Introducing the YAV House

Young Adult Volunteer Program

Young Adult Volunteer Program

In 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Christ in Thailand (our partner in mission here) will open a new site for Young Adult Volunteers in Thailand.  We’ve been planning this for over a year and are so excited that it will finally happen!  The Young Adult Volunteer program of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a one-year adventure in Christian service and servant leadership for college graduates between the ages of 21 and 30.  It has several objectives:

  • To experience living in intentional Christian community — Whether or not the young adults live under the same roof, they explore what it means to be a Christian community.
  • To focus on spiritual formation — Through the mentorship of site coordinators and fellow interns, young adults reflect on their experiences and ex­plore their relationship to the church and their ministry in a broken world.
  • To engage young adults in the church’s mission — The church seeks to provide opportunities for young adults to serve the church and their communities. Young adults experience and develop leadership within communities of faith. With training and support, they can provide leadership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in the ecumenical church.
  • To assist YAVs in vocational discernment.
  • To be present in communities of need and to facilitate young adults’ engagement in communities of need.
The Bangkok YAV House

The Bangkok YAV House

In Thailand, the YAV program will have some unique characteristics.  In the first place, all the Young Adult Volunteers who serve in Thailand will live together in one of three sites.  In 2014, the first YAV House that will opened will be in Bangkok.  It will house four volunteers who will serve in four different ministries of the church. The Bangkok YAV House is the house that I moved into just before Christmas.  It is a tiny three-story building, nestled among towering condominium complexes, on a small lane between two major streets in Bangkok. Its best feature is its proximity to the best rapid transit system in the city: the Bangkok Skytrain.  It is only a ten-minute walk away!  The walled “yard” is barely larger than the footprint of the house and is entire made of poured concrete. There are four-and-one-half bedrooms (I don’t think the last room really qualifies as a bedroom, but we are putting a bed in there anyway!) and four baths, a kitchen, a living room, and a third-floor terrace that stares out onto monoliths of Bangkok skyscrapers. You can hear traffic and sirens all night long and the glow from the lights of the condominium parking areas keeps the building well-lit at all hours of the day and night.

The Living Room Today!

The Living Room Today!

But inside, it is a whole new adventure.  Last night, at 10 PM, we unloaded the truck from Chiang Mai that delivered all of my worldly possessions to Bangkok.  Five delightful young men (including a new neighbor and the night watchman from the condominium complex on the opposite side of the lane) helped us unload the truck and get everything inside and out of sight.  Boxes, a mattress, chairs, and more boxes block the view of everything in the living room except the front door (on the right).  There are more boxes on the second floor and even more on the third floor. And I have company coming tomorrow :)!  The four CVT volunteers from Nagaland will be spending the weekend with me because, on Thursday, 2 January, they have to be on hand to go to the Ministry of Labor to pick up their work permits and then travel to Thai Immigration to get their visas extended.  It will be fun to see whether we can a) find and put together a bed so that no one has to sleep on the floor and b) find more washcloths and towels so that none of them will repeat my experience of last Sunday!  If all goes well, I should have some idea of what it will be like to have four YAVs in the house.  Don’t stop praying for us!  Happy New Year!

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Christmas Caroling: Have You Ever Really Done It?

The Caroling Group 2013

The Caroling Group 2013

One of the things that I forgot in the years that I was away from Thailand was the tradition of Christmas caroling the way that Thai Christians do it.  You haven’t really done it until you have done it here and, once you have earned your stripes, they never forget… and neither do you!  The beginning is innocuous enough: A group people pile into a car or van and drive to someone’s home.  Once there, they pile out of the car, gather around the front door, hit a few chords on the guitar, and beginning singing familiar Christmas songs.  Having sung a few songs, the group sings “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” to end the concert. The lights in the house come on and the “carolees” (as opposed to “carolers”) come out to greet the group and invite them in for refreshments.

