A Companion on the Journey

Nellie Close-Up - Blog

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.

Nellie at the Gate - Blog

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.

Nellie - the Flip Side 2013 - Blog

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.

The Beach She Loved - Blog

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.

The Mountains Near Sangklaburi - Blog

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.

The Reservoir from the Hotel - Blog

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

Ajarn Chonchineepan at Work - Blog

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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Retreats for Christian Volunteers

Overview

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CVTs on Retreat at Dinner

The Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) Program is a specific, short-term ministry that is a partnership ministry between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). After more than 50 years of bringing volunteers to serve in ministry in Thailand, the CVT Program has successfully placed hundreds of volunteers in Thai Christian schools and CCT ministries and supported them throughout their term of service. It does this by working in close partnership with the many ministries of the CCT and its leaders. The CVT Program staff works to bridge the chasm between the environment, customs and culture of the volunteers’ native countries and the environment, customs and culture of Thailand – by translating each for the other to improve mutual understanding and negotiate working relationships for strong partnership ministries.

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CVTs with the Border Police at the Golden Triangle

The CVT Program requires that each CVT attend four week-long retreats during each year of their service in Thailand. Experience has demonstrated that volunteers who have never attempted to live and work in a foreign country experience difficulties adjusting to their new environment unless they have an opportunity to process their challenges and emotions at least once every three months. The CVT retreats allow CVTs to not only process their responses to this new ministry, but also learn more about the country in which they are serving. Those completing two full years of service will attend eight retreats. Every effort is made to schedule these retreats to have the smallest impact on the ministries being served. These primary objectives of these retreats are:

  • To seek to deepen the volunteer’s knowledge of Thai customs and culture and to introduce advanced concepts of working cross-culturally in Thailand,
  • To incorporate spiritual practices and faith development activities to strengthen the spiritual practices and faith development of individual CVTs,
  • To introduce volunteers working in one part of the country to places and ministries in other parts of the country,
  • To strengthen the bonds of friendship and support among and between CVTs and the staff of the CVT Program, and, finally,
  • To allow CVTs to speak of issues, concerns, problems and obstacles encountered in their ministry so that remedies might be found.

The Retreat Venue

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CVTs Enjoying Free Time on Retreat

The retreat venue varies from retreat to retreat, but the staff of the CVT Program uses certain guidelines in the selection of the venue. These guidelines include:

  • A comfortable environment that allows CVTs to dress informally and be relaxed,
  • Reasonably-priced accommodations (CVTs sharing a double room with a roommate),
  • Meeting rooms that are reasonably priced and large enough for group activities,
  • A swimming pool (or ocean) for free time,
  • The availability of reasonably-priced transportation for all activities, and finally,
  • Easy access to places of historical or cultural interest.
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Rev. Sayam Muangsak Speaks on Relationships with Thai People

In order to accomplish all these objectives while keeping the costs reasonable for the schools hosting CVTs and saving funds for the Church of Christ in Thailand, the CVT Program has often asked for assistance and support from CCT schools in providing transportation or meeting rooms. The CVT Program has also utilized grant money received from various mission agencies to accomplish its mission. This has allowed the CVT Program to offer retreats in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Petchaburi, Trang, Udonthani, Sangklaburi and Nakorn Sri Thammarat.

Retreat Topics

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CVT Retreat Activity Outdoors

The topics chosen for CVT retreats alternate between subjects designed to improve knowledge and skills for ministry and subjects designed to improve spiritual practices and faith development.  Retreats with topics of spiritual practices and faith development are paired with orientation programs and are held in May and October of each year. Retreats designed to improve knowledge and skills for ministry are stand-alone retreats that happen in January and July of each year.  While there is some flexibility in planning retreats, there are some topics that are included in every two-year cycle. Those that are repeated every two years include:

      Topic                                       Pre-Read Material

  • Spiritual Practice            “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor
  • Workplace Relations      “Working with the Thais” by Henry Holmes and Suchada Tangtongtavy
  • Ecumenical Relations     Articles published by the World Council of Churches
  • Classroom Instruction    “The Heart of a Teacher” by Parker Palmer
  • Christian Witness             “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne
  • Interfaith Relations          “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” by Rev. Don Mackenzie,             Rabbi Ted Falcon and Sheikh Jamal Rahman
  • Practice of Presence         “Who Cares?” By Marcy Heidish
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CVTs at the Thai-Chinese Cultural Center in Udon

