fish in the process. Thai people take these krathongs and place them in the rivers and canals throughout the country. As their krathong floats away, it symbolizes the taking away of their sins much like the scape goat symbolism of the Levitical law.

This year, the year of the epic flood and weeks on end of anxiety regarding the flood coming and constant news updates about the flood, many of the Thai’s stayed home and enjoyed Loi Krathong festivities online. Others simply stayed in as a silent protest against the water spirit.

As Christians, we look for a way to redeem the local festivals and see easy crossovers to showing God’s provision. We thank God for all he has done in our life this year. We also remember that we have put our sins on Jesus and reflect on his forgiveness. As Christians, we wanted to go out and share in the moment, not just because it is our daughter’s first Loi Krathong Festival, but because we thank God no matter our present circumstance. We must always exhibit a grateful attitude toward God. In this time of flood and crisis in the country, who else can we turn to but God? We took this time to honor our creator and remember all that he has done for us.

McDonald’s Predicted our Flood

Now with a little time to reflect, we realized what an omen it was the night McDonald’s no longer would deliver to our condo.

What is that you say? McDonald’s delivers? And…you are bummed that you can’t get McDonald’s at any time day or night. I know, I know…these are the questions I would be asking in your shoes. I remembered how much I didn’t want to be that guy eating McDonald’s as I rarely, if ever, eat the iconic food while in the states. Missing out on McDonald’s the other night brought to mind my first McDonald’s experience when we moved to Bangkok a little over four years ago. Let me get to that in a minute…

A couple of nights ago, we wanted to eat some McDonald’s, and in Thailand, they deliver. You can’t make eating junk food any easier than that. And now, every few weeks, it just feels good to eat something classically American. I’ll say, I look forward to the fries a lot more than the burger. So we called just when our daughter was starting to go to sleep…knowing that the delivery guy would show up on his scooter in less than 30 minutes with our Big Mac and fries. Something went terribly wrong.

After hearing my address, the operator told me that McDonald’s doesn’t deliver to our road anymore. What?, I said. He again said that they don’t deliver to our road anymore as the threat of flooding was too real. I reassured him that in front of our condo was dry still…but that didn’t matter as much of our road was already submerged. You know things are getting bad, when they stop delivering, because they come even in the pouring rain.

Well, I said, this reminded me of my first time in Thailand. I really wanted to eat the local food and avoid being that American who goes to McDonald’s. It is weird now how a food, I no longer eat in America has become a comfort food of types. However, like two days after arriving in Bangkok, I ended up out to the movies with a big group from the church. And of all places to go eat before the movie, they chose McDonald’s. I said to myself, no…but I had to go along with the group. Then to top things off, some guy from San Francisco in front of me in line began to mock me for getting to McDonald’s on my second day in town like it was the first place I had to get to. I tried to say, you don’t understand…but I knew it was pointless as I would have mocked myself too…Man, how far things have come…and to think my friends who serve in our neighboring country of Cambodia long for McDonald’s when they come visit Thailand.

God Sees and Cares

Bangkok has been under the threat of major flooding for a few weeks now. Over and over again we here that the floods are coming tomorrow or this weekend. We have been warned that the flooding might last for a while, up to a month, and everyone should have food stocked up. That sounds great until you realize that around 15 million people live in Bnagkok. With everyone stockpiling goods that can be kept and prepared without electricity, the stores have been very empty.

I have found that the best way to keep my home ready is to go shopping regularly and buy what they have in stock at the moment. That means that one week we have eggs and tuna and then the next week we have potatoes and pork. I just keep buying a little more than we need for the week. If we are stuck in our home without electricity, we should have plenty of food for 3 weeks.

This past week Ellie and I went shopping to pick up some boxed UHT milk, potatoes, pork, and diapers among some smaller items. Everything was going great until we went to leave. As I looked up at the sky, I realized that it was about to start pouring rain. I went to the taxi stand and waited behind some people for more than 10 minutes and only 1 taxi came. This is unusual in that there are normally many taxis here but many people have gotten out of town in preparation for the major flooring predicted for the weekend, or simply parked their car on a bridge or overpass to protect it.

