This week was filled with so many adventures, and so many thoughts. As we are mainly learning about minority ethnic groups here in Thailand this first month, a lot of our adventures were based around these groups: mainly the Lahu hill tribe and the Karen hill tribe. These hill tribes are not Thai - they are immigrants from the north - and because of this, are looked down upon by the Thai community.
As we left the comfort of our little home in Doisaket, the group ventured up the steep hills of Chiang Rai to the tribe of the Karen people – a very peaceful, community-oriented, and accommodating group of minority people who live in the forests of the hills as to preserve the natural earth amongst the ever growing industrious cities of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, and Bangkok. (Our time in the Karen village will have to be my next blog post because I could talk for hours about their lifestyle and theologies). Living and simply being in a village setting so rural and cut off from any other civilization or society really makes you think. It makes you think about how others live and about how you live. For me, being interested in communities and the very messy field of development work, it makes me think about how many westerners so wrongly view other cultures.
We as westerners are so dangerous in our modes of thinking. Pulling from what author Dorthy Sayers writes about, we tend to see things as problem and solution; but the world is just simply not that black and white. We see things that are foreign to us as problems to be fixed instead of beautiful yet different, and we end up exploiting others, and making the world a problem. We end up creating the problems that don’t exist, and then we don’t know how to fix the problem we ourselves have created.
We westerners all have one goal in life: to be successful, to be happy and problem – free, always attempting to be better and better. We might have a certain vision of what life should look like for a certain group of people, but that vision is so many times not applicable for them. You can’t just take something that works in one context and plop it in another, expecting it to work. That is like going to a different country expecting everyone to speak your language. It is simply ignorant and arrogant. Meaning for life in all its fullness is different for different people. Many times we are too caught up in all our ‘things’ to really see that. For the Karen people, life is about harmony with one another, and harmony with God – intended nature, preserving as to not use and abuse the very thing that God has given us from the beginning.
That’s why we need to ask ourselves: why do we want what we want? Why do we really want that nice big house when only two people actually live in it? We create things because society tells us to, and we don’t ask why. We should ask ourselves, what really defines a good life? A white picket fence and a boat? (and try not to write this question off if you don't have either). We might need to start asking ourselves the intangible questions. Things might look good on the outside – like cheap stuff at Wal-Mart, or nice new Nike sneakers – but are so horribly wrong once you look under the table – like the child labor, exploitation, and physical poverty that both these companies ruthlessly drown innocent people in. Is that really what we want to be apart of? Do we really want to be apart of the process of physically hurting, exploiting and starving people to death? Good things are not always easy to find.
I have found we tend not to associate ourselves with the hard facts of life. We won't identify ourselves as wealthy people because to us, we are the middle class; even though to someone else, we are the upper class. But we would never identify ourselves as the poor either, not even spiritually speaking. There is always someone "poorer". We want to stay in the safe zone. We want to be on middle ground, so we don't ever 'shake the boat'. We wouldn't want to identify ourselves as exploiting the powerless and weak, even though we go to Wal-Mart every month and have three pairs of Nike shoes. We do this because of selfishness. We don't want to be rebuked or looked down upon because it doesn't feel good. But this creates an "us" vs. "them" dichotomy, not being one in Christ, but rather believing we are in the "safe zone" while those other people are sadly poor, and those other people are ruthlessly hurting the poor - but we would never be considered in either of those parties - right?
However, we can find the good. Jesus said, “My power is made perfect in weakness”. We can take things that are seemingly bad and bring justice to that, because we are capable. Now we don’t necessarily have to go picket Wal-Mart or Nike or even go across the world to eradicate human trafficking, but maybe we can all act with discernment, love and grace on a daily basis – to those we see every day, and those who come into our lives unexpected.
“He has shown you what is good. What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8