Saturday, May 3, 2008

48 Days and Counting...

I still cannot believe that I'm doing this. Half of the time it seems surreal- like it's almost a dream and I'm going to wake up and realize that I'm not going to Thailand and I honestly think that would bring a lot of relief to me. Cause I clearly remember, last year, hearing about these short term missions trips and what they do on them (more about that later) and, not only thinking to myself, but actually telling other people, 'I think that is really great that there are people out there willing to do that- but, that is NOT me and I will NEVER be doing that. I mean, going into the heart of human trafficking and child prostitution... NO NO NO NO NO. Never. Now, looking back, if I had been quiet and listened really closely, I probably would have heard God laughing at me.

So, how did I get here? How is it that I'm 48 days away from flying 17 hours across the ocean to Thailand? I don't even know where to start. I suppose, just in general, the Lord has been softening my heart over the year, not so much to Thailand specifically, but to the human trafficking epidemic. I seemed to keep coming across magazine articles, tv shows, hearing stories from people who had gone to Thailand and things at church that had to do with it. It was one of those many things that I thought, 'how awful that is... someone should do something about that.' I remember seeing the movie 'Amazing Grace' and was horrified by what happened 'a long time ago'. It's so funny to me... I remember taking history classes all through school and we'd learn about slavery and the slave trade, but I think that because I'm such a visual person, it didn't really sink in as much by reading books- it hit me more seeing it acted out on a movie screen. I remember being so amazed that one person (with help from others), William Wilberforce, was able to do so much to end the slave trade in Europe. Seriously- could one person really do that much? Could God do that much with one person's life? It really inspired me that perhaps God has bigger plans for me than I have for myself.

So, time went on and life moved on and, at some point, just after the new year, I was sitting at my computer and it was one of those days where I was feeling really antsy and like there had to be more to my life than what I was doing. I was frustrated and angry with God for taking so long to let me know what He wanted from me and the life He gave me. I'm sitting there staring at my email in box and I kept hitting the 'refresh' button, hoping to get an email from a friend or something to distract me from my anxiety (nervous habit). I kind of muttered to myself, "God- what do You want me to do?!?!?!?!?!" I no sooner got the word "do" out of my mouth and an email popped up. It was an invitation to a meeting at Saddleback Church and the topic was human trafficking. I think I felt the blood drain out of my face and my stomach immediately started doing flip flops. "Okay, funny God, hahaha, that was good for a laugh, but, really, what do you want me to do?" I started silently praying for another email to come through with something, anything... just not that. I seriously kept hitting the 'refresh' button over and over praying for a different email. And, true to my nature, I started to go into panic mode and was trying to think of every and any reason not to go to this meeting. I must have something planned... I mean it's Friday night (not that it means anything- most Friday nights I sit down with a plate of nachos and watch reality tv or a movie). So, I looked on my Lotus Notes calendar, I searched through my personal calendar, I racked my brain trying to think of something that I had to do on that Friday night.... nothing. So, I went. Dragging my feet- but I went. I can't really say that anything particular happened that night at the meeting. They had a speaker who used to be in forced prostitution- in Orange County. Not some far off country, but in the county where I live. How could that be? Don't prositutes, to some degree, choose to live that lifestyle? I know that there are situations where kids are kicked out of their homes and have no other way to make money or women on drugs who don't really know what they are doing, but forced prostitution where they have no choice and some are even locked up by their perpetrator? I left the meeting feeling good that I had done what God wanted me to do- I'd gone to the meeting... now, God, let's talk about what You REALLY want me to do.

I can be a bit hard-headed at times (if you hadn't already picked up on that, by the end of this blog, you'll certainly realize it) But, the meeting got me to thinking more and more about it.

Fast forward a few weeks...

