Someone else sent me a bunch of questions, so here goes!!!
Your observations of life in Bangkok reveal an affluent city, with essentially all of the material conveniences we enjoy here, with the added dimension of an integrated multi-cultural influence (more like Toronto than Waterloo.) Given that this “mission field” is not experiencing poverty, famine, civil war, natural disasters, pandemic HIV, etc, perhaps you could offer your reflections on what the spiritual needs are and how that might compare to a large North American city.
I wonder if perhaps my comments and observations have been selective without my even being aware of it. Let me describe the Bangkok I see on a daily basis for you (again, I promise pictures will come eventually!!!)
We live in a muubaan, which is basically a small neighbourhood with a gate for security. (Muubaan means village, I believe…) There is a pool and a small gym (neither of which I’ve used yet!), and there are some very smiley security guards at the gate that make sure no one comes in who doesn’t live here. This is not a neighbourhood of mansions or anything, just “normal” houses (what we’d consider normal, I mean). The majority of the families in the muubaan are Thai; the only white people are the three PAOC missionary families.
Outside the muubaan is a much better picture of the *average* (remember – this is based ONLY on my observations and conversations with Peter and Sandra…)Thai life and accommodation. Most people in Bangkok live in apartments that are often quite small. They eat sitting on the floor, and have mats that they roll out for beds, so they have little furniture (they need little) and have only a few rooms, but that seems to be okay because they roll up their beds and whatnot, and they also spend a lot of time outside.
The streets are absolutely filled with street vendors of all sorts! There are souvenirs, clothing, incense and flowers for spirits, and FOOD EVERYWHERE!!! I’ve never in my life seen so much happening on the streets – even downtown Toronto. There are actual stores in buildings along the streets, but those are different, too – many don’t have a “door” but the whole front goes up like a garage, and the stores are PACKED full of all sorts of things (one has a bunch of car parts, many are like variety stores, etc.) – more packed than I can even describe! So, with that background, and then street vendors in front, the street scene is VERY visually busy. I will never tire of looking at the scene and taking it all in…
The streets seem to be filled with people who *look* poor – I don’t know the real situation, and of course no one is going to dress up just to fry chicken in extreme heat all day! However, I do think that the streets of Bangkok look much *poorer* than the streets of, say, Toronto. It is INFINITELY more like Toronto than Waterloo in all ways because it’s larger, more multicultural, touristy, etc. And I do know that Toronto has poverty. However, it definitely seems more noticeable here.
The SkyTrain is used by most people here, I guess, but it is definitely where you are most likely to see the business people and the students – people wearing uniforms and suits, etc.
Once you get right downtown, there’s just as much action on the streets! Also, there are beggars (incl. children, the blind, amputees, etc. etc.) around the base of the SkyTrain stations. Some of them could have connections to the mafia (? – I don’t really know anything about this), and I’ve never seen anyone give them anything. Some of them sing, but most of them just hold plastic cups in your direction.
Everything is dirty, which makes the atmosphere seem very impoverished, regardless of whether or not it’s really like that (again, I’m no expert… this is only what I see). It’s dirty first of all because there are no emissions restrictions here, so cars are dirty, and they idle, and there are SO MANY of them! The air is not good here at all, and that leaves a sooty residue on everything (even in the house, if you don’t wipe things off!). There are stray cats and dogs EVERYWHERE and they *go* wherever they want to, if you know what I mean. And… so do guys! The street down to NightLight has empty lots with some grass and stuff, and yes, I have actually seen someone relieving himself there on the side of the road. The stench walking along there is incredibly… um… “ripe”. I’m sure it’s mostly cats and dogs, but it’s still very disturbing! You really need to watch your step!
Okay, so that’s a bit more about Bangkok. It’s not all ritzy shopping malls and designer shoes. They do have access to most of the modern conveniences we have in Canada, but certainly not all of the population of Bangkok is able to actually enjoy them.
To get back to the real question, though – what are the spiritual needs and how to do they relate to a North American city? Well, I guess most people probably know that Thailand is essentially a “Buddhist” country. However, this is not Tibetan Buddhism! The Buddhism is mixed with (maybe overwhelmed by?) spirit worship. The people here DO NOT need to be convinced that there is a spiritual realm, or that they are spiritual beings. They KNOW THIS already. Every house, every business, every park – everywhere – has a spirit house. These houses hold the spirit(s) of that location and the people pray to them to appease them to make sure they have good luck, good health, wealth, etc. Many of the people have actually opened themselves and invited spirits to indwell them. Seriously.
This is not like any North American city I know of. This is widespread honest-to-goodness demon possession, spirit worship, etc. This is not just a pocket of people with this belief system – it is the dominant religion here.
I’m still investigating this aspect of spiritual need and how to respond to it – “spirit worship” or “animism” isn’t one of those traditional religions covered in Sunday school ‘how to share your faith’ classes… I’m sure I’ll blog more about this as I learn more, and discover more, and process more about this very different religious belief system here.
