It’s Storytime

It’s probably pretty clear by now that I’m obsessed with stories. I love telling good stories and living good stories, but what I love most is telling God’s stories – the ones that God writes us into in ways we never could on our own.

Let me tell you one of those stories…

I used to live in the Vancouver area where I worked for an international church planting organization. I was the reporter, meaning I was writing stories all the time. Back then I didn’t realize how significant story telling would become in my life.

One day I decided that I was going try out Abbotsford’s transportation system and take the bus to work rather than hitch a ride with my roommate. For no particular reason other than I felt like it.

As I walked toward the bus stop I saw an Asian girl standing alone under an umbrella in the drizzle, looking about as gloomy as the sky on that overcast morning. I felt an overwhelming prompting to go and talk to her…but I didn’t. But that didn’t stop the story from taking place, because she walked over to me.

“Would you like to share my umbrella?” she asked.

“Yes! Thank you.” I replied.

I noticed an accent in her voice and asked where she was from.

“Laos,” she told me.

“That’s awesome!” I said, and she looked at me skeptically as though she didn’t quite believe I had even heard of her country.

“You know Laos?” she asked.

A week prior to this divine appointment, I knew virtually nothing about Laos. I told her about the organization I was a part of and how I had recently interviewed a Laotian pastor working with the Khmu hill tribe. Because Christianity is viewed as a foreigner’s religion, the only churches permitted in Laos are those that are government approved (only 3 of which exist in Vientiane, the capital of Laos), prohibiting the congregation from sharing the gospel outside of the church. As a result, the man I had interviewed had been imprisoned several times.

My new friend La knew exactly what I was talking about. She is a christian herself, and attends one of those government churches in Vientiane.

We carried on talking about what she was doing in Canada and she revealed her loneliness and struggle to adapt to a new culture.  As the bus pulled up to her stop we exchanged information and made plans to get together soon.

I never actually ended up seeing La again in Canada. Shortly after our encounter she returned to Laos because her dad became ill. Her mom had already passed away so now she had to go home and take care of her sisters.

Despite only meeting once, La and I have kept in contact during the past 2.5 years. After she returned to Laos I wrote to her saying that I believed God crossed our paths for a reason, and I believed we’d see each other again – and that next time it would be in Laos!

Well, that’s exactly what happened last week! As the plane touched down in Vientiane I found myself thinking, As if I’m actually here! As if I’m actually reuniting with a girl I met “randomly” at a bus stop nearly 3 years ago!

The Reunion

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Yep, these are certainly the kind of stories I love.

I had the opportunity to attend La’s church, Anou Evangelical Church. It was incredible.

Author of Life

I have lots of God-written stories similar to this one. Like the time I interviewed a videographer about Pikangikum – an Aboriginal Reserve with the highest suicide rate in the world – who travelled there to capture stories of hope. A year and a half later I found myself in Pikangikum with Beautiful Unique Girl to share my own stories of hope…

And then there’s the time I read a book called Chasing Daylight by a pastor called Erwin McManus. I remembered that the book was all about seizing divine moments, so I decided to take a risk and come to Thailand. And then on an average evening here in Bangkok I just so happened to run into a group from Erwin’s church in Los Angeles, befriend his wife and daughter, and meet a Thai girl named Jolie who decided to seize her divine moment and say Yes to God…

And then of course, there’s the story of how I came to Thailand. This is a story I began writing in a book one year ago with the belief that all of those major milestones in the past 6 years were leading me to Bangkok…a book I planned to finish when I actually got here. (Guess I should get started). At the “end” of this journey (I actually think it’s just the beginning…) it’s crazy to think that I almost said No because of fear.

As I leave Bangkok on Sunday night and begin yet another adventure, I continue to remind myself that God is an amazing storyteller. As long as I’m faithful to pull out my pen and paper and write stories with my life each and everyday, God is faithful to take my scrawlings and turn them into a beautiful masterpiece that brings Him glory.

Rose’s Master Plan

My friend Rose has a plan…to make me fat!

But in Thailand I’m already fat!

I didn’t eat the ice cream (I had just had one). I gave it to my friend Pete.

