Tag Archives: thailand

The Bank

The last couple years of my life have been riddled with incidents of my temporarily loosing control of my emotions in public spaces.  While I am not necessarily proud of these moments, I can now, with time and space between us, see the humor of the situations. I have already written about two of these shining moments already (see here and here) and today, at long last, I will finish off the ‘How Samara Lost her Cool’ series.

So sit back, relax and enjoy this retelling.


setting:

March 2017

I had been working at Chiang Mai University (CMU) for about a year and a half at this point and it was eating away at my soul.  Being employed by CMU drove me crazy for a myriad of reasons, with the only solace being a mediocre salary and the end of the month.

This particular month I was preparing to leave Thailand for my three month furlough and was therefore very eager to receive my paycheck.  I needed to use the paycheck, in it’s entirety to prepay my bills for the three months that I would be out of the country.

 

conflict:

The usual date for the direct deposit of my paycheck came and went without my receiving any pay.  While this could (and should) be reason for alarm, at this prestigious university, employees not receiving their pay on time is common place.  So I was not yet concerned.

a week passed.  no paycheck.

In an attempt to keep my mounting concern at bay, I checked with my two colleagues to see if they were experiencing a similar situation.  Neither were.  Both had been paid.

While, still fighting to maintain my Wellbutrin induced tranquility, my unease began to grow. That Wednesday, I contacted the CMU finance department.

Upon talking with the finance department, I was told that my paycheck had indeed been deposited, to rest assured and that my money will surely show up in my account tomorrow.

Thursday. Nothing. Contacted the finance department, they said wait.

Friday. Nothing. Contacted the finance department, they said go talk to the bank.

By this point I was no longer calm.  But, this is Thailand. Things like this happen.  All. The. Time.

So, I went to the bank.

Not surprisingly, without having the deposit slip, the bank didn’t have anything to tell me–other than there had been no recent activity in my account.  The bank tells me to contact my employer.

round and round and round we go.

By this point, my mounting anxiety had begun taking over my body and rational thought was becoming harder and harder to muster up.  However, it is the weekend–the finance depart is closed.  There is nothing I can do, but wait.

Monday morning, I am back at the finance department.  I am once again assured that my paycheck was deposited and was show the deposit slip to prove it. This was slightly comforting.  I was again instructed to go to talk to the bank.

 

climax:

While I was incredibly irritated by the fact that it is again I that has to go to the bank and not a member of the finance staff, I concede and go.

(an interruption  from the narrator: while you are reading this story, please keep in mind that every interaction that is happening, is happening while speaking Thai, which regardless of my level of fluency, makes everything that much harder.)

I was able to remain semi-cool and ask to speak to a personal banker.  The banker confirms what the previous banker had told me before–this deposit had never been made.  However, this time, I had the deposit slip… so this answer would not suffice. A mistake had been made and it seemed very clear that the bank was at fault.

After much heeing and hawing, the bank concludes that the hour my check was deposited was the very hour that the branch in which the deposit was made, shut down; due to the closing of that branch, my paycheck was lost in the fray.

Ok. Annoying.  But an answer and slightly understandable.

The personal banker fixed the problem, reassuring me that I would receive my money by Thursday morning.

Now.

If this were a story about a normal human being, story would end here.  The resolution reached, the protagonist given an answer and be at ease.  A conclusion should follow.

However, this is not a story about a normal human being, nor is the title of this series: “Times when Samara was Rational in Hard Situations”.

Nope.

This, unfortunately, is not where our story ends.

Though I had been promised that the mistake had been nullified, I was not satisfied.  I was unwilling to understand why I had to wait three more business days to get my paycheck; I had already waited ten.  So, I insisted that they give my money, in full, right then.  For many bureaucratic reasons I wouldn’t listen to, that was not possible.

So, I told them to give me a 5000baht (about $170) apology gift.  I explained that this was 500baht for everyday that I had to be without my paycheck, amplifying the trouble it has caused me and my bills waiting to be paid.

I stayed seated at that bank for three hours.  When no solutions were found I encouraged the employees by telling them that I had a book and all day.  I was free to sit and wait for them to ‘do the right thing’.

Honestly, I don’t know what I was really trying to accomplish.

The bank employees–three different people–were scrambling for ideas to appease this belligerent foreigner and get me out of the bank, but I persisted.

 

resolution:

There was no resolution.

I stayed at the bank until closing time.  They were pulling down the chain links over the door as I left.

My paycheck would be assessable on Thursday morning and there was no ‘customer satisfaction fund’ to give me 5000baht out of.

So I left.  My paycheck came on Thursday morning. And that was that.

Still to this day I have no idea what came over me in that bank or what I thought I would achieve by staying there all day.  There were even times, while the situation was happening, that I could see the ridiculousness of my behavior, but it was if I was watching myself from outside of my body and couldn’t do anything to stop it.

The only excuse I have for myself is that I was really needing the three month furlough that followed this outburst.  Praise Jesus for that mountain in Greece.

 

the end.

 

 

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the suffering missionary.

There are some groups of people that subscribe to the notion of the ‘suffering missionary’.  You know, the idea that being called overseas as a missionary is a death to your former life of joy and pleasure and a birthing of a life of misery and woe.  This ideology is held by missionaries and laymen alike.

I think the thought pattern is all somehow tangled up in support raising:  If you’re not suffering, then you’re not being used for the purposes of the gospel.. and so you can’t get any money and then you can’t eat… so now you are suffering…and so on…and so forth…

Maybe I’m wrong. Regardless. It should be no surprise, I do not subscribe to this notion.

But today, I am writing to tell you all that I am SUFFERING.

SUUUUFFFFEEERRIINNNG.

Yes.

I have this increasingly intolerable struggle with microscopic red ants.

The freaking things have decided that their new favorite place to live is inside my towel.  So this evening, after an impromptu and uncharacteristic evening shower, I wrapped my vulnerable, wet body into my nice, dry towel and was immediately molested by thousands of the little suckers.

They just go right for it.  I literally just picked 15 of their itty bitty bodies off of my body and am now full of red itchy welts.

