goodbye thailand

Well, my time in Thailand has come to an end. It was a great experience, full of growth, challenges, and wonderful memories. Am I glad it’s over? I would be lying to you if I said no. It was definitely no vacation despite the amount of shopping and sightseeing I did. This outreach was a lot different from the previous outreach I had done in the Philippines back in 2005. I am different. Perhaps it was the composition of people on the teams, or the culture shock in which we found ourselves in. Maybe it was the type of ministries we participated in or the leadership of the outreach. All in all, however, I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with God was definitely tested and strengthened.

Below is a short 10 min video I made for the team to remember our time in Thailand by. You’ll see the members of my team, who came from all over the world including Canada, the mainland, Norway, South Korea, and Pakistan. An amazing group of people indeed. You’ll also see the various ministries we worked with: teaching ESL at a public elementary school, working with an orphanage shelter and helping out at a church based in a tourist area where people go to ride elephants. The kids at the shelter aren’t actually orphans, but rather, their parents can’t afford to raise them. And so they send them to this shelter to live where a pastor and his family care for them, send them to school, and teach them about God. It’s an incredibly blessed ministry that has continued to grow and flourish. You’ll see in one scene where we surprised the 8 boys with bunk beds (the boys had been sleeping on the floor prior) and the happiness they felt.

I’m so blessed to have been able to go on this outreach with YWAM. It was a different way of doing things compared to what I’m used to, but I had an amazing time. Hopefully this video will show you exactly what I mean 😉


under attack or under the weather?

100% of our team is either suffering from the stomach flu, some sort of respiratory-related sickness, or the common cold. Last night about a handful of people were bent over some sort of trash or human waste receptacle reviewing their dinner. It wouldn’t matter if you were a professional Clue player or a logic puzzle genius; no amount of reasoning would be able to link a particular digested food with their condition.

Even the respiratory problems that people have been experiencing, myself included, can’t help but make me wonder the cause. We’ve had a case of pneumonia on the team as well as bronchitis. Even the local translator we have on the team is sick. Could the cause be the weather? The hotel we’re staying at which has a suspicious mold growing in some of the room showers? Perhaps the AC? Or could it be something more spiritual?

Now I’ve never been a big advocate of spiritual warfare until I attended a discipleship training school (DTS) with the organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM). One of the 12 weeks was dedicated to learning more about spiritual warfare, or the ongoing battle between good and evil that we can’t see with our eyes. For the avid movie-goer, it’s like the movie Constantine with Keanu Reeves. (Mom, don’t watch the trailer, it’s too scary.)

Anyway, after seeing all the sickness around me while on outreach, I can’t help but wonder if the cause of it all is somewhat spiritual. Could we be under attack by the Devil in hopes that we would stop sharing the love of God? Keeping us sick in bed or in the hospital is definitely keeping us from doing so. The bible tells us that we Christians are given the power and authority over such evil. And so begins the battle in my mind between the little scientist who points to the biological factors as the reason for getting us sick and the little evangelist who wants to attribute the suffering to the Devil. Or could they both be playing some sort of role?

My mind wanders…maybe we’ll never know the answer.

a testimony of the heart

On January 22, 2012 I stood before an audience of about 100 people and gave the following testimony. It was geared towards the members of the church congregation who may have fallen away from God, turning to a life of drugs and alcohol as we heard from the pastor. With a translator, I shared this one story, which is just a piece of who I am today. (It’s been written in a way for the translator to easily understand.)

I was born and raised in a Christian family. I started going to church since I was still in my mom’s stomach. I became a Christian when I was around 11 years old.

My question for you today is, “When would you stop loving God?” Would you stop loving God if you lost your job? Your family? Your health? Your reputation? How about if all of those things happened at once? In your lowest, loneliest, most painful time in your life, would you still love God?

You see, our love for God is often times conditional. I’ll love God if He keeps me healthy. I’ll love God if He protects my family. And if that doesn’t happen we get angry with God and think He’s forsaken us, that He has stopped loving us.

I stopped loving God when I was 19 years old. I was in college and I went to a party at a friend’s house. People were drinking and having a great time. One of my friends decided to try jumping into the swimming pool from the roof of the house. I was inside so I didn’t see him do it. I can still remember hearing the commotion from outside. I ran out and saw someone pulling him out of the swimming pool. He had hit his head on the cement. I ran over and started to do CPR on him while someone called the ambulance. Now, anyone who has ever had a friend die in their arms knows how painful and traumatic it is. My friend died that night. And on that same night, standing outside of the hospital upon news of his death, I stopped loving God. I thought if God would let something like this happen, if He could sit back and let my friend die, then I wanted nothing to do with Him.

