Gleanings from the Field - 5 new articles




3 Global Strategies We Should Learn from Prosperity Preachers

It is no secret that the prosperity gospel in booming globally.  Although many Western Christians may brush off prosperity preachers as fringe hucksters and con artists, anyone who has ministered in churches in the global South is aware that health and wealth preachers are a major force to be reckoned with.  They are gaining huge audiences and exerting tremendous influence on shaping the beliefs and practices of large sections of the church worldwide. 

Those who love the Scriptures and the orthodox faith once for all delivered to the saints are shaking their heads and many chock up the success to of the prosperity gospel worldwide to the greed of the human heart.  What more can we do against this tidal way of heresy except quietly and faithfully preach the Gospel in our own local churches, just as we always have?  Those who love the truth will find us, and those who don’t will continue on their road of self-delusion.   What more can we do? I want to suggest that we can and should do more, and there just might be something to learn from the prosperity preachers about how to have a global influence.

What?!  Faithful biblical Christians could learn something from prosperity preachers?  Say it ain’t so!  Before you virtually tar and feather me, hear me out.  I don’t want to suggest that we learn any theology from these false teachers, but I do wonder if they understand something about getting a message to the people that more orthodox, evangelical Christians have been slower to embrace.

1. Online Sermon Videos

One of the major ways that prosperity preachers are getting out their message is through YouTube and other video sharing sites.  Where I minister in Thailand, the majority of online sermon videos in Thai are from prosperity gospel-friendly churches and preachers.  Where are the evangelicals? Where are the Reformed?  Where are the old-time Bible preachers and teachers?  They are there, but in far fewer numbers.  In Thailand, like many other places in the world, vast numbers of Christians are getting their theology from watching preaching online more than reading books.  I love books, but the reality is that many people are oral-preferred learners and would rather listen or watch than read.  We need to adjust to that reality.  If we want solid biblical teaching to gain a greater hearing in the global church, we need to work with like-minded churches around the world to help get videos of faithful biblical preaching in local languages online.  Granted, there are lots of good preaching videos online in English, but most people in the world will never be reached by an English-language sermon.

2. Literature Translation

Prosperity preachers pump out a lot of lousy books, and they fund the translation of these lackluster (but exciting) titles into foreign languages.  In many markets, there is a flood of prosperity-related books, but not nearly enough biblical theological books that are accessible to the common man.   Many Christians in the global church are not familiar with the authors of translated books from the West, so when they go to one of the few Christian bookshops in their country they don’t know how to pick out a good Christian book from a bad “Christian” book.   And if prosperity books at that book shop out number biblically sound books 5 to 1, chances are they will go home with 200 pages of bad theology in their bag. 

Those who care about sound teaching and theology in the global church need to invest more in translation, production, and distribution of good Christian books abroad.  This includes not only biblical, theological books for pastoral training, but also basic Christian books for the common man.   Think “Pilgrim’s Progress,” daily devotionals, or books on the Christian life (growing in holiness, parenting, dealing with cancer, etc.)

One of the keys to the success of prosperity preachers is that they speak in simple, conversational language, forcefully stated.  In many cases, we need biblical truth accessible for the working class, not only carefully-nuanced theology books for aspiring pastors.

Also, in choosing which books to fund and distribute, it is extremely important to listen to faithful local partners and long-term missionaries to learn what kinds of books are needed and will actually be read.  What plays in Peoria might not play in Phnom Penh.

3. International Speaking Gigs

One of the amazing things to note about prosperity preachers is how much they travel!   It seems like every heretical health-and-wealth teacher is ready to fly to the Philippines or Nigeria at the drop of a hat.  They are every place!  Year after year, a steady stream of false teachers come to Thailand and put on a big show in cooperation with local churches.  The names on the marquee keep changing, but the bad teaching is the same.  Maybe solid biblical preachers need to do more international travel, speaking at conferences put on by groups of local churches who invite all the Christians in the city or the country. 

I don’t want to over-emphasize the importance of one-time events over personal discipleship and the regular ministry of the local church, but perhaps we need to think about using this strategy more so that the only show in town is not the latest apostle or prophet of what’s-happening-now.  Plus, if Christians hear a solid biblical preacher at a big conference or evangelistic meeting, maybe they’ll grab his book next time they visit a Christian bookshop simply because they have heard of him.

