FOUR SOULS continued . . .

Thailand




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Copyright © 2001 by Matt Kronberg, Mike Peterson, Jedd Medefind, and Trey Sklar.
Published in association with Yates & Yates, Literary Agents, Orange, California.
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Contents
Preface vii
Introduction
: First Seeds of an Adventure ix

Part I: Mexico
1. 3,000 Miles in Ten Days 1

Part II: Guatemala
2. A Lesson in Generosity: Guatemala City, Guatemala 21
3. The Four Amigos! Together in Guatemala City 34
4. Into the Highlands: Uspantan, Guatemala 47
5. A Scathing Letter and Some Sweet Sorrow: Leaving Guatemala 61

Part III: Russia and Beyond
6. The Wounded Bear: Moscow, Russia 71
7. The Secret Police: Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Russia 75
8. Scarred Hands and Iron Doors: Serpukhov, Russia 92
9. Village at the Edge of the World: Loly, Russia 102
10. Heart of the Gulag Region: Yemva, Russia 117
11. Waltzing through the West: From Moscow to the Mediterranean Sea 139

Part IV: Egypt
12. Land of the Pharaohs: Cairo, Egypt 153

Part V: South Africa
13. Beauty and Strife 171
14. The Mountain Kingdom: Maseru, Kingdom of the Lesotho 176
15. The Road to Durban 193

Part VI: India
16. Rajas, Rice, and Rickshaws 215
17. A Change of Plans: Chirala, India 238
18. Sisters of Charity: Calcutta, India 249

Part VII: Bangladesh
19. The End of Our Rope 261
20. 100,000 Rickshaws: Dhaka, Bangladesh 285

Part VIII: Thailand
21. From Mosquito Nets to Marble Tile: Bangkok, Thailand 301

Part IX: Vietnam
22. Notes from the Underground 329

Conclusion: The Adventure Begins 358

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THAILAND

- twenty-one -


From Mosquito Nets to Marble Tile

Bangkok, Thailand



Trey did not notice that the line in front of him had moved. He was staring at the pile of golden fries beneath the heat lamp.
“Perfectly prepared,” he concluded. “Big Macs, too.”
He could see hands moving rapidly, loading the sesame-seed bun with lettuce, tomato, pickles.
“I’ve never liked McDonald’s,” remarked Jedd. “Now I’m dying for it.”
Matt warned, “Paul says we’ll be going to Pizza Hut for dinner. We probably shouldn’t eat too much here.”
“They have a Pizza Hut here, too?” Jedd asked with mock wonder.
Trey bulged his eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of room for pizza.”
Earlier that afternoon, a Westmont alum had picked us up at the Bangkok airport. We had never met Paul Honeyman. One of our professors had suggested him as someone who might know people who could use our help in Thailand. He sometimes worked with the local branch of the Christian aid organization World Vision and said he would be glad to plug us into the many volunteer needs they had as well as find us a place to stay.
Bangkok, with its glass skyscrapers, Western restaurants, and orderly streets had us almost giddy. It felt as if we were rediscovering the modern world.
Mike glanced around the dining area. “It is amazing how clean and shiny everything seems-like it’s all brand-new or something.”
Jedd nodded. “That was my first impression in the airport, too. I thought it must just be a new airport, but then on the streets . . . everything was like that. I already love this place.”
“The sidewalks seemed so clean you almost wouldn’t mind eating off them,” added Trey.
“You wouldn’t mind eating off any sidewalk, Trey,” joked Mike.
Paul waved Trey over to where he sat saving us a table. “It’s pretty crowded in here, Trey. If you want, we could just go now and get an early dinner at Pizza Hut.”
“Is it far from here?”
“Less than five minutes.”
“Let’s go! I’d rather have pizza anyway.”
On the way to the exit, a young Thai woman in the corner of the restaurant caught Jedd’s eye. Her slight figure and long, dark hair made for a pretty picture, despite the fact that her makeup was a bit too heavy. There was something else about her, though, something slightly odd. Jedd glanced toward the girl again, trying to figure out what it was. He could not quite get a good look because every time he turned his eyes in her direction, she seemed to be looking back at him. He pretended to be looking at a painting above her head, but she was not fooled. She smiled demurely.
“Looks like you’ve got yourself a friend,” remarked Paul, holding the door open for Jedd.
“Uh . . . yeah.”
“You’ve got to avoid eye contact. He’ll think you want to spend some time with him.”
Jedd looked at Paul, a bit taken aback.
“That was a man, you know.”
“I thought she looked kinda weird, but . . .” The others snickered.
“That’s Thailand for you, or at least, part of it,” began Paul. “The people here are great. I really love them. But it’s a very permissive society. At least as far as sex goes, just about anything is acceptable. Bangkok is considered the sex capital of the East-pretty much everything is for sale.”
“I’d heard there’s a lot of prostitution,” remarked Mike.
“There is, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of really weird stuff, and a lot of it involves children. In Bangkok alone there are thousands and thousands of little kids being used for sex. When men want a total license to do anything they want, they come here.”
“Why do you think that is?” queried Matt.
“It is hard to know exactly, but in some ways it is just the overextension of the natural Thai mentality-‘live and let live.’ I guess you’d call it an extreme tolerance. As long as you’re not outright hurting anyone, no one seems to care what anyone else does.”
Mike shook his head. “You can’t say it doesn’t hurt the kids involved.”
“Stuff like that hurts everyone involved,” remarked Jedd tersely.
“It definitely baffles me,” agreed Paul. “Like I said, the majority of the people here are some of the friendliest you’d ever meet. And I wouldn’t say many engage in that kind of activity. But unless it’s some sort of outright crime, no one wants to stick their nose in anyone else’s business.”

