Christmas is a time of joy today, but it did not start that way. The story of Christmas is birthed out of a tale of desperation. A journey which began over 2,000 years ago is one we are still struggling to apply in our own unique way to this day. Even those who attempt to change the world for the better face the issue of criticism.
It is simply impossible to please everyone in this world all of the time. Even when you give your utmost to the cause, there will be a voice from the crowd who demands you to give even more. This can cause one to doubt themselves, doubt their actions, and even doubt their personal faith.
The holiday season has meaning for all. It is one of the few moments in time when humanity truly becomes one even though we each celebrate the holidays in our own unique way.
This was my goal for Trek For Hope this year: to extend this holiday oneness beyond just a few weeks out of the year.
As early as July, I actively searched for a community partner, I found well-meaning friends and allies pulling me in directions that I didn’t feel led to go. I respected their opinions, researched the many suggestions received, but my journey seemed to be headed in another direction. I knew there would be questions when I decided to make a solo trip to Chiang Mai during this period of time, maybe rightfully so, but I could not abandon my journey.
It was the rainy season during my visit. Long drives through the rain to remote villages took me to 6 different homes, sometimes hours away from the city. Each visit seemed to make me question myself more than the voices in the crowd were questioning me.
At the end of each visit, I was discouraged. Lonely. Drenched.
The answers these homes were giving me were honest and forthright, but for whatever reason they just didn’t sit right with me. There was one more home on my list to visit. I almost gave up because I didn’t want the same experiences happening to me again as they had happened six previous times before.
I began to think that the voices in the crowd had been right and somehow I had been wrong. I decided that I had come this far, so choosing not to visit the last location would cause me regret. I would always question whether I had passed up an opportunity. Finding out what would happen was more important than my physical and emotional comfort.
When I arrived, I knew my journey had finally come to the place where I was meant to be.
14 December 2015
I stood before a crowd of maybe 80 people in the assembly hall. Half of the crowd was comprised of kids from the home and the other half was our group from Singapore. The day was hot and sunny, which was very different from the cold air we’d experienced in Chiang Dao just days ago during the trekking portion of this event.
It was not an easy transition. The children were also clearly shy, maybe confused, and definitely not sure about a group of people who numbered about as many as they did.
Pastor Nipon, who is the founder of the Lights for Kids Foundation, had already given us a welcome in Thai, which was translated into English by his son Ramo. It was my turn to speak and there was only 1 story I had to tell that afternoon.
Once upon a mountain top, 3 little trees stood and dreamt of the trees they would one day become.
The first little tree looked up at the stars in the night sky and said: “I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”
The second little tree looked at the small stream which trickled by as it wandered down to the ocean. “I want to be traveling the might waters and to be carrying powerful kings. I will become the strongest ship in the world!”
Then the third little tree looked down into the valley below. Busy men and women went about their lives in a busy little town. “I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all,” said the third little tree. “I want to grow so tall that people stop to look at me. They’ll raise their eyes to the sky and find their faith. I will become the tallest tree in the world!”
I can’t help but smile as I think about my nervousness standing there. 80 sets of eyes, looking at me, thinking of one thing at the same time: “We believe in hope.”
Hope is very powerful, even if it is only experienced but for a moment. A child and a TFH participant started that morning by greeting one another as strangers. The two would then spend the entire day with each other as we went about the itinerary for the day. We painted the premises of the school, laid pavement, helped with their harvest, and assisted with their handicraft works.
Then, in the evening, we would have a programme surrounded by beautiful Christmas decorations. I recall how the story of the three trees continues as I think about these eventful moments.
Several years passed for the three trees. The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew up to be tall. One day 3 woodcutters made their way up the mountain to visit the 3 trees.
The first woodcutter looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is so beautiful It is the perfect tree for me.” With a swoop of his powerful axe, the first tree fell.
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest,” the first tree declared. “I shall hold wonderful treasure!”
The second woodcutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his axe, the second tree fell.
“Now I shall sail mighty waters!” the second tree declared. “I shall be a strong ship for powerful kings!”
The third tree saw all of this happen and the tree’s heart began to sink. The last woodcutter looked at how tall the third tree was and how bravely it pointed upward toward the heavens.”Any tree will do for me,” the last woodcutter said, and with a swoop of his axe, the last tree fell.
