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

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.

no rest for the weary

With all my heart and soul, I always long for summer.  I look forward to the long, sunny days and often am nostalgic about the heat, and staying up late with friends talking about hopes and dreams.  Unfortunately I think the last time I stayed up late with friends basking in the warm evening air was probably college.  Yea, I’m pretty sure.  Anyway, but I do always look forward to the warmer days and nights… except I always forget: I CAN’T SLEEP WHEN IT’S HOT!

I think my room is about 15 degrees hotter than the rest of the house, because it faces west, where the sun sets.  LAME.  Yes, I’ve tried fans, I sleep with only a sheet… everything.  Nothing helps.  I really, honestly sleep best in the cold, it’s weird.

Anyway, along with the summer come temperatures much too hot and uncomfortable for running, so, I try to get in the habit of waking up early and running.  So, combine not being able to fall asleep in heat, and being anxious about waking up at 6 a.m. and that means hardly no sleep.

But there’s nothing like waking up early and going running, even with little sleep.  Sloppy form, heavy breathing… but a still, quiet morning before a busy day is so worth it.  Our house sits in a newer neighborhood, but is just next door to the “country”, so I can run the country roads, say a friendly “hello” to the horses and cows as I run by.  Today as I went on a quick 3-mile jaunt I was reminded of Nagaland, India.  Daniel and I would wake up and go for runs early in the morning, and all the locals seemed to stare at us, like we were so strange for going running.  Or it could have been that it was obvious we were foreigners because of what we looked like, but also because we looked like fools, running up and down the long, main road that seemed to stretch for eternity.  The air was thick and warm, much too warm for 6 a.m., but we went running anyway.  The women with their water jars balanced on their heads, and the men pulling their old wooden, heavy carts down the road, with an occasional car zipping past us.  Those were good days.  Those were simple days as I processed through 4 long years of college, and looked forward to dreaming new dreams ahead of me.

Today reminded me of being overseas.  Hearing roosters crow as I ran my usual loop reminded me of everywhere but here.  India, Thailand, Nicaragua, Mexico… everywhere.  But.  Here. Anywhere but here.

It’s funny how we often perceive life to be.  Seemingly insignificant moments can quickly catch us off guard and become significant moments.

Though I feel restless, I’m thankful and grateful.  Thankful for the past memories, and grateful for grace as I look toward the future.

Along these roads, we used to run, with the rice fields all around, and the beauty of India:

Miss our chats and runs Daniel!!