It Left Me Wanting More…

City of Wollongong from Inspiration Point near Burri Pass in New South Wales

How do you begin to describe a place that leaves you filled with wonder and wanting more? On my first work day in Australia, I drove south from Sydney to Wollongong early on Monday morning to meet with educational leaders at the University of Wollongong. Nervous about my meeting, I did not stop on my way there to do any “sightseeing,” but, on my way back, I had time to do so and was glad that I did. When I looked back at the way I had come, I saw the city of Wollongong, stretching out along the southwest coast as far as the eye could see. Wollongong is trapped between some high steep hills and the ocean and, with a sky that was filled with clouds, it was unbelievably lush and beautiful that day. I had noticed that lushness when I was driving through the streets of the city earlier. There are big trees and parks everywhere. The campus of Wollongong University itself has a duck pond in the center by the library and the student center and it was fun to take time to watch the ducks. It was a good reminder that there is more to life than hard work, classrooms and study. Yet, Wollongong University ranks No. 3 in Australia for its Teacher Preparation programs. More than 1/3 of its students are international students, drawn from all over Asia, Europe and, surprisingly, the United States.

Rev. Margaret Mayman (left in photo)

One of the first friends that I made on my Australian adventure was Rev. Margaret Mayman, pastor of Pitt Street Uniting Church. The Uniting Church of Australia is one of the many international church partners of the Church of Christ in Thailand, so it was natural for me to seek her out. I participated in Sunday morning worship and then in their monthly adult education class following the fellowship hour. After that, Margaret and I went to lunch in the Queen Victoria Building about two blocks from the church. Over lunch, we had a lively conversation about the church and the purpose of my visit to Australia. She helped me to understand the relative size of the Uniting Church and its origins. The Uniting Church has about 200,000 members from congregations that had been Presbyterian, Congregational, and Methodist who came together in an ecumenical body in 1977. That makes it about the same size as the Church of Christ in Thailand that was formed from Disciple, Presbyterian, and Baptist roots in 1934. She also helped me to understand that the Uniting Church is the only religious body in Australia that is fully inclusive. The Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the Lutheran Church in Australia are far more conservative. We talked about the challenge of being a downtown church in an aging building with an aging congregation. Margaret talked about her hopes of sharing the building with the community for downtown events and her hope of drawing more Millennials in through their social justice ministries. (See below for more photos of the church and its windows.)

Town Hall in Sydney

During the week, I visited downtown Sydney several times, on my way to other meetings at the Uniting World office, the University of Technology in Sydney and the University of Sydney. I was always passing Town Hall, which is a beautiful colonial structure in the center of the Central Business District (CBD). Sydney is in the process of adding streetcars to certain areas, so construction barriers were evident everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy public transportation was in the CBD. Town Hall itself has a train station underground. My Opal card allowed me to travel by train, bus, and ferry, topping up at any station along the way with my credit card. The weather was ideal all week! (See below for more of the CBD of Sydney.)

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One of the most lushly beautiful campuses I visited was the campus of Australian Catholic University in Strathfield. Of course, I love old buildings and lots of green space and ACU had all of that in spades. It just made everything better to meet Professor Shakri Sanber and to begin to imagine a partnership between ACU and the Church of Christ in Thailand. (More images of ACU and Strathfield below.)

IMG_5790I was close to Sydney Harbour Bridge with a view of the Opera House twice during my trip.  I posted two different photographs in my last blog post: One of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House from the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney and one from under the Harbour Bridge in North Sydney.  I would like to close this post with a another view of the Sydney Opera House – this time from Bradfield Park in North Sydney.

 

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Opportunity Awaits!

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Sydney Opera House and Habour Bridge taken from the Royal Botanic Gardens

After many years of wondering about this large continent that lies so far to the south, I finally had the opportunity to travel to Australia. It was a business trip on behalf of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT).  The CCT desperately needs teachers for the 27 private K-12 Christian schools that operate throughout Thailand. Most of the schools were established by Protestant missionaries many decades ago and some are over 100 years old.  Those Protestant missionaries are credited with bringing Western education to Thailand and for educating women, as well as men. Back in the day, these schools were known throughout Thailand for teaching the English language, as well as math, science and the fundamentals of Christian character.

