It is amazing how quickly something that was at first strikingly foreign can become familiar. When you first walk the streets around Saint Andrew’s Chiang Mai, your senses are assaulted by the sights and smells of a culture very different than ours. The air is filled with the scents emanating from roadside eateries. The smell of grilled meats and stir-fried noodles mixes with incense from shrines and spirit houses, exhaust from scooters, and the smell of trees and flowers. Your ears are filled with the sounds of passing cars and motorbikes, people speaking a language that has 5 different tones for pronunciation, the national anthem played over loudspeakers twice daily, and with birdsong. Your eyes are flooded with the bright colors of flowers and traditional Thai weaving, the sight of a family of 4 on a scooter, food being prepared in front of countless shops, and the distinctive orange of a monk’s robes. It is a lot to take in.
Our family had the opportunity to spend the first 3 weeks of January in Northern Thailand leading the 6-person team from Ascension as well as our Agape Year Fellows. Within a few days our minds and bodies acclimated to the once foreign sights, sounds, and smells and we were able to see beyond the cultural differences to the great spiritual need that exists in Thailand. Walking past the shrines and spirit houses that dot the neighborhood, you are struck by the hopelessness and spiritual uncertainty that is so pervasive in Thailand. Visiting a temple allows you to see past the beautiful architecture to the fear that the Thai people feel so deeply. And when you talk to Christians in Chiang Mai, you hear their stories of finding freedom from the system of luck, black magic, and earning merits that held them in bondage.
One of the truths of who God is that kept coming back to me during our time in Chiang Mai was that our God is a God who desires to be known. When you see the gods of Thailand, the idols, the art, you see something that is other, something so unknowable. As we walked the streets of the city and sat with its residents, I kept thinking about how meaningful it was that we were there during the church seasons of Christmastide and Epiphanytide. In these seasons of the church calendar we celebrate the reality of the God with us, the God who took on flesh and walked amongst us, and the God who reveals himself to the whole world.
In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul tells the people of Athens that what they were content to worship as unknown desires in fact to be known, to be close to His people. It is not hard to see god as unknowable in Chiang Mai. The golden idols and sculptures that you see on a daily basis do not depict God drawing all people unto Himself. They do not show Him in whom we live and move and have our being.
What a joy it was to be in that place with our partners at Saint Andrew’s who daily proclaim the truth of Emmanuel, God with us. Thank you for your prayers and support as we walked with our Fellows through the challenges of culture shock to help them see how God is at work in Thailand, drawing a family together out of every tribe, tongue, and nation.