Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Thanksgiving, Without the Glitter

What does Thanksgiving mean to you?


Pumpkin Pie?


Black Friday?

The Charlie Brown Thanksgiving Special that comes on ABC at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Central Standard Time?  What?  You don't have it marked on your calendar!   Go do it right now!  I'll wait.

It was my pleasure and privilege to celebrate Thanksgiving several weeks early this year.  It reminded me that Americans have not cornered the market on Thankfulness.  Giving Thanks did not originate with a bunch of guys that wore funny hats and ate wild turkey.  No, Thanks-Giving is as old as the Mercies of God and as universal as His Faithfulness.

A Cornucopia of Blessings

 In the tribal villages, Thanksgiving is a season.  It's the end-of-harvest celebration.  It's a time to visit and a time host.  A time to give and a time to receive.  A time to praise and a time to feast.

 Each church takes a weekend to host their own Thanksgiving service.  Other villages around the area are invited.  A favorite question to pose to the guests is, "How did you get here?"  It is, I suspect an interesting story, how each group arrives.  I was asking the same question myself?  Most of the villages are off the main road, back in the mountains.  During the rainy season, some roads are accessible only by motorcycle or by foot.  Some of the guests may have hitched rides in the back of pickup trucks, traveling hours around winding curves and across deeply rutted tracks.   Even though there were scores of guests, I didn't see hardly any vehicles. 

Our group arrived in Bro. Paul's trusty 4x4.  A gift from a sponsoring church in America, this truck has been a true workhorse.  It travels thousands of miles every year across a country that by all accounts has more traffic fatalities than just about any other.  If I was to start making a gratitude list, Bro. Paul's driving would be near the top.  I told him that it didn't feel too foreign to have him drive on the "wrong" side of the road.  He really didn't spend much time on that side anyways.  Half the time he was on the right side of the road, passing the tuk-tuks and bicycles, the pedestrians and motorcycles and the slower moving trucks with passengers crammed in the open bed.  As we wound around and around the narrow mountain roads, the lively conversation in the cab would be punctuated with rhythmic honking.  Like a ship in the fog, he was letting oncoming traffic know where we were at so as to avoid a collision.

This picture was taken from the truck. The hillside plunges straight down so steeply that you can't even see it from the picture. Nonetheless, it is covered with tea bushes. There is no wasted space.

Thanksgiving in America reminds me of a hothouse poinsettia, covered in glitter.  Showy, traditional, at times, inauthentic.  Forgetting it's true origins it has become a parody of it's self.  (You can tell how much I like glitter covered poinsettias!)  But in that truck, as the hillsides fell steeply away on one side and rose sharply on the other, brilliant flashes of red caught my eye.

"Is that...?  Is it really...?  A poinsettia!  There are poinsettias growing wild on the side of the road!"

I fell in love with poinsettias in that moment.  It was so refreshing to see them as God meant them to be, clinging to the side of a mountain in a jungley rain forest.  Bringing glory and praise to their Creator who had planted them in that specific spot.

And so it is with the tribal celebrations.  This is the true origin and meaning of our American Thanksgiving.  An agrarian society, dependent upon God's provision for their sustenance, giving praise and thanks to their Creator for providing the year's harvest, inviting their friends to share in the bounty.

There are songs and personal testimonies.

  Preaching and exhortation.

 More songs.

 Giving gifts of food and receiving gifts of hand crafted hats and scarves.

 More songs.

 In all, the meal is important but not necessarily the centerpiece of the day.  I know the ladies worked long and hard to make the special pork balls and other traditional foods, and the food is duly appreciated by all!  But it makes me ashamed to see what an idol American feasts can be.  And don't even get me started on Black Friday! 

It's not that I'm down on American traditions.  Not at all.  I am looking forward to celebrating with my family this week, and yes that includes football, turkey and pumpkin pie.  But it is good to be reminded that true thankfulness is bigger than a meal.  It's larger than a hectic weekend.  It goes beyond our brief American history.  It's what God's people have been called to live, every day.  And they do, all around the world in all sorts of conditions.  And it's beautiful!

