“Nung-roi-nung (101). Nung-roi-song (102). Nung-roi-saam (103). Nung-roi-sea (104). Nung-roi-haa (105). Nung-roi-hog (106)…” As the sound of my tired voice practicing Thai numbers fills my room, I have to laugh. I sound like a kindergartener learning how to count. We recently had our first real Thai lesson and, let me tell you, I have a lot to learn. Writing, reading, and speaking numbers in Thai took all of my energy so that after the hour lesson was finished, my brain was literally throbbing. And that was just numbers; I haven’t even mastered any basic phrases yet! Every word in Thai has one of 5 tones – middle, low, low-going-up, high-coming-down, and high-low-high. (It’s easier to understand with arrows.) Trying to say the number 9999 is like a roller coaster for your voice. “GAO-pan-GAO-roiii-GAO-sib-GAO.” It’s exhausting. And really hard on my vocal chords. I’d rather sing Movement 5 from Vivaldi’s Gloria. (Look it up if you’re not familiar with it. It’s a struggle.) But as difficult as this language is for me, I want to know more. I want to fight the battle and emerge victorious. I want to put on my resume that I am capable of speaking a language that will probably never come in handy in the states, but will definitely show that I’m a well-rounded person. I want to be able to live independently here in Thailand. Most importantly, I want to be able to connect with Thai people. Communication is so important if I ever want to reach out to the people here. It’s more than just a desire to be able to order my own food at a local restaurant, or to ask a store clerk where to find such-and-such, or even just to ask people what their name is; communication means a doorway to friendship, a pathway to deeper conversations, and ultimately, the possibility of a heart won for God. So, you know what, I will fight this battle. I will learn this language. I will communicate with locals in their own language.
But you’re only going to be here for one year.
That thought stops me cold. I only have 9 months and 24 days left to make an impact on this community, only 9 months and 24 days to master this tongue-twisting language, only 9 months and 24 days to make friends with locals, teach my students the joys of music, help the Khon Kaen church develop their out-reach ministries, learn how to cook Thai food for real, travel to other parts of Thailand, buy loads of elephant pants, see real elephants, try all the local (vegetarian) delicacies, visit the ocean… I have such a long list of things I want to do while I’m here, and I’ve barely done any of it. Yes, there are a few touristy things on that list, (maybe more than a few,) but the most important things revolve around spreading the gospel, in any way, shape, or form. I try not to dwell on my departure date because, in reality, it is still quite a ways off, and I have plenty of time to do most if not all of the things on my list. It’s easy to live in the moment and take each day as it comes, but once I think about leaving, I begin to panic, thinking about how long I’ve been here already and how little has been accomplished. I’ve only made friends with two locals, I haven’t been anywhere outside Khon Kaen, I’ve barely explored my own neighborhood, I’m just now learning the language (and I can only speak in numbers), and it’s taken most of my students these full four weeks to finally warm up to me. If I continue at this snail pace, I feel like there will be a lot of checking-off of things on my list crammed into my last few months here.
When I compare my ministry here to Jesus’ ministry on earth, I get a little jealous. He had thirty-three years to study the culture, build relationships, learn the language, totally immerse Himself in every aspect of humanity… Ok, yeah. He was born into the world, so I guess that makes a little bit of a difference. But if you compare His life on earth to His life in heaven, it really was like moving to a foreign country, so being born into it really was the only way for Him to succeed. And I also realize that, though He was among us for thirty-three years, most of His ministry occurred in the last three. However, three is more than one! And He was doing a lot more ministry than I could ever do. During those three years He packed in medical ministry, counseling, teaching, pastoral work, children’s ministries, friendship evangelism, and even food distribution. He was like a missionary on steroids. (Except, you know, I don’t think He was the type that would do drugs.) Why is it, then, that I’m struggling so much with the task I’ve been given? Why is it that I feel like I haven’t made a single dent in this community?
Let me take a step back. I know I’m not Jesus, nor will I ever attempt to reach as many people as He did. It’s not fair to compare my one year of mission work with His three years of mega-ministry. We are called to live by His example, but no one ever said we would be able to do everything He did. I’m part of a mission work that is bigger than me, and I know I’m not doing this alone. But I’ve definitely been feeling a burden for these people, and it’s hard for me to imagine leaving before I have time to make a real impact. If I could spend my whole life here, I don’t think it would ever be enough. I’m just one person, and it’s not up to me to convert all 376,915 people in Khon Kaen. However, Thailand has stolen my heart. I’m 100% committed to doing all I can to reach this city for Jesus. God can use me to reach how every many people He sees fit. Plus, you can’t put a time limit on God. 9 months and 24 days is plenty of time for me to make an impact as long as God’s in control of every minute.