We’ve been in Thailand for a little over two months now. And in the last two months, we’ve picked up…very little Thai. Sure, there are phrases we know when we hear them and we’ve gotten used to how Thai sounds (which is huge as it’s a tonal language). But we still can’t order food in Thai and Heaven help us when we have to talk to a native Thai speaker on the phone. Did I just make an appointment for Shepherd to get immunizations or did I just ask her to come to my house and watch a movie? Who knows. The person on the other end of the phone certainly doesn’t.
Our downstairs bathroom door handle broke. It wouldn’t turn and thus the door would not open. We keep the door closed because we have a child obsessed with putting his hands in the big bowl of water and because then the air con doesn’t have to cool that room as well. Anyway, since the house is brand new, everything is under warranty. So I went to the customer service office to tell them the handle broke and we’d like it fixed.
What happened was I went in the office, did a lot of charades to explain door handle, and eventually wrote my phone number down. Stephen asked if they were going to come fix it. “Um. Maybe…?” I did my best.
Later that day a nice woman from the housing office (I’m assuming) called me and said, “You door fixed Sunday 10 am, okay?” Okay! Great!
Saturday at 9am the doorbell rings and a nice man came to look at the door.
Close. Real close.
In our defense, we haven’t started actual language school yet. I’m confident once we start studying Thai, situations like the above will only happen 98% of the time versus 100%.
At first, we were nervous about ministry while we’re still learning Thai. We didn’t know how it would go or if we’d be able to do any ministry at all or if there was even a point to trying to do ministry until we’d become proficient.
But then we went to the center the first time and realized that even with the students who speak very little English, there are so many ways so communicate.
One of the best assets we have on the mission field is Shepherd. God gave us a fearless kid who loves to talk, play, be held, EAT, laugh, BE HELD and wants to be loved by everyone. And God called us to a country that loves babies. Especially white, chunky babies. Perfect.
We’ve said time and time again how Shepherd draws so much attention here and how we think he was made for Thailand. But it goes much deeper than people thinking he’s cute.
There’s a group of older girls at the center who came to know Jesus because of the work HOSEA center is doing in their village. The first time these girls came to our house, it was because they wanted to play with Shepherd. Now they’re over all the time. Sometimes for Shepherd, sometimes not. Whatever the reason, he made them feel like we were accessible and comfortable.
Right after we had Valor, the director of the center said she was going to come over and bring us dinner. So nice. About an hour before she came she sent Stephen a text saying that she was bringing six of the older girls with her as well.
Now, that stresses me out.
My gut reaction was NO. The house isn’t clean. I’m tired. I don’t have the energy.
A couple things: one, this interaction was super Thai. It’s not uncommon for plans to shift at the last minute and the more the merrier. Two, knowing this was a very Thai thing to do, that these girls were the girls we were here to serve and that they were bringing us a meal, all made it clear that we could not say no.
And I am so glad we didn’t.
Collectively, three motorbikes held seven girls and pulled into our driveway. They piled off and filed into our house one by one, each carrying a bag or a bowl or a plate loaded with delicious smelling Thai food.
They smiled and said hello and petted Valor’s head as they passed him, passed out in my lap from nursing, and then headed straight for the kitchen. Women on a mission, those girls. They went to work cutting fruit, setting the table, dishing up noodles and veggies, pouring water and even folding paper towels for napkins. Stephen and I randomly would answer the “Where’s this or that?” questions from the couch and weren’t allowed to get up and help.
They called us to the table; and it was then, sitting there watching them serve me and Stephen, listening to them giggle and encourage Shepherd to “Eat, eat!” while feeding him, seeing our house full and bustling and alive, that I realized wow, this, this right here, everything that’s happening right now from Valor being here to the good food to the girls sitting in these chairs, is exactly what we’ve been praying and believing for.
We sat there and had a really fun, nice, long dinner.
We laughed at Shepherd trying different things and making his funny face and doing his happy loud yells.
We ate. A lot.
We talked about their recent trip with the Venture intern, Mackenzie, to the beach and their schooling and what they wanted to be when they grew up. These conversations took a long time as we all patiently tried to find words in English and Thai or mime them or talk around something we couldn’t quite figure out how to say. Sometimes Pae, the woman who runs the center and the one who initiated this whole wonderful evening, would translate, but for the most part she let me and Stephen and the girls figure out how to talk to each other.
And it was so, so good.
When we were done, it was clear Shepherd needed a bath. Two of the girls offered to bathe him and get him ready for bed. The other girls started clearing the dishes and packing up leftovers. Once again we were relegated to the couch. There was even some sweeping and moping that happened.
After Shepherd was done with his bath, we all sat around in the living room and chatted. Again, my heart just felt full watching these sweet girls love my boys and feel comfortable in my house. This is why we’re here, I thought. These girls.
Something amazing happens when we’re able to stop seeing differences as blocks in relationships. When all we did was focus on the fact that the girls are Thai and we’re American, communication was impossible. But when we look intentionally at everyone as equal, as the same as us, suddenly communication, however difficult, doesn’t seem as daunting.
It wasn’t as daunting because we were friends now, and friends can be comfortable around each other. Friends want to know each other and share experiences, not just words. Friends don’t mind taking twenty minutes to tell a story that could be told in five.
Shepherd and Valor allow us to have experiences with these girls we otherwise wouldn’t. Because of the boys, we have something to “do” with them. Watching him play and laughing, feeding him, trying to get him to walk, swimming with him- those are all experiences we get to share.
And as the relationship grows, so do the experiences. The shared history. Memories that include each other. And those go way beyond words.
There are so many moments where communication feels impossible and so intimidating. It’s beyond frustrating knowing a task could or would be completed if we just knew how to ask for something or say a certain word. We can feel trapped knowing we need so many other people with their connections, simply because we can’t communicate.
All that makes dinners like the one with the girls so sweet. And it’s beautiful how God allows us to build actual relationships with people who share so little in common with us.
And thank God Stephen and I are basically experts at charades.