Jedd’s Reflections-March 26
Tolerance is a strange word. These days it is being lifted up in America like it is the highest of all values. The only sin in the postmodern world is intolerance.
Tolerance, though, really doesn’t offer all that much. It requires no love or concern for others, no compassion or benevolence. You just have to be able to ignore.
Of course, if a society doesn’t have any higher virtues, tolerance is the best you can hope for. At least it allows people to coexist without killing one another just because they don’t like the other person’s appearance, beliefs, or habits.
But there’s a time for intolerance, too. When I think about what they do with little children here-and many other places, too-it makes me want to really lay into someone. In circumstances like this, tolerance is not a value at all. In fact, if you have the ability to stop something like that, but instead choose to be “tolerant”-that’s straight-out evil.


We swung into a supermarket before proceeding to Pizza Hut. Mike and Jedd needed to pick up another dose of medicine. Both were feeling much better than they had several weeks before, but most meals still brought on stomachaches.
“I hope this finishes the parasite off,” groaned Mike. “That last medicine we took helped, but I’m ready to be done with this once and for all.”
Paul empathized. “I’ve had a few trips down that road. If this medicine doesn’t work, maybe I can suggest a few things.” He had lived most of the seven years since his graduation in locations overseas-Guatemala, Romania, and elsewhere-working on economic development projects for World Vision.
We waited at a crosswalk, stopped not by a light but by a traffic cop who directed the flow by hand. The policeman, sensing the right moment had come, waved his black-and-white stick at the cross traffic. It quickly came to a halt in a neat line; then he turned and waved us on.
“Why is that cop wearing a surgical mask?” asked Trey.
“I’ve seen other people on motorcycles wearing the same things,” added Mike.
Paul explained, “They’re to filter the air-there’s so much exhaust on the streets down here.”
Matt chuckled. “I’d just been thinking how incredibly clean the air is.”
“It almost tastes sweet to me,” remarked Jedd, not entirely joking.
“It’s all perspective,” stated Mike. “After Dhaka, I bet any air would seem clean.”
“I guess that goes for everything else here, too,” suggested Matt. “On the bus from the airport, I was amazed how smooth the bus ride was, and the air conditioning was so cool. I couldn’t believe that people were staying in their own lanes and not honking all the time. Then I talked with this American guy. He was complaining about the bus and how dirty everything was.”
“Yeah,” agreed Trey. “When Paul said we might want to leave McDonald’s because it was so crowded, I was thinking, There’s hardly anyone in here. Everything feels so open and spacious.”
Jedd followed, “Did you notice that flight that arrived just after ours? It was a bunch of Americans coming straight from San Francisco. Some of them looked like they thought they were walking out onto the surface of the moon. And we were feeling like we were almost back in America.”

Mike’s Reflections-March 26
Rich or poor, fat or skinny, short or tall, clean or dirty-they are all comparative terms. How a person views their life is so much a product of their perspective. Our conclusions about what we “are” are mostly just products of what we compare ourselves to.
On this trip, we have seen many a man who sleeps on the floor of his home and toils in the fields from morning to night, but he considers himself rich because his family does not lack for food to eat.
I hope the perspective this trip is giving me will help me be more content-especially as I remember the poverty and struggles so many face and contrast it to my life as an American.
The way we feel about life depends not on the way things actually are so much as on how we view them. A thankful, positive attitude-like Trey has most of the time-continually shapes the world we see into something good. I hope I can become more that way.


The Royal Treatment

Click! The doorman’s heels snapped together. As he opened the bronze-and-glass door, his gloved right hand shot up in salute. Smartly dressed tenants acknowledged our entry with polite smiles, apparently not noticing our grubby clothes and soiled backpacks. We gazed in wonder at the subtly lit foyer, which contained sculptures, paintings, oriental rugs, and leather couches. After five months of the unexpected, we had given in to a continual state of bewilderment.
“This place is called Oak Park,” explained Paul. “It is one of the nicest complexes in Bangkok. My fiancée’s parents are letting me live in a penthouse they own here until we get married.”
Paul had met his Thai fiancée, Yeewa, during his work on an MBA in South Carolina. They would be married the following year. Until then, at least, Paul was working for the company owned in part by her father and helping a ministry called Opportunity International on the side.
A distinguished-looking man in a tweed sport coat nodded as he passed. Paul leaned toward us and noted, “That’s the Hungarian ambassador to Thailand. He lives in the suite above me.”
We followed Paul up a half-flight of marble steps and into an elevator, wary of touching even the gleaming handrail. Ding, ding, ding! The elevator raced up the tower.
“Forty-second floor,” the voice from the ceiling stated matter-of-factly as it came to a halt.
Paul led to the left and, with a twist of his key, pushed open the double mahogany doors.
“In Asia, it’s always necessary to take your shoes off at the entrance,” he directed, removing his sandals.
We walked in slowly, almost reverently, our socks sliding on the hardwood floors. The front room looked like a presidential suite, sporting the finest décor. Mahogany woodwork surrounded a state-of-the-art entertainment center. Across the living room lay the gleaming lights of Bangkok, framed by an expansive window that covered the far wall from floor to ceiling.
Paul could tell we were impressed. “Not a bad place, huh? I’m blessed to get to live here. This will be your home as long as you’re in Bangkok.”
Jedd sneaked an excited glance at the others. We had not expected to stay with Paul. We imagined that we would sleep on the floor of a church or have to find a cheap hotel room.
“You can sleep here,” offered Paul, opening a door. This room also offered a view of the twinkling expanse of Bangkok. Best of all, bracing air poured from several air-conditioning vents near the floor. “I’m sorry I don’t have beds for you all. Do you mind sleeping on the carpet?”
We could not help but laugh at the thought. Matt assured him, “Not at all. This is the nicest room we’ve had in six months.”
“One of the nicer rooms I’ve ever slept in,” remarked Jedd.
“I knew you guys would be worn pretty thin by the time you got to Bangkok. I want your time here to be some good R and R.” Paul indicated a piece of paper stuck to a bulletin board. “I’ve got you guys guest memberships to Oak Park’s athletic club downstairs. It’s pretty posh. You’ll be able to use it as long as you’re here.”
What’s next? thought Trey. Is he going to bring out silk robes for us?