WHAT’S MORE is, as I was transcribing this blog in my head and lathering myself with anti-inflammatory/anti-itch cream, I felt a tickle on my foot… I look down there was a HUGE freaking COCKROACH on it.  To which I reacted to by smashing its body several times with my journal. I didn’t even scream. This has become common place.

The struggle is real.

In conclusion, I am suffering, so please send me all of your money.

Thank you.

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The Fat Blog.

This blog is about four years in the making.  It’s been spinning around in my head forever… sentences and paragraphs have been written over and over in my head… so it feels kind of surreal to sit down and actually embark on writing this blog.  I only hope I can get my thoughts, feelings and perceptions out with satisfactory amounts of academic eloquence and appropriate amounts of humor.

So here it is, The Fat Blog.


I hate to admit it, but one of my biggest fears is being fat.

I know, I know… I’m not really allowed to say that.  All bodies are beautiful and wonderful and it’s incredibly vain and not politically correct for me to say that as my number one fear.  But there it is.

Fortunately, despite my genetic predisposition to low metabolism, unhealthy food choices and a sedimentary lifestyle, I’ve made it my (almost) thirty years without being ‘fat’.  At least not according to American standards.

I remember the first time the ‘fear’ of being fat crept into my mind.  I was around 8 years old and my mom was on a phone call with one of her cousins. I was supposed to be in my bed sound asleep, though instead, I was sitting on the floor by my bedroom door eavesdropping on the conversation, hoping to score some juicy family gossip.  Unfortunately, instead of hearing some drama about my great aunt’s live in boyfriend or my other cousin’s next money making scheme, I heard my mom say,

“Samara’s really starting to get fat.”

That’s it.  That one sentence.  Of course, my mom didn’t know I was listening… and probably still didn’t know I heard that until she read this blog.  But that one sentence entered my psyche and changed the way I viewed my little 8 year old body.

I don’t think I ever even thought about being fat before that.  I mean, yes, my family members were mostly plump people, but that never really mattered to me.. they were my world.  They were the coolest, funniest, most interesting people around me.  Sure, I knew they were fat, but what did that have to do with anything?  As far as I can remember, it was that one sentence.. that one sentence that I was never intended to hear, that turned ‘fat’ into fat. That turned being fat as something shameful, undesirable, ugly.

And at that point, I became ashamed.  I began to believe that I was fat and being fat was shameful.

This twisted body image stayed with my for the majority of my life.  I started dieting as early as I could and was always ashamed of the makeup of my Palestinian/Italian genes.

I have a distinct memory of weighing myself in the 8th grade and hitting 101 lbs for the first time.  I was in my soon-to-be stepdad’s apartment bathroom and I cried.

But, again, I was never actually overweight.  Looking back at pictures of myself from middle school and high school, I feel brokenhearted for that little girl, who was so petite, so perfectly beautiful and yet hated her body so much.

Freshman year of college, with it’s excessive drinking and drug use, pressures of school and social life and the death of my great grandma, ushered in the freshman 20.  You can imagine how I handled that…

not well.

Coming home for winter break my friends and family could tell I had put on that weight and without trying to be too obvious… made it clear that they could tell.  Soooo… when I went back for second semester I started a new diet. The slim fast shake and a nutrigrain bar a day diet and… successfully lost that twenty pounds.

My college friends praised me for how good I was looking as the weight came off and I vividly remember thinking that my friends were idiots because I was literally starving myself but all they noticed was how my jeans fit.

But hey… starving was better than being fat.. was it not?

Happily, I can say, that once I reached my goal weight I started eating in a more balanced way and have never drank another slim fast smoothie again. I was able to maintain a very normal, healthy weight throughout the rest of college.  (Though, I never stopped believing I was fat.)

Flash forward to the World Race.

In 2010 I embarked on the wonderful World Race experience.  The World Race, not to be confused with the Amazing Race, is an 11 month ‘missions trip’ around the world.  You spend about a month in 11 different countries doing various service projects with a random group of individuals just about as crazy as you.

One thing the World Race experts told us before we left was that if we’re not careful we will all gain weight (men excluded… the men, they said would lose all their weight… ).  They encouraged us to get in the habit of exercising and making our physical health a priority regardless of the country we were in or the circumstances we were living in.

Right.

Well, the experts were right and we ignored their advice.  The women on my squad, with very few exceptions, all gained at least 10 lbs over the year.  I came home a whopping 25 lbs heavier than I was before.

I attribute that weight gain to an unsteady diet of ever changing carbs, feeling entitled to ice cream or Western candy whenever it was available and then a bout of depression that only got harder to deal with every pound I put on.

Coming home after the World Race was no walk in the park for me.  I could and probably should devote a blog to telling that story, but that is for a different time.  Coming home from the World Race, I was fat.  Beginning at 8 years old, I had always felt fat, but in 2011, for the first time, my BMI actually told me that I was ‘obese’.

Fortunately I had a distaste for slim fast and therefore, instead of going back to my tried and true starvation diet, I turned to something much healthier to try to get the weight off. I miraculously trained for and ran my first half marathon.  and I lost not. a. single. pound.

Then I moved to Thailand.


I recently wrote a sort of ‘tongue and cheek’ blog about adapting to Thai culture.  The things I mentioned were all very surface level, superficial cultural things that make for easy reading and light chuckles.  The reality of cultural adaptation is a lot less funny.

Cultural adaptation is a bitch. (sorry).

While I have done, in my opinion, an extraordinary job adjusting to the new society that has become my home, there are certain things that I have yet to understand or be okay with.

One being the ‘news, weather, sports’ type talk about people’s appearances–to their face. Upon greeting a Thai person, you should expect to receive some sort of comment about your physical appearance.  Apparently these comments, regardless to how we, Americans, understand them, are completely matter of fact and are in no way personal.

That being said, a couple of the first words I learned in Thai were: อ้วน (fat) and ก้นไหญ่ (big butt).  I learned these words so quickly due to how often I was greeted with them.

Samara: Hello

Thai Person: Hi.  You are fat.

Samara: :(:(:( dies a little inside.

I also learned very early on that here, in the Land of Smiles, I am not สวย (beautiful), but rather น่ารัก (cute) because the word for beautiful is reserved for people who are not fat like me.