Today, the schools of the CCT are being hit with a loss of enrollment due to two major factors: a declining birthrate in Thailand, as educated Thai women enter the workforce and delay starting families, and intense competition from both government schools and private, for-profit international schools. At the same time, young university graduates are coming into the workforce with a higher debt load than ever before in history. This is making it difficult for Christian Volunteers in Thailand to recruit the teachers that are needed in these Christian schools. In fact, more than half of the volunteers now serving are retirees who believe they still have something to contribute.

So, I traveled to Australia to see whether there might be university graduates closer at hand and to explore the best methods for spreading the word that teachers are needed here in Thailand.  I also wanted to discover what Australia had to offer to Thai teachers and administrators who wished to further their education. What I learned over the course of six days and many meetings with various individuals and groups was both sobering and hopeful.

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 Dr. Sureka Goringe (left) and Ms. Jane Kennedy

The meetings that were the most hopeful were those at the Uniting World office on Pitt Street in Sydney on Tuesday morning and Wednesday afternoon. The first time, I met with Dr. Sureka Goringe (left in the photo), the National Director of Uniting World and responsible for international partnerships. And I also met with Dr. Sureka Goringe and Ms. Jane Kennedy (right in the photo), the Associate Director for International Programs of Uniting World. Both were delighted that I had come and that they could renew their ties with the Church of Christ in Thailand as both recognized that it had been many years since the two church organizations had been in contact with one another. While the conversations wandered through many different dimensions of international church ministries and partnerships, I was able to share the critical need for teachers in the Christian schools of the CCT and to obtain a commitment from them to share that information with Uniting Church congregations throughout Australia. I promised to send them the link to a new video recruitment ad that Daniel Pappas made for the CVT Program (https://vimeo.com/320997466/7c262aff56) and to send the new brochures when they have been printed. The two ladies shared with me that they have an annual gathering of Uniting Church international partners that is usually held in Bali or in Fiji every year. They promised to send an invitation to Rev. Sayam Muangsak for the Church of Christ in Thailand to send someone from the CCT to this gathering in July of 2019 in Fiji. This conference is called the Uniting Church President’s Conference and, this year, the focus is on climate change. While other subjects were broached during the meeting, everyone agreed that we need to begin by re-establishing relationships and including the missing partners in our dialog and discussion of regional issues.

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Dr. Christine Johnston (center), Dr. Kumara Ward

The conversations that were the most sobering were those I had with educational leaders at Wollongong University and Western Sydney University. Both of these fine institutions are known for the quality of teachers that they produce. I met with Robyn Lumby, Senior Business Manager of the School of Education and Joanna Hoetzer, Careers Consultant for the Faculty of Social Sciences, at Wollongong University on Monday morning and, later, with Dr. Christine Johnston, Director of Engagement and International, School of Education (center in photo) and Dr. Kumara Ward, Director of Academic Programs, Early Childhood (right in photo) at Western Sydney University, on Monday afternoon. While everyone was sincere in their offer to assist me in my quest for teachers, they were frank in pointing out that their graduates 1) could command much higher salaries in Australia (more than double what the CCT schools could pay foreign teachers), 2) would not gain any advantage in the job market by teaching in Thailand and, when they returned to Australia, would have to begin at the bottom of the employment ladder, even with several years of experience teaching in Thailand, and 3) due to the recent changes in teacher requirements in Australia, would be more highly educated and skilled than teachers from most other nations. While these things allow Australia to produce highly skilled instructors, it may also cause those instructors to be less patient with organizations that do not measure up to their high standards. At the same time, everyone was willing to help me understand ways in which I could post available openings in CCT schools and help to spread the word among their own students. They were also eager to share ways in which they might collaborate with the administrators of the CCT schools to bring state-of-the-art teaching techniques and educational trends to Thailand through seminars or conferences where their educators might travel to Bangkok to present or to teach. While the CCT might send administrators or talented faculty to Australia to study, recent changes in Australian law require the universities to screen carefully for English language proficiency. Most graduate programs require an IELTS score of 8, which is very high proficiency in English.