Trey’s Reflections-March 26
Again and again and again, God’s blessings have been poured out to us through the generosity of others.
When we left Bangladesh, I assumed our time in Bangkok would be more of the same-long, sweaty days and mosquito-bitten nights. And now look at this!
Christians sometimes talk about the way God “provides,” but it is just amazing to really experience it. All my life, even though I thanked God for my blessings, they came so easily that it usually just seemed like they were just “there” or that I somehow obtained them on my own.
It’s incredible to see how God takes care of us when we are more dependent on Him for whatever comes next. Sometimes it’s a little mud hut and sometimes it’s a forty-second-floor penthouse, but whatever He provides is always everything we need, and often a lot more than that.
I remember a thought from C. S. Lewis: “The best fruits are plucked for each by some hand that is not his own.” I totally agree. It is so much more enjoyable to receive the incredible gifts we’ve been given, rather than to live a life where we are just trying to grasp good things for ourselves. And besides, no matter how hard we might have tried, we would never have been able to secure blessings this great on our own.


“To the Royal Palace,” Trey directed the taxi driver.
Mike looked out the window and released something of a sigh. “It’s funny. Here we are in the exotic city of Bangkok, and I don’t feel like doing much besides hanging out at Paul’s apartment.”
Matt laughed. “You just want to keep telephoning Brittney.”
“It has been great to talk with her, but seriously, I just don’t have the desire to do any exploring these days.”
“Well, I’m glad we’re finally visiting a few places, but I know what you mean,” followed Trey. “Maybe we’re all just a little burned out.”
“If Trey Sklar says he’s burned out, then you know we’re burned out.”
Trey grinned. “Yeah, maybe. I’m hoping this relaxing we’re doing will rev us up for the last month of the trip.”
It was not looking like we would be of much use to anyone in Thailand. Celebrations leading up to the year’s biggest holiday, Thai New Year, had already begun. The Christian groups were all on vacation. Events like the Thai Water Festival-which sounded like nothing more than several days of nationwide water fights-would be everyone’s focus for several weeks.
Deep down, we were not entirely disappointed. Coupled with Paul’s generosity, the turn of events made for a life of ease. We lounged by the Oak Park pools, lifted weights, e-mailed from Paul’s computer, caught American movies at a theater, wandered nearby malls, and ate like royalty on Paul’s hospitality. After nearly a week in Thailand, we were finally venturing out to visit a few popular tourist sites.

Mike’s Reflections-April 1
I’ve always wanted to visit strange places and experience crazy things. That was probably my biggest reason for deciding to go on this trip. I saw the travel and adventure as the way to really experience life.
This trip has been an incredible adventure, and, aside from a few rough spots, I’ve enjoyed just about every aspect of the travel. Still, more and more I’m realizing that the heart of real “epic life” is not mostly about globetrotting adventures after all.
You could pour out a fortune going from one place to the next your entire life, always in search of “the next big buzz.” That would be fun for a while, but even the most extraordinary activities lose a lot of their excitement if you do them enough times.
As fun as the travel adventures have been, the parts that have been most meaningful have been the relationships with the guys and the people we’re meeting, and learning to serve and growing in my faith. Those things aren’t as flashy, but I’m really starting to see them as the truly epic aspects of life.


Questions in Paradise

A high whitewashed wall several stories high surrounded the palace grounds, the main entrance jammed with sightseers.
“Welcome to Disneyland,” Matt stated dryly.
Despite the fact that we had been traveling for five months, we had not encountered many tourists thus far. Of course, we definitely did not think of ourselves as tourists. Few travelers do.
“Do we have to do this?” lamented Mike.
Trey ignored the complaint. “Have you guys ever seen the musical The King and I? This palace is where a lot of it is supposed to be set.”
“Wasn’t that in Siam?” questioned Matt.
“Thailand used to be called Siam. Did you know this is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by a European country? That is why they still have a king.”
“That guy we saw yesterday?”
“Right.”
The day before, we had gone to the movies. Just after the previews, everyone in the theater stood in unison. We joined them, trying to figure out what was going on. For the next several minutes, we watched as a pictorial history of the life of the current king of Thailand paraded across the screen, accompanied by triumphant music.
“The king seemed like a nice enough guy, but he looked like a middle-aged dad on vacation,” commented Mike.
“Don’t say that too loud. Paul was telling me this king guy is the national hero. He doesn’t have much of an official function, but everyone totally loves him.”
“He’s got a nice house here,” Matt declared as we passed through the gates and into the palace.
What struck us most as we wandered among the grounds was the intricacy of the workmanship. In Europe, palace walls housed paintings, sculptures, and other works of art. In this palace, the walls were art. Every inch of wall, gate, and tower was carved with geometric shapes, miniature faces, or intricate flowers. Others had been inlaid with brilliantly patterned mosaics. Worked into it all was gold, everywhere-even in the temple areas where Buddhist priests lived out their vows of poverty.
Mike glanced over at Jedd, who was staring up at the monster face of a thirty-foot statue. Jedd had been uncharacteristically quiet all day. Mike guessed it had to do with a conflict from the prior evening, one that had carried reconciliation time out until well past midnight.
The disagreement began over whether or not to act on a friend’s suggestion of a welcome home party for our return. Somewhere along the line, it became a revisitation of an issue that had come up several times during the trip: the aggressiveness with which Jedd promoted his opinions. The conflict ended well, but Jedd still seemed to be a little stung.
Mike walked up next to him. “These statues are pretty wild, huh?”
Jedd’s smile was halfhearted. “Yeah. If this guy came to life, it’d be pretty scary.”
“So what’s up, Jedd? You haven’t talked much today.”
Jedd was quiet for a moment. “I don’t know. Probably just a little down.”
“Is it about last night?”
“I’m not holding on to what we were arguing about. As late as we had to stay up to resolve it, I’m glad we did.”
“You’re just tired?”
“I am a little tired, but it’s not that. I guess I feel like our reconciliation time keeps focusing on me. Like I’m always at the middle of every problem. I want to be able to take criticism, but I guess I’m getting kind of sick of it.”
“Jedd, you’re not at the middle of every problem.” Mike thought for a moment before posing the question “Do you feel like we’re being too nitpicky?”
“I don’t know. I always learn from the issues we work through, but I just feel like I’m always the one who has some area he needs to ‘grow’ in. I felt that way in Russia, too.”
Mike showed part of a smile. “You know why? It’s because you’re so intense about everything. When there’s a lot of energy, even if most of it is good, there’s going to be more friction there.”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t exactly help when I’m getting criticized all the time.”
“Seriously, Jedd, you know how much we respect you-your discipline, your focus, your speaking ability, your passion for the Lord. I know some of the reconciliation times have been harder on you than the rest of us, but I already see you growing through it, and I know the end result will be even better.”
“Thanks, Mike. I appreciate your saying that,” said Jedd quietly. “Not to be touchy-feely, but I do think it would be good if we all did a little better job of affirming one another every now and then. Reconciliation pretty much just focuses on working out frustrations. That’s fine, but it would be good to have a reminder every once in a while that we appreciate one another.”

