Southeast Asia. My stomach aches when empty. Food I think might have parasites, but I just can’t care too much. Cloudy mountain fog obscures the tops of trees. Wet roads feel dangerous and exciting at the same time. It takes faith just to be in a car. Holding my breath on the back of a motorcycle as it weaves through traffic and passes into oncoming cars. A smile that means “get out of the way” as hard-working women carry hopelessly heavy pails full of water that needs to be filtered. A wet market with blood on the ground and flies in the air and a sudden feeling I’m standing somewhere in time a thousand years ago. The call to prayer that cracks through the air from bad speakers coming from all directions at once. One hundred chickens butchered by hand in a dark, wet space as barefoot toddlers pace in and out of the grim room. 15 different types of bananas, especially those little finger ones that are ten times better than the ones we eat in the states. Airlines forbidden from entering EU airspace because they fail international safety audits. A deafening metallic cacophony in a meat processing factory that would never be allowed to function in the United States, bits of intestine flipping up in the air, and the smiling Asian immigrant grandma who waves me inside to check it out - probably because I have a camera in my hand. Dark, wet alleyways. Jurassic-like foliage encroaching the road. Spiders bigger than my hand. Flip-flops everywhere. Cockroaches and lizards. Feeling constantly tired. Feeling so alive. Bright eyes and laughter - so much laughter. And their song, their song, their song. When they sing, I can’t help but cry.
And then there’s the tacit agreement that seems to happen, where life itself conspires with a deeper part of my heart than I am in touch with. And I know I was seeing something - I know I was experiencing something. But what? What was it that was resonating in my heart’s caverns that with each day, each moment, I could feel it like the sound of a cave troll banging a deep, sonorous drum, this feeling was getting closer and closer and closer. Like in Lord of the Rings, when the fellowship was traveling deep within the mines of Moria and suddenly they hear this drum. It reverberates from the deep and echoes off the stone walls of the mines and it gets closer and closer and closer. But instead of in Lord of the Rings where the drum announces the approach of a cave troll and a small horde of orcs and goblins, I think it was my heart’s destiny that was stalking me this time in Southeast Asia, each beat of the drum a surety that it would be fulfilled. It was the sound of a promise that as my life continues, and as I take each step, I will continue to see goodness and love healing the hearts of those I meet. I will continue to see an overflow of love extended to the least. Because as saw the work of our partners in Southeast Asia, as I drew near to the hearts of those sweet friends they had taken in, as I sat each night and spoke with them over coffee, I heard stories unimaginable, stories of pain that seemed like it could only be found in films and novels, and I caught a glimpse of that promise: a glimpse of hearts transformed and healed, a glimpse of the truth that I know is worth running after with every ounce of power I can muster.
And the timing of that trip was perfect. Going to Southeast Asia in June with the Shema team was a lot like hearing my dad yell to me at a cross country race in high-school: it was late fall and cold that day and as I crested the hill amidst a pack of runners during this grueling race I heard him yell suddenly from the crowd, clear as day:
In the silence and sweetness of those moments in Southeast Asia connecting or laughing with my new friends on our partners property, it was like I could hear my dad’s voice yelling to me, at once affirming me and urging me on at the same time, a sound that I could respond to with joy and excitement; a sound where before I heard it I could only feel the ache in my legs and the burning of the cold air in my lungs and hear the pounding and huffing of the racers around me on the field - and then suddenly, rounding the crest of the hill, all I could hear was the sound of my Dad’s voice, and all I could feel was a sudden burst of joy, exhilaration and renewed strength. Where before my pace felt like a tyrant I couldn’t ever please, and after, I’m pushing forward effortlessly and my feet are barely touching the ground. That’s what going to Southeast Asia at this time was like for me: 16 months into this race we are running for Shema, 16 months of working without salary, continual setbacks, misty-mountain-steep learning curves, and constant feedback of the “risk” and “constructive criticism” from those consulting our project, after all that to be once again in SE Asia, looking down over the rice paddies from the plane as we neared the ground, standing at the physical site of the first Shema cooperative, on our partners property seeing the smiles of those touched by love, hearing the quiet whir of pedal-operated sewing machines, sitting on the stoop in the late afternoon with Alisha and Alayna, watching the sun break through tropical trees to a buzz of insects foreign to my ears, and hearing the laughter of those who had been brought through so much only to greet me every day with endearing jokes, teasing, and smiles - it was in all of those moments that I could feel that drum beat within me - the surety of a promise of a plan coming to fruition - and I could my hear Dad’s voice urging me forward, urging me forward, urging me forward. “GOOOOOOOOO.”
And so I run.