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Ms. Diana Stevens (left) and Dr. Shakri Sanber

There was one last visit and series of meetings that was both hopeful and sobering. Those were the meetings that I had at Australian Catholic University on Thursday morning. Here I met with Dr. Shakri Sanber, Head of the School of Education (right in the photo), and Ms. Diana Stevens, Associate Director for International Marketing and Recruitment (left in the photo).  Both of them were very warm and welcoming. It became very clear during the time we spent together that Australian Catholic University is very familiar with the world of private schools affiliated with the church. Australian Catholic University is ranked No. 1 for Teacher Education in Australia and it produces many of the teachers that teach in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran schools that are scattered throughout Australia. One of things that impressed me the most about their graduate programs for educational leadership is how they require graduate students to reflect upon the role of faith and of religion in education – something that CCT educational administrators would not have been exposed to in a Thai university graduate studies program. While all of them acknowledge the difficulties that graduate students coming from Thailand would have with the English language proficiency requirement, they also shared their willingness to work with cohorts of students. Having a cohort of 15-18 students would allow the university to adapt the language requirement, as it would benefit all students in the class – not just one individual. They were also eager to talk about the possibility of having a cohort in Thailand and sending a member of the faculty to meet with that cohort from time to time as they progressed through the curriculum, studying some things online and some face-to-face.  All-in-all, there were many opportunities for partnership and collaboration, for they also shared that Australian Catholic University had much to learn from Thailand as well.

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Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

While I met with many other educational administrators at other universities in and near Sydney, most of the other meetings did not result in anything new or open the door to possibilities that were not evident from their information online. However, the meetings I attended (above) encouraged me that there were ways to partner both with the church and with educational institutions to bring teachers and leadership practices to the schools of the CCT in Thailand.  I look forward to sharing this information with them and formulating a plan for future partnerships with our colleagues in Australia.

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A Companion on the Journey

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Nellie when I adopted her in 2011

When I arrived in Thailand back in 2011, my mother and I lived in Chiang Mai, a beautiful city in the north. Since I was working many hours and traveling often, I searched for a small dog to be a companion for her. Nellie came to live with us later that year. Nellie was a beautiful Miniature Pinscher with the typical cropped tail, but her ears were untouched and huge – “bat ears” that could hear everything. Here is the little I know of Nellie’s past: Nellie was born in India and came to Thailand with a missionary family. When they returned to their home country, she came to live with an American missionary family. That family was now making preparations to return to the USA and needed to find a home for Nellie and two of her grown children. I adopted Nellie. At that time, she was already 10 years old.

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Nellie guarding the gate 2012

Nellie is an alpha dog. She quickly takes charge and everything within eyesight belongs to her and she protects her territory, including whatever humans she decides also belong to her. She would sit, like a queen, on my mother’s lap, silently demanding to be stroked. Nellie does not allow anything to get between her and what she wants. In 2013, when I took her back to the USA, she stayed with my sister and quickly took over her Labradoodle’s bed, despite the fact that he was four times her size. Beau had to sleep under their bed until I returned to take Nellie back to Thailand. On the other hand, she’s not a “yappy” dog and does not bark at all except when she perceives a true threat. A “true threat” is usually identified by someone ringing the doorbell. Whenever the doorbell rings, she barks.  For some reason, the sound of a spoon falling onto tile or granite creates a noise that she interprets as threatening – which makes it challenging for me to return my spoon to my empty cup, for it makes that same noise and elicits barking.

