Pics from Chiang Mai Trip

Garden of Eden girlsI’ve posted an album on my Facebook if you’re interested in seeing snapshots from my 2 weeks in the Hmong villages of Northern Thailand and our Remember Nhu home. If you don’t have Facebook, click here:


Up in the Hmong villages

Just some highlights of my last week in the Hmong hilltribe villages…
-So my first experience in a Hmong village was Saytip’s village. Saytip and Ja travelled with Debbie and I throughout the week, because their ministry is among the villages we were going to ‘survey’ for an upcoming trip in Feb for a doctor team coming to do clinics in all 7 villages. We travelled about 2000 miles through the mountains of northern and northeast thailand. I’d never been out in the middle of nowhere like that before for so long. It was an amazing trip of many ‘firsts’, including almost falling off a mountainside.

So, the first village we stayed with a Hmong family ofcourse, which was incredibly interesting because of the family dynamics. The mom and dad had 4 daughters. Well, in Hmong families, you must have a son to carry on the family name. So about 7 years ago, the dad took a young wife to try for a boy. He must be in his 60s. Atleast he looks that old. Anyhow… he now has a 7 yr old daughter and 3 yr old son with the new wife. Their houses are next to each other and they share a bathroom/kitchen area. The father goes back and forth apparently. Yeh, it was really awkward… but part of Hmong life in the villages. The first night I saw that in the villages they are really poor and live on rice and vegetables… I had heard about the hilltribe poverty in the mountains, but to see it up close and spend time there is totally different. Hardly any meat or protein, unless their villages are near jungle areas where they grow fruit trees. Oh, one of the daughters… When she was a teenager, a man came into her home and raped her. She got pregnant and they sent the baby away to a home for orphans because they didn’t have money to keep the baby. They haven’t had money to bring the child back. She is a very broken woman. She’s so far behind in her years that I thought she was retarded when I met her. She’s like a 12 year old stuck in a woman’s body. The unfairness of life began to sink in the first night with the Hmong.
-The food… not bad. Hmong like really bland foods, which is good cuz it won’t burn your tongue off, but bad cuz it has absolutely no flavor. We ate mainly veggies and rice all week. We had bamboo (which I really like and now know how to cook), tofu in eggs (not a big fan), durian (a fruit that looks and smells horrid, but wasn’t so bad), hmong sweets made with grated corn, hmong corn (which is the best i’ve ever had… it’s kinda like sticky rice, but in corn form), and water buffalo (not too bad). I passed on the ‘grubs’.
-My name. OK, so ‘stefanie’ is really hard for thai to say because they don’t have anything in thai for the ‘st’ sound. The Hmong girls we travelled with were doing well at saying my name, until one night one of them slipped up the 2nd day and out came ‘spaghetti’. Needless to say, that became my name the next 2 days. Then as we were laying down for bed (yeh we all slept together all week) She said, “Do you mind if i call you spaghetti?” I said ‘no, that’s ok’. then she asked what my name meant. When i told her it meant “crowned with victory”, she said, “OK. I think of Hmong name for you.” A couple minutes later she say, “Gow Shang”… every Hmong knows her. She was a famous princess who was a ‘fighter’ and ‘warrior’ and not afraid of anything. So every Hmong person we met and every village we went after that night, she introduced me as “Gao Shang” which ofcourse brought lots of laughs. She says Gao Shang probably looked like me too, because before the Chinese wanted to exterminate the Hmong race and forced them to mix, the Hmong were fair skinned and some even had light eyes and hair. I didn’t believe her until I saw a little girl in one of the villages with long curly blonde hair. I saw a few children like that… some Hmong still carry the lighter features. Fascinating. So, I’m the Hmong princess. 🙂 that was cool. they also called me “nong” which means little sister.
-the beauty as we travelled through the mountains was breath-taking… so beautiful it didn’t even seem real. I’ll show you pics and video as soon as I get them on my computer next weekend.
-We went to one village with an intern from the bible school in bangkok. when i met him, he looked at me strange, like i had 2 heads. The next day, he told us that a few days before, he had a dream that foreigners came to his village and he saw my face. I thought that was so cool. In the villages we went, none of them knew we were coming, b/c none of them have cell/phone service. That’s why we had to go to all those villages, to get permission and make plans for the clinic team coming in Feb. I feel like God is going to do more ‘dreams’ like this in the future.
-The girls at the home here at wonderful. Maam and Thon are amazing house parents… I haven’t been to the other girls home yet. Maybe tomorrow! The land is beautiful and has so much potential! Last night the youngest of the girls (8) is such a cutie. She has enough personality for all of them! She taught me how to pick the leaves off the branches that we were eating for dinner… and later taught me how to scrub the plates for her to wash. I thought the whole scene was hilarious. We went swimming yesterday at a local resort (they go once a month) and she had always waded in the ‘baby pool’. I encouraged her a lot to come over to the big pool cuz i thought she could stand. It was so awesome to see the look on her face when i helped her get in and she could touch! Fearless little leader… she walked the ledge around the whole pool a couple of times. 🙂  I see it as a picture of what God will do with many, many girls in the future… taking them to deeper waters in His love and mercy.
Guess that’s all for now. I’m looking forward to showing you pictures later this week! 🙂

