By Helen Packard
The little Shan girl drifted off to sleep in my lap; kittens wandered around the bamboo hut and my co-leader caught one. It curled up in his palm, content. Earlier today we were asked by our contacts if two of our team members could come to the home of some new believers, where our contact’s wife would give a short teaching about baptism. The new believers were being baptized this Sunday, and our contacts were eager to make sure they understood baptism, what it meant, and why it was important. When we asked our team who would want to go, they looked at us with tiredness in their eyes. It was the last few days of outreach, and they had worked hard. They were running the youth event and Sunday service this weekend, and after a full day today, it was evident their energy was running low. My co-leader and I decided that he and I would go. It was an opportunity to encourage new believers, share testimonies, and spend time with local believers, while giving the students a break.
We drove to an orange orchard with our contacts and translator, bumping along dirt paths between rows of orange trees. The light was fading and the night was growing darker; I’m sure the orange orchard was beautiful, but as we made our way to the home of the new believers, we watched our steps rather than taking in our surroundings. We sang worship songs (in Shan), I had the opportunity to share about my own baptism, and then our contact’s wife shared from the Word, in constant, quick-paced Shan. Ever flipping through her Bible, speaking animatedly, adults and children gathered around (with a few kittens to spare), she shared the heart of baptism, preparing the new believers for Sunday.
As the night continued on, constant fireworks erupted around us, and from a distance. The night sky was flecked with tiny fires, floating to the heavens. Though the nearby explosions were occasionally reason to startle, the little girl slept on in my lap, undisturbed. Tonight was the celebration of Loy Krathong. This is the Thai festival of lights and lanterns. On this night, celebrants gather around lakes and rivers to worship the “goddess of water” by releasing lotus-shaped rafts carrying candles, flowers, and incense, out onto the water. Some believe this is the time to let one’s anger and resentment float away – a fresh start. If the candle on your raft stays lit until it disappears out of sight, you are meant to be in for a year of good fortune. In addition to the lights on the river, floating lanterns are released into the sky, fuelled by fire, like tiny hot air balloons.
Sitting on miniature wooden stools outside a bamboo hut, surrounded by an orange orchard, hearing the Gospel shared in Shan, while a little girl sleeps on in my lap: these are moments I love. But put that against the setting of a Buddhist festival meant to bring luck and meant to worship one of a pantheon of empty idols? The hope of Jesus shines even brighter. As Loy Krathong was celebrated around us in our location near the border of Myanmar, a new believer shared of how she had rid her home of idols. No matter how many lanterns would be released into the sky that night, no matter how many lights were sent to float on the river, the love and presence of Jesus had found a home in more Shan hearts, and that is truly worthy of celebration.