Praise ye the LORD:  Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.

Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts.

An angelic hostess.  I thought this a good place for a picture of Miss Susan ;-)

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him all ye stars of light...

Praise the LORD from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps:

Fire and hail; snow and vapor; stormy wind fulfilling his word;

Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars...

Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth:

Both young men and maidens;

old men and children:

Let them praise the name of the LORD: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven...

Praise ye the LORD!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!  May it last all year long.  I, for once, am going shopping on Black Friday for a poinsettia, preferably without the glitter!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Lahu Stew

We interrupt this regularly scheduled travelogue to bring you a hearty meal, fresh from the village!

Lahu Stew, or as it may be more properly termed, curry  (except that it doesn't rhyme!)  is a delicious and nutritious staple of Golden Triangle dining.  This versatile pottage is appropriate for all seasons and welcomed at every meal.  The flavorful broth is the must-have accessory to every bowl of rice.  Don't be the last person in the Northern Hemisphere to roll out your own personalized bowl of stew. Click on the handy link below for your rush copy of the treasured family heirloom recipe.  It can be yours today for the very limited offer of three easy payments of $19.95  Call now and have your passport number ready.  Operators are standing by.

Top Secret Lahu Stew

Okay, I can't vouch for the absolute authenticity of this recipe.  But it did the trick for giving the kids a taste of what traditional Lahu cooking is like.  Please note, all measurements are approximate and the ingredients are merely suggestions.  In other words, I threw some odds and ends into a pan and served it over rice.  But, still, it's pretty close to the real deal, if I do say so myself!

    Start with either two family sized cans of French Onion Soup and two cans full of water (not authentic at all, but it's what I had on hand)
10 cups of beef broth, either canned or made from bouillon cubes (still not quite right, but getting closer)
several meaty bones and cuts of meat, including but not limited to beef, pork (I used country style pork ribs) chicken, fish or black dog (nothing keeps you warmer in the winter!)

Cover the bones with water, add onions, garlic, ginger, chopped kale or other hearty green, peeled and diced pumpkin or butternut squash.  Season with salt and pepper, curry paste or powder, and chopped red and green chilis.  Simmer several hours until meat is tender.  Serve over rice with a side dish of bamboo worms.  Papaya makes a nice dessert.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Around the World in 80 Hours, Or Something Like That

It is the standard question you get when traveling overseas:

"How long did it take for you to get here?"

I tightened my grasp on Robert's supporting elbow as I squinted my eyes to better facilitate the heavy duty mathematics that answering such a complex question would require.

"Um, three days, I think.  More or less.  Give or take twelve hours.  Well, it depends on when you start counting . . .   How long did the trip take you?"

The couple ahead of us in the immigration line shared quizzical glances before responding,

"Oh, twenty four hours, counting our layover of course.  Wow!  What took you so long?"

Indeed, what did take us so long?   I can tell you, getting to Thailand in the first place was no easy feat.  I consider it a miracle that I even got to make the trip.  Every step of the way was attended by tremendous blessings from God.  This whole thing came about because He made it happen.

 The first blessing is that we know Brother Paul Brown and his lovely wife, Sister Susan.  Bro. Paul was my family's pastor.  He baptized my mother when she was a teenager.  He married my mom and dad.  He baptized me as a young adult and married me and Robert.  To say I've known him my entire life is an understatement.  He was well acquainted with my grandparents and even my great grandparents!  After forty years of shepherding the same church that he himself grew up in, he gave up everything to come to Thailand and join in an already established ministry to the hill tribes of the Golden Triangle.  Little did he and Miss Susan know of the dramatic turn that things were going to take upon their arrival.  But that's getting ahead of myself.  Suffice it to say that I have had Thailand, the hill tribes and the Brown's on my heart from the very beginning of their ministry.  When they invited Robert and I to come visit, I was ecstatic!

The second huge blessing is that my husband works for a major airline.  We can fly standby for a very reasonable rate.  In fact, it's about the only rate we could afford.  What we gain in affordability we have to trade in for convenience.  Flying standby is hazardous, without a doubt.  Our unsold seats could melt away at a moments notice, leaving us stranded.  But, that just adds to the high drama of traveling halfway around the world.  Why not go for adventure?

