from october 30-november 12, i had the privilege of marking the five year anniversary of quest church by taking a personal ‘vision trip’ to asia. i spent approximately two days traveling by air, car, bus, train, boat, and foot; spent 5.5 days in thailand, 1/2 day in burma, and 4 days in japan. each experience was so very unique that it’s hard to use one post to sum up the entire experience. you can listen to the audio reflection (this past sunday’s sermon); it’s an hour of rambling so it might not be worth your time. if you want to hear a concise, gut-wrenching, in your face reflection of a ‘vision trip,’ listen to unjin lee’s (a quest intern) five minute reflection of her recent three week trip to congo. you need to hear it.
anyway, let me briefly share with you about my reflections on the respective three countries. let me first share that the entire trip was incredibly exhausting and compounded by constant traveling and jet lag. i traveled with a group of give other people, three pastors in my denomination, the evangelical covenant church, and two of their sons.
Thailand: During my 5.5 days in thailand, we visited multiple cities: bangkok, region of roi et, chiang mai, and mae sot. each city offering its unique experiences. in addition, we arrived in chiang mai during the Loy Krathong festival around 10pm and witnessed fireworks galore and thousands upons thousands of floating raftlike candles. this buddhist ritual, “the act of floating away the candle raft is symbolic of letting go of one’s grudges, anger, and defilements, so that one can start afresh on a better foot.” roi et is in the ne region of thailand. chiang mai is the largest city in the northern area of thailand and is becoming another big tourist site. mae sot is a border town between burma and thailand. bangkok is the capital of thailand and the largest city in thailand. about 7 million registered peopel live in bangkok and about 10-12 in the larger area of bankgok. trust me when i say it is crowded, fast paced, hustle and bustle and a clashing of eastern versus western, traditional versus contemporary, and the inevitable onslaught of globalization which automatically leads to westernization and urbanization. like many cities around the world, people flock to bankgok in search of work, income, and life in the fast lane. as you may guess, tons of tourists flock to thailand and especially to bangkok. travel + leisure magazine has called bangkok the third most desirable tourist destination in the world. in a census taken in 2000, i believe, only ten churches were registered in bangkok (out of 7-12 million people!). we spent the bulk of our time visiting covenant missionaries and global initiatives of covenant world relief/missions which took us to the slums in bangkok, rural farms in roi et, music schools in the streets, and fish farms in chiang mai. according to one source, approximately 96-98% of thai are buddhist.
Burma: some may know this country as myanmar but old school folks know this country as Burma. i did not know much about burma except that U2 wrote and dedicated a song entitled, Walk On, to honor Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the national league for democracy in burma who has been under house arrest by the military Burmese government for many years now. in 1991, she won the nobel peace prize and used the 1.3 million dollar prize to establish a health and education trust for the burmese people. some pretty heavy stuff. long story short, we trekked from mae sot by 4×4, by foot, and eventually via boat and by the time we walked up a hill, we ended up in a small karen people military base. we eventually were escorted to a nearby karen village for ‘church’ on this sunday. i was given the privilege of preaching and after my 50+ minute sermon (w/ translation), it was deemed insufficient and more teaching, sharing, and preaching was requested and service went for another 2 hours. throughout the past 60+ years, there’s been war, strife, genocide, and a very complicated history that has currently left at least 200,000 IDPs (internally displaced peoples) from the karen people. in the past year or so, the covenant denomination donated approximately 60K to help build two medical clinics in the villages; we were able to visit one; the other had been burned down by the burmese military army.
Japan: in a flash, we were on a 7 hour flight from bangkok to narita airport in tokyo, japan. we spent 4 days in and around tokyo. like the rest of our itinerary, we visited local covenant missionaries and some of their holistic development work. tokyo is a beautiful city in my opinion. i’ve been to japan numerous times and each time, i am amazed at how orderly everything seems. for whatever reason, i was most ‘moved’ by my time in japan. i was especially stirred by the conversations i had with some of the local missionaries and pastors. everything slowed down in japan (in comparison to bangkok) so more reflective conversations were possible. to affirm again the conviction of the small world that we live in: 1) i stayed a night at the home of a missionary family whose mother is the chairperson of the of the church next door to quest, 2) spent two nights at the home of one of my congregants whose parents have been long term missionaries in japan (had no idea i would stay there), and spent the day at a retreat center (several hours from tokyo) run by a pastor and his wife; his wife has had coffee at qcafe and i remember making her that drink.
i know that numbers don’t give the complete picture but according to one source, only .7% of the 130 million people would identify themselves as christians.
how shall we respond? that’s another post…