There were many reasons for this trip. The main reason was for us to see The Promised Land project, which is one of the projects we are partnered with for The Sound of Hope. I'll share more about this project tomorrow with a post specifically about it (and a video we made while on the land!) This place looks like PARADISE. I can't wait to tell you more about our work here!
We drove for about 4 hours on windy, mountain roads to get to Mae Sariang. There we met up with a World Race Team that was working to clear the perimeter of The Promised Land project for the fence that will be going up soon. If you remember, a few days ago I shared that we got a large donation from Rusty's cousin Sam specifically for this project. That donation just happened to be the amount they needed to build this fence!!! They were so excited to finally have this portion of the project underway!
During the day Rusty and I worked on shooting video and pictures of the land so that we could make an update video to share now, and also so that we could work on a longer, more informative video all about our Thailand partnerships later. It's going to be a work-in-progress pretty much the whole time we're here - we believe that sharing photos and videos of our projects is a great way to help people feel connected and involved! We also believe that letting the people here tell THEIR story is the best way to raise awareness for the issues and needs here in Thailand. So, all day long we worked on gathering media and interviewing our American and Thai partners.
Speaking of those partners, here's a picture of us all together....
(left to right) :: Maele, Candace, Ray, Rapee, Panya, Rusty, Ericka
It was such an HONOR and BLESSING to finally get to meet Pastor Panya and Rapee! Rusty has talked about them constantly since his trip in 2007 - he really really loves them! I've talked to them on skype once, and I could not wait to meet them! When I finally did, Rapee told us that she keeps our photo (that Rusty gave her in 2008) in her Bible and they have a special prayer time for us every Sunday. They have been praying that God would bring us back here... and here we are!
(above) - meeting Rapee for the first time!
(below) - Pastor Panya, Rusty, Ericka & P. Rapee
I can't tell you how precious these people are. After two days with them I felt like I'd known them forever! Pastor Panya doesn't speak much English and comes across as quiet, but he has a BIG personality. He loves to laugh and joke - and always gets me laughing with his funny faces and silly antics!
Pastor Banya dancing and goofing off with the tree trunk...
They were very VERY excited about the gifts we brought them too. Gift-giving is one of my BIG love languages, and I found out after arriving that gift-giving is a very important part of Thai culture! So we brought Panya and Rapee hot apple cider mix and hot chocolate mix (which is what they told us they love!) and they each got their very own The Sound of Hope t-shirt!
Pastor Panya was so excited when he saw the present that he THREW the hatchet
he was carrying down (you can see it in the bottom right corner of the pic) to place
his hands together in the Wai to say thank you! hahaha!
Giving them their gifts...
(below) - Showing off their presents! Rapee is holding up the hot apple cider and hot chocolate mix, haha!
The next day they came out to the land in their matching shirts.... aren't they just too cute?!
The only downfall to our time up North, was the fact that I felt sick all night AND we had to sleep in a tent. I wish I could say I enjoyed camping in the Thai jungle, but friends, I HATE sleeping in tents!!! Does it make me a bad missionary to say that I hate sleeping in tents? Because I do. Sorry friends, but I don't think that is anything I'll ever enjoy... give me a bed and some AC (or a fan at least!) and some indoor plumbing please! I am constantly reminded that God has a sense of humor when it comes to my life... that is the only way a girly girl/pageant girl like me could end up camping in the Thai jungle (or living in the slums of India, or on a homestead in Africa ;)
Sorry there's not a pic of us in our tent.... it was orange if that helps your mental picture ;) And a big THANK YOU to everyone who was praying against snakes and bugs... the team killed 3 scorpions and saw 2 big snakes but I never saw a thing! (and if I don't see it, then it's not real.... right? That's what I kept telling myself......)
The next morning the team finished up clearing the fence area, and Rusty and I finished our interviews. Then after a quick lunch, it was time to prepare for the Cave Hike!
The Cave Hike is something special Ray does with the World Race teams that come through. Rusty went on the hike in 2007, and actually got baptized by Ray in the river at the bottom of the valley. I didn't feel great that day, but I really wanted to go with him and experience the beauty and adventure of the hike! I may not be in great shape, but I really enjoy hiking and being outside in nature (even if 85% of the snakes in Thailand are venomous.... Lord help me!) So I guzzled down some gatorade and off we went!
The ride there was CRAZY! Think "off-roading" times 10, on the side of a mountain! By the time we got to the spot to hike in I had a headache and neck ache from being thrown all over the truck....but the hike was AMAZING! It was crazy steep, but somehow I managed to make it all the way down (approximately a mile) without slipping, twisting an ankle, or falling off the side of the mountain.
On the way down we saw water buffalo bathing in the water....
And beautiful mountains....
When we got to the bottom I was SOO glad I'd come! The river was absolutely BEAUTIFUL and everything around it was lush and green!
I opted out of going through the cave with the World Race team, mostly because I didn't have any appropriate shoes (you have to wade through water knee deep and all I had was tennis shoes), but also because I am TERRIFIED of snakes, and a farmer claimed to have seen a huge anaconda in this cave a few years back. So, Rusty and I sat with our feet in the water and just took in the beauty around us while the team went through to the other side for some baptisms.
While I was staring at the water listening to Brooke Fraser's "Faithful" (which has really been on my heart and mind lately) I got this amazing word from God. I was thinking about how beautiful the water was, when God spoke to me and said....
"Ericka, you realize it's the ROCKS that make the water beautiful, don't you? If it were just a still, stagnant pond it wouldn't be beautiful. It's the river running over the ROCKS that cause the beauty. And it's the ROCKS that purify the water rushing over it."
I felt like God was telling me to realize that the difficulty I've been through in my life (and the struggles of the past 2 years) has NOT been wasted. My struggles (my ROCKS) that I have worked through and overcome are what make my life and my story beautiful. And those ROCKS purify me - refine me - sanctify me - to make me more like Christ.
WOW did I ever need that word! What an encouragement!!!
Just a few minutes later the team came back out, and it was time to start the hike back up. I would like to pretend I am some super buff, athletic gal, but I've got to be honest here.... friends, I almost didn't make it! The past two years of sitting on my booty on the couch in Michigan has NOT been good for me! I wish pictures did this hike justice - it was SO STEEP! I was the last one out by at least 20 or 30 minutes, and I may or may not have begged Rusty to carry me...
But eventually, I MADE IT!!!
Here are a few more pictures from the day...
I loved sticking my feet in the water after that hike!
(below) - World Race Team "Freely Given" after their baptisms
(below) - A photo of a church in one of the villages -
Rusty helped clear the land for this church to be built in 2007!
(below) - we made it out just in time to see one of the most
BEAUTIFUL sunsets over the mountains in the village!
And because photos really couldn't capture the experience, I put together a little video! Now keep in mind this is with my old camera (not our AWESOME new one) and we couldn't take a tripod, so the quality isn't great. And this is my editing job (amateur) not my very talented husband's! But still, I thought you might like to see (especially you Mom and Dad!)