We’ve just returned from nine days (including travel) in Thailand and the gathering of Evangelical Friends Mission (EFM) workers from around the globe. We met at a resort hotel in Chiang Mai, an uncommon luxury for some of those in attendance. I spotted grace in many places, both blatant and tucked into obscure corners.
--The people and their stories: I loved getting to know Quaker missionaries from (and to) India, the Philippines, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Hungary, Guatemala and Cambodia. I took on the role of being a “story catcher,” and spent time interviewing women from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, listening to their stories of encounter with Jesus, arranged marriages, and experiences as Quaker Christian ministers in Hindu and Muslim contexts. While our stories contrast in many ways, our experiences of grace coincide.
--The merry clay of Christian experience: One evening the family from Bhutan shared a song from their context, and the English translation contained one of those phrases that serendipitously combine error and truth. When the words, “He lifted me out of the merry clay,” flashed on the Powerpoint, some of us smiled. I’ve been smiling ever since. While perhaps not representative of the bog and mire of hard times, what a delightful way to think of this good earth.
--The merry clay of Chiang Mai: The resort where we stayed was set in the middle of a huge botanical garden that included a series of small lakes, joined by streams that flowed around tropical trees and flowers. This was merry clay indeed, full of beauty and grace. Insect song and the calls of strange birds added to the mystery and gave a new setting for worship. We walked every day and continued to discover new paths through the forest.
--Thai hospitality: I love the Thai greeting, hands folded and head bowed as if in prayer. Maybe I’m romanticizing, but it seemed to communicate a reverence for the presence of another person. Our welcome was warm, the food amazing. Of course we only got a glimpse of this complex culture, but my desire to know and understand more has been kindled. I suspect I would find grace upon grace.
--Friendships new and old: I especially loved talking with Kathi, missionary to Ireland, and sensed the beginning of friendship. But I also savored those afternoons when the EFM missionaries and staff had their coaching sessions, leaving us Quakers from other yearly meetings free to do whatever we wished. The “whatever” we chose was to meet in the coffee shop--Johan, Becky, Hal and me, iced Thai chai, yoghurt smoothies and great conversation.
--Another family fix: Of course part of the allure of this trip was knowing that our Rwandan kids and grandkids would be part of the event. This was their territory, as David and Debby serve under EFM, the sponsors of the event. It was good watching them interact with their cross-cultural team members. And having another chance to run around with Aren, Gwen and Alandra was honey to my spirit. Again, grace upon grace.
--Home again, with memories that make me smile.
Thank you, Lord.