 

In sum, biblical Christians need to do more than just wince at the proliferation of prosperity gospel teaching internationally.   False teachers exert a huge influence in many places in part because these preachers, their sermons, and their books are all that is available.  If prosperity preachers have figured out how to deliver their message to the common man in the global South, maybe we should take note of how they are doing that… and learn.

    

6 Reasons I am Pursuing a Ph.D... "even though" I am a missionary

New College, University of Edinburgh (Photo: Kim Traynor)
 
As some readers of this blog may already be aware, our family is planning to move to Scotland for a few years so I can work on a Ph.D at the University of Edinburgh.  As we’ve been visiting churches and mission partners in the States, a number of people have asked me why I'm going to do a Ph.D. That's an excellent question.
 
For most missionaries, a doctorate really isn't necessary. They plant churches.  They do direct evangelism.  They work with street kids.  This is all important work and it is really helpful to have some kind of bible college or seminary degree for greatest effectiveness (why?), but probably not a doctorate.  So why am I going for a Ph.D?
 
In this post, I want to answer that question by briefly laying out six reasons that are motivating my pursuit of doctoral studies.  It is my hope that readers in general will understand why Ph.D studies might be right for some missionaries, and that our mission partners in particular will understand why I personally am pursing a Ph.D.  At the end of the post, you’ll find a curated list of some helpful articles by myself and others about the relationship between theological education and mission work.

1. Improve My Teaching

Over the past four years or so, I’ve been teaching church history at Bangkok Bible Seminary and have been encouraged at the changes I’ve seen in students’ thinking.  They have been encouraged, challenged, and inspired by what they’ve been learning as they get equipped to serve God and His Church.  But as I’ve been teaching, I’ve noticed gaps in my knowledge.  There are things that I’d like to teach my students, and connections I’d like to find, but I have not yet found those things in the books that I have available to me.  I want to study for a Ph.D in order to fill in some of those gaps and to improve my teaching.  I want to be more able to answer student questions and guide their own learning and discovery.  In short, I want to be able to benefit my students as much as possible, and the research involved in a Ph.D will help me to do that.

2. Enhance My Writing

I started blogging somewhat regularly in 2009 when I was in a difficult church planting situation and saw various troublesome issues, but had few people to talk to.  Over the years, I have seen the readership and breadth of content on my blog expand, and have started a Thai blog as well.  I have additionally self-published a few short books on Amazon and have had some articles formally published in Christian magazines and websites (list of publications).  I’ve received much positive feedback from missionaries, Thai Christians, and mission partners on the homeside, saying that my writing has been helpful to them.  The study involved in dissertation research will expand the scope of knowledge which I can draw from in writing, and thus hopefully be a benefit to the missionary community, Thai Christians, and those interested in global missions.

3. Contribute to Our Understanding of Thai Church History

The goal of a Ph.D dissertation is to present to the world something that has never been done before, to contribute something new to the scope of human knowledge.  After all, if someone has already researched and written something on a particular topic, why spend two to three years reinventing the wheel?

As I have taught Thai church history over the past four years or so, I’ve never found a good answer to how theological modernism impacted missions in Thailand during the first part of the twentieth century.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy was ripping apart the church in the U.S. and elsewhere, splitting entire denominations into liberal and evangelical camps.  Numerous people have written on the impact of theological liberalism upon missionaries in China during this period, but I have yet to see anything about how it affected the missionaries in Thailand.   The American Presbyterian church was neck-deep in conflict over theological modernism and the vast majority of missionaries in Thailand until after World War 2 were American Presbyterians.  There had to be some effect.  But what was it?  How did this conflict on the homeside affect the missionaries in Thailand?   How did theological change of a modernist variety affect the missionaries’ ministry priorities? relationships with each other? relationship with Thai believers?  missionary attrition? What is the long-term impact upon an evangelical mission when unorthodox theological ideas are given room to flourish?  These are some of the the questions I want to find out by digging into old books, letters, journals, reports, and articles from the late 19th century up through the start of World War 2.   I hope that what I discover will help both Thai Christians and missionaries to Thailand to better understand some of the influences that have shaped the modern mission and church landscape in Thailand.   Beyond Thailand, I hope that my research will contribute to what we know about the global impact of modernist and fundamentalist movements in the first half of the twentieth century.

