As many of you know, I recently returned from leading a mission encounter trip to Thailand. One of the places we often visit is the Lahu Bi-Vocational Bible School. The Lahu are one of the many hill tribes who live in the mountains along the borders with Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. The reason the term bi-vocational is in the name of the school is that the villages are so poor that pastors who graduate from the school can’t expect to pay their bills from the income they receive from their little churches, so they need to have another source of income.
One thing that strikes me every time I visit the school is what I perceive as the innocence of the students. They come from very remote areas where the agricultural work is done completely by hand, where cell phones don’t work and where there is not a high level of education. They are not exposed to many of the challenges we face every day in urban living and are nowhere near as sophisticated as we so called moderns are. They tend to be shy around foreigners and defer to them/us.
Their smiles are genuine and their spirits are not tainted by cynicism. They tend to take you at your word and not question your sincerity.
You might say that those kinds of people would be run over and exploited in our world, and I think you are right about that. But I take that as criticism of our world rather than of their naiveté. And as Christmas approaches and I watch “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,” I grieve the loss of that kind of innocent believing in Santa Claus and the song of the angels about peace on earth. We need cynicism in our world to protect us from deceitful people, but when that’s all we have, we are so protected with intellectual armor that our spirits are also protected from the soft, healing, life expanding touch of magic and enchantment.
I don’t want to go completely back to believing every Disney Land fantasy. My life experience prevents me from believing that all my dreams will come true if I only wish upon a star. And yet, like the wise men, the best things in my life have come from taking the risk of following where a star was leading me, without any empirical verification at the beginning of my journey that the star would be leading me to life itself or a huge disappointment. The trick, it seems to me, is not in whether to follow a star or not but in discerning which star to follow.