Called to a life-giving ministry

Markets in Thailand are not my favorite places to be. But I do like the interesting people I sometimes meet there. I took a couple friends to a market up in Chiang Mai last week. It was a market for hilltribes people to come and sell their goods. Really incredible stuff. And beautiful people. I’m always attracted to the art, because it helps me see life as they do. I found a table with scattered sketches on top one another. They were really good sketches, and all were sketches of people. I was intrigued. I knew I was going to buy one, but nothing was catching my eye yet. I curiously asked the Artist if he sketched them all or someone else. Usually there are various people working on making the goods while someone ‘mans the table’. This was definitely THE Artist, no doubt. He shared a bit of his story, and I shared some of mine. He was a beautiful person who made a living through his sketching. There must have been 50 different sketches scattered on his table. I enjoyed flipping through, seeing how he saw his world and the people in it.

Side-note: One of my favorite ‘famous’ pictures was taken of an Afghan refugee girl at a refugee camp in Pakistan. “The award-winning photographer said his original image of Sharbat had seized the imagination of so many people around the world because her face, particularly her eyes, expressed pain and resilience as well as strength and beauty.”

This was one of the man’s sketches on the table in the market. Yet, as good as the sketches were, they just didn’t attract me, which felt strange because I had always wanted that photograph, and here it was hand sketched with color. I flipped and flipped through his sketches, and finally my eyes landed on the one I was to take home, to be a constant reminder of why I am in Asia:

The eyes of both girls are powerful. There is a story there. And there is a real girl behind each of them. In the first girl, I see fragile beauty, need, guardedness, fear, a cry for help out of darkness. The second girl, I see her outward fragile beauty along with an inner divine beauty shining forth out of her eyes… I see a girl still robed in the darkness of her culture and situation, yet being filled with an attractive beauty of the divine within. No one can take a quick look into her eyes… there is something different there, and you have to stop, look deeper within her eyes, and find out what is different. Her eyes are filled with peace, hope, freedom… yet still rather fragile.

These two sketches in one remind me of why I am here. Sketched by a Thai man just for me, I believe.

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A Buddhist christmas.

Without all the Holiday jazz attached to the Christmas season this year (for the first time in my life), I hate how the ‘lack of Holiday jazz” makes it not feel like Christmas. I was honestly looking forward to a year without commercialism of the Holiday that changed the world. I was looking forward to getting back to the basics, without all the distractions. It’s harder than I imagined. I guess I’ve grown rather dependent upon the snowflakes, bells and holly, Christmas cheer, department store madness, pointless songs in coffee shops about Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and being good. Funny how we become dependent upon the things we are used to, even if it distracts us from the one thing we ought to fix our hearts upon.

Living in a country with only a bit of scattered light makes for a different Christmas experience. It strips away everything that ‘decorated’ Christmas for me before. Everything that dressed it up in red and green or bells , bows, and wreaths. I’m not sure what this Christmas will be like. Although I do know it will ‘feel’ different than any other. And I don’t just mean because it’s hot in Thailand. I’ve never been away from family or home for Christmas. Always being with my family for the celebration of Christmas felt like a family celebration. It always was. I always looked forward to it. But I wonder if, in our hearts and by the things that consume our time, if it’s possible for family to become the reason for Christmas. We confess the ‘reason for the season’… but is it really about our family and those we love most, or is it really, genuinely, truly about the One who was born as one of us to save us? I’m not accusing… just asking questions to my own spirit as I experience my first Christmas without family.

I was quite surprised a few weeks ago when the malls here in Bangkok set up winter wonderland Christmas-y scenes and decor. There are enormous snowflakes that light up beautifully at night. There are humongous Christmas trees made of plastic with lights. There are tiny green Christmas trees in smaller professional business places, decorated with lights and presents under the tree. The trees sit right next to the wall with white paint that a monk once blessed the business location with when it opened, inviting the spirits who own the property to protect and bless it.

And so I walk around Bangkok, surrounded by all the commercialism, knowing full well that the only meaning it has for the Thai is “Winter happiness”. They don’t know why American’s celebrate Christmas. Most of them don’t even know it has anything to do with Christianity. It’s just a piece of Western culture they want to get in on. It’s really strange, ya know. It’s a form of Christmas devoid of any meaning for which it began. And I think, wow, America has really succeeded at influencing the other side of the world with the holiday season. And I ¬†just want to cry because the influence is snowflakes, Christmas trees, lights, presents, parties, and winter wonderlands. I can’t be completely negative though, but it does open a door for believers to share the meaning behind it all. The message still hasn’t reached the ears and hearts of the Thai that this Son of God was born in a real place at a real time in history, to show them who God is.

Please pray with me for the Son of God to be born in the hearts of the Thai.