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Nellie at home two weeks after the attack in 2013

Nellie is a tough old bird. At 17 in human years or 119 in dog years, she still acts very young for her age. She has no problem running up and down the stairs from the living room and kitchen on the first floor to my bedroom on the second floor. She has survived “hand-to-hand” combat with chinchoks, leaving their dead bodies in her wake. She survived a tick infestation in 2016 that resulted in a decision to not allow her outside the house in Bangkok, for she would crawl under the house and re-infest her and the house when she came inside. Both she and the house have been tick-free since I made that decision. The one encounter that she almost did not survive was an encounter with two larger dogs in 2013. While she was staying at the home of a friend in Chiang Mai while I was traveling, two large dogs came into his yard and attacked her. By the time he got to her, she was critically injured. He drove her to the Animal Hospital at Suandok and the wonderful surgeon there stitched her back together again. After a few weeks, she was her normal self again, but she has not been quite as cocky when she encounters larger dogs. She also lost some teeth in that encounter and I have given her soft food ever since.

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Nellie with her “staircase” 2018

I have noticed some differences in her in the past two years as she ages. She no longer jumps as high as she did before. She used to easily jump three times her height, which always amazed me. In 2012, she would jump from the floor onto my mother’s hospital bed during my mother’s final illness. My mother was not always thrilled with this, as she was in some pain from her cancer. But once on the bed, Nellie would lie quietly by her side and Mom would rest with her hand on Nellie’s back. Now, Nellie cannot even jump up into my chair, so we have taken my mother’s step-stool and created a graduated “staircase” for Nellie to get up into the chair where she likes to sleep when I am away at work. Because of these things, I let down my guard a bit and left a package of macadamia nuts sitting on the side table in the living room this week. When I returned from work on Thursday, Nellie was lying on the floor beside the half-empty package. She could not get up to eat her evening meal. It has taken three days of constant care, spoon-feeding her and restoring fluids and electrolytes with a syringe, to get her almost back to normal again.

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Nellie in 2018

If you compare this photo to the one at the beginning of the blog, you will notice that Nellie looks much older. Her muzzle and eyebrows are almost completely white and her chest hair is not far behind. She is still cute as the dickens and very well behaved. She sleeps more during the day, thinks twice before following me upstairs on my many trips up and down during the day, and often does not hear me when I return from work and open the front door. Now, it takes banging around in the kitchen and calling her name to get her to come for dinner. However, if I am gone for more than eight hours, she will greet me at the door and proceed to tell me exactly what she thinks about my absence. Dinner is obviously too late for her liking! Now, as I watch her walking around the living room and sniffing under the door, I am glad that she survived this latest threat to her existence. She has been a wonderful companion on the journey!

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Ageless Beauty

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A fishing boat in the Andaman Sea off the western shore of South Thailand

There are times when I see sights in this country that defy words.  I wish I could share all of them with you. It is beauty that takes my breath away and I could drink it in all day. 

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Dawn breaks over the hills of North Thailand near Lampang

In the more remote areas of Thailand, you can still find little villages where farmers grow rice and bananas (two staples of the Thai diet) in a manner that follows the advice of the late king, Rama IX. In his document on a sufficiency economy, written during one of the darkest economic times in Asia in recent years, he recommended that Thai families organize their property such that they could grow rice, fruits and vegetables and livestock, sufficient for their own family and, perhaps, a little extra to sell in order to buy those things they might need.

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Nong Khae Beach on the Gulf of Thailand off the eastern shore of South Thailand

The sights that are most pleasing to me are those that have not changed in a hundred years and won’t change in a hundred more.  Those places are rapidly disappearing with increased tourism and development. Nong Khae beach, where the Presbyterians had their vacation cabins for missionaries, was once a train stop, but it has now been consumed by the city of Hua Hin and, though you may not see it in this photo, the beach itself is lined with condominiums. A Hyatt Regency Hotel with a long-term lease now sits where the old cabins used to be. But at the right angle, you can still see a hint of the empty beach we played on (and the horses we rode) when we were children.