This event was a TFH team effort. An incredible fundraising campaign had been held prior to the visit. Training treks and TFH t-shit sales also helped to raise some funds. Some participants took it upon themselves to raise money in their own unique ways as well. Some spoke in company meetings. Others recruited their friends. We even had one participant making dumplings to sell to raise money.
Together we combined our strengths to meet our target goals. Funds were raised in excess of our expectations, so we arrived knowing that the improvements and other various needs the home required would be met.
While raising those funds, there were days when those questions and doubts would begin to creep in once again. The voices in the crowd demanded to know why this home, why these kids, or what could ever be gained by such a short trip. Yet in the end, there was still hope, just as in the darkest moments in the story of the 3 trees, there is still hope for a positive outcome.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter took it to a carpenter’s shop. This tree had dreamed of treasure, of gold and silver, but the carpenter turned the tree into a feeding box for animals. There was only sawdust and hay for a farmer’s hungry animals.
The second tree rejoiced when the woocutter took it to a shipyard. This strong tree dreamt of becoming a might sailing ship, but the shipyard turned this tree into a simple fishing boat. Instead of rivers or mighty oceans, this tree was taken to a gentle lake.
As for the third tree, the woodcutter simply turned out strong beams and stored them within the confines of a lumberyard. “What is so wrong?” the tree wondered. “I stood as tall and proud as I could. I pointed people towards the heavens. Is this all there will ever be?”
The kids from Singapore played football with the kids living at the home. We would take breaks to serve lunch. We took pictures together and then placed them into scrapbooks so these moments could be recalled time and time again.
After some time, a man and woman came into the barn where the first tree had been brought. She gave birth to a child there and together they turned that feedbox into a crib for the baby. Truly this was a great treasure for this family… and the first tree’s wishes had come true.
The small fishing boat would one day carry a group of men in it who were tired and wanted to sleep. A great storm came forth and the second tree feared that the shipyard had made the boat too weak to withstand such strong waves. Then, when all seemed lost, one man came forth and said “Peace be still.” The storm stopped.
The third tree sat in the lumberyard for many years. Then one day, some soldiers came by and picked up the boards. It would become a cross that would bear a man titled as “King of the Jews.” It had to stand tall and proud, reaching high up to the heavens, because it had to bear the weight of a man named Jesus.
Great doubts always happens when great risks are considered. Yet without a great risk, there can never be a great reward experienced. We should always ask questions of ourselves. We should not be so arrogant in our journey through life that we expect to know what each footstep will bring. We should also be open to the voices in the crowd as they question our motives so that we can know for certain that we have found our balance and can proceed with confidence.
Now I realize that we all have a different faith from one another. Individually we are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, or one of many more too numerous to name individually. Each faith is important. Each personal journey we take is important. When we come together, we bring hope to the world. The story of Jesus means many different things to each of us, but what he taught is simple: if we love one another, then we can each change the world in some way.
As night would settle in at the home, we were honoured to have the children give us a glimpse of their culture, their personalities, and their faith. Music, combined with their colourful costumes, made for an amazing experience. Our team gave a performance and sang holiday songs together, including the hymn Silent Night.
We released sky lanterns into the night sky to symbolise the letting go of sickness and sadness. For me, this moment was the completion of an incredible journey. Each difficult footstep where I had questioned my motives, doubted what my heart was telling me, and endured the long, rainy drives had brought me to this one moment. This beautiful moment.
This one place in time where I realized that we each change the world when we bring hope to the children who will one day take our place.
The children of the home lined the streets for a final farewell. As with any goodbye, we held their hands in sadness because our journeys would be going in different directions for now. We each have a purpose here, no matter what our circumstances may be, and no one should ever be told that they don’t matter enough to pursue that purpose.
Think back in your life. There are moments we all look back upon where we can say, “That moment changed me. I am a better person because that happened to me.”
Maybe we could provide that moment for these children. Only time will tell. As with the story of the 3 trees, we may doubt our purpose. We may be required to wait a long time to fulfill our purpose. Then one day we are left with one simple choice: will we complete our journey… or will we choose to let others pass us by because we are too afraid to take that one last step?
Love always conquers fear. Love can bring hope. Love bears all things, believes all things, protects all things, and always perseveres. This is why love never fails.
The team of Trek For Hope – Chiang Mai 2015