As I assessed the situation, I realized that I couldn’t keep waiting for a taxi that wasn’t coming. So I grabbed all my bags and headed to the main street and found even more people waiting for the nonexisist taxis. At this moment I started to feel a little desperate and decided to cross over the bridge and try from the other side of the street, all to no avail.

As the rain started to splash down, I made the decision to just walk home with my 10 bags of groceries. It’s only a 10 minute walk I figured. So I started walking. We were quite the sight, a mom wearing a baby and carrying lots of groceries. It didn’t matter, walking was better than getting caught out in a major rain storm.

About half way home, I had to put down the bags and try to redistribute the weight. My hands just couldn’t keep holding them any longer. As I’m struggling to pick them back up, I Thai family came walking up to me. They recognized Ellie and I and knew where we lived. They then offered to help me carry the groceries home.

God held off the downpour and sent a family to help me get home. As I walked in my home, all I could do was thank God for watching out for me and helping me.

How has God watched over you?

Not Overlooking Any Possible Solution (A look at traditional religion)

As the heavy rains pounded Thailand this year causing abnormally high water levels, each person in government has done what they can to help the affected areas. However, in Bangkok, the governor has come under some criticism as the people of Bangkok think he is not doing enough.

As the waters continue to slowly flow downhill toward the basin of the nation, which happens to be the capitol city, people keep wondering why the governor did what he did last week. Last week, he performed an ancient ceremony to appease the spirits of water. He came out to sacrifice the food and offerings to the spirit to ask for protection and help in this time of crisis. In his mind, this ceremony would prevent his city from the calamity coming its way. This same calamity has already hit the ancient capitol of Thailand, Ayutaya, with its ancient temples now collapsing. (On a side note: The water levels in Ayutaya just north of Bangkok have yet to recede, and the broken ancient temples bring into question the worldview of many in Thailand. The flood has caused new cracks within the Thai identity.)

No crack stands out more than the Bangkok governor performing a ceremony to prevent the water from coming. One of my Thai friends told me that this is a 100 year-old ceremony that is outdated and unnecessary. He went on to say, the people in Bangkok were frustrated with the governor for performing the ceremony since we have technology in Thailand now.

The Thai people, rich in their history with spirit worship and appeasing the unseen forces of nature, have collided with the forces of science and reason. They are frustrated that their leadership takes steps to appease the spirits rather than measures to reinforce flood barriers and work with the agencies that are channeling the water around the city.

As we minister in Thailand, we need to be aware of the shift in their culture…but for now, in the midst of this crisis, we simply pray for the people and show them authentically the love of God.

How would you react if your government started their response to a natural disaster with an ancient animistic ceremony?

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

You may not have heard, but Thailand is partially submerged under water right now and it just keeps raining. Some of our friends are asking us about Noah, but it’s not as bad as that. When we talked with our Thai teacher about wanting to get out of town for a weekend, she asked where. With every answer we gave her, she shot us down by saying that place is flooded too. One friend hoped to travel to Chiang Mai recently thinking the water may have subsided by now. Instead, the water level has risen.

Some call it the 100 years flood which means that the rain in a normally rainy area is much more rainy than normal. As we approach the end of rainy season or more aptly this year its literal name, monsoon season (they like to downplay how much rain they get with a softer name), Thailand braces for ongoing flood relief. When I say much more rain, I mean much more, like the kind that only comes every 100 years. Take that El Nino.

The heavy rains and torrential downpours of tropical storms just keep coming and pounding the hills and jungles of Thailand. With the deforestation the water table no longer soaks up the rain as quickly as normal and the rivers keep rising.

We write to give a call to pray. Pray that God helps turn back the flood waters. Pray that in the midst of difficulty God’s light and love can shine through to a nation of people who barely know him. Pray that we can help as the church nationwide.

To date 269 lives have been claimed from the flooding including a woman found in her home today, and 10 hospital patients in the old capitol Ayutaya waiting to be evacuated. 30 of the 77 provinces are experiencing massive flooding with more expected. Evacuation centers are being prepared throughout Bangkok as the flood waters approach. Everyone is doing what they can to prevent flooding in the city. On the north, they are releasing dams to ease the water levels. On the other end they are working like mad to pull water out from the canals into the sea of Bangkok. The nation looks at three days, one week from now as being critical, Oct. 16-18 hoping that heavy rains stay away.

