Every good character in a story has a friend, with whom they can share their journey.

Disney princesses often have woodland animals as their friends, helping keep them company as they go on adventures.  Rapunzel from “Tangled” had Pascal, her loyal and protective chameleon with a knack for bringing her joy; Snow White had an entire forest of deer, bunnies and birds along with her seven dwarves. But my personal favourite is Giselle from “Enchanted”, with her best friend, Pip, the happy-go-lucky, dramatic and always enthusiastic chipmunk.  Of course, most of us prefer human friends to animals, but the point is that having a friend to journey through life with makes the good times great, and the not so good times possible.  We were never meant to live life alone.  In good company we can find a new level of strength and encouragement,  and whether you need to escape a tower like Rapunzel or find your way in a new place like Giselle, a friend is worth having for the journey.

My mom told me that when I was younger, on a trip to the park I would run off and come back with a new best friend.  I’ve always loved meeting new people and making friends.  I like to think that every stranger is just a new friend waiting to be made 🙂

Two weeks ago, I made a new friend.  A whole room of new friends.

This story takes place in the warm and sunny south of Thailand.  Phuket.  That’s pronounced “Poo Ket” in case you were wondering.  John and I flew there for a retreat with the Southeast Asia PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) team.  The purpose of the retreat was to gather together this group of global workers and enjoy a week of team building and refreshment.  It was exactly what John and I needed…a break from the busyness and a chance to be refreshed and refilled for this next leg of the trip.  Even though it was our first time meeting the whole team, we felt so loved by everyone the moment we walked in to the room.

On our second day after lunch John and I joined about ten others on a motorbike adventure through the city. I felt like I was in a motorcycle gang, but without all the leather and tattoos.  We drove up hills surrounded by bright green giant leaves, rocky cliffs on the left, and the ocean on the right.  We drove in a line and stopped along the way to take pictures, drink fresh coconut water, and splash in the ocean.  At first I was so focused on how windy it was, and how I didn’t like the helmet I was wearing, also feeling afraid of the twisting roads. I spend so much of my time in Bangkok on the back of our bike that I didn’t notice how special this trip in Phuket was.  But as our group spread out down the road, laughing and singing out along the way I realized this experience was special and rare.  I was on a motorbike in a tropical city, cruising around the ocean side with my husband and a group of fun-loving new friends!  At that moment, I stopped caring about my uncomfortable helmet and embraced the adventure!

As we stopped at a beachside restaurant and ordered french fries and coconuts, I began to chat with two of the younger girls in our group.  Both of them are originally from Ontario, but live with their families in Southeast Asia – one in India and the other in Sri Lanka – doing volunteer work and sharing God’s love with their communities.  They were the highlight of my day.  These two lovely young ladies made me feel at home and reminded me what a special privilege we have to live this life.  We laughed and talked about movies and girl stuff and just enjoyed some fun chit chat!

Once our snack break was over, we all drove off with the boys speeding up, seeing who would lead the pack.  I held on tightly to John and soaked in the scenery. It was stunning!

The next day was my day of extreme relaxation.  It was family day for us at the retreat, which meant everyone had the day off from team meetings and group sessions.  John was excited to go back out with the motorbike gang and explore more of the city.  But I was excited for something else…the pool!  The resort had two pools: Pool number 1 was rectangular, large, nice…and full of half-naked Russians cooking themselves in the sun until they were good and burnt.   Pool number 2 was round, much larger, included a jacuzzi in the centre, a winding river-like area which I called “Conversation Lane”, a swim up bar, a man-made beach area with sand leading into an area with fountains and a bridge you could swim under, and the entire thing was surrounded by mountains of green and palm trees.

So naturally, I stayed in Pool number 2.  For seven hours.

Yes, seven hours…with only one break in-between for lunch and the bathroom.  I swam, floated, chit-chatted with the various people from our group that wandered in for a swim, had a chocolate milkshake at the swim-up bar, and I loved every minute!

At the seven hour mark I was completely shrivelled and unfortunately…burnt 😦  Even though I hadn’t intentionally been tanning myself, I now had become the same shade of red as the Russians burning in Pool number 1.  But at least my burn was accidental…not sure if that makes a difference haha.

pool

It was a great trip, and by the end I felt recharged and ready to take on the world!  John and I felt encouraged by the group, knowing that they are here for us and that our journey here in Southeast Asia is not a solo mission…we’ve got a team!!

Of course, since returning to Bangkok from our retreat after everyone went home to their own countries, I’ve had my fair share of freak out moments.  I’ve cried and felt like the Incredible Hulk a few times.  It was a lot easier to stay calm while in Phuket, surrounded by this great group of people and in such a relaxing environment. But the stresses of life don’t give you a break and life outside Pool number 2 can be tough.

This is why I am so thankful for my friends.  On days when I felt like I didn’t even know who to call, or what to say, God sent a friend my direction.  A phone call with an old friend who I had been missing gave me a lot of emotional healing.  A Skype chat with a newer friend made me laugh and filled me a ton of joy!  A text chat with a friend and kindred spirit gave me strength and courage to face the day.  Talking to each friend helped me realize that all the crazy feelings inside my head were not really that crazy because they were experiencing them too!  It was like I was back in the pool, chit-chatting away in conversation lane without a worry in sight.  Talking to my friends, and encouraging each other made everything feel possible again.

