Thankfulness in Thailand

Over the month of November I (Nicole) decided to make a point to recognize things that I am not only thankful for, but specifically things about being in Thailand. Over the past year there have definitely been days and moments that being so far away from family and friends hits and often hits hard. My heart aches to be near our families, I desperately want to play with my niece and nephews. I miss challenging and encouraging conversations with good friends. Missing home is ok, missing home is natural, and missing home is good.  However, it can be so easy to not just miss home, but to also dwell on missing home and certain activities or times with family and friends. This can easily take away from the joy you can experience where you are now.

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I was able to recognize a few deeper and meaningful areas that I am thankful for, and also a few more superficial things such as, after a quick visit in Bangkok, I am thankful to live in Chiang Mai with nicer weather, less crowded, and less traffic.

I am thankful for the trainings, resources, and opportunities we have been able to experience and learn from, for the wealth of knowledge and experience of others that we can tap into and learn from.  Thankful for our team leader, P’Boom!

I am thankful for the house church we are a part of with other young people living life here and striving to glorify God and the community that brings.

I am thankful to experience a different culture, ceremonies, holidays, celebrations, and a way of life.

I am thankful for variety and diversity in worship, hearing songs and prayers to God in a different language and style.

I am thankful for recognizing areas of strength, weakness in my heart and the growth that has come through God working through challenges we face.

I am thankful for life here, wandering through markets, riding on the motor bike at night with cool weather, family nights with the kids that live with us, and spontaneous movie and root beer float nights.

I am thankful to see God at work.  Even in what seems to be completely dark situations full of hardened hearts, God’s light is still breaking through.  He is pursing these people with mighty strength, and I am grateful to even be a small part in it.

I do miss my family and friends and I always will.  I am so so thankful to have the support, encouragement, and prayers of such amazing people. We are extremely excited to be going home for a few weeks next month.  It is our prayer that we can have sweet times with family and friends, be refreshed and encouraged and enjoy time with loved ones.  We also pray that we may even be anxiously anticipating coming back to Thailand.  We know that we are not done here, God has placed these people in our hearts and we are thankful to be a part of His work in Thailand.

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Dirty feet

The last 5 months of my life have definitely been the most challenging in my entire life.

We have become an emergency foster / transition home for kids coming from rough situations. We house the kids until it is safe for them to return to their homes, or until they are able to be transitioned to a long term facility.

Oh yeah, and none of these kids speak English. And we just started studying Thai 8 months ago. So to say that these last 5 months have been challenging, might be a bit of an understatement.

Lots of these kids are coming from situations where they have some major baggage. Alongside of that, they are coming from situations where there has been little to no structure in their upbringing, which often involves them being able to do whatever they want. So though you would think they would welcome our help and want to take steps to a better, healthier, and safe life, our attempts at trying to implement structure, discipline, and good habits are often met with a lot of resistance.

It is so frustrating to pour your lives out for these kids, and try to do what is going to help them in the long run – to just be met with rejection, ungratefulness, rebellion, slammed doors in your face, etc. In the first 5 months, although we definitely had our frustrating times, I still felt able to continue to love and show grace. But after 5 months of this, I feel like I’m wearing down. My wicked heart is coming out. I have just been experiencing more and more frustration, and anger and it’s bleeding into other areas of my lives. How are you supposed to help and serve some people when they don’t even want to be helped?

And then I read this:

The story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. Taken on the place of a servant, and washing the nasty, dirty, feet of 12 dudes. ONE of those dudes being Judas, which right after this act of servitude, Jesus sent him on his way so Judas could BETRAY Jesus.

Yes, Jesus knew Judas would betray Him. And Jesus STILL humbled himself to a position of a servant and washed even Judas’ feet. MINUTES before the act of betrayal.

Jesus knew WE would betray Him. He knew I would betray Him before the world was even created (1 Peter 1:18-20 ), yet God created us anyway, and Jesus still died for us.

Despite the sin, despite the betrayal, despite the dirty feet, He still chose to love.