The biggest obstacle to our leaving was what to do with our poor orphaned children for three weeks.  This caused me massive anxiety for months.  I wasn't sure if I could leave them for that long.  And with whom?  Five children is no small undertaking.  Add in special diets because of food allergies, allergy shot appointments, music lessons, karate tests, cooking lessons and the massive amounts of laundry generated daily . . . it would require a truly brave soul.  Or a number of truly brave souls who organized into a Hudson clan care-taking village of awesomeness.   Yes, I have amazing family and friends!  My sister, mom, in-laws, church friends and homeschooling friends all banded together to make sure everyone was well cared for.  Thank you so much, Joanna, Anita, Ron, Joyce, Royce, Deanna and Sherry!  This trip could not have happened without you.

Our amazing church has been such a blessing and support to us as well.  With a generous love gift, they helped us get from Incheon, South Korea (which is as far as our airline could take us) to Chiang Mai, Thailand as well as helping out with other ministry related expenses.  Of course, most important is the prayer that surrounded and supported us from beginning to end.  I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God!

The logistics of packing for Robert and I, packing for the kid's various activities, preparing food and other supplies for those that were staying at our house, practicing for mine and Cy's karate tests and the 1001 other tasks that go along with an overseas trip kept me in a fair state of panic for the last week leading up to our departure.  I couldn't sleep.  I couldn't sit still.  I couldn't keep focus on a task.  I could, however, eat.  And I did.

A lot.

I also spent a lot of time with the punching bag.  I knew if I could get past my test on Monday I would be able to simmer down a bit and focus on packing Tuesday and Wednesday.  If all went as planned, we would go to music lessons as usual on Thursday, leaving for OKC on Thursday evening and flying out from Will Rogers International Friday morning.

Things did not go as planned.
They never do.

I broke every board in my test, Monday evening, but one.  It. Would. Not. Break.
I tried.  Repeatedly.  Here's the proof.

Both of my hands and down my wrists looked like that.  Finally, my instructor told me that I could wait to finish the test when I returned and he would get me a different board.  I finished my fights and self defense demos, but the green belt would have to wait another three weeks.  I went to bed exhausted, counting on a good night's sleep so as to be ready to conquer the next set of obstacles.

That restful sleep never happened.  I was still too keyed up.  I went to bed Tuesday night hoping for the same thing.  Negatory.  Sleep was just not going to happen that week.  I opened my eyes Wednesday morning with a running list of all that I was going to do that day, thankful that I still had one more full day to prepare. That's when Robert emerged from his closet office with an itinerary in hand.

"To make all the open flights, we are going to have to fly out of Oklahoma City at 5 a.m. Thursday morning."

5 a.m. tomorrow!  That means we need to be at the airport by 3!  That means we have to be in OKC tonight!  There goes all my carefully laid plans.  Time to utilize the Full Bore Panic!!!

Joanna showed up at 6 p.m. to take the kids to church.  I hugged them all and told them that we would drop by on our way out of town so we could give our official goodbyes.  Robert arrived home from work at 6:30.  I figured we would be ready to leave within the hour.  Robert started drafting his will, just in case we went down over the Pacific.  Then I have to copy it myself by hand.  Then he purchases travelers insurance.  Then he packs all the books he wants to study.  I slowly start to go insane.

Joanna was back and the kids safely tucked in bed long before we were ready to leave.  It's 11 p.m.  I haven't had supper yet.  I'm grouchy when I haven't eaten.  Full Bore Panics require a lot of fuel to sustain.  By the time we reach Robert's parent's house, we have about 45 minutes left for a power nap before leaving for the airport.  This is what I look like at 3 a.m. on 45 minutes of sleep and nearly 24 hours of Full Bore Panicking.

With this wild eyed look, I think I'm ready to run for President!

So, when did this odyssey officially begin?  Was it when I opened my eyes at 5:45 Wednesday morning?  How about when we pulled out of our Coweta driveway at 11 that night?  When we left for the airport at 0'darkthirty?  Impossible for me to say.  I just know I was giddy with excitement!  