I also realized that growing up can often mean our friendship circle shrinks.  Many people told me this and I refused to believe it.  But now I see how easily it can happen.  People take on new jobs and move far away. New routines, relationships, and families make for less time to see each other. This past year I’ve felt like it was just me going through this…like all my friends were going on in life without me.  But that isn’t the case. As I talk to many of my friends back in Canada, they tell me they’ve been going through many of the same emotions and finding it harder to stay close with their friends.

The older we get, the more challenges we face in life, the harder it is to make time for friends…and yet, the more we need our friends!!  It won’t necessarily look like high school or university when almost all our spare time (and even class time) went into our friendships…drinking bubble tea after school, spending all day at the mall, or whispering nonsense to each other during lecture.  Friendships can look different when we get older like lunch breaks together at work instead of eating alone at your desk.  Maybe a quick encouraging text to someone you know is having a hard day.  A Skype chat to your friend living far away, or a playdate with your friend who is now a mom and would love to talk about something other than the latest kids TV show.  Whatever it may look like for you, enjoy it and stay open to it.  I know that when tough times come, it’s tempting to shut people out and pretend like everything is fine.  I found myself doing that this past year, afraid to burden others with my feelings or trouble friends with my stress.  But it doesn’t work…it just makes us worse inside.  Staying open and vulnerable with our friends is a challenge, but it is so worth it.

John and I are getting ready to go to his home country, Bangladesh.  It’s been a while since he’s been back, and it will be my first time there, so it’s pretty exciting!  Plus, this means I get to meet his family face to face which I’m looking forward to 🙂  Our mission while we’re there is to get his new passport and Thai Visa for his job here in Bangkok, and we pray and trust that everything will go smoothly and that we can return soon to our home in Thailand.  The trip took us by surprise because we were initially planning to go somewhere nearby like Singapore or Malaysia, but as it turns out, we are required to go to his country of origin for the documents we need.  Looking at these past few months, I feel that God has really brought about the trip in the perfect time.  Having just recently visited India, I have a number of new culturally appropriate outfits to wear in Bangladesh, and I am better prepared for the style of living, food, and culture.  It reminds me again that God is always steps ahead of us, preparing us for what’s ahead and giving us the tools to accomplish the tasks at hand.  We’ve also got some great new Canadian friends to visit with while we’re there that we met during our retreat in Phuket.  Please feel free to join us in prayer for our trip, that we would have favour with the government in retrieving the Visa and passport papers, and also that we would have a great time with the family!  I am excited to see what God shows us on this trip!

I must also add that I am now the proud aunty of the adorable baby Roxanna!!  My brother here in Thailand and his beautiful wife welcomed little Roxy into the world last month…five weeks earlier than expected.  She is healthy and strong, growing quickly and always ready to eat!  I love her and I can’t wait to get back from Bangladesh and give her lots of hugs and kisses!

roxyThe other exciting thing about this month is that my family from Canada came to visit us which has been the perfect taste of home.  It’s been awesome to have my mom’s home cooking, and have family dinners at the famous “Casa Pasta” on our street.  My dad has given the restaurant his Italian approval, and made it our official family dinner location.  Oh yeah…andddddd John and I celebrated our ONE YEAR wedding anniversary!!!  What an exciting month we’ve had!!!  🙂 🙂

Once we return to Bangkok, John will be continuing to work with “Dton Naam” Ministries in their cafe, called “Antique Cafe”.  The name “Dton Naam” means “source of water” and their ministry is to help bring new, life-giving opportunities to the transgender community in Bangkok. They have hired three new staff members, and the ministry is growing.  John is working hard to help make the cafe a professional and positive learning environment.  Please pray for him and the staff at Dton Naam, that they would be a blessing to their community and bring positive change to people’s lives.

I am continuing to serve at Newsong as the Children’s Pastor while also looking for some new opportunities to volunteer in my spare time.  At Newsong we’re also looking for a new pastor, so please pray that the right person comes at the right time.  I pray that someone with wisdom and a passion for God’s word, handpicked by God, would step in and help our community to grow.  I feel a sense of anticipation for our church and I believe the season is coming when we will see revival and growth like never before!

John and I have been praying about me making a visit to Canada in the fall (praying that John will be able to come soon too!!), partly because I’ve been missing Canada and also because I’d love to come and reconnect with my family, friends and church back home.  We are looking to form a team of supporters who want to join in on our mission here in Southeast Asia through prayer and financial support.  God has amazing things in store for Bangkok, Bangladesh and each country in between, and we need help as we take part in this journey God has for us!

johnandbex

If you’re interested in being a part of this adventure, or you feel led to support us in our work here, you can donate online at https://paoc.org/donate/johnrebeccaviapianaross.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, reading along with my adventures and being a friend 🙂  It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve got friends all over the world, some whom I’ve met face to face and others I look forward to meeting one day soon!

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11

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