Thailand, to most Westerners, is an exotic place, full of adventure. So when the opportunity to live there for a year teaching English literally fell into our laps, the excitement of traveling to another country encouraged us to make it a reality. After looking at several different service projects, we decided to accept teaching positions at Legacy Institute.
Many different humanitarian efforts promoted by various groups around the world have the same general goal—to try to implement the nature of the Kingdom of God on earth now. These efforts try to bring and often promise such ideals as peace, an end to hunger, healing of the sick and greater knowledge. Although these projects all have the same desired result, the means by which they try to obtain this end vary.
Many humanitarian efforts make the mistake of believing that they can accomplish these ideals by using their own methods apart from God. Since Legacy Institute is a project based on God’s truth and looks to Him for guidance and blessing, it was an effort we could identify with, believe in and support.
Legacy Institute is a very small international leadership training school located in Mae Rim, Thailand, set in a tropical climate at the foothills of scenic mountains. It is in a small community that offers almost everything one would find in a Western community (i.e., food, clothing, transportation, local school, etc.), without the hectic chaos of the city. Yet it still has a “chaos” of its own, at least to our Western minds. However, the people are nice and friendly and will go to great lengths to make you feel welcome, so much so that you want to meet them at least halfway in an attempt to blend with their culture.
The students who attend Legacy come from various Asian countries and cultures to receive a Western-style education in a broad spectrum of topics. To increase their vocational skills, they study organic vegetable farming, English and computers. They also study music, sports and health in order to learn teamwork, provoke thought and provide variety to the standard academic classroom. Most importantly, they study the ethics of servant leadership as written in the Holy Bible.
The classes are all conducted in English in an academic setting. This poses a challenge for both students and teachers as some of the students come from refugee camps and do not even have a basic knowledge of the English language, while others have received a broader education and can speak English nearly fluently. But accepting challenges is common for the staff and students of Legacy Institute. Individual character is tested every day inside and outside of the classroom. At Legacy, we all have to continually check our attitudes and responses in our community setting to maintain godly interaction.
Adjustments. As teachers at Legacy Institute, we were asked to change a lot of things we didn’t expect to change. We changed the way we dressed—guys wear skirts here! Seriously! And though we felt conservative in our dress before coming here, Thailand has different standards of modesty and appropriate attire. We did our best to follow those. We changed the way we spoke: slowly, simply, clearly, so we could be understood. Plus we picked up a little of the Thai language in the process an absolute must when eating out to make sure we didn’t end up with all sorts of weird things like squid, crab, chicken feet and eggs soaked in horse urine on our plates. Learning the language was also helpful for the radio interviews we gave on a military radio station. Plus, knowing a little Thai really helped in bargaining!
Another change for us was the food we ate. Fruit in Thailand comes in so many different shapes, sizes and colors that many who visit become fruit fanatics! There’s a fruit that has spiky red hairs all over it. Another fruit smells a little like rotten feet but tastes sweet and creamy no kidding! And just trying to open some of the fruits can be an adventure—even dangerous. On more than one occasion we wondered, “How are we supposed to eat that?”
Food in Thailand is really spicy. Our original nonexistent spice tolerance has grown so that we now enjoy spice! We can’t imagine food without it, but we can look back with amusement and identify with those who have not yet built their tolerancewatch the tears flow!
All things to all men. We changed many of our personal customs to meet the students on a level they could understand, relate to and respect so as to better serve them while teaching God’s way of life through example. We more clearly understand now what Paul meant by running the race and becoming all things to all men (2 Timothy 4:1-7 2 Timothy 4:1-7 1 I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables.
5 But watch you in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of your ministry.
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
American King James Version×; 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 1 Corinthians 9:19-27 19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant to all, that I might gain the more. 20 And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. 22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. 24 Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. 25 And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×).
This is part of the service required of us in the commission of teaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Giving in this environment isn’t limited to material objects. Sometimes it means giving up or changing parts of your personality to help another person. But that’s the easy part. What makes it so difficult and truly an endurance race is that most of the time, even with great sacrifice, humility and effort to help people, these things are done with very few immediate visible results, and even less gratitude from the people we are trying to help. At times it seemed that we gave everything we had to give, only to watch it be taken for granted or unappreciated.
We saw ourselves working hard and sacrificing our lives, but we failed to notice others doing the same. We saw the shortcomings in others before we were ever able to see them in ourselves. And when we did, we realized a little of what God always sees in us. Seeing and experiencing these things so personally helped us to understand Christ’s life and sacrifice for us and how He is taken for granted by the very people He serves.
In the end, we did see results. One student who came speaking no English has returned for a second year, able to communicate in a language she previously didn’t understand. Another was baptized over the school break. What makes this type of project so rewarding and worth serving is seeing all the hard work and sacrifice pay off as God works with individuals in opening their minds to His way of life.
We both grew up in the Church and were taught all our lives that Christ is the only one who will ever be able to successfully fulfill everything that most humanitarian efforts hope to accomplish. And He will do it by establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. In theory, we already knew that mankind’s efforts alone are not, and can never be, enough. In serving at Legacy, we were able to internalize just how desperately every country and every individual needs Christ’s leadership and example.
Realizing that mankind’s efforts are futile is a difficult concept to internalize without feeling overwhelmed and wanting to give up. It’s easy to think that all of mankind’s efforts are pointless. But we know that God’s way is a truth worth teaching and a humanitarian effort worth serving. Though it can be overwhelming, we shouldn’t be deterred from carrying out the commission Christ gave us to go and preach the gospel to all nations. By doing this, there will be others like us whose minds will be opened, and who will continue to spread the truth in years to come.
Service and opportunity. Our time to strive for perfection is now. It is also our time to be lights to the world. Along with the difficulties, we have had some wonderful opportunities to travel and experience the vast cultures of mankind. We’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets from white sandy beaches in Malaysia and mountainsides in Thailand. Sunrises witnessed from the tops of ancient ruins in Cambodia drive home the greatness and power of our God.
Diving in a waterfall and swimming with monks in Laos was worth the ear infection. We kayaked in the Andaman Sea and marveled at the coral and marine life few get to see. Hiking in the Himalayas was an experience not to be forgotten. The frustrations we endured as well as the rewards we received while living and teaching God’s way of life are tastes of things we will experience in the future as servant leaders of God’s truth. VT