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The “Pinking Shear” Mountain Range on the way to Sangklaburi

One of the last remote areas is in the mountains near the western border of Thailand with Myanmar. The six-hour drive from Bangkok stops many from going beyond the town of Kanchanaburi and the Death Railway Museum. But there are wonderful sights to be seen if you drive up beyond what I call the “Pinking Shear” mountain range back into the hills.  Here there are huge rivers and mountains that offer breath-taking views of another side of Thailand and peoples who have lived in these hills for centuries.

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Early morning during the rainy season in Sangklaburi near the border with Myanmar

I invite you to come and see for yourself all the beautiful sights that Thailand has to offer. Maybe you, too, will fall in love with this land and its wonderful people!

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A Grand Send-Off

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The crematorium built for King Rama IX at night reflected in the water on the pavement after rain.

Thailand’s year of mourning for HM King Bhumipol Adulyadej, Rama IX, ended on October 13, 2017. Most of the 75 million people of Thailand had observed a period of mourning that included wearing black or dark clothing, listening to the King’s compositions many, many times, and attending numerous events that were held in his memory or to foster a deeper understanding of the 70 years that he sat on the throne of Thailand and was the father of his people. The dates for his funeral were set for October 26-29, 2017, and heads of state or national representatives came from more than 65 nations to pay their respects.

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The Royal Urn with the Body of King Rama IX is raised onto the Royal Chariot to be taken to the Crematorium.

The funeral itself was a grand spectacle, filled with amazing pageantry drawn from the depths of the rich, rich culture of Thailand. There were solemn parades that brought his body from the Grand Palace to the Crematorium and took his ashes back to the temples and its final resting place in the Grand Palace. All the participants in the funeral had rehearsed their roles for many weeks ahead of the date and it all went without a hitch.

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The ornately carved sandalwood urn with the body of King Rama IX.

For someone unused to pageantry and spectacle, it was, and is, hard to find words to adequately describe it. To watch the black-clad mourners, tears streaming down their faces, paying their respects was a very moving sight. To hear many of the human interest stories about the people who were selected to participate and the roles they had played in the life of the late king was deeply touching. To see the coordinated effort of thousands of people marking this occasion with the incredible solemnity and grandeur that I saw watching television that day took my breath away. I wondered if there were any individual in the Western world who could make an entire nation pause and weep, with only the muffled sound of drums and measured marching feet breaking the silence. And yet, only a cursory glance at all that this great king did during his lifetime would bring an understanding of what lies behind the reverence and respect given him in life and now in death.  The testimony of his life will cement his memory in the hearts of the Thai people for generations to come.

Addtional photos:

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The Sorrow of a Nation

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, passed away on October 13, 2016.  Since then, the entire nation has been mourning this king who ruled for more than 70 years. It is amazing to me that people have worn black for almost a year, that buildings and structures are still draped in black and white bunting, and that the Thai people have found incredible ways of expressing their feelings for this great monarch.  I struggle to think of a single individual who would inspire such devotion and respect in the Western world.

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At one of the largest intersections in Bangkok is the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center. They have offered a series of exhibitions throughout the year featuring special aspects of this king’s life and reign. Earlier this year, when I was walking toward the elevated train station, I saw an artist drawing on the walls of this building.  He was one of several famous artists of cartoon characters who had been invited to create a work of art expressing the nation’s sorrow at the passing of this king. It was interesting to stop and watch him work. When I returned to the same intersection some weeks later, I was able to see the final product and the art of these many artists.

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My favorite character is the darling littlechild with three eyes, dressed in a fuzzy white outfit – the signature work of this particular artist. However, in this collaborative work of art, I find my eyes drawn to the little pig who is holding up a placard with the Thai number 9, standing under the falling tears of the Thai people and crying so hard that sheets of tears cover his entire body. A good friend of mine, however, likes the patchwork red-orange dog, representing Tong Daeng, the beloved pet of the late king.