Welcome to Thailand.

Let’s just say that wasn’t easy for me.  A person with an already corrupted since of self worth and body image being called ‘fat’ to her face on a regular basis does not a merry person make.

By God’s good grace (and I mean that so sincerely) I realized that as much as I hated people talking to me in this way… I could not change the culture.  And if I didn’t stop being hurt every time someone called me fat or let me know about my big butt, I would quite literally die. I decided that I had to be the one who changed.

At first, I thought that I had to be the one who changed in the more physical light.

I needed to loose weight.

So I became much more active than I had ever been previously in my life.  I don’t know how many times I have completed Jillian Michael’s 30 day shred or how many of stupid Shawn T’s Insanity videos I’ve done… and I trained for an ran another half marathon…

Though try as I might, I could barely get the scale to move.  (I lost about 6 lbs amid all of this.)

No, loosing weight to appease Thai beauty standards was not the kind of change that needed to take place. I needed to, once and for all, get over my fear of being fat.  I needed, for the first time in my conscious life to be okay with my body.  I needed to be able to be called fat (everyday, to my face) and not be affected by it.

Well, how the hell does one do that? (sorry again).

I wish I had a straight forward answer to give you.  But, the reality is, that for the first time in my life I got really honest with God about my skewed body image.  I got honest about the hatred I felt towards my body and I asked Him for help.  I wrote down all my perverted belief systems about beauty standards and bodily ideals and asked God to show me what He thought. I asked Him to change my mind.

Within this process, I realized that I had corrupted the word ‘fat’ in my mind.  I changed the definition of ‘fat’ making it mean: ugly, worthless, unloveable, gross, lazy, pitiful, shameful.

I had to ask God to redefine this word that was constantly being used to describe me.

It was not a quick or painless process.  I cried. A lot.  I had to continuously take the words from my peers and give them to God.  I had to continuously pray to be washed from people’s comments about my appearance.  I had to continuously forgive and ask for help forgiving.

Eventually, though, through the combination of my new and active lifestyle and lots of vulnerability with the Lord, I began to accept myself.  I began to believe that not only was I not fat, even if I were, ‘fat’ does not mean I am those ugly words I used to associate with it. I slowly began to love my overweight self.


Despite about three years of trying to tell my Thai friends to not comment on my physical appearance, the comments have not stopped.

While I was still at my highest ever weight, I would try all sorts of tactics to explain how hurtful their comments were to me.  I would use vulnerability, sarcasm, humor and/or straight up bluntness… but the comments never subsided.  However, the pain that used to accompany the comments disappeared and I was able to just be annoyed with the culture that I didn’t understand rather than allow the comment to chip away at my self worth.

Over the last nine months the extra weight I had been carrying since the World Race has disappeared and I’m back to the weight and body shape that I had been before.

The funny thing is, the extra weight didn’t go away until it no longer matter to me if it did.  I finally became okay with my new shape and just accepted myself as I was.

Now that I’m back to what was my previous ‘normal’ I wish I could say that the comments about my body have stopped.

Unfortunately they have not.  They have just taken on a new form.  Instead of ‘you’re fat’ I am told, ‘wow, you are so much more beautiful now that you’ve lost weight’ or ‘you look hungry’ or, my personal favorite, ‘if you loose anymore weight, you won’t be beautiful anymore.’

Basically… I just can’t win.

I try to not get too annoyed when I hear these comments.  I typically reply with something corny along the lines of ‘thanks, but beauty has nothing to do with my weight’ or ‘thanks but I was always beautiful’ or ‘beauty is in the heart’.  Honestly, it’s almost become a game to me.


I am not able to change Thai culture.  Thank you Jesus, that that is not my responsibility. That’s a daunting task.  But… perhaps, just maybe, I am able to help people change the way they see themselves.

The reality is that we will never live up to the world’s beauty standards.  As soon as we achieve one standard, there is a new one that needs to be met.  As soon as your weight is acceptable your eyebrows won’t be… and if your eyebrows are fine… you better focus on your frizzy hair… it’s an endless cycle.

Being honest, I’m really happy to be back to my normal weight.  I like dressing up and putting on makeup, I like doing things that make me feel beautiful, but at the end of the day, as cheesy and corny and trite as it is, my beauty has absolutely nothing to do with any of that. The scale does not measure my self worth. (and if it did… shouldn’t it be the heavier you are the more worth you have?!?!?)

I am beautiful because God made me so. I was made in his image–big butt, thick calves, frizzy hair and all.

I’m not a mommy, but I am a teacher and a big sister.  I want to live in such a way that my fight to love myself may cover the young people in my life.  I want them to be able to glean from my victory.  I want them to see me love myself amid my imperfections and an ‘non-ideal’ figure. I want them to carry every ounce of self worth and self respect that I have had to battle for.

No, I can’t change Thai culture, but I can set an example for the young women and heck, even the young men, in my life and perhaps their battle won’t be as long or as hard.

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Confessions of a Cult Member

Six years ago, as I was preparing to leave the United States for my trip around the world (#worldrace, #11n11) my grandpa gave me a piece of solid advice:

Grandpa: “If they offer you KoolAid… don’t drink it.”

Samara: *eye roll* “Graaaampaaa… it’s not like that…”

And, I can happily report, that it wasn’t (entirely) like that.

However, after living with the Lorensen family for almost four years now, I realize that I may have ignored my grandpa’s advice and have accidentally (willingly) drunk the KoolAid  of the ‘Caleb Lorensen cult’.


I have recently become obsessed with Myers-Briggs personality types.  and I mean obsessed.  Like…I listen to podcasts about personality types on my motorcycle and in the shower.

Because I couldn’t keep my obsession quiet, little bits and pieces of Myers-Briggs wisdom would seep out of me and into our family dinners and conversations.  Eventually the Lorensen’s took the personality test themselves to subdue my curiosity.

The results are as follows:

Samara: ENFP: highly imaginative and free spirited individual that needs help remembering to do normal human things, like showering and putting on clean clothes.

