reflections on taking chances

I was 23.
April 2008.
Nearly a year of wonderings and wanderings after graduating from college.
I was ready.
Ready to spread my wings and fly,
ready to take a chance.

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In 2007 I graduated with a degree in music.  In my young, naivete I thought I would immediately be hired in full-time music ministry and that church job offers would simply flood in as soon as I walked across the stage with my diploma.

(I was wrong, by the way).

That summer I travelled to India for a two-month long mission trip.  In many ways, that trip changed my life.  My first time overseas, my first time fully immersed in an eastern culture, and the first time I really caught a glimpse of life abroad serving a God who isn’t American.  A God of all nations.

I returned home more sick than I’ve ever been in my life, and still had no job and no direction for my life.

The difficult months that followed shook me to my core: extreme culture shock, depression, meandering and wanderings…  but then in April of 2008, everything changed.  You see, when I returned from India, my team spent several days in Bangkok, Thailand debriefing.  I had a distant feeling in my heart, a feeling that I would return to Thailand one day.

Ten years ago, in April 2008, I interviewed for a Music Teacher position in Bangkok, Thailand.  A few weeks later, I boarded a small airplane with 2 large suitcases (and a very heavy carry on) and moved to the other side of the world.

I didn’t know a single soul.

But that decision – that chance.  It changed my life forever.

The friendships forged during that year forever changed me, the students I taught showed me what compassion looked like with hands and feet, and living in another culture taught me how to be empathetic.

That chapter of my life opened up doors for me to later serve in full-time Worship ministry, and the relationships there inspired me to pursue seminary.  Many of the co-teachers I taught with are still my friends today.

The thing about taking chances is this: when the Holy Spirit of God prompts us to take steps of faith, or “chances” in our human thinking, the greater chance to take is to ignore that prompting and taking the wider, easier path.

I’m so glad I took that chance.

S6300051India, June 2007

S6300243.jpgKolkata, India, July 2007

IMG_1493_7Thailand, October 2008

IMG_5313Our street, Nonthaburi, Bangkok, Thailand

Breaking silence, silently breaking

Last Friday evening I returned to Seoul after a long, hot week in Bangkok partnering with and learning from ministries deep in the trenches of the Red Light districts.  I’ve never been more thankful to flop in my own bed and simply be in silence (8 high school girls and 3 leaders all staying in one room is an experience too much for anyone – especially an introvert).  I have also never been more touched experiencing God at work in some of the darkest places on the planet.

Many stories and books lie unwritten (for now) after this intense trip, but today I write just one of them.

Jill* attends our school and is a Junior this year.  An extremely intelligent, sheltered 16-year-old with kind eyes and a compassionate smile holds a bright future in front of her.  This bright future, surely pushed on her by her ever-achieving Korean parents, consists of ivy league schools, some lucrative career she probably doesn’t want, and high academics along the way… this girl is now friends with a prostitute.

Jill confided in our team earlier during the trip that she doesn’t like to cry,
especially with people.
She only cries alone.
When told that this trip “makes you cry” she questioned, “What if I don’t cry?  Does that mean I don’t care?”

I assured her everyone’s response to injustices like trafficking and prostitution is different.  Some people respond with tears, others respond with anger and even some respond with silent breaking.

As we cleaned up the nail polish, put away the chairs and swept the room that evening, I noticed Jill was not with the rest of the team.  Our team threw a party – a party for prostitutes!  A prostitute party.  The blue hairs at church would change the subject at hearing about this kind of a party.  No one talks about prostitutes at church.  (Yet the Bible seems to be brimming with prostitutes – and what a horror to see that one of them, Rahab, even makes it into the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew’s Gospel!  This, my dear readers is for another blog.)

During the prostitute party, we laughed, oh how we laughed.  Laughter always seems to extend beyond language and cultural barriers.
The gift of laughter breaks down walls.
Laughter reminds us we are all the same, we are all human.
We played games, we worshiped together, we experienced the Spirit of God at work in the lives of these precious women.  The only difference between “us” and “them” is just perhaps that life experiences somehow forced them to make a living in this way.  To be exploited and sell their bodies to survive.

Jill became friends with a prostitute.  A bleached-blonde, 40-year-old beautiful Thai woman.  This woman waited patiently to talk to Jill.  She waited patiently to have Jill, and only Jill, paint her nails.  They laughed together trying to bridge the language gap and made a strong connection that night.  The 16-year-old Korean girl and the 40-something-year-old prostitute.

