Monday, February 28, 2011

Finding My Place

I hesitantly walked towards the front of the church, not quite sure what to expect, not even knowing if I was in the right place, even though the sign at the front said, "Burmese Community Church; 2:00." Here I was. Sunday. It was 2:05. I walked through the door, my eyes adjusting to the darker lighting inside. Woman walked around in traditional Burmese skirts and as soon as I entered, I felt like every eye turned to gaze at me, just like in the movies.

I smiled and walked a few rows back to sit on the wooden pew.
"Hello." I said to the two women sitting in front of me.
They were just about to begin the service, the piano and violin doing a few more practice runs. A woman in a long Karen skirt walked towards me and smiled.
"How are you?" I asked in Burmese.
"I'm fine my sister, I've never seen you before..." she answered in Burmese and I seriously wanted to cry, because I've missed hearing the language.
"My name is Katie, I'm from Orange County but I lived in Thailand..." I quickly told her about what I had been doing in Mae Sot, all in Burmese.
I think she was impressed.

The service began and they sang a few English songs and some Burmese hymns. An old Karen man, the senior pastor walked to the pulpit and welcomed us to the church,
"If there are any visitors, would you introduce yourselves?" He asked in perfect English.
My new friend encouraged me to stand up, "Tell us about yourself in Burmese. Everyone would be so happy."

So I did.

Everyone was shocked, I forgot to mention that the entire congregation (there were about 40) were old enough to be my parents or grandparents. There was no one under the age of 45.
They clapped when I had finished and the pastor was so warm and welcoming to me.

I love how laid back their service was. People would come up onto the stage and share something or sing a song that had not been previously planned. The pastor was so encouraging and proud of his congregation for being bold in sharing their faith with one another.

Some things about the service were similar to my home Church in Mae Sot. They sang some of the same songs, had the same praying style, and loved and cared for each other like they were family, which I later found out many of them were.

When the service ended, I was immediately swarmed.
Men and women reached out to shake my hand and welcome me. Many of them told me about other churches in the area and restaurants that I could visit, all of them called me their younger sister or daughter, and invited me to come back often.

Most of the congregation moved to America in the 60's or 70's and they were eager to hear about what was going on with Burma and how I learned to speak so well.

I got many phone numbers and connections to more activities in Southern California. Many women laughingly told me that they have sons just my age, and they're single. We laughed and joked together, easily switching from Burmese to English.

Afterwards I sat in my car and just let the warmth fill my heart. I hadn't even realized that I had been feeling empty. I think that being there in that place, surrounded by people who spoke the language that I love, I suddenly realized that I have been missing a part of myself. It has been about 3 weeks since I left Thailand and my life there, and slowly, the realness of it has been fading. It seems like a place that I dreamed of, not as a reality. I was scared that I had lost it, but sitting there on that hard wooden pew, I realized that I will never lose my love for Burma, because it is engrained in my heart.

Later that night I called one of my best friends in Mae Sot and we spoke for a long time.
"Your Burmese is better." He said to me.
"What?! No way... I've barely been speaking and I feel like I was stumbling over the easiest words today."
"No your accent is amazing. You sound just like you are from Burma."

As I lay in bed that night, warm memories swam into my head and I rested easy, dreaming of my friends and of Mae Sot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

California Week 1

Can I still blog even though I'm not living "overseas"?

Why not. (as my friends from Burma would say.. although it's kind of answering the question with a question)

Statement of fact:
I'm still overseas. I crossed over the sea.

I wrote one last newsletter that I've been sending out to an elite few (if you're not on it it's cause you didn't give me your email! Don't even pretend like I didn't ask for it.)

I feel like it was exactly the closure that I needed so I can continue on this journey of 2011. I was just surfing the web (does anyone use that term anymore? They should...) and I was drawn to the YWAM Modesto crew. They are partnered with New Hope Christian Fellowship. I have had deep and healing relationships with some of the staff and their heart is parallel with mine when it comes to walking with the poor, especially in America as they are often overlooked and purposefully forgotten. I am looking forward to heading up north and spending time with them!

In the meantime I've been spending time with my family and friends as I rebuild relationships and share my heart for Burma. I went to the library last night and was hit with this wave of wanting to learn! I quickly wrote out every subject I've ever had an interest in. It literally spanned from cooking... to the history of abortion in America... from gangs to starting your own non profit organization... from working with refugees to how to sew. With many random topics in between.