The official title of my proposed dissertation topic is “Modernism in the American Presbyterian Mission in Siam, 1893-1941."

4. Maximal Opportunities for Ministry

Although it is obviously more important what you know than what letters you have in front of your name, it is also true that having a Ph.D from a recognized university lends a certain amount of credibility and legitimacy to teaching, writing, and public speaking.   Having a doctorate can open doors, create opportunities, and gain an audience in certain situations.  And since I want to make an impact in the areas of teaching, writing, and preaching/public speaking, it certainly can’t hurt to have have a Ph.D as part of my profile.

I know that for more egalitarian Western societies, some people could care less whether someone has a degree or any formal credentials.  However, I expect to spend most of my time in Asia where it most certainly does matter.

5. More Options in Training Leaders

I currently have a Master of Divinity (M.Div) and a Master of Theology (Th.M), which qualifies me to teach both bachelor and masters level students.  I could keep doing what I am currently doing in Thailand without a Ph.D.   But if I have a Ph.D, I would additionally be able to teach Th.M or doctoral level courses, and supervise Ph.D students.  The seminary where I currently teach tops out at the Masters level, but is part of a consortium of seminaries in Asia which offers Th.M and doctoral programs.  If the opportunity arises to teach, mentor, or supervise church leaders from Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries through this consortium or in some other forum, having a Ph.D would give me that option.  One of my goals in teaching seminary students in Thailand is to look for keen, godly students who have the potential to be future seminary and bible college teachers, and to encourage and mentor them in that direction.  In the long term, the Thai church needs Thai seminary instructors more than it needs missionary seminary instructors, so I want help that happen.  Having a Ph.D would enable me to be involved in this aspect of developing leaders for the church in Thailand and elsewhere. 

6. The Seminary Where I Teach Wants Me to Get a Ph.D

The seminary in Bangkok where I’ve been teaching would love to have me teach there of the long-term, which I would love to do.  To that end, the director has strongly encouraged me to get a Ph.D.  As an academic institution and a ministerial training school, the seminary has a vested interest in improving the credentials and quality of their faculty.  As such, they’d like me to get further training so that I can improve my on-going contribution to the school and its students.

Our family’s plan is to move to Scotland in September 2017 for me to begin a three year Ph.D program in World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh.  During the second year of study, we expect to be back in Thailand for about 3 to 6 months for me to do research.  After that, we’ll be back in Scotland to do the write-up and complete the dissertation by June 2020, Lord willing.  Then we’ll return to Thailand to continue with seminary teaching and church planting, as we’ve been doing for the past four years or so.  That’s the plan at least, put together with much thought, prayer, and consultation with others.  Time will tell whether our plan matches the path that God has for us.  As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”
I intend to keep blogging more or less regularly while doing the Ph.D, sharing some of the nuggets of inspiration and challenge that I learn along the way. Watch this space. 

For Further Reading

 
 
 
 
 
 
    

6 Visa Options for Missionaries in Thailand

Over the years, many people have asked me how to get a visa to do missionary work in Thailand, so I have put together this post to give a brief overview of the options.  My intention here is to give signposts for where to start, not to provide comprehensive instructions for everything you need to do to successfully apply for a visa.  Government regulations and requirements can change without notice, and vary from location to location, so what follows is merely general guidance and pointers, which may or may not match what you actually find when you apply for a visa.  With that said, the various visa options for those wanting to do (Protestant) missionary work in Thailand are as follows:
 
"Extension of Stay" stamp for Religious Affairs (RA) Visa

1) Religious Affairs (RA) Visa

This is a one-year renewable visa that allows the holder to do teach and propagate the Christian religion to interested parties. If your primary work will be evangelism, church planting, or some other church or parachurch related ministry, this would be the most appropriate visa for your work.  It takes significant time, paperwork, and connections in order to successfully apply for this type of visa.   You need to have at least a one-year degree or diploma from a Bible college or theological seminary, and a church or mission organization in Thailand with visa slots available for you to use. To use a church or organization’s visa slot, you either need to be a member of that group or have some kind of agreement or memoranda of understanding (MOU) between them and you or your church or organization.  
There are five organizations in Thailand that are recognized by the Thai Ministry of Religion and able to request RA visas, namely the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), the Thailand Baptist Convention, the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Roman Catholic Church.
 
The Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) is a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and has fraternal ties with the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) and other other Presbyterian bodies in different parts of the world.  If you are from a mainline Presbyterian denomination, CCT would be your first option to explore.
 
The Thailand Baptist Convention is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention and their missionary arm, the International Mission Board (IMB).  If you are Southern Baptist, and part of IMB, this is probably your best route (unless you are going to Thailand independent of the IMB)
 
The Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (EFT) is by far the broadest of all the Protestant groups under the Ministry of Religion, incorporating many different churches and missionary organizations under their umbrella.  Most interdenominational or small evangelical mission organizations working in Thailand would come under the EFT.  If you are part of a mission organization that is already a member of the EFT, you should talk to your organization about how to request a visa through them.
 
For missionaries from an organization without an established presence in Thailand, or for missionaries sent directly from their home church, the best way to obtain an RA visa via the EFT would be to connect with an organization (church or parachurch) that is a member of EFT, and ask if they have visa slots available and what they require from those who use their visa slots. Most organizations will not hand out their visa slots to just anybody, so you’d be best to approach an organization that you’d be content to be associated with, and perhaps work alongside in some capacity.  Many organizations do not want to be simply “used” by others to get visa slots only.  Also, it should be noted that not all churches or organizations in Thailand are able to sponsor you for obtaining a visa.
 
For a Religious Affairs visa, your sponsoring organization needs to request a visa for you from the appropriate religious body (such as CCT, Baptists, or EFT) recognized by the Ministry of Religion.  If that body (i.e CCT, EFT, etc) approves your organizations request to give you a visa, then that body will then request permission from the Ministry of Religion to give you a visa.  If the Ministry of Religion approves, that approval letter will return to the major religious body (again, CCT, EFT, etc), who will write a letter to the Royal Thai Embassy where you want to apply for the visa, requesting that you be given a visa because of this thick stack of official letters from your sponsoring organization, the major religious body over your sponsoring organization, the Ministry of Religion, and the Immigration Department.  Somewhere in there, I think there needs to a letter from the Immigration Department too, but I am not sure at what step of the process that is requested.
 
With all the appropriate paperwork in hand, you need to appear in person at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of Thailand to request your visa.  Once you have your RA visa in hand, your organization can easily request dependent visas for your spouse and children (if any), whose visas will be dependent upon yours.  Once you have your RA visa and arrive in Thailand, you need to apply for a Work Permit at the Labor Department. 
 
The first time you apply for an RA visa, you must apply (and receive) the visa at a Thai embassy or consulate OUTSIDE Thailand.  RA visas are valid for one year and you can apply for an "extension of stay" (visa renewal) within Thailand by presenting yourself (and a thick stack of paperwork) to the appropriate Immigration office in your province or region of Thailand.  With an RA visa, you don’t need to leave the country at all, but you do need to send in a very short 90-day form every (you guessed it) 90 days to confirm you are still in Thailand.  Both your visa and work permit need to be renewed (extended) on an annual basis.
 
If you leave Thailand while your RA visa is still valid, you need to apply for a Re-Entry Permit at either an Immigration office or at the airport.  A Re-Entry Permit requires only a nominal fee, one form, and copies of relevant pages from your passport.  But if you leave the country without a Re-Entry permit, you will lose your RA visa and have to start the application process all over again.  The application process for an RA visa, from start to finish, can take 3-4 months or sometimes longer.

2) Foundation Visa

A number of missionaries obtain their visas through a foundation.  Numerous churches and ministries have established non-profit charitable foundations registered with the government.  The process of establishing and registering a foundation is lengthy, and requires things such as a Thai board of directors, a brick-and-mortar office location, and at least some Thai staff.  The charter of the foundation must state the purpose of the foundation, and those who obtain visas through a given foundation must be doing work related to the stated purpose of the foundation.
 