Joking aside, Rose is a huge blessing in my life. And she has a pretty incredible story. Maybe one day she’ll let me share it with you!

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After some comments from friends/family, I just want to mention that Rose is the SWEETEST person that I know. Her “fat” comments were all a joke and my response equally so! I was in no way offended by what she said!

Inside the Office

Last week I decided to grab my camera and roam around the office doing some impromptu interviews. Though some people didn’t enjoy being put on the spot, I’d say everyone was a good sport about it. I had to cut out a few people (Jake, Melissa, and Wanchi) because the background noise was too loud or the light was too bright. I also missed most key people, who were locked in the basement for Board Meetings for the week.

Hopefully this video won’t leave you feeling more confused about what ECPAT does.

I finish on June 30 which means I only have 4 more days at the office! I’m going to miss this crew…

The Ruth Center

Sunday, May 29 was Service Sunday at Evangelical Church of Bangkok, the church that I attend here in Thailand. So instead of attending a regular Sunday morning service, we all had the opportunity to sign up for an area of ministry around the city and spend the day serving.

I chose The Ruth Center. The Ruth Center works with slum communities in Bangkok to improve the quality of life for the elderly, who are often treated as a burden to society. Many of the grandmas and grandpas are forced to look after their grandkids, either because their own children have died or left.

Our day focussed specifically on working with the children in the community – painting faces, playing games, serving lunch, and just having fun! I had a great time and I’m going back this Friday to help/hang out.

Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a spider can…

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The day began with face painting! Spiderman was the top choice of the day. My first couple attempts were pretty shaky, but over time I perfected the web!

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My co-worker Mel heard about the day of service and thought it sounded like a great idea so she came along. She also perfected her skills as a Spiderman face-painter.

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I made this little dude cry/yell at me when I accidently painted his lips red and he got paint in his mouth (he was my first try). He warmed up to me though – after he cleaned his face off.

Water, water all around…

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This guy couldn’t get enough of the water.

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But when he became fully drenched and refused to change into the extra clothes at the Center…

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He had a mini-meltdown.

Good Times

Ball was my buddy for the day. That’s the Thai flag painted on his face.

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After the program, K Noi (she runs The Ruth Center) took me and Mel for a walk around the community and introduced us to the families living there. I just love this man. Especially his smile.

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He played some Thai music for us using an instrument that he made.
Have a listen!

A Race Across Northern Thailand

A couple weeks ago Lil’ Nat & E-$auce enjoyed their last adventure together for the next little while. Erin is currently travelling East Asia with her sister and will go back to the States in less than two weeks. I’m so thankful for the wacky friend I found in Erin and equally grateful that our cities are only separated by a day’s drive.

The Faces of Chiang Mai (and Rai, and Mae Sai)

Throughout our travels we likened our adventure to The Amazing Race as it related to our sleeping conditions, the intense heat, and experiencing new, uh…cuisine!

The “adventure” began with a 14 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a super hot Saturday in the early evening. We bought tickets for an air conditioned sleeper train but upon boarding were horrified to learn that there was no a/c, only fans. We also wondered how on earth our seats were supposed to fold into beds. We were convinced that we had been assigned the wrong seats and weren’t too keen on 14 hours of sweating and sitting upright.

“Let’s just pretend we’re on The Amazing Race!” I said to Erin, and we got all hyped up about enduring the “elements.” Shortly after the train departed, the fans were turned off, and the a/c was turned on. About an hour later someone came around, magically folding down our seats and making up two very comfy looking beds. Not so bad after all! In fact, quite nice!

My Ears!

We arrived in Chiang Mai without booking any accommodations, but lucked out when we stumbled upon a beautiful and affordable hotel in the city centre. It wasn’t until that night at 11:30pm when we learned why it was so affordable – the hotel was located directly beside an open-air karaoke bar, meaning that we were graced with awful renditions of “Summer of 69” and “Highway to Hell” until 2am. Around 12:30am we stumbled downstairs to reception to ask if they could move us to a different part of the hotel, but unfortunately everything on the other side was booked! We were less than pleased, especially since we had to be up at 6am the next day for our trip to Chiang Rai, but we chose to chalk it up to yet another Amazing Race experience!