What spiritual equipping and preparation might another intern or prospective missionary want to acquire prior to embarking on this or a similar opportunity?
I’ll probably revisit this one toward the end of my trip, but after almost one month (I can’t believe it’s been that long already!), I would say that someone coming here should definitely learn about Thai spirit worship and what the Bible says about those types of issues (demon possession and deliverance, etc.). I know what the Bible says about this issue. However, spirits, demons and “the supernatural” on the whole receive LOTS of media attention – whether it’s fictional movies, tv shows and books (yes, even Christian ones!), or documentaries and non-fiction books on the ‘paranormal’ – and it is hard sometimes to differentiate between the glamourized Hollywood version and the Biblical reality of what is True.
I’m not sure I’ve said all of this the right way; I’m having difficulty articulating exactly what I’m thinking, and that’s frustrating. Especially about something ‘serious’ like this – I’d hate to be misunderstood…
Here’s an example – is a given individual really possessed, or just acting out for attention (or both)? I don’t want to be gullible enough to fall for anything, but neither do I want to be skeptical enough that I miss the reality of what’s going on.
So, I think someone coming here would be wise to learn a bit about Thai spirit worship, and brush up on the Biblical beliefs in these areas – and pray for spiritual discernment, too.
I really don’t mean to give the impression that living in Bangkok is like a “horror movie” or anything – it’s not like people are screaming on the streets or frothing at the mouth or anything!!! Also, I haven’t had to deal with any of this directly, either (though others at NightLight have). It’s just that it’s a very common issue here, unlike [what I’ve seen of] the situation in North America, and I think it’s something you need to really make sure you have a Godly understanding of so that you aren’t caught off guard or suckered into believing something not true.
I’m sure there will be other things to come up in the next few months – but that’s the main thought that comes to mind right now.
What new awareness do you have regarding what constitutes “missions” work?
I think I’ve always had a fairly liberal idea of what constitutes “missions” work. That is to say, I believe God equips people especially for what He’s called them to do, and He can use people in all sorts of places. So, church planting and trekking through jungles is not the only valid expression of missions work! I believe God can call people to do office work for a ministry that would not be able to function without the business aspect being taken care of. I also believe God can call people to excel in a particular line of work so that they can reach people that may not ever be reached by a charity or traditional ministry (such as business executives, for example).
I believe that each and every person is accountable for how they use the abilities and giftings God has given them. So, if you are called to go plant a church – do it!!! However, if God has gifted you in research on some science-related thing and called you to be a researcher – do it!!! You will meet people in that position and establish relationships that you couldn’t if you threw away the gifting and talent God gave you and force yourself to do something more “traditional” (like plant a church).
I also think you can go plant a church or preach to the unreached and not really have your heart in it – it can be “just a job”.
God can use people everywhere. The point is that regardless of where you are and what you are doing there, you are doing what you know God has called you to do, and you are doing it in a way that glorifies Him. I recently read a book called “The Unexpected Journey” by Thom Rainer. It is a collection of 13 interviews with 13 people from 13 different religious backgrounds who all ended up becoming Christians. It discussed how the individuals actually came to faith in Christ. The one common thread through each and every account was that a Christian in their life demonstrated the love of Christ toward them. Yes, people need to hear the Gospel Message and hear about the love of Jesus absolutely – we do need people who are called to GO and share the Message! However, what really makes the difference in most cases is actually seeing someone live out the Christian message of love, joy and peace. This can be done in any setting – indeed, it needs to be done in every setting! If all of the people gifted in business, science, psychology, medicine, etc. give up their talent and plant churches, who will reach those who will likely never walk into a church on their own? And then there’s the issue of throwing away the gift of talent that God gave you for a reason…
Again, I’m not sure I’m coming across as clearly as I’d like. Perhaps I should be doing this in the morning and not at night…!
The point is that missions is not a specific activity; it’s a way of life.
If you are doing what God called you do to, and are living your life in a way that honours Him, then you are right where God wants you to be to have the effect He wants you to have. Even if you don’t know what effect that is, and you seem to be having no effect, or if others think you aren’t having an effect and “doing enough” for God – your responsibility is to God alone, and you have to trust that He has a reason for you to be there even if you don’t see it.
I think that’s another big thing – if you’re doing what you know God has called you to do, you CAN’T let other people make you feel “less than” for not doing whatever they thinkyou should be doing. Neither can you allow them to cause you to become insecure, because that will impede your ministry…
Okay, I think that’s all on that note for now. I hope it all came out right…
Okay, I think that’s all for now! There were other questions, but it’s too late to answer them well.
I really hope this all makes sense… Sometimes (usually, I guess), I’ve got so many thoughts running through my head that it’s hard to organize them and I’m not sure how clear they are from an outside perspective, you know? I’ve read this over, though, and I think it’s alright. Let me know if you have any follow up questions or want to know anything else!