|Bomosa temple, South Korea|
It was past midnight and I slept fitfully, uncomfortable on the hard ground beneath my sleeping bag and the closeness of my tent. I was in my normal state of feeling sorry for myself and wishing that I was a totally different person - the kind that always did things right. I was convinced there were a lot of those kinds of people around, while I was the odd exception.
But there was a part of me that knew that whatever embarrassment or discomfort I had to go through, I had to do this. I had to face this experience and believe it would be good for me. The greatest shame was not what I was going through (which, thinking about it now, was so minor that it wasn't worth all the angst) but the thought of becoming a whiner and giving up and turning back. According to my standards, that would be an unforgivable shame. Giving up was for losers, and though I might be a mess-up from time to time, one thing I wasn't, was a loser. I had to make the best of the embarrassment and push forward.
Hours of discomfort had passed, and when it seemed like I finally drifted off into a real sleep, I noticed an intense warm light glowing all around me, even through my closed eyelids. It was my tent, radiantly orange in the morning sunlight, practically blinding me in my sleep. I was exhausted, but I couldn't take laying in what felt like a fireball. I was up and dreary eyed, wanting a nice clean bathroom, but instead having to stumble off to a bush to hide behind with a roll of toilet paper in hand. Nowhere to brush our teeth, we hadn't showered for over 24 hours and it didn't look like were would get clean any time soon.
Coach Gustafson was up and raring to break camp. "This is the worst camping trip I have ever been on," she said, "There are no campsites in this place, we've got to find a better place to pitch our tents. This is awful."
No one had eaten since the train trip, but she was determined to find another spot to settle in and then eat our breakfast. So with our tents folded and repacked, we hefted those heavy bags back onto our sore backs and started hiking again. My arm was feeling really painful, and was so swollen underneath that it felt as if someone had implanted a baseball under my upper arm. But I was not going to be a whiner, so I marched. We climbed higher as the sun shone brighter and hardly anyone talked.
At the time I didn't see any spiritual lesson or revelation from God, but He was speaking and teaching me some valuable things through the trip and many more were yet to come before the week ended. I was completely unaware that my determination to go through shame, pain and discouragement was an act of faith. Faith that God would see me through this and that He would work out the rest. My determination was just a simple attitude, not a great spiritual gesture, yet it allowed God to start turning things around for me and teaching me about what is possible when you step out in faith. I didn't feel very spiritual, but I was connecting with God doing what I believed I had to do. I suppose all those Sunday school lessons on perseverance and doing the right thing were so embedded in me that I didn't see any other option.
We finally got to a spot where we decided to pull out some of our food rations and eat a bit of breakfast. We sat on a hillside with some boulders for seats, and ate. With a beautiful view of the valley and some food in our stomachs, everyone's mood changed, and smiles came back on everyone's faces. I was getting hot and decided to use just the t-shirt that was under my sweatshirt. As I pulled off my top layer, the girls gasped to see my deformed arm. It had turned an intense shade of reddish purple, and every vein and capillary was visible on the badly swollen spot between my elbow and shoulder.
Coach was the most shocked at the sight - all of a sudden her voice became tender and caring as she inspected my arm. "Are you going to be okay? Do you think it might be broken? Should we take you to a hospital?" She asked with genuine concern.
No, I was fine, I said. It wasn't broken, just badly bruised. And anyway, how was I supposed to go to a hospital without my parent's documents or money out in the middle of nowhere? I saw a look of approval on Coach's face. I was being brave and she was proud of me for it. At that moment the whole burden of guilt and embarrassment vanished, and I felt validated that a tough lady like her could be proud of a mess-up like me.
We kept on hiking and looking for a better spot after breakfast, and finally we found it - the perfect place. It was a grassy clearing on the side of a hill, close to a babbling stream where we could wash our things and ourselves. It felt private and tucked away far from the noisy temple area. And then Rachel and Naomi began to shout.
"Look, look! It's Narnia, we're in Narnia! Look at those mountains, it looks just like Cair Paravel where the kings and queens of Narnia have their thrones!"
Sure enough a beautiful mountain among many others was directly across from our little hillside, and atop that mountain was a huge rocky outcropping that looked like it could be a palace. We decided that the next day we all had to climb it and see the rest of our lovely Narnia.
We pitched our tents again, sure that this was the best place ever, and decided to do some exploring. Coach Gustafson had never seen a Buddhist temple, and was curious to know what it was like. A few girls chose to stay behind and rest at camp to keep an eye on our stuff, while others of us went with her to look at the ancient buildings with their ornately painted statues.
Most of us on this trip were raised in Korea, and though our missionary parents were there to spread the gospel and win new converts to Christ, we were all taught to have a respect for the traditional religions there. Of course they were false gods, but making fun of them or even feeling fearful or disgust with them was not acceptable. The Koreans worshipped these things according to traditions that had formed over hundreds of years, and many had never known any other god to worship. Buddhism was all over Korea, as well as animism - the worship of the spirits of nature. It was so ordinary for us, we didn't even think twice about it. So it was an interesting experience to watch the reactions of our coach as she took it all in for the first time.
The entrance to the temple held huge, grotesquely scary statues on both sides, considered to be "temple guardians" painted with bulging angry eyes and lifting spears and swords as if they were ready to impale anyone who walked through. They would supposedly scare away evil spirits. From there we went from one hall to another where different Buddhas and gods stood or sat in different positions, all with incense burning around them and coins of offerings tossed at their feet by their worshippers. Some had a few silent followers from the local town bowing and praying to them, mumbling and holding prayer beads or throwing a rounded kind of dice like object to determine if the Buddha was giving them a yes or a no to their request. Shaven headed monks in their grey robes hung around, doing whatever monks were supposed to do.
Coach Gustafson was deeply disturbed by what she saw. She was angry, sad, and felt such agony to see these people praying to carving that they believed to be a god. I had never seen anyone react like that before. It was as if her heart ached for their souls. What I thought would be just a fun trip to see a historic site, turned out to be a sobering time to reflect on what real faith was, and what was wrong with me that I had seen Buddhists worshipping at their statues hundreds of times in my life and had never cared one way or another about them. What kind of Christian doesn't care? What kind of a faith did I really have?
As we made our way back to camp, I wondered what else we would do, and whether this would turn out to be boring trip now that we had settled in. I was completely wrong. There was so much more yet to happen, and so much that God wanted to show me.