I might as well admit this right up front: I have no idea how to accomplish this. In fact, I’m sure at least some people will find me obnoxious and insufferable — as well as even more bewildering and weird than usual — upon my soon return home, and that I will come across in those ways for a number of reasons. So I might as well warn everyone and apologize in advance.
It’s the little things. I now want to wear my Thai pants everywhere, having decided they are the most brilliantly comfortable garments known to humankind. I want to greet everyone in the traditional Thai manner. I want to torment all my friends and relations with endless pictures and stories. I want to eat rice at every meal. (To answer your inevitable question, didn’t I get my fill of the food while in Thailand? — it seems not. Even now, before leaving, I am planning which Thai restaurants to check out back home.)
Don’t bother complaining about traffic around me, because I will only laugh and tell you, “This is nothing!” Same thing with the heat. Periodically, I will chuckle for no apparent reason or, even worse, exclaim something oddly random like “Star egg!” in my poor version of a Thai accent…and then laugh my head off at what will make no sense to you. Unfortunately, any attempt at explanation won’t help much.
It’s also the big things. For a while at least, I will have little or no patience for “first world problems” — neither mine nor anyone else’s. I’m going to feel strangely in and out of American culture, part yet not part, having again stepped outside of it for a bit. But there is more, much more…
If you are one of those men who think it’s “cute” or “funny” to objectify women, or who tries to claim that “men are just wired that way”, I have even less sympathy for your attitude than ever before. I’ve seen the end result of that mindset, walking down the streets of Pattaya. You may not be there, thinking that your money gives you the right to use and abuse women, but if you treat sex like a commodity, if you value women based on how their appearance and actions make you feel or how well they meet your “needs”, if you blame women for your own lust, if you feel so entitled that you think women are “defrauding” you by not fulfilling your desires, if you complain that your wife falls short of your sexual expectations or doesn’t fulfill your fantasies — in short, if you view women as anything less than God’s image bearers who are fully your equals — your attitude is, to put it bluntly, sinful and ugly. You may bristle at what I’m saying, but the sad truth is that you are at least somewhat sexually broken, even if you think you have never acted out. The good news is that Jesus died for broken people…like you…like me…like most if not all of us…but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that it’s ok to view women as anything less than who God created us to be.
If you are someone close to me, you might be baffled, or even dismayed, that I now care so deeply for mysterious people halfway across the world, people I hadn’t even met two weeks ago, people literally foreign to you. You might not understand why I weep over them and pray for them, or why I can’t describe what makes them so special to me. I will tell you stories, but my words will not do these people justice. I will show you pictures, but you will not see what I see. I can’t explain. I’m sorry.
To you, Thailand may be just a place, a country. Perhaps you’ve even visited there. But, as I wrote these words, I’m in a van headed for Bangkok. I’m fighting tears because I just left a huge chunk of my heart behind in Pattaya. Tomorrow I will board a plane, and it will feel like I’m watching another chunk of my heart fall to the ground as we take off. I thought the piece I left behind in Haiti over 25 years ago was a big deal, but it was only a sliver compared to this.
I am already planning my return trip. I want to leave yet more pieces of my heart behind next time, while at the same time filling my heart back up. I want to water the land with my tears. I want to hug the people I’ve learned to love. I want to hold women close in my arms and pray over them with every ounce of my being, full of joy and sorrow and hope and pain and the love of Jesus.
Then there is something that I hope the people who mean the most to me will not find obnoxious at all.
This morning I stood up in a meeting and told the workers assembled there that I didn’t want to be one of those people who goes on a short term missions trip and then returns home, pats herself on the back, acts all self-righteous, and goes back to life as usual.
Even before I left for Thailand, I was feeling restless…to be frank, I’m bored stiff with nominal Christianity. Being in Thailand only made things worse or, as I would prefer to think, better. I have no more desire for same old, same old — not when I’ve seen powerful answers to prayer, lives transformed, and God at work. I want to live life back home with my heart wide open. I want to be Jesus’ hands and feet wherever I go. I want to find out what God is doing, and get in on the action. It’s a lot easier to do that in a foreign land, with a wonderful team of great people working and praying with you, without the distractions of everyday life. It will be a different matter back home. My attempts to find a way to make a difference, to live a life that matters, to walk out God’s purposes for me — I’m not expecting that to go smoothly, without mess or mishap. Knowing me, there will be plenty of bumbling about, stumbling and falling. Some of my floundering may come across as obnoxious or weird…even more so than usual. I apologize in advance.
So, yes…I want to wear my Thailand pants everywhere. But, far more than that, I want to wear my Thailand heart. On my sleeve, if need be, for all the world to see. And I want Jesus to keep on changing that heart of mine, until it becomes more like His.