Tracy: ESFJ: the ultimate hostess who is all about caring for and providing for the needs of those around her and can not understand how the ENFP has forgot, once again, where her car keys (cellphone, glasses, motorbike) are.

Caleb: ENFJ: the charming and persuasive cult leader.

Tracy wrote a blog about her life as the wife of a cult leader which includes topics such as: drinking the KoolAid (ie: green juice and smoothies); group think and community living.

So if Tracy is married to a cult leader… I suppose that means I am a full fledged cult member… or a cult leader follower.  This news, my being a member in a cult, was disturbing to me at first.. I mean.. valuing my independence and creativity so highly, but, upon reflection… it may not be all be so bad.

Tracy’s blog covers the most noticeable ways the ‘Caleb Lorensen cult’ has influenced my life.   From dietary habits and work-out regimes to educational pursuits and passions… I am a changed woman.  Her blog is hilarious and you should read it.  Here’s a link: link.

In this blog I will write about a few more subtleties I have noticed in my life since joining the cult.

-Taking on of life mantras:

The Lorensen’s live by a unique set of life values.  There are many and I will not cover them all here…but, the first that comes to mind is ‘if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down’.  I hate this.  But over the years, it has been adopted into my lifestyle.  In fact, the Lorensens exude general lack of shyness about bodily functions—be they farts, burps, poops or periods… bodily functions are not to be ashamed of. Honestly, conforming to this belief system, was not a very difficult one for me and is actually very freeing.  I suggest you pick it up as well.

Another of the Lorensen mantras is that ‘children are assets and not liabilities’. The communal way in which we live our lives over here in Thailand, means I have been given the rare opportunity to actually witness the ins-and-outs of parenting, without actually being a parent, and have therefore, picked up some of their parenting techniques as my own.  The Lorensen’s are not held back by their children, nor do they hold their children back.  Their children are encouraged to explore, be curious, make messes and think for themselves.  This can lead to interesting situations…yes, but it also creates highly creative, confident individuals.  Community living and valuing children… again, ideas that perhaps you pick up with as well.

-Changes in Diet and Exercise:

Again, Tracy already wrote about this in her blog (link)… so I will be brief.  But I want to say, I have never exercised so consistently in my life than I have since living with the Lorensens.  I say this after having NOT exercised consistently since starting my MA program a year ago and the statement is STILL true. As for my diet.. I have been following a no sugar, no carb diet with Tracy for about 9 months now.

The impossible has been made possible via the Caleb Lorensen cult.

-General Boldness:

I used to pride myself with being a sweet, sunshiny girl.  And… I still am.  The difference, however, is since being part of the Caleb Lorensen cult, I have begun to actually take myself more seriously.  I think living under the influence of someone like Caleb… and having him take me seriously, has affected the way I view myself.  I have grown leaps in bounds in my self-confidence.  I have learned how to set effective boundaries and how to say no.  I have also learned how to use my super-power of ‘sweetness’ and ‘like-ability’ to speak hard truths and say hard things to people.  I have become a very bold speaker, standing up not only for the people in my life, but also standing up for myself.

This also comes out in my willingness to state my mind and share unpopular opinions and ideas.  I have found myself playing devil’s advocate in situations where I would have previously just sat quietly.  I have picked up the attitude of the Caleb Lorensen cult and it suits me well.


I could go on an on… from living by sayings like “stop that stinkin’ thinkin,’” “no pressure just opportunity” and “drink good coffee” to pursuing an actual career as an educator, I am a full fledged member or the Caleb Lorensen cult.

I drink the juice and I repeat the mantras  … and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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On Death and Dying part 2

I had recently written a blog to discuss some of my thoughts around death and dying and living as a missionary in a Buddhist culture.  I started the blog stating that I haven’t had much experience dealing with death.  Unfortunately, that statement is no longer true.

About a month ago my Thai teacher’s brother—Khruu (teacher) Gung, unexpectedly died.

Khruu Gung had been my Thai teacher for six months prior to my beginning to study with his sister Khruu Naamrin. Khruu Gung is the teacher who painstakingly taught me how to read and write Thai.  In those six months as Gung’s student we became dear friends.  [Dear friends here essentially means that I poked and teased him constantly regarding anything from his food choices to his singleness (shame on me) and that he quietly sat back as I adamantly professed that I knew more about the Thai alphabet than he…at his funeral his sister introduced me as ‘the student Gung loved’.] 

We just *got* each other.

After learning how to read and write with Gung I began studying with his sister Naamrin and have been her diligent student since.  While I was no longer studying with Gung, he was still a constant in my life.  He was there whenever I went to study and we would spend at least the first hour of my two hour class chatting and arguing about current affairs.

His passing away came as a complete shock.

I was in my last class of the semester getting ready to do my biggest presentation of the year when I got the news.  Honestly I thought it was a cruel joke.  I swiftly left class and began the process of clarifying information, informing Tracy and changing our plans for the next week.

I was sick to my stomach and felt so alone on the campus… far away from anyone who knew and loved Gung. I gave the worst presentation of my academic career and headed home.

Tracy gives a good description of what came next on her blog, which you can read here, but I want to spend the rest of this blog talking about Gung’s death amid christian theology.


Khruu Naamrin is a fairly new believer.  While she has told her students that she is a christian for nearly 10 years now, she just recently encountered God in a real way, was baptized and has really begun to understand the love of God and what being a christian really means.  Gung had not.

Though Gung had been evangelized countless times by his well meaning students, Gung never said the prayer or outwardly confessed allegiance to God.

Gung’s death was a double hit for Naamrin.  Not only did she lose her brother and best friend, but he is now, in her mind, spending eternity in hell.

Naamrin, looking for consolation, brought this up to many of the christian funeral attendees and she received plenty of the customary, ‘we just have to trust the Lord’ responses with looks of sadness that could be easily read as ‘he’s in hell’.

But, from me (and Tracy) she received something a bit more controversial.

I told Naamrin that I sincerely believe that Gung is with God.

And I do.

No, Gung did not outwardly identify as a christian.  If you would have asked him what religion he was—Gung would have said buddhist.  And I guess that is as cut and dry as some of us like eternal salvation to be.