Jesus, I need you. Help me love like you.

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Motivation in the muck

There are days when I feel like I’m on top of the world. Everything is awesome, and I can’t help but to marvel at the blessings God has given me.

 

And then there are other days – when I feel the world has just taken a giant crap on my head. I’m left wondering what the heck happened, asking God where He is, and what the heck am I doing wrong?

 

The last few days for us have been pretty frustrating from multiple angles. We have had some great days, and some great moments. But we have also had “world dump on the Zins” days.

 

We literally gave up our entire world to move to Thailand to show some love to people and a culture we had never met. Despite the sacrifices, at times we have been met with rejection, disappointment, and just crap. At times there is no thanks, there is no change, and sometimes there is nothing but what seems like a back hand to the face.

 

So I question… why do all this? Is it really worth it? Why give up so much for people who just don’t give a crap?

 

How you answer that question is contingent upon this: When you’re in the muck of life, what is your motivation for what you’re doing?

 

A really wise man said this (Jesus… Jesus is the wise man):

 

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:10

 

It would be like if I said, “oh yeah I decided to not play in the NBA because I decided to sacrifice myself and play some pick up ball once a week instead.” I can pat myself on the back for “choosing” that, but in reality, I already belong there and deserve that! In essence, don’t pat yourself on the back for doing something that you should already be doing, or for being in a spot you already deserve to be in. In summary, I believe a lot of our frustration or ungratefulness stems from feeling entitled, or from us thinking we deserve more or to be better off than we actually do.

 

It’s the same concept when I get all upset that things aren’t going my way. I question God WHY these bad things are happening to me, or why things aren’t going my way, or why can’t things be smoother? I have sacrificed “so much”, so I deserve better, right? But truthfully – that is what I deserve. I am a broken, jacked up, mess who has rebelled against God. So in reality, because of my sin and rebellion against a holy and perfect God, I deserve much worse.

 

When you look at it from that perspective, it’s a whole lot sweeter when you have ANY blessing come your way. Because I can see that I clearly don’t deserve them. If you look at it this way, how can I not be grateful?

 

And the fact that my God, my King, invites me to join in on His amazing plan and wants to use me – even though He doesn’t need me to do it? Incredible. And the fact that despite my rebellion He calls me His child? Wow.

 

So… what’s your motivation?

 

– If its self worth or recognition and you don’t get that, you will get frustrated quickly. Trust me, I’ve been there. Not everyone will be there to see everything you’re doing, or even care. This motivation runs out quick.

 

– If its rewards in the future – that’s great but sometimes it’s hard to keep your eye on the prize, plus all that really means is that you are thinking about Y-O-U and what happens when you don’t get the raise or new car Joel Osteen said you would? Frustrating…

 

– If our motivation is because Jesus is your King and you recognize that you are on this earth to serve and glorify Him IN RESPONSE to what He has done because you know He deserves every last ounce of worship your body can muster, this motivation won’t run out. Because the fact that He saved me despite my sin doesn’t run out – that fact will never change, so as a result, my motivation will never change. Don’t give him the scraps or the leftovers, give him the true, sacrificial, worship that He is deserving of.

 

I truly believe living a sacrificial life is what will make a difference in this world, and if you are a follower of Jesus, I believe we are called to live the same sacrificial life that He lived (despite the fact that He was actually deserving of so much better and we are not). Anyone can take the easy road, and love those who are easy to love. But when we love others at a big expense of ourselves, and love those who are tough to love, THIS is what will glorify God. This is what will help create change in the world. Lets take a chance. Lets make a sacrifice.

 

Not because of what it does for us – but because He is worthy.

 

 Not doing it for trumpet or because we are entitled – but doing it because He deserves our duty.

 

Don’t get me wrong, sacrificing sucks sometimes. When I am faced with a choice to sacrifice and lower myself, my pride SWELLS up thinking “I deserve better”, “I shouldn’t have to suffer like this” or even “how is this really making an impact”, etc. But this is when I get closer to Jesus because I need HIS power to make the sacrifice because I am unable to do it on my own.

