So, What’s Your Story?

Last weekend, I went on a retreat with my church’s singles group. It was out in the middle of nowhere near a small lake (where I grew up, we would call it a tank) and the weather was nice, so basically I stayed outside the entire weekend. I got to see several shooting stars (a rarity when you live on the outskirts of a metropolis), sit by a fire, and listen to the rain hit the roof of the back porch as I sipped a cup of herbal tea. It was a good weekend, for sure.
The singles pastor based his retreat talks on Joshua 24, mainly on remembering what God has done for us and where we came from. He talked about how this chapter encourages the Israelites to remember their heritage, their heroes, their hard times, and their high points, and encouraged us to do the same on Saturday morning. He also encouraged us to find one person and ask them about their story, and in turn tell one person about your own story (seriously, I’ve been asking people what their story is upon meeting them long before this retreat, so this was kind of amusing to me). So, I thought I would share the story of how God broke my heart for Asia and adoption with my blog readers.
People always ask me how I became obsessed with Asia and why I want to adopt so many kids from there. I’m going to back way up to elementary school to answer that one. I moved to a small town with my mom when I was in first grade. I don’t know if I was just an odd child or if the other children had already formed their cliques at age 6, but I didn’t fit in and had few friends. I was bullied a lot (like until I graduated high school) and the teachers did nothing about it.
Life went on like this until I went off to college, got called by Jesus, and started making real and lasting friendships. One of these friendships was with another freshman named Daniel. He gave me a book called Revolution in World Missions. I didn’t read it until the summer, but it lit the spark that would eventually ignite into a full fledged passion for south and southeastern Asia.
I didn’t really do much Asia-wise until the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I didn’t realize until I started taking upper level classes that any organization needs marketing in some form or another to stay afloat, and that includes non-profits too. Energized by this new discovery, I applied for a summer internship with Gospel for Asia and was accepted. I spent 5 weeks praying for the countries where GFA works, spending time with people who were passionate about seeing the people of Asia come to know Christ personally, and using my marketing abilities to help get the word out about GFA. You know, there is something magical about praying for a people group; you fall in love with them. Really. It only took a week or two before I was completely and utterly obsessed. I even went back to college and went crazy decorating my dorm with all things Asia. And watching K-dramas. And listening to Bollywood music. And making my own curry. It’s only gotten worse since then.
I can’t really put my finger on what specifically about Asia draws me in. Is it the emphasis on family? The laissez-faire approach to time? The rich history? The delicious food? I don’t even know. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe it’s just God.
I do think my childhood experiences had a lot to do with my desire to adopt. I really wanted (and still do) kids to know that they were loved and accepted and that they belonged. Even as a child, my desire to make others feel welcome drew the misfits like moths to flame. I think that’s part of the reason why I was drawn to the Karen people during my mission trip to Thailand; they’re not recognized by their own government as citizens, and many have fled the civil war raging in Burma and become refugees, an even more stateless position. I really have a soft spot for them.
This all came together during Passion 2013, where God reignited the passion to adopt from Asia and introduced a new passion: loving those who were rescued out of sex slavery. I watched the story of one young woman in the Philippines who ran away from home and was tricked into the industry at the age of 9, believing she was unlovable and worthless and deserved nothing better in life. As a teen, her brothel was raided by the police and she was taken to a halfway house run by a Christian organization. There, through the sacrificial love of counselors and the healing power of the Gospel, Christ restored her. As I listened to the story of how she ended up on the streets, my heart cried, “I would love you, little one!”
That’s when it clicked: this is what I was made to do. It all fits. The childhood bullying. The inexplicable connection with misfits. The longing to make others feel like they belong. The internship at GFA. The mission trip to Thailand. It’s all connected.
That’s one of my favorite things about God. His plan for his children was formed before we were formed. He guides our steps before we take our first.  He uses everything for good, even bullying. He takes the broken and makes it beautiful. I am so thankful that my little story is a part of His master story that goes all the way back to creation.
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The Last Day

Today we started the morning with a Bible study with the orphanage staff. Everyone on the team shared a short sermon on whatever God laid on their heart. Some talked about loving one another as Christ loves us, some talked of God’s sovereignty, some talked of God’s faithfulness, and some shared their stories and offered encouragement through their experiences.

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After the study, Ricky took the team, Belle, and some of the older kids from the orphanage to eat at a local restaurant. It looked almost like a tree house; the people who built the restaurant used existing trees and the landscape as part of the architecture and even put lots of wood carvings everywhere.

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We really enjoyed spending more one-on-one time with the missionaries and a few children from the orphanage. Plus, the food and location were both wonderful.

