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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, January 14, 2008

Feeling Small on Planet Earth

A couple years ago I wrote a post called "Geography and Me" about the "right brain" ways I saw the world as a kid whenever I studied the globe. This was partly because of the two-dimensional nature of maps and globes, but 21st Century technology has changed all that. Over Christmas Break, I spent hours playing with Google Earth. If you have not yet downloaded this free program and "explored the world," you're in for a treat.

Once you have Google Earth open on your screen, rotate the globe until your state or province is in the center. Now zoom in and adjust to your house or neighborhood--yes, you will be able to see it. Then zoom out until the entire earth seems lost in space. Now zoom back in again from outer space all the way to your house. You can do the same thing with any place in the world from Vancouver to Venice.

If you're like me, it makes you feel like a microscopic speck in a blue marble. Even more amazing is that the satellites that provide these images are focused only on Earth. If they showed the whole universe, we would see not only that we are specks on that marble but also that the marble is a speck among a million other specks in the universe.

Feeling that small brings to mind great literature like "Horton Hears a Who" by Dr. Seuss and songs like "From a Distance" (which is more of an artistic than theological expression). But even more, feeling small raises the echo of King David, the Psalmist, who asked God, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?..."

So is it any wonder that I, a speck among a billion other specks, can feel incredibly "lost" and amazingly "found" at the same time?

It's because this speck is not at all lost in a sea of specks. This speck we call Earth that revolves every 24 hours and finds its way around the sun every 365 days is precisely where God put it for His purpose. Do I fully understand this? Not after half a lifetime of wonder.

Do I believe it? With all my heart. When does it make the most sense to me? When I study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament against the backdrop of the Old Testament. Explaining the new paradigm, the new way of thinking about God and His relationship to man, was at the heart of Christ's parables and the hundreds of questions he asked of his listeners. Like the time He asked the lawyer "Who was neighbor to the man?" Jesus also had interesting ways of prompting good questions from his listeners, like the time they asked him, "When did we ever see you sick and visit you?" and he answered... "'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."

About ten years ago, my home church began sending a "medical missions team" of volunteer doctors, nurses, and helpers to the northern-most part of Thailand (formerly Siam) in the mountain region north of the modern city of Chang Rai. (Not Chang Mai... the smaller dot above that on the map.)

A couple months ago I was invited to go on this year's trip to make a video "documentary" about the work that has been done in those mountains with the Akha and Lahu tribes.

(Years ago, when I was a teacher and had my summers off, I owned a video business and put in thousands of hours behind a camera. It was good work, and I enjoyed it, but my schedule eventually made it impossible to do both "jobs." When we moved to Michigan in 2000, I packed up my equipment, and haven't done "paid" video work since.)

Back in November, the lead doctor on the team learned of my previous experience and asked me to consider joining them to make a video documentary. (They've wanted to do this for years.)

Julie and I prayed about it for a week before saying yes. It's probably no surprise that we are "home bodies." Julie is not going, but we knew it would mean my leaving family just a few days after dropping our middle daughter off at college in Chicago. It would mean delegating some of my school duties to the administrative team. They and the School Board were totally in favor of this global opportunity.

My mom's health also factored into the decision, but she and Bob were very supportive of the idea. She will even be able to spend a week here with Julie and Natalie while I'm gone (and while Bob is on assignment with some photography work for this Special Olympics fundraiser up north).

While they're keeping busy here, I'll be sleeping in the little hut on the left. Just kidding. We will be staying most nights in modern accommodations, but our days will be spent in jungle/ mountain villages like this. The team sets up what looks like a "MASH" unit and tends to the medical and dental needs of hundreds of people who otherwise go without this care (and the cases of medicines we have packed to take with us).

I've never traveled to this part of the world before. We will be flying out of Detroit, north around the top of the globe to Tokyo, Japan; then to Bangkok, Thailand; then north to Chang Rai. From there, we travel by truck caravan to smaller towns and villages. (These are some Akha women. These tribal people are the "least" of the least in the social order of Thailand. Though they have lived for generations within the borders, they are not considered citizens of the country. The royal family and government--which is in a state of flux--are beginning to accept these people into their lower class.) The great thing about going back to the same places year after year is that the team leaders maintain ongoing relationships with the people we help. There are many indigenous co-workers waiting for us to arrive.

