This weekend, the Buddhists in Thailand observed their Lenten season, and all the schools across the nation were closed for a four-day weekend. That gave us the opportunity to take the kids from Doi Saket 3 and 4 out to the Chiang Mai Zoo and Aquarium. I’m at the point of the trip where I’m conserving my cash pretty carefully, so Pastor Mike Flinchum, one of our ministry advisors, generously kicked in some of his own money to help make the trip possible.

The kids were thrilled when they heard about the field trip, and apparently woke up very, very early clamoring for the day to begin. When we arrived at the zoo at the agreed-upon time, all of the kids and staff were already there, waiting for who-knows-how-long for us to arrive and pay the entrance fee.

The Chiang Mai Zoo is built into the side of a mountain. Unless you’re fit like Lance Armstrong and don’t mind drowning in your own sweat, the best way to get around is via tram. After we paid for the tickets, we jumped aboard a couple of these open-sided buses and headed up the mountain, around the bend to the aquarium.

It’s a good aquarium. It’s not as good as Chicago’s Shedd, but it’s good. But for a bunch of hilltribe kids who, until a year or so ago had never seen the outside of their village, it was absolutely mindblowing. In my everyday American life, I’m really pretty jaded, inured by my ready access to entertainment and amusement. But being here with these kids, I really get to rediscover my sense of wonder.

After the kids finally tired of walking through the glass tunnel and gawking at the scuba diver feeding the stingrays, we decided to see the rest of the zoo. Only we didn’t really get out of the tram until the last stop before the exit. As we passed the exhibits, the kids would squeal in Thai, “Ostrich!” or “Ooooh! Elephant!” As we headed through a densely forested portion of the zoo, I yelled, “Dinosaur!” and let out a loud roar. I think that at least two of the kids soiled themselves.

At the last stop, we got up close and personal with some hippos and posed for pictures with some pathetic costumed actors, who were probably crying sweltering tears inside their hot, hot foam-rubber sarcophagi.

It was a fantastic day. It was more than just a trip to the zoo, it was another chance to help rebuild the childhood which was stolen from these kids by death, disease and despair. The laughter, the hugs, the pointing and screeching all seemed, well, holy.