One Dessert Among Many

One Dessert Among Many

That’s where all similarity to any caroling I have done in the USA ends.  It is not just the last house that invites the carolers in – it is EVERY house.  It is not just the last house that offers “refreshments” – it is EVERY house. And, in Thailand, “refreshments” do not consist of a sweet and a hot cup of something – it is a FULL MEAL, sitting down at a table and chowing down on rice and curry, noodles and soup, fresh fruit and dessert.  Thus, a caroling stop can take from 45 minutes to an hour-and-a-half. And carols are not just sung to households of one church in a small geographic area – they are sung to ANYONE identified as being important to someone and they might live as far away as 120 kilometers (a 90-minute drive).

Dawn Breaking Over Rice Fields near Ratchburi

Dawn Breaking Over Rice Fields near Ratchburi

The end result is that a Christmas caroling adventure with a list of 13 households to visit turns into an all-night blowout.  We left the office at 6 PM on Friday to drive to the first house and we had breakfast on the patio of the last house as dawn broke over the rice fields of Ratchburi 120 kilometers from Bangkok.  I lost count of the number of times we got lost and had to call for instructions.  I lost count of the times we sang “Joy to the World” and other Christmas favorites. I staggered into my house at 10:30 AM on Saturday, hoarse, bleary-eyed and stumbling.  I managed to stay awake until 5 PM, when I finally gave up the ghost and went to bed, sleeping without any problems until dawn on Sunday.  But I would not trade those 16 hours of singing, laughing, sharing stories and eating goodies beyond full for anything. That group from work will be my buddies forever! Merry Christmas!

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A Christmas Story

Rev. Kenneth R. Bryant

Rev. Kenneth R. Bryant

This Christmas has not been as filled with as much joy as Christmases in former years.  Just the week before Christmas, we learned that my older brother, Ken (who serves as pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Greenville, Illinois) has a mass in his brain and that he will have to undergo surgery before the New Year. He has lost some motor function, but doctors assure us that it is not a stroke.  It may be malignant, but an MRI has shown us that it has not metastasized to other areas of his body. With a wife, two children, three grandchildren and an entire congregation in Greenville waiting for news, I ask for your prayers for him and the doctors as they proceed with surgery.  He has always been a role model and great older brother and I am selfish enough to want to keep him here on this earth awhile longer.

Nellie and Friend at Home

Nellie and Friend at Home

And I almost lost Nellie, my miniature pinscher, a second time after Thanksgiving this year. She was bitten by a tick and infected with a blood disorder that took her platelets down dangerously low before I realized that she was so ill. When she lost all interest in food, playing, or even getting out of her bed, I knew she was seriously ill. Her liver function was very bad, but the doctors responded very quickly and, with antibiotics and some liver support medication, she has turned around rather quickly. I have been warned that, since she has already been infected once, it will be much more severe if she is ever infected again.  So, we are to avoid grassy areas that have not been treated. (Fortunately, Bangkok does not have many grassy areas.) The doctors have said that she should be her “normal self” in about six weeks.

Bangkok at Night

Bangkok at Night

Finally, I made the move to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, in order to begin working at the headquarters of our partner church, assisting with ecumenical relations. My new responsibilities dovetail quite well with my role as Coordinator of Christian Volunteers. In this new role, I am responsible for all Christian missionaries working in Thailand who have visas issued under the auspices of our partner church. That is a total of 117 people (together with their families). Many of the things I already do for our 14 volunteers, I will also be doing for these 117 others (visiting them, counseling them, providing opportunities for them to gather together to learn about each other and work together, and offering opportunities for rest, retreat, and spiritual growth).  What was difficult was moving at Christmastime and not really experiencing the joy of Christmas with special friends and family at this wonderful, miraculous time of year.