Since Christmas, I've been packing, updating my video equipment, researching Thailand, and studying satellite maps and images. We leave early Friday morning, but it will be a busy week. Once there, I don't know whether I'll be able to post weekly updates. (We will have limited access to email, but I'm not sure Blogger will work from those connections. If not, I'll post again in February. Please pray for the team and the many people we will meet. Feel free to leave comments. If I can read them, they'll be encouraging from afar.)

Yesterday morning in church, they had the team stand and people gathered around us to pray for this two-week trip. Feeling that support was very humbling. Like that first time I zoomed in and out on our home from outer space, I felt simultaneously lost and found, needed and needy, empowered and yet very small... on planet earth.


Blogger J_G said...

Tom, I used to love traveling around but I haven't done much lately. My church sponsored a trip to Tanzania last year but I just wasn't up for going to Africa even though I would have liked to see where they mine "blue zoisite" more commonly called "Tanzanite" near Mount Kilimanjaro.

A trip to Thailand sounds very interesting. In my studies of minerals and gemstones I know that some of world's finest sapphires come from mines near Kanchanaburi. That area is also the real place where the events that spurred the idea for the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" took place during WII. Kanchanaburi Cool stuff to me and I hope you will be able to make it over there.

I have friend that was living in Bangkok but the last I heard from her was in 2006, she was in a place called Phi Phi Island (pronounced Pee Pee)

I hope you have a very enjoyable and adventurous trip and may the Lord be with you and your wife in your journey

14/1/08 3:39 AM  
Blogger J_G said...

I read your last post and I noticed that you made reference to a composer I enjoy very much and I recently featured on my New Years post.

14/1/08 3:47 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

I will pray for you and the group. When I read stories like this I marvel at how wonderful it is to belong to the Church.

14/1/08 6:58 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It's been a long time.
I'm sure there are many things I will learn about Thailand that I missed in my reading. I didn't mention that we will be up near "the golden triangle" known for its opium trade.
I love the "Bridge Over River Kwai." It was on just a few nights ago. (It made famous the whistled version of "Colonel Bogey March," which we as kids sang as "Comet. It tastes like Listerine/ Comet. It makes your teeth so green... etc.) I'll check out the link.
I should clarify that Julie is not going on this trip. I would enjoy that, but it's not possible at this time. That's one of the reasons the decision was not easy to make.
Good to hear from you again.

Dr. John,
Thanks. That means a lot. I'll try to keep POI readers posted.

14/1/08 10:44 PM  
Anonymous WSL said...

Again...I 'need' to go back and re-read this post to really let it all sink in properly. BUT I had to, just had to post my comments here too. Again you can take an idea and weave a story out of it that makes the idea come alive. Such a wonderful word picture (along with graphics...so is it really a "word" picture?:-) )
I will also have to google the world. I have often wondered about the whole of Creation and God's thoughts as He was going about it (besides what the Bible says). He made us such a speck as you say in a vast, vast Universe! So much to ponder here! So many questions that we might be able to ask in Eternity. Or will we automatically "know" them and won't have to??
I will pray for your trip and that you will be spiritually enriched by it!

14/1/08 11:28 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I am so excited for you and I have been anxious to hear about the trip ever since you first mentioned it in a post. This really sounds like an opportunity of a lifetime and I look forward to tagging along (with your blog) as you are able to update. You will be in my prayers and I do not say that casually- it comes from my heart along with some "knee" power! hehe

I know this is a sacrifice for you and your family and I admire you for using your God given talents for His glory. Blessings to you my friend.

15/1/08 10:09 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

How exciting. May God keep you safe and bless your trip. Thanks for coming out my way.

15/1/08 10:18 AM  
Blogger Cris said...

How exciting! I would like to take a trip to Tanzania one day. I have a child that I sponsor there. It would be wonderful to get to meet her one day.

