It was a Sabbath unlike any I had ever experienced before, filled with blessings, possible danger, time with God, and strengthening of my faith. No, I didn’t go to church. God decided to meet me in a place far outside the confines of my safe little Adventist bubble.
For months my Thai friend Didty had been begging me to come visit her home town of Chum Phae, and for months I continued to make excuses. Most were legitimate – work, church obligations, traveling – but part of me just didn’t want to go. I’d heard from others on our team who had gone to her home last year that the trip was quite… interesting. “The village she lives in is quite rural, and the ‘waterfall’ that she promised to take us to ended up being a dirty river where locals like to go for a swim. I wouldn’t go there again, it’s not worth it,” said those who had gone before. That didn’t sound like a fun way to spend Sabbath, or any day, really, but eventually I ran out of excuses and decided to make plans to go. I tried to be objective about it, seeing as I’d never been there before, and I figured I could make my own judgments afterwards. Besides, visiting my friend would be a type of evangelism, so in a way I was obligated as a missionary to do all I could to strengthen our friendship, even if it meant swimming in a dirty river and using “squatty-potties” all day.
I didn’t really want to be the only “farang” on this adventure, but despite my begging and pleading, I was the only missionary able or willing to go. However, I did convince my friend Pear and our school director Tone to go with me, so I knew I would be among good company. I might have been the only American in the group, but I decided it would be a good opportunity to step out of my circle of foreigner friends and immerse myself into the Thai culture. We planned to drive there by motorbike, which I was terrified to do, but my adventurous spirit (which is becoming more developed the longer I stay in this country) and my determination to become more like a Thai helped me overcome my fears of driving a motorbike on the highway. Needless to say, I still prayed for safety every minute of our journey. Motorbikes are no match for a semi truck!
The day came, and by 6:30am we were on the road, ready for adventure. Our first stop was at a nearby gas station to fill our tanks before hitting the road, but once we got there, Tone realized he had left his wallet at my house. Pear and I decided to wait at the gas station while he drove back and got it, thinking it would only take him 15-20 minutes. We waited for a few minutes on a bench near our bikes, but then Pear wanted to get a drink so we walked into the 7-Eleven and she made her purchases. Again, not a Sabbath activity I’m used to, but this was not a typical Sabbath. As we waited for Tone, we sat on a different bench and talked about what we would do that day. Pear was quite excited for the adventure, as this was the farthest she’d ever traveled by motorbike. Though we were using my bike, she was the one driving, and thank goodness for that! I don’t think we would have made it if I had to drive the two-and-a-half hours there. As we were talking, Pear suddenly stopped and looked down at the bench.
“Where are the keys?” she asked in a controlled but slightly panicked voice.
“Where did you put them?” I asked. I knew she hadn’t given them to me, but I don’t remember her ever putting them in her bag, either.
“I put them right here on the bench.”
“Are you sure they were on this bench? Maybe you left them on the other bench we were sitting on.” I tried to remember if I had seen them at either of our locations. We walked back to our first spot and looked around. No keys.
“Maybe you dropped them in the store,” I offered. We went back to the 7-Eleven and searched each isle. No keys. Confused and extremely apologetic, Pear begged my forgiveness for misplacing them. I assured her that it was fine, it happens to everyone. I knew I had a spare of every key on that key-ring, but it would be a hassle to get to them seeing as they were locked inside my house, and my house key was on the key-ring she lost. When Pear asked what we should do, I suggested that we pray for guidance. God would help us find them, or at least help us get the replacements. She agreed, so we bowed our heads and prayed.
“Let’s check the security cameras,” she suggested. “When I lost my phone at the night market once, I prayed for God to help me. After checking the security cameras, we found my phone. Maybe we can do that again here.”
It was worth a shot, so off we went, back into the 7-Eleven where I’m sure the cashiers were getting sick of seeing us. Pear explained the situation to the manager and he agreed to go back and look at the video footage for us, but he didn’t want us going with him. As we waited for him to come back, a lady standing in line asked us (in Thai), “Are you looking for your keys?” We answered yes, and asked if she knew where they were. “I saw the cleaning lady pick something up outside the bathroom,” she said. “You should go find her and ask if she’s seen them.” Pear thanked the lady and went off to find the janitor while I waited for news from the store manager. The videos ended up not being helpful, but it turns out that the lady in the check-out line was right – the janitor had our keys!
We were amazed and overjoyed at the way God had answered our prayers. Pear is a rather new Christian, someone I’ve been studying the Bible with for only a couple months now (if you’ve read the recent AFM magazines, you might have seen an article Kyle Tumberg wrote about how those Bible studies started), so I was a bit nervous about praying for the keys knowing that if God didn’t help us find them, it could be faith-shattering for her. However, this ended up being a faith-strengthening moment after all, and I was grateful for the experience.
“God answered my prayer,” she bubbled, “just like He did at the night market! He’s so good!”
I humbly thanked God for listening to her prayer and begged forgiveness for my lack of trust. I know God always answers prayers, but I also know He sometimes doesn’t answer them the way we want Him to. I just didn’t want to get my hopes too high. In that moment though, I felt like I had gotten a serious reprimand from the Almighty. How dare I doubt Him? I vowed to trust in His goodness and prayed for Him to help my unbelief.
