We had a team visiting Mae Sot this week, and they came to our neighborhood on Thursday and Friday morning to provide a program for the kids. Despite the incredible heat, it was so much fun. We played with kids of all ages–from eighteen months to fifteen years–and enjoyed games, Bible stories, skits, stickers, snacks, and hygiene lessons.
Of course we loved spending the time with the kids, and it’s always a great opportunity to have them hear Bible stories–and with a translator!–and see a piece of why we are here and what we believe.
It was fun to see them understand pieces of it. Many of them are picked up by a local Burmese church on Saturday mornings and go to a Sunday School program each week. They know some songs in Burmese that we recognize, and they know some of the stories. It was fun to see a little six-year-old, Davy, putting stickers together and putting Jonah in the mouth of the fish, remembering and comprehending the story.
After a morning of Bible stories and songs, on Thursday night there was a Buddhist celebration on the road. The neighbors cleaned up the road, set up a platform, and invited three monks to come bless the new year. They had a loudspeaker and said who knows what. They asked to borrow our cups and bowls; they asked for Stephen to take a picture. In situations like this, we try to be supportive from a distance–we are fine to let them borrow things, but when invited we explain why we aren’t coming.
And while they bowed down to the monks just outside of our windows, Stephen was inside practicing worship songs for the Good Friday service we were hosting at our house.
As I sat beside Stephen, I could feel the weight, the closeness of faith. It’s so personal. And yet oddly enough, it’s our life, too–our business, if you will. And sometimes I’m not sure how I feel about that.
I know how I feel when I see them worshipping monks. I know how I feel when I see false hopes in gambling, alcohol, and karma. I know how I feel when I see lostness and false truths.
I also know how truth feels. I know how I feel about moving halfway around the world to try to love as Christ would love. I know how much I love and pray for this community; I know how a love given by God far exceeds whatever I could make up or create in just a few years.
Some days, I don’t know how I feel about sharing Bible stories or asking the kids to believe what I believe. Do they really, and is it for the right reasons? Do they really know truth, or do they want to be like us? Or do they want to worship anything that might give them a chance?
How do the parents feel? Do they want their kids to be raised Buddhist? Is Buddhism a life for them, the way my faith is for me, or is a ritual? Or a last-ditch-effort?
How would I feel if a Buddhist group or Islamic group came to tell stories to my children? Would I let them go?
I tell myself it’s different, because ours is truth. But how do they view it? How do we be respectful? How do we be loving?
And what really is loving? Is it loving to share truth, telling Bible stories, and sharing in games and snacks? Ultimately, is it more loving to perhaps step on social boundaries or cultural taboos in hopes of truth making an eternal impact, or is it love to be cautious of social boundaries and cultural taboos, but risk the truth not being communicated?
The questions seem endless, in part from the topic and in part from my own personal snare.
In some ways, it is okay for there to be questions, because it allows more space for the Holy Spirit. It allows more space for us to not know, for us to pray, for us to trust, and for us to have faith.
But it also shows me how personal it is.
It is our work and our life and our focus–and it’s personal. It’s confronting deep issues in the world right down into our little community; it’s confronting identities of hope from society right down to a single individual across from us.
I suppose I just suddenly felt the closeness of it; the friction of something so personal. The weight.
We awoke Friday morning to have more games and Bible stories and fun, then cleaned up our house for about twenty-five foreigners to come join us for a Good Friday service.
I’ll be honest, I’m not great at hosting things at our house. I love cooking, and I don’t mind the cleaning, but once people actually arrive I’m much less competent: how do I make everyone comfortable? Are there enough seats? (Resounding no.) Why do we only have two fans that are not helping in this heat?
The community of kids adds another complication to this. They get so excited about all the foreigners coming to visit; they point out the teacher they have seen at their school. They want hugs and so so much attention. And even once we get the foreigners inside, the kids are so curious: they want to hear the music, they want to try to sing along, they want to watch and see what we do and what we are about.
At the core, here is my struggle: I don’t want to close the doors on the entire purpose of our being here. This is it–not only our faith in general, but Good Friday & Easter–this is it. This encompasses the whole identity and truth of why we live here, and it seems so beautiful for the kids to see us singing, to hear truth, to get a glimpse into the fact that this is beyond Bible stories–this is real for us.
But at the same time, I want all of our foreign friends to be able to worship. We are here to worship together, and loud kids can be a distraction. Initially I thought we’d try to let some of the older kids come in and sit quietly to listen, and honestly, they did stunningly well. They were exceptionally quiet and very well behaved, even while a foreign family colored and played with what the neighbor kids would probably deem “their toys.”
Unfortunately, with older, quiet kids come younger siblings banging and crying at the door to be held. So after just a song or two I had the kids leave, and told them to be quiet in the yard.
They weren’t exceptionally quiet, but they tried.
They were still curious, so they often stood at the door watching, like a fish bowl.
I was torn throughout the service. How do I ensure that the neighbor kids aren’t a distraction to the worship? How do I try to not make all these foreigners feel like they are being watched and observed?
But how do I let the kids be a part of who we are? How do I let them feel safe and welcomed? Really, the only practical way to have semi-peace at our house is to close the gate and kick the kids out–fifteen or more kids of all ages naturally are loud, and Burmese culture is particularly prone to noise. Not only was this not a possibility because of the huge adult-sized holes in our gate, but it seemed blatantly counterintuitive to why we are here and what we were singing about.
There are two songs that have really captured me this Easter. One of the songs Stephen led us in was Amazing Love by Billy Foote,
How can it be?
That you, my King, would die for me
I know it’s true
And it’s my joy to honor You
I know it’s true. And I suppose that’s my prayer: that’s where it all comes together. That’s where we play games and bandage up bloody wounds and share meals. That’s where we live life together and the kids watch us and we watch them; where we let friction rub us raw. Because it’s true, and so it’s worth it.
The other song–Christ is Risen by Matt Maher–is one that first captured me last Easter. We were home on furlough, which now seems just ages ago. It shows me how long this year has been.
I remember the first time I heard it standing amongst a crowd in an American church service. We were in America, and that was clear: a good sound system, words written on ginormous screens, comfortable chairs, air conditioning, English everywhere, lovely dresses and trendy shoes. And then faces of our neighbors came across my mind, just one after another of mothers and children and fathers and grandparents.
Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling over debt by death
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Christ is risen from the dead
We are one with him again
Come awake, come awake!
Come and rise up from the grave
Oh death! Where is your sting?
Oh hell! Where is your victory?
Oh Church! Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!
It makes me cry now, because that was the very first time I really realized how much I loved them. How much of my heart was right here on this street. How deeply I wanted them to know truth–to come awake! For them to know that death doesn’t have to sting, hell doesn’t have the victory; for them to know that debt has been overcome!
This was the first time I grasped the concept of Romans 9:3, when Paul says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
I’m not sure any of these connect for anyone else.
It is so funny to have something so tangible to me: the tension I can grasp, the burden, the value of truth, the personal nature of it; and yet possibly just a wisp of disconnected stories for everyone else when I try to put it into words.