One Night in Bangkok

Just like that, it happened one night in Bangkok.

As a young boy attending Fern Creek Wesleyan Youth Camp, friends and I were swept toward an auditorium after a morning filled with camp falderal. From a distance we could hear the beat of native drums. Home from the jungles of Sierra Leone, Malcolm and Virgie Ellis had filled the room with their masks, clothing, pictures, and other artifacts from their mission field across the ocean. They spoke passionately of men, women, and children in medical, spiritual, and political need. He was a teacher; she was a nurse. They both shared their passion to educate, heal, and empower the people of West Africa. I was mesmerized by their stories of struggle and triumph. At the end of the service they asked if anyone in the audience felt the call to a mission field. Even though I was only twelve years old, I stood and moved with purpose and resolve to the front of that auditorium, not really understanding the commitment I was making to a higher cause.

I left that place knowing that I must prepare myself to somehow make a difference, live a life of purpose. I didn’t know where that commitment would take me, but I do know that day turned my life in a new direction. One move led to another, and I landed in Marion at Indiana Wesleyan University, then in Muncie to pursue a career in education – first as a student at Ball State University, then as a teacher at Southside High School, next was down the hall as a guidance counselor, onto another office as associate principal, and then across town as Director of the Muncie Area Career Center, before long I was asked to stand in as Principal of Muncie Central High School. I would often wake in the night wondering if I was fulfilling that early call to service. Still searching…

Out of the blue, I was invited to join thousands of servant leaders and peacemakers from around the globe in Bangkok, Thailand. Having never traveled in Thailand, I prepared with those who had been to the ancient land. From afar, I explored the culture, currency, cuisine, their education systems, monarchy, weather, fashion, religion, to take full advantage of every possible opportunity which lay ahead of me. Traveling alone, I knew that I was in for the ride of a lifetime.

Bangkok did not disappoint. My preparation served me well, allowing me to savor extreme Bangkok. The entire ancient city was all so intense – the traffic, the food, the hotel, the people, the convention, all of it. I had planned to have a suit made while in Asia. New friends from Australia recommended James Tailors, a shop in a distant part of the city. At the end of a convention day, I arranged with the tailors to pick me up for my first fitting. Speeding through the streets of that intense Asian city, we zoomed through a cacophony of vast bird markets, busy Buddhist shrines on nearly every corner, pungent street markets filled with smoking grills, hungry dogs, busy Thais, screeching birds, overwhelming traffic, towering skyscrapers, and block after block of makeshift shelters with no electricity, sewage, or running water.

I was reminded of the speeches given by very famous men and women at the Impact Exhibition and Convention Center (IMPACT) about eradicating polio from the planet, purifying water in needy countries, and waging peace through service. There I was in Bangkok, riding in a swanky car to have a suit tailor-made, flying past some of the most abject poverty on the globe. And then it happened, that moment, that fleeting yet defining shard of clarity, on that hot and humid June night in Bangkok. We sped past a river lined by hundreds of shanties built from corrugated metal and cardboard.

Clothing had been washed in the river stream and hung on the makeshift walls for drying; men and women were cleaning themselves in the river; buckets of waste were being thrown into the water, and then I saw one young mother take her pail to the river’s edge to fetch water for her thirsty young child attached at her hip. In that one millisecond, that one moment frozen in time, my breath was taken, and my heart was pierced with the spirit of service above self. I understood in an instant what The Call was all about. And I knew that my life would be forever changed.

Just like that, it happened one night in Bangkok.

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