Jedd’s Reflections-April 1
Some of the reconciliation times recently have been pretty hard for me.
I try to learn from the conflicts and from the things the other guys are saying. I know a person’s ability to grow through criticism says a lot about their character. Sometimes, though, I just feel like I have had too much. (I guess that shows how far I still have to grow.)
As hard as it is sometimes, though, I do feel like I’m growing through it. Being together so intensely for so long makes it impossible to hide the real you-both the good and bad. That has created some struggles, especially for me, but with our commitment to reconciliation and to one another, it can produce growth we just couldn’t get anywhere else.


For part of the ride home from the palace, we took a water taxi, a narrow craft that looked like a long banana, its ends raised well above the center where we sat on cross-boards while an outboard motor, directed by the driver, pushed us through the brown waters.
Canal-like river ways connected many sections of Bangkok to the central river that passed through the city. The quiet canals, like alleys, ran mostly along the back porches of personal residences. Some of the homes were upscale, even manorlike. Most, though, were simple affairs of wood and corrugated metal built up on piers. In other areas, only dense undergrowth lined the banks, sometimes forming a leafy canopy overhead.
A group of boys waved and shrieked as we buzzed by their swimming spot. One clambered out and performed a flip off the cement embankment.
“Nice trick!” called Jedd over his shoulder, giving him a thumbs-up.
As our canal joined with the main river, its width of forty feet became two hundred. The shapes lining the edges made for incongruous neighbors. Western-style office buildings shimmered in the sun next to multitiered shacks. Ornate Buddhist temples from ages long past stood alongside massive billboards that proclaimed the glories of Coca-Cola and Apple computers. Thailand was like a man dressed in a suit coat and tie above the waist, but wearing only ragged shorts and sandals below. Modern and ancient, poverty and opulence, East and West were blended together in an unpredictable cocktail.
“I wonder what people here think of all the Western influence and change,” mused Trey.
“Paul told me most of the young people embrace it, but some of the old people really don’t like it,” Mike answered.
“That’s usually the case.”
“Yes, although here I’d bet the rate of change has been some of the most radical the world’s ever seen, especially with the economic growth of the last decade. Some people probably feel like they woke up one morning and found the future had taken over their city.”
The “Asian financial miracle” of the 1990s brought to Thailand a time of incredible transformation. Wealth poured in with international investment. Development was both rapid and awkward, like a boy’s adolescent growth spurts. Paul’s residence was an example: The towering Oak Park complex shot up quickly, its owners eager to cash in on increasing demands for luxury from Thailand’s new rich.
But the speedy pace had consequences. Oak Park’s builders lined its elevators with marble. The elevators’ machinery, however, was incapable of carrying more than one or two people along with the weight of the stone. They broke down constantly until the elevators’ marble was replaced with wood paneling. Paul’s bathroom was another example. Although full of gleaming brass and modern appliances, his toilet plugged up at every other use.

• • •

“That was the fanciest shower I’ve ever been in!” said Trey with wonder. “There was a nozzle coming from every direction and even a digital control for the water temperature.”
“I know; mine was the same,” said Matt. He lay on his back on a black leather recliner. The chair’s vibrations slowly rolled from under his feet up to his head.
Trey opened the locker room’s minifreezer and took out two washcloths. They had been soaked in menthol, neatly rolled, and frozen. He lay back on a chair similar to Matt’s and turned it on, then placed one of the cloths over his face. He breathed deeply. “Ahhhh. So refreshing!”
After passing the morning reading on lounge chairs by Oak Park’s swimming pools, Trey and Matt had headed to the gym for a workout. They spent two hours scaling routes on the club’s climbing wall, lifting free weights, and watching TV while jogging on the treadmills. Following a sit in the sauna and a visit to the high-tech showers, they donned the club’s thick bathrobes and settled in for a chair-massage in the men’s locker room.
“What a place, huh?” remarked Matt.
Trey smiled beneath his menthol cloth. “It’s like one of those elite clubs you see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
“So do you feel fully recovered yet?”
“I felt recovered last week. Now I’m starting to feel a little indulgent.”
“It’s funny how quickly you can get tired of being pampered.”
Trey peeled the towel off his face and rested on one elbow. “I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t want to complain in the least, but as nice as all this luxury is, it doesn’t take long before you start wanting something more than late breakfasts and reading by the pool.”
“That’s probably why God gave us six days to work and one to rest,” Matt commented. His voice shook slightly from the chair’s vibrations. “Taking time off is great, but you can only fully enjoy it when it is really a rest from something and not just a continuing self-indulgence.”
“Definitely. Which is why I’m glad you were able to get in contact with that missionary.”
Since our original plans to work in Bangkok had fallen through, Matt had tried the phone number of a missionary in eastern Thailand, who encouraged us to visit, affirming he would appreciate our help on a few projects.
Matt followed, “I’ll be glad for the chance to work. In the meantime, there’s no reason not to enjoy these blessings. It really is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been.”
Trey nodded. “What a far cry from the mud huts we were in just a few weeks ago. It almost feels like that was just a dream.”
“I know. When I was in Bangladesh, I promised myself I wouldn’t forget the struggles the people live with every day there. As sad as it is, I feel like I already am,” Matt admitted.
“I don’t think we’ll ever completely overlook them, but I know what you mean. The reality starts to fade. You find yourself getting irritated when your toast is a little burned or when a restaurant doesn’t have air conditioning. Then you catch yourself and think, What a spoiled brat I am.”
“So how do we remember when we get back home?”
“Good question. Maybe it’s not entirely possible to just ‘remember.’ Maybe you just have to keep experiencing things to keep them as part of your perspective,” responded Trey.

