The first thing I noticed after disembarking the giant double decker 747 and boarding the bus to the terminal in Bangkok were the giant, painted block letter inscriptions on the concrete buildings reading, "LONG LIVE THE KING."
Now I know this is a predominately Buddhist country, so I was fairly sure they weren't talking about the true King. Nor, I presumed, were they referring to Elvis. Though after accidentally being in Memphis during "Elvis week" this past August, and realizing the global extent of idol worship afforded the man, the thought crossed my mind.
Pat assures me the veneration is for their much-loved, much-revered 80 year-old king, the longest reigning monarch in history, having ascended the throne when he was 18 or 19 years old and still active and in power.
She tells me of his tremendous heart for his country, his benevolence and the good he has done, and tries to explain to my Western mind the loyalty and heart-felt veneration given to this man whom has done so much for his country and his people.
Twice a day, at 8:30 am and 4:30 pm, everything stops. Traffic, conversation, business transactions, classes, etc., and the entire country participates in a moment of silent prayer for the king. They despair of his eventual passing because the only son among his four children is a philandering playboy and doesn't appear to share his father's heart for the country.
There have been growing suggestions the son be passed over in favor of his only legitimate grandson, but a 2 year-old would hardly seem capable of much more than, well, a two-year old.
Sunday morning we went to the international church Pat and Sam attend. It is 1,000 members strong, boasts over 40 nationalities and serves them in three back-to-back services. The pastor is an American and all the services are conducted in English so I had no trouble following along and even knew most of the worship songs. Afterward we went around the corner to a lovely restaurant and had lunch with the pastor and his wife and two other couples who are in leadership in the church and whose small group Pat and Sam are part of.
It was their first meeting since the beginning of the summer as several were out of the country getting children settled in college, visiting aged parents, and various other things that make up life. The pastor asked everyone to go around the table and share the best and worst experience over the past three or so months. We were all roughly the same age, with grown and/or nearly grown children. I was struck that every one's best and worst involved their children. Marriages, premature twin grandchildren, concern over their choices and spiritual condition, etc. The pastor graciously included me in the conversation, and though none of them knew me, I briefly shared that my best and worst involved Jacob, gave the Reader's Digest version of the situation, my months of agonizing prayer and total reliance on God, and His gracious resolution.
This morning Sam put me on the bus for the two and a half hour (or so) bus ride to the coastal town of Pattaya where the Tamar center is located. It offered my first real look at the city--some 12 million strong.
It is an interesting mix of the modern and the cultural. I see the ubiquitous golden arches and street vendors cooking chicken (I think) on hibachis on the sidewalk in front. The traffic is as congested as you'd expect in a city this size with everyone honking and jockeying for position, aggressively zig-zagging within inches of other bumpers, pedestrians and motor bikes, the latter zipping and squeezing between speeding vehicles.
There are dogs everywhere! No doubt looking for asylum from nearby Vietnam where they are eaten, and therefore, scarce.
There is trash everywhere, providing an incongruous contrast to the lush greenery, vast variety of trees and gorgeous, colorful tropical flowers.
It is only one of many such contrasts. Ramshackle houses sit next to modern buildings. Cars you can't believe still run pull alongside shiny new Mercedes and Volvos. There are weather worn canvas canopies sheltering a row of street vendors in front of modern markets. The US influenced dress of the young next to the conservative, almost uniform look of the older. Billboards, banners and signs of all shapes and colors are everywhere, stacked in vertical rows along the roadsides and on telephone poles, one invariably blocking the view of another. Every couple of miles or so miniature golden Buddhist shrines and temples sit on pedestals. There is junk everywhere; abandoned cars, machines, rickety thatched roofs on poles that once covered street vendors and all manner of rusted things next to stagnant pools of black and chartreuse water. Hand made signs hung out on bed sheets, laundry flapping from apartment balconies; bright, colorful murals covering cars and buses; street sweepers fighting a losing battle; chic models dressed in the latest fashions in window displays and people walking past in tattered, ill-fitting clothes; signs in English and Thai; American models next to Thai sports figures; billboards bearing the image of the beloved king and his wife. It is a riot of the senses.
And everywhere, everywhere, the beautiful, clear-complected, brown-skinned people with high cheek bones, hooded, almond shaped eyes, broad noses and ebony hair.
People God created for fellowship; people whose redemption God joyfully made provision for through the precious blood of His beloved Son; people, like so many others, lost and dying around the globe without hope of eternal salvation.
"Oh Lord, let my tiny match stick of a light be illuminated with the shekinah glory of the living God, who brought all things into being by the word of Your power. Speak through my meager words and enlighten the hearts of these precious people You created."