“I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places,so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”- Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)
Today marks 1 week since my arrival in Chiang Mai, Thailand. What an amazing and delightful journey it has been even in just these few days. As I’m beginning to unpack this experience I find myself torn between wanting to write about my tangible experiences, and wanting to write about my reaction and journey through those experiences. So, on suggestion from my fellow interns in the field with me, I am writing both, one post on what I’m doing, and one on what I think about it. So here is part 1, and be on the look-out for the follow-up post in the next few days.
What I’ve Been Doing
I arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport around 11pm on the night of the 16th, which was 6 months to the day after I got engaged and graduated from Miami University. Exhausted, jet-lagged, anxious and overwhelmed, I was greeted by 2 of the other interns, Elaine and Megan. We stepped outside and I was engulfed in a wave of humid, still heat. As we drove through the city, I caught my first glimpses of the low, unassuming architecture of Chiang Mai, spotted with elaborate, gold-plated temples, and closed roadside food stands. Aggressive dark green vegetation of all shapes and sizes peaked through buildings and sidewalks and, as we got a little further away from the center of the city, started to fill every available inch of land. The apartment was tucked back away from the main road and was so quiet and green that it could have been hundreds of miles from the closest city. The next morning, after a failed attempt at sleeping in (jet-lag is a monster) I went to the office for the first time. Through an amazing piece of God’s work, the office was having a pizza party on that first day, and they excitedly introduced themselves, and welcomed me, without a moment’s hesitation, into the festivities. Most of the staff of the IJM Thailand office speak minimal English, but I still felt so welcomed. They laughed and joked with each other easily, a laid-back, tight-knit group of around 20 who seemed to not take themselves too seriously, a rare and valuable trait among people who have such serious jobs.
Over the next couple days, I got an apartment, in the same building as two of the other interns, furnished it with the basics, got a motorbike, (standard transportation in Chiang Mai), got settled into my desk, was trained on the case management system, and was taken on some much needed trips to buy everything from food to a laundry basket. I can confidently say I wouldn’t have survived this first week without the kindness of the people in the office and the interns, particularly Megan. Besides being my ride, she introduced me to the staff, let me sit at her desk, brought me groceries on my first day, and even took me home to take a nap in the middle of the day when I was still recuperating from jet-lag. I shared every meal with at least one, if not most, of the interns, and have loved getting to know them. The 4 of them are all amazing, passionate young women with such a heart for the Gospel.
Then, on Thursday afternoon, I grabbed my bags to head out for my first trip into the field. Jessica, the legal fellow, was unable to go last minute, so I wound up heading out for a overnight trip to Feng province with 3 members of the CSA (Child Sexual Assault) team. I knew the 3 of them, along with a few others, would be my primary co-workers for the year, but I was still nervous to be spending this much time with them, without any of the other interns there to walk me through cultural differences and help with translation. An overnight work trip with an office you’ve been with for 2 days is stressful even when you’re in your home country and speak the same language. We cut in and around one after another of these amazing mountains in Chiang Dao that were a boggling variety of shapes and sizes. Green, rolled slopes mixed with sudden drop-offs and exposed rock, in layers and layers of mountains, made the horizon line look more like the high seas than a mountain range.
P. Mouy, P. Kay, and P. Saman were all unbelievably kind and inclusive, and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable and appreciated, a graciousness which I couldn’t even begin to deserve. We had dinner at a roadside cafe and I tried to soak in the town through every pore as P. Saman laughed at my apparent awkwardness with chopsticks (I ate sushi in the states all the time, I thought I was fine, my mistake). After staying in a hotel in Feng, we headed out for our primary purpose of the trip, to hear the judgement issued in a high-profile CSA case the team had been working on for years. Even as I sat in the Thai courtroom, unable to understand a word of the proceedings, I found myself thinking how lucky I was to be included in such a moment for the team. A small smile broke over P. Mouy’s face as she turned to me after the judgement was issued and said “conviction.” There was an almost tangible relief in the staff, even as IJM’s CSA lawyer, P. Rit, started in on a conversation with the prosecutor he worked with about whether they would appeal for a longer sentence. The staff, taking their victories in stride with complete humility, then began to tell me about our plans for lunch and an interview later that afternoon.
I had the absolute pleasure just to spend the afternoon hanging out with the staff, enjoying each others company. Besides the adventures of eating live shrimp and using a squatting toilet for the first time, the trip also gave me such a wonderful opportunity to bond with the staff through shared experience, beyond language barrier. My whole experience also made the work tangible in a way that I had never expected. Having worked at IJM’s headquarters, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the work and on who IJM is as an organization and how God is working through that, but actually being there is somehow so much less dramatic but more powerful than I could have imagined. It all became more than names and numbers, more than the editorial team’s polished, impactful, published stories, even. I had to wrap my mind around it, working with IJM’s CSA team in Northern Thailand was my life now, and that was an amazing gift that God entrusted me to steward well.
I spent the weekend touring Chiang Mai with Megan, Elaine, and Rachel (all interns). They showed me the old city, Elaine bravely drove me up the winding switchbacks up Doi Sutep, the mountain and temple that overlook Chiang Mai, Megan patiently took tourist-y pictures of me places, and Rachel took me to our local KFC for lunch today before we met up with Megan and Elaine to go to the market. We spent the weekend enjoying beautiful old temples, monuments, Mexican food, and late-night ice cream. They taught me about the city, told me how their first weeks went, took me to church with them, and left me feeling so thankful for the amazing sense of community I felt with them.
Tomorrow, I head back into the office, and I am excited to continue to learn how I can be of service to those who already serving those most in need. I have already learned so much and I am so filled with gratitude towards God and the people he has placed around me here. I ask for your prayers for the team as they are about to go on annual retreat and get some much deserved rest from the amazing work they do, and that my adjustment continues to go well!
Thank you for all of your support and prayers!