IMG_0301On the same building is a massive portrait of the late king, painted on another wall of the building.  It overlooks two large malls and the intersection of two major elevated rail lines, almost as if the king is still overseeing the lives of his people.  (You can catch a glimpse of the other work of art under the elevated train’s tracks.) This is one building in Bangkok.  Now, imagine, if you can, similar expressions of respect and grief on other buildings or at other intersections, multiplied a thousandfold. Everywhere you look there are other pictures,posters, and paintings of the late king – most of which incorporate either an expression of respect and grief or one of his famous sayings.  I have added some more thumbnail photos below.  As I said earlier, I cannot imagine this happening for an individual in the Western world – and certainly cannot imagine it continuing for one year.

Other Photos:

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Hellos and Goodbyes

BRYANT_1705-1abIn the spring and the fall of every year, there are “Hellos” and there are “Goodbyes.” This year, I noticed them more than I ever have before – perhaps, because we were able to gather some very special people together to say “Hello” and were able to say “Goodbye” in a very special way as well. During our Orientation for New CVTs (Christian Volunteers in Thailand), we were invited to the home of Rev. Dr. William (Bill) Yoder (seated, center) for dinner. Why is that significant? Bill Yoder first arrived in Thailand in 1963 as one of the earliest CVTs to serve the church in Thailand by teaching at Prince Royal’s College, one of the many private Christian schools under the church scattered throughout the country. But this gathering was even more significant than that, because several other early CVTs also joined the group that evening. In the back row, just to the right of Bill Yoder’s head, is Guy Scandlen. Guy came to Thailand as the very first CVT (before our volunteers were even called CVTs). He came in 1961 and taught English to Thai children at Aroonpradit School in Petchaburi.  Other early volunteers pictured here include Martha Butt and her husband, John, (back row on the left) who met and married while teaching at Prince Royal’s College. Chris Tananone and Esther Wakeman in the back row to the right of Guy Scandlen are two others who came in the 1970’s. For the CVT volunteers who are currently serving in Thailand (everyone else in the photo), it was a special time of hearing stories about the “good old days” when life on the mission field was more difficult than it is today and hearing the outpouring of love and support from the CVT Alumni for the ministry these volunteers have begun here.

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Andrea Nascimento do Espirito Santo came to Christian Volunteers in Thailand through Interserve and her congregation in Brazil. She came to improve her English-speaking ability and to serve Christ, primarily by working with at-risk youth and adults. Initially, she worked in one of Bangkok’s largest slums at Klong Toei Community Center. There, she supervised preschool children at play while their parents went to work. At the end of one year, she transferred to a Ministry to Displaced Persons at International Church of Bangkok. She is pictured here with Pastor Clefton Vaughn on the morning when she said “Goodbye” to the congregation by telling them all that she had learned during her year in ministry there. It was obvious that she felt she had received much more than she had given to others during her ministry and she gave all the glory to God.  A fifteen-minute video of her farewell to the congregation is posted online at YouTube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI_ScJC3JyQ&t=303s  Andrea will be missed by those of us who have walked this path with her over the past two years. She is returning to Brazil to see what other adventures God has planned for her.  She very much believes in the words of Jeremiah 29:11 – “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” She is a very talented and outgoing young lady and I am sure that God has something wonderful in store for her!

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Fantastic Co-Workers

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Ms. Chonchineepan at the Office in Chiang Mai

One of the things that has amazed and delighted me throughout my tenure in Thailand has been the phenomenal intelligence and industry of my Thai co-workers in this ministry! It all began with Ms. Chonchineepan Acharayungkul, who was assigned to work with me when I first arrived in Thailand and my office was located in Chiang Mai. A seminary graduate whose husband worked as a chaplain at Payap University, she was quick to understand how much of the language I understood and was very helpful in interpreting activities and events of Thai life that I had observed, but did not fully comprehend the significance of, in those early days.  Once she understood the goals of the program, she was quick to help me re-interpret those goals in a manner that was most helpful to the other Thai professionals who worked with me, helping me build relationships and see results.