 

I am NOT saying everyone should pack up and move to a third world country. In fact there are many people who may read this who are making WAY bigger sacrifices than I will ever make, or have had way bigger “world take a dump on them” days. But what I AM saying is that if you are a follower of Christ, we should live our lives sacrificially, wherever we are. NOT to get anything from it, or receive recognition, but because He is worthy. I may be crazy, but when Jesus said “pick up your cross and follow me” – I don’t think He was talking about everyone wearing a cross necklace. I think He was talking about the biggest act of sacrifice the world has ever known. And when He tells us to follow Him, I think He meant it.

 

So…. on the mucky days, what’s your motivation? What keeps you going?

 

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If you want to hear about some stuff God is doing in Thailand despite our best screw up attempts, make sure you sign up for our updates.

 

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Stop Standing Solo

Have you ever felt passionate about something, something that you were determined to make a difference in and help conquer the world, then not too long after, you just felt deflated? Discouraged by setbacks? Depressed because you didn’t feel qualified to make a difference?

About a year and a half ago, my wife and I were living in Arizona, praying about different opportunities to serve overseas. We felt God had put this burden on our hearts, but we didn’t know what do with it. We didn’t know where to go, or what we could do – we just felt like He was leading us somewhere (despite the fact that we were perfectly content with our lives at home and everything seemed to be at an all time peak).

All throughout my life, I have been pretty susceptible to depression and occasionally battled suicidal thoughts. I hadn’t really struggled with it much in a few years. Then all of a sudden, during this time – it hit me out of nowhere. It hit me hard. I spiraled into the most serious period of depression I had experienced in years. Not only that, but I had very strong urges to end my life. It was scary. I was ashamed for having these thoughts, and as a result I didn’t want to tell anybody. It definitely didn’t help that I had been coming off my second knee surgery in two years, so wasn’t able to be active (which doesn’t help the serotonin in your body – the hormone that is produced to help stabilize your moods). My lack of mobility also made it much easier to isolate myself. Despite the physical factors, I don’t think it was a coincidence that this hit me AS we were praying about making some significant changes and taking some steps of faith.

If you are passionate about making a difference or feel called to something – what better way to discourage someone then to make themselves feel worthless? Tell them they aren’t good enough? And then make them feel guilty for even HAVING these feelings – thus making them feel even more unqualified to make a difference?

In 1 Peter 5:5-11, I think the apostle Peter gives us some pretty encouraging advice. This whole book is about encouraging those who were suffering (particularly Christians being persecuted) and is calling them towards holiness. I know this letter is geared towards the early church undergoing persecution, but I think it can still apply. Honestly, the only Greek words I know are the names of a couple fraternities, so hopefully I am not taking it out of context.

He first tells us to be submissive to those who are older (v.5a) – I take this as seeking council. Listening to advice and following instruction to those who are older than us, and have already been through the battles we are experiencing now. So much wisdom in this.

If we humble ourselves to seek this council and advice (a.k.a. admit we don’t have all the answers, admit that we DON’T have it altogether, and admit that we DO need God’s help, others help, advice, prayer) – God WILL lift us up in DUE time (v.6). It may not happen right away abracadabra style – but in due time, God will lift us up – because He DOES care for us (v. 7). When I was struggling, I ended up getting counselling (a.k.a. the place you go when something is “wrong with you”. I got news for you – there is something wrong with all of us…. so if you go, don’t feel alone or ashamed).

Peter then goes on and tells us to be self controlled and alert (v. 8). The ability to control our actions as we are experiencing this is huge. But being alert may be even more crucial. We must be alert to what is going on and the source of these feelings. We need to be alert to the fact that we DO need help, alert to the fact that WE ARE NOT ALONE, and alert to the fact that there IS something more going on than just physical factors – we are being attacked spiritually.