Matt’s Reflections-April 3

I believe this trip will impact my life as long as I live. But still, even before it’s over, I see how quickly I can forget things I’ve seen and lessons I’ve learned.
When living in the lap of luxury, it is really hard to retain a full sense of how most of the world actually lives. I want to hold on to what I’ve seen. I want it to make me thankful at all times. I want it to keep me from complaining.
But it is so difficult to keep seeing their lives and faces. If I really want to remember, I need to choose to remember. I must do things that keep bringing these things to mind: continue service to the needy, make real sacrifice at times, and continue to pray for my struggling brothers and sisters around the world.


Brave Girl

Our train flowed smoothly across the Thai countryside, swaying slightly from side to side, the tracks leading straight ahead, straight behind, splitting the plain in two. Despite the lushness of orchards, palm trees, and rice fields that spread off in all directions, the soil itself appeared dry and dusty. The rainy season wouldn’t arrive for several months. A smattering of buildings appeared on the left, but the train did not slow. Only the town’s steep-roofed Buddhist temple-gleaming with red and gold-had escaped the decay that marked almost every other structure. Despite the peeling paint and crumbling concrete, the town’s inhabitants appeared to value tidiness. Even dirt streets appeared to have been swept free of debris.
We were headed to the missionary’s home in a town on the Cambodian border. Mike had remained in Bangkok to help a small ministry group with a brief project. Jedd, tired of reading, stared out his window at a vast mango grove. Matt brought out his journal, but returned to his book when it became clear that the train’s rocking made legible writing impossible. Trey sat a few seats away, conversing with a pretty young woman. She had Asian features and long black hair. Her name was Kathy-ethnically Filipino, but a resident of the Netherlands since the age of three, she spoke perfect English, along with Dutch, Tagalog, and Spanish.
“I graduated last spring from a university in the Netherlands,” she explained to Trey. “I plan to travel for about eight months, mostly here in Asia.”
“You’re traveling for fun?”
“I spent a couple months in the Philippines to visit relatives and things like that, but I’ve been to a lot of places. I enjoy the freedom. What about you guys?”
“We graduated last spring, too. We worked for the summer to make some money and then took off in October. We’ve been in a number of different places; we stay with local Christians and join them in whatever work they are doing.”
Jedd slid onto the bench seat next to Trey and introduced himself to Kathy. Conversation shifted into the usual exchange of travel stories.
Kathy had picked up some sort of intestinal parasite in Myanmar. In desperation, she ventured to neighboring Bangladesh, hoping to acquire medicine. “The guidebook said Bangladesh was a little more open to the West and that I’d be more likely to find the drugs there,” she explained. “If I would’ve known what Bangladesh was like, though, I think it’s the last place I would have gone.”
Trey and Jedd just smiled at each other.
In a lull in conversation, Kathy indicated the book on the seat next to Jedd. “That is an interesting title-Knowing God. Any good?”
Jedd picked up the book and fanned the pages. “I’m enjoying it. It’s a biblical view of how we can enter relationship with God and come to walk with Him in our day-to-day lives.”
“How do you mean?”
“It would take me a bit to explain,” replied Jedd, “but if you don’t mind, I’ll try.”
“Go ahead,” she encouraged.
“As the Bible explains it, God created man in His own image. God intended that we live in perfect relationship with Him as our Creator and Friend, and also with one another. Of course, God had the power to force man to do anything He wanted, but He chose to give us freedom, that is, the choice to accept or reject the life God intended for us. We rejected it because we wanted to be in charge, rebelling against God and His purposes for us.”
“That’s the Adam and Eve story, right?”
“Yes-and it’s what we do every day. What the Bible calls ‘sin’ is basically our choices that reject the good God wants for us. We think it will give us more happiness, more pleasure, more control. That actually might be the case in the short run. But the net effect of sin in the end is always destruction of relationship, both between us and God and between us and one another.”
Kathy nodded, indicating for Jedd to continue.
“So, in essence, our sin separated us from God. And from that point on, selfishness and brokenness became the dominant marks of our relationships with others also. At that point, God could have just let us go and left us to bear the consequences of our decisions. But the Bible says that God loved us so much that instead of allowing us to remain separated from Him for eternity, He sent His Son to become a man to take upon Himself the pain and punishment for our choices. That is why Jesus came. With His life and His teachings, Jesus showed us the type of life God wants us to live. With His death, He paid the price for our rebellion. If we accept that gift and commit our lives to Him, we reenter relationship with God and someday will go to spend eternity with Him in heaven.”
Kathy continued to listen intently, her right eyebrow slightly lowered. “My parents are Catholic,” she said. “We never took it too seriously, though. I didn’t really know much of what the Bible said.”
“We’re still learning as we go, Kathy,” inserted Trey. “But the more we discover about life and about Jesus, the more we’re convinced that what He taught was the truth.”
“I guess my experience has been the opposite,” she said. “Most of the religious people I know don’t seem all that much better off than anyone else. Maybe worse.”
“We’ve seen that, too,” Trey agreed. “We really have no interest in being ‘religious people,’ either. Most of religion is man’s creation anyway, not God’s. True Christian faith is not about being religious or doing rituals or ceremonies or anything like that. It is about living in a relationship with your Creator. It is about living as we were designed to live.”
