BANGKOK, Thailand — 2549. Is it the number of Starbucks stores in Bangkok? Or perhaps the number of older farang men holding hands with significantly smaller Thai women? Or maybe it’s the number of times Thai people say khrap or kha in a given day? (Depending on your gender, you can use one of the words at the end of a sentence to be polite, or use it as “yes” or “uh-huh” throughout conversations.) Or maybe it’s the number of portraits of the King of Thailand strewn all over the city? Or it could be the number of welts left by mosquitos who have drunk deeply from our veins?
No, instead it represents a stitch in time. Little did we know that when we came to Thailand that we would be transported exactly 543 years into the future. Here, the year is 2549, two-thousand, five-hundred and forty-nine years after the birth of Buddha. And if you’ve ever visited an ultra-modern mall, restaurant, café or movie theater in the heart of Bangkok, you would also think you were transported to the future. Yet at the same time, if you hung out here in the slums, you also would remember that you were in 2006, among the poorest of the world.
While here in Thailand, we’ve floated back and forth between 2549 and 2006. In 2549, we worship in an air-conditioned penthouse with expats, overloooking the wealth of the city. In 2006, I watch my friend Dave tell a drug dealer that God loves him as another dealer cups two slaps to someone’s face across the table, while a third is passing saran-wrapped blocks of marijuana under the table. In 2549, we witness a vision passed onto Seoul expat business leaders, inspiring them to invest in low-income communities in Northern Thailand. In 2006, I’m teaching a new way to share the Gospel to indigenous Thai house church leaders in four slum communities — and they saw why it’s good news for life now and for the world! I almost cried. In 2549, I’ve been catching a vision for the world. In 2006, I’ve been catching the heart of the Kingdom.
So I’m thankful for time travel (and plane travel, for that matter) — for in either date, we’ve had front-row seats to watch what God is doing here.