Soon after, Tone came back and we were on the road again. A few hours later and with very sore behinds, we arrived at Didty’s house. She was really happy to see us and immediately began offering us food. Her happiness, and the food, immediately made the trip worth it. After we finished eating, we piled into her family’s pick-up truck and headed off to the river. She brought along her sister and 3-year-old niece which made the cab of the truck rather crowded, so Pear and I decided to sit in the back. With wind in our face and sun on our skin, we settled in for another drive – this one being much shorter than our drive to her house, but long enough to enjoy each other’s company and relax in the sun for a bit. Pear is the one Thai person I know who actually enjoys tanning. Most Thai people run away from the sun, but Pear and I were happy to embrace it – with a little sunscreen on of course. (Don’t worry mom, I’m not trying to get skin cancer.)
Half an hour later, we arrived at the river. I was slightly confused by the atmosphere; there were vendors everywhere selling clothes, souvenirs, toys, and food, but everyone there was Thai. Usually I only see those types of vendors in tourist-infested places, but it seems that commercialism reigns, even in the most rural villages. Nevertheless, we had fun exploring the surrounding forest, crossing rickety bridges, and splashing around in the pleasantly cool but disconcertingly muddy waters. It was, like I said, a strange Sabbath to be sure, but I felt at peace in God’s nature and enjoyed spending time with my Thai friends. It was a particularly entertaining moment when Didty’s niece discovered that my name was Anna. She sat there holding a “Frozen” balloon and kept looking back and forth from the picture of the princess to me repeating, “Anna… Anna! Anna… Anna!” Of course, that would be the day I chose to wear two long braids, increasing the similarities between me and the Disney princess. After that discovery, the three-year-old never wanted to leave my side. Though it was through a secular movie that I bonded with this little girl, I almost felt that it was providence. If you ask me, God can use anything to bring people together, and I felt like this was a simple way of helping me grow closer to Didty and her family.
After swimming for a few hours and getting thoroughly chilled (yes, you can get cold in Thailand), we headed off to our next destination – a nearby dam where we would take pictures, eat, and leave. Not terribly exciting, but I loved riding in the back of the truck so I didn’t mind taking another drive. During this drive Pear and I had many meaningful discussions, my favorite one being about heaven. After discussing how there were so many places in the world we wanted to see, I confessed that my desire for traveling had lessened in the past few years as I had begun thinking more and more of how heaven will be so much better than this earth.
“What do you know about heaven?” I asked her.
“Um… It’s a place where you go when you die? I mean, after Jesus comes back, right?” she replied hesitantly.
“Yes, but what do you know ABOUT heaven? Has anyone told you what it’s like?”
She thought for a few moments, then shook her head, “No. Is it like when you don’t feel pain anymore?”
“Well, yes, but there’s so much more to it than that!”
I began explaining what the Bible taught about heaven, how we will live in the New Jerusalem for a thousand years before coming back to Earth where God will make everything new again. Her eyes lit up as she realized this world was not all there was, that this was not the only life she had to live. It was a shock to realize that she had been coming to church for over two years and no one had ever really explained the idea of eternal life to her. That was when I knew I was exactly where I needed to be: in Thailand, in the back of a pick-up truck, on a crazy road-trip adventure that I didn’t want to go on, all so that I could explain the kingdom of heaven to my dear friend Pear. Yes, I was there for Didty too, but in that moment I felt like I was there because God had something He wanted Pear to know, and I was His mouthpiece. It was a humbling experience, but thrilling at the same time.
We had fun taking pictures at the dam, which was located in the midst of a beautiful mountain range, but I couldn’t wait to get back on the road and continue discussing heavenly things with Pear. As we began to drive back to Didty’s house, dark storm clouds began to form all around us, and in the distance you could see heavy rain falling. Having driven through several rainstorms on a motorbike and remembering how unpleasant and dangerous those experiences were, I wasn’t very thrilled about driving 120 km home in a downpour. I think Pear was having similar thoughts because she turned to me and said, “Let’s pray that it doesn’t rain.” She reminded me of how she prayed that prayer once during a huge thunderstorm, and God stopped the rain so that she and her mother could drive safely home. I was a little more hesitant, knowing that I had prayed that prayer before and it had gone unanswered (forgetting, of course, the times when I prayed for the rain to stop and it did), but I told her we could pray and God would certainly listen to her prayer, even if I had doubts about Him answering mine. Even though God had directly answered our prayer just hours before, my faith still wasn’t strong enough to believe that He would answer this one. It seems to me that new Christians often have faith much stronger than those who grew up around generations of passive, lukewarm Adventists who preach the power of prayer but rarely demonstrated it in their own lives. I digress.
So we prayed, and to my amazement, it didn’t rain. At all. Not one drop hit us, though the clouds were dark all around, and the wind was heavy and cold. Even after we packed up our stuff and hit the road again on our motorbikes, it never once began to rain where we were driving. I felt it pressing all around me, and though I continued to pray for the rain to stay away, I couldn’t help but feel like the skies would tear open at any minute, unleashing a violent storm that would be the doom of us poor motor bikers. Oh, me of little faith. We kept chasing blue sky until the sun went down, and at that point the skies cleared and the stars came out. Once we made it home I commented to Pear how God actually answered our prayers about the rain, and she replied, “I knew He would!”
I learned a lesson about trusting God that day, and while I may be teaching Pear more about the Bible, she’s the one teaching me how to have more faith. I’m so grateful that we went on that trip together, and I praise God for how He’s leading in her life and mine. Together, I hope that we continue learning about the God who loves us and who always wants to answer our prayers, if only we have faith.