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Derryl and Karen Friesen

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Derryl and Karen Friesen's Blog


Meet Rudolph (and a very cool little girl)


Meet Rudolph (and a very cool little girl)!


“You have to be a little crazy to keep your sanity”. As an 18-year-old teen I coined this silly mantra but in all seriousness this paradoxical maxim has actually helped guide my life over the past 30 years. It has, in fact, become part of my job! One of my greatest joys is helping brilliant, motivated young Bible translators bust loose from their dead serious task of helping save a desperate world and get out to have some fun. The longer I live the deeper I fathom the depth of just how serious life really is . . . and how vitally important the “joy factor” is in our lives.

Here in this very context of helping others re-discover joy, I meet Rudolph. On a recent trip back to Thailand to renew my Thai work permit I took the opportunity to look up my friend, Ben, a Bible translator-in-training studying linguistics at Payap University. I had hoped he could go camping with me the following weekend, but he declined, citing heavy workloads, stress and a deadline of 160 pages worth of language research to be submitted in the next three weeks. His wife and two young kids were in America. Feeling alone and overwhelmed, his laconic words spoke volumes, “It’s been a grueling semester”.

“Dude!” I countered, “You love riding motorcycles. You need to get out and clear your head. Let’s go for a ride!”

Get out!

​​Midway through an exhilarating, 250 kilometer Sunday afternoon jaunt through some of the most spectacular curvy mountain roads in the world, we pulled our motorcycles up to a rest-stop. We could not count the times exuberant whoops of sheer joy had burst from within our helmets as we leaned, braked and accelerated in and out of corner after glorious corner. Life seemed it could get no better as we sat down to eat grilled garlic chicken and sticky rice at the side of the road.

“Derryl, did you see that guy looking at us?” Ben quipped as we licked the last of the grease from our fingers. “A guy just slowly rode by at a snail’s pace staring us down!”    

“Nope!” I was too busy savoring garlic-basted fowl to notice.

“Derryl, he is coming back towards us”.

I glanced up to see an older Caucasian gentleman, stepping off his diminutive Honda Dream scooter, eyes boring into the two of us. He wore no helmet but donned a beige woolen toque similar to the knitted hats worn by Buddhist monks in the cold. His bespectacled face and neat scarf wrapped around his neck gave him a unique and distinguished appearance. He strode straight towards us, stuck out his hand and announced, “Hello. I am Rudolph!”

I determined a strong, weathered Dutch accent. This guy had been around the block a few times.


Life is tough . . . for everyone. For Rudolph, despite flashes of happy moments throughout his life, the post-Eden curse constricting the heart of every human on the planet was very real. “Through painful toil you will eat food from the earth all the days of your life”, reads the Genesis account. Like an unsuspecting rabbit suddenly clutched in the death grip of a python’s powerful coil, each of us knows the dread of desperately struggling to free ourselves from the hold of the enemy, frantically sucking for a single breath of life. Jesus warns us Satan’s very purpose is to kill, steal and destroy. Our joy seems to one of his favorite targets.   

Rudolph was in fact Dutch. At 71-years-old he has been coming to Thailand for four months every year for 40 years! He comes wandering the tens of thousands of miles of mountain roads seeking purpose, truth and the meaning of life. For nearly an hour Rudolph recounted tales of his life, spirituality and quest for truth. “I am a lost, wandering old bird”, he confided, “a nomad simply unable to settle down”.

On the topic of faith, he grew visibly saddened; “I find religion magical”, he shared. “But after all these years I don’t understand the Buddhist faith. They teach and chant and meditate, but in the end there is no God and their goal is to become one with nothing! Why teach anything in the first place if your goal is to become nothing?”  

“Rudolph”, I replied, trying to chase the image of a red-nosed reindeer from my head, “I agree and I am pretty sure I know what you are looking for. It’s nearly Christmas. May I tell you a story about my four-year-old granddaughter?”

He nodded.

