Once in Thailand (2009)
The Blog of Nathan D. Smith

In the summer of 2004 I embarked on a trip with some friends to Bangkok, Thailand. Apart from a very brief jaunt into Canada, it is still my only international trip. We were sent by our church on a mission trip of sorts, though it didn't really happen as I would have imagined it would.

After learning that I had been selected for the trip, I had to raise a lot of money. I think the total needed was around $1,400 (or $1,700?). We sold Krispy Kreme doughnuts by the hundreds of dozen in order to raise funds in addition to our personal solicitations. I came up short and had to put up the last few hundred dollars myself. In addition to the fund raising, we had to train for some short dramatic skits which we were to present while in Thailand. I am pretty sure that one of them was set to the tune of a Michael W. Smith song, but my memory betrays me as to which one.

The flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, at six hours, would have been the longest flight I had ever been on, were it not for the nine hour flight from Portland I had just completed. We arrived in the middle of the night and it was incredibly hot and humid outside. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, we were stopped in a stand-still traffic jam. Our host told us it was probably due to a member of the royal family traversing a highway underpass - in Thailand it is disrespectful to put one's feet over another's head. Checked in. Slept.

The next morning, as we were driving to the church/English-school where we were to work, we spotted one of our team member's sisters, boldly walking unescorted down the streets of Bangkok. She had been in country only about 12 hours longer than us, having arrived for a long term stay.

Our task in Thailand was more promotional than missional. We were to go onto a nearby university campus to promote an English language learning camp for freshmen which the church was putting on. Then, we would go out into the wilds to staff the camp. But before we really got to that, we got to tour Bangkok. That was a lot of fun. It was amazing how American culture had spanned the globe, yet not without being flavored by local custom.

To get to the campus, we rode the bus. Buses in Bangkok are harrowing affairs for those of us used to the comforts of TriMet. They would not always come to a complete halt at stops, which lead to a rather humorous incident where one of our team members was left running on the street with both hands on the door handle until she was able to jump back in.

So we got around to wandering around the campus free speech zone and randomly inviting Thai college students to the camp. The language barrier made for some interesting exchanges. I am not sure how many we recruited as opposed to how many signed up by other means, but we had a healthy-sized group at the camp.

One of the young men we met played basketball. We were able to setup a time to play a pickup game at the college. The teams were our group and our new friend versus a group of young Thai men. They were shocked by the skills of one of our girls, who, though hardly over five feet tall, was able to school the whole lot of them. With much help from our new Thai friend, we were able to win the game, thereby upholding the international stereotype that all Americans are good at basketball.

Much like our own group, the Thai church had a young adult worship service. Much unlike our group, this service was attended by roughly 80% Buddhists. We had other worship opportunities, including their typical Sunday worship service (complete with bilingual sermon), and the installation of a pastor for the Cambodian congregation. It was very nice to experience worldwide Christianity. I was impressed by the diversity yet solidarity of the church across borders.

We got to meet many church goers at various functions, including a potluck. One man came to church with three books under his arm: the Bible, Hillary Clinton's Living History, and Bill Clinton's My Life. We also ate a lot of good food, including some which was far too spicy for me (see below).

We finally got to go to the camp, which as it turns out was a Thai boyscout camp. This camp was also shared with an ROTC program which would shoot off canons early in the morning. I slept through the canon fire - it's a famous story. We had a great time with the Thai students. A lot of Uno was played in addition to many fun camp games, and there was even a dance. We also got to participate in more traditional aspects of Thai culture (see above).

I made a lot of friends, with some of whom I still keep in touch. There is one person I am sure came to faith in Jesus in the immediate aftermath of our trip. I think that makes it worth it. The trip was probably mostly a learning experience for us. I think that is how our host missionary probably saw it. We did learn a lot, and I am still learning from that experience.

After the camp, there was not much left for us to do. So, as had become the custom during our trip when we had free time, our host directed us to go shopping. Giant outdoor markets, "The Mall," and everything in between. We did do an awful lot of shopping in Thailand.

So we finished our trip and came home. In the coming years we were visited by some of the people whom we met over there. Our team has more or less gone its separate ways, with the notable exception of two of the team members marrying each other. I am left with a precious reserve of memories and sentiments about my trip to Thailand.

Date: 2011-01-01 20:00