I can’t go in there, I thought as I turned away. The ramshackle outhouse I stood in front of teetered on the edge of a ravine, with just a scrap of cloth serving as the door. Village children, stray dogs, and small pigs observed me with interest as I edged away.
My husband and I were visiting a small Mien village in the hill country of northern Thailand with missionary friends. A bone-rattling ride on a dirt road had brought us high in the hill country near the border between Thailand and Laos. In this area infamously known as the Golden Triangle, those who profited by drug activity lived in what could be described as “mansions” next to their neighbors’ rickety dwellings.
The service attracted a dozen or so believers in plastic chairs, several naked babies, and skinny dogs wandering through the open door of the home where the meeting was held. True worship is the same around the world, and it was obvious Jesus had a home in hearts of this village.
As farangs (foreigners) and guests, we were served a delicious meal of country rice with chicken and greens. As we visited after the meal, I felt a hand on my arm. A petite young woman dressed in a wrap of colorful tribal-patterned cloth gave me a shy smile and motioned at me.
“What is she saying?” I asked our friends.
“She’s calling you Big Sister.” I was indeed much taller — and yes, bigger — and decades older than this young woman. She appeared to be in her twenties and shorter than five feet. “She wants you to come with her.”
Taking my hand, the young woman pulled me gently away from the house and up a dirt hill. The whole village was perched on land that sloped away in all directions, with gardens terraced on the hillsides. I could see rounded ranges beyond ranges in the green misty distance.
The young woman led me to a small wooden house built at the top of the hill from the meetinghouse. Beaming, she guided me into the one-room structure with a dirt floor, small table, and two plastic chairs. A large framed photo of the king of Thailand held a place of honor. She gestured toward the print, and I smiled and nodded to let her know I understood the significance of the picture. I knew it was common for households in Thailand to display a photo of the king.
A few dishes and pots, some clothing and blankets were neatly settled in their places. After I had admired the little home with smiles and nods, the young Mien woman led me outdoors. She placed two three-legged stools in front of the door and motioned for me to sit. It was as if she were inviting me to sit on her fancy terrace with comfortable patio furniture. Around us her chickens scratched and pecked in the dirt.
My young friend sat next to me patting my arm as we looked out together at the rounded ranges that fell off into the distance. The gentle pats spoke a language all their own — a language of love, of honor, of thankfulness “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). All without a word spoken.
She sighed, and it was the sound of contentment. She seemed so proud to show me her world and the beautiful vistas she saw every day.
I sighed, too, for the acceptance and love I felt. I was supposed to be the one bringing God’s love into a dark place — the “official” ambassador for Christ. Yet that day I felt the love of God made manifest in my heart through a tiny woman whose language I couldn’t understand. “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.”
God’s ambassadors are found in surprising places, sometimes surrounded by pigs and chickens. His love, “as though God were pleading through us,” draws others to Him. That day I experienced how His love crosses borders and cultural divides and doesn’t always require language.