The CCT Headquarters as Seen from an Elevated Train Stop

The CCT Headquarters as Seen from an Elevated Train Stop

But there was one thing that happened to show me with crystal clarity that my God loves me and, in all this, cares for me – even in the little things.  I moved into my Bangkok house with just the things in my one suitcase on the Saturday before Christmas. I had arrived in Bangkok from Chiang Mai on Friday afternoon, in time to join the Christmas party at the CCT office and join them caroling on Friday night.  The caroling group left the office at 6 PM Friday night and returned at 10:30 AM Saturday morning, having driven all the way to Nakhon Pathom and then Ratchburi to sing at someone’s home. Exhausted, but afraid I would not sleep that night if I went to bed at 10:30 AM, I got on the BTS Skytrain and went to the grocery store, picking up things I needed for the house. Still, I was in bed by 5 PM, totally worn out. I am not as young as I used to be!

The Gift

The Gift

Sunday morning, I got up and took a shower and washed my hair.  I always travel with a bar of soap and washcloth, so that was not a problem. The problem arose when I was done and looked around for a towel to dry off.  Ha! Ha! That was NOT in my suitcase. However, two blankets of Nellie’s were and they were clean, so I used them. Dog blankets are not known for their absorbency, but it was better than dripping dry. I made it to church at Suebsampanthawong Church (4th Thai Church close to Bangkok Christian College) where my landlord and Mr. Kusak, a Thai friend of my parents, both worship.  After the early service, I sat in the fellowship hall and drank some tea. Several people came and introduced themselves.  Mr. Kusak came by, handing out some red and green bags to various people, saying “Merry Christmas”.  He greeted me and handed me a red bag and said “Merry Christmas”. I took the bag home after church and, when I got home, I opened up the bag.  There was only one thing inside: a bath towel. God is taking care of me.  God will take care of you, too.  Merry Christmas!

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Still Beautiful, But Facing a New Challenge

At the Confluence of Rivers in Sangklaburi

At the Confluence of Rivers in Sangklaburi

I have blogged about the beauty of Sangklaburi before – sharing photos of the mountains and the rivers close to Thailand’s border with Myanmar.  I had the chance to visit that area again last week as I took our new CVT volunteer, Lindsey Monroe, up to the village where she will be working. Sangklaburi is still beautiful, as this photo – taken in the light of dawn – will attest. The morning mist hovers over the water and hides the mountains from view. Still, it is a place that draws many visitors, especially after the rains have stopped and the air turns crisp and cool. The first breath of coolness came through as we visited, lifting the dampness and making each day comfortable to be outside.

The Battered Remnant of the Wooden Bridge

The Battered Remnant of the Wooden Bridge

Many people visit this area in the Cool Season, traveling though the mountains to this border area in order to visit Three Pagodas Pass, the beautiful Mon Temple, or to see the longest wooden bridge in the world.  Unfortunately, the longest wooden bridge in the world is no long something that visitors can walk across.  As you can see in this photo, the center section has been destroyed.  As the story goes, some enterprising loggers had taken several loads of uncut teak logs and dumped them in the river to float them downstream to the mill. A violent storm came through with heavy rains. The resulting flood of water pushed the logs into the bridge broadside and the sheer weight of the logs, driven by the storm waters, caused the center section of the bridge to collapse. As you can see, a temporary pontoon bridge, made of bamboo, has been built to handle necessary traffic across the water until the main bridge can be repaired.

Another View of the Broken Bridge

Another View of the Broken Bridge

Many of the families living in houseboats on the river also had their homes destroyed or damaged in the same storm and subsequent flood.  They are all working to rebuild their lives. Please pray for them as these families of fishermen are not wealthy, but often struggling to survive. This disaster has just added to their already weighty burden. It does not help that one of their tourist attractions has been taken out of commission. The money from tourism helps to sustain the economy in this area.

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A Close Call

Nellie with a Neighbor in Seattle This Summer

Nellie with my Sister’s Neighbor in Seattle This Summer

While I was in Bangkok, my little Miniature Pinscher, Nellie, stayed with Mr. Sawai Chinnawong, my artist friend, and his family. Nellie is not a young thing any more with at least twelve years of living under her belt.  That makes her a senior citizen in the dog world – about 84 years old in human years. Still, she is a feisty little dog who loves to run and play and can jump straight up in the air about waist-high. She adores Mr. Sawai, mostly because he lavishes affection on her and spoils her with treats that she does not get at home.