God has definitely placed counseling on my heart. I met many children, women, and men in Mae Sot in need of someone to help them heal from deep wounds inflicted by their own parents, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol, and/or the Burma government. My heart ached for them, but it instilled a passion and desire for walking beside them and showing them that they are far from alone. I'm looking into a few different programs to better equip me to be a counselor who can introduce them to The Counselor.

I'm looking at this season as a time to learn and grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. (I don't think I'll be growing physically. I somehow shrank half an inch this past year)

That's it for now. Don't forget your call today, tomorrow, and forever as we set out as disciples of Christ and brothers and sisters to each other....

"Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Colossians 3:12-14


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Just the Beginning.

I lay on the cold tile floor. The inevitable tears forming in my eyes for the third or fourth time that day.
I can't do this.
No, you can. It will be okay. Everything will be fine.
I stood up and looked at myself in the mirror
You can do this.
"I can do this." I said to myself outloud.

I've never been one for giving myself pep talks, but this is something I've never been through before, so I think it was a good exception.

It has been looming. My departure. I knew it was coming, so you'd think that I would have been prepared, but I don't think that goodbye's can ever be anticipated to their fullest degree. Even I had been telling myself and everyone around me that I would be returning soon, there is always the element of the unknown. I literally cannot tell you what will take place over these next few months. So, as much as I would like to believe I'm going to return to Mae Sot in June, I don't know if it will really happen.

The day started with breakfast at Lucky teashop, a place where I had been building relationship all year, and where a lot of my language learning occurred. My friend Steph summed up the day with this,
"This is a bitter sweet day. Wait. No. There's nothing sweet about it."

I went home and finished packing my things, shoving many items into the dresser that would stay in Mae Sot, a security blanket for my safe and speedy return. I ended up having two suitcases, which were extremely heavy. I still have to sort through through and lighten the load as much as a I can before I get onto the plane.

I went to the office for our weekly staff lunch and had a really good time seeing everyone and eating together. It still had not hit me fully.

I went back to Lucky and was taken upstairs to my friend's one room home where she lives with her husband and newborn son. She had made my mohinka, one of my favorite Burmese dishes. We sat on the floor and ate together as the Indian Bollywood movie played in the background. I went back downstairs and sat with Sii and Saa, my beautiful friends who have taken me under their wing. I was so hesitant to leave, and we all had tears in our eyes every time I attempted to stand. We sat and talked, eating sweets together, until I knew I had to leave.

"You'll be back soon." They told me. And I silently nodded, because I can't stand to think that's not true.

I continued the afternoon running errands and making sure I had everything ready. At 5:30 I went to Hin Pai's house to eat dinner with the high school kids I had taught English this year. They had cooked a delicious meal, with many different kinds of curry and we sat talking long after we had finished.

When I stood to leave Hin Pai pulled me in to hug her, and she held me close, her tears wetting my hair. I started to cry, because this woman has become my sister. She had been with my since the start, patiently teaching me the Burmese alphabet and sympathizing with my shock to the culture. I've seen her blossom into a young mother with a beautiful daughter. I've seen her and her husband overcome trials in their faith and in their community. She is my hero. So it was difficult to say goodbye, and as she walked me to my motorbike a million memories rushed back of my daily visits to her home and our laughter and conversation.

Quick trips to the Safehouse and Babyhouse were next on the agenda, and the kids and staff prayed for me and my journey. They laughed and shouted and we played for a while before I had to go.
At the babyhouse, P Chat (the house dad) read me scripture from Joshua 1 to encourage me.

"Katie, no one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous…"

As I left, he pressed 20 bot into my hand, "For canomb (cookie or cracker) buy a snack at the bus station."

I returned home. My sisters were waiting for me. We were laughing, joking. They prayed for me and we began to cry. My sisters. We had slept next to each other, eaten together, spent so much time together over the past six months. They were like an extension of myself. They were the most difficult to say goodbye to.

At the bus station my friends were waiting for me. We had gotten there early and sat talking, laughing, joking until the bus began to back out. We all leapt up shouting for it to wait. I quickly said goodbye, hugging each friend close. This was it.

I'm sitting here now at the airport. Life continues on. People are passing by me, everyone going somewhere, saying goodbye and preparing to say hello. I feel excited. I feel scared. I feel sad for what I'm leaving behind. God works and He is near me, of this I am sure. He brought me to this country and blessed me with these deep and rich friendships. I know that I will have an amazing experience in America, as difficult as it will be, but when I return to Mae Sot, I will be welcomed back, hugged and kissed, and I will know that with each hello and goodbye you can be assured that it's not the end, because deep and true love has no ending.