As I finish the preparations for returning to the United States, I thought it worthwhile to reflect a little bit about the opportunities for learning and growth that I found while I was here in Thailand. I would like to think that I am a better person, and a less selfish person, and a more emotionally mature person for having spent more than a year taking care and teaching some wonderful teenagers and young adults from extremely difficult backgrounds. God knows I’m not a perfect person, but I think I grew and learned more from spending a year thinking about and looking after others than I spent in the previous five years of largely self-absorbed and moody introspection that preceded it. And I never want to go back to the lonely wallowing pity party either.
During the course of my time at Legacy Institute, I have worn many hats. In the morning I have helped out at the farm, digging holes for a latrine or helping to plant peanuts or okra. I have been a quartermaster for meat, have signed out students from 6:30AM to 10:00PM to go to the store, to play soccer, or any other number of things. I have taught classes, awkwardly tried to play local sports, given sermon messages, counseled an alcoholic family, visited a refugee camp, seen the Nogales of Burma, and any number of other tasks. I will remember the students I have served as long as I live–and I hope they remember me fondly as well.
I have worked with a variety of teachers, all of whom were people who shared a love of service and a desire to help others, and all of whom have helped me to learn and grow a great deal. Whether they have exposed weaknesses in my personality and ways of coping with stress that need to be seriously fixed, have provided with with lessons in how to handle difficult situations, or have been sounding boards for my thoughts and experiences, I will look back fondly and think highly of the competence and character of them all. Anyone who comes to Thailand to serve is going to be driven by a desire to help the world–and they will help the world and become different, and better, people when they go home. One cannot be unchanged by the experience if one has done it sincerely and passionately.
It is a cliche that Thailand is a land of smiles. Truth be told, the Thais are a people that are skilled at pretense, at sweeping things under the rug to preserve a fragile and superficial peace because of a desire to avoid overt conflict. Being a person with perhaps too high a tolerance for conflict (certainly too much experience in it), the ways of peacemaking are hard for me to appreciate, and certainly I need more practice before I become skilled at avoiding unnecessary conflicts in the first place. Certainly the wide gap between my own personality and that of the nation certainly did hinder my enjoyment of this place, as I am too drawn to find out dark and hidden truths and too inattentive and insensitive to the pleasures of surface calm that some mistake for peace.
As I leave Thailand and prepare to embark on the next phase of my life, I have become extremely aware of some areas that need work on myself, as well as some growth that has already occurred. There will be time to reflect, time to work on some rough edges, time for fond memories and pleasant reflections, time to reflect on divine providence, and time to move on. But I will always remember the land of smiles, especially because so many of those smiles were crocodile grins. Perhaps even my own.