A Whole New World [February 2020 Update]
I have a dark secret that I've been harboring for years and it's time to come clean. I like musicals. There, I said it. Some of you will like me even less after this one, but I also really liked the Aladdin remake that Disney released this past summer. I felt like they did justice to one of my favorite songs:
Sorry to be so controversial so early in this update (you usually have to read a bit for the controversial parts), but we really have entered "a whole new world" as we have stepped into our new roles as mom and dad. Here's what's going on with our family, and ways you can be a part of the mission.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. On December 18th, our lives were radically changed forever in the best way possible. Out of all the things that can go wrong in a pregnancy and delivery, God blessed us with a healthy, happy baby our first time trying. I don't take this lightly. We have friends and have heard countless heartbreaking stories of miscarriages, complications during labor, and babies being born with life-altering medical conditions. We are no more worthy of having a healthy baby than anyone else. It is nothing but God's unmerited grace that got Mary Ella into our arms safely, and He deserves all the credit and praise for it.
We both love being parents. Most people don't know this, but the desire to be parents and have lots of kids was one of the biggest things Liz and I bonded over before we started dating, and made us realize that God might just be leading us to marriage. It's been almost a full decade since those conversations on the campus of Union University, but the day has finally come that we get to enjoy this beautiful gift.
Mary Ella is over one month already and we can already see her personality shining through. I have prayed since before she was born that she would be like her great-grandmother, for whom she was named after, and that she would have a servant's heart and a desire to bless others. Even at 7 weeks, she is already doing that; she is good with strangers, and she likes to smile when people speak to her, whether it's English or Thai. I pray that never changes.
Work and Finances
A lot of people reading this update probably saw my Facebook post about how Liz has decided to stay home with Mary Ella instead of signing another contract to teach full-time next school year. As Mary Ella gets a little more independent, Liz still wants to teach privately or online to help bring in a little extra income, but since her paycheck was more than mine, our finances have still taken a big hit. We serve in a global megacity of 10 million people, and even though prices aren't as high as cities like New York or LA, they also aren't as cheap as when we lived in a small city nestled in the mountains up north. We are praying that as we continue to dedicate ourselves to the mission here, we would have people who would come alongside us to partner with us financially.
Some have already given one-time gifts, especially when they heard about what happened at my job that I just resigned from (long story, but I was the 4th person to resign in the first semester because of ethical issues that I didn't feel comfortable participating in). For those who have given generously over the years that we have been in Thailand--thank you. Your generosity doesn't just help us monetarily; it gives us confidence that there are others who have a desire to see Thailand and Southeast Asia impacted with the gospel, and it gives us confidence that we are where God wants us to be in this season of life.
Missiology in Thailand
If there is any one thing I have struggled with constantly since we have moved to Bangkok, it's the question of how to effectively share the gospel with Thai people living in the nation's capital city. There are so many complicated variables that are amplified by life here.
One of the most difficult barriers to overcome in Thailand is the issue of wealth and class disparity. Christianity has usually moved quickly to the poor and marginalized in society before it is able to break through the barriers of the "upper class." We live in a strange context here in Bangkok, where it often seems like the opposite is true. Those who are poorer tend to cling more tightly to the traditions and superstitions they have always known. Maybe it is an issue of education, or maybe it is simply that those with more resources are less insecure about losing their Thai identity (which is often a concern for people when coming to Christ). Maybe it is less about the message and more about the messengers (seeing Westerners and wealthy Thais as "other"). Whatever the reason, this is the reality on the ground here.
What I am talking about is the missiology of Thailand, and one reason why Thailand still needs missionaries is to help with this work of understanding the context and helping train Christians to do the work of evangelism and discipleship in an effective way as they live their lives in this very complex society. That is why as missionaries, we can't be content with simply sharing a translated version of a gospel presentation from English, but we have to do the hard work of understanding the culture, so that we can help motivate others to go to the people who are harder to reach, or who are being neglected altogether.
Recently, our church here in Bangkok hosted another session of a marriage seminar that we've participated in before in the past, called "Grace Marriage." It's always great to have a facilitated time to ask each other questions that we might not normally ask on our own, and be reminded of the importance of health in our marriage. Thank you to everyone at Lifepoint Bangkok who helped host this.
I preached recently at Lifepoint from 1 Peter 2:9, a passage in which Peter is encouraging Christians who are suffering under persecution by reminding them of their calling. The sermon is English translated to Thai.
Baan Athitaan Church, the church planted by my wife's family when she was a kid, is in the process of building a new facility. This has been many years in the making and it is exciting to finally see it happening.