We also took a Thai Bible to Kanonit, whom we met on our first day. She wanted to know more about Jesus and set up a time for someone to come do a Bible study with her, so we visited her family again to fulfill her request and pray for her.

Tonight we will help with our last chapel service. We will share the story of Noah and talk about God’s faithfulness.

Our flight back home leaves after chapel. It’s a bittersweet feeling for us; we are excited to come back and see all of our family and friends, but we are also sad to leave those sweet children and our new friends in Chiangmai.

The Lord has done mighty things both in the people we met in Thailand and in ourselves. We look forward to sharing more about what God has done on this trip when we get back.

Fun Day: Elephant Ride, River Rafting, and Night Market

Yesterday we had a fun day to rest and relax. We rode elephants and rafted down a river in the mountains, ate in a Thai restaurant, and explored the night market. Midway through the afternoon, the guys split off from the girls to go with Ron and minister to a group of young men in the Thai military.

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Before we rode the elephants, we went to look at a mother elephant with her newborn baby. She was very friendly, but her baby was still very shy.

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The elephant ride was really fun, but going down those hills was pretty scary!

After the elephant ride, we rode down a river on a long bamboo raft. We sat down (as water splashed up from between the bamboo poles, of course) and enjoyed the scenery as our guide stood at the front and pushed us along with a long bamboo pole. The ride was very relaxing and the foliage on the riverbanks was gorgeous.

After lunch, the group split off. The guys went with Ron to lead a Bible study with about 30 cadets and a few officers in the Thai military while the girls went to see a temple and explore the city.

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The temple was very big and ornate, but spiritually dark. I managed to make it inside but could only stay for a few minutes before I had to leave because I wanted to cry so much. It was an eye opening experience for all of us; so many people worship in that building thinking if they a good enough, the Buddha can save them. It was heartbreaking.

After the temple, us girls had our feet cleaned by those tiny fish that eat dead skin and drove around to see the old city.

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After the guys were done leading their Bible study, we met up at a Thai restaurant on the river for dinner.

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Lizzy got to launch a sky lantern into the air.

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She was pretty excited about it.

After we finished dinner, we all went to the night market to find souvenirs. The streets were filled with stars selling all kinds of different things from tapestries to clothes to handmade crafts to food.

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Today we will lead a Bible study with the older children and staff in the orphanage, help with chores, and get ready to leave.

The Thai Schools – Teaching English and Spreading the Gospel

Today we went into two Thai schools and taught English to children of various ages.

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The first school had children in the classroom from ages 6-14. We sang a few songs, preached the Gospel, performed a skit about the prodigal son, and taught a few basic English phrases.

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The second school we went to had us teach 13 and 14 year olds. We broke up into small groups and practiced conversational English.

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After practicing English, we taught “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” with hand motions and sang it with the kids.

Today’s Chapel service was about how God is provider. We did a skit based on the feeding of the five thousand, sang songs, and did crafts/Bible study just like the night before.

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For me, today was the most rewarding day because we got to spend more time talking to the children about Jesus. It was great interacting with them and learning more about them.

I spent a good deal of time talking to a woman named Gai at the second school. She said she believed in Jesus but was also Buddhist. I talked to her about how important faith is and how Jesus is the only God and how we can never do enough good works to reach him. I don’t know how much she believed, but I pray that I planted seeds today that God will grow in her heart. – MD

Tomorrow we get to have a day of rest and recreation with Ron and Belle, our two missionary friends from Fort Worth. We’re looking forward to a time of good fellowship.

Work Day and Chapel

Today the girls went with Belle, a missionary working with ArmLynk International, a ministry that works with local police to train in leadership skills and disciple men and women and hopefully win them for Christ.

It was a great time of fellowship for us girls. We really enjoyed spending time with Belle and learning what it is like to do women’s ministry.

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We shared our stories, learned about the ministry, and made “blessing buckets.”

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Cute, right?

The guys stayed behind at the orphanage and served by clearing the garden area.

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Us girls joined them after our morning  with Belle.

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It was hard work, but we made it fun.

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“It’s like a metaphor for sin! You have to get the roots!”

The sunset was particularly beautiful tonight.

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We helped with the chapel service last night and tonight. Each time, we sing a song or two, perform a very silly skit based on a Bible story, give a short sermon about the story, and do a craft with the younger children while the older ones delve deeper into the passage.

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After the chapel service, the older kids stayed to learn a hip hop dance Lizzy choreographed to “Steal my Show” by TobyMac.

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The Karen Village

On Saturday, we drove up to a Karen (pronounced cuh-REHN) village in the mountains south of Chiangmai. We played with the children in the village orphanage, met up with the village pastor in the afternoon, prayed, and went out to visit two homes before the evening church service.