Our enemy the devil prowls like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (v. 9). I don’t know about you, but if I am going up against a roaring lion, I would much rather go up against him with some friends and with the almighty God that cares for me, instead of going to battle alone. I haven’t quite checked off lion tamer on my bucket list, so help in these situations is always preferable.

What does he tell us to do? To resist, stand firm in the faith (standing firm in the promises of God – standing firm on His word, knowing that our circumstances are temporary, but His promises are true and eternal). Why should we do this? BECAUSE we know that our brothers throughout the world are going through the same kind of sufferings (v. 9).

How can someone help us, encourage us, pray for us if they don’t know what we are experiencing and struggling with? We MUST be willing to TELL each other in order to help each other.

And the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast (v.10).

The suffering won’t go away immediately. We are promised that we will suffer. But we are to stand firm, humble ourselves, admit our need for each other, for God – and His grace will come upon us. I think the fact that we suffer forces us to be humble. It helps enforce our desperate need for each other, and our even more desperate need for Him. Even though the suffering absolutely sucks sometimes – I know we grow through it.  Any time we are forced to our knees crying out to God for help, that is the absolute best position we could ever be in. Because we are taking the battle out of our hands, and putting it into His hands.

I write this today for a couple reasons:

First – if you are passionate about making a difference, but feel like you aren’t qualified, or have an overwhelming sense of discouragement or depression, it might very well be because the enemy sees you as a threat. He may be trying to make you ineffective before you cause any damage to his turf. Please know you are not alone. It takes humility, but tell others that you trust and can pray for you and encourage you. God will lift you up in due time. Please also be encouraged – God often uses the weak to shame the strong, he uses the foolish to shame the wise – not because of how good we are, but to show how good and strong and powerful HE is.

Secondly – I would ask you to pray for us. Nicole and I have been in Thailand for three months. We have learned A LOT in our first three months here. Ministry wise, we have felt led to pursue some changes in what we are doing in order to be more effective in the long run. We are excited about these potential changes, but know it will probably be a tougher road. God has clearly opened some doors for these changes and we feel very at peace about pursuing them. However, since this pursuit, I have felt completely overwhelmed with discouragement and depression. So I ask that you would pray for us – that we would continue to remain humble, and stand firm.

Let’s open up. Let’s stand firm together. Let’s stop standing solo.

We will be sharing some of our exciting changes in ministry. If you want to hear about our changes and stay updated in our ministry, make sure you sign up here.

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Is there anything that you have felt called to, but were overwhelmed with discouragement or setbacks? Do you have any stories where God has moved and lifted you up after you humbled yourself, resisted, and stood firm?

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Big messes

I love the internet, and social media. It is such a resourceful tool.

At the same time, I hate it. I hate how time consuming it can be. I hate how much crap is on here. It can be a sweet tool to maintain relationships, yet at the same time, it can also rob us of the relationships that are right in front of us. I also hate how easy it is to paint a perfect picture of our lives, masking the absolute mess that truly exists.

I don’t really know how people view “missionaries” (which I don’t think I’m qualified for that title. I think you have to have led a certain amount of people to the Lord, or know a certain amount of Bible verses by heart, and eat lots of bugs without flinching. I’m definitely not there, on all accounts).  I think sometimes missionaries can be viewed on a different level of holiness or commitment to God (which is why God gives them special perks).

I have seen other people post things that were pretty vulnerable and I found it encouraging (it’s always good to know you aren’t the only screw up). So hopefully my being somewhat vulnerable on here encourages you, and gives you a more real look at our lives:

My wife and I have only been in Thailand for 3 months, yet…

– We have already argued more in the last 3 months than we had in our previous almost 3 YEARS of marriage

– I thought I had gotten over my “road rage” issues in college (I literally have driven like a grandma the last few years). Driving in Thailand is now teaching me that apparently I didn’t deal with the root of the issue.

– I STILL am very susceptible to depression and struggle with it, probably even more so now that we are away from home and yearning for family, friends, and community.

– People may think we have vision and guidance (which to some extent we do. But to be honest, probably about 40% of the time I go to bed thinking, “what the heck are we doing?”)

