I’ve been home from my trip to East Asia for just three weeks, but it seems like a lot longer. Probably because when I was there on the other side of the world, it seemed like another place and time altogether.

In many ways, the day to day activities of our trip were barely different from my life in Indianapolis: we got up each day, ate three meals, applied ourselves to the work at hand, enjoyed each others’ company. And yet we were living out this normalcy in a place that was so unlike anywhere I had been.

As our plane descended for the final time, the terrain was unlike anything I had seen: the thick air winding through gumdrop mountains. The intricate terracing, making it possible to farm the rugged landscape, created a whimsical patchwork in every shade of green and brown.

Before we even left the airport, we discovered how much of a barrier that language would be as we mimed “lost baggage” to an airport worker who directed us to the appropriate office. Our tri-lingual host arrived just in time to explain in words the attendant could understand what our green and brown luggage looked like. And within hours it was recovered.

Making our way through the airport revealed another barrier we would encounter throughout our trip: being a foreigner was even more foreign in this part of the world. As we walked toward the car, old women and young children walked up very close to me, staring. The men were less conspicuous, snatching glances as they tossed down their cigarettes, but no one ignored us. 

Later, when we were doing some shopping in the city, I discovered another man closely staring AFTER I had already snapped the picture below. 

Within the first couple of days I realized that driving through the maze of streets among mostly unregulated traffic posed the greatest risk of the trip (next to drinking the water), that I had not done enough squats in my lifetime to be prepared for using the bathroom by straddling a hole in the floor, and that all those times I had “played” at using chopsticks at the China Buffet had actually been training for this trip.

I also discovered that having clean air, curbside trash pickup, and a little plot of land to call my own is a privilege, not a right, in this world that most people will never experience.

My trip to East Asia was eye opening and more difficult than I imagined. I felt separated from a people that I had loved from afar by the language of my dreams and the color of my skin. And having to spend a day and night in bed with a fever while my family and friends spent a night and a day not even knowing exactly where I was caused a sense of loneliness I had never experienced before.

But even out of the poverty and polution, there was beauty and dancing. 

The Lord gave us grace to accomplish the work of our hands.

And though in the throes of my jet lag after the return home I wondered if I would ever get on an airplane again, now I am filled with gratitude for the experiences of this trip and the things I learned about God and this small, big world he made.

My trip took me a long, long way from home, but no further from the loving hand of God than my own back door.