My friend Ben stood looking on with a wide grin across his face, wondering where all this was going. A few hours earlier he had felt nearly crushed under the heavy load of discouragement and despair. Now, standing before our new-found friend Rudolph, our hearts nearly burst with gladness as we shared our brimming Jesus-faith and joy with this genuine-hearted ‘person of peace’.

I have heard it said true ministry can only happen from the overflow of pure joy from our hearts. Standing as a small trio in that parking lot, joy began to flow. I began . . .

“Rudolph, I believe it’s a miracle we are meeting in this place at this time. Normally, I live and work here in Thailand together with my wife, Karen. But this year I am actually staying in Canada and just visiting for a couple weeks. And today, I ‘just happen’ to be out for a ride with my friend Ben and we meet you!”

“Back in Canada God has blessed us with six adorable grandchildren who have utterly stolen our hearts. Every time we separate and need to return to Thailand it feels as though a massive chunk of our hearts is yanked from our chests”.

“Recently we were driving home late at night on a long, lonely stretch of highway with our eldest son and his little family. From the darkness a small, sad little voice peeped up from the back seat. ‘Bibi and Babu (that is Karen and me), you guys can’t sleep at our house tonight can you?’ Emaya is four-years-old. By God’s miraculous grace this little girl has absolutely fallen in love with us and longs to be near us every chance she gets”.

What is your joy factor?

“‘No’, I replied, ‘tonight we have to sleep somewhere else”’.

“Silence . . . then Emaya’s little voice split the drone of the wheels pounding the pavement, ‘Bibi and Babu, why do you guys live in the sky?’

Live in the sky? Where on earth did she get an idea like that?!”

“Then it struck me . . . of course she thinks we live in sky! Her house is under the flight path of the Calgary international airport. She sees airplanes coming and going every day. When we return from Thailand her mommy and daddy take her to the airport to get Bibi and Babu. When we leave, they drive us back and watch us fly off into the sky. Where is Thailand? In Emaya’s four-year-old world it is obvious – the same place as Santa Claus! Thailand is somewhere in the sky!”

“But whenever we come back from the sky, Emaya loves sleepovers with us complete with movies, popcorn and gummy bears. She loves it when we lie down on the floor beside her “big girl” bed and lay quietly in the dark as she drifts off to sleep.

A few weeks ago in the darkness I reached up and rested my hand up on her bed. As she tossed and turned, settling in with her pillow and stuffy toys, her hand unexpectedly brushed against mine”.


“Slowly her little warm hand began to run along mine, gently exploring each wrinkle, finger and then finally my wedding ring. A few moments later she pulled away, grabbed her teddy bear and returned to my hand. In the quiet stillness of that darkened room, I felt my precious Emaya cuddle up to my hand, gently slip her tiny hand into mine, breathe a deep sigh of repose and drift slowly off into dreamland”.       

​  ​  . . . safety, love, protection . . .

I stopped the story there. I looked into the eyes of the old nomad and questioned, “Rudolph, what do you think my granddaughter Emaya was feeling in those moments as she drifted off to sleep?”

Stroking his clean shaven chin he pondered, “Oh, I imagine contentment, safety, love, protection . . .”

“Yes!” I continued enthusiastically, “Value, security, companionship, intimacy, rest! If you think about it, Emaya in that simple moment was experiencing in her little soul a fleeting fulfillment of nearly every emotional human need on the planet”.

“Rudolph, this is what your heart is longing for. I dare say in your decades of rootless wandering you have, on more than a few occasions, brushed up against the hand of God. In these moments you felt His very Presence and echoes of those very things my granddaughter felt that night. This is His forever desire for you. I am imperfect and what Emaya felt in my presence that night was imperfect and temporary. What God has waiting for you is perfect, permanent and for eternity.”

“But”, I continued, glancing over at Ben with a big grin, “that is not the whole story. Although Emaya felt these feelings of safety and contentment in her own little heart that night, she had not the slightest clue what was going on in the heart of the one whose hand she was holding”.

