It’s ten years ago now. We were sitting next to each other at church when he turned to me and asked, “Do you want to go?”
They were looking for people to support missionaries during the Christmas break. It would take about three weeks. A short reprieve from the demands of a young family to concentrate on something bigger than our lives at home.
“Yes,” I replied.
Our mission group started meeting regularly before we left. Our team leaders carefully walked us through some cross cultural training. They taught us the basics about the country and the culture we would be visiting. The rest we would work out when we were there.
Thailand: Theravada Buddhism is central to Thai identity and culture. There are more than 66 million Thais. About 94.6% of them identify as Buddhists. “To be Thai is to be Buddhist.”
Chiang Mai: 700 km north of Bangkok. Situated among the mountains, it is the largest city in northern Thailand.
I left my family just before Christmas and came back in January the next year.
We visited the night markets. We talked to monks. Rafted on rivers. And told people about the meaning of Christmas.
The monks were kind. We spoke about the nature of sin and grace. Where I had given up all notions of reaching heaven through my own merit, they believed we were capable of enlightenment through our own works.
They asked me about responsibility. I asked them about forgiveness.
For three weeks we lived a few minutes drive away from where our missionaries lived. We ate local foods and drank local drinks. I talked to my family in the mornings and wrote to them almost every day. But I missed them during the quiet times.
They say there are more than 400,000 Christian missionaries around the world. Many spend years struggling in a country far away from home, because they believe in passing on the message. That God so loved the world that He gave his only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Yet what I saw clearly from this trip was that we are powerless to make anyone believe in God. It was never about browbeating them into submission or forcing them to change. In this country where most of its people were Buddhist, our missionaries spent their time loving their neighbours and telling the message to those interested in hearing it. Whether a person believed it was something between them and God.
Three weeks passed quickly. I left new friends saying that I’ll see them again one day, and came home.