In parts of Bangkok the canals are overflowing and flooding some of the streets. One friend asked if the floods have come to our condo. I said, umm, we live on the 21st floor. Catching my sarcasm, he replied, Andy, if your room is getting flooded, I think we all would be in heaven now.

Rescued From the Rain

I am still amazed how the turn of events seemingly set against me suddenly turned in my favor. Let me explain. The rainy season or more aptly this year, the monsoon season has hit Thailand hard. The worst rains in more than thirty years just do not relent. My story is hardly comparable to the many who have lost their lives or had to evacuate their homes throughout the many provinces of Thailand heavily hit by the rains, but still here goes my story.

After meeting some of the guys in the church for dinner at the Mall near where they live, they helped take me out to the bus stop where the rain was pouring down, as it had for the previous few hours. The downpour with accompanying thunder and lightning just kept coming. Pausing a moment, we surveyed the scene, and my friends saw the flooding in the street. At this point, we decided to skip the taxi stand where everyone already gathered in long lines and trudged through the ankle deep water to the bus stop.

We waited a few minutes before one of the busses that passes near my home (usually a 40 minute ride) came by…a free bus no less (still a hangover from a government promotion a few years ago to ease people’s fears when the bus rates rose, only for a few months mind you before they came back down). Nonetheless, I boarded the free bus excited to get going home. Knowing the bus did not go all the way past my house, I would have to get off early. Without rain, I could walk the couple of blocks home no problem, but in this rain we might have a different story.
I left the mall at 9 pm thinking this is not too bad. I might get home before 10 pm.   The ride moved along slow as the rain kept coming down in sheets. The bus slowed each time the flooded road blocked our smooth path. But we finally made my stop where I exited the dry reprieve before entering a dark, stormy night.

I sloshed through the calf deep water at this bus stop where the flooding now came over the tall Bangkok curb. No surprise, there was not another person waiting at the bus stop. I hoped to catch a taxi home for the remainder of my trip, but as the case usually is in the rain, all the taxis were full. I remember hearing a stat that at any giving time in Bangkok, the taxis are at 20% occupancy. Yet I imagine in the rain, they come near 100% occupancy. Against all odds, I hoped to call a taxi over to me before my clothes completely soaked. Fortunately, when I exited the bus, the rain was only falling a bit. Maybe it was letting up. Oh no, was I wrong. The rain just wanted to catch its breath before heaping buckets and buckets of water out on Bangkok again. Miserably wet, I continued to stand on the curb with no protection from the rain holding my hand out hoping against hope that a taxi might come. Each car that passed pushed the water up and over my feet while some splashed my whole front side. After about 15 minutes of waiting, I now found myself somewhere between a nervous breakdown as I could not see to get out of my predicament and crying out to God to rescue me. I prayed to God to send a taxi or anyone to pick me up. Just then, a stranger walked up to the bus stop carrying his umbrella, and he confirmed to me that I could call a taxi at this spot. But all the taxis were full.

A couple more minutes passed by as the rain showered me when I heard a voice. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, because I never hear people calling out of a taxi or other car to come to them. What was I hearing…could it be directed at me, oh please, I thought be someone to pity me. The stranger next to me told me that they indeed were calling to me. I quickly walked forward to their car where a hand reached out and pulled me into the car. My mind raced with thoughts and questions of what was happening and who these people were, but I was rescued.

After introductions exchanged, I realized that a father and daughter driving home from work saw me hopelessly waiting by the side of the road. They allowed me to sit my drenched body in their car and were willing to take me home. Now, we only had to turn the corner and make a short U-turn before arriving out our condo. At this point, my wife called wondering where I was as it was 10:30 pm. I replied almost home…

I spoke to soon.

The flooded roads caused the usually slow traffic on our road to grind to a complete stand still. The horrible rain induced traffic slowed our 5 minute drive around the corner to 40 minutes, but finally I made it into my dry home and changed out of the wet clothes, no check that, the completely sopping wet clothes I wore that day.

Even though I am just one guy of millions in a huge city under the dark of night and clouded vision of a rainy sky, God still saw down to where I was and helped me out. Even when I was frustrated and mad at the rain, God came through for me with a kind hearted family who wanted to take me home. Even when I felt pitiful, God showed compassion on me.

How does God surprise you when you least expect it?