Nellie with a Chew Toy

Nellie with a Chew Stick

As the story goes, Mr. Sawai was out in his yard with Nellie, watering his garden.  She had wandered off into another part of the yard when two stray dogs discovered her. These much-larger dogs attacked her. Mr. Sawai heard her cries and came running, chasing the two larger dogs off. He then carried her bleeding body with one arm while he drove her to the animal hospital by Chiang Mai University with his other hand. (Thank heavens, he has automatic transmission!)  Nellie was treated for her wounds and admitted to the hospital for observation.  The doctor said that they would have to operate as some of her wounds were extensive.  They gave her intravenous fluids and made her comfortable for the night.  The next morning, they operated.  They told me that they would call if she was failing, but I did not receive any calls. Mr. Sawai went to visit her later that day and reported that she seemed to be OK.

Nellie with Mr. Sawai at the Hospital

Nellie with Mr. Sawai at the Hospital

It was several days before I got back to Chiang Mai and could see her myself.  When I went to the hospital to visit her, she was wrapped with bandages from her neck to her knees.  The worst of the damage was to her chest on the right side and to her left hind leg.  The doctor had operated on both to repair the damage. She still had a drainage tube in her chest (held on top of her back by the pink bandages), but she was glad to see me and spent some time telling me just how dissatisfied she was with my care of her. After a while, she calmed down and I just held her and petted her until it was time to go.

Nellie at Home Two Weeks After the Incident

Nellie at Home Two Weeks After the Incident

About a week after she first went into the hospital, she came home to my room on the third floor of the Education Ministry Building. They had removed all the stitches and her chest tube. Needless to say, I had to carry her up and down the stairs for the first week and she was weak a feverish for a few days. But I was surprised at how quickly she bounced back and was willing to try the stairs herself. Of course, that was more “game” than ability, for her left rear leg was still weak and collapsed under her if she tried to do too much.  Mostly, she ate and slept and forgot what it meant to be “housebroken.”

Nellie - Waiting for Hair to Grow Again!

Nellie – Waiting for Hair to Grow Again!

This week, she is a different animal!  She runs up the stairs (four flights) without any problem.  She wolfs down her food as she did before all this happened.  I have changed her food from mostly dry to mostly wet as she lost some teeth in her battle with the larger dogs. Her wounds have healed and, while she spooks easily and sticks close to my side outdoors, she is mostly her old, feisty self. She has also remembered what it means to be “housebroken” – thank heavens!  She wears some doggie clothes now that her bandages are gone, for the rains have stopped and the weather has turned cooler. She has very little hair on her body – just battle scars – but I am glad she is alive and back to her old ways!

Blog Postscript (2 November 2013): Mr. Sawai told me only today that, when he took Nellie to the Animal Hospital after the attack, the doctor gave her only a 50/50 chance of survival.  I am so thankful that she did survive and so grateful for the skill of the surgeon on that day! God is good.

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From Strangers to Partners in Ministry

Caren Martin Arrives in Thailand

Caren Martin Arrives in Thailand

I returned from a three-month sojourn in the USA just in time to welcome a new group of volunteers into our program. Beginning October 4 with the arrival of Caren Martin, a total of eight new volunteers joined the three already in service in Thailand. Ms. Chonchineepan Ajarayangkun went to Suvarnabhumi International Airport with me at midnight to meet Caren, whose flight was on time. A short time later, Lucas Peters arrived. His flight was an hour early – and we were grateful, because it gave us a little more time to sleep before getting up to return to the airport to meet Judith Moore, who arrived at 8 AM.

CVT Volunteers with the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the CCT

CVT Volunteers with the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the Church of Christ in Thailand

With the remaining volunteers, we had some problems with visas and holidays, resulting in our four ladies from the Nagaland Missions Movement in India (Vinokali Chophi, Piketoli Kinimi, Susanna Sheim and Kahoni Sohe) arriving the following Tuesday morning and our last volunteer, Lindsey Monroe, arriving two weeks later. However, we had a full orientation class, with Bovito Sema (working with the Thailand Karen Baptist Church) and Adam Royston (working with the Christian Conference of Asia) filling out the rest of the class. One of the first things we did during orientation was meet the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the Church of Christ in Thailand, our partner church who has invited all of us to work with them in ministry in Thailand.

