Tracing the Trail of Forgiveness
Posted on May 4, 2020 by VMMissions Staff
God is calling Bethany Tobin to both teach and walk out Jesus’ humble yet powerful message of forgiveness as she serves in Thailand. She shares these glimpses.
As my kids yell and chase their friends around the field, my friend Duang and I walk with our toddlers around the dirt track. I love being an older sister to this 18 year old mom. Hungry for a listening ear, she eagerly shares her dreams with me: To be able to raise her son instead of having to leave him with her grandmom while working in Bangkok. To have stable jobs and a loving marriage. To share her feelings with her husband and talk through conflict. We talk about how God shows us what to do when we argue, when we fail. We talk about the powerful words, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I have seen over and over that people in Thailand go through their whole lives without saying these seemingly shameful words.
One Sunday morning, I was sitting in the shade with a handful of older ladies, waiting for enough folks to arrive so that we could begin our worship celebration. I have been discipling one of the aunties and know her to be emotionally unstable and to have severe financial challenges. She was excitedly telling another grandmother about her get-rich-quick scheme selling unregulated medicines, complaining that she’d had to sell medicines on credit. My big mouth got the better of me, and I said forcefully, “You shouldn’t sell your merchandise on credit!” Then I made a bigger mistake and thoughtlessly walked away, seeing someone I wanted to talk to.
Soon, we settled ourselves on the floor in a large circle for worship. When testimony time came, this particular Auntie began to criticize me in front of the whole gathered group! Joy was vacuum-sucked out of the room; we stumbled on through the motions of the service. During communion I made my way across the circle, stooping respectfully until finally I knelt in front of my auntie and asked for her forgiveness.
She left before our lunch was laid out on the floor. Since few had witnessed my offending behavior, I chose to speak up, explaining how I had been thoughtless and disrespectful to an elder. Most people could barely meet my eye. In this culture, open conflict is extremely upsetting and shameful. I had been up since five mopping the church floor, making food, helping with worship, doing Sunday school for the kids. And now, my moment of glory: a highly public apology, met with silence.
Full of hope I skip up the road to my friend Duang’s house. We are going to start studying the Bible together! But when I get there, all is not well. Sales are down.
The motorcycle payment is unmet. April 5 looms—the day her young husband will have to face two years of mandatory military service. Festering desperation turns into an open sore of conflict with relatives next door. Grandma has arrived to “help,” but brings instead divisive words. In the stressful swirl of advice and pressures of relatives, the thin veneer of harmony is ripped off the shallowly buried offenses and the litany of failures. Later in the week, relatives pressure the couple to break up; brokenhearted, I help Duang move her stuff out of the apartment.
While the kids holler and splash water in our backyard blow-up pool, four parents sit—sweaty and tired—on our living room floor, tackling our next lesson on how we are forgiven by Christ, and yet how if we don’t forgive, we leave our hearts open to destruction. I want so much to convey the hope that God can give us heaven’s eyes for those that have failed us. I want so much for their identities to be so rooted in God’s love that they can humble themselves to apologize for failures without being paralyzed by shame. I believe that if my Thai friends could hear and speak those words, God’s love would break bondage in their hearts. How, Lord, can they, when no one has seen it before?
These are battles that cannot be hurried. I think ruefully to myself that before I can see reconciliation birthed in my friends, I will most likely need to offer myself up to public humiliation many more times. So I pray, “Use my mistakes Lord – make a fool of me – so that the power of your gospel can be revealed. In your humiliation, Lord, we see your love. And in order to pray that others will forgive, I will trace the obscure trail of forgiveness myself. You, Lord, know the way.” This is the power of the Gospel.