It was a feeling I had never felt before, and I’m not sure I want to feel it again. Yet I praise God I felt something. I felt a little as though I had been punched in the stomach. Perhaps it was because I had been reading in I and II Chronicles about the “high places” of idol worship. But when I saw a Lao woman bowing before a Buddha statue in a hilltop shrine, my gut clenched. I had witnessed true idol worship; and I hated it.
I suppose I should back up. I recently had the opportunity to go to Thailand and Laos for a short 18 day mission trip. Going on this trip is right up there with going to Ellerslie with the best memories of my life. It was my first time leaving the States, so it was incredibly memorable – not to mention incredibly life-changing.
When we first arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, the spiritual oppression began to weigh upon my soul. Being a 90% Buddhist country, of course there are all sorts of images in the airport. It only became worse when we reached Chiang Mai, our final destination. Compare it to how in America, you’ll drive down the road and see this: church, church, church, ministry, church… and so on; except in Thailand and Laos, it’s: Buddhist temple, temple, shrine, monastery, giant Buddha… You get the picture. On top of that, you would see little houses on pedestals, known as spirit houses. The purpose of these houses is to keep guardian spirits nearby, and dangerous spirits away. So in order to “repay” the guardians, the people would place little offerings of food or other items. Combine that with the iron law of karma, which makes your “salvation” reliant totally upon you, and you begin to understand the darkness.
We ventured into Laos after a few days in Chiang Mai. Laos is the forgotten country of Asia. When you think of Asia, it’s not the first country that comes to mind. Not only that, but because of the Communist regime, Laos is far behind in advancement, even when compared to its neighbors, Vietnam and Thailand. Over this mountainous country stand the oppressive forces of Communism and Buddhism, an oppression you can feel the moment you enter the country. Yet, even here, there is great light beginning to come forth. We had the opportunity to meet with a Christian pastor in Laos, who is the equivalent of the apostle Paul to these people. He told us story after story of how the tribal people of Laos are coming to Christ in droves, and how hungry they are to know the Word of God. They would not let this pastor sleep because of their great desire to know God. Despite all the forces of darkness, God is doing a mighty work amongst the Lao people.
On the other side of Thailand, we travelled to the border near Burma (Myanmar) to work in a children’s refugee camp. The children are all of the Karen tribal people, one of the largest tribes in Asia. You won’t hear about it on the news, but mass genocide is occurring just on the other side of the world. The Burmese are working to eradicate the Karen for ethnic and religious reasons (due to the work of missionary Adoniram Judson, much of the Karen tribe is Christian). Because of their fierce attacks, many Karen have fled into Thailand, where they live in camps on the border. Many of the children were orphans, or had parents still living in Burma.
Despite the hardships this brings on the children, they are some of the happiest kids you will ever meet. Most of them know three phrases in English: “I love you”, “I pray for you”, “God bless you”. We heard it every day as they ran to greet and hug us, or when they said good night. Their worship is pure joy and delight to them. From early in the morning to late at night, they go on singing praises to their God.
We went there to teach them about Christ. Our “VBS” program consisted of lessons on His life – birth, death, resurrection, return – crafts, songs, and games. They called us “teacher” (another word they knew in English). Honestly, after my time there, I found that I had been taught by them. True joy is in the camp; I don’t think I ever saw any of them stop smiling. Even though just across the river and mountains the Burmese army wages their war, the presence of God is thick in that camp.
I don’t know what else to say, except, “Wow. God is amazing.” There’s no other way to describe it. As I remember all the things I saw that I hated – the darkness, the oppression, the idolatry – it fades in the glorious light of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure, there were hardships, pains, discomforts all through the trip. But that’s not I remember. All I see is the power of God to topple strongholds; all I see is the joy of the Lord becoming strength; all I see is faith to overcome every obstacle; all I see is hunger for and delight in the Lord.
There is a white harvest in these countries amongst the least and the despised. God is doing a work in Thailand and Laos. I am incredibly humbled to have been a small part of that work. I hope that as you have read this, your heart has been stirred. There are so many who have not heard the name Jesus Christ, and have no access to the gospel. If you haven’t considered going overseas on a mission trip, I pray you consider that calling. May God ignite within all of us a passion for the gospel and a hunger for Word – in text and in Person.