Some of the people reading this article have known me almost my entire life, whereas others may have never met me, or have only known me for a short time. Those who have known me since I was little could attest to my wild imagination and sense of adventure. One of my favorite activities as a child was packing bags. Once my bags were packed I would travel behind the sofa, pretending that at the back of the sofa I had reached my destination. Due partly to friends and family living on other continents, from an early age I had a deep desire and love for the world that existed far beyond our family farm in Iowa. Another of my favorite games was telephone. To play, I would sit near one tree in the yard and my mother or neighbor friends would sit near another tree. Our trees were our homes. We would call each other and invite one another over, for pretend tea or conversation. I was always curious to meet and get to know new people.
My love for the world and people, and passion for learning about their stories runs deep and has taken me to a great many places. From the homeless families and communities of Adelaide, SA to the street people of East St. Louis, programs for adults and children with disabilities, hospital and emergency room patients, hospice patients, church work with children and low-income families around the USA, Lao and Hmong refugees, women who have faced abuse and prostitution, as well as many other people; they have all touched and blessed my life. One day I hope to put the stories into a book.
God exists in the relationships we build with other. One cannot live in isolation, we need each other to share, learn, and grow. When we connect with others, share our skills and work together, to me, our relationships with God often gets stronger. The idea of community living is evident in SE Asia where people work together. While they are often afraid to be alone, they also recognize the power and importance of living, working, and learning together. By joining our lives, our love for each other, our personal gifts and dreams, our lives have blended together in many powerful ways. Everyone has unique skills and dreams, but when people share, learn, and work on projects together, the results are great. Our gifts and lives can be represented by Romans 12 4-8,
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
For over the last two years I have been serving as a Global Mission Intern in Thailand and Laos. Living in both a city and a very remote village, my faith and relationship with God and others has been found in various ways. Living and working overseas is risky business. Risky because it changes you forever. It makes you question and challenge your beliefs and values. It is filled with a wide array of feelings and emotions. I have formed many close friendships with people in SE Asia. My home here, at times, seems equally important to home in the USA. I have been introduced to situations I never thought about before and people, who were once strangers, but now good friends and colleagues. I have become very inspired by what I have seen and been taught. Thai, Karen, and Lao are very calm peaceful people. They can often be heard saying, mai ben rai (Thai) or bor pen nyang (Lao), both meaning do not worry, everything will be okay. While people may often appear laid back, their dreams are still big. My Lao friend who wants to become the chief of her home village and start a school and center where Lao children can learn about the love of God and themselves, something that is currently not yet possible there. Lao Christians who dream of what the future of the church could look like in their country. Other Lao friends, fellow social workers, working to empower and improve the lives of Lao people. A Karen friend who studied political science in an effort to understand and advocate for the rights of Karen and Thai children. Upon finishing her degree, she returned home to work closely with children and families in her village. Lao, Karen, and Thai teachers who devote hours of their lives to educating young people to be leaders in their home country or another in the coming years.
What are your dreams for the future? Have you been challenged or inspired by those who have crossed your path? While I have been busy learning about the lives, hopes, and dreams of Lao, Karen, and Thai people, I have also had time to think about and confirm my own future dreams. I am a social worker, but also an anthropologist, social activist, and church leader. My strongest passions reside in working among children and youth, hospital patients, homeless, people with disabilities, and refugees. I plan to spend the rest of my life advocating, empowering, and working with one or a combination of these populations.
I thank you for your continued prayers, love and support toward all the people of SE Asia!
Happy Easter and Springtime!
Khop Jai! Khop Khoun Kha! Ta Blü
(Lao language) (Thai language) (Karen language)
Nicole Betteridge teaches English with the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). Her appointment is supported by Week of Compasssion, Our Churches Wider Mission, Disciples Mission Fund and your special gifts.