After the women left and we continued cleaning, I discovered Jill in the corner, alone, with crocodile tears streaming down her eyes.  She looked away from me as I approached her, embarrassed.  This young girl who doesn’t like to cry in front of anyone; so I simply wrapped my arms around her.

“Yesterday when we saw the women standing in front of the bars and on the streets I was numb.  I didn’t feel anything.”

“But tonight, I realized these women are people.”


* Names changed to protect identities, of course

There are many ministries who work to provide jobs with dignity to men and women who are in vulnerable situations, especially in Bangkok.  For more information, or if you’d like to donate any amount please visit:

Nica 2012

Time flies and it’s hard to believe it has been a year since I was last in Managua, Nicaragua.  There are many emotions as I have prepared, but in the midst of a very, very busy and stressful time here at work, there will be a little air to breathe as I get to chaperone a group of High School students on a mission trip to Nicaragua.  I have the most amazing job.

God always is up to something, and every time I’ve gone, He has surprised me with his strength (which I shouldn’t be!), peace, hope and joy in the faces of these children.

Pray for us.  We fly out March 21st, and return the 30th.  Check up on us through the week with our blog.

lessons learned

I’ve been in a jet-lag haze for the past week.  Yesterday morning was the first morning I woke feeling semi-normal.  But even that was waking up at 5:30 am.  I’m ready for normal, calm, peace.  Yeah right, that won’t be happening until… maybe July.

I hit the ground running Monday.  Ate lunch, unpacked, did laundry, worked out, then slept, sorta.  Meetings all week, extra rehearsals, more meetings, more planning.  It’s exhausting, but at the same time it’s good.  I’m glad to be here.

Many things were pressed into my heart while I was away, and when I returned, I returned with a desire and flame to be here, where I know God wants me.  There’s a lot I could say, but I don’t want to bore you all.  Let’s just say the ways I thought God was leading when I left, were just not really what I thought.  I like to plan, I like to dream, I love thinking about the future, but in the midst of all the planning, I forgot to remain in the present.  Even while I was on my trip, I really have a habit of not remaining in the here and now, and, well for now on, it’s a discipline for me.

Psalm 90 speaks a lot about who God is, and who we are in light of him.  But I love verse 12- teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom (sorry that may not be exact.. too tired to move right now and check).

Life is precious, never forget that.  Be you.  And be right where you are, right now.

The adventure continues

I’m sitting here in bed, under a mosquito net here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, after being warmly welcomed at the airport by a wonderful missionary family. A friend of a friend situation, but great none the less.

I love Cambodia, since the first time I visited, my heart was captured, in such a different way than Thailand. Thailand for me at this point is a take it or leave it place, Cambodia leaves me wanting more of it. Wanting to know, explore and understand.

After being used to sleeping with air con, tonight may be warmer than usual for me. The window is open, no screen, hence being totally under a mosquito net. Friends, you should be here with me.

Today, sitting in the airport I thought to myself, I don’t know anyone else who would do this. Traveling alone in a foreign country, SE Asia no less. And a woman. Am I crazy? No, well maybe a little, but at least I’m living. At least I’m living and feeling alive.

It’s late for me, take care friends. Until next time.


travel reflections: India

When I traveled and lived in India for 2 months after I graduated from college in 2007, there were many things about my experience there that will forever alter the way I view life.  I remember the long plane rides, and long lay overs in the various airports that threw a blanket of tiredness over our team, but did not extinguish my joy for being there, though the trip would be overshadowed by a darkness I never could quite put my finger on.

Car ride from Medford to Redding
Van trip from Redding to San Fransisco
Midnight flight from San Fransisco to Taipei
Flight from Taipei to Bangkok
Flight from Bangkok to Kolkata, India
Overnight sleeping in the Kolkata airport
Flight from Kolkata, India to Dimapur, India.

I believe it could have been a full 48 hours before we finally reached our place of arrival: Great Comission Kid’s Academy in outside of Dimapur, India, in Nagaland.  The only Christian state in India, and you’ve probably never heard of it.

Though we were all more tired than we ever had been in our lives, or probably ever will be, we were warmly greeted at the school by the most precious children I have ever met.  Each one was truly beautiful, and their smiles lighted up their faces.  I quickly became acquainted with my friends Abane, Jenny, and Zuve, and they showed us girls to our room.

