Tuesday, January 25, 2011
In the Land of Smiles
She returned home from the land of smiles smiling. I don't think she ever stopped smiling when she was there - her first missions trip to the orphanage that our church has supported long term and has been sending teams of young people to for many years. She was full of stories of hope and heartache - it was the children 's stories that affected her most. 'Do you realize mum - that they are not all orphans, some of them still have parents?' The word orphan had always conjured up in my mind, a child whose parents have died but as my daughter discovered, many of the children have ended up there as a result of poverty, neglect or abandonment. Some of the stories she told me would move you to tears. Orphanages I had always pictured as institutions - bleak, unlovely places with dormitories and uniform rows of cots where individuality is suppressed. I know these places exist but I wanted to show you this is not always the case. These are the buildings and grounds of the orphanage my daughter worked at. For many this is truly a refuge, the children are well-cared for, they receive schooling but the work goes beyond the meeting of physical and educational needs. It is here they have found out what it means to be accepted and loved - it is a place of hope.
In just two weeks she fell in love with Thailand and the people she had met and served. Teaching English classes, playing games with the children when they returned from school. Participating in church services. Helping deliver food to families in the area who live as outcasts because they have 'Hansen's disease' - you probably know it by its other name - leprosy. Their village is separate to the main village. How many young people would have the opportunity to meet someone with leprosy I wondered. I asked my daughter about this - she was quite matter of fact. She had noticed the deformities, the skin abrasions and the blind eyes but through it all she saw the person and had no fear or reservations about meeting or having close contact with those who live with this debilitating disease. 'They were so happy to see us. They didn't want us to leave after our visit' she told me. One man had burst into tears after the girls had prayed with him. 'To see a grown man cry' she said. An experience she will never forget.
Leaving the orphanage was hard for her. Saying goodbye. Her infectious smile, caring nature and compassionate heart endeared her to many of the children. The sights and sounds of Bangkok where they would spend two nights before flying back to Australia were just a formality. Its just 'another city with lots of people, temples and crazy traffic' she informed me. 'The lights were good though.' Even shopping at the markets for clothes and gifts was another formality and didn't excite her. 'It was much better at the orphanage.' I was now aware that this trip for her had been much more than just a cross-cultural experience which had been one of my concerns about short- term missions trips.
She has renewed vision for what direction her life might take. She is keen to return to Thailand. She has done her research. A certificate in child care will enable her to take up a longer term position at an orphanage. There are no wages of course and she will have to self-fund any future trips. We have found out she can obtain her qualification via correspondence and this is her educational goal for this year. Working out her budget - how much she needs to save to pay for her course. No longer dreaming of being a pastry chef and having people praise her culinary creations. She still loves to bake for people. She discovered that the orphanage had no oven - most food is cooked on the stove top but she wanted to make something sweet for the children. It would have to be a no-bake slice. At the little grocery store in the village they found biscuits - sort of like oreos but not the plain ones she needed so she scraped off the cream and added the condensed milk and jelly lollies. A little improvisation and she had made 'lolly cake' - a sweet treat famous in New Zealand she has introduced her friends in Australia to. The children loved it.
Raising missions-minded children has always been important to me - I want my children to look beyond their own little corner of the world. I want them to know about the world that God loves, to discover what it is like to grow up in a country where life is different, where people value different things. To see how poverty, disease and other circumstances can impact people and how they adapt and survive. To be amazed at how they keep on smiling no matter what they have been through. Learning some important lessons about what really matters in life and to experience first hand, love in action and what happens when others reach out and minister to those who hold a very special place in God's heart, as the Psalmist declares 'A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation.' (Psalm 68.5) Who also proclaims "For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise" says the Lord; "I will set him in the safety for which he yearns." (Psalm 10.5)
I will admit I had some concerns about letting her go but knew that she needed this life experience. I can read stories about missionaries, educate my children about different cultures, support missions and sponsor children from the comfort of our home but there is no substitute for going - this was my own experience of a short term missions trip to Indonesia. Put simply, it opened my eyes. The words of the Keith Green song 'Jesus commands us to go' played over in my mind as I thought about these issues. I do hold some reservations about teen missions trips and I asked the leader lots of questions in regard to supervision of the girls. The trip was well organized with a year of meetings the girls were required to attend. Much prayer went into the trip. There were no problems and the only thing that went wrong was when they arrived back in Australia. Somehow, the team managed to miss their domestic flight home from Sydney. For those of you who may travel to this beautiful country you may find this information quite helpful. Sydney airport has 3 terminals - one international terminal and two domestic terminals. If you are flying internally, be sure to check you are in the right terminal! My daughter had wondered what had happened to McDonalds - it was there when they left! It was still there - in the terminal they should have been in! She didn't think to ask the leaders why their flight had not been called. They discovered the error of their ways with one minute to spare - remember the scene from 'Home Alone?' This was re- enacted as bemused businessmen watched on but they missed their flight. Thankfully, the airline put them on the next flight at no extra charge. An answer to this mum's prayer - 'Bring her home safely Lord' and a reminder that God goes with us wherever we go.
And speaking of airports and traveling. In just one week we will be at Sydney airport awaiting our flight to New Zealand. It's going to be one big adventure - all the family together. The last time their nana saw the twins on her visit to Australia they were this small. She has not yet met her latest grandson. We are all excited but especially the twins who have never been to New Zealand. Try explaining to 5 year olds that they are New Zealanders (by descent) even though they were born in Australia. I'm busy organizing bags, washing clothes and trying to ensure all the perishable food is used up before we leave. I'm not sure if I will have time to post before we leave but as the grandparents do have internet access I may be able to post some pictures during our trip. The beaches await us and fresh fish for dinner each evening. We have been in touch with friends we have not seen for many years thanks to Facebook and hope to meet up with some of them. Hoping for sunshine after all our rain too.
If you don't hear from me for a while don't worry. Will be back soon to tell you all about the country that Oprah didn't visit!
With Love and Joy,