"But we shall have to be stranded on some island" -Paul

Acts 27-28. The “shipwreck” account. I’ve read this story too many times to be counted, yet it never really meant anything to me until now.

Do you feel shipwrecked, or like you  might be? If you’re anything like me, you may want to read about Paul’s experience, too. Just some thoughts that came together this morning as I’ve been pondering this account the past couple of days…

I see God’s fingerprints all over this account. It may seem to anyone else that it was a detour from what God ‘really wanted Paul to do’. I don’t think so. I think it WAS what God wanted Paul to experience, all of it. From my finite point of view, even I can see many purposes in this experience from the birds eye view.

1- God had to do this for all the men on board to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He had to do it for them to know if they wanted to be saved, they had to believe and obey Paul. The same Paul that was put on the ship with multiple other prisoners and guarded by many soldiers to make sure they all get to Rome to be judged.

2- The situation enabled Paul to “lose all hope” so that an angel could come, stand by his side, encourage his hopeless heart, and give a promise of safety as well as prophecy for what was to come, that he “must stand before Ceasar” in Rome. Basically, “My son, this is all part of the plan. Embrace it. You’re going to get through it, just hold on tight.” After that revelation, Paul shared it with the men on board, introducing them to the “God of whom I belong, worship, and serve”.

3- They had to experience the “NorthEaster” storm so they would be shipwrecked, so they would be stranded on the island for 3 months (yeh, that sure does seem like a long time to be stranded when you’re trying to get somewhere else… think of how frustrated you get when your car breaks down for a couple hours… what if your car broke down in the middle of no where for 3 months until someone found you?). But it was all part of the plan, because God longed to reveal Himself to the natives on this random island (I wonder who prayed and asked “God” to reveal Himself if he was real?). The snake incident was proof of Paul’s relationship with divinity, as was the healing of the chief’s father, which led to many more healings and salvations.

4- It took so long for Paul to reach Rome to face the ‘angry Jews that wanted to kill him’, that by the time he reached Rome, God had reversed the situation in his favor. He arrived and began to defend himself when the Jews interjected, “What? We don’t know anything about that, we haven’t heard a single bad word about you. In fact, we’re anxious to hear what you believe. Please tell us!” I sure wish I could’ve seen the look on Paul’s face when they said that! He thought he was journeying as a prisoner toward a death sentence by the Jews. So he shared, from the Law of Moses and the Prophets, concerning the Kingdom of God and Jesus.

This whole account is fascinating… and to think what would have NOT occured had they given up all hope in the storm. You opened a door for Paul in Rome that never really ‘should have happened’. And it’s left open as to how it went when Paul stood before Ceasar (the whole reason he went to Rome in the first place!) or how that went.

Mark 4.35-41. “Jesus calms the storm”. You know that one. I read this and my first reaction is, “how could the disciples yell at him, “Don’t you CARE that we’re perishing!?” Jesus could have replied in so many ways. After all, the reason he came to this place is because he DOES CARE.

And yet, a few weeks ago, I called out those same words to Him. I accused Him of the same. And while I know that you do, I felt like you didn’t. We’ve all been there.

And Paul, perhaps he was thinking of calling out the same… maybe he did.  Oh, if only his prayer was recorded before that angel appeared to him. All we know is that they ALL had given up hope, including Paul. He was in a place he’d never been before, or ever imagined he would be.