There are two primary types of foundation.  One is a foundation for community development and social work.  The second is a foundation for more explicitly religious work.  Foundations for community/social development can be religious in nature but they must have charitable or community work as their primary purpose.  The government expects holders of foundation visas to be primarily engaged in the work specified in the foundation documents.
 
In recent years, there have been a number of missionaries who have visas from a community development/social work type foundation, but who focus on church planting, evangelism, or some other directly church-related ministry.  This is technically a misuse of the visa slots and the Thai government becoming stricter in what work they will allow people with such foundation visas to do.  The government does not look favorably on those who hold foundation visas but spend the majority of their time doing work not directly related to what it says on their visa.  That said, if your primary work is community development or something similar, there would be no problem for you to have this type of visa and also be involved with evangelistic or church-related ministry as well.  If you or your organization are going to establish a foundation, it is important to think through how you describe the purpose and goals of the foundation in the documents that are submitted to the government because it is expected that the work you do (and receive a visa to do) corresponds to what you told the government you would be doing. You can use a foundation visa to do church planting and direct evangelism as long as that type of work is included in your foundation’s registration document.
 
Sample Description of Foundation for Religious Activity

3) Education Visa

Although an education visa is not a long-term option, new missionaries usually need to do Thai language study for a year or more anyhow and might want to attend a language school that can help them obtain an education visa to do Thai language study.  This type of visa is dependent on you attending a certain amount of language classes at the Thai-language school that helped you get your visa.  
 
The education visa is good for one year, but you can apply for three consecutive one year visas for a total of three years. But you must leave the country each year to re-apply. Most Thai language schools for foreigners who can help you obtain this type of visa are located in areas with higher concentrations of foreigners, such as Bangkok and Chiang Mai. For missionaries, an education visa can be a good way to start out as they study language, get adjusted to the culture, and get to know Thai churches and other missionaries.  During the time they are on an education visa, new missionaries can explore other visa options that are more long term.
 
I have assembled here a brief list of Thai language schools that other missionaries have used. 

4) Work Visa

If you want to come into Thailand and teach English at a college, university, or private tutoring business, or work for some other sort of business or company, you can usually obtain a work visa via the school or company.  Your visa would be dependent upon your work contract and you would need official letter(s) from your employer.  If this job is your primary work in Thailand, it is not a problem for you to also engage in voluntary religious work as part of a church or ministry.  You would need to apply for this visa outside Thailand at a Royal Thai Embassy or Consulate after you receive the appropriate paperwork and contract from the company or school in Thailand.

5) Tourist Visa (not recommended)

For missionaries who are intending to be in the country long-term, a tourist visa is not a good option and is far less than ideal as you need to leave the country and obtain a new visa every 30 or 60 days.  In the past, some missionaries and other foreigners have used tourist visas to stay in the country indefinitely, but the Thai government has become wise to this strategy and is now limiting the number of tourist visas a person can obtain in a given calendar year. Once you’ve hit 6 tourist visas, you can’t get any more for the year, and thus can not enter the country until the following year.
 
For short-term teams coming into the country for a few weeks to few months, it is possible to apply for a 60 day tourist visa which can be extended for an additional 30 days.  For those planning to be in Thailand less than 30 days, it may not be necessary to apply for any visa at all since Thailand grants a 30 day visa exemption for visitors from many (but not all) countries. Visitors from five countries (including South Korea and Brazil) can recieve a 90 day visa exemption.  Granted that short-term mission teams are going to want to do some tourist activities anyhow, it has usually not been a problem for tourist visa holders or those in the country on a 30 day visa exemption to also help out with outreach activities or to teach some English, as long as they do not receive any payment. 

6) Retirement Visa

If you are over a certain age, and have enough money, it is possible to get a retirement visa and do whatever you want, religious or not.   The last time I talked with someone on retirement visa, I was told that the Thai government requires applicants for retirement visa to produce proof of at least 800,000 Thai baht in their bank account, or an affidavit affirming that they have an income of at least $2000 USD per month.  
 

Other Relevant Links

 
    

20 More Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

About one week after our family returned to the United States after spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, I wrote a blog about "20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America."  Those were my initial observations.  But now that our family is more than two months into our stay in the U.S, I have noticed a bunch of other things that I didn't run into during my first week here.