Outward Confession of God = Heaven.    Any Other Option = Damnation.

I cannot accept this.

As Americans, growing up in a nation built upon christian morals and ethics with the separation of church and state fully in play, it is nearly impossible for us to understand how intertwined religion and culture are in other nations.  In Thailand, to be Thai is to be buddhist.  These two facts are not separable.  When Thai people take the brave step of outwardly professing Jesus, they are, at the same time, loosing status, reputation and relationship. This is a big deal. We Americans can so easily shrug that off and say, ‘it’s worth it for the sake of the gospel’ or ‘Jesus said we would be hated by the world’ and go back to our cushy lives and our religious freedom, but Thai people do not have that luxury.

For this reason, there are many people (not only in Thailand, but all over the world) who hear the gospel, accept the gospel and believe the gospel, but who do not—and may not ever— outwardly identify as christians.

I cannot accept the idea that the cross and all that it represents: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, only covers salvation for those who say a prayer in the allotted amount of time.  And if we are to believe that Jesus wants all to be saved and desires that not one of his children perish—why does this free gift expire with our bodies?

The more conversations I have with Western Christians about death and the after life… and the more people I piss off with my ideas… the more I realize that Western salvation theology is really nice and neat… when it stays in the west, but it gets really convoluted when you believe that God wants the WHOLE world to know Him.

God made so many unique people with unique cultures and languages… God’s world is so much bigger than nice, neat, clean Western christianity… and yet, for some reason, we seem to want to make the whole world fit into our neat box.

I believe that Gung is with God.

I believe that when he died, he saw Jesus.  I know that Gung knew the gospel and I believe that when he saw Jesus face to face, that he fell to his knees and repented.

And I guess, from there… Jesus gets to decide whether or not Gung performed the scared ritual in time…

I’m sure this blog post has ruffled a few feathers.  I know it’s uncomfortable to talk about things like this.  You can write me off as a heretic or just assume that I’m not thinking straight because I’m grieving.

But in the end, what I desire to communicate, is that I can not be the judge of ones salvation.  And if I am asked to make that decision, I will always lean on grace and will always believe they are with God.

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cultural. adaptation.

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  1. The handling of bugs and other woodland creatures: 

While it is not appropriate to claim that I remain ‘cool’ or ‘calm’ in the presence of the creepy crawlies… I have come a loooong way.

For example: It’s rainy season.  This mean it’s the season of my all time favorite insect–the flying termite.  I hate these stupid and arguably harmless bug with every inch of my being and usually have to wrap my head in some sort of protective garb in order to keep them from burrowing into my hair and never coming back out.  Yes.  BUT… the other night, we had two friends over for dinner and when the assigned time came for these bugs to begin swarming around my head and… I DID NOT retreat into the house, nor did I wrap my hair in anything.  Perhaps this was a one time scenario, but it seemed momentous at the time.

Another example of my adaptation is in relation to those dang huntsman spiders (go here if you need to be reminded of what I used to be like…).  Just the other day I was sitting on the floor in my bedroom and I saw one peeping out from under my bed.  Instead of springing up in panic, I sat there and calmly told him that we could co-exist as long as he kept his distance.  I trust he has kept up his side of the promise… and what I don’t know, I want to keep that way.

There are other examples of this, but if I want you to read this entire post, I suppose I should get moving on.

2. My perception of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ weather:

We are coming off one of the hottest hot seasons Thailand has known in many years… like at 60 years.  (I want to say 100 years, but then someone might fact check me and I may be exaggerating…) It’s been hot.  We had week after week into months of weather hitting 110, 112, 114 fahrenheit with overnight lows of 85, 88, 90. Overnight. Lows.

I do not sleep in air conditioning.  This particular year I had three short stays in peoples’ homes where I was blessed with a climate controlled bedroom.. but those nights only made nights back in my bedroom nearly impossible.  At home, I would wake up in the middle of the night literally dripping in sweat.  It was hot.

Now that the rains have begun our highs are only 97…95 and this Tuesday it gets down to a HIGH of only 91.  With overnights lows as low as 75.  And guess what.  I get cold at night.  Instead of waking up in sweat… I wake up to add a blanket and/or turn off my fan.

This is adaptation.

3. Personal hygiene:

Over the course of my short life I have somehow gained the reputation of being… how should I say?.. dirty?  In Thailand they have a phrase ‘สกมก’ (sokmok) which roughly translates as ‘dirty homeless person’.  This is a word that has been used to describe me.  John Huffman likes to tell hyperbolized stories of my lack of feminitiy and seemingly displaced desire to shower.  It was not uncommon for me to go 2, 3…4 days without showering.  Looking back, this is slightly embarrassing… but, what can I say?

In Thailand, this is not acceptable.  Thai people shower at least twice a day, every day. Regardless of activity and sweat levels.  Twice a day.  I was a walking offense.  However, those days are behind me and I can proudly say that I shower–at least–once a day, but often two–even three times a day.

I have turned a page in my life.  So long สกมก. Hello being clean.

4. The use of the Thai language:

Thai has become such a normal part of my life that I often speak Thai without taking into account who I am talking to.  For example, I had a meeting with one of my professors at University and as she is Thai, I naturally just started talking to her in Thai.  However, this was not appropriate, as I am in an international program studying about teaching English. My professor does not talk to her Thai students in Thai… let alone her American student.

Another example happened today in my classroom.  If one of my students needs further explanation of something I have gone over repeatedly in English, I will revert to Thai to ensure that comprehension is there. I have two students from English speaking homes in my classroom and today one of them was asking for further explanation.  I knelt down beside him and started explaining the activity to him in Thai.  He does not speak Thai.

This also comes out when I am with other English speakers and drop Thai words into the conversation because I cannot think of a word to express the appropriate message in English. How did I ever thoroughly communicate before?

5. I find Asian men attractive: 

Before moving to Thailand I had no interest, whatsoever, in Asian men.  So often I would get asked, ‘do you think you will marry a Thai person‘ and I would almost get offended by the question.  No.  I had this misconception that all Thais (and therefore, all Asians) are super short, super skinny and have weird voices. I also thought that all Asian people look the same.

