Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sensory Overload

Sensory overload. That's perhaps the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Bangkok. As a battering ram is to a fortress, so are the sights, sounds and smells of Bangkok to the senses. No subtlety exists. Only extremes on the sensory spectrum.

The pungent odors of street vendors lining every available space.
The gut-wrenching sight of barely-clad beggars with missing limbs and facial features distorted from leprosy, accidents and birth defects.
The acrid smell of pollution-filled skies and resulting sting to the throat and eyes.

The shrines of other gods and the devotion of the masses to their icons.
The shrill whistle of traffic directors and incessant honking of impatient drivers in every conceivable form of transportation.

The saffron gowns of monks among the throngs.

Stifling heat emanating off asphalt roads and wall-to-wall sky-scrapers blocking any possible breeze.

Touching bodies pushing and weaving in an attempt to navigate congested streets.

Terror at the thought of losing a child in the swarm.

The indescribable but inescapable smell of poorly managed sewage.

The ever-present signs of the magnitude and tragedy of the sex-trade industry.

The obvious fact that Jesus is not the God of Thailand.
Sadness that I cannot speak their language to share His love.
Admiration for those who work throughout Asia with unimaginable challenges and little "to show" for their labor of love.
The gravity of the thoughts of what my life could have been like had I been born in Thailand.

The awe I feel that amongst the millions of people on this planet, Jesus called me.

My passionate desire that everyone could know the peace and love found in Jesus' arms.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


After 48 hours with no sleep, our family arrived in Bangkok, Thailand where we spent one night in a local hotel. Before bedding down for the night, Karyn and I walked 45 minutes to a mega-mall. We noticed that we drew very little attention, indicating the very international atmosphere present in Bangkok. We knew we needed to capture this quintessential American fast food restaurant (McDonald's) and the Thai flair they added.

The following morning, we headed 3-1/2 hours southeast to the coast. There we joined over seventy Covenant workers from all over Asia. The Covenant arranged to have a team of helpers from a Covenant church in Alaska come and work with all the
children. The kids are having a blast and the parents are able to relax and fully plug into the conference. Karyn has been helping to lead singing and has really enjoyed working with many extremely talented musicians. (Notice in picture Brad Boydston one of our collleagues at PIBC playing the ukulele). We are so grateful to Covenant World Missions for providing the funds for us to participate in this inspiring and encouraging conference!

P.S. We are especially relishing the delicious fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why Karyn Kissed a German Missionary

When you work in a fusion of cultures, sometimes things can get quite confusing. The indigenous people of Guam are known as Chamorros. Of all the ethnic groups attending Pacific Islands Bible College, Chamorros are vastly under-represented. The reasons for this are 1) 96%+ of Chamorros are Catholic, 2) PIBC was originally started on the island of Chuuk; therefore, Chamorros were not the people group originally targeted. Nevertheless, the Chamorros are the people with whom we daily rub shoulders. They are our neighbors, Noelle’s soccer buddies, and my (Karyn) volleyball teammates. They are the people who make up our church and the people with whom we fellowship.

Although having many similarities to Micronesians, the Chamorros definitely have their own unique culture. They are extremely friendly and hospitable. They always greet one another with a kiss on the cheek, which is actually more like a cheek-touch accompanied by a kissing sound. This has taken some getting used to for our family. Like most haoles (white folk), we come from a hand-shaking culture (or, if someone is especially close, sometimes a hug is offered). So, the kissing of strangers certainly was a cultural stretch for us. Nevertheless, in good missionary-spirit, we overcame our cultural inhibitions and can now be rightly counted in the ranks of cheek-kissers. There was one slight difficulty with this. To a newbie trying to acclimate to different cultures, one culture blends in with another. At first, the nuances between who is Chamorro and who is Palauan, Yapese, or Chuukese were lost on us. And this was definitely a problem because only the Chamorros “cheek-kiss.” The other Micronesian cultures are non-touching cultures. To attempt to publicly kiss someone from Micronesia would result in unspeakable shame. Fortunately, aside from endlessly forgetting to offer the kiss upon greeting a Chamorro friend, we were eventually able to discern from which island an individual hailed and therefore which greeting would be appropriate.

Notably, there is one other group of people with whom we regularly interact, and that is the PIBC staff. This group is made up of Germans, Americans, Chuukese, Palauans, Yapese, Filipinos, and even an Ecuadorian. Because we are very close to our fellow comrades, the Americans and Filipinos primarily hug each other in greeting, and warm smiles are offered to the Germans and Micronesians. Well, one of our German missionaries, Harold, and his wife had been on furlough in their hometown in Germany for many months. As I walked into the bi-weekly staff prayer meeting, I was surprised to see Harold. His unexpected presence completely discombobulated me. As I approached him, I desperately shuffled through my mental index cards on culturally appropriate greetings. “Hmmmm…” I frantically thought, “He’s not American so I don’t think it’s a handshake or a hug, he’s not Micronesian, so I know there should be some form of touching. . .” Before I could find the appropriate index card, I was upon him. Apparently, the next card in the greeting file was the Chamorro kiss. After the smacker was planted, the awkwardness was palpable. Poor Harold turned twenty shades of red wondering why he’d been kissed. But his red paled in comparison to my bright scarlet as I recognized my major faux pas which sent me fumbling for an appropriate explanation, to no avail. Sheesh!! This missionary stuff is hard work!