Reverse culture shock is the gift that keeps on giving, and while I don't walk around every day feeling stressed, there are still a lot of things that make me think, "Well, they don't do it like THAT back in Thailand!"  Sometimes, that is a good thing.  Sometimes that is a bad thing.  But sometimes it is just neutral. Not good - not bad - just different.

So, without further ado, here are...

20 More Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

  1. Static shocks!  You just don’t get that in a humid country like Thailand.  It makes me afraid to touch things.
  2. Marshmallow furniture.  Furniture so soft that you feel like your behind is tumbling into a bottomless abyss. 

  3. Heat lamps in bathroom. Not everyplace has these, but in the place we are staying currently, my wife is completely loving these red in-ceiling heat lamps to dry you after a shower.

  4. Unknown breakfast cereals. While visiting someone’s home for breakfast, my 7 year-old daughter asked, "What are Cheerios?” Looks like we have some cultural orientation to do.

  5. Telemarketing.  Ugh.  In Thailand I got 3 calls in 4 years.  Within one week of getting a mobile phone in America, I got 3-4 calls. Ugh.

  6. Soap at every sink.  It is awesome.  This may sound mundane, but up until recently I lived in country where you only get a soap dispenser on the far wall at the end of row of sink basins in a public restroom.  But here in America, no more awkwardly reaching around the guy at the next sink to get soap.  

  7. HUGE pickup trucks.  I didn’t even know they made pick-up trucks this big.  Some of these are so high and so wide, you’d think they were built to haul a tank. 

  8. Options!!!!   Choosing bread, ketchup, and other necessities has never been so complicated.  And for some reason, every processed food product needs to come in one million flavors, as if I really needed 15 varieties of Oreos to choose from.

  9. America LOVES gift cards.  Everyplace has a gift card to sell you, and at the supermarket there are racks and racks of gift cards for every store imaginable.

  10. Organic everything.  Or nearly everything.  And gluten-free is all the rage too.  Even places like Dominos Pizza has gluten-free options.

  11. No condom vending machines in public restrooms.  This is fantastic because I no longer need to come up with a vague, evasive answer when my son asks, “Dad, what does that machine sell?"

  12. Keyless cars!   I rented a car twice and both times we got a keyless car. I am starting to get used to it but it sure is weird.  It doesn’t feel right to not stick a key in the ignition.

  13. Cup holders everywhere!  I think the car we bought might have more cup holders than seats.

  14. Decaf coffee everywhere.  Almost no place in Thailand has decaf.  I asked for it once at the coffee shop I frequented in Bangkok and the guy at the counter just laughed.

  15. Americans are very informal and dress-down.  It is much harder to determine social status just by looking at what someone is wearing.

  16. Driving is so much less stressful.  People aren’t cutting me off all the time or running red lights.  The roads are big.  Signage is often clear and well in advance of where you need to turn.

  17. Sometimes the toilet paper is so soft and cushiony, it almost feels inappropriate to use it for its intended purpose.

  18. Starbucks is not just for the wealthy.  In American Starbucks locations, you find a fascinating cross-section of humanity with eccentricities, odd social manners, and weird ways of dressing.

  19. Most people are unaware that sticky rice is an entirely different variety of rice, not just regular white rice cooked differently.

  20. Seller beware!  Businesses are very careful to keep customers are happy, lest they are sued or have bad publicity.  It is often really easy to return things to the store.

 

Sometimes people ask, "Do you feel settled now?" and I don't know how to answer that question simply. Even though we have been here two months and are no longer living out of a suitcase, I don't think we'll ever feel really settled (unless we moved back to the U.S permanently, I suppose).  I am sure there will be more cultural differences that my family and I will run into along the way during the remaining four months of our home assignment. There are lots of things that we are really enjoying about the U.S. but it doesn't quite feel like home. The phrase "Back in Thailand..." is never be too far away from our lips.  But then again Thailand never feels 100% like home because we are not Thai.  But that's okay.  Our philosophy is to enjoy where God has placed us for any given season because he has good plans for us where he has put us.