Back to the boat with Jesus… ya know, the one being tossed around like a dead fish in a hurricane… perhaps Jesus was just waiting for his disciples to confess what they really felt at that moment. Finally, it came out. I wonder who finally said it. It takes a lot to push a child of God to the edge like that, ya know, to just let it loose on the Son of God like that.

The lack of faith, is what Jesus called it. It always produces fear. Fear that I’ve been abandoned. Fear that I’ve done something to cause him to leave me. Fear that He isn’t speaking. Fear that He won’t intervene. Fear that he doesn’t even care about me anymore.

And Jesus calls out, “Child, no matter what it feels like, no matter how all hope seems lost, no matter what kind of hurricane you find yourself in… it doesn’t change our relationship and it cannot shake your faith in Me. And until you get that, the hurricanes must come. I love you too much to let you base your faith on calm waters and beautiful sunsets. You must know that I am who I am when the waters rise, the mountains fall, the flames surround you, and the storms cause your boat to fill up with water when you think I’m sleeping. I care too much for you to base your faith on external circumstances, so I must show you through the circumstances Who I am.”

of idols and offerings

There’s a sweet older couple that has opened a coffee shop (one of my favorite places) down the street. The man is so kind and gracious, putting up with my staggering Thai or Thai-glish for conversation purposes. Last week I had one of the most interesting and awkward experiences of my life. I want to write about it, because it poses a question for each one of us.

This older man often gives me something to taste at the coffee shop. This particular, he wanted to give me a fruit native to Thailand. I had never seen it nor tried it. He was excited to be the one to introduce it to me. He volunteered to cut it open and slice it up for me. I waited. With a look of sadness, he showed me that it was rotten inside and I couldn’t try that one. Before I knew it, he was turning around behind the counter and respectfully giving a “wai” to the idol on the stand above him, and took the fruit from the stand. It was the same kind of fruit. Before I know it, he’s cutting it up for me. I very quickly went through the scriptures in my mind about food sacrificed to idols, and I quickly prayed before he brought it over to me.

The man soon told me that most Thai people don’t like this fruit. It was quite bitter. Imagine a bitter pear.

The next thought that came into my mind was two-fold: First, why did he take back the offering he gave to this idol, as if it was his to take back. Second, why would he offer something to this idol that costs him nothing, seeing as how he didn’t even like the fruit he offered.

Then it seemed that God turned that question around to me.

“Stef, don’t you remember doing the same… offering me something that costs you nothing? Don’t you remember singing songs to Me as if that’s what I wanted, knowing full well that obedience is what I was asking for? And don’t you remember giving me something, or someone, only to take it back again, right out of my hands?”

Just some thoughts on our offerings to the Living God.

Then tonight I was invited by this family (from the coffee shop) to go with them to observe how Thais celebrate the beginning of Buddhist lent today. It’s the day they commemorate the day buddha became ‘enlightened’. It’s also the day that many young man throughout Thailand enter monkhood for the three month lent season.

I was quite surprised by one thing I saw, as I observed the happenings at the temple. In the picture below, you see a young man in a white t-shirt. He is offering incense, prayers, and a lotus flower to whichever of the millions of gods in buddhism he has chosen. As I took his picture, I noticed his necklace. It is a cross necklace. Just like you would see a teenage boy wearing in the states. And though I’m sure this young man has never heard the name Jesus (atleast in context of being the Son of God), I saw a picture of the Church in this young man.

How many times do we wear our Christian ‘labels’, whether it be a cross or a t-shirt or a bracelet or earrings, as we make our offerings at another altar. We wear the right stuff as we serve our own appetites, desires, lusts, greed, selfishness, pride. I say ‘we’ because I know I’ve done it, more times than I can count. As sad as it was to watch that young man make his offering at the altar of a god that can neither see or hear him while he ignorantly wears a cross around his neck, the symbol of the only One who can save Him or hear his prayer… it’s just as sad when one of God’s children knows what that cross means and still bows at the altar of another.

And I read through the Old Testament, and how the Kings of Israel and Judah set up horrific altars to worship created things, and then I read about how ruthless King Josiah dealt with all those altars his forefathers set up… and I see in that God-fearing king a fear that so many of God’s children lack. Something that I so often lack. Godly fear. Without it, we make a god in our own image, and worship and serve created things rather than the Creator. Then we are the ones wearing the cross around our necks standing at an altar that will soon crumble.