What an incredible four months it has been. After living through the cool Thailand winter together for the last few months, we have all gotten to know each other quite well here at The Life Center. As we enjoy our last week together before graduation, I am reflecting on what I have learned this year.
Even among such a wonderful group, I have found myself asking for forgiveness, and retreating to my home on more than one occasion. I have learned more about myself, and more about those around me through this group of students. We have no former drug dealers, no current drug users, and no thugs. Only students. However, after a few weeks, its easy to see one another flaws, and shortcomings. Although very few words are spoken there is a code of conduct in terms of disciple and devotion. In this world, washing the dishes can even becomes a competition in showing worthiness to carry on the tradition being established among these students.
Although at times words are exchanged, the students do their best to be attentive in both mind and deed. As a North American man, its easy to see competence a common cultural value. The pressures to show thyself approved in both word and mind. However, the deep pragmatism of the people here tend to focus their attention towards actions and deeds over words and philosophy. Although any religion can be highly theoretical, the average individual is focused on the day-to-day regiment.
The challenge is on to present oneself as competent by way of resourcefulness, adaptability and mindfulness. How to acquire competence? By finding one who demonstrates and champions these disciplines. In our North American white collar world, we tend to pass on knowledge, information, critical, and analytical skills through books, education, meetings, training and seminars. However, personal access and proximity does not always have a high priority on the value scale in our culture, but the need and the expectation of competence remains. This reminds me of the universal value of mentorship and asceticism. These are issues of epistemology and vital for those who desire to do any kind of work among people.
I constantly run into this fact as I tend to bring in my North American values and traditions with me everywhere I go. Recently, I was teaching English, and we came across a lesson I had prepared years ago on religion. As we reviewed new vocabulary, I couldn’t help but go on and on about Christian history associated with certain words, denominations and events. As questions regarding Christian history arose, so did my excitement about the subject. So, I decided to prepare a set of new lessons specifically focused on Church history starting with the early church, through the persecutions to the ecumenical councils etc. It was 2am, and I finished my lessons. I woke up at 6am to exercise with the students. I was ecstatic, finally, I found something that I enjoyed and the students enjoyed. Usually, I have to be interested in whatever they are interested in, even if I don’t find a personal interest in the matter. After breakfast, I drove up to Temekerlah village to print off the lesson for the day. I made it back to the center just in time to teach at 9am. I ran to the pavilion where the students eagerly awaited. I started teaching about St. Ignatius, Nero, Trajan, Rome, Martyrs…etc After about 15 minutes the students where talking and laughing amongst themselves. My patience started to thin. Students would raise their hands, ask to go the bathroom, wash their face, get a drink of water…etc. Inwardly I was furious, but I tried hard to keep my composure. Defeated, I finally asked in if the students enjoyed the teaching. One student spoke up and said, we don’t understand. I realized, it was not of interest to them. I quickly closed the lesson and returned to my home, feeling defeated, and tired. The reality sank in, that in order to be appealing, I would have to teach in a way that was important to the day to day, stories, parables, and situations.
In the end, I am learning to not focus on what I can’t control, and to focus on today. I am sure I will spend the rest of my life on the journey, but it seems like the people here have a bit of a head start.
As St. Seraphim of Serov once said, “Acquire peace, and thousands around you will be saved.”
As we close out in our last week together, a number of students have committed to return to The Life Center in June. About six students will live here in community in order to worship together, eat together and farm together. Three other students will go on to study the Bible in Chiang Mai at various Bible schools. Others will return home to work for Compassion International, or with the Royal Project of Thailand. It’s difficult knowing all these new, budding relationships will end in a vital way. Although we remain friends, the substance found in mentorship, community and life transformation. It’s a bit sobering for me. As a comfort, I am reminded of the words of Jesus Christ,
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”