I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, it has happened fast. It did come out of nowhere. I also understand that it will take a lot of work and a lot of time to make this relationship work. But honestly, it’s not what you think. I haven’t met a man, I’m marrying the land.
I sat in the living room of my leaders during the first few days in Thailand as they oriented me in the basics of Thai culture and what to expect in the weeks ahead. As they talked about my objectives as an apprentice in the ministry one phrase popped up. It was said three times, each time reiterating to me it’s importance: “Marry the land. Marry the land. Marry the land.”
As a writer metaphorical statements like this intrigue me. Like a snap of the fingers, they grab my attention and alert my imagination, because they are more then just words. There is a depth of meaning that needs to be peeled back layer by layer. Those three words paint a picture of a potential experience, a way of life that I can either learn to embrace or apathetically ignore. Yet, even though I know what marriage looks like from a distance, and I understand the concept of “marrying the land” on a surface level, a myriad of questions filled my mind. What does a marriage relationship look like, and what aspects of a marriage between a man and a woman can apply to a metaphorical marriage of a person to a nation? How am I supposed to marry a land that I don’t have any particular emotional ties to? When I don’t even know her language? What if I don’t want to stay here forever? How do I know when I have “married the land”?
This picture as well as the questions it includes have been bouncing around in my mind. I’ve been meditating and chewing on them, as well as asking some of the other missionaries their thoughts: “How do you marry the land?” And the results of the chewing and the discussing have helped me to come to some conclusions.
I’m sure it has been made quite clear that I am incredibly passionate about the nation of Nepal. Honestly, I sometimes annoy myself with how much a talk about it! I would say that if I compare relationships with nations to romantic relationships, I am in love with Nepal. So that left me feeling a little awkward about my pursuit of Thailand. But unlike marriages in real life, I believe that God is showing me that I can be fully committed to multiple nations, and in this season He has arranged my betrothal to the Thai people.
I’m brought back to the story of Hosea and Gomer in the Bible, another metaphorical picture that I love to ponder on. God arranges for Hosea, whose name means “to deliver” and foreshadows Christ, to be married to a prostitute, who symbolizes Israel. No matter what Gomer does or how many times she leaves him for other men, Hosea never gives up on her. He pursues her fiercely and lavishly. The Bible doesn’t say whether he loved her before he married her, but it is made clear that he learned to love her in the same way that Christ loves the Church.
When I see this example set by Hosea, the examples of the Godly husbands I see daily, and the superseding example of Christ our Deliverer, I see three key elements to marriage that I long to embody here in Thailand: intentional pursuit, emotional commitment, and Christlike humility.
The intentional pursuit is the stuff that almost every girl gushes over in romantic movies. They are the little things that are mapped out that carry a message of love to the one being pursued. I’ve only just arrived in Thailand so I barely speak any Thai. And Thai people, being very relational, don’t tend to just jump into friendships. But I’ve realized that in order to initiate those relationships I need to be intentional with the small things. I need to practice smiling and saying: “Sawatdee kaa, Sabaidee mai?” (Hello, How are you?) I need to make eye contact and consistently visit certain shops. If I’m going to win over my “bride” I need to get her attention first!
As I wrote in “Risking Exposure”, God has recently been teaching me that to love is to let my guard down, to be vulnerable, even when I know I might get hurt. Gomer left Hosea tons of times and each time she came back, no matter how hurt he was, he made the emotional commitment to continue loving her. How many times do God’s children do the same to Him? And how much more steadfast is His love? Even though I don’t know how long I will be in Thailand, I will choose to not build boundaries around my heart and anticipate my day of departure. I will choose to allow myself to love her and her people moment by moment.
One of the most beautiful sentences in the Bible in my opinion is Ephesians 5:25-27:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
I don’t just like it because it tells husbands that they need to treat their wives well. I think that concept is shadowed by the majestic yet humble picture of what Christ has done for us. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it now. He gave it ALL. Sometimes we forget the immensity of that sacrifice, the humility that the Son of God clothed Himself in so that WE could be His Bride. How much more willing should we be, in our humble humanness, to lay ourselves down for the lost?
Love costs something. Christ has called us to more then just surface level, temporary, easy love. He has called us to the ministry of reconciliation. He has called us to lay it all down for Him, to sacrifice all we have to love those who might never return the sentiment. There are people and nations out there who are desperately waiting for their Deliverer. Are you ready to pursue intentionally, to commit emotionally, and to humble yourself like Jesus? Are you ready to be called to marriage?