Well, guess what.  Asians (and Thais) come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of personalities and all have very diverse facial features. Asian women have long been praised for their beauty, but I am here to say that Asian men can be quite attractive as well.

Of course I am not attracted to every Thai man that walks past me… but that wasn’t the case in America either.

For me, the surest sign that I have adapted to Thailand is that I have crushes on at least four Thai guys.

 


So there you have it.  After a little over three and a half years, I can say with some amount of confidence, I have adapted to Thailand.

 

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I don’t like going to church.

 

Yesterday at a staff meeting I took part in one of those ‘getting to know you’ ice breaker games… I’m sure you’ve played it.

Everyone sits in a circle, with just enough chairs for those sitting and one person stands in the middle (there’s no chair for the person in the middle.)  The person in the middle makes a statement like “I like cheese” or “I’m wearing a pink shirt” and everyone who shares the like of cheese or is also wearing a pink shirt has to stand up and then on the count of three, everyone, including the person in the middle runs and tries to find a new chair.  The person left standing is the new ‘man in the middle’.

You’ve played this game.

Anyway, yesterday after a bunch of rounds of this game and lots of crazy running around and getting to know one another, someone in the middle made the statement, “I like going to church”.

Working at a christian school with an entirely christian staff, one can easily assume… everyone stood up.

Everyone, that is, except for me.

Sure, I felt the urge to stand up… Thoughts like, ‘what will people think?’, ‘I’m a missionary…’, ‘I have to like going to church…’, ‘how bad will I look if I don’t stand up?’ flooded my mind, but I was compelled to remain seating.

What’s worse, I thought, lying to please the crowd and save face or being honest and raising a few eyebrows?

After the game was finished another missionary came up to me, she had noticed my being the only person sitting during the ‘I like going to church’ round and she wanted to comment.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but instead of assumed reprimand or the usual questioning of my devotion to God, she said, “Yea… sometimes going to church here is really hard.”

And that’s the truth.

Sometimes, going to church here, is really hard.


Before reading on I need to say, I come from a great church family in Omaha, NE.  The people in that church have become my family and have helped me grow into the person I am.  I love my church in Omaha and while, it’s not perfect and still developing, I would not be where I am or who I am without the love and support of that body of people.


Since living in Thailand I have regularly attended three Thai churches.

The first of the three churches was the most international and the most western.  The sermon was in both English and Thai, the worship was done in full Hillsong style and the Sunday meetings were held in a very air-conditioned, comfortable hotel ballroom. This was like the ‘adjustment’ church, while I was learning Thai.  This church was comfortable, the sermons were predictable and no one talked to you, so you didn’t have to get out of your comfort zone.

But in the end, I think that was the biggest problem with this church.  It definitely served its purpose in its time, but it was extremely comfortable.  There was no ‘community’ aspect to the church, no need to adjust to a new culture, no need to adapt to something unfamiliar… and so, after about 6 months, we (the Lorensens and I) transitioned out.  [No one noticed.]

The second of the three churches was a local Thai church near our home that many of the students from School of Promise attended.  As Caleb and I were both teaching at the school, this church seemed that the natural place for us to land.

The sermon was completely in Thai, there was no air conditioning and everyone ate lunch together that was prepared by members of the church.  At first this seemed ideal.  The church congregation was a community.  Everyone worked together, lived life together and shared church responsibilities together.

Unfortunately, the shiny ideal wrapping of this church quickly wore off and it became apparent that a lot of the ‘community togetherness’ was actually ‘community obligation’ enforced through guilt.  Missing a week of church was followed up by the third degree.  Performance, saving face and adherence to rules were more important than love and compassion.  I left this church after a year of begrudged attendance

The final church I was part of was a church made up of people that I still love and respect very much.  Coming off the bad experience from the last church, this church seemed like a breathe of fresh air.  Again, it was all Thai and very community orientated.  Everyone worked together and for the most part, lived together.  This church was a family and welcomed me in quickly.

But again, after a couple months of attendance, it became clear that the congregation was there out of religious and communal obligation, rather than out of pure satisfaction and joy.  Duty and tradition, adherence to rules was more important than the inner health of the individual members. I said a sad goodbye to this church family after a year.


So there is my church attending history.  I haven’t formally gone to church in the seven months.

What I have done, however, is:

-prayed together with my housemates

-shared meals with my neighbors

-helped get a woman out of an abusive relationship

-worshipped with released criminals

-prayed for my struggling classmates

-loved on kids who don’t get enough attention

-listened to my friends’ burdened hearts

-hung out with the teenagers that I live with

-travelled to Malaysia to be a companion of a lonely friend


I was recently pretty rocked by this blog.

In this blog, the author, talks about how Jesus never actually told us to worship Him–but instead, 29 times, He tells us to follow Him.  He gives a list of things that happen as people lay down their lives (and their religion) to follow Jesus.  This list includes things like: the hungry were fed, the sick were healed, people were loved and discipled and the religious leaders were challenged.

The author also highlights Mark 7:6-9:

And He [Jesus] said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:

‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’

Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.”


How often do we allow the ‘tradition of men’ to keep us blind to the commandments of God?

How often does ‘saving face’ mean that we withhold truth or compassion?

How often do we allow religious duty to smother stopping for the one?

I know I’m guilty.

I know that I often bow to the god of approval from man rather than hone into the God of grace. I know that I often begrudgingly say yes out of fear, rather than be honest with my desires.


So, with all of this going on in my head and my heart, I can confidently say, right now, I don’t like going to church.

But I LOVE being THE church. Following Jesus.  Saying ‘yes’ and ‘here I am God, I’m willing’ and ‘what do you want to do today God?’.  I love smiling at people whom I don’t know and praying for people I just met.  I love getting to be the vessel in which the Holy Spirit flows out of and being surprised in my times of quiet worship alone.  I love being the body of Christ in my neighborhood, with my family…

Following Jesus is uncomfortable. It’s unconventional. It’s unpredictable.  It’s uncontrollable.

Following the law is easier, clear cut, measurable… but it’s not through following the law [and going to church] that we will encounter God. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me.”