– I haven’t led anyone in Thailand to Christ, or even come close. I’m just now at the point where I can order my food in a way where the locals won’t laugh at me for butchering my Thai.

– I have run out of gas twice in the last three months. That’s two times more than I had in the previous twenty six years. Which again, has brought great laughter to the locals.

– Despite having an array of gray hairs on my head, I still can’t grow a full beard without any bare spots (which I thought when you move overseas, God automatically gives you a sweet beard, and possibly a staff. Apparently not).

I desperately am trying to seek and follow God and want to be used by Him. But as I do, the more of a big mess I realize I am. But that’s ok, and honestly, I think that’s how it should be. As Paul wrote;

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

So as you see our facebook updates, photos, blog updates, etc, I hope you see me for what I am. A big mess.

But the more I realize I’m a mess, the more it reminds me how much I need Jesus. Hallelujah for big messes.

 

(This blog is mainly just a way for me to ramble and try to process through things. If you want our actual ministry updates, you can sign up to receive those here.)

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Is God really enough?

We bought our motorbike in Thailand about five weeks ago. In the last few weeks, we have had to take it in six different times to get a couple different items fixed.  After those six times, the bike still wouldn’t start 80% of the time, and when it did start, it was shaking when we drove it. I’m not a mechanic, but I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to do that.

This past weekend Nicole and I were driving to church on a highway, about 20 minutes from our house. As we were driving, I was praying quietly. I had been patient for a while with the bike stuff, but had begun to get frustrated. I was frustrated that it wasn’t working. I was frustrated that it had taken so much time taking it back and forth from the bike shop, waiting there to get it fixed, and/or having to go rent a bike while ours was being fixed  (on top of the fact that things tend to take about four times as long to get done here anyway),. I was praying to God, asking Him for patience. Telling Him to give me faith, and peace, and patience – no matter what… !!SNAP!! Right at that instant, as I was mid prayer, our bike stopped working. I would rev the engine, no response. Our belt had snapped.

Terrific (sarcastic). This story has a great ending (not sarcastic), which I will tell you at the end.

Through all of this, I had a little more time to process (and make myself home at the mechanic’s shop)…. is God truly enough for me to be content? Am I truly content with Him, regardless of whatever happens, or however crappy our bike is (or even if I have one at all)? Or do I need those things to have a good attitude? Do I rely on efficiency, community, transportation, food, or feeling somewhat successful in order to be… content?

I don’t think it’s bad to desire those things at all – these are good and wonderful things God has given us. But where I need to be careful is that the creation never takes precedence over the Creator. Where do you draw the line between having natural, healthy, desires vs. relying on things for your contentment? I know that our contentment should be based on God, and who He is, and what He has done. (Matthew 6:19-34, Philippians 4:4-13), but for me that’s a little (ok, a lot ) easier said than done.

Right now I’m reading A.W. Tozer’s Pursuit of God. In one section, he writes:

“The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately, and forever.”

This makes me really question, do I actually derive all my pleasure and satisfaction from God, regardless of my earthly treasures or circumstances? Or do I merely love the IDEA of that – because it’s an easy one to love while I still have all my comforts and treasures? To not just bear tough and frustrating circumstances, but as James says… consider these things a JOY?

It’s one thing to be called to Thailand… but it’s another thing to be called to Thailand and to not have a way to get around, or have constant stomach problems, or have a washer that leaks, or have to go through the rigors of learning a completely different language while also working on top of it. I mean… we have already given up enough, haven’t we? We have made such ridiculous sacrifices that God should just completely bless everything that we do and make it easy, right? (If there was a sarcastic font – this section would be highlighted and underlined with it).

It’s these types of thought processes that make me realize how wicked my heart is. Despite good intentions, despite trying my best to follow Him, unfortunately I often lose the daily battle that I face. Sadly, He isn’t always enough for me. But He should be. He IS enough, if we trust Him enough to loosen our grip of other things that we secure our happiness with and allow Him to be enough. He IS all that we need. I just pray that God will give me grace to live like He is enough, through good and bad, thick or thin, He is all I need. I am so grateful for His patience and grace with me as I continue to try to grow in this area.