    

20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

After spending the last four and a half years living and working in Bangkok, Thailand, our family recently came back to the United States for a six month home assignment (furlough).  My wife and I grew up here, though our kids have spent most of their lives (so far) in Thailand.  For all of us, however, there have been many new or not-as-familiar-anymore aspect of life in America to get used to. 

Many people have heard of culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you experience a foreign culture.  Fewer people, however, are familiar with reverse culture shock, the experience of unsettledness and uncertainty when you re-enter your home culture after being in a foreign culture for a long period of time.  But I can verify that reverse culture shock is a real thing because our family is experiencing it.  Although “shock” might be too strong of a word for it, there are certainly a lot of things to get used to again.  Here’s a list of several things that I have noticed this past week about life in the United States, after having lived in Thailand for a number of years.

20 Things I Have Noticed Upon Returning to America

  1. Cars sometimes pro-actively stop for us to cross the road before we even step into the road.
  2. Plastic bags at the supermarket checkout counter cost 10 cents now.
  3. Roads are big and wide.
  4. It is VERY quiet at night - no construction noise, no racing motorcycles, no rattling of cars going over road gratings next door, no cat on the roof, no bumps in the night.
  5. Electrical outlets don’t spark when you plug stuff in.
  6. Things in homes are big and fluffy, very comfortable.
  7. Cars drive really fast in the U.S. It's as if they don't expect stray dogs or motorbikes to suddenly dart in front of their vehicles.
  8. Laws are really important to people here.  Governments are serious about enforcing even minor laws.  Statements like “It’s the law!” carry weight.
  9. It feels weird to have the steering wheel on the left hand side of the car.  I feel claustrophobic because usually I have a whole lot more space in the car on my left hand side.
  10. Pedestrians take their sweet time to cross the road as if cars are not even there. 
  11. It feels like every business wants you to fill out a survey.
  12. Washing machines are VERY big.
  13. Hot running water at every faucet. Ahhh.
  14. A pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream does not cost $12.
  15. Almost no median strips on the roads.  I suppose that this reduces the temptation to drive the wrong way in the breakdown lane, which often happens in Thailand.
  16. I almost don’t recognize my own children because they are wearing blue jeans, hats, mittens, and other stuff that I never see them wear.
  17. It is difficult to just buy 1 pen or 2 razors. It has to be 5 pens or 10 razors. It doesn't matter if you only want to buy 1. You gotta go big or go home empty handed… Oh wait, I just found a single razor. One brand, one choice for just 1 razor. But if you want 10 or more, there are tons to choose from.
  18. Food products at the supermarket have names as long as 18th century books, such as “Organic, No Fat, Non-GMO, No Oils, Sprouted Honey Wheat with Flaxseed.”  (this was a loaf of bread)
  19. Coloring books for adults (?!)

My kids have also had some interesting observations about the United States.  Our oldest (10 yr. old) attended kindergarten here and was six when we returned to Thailand in 2012.  Our middle child (7 yr. old) was two when we went to Thailand after last home assignment and remembered nearly nothing of the country.  Our youngest (3 yr. old) was born in Thailand and this is his first time outside of Thailand.

Observations from Our Oldest Child (10 yrs)

  • "There is a lot more Star Wars stuff to look at here"
  • "The most difficult thing to get used to is everybody speaking English"
  • "Everything is clean and orderly here. Why is that?” [I later pointed out all the trash scattered along the side of the road as we got onto the freeway. “See, America, has a trash problem too!”]

Observations from Our Middle Child (7yrs)

  • "There is much more grass and trees here.  Why aren’t there any skyscrapers at all?"  

Observations from Our Youngest Child (3 yr)

  • "There is no sprayer" [next to the toilet]
  • "Where is the rice?!"
  • "School bus!"
  • "I see a fire truck!"

Overall, our family is really enjoying our time in the U.S. so far and have been blessed by many kind and helpful people who’ve given us rides, given us cold weather clothes, and called/visited to welcome us back.  And Dr. Pepper.  It was great to have Dr. Pepper again. It still feels weird to be here but with some time I am sure we will settle in and feel at home… probably just in time to leave again.  But God is good and He provides for his children, so we choose to look for and rejoice in his blessings wherever we go.

    
   


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