Teaching Methodology

Since research has shown that learners differ in their preferred learning styles and that classroom learning is not always the best approach, each retreat uses a variety of teaching methods and practical experience to accomplish its objectives. Each retreat utilizes formal presentations as well as field trips, small group discussions as well as structured simulations, outdoor activities as well as indoor activities. Each retreat includes time to visit a local school or ministry of the Church of Christ in Thailand. Each retreat includes visits to sites of historic or cultural importance to the Thai people. Each retreat offers a variety of menu choices, including both Asian and Western foods. Each retreat also offers private time, play time and ample time for rest and renewal.

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CVT Learning to Make Roti in the South

If the goal of the retreat is to improve skills in ministry, then time is built into the retreat for participants to practice new skills in ministry.  If the goal of the retreat is to explore new spiritual practices, then time is built into the retreat to practice new avenues of spirituality. In addition, one day of the retreat is set aside to explore new places in Thailand and that exploration may include visits to royal palaces, famous temples, cultural museums, handicraft production, as well as CCT schools and ministries in the area. CVTs are expected to participate fully in all activities of the retreat outside of “free time” that is given for their own personal relaxation. In support of this, child care is provided for families with young children.

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CVT Retreat Activity Indoors

The CVT Program also reaches out to those with with knowledge and experience and invites them to share their expertise on topics related to the topic of the retreat itself. These experts often come from the ranks of employees of the CCT or missionaries affiliated with the CCT. Examples of such speakers include:

  • Rev. Sayam Muangsak speaking on the topic of working relations with Thai people.
  • Rev. Ann Gregory speaking on the topic of technology and its impact on relationships.
  • Caren Martin speaking on the topic of classroom management, motivation and discipline.
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Team Building Activity in Pairs

Finally, time is set aside during retreats for a variety of team building activities to strengthen relationships among and between CVTs in order to provide additional support for them in between retreats. Also, time is built into every retreat so that each CVT has time to share with the CVT Program staff concerns that they might have regarding their placement site, their relationship with their placement supervisor, the work that they are doing in their ministry, their living situation, personal health or stress problems, or anything else that might be on their minds. CVT staff follow up on these concerns in their school visits in between retreats and orientation programs.

Conclusion

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CVTs with Alumni from Years Past

The CVT Program compresses rest, renewal, learning skills for life and ministry, exploring spiritual growth and development, and strengthening the CVT network relationships into barely 50 contact hours every three months. Every aspect each retreat is deliberately designed to help individual CVTs relax, strengthen interpersonal relationships, learn more about Thailand and focus on the topic of the retreat. The CVT Retreat Program takes CVTs out of their daily routine, provides them with opportunities to examine what is going on both inside and outside of them, strengthens knowledge and skills of ministry and faith, and then re-inserts them back into their ministry environment as stronger, healthier, and more knowledgeable persons. In turn, it provides the staff of the CVT Program with invaluable knowledge of how to improve their support of both CVTs and the schools and ministries where they serve.  The attached schedule is shared as an example of the opportunities and methods used to help all CVTs improve their ability to live and work in full-time ministry for the Church of Christ in Thailand.

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Orientation of New Christian Volunteers

Overview

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Brochure of the CVT Program

The Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) Program is a specific, short-term ministry that is a partnership ministry between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). After more than 50 years of bringing volunteers to serve in ministry in Thailand, the CVT Program has successfully placed hundreds of volunteers in Thai Christian schools and supported them throughout their term of service. It does this by working in close partnership with the many ministries of the CCT and its leaders. The CVT Program staff works to bridge the chasm between the environment, customs and culture of the volunteers’ native countries and the environment, customs and culture of Thailand – translating each for improved mutual understanding and negotiating working relationship for strong partnership ministries.

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A New Volunteer Arrives

The orientation of new Christian Volunteers in Thailand seeