Sliding out of the “people mover“ van, rain beats down on my head as I am greeted by young children clad in knockoff American paraphernalia and smiles. They are curious, and so are we. The landscape is painted with shanty houses drowning under a siege of rainwater. It’s the rainy season in northern Thailand. Metal scrap and tarp rooftops sink into the tenuous twig walls of the houses, and the frames stand with a Seuss-ical lean. The humor; however, is missing from the scene. We’re in a Muslim slum.
Ready for our tour, we’re clad in rain boots recently purchased solely for this purpose, and we make our way into the village. Our trek begins slowly as the depth of the water surprises us. Our hands are quickly filled with the excited fingers of the children. Twenty or more surround us to eagerly help us through the mud. We need the help. It’s quickly realized that the mud is nearly impossible to navigate with rubber boots. My foot sinks quickly into the mud, and the suction produces an inescapable grip. My foot presses exhaustedly against the inside of the boot, but the mud is unyielding. So with every ounce of faith, I slip my foot out of the boot and begin stepping barefoot into the unknown.
Prayer floods my mind as goo slips between my toes. My first thought, “God, send a whale. I’m drowning!“ I also offer up thanksgiving for the Hepatitis vaccines.
The parents of the children were laughing as they relaxed on their stoops, and we tried to make our way through their unnatural neighborhood. The children were so eager… almost proud of their home and circumstance, but how could they be? A small toddler was bathing in the flood and playing with a beer bottle as cattle and chickens were defecating in his bathwater. The smell of decay and garbage was intoxicating, but the smiles gleaming from the children and adults was even more so.
In the distance, the mountain range spreading across Thailand and Burma stood majestically, and the beauty of these people reminded me of our Creator. Four years later, God has brought me back to this moment as I look out the window of my new home in Thailand. In the distance, I see the same mountain ridges standing with all honesty and beauty as before, and as the peaks reach up and brush the shadowy, swollen rain clouds I’m overcome with a feeling of gloom. For in those hillsides of our neighboring Burma, death, destruction, and persecution are rampant. When I look upon these mountains from my window, I’m reminded of the beauty that revealed itself the day at the slum but also reminded of my purpose here. God has given us the enormous responsibility of being a light in the darkness. And, I know the church shines only as bright as it’s individual members shine so I can dwell on the things that are troublesome or distracting in this fallen world, or I can focus on the promises of God, and overcome the darkness.
“We walk by faith, not by sight.”
2 Corinthians 5:7
“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”