A week after handing in my thesis, I jumped on a plane and moved to Thailand. I went there to work with an incredible organization helping displaced people from decades of war in Burma.
My only problem was that I was extremely disillusioned with development. The failures of development captivated my mind more than the success stories, and I was beginning to question everything I had been working towards over the previous five years of my academic and personal life.
BUT â and thank goodness for that "but" â working with Partners Relief & Development has restored my hope in bringing about real change at a grass-roots level. I am still unsure of whether development is the best way to go in terms of bringing about sustainable change (this discussion is for another day!), but I have certainly seen the transformation of lives that cannot be denied.
Apart from learning that development actually works, I have been taught so much by the amazing people I worked with, the ones I set out to serve and the beautiful cultures I came into contact with on a daily basis. Here are just a few things I have learnt along the journey. Their precious lessons I share with you, in the hope that it will offer a new, beautiful way of understanding life and love.
I have far more to learn, that what I can teach
As a white, middle-class, educated Christian, it is easy to place myself in the role of a helper or teacher. I have inherited a false sense of identity that comes from a world in which a certain skin colour, salary, education level or religion is valued over others. Thailand has taught me so much more than I could ever give and I will forever see myself as a learner in this incredible world.
People come first, all the time
From what I observed in both Thai and Burmese culture, a relationship with others comes before efficiency. Time is not a restriction, just a guideline (usually a very, very rough one at that!). What others think of us is more important than success. I like it.
Community, community, community!
This here is the essence of a life lived well and a life lived for others. These wonderful people know what it means to live in community with their neighbours, just as the early church sought to do and be. My soul thirsts for this again, as I peer through the purpose-built fence that marks my neighbour's boundary line.
God does not have a will for my life
Yup, you read that right! Of course I believe that God has a will, but it is not unique just to me. After some life-changing experiences and encounters with God (usually in the refugee camps) I realized that God's will is the same for all of His children. It is to know the love of Christ, and to reveal that same love to our neighbours, especially the "unlovable" ones. We have all different skills, passions and gifts which I believe come from God. But we are all to use those gifts to simply love and do justice on earth. In His will we are free from the burden of second-guessing our choices and over-spiritualising our decision making. Phew, that's a relief!
God is in the gallows
Thailand has taught me so much about the nature of God by seeing how His heart aches for the oppressed, vulnerable and lonely. We have the most amazing God who has humbled himself to meet us in our most troubling times of need. He doesn't just stand at the top of the ladder trying to pull us up. He gets down and dirty with us, pushing through all the mud and all the rubbish until we feel safe enough to climb onto His back and wade through the dark waters with Him as our guide. But here's the catch â He expects us to do the same. I have learned, more than ever before, how I can meet people at their gallows.
I must love my enemies
My experiences in Thailand have taught me that perpetrators of evil have usually been the victims of evil. We do not condone their actions, but we love them in the knowledge that they are children of God too. We opt in for reconciliation wherever possible, and opt out of violence. Gentleness is not weakness, it is not neutrality and it is not avoidance. Gentleness is living with the peace of Christ and trusting in God that He is sovereign, not us.
I really, really like rice
Rice, in all its forms is delicious. I now find myself craving it for breakfast, lunch and dinner â much to my boyfriend's utter confusion. I am also so thankful for rice, and how it continues to be a life-saving staple for so many people living in South East Asia. We are beyond blessed here in New Zealand to have so much variety and nutritious food at our fingertips. It's not always easy for Kiwis â we have our struggles too â but we have options that many around the world lack.
Final words: please find some time to visit the wonderful Thailand (and Burma, of course!) There you will find so much beauty, culture, community and love. Most importantly, you will find rice (and God, He's there too).
Bex Silver is from Auckland, New Zealand and has recently returned from living on the Thai-Burma border working to help people displaced by war in Burma. She has a Masters in International Development and is passionate about advocating for social justice through her writing.
Bex Silver's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/bex-silver.html