“But there are still a lot of things you can’t do,” Kathy asserted.
“You mean moral decisions?” asked Jedd.
“Yeah-lifestyle choices, things Christians aren’t supposed to do.”
Trey answered, “There are certain things we choose not to do; but if those things are ultimately destructive to your relationship with God and with others, why would you want to do them? God fully intends us to enjoy all the good gifts He has given us. We only need to avoid distorted forms of those gifts because they end up destroying relationships. Besides, they aren’t anywhere near as good as the real gifts.”
“I don’t totally understand.”
“A simple example might be food. God equipped us with taste buds to enjoy it. Think about it-isn’t it awesome that the process of getting energy into our bodies is not just a functional activity, but actually can provide pleasure? That shows God wants us to have pleasure. He wired us for it.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“When we take His gift and use it in a way He did not design it for, we ruin it and create all kinds of problems. Food is great, but look what happens when a person thinks he can get more out of food than was intended and becomes gluttonous. And that principle is just as true of drugs, sex outside marriage . . .”
“You guys are virgins?”
Trey nodded.
“No way! You’re serious?” She did not seem disdainful, just surprised.
“Yes. But not just because we want to ‘keep the rules.’ As we see it, God designed us and He knows how we work best. He’s given us instructions. If we follow them, our lives are better.”
Kathy nodded faintly, not accepting, but not disagreeing either.
Jedd continued. “It is not that sex is a bad thing. We believe sex once we are married will be one of the greatest gifts God’s given us . . .”
Trey agreed with a slightly overloud “Yep!” Jedd glanced at him and grinned.
Trey began, “See, a big part of the reason God gave us sex is to bond two people together at the deepest level. You may have heard the analogy-sex is like two pieces of paper being glued together. If you pull them apart, both pieces are going to tear, and you leave part of yourself behind.”
“Yeah, I think that is true,” Kathy acknowledged.
“You probably know people-especially girls, but guys, too-who are just torn apart when they’ve been in a sexual relationship and then things don’t work out.”
“I do. But really . . . there are dangers to everything.”
“That’s true,” Jedd followed. “We definitely can choose to risk the hurt and emotional tearing, the STDs, single motherhood, and the other dangers. But why? And look at the other side of the coin. The best argument for saving sex for marriage-or for any other aspect of Christian morality-is not the bad things that might happen if you don’t obey; it is the beauty of how things work when you do them the way God intended. Two people who love each other and have saved themselves for each other, and who are committed to each other for life in marriage . . . there is almost nothing more beautiful in the world.”
“I respect you for thinking that. I wish there were more guys like you,” she confessed. “I guess I’d still have to say that it seems kind of confining to me, though.”
“With all respect, Kathy, the way I see it is totally opposite,” offered Trey. “A writer named G. K. Chesterton gave a good analogy. Imagine a group of children playing on the top of a high plateau with steep cliffs on all sides. They try to play games, but the cliffs are so dangerous that some of the kids just huddle in the middle, and some of the ones who do run around end up falling off the sides. Christian morality is like putting up a fence around the edges of the plateau. You could say that the fence is a limitation, but what it really does is free the kids to play fearlessly within its boundaries. Now they can run freely over the entire plateau. When people follow God’s directions, they are free to enjoy sex and all the other good things God has given us within the fence that He’s put up for our own good. We never have to worry about falling over cliffs like STDs, AIDS, unwanted pregnancies, or the psychological pain of seeing someone you’ve been sexually bonded with walk away from you.”
Kathy smiled faintly. “That’s an interesting way to see it. So you actually think you are freer when you follow Christian morality?”
“Definitely,” said Jedd. “Here’s another way to see it: If I sit down at a piano, I have no constraints at all because I don’t know a thing about notes or scales or music in general. I obey no rules at all. I just hit any key I want. But if a master pianist sits down to play, he does have constraints. He doesn’t just hit any key that catches his eye. He knows the ‘rules’ of music and chooses to operate within them. But this self-limitation isn’t an impediment to his freedom. Working within the rules, he is infinitely more free than I am. Just compare his music with the terrible sound I would make and you can see the beauty found in obedience.”
Trey started to say something further, but an indiscernible sound crackled over the intercom, cutting him off.
“Did you hear what stop this is?” asked Kathy.
“I couldn’t even tell if he was speaking English or Thai,” said Trey.
Kathy leaned against the window to get a better view of the approaching station. “I think this might be our stop.”
“This is your stop,” confirmed the ticket-taker who had just entered the car.
Trey tore a scrap of paper from his small organizer and scribbled out Paul Honeyman’s phone number. “We’ll be back in Bangkok by the end of the week,” he said. “Give us a call if you end up coming back to the city. We’d love to hang out.”
The train screeched to a halt, and we all piled out of the car onto a dusty cement platform.
“I’ve really enjoyed talking with you guys,” said Kathy a bit soberly.
“We have, too,” responded Trey.
“I’ll give you a call if I’m in Bangkok next week,” she promised. She waved as she struck off down the town’s slightly paved road. “See ya.”
“She’s a brave girl,” remarked Trey. “Traveling the world by herself like that.”