It was hot, that was for sure.  The heat invades you from deep down, and it feels like you are constantly sweating, or have just gotten out of the shower.  We put our suitcases carefully alongside the wall, and organized ourselves. We would be there for 5 weeks, but at that point, we all just wanted to close our eyes and nap.  However, there was no rest for us, we were immediately introduced to all the children, and to the Dozo family, who run the school.  The kids were precious, and had prepared an entire program for us!  We felt welcomed, even though we were quite weary from our travels.

The Naga people are not Indian in their culture and practices.  There are many tribes of the Naga people, and they are decedents of southern China, as far as nationality is, and they look Asian and not Indian.  There was a long history of the Naga people being headhunters; they killed foreigners, and especially Christians for many, many years.  In the 1970’s the was a huge revival that swept through Nagaland, and many, many were saved, and they stopped headhunting.  The history is incredible, but the result of this revival was a culture becoming Christian.

Anyway, rambling.  My heart was touched by these children.  They had a heart for Jesus to know him and serve him, most wanted to be missionaries when they grew up!

The most difficult thing about India was not this first part of the trip.  Nagaland was like a home away from home, a family across the ocean, and I still correspond with them even today.  My heart broke time and time again, and became hard again and again while walking the streets of Kolkata.

We took an overnight bus to Shillong, a beautiful part of India, it was stunning.  Then, we flew from Guwahati to Kolkata.

As soon as walking outside the Kolkata airport, it is complete chaos, and you are hit by a million smells, and a wave of heat even greater than Nagaland.  Loud and noisy taxi drivers trying to rip off foreigners, and then potentially even kill you en route to your destination; driving as fast and as dangerously as possible.  Upon our arrival at the airport, we were supposed to be met by our other team, already in Kolkata, but after waiting several hours, we figured they were not coming.  We needed to find our way to either the guest house they were staying at, or just find some place to stay, as it was getting late.

I was angry at this point, our team was comprised of people who did not like to take charge, including our team leader, so naturally being the activator I am, I took charge.  “Let’s just find some place to stay, and we will find them in the morning.  It’s getting late, and it’s too dangerous for us to just be wandering the streets”.

Daniel and I (the more assertive of the group) told the team to wait with all our luggage, and we set out to find a guest house that was generally clean, and that had “air con” (which was the most important thing we were looking for in the pollution and humidity of downtown Kolkata).  We were so hungry, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was well past 9 or 10 at night at that point.  I didn’t care anymore, I was just ready to find a place and go to sleep before I began to say anything I would regret to our team members.

As Daniel and I walked the streets we found many foreigners in this section.  I was shocked at how many of them were just sitting out on the streets, conversing with locals in Hindi, and many of them enjoying a cold beer.  I was fascinated; they looked as though they had made this place their home, at least for now, but didn’t they have families?  What were they doing all the way across the world?  As many of them appeared to be Americans, or Europeans.  I was so intrigued.

After stopping at quite a few guest houses, we finally found one at a decent price, “600 rupees a night, with air con”, the large Indian man said in broken English.  I looked at Daniel, “I don’t think we will find anything better, and these look pretty clean.”  He agreed, “Yes, it will have to do for tonight, I will find an internet cafe and let Cassie know where we are, hopefully they will find us in the morning”.  Daniel had been looking forward to seeing his girlfriend Cassie for quite some time, he and I had enjoyed some good conversation the past 5 weeks on the team, but he was certainly ready to see Cassie after so much time apart.  I smiled, “I’m not worried, we will find them in the morning”. It also was Daniels’ 21st birthday that day, oh, I knew he wanted to see Cassie, but for the night, I had arranged for one of our friends in Nagaland to buy him a little special 21-year-old beverage (shh don’t tell!).  At least he would have that tonight, I knew I wouldn’t be able to steal away and enjoy a sip with him, our leader was a little uptight about those things.

We returned to the rest of the team, and showed them our place.  When asked if I wanted anything to eat, I replied with a self-loathing response, “No, I’m not hungry.  I’m just going to bed”.

As soon as I shut my eyes, I drifted off into a hard sleep, and tried to not think about the hardness of the beds, or the fact that there could be little creatures in our sheets.