 There was a last minute panic at Dallas when the gate attendants would not let us on their flight to Shanghai.  Evidently the Chinese government requires visas or proof of a connecting flight.  We had not yet purchased tickets for the final leg of our trip, because we couldn't be sure of when we were going to arrive.  There was another flight leaving for South Korea at exactly the same time that we could transfer to - if they had available seats.  But first we had to make sure that our luggage didn't go to China without us!  The Korean gate attendants were dubious that we could make their weight limit.  I was regretting all those panic driven snacks.  Some last minute calculations were crunched and they let us on board at last.

This is where things start getting fuzzy.  We flew west, chasing the sun over the Rockies, across Canada and down through Russia.  There was 15 hours of sunshine, which was totally discombobulating!  It made me smile though, to think of God's eternal day.

We landed in South Korea with a 24 hour layover ahead of us.  We decided to leave the airport and get a hotel room nearby.  Best decision ever!   It was so exciting to get my first glimpse of Asia!

Our hotel had a delightful little mudroom for us to leave our shoes in with complimentary house and shower shoes.  It had the hardest bed I had ever slept on, which includes church camp!  (I discovered that is very typical for this part of the world.  I had to adjust to our overly cushy beds upon my return)  I can't say I got much sleep, but after resting in a real bed I was ready for the final leg of the journey.  Before we were due at the airport we had the opportunity to explore the little neighborhood that the hotel was located in.  Then we had a good 8 hour stretch to explore "The World's Best Airport".  And you know, I do believe it is!   It's more like an enormous mall with spa's and napping nooks and cultural centers.  And the cutest little baggage cart toting machines that played "There's No Place Like Home".  We met a man with a bright red cross that read "Believe in Jesus" in three different languages.  When we smiled and waved, he came over and asked to take a picture with us.

"When you see me, pray for me!"  I believe said his name was Pastor Sam.  I may not have remembered that accurately, but to me he will forever be Pastor Sam.   

Now you can pray for him too!

At last it was time to board our final flight for the five hour trip.  Before, I would have thought that quite a long flight.  But now?  Pshaw, what's a little five hour puddle jumper?  We touched down in Chiang Mai around 9 p.m. , anxious to see our hosts and get some real sleep.  But first we had to go through customs.  Which brings us back to the conversation with the seasoned travelers ahead of us in line.

I started trying to explain our circuitous route, to their increasing bewilderment.  They got their chance to escape when the customs officer called them up to present their papers.  When our turn arrived, the officer pointed to the blank space on our arrival slip, "Address During This Visit".  We didn't have the Brown's address.  We searched high and low, in my purse and Robert's money belt.  Nope, no address.  The officer waved us out of line until we could come up with something.  I turned my phone on, hoping to access the free airport wifi to get out a Facebook message.  But no, that would require entering my passport number.  What sort of identity theft fiend would require that?!  But alas, there was no other way  Finally, Robert bit the bullet, entered his passport number and connected to the elusive wifi.  Miss Susan answered our desperate S.O.S.  Just then a customs official approached us.  She took the paper and the address on our phone and wrote it down for us, an act which seemed overwhelmingly gracious and hospitable to these two exhausted and loopy farang.  This was our first taste of Thai hospitality.  Every one we met was very gracious.  It made me feel at home instantly.

 And just like that, we were through customs.  Hospitable politeness aside, I'm sure they were ecstatic to see us go.  Everyone else had been processed some time before.  It was just us two silly farang (foreigners) left.

 Our travel was over, but the journey was just beginning!


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Welcome to Thailand: A Prolougue and an Introduction

Endless offerings.

Endless prayers.

Endless chants.

Endless cycles.

This sacred "naga" or snake is over 400 years old

Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai's sacred mountain is just the place to sit and contemplate eternity.  You are confronted with it everywhere you turn.

It's bejeweled body slithers alongside 306 steps up mountain to the temple. Climbing this is said to earn merit.