So while I will surely be part of a formal congregation again in the future, for now, I just don’t like going to church.


verses to ponder:

John 14:6; Colossians 2:16-23; Isaiah 29:13

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On Death and Dying and a few thoughts on being a Christian Missionary. 

Death.  The human condition.  or would that be dying?  regardless…

I hadn’t really been exposed to death much before moving to Thailand.  Aside from my great grandma dying when she was quite old and quite ready to die and my cat being put to sleep (which is still perhaps the biggest tragedy of my life)… death hadn’t really affected me.

I suppose there were the few random relatives that I had no connection to but attended funerals out of social responsibility (or just because I was a child and had no choice in the matter).

But that’s it.  I’m not an expert on grief or grieving patterns of the West or even of the grieving patterns of myself.. but it seems that Americans tend to keep grief, death, dying and the process there of to themselves.

We dress in black and go to the funeral and find comfort in the close few around us and cry in private and then continue on as normal.

Moving to Thailand I’ve been exposed to death and dying on a new level.

The neighborhood we live in is filled with old people.  and those old people die.  all the time.  Some of the time I didn’t even know a household housed an old person until the said old person died.

The process of grieving death is quite different here.  Families of the deceased literally close off the street around their house, and invite any and everyone to there house to pay respects to the deceased through drinking, eating and loud Buddhist chanting for three days… until they all, as a community, escort the body (in true parade form) to be cremated at the neighborhood cremation place.  [I’m not being funny.]

Funerals are loud, long and very public.  The process of grieving is in your face.

Living in a neighborhood where your Buddhist neighbors are dying all around you, all the time can get troubling.

As a Christian (missionary) and carrier of the Light of the world—what is my responsibility to my neighbors?

As my neighbors die around me I can’t help but ask, ‘Lord, what will become of him/her?’  Did they know the truth? Had they ever heard the Good News? Did they ever say the prayer? Had they ever been evangelized to or received a Gospel tract?  I don’t know???  But I know that I didn’t give it to them…. (well, I may have, but the number of neighbors I’ve evangelized to verses the number of neighbors that die are not in my favor…)

Is my neighbors’ eternal salvation dependent on my evangelizing to them? I mean…how can they call on Jesus if they haven’t heard of Him and how can they hear of Him if no one tells them… and I’ve been sent to tell them.

But telling them doesn’t seem to work.  Preaching the Bible to people who have no context for Christianity is like speaking Thai to my brother… it doesn’t translate. And in most cases, as soon as anyone finds out I’m a missionary their walls go straight up and I am labelled as a cultural imperialist with impure motives and a desire to control the thoughts and actions of any person who does not share my christian heritage.

There’s a lot working against me.

If my neighbors’ only hope of avoiding eternal damnation is by hearing and decidedly accepting the gospel message from me, I’m really sucking at my job.

I mean, instead of devoting days to door-to-door evangelism, I’ve stuck to fostering deep relationships and building trust.  Instead of microphones and loud speakers, my teammates and I have chosen the quiet and not obviously fruitful route of hospitality.  Instead of defensiveness and imposing viewpoints, we have chosen to be quiet and listen.

Our door is open to convicted criminals and abused wives, gay socialites and hilarious college students. Young and old, rich and poor come into our house, eat our food, share their stories and listen to ours.  Relationships are born and trust is established.

Sure, we’ve had some friends give their lives to the Lord.  But our best, longest and most intimate friends have yet to do so regardless to how many times we’ve prayed for them or shared the Gospel.

And my neighbors are still dying.

If Jamie hadn’t already stolen the title, I think I would label myself ‘the very worst missionary’.

But I’ve come to a place in my missionary life, where I have released the responsibility of my neighbors’ souls to the Lord.  Of course I will listen and obey–continuing to share and pray, but no longer will their eternal fate rest in my hands and my missionary performance. No longer will I decide the fate of people based on my perceptions of their relationship (or lack there of) with the Lord.

God can have that job.

So what is my responsibility?

This is a question I have asked and asked and asked.  And you know what the answer I get is?

It’s to love God, love myself and who God created me to be and to love my neighbors.  To be their friends.  To meet needs when I can.  To pray when I can.  To die to my innate selfishness.  And to die to my reputation.  To be fully present where I am and to invest in the people in front of me.

So that’s what I’m doing (or trying to do…).  Reputation be dammed.  I’m going to love my neighbors to death…

 

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The Gospel

Yesterday, in one of my classes, we were asked to shortly describe ourselves.  My classmates’ self descriptions stated their country of origin and their current profession.  So that would make me: Samara, American, studying TESOL in Thailand.

How very weak that introduction is. How void of the most important parts of my identity.

Samara. Daughter of God. Created to create. Loved to love. Accepted to accept.

I would say that that more accurately describes who I am.

Jesus and I will be celebrating our ten year anniversary pretty soon.  Ten years.  A whole decade.  I cannot believe I’m old enough to be celebrating a decade of anything… but that is a whole other issue.

With this memorial date approaching I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting.

Reflecting on my life. Reflecting on who I was and who I’ve become…and who I was while I was becoming who I became : ) [got that?]

A statement that I’ve been making a lot lately is that “christianity didn’t change my life, my relationship with Jesus changed my life.”

Every time I hear myself say this something jumps inside of me.  That statement is the most true statement I can make.  Nothing has had a more profound impact on me, my life, and who I am, than my relationship with Jesus.

I grew up with christianity.  I grew up with the stories, the rules, the systems, the commands, the expectations… but I didn’t grow up with the reality of the Gospel.  It wasn’t until that Reality became my reality that I was able to experience the freedom that has forever marked my life.

***

I recently finished reading “The Jesus Storybook Bible” with my Thai teacher.

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If you haven’t invested in this children’s Bible yet, you’re missing out.  I have yet to find the Gospel more beautifully illustrated (figuratively and literally).  The authors of this Bible have so beautifully pointed out how God has been working from the beginning of time to get His children back into right relationship with Him.

Every story whispers Jesus’ name.

For God SO loved the world that He sent His Only Son.

It was always God’s plan to send Jesus. Because it was always God’s plan to get His children back.

And who does Jesus pinpoint?  Who does Jesus call out for greatness?  Who does Jesus choose to befriend?

