Sweat snakes down the curve of my back and dampens my palms as I switch a tripod case as tall as I am to my other shoulder. The clamor of car horns, vendors hawking wares, barking dogs, passing motorbikes and yelling people is a constant roar.
Add to the mix the pervading smell of the sewers they’re cleaning out, fish in the market going bad in the tropical sun, and the exhaust fumes of cars and buses belching black smoke, and it’s a sensory potpourri unique to southeast Asia.
I sidestep a pile of refuse, tripping on the hem of the wrap-around skirt I’m wearing to be sensitive to local customs, and laugh to myself.
Exotic, definitely. Glamorous, not so much.
I’m here in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), as part of a non-profit film crew documenting the stories of what God is doing in this fascinating country.
Myanmar is a primarily Buddhist nation falling headfirst into the modern world after decades of being a closed country controlled by a military government.
Tensions between ethnic groups and young people frustrated by slow progress toward democracy result in, at times, violent clashes.
In the midst of this uncertain environment, local and foreign missionaries work tirelessly to bring hope to many people living on the sharp edge of poverty. One such ministry is three kindergartens for children from the poorest areas, teaching them good behavior and hygiene, and giving them a leg-up into the education that will give them a chance at a better life.
It’s definitely not glamorous work. It’s a lot of corralling loud children and cooking what could be the only meal the children get that day. It’s serving and living in a rough, basic community with electricity cuts and poor sanitation.
But sometimes serving God is in the messy. Like Frodo and Sam and company in Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, sometimes the journey takes you through the marshes.
Sometimes you’re knee-deep in mud and a mosquito just bit your eyeball and it feels like any progress is slow and bought with blood, sweat, tears and a ridiculous amount of effort.
God isn’t glamorous. So why should we expect the adventure we’re on with him to always be exotic and clean and glamorous? He was the one who came to a backwater fishing village that probably stunk worse than a Myanmar fish market.
Sometimes my job just gets messy. It gets tiring. It can feel small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. After all, what am I doing except carrying lots of heavy equipment around third-world countries and asking people lots of questions?
Some people go to Greece to see ancient ruins. I go and visit homeless shelters and food pantries. Others go to Thailand to ride elephants and relax at resorts. I go and spend a week in a hotel ballroom stage managing for a global missions leaders’ conference.
That’s not to say I don’t get to see amazing sights. Meet amazing people. Experience cultures many people will never experience. I do, and it is truly amazing and so humbling. On this trip alone, I had the privilege of interviewing three former Buddhists, including a monk who is now a pastor, who have decided to follow Jesus and are now leading other people into a relationship with Christ.
What’s my point? Often the place where you find the most life is right in the middle of the mess.
As our visit to Dhala kindergarten concludes, myself and my two co-workers grab our bags of gear and cross over a ditch of stagnant water to reach the road. We pile onto three-wheeled “tricycle taxis” (my name for them, since I can’t pronounce Burmese) and wave goodbye to the teachers in the doorway.
As we trundle off down the road, past shacks and scrawny dogs and more mosquito breeding grounds, the happy laughter of children follows us. And I smile, because I know the secret.
The big is in the small. And God is in the messy. So even if the ride is a bit bumpy at times, it’s always worth the trip.
How have you seen God work in the messy for you this week?