Monday, May 19, 2014

XTeam14 pt7 - final thoughts

Laos 2014

As I thinker (not a feeler), I never really know what to "expect" from missions trips. You hear about people who go to some part of the world, and come back and they are completely forever changed. Just thinking about it will bring tears to their eyes. And they will never be the same again.

My visit to Laos definitely changed me. It changed my perspective on what poverty is, what child sponsorship is, and how World Vision works to change lives. But I didn't have an emotional reaction or "transformation" because of the trip. But that's okay. Not everyone responds the same way.

This missions trip was very different then what many in the church define as a "missions trip". Did we build something? No. Did we tell others about Jesus? No. [If we did we'd probably end up in jail, or worse]. What did we do? Nothing. Nothing. And that is OKAY!

We went to learn. To see. To exeperience. And we went to develop a friendship with other people on the opposite side of the world in a very different culture and life than our own. Was this a waste? Absolutely not. Here's why:

  • I saw poverty with my own eyes. I saw it and smelled it and tasted it. When I look at my bank account and see $39 leave it every month to go to Kob and his Mom, I know who that is. I met them and hugged them. I played ball with Kob. I saw the school he will go to and the garden he will eat from. That changes your perspective on your own finances and what bills are most important to pay.
  • I saw World Vision in action. I saw how they use their money, how they hire people within the country who want to make a difference. I saw how a Christian organization can work in a communist Buddhist society, and without overtly evangelizing can indeed share the gospel and bring people to Christ in spite of the religious climate. I saw how a girl who grew up in poverty has chosen to use her education to help others, because of the help she received as a child. She wants to break the cycle for the generations coming behind her.
  • I saw how World Vision can change an entire community, and the lives of dozens of children, through child sponsorship, the gift catalogue, and the 30hr famine. I saw how poverty can actually be STOPPED if it is approached the right way, which I know nothing about, but the people who work in WV Laos do.
  • I learned about the importance of community, and how broken western society is in it's world of individualism. I learned that sponsoring one child with World Vision actually means helping an entire village. That every child is precious and changing a community will help all of them. I learned that generosity is most felt in the lives of those who have little. It must be more blessed to give then to receive based on what I saw in Laos!
  • I learned that soccer balls and skipping ropes are far more fun than iPads and XBox's.

I honestly learned way more than this. This is what came to me in 10min sitting at Starbucks back in Moncton. Time and again the people of Laos thanked us for coming. Thanked us for coming to meet them, to see them, to visit. They asked that more visitors would come. The ministry of presence is such a big deal! In the national office before we visited the field, Amelia and Ian explained to us that western society is so obsessed with DOING. We have to DO something or else we feel useless. Feeling. They suggested that really, one of the main reasons we are so fueled to DO is actually quite selfish. We want to feel good. We want to feel good about ourselves for doing something to help those poor people on the other side of the world. But here's the thing.... people in other parts of the world are actually quite capable of helping themselves! And in fact, doing things for them can actually worsen the cycle of poverty. You are eliminating jobs, eliminating skills being learned, eliminating the empowered spirit they need to sustain life for themselves in the years to come. It is far better to teach someone how to fish then to keep giving them one fish every 3-4 years. They assured us, and after this trip I believe even more strongly: not all mission trips are about doing. Sometimes, you need to just be. To see. To show love.

Laos was seriously an incredible experience. If you are part of TJC's Global Partnership with Xebangfai I would strongly encourage you to be a part of a future XTeam. Not because you're going to do anything. But because you'll develop a love for the people and for God's work in that country. And that will go further than anything you could ever do.


Monday, May 12, 2014

XTeam14 pt6 - Konglor Cave and travel home


Friday was our "crash day" after what was an incredible week. We got up early in Thakhek to check out of the Mekong Hotel and head to Konglor Cave... without a hotel reservation! Living life on the edge. It was a precarious drive through thin roads on mountain cliffs, and poor Stan not feeling well :(  Once we got to the Cave area we realized fairly quickly we were in a touristy area... within minutes we met a couple from Calgary! We happened upon this BEAUTIFUL newly renovated guest house to spend the night. It felt like something you'd find in the Rockies (except for the fact that the bed is about 2ft off the ground). We grabbed some food at the only restaurant we saw with English people at it. It was basically on the front porch of this family's house. If you had to go to the bathroom, you just used the family's!