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Sharing a meal with Rev. Anne Gregory (L) and Ms. Wararat Chaisuk (R) in Bangkok over the Christmas break.

When I was invited to move to Bangkok and work from the church headquarters, Ms. Wararat Chaisuk was already working there. She quickly became indispensable, as she knew far more than I did about the internal accounting systems, resources available for missionaries and all the informal networks within which office information truly flows. With a passion for ecumenical relations and interfaith work, Ms. Wararat Chaisuk had also studied at the Ecumenical Institute at Chateau de Bossey, Switzerland. In addition, she held a master’s degree in communication, which we used to craft better ways to “tell the story” of the ministry that we shared. We explored new avenues with social media. She also helped me interpret Thai customs and culture, but did not stop at just teaching me about it. She actually helped me to understand what the appropriate responses were to some of the activities and even the conversation that flowed around me. I knew the words and thought I understood their meaning.Ms. Wararat Chaisuk introduced me to new levels of meaning behind the words.  I was devastated when she left to take a position at her alma mater.

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Home for Christmas,  this is Mr. Worapod Sereerattanakul in his native Hmong attire.

But God knew better than I did that greater things were in store for Ms. Wararat Chaisuk and for me. While she developed new skills and built significant relationships in her new job, I met Mr. Worapod Sereerattanakul. The oldest of three boys in a Hmong family from Phitsanulok, he was also a seminary graduate who came to work with me in Bangkok. Quiet and unassuming, this young man is a silent superman. He has worked and traveled with me for more than a year, learning every aspect of this ministry and now, I have no qualms leaving him in charge if I need to be away for a time. As it is, he handles all the financials and the details that drive me crazy. At the same time, he can see the vision for what this ministry can do in the lives of Thai children, as well as for the volunteers who come. He has never flinched at any of the assignments I have given to him and now contributes new ideas and ways of doing this work that leave me in awe. His dream is to be a missionary himself, when he has completed his education. He wants to study missiology and I fully support his desire to do so, though I dread the thought of him leaving.  Ah, well.  Perhaps, God has another wonderful person in mind!

 

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Workers in God’s Vineyard

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With CVT Volunteers and School Officers at Vijjanari School in Lampang in November

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting Vijjanari School in Lampang, Thailand. It is one of the 30 schools affiliated with the Church of Christ in Thailand, the national ecumenical Protestant church in Thailand. This year, the school is hosting two of our Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVTs): Avinoli Chishi and Chulei Phom. Avi and Chulei came to the CVT Program from Nagaland in India. If you do not know Nagaland, Google it sometime and learn the fascinating story of how American Baptist missionaries went to this province of India in the 1800’s and proclaimed the gospel to 16 tribes of headhunters. Today, 95% of the Naga people are Christian. The Nagaland Baptist Church Council sends missionaries out to other countries and Thailand is privileged to have five of them currently serving as CVT volunteers.

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Chulei Phom Teaching English to Thai Students at Vijjanari School

To be volunteers with Christian Volunteers in Thailand, Avi and Chulei needed to surpass the basic qualifications required by the program. They both had to be graduates of a baccalaureate degree program at an accredited university. They had to have letters from their pastors certifying that they were both active Christians in their local church. They had to have letters from a previous employer certifying that they were reliable, dependable and individuals of good character. And they also had to pass the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) with a score greater than 600. A Skype interview also demonstrated that they could both speak English clearly and with very little accent, so that the Thai children could understand them. Having passed all of these requirements with flying colors, it was up to the staff of the CVT Program to place them in a school. Vijjanari School had been waiting for a volunteer for over a year and was delighted to receive both volunteers shortly after classes began in May 2016.

