Westmont Magazine A Changed Life
During the long trip to Thailand last January, Professors Michael and Ann Leming warned us that our lives would be changed and we would return to our homes different people. After a semester-long educational adventure in the Southeast-Asian country, we recognized the truth of their prediction.
Our group included 18 students from seven colleges, with nine from Westmont. Two Westmont alums, Michael Leming ’70 of St. Olaf College, and his wife, Ann Lundquist ’70 Leming of Carlton and St. Olaf College, directed the 2002 Spring Semester in Thailand.
We spent the first two months in the city of Chiang Mai and then went on a tour of Thailand’s historical and cultural sites. Our time ended with a month in the northern hill tribe area of Musikee.
The concept of learning quickly took on a different meaning as we met challenges everywhere, not just in class. Four courses formed the core of our classroom learning: an intensive study of the Thai Language, a class on Thai culture and society, a study-service internship, and an ethnography course in the Karen hill tribe village. The internships involved a variety of placements, including an orphanage, schools, and a ceramics factory. We had an opportunity to choose our internship and the topic of the ethnographic study.
Most of our learning came from our experiences in the city of Chiang Mai and throughout the country. We lived with host families, learned how to be independent in a foreign city, and enjoyed the Thai people and their culture.
We worshiped with other Christians and saw God working in miraculous ways. The times of fellowship and worship with fellow Christians in a dominantly Buddhist country were beautiful. It was a challenge to suddenly find ourselves a spiritual minority, but a blessing to be among those whose relationship with God has required a remarkable walk of faith.
How beautiful to see God working throughout the world! I spent several Sunday mornings at Chiang Mai Baptist Church, a small congregation of mostly Thai people. Services were in Thai, and a few times we were blessed with a translator. I can truthfully say that our God does transcend language barriers. This church was filled with people fighting the good fight, and in a country such as Thailand it is a battle! To be able to sing hymns and pray with these warriors for Christ was a blessing to all of us.
We also saw God transcends language and cultural barriers during our time in the hills. God has changed the Karen people and is working in their hearts, using them to be lights in the darkness of the hills. We prayed together, sang together, and delved into God’s Word together. As we committed ourselves to relationships with the Karen people and with one another, we allowed God to change our hearts and our lives. We came with the intention of being a blessing to the Karen people, but left knowing that they had ministered to us.
We built relationships that transformed our lives in countless ways. Our minds have been enriched and our worldviews expanded to better embrace the world God has placed us in. Something miraculous happens when a person relates to someone much different. Stereotypes are broken, and communication takes place.
We went to Thailand knowing that something big was in store for us. We left knowing that we were forever changed as a result of our relationships with the people of Thailand, with one another and with our professors. God used our relationships and experiences to change our hearts, our minds and our worldview. I will cherish my experiences forever in my heart, knowing that God has used them to make me a better person.
by Jessica Mock ’02