Eileen and I just returned from a two-week trip through southeast Asia. We went with a group from the seminary to visit friends and church leaders and to learn about the experience of the Church in this area of the world. For most of the trip, I was having flashbacks to the summer of 2003, which I spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand, teaching English. As quickly as I can summarize what we learned on this trip, here are three themes which kept jumping out at me while we were there. More thoughts on the trip may come later, but here’s what you get for now:
1) Spiritual warfare is real. The best way to explain this here is that there were times on this trip when we could tangibly sense evil. God led us deeper into prayer in these times and drew us closer together as a group. I have a new appreciation for the tradition of reading the Psalms, where the pslamist frequently curses his enemy or cries to God for deliverance from the enemy, as a prayerbook for struggles with the spirtual forces of evil.
2) Idolatry is real. In the West we’ve come to interpret idolatry metaphorically – greed as idolatry of money, pride as idolatry of self, or making an idol of whatever consumes our heart or controls our desires. The closest thing to real idol (i.e. image) worship most people encounter in the West is pornography. But in other parts of the world, idolatry as we see it described in the Old Testament really does exist, and it captivates people, and ultimately enslaves many to superstition. The testimonies we heard from many church members included talk of being freed from idolatry.
3) Poverty, warfare, and environmental degradation are all urgent global issues. This is something we all “know” but it doesn’t move from being head-knowledge to heart-knowledge until you see it close-up. We visited orphanages where children stay because their parents can’t afford to provide for them at home. We saw the scars which war leaves on land and people. We stood on the streets of a city where our skin and eyes burned because of the pollution in the air.
Whenever I’ve gone on trips like this before, I’ve come back a changed person. I have a feeling that I won’t know the depth of the ways this trip has changed me for a long time. To anyone reading this who supported us in prayer or finances on this trip, thank you. I’m grateful to have been given such opportunities to explore the world and look forward to seeing how God uses it to shape our future ministry.