Five years ago I interviewed a friend of a friend who had just completed The World Race. You may have heard of it or known someone who has been on it… you know, 11 countries in 11 months. If you don’t know, google it. There’s a lot out there on it. I had been down to visit the founder and some of the directors of the program prior to that, but wanted to get a perspective of someone who didn’t work for Adventures in Missions (the organization who runs The Race). I was thankful for Samara’s transparent feedback. If you want to read that interview, click here….
This time we didn’t catch up over Skype, like the time before. We sat down in Chiang Mai for a face to face, and even though I knew Samara a little better over the time in between, this was my first time to meet her in person. I was thankful for the opportunity.
She has seen a lot of changes over the last half decade, and she appears to be wearing them well. I’d like to say “thank you” to Samara for her time and transparency (again) as we discussed the years leading up to now, and also for the look downrange. Blessings to you, my sister, for having the courage and experiences that will help others learn and be informed.
30 Instead of 25
Though she is not formally trained as a teacher, Samara is teaching level 4 English in Hang Dong Thailand, a village where she lives, just outside of Chiang Mai.
From what I hear from others, she’s quite the natural. Her commitment to giving her best to her students is not in question. To up her game, she is a graduate student to further her English Teaching capacity at a local University. In her spare time, she has opened an art studio, which she teaches in Thai. When I express amazement that she is teaching art in Thai, she flatly suggests that the class is about art, not English, so it wouldn’t make sense to do anything other… Was she trying to help with my amazement? If so, it didn’t work.
Learning the Language
To be able to teach classes in the Thai language, clearly she has to have some proficiency in the speaking, listening, understanding, and communicating. My wonder continues…. Have you ever seen the Thai alphabet or letter case? it looks like someone with a circle fetish is having a big time drawing, or at least it does to me. According to Samara, she learned by serious study. Early on, she underwent personal tutoring five days a week, for two hours at a time. Even after she started teaching, she continued the quest, and even though she had less time, she still managed to do the two hour gig three times weekly.
She can read & write the stuff, and has just stopped taking formal Thai lessons. I am sure she still continues to learn.
Lived in intense community – Thai community, not an expat community
Somehow Samara, and the Lorensen Family, have escaped what many missionaries do not, the trap of exported nationalism. What is that? It’s a subculture of missionaries (or foreigners of whatever type) who export as much normality as possible to a foreign land and live in a huddle together, while the ferret out things with the indigenous. In such arrangements, you can get by without seeing locals, much less developing relationships, and can completely get away with speaking only English. Doubtless, this is not how she lives. One Western missionary, who also is immersed in the local culture, took me on a drive to show me “where the missionaries live.” He was not around when we were having this interview, so I took it as further proof that a thriving subculture exists, especially when I saw the gated communities of what appeared to Suburbia rising from surround rice paddies.
World Race Picture
As a part of my prep on this follow up interview, I took a look at some of the details from that interview before, and noticed a photo of Samara with a globe right in front of her. The country India was just below her face. On a whim I asked her why she was perched above India in that way. I had no idea there was a story there. She said at the time of that photo (which was probably used as a communication piece for awareness and fundraising) she was sure she would be living out her days in India. Where did that idea come from? From a two-week mission trip to India that she had done before that. As she reflects on that, she tells me it was more tour-like. You know the kind of “mission trip” where you tour around on chartered transportation, descend from the AC long enough to sign a few scraps of paper and for a quick photo op, right? In her faraway look, the word “lovely experience” popped out a few times as she described it. And so, she thought she was called to India.
Since India was on her World Race route, she expected that would provide the final confirmation needed to come to terms with living in India for the rest of her life. That didn’t happen.
In praise of the World Race, she exclaimed, “The World Race is not a tourist experience!” Her month in the race in India took the glitter off that experience, wrung all the romance from her quivering body. Like life in India, when you get behind the thin veneer of imagination, there is pain and difficulty. “It was hard.” This experience changed her perspective, and India didn’t rank highly in the overall experience when it came to rating countries, not even in the top 5 of 11… Sorry India…
Clearly, she has worked thru that, and she remarks again how the World Race was really helpful in taking away the missions’ glamour. Missionaries share highlights and sound bites in meetings, of the glamour and romance of the foreign field, and it leaves the folks in the audience with an unrealistic perspective of what it’s like. Experience brings in the reality, and though painful, the sooner such experience is had, the better.
Normal life follows you wherever you go…
So in the name of transparency and full disclosure, what does Samara want us to know?
