I know the internet is full of memes talking about how horrible the year 2017 was for everyone, and I don’t mean to add to the onslaught of negativity floating around, but, 2017 was rough. Between finishing my master’s degree, navigating the nonsense that is Chiang Mai University and trying to maintain relationships, 2017 led me into depths of darkness and hopelessness that I had not visited in many years.
While taking up residence in these dark depths, it became increasingly difficult for me to wear the ‘missionary badge’ that I have worn the past five years. Fiery darts of shame and guilt for not performing ‘well’ or producing the right kind of ‘results’ shot into my psyche daily. I believed I was failing Thailand, failing you, failing God.
In retrospect, what’s interesting about this, is that no one, not one single person, ever spoke this to me. Not once did anyone tell me that I was ‘not living up to missionary standards’. In fact, anytime I was brave enough to expose the shame I was carrying, my community and friends would do their best to contradict those toxic thoughts. However, I submitted to shame and chose to believe hopelessness.
I am proud to say that I have sought out help. I have been seeing a counselor on a regular basis for the past couple months and have been taking measures to reduce the stress and anxiety that took over my being. And, thankfully, I am doing much better.
One of the (many) assignments that has been given to me, is to redefine what a ‘good missionary’ is. I am being asked to move away from the notion that my supporters and sending church are expecting thousands of salvations and reports of miracles in every newsletter, and towards a more healthy belief that I am in Thailand to share the love of God and that is where responsibilities as a missionary end.
So as an act of self love (and to complete an assignment), I am going to share some of the ways that I loved well in 2017. Here are some of my successful ‘missionary’ moments from 2017.
1. The School of Promise.
I finished my third year as a teacher at the School of Promise and my first year of working with fourth grade students. Fourth graders are much more emotionally aware than the first graders I had previously worked with, and the hurts and traumas of my students’ lives were much more pronounced. While the advanced cognitive abilities of my students led to much more exciting class times, their age also brought a lot of emotional stress. This is not easy to navigate, but as we worked through conflicts and hurts, a safe and loving environment was created. My students knew that I was a safe person for them and allowed me to love them amid their pain–all the while, teaching them how to speak English. We had so much fun in that class and my students improved drastically in their English speaking skills (my thesis has data and statistics to affirm that statement). Miss Samara’s class was a major success in 2017.
2. English Camp.
English Camp is a pretty fun part of the year for the students at School of Promise. We do our best to give the students ample chance to run around and go wild in nature, as well as try to provide an environment where the students are able to encounter God outside of the classroom, I was in charge of two devotional nights and decided to focus on the fact that God wants to talk to His children, regardless of how young, old, spiritually mature (whatever that means) or not you are. Despite every logical cell in my body telling me that this is too hard of a task to try and facilitate, I led all 50 students (and 10 teachers) through a simple exercise in hearing God’s voice. God does not disappoint. I don’t have numbers to share with you, but I am not exaggerating when I say that many students encountered God that night. The remainder of camp was full of students telling different teachers stories about how they (or a friend) heard God speak to them. Trusting my instincts and believing God would show up for these kids was a success in 2017.
Tonhom is the one student that I have agreed to tutor English to as a side job. Typically, when someone asks me to teach them English, I decline because most people do not want to put in the crazy amount of effort it takes to learn a new language. Tonhom, however, is amazing. Though she is only 12 years old, her English skills are far surpass most of the university students at CMU.
Tonhom is from a very well-off Thai family who, in believing it is the best thing for her, have filled every hour of her weekends with tutoring sessions. Along with spending two hours with me on Saturdays, she also has Chinese, math, science, singing and swimming classes to attend. I have, therefore, vowed (to myself) to make our two hours together a time that Tonhom can have fun and be a kid. We laugh so much. Through our laughter and silliness a bond has been formed and a level of trust established. Tonhom has started sharing with me about hurts from her family, present disappointments and fears for her future, as well as the pain of her first broken heart. The weekly two hour classes I had with Tonhom were a success in 2017.
4. Sunshine Studios
Sunshine Studios has been a consistent source of joy over the years and this year was no different. Through, what I believe to be, your many prayers and my (maybe too) easy going nature, a very free environment has been created at Sunshine Studios. The students come to art class, after a long day of learning, and all their walls of performance and perfection come down. The students debrief their day, sharing their annoyances and disappoints, excitements and gossip. I hear way more than I probably should, but it brings me such joy to know the students trust my confidence. Of course, teaching this after school art class is not without it’s hiccups and 2017 was full of new challenges for me, but the consistency of art class remained. The environment that has been created, and maintained, at Sunshine Studios was a success in 2017.
5. “Come See Our Art” Student Art Show
The fact that I have yet to write or share about the art show in November is a fail on my part… but I am supposed to be writing about successes rather than on failures, and the art show was a major success. I was pretty proud of the first show in 2016, but this one blew it out of the water. All but one of my students showed up and of the students who came, all but one of their families came with them. Along with the students and families of students, many people from our neighborhood and community showed up. We had five rooms with the students’ framed art on the walls, lots of treats and a live band. It was a really awesome event and worth all the effort it took to make it happen. The art show was a huge success in 2017.
This list was originally written for myself, rather than to be read by others. I was encouraged to reflect back on my year and list the ways that I loved people well.
It was really hard for me.
I had been so focused on the stress of the year, the ways that I felt out of control or that I was a complete failure, that I couldn’t see anything positive that was happening around me–and even because of me. But once I shifted my focus, I was able to list at least 15 successes of the year.
So, as a new year has begun, I am going to try to focus on the positives. I am going to try to rejoice in successes, regardless of how seemingly insignificant they are. AND I am going to try to write more about them. I want to redefine what a ‘successful’ missionary is and to allow myself to be at peace knowing, that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing: sharing the infinite love of God with those around me and creating safe environments.
Thank you to all of you who support me on this venture of love. Thank you to all of you who have encouraged me to give myself a break and a little grace. Thank you to all of you who (gently) pushed me to get help amid the depression that had taken over. Your support, be it through prayers, emails, skypes or money, is what has kept me here and I am ever so grateful for it.