I never wanted to be a teacher. Ever. In fact, on the long list of occupations that most children dream about, teacher didn’t even register for me. It wasn’t even a back-up plan for my back-up plan. And yet, I have spent the last eleven months of my life being just that – an English teacher – to many men, women and children in the province of Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand.
The journey to Thailand began almost a year before I got on a plane. When God called me I was sitting in a meeting where a young couple was speaking about their call to be missionaries. I had sat through meetings like this before – even spoken to other long-term missionaries before. But the sudden intense feeling of purpose that wrapped itself around my heart in that moment was like none I had experienced before. That was when God first called me to leave everything – my job, my car, my family, and friends – to do something outside the ordinary. It took several months of praying and searching, but finally He led me to Thailand through Adventist Volunteer Services.
My experience in Thailand was unlike anything I could have imagined. I thought it would be easy. It was not. It took a lot of planning, creativity, and energy to prepare my classes and teach my students. But more than that, it took a lot of bravery and flexibility to open myself to the students and let them see me. More than the time spent teaching English to my students, I remember the time spent before and after my classes, playing hide and seek with my students or chasing them around in the school yard as we played tag. I cherished the feeling of love from my students as they would run back into the class to say goodbye or give me a quick hug before leaving for the day. I also cherished the feelings of hope as I listened to them recite, on their own, the prayer that I taught them.
I thought I would be teaching others. But the truth is, during my time in Thailand, I have been the student. My students have taught me to relax in a way that my western upbringing has rarely allowed me to. They have taught me to appreciate simple things in life, like the time spent in conversation over a meal, the value of a smile, and the joy of giving yourself away to others.
I thought I would be doing something for God, but God did something in me. As I watched my Thai friend, with whom I had prayed and shared the Bible, getting baptized, I realized that God can use someone imperfect like me, to do His perfect work.
God also taught me how to live with less and be happy with what I have. How to be a servant, and the meaning of true humility. How to love unconditionally. As I eat with them, talk with them and pray for them, I have gotten to see my students as children of the God who is also my Father. By teaching me to love unconditionally, God has helped me build friendships with my Thai students and friends that have extended beyond the classroom, and even beyond Thailand.
I thought I would be giving a year of my life. But instead, I gave my whole life, because the woman who returned home from Thailand was not the woman who left eleven months earlier. My time in Thailand has changed the way I see others, the way I see God, and the way I see His plan for my life. Whatever I do, whoever I am, must be completely and totally for Him. God has helped me to see each person in this world as a child He wants to save for His Kingdom. I always knew this in my head, but during my year in Thailand, God helped me understand this in my heart. Because of this, the way I live and my relationships with the people around me – from my family to the cashier at the supermarket – must reflect that unconditional love that God has for all of us. Whatever I do, whoever I am, must be completely and totally for Him – serving Him – growing His Kingdom.
I have had a 2 Corinthians 5:7 experience: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”* And for the new me, ordinary is no longer an option.
*World English Bible
Rhonda Bowen is originally from Toronto, Canada. She served as an ESL Teacher at the Ubon SDA Language School in Thailand. She served from October of 2010 to September of 2011. Rhonda believes that God calls all of us to serve Him, and that He can use us despite our imperfections, if we surrender completely to Him.
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