Feed Me!

When I’m tired and my blood sugar is low is generally about the time Little Miss Nasty starts to emerge. We left for Chiang Rai at 7am – before the hotel began serving breakfast. There was some miscommunication about our time of departure and as a result that bagged breakfast we were promised never came. “This is The Amazing Race!” I said resolutely. After all, sometimes teams have to go hours at a time without food. We can too!

“You know,” said Erin, her enthusiasm dwindling. “I’ve never actually seen The Amazing Race.”

My vigour for the race wore off rapidly as a hunger headache began to set in.

Our travels to Chiang Rai first took us to a hot spring, which was less than spectacular. “So what do we do here?” we asked our tour guide.

“Some people go to the bathroom.” he replied.

Our next stop was The White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). The white is supposed to represent purity and wisdom. The temple was beautiful!

Wat Rong Khun

But also a little bit eerie. Outstretched hands rise from Hell as you step onto the bridge:

Our next stop was the Golden Triangle, the point at which Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet (also one of Asia’s illicit opium-producing areas). Once at the triangle we hopped on board a boat for a cruise along the Mekong River, where we learned a great deal about the casinos in Laos and Myanmar – but not in Thailand, where they’re illegal! We were able to dock in Laos without a passport or visa to walk around and look at the market.

Living Large in Laos

So what do you do when you’re hungry, tired, and dehydrated? Drink some Snake Whiskey!

That’s right. Probably not the greatest idea on an empty stomach, but when in Rome… (Eating/drinking nasty things is all a part of the Amazing Race!)

(For the record, it did nothing for my libido – thankfully).

By the time we got back to Thailand we were ravenously hungry and eternally grateful for the buffet lunch provided. We rolled back into the van and headed to Mae Sai, the border of Myanmar, where we of course took more jumping pictures.

Erin Jumps

Natalie Jumps

In Summary

Our time in Chiang Mai also took us to Wat Phrathat atop Doi Suthep, a mountain 15km from the city.

Monks on Doi Suthep

We also tried to visit the Zoo for an afternoon but when it got too hot we came to an agreement that neither of us really cared that much about seeing the animals. We opted to take a hop-on, hop-off tram ride around the park (and refrained from hopping-off) and then headed back into the city for ice cream.

Surprise Encounter

The sweetest part about this trip for me would have to be the surprise encounter that took place one evening while Erin and I were wandering up the street looking for the night bazaar.

I used to work for a holistic church planting organization (www.mbmission.org) in the Vancouver area as the writer and magazine editor, and while there I interviewed plenty of missionaries and got to know some of the families working in Thailand while they were on furlough in British Columbia.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man that looked like Rob Griffioen, but then I quickly dismissed this idea. Why would Rob be here? The Griffioens work in Phuket! I kept walking but then decided to look over my shoulder again, and that’s when I saw Rob’s wife, Judy, walk up behind him.

“I know them!” I told Erin, as I bolted across the road. I chatted with Judy, who was equally surprised to see me, and learned that she and Rob had recently moved to Chiang Mai to work with children at risk – those living in the slums and selling flowers on the streets. Erin and I checked out the centre a couple days later and had a fun time interacting with the kids!

Strangely enough…this was not the first surprise encounter I had! Just two weeks prior I was standing outside of my church after the Easter service when I saw Karen Sanchez and her entire family file through the doors. Ricky and Karen work in Chonburi (about 90min from Bangkok) where they are involved with the Abundant Life Home, an orphanage that takes care of HIV affected children. I had emailed Karen literally a week earlier to find out when I could come visit. Both the stories that I covered from ALH and Ricky and Karen themselves have had a personal impact on me, encouraging me to live a life of risk. I was amazed and blessed by both of these encounters – definitely what I would call a “Kissed by God” moment!

Still Running

The Race across northern Thailand might be over but the race in Bangkok continues! I intend to live these last two months to the fullest, embracing and engaging in friendships and opportunities, and running with purpose in every step. And if I ever do get the chance to be on The Amazing Race, I think that Erin and I would make a great team!