Guest Post: Christine Brinn (staff)
Many thoughts are swimming in my head and I find myself trying to find answers to the systemic problems that surround me. I've been here before, feeling stuck inside myself, yet the familiarity doesn't make it any easier to confront. Every day, I see the broken systems with more clarity. How do I respond knowing that I'm part of the dysfunction? I am propelled into deeper questions to a battle in my being to either rid myself of my skin and privilege or to use my power to solve and change all that I see. At this moment in time, I feel stuck and unsure if my presence in Bangkok as a white American Christian is a good idea at all. Lord, open my eyes to see.
Yaay Noi (Grandma Noi) said that she goes to church because the "pu chai falang" (foreigner white men) give her hugs and dote on her. Is it good news that Yaay Noi's experience of Christian community perpetuates perceptions of an American Jesus?
When P'Noi became a Christian, her family rejected her for following a "foreignher's God." And Yaay Pensri's walls are covered with 13 posters of a light-skinned Jesus. Is it good news that the Messiah is known as the white man's God?
Today I joined a group of blonde South African students as they spoke in the park to a gathering of Thai children - most of whom were wearing Buddhist charms around their necks. The short-term missionaries talked about the Israelites while Pat and Pao (my 10 and 12 year old neighbors) simultaneously begged me to let them play on the playground. Is it good news to ask children to sit in the hot sun and try to make sense of seemingly random stories translated by strangers speaking a foreign language?
Yesterday, Yaay Pensri (my host grandma) explained that all the neighbors give her food for "Suay" (my Thai nickname, which means "Beautiful"). She also explained that when I'm not here, they don't extend the same generosity. Is it good news that Yaay Pensri has enough to eat only when her daughter who reflects the "beauty" depicted in skin-whitening ads comes to stay with her?
I want to scream and somehow convince each child, each grandma here, "My God, my Lord, my Savior was not a white man!" I want to explain, "My God is not an ATM! He came in power, but His power is not of this world. It is not the power of the US Dollar or the privilege of being a half-white movie star. My God was rejected by the world and came in humility. Yes, he came, he lived with you and ate with you and sat with you, but he did not have my white skin, my American accent, my round blue eyes, or my light colored hair! Please forgive my people, for we have fashioned Jesus in our own image!"
I want to rid myself of this whiteness so that I can be more "effective" in bearing God's full image to Thai people - and yet I realize even that desire stems from my own privileged narrative that I am "needed" for God's kingdom to come. Lord, forgive me for my pride. Forgive us.
Forgive the ways that I - that we - in the West have placed ourselves at the center of your Global Body. Forgive us for getting in the way of your Spirit and your kingdom. Forgive us for going our own way, for "responding to your call" without listening first and seeing how you are already at work here. Forgive us for the pride of thinking that we are needed - that our "expertise" is needed, that our "theology" is needed, that our ideas are needed, that even our resources and offerings are needed. Lord, teach us to STOP and get out of your way. Show us the ways our actions and our good intentions perpetuate a false gospel that relies upon the charity of the West. Oh, that we would stop talking and listen!
Perhaps if we listen, we might see our own idols. Perhaps if we listen to the P'Nois of the world - to the P'Plar and P'Aa and P'Paula and P'Mon and Yaay Pensri and Klue Muay and to the voices of the Global Church - perhaps we will find that we ourselves have believed in the same white man's gospel that we've so readily proclaimed. If we stop and listen, perhaps we will realize that we in fact worship the sound of our own voice, and the choice to either steward or "lay down" our own privilege and power. We worship our great ideas. We worship our "right theology" and our ability to help. We worship financial security and the letters after our names. If we would only stop and listen, perhaps we would find that the gospel we live and breathe is in fact not the gospel of Jesus at all.
The other day, Janna and I were talking about how challenging it is for Americans to know even how to give a testimony. A student shared with me how challenging it was when I asked our team to tell a story about why they follow Jesus. Perhaps we should pause and ask ourselves why we don't have testimonies of good news to share. Are we living in the kingdom? Who is the Jesus we are following?
On the contrary, a few days ago, Yaay Pensri told me about her older sister being sick. After praying for 4-5 months, her sister was healed and her sister became a Christian. It was so simple and easy for her to share.
A few days later, P'Noi (founder of the Ruth Center), shared how she prayed about where to visit and then had multiple divine appointments with grandmas who were uniquely in need of her support that day.
Why is it that we are so unaware of God's movement in our lives? Perhaps we believe we don't need God. Perhaps we've written our own gospel, fashioned our own Jesus. Lord, have mercy. Open our eyes to see.
Thank you, God, for P'Noi and Thai leaders in the church. Thank you for the guest speaker at church who is writing her dissertation on Asian church history. Strengthen these leaders, encourage them, lift up their voices. May we have ears to hear them proclaiming who Christ is. May we have eyes to see the good news of God's kingdom coming in this place, and to surrender our own delusions of the gospel. May your kingdom come.