Volunteers at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Volunteers at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The first week of orientation was held in Bangkok. While some of the time was spent allowing volunteers to recover from jet lag, the rest of the time was packed with activities and learning events. We worshiped at a historic Anglican church in English and a Chinese-Thai church offering worship services in three languages simultaneously. We visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most revered, most famous, and most visited sites in Thailand. We reviewed the basic “Do’s and Don’ts” of Thai culture. We discussed the importance of staying in touch with people back home, learning how to email, Skype and blog to help family, friends and supporting churches understand a little of our journey and our ministry. We visited stores showcasing the best of Thai exports, including gems and Thai silk. We visited ministries of the church, including the Far East Broadcasting Company, recording some shows for future broadcasts. We learned how to use the skytrain for transportation and everyone was able to find a mobile phone to use while in Thailand. We also tasted several typical Thai dishes and learned their names so that we could order those dishes in the future. The group also began reading the book “Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier.

Regional Bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Regional Bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

At the end of the first week, the entire group boarded a bus and traveled to Chiang Mai to continue their orientation there. Buses are a common and inexpensive mode of transportation for volunteers during their service in Thailand. Normally, we take the train, but there are no trains to Northern Thailand as the State Railway is making major repairs to the tracks. Once in Chiang Mai, we attended worship at one of the oldest Thai churches in Thailand and had lunch at one of the favorite American food restaurants in the city. After a week of rice, rice, noodles, noodles and more rice, it was a real treat!

Teambuilding Activity with Senior CVT Volunteers

Teambuilding Activity with Senior CVT Volunteers

The second week of orientation was packed with new learning activities.  We learned about the Child Protection policies of the CCT from Mr. Jeerapat Junawat. We learned about the special handicrafts of the Thai and which areas of the country produce which products. We visited the Umbrella Village and Bo Sang. The group spent 20 contact hours learning basic Thai conversation: how to say hello, get basic directions, the numbers, the colors, basic courtesies, how to purchase things and how to get around town by songtaew or tuk-tuk. We did some activities in understanding cross-cultural dynamics with Dr. Esther Wakeman. We saw Christian art created in classic Thai style from artist Sawai Chinnawong. We learned about the history of Christian Mission in Thailand from Dr. Prasit Pongudom. Senior CVT volunteers arrived for their fall seminar and joined the newcomers to discuss the reality of living and working in Thailand. We also did some teambuilding activities together to create a strong bond among and between the volunteers.

On the Steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

On the Steps to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

As the second week of orientation drew to a close, the Senior CVT volunteers returned to their schools. The third week of orientation began with attendance at worship at Chiang Mai Community Church. That was followed by a trip to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar to see the wide variety of handicrafts produced in Thailand and to do a little shopping. There was a discussion of the importance of managing expectations in the schools. Learning activities continued with an exploration of the book, “More Than a Native Speaker” by Don Snow. There was a trip to Baan Tawai to see the incredible variety of products made from wood. There was a visit to Prince Royal’s College and to McKean Rehabilitation Institute. Meals included trips to local restaurants and the challenge of ordering food using the Thai language. On another day, the group was challenged to make their own way to Wororot Market and purchase an item using the Thai language. Each volunteer learned how to write their own name in Thai from Ms. Chonchineepan Ajarayangun.