Trey’s Reflections-April 4
I really don’t know what Kathy thinks of everything we said, but she appeared so surprised by it all, even moved. Something in our conviction and our commitment to Jesus seemed almost shocking to her. Now that I think about it, it should be that way. Christ’s “life to the full” is more interesting and rewarding than living by the world’s insipid rules. Goodness is the exciting thing; vices get old after a while. It reminds me of a C. S. Lewis quote from “The Weight of Glory”:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion . . . is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Our transport for the final thirty miles to the missionary’s town was a tuk-tuk-something of a cross between a Harley-Davidson and a rickshaw. Matt and Jedd lounged comfortably on the wide seat between the two rear tires; Trey balanced on a platform above the motorcycle’s engine, just behind the driver. Once in the village, we would ask for the home of the farang-the white man. Anyone would be glad to show us to the house.
“Just over on that side of the road there-that’s Cambodia. We’ll be to the town real soon,” Trey shouted to be heard above the roar of the motor.
“This should be nice,” said Jedd. “I’m looking forward to the chance to be useful again . . .”
Together Again in Bangkok
Matt carried two water balloons in each hand, several more bulging in his hip pack. Mike heaved along a bucket, full to the brim, an orange-and-green squirt gun protruding from his belt. Trey and Jedd were similarly armed. We had arrived back in Bangkok just in time for Thai Water Day.
“Up there,” hissed Trey. “Let’s get those guys on the steps.”
We edged along the sidewalk, backs against a large department store window. Ten yards beyond the vegetation of a large planter, a half-dozen Thai businessmen sat talking on a set of broad cement steps. The afternoon was heavy and warm, and none of the men wore suit coats, only white shirts and ties. One sucked air through a cigarette. The others talked and laughed.
“You ready?” whispered Jedd, glancing back.
“Let’s get ’em,” urged Mike.
The men looked up, eyes wide, as we emerged from behind the bushes, whooping. Two balloons missed high and crashed into the glass door behind them. A third found its mark, soaking the shirt of a middle-aged man. The men, however, were not unprepared. Large squirt guns seemed to appear from nowhere. A heavy blast of water caught Matt in the head, and the young man wielding the super-soaker exulted with a shout. Mike returned the favor, dousing the fellow with a slosh from his bucket. Trying to conserve balloons, we began to fire with our water guns, slowly backing up the street. An old flatbed truck rumbled toward us from the opposite direction. As it sputtered past, shouting sounded from the truck’s bed. Trey looked up in time to catch a bucket of water across the face. He blinked, eyes stinging.
“Oh yeah?” retorted Jedd. He launched a pair of balloons at the company of water-warriors in the back of the truck. He then reached for his pistol. Before he had it out, a small wave crashed over him, leaving him as wide-eyed as Trey.
The crowd in the back of the truck erupted with laughter. Our businessmen opponents cheered also, but only for a moment. A volley of balloons from the truck left several of them dripping as well. The truck stopped completely, and the occupants continued to attack both us and the businessmen, supplying themselves from two large barrels in the center of the truck bed. A motorcycle pulled up behind the truck and honked. Two balloons broke against the rider’s helmet in response. He pulled a squirt gun from beneath his jacket and fired futilely into the back of the truck as he drove around it and roared off down the street. Ammo low, the truck finally began to roll on. We had nothing left, either, and began a retreat in the direction we had come.
“We’ve got to spend our balloons slower next time,” advised Mike.
The businessmen waved as they returned to the steps where they had been sitting.
“Good fighting!” one called as we waved back.
“I love this,” said Trey, beaming. “It is like a little kid’s dream-everyone in the whole country having a water fight on the same day.”
“I can’t see Thai Water Day flying in downtown L.A.,” remarked Mike. “You’d probably get shot.”
Jedd glanced ahead at a small band of bucket-toting young people who seemed to be watching us carefully from the other side of the street. “Let’s get back to Paul’s place and reload. We’re out of ammo and I think those guys up there have got us in their sights . . .”

• • •

Mike grunted and pushed the barbell off his chest one last time.
“Good set, Mike,” affirmed Jedd.
Mike sat up on the bench and draped his towel over his neck. “You know, I’ve gained back just about all the weight I lost in Bangladesh.”
“I’ve still got a little ways to go,” replied Jedd as he headed for the lat pull machine. He changed the subject. “What exactly was this work you were doing here in Bangkok while we were gone?”
“The place I was working at helps poor people start little businesses out of their homes. It’s called a microcredit project. They provide instruction and know-how from day one-everything the person needs to get going, including a small start-up loan of fifty to a few hundred bucks.”
“Sounds like your kind of ministry.”
Mike smiled. He frequently expressed his thoughts on what constituted real help for the poor. His opinions had only become stronger throughout the trip. “I liked their vision a lot. Some aid groups out there think they’re solving problems by passing out food and money. Most of the time as soon as they leave, the people are as bad off as they were before-maybe worse because they’re used to the handouts. These microcredit guys are teaching people how to provide for themselves.”
“So what were you doing for them?”
“It was just a little office with a couple of people. I was doing a bunch of things. I spent one whole day just trying to fix their computer.”
“You? Mr. I-Break-Every-Computer-I-Touch?”
“Yeah, I even kind of got it working. The main thing, though, was just trying to help them sort through their accounting and stuff. They had a guy working for them for a couple years who embezzled most of their small-business-loan fund. They’re starting again from scratch.”
“Bummer.”
“Yeah. So what were you guys doing?”
“A lot of odd jobs-sanding, painting, building shelves. Nothing too exciting, but I think the missionary guy we were helping really appreciated it.”
“Was he a good guy?”
Jedd indicated he wanted to finish his set of lat pulls before replying. “Yeah. He was a great guy-from New Zealand. It’s just him and his family and one partner. What a different mind-set a guy like that has: no sense of climbing the ladder or keeping up with any Joneses. He just does his projects to help the people out there and shares about Jesus and takes care of his family. Seems really content.”
“So could you live that way?”
“I thought about that while we were there. I don’t know. I’ve never thought I’d like being a missionary, but there’s definitely some things about his life that I want to be in mine: peace, contentment, and purpose. After all, what else really matters? It’d still be a hard life, though. They live without a lot of things we see as necessities.”
“Like air conditioning?”
“That was one. It was so hot at night I had a hard time sleeping.”
“It would take some adjusting, but . . .” Mike paused for a moment, thinking. “The more I compare life in this fancy place here to all the other places we’ve been on this trip, I really can’t say that this is all that much better.”
“It’s easy to say that while we’re here.”
“Of course. But think about it. Where have we really been happiest on this trip? In fact, as much as we needed the R and R, I’ve probably felt less content here at times than anywhere.”
“That’s true, I guess, but you can’t say you haven’t totally enjoyed yourself here.”
“No, I have. But it just kind of hit me how all the benefits of wealth here, as nice as they are, are so insignificant compared to the experiences we’ve had in so many situations that were much less comfortable.”