I will certainly say a prayer for all of you. I hope you have a safe trip and I look forward to hearing any updates. :)

15/1/08 11:35 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thank you for the kind words and for thinking along with me on these matters. Back on April 15, 2007,(in the archives to the left) I began a series of posts called "Why Bloggers Blog." I met many of the POI readers/bloggers during that dialogue. Those April and May 2007 posts may be on interest to you. Thanks for praying for this Thailand Team.

Thanks for remembering us over the next two weeks. (We return February 2nd.) We just got word that the King of Thailand's sister (the Princess of Thailand) died last week and we will be involved in a Memorial Service this Sunday and were asked to bring appropriate dress for that event. Other than that, it will be cargo pants and layers of shirts. (It's summer there but cool in the morning.) I'm sharing this as if you asked a question related to this answer. =) I realize you didn't. =) Here is a specific prayer request. I've never attempted to get this much electronic and video equipment through customs. Please pray that those moments go smoothly and that all the equipment performs well over there, and that we (the team) reflect the amazing love of Christ through our actions.

You were one of the first people I told about this. Your advice helped me decide to go. Thank you. Your background and experience in this part of the world has been of interest to me since we first met. Thank you, Calvin.

It's true, isn't it, that once you have a face that you can see in a place, that place pulls at your heart. I have heard about this work in Thailand for many years, and I've met a handful of the indiginous leaders there as they have come here to the U.S. Thanks for praying for the people we will serve there.

15/1/08 8:36 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Oops! I meant to spell that word correctly...

I wood be lost without spellcheck.

15/1/08 8:40 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

I will be praying for you, the team and the people you meet along your journey. What an amazing opportunity. As I sit next to Wyndham's hospital bed, I've uttered several prayers today. It is humbling to me and overwhelming...mind-boggling, that God can see all the little details and listens to the prayers of all of our hearts. Simultaneously. From planet Earth. How people cannot believe in the Deity and divine Creator with the technology we have today- that allows us to grasp in a small way the magnitude of the earth and galaxies, is beyond me.
I hope you sense God's power and strength and purpose as you travel to Thailand. I know you will look forward very much to 'coming home'. See you when you get back.
Thoughts and prayers from all my family...to all of yours.

17/1/08 12:28 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Wyndham has been in our thoughts and prayers ever since you called the school yesterday. We've been keeping up-to-date through MS and DM but couldn't come by the hospital with all that's on our plate right now. Heard you spent the night. We're praying for Wyndham's soon return to school. It is mind-boggling, as you said,that God is mindful of us and in control through good and "bad" ... and equally mind-boggling that you have the peace to pray about anything else as you go through this recent ordeal.

I'll try to keep a running journal and post here whenever I have access.

17/1/08 3:02 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...


Very cool. I'm a little jealous. People who don't have as many possessions always seem to have more joy.

Can't wait to read your trip reports.


17/1/08 10:57 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I'm up early to check weather. Looks like we're going to get a winter storm tonight. At this time it is 7:15 PM Thursday in Thailand. They are 10 hours BEHIND us. (or is it 14 hours AHEAD of us? I'm not awake enough to remember, but I'll know in a few hours =)

One of the things we can learn from such trips is that...
True contentment has never been improved upon by "improvements."

This is my last internet access for a day or so. Have a great weekend!

18/1/08 5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're traveling then...and I remembered to pray for you this morning (Jody too in another blog)
May you have travel mercies and also a fantastic time in a different culture. We will be waiting to read about it here!

18/1/08 8:35 AM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, thanks for letting me know you'll be traveling to Thailand. that'll give me time to catch up reading here. haven't done much blogging since i haven't been feeling well. did a little 2 nites ago, so i'll do some more this weekend. i'll definitely keep you all in my prayers. have a wonderful, purpose-filled, safe trip.

18/1/08 8:58 AM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, have a wonderful adventure, and please be sure to tell us all about it. Have a safe journey.

18/1/08 7:19 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Anon, HC, and Josie,
I have momentary internet access. I am currently in Bangkok, but will soon be boarding a flight north to Chang Rai.

The post above is written in present tense but it was written yesterday en route. I was very tired at the time. =)

20/1/08 3:28 AM  

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