By Rebekah Hanson
"Bekah, come look at the stars!" my friend Pae exclaimed. It was 8:30 pm, and most people were already going to bed. My husband Reuben and I were staying the night in Pae's hometown, a small Karen village tucked away in the mountains. Crickets chirped and the lights in all the little bamboo and wooden houses were turning off. We walked to the top of the hill in her village, sat down, and gazed upwards. I had never seen a sky so big and full of stars. "Just wait until midnight, and it will be so much clearer then."
Just like Pae had asked me to wait four more hours to see a clearer night sky, Reuben and I were waiting for clarity of God’s direction in our lives the three weeks we were in Thailand in January. But we didn’t get an answer, at least not during our time there.
We heard from God during our trip, but nothing about whether He wanted us to give up our lives in the U.S. and move to this country we have grown to love over the past five years. It was frustrating, to be honest, because there were moments where I was ready to throw away my passport and stay where we were.
The first few days of our trip we stayed in Bangkok at Santisuk English Center. We spent time with missionaries Cierra and Toon Khiewsod who work at the center, Elizabeth Reid from BCF, and two of Reuben’s Thai friends serving at churches in Bangkok. When we left Santisuk, I got excited thinking about being English teachers here and building relationship with Thai university students.
Then we flew up to Chiang Mai, where we stayed with our friend Sherry who disciples Karen women and pastors. We also met up with Thai friends we had taught English to us during our times in Thailand previously, and got the chance to visit the mountains and the country area.
The end of our trip was spent on the border of Thailand and Burma doing ministry with Karen youth and children. We stayed at the home of Rosebell and Niramid, who are pastors in Mae Sariang. We spoke to the youth at their ministry base and also visited the orphanage and a refugee camp they support.
All along our trip, we waited for answers from God. We told him we would give up our lives in the U.S. in a heartbeat and move here. We would eagerly learn the languages, live in a simple house, and adjust to a new culture. In fact, living in Thailand became more desirable to us than living in the U.S.
It wasn’t until the day after we got back from Thailand that we heard from God about our future. After waking up, we sat down to journal and listen to the Lord, as jetlagged as we were. After a period of silence, Reuben looked to me and said, “I got an answer.”
In the minutes that followed, he shared how God had reminded him of the image of a pillar and how that represented his calling in life. He talked about us being a support for others, and connected deeply in a community. Then he gave me the answer I was waiting for: He told me that we are going to be planted here now. We’re not going to be missionaries in Thailand, at least for the next few years.
Initially, the feeling that hit me hardest was disappointment. Like I said above, leaving this country is more desirable than staying. Give me adventure, a new language to learn, friends from other nations, and a field where Christ is unknown.
But then, I realized something. God can and has given all of that here. The nations are here at our doorstep. I don’t have to walk a block until I meet a neighbor from different country. I work at a nonprofit that serves refugees. We buy groceries at Aldi along with our neighbors who are Somali, Latino, and Karen. Do we need to go to a different country to do ministry? Absolutely not.
Sometimes God’s calling is to invest where you are locally. For us, that means diving deeper into intercultural community. It means shopping at immigrant-owned businesses, inviting our refugee friends over for dinner, being intentional about language learning, and supporting churches with congregations from other nations.
Our trip to Thailand was a reminder that God is living and active in Thailand, but also a reminder that God can use us where we are. We will continue to pray for, support and invest in our friends in Thailand but also build a stronger connection with the Karen and Thai communities in the Twin Cities.
BCF family, God has given us a call to stay. It’s as clear as the stars in Pae’s village at midnight. Though we yearn to pack our bags are move overseas, it is not time yet. Instead, we chose to surrender our will and journey in God’s strength.
“My heart has ceased to be willful. My heart has become willing.” -Rosemarie Hanson