She’s a single woman…
Life’s normality doesn’t leave when you physically relocate 12 time zones away from home…
She says people make dramatic statements about her life that she sometimes has trouble receiving well. Like she’s a rock star or something… Brave girl facing down a big world, and all the while keeping a fashion sense (or something like that…) She bristles a little as she explains.
What’s her life like?
- lesson plans
- student drama
- grocery shopping
- bill payment
- getting gas
It’s to a large degree, ordinary life. Except it’s in a different place, with a radically different feel, and, of course, in a different language. The bulk of life – laundry, coffee, communication.
She says the Holy Spirit used and uses her the same way in Thailand as in Omaha before that. Gentle nudges, feeling people's pain and need, and reaching out in love.
“Is it harder here?”, I wonder.
“Kudos to me… I learned a language!” she exclaims. NBD, here facial expression betrays her sarcasm. It’s all about a willing heart, no matter the geography.
I was saving some of my best questions for late in the volley, or at least I thought.
“If the geography isn’t the main thing, and it’s about a willing heart, why does God send people to other countries?” I wondered aloud. I was pretty sure I had served up an ace! Her take on this question was completely unexpected, and almost disoriented me, in the way a tennis serve which you are certain has no chance of being returned, does return, and with more force than you sent it with.
“Because God loves us, the adventurous included!”
God knows our personal composition, and he sent her to, and, gave her the world because He loves her. She is wired in a way that makes this desirable, enjoyable.
“God loves us and wants to use us in ways that we love!”
Why did that dizzy me? Still not sure, but I remember the feeling.
“Thai people are going to have the biggest impact on Thailand!” – Samara Marie
So, she is serving and empowering Thai people so they can be in a position to do exactly that. She completes the thought with this, “Teachers (from a fellow teacher) your classroom may be your mission field.”
I found out that one of her least favorite things from previous interview was a line of questioning we had gotten on about the fact that there was no spiritual nourishment on the field in the World Race. I wanted to know how that it is for her now. It remains a challenge. I remember that it was still a painful reality when we discussed it those years ago. To help me understand, she gives a little context.
When the was a young 25, preparing to go out and tackle this near one-year mission trip that is called the World race, she was at a peak “romance with God” period. The faraway look in her eyes tell me this memory is distant. She’s seen harder times. The upside of that is that she is more mature.
Something different about now versus then, is being around people who are likeminded. Evidently team unity was a problem on the Race. Where she is now, the team she collators with, she got to choose this (in the present, but not, however, in the Race).
She finds the current arrangement much more encouraging and much more spiritually fulfilling than the one before.
She has to look to and find her nourishment in Jesus, and is still working on and maturing in this… (as we all are…)
Pain and Drama
Evidently, Samara is a dramatic person.. According to her, she “loves the drama.” Is this a gender thing, I am wondering?
I throw in some of my observations about how people want to have spiritual depth, but avoid pain. No one is looking for pain. Let it all be easy, and let me be deep – which doesn’t happen. She concurs.
Evidence suggests that there has been a lot of pain since that peak point of spiritual romantic perspective in her life, but there is an upside! She is now much more solid, now, and less easily shaken. She says she has a lower emotional baseline, which doesn’t seem like she’s totally comfortable with that. Maybe she clung to that high emotional baseline?
There has been disappointment, and forgiveness. She is getting over codependency. These things have led her to a place of more stability, so much so that she says she is a “completely different person.” Another upside, she’s much more confident. How so? She is confident, with assurance and stability that she is God’s daughter! She can do this, and do it well. That’s an upgrade, I remember, from the way she characterized it five years ago. She agrees.
What do you want to say to that girl from 5 years ago?
Don’t be scared, with such fear of man.
Let go of your insecurities.
Evidently, she looked down on herself for being young, being single, and being a girl. She thought she had nothing to contribute. Wasn’t true.
Tho you are still young, female, single, have confidence!
Do not be shaken by opinions or thoughts of others.
Listen to God.
Don’t worry about the people around you.
Looking Forward, 5 or 10 years; what do you want to say to Samara?
It’s okay if you’re still single
Women, it can be so scary to leave your culture as a single girl, because you think you are never going to find anybody, get married, and your life isn’t going to start if you don’t have that man.
Don’t be scared
Don’t be insecure
Go for it!
She made a “self-promise to God” never be held back by her singleness, and hopes she does well with that as the years continue, especially if they continue in singleness.