There is this space between Thailand and Burma. It’s no more than a half a mile long and a quarter of a mile wide. It runs right up to the river separating the two countries.
This space of land belongs to no one.
Thailand doesn’t want it.
Burma doesn’t want it.
This is No Man’s Land.
Here, there are no laws. There is no education system. There is no health care. Living inside makeshift homes are stateless people (people with no proof of citizenship to a country), wanted criminals, drug dealers, pimps, and the like. This small space is a trafficking hub, moving people discretely into a harrowing reality. This small space is a violent one, and I was told that it’s not uncommon to find bodies floating down the river from No Man’s Land.
It’s not a place for foreigners. It’s not a place for Thai or Burmese citizens. It’s a place for people trying to escape something.
Two weeks ago, I found myself walking along the perimeter of No Man’s Land, walking past little stands selling cigarettes and dried shrimp. I saw beautiful people and heard their voices. In the bushes of No Man’s Land, I saw a man moving discretely, trying not to be seen. That’s the goal of many in No Man’s Land.
Don’t be seen. Don’t be noticed. Blend in. Become forgettable.
This is No Man’s Land.
My friends who were with me that day, filled me in on the realities of this place, and as I heard the stories, a deep ache settled in my bones. There are times in our lives when, if we allow them to, stories and places and people have the power to make our entire being hurt. For me, I’m often left feeling breathless, tears at the surface of my eyes.
Even the words for prayer seem so very far away.
As the three of us sat together, kids and moms began to make their way to the river, no doubt seeking reprieve from the 100 degree temperatures of hot season. One of the kids floated on an old igloo cooler lid. Another splashed his friend. A few laughed and played together. One of the moms held her tiny baby close as she waded deeper into the water. In some ways, it was like watching a scene from a beautiful movie, one where friends and neighbors played together. And yet just behind the group was No Man’s Land—a place of little opportunity and little hope.
My heart did not break for the people of No Man’s Land because I wanted them to experience the American version of life in abundance. I didn’t want to see them in a two-story home with a white picket fence. I didn’t want to see them with hoards of money or possessions.
That’s not true abundance. That’s not a fulfilled life. That’s not the kind of hope you can anchor to.
My whole being ached because I so desperately wanted the people of No Man’s Land to experience the abundant hope and life and light that comes from the Father.
That day, sitting in the hot Thailand sun, my friends and I began to talk about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is something that is complex and beautiful and wonderful. You can’t hold it in your hands or build a fence around it’s borders. It’s impossible to describe fully, but you know it when you see it.
It’s a place of hope and love. It’s a place where the name of Jesus is proclaimed, where relationship is king, and the rites and rituals of religion take the back seat. It’s a place of belonging and being known. It’s a place where people are seen for who they are becoming, who the Father created them to be. It’s a place where the Holy Spirit is more than an idea. He is alive and active and moving and working. It’s a place that transcends culture and language and customs and traditions.
It’s for all people—westerners, Thai, Burmese, refugees, wanted criminals, stateless people, orphans, sons, daughters, moms, dads.
On that day listening to the sounds of No Man’s Land, the Holy Spirit asked me a simple question.
Can you imagine if my kingdom was being built in No Man’s Land.
Today, this small space of land is on the list of things I don’t quite know what to do with. As a foreigner, I cannot go into No Man’s Land. Even if I wanted to go in, I can’t speak the language. I am not the hope or the savior or the light of No Man’s Land. That’s not my job. I haven’t quite figured out what role I play in building God’s kingdom in No Man’s Land.
Can you imagine if God’s kingdom was being built in a place like No Man’s Land?
Can you imagine if the hopeless found hope? Can you imagine if the trafficker encountered the father? Can you imagine if the stateless family didn’t have to prove that they belonged to a place? Can you imagine if the criminal experienced redemption and reconciliation? Can you imagine if God’s kingdom was being built in No Man’s Land?
It’s on the list, the list of things I don’t quite know what to do with.
But it’s also on another list, the list of reasons why I will uproot my life in Nappanee, Indiana, and move 10 minutes away from the Thai/Burmese border. I don’t know what I am supposed to do to help build God’s kingdom in No Man’s Land, but I know that I have been called.
This calling is a calling to words, to bring hope through phrases and sentences and paragraphs. It’s a calling to bring words to people’s stories with dignity and respect. It’s a calling to share these stories with people all over the world, to teach them about places like No Man’s Land, about organizations like Outpour Movement. It’s a calling to remind people that God’s kingdom is being built all over the world. It’s a calling to remind people that the Kingdom is massive and beautiful and a beacon of hope in the midst of brokenness.
I believe that someday this will be said of No Man’s Land. Someday it will be a place of hope instead of a place of violence. It will be a place of family instead of of place of trafficking. It will be a place of abundant life instead of a place of merely existing. It will be a place of being known instead of a place of disappearing into the bushes.
This will be No Man’s Land.
“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed planted in a filed. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and the birds come and make nests in its branches.”
Matthew 13: 31-32
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