 I am surrounded by antiquity.  Chiang Mai, itself is an ancient city dating back to the "new city" capital of the Lan Na kingdom, built in 1296.  Not quite a hundred years later, this mountain was marked by the legendary white elephant as holy ground.  The sacred beast was given a shard of bone, said to have been the Gautama Buddha's shoulder, to carry.  The elephant wandered about the mountain until reaching the summit, where it trumpeted three times and fell down dead.  A shrine was built on that very spot.

Over the next 700 years, the temple complex blossomed like a tropical flower.  Today it is an enormous in scope.  Golden domes glisten and jewel encrusted idols glitter.  Gongs and bells, chimes and chants keep time with the march of centuries, the march of souls.  Souls seeking eternity, souls lost for eternity.

I hold my breath as I enter the first shrine.  The air is thick, but with what I could not say.  The giant statues of Buddha hold my attention until a slight movement in the corner catches my eye.  A saffron robed monk is seated cross legged on the floor.  I panic for a moment, my head is not supposed to be above a monk's, but I have no intention of kneeling.  I slowly edge towards the door.  Seeing monks on the street is a novelty, seeing them inside a temple suddenly feels very different.  This is not a costume party.  This is life and death.  Eternity is at stake.  He is on the other team and I'm on his home turf.

Deeper into the complex we forge.  In the very heart of this mountaintop temple sits the Golden Chedi.  I suspect this is the final resting place of the moldering shoulder bone.  Faithful pilgrims march around this glistening dome with lotus buds and tapers clasped devoutly between praying hands.  Around the perimeter of this holy walkway others are lighting tapers and bowing to jade statues.  This is my first glimpse of Buddhist worship and it is sobering.  Further still, along the walls of the courtyard are many niches and rooms.  In each room there are cringing, crawling devotees, looking for a sign, a favorable fortune, a healing, a blessing.  There are idols of all shapes and sizes.  Monks are in abundance, some solemnly receiving adulation, others jovially sprinkling the grateful worshipers with holy water.  The incongruity is jarring.

I stand in the corner, overwhelmed, burdened.  I can do nothing but pray  

"Father, send someone to this woman.  The one over there, shaking the fortune sticks.  Show her You are the answer.  Here's another one, lighting tapers.  Lighten her darkness, Lord.  This one, right here in front, bowing before the giant, cold Buddha.  Liberate their souls.  You only are God.  You only are Savior."
You can see some of the votive offerings placed in the hands of this statue. A giant moth reposes on it's shoulder.

I wonder about the monks.  Do they sense the Holy Spirit when His people visit this place?  Do they recoil from the Light like I do from the Darkness?

One woman glances over her shoulder at me as I pray.  Is it my presence that is intrusive? Or is it Christ's?

It's time to go.  But there is one more opportunity to bear witness in this silently deafening place.  A roll, to be signed and wrapped around the sacred pagoda.  I inscribe, "Jesus is Lord and Savior."

Doi Suthep belongs to Him.

"Ho, every one that thirsts,come ye to the waters!"

Welcome to Thailand!  Land of Smiles.  I certainly was smiling a lot during my three week visit. I feel so incredibly privileged to get to know firsthand the many faceted ministry of my good friends, Paul and Susan Brown.

As much as I relished the beauty of the mountains and jungle, it's the people who have stolen my heart.  I don't want the above description of a Buddhist temple to make you think I have contempt for Thai culture or for Thai people.  To be an emissary of Christ does not mean you have to reject a beautiful and ancient culture.  Jesus is not a "white" savior.  He died for all sorts of people throughout all times and all regions and all cultures.  Truly the Gospel is Good News for everyone!

Join me as I attempt to relive the adventures of the last three weeks.  I will introduce you to some unforgettable people in remarkable settings.  I hope to clearly explain some of the exciting opportunities to share the Gospel throughout South East Asia.  And, I hope to challenge each one of us to share this good news right where we are at, in our own corner of the world.   I dare say, there are many lost Baptists who are no closer to the Kingdom than a Buddhist.

Truly the fields are white unto harvest!

"Pray ye therefore that the Lord of the Harvest will send forth laborers"