There it was, a large white sign with the words “NO FOREIGNERS ALLOWED” painted in a very decisive shade of orange, and beyond it, a view of one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen in Thailand.
“Yikes,” I thought. “That looks pretty definitive.”
However, after a brief conversation, the car in which my husband and oldest daughter were riding, drove through, and the guard barely looked as I followed. “Maybe he only saw my Thai passengers,” I thought.
We were on a church retreat, our family of five with 9 Thai adults and 3 children. We had done some sight-seeing the previous day and then stayed up late playing games together. The plan was to spend a few hours at the beach before the day got really hot, and close the time with some worship together.
We had had some trouble finding the beach to begin with, but eventually the leader of our caravan had found his way to a beach maintained by the Thai Navy. We had first been stopped at a checkpoint a few kilometers away.
“No foreigners allowed,” the young guard stated.
Our Thai friends jumped in. “But they aren’t tourists,” they explained. “They live and work here. See, they have Thai driver’s licenses.”
“Okay, okay, you can go,” and they waved us through.
So now we had made it past the sign … unloaded our mats and beach bags and children … but before we could step across the road onto the white sand, and then run into the shades of aquamarine and sapphire that stretched before us, a guard approached my husband and me.
“You cannot stay here,” he said quietly, but the authority in his voice was unmistakable.
“Are you sure?” we asked. “The other guards let us through. We aren’t tourists.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered. “There are people who come to check, and you cannot stay.”
He was kind, however, when we petitioned him to allow our children to stay. And so, leaving our children in the care of our friends, my husband and I drove off to find a little shop where we could sip a Coke and wait.
It was a funny feeling, being shut out because of race. Our Thai friends were mortified, and the hardest part of the whole morning was assuring them that we really felt fine about leaving, and we wanted them to stay and have a good time. One of our friends said, “It must be because the beach is on Navy property. They have to make a rule to keep out potential spies.” Privately, I thought there might be other reasons. After all, I’ve been to Phuket, where I could hardly wait for the vacation to be over because of the various displays of un-dress on the beaches, as well as behavior that was completely opposite to Thai social norms.
But the experiences of the morning reminded me most of the One who took down the “NO FOREIGNERS ALLOWED” sign. At one time, we were separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
But now in Christ Jesus, we who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… And he came and preached peace to us who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then we are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God … (Ephesians 2).
Jesus made it possible so that in front of heaven, a different sort of sign could be posted: ALL FOREIGNERS ALLOWED.