It is often said, “God works in mysterious ways,” however the fruits of His baffling performances are rarely celebrated. When a handful of young women are told to travel to Thailand – by Him and for Him, yet each with their own assumed expectations – none of them could have predicted the life-altering events that would occur over a single month, much less the reason for it all.
From this group of young women, three particular individuals provide their stories: Bristol, Morgan, and Sarah. Far from coincidence, it is because of Bristol and Morgan that Sarah even considered the idea of Thailand one worth entertaining.
Upon arrival in Thailand, each landing in Bangkok, Bristol and Morgan continued on to Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai, Pua, Mae Charim, and Laos. As nursing students, both had an itinerary full of health assessments and more health assessments and spent their time working in a group home environment while building relationships with sponsored children.
Brokenness surrounded them; children of all ages endured HIV/AIDS, abandonment, sex trafficking and prostitution, and the loss of parents. Self-worth and the concept of value were incomprehensible; several of these young individual’s identities had been stripped from them and replaced with a brainwashing that convinced them they were objects worth nothing but a small sum of money. This triggered an intense response from both Morgan and Bristol, who argues:
“People always want to talk about abortion and how a human in the womb is still a human being so we should not murder it. Well, what about the young girls and women who die in human trafficking every year, while being treated like objects or animals. They are human beings as well and they need to be talked about, fought for, rescued and loved just as those babies in the womb.”
On the subject of value, Sarah witnessed other evils involved in the twisting of self-perception. Although Sarah spent most of her time in the city of Bangkok for a communications internship, the dynamics of the sexually loose Thai culture and the similarly catch-22 taboos were illuminated for Sarah in her assignments.
An unending cycle of brokenness seems to be the story for 90+% of the families. The children are born out of wedlock and grow up within a broken family, knowing only that their mother or father did not find them worthwhile enough to raise and therefore neither to love, ultimately providing a broken gauge to the child’s assumed self-worth. As a result, Sarah says:
“These children grow up with false presumptions, the issue of sex remains a traditional taboo within the family unit, direction on the issues of sex and responsibility are misguided, the kids act on their sexual urges as they come, young teenagers bear babies out of wedlock, and so the cycle of brokenness continues.”
Where is God in all of this?
It is an easy question to ask as well as a natural response. The Buddhist nation seems a sexual paradise for those with no reason to ignore the desires of their flesh, and the desires of the flesh in Thailand and the rest of the world are rampant. So, Where is God? What is He doing? Who is He changing?
The answer: People.
People like Morgan, and Bristol, and Sarah. People like Pastor Ed, and Jim and Judy Larson. People like the redeemed men, women, and children of Thailand who have been introduced to the Gospel by those brave enough to bring it.
When it comes to Pastor Ed — a valuable volunteer in God’s great plans and the one responsible for giant dreams and gigantic successes yet humble in heart — both Bristol and Morgan fumbled for the right words in describing a person who cannot be described. Both agreed Pastor Ed changed their lives just by allowing them to see his faith. From being forced into a monastery to quitting and becoming a street fighter, Ed one day accepted Jesus and decided to go to Bible school where, on his way to solo ministry (or so he hoped), God introduced him to his wife, Fang. She was HIV positive, but God insisted Ed marry her. The short version of their story includes Fang and Ed having a daughter born HIV positive, yet Ed remains HIV negative to this day. With a long list of future plans, Ed has saved many lives and brought the Gospel to those lives fearlessly enough to enable saved souls and therefore changed lives.
Jim & Judy Larson
Just receiving an email response from Jim Larson, Sarah realizes now, was a miracle in itself. The founder of the organization Servant Works (and therefore ever-busy husband/dad/director/manager) has a full every-day with a recovery center, jewelry business, prevention program, and outreach agenda. The man never took a break from God’s work, intentionally loving these women through servanthood and respect — a great contrast from the typical pursuits of desire the women receive. Sarah explains,
“Servant Works showed me what it means to love like Jesus. True Love does not ride in to rescue the victim and vanquish the oppressor. It enters quietly, works slowly and persistently.”
Each of the young women had significant and life-altering trips. The influential people, the unforgettable experiences, the transforming testimonies – all are instrumental in shaping character, and for good reason. The truly impressing lessons, however, derive not from mere experiences but are those learned as a result of each woman’s own presumed expectations or mindset. God had been ready to use them all along, but He only did so once they allowed Him to.
Sarah knew she wanted to be used by God, she simply did not know how to say, “I volunteer,” and then actually act upon it. Once Thailand came into view, she finally felt obedient and that is all. Literally, “all.” Nothing else aside from flight itineraries and stocking up on chocolate went through her head; she had no expectations, funds were raised easily, and even when she tried to imagine what it would be like she drew a blank. As a result, her trip “was incredible. It was full of genuine people, and funny language barriers, and pure love, and real redemption.” She recognized that even within lifestyles that seem degrading or depressing or miserable, people find happiness in genuine relationships with one another. “Even when Satan comes to steal value, kill joy, and destroy relationships, God is bigger and He works in Love to bring only goodness out of it. He makes it look like He made it all happen for a reason, because He is that awesome at what He does.”
Morgan had struggled the previous school semester with doubt and complacency. She walked the unstable line of decision between taking her spirituality seriously and putting her entire heart in finding the passion Jesus has for her…or not. Saying “Yes” to Thailand terrified her, and even the first days of the trip proved an obstacle to overcome as vulnerability was a difficult thing for her to embrace. However, she did, and in allowing God to work in her, she allowed Him to shape her mind, her heart, her outlook, and her life. She explains,
“I think something I learned that has impacted me the most is that complacency can ruin relationships in all aspects and areas of your life. If you become complacent in the way things are, you will miss out on all of the incredible things that come with vulnerability.”
Bristol went into Thailand with the question of whether or not she could stay there long-term as a missionary. She’d spent some time in Kenya, but wanted to experience more of what God had to offer (so why not travel with her best friend to Thailand for a month, right?). With good intentions and an open mind, Bristol hoped for God to make her trip a clarifying journey in her quest to better understand His desire for her life. Her actual takeaway, fortunately, was even more than that. Much more, actually. She learned that “being a Christian is not about trying to live a morally correct life.” The Thai Christians preached the Gospel no matter how offensive, and as a result provided Bristol with the realization that
“being a Christian relies completely on whether we choose Jesus over everything else every single day.”
For these young women, Thailand was an answer to prayers. Whether spoken or silently resting on hearts, said by themselves or said by others, Thailand was an opportunity to which they responded, “Yes, I volunteer.”
Through God’s mysterious ways, many lives were impacted. Through God’s mysterious ways, it is easy to see how good He is in our personal lives and imagine it is all for us because He loves us. The purpose, in fact, is not for us to live full lives or tell great tales or see great things or even change lives ourselves – the purpose is to glorify Him. Through His mysterious ways, we are loved enough to be given chances, challenges, and make changes. What an Awesome God we volunteer for. What an Amazing Almighty we live for.