Then we headed into Konglor Cave. It's a big cave that you go through on these traditional boats, with two people from there who knew what they were doing. :) I went with Dave & Luke. It was a little freaky at first, boating into total blackness.... but after a few minutes we got off the boat and walked through all these rock sculptures, lit up with pretty lights. I guess the whole way through was about 40min? The other side was GORGEOUS. We even saw a water buffalo IN water this time! We spent a few minutes on the other side before making the return trip. We somehow got way ahead of the others so we hung out on this huge rock just taking in the scenery waiting for everyone. It was very peaceful, very relaxing.

After the cave we had supper back at the same place, and had debrief in my room. This was when I started to crash. I knew we were going home the next day and I didn't want the trip to end!! There was major pressure to sleep that night since the next day would be about 42 hours long. Of course, all the animals of the cave decided to YELL all night long! Sigh.

The next morning I was greeted by coffee :D I did a dumb thing of drinking both cups for my room, and also getting tea at breakfast. I had gone this WHOLE trip without once having to use a "squatty potty", but that 5.5 hour drive back to Vientiane did me in with all that caffeine. So much to the team's celebration I finally embraced the toilets of Laos! haha.

We got back to Vientiane late afternoon and went to the market one last time. Then we went back to the WV Laos to get changed and to head to the airport. There we had a final meal with Amelia and some other WV Staff before saying goodbye and starting the flying... at 11:55pm Laos time.

We got to Seoul around 6am and I could not get to Starbucks fast enough! A taste of home even on the other side of the world :) We had a couple painful hours waiting in this airport... having already been awake for 24 hours we were already crashing. Unfortunately on the big flight I was sitting alone :( But like last time I drugged up and slept half of it.

In Toronto we had a nice little panic as more than half of us were coming up on standby. Seriously, Air Canada? SERIOUSLY?? There were also snowstorms in NB (what else is new) so at this point I was mentally prepared to stay in Toronto overnight. Thankfully after getting some Tim's (yay Canada!) all of our seats were confirmed.

Because of Moncton's storm we actually ended up flying to Fredericton. This was the point people started to crack. Wouldn't you? After an hour or so there we finally took off and took what I believe was one of the few ever flights from Fredericton to Moncton. The shortest and lowest flying flight ever (seriously... I kept cell reception the whole time. I mean..... my phone was off.....). FINALLY, around 46 hours after we woke up at Konglor Cave, we were back home!!!!! This was obviously not my favorite way to end the trip. But the important thing was we all made it home in one piece, and we were all healthy. No malaria, no weird sicknesses... we were back!

Monday, May 05, 2014

XTeam14 pt5 - Child Sponsor Party


This was our second day in the Xebangfai ADP. We began the day by visiting a village, greeted by children with bouquets of flowers for us :) We walked to a Japanese cucumber garden which is a World Vision project. The garden is HUGE and is tended by several different families. The cucumbers are a source of food but are also exported to (you guessed it) Japan. We met a lady farmer and got to ask her some questions.


On our way back into the village a lady called out to us in Laos. Our translators said she said "I'm weaving! Come and take my picture!" She was a very sweet lady :) So we went into her yard and saw her weaving, the jars of dye, the equipment she uses, etc. Then we went back to the main area to be greeted by some ladies who had woven fabric for us! We all lined up and they tied them around our waists. Super humbling and super awesome. Mark was a fast thinker and went back to the van to get the ladies maple syrup :)

Next we visited a school! I believe it was a Gr. 1-5 school. Essentially it was two buildings with a few classrooms in each. Each room had a chalkboard and 5-6 desks that sat 2 children each. We went into one room and met the students, took some pictures, and we even gave them a little Canadian geography lesson! Stan pointed out where Laos and Canada are on their map, and we asked them how many seasons Laos has (2) vs how many Canada has. One little boy answered correctly so we gave him a frisbee and taught him how to use it. We also gave a soccer ball and jump rope to the teacher. We wanted to give more but they only wanted one - so all the kids could share. Again, community > individuals.


After the school we visited another village. We were warmly welcomed by a line of people greeting us with bows and "sabaidee!" and more handwoven scarves!!! We sat at a bench/table in front of the rest of the villagers, where the head explained village life and the help that World Vision and the government has brought to the area. I actually shot a video with these wonderful people about the work of WV, but unfortunately the wind is loud and it's hard to hear :( It was a great visit.

At this point it was lunch time (yes... everything I wrote above we did IN ONE MORNING. This was definitely the marathon day, physically but also emotionally!). We got to have lunch at the Sponsor Party!! :) :)

The party took place at a school... I think. There weren't classes going on possibly because of our visit. We arrived and were greeted by more smiling children, more necklaces and bouqets of flowers :') We were all on high alert because we knew our sponsor kids were around, but before the official meetings it was lunch time. We sat and enjoyed traditional Laos food, and then the WV Staff began introducing us to our kids! I got to witness a few first meets and it was really special. The kids tended to be shy. I don't really blame them. Here's a big white adult coming at them speaking in a foreign language they don't understand. I'd be freaked out too!

I got meet Doh first, my Mom's & Dad's sponsor child, and his mother. He was very sweet and gave me a hug :) I gave him the backpack from Mom & Dad, opened the card for him to show him the singing, and the picture of my parents. Through the translator I explained that my Mom & Dad were his sponsor. His Mom told me that life has been much better for them since Doh has been sponsored, and they are extremely appreciate and grateful for my parents support. We took some pictures and then it was done, as quick as that.

Then I got to meet Kob, the little boy I sponsor, and his Mom. Kob was pretty funny - he wasn't as cuddly/forward as Doh was, and I could tell he was a bit of a squirmer :) His Mom was trying hard to keep him focussed while we chatted. I gave him his backpack and he was almost afraid to touch it at first - couldn't really believe it was his. I showed him his card and gave him his bracelet that a kid from our church made for all of them. His Mom was so appreciative and grateful for my sponsorship, and explained that it really has transformed their lives. We took some pictures, and I could tell Kob was ready to go :) Both Doh and Kob are only 4, so their engagement level wasn't the same as some of the older kids. But I kind of watched them with their Mom's afterwards and it was cute to see. Doh put his backpack on and marched around the field with it, and I caught him looking at me and smiling several times. Kob sat down with his Mom and went through his backpack, carefully looking at all the gifts. I snapped a few pictures of their time together. It was really sweet. I was so honored to be able to meet both of them and share in those few special moments together.


Most of the other sponsor meetups took longer then mine so I also had some time to take that in. Charlotte & Marlene were sitting with their little boy playing with toy cars, Dave's & Luke's boy was shy at first, but then asked to come back a second time and gave them a big hug! It was an emotional time for them, he was sooooo sweet :) Linda & Julianna showered their child Oh how to play mini sticks and chatted with his Dad. And Stan hung out with his sponsor child and was showing him videos and games on his iPod. I think their meeting was the most like two people just hanging out. It was cool :)


Once everyone was finished with their sponsor children, another dozen or so sponsored kids from The Journey Church came in so we could meet them all. Lisa's child was there too! AND she is the cousin of Stan's kid! So Linda was able to give her the special gift from Lisa. We gave each of the kids a bag full of goodies, and we posed for a picture. It is too bad that all 75 of TJC's kids couldn't be there, but as I have said, Xebangfai is an ADP encompassing 23 villages that are dozens (hundreds?) of miles apart. The financial burden of bussing them all in, and the planning that would take, would be far too great. They managed to bus in 20 of them, including all the Team's children, which I thought in and of itself was incredible.


One thing I would like to see future XTeam's do differently is gifts for kids. The longer we were there the more I realized how community-driven Laos is, and how beautiful of a thing that is. We are so stinkin individualistic in Canada - we have our own plate of food, our own school supplies, our own toys, our own everything! In Laos everything is shared. And as we were giving individual bags of goodies to TJC's 20 sponsored kids, my heart was sad for the 50 kids watching from outside who we did not have individual bags for. I think it would make more sense to bring piles of gifts for the schools and households in an area... and they would all share it because that's what they like to do! And really, that is more Christian then what most Christians do.... Acts 2:44 " And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had." I'm not sure if selfishness and greed exist here in the same way it does at home. Not from what I saw and experienced.


After our time with the TJC kids it was party time with all 70 of the kids there! We presented a wad of schoolbooks and supplies, soccer balls, jump ropes, bubbles, frisbees, and beach balls to the school, took a picture, and played! For close to two hours we played games and laughed and kicked balls and had a load of fun! Further to my previous point, I watched as children approached the table of goodies, chose one toy to play with, and went to play with others. Then they brought back the toy and placed it back on table. WHO DOES THAT?? I can't get the kids here to put balls away in the gym! haha.


I made sure to take plenty of video and photos during the party. I got a picture of myself with some children and afterwards they stayed around, so I thought I'd show them how to take a selfie :) It was so funny because they didn't know what was happening, and then when I showed them the picture after they cracked up. I tried to allow them to use my phone but they were nervous with it, so I just kept doing it :)







A little later I noticed a few kids standing to the side not doing much, and I remembered the crayons and sketchpad I brought with me (on the advice of the Laos National Director). She told us no matter what language, every kid loves to color. So I got my supplies and sat down in the dirt with them, and we started to color. Pretty soon I was swarmed! Julianna & Charlotte joined me and we quickly were overwhelmed with pictures from the kids - they were drawing them and giving them to us as gifts :) It was really awesome.

Eventually our bussed-in kids had to leave, so I said goodbye to Kob, Doh, and their Mom's as they drove away. We spent some more time playing with the school kids but then it was time to leave. What an INCREDIBLE afternoon!!!

That evening we had supper, and rode around Thakhek in a tuktuk. Just to have the experience. And then we slept our last night in Thakek!

Saturday, May 03, 2014

XTeam14 pt4 - Xebangfai ADP


Wednesday was our first of two days visiting Xebangfai, which is the ADP our church is partnered with! We have close to 80 children sponsored within this ADP, which encompasses 23 different villages. It was exciting to be there!! We started the day by meeting with the Xebangfai District Governor. We went to the government building and into the governor's office with everyone, there was probably 20 or so people there. I brought greetings from Canada and the team introduced themselves. It felt pretty formal, lots of respect, but I felt we were so welcomed and appreciated.


After some pictures we left and went to the World Vision Xebangfai ADP Office! No one was there (they were all out in the field) but we got to see where they do all their work, where our letters go that we send to our kids. Some were in mid translation! Luke and I did a little video tour of the office space. Again - the sponsorship money I give every month for Kob gets funneled through this exact building and then translates into work in the field. So awesome!!!

After our office visit we had lunch at a restaurant out on the water, which was paid for by the district government. As I think I've said earlier, because of Laos' culture/ religion/ government model World Vision cannot work in there without working with them, there is a lot of mutual respect going on. The fact that the government paid for our meal that day was a true sign of that. Many of them ate with us too which was awesome :) Mark broke out the maple syrup and had them eating it on fruit - it was fun to see their reactions to the extreme sweet!

Okay. After lunch we went to the best village in the whole world. It's called Parskenoy (I think...). In order to get there we drove on crazy dirt roads, over a tiny bridge, parked and walked down to a river, road a "boat"/metal floating thing powered by a lawn mower engine down the river, and walked up a steep embankment past a tobacco farm. When we crested the hilltop, we were greeted with dozens of villagers and school children, clapping for us, bowing to us, and putting necklaces of flowers aroud our necks! It was the most humbling, sweet, awe-inspiring thing I have ever experienced in my whole life. The children were absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!! And so polite!! Most of us were brought to tears just from that experience. We learned later that the head of this village is also a child development worker with World Vision. You could tell! When there's buy-in from leaders, it catches!












After that overwhelming moment we got to visit another garden project, and an animal bank! You know how you can buy chickens/cows/goats etc for people in the gift catalogue? They end up at these banks. While we were there the owner's family was sitting nearby, and his cute little daughter kept checking us out. :) I saw her around a lot during our visit.

Next was the village meeting, very similar to yesterday's. They had fresh coconuts that they sliced and stuck a straw in for a nice authentic local drink for us :) Then there was our second baci ceremony - a lot busier than last time - I think I got 23 strings!! We were more comfortable than last time so we were also tying strings onto our new friends :) After baci the village school did a talent show for us! There was dancing, drama, and a few opportunities for us to participate too!

When it was all over we got our picture with all those precious kids. There was so much smiling, laughter, and love, I seriously did not want to leave. We were there for probably 3 hours but it did not feel long enough! When we left the kids followed us and waved goodbye until we were out of site down the river. Ahhhh! I want to go back!!!!!! This village was definitely a trip highlight for me. Have I said that enough yet?



I felt so full yet so emotionally drained after this it was hard to know what to do with myself. It still wasn't supper time so we stopped in at a big festival thing - it felt very much like a Canada Day festival we would have here. Major difference being all the Buddhist stuff around. We saw some monks and lots of people worshipping, incense for sale, etc. One thing that struck me in Laos is how intertwined culture and religion still are. It is so separate in Canada but there it's almost one in the same. That night we had supper at the "westerners hotel" restaurant, and we debriefed and packed our presents for the sponsor party the next day! And that was day 5.



Friday, May 02, 2014

XTeam14 pt3 - Ngommalath ADP


As we awoke on Tuesday morning there was a sense of "this is it - this is why we came." We began the day at the Ngommalath ADP Office (ADP stands for Area Development Program. I'll be saying it a lot). There we learned about the Ngommalath and Xebangfai ADP's, what projects are currently underway, and what their successes and hurdles have been. After that we got to visit a village within the Ngommalath ADP (each ADP is 23 or so villages). It was pretty quiet on the van drive in. For the first time ever we were seeing with our own eyes what we've only ever seen on TV - pictures going by the window of shacks on stilts, some with satellites attached, kids running around without shoes, some kids riding bikes while texting, lots of dust and farm animals roaming around. There was nothing really to say, just lots to take in.

(We asked about the satellites/cellphones/TV's we saw... I guess traders come in from more developed areas, and sell them to people on a "payment plan" that results in paying lots of interest and essentially putting famiies into a debt they cannot repay. When you think about it, the same thing happens in the Western world - people buy beyond their means and then can't afford the basics.) 


When we got inside the village, everyone was waiting for us in a main meeting area. They had us and all the other guests (WV Laos Staff and Government Officials) sit on a raised stage in the middle. The men sat separately from the women and children. We then sat through an assembly where the head of village told us about the progress the village has made thanks to the work of World Vision and the Government. Of course, it took twice as long since it had to be translated from Laos into English. Sometimes it seemed the Laos speaker was having trouble reading... that's because in a lot of these villages the native language isn't even Laos, it's a village-specific language. So in a lot of cases there is double translation going on - from the village language to Laos to English! No wonder education is hard work - imagine going to school at 5 and being taught in Laos which you have never heard before?? Just one of the many hurdles in poverty.....


Anywho after this we were taken to visit Thong and her son, to see the garden that her household was given as part of a World Vision pilot project. She and others grow the produce, use some of it to feed their families and sell the rest. The garden was quite vibrant and was growing quickly! You could tell Thong was really proud of her work. All the seedlings, gardening tools, fencing, etc is provided by WV, through child sponsorship and also the gift catalogue you see at Christmas time! So cool to see something in real life like that!


After our garden visit we went into one of the home's for lunch! But first we participated in our first baci ceremony. This is a traditional Laos ceremony done as a way to welcome visitors and to offer blessings of good fortune. In the middle of the room there's a cooked chicken, an egg, sticky rice, and lots of white string pieces, along with some sort of drink (in this case it was Laos beer) and a floral arrangement. The head of the village takes the white string and brushes it on your arm away from you, as a symbol of asking bad fortune to leave you, then reverses direction and prays for good fortune and blessings for you. Then the string is tied around your wrist, you're given some rice and a drink, and on to the next person. It's pretty formal the first couple people but then it breaks loose into everyone tying string on everyone! Even though the religious beliefs of the people of Laos would be different then ours, the team took this opportunity to pray a blessing on our new friends in the name of Jesus. Even though we couldn't understand them and they couldn't understand us, it was such a sweet moment of friendship and exchange. A moment I will not forget for a very long time. The generosity and humility of the Laos people is incredible. At this particular ceremony the village head said "we do not have much, but what we do have we wish to give to you."


After the baci ceremony it was lunch time! Prepared by the village and WV Laos, there must have been around 30 people in this one hut for lunch, and I say enough food for double that! The Laos people usually eat using only their hands, but the WV staff brought us chopsticks (honestly sometimes hands are easier!). I basically asked our translator what in front of me wasn't spicey, and I ate all that. And it was good! Found out later one of the dishes was frogs legs ;) In this situation you don't look closely, you just eat! It was awesome to be sitting on the floor, sharing a meal with people in their culture and environment. Again, highlight. Probably the best meal of the trip for this reason.


After lunch we left the village and went for a drive up a huge mountain, saw a dam, and eventually got back to Thakek for supper. You may be thinking "What? That seems like a short day." But seriously I was DONE after that village. The emotional and mental strain experiencing something like that is truly overwhelming. Kudos to World Vision for planning the trip with the right  activity/rest ratio. Besides, this was the warm-up day... the next 2 really got crazy.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

XTeam14 pt2 - from Vientiane to Thakhek

By Monday our bodies had (mostly) adjusted to the extreme time and culture change, and we were leaving the capital! Not first before spending the morning at World Vision's National Laos office. This was definitely a highlight for me. We met Amelia who is the National Director, who promptly took us to some hole-in-the-wall shop for Vietnamese coffee! And it was so good! Some place you'd never wander into on your own, but with a "local" we were able to check it out :) The coffee was the strongest thing I have ever tasted in my life!!!! Even with extreme canned sweet milk, it knocked you out with the first sip! The coffee enthusiasts among us were quite happy.

We got a quick tour of the office space, which used to be an embassy belonging to the government. We met Ian from WV Australia, and Thadum who was to be with us for the rest of the week :) We also got to see the staff friends we made over the weekend. We went to their staff meeting with chocolate in tow (a real treat for them there - chocolate isn't a big thing!). It was fun to watch them take piles and piles of it :) The team was introduced, we presented gifts and a signed flag from TJC, and Julianna and I did a presentation about Canada and our church. Then we were able to each meet with a small group of staff members for a Q&A time. Most spoke some English so we were able to converse pretty easily. It was inspiring to learn that many of the staff had grown up in rural Laos - and now wanted to give back to help others who are in a life that they once knew.


The meeting included a worship song and a prayer time at the end. World Vision is a Christian organization but hires people beyond that faith. So the room was full of people with varied faiths (Laos is primarily a Buddhist country with many Animists as well). It was neat to see just how you can "show Jesus" without being overbearing. When Amelia led the prayer she opened with saying that we were going to pray, but if that wasn't your practice you could meditate or just take a moment of silence. After that, most of the staff dispersed and we went through a few sessions concerning safety and best practices, the various pilot projects currently being tested in the field, and a Q&A time with Amelia, Ian, and Thadum. WV has 17 (I think...) Area Development Program's (ADP's) in Laos, and WV Canada supports 3 of them. Xebangfai is one! :) We had lunch at a nice restaurant nearby and then we were in the vans for the 5+ hour drive to Thakhek!

