Believe me, bustling, dusty Bangkok in late January, in the heat of the day, is not the ideal place for a middle-aged woman on her own to wander around in.
Especially one who can't read the street signs. I was feeling tired, hungry, sweaty, dehydrated and totally lost in this stifling city thousands of miles from home. It was the stuff of nightmares.
It happened some years ago now, but the experience is no less vivid today. I'd flown from Auckland to Thailand to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Baptist Federation. Granted, it was a long way to come for a two-day board meeting, but life had taught me never to pass up an opportunity to travel.
Bangkok, I discovered, was always sauna-like, although air conditioning did help. From the airport I'd taken a "meter taxi" (the safest kind) to the hotel — a thirty-minute ride along an expressway — at a cost of just 350 baht, the equivalent of ten US dollars. It had been a good start to my adventure.
I was staying down town at the Ibis Sathorn, a modest three-star hotel in a back street. Its café served a delicious dish called Tom Yam Goong. I always liked to try the local cuisine when I travelled. (Why waste an overseas experience on takeaways you could get back home?)
Meetings in an air-conditioned space occupied most of my two days, but Saturday was free since my flight home didn't leave until that evening. Daunted by the prospect of eleven hours in economy that night, I felt the need for some exercise. So I decided in the late morning to go for a walk through the sprawling park in Bangkok's centre.
Yes, it would be humid outside but I figured the heat was tolerable, short term. And there was no way I could get lost as long as I stayed in the park and stuck to the paths.
Confidence can trip you up, however.
When I emerged from my walk an hour or so later, via another gate, I took the wrong street and before long I was hopelessly disorientated. Panic set in, along with the grime, the pollution and the heat.
Finally I hailed a taxi.
"Can you take me to the Sathorn Ibis?" I asked the driver.
"No problem," he said.
What a relief! Having had all the exercise I wanted, all I needed now was a glass of water and a plate of Tom Yam Goong from the hotel café.
It turned out, however, that the driver had no idea of the address, despite the tourist map I showed him. So we ended up at the wrong hotel.
We set off again, and drove around. And around. And around. Soon I had visions of cruising around Bangkok eternally in 32-degree heat—hungry, parched, and forever separated from my loved ones. Hell would not have been too dissimilar. I craned my neck in an effort to discern any recognisable landmark.
A familiar face
As we turned down yet another street I noticed to my surprise some golden arches above a restaurant.
It was then that I spotted him. Standing outside to welcome me, with his palms together in that polite way in which Thai people greeted visitors, was Ronald McDonald! To say I delighted to see this plaster character would be to put it mildly. To see anything familiar in these chaotic surroundings was like discovering an oasis in a desert.
"Stop here!" I almost shouted to the taxi driver, and silently thanked my heavenly Father who knew just what I needed when I needed it.
"You want to get out here?" he asked in astonishment as the tyres screeched.
I paid him and stepped out. Despite my previous resolutions, I was about to enjoy an old-fashioned hamburger, fries and coke in the air-conditioned Bangkok "McThai" for about 100 baht total. ($US3). It hardly compared with the beautiful Thai cuisine I'd come to enjoy, but at that particular moment it saved my life. And no food from a Michelin star restaurant could have tasted better.
I recalled Jesus' words: "Look at the ravens—they don't plant or harvest or have barns to store away their food, and yet they get along all right—for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to them than any birds!" (Luke chapter 12 verse 24).
Refreshed by my meal I was ready to face Bangkok again. I had 500 bahts left, but would need these later for my airport taxi. So I decided to wend my way back to the hotel on foot. By asking strangers at every corner, I eventually found my way to the Ibis Sathorn. By this time it was close to three, and (feeling once more sticky) I'd had quite enough. At least the airport would be air conditioned and I could read there.
God is fully aware of the needs of his children. He will always provide for us, sometimes in surprising ways—and sometimes in mundane ones. Too often we don't even recognise his hand at the time. "Coincidences" happen, and only later do we acknowledge our Father's provision. Then we look back and marvel with gratitude.
"Remember, your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!" (Matthew chapter 6 verse 8 TLB).
Julie Belding is a freelance editor, ESOL teacher and grandmother of five.
Julie Beliding's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/julie-belding.html