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Avinoli Chishi Teaching English to Thai Students at Vijjanari School

Avi and Chulei have been teaching at Vijjanari School for six months, but they have also been doing much more than teaching! When I visited the school recently with Mr. Worapod Sereerattanakul, the Assistant Coordinator of the CVT Program, I learned that Avi and Chulei have been attending worship every Sunday at the local Thai church. In addition, they have been studying the Thai language, teaching Bible and working with the youth of the church. As a result, they have many, many new friends in Lampang. When they go shopping for food or clothing in the local market, they are recognized by parents of their students who are working there. Chulei has taught herself how to ride a bike and often goes riding after work. Both young ladies love their new ministry.

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Vijjarnari Students Practice Marching for an Upcoming Sports Day

Vijjanari School was establish 127 years ago by Presbyterian missionaries working in Northern Thailand. It was originally one of the first schools for girls in the nation. Currently, it is co-educational and offers a K-12 education to more 800 students, most of whom come from Buddhist families. The school has been wonderfully supportive of both Avi and Chulei, providing them with a two-bedroom apartment on campus, lunch at school every day, school uniforms to wear when they teach, a small stipend for other expenses and rides to other places in town they want to go. In talking to the officers of the school and later to Avi and Chulei, it was obvious to me and Mr. Worapod Sereerattanakul that the CVTs were happy at the school and the school was delighted with these two young women. This is obviously a match made – where else? – in heaven!

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Expressions of Love and Respect

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LED Billboard on a Building

It is difficult to communicate to the outside world all the ways that the Thai people are endeavoring to express their love and respect for His Majesty Bhumipol Adulyadej, Rama IX, who passed away one month ago on October 13, 2016. Black and white bunting drapes every significant building in the city of Bangkok. Large LED billboards, formerly used for advertising, show photographs of the late King and are coupled with quotes from his speeches or his books. Songs have been written about him that play for hours on the radio. Videos of his life, his many projects, his family, royal ceremonies he participated in during his life, visits from the heads of state of other nations, and the practice of his faith have played nonstop on all the major Thai television channels during this past month. Some places of remembrance even have tables with books where mourners can express their thoughts. (See additional photos at the end of this blog post.)

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Faculty, Staff and Students at Prince Royal’s College in Chiang Mai

The Thai people have struggled to find new ways to express their grief and their respect.  At one of the Christian schools in Northern Thailand, Prince Royal’s College, the faculty, staff and students gathered on the soccer field to form a black-bordered image of the Thai number 9 (for King Rama IX) and the initials of their school. There have been an infinite variety of these kinds of demonstrations of respect for the late King.  In Chiang Mai, thousands of mourners turned out to spell the name of their city in lights at a candlelight vigil for the King.

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Mourners at the Grand Palace

Thousands of Thai people have gone to the Grand Palace in Bangkok to demonstrate their love and respect before the golden casket that holds the body of the late King. Mourners stood in long lines for hours in the hot sun or the pouring rain. Initially, 30,000 to 40,000 people came each day, but the Grand Palace was unable to accommodate that number. There is now a website where people can receive a number that tells them what day and what time they will be able to enter and the government has limited the numbers to 10,000 per day.  Food and water are provided for the mourners and free transportation is being provided from major transportation hubs to the Royal Parade Ground next to the Grand Palace.

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The Late King’s Silhouette

Finally, Thai artists have experimented with different ways to demonstrate their love and respect that range from amazing to adorable.  In this photo, the iconic silhouette of the late King can be seen against a cloudy sky (He is remembered for using chemicals to create rain during a drought) that forms the outline of the Thai number 9 (King Rama IX). In another, the keys of a computer have been moved around to show the phrase “Love the King 9” on the keyboard. There are countless black t-shirts with just the Thai number 9 on them in gold, white or gray. There are also black ribbons and armbands for those who cannot afford to purchase black clothing. Finally, there are many billboards that simply show a black ribbon and have the word “Do Good for Your Father,” for the King of Thailand is called the Father of his people. Daily, I am amazed at how many different ways the Thai people have found to show their love and respect for their late King.

Additional Photos:

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