We spent three weeks in Kolkata, and to this day I still have many distinct memories from my time there.  It was really, really difficult, one of the most difficult times in my life, only unlike the children on the streets, or the dying man laying on the side of the road with a small cup begging for money, I had a beautiful home to return to, and lots of material belongings.  They had nothing.  The brokenness became hardness in my heart.  Every time I stepped out onto the streets, I had to ignore the children.  Ignore the beggar.  Ignore the stares and whispering.  I had to pretend I could not see or hear them.  India is a corrupt government, so even if we gave to these people, the money would likely go to a harsh owner of these people.  If you have seen the film Slumdog Millionaire, you know some of this.

We eventually found our other team, and stayed in a beautiful guest house with an amazing garden outside, away from the loud, busy streets of Kolkata.  A haven from the harsh world outside.

But to this day, I still see all their faces.  I still wonder if they are alive.  I still wonder: how do we bridge the gap between poverty and wealth?  How can I change the hearts of these people?  Only God can bring an answer to these questions, but we can be faithful to pray.  Pray that God will provide, as he does, and pray that these people can be reached with the hope of the gospel.  That is what matters.  That is what the goal is.

travel plans

Bangkok Friends,

I can’t tell you how crazy the past few weeks have been, not just for me, but I know for each and every one of you.  The flood has been less than ideal, but mostly, it’s heart breaking hearing that Thailand is going through this difficult crisis.  Prayers are going up for you all.

Anyway, in light of the flooding, I’ve decided to postpone my trip to see you all, January 11-30.  I know right now I would be fine to make it to GES, Nichada, and those areas, but when I come, I have plans to do more traveling, shopping and other sightseeing that right now I know I wouldn’t be able to do with the flooding.

I love and miss you all, and can’t wait to smile, laugh, play music, catch up, and enjoy life with each of you.  My heart is with you all!

With Love,
Miss Meri

the hardest part

This week, and the following two weeks are the most difficult parts of my marathon training, physically and mentally.  I can’t explain it, and if you’ve run or trained for a marathon, you know.  Physically I’m strong, actually I’m probably in much better shape than last year’s race, and faster, but basically I’m constantly eating, or trying to.  Hasn’t been working out too well for me lately.  Food has been making me sick lately.  Mentally, that is where the real work and challenge begins to happen.

Last Saturday, I went out to run 16 miles, and I literally, out loud was like, “Why am I doing this??”.  There is nothing sane about it.  Let me be the first to tell you.

Next Saturday will be my longest run, and the both physically and mentally extremely challenging.  Twenty miles.  I’m trying to convince a few friends to meet me and ride bikes with me at least part of the way!  (Please guys, seriously think about it!  Emily’s response, always: “I don’t even like driving that far!”).  It’s demanding, and I always want to give up, but yet, after finishing, it is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known.

I know I’m in for a real interesting time, thinking about the actual race.  My training barely reflects what the actual marathon will be like.  Not only is it international, but I will be battling jet lag, culture shock, not to mention the race begins at 3 a.m. (forget my “dress rehearsal” of doing everything exactly like the race- YEAH RIGHT!), and the conditions of the race will be extremely humid, and the air will be thick with pollution.  Sorry, but there’s not really anyway I can really simulate that, nor would I want to even try.

Anyway, I’m not writing a blog to complain, though I could, but rather outlining the challenges, and knowing that as life too, you can prepare all you want, but until you are handed the cards, there’s no knowing what will happen.

Alright readers, happy trails to you.  Let me know if anyone wants to run/bike with me Saturday!

What lies ahead

As the dance between summer and fall becomes slower, summer gives way to fall, and a million memories rush.  Memories of what seems like a past life.  Football, high school, happy times, sad times, thankfulness, and everything else I love and hate at the same time.  The rain is a familiar friend, but not always a welcomed friend here in Oregon, but, right now it doesn’t matter much.  It’s just nice to see a little change in the weather for now.

This fall will be different.  I struggle to find the words to say sometimes, but on November 15 I will leave to enter into what often feels like dream land for me, Thailand.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember, oh yeah, that was real, I used to live in Thailand!  I will be grateful to give up a little fall, to return back to summer, and to a time that feels so long ago, yet at the same time seems like just yesterday.  The sights, smells, feeling, I can close my eyes and see it all now.

It is a bittersweet time too.  Remembering what was, not only Thailand, but other memories.  This is a new chapter, so part of this trip will be addressing and understanding that I may not be called back to SE Asia at all, or not anytime soon, or sooner than I expect.  I don’t worry about this, I know what will be, will be.

Either way, it will be an amazing time.

But for now, I will enjoy the cool, crisp mornings, and be super thankful for non-polluted air, and beautiful falls in Oregon.