The Extra-Super-Holy-People?

No.

He chose people like me.

People who were lost, depressed, lonely, dirty, poor, addicted, deserted, alone, condemned, guilty, hurting, oppressed, possessed, angry, blind, deaf, dumb, doubting, drunk… the list goes on.

He chose whomever would chose Him. He chose the hungry. He chose the needy.  He chose the difficult.  The unrighteous.  The annoying.

***

I’ve been a missionary for about three and a half years now.

Demonstrating the Gospel is my job. Literally. It’s what I get paid to do.

So often the job demands of newsletter writing and supporter relations tempt me to act like an Extra-Super-Holy-Person.  I mean… that’s what missionaries are supposed to be, right?

My life needs to be clean. structured. organized. predictable. newsletter appropriate. and those knees better be covered… do we even need discuss the shoulders?

Right?

My paycheck depends on it… right?

Wrong.

Jesus’ Gospel wasn’t clean.  Jesus’ life wasn’t structured… organized… predictable and His supporters probably wouldn’t have liked His newsletters.  (He hung out with women and was at parties where people got drunk… I mean… you can’t really write about that kind of stuff…)

For God SO loved the world that He sent His One and Only Son, that WHOMEVER may believe in Him will be saved and have life eternal.

So that’s my Gospel.  Believing in Jesus and receiving that life eternal.  Life eternal starting ten years ago.  Life eternal now.  On earth.  Life eternal full of messes and mistakes and unexpected turns and hiccups and high highs and low lows.

Life eternal, right now.

Life with Jesus.

And that’s what I am in Thailand to share.

Not a good English education. Not an introduction to critical thinking. Not an education full of the creative arts.

I’m here to introduce my friends to Life Eternal. Right now.

Life with Whom you may converse. Life with Whom you may walk. Life with Whom you may be messy and unpredictable.

Life—Who will never change, never leave, never reject.

Life.  Real.  Messy.  Unpredictable.

Life with Jesus. Free. Safe. Abundant.

 

***

I was recently reminded of this video:

Not much I can say after that.

So to end this blog post I want to challenge myself to another ten years. Another ten years of Life.  Another ten years of greater intimacy and greater depth of relationship.  Another ten years of walking with Jesus wherever He may bring me.  Another ten years of saying yes to impossible situations and messy people.  Another ten years of taking risks and looking foolish.  Another ten years of failing and hurting.  Another ten years of Jesus picking me back up. Another ten years of Abundance walking with me.  Protecting me.  Guiding me.  Providing for me.  Another ten years of adventure.

And I challenge you too.

What is the Gospel?

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MA TESOL (part 2)

I started the MA TESOL program at Payap University in the fall of 2015.  My first semester is competed and I am gearing up to begin the second semester of classes.

Going from teaching and hanging out with Thai people all day to being a full time student in an international program where I speak English all day was a hard transition for me.  The amount of homework was more than I expected and my normal, social personality was traded in for a focused, much more introverted version of myself.  But, I handled the transition and finished the first semester with a 4.0.  (Yes, I’m bragging.)

The semester wasn’t without its bumps and chaos and the school work sucked out most of my time and energy (thus the lack of blogs…) but now, after a full month off, I am refreshed and excited to start the second semester.

God, being the Good Daddy that he is–knew that in order for me survive the intensity of the semester, I would need to be surrounded by a memorable cast of characters to go through it with.  I mean, it wouldn’t be my life if it didn’t somehow resemble a sitcom…

There are 13 people in my program, representing eight countries, and in honor of the new semester, I want to introduce you to a few of my favorite characters (using the nicknames I gave them the first week of class before I knew their real names…).


 1. Holy Spirit Woman

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Holy Spirit Woman is the classmate that I respect the most.  She is from Burma, married an American, has two young children, is the head of a ministry that works with Burmese refugees, this is her second Masters Degree AND she somehow is able to balance all the demands of her life as well as get (most) of her assignments turned in on time.

She’s amazing and inspiring.

2. GQ Man

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As his nickname suggests, this young man is quite the looker.  As a young, single woman, the first week of class, I took an inventory of my male classmates.  GQ Man cannot go unnoticed.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), my personality is not attracted to the overly beautiful and so GQ Man’s perfectly quaffed hair did not distract me long.  Though I can not deny that he is very “easy on the eyes”. 🙂

3. Magic Man

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Ha!  Where do I even begin.

Magic Man is from Iran and has some of the biggest arm muscles I have ever seen in my life.  These massive muscles of his are well complimented with his incredibly insecure man personality… mix these two features together and you get quite the combination.

Magic Man is on the prowl.  He’s looking for love. He’s very interested in Thai women, however, can not speak Thai.  Over the course of the semester I was commissioned to interview potential dates, set up rendezvous times and was even asked to accompany him on a date as a translator (which I had to turn down–much to my disappointment).

Oh!  AND Magic Man is a magician whose card tricks blew me away class after class.

4. Laser Eyes

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Unfortunately, this classmate got his nickname due to the fact that every time he opened his mouth, the entire class glared at him with laser eyes of death.  So… you can pray for me with this one.

5. Ellen Degeneres

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Ellen is effortlessly cool.  She and her husband moved to Thailand and have built for themselves a personal retreat center at which she throws extravagant parties and invites any and everyone she knows.

At one such party, I noticed she had a wall full of ceramic Dutch row houses–as neither her, nor her husband originate form Holland, I was confused and asked for the story behind them.  She responded with, “They are the free gift we receive whenever we fly KLM Business Class.”  There were over 50 houses…

6. The Brit and 7. The Romanian

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 2.55.31 PMThis dating duo are the only other Westerns in the program.  The Brit never (ever) shows up to class and the Romanian never sleeps before coming to class.  These two are the “cool cats” of the program with their outspoken personalities and aloof attitudes.


There are a couple other people in the program, but these are the ones that I come home with stories about most often.

As the second semester is quickly approaching, my goal is to better balance my school work with other aspects of my life–which includes this blog.  Sooooooo, hopefully I will do a better job bringing you all into the sitcom that I call my Masters Program.

 

 

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