When life threw a curve-ball and our service to God overseas was stalled, it surprised us how the evil one stood in wait to quickly strike us with thoughts of failure, disconnect and purposelessness. These thoughts, mixed with so many unanswered questions, easily overwhelmed us. Through it all, we were reminded of three things: God can still work overseas without us, there are blessings in the waiting and God’s timing is always better.
Starting out in Thailand
My husband, Tom, and I have been serving in Thailand since September 2018, our first time working cross-culturally. We work alongside an existing ministry in a city called Pattaya, home to over 35,000 sex workers. The ministry, Tamar Center, seeks to reach out and bring hope to the thousands of women in the city who are trapped in prostitution. We offer housing, education and training in alternative professions, as well as providing counselling and introductions to Christianity should any of them want to know about Jesus. Tom and I are involved in the counselling, Bible teaching and the discipleship of these beautiful women.
Our first term was primarily language learning, a task we had hoped would be easier than expected! Coupled with cultural adjustment, living away from family and friends, integrating into a new team and ministry and attempting to find a church family, we must admit that these first 2 years had their challenges. We had originally planned to return home for 2 months in June 2020, however last year was the year that Covid-19 stopped the world in its tracks.
We were able to extend our visas and decided to stay for another 3 months to be a support to a struggling country. We witnessed first-hand the financial devastation that came as tourists were no longer welcomed and the borders closed as tourism is one of the main sources of income in Thailand. In Pattaya, we saw a drastic increase in homelessness, and individuals and families desperate for food. The Tamar Center was able to respond to some needs, raising funds and giving food parcels to the many women without income. We were grateful for the opportunity to help and build relationships; it felt good to have a purpose.
Returning to an unfamiliar home
Although exhausted, we were disappointed to have to leave Thailand in September as our visas had expired and we had no legal way of renewing them within the country. On the 12th of September, we caught a one-way, socially distanced flight back to the United Kingdom, with no idea when we would be able to return. We left a ministry we love, a house we are renting and most of our possessions behind, so to say it felt strange is an understatement. Initially, we were able to focus on being reunited with friends and family, as well as resting and recuperating. We don’t think we had quite realised how empty our energy and emotional tanks were or just how much we had missed people.
When we were planning our return in June, we had organised so many prayer meetings, Sunday meetings and catch-ups with different people and church groups that just reading the list was exhausting; but we longed to share our hearts and experiences. Obviously, due to the virus stopping gatherings, as well as our delayed return, all of these engagements had been postponed. We had hoped that by the Autumn, life would in some ways have returned to normal in the United Kingdom and that we could once again meet with people and churches. However, with rules, regulations and lockdowns, this sadly hasn’t been the case.
Life feels stalled here, if we’re honest. We have returned to an unfamiliar country and we cannot yet, and have not yet, seen all our friends and church family. Although we have some opportunities to share about our time in Thailand online with the all-familiar Zoom app, it isn’t the same as meeting face to face. We have often faced online fatigue during our time in Thailand, as this is our only means of communicating with loved ones back home, so coming home and still having to live life online feels so draining to us. The question of our purpose here loops often in our minds – how do we fill our time here in the waiting? We can’t freely and easily share about our time overseas; we can’t invest and catch up with friends and supporters; we can’t volunteer here due to ongoing restrictions and we’re not in Thailand to be of use there. It’s easy to see how we can feel purposeless but God is still at work.
God is still at work in Thailand
We praise God that the remaining Tamar team, as well as some of the Tamar women, are still hard at work making food packs and making the gospel known. We have had reports of one lady, who last year was working in the bars, who has come to know Christ and is now one of our most passionate evangelists. Our role here in the United Kingdom might look different, but we can lift up our brothers and sisters to God in prayer. We can also be creative in supporting Tamar and in raising funds to carry on the work. God hasn’t stopped his plans just because we are not in our country of service.
Blessings in the waiting
Both Tom and I had considered further study during our time in Thailand since the things we had encountered there proved somewhat outside our realm of expertise. This focused time back home has meant we have been able to start part-time courses to further our knowledge for the mission field: Tom has embarked on a part-time Masters course in Systematic and Philosophical Theology all with the aim of imparting his knowledge to the Thai people; and I have enrolled in further specialised counselling courses, which would be of huge benefit when working with the complex needs of the women who join the Tamar programme. We have also had precious time with family, something we have come to learn not to take for granted.
God’s timing is always better
As Christians, we say this phrase often, but sometimes it isn’t the easiest phrase to utter. Tom and I find it difficult to truly rest, so this seemingly forced time of rest has been challenging yet rewarding. We have had time to process our first term overseas, time to reflect and think how we could be best used on our return. We have had time to build our relationship as a married couple and to grow in our relationship with God. Even though we would love to have a clear idea of when Thailand will reopen its borders and when we can return, we rest in the knowledge that his timing is perfect. So we look on with excitement, waiting to see what the next few months will bring and teach us.