Our first home visit was to pray for a man who was being oppressed by a demon. He had a lump near his neck and could barely move his head. He had visited doctors and shamans but none could cure his pain. But when Ricky, the man in charge of the orphanage in Chiangmai, prayed over him, Jesus stepped in and healed him.

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(Sorry for the poor quality; we didn’t want to disturb with camera flashes.)

Now this man is free from pain and knows Jesus has the power to heal. Unfortunately he did not come to the night service, but a seed was planted in that home and one day perhaps God will make it grow.

The second visit was to a family who had recently lost their son in an accident. They were so filled with pain and sorrow from their loss. We had the privilege of praying over the father, mother, and younger sister for God to reveal himself to them, to comfort them with his love, and to fill them with his perfect peace that surpasses all understanding.

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The Lord was gracious and filled the house with his Spirit! When we finished praying, we could see hope fill their eyes and smiles cover their faces. They experienced the joy of the Lord and the comfort of his presence!

Later we saw the daughter at the night service. She was able to hear the Gospel for the first time. That household was filled with a spiritual hunger, and although they did not commit to a relationship with Christ, we believe he will draw them near.

The church service that evening was wonderful. The children from the orphanage sang several songs while we waited for people to come. It was such a blessing to hear their sweet voices rise in praise to God! Even though we didn’t speak the same language, we could worship in the same Spirit and sing praises to the same God.

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When people stopped coming in, we performed a simple skit about how Jesus is the only one who has the power to save, and gave a Gospel presentation. Afterwards the sick came to the front to be healed.

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The lady in the blue shirt had a sore throat.

The next morning, we had another church service. We and a few songs as a congregation, then the children performed several songs (including the doxology!) to start the service off.

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After the performance, we performed a skit about the prodigal son and gave another message.

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The prodigal son skit.

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Jesse preaches the Word.

Afterward Ricky gave a powerful message based on the story of the widow and the oil in 2 Samuel. It really encouraged the believers in the village and us as well.

After the service we all ate lunch together outside the church and then the team went back to Chiangmai.

Testimony Time!

So we had our second meeting for the mission trip on Sunday, and part of the meeting was sharing testimonies. Guess who got to go second? Yep, this introvert. So I thought I would write up my story for you guys who may not know.

My parents divorced when I was 4, so growing up it was just me and my mom, with weekend-long visits to Dad every two weeks. Both parents took me to church every week, and Mom made sure I did all the appropriate church weekday activities like GA’s (it’s like AWANA, but with less structure) and VBS and youth group. I guess some of it sunk in, because I was baptized when I was 8.

When I was a senior in high school, I got a job at Sonic so I could save up money for college. This job frequently required me to work Sundays and Wednesdays, so I basically stopped going to church and youth group. What I didn’t realize was that these church activities were the only thing keeping me “on track;” once they stopped, I stopped reading my Bible, praying, and even attempting to do all the things that a good little Christian girl should do (sarcasm alert: doing those things doesn’t actually make you a Christian). I wasn’t even trying to have a relationship with Jesus. I just didn’t care anymore.

Mom and I had a rough relationship when I was younger. She tried her hardest, but she and I have completely different personalities and interests, and when you’re a kid you’re WAY less understanding of those differences. (Plus, I was a little twit when I was a pre-teen/teenager.) As a result of some miscommunication, she asked me to move out after I graduated high school. So, I moved in with my dad and worked in the family restaurant all summer. I was pretty angry with my mom, and I held on to bitterness for a long time.

Everything changed my freshman year of college. I just happened to join a freshman organization where I just happened to meet the guy who would later become like a brother to me, who just happened to attend a prayer group and the weekly Navigators meeting and just happened to invite me. Why did I go? I don’t even know. But I went. And it was weird.

Seriously, these people were crazy. I mean, they prayed out loud. They loved Scripture. They told people about Jesus without shame. They welcomed me into their groups. They liked me for just being me. They genuinely loved God, and you could tell he was an important part of their daily lives. The people in the Navs and in the prayer group made me realize that I didn’t actually have a relationship with God; what I had was religion. I was so caught up in doing the right stuff, saying the right things, and being the right kind of person that I totally missed the whole point of being a Christian, which is to love God above all else and love people more than you love yourself.

I think the turning point was when I realized that I needed to forgive my mom and ask forgiveness in return. Ever since that phone call, God has been “blowing up,” as my little brother says, in my life. He’s taught me so many things (see the series on Self Lies for the big lessons I’ve learned so far) and brought me through so many trials. It’s not like things changed overnight, but I’ve been slowly learning more and more what having a relationship with Christ means, for realzies this time.