Learning About Banana Plants

Learning About Banana Plants

During the three weeks of orientation, each morning before the work day began, the group joined in morning devotions using “The Upper Room” devotional book. We explored ways of leading worship and combining worship with a simple English lesson, by using hymns that could be found in both Thai and English language hymnals. Each evening, the group gathered again for a brief devotional time. In one of these, I shared the text of Isaiah 43:1-4 and reflected on our call to ministry and God’s love for us. Each volunteer received a pin with the words “We are called” written on it. One final treat on the last day of orientation was a lesson on the importance of bananas in the Thai culture and how no part of the banana plant is ever wasted. As these new volunteers leave Chiang Mai to begin their ministry here in Thailand, I reflected on humankind and God’s purpose for us. No part of us is wasted either. In life and in death, we serve a risen Savior! By the end of our three weeks together, we had moved from being strangers thrown together in a strange place to being partners in ministry, using the gifts that God has given us to serve God in this place. All praise to God from whom all good things come!

More Photos from Orientation:

Learning About Child Protection

Learning About Child Protection

A Chinese Meal in Bangkok

A Chinese Meal in Bangkok

In the History Room of CCT Headquarters

In the History Room of CCT Headquarters

Playing Ping Pong at CCT Headquarters

Playing Ping Pong at CCT Headquarters

Building Spaghetti Towers

Building Spaghetti Towers with Senior CVTs

Daily News Update

Getting a Daily News Update

Volunteers with Peacock Dancer

With a Peacock Dancer

A Spaghetti Tower Bites the Dust

A Spaghetti Tower Bites the Dust

The Green Energy Room at Prince Royal's College

The Green Energy Room at Prince Royal’s College

At McKean Gift Shop after the Tour of the Island

At McKean Gift Shop

Lou and a New Friend

Lou and a New Friend

The End of Orientation

The End of Orientation

The Chedi on Doi Suthep

The Chedi on Doi Suthep

Ms. Chonchineepan Ajarayangkun Teaching

Chonchineepan Ajarayangkun Teaching

CCT Headquarters Cross

The Cross on CCT Headquarters

Thai Dinner

A Thai Dinner

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Privileged to Share

Bridal Party at First Church Chiang Mai

Bridal Party at First Church

Just a month ago, I received an invitation to a very special wedding.   Dr. Rujadhorn Indratula was marrying Dr. Nattapong Swangmuang. Dr. Rujahorn’s parents were my next-door neighbors during my first three years in Thailand. My sister, Carol, got to know the bride as Ms. Rujadhorn was writing her doctoral dissertation last summer. Carol was in Thailand caring for my mother as I traveled with the New Wilmington Mission Conference Summer Service Team. The bride’s mother, Kuhn Rujira, was the Director of Nursing at McCormick Hospital before she retired. She was a rock, a comforter, and a friend during my mother’s final days, offering advice, solace, and prayer as cancer continued its relentless attack.

Kathryn McDaniel and Kuhn Sritong

Kathryn McDaniel and Kuhn Sritong at the Wedding

It was my first Thai wedding in decades and what a beautiful wedding it was! The bride was lovely in a long white gown.  The Maid of Honor was in pink chiffon. There were four little girls in white who spread rose petals on the red carpet leading to the chancel area.  Two little boys carried the marriage certificate and the rings. Fresh flowers covered every part of the chancel and decorated the arch that the bride and groom walked through when they entered the church.  I caught Kathryn McDaniel and Kuhn Sritong in the floral arch after the service! It was very similar to weddings I have attended or officiated in the USA with one exception: the bride and groom both knelt at the feet of their parents to receive their blessing after they said their vows. I was amazed and honored that they invited me to sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” as a duet with Mr. Ekkawudt Preeyakraisawn for the ceremony. It was a pleasure to do so AND it gave me a front-row seat!

Cutting the Cake

Cutting the Cake

Afterward, I drove to the reception at the Empress Hotel with Kathryn McDaniel. Once there, we wandered around the entry to the reception dinner, looking at photos of the Bride and Groom taken for their engagement. There was also a floral wall set up for photos of the Bride and Groom with the guests.  Inside, a live band played while we ate. We had a seven or eight course meal (an appetizer, two soups, two duck dishes, a chicken dish, other dishes I’ve forgotten, and a dessert). After lots of speeches and words of gratitude to various people and groups, the Bride and Groom cut the cake. Here was another place where Thai weddings differ from those I have attended in the USA: the cake was not a real cake and no wedding cake was served to the guests – with the exception of VIP guests, who did receive a slice of cake. At the end, unmarried women were invited to the front for the Bride to toss her bouquet.  She elected not to toss it, but to personally hand it to her Maid of Honor.  All in all, it was a wonderful evening and a wedding I’ll not soon forget!