Jedd’s Reflections-April 11
I love the way Mike gets me thinking sometimes. Comparing this time of living in luxury to the other experiences of the trip, I see yet another strong validation of the truth of Jesus’ instructions for life: “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
It makes me think of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible. The most powerful king in Israel’s history was looking back on his life. He had acquired more wealth, achieved greater accomplishments, and amassed more knowledge than any ruler before him. But at the end of it all, he concluded that it all amounted to nothing but a “chasing after the wind.”
What a terrible thing to come to your final days and realize that. But I can’t help but believe that it’s true: All of the things the world uses as its measures of success-although we can enjoy them in their proper place-really matter little in the long run. Neither do they bring the deep joy and purpose we desire.
I remember how this really struck me the summer I interned at Price-Waterhouse. As “successful” as everyone was, there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of purpose in many of their lives. That was difficult for me. It was almost suffocating when I first realized that even if I were to make it to the very top of the business world, I wouldn’t necessarily be any happier for it.
As hard as it was to come to grips with this, I’m glad I was forced to. I know I would never follow Jesus with abandon if I believed in my heart of hearts that what the world has to offer is better than what He has to offer. Thankfully, He keeps reminding me that this isn’t the case.
It’s great to begin learning these lessons while I’m young, while I still have the majority of my life ahead of me to give to those things that really matter.


• • •

In the final days of our stay in Bangkok, we made contact with the local branch of the Bible League, a Christian organization committed to putting Bibles into the hands of people around the globe. Before the trip, Jedd called the group’s Southeast Asia coordinator, who promised we would be able to acquire Vietnamese Bibles at their Bangkok office. The man also suggested we could get information on good contacts within Vietnam from the local Bible League.
Trey and Mike stood in a quiet courtyard. “I think this is the right place,” stated Trey, leading toward a whitewashed door on the far side.
He pushed on the door and it opened into a clean, airy room that whirred with ceiling fans. Banana trees stood outside the slatted windows, their long, frayed leaves coloring the sunlight green as it streamed into the room. The place smelled of adventure. A tall American with a kind, weathered face rose from his desk.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen. You must be the ones from California.”
“I’m Trey, the one you talked to on the phone. This is Mike. We’re glad you had time in your schedule.”
His handshake was so firm it hurt. “I’m Jack. And no problem at all. We jump at any opportunity to get Bibles into Vietnam. With young, single guys like you, we’ll send as many as we can. What exactly are your plans?”
“We don’t really have any at this point. We just want to get Bibles into the hands of Christians,” said Mike.
“Anything else you’re planning to do?”
“We’d been hoping to do some work with a World Vision worker, but apparently he’s out of the country right now. We’ve got the number of one Christian lady-a friend of a friend. That’s it.”
“Listen. Just in case this lady doesn’t work out, I’ll give you the number of another good contact who’d be able to distribute the Bibles. If you use him, though, you gotta know what he’s risking. One hint to the government that a Vietnamese national is trafficking Bibles and he’s off to the cage.”
Trey whistled. “Wow. What happens to Americans who are caught?”
“It’s not so bad if you’re caught at the airport. At worst, they’ll just have you deported immediately with no jail time. But if you get caught with Vietnamese Christians on the inside, the stakes are higher.”
Trey leaned closer as Jack took a sip of his water and continued, “First of all, the Vietnamese Christians will be off to prison for a long, long time. They’ll keep them behind bars until the guards have had their fun or until they can be pumped for names of other Christians. You guys could go to the lockup, too, and I’ve heard it’s pretty rough. Even then, though, chances are good you’d get kicked out of the country before you had enough time to get to know the jailer. Here, why don’t you guys have a seat and we’ll go over some details . . .”

• • •

Matt and Jedd were not home when Mike and Trey returned to Paul’s place where they unboxed 160 Vietnamese Bibles and began exploring creative ways to hide 40 each among the contents of their backpacks.
“You know, Trey,” began Mike, “there may be some sketchy stuff once we get into Vietnam, but we’ve really been blessed thus far.”
“I know. I’m thankful everything worked out so well with Jack.”
Along with the Bibles, Jack had provided the phone number of a Vietnamese underground pastor. That made two good contacts, including the one we had received from a friend in the States. Jack also gave careful instruction on how to make the Bible exchange as safe as possible: “Call from a pay phone or a hotel. Be as vague as possible. Don’t mention their name or yours or anything to do with Christianity. Just say something about gifts; these guys should figure out what you’ve got. They may just suggest a place for you to leave them-that’d be safest for them and for you.”
We also had been fortunate enough to meet an American at church the prior Sunday who frequently traveled to Vietnam on business. He suggested the hotel he normally stayed at as cheap, clean, and safe.
“You know,” said Trey as he set a stack of forty Bibles next to Matt’s backpack, “maybe we shouldn’t tell Matt that we could go to prison if we get caught.”
“Yeah, that’d probably be better. No need to tell him anything that will make him any more nervous. We can always let him know after we deliver the Bibles.”
“So are you nervous at all?”
“A little, I guess. Thinking about how little we have to lose compared to the Vietnamese believers helps to put it into perspective, though. What’s a few days in prison? For them it could be life.”
“That’s true. All the same, I’m glad we’ll have a lot of people at home praying . . .”

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