How could I love a God like that?

So I started drinking and partying. I stopped going to my college classes. I stopped going to church. I got really depressed. I stopped smiling. I stopped living. I stopped loving God.

But, did God stop loving me? Was He like, “Oh well, Tiffany doesn’t love me anymore. I guess I should stop loving her.” No. I may have felt alone and as far away from God as ever possible, but God was still there. And He still loved me. It took time and a lot of other heartbreaking events but eventually I found my way back to God.

When it comes to those broken and rock-bottom points in life, all you need to do is turn around and take one step, one step back towards Jesus. It doesn’t matter how far you’ve walked away. God will take the remaining steps back to you. It just starts with one step.

Life with God is so much better. Knowing that God can turn every bad situation in your life into something good (Romans 8:28) and knowing that God cares about you makes this life worth living. Since then God has turned my life around completely. I have found direction in my life and with my career. I’ll be getting married in August to an amazing Christian man who loves God. I still face hardships, and have especially recently, but at least I’m not facing them alone. God is right there with me.

You may feel like God is nowhere near you right now. You may feel all alone, trying to live in this world on your own strength. You may have no direction in life. You may be thinking, “How can God still love me after all I’ve done?” Believe me when I say this. God has never stopped and will never stop loving you. (Joshua 1:9) You just need to accept that love and remember that love when times are hard.

God will never stop loving you.

a half-empty glass

Complaining and grumbling: two pests that always find company with me no matter where I go, whether it be in Japan with a secular English teaching program or in Thailand on an outreach trip with a Christian organization. As much as I try to surround my heart with positivity, I always manage to find myself sitting at a dinner table surrounded by people who stuff the conversation full of  sentences beginning with “We should be doing…” and “Why are we always…” It’s inescapable. And me being the polite, non-confrontational, little Japanese girl that I am just sits there quietly and let’s the negativity buzz around my head and inside my ear until it finally settles on a tender place of my heart, like the pesky mosquitoes here that have an incredible resistance to bug spray.

Why are we so prone to seeing the glass half-empty all the time? If we are created in God’s own image, why then does grumbling and complaining come so easily? Does God complain? I highly doubt it and yet if He did, His number one complaint would probably be our incessant complaining. Just look at the Israelites in the book of Exodus. God does all these amazing and miraculous things for His people like parting the Red Sea so they could escape the Egyptians and providing them food and water in the wilderness, and yet they still found reason to complain. You’ve just been set free from a lifetime of slavery in Egypt…can’t you just be happy and praise the Lord that you’re alive?

Here in Thailand we’ve been staying at the Namthong Hotel in Chiang Rai. It’s a beautiful hotel right in the heart of the city. When I first arrived here, I asked the school leader two things: 1) Is there hot water? and 2) Is there internet? That’s all I need to survive in this day and age. His answer was yes to both. Heaven. At a team meeting I overheard someone complaining about how the cleaning staff stopped putting the decorations, these red fabric runners, out on the beds. Really? We have hot showers and wireless internet and you’re complaining about bed runners? It was at this point that I made a conscious decision to check my tongue and heart for the complaining virus daily.

Y’know, for a blog entry about complaining, I did an awful lot of complaining myself. I guess the glass will always remain half-empty to us. In the end, we need Jesus to fill up the other half with His love and make us full.

“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…” – Philippians 2:14-15

future business project

Imagine if you will a tiny community geared towards helping the less fortunate. In this case it’s a group of families or children either orphaned or whose parents lack the monies needed to raise them properly. It would host, at most, 10 people and be overseen by a capable and willing family/couple who would live with them. Everyone would contribute to the maintenance and operation of the home. Children would attend normal school in the day. The home would be self-sustaining: fresh food products would be grown on the property through natural farming and aquaponics, animals would be cared for and used as a source of meat, leftover food would be used as animal food and fertilizer, water conservation would be encouraged, and solar power would be utilized.

The couple overseeing the home could themselves be from a less fortunate background. Many people in Hawaii weren’t made homeless by bad decisions; but rather by the bad economy. Many are very much capable of accepting the responsibilities of such a home, or can be trained up to do so. And in return, they get food to eat and a roof over their heads, as well as positively impact the lives of others.

This business plan would be firmly rooted and drenched in Christian values and beliefs. This is to be a Christian discipleship program. Children would be brought up in a Christian environment and develop a deep relationship with God. Then, when they have grown up, they, too, can positively impact others for God’s Kingdom.

Rules. Drug use will not be tolerated. Alcohol can be consumed but not on the property, and to a reasonable degree.