More Photos of the Wedding:

Bride and Groom, Preacher and Singer

Bride and Groom, Preacher and Singer

The Wedding Cake

The Wedding Cake

The Bride and Groom and Their Parents

The Bride and Groom and Their Parents

The Bride and Groom

The Bride and Groom

A Funny Moment at the Reception

A Funny Moment at the Reception

 

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Happily Ever After in Korea

The Dance of Planes at Incheon Airport

The Dance of Planes at Incheon Airport

I am on the road again and, once again, I had a layover at Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea. This airport has been rated the #1 airport in the world for eight consecutive years. I blogged about this airport when I went through it on my way to the USA in March. I could not believe how wonderful it was. This time, I had a twelve-hour layover and my curiosity questioned whether I would think it was so heavenly again the second time around.

Side-by-Side Toilets for Families

Side-by-Side Toilets for Families

Oh, I found some flaws this time:  There was only one empty recliner in the TV-News watching lounge.  When I sat in that recliner, it immediately flipped over until I was lying with my head on the floor and my feet in the air. The wonderful man who rescued me from that predicament suggested that I could post a video of my antics on You-Tube, but there was no one else in the room who was conscious enough to capture in on video (for which I was very grateful). I also found an empty seat in the Internet lounge, only to discover that the computer at that station was not working. But I was again enchanted when I discovered these side-by-side toilets in a “Family Restroom” in the airport. There was also a diaper changing table if the family had a younger member.

Bride and Groom on Display at Incheon Airport

Bride and Groom on Display at Incheon Airport

The best part of my layover in Incheon (besides seeing Brice Rogers and getting caught up on ten years of living without taking a single photograph of the occasion) was this exhibit of a Korean wedding. Besides these life-sized mannequins dressed as the bride and groom, there were actual palanquins for the bride and the groom (see thumbnails below), examples of gifts exchanged between family members, and other objects typically found in a Korean home in the 1800′s.  It was wonderful to see the craftsmanship that went into each item, whether it was the carved wood on the palanquins or the embroidery on the clothing.

Mt. Ranier

Mt. Ranier

I was lucky! Later in the morning, I did find an empty recliner and, this time, it did not turn over on me (see thumbnail below).  I was able to get at least three house of sleep and that helped so much with my “adjustment” to time in Seattle.  As  our Korean Airlines flight flew into Seattle, I noticed that the skies above Seattle were clear and rain-free. That gave me the opportunity to capture this almost surreal photograph of Mt. Ranier from the plane. Now, I am catching up on the latest news in the USA and hugging my Nellie, whom I have not seen since I left her with my sister back in March.  God is good!

More photos (double-click to enlarge):

Groom and Palanquin

Groom and Palanquin

Bride's Palanquin

Bride’s Palanquin

A Beautiful Dress on Display

A Beautiful Dress

The Royal Family from Another Era

The Royal Family

Enjoying a Recliner

Enjoying a Recliner

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An Amazing Artist

Lotus Madonna by Sawai

Lotus Madonna by Sawai

Ajarn Sawai Chinnawong came by my office today with some recent works of art.  We have been friends since he served as a judge for the Christian Volunteers in Thailand logo contest early last year.  This time, the works that took my breath away (I have already purchased some of his oil paintings.) were pen-and-ink drawings of such detail and beauty that the photographs (taken with my little Canon Power Shot) do not do them justice.  All have a Christian theme. So, with apologies for the poor photographs, let me share some of what I saw today. This beautiful Lotus Madonna (left) seems to glow.