“For me, in that moment, the world stood still. Something so potent flooded my being I could barely contain it. The stark realization that this little person loved me nearly blew my mind. In this moment she found me and then chose me. She could have turned away to the wall and chosen any number of lifeless stuffed animals or dolls, but she chose me! Then it struck me. This intoxicating sense of being so fully and completely alive was joy; the overwhelm of such intense delight I had no idea if it would come out as uncontrollable laughter or tears or both at the same time”.

“Then epiphany struck. ‘As a child of God, when I choose HIM over the myriads of lifeless counterfeits of love pressing in around me, I have the ability to fill the heart of my Heavenly Father with such inexpressible joy all heaven cannot contain it! If this is the glorious, yet imperfect joy a human can feel in response to the love of a little child, what is the breadth of perfect joy our Father in Heaven feels when one of His children discover HIM, choose HIM and slip our little hands into HIS?!”      


Our Heavenly Father desires us!  ​(Emaya with her daddy)

“Rudolph”, I continued, “our lives are often stricken with grief. Our dreams are shattered under the brutal barrage of an enemy seeking to steal, kill and destroy. But Jesus promises that His divine purpose is to give us abundant life in all its fullness. When Jesus shows up and whispers, ‘Peace be with you’, our lives are forever transformed. In that moment, uncontrolled, overwhelming, joy bursts from our souls like a flood – silence one moment, then tears flowing, abandoned laughter, hugs and dancing!”

“Rudolph, your Heavenly Father is homesick for you. He longs to be near you. As you brush up and feel the warmth of His Presence, and choose Him above all others, He yearns to gloriously fulfill ever longing your heart has ever felt. And know this; as you choose Him, the heart of your Heavenly Father will burst with such joy, nothing in heaven and earth will be able contain it. Rudolph, can we pray for you?”

The aging 71-year-old nomadic bird reached out, grasped my hands, together with Ben’s and cupped them up around his heart. “This is so beautiful. I will cherish these words for a very, very long time. Yes. Please pray for me”.   

As we separated I had Ben snap a quick photo. “Rudolph, we may never again meet here on this earth, but in the meantime, keep seeking the love of our Father. And let’s make an appointment to meet again in heaven. I really want to hear the rest of your story!”

As he adjusted his scarf and stepped onto his scooter, a final question suddenly popped into my head, “Rudolph, I am curious. What made you turn around and come talk to us, anyway?”

“Oh, I just had to. I felt this strange energy pulling me towards you!”

As he motored out of sight Ben and I laughed out loud, grinning ear to ear, “That would be definitely be the Holy Spirit!”

The Spirit of God blowing fresh in our hearts!

The wind to our face, we finished off another 100 spectacular kilometers through panoramic jungle mountain paradise. Ben the Bible translator-in-training returned home fresh, full of new vigour and ready to face the academic rigors of a life given to shattering Bible poverty in Asia. I returned brimming with joy knowing the devil was down by the count by three; one for Ben, one for me, and one for Rudolph. We all were one step closer to Jesus with the courage to face yet another day.

The Holy Scriptures declare the “joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10 NLT). If this is true (and it is!) then we commit the rest of our lives in helping people find their joy factor, getting a little crazy and taking the enemy down a notch with a good dose of godly laughter.


Comments (2)

David Fisher
David  Fisher  Photo

Wow what an excellent blog! It's a well told and inspirational story. Thank you Derryl! 

Joni Taylor
Joni Taylor Photo

You shared this analogy of your love and 'heart-bursting' joy when your granddaughter chose your hand to hold, your security, your love, etc.  earlier with me after our missions conference, and I'm grateful to be reminded of it again.   I know that feeling well, and I loved how you connected it to how God feels when we choose him.  You are so gifted in sharing the love of God, and you and Karen both bring so much joy into lives.  Thanks for your encouragement, and I pray that you will have an amazing 2018, enjoying the joy of the Lord fully as you faithfully serve wherever you are.

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