June 12, 2010

Viewing Bangkok from the River

    Friends who know this part of the world have encouraged me to take one of the river excursions while in Bangkok. I had not had the opportunity until this trip, and it is a remarkable way to see the city. Snaking its ways through and around the city through a series of adjoining canals, the river is one busy place! People live on the river in small houses perched on stilts; people farm on the river as they cultivate floating gardens; people do their laundry in the river; people paddle the river with small boats full of goods to sell; and people share the river with interesting creatures and fish.  At first we thought we were seeing a crocodile, but soon discovered it was a six foot lizard of some sort--a very distant relative of the little friend I found in my closet. (Dave was really sorry that his four lively sons did not get to see this "scary" reptile!)  When we boarded a small boat for the hour and a half trip, we were handed a loaf of bread to feed the fish. At one point our boat pilot put the motor (an old car engine creatively attached to this long curved boat) into idle, and the fish gathered expectantly. A form of catfish--with teeth--they quickly gobbled up our loaves, even jumping up out of the water to take it from our hands. It was a closer encounter than I desired.
    As we wound our way through the city, we saw temple after ornate temple.  The opulence of these Buddhist shrines stands in stark contrast to the grinding poverty of their neighborhoods. Resources are poured into the glittering gold leaf and sparkling tiles that adorn these building as the faithful seek redemption through the prescribed religious practices.  Like Christianity at times, more attention is paid to the structure itself than the internal spiritual architecture of the heart. As we build a new chapel to house worship at Central, I desire that the physical structure offer glory to God yet be only an instrument that facilitates worship in "spirit and in truth."  Constructing something of beauty can be an important expression of worship, however; yet I long for human efforts to be in the service of the living God revealed to us in Christ Jesus through the power of the Spirit.
    We ate dinner last evening in an open air restaurant near the airport. Plane after plane descended, wearing the colors of their places of origin: Quatar, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Germany, Finland, US, etc., reminding us that Bangkok is a world-class city of approximately 10 million people. Baptists have been here a long time (the Maitrichit Chinese Baptist Church was founded in 1837), and they find ways to sustain a creative witness in this primarily Buddhist country.  While the missionaries have facilitated a variety of initiatives, it is the Thai people that make them flourish. I am praying for the next generation of indigenous Christian leaders who will faithfully sow the Gospel in this land God loves.
    Molly T. Marshall, Ph. D.



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