Loaves and Fishes by Sawai

Loaves and Fishes by Sawai

For those of you who do not know Ajarn Sawai Chinnawong, he is a Thai Christian artist. He was the Paul T. Lauby Artist in Residence at Overseas Ministries Study Center in 2003-2004. His love for art began when he was a child in Thailand when he saw some old men painting on a Buddhist temple wall. He would watch them for hours each day. Sawai’s interest in art persisted into adulthood, and he studied art in a vocational school in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at this time that Sawai became a Christian. He says that a missionary was witnessing on the street one day, and soon after, he began to study the Bible every day after art class.

Holiness by Sawai

Holiness by Sawai

After completing his art studies, Sawai felt compelled to attend the McGilvary College of Theology at Payap University in Chiang Mai. He was deeply influenced by a series of lectures on the history of Christian Art given there in 1984 by artist and professor Nalini Jayasuriya. He began creating liturgical art while attending seminary, and designed the artwork for the chapel there. Today his art is appreciated in many places for its portrayal of Christian themes through a Thai graphic idiom that is inspired by Thai culture. Sawai’s artwork is published by the Tao Fong Shan Christian Centre of Hong Kong and by the Asian Christian Art Association of Indonesia.

Creation in Abstract by Sawai

Creation in Abstract by Sawai

Sawai Chinnawong’s work has been exhibited in Asia, Sweden and the United States, and he was one of five artists chosen for the Summer of 2007 exhibition “The Christian Story: Five Asian Artists Today,” held at the Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) in New York City. The catalog for that exhibition, which includes reproductions and critical essays, is available from the Mobia Store. OMSC has also published an 80 page color monograph of Sawai’s drawings and paintings, with an appreciative critical essay by Dr. William Yoder. The book is available through the OMSC Bookstore.

Descending Dove by Sawai

Descending Dove by Sawai

Yes, he did bring some oil paintings along as well, but I could not take my eyes off of these pen-and-ink drawings. Each one has pictures hidden within the picture and a wealth of meaning that flows from his Christian faith. Once again, I asked him how soon the work on his website would be completed, so that his work could be displayed properly and those who were interested in purchasing some of his work could contact him. He assured me that work on the website continues and that, before the end of the year, everyone should be able to view his works and even make purchases online.  I am just a preacher.  How I wish my words were as eloquent as his art.  Amazing!

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My Mission Co-Worker

Ajarn Chonchineepan at Work

Ajarn Chonchineepan at Work

The Presbyterian Church (USA) talks a lot about mission co-workers but, when they do so, they are usually talking about their own missionaries who are serving overseas. The term ‘mission co-worker’ was adopted when the PC(USA) decided to abandon the old paternalistic style of mission endeavor in favor of a partnership approach – working with partner churches in other countries to share the good news of the gospel with those who have not heard. Yes, I am a mission co-worker, but I also have a mission co-worker who is my partner in ministry. Ajarn Chonchineepan Ajarayunkul is my mission co-worker. (‘Ajarn’ is an honorary title given to those who have a university education.) She is a Thai citizen who has a bachelor’s degree and has graduated from seminary.  She is married to a pastor who works at Payap University, the first Christian University to be established in Thailand. When I began work as Coordinator of Christian Volunteers in Thailand, I asked for a Thai staff person to work with me. I wanted a college-educated Thai person who was as fluent in English as I am in Thai (understanding about 80% of what goes on around me). I wanted someone who could help me understand the nuances of Thai customs and traditions, as well as someone who could help me communicate with all of the school administrators and other persons we might encounter as we worked to grow this program in Thailand. Ajarn Chonchineepan, or Tang as she is called by those who know her well, has been invaluable to this program. She has prevented me from making drastic errors, mostly by doing something very non-Thai like getting in my face and stopping me in my tracks when my German-American heritage threatens to derail communication and relationships in this decidedly non-German-non-American culture. She has spent hours describing Thai history, Thai traditions, Thai customs, Thai people and personalities.  On top of it all, she has a great sense of humor and shares her laughter with me and all of our volunteers. I don’t know where I would be at this point if she had not agreed to come and join me in this ministry.  I just thank God every day that she was available and willing to take on this challenge!

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