I'm volunteering at the Passion Conference in L.A. (if you don't know what that is, you should... here's a link ) I was fortunate that, even as a volunteer, I had the opportunity to sit in on much of the conference. On the second day they were introducing a new song, "God of this City". It was written by an Irish Christian Band and it was written while they were in Thailand (specifically Pattaya where Saddleback sends people) in a brothel ministering to the people through singing songs about Jesus. They hadn't written out this song ahead of time. It was literally God breathed. The words just started coming to them. As they were talking about the song, I just started praying and asking God to give me a sign (as if that wasn't a sign) if he wanted me to go to Pattaya- because I was going to need some serious convincing. The main speaker/founder of Passion, Louie Giglio, stepped in and began talking and I can't remember word for word what was said, but basically, he said, "I don't necessarily know why we are talking about Thailand and human trafficking today. Maybe there's one of you out there who is thinking about going and this is God's way of telling you to go." Now... I know that my reaction SHOULD have been 'Praise God' He answered my prayer. If I'm being honest, my initial reaction was 'oh, no, please no'. In my heart I was really praying for a sign NOT to go, not TO go. During the dinner break, I had an opportunity to speak with one of the other speakers, Francis Chen, and during the course of our conversation, he asked me if I was going to be able to sit in during his second talk because he thought that it would be a good one for me to hear (mind you, I didn't mention any of this Thailand stuff to him). So, he comes out to speak at the evening session and starts off by saying that he had a topic all planned out, but that, basically, he was going to throw that out the window and talk about human trafficking. Well, of course you are Francis- that makes my day complete (I know that I sound ungrateful and I'm really not :-), I was just terrified at that point). I remember leaving that conference and the next day, telling my Mom that I think God wants me to go to Thailand. (duh)

Numerous other things have happened that have kept pushing me towards this trip (cause, apparently, everything previously mentioned was not enough). For several weeks, I kept seeing the number 117 popping up everywhere. Jan 17th is my birthday, so I figured that I was just noticing the number because it meant something to me. But, I did go as far to start looking at various scriptures that were 1:17. i.e. Romans 1:17, etc. One day I was on the computer and received an email from, I think, it was or something like that. You know how websites have banner ads? Well this one had a banner add at the top and it was a flashing ad. I took a look at it read "Help the oppressed." Isaiah 1:17. I kind of laughed and said, 'is that for me God?' The banner flashed and it read, "yes, this is for you" and then if flashed one more time and read "It's your mission". Okay.......

That night I had small group and I was telling the girls everything that had been happening and asking for their advice and, of course, they are all, 'for the love... are you kidding me? Julie, I think God is telling you to go.' They said it in a very nice way, but I know they have to be thinking I was a bit nuts. I told them that, in my heart, I knew He was telling me to go, but I had news for Him... He had the wrong girl. There was no way that I could do this. I don't have what it takes and this was not in my plans (haha) and I wouldn't have the strength to see what I was going to have to see.

Regardless of my poor attitude, I had pretty much figured I'd be going, but if I wasn't sure before, God sent a devotional my way that next morning. Within a couple of minutes, I was sending an email to the Thailand trip leader confirming that I would be going.

I've DEFINITELY had many ups and downs along the road so far. I've had worries over safety, finances for the trip, if I would get along with the team members, and, yes, even doubts if this was the right timing for me to go. My family, friends, and even strangers, have been so encouraging. They've really helped to lift my spirits and keep my focused. What was really a gift from God was when I was talking to my Mom about the trip and she said, 'you know, I just thought you might like to know that I feel good about you going on this trip. I really feel a sense of peace about it- even from the first moment you mentioned it.' Come again??? My Mom is a classic worrying Mom. She's always concerned that something is going to happen to her girls. She worries when I go into L.A. to visit friends, for crying out loud. And, I'm 35!!! I hadn't even bothered to ask her how she felt about Thailand because I was afraid of her response. With my emotions being up and down, I couldn't handle someone telling me they didn't want me going. I didn't need anymore doubts creeping in. But, her telling me that... I can't even tell you how that felt. I just know that God was talking through her and it really brought me a greater sense of peace and assurance.