Truth is, I have always had it super easy. I haven’t been tested anywhere near most people, like Job – getting everything stripped from you, or like quite a few that we are close to that have lost a child – I grieve as much as I can with them, but honestly can’t even imagine the kind of pain they have felt. But I’m praying that I can grow in this area, so when life’s disappointments, frustrations, and tragedies come our way, I can truly say, even while experiencing all the frustrations and pain, that yes; God is enough.

The sweet ending to our frustrating bike story:

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Good intentions

Something that has really been on our heart in coming to Thailand has been unity. There are good ministries already out there – we don’t want to start something on our own that other people are already doing (and honestly are doing it better than we could because of experience, knowing the language, etc). We want to help start something that brings unity and help connects things that are already in place (as you can read about on our new website – yes that was a shameless plug). It has been super encouraging to hear from others that they feel God has been calling for more unity among the church and missionaries in Thailand.

So far most of our time has been consumed with studying the language, and trying to meet with ministries and NGO’s (Non Governmental Organizations) to discuss this. How can we better work together, as a unified body, to advance and build up HIS Kingdom? One thing we have been pitching to people is how much more effective we could be if we did work together to some extent. There is nothing wrong with having our own ministry, and specializing in the areas we feel called to or are gifted in. But we must be cautious that what we are doing does not become more important than the ones we are trying to serve. We must be cautious that our own ministry or kingdom is not taking priority over a greater cause, a greater kingdom – God’s Kingdom. This is when our good intentions can cause great harm. Everyone has different gifts, talents, and resources. So what if we were able to continue to do what God has gifted us in, but have the ability to utilize other people’s strengths, where we are weak or need help?

Nicole and I have only been in Thailand for a month and a half. We have accomplished a lot as far as getting settled, learning language, making connections, and building relationships so far. At the same time, I get impatient and I feel like things are moving too slow. We so desperately want good things to be accomplished. We want to honor God with our work. We want good things to happen for our family and friend’s sake; to affirm that us leaving isn’t worthless. We want it for our sake; to affirm that we didn’t give up everything we cared about back home for nothing. We want to see results so we can share with you, so you can be proud of us, and continue to pray and support the work that God is doing through us. But as I analyze this thought process, I realize something. When I become so wrapped up in wanting to see results, it is usually because I’m wanting to build up the Kingdom of Mike and Nicole and Justice ACTs Thailand and disguising it as wanting to build the Kingdom of God. We begin to do the very thing we are preaching against, being more concerned with OUR kingdom than God’s, regardless of our “good intentions”. The selfish and prideful part of me wants to see things happen NOW – without necessarily being concerned about what God wants or may be doing during the slow times or the building phase.

Prayer Requests:

So as we continue to connect with NGO’s, Businesses, and Disciplers, please pray for us. Pray that:

– We are patient. Good intentions can do more harm than good if we are careless. We need to make sure we are building a system that works, and that Christ will be glorified. This will take more time, but it is necessary that this is built up with a lot of prayer, thought, and strategy. We could implement something quick so we can try to rescue as many at risk girls as we can in two years, and it may not be effective at all but we will have a few more badges to put on our Good Works vest. OR we could take the necessary time and steps to try to build up something that will be effective and long lasting. Pray that we focus on the latter and have patience.

– God will continue to open doors with NGO’s (which He already has done!), but that He will also provide open doors with more businesses and Christian women (Thai or Missionaries) willing to give the at risk job opportunities, and that we can provide them with discipleship along with that.

– We carry ourselves with an attitude of humility and are servants. That we are “quick to listen, slow to speak”. That we continue to be learners – of the other NGO’s here, of the businesses, and of the Thai people.

– That we won’t just have good intentions, but that we have HIS intentions. That we can lay down our desires and will and HIS will be lifted up.

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