I  hope to fund this project through other business endeavors that I hope to have in the future as well as donations. The goal of this project isn’t to make money, but rather, to help the less fortunate in Hawaii get off the streets and beaches and into small communities that care about them and can show them God’s love. We want them to THRIVE not just SURVIVE. God loves EVERYONE…He loves those individuals who have $5 to throw into the offering plate at church every Sunday as well as those who try to live off of $5 for the entire week.

This is just an idea that’s been floating around my head for the past couple of days. Although there are a whole bunch of holes in it still, perhaps someday God will make this into a reality.

*This is based on a model currently being demonstrated in Chiang Rai, Thailand by an organization called New Blessing and Vision Children’s Home. The pastor, Rangsee, and his wife have lived with 13 children on their small farming property for the past 10 years. The children they host are mostly from neighboring hill tribes. Although the parents of these children aren’t necessarily Christians, they send their kids there in hopes that they may have a brighter future. When the children grow up and return home, a change in their hearts can be seen by their respective hill tribes, impacting their community in far greater ways than an outside missionary group could ever have.

waking up

Monday, January 9, 2012
Namthong Hotel, Chiang Rai

It was the perfect scene in one of those artsy independent-type movies. There I sat, wide-awake at 7:30 in the morning, staring off towards the rice fields neighboring the hotel’s dinning hall. The last traces of night wandered the streets as a gentle mist. A boy who looked to be in his early twenties, although let us assume him a teenager given the circumstances of it being Asia, made me some toast and then proceeded to burying his face in his red sweatshirt, perhaps trying to win back some sleep that his early-morning job demanded. My jetlag from the previous days’ travels had been somewhat thwarted by approximately 18 hours of uninterrupted sleep; however I do vaguely remember waking up at around 9pm, looking out my window, and wondering where the sun had disappeared to.

I was in Thailand. My brain tried to wrap itself around the sudden realization. Less than a week ago I was curled up in my fiancé’s arms in chilly-but-charming Minnesota. And now Thailand; a country where the only two things I knew how to say were “Thank you” and “Hello” –and even then I often got the two confused. I prayed over the hotel, the team, my families, and the people of Thailand as I waited for breakfast to be served. I turned my attention again to the boy, who was now walking around the drink bar waving an electric tennis racket in hopes to shock and destroy as many mosquitoes possible. I still felt like I had been thrown into a bizarre dream. But for some reason I wasn’t ready to wake up.

from the suitcase of a weary traveler

2:30am Suvarnabhumia Airport, Bangkok, Thailand

My fingers are a bit jittery as I type this. It appears my body doesn’t know how to respond to the rush of caffeine I subjected it to an hour ago. My laptop is having trouble finding the wifi connection I recently purchased. I knew $12 for a month of service was too good to be true. And yet I feel so trendy typing on my Apple computer atop my suitcase; earphones plugged into the latest Dying Midwestern tracks. This drummer is amazing. I wonder who he is? Vocals and guitars are just as well. The top of my head feels light and I’m just waiting for that “hit-the-wall moment” where my eyelids win over the adrenaline from traveling. Only 2 more hours before I can check in and get to my plane bound for Chiang Rai. It’s been close to 24 hours of traveling since I left my home in Hawaii. I’ve had my share of airplane food, in-flight movies, and security checks. No, I do not have any explosives, dangerous liquids, or knives in my possession.

Wow, this is starting to be quite the disheartening blog. Just know that the purpose of this blog is not to depress you; rather, to take you from your computer screen in your living room and place you smack-dab in the center of my thoughts. None of this chronological “Dear Diary, today I did this…” stuff anymore. I want you to feel like you’re here with me, thinking my thoughts and sharing in my experiences here for the next 5 weeks…and who knows? Maybe more 😉

So why subject myself to the prison of flight? It’s simple. When it comes down to it, I’m here for the people of Thailand. It’s my mission for the next 5 weeks to love them into the Kingdom of God. I’m a Christian, you see, and what that means is I believe in a God who loves me and desires to have a relationship with me. Despite my imperfections and screw-ups, He still loves me and in fact sent His son Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for my actions. He died and came back to life so that I wouldn’t have to ever experience eternal separation from God. It’s because of Him that I’m here today and that’s why I’ve come to Thailand: To let everyone here know how much they are loved; that they are not alone in this world; that there is a reason to life, much more than eating, sleeping, and working from day to day.

And so I sit here in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumia Airport, head a bit heavy now and relying on my trusty Mac with just 2 hours of battery life left to get me through. Underneath the yearnings for a shower, my international halitosis, and exhaustion lies a girl ready to go out and love on the people of Thailand. Let the adventure begin!