August 30, 2018 —
By Vina Cristobal, UHP Communications/Marketing Coordinator
When people hear the words “mission trip,” they often think of building houses and churches in impoverished villages, delivering necessities to less fortunate families and so forth. And when people hear of Thailand, they think of a lush, exotic vacation spot with inexpensive food.
This mission trip, however, served a different purpose.
This past July, I had the opportunity to travel to Bangkok, Thailand for two weeks to do campus ministry, which meant that our team would be on a college campus connecting with students. Eleven of my teammates and I – all members from Grace Bible Church Pearlside – were eager to arrive in Thailand. Half of our team were veterans and the other half were first-timers, including myself. Our trip comprised of meeting students on Chulalongkorn University and serving in the local church.
When we approached our hotel, we saw that it was located in a sketchy alleyway on the eastern end of Bangkok. On the first night, our team had already encountered problems with electricity, hot water, lack of towels, and so forth. Next door to our hotel were two luxury five-star resorts, which initially frustrated us. However, it humbled us because it allowed us to see our trip from a bigger perspective and to live the way that the Thai lived.
During our first weekend, we met up with small groups from Grace Bangkok Church, did a prayer walk around the university and explored the city. Some of the team members also attended Gavel Club at Chulalongkorn, which is a speech club that meets weekly. Gavel Club gives students an opportunity to practice their English in their free time. Our team members met a third-year student majoring in Economics. Green had been attending Gavel Club for some time. Meanwhile, two of the members and I got to share our expertise with the church media team.
The following week, it was time for us to go on campus. When doing campus ministry, our goal is not preaching to students or converting them to Christianity. Rather, our goal was making genuine and consistent friendships with them.
Red, who is the campus minister from Grace Bangkok, coordinates with one of the science professors, Wanpen, every year to create a chat club. This program provides an opportunity for students to practice their English. The Hawaii team would then come in to create an interactive curriculum that allows team members to bond with students through icebreaker activities.
When we arrived in the classroom, we found out that we only had one student who registered, due to an unfortunate mix-up with advertising the class. He was Ou, a student who was studying Chemical Engineering. So it was up to the rest of us to gather students who were taking summer classes or working on campus. We printed out some invitations to our class and distributed them to a few students, including Warm, a third-year Linguistics student and Jin, a third-year student majoring in Biochemistry.
After the first day, we clicked with these students and with Wanpen right away. The students invited their friends, some students from Gavel Club came to check out our class and we even had some returning students from previous years. The first-timers also found out that in previous years, Wanpen would only show up once or twice just to check up on the class. But one of our team members pointed out that this was her first year being consistent with our group, and it was because of her relationship with our teachers on the team. Through our cultural exposure days and interactive activities in the classroom, we were able to share our lives and our cultures with one another. Eventually we came to the realization that when we thought we were being a blessing to the students, they were actually blessing us.
The first week ended with a day trip to the countryside in Kanchanaburi, a small town three hours away from Bangkok. We arrived at an upscale coffee shop in the middle of nowhere; then we ate a potluck lunch at the elephant sanctuary. After we digested, we had the opportunity to bathe, feed and ride the elephants in the river.
On the last weekend of the trip, Wanpen, Warm, Ou, as well as other students (Bow, Paul and Pikky), took our group to the Siam Museum to learn more about Thai history. Afterward, we rode a boat across the river to Asiatique, which was a mix of a carnival and a night market. There, we ate dinner and experienced some of the attractions.
Our team then got to invite all of our students to our L.I.V.E. (Let’s Include and Value Everyone) event, which focused on relationships. Almost all of the students that we met during the trip came to the event to see us one last time, to eat and to mingle with local churchgoers. Some of our Hawaii team members shared about how they embraced God’s perspective of relationships. I got to share my story of how I came back to church because I had just ended a relationship, and many of the students came up to me saying they were inspired by the stories we shared.
Although I missed my friends and family back home, I got to experience what it was like to stay in another country and then take that experience to share with others in Hawaii. My character was definitely shaped and tested during this trip, and I’ve learned to have a bigger heart for people, no matter who they are.
Even though this was my first mission trip, I threw away my expectations of what we could do and learned to enjoy every moment that we were there. Perhaps we didn’t fulfill a physical or material need as many other mission trips do, but each and every team member was able to fulfill a relational need. Because we live in such a technology-driven culture, it’s hard for us to develop and solidify connections. It’s the same for any first-world city. Engaging with these students in real-life conversation allowed us to build deeper relationships with them.
For those who read this, we often have plans for ourselves – goals that we want to accomplish, dreams we want to manifest into reality. There’s no problem with planning or making strides for yourself. But God has a plan for every person on Earth, whether or not you’re a believer. I didn’t expect myself to go to Thailand, let alone a mission trip. But there was a reason why that happened. I grew out of my comfort zone and learned to be adaptable with others, and now I get to apply that with others back home. There’s a purpose and reason for everything, and when you find the purpose that God gave to you, you’ll have a better sense of where you’ll go next.
Khop khun na ka (thank you) to those that provided encouragement, financial support and other resources go on this mission! Your help is greatly appreciated.
“And we know that in all things work together for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28