My journey to Thailand: Where it all got started

It's a dangerous business,

I wanted to catch you all up on something exciting that has been taking shape in my life in the last three months or so.  It’s something that actually has its roots close to 9 years ago, and causes me to continually be amazed at how perfectly God is weaving this story of my life.

9 years ago I was in the midst of student teaching high school English in a small farming community in Oregon known for two things: it’s Future Farmers of America program, and it’s drug use.  I remember 3 things very distinctly from that time in my life:

  1. Trying to convince high school freshmen — who wanted nothing more than to either do drugs or  become farmers — to try and care about the literary nuances of Romeo + Juliet was, by far, one of the most difficult tasks I had ever faced.
  2. Although I was in my fifth year of college, I was still frequently mistaken for a high school student.
  3. Pursuing a career as a high school teacher was not what I wanted to do with my life.

A few months into the experience, as much as I loved my students and the opportunity to help shape young minds, I knew I would be on a fast track to burn out if I stayed in that career.  But not being one to quit, and not knowing what other viable options would be available to me with degrees in English and Philosophy, I decided to stick out the year.

With an open road in front of me, and no agenda of my own to occupy thoughts, I was open to just about anything.

During those key, formative years at university, I was connected with Cru (we still called it Campus Crusade for Christ back then).  This on-campus ministry shaped my understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in several crucial ways, not least of which was their emphasis on missions: being willing to go wherever and do whatever in order to be able to share the good news that a new kind of life can be found in Jesus Christ.

I knew that an English teaching degree was an open door into any country.  I could go and teach English overseas for 2 years with a missions organization, get my travel and adventure fix, hopefully get to talk a little bit about Jesus, and in the meantime figure out what other than teaching that I wanted to pursue.

(In reality, I probably didn’t think much past the two year commitment.  I was 22.  Seriously.  How do 22 year olds make such big life decisions?)

With this new direction of teaching English overseas and going to live missionally in a new country, I began to think about a destination.  I’d heard from other people who went into missions that they just knew what country they were drawn to.  I didn’t have any magic cloud shapes appear to guide me, but I did start to notice that one country more than any other grabbed my heart and made it beat a little bit faster when I thought about it.

Thailand.

As a philosophy major, I studied several different religions and had been intrigued by some of the classes I’d taken about Buddhism.  Having already spent a considerable amount of time studying the philosophical worldview and religious beliefs of Buddhism, I wanted to go to a country where I could have conversations and interact with people who were on this path.  As a 95% Buddhist nation, Thailand was the obvious choice.

In January, I found a missions organization that wanted to send me to teach English overseas, and I started praying more about this new adventure.  April came around—2 months before graduation and the time to actually formalize my commitment.  With the novelty of planning a new adventure wearing off, I started thinking a little bit more about the situation.

During this time, someone asked me if I had ever thought about going to seminary.  I loved school (can you say triple major?), and loved studying the Bible, so going to school to study the Bible sounded like a dream come true.  What if, before I went off to be a missionary, I actually got some formal training in theology?

Needing to make a decision before graduation, I went for a hike with my friend Adena, one of the staff members from Cru and a trusted mentor.  We went to one of our favorite spots, Bald Hill, hiked up past the abandoned barn, and made our way the 2 miles or so up to the top of the hill that overlooked my college town of Corvallis.  Sitting on a bench facing west, watching the sunset behind the mountains, the conversation went something like this:

Me:  Remember how I was thinking of going to Thailand?  Well, what if I went to seminary first?

Adena: YES!  Absolutely that is so perfect for you.  You’ll never regret getting that training.  I think it’s what you should do.

Without fail, every conversation I had with family/friends/mentors went almost exactly the same.

Message received.  Thailand would have to wait.

So in August of 2006, I packed up my little Ford pick-up truck with everything I owned and moved to southern California and started at Talbot School of Theology.

Over the last 9 years, Thailand has lingered quietly in the back of my mind.  As I had other opportunities to travel, I could still tell my heart was pulled to Thailand.  But the timing and opportunity never seemed to work out.

But then a year ago, I started learning more about an organization that is on the ground in Thailand, helping rescue kids out of the sex trafficking industry, and bringing restoration and healing through the care they offer to these precious rescued kids.  Almost as soon as I heard about it, that little piece of my heart that was tied to Thailand so many years ago started stirring again, and I thought, maybe, just maybe, this is the time.

In December I hosted a jewelry party to help raise money for this organization, Destiny Rescue, where we could purchase jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking.  My friends came over and we learned about the work that they are doing, and the brutal and stark realities of human trafficking.  Then we prayed for Thailand.  We prayed for the kids that were rescued and still in recovery, and we prayed for the kids who hadn’t been rescued yet.  We prayed for this organization that is on the front lines of battling one of the greatest evils of our day.  And while we were praying, that little stirring in my heart about Thailand got a little more insistent.

At the time, I had actually been planning a trip to South Africa for the following summer, but it just recently had fallen through.  I was trying to figure out what to do instead with the vacation time and money I had budgeted for South Africa, and here I was sitting in my living room and praying for Thailand.  Again.

Afterwards, as we were cleaning up, I asked the representative from Destiny Rescue if they ever led trips to Thailand so people could see and be a part of the work that is happening.

And you know what?  They do.

And you know what else?

It’s finally time for me to go to Thailand.

Ok, well, not until June.  For 2 weeks.  But still…it’s exciting!

9 years ago God planted a dream in my heart.  He never forgot, because He was the one who put it there in the first place.  As for me, I can’t wait to see how this story continues to unfold.

You can learn more about Destiny Rescue at www.destinyrescue.org.

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Author: lauramcopeland

Jesus follower. Coffee consumer. Reluctant runner. Outdoor explorer. Travel opportunist.

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