This was the first time we were out of the capital, which is more developed and more playing to tourists than the area we were heading. We quickly experienced bumpy roads and saw typical Laos housing on the sides of the roads. There were also a LOT of animals/livestock wandering around. Lots of dust, lots of bikes and scooters with whole families on them. A lot less shiny expensive cars. The drive down we followed the Mekong river, which on a map I know where it is and that it's between Laos and Thailand. A few times we all looked at each other and said... "are we REALLY driving around on the other side of the world right now?????" It was so surreal to try and understand where we actually were.

We got to the Mekong Hotel around sundown (thankfully!). The hotel was nice and clean and had great wifi (woo!). And you could see the river and Thailand from the front door!! I wanted to run into Thailand just to say we were there, but it'd cost $45 to get back into Laos. No thanks. After a quick checkin we ate at an outdoor restaurant right on the river, lights of Thailand flickering in the background. It was actually chilly!!! Not on Canadian winter standards, but compared to Vientiane's 30+ every day it was only like 12 or 13 degrees. I started bringing sweaters after this. I seem to remember going to bed early this night because we were so exhausted from the long drive... and tomorrow was Day 1 in an ADP!



Monday, March 24, 2014

XTeam14 pt1 - Vientiane


It's been awhile. A little over a month ago I went on an incredible trip to Laos with a team from my church and World Vision. We sponsor kids in the Xebangfai ADP so this was our first visit since becoming a global partner with the area. I managed to journal a little over there but couldn't put things together well enough to blog. When we came home it took a long time before I could start to process it all and reflect. It actually wasn't until we prepared to share with the church a month later that I was like "I think I could blog about this now." So... here's all about my trip to Laos!

Laos is an Asia on the opposite side of the world and it took a long time to get there. 29.5 hours total. We flew to Toronto, then Seoul, then Vientiane. I've never been on one plane for 14 hours before, but it wasn't as bad as I had imagined (might have to do with the gravol and 7 hours of it I slept away). Korean Air is great - if you have to be on a plane for 14 hours, do it with them! The travel was fun because I was with 8 others from TJC, so we enjoyed one another's company, playing games, eating food, watching movies and having chats. Getting into Laos was much easier than we thought it might be. And pretty soon we were at our hotel for the night.

We spent the weekend in Vientiane (capital), adjusting our bodies to the new time zone and diet and learning about the culture we found ourselves in. On Saturday we started off visiting COPE, which is a facility that treats and rehabilitates amputees, mostly related to the extensive bombing the country underwent during the Vietnam war. There are still 70 million unexploded "bombies" in the country, and villagers often stumble upon them and get seriously injured. Crazy! After that we visited some temple's. Laos is 90% Buddhist and unlike here, religion and culture are very intermixed. It was good to take it in, to see some similarities but also many differences between their religious practices and our own. Next we lunch at a restaurant on a beautiful river. In the afternoon I opted to go back to the hotel and rest. 30+ hours of travel and not sleeping much before leaving (too excited!) meant I was crashing fast. That evening we visited the night market which was a real treat.


Sunday we got to visit Naxay Church, one of 3 Christian churches in Laos (although there are 700 house churches and 13,000 or so Christians!!!). They had translation available so we could even understand the message! It was so incredible to join with other Christians, and sing songs we know (but hear it in Laos) and to see the incredible vibrancy of this congregation. There were as many people sitting on plastic stools outside in the overflow as could fit in the sanctuary. After church we had lunch with one of the Pastor's who shared about the dozens of conversions and baptisms they celebrate every month - from desperate people needing to be healed, to government officials checking in on them! It was SO AWESOME. It was also neat to have our first traditional Laos meal - tons of food all in the middle of the table, eaten with sticky rice and your hands! The rest of Sunday was spent reflecting, journaling, packing, and preparing for the next day which would take us from Vientiane down to Thakhek.