i have just returned from a mission trip to North-East Thailand, and i must say that it was really a blessing to have been a part of it. the mission trip was organised by Habitat for Humanity and our local Catholic Humanitarian and Relief Initiatives, to build a house for a family in the impoverished village. There were 19 of us ‘troopers’ in all, and we spent 4 days building the house from ground zero till the roof.
i say that it is a blessing because there were many lessons to take from the trip. for one, as it was largely a Catholic mission, everything we did, we gave it up to God. we prayed together several times a day, and had formations (reading bible verses and Catholic social teachings, with sharings and reflections) after every time we returned from the site. we even attended Mass there. all of these reminded me time and yet again, that everything is in God’s hands. there is nothing that He cannot do.
we were meant to spend 5 days building. when we first got there, there were only 4 beams, each in a corner, and the roof. there were 19 of us, but some of us were much older and had to do less menial work and take more breaks. but we worked hard together anyway. it was tough. VERY TOUGH. we twisted iron for the foundation. then it was sand, cement, gravel, soil, bricks, water. we heaved as we carried the buckets of them in human chains. we easily memorised the recipe for a tub of cement. with shovels and hoes, we took turns to mix the cocktail of sand, cement and gravel. i can tell you, it was such a feat. each time we thought we were done, there were more to do. it was just endless buckets of sand, cement and gravel. and at the end of each day, we had to wash and scrap the 20 odd buckets and tubs to prevent the cement from hardening on them. when the time came for us to lay bricks, we thought it’d be better, but hey we still need cement to lay the bricks! we laid the bricks, trying our hardest to make them as aligned and solid as possible because they were going to be the walls and the exterior that would protect the interior. we climbed on scaffolds and sat on them precariously as we worked our way up. it was really teamwork, and by God’s grace, that we built all the walls up so quickly.
our Thai counterparts were very hospitable. they were very friendly towards us, despite our language barrier. we even became like friends. the Habitat representative from Bangkok ate with us, built with us, negotiated with us, and stayed with us in the same hotel. he made it a point to remember all our names, even if we didn’t know his. i was very pleasantly surprised. we had our last meal with them and the receiving family, and it was heartwarming to see all of us trying to communicate with each other- us and our Thai counterparts, us and the family. although i have to admit, it was pretty frustrating not being able to communicate properly with them.
the day before we flew back, we returned to the site. the home-owners wanted to thank us. the home-owner and his mother both tied strings on our wrists, bestowing on us happiness, health and peace. they gave each of us a Thai pillow too. we took photos with them and the the house. and it dawned upon me that the little that we gave, meant so much, and even the world, to them. they were just grinning from ear to ear. we gave them our time and toiled for 4 days, but it was a house that they received. reprieve probably from the poor and living conditions they were in. all the pain i was in was nothing in comparison. and for all of these, i was utterly grateful.
i had my own struggles, and it was difficult. RA meant that my joints could give in to the disease process anytime. but if anything, my fingers were the ones that suffered the most. carrying the bucket handles, gripping the handles of the shovels and hoes, holding onto the bricks. my fingers were screaming for me to stop, but i didn’t heed. i trudged on, and i guess in a way, tortured them relentlessly. the only thing i tried to do for my fingers was to try using my bigger joints like my wrists, instead of using my small finger joints. i applied anti-inflammatory gel (topical Ketoprofen) on my fingers everyday in a bid to make things better, but it was futile. my back suffered too, from poor body mechanics, and from bending over too much. the one that really got to me however, was fatigue. RA’s fatigue, and that of depression’s, proved difficult. i was constantly tired, gave up socializing time for sleep, slept on bus rides and even during breaks, and on one night, dinner even. i was trying to rest as much as i could, but all the sleep in the world couldn’t make the fatigue go away. i even got teased through the trip for being “sleeping beauty”. no one really understood why, and as much as i could, i kept mum. in the end, i told a few of them why. RA first, and when i became a little more trustful, depression. they were understanding, and i was grateful. i wasn’t being judged.
at the small Catholic church we went to, i knelt down, rosary in hand. i talked with God a few times. i haven’t done it in a long time. i ended up crying as it became more of begging and pleading, than it was of talking. i was also dreading going home the next day, and i asked God to give me the strength to face up to my reality once more.
so here am i, at home. it’s been 2 days, and i already miss what we did in Thailand. i hope i never ever forget the memories made from this mission trip. it’s too precious.