By Patricia DeWit, PAOC global worker in France
Every once in a while the world ends. Resistance is usually futile. Oh, people have tried to resist, mourning the good ol’ days, crying over the loss of the way it was, stubbornly remaining phone-less, car-less, facebook-less. But in the end, they couldn’t prevail against what had become a new normal.
On August 17th we celebrated 25 years as PAOC global workers. We may have seen the end of the world a few times, having to adapt to many new normals. Some of these were just in our own world; some were shared universally. Each has formed us. Looking back it’s easy to see them as road markers, yet at the time, they were huge steps of faith, where we found ourselves in unfamiliar places, leaning desperately on God, squinting to see His face, shushing all other voices in order to hear His voice.
So from… twenty-two years in Bangkok with our first military coup in 1992, numerous states of emergency, the Tsunami, 9-11, strict curfews, adopting a daughter, giving birth to a second daughter, the world wide web, the creation of social media, national floods in Thailand, to… a transition to Europe that started with brain surgery, a year in Germany, then a move to France, Charlie Hebdo, The November 13 terrorism, Bastille Day terror, there have been many times where we woke up to a new normal.
The thing about new normals is that they can create a powerful space for the Gospel to emerge. That’s the crux of Global Work; not so much to create new normals, but to recognize and not be afraid of the new, to navigate the hard parts and create space where others can follow and cross over on dry land, always prayerfully in response to God’s love and reflecting God’s Kingdom.
In 2008, something that looked a lot like civil war started to divide Thailand. As a church we found ourselves caught between the Redshirts and the Yellow-shirts. Each side believed they had a right to hate the other. These colours seeped into the church, and where we would have hoped for orange, we just found Christian Red-shirts against Christian Yellow-shirts, each so determined to ‘have things our way no matter what’, each praying ‘Oh God, let us win!’ So while killings and protests hit the news headlines, our Newsong Bangkok church family knew we couldn’t rejoice in those ‘victories’, and set out to navigate this new normal so that once it was all over, Red-shirts and Yellow-shirts could come home to community and communion.
When the world ends we are forced to trust. Or die from worry. Seriously. It shows us that God is God and I am not. I remember a day in June 1995, and we were living in Nong Khai. We had guests, but I was starting to get a headache and stayed home while everyone went out. The headache had become so bad, and no amount of Tylenol helped. There was a fever, and out of body hallucinations. Peter took me to the hospital and the doctors told me I was suffering from full-blown HIV, and to put on a mask, go home, that there was nothing they could do for me.
We had to get to Bangkok. FAST. So once our friends arrived to stay with the boys, another friend drove us to the airport an hour away, then a quick flight, and then a zigzag taxi ride to the most advanced private hospital in the city at that time. I was extremely ill.
“They told us she has final stage HIV, but that can’t be true.” Said Peter upon meeting the doctor. Peter was correct. A battery of tests proved this. But they could not find the cause of this illness. Not until the next month when we returned to Toronto for our first ‘furlough’ and Doctor Gamble at the missionary health institute discovered that I had suffered from Japanese encephalitis.
Most of all, what I have learned is that the end of the world does not kill us. Go back and read that again. The end of one world and the ensuing new normal does require us to take on this vulnerable posture of laying down our lives, dying to our idea of what things ‘should be’ but then there is that glorious coming out of the restrictive deathtomb and walking through the garden in a resurrection body. The new normal! God is there.
In every new normal GOD IS THERE. We may not recognize him in that foreign place, and we become frightened, like that time we were 5 and lost sight of Mom at the Kmart. Just as Jesus’ friends didn’t recognize him in the garden, it’s hard to recognize God after the tsunami, after the suicide of a child, after the diagnosis, after the terrorism. It’s hard.
But God is there.
As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, I can’t help but express gratitude for dear friends along the way who have been by our side faithfully through all the times we came to the end of the world, and who prayed us through our new normals.
For crying with us without judgment
For celebrating with us generously
For putting wise words into our hands, words that have nudged us into a better Gospel story, a better trust, a better recognizing.
For Your great always-ness
For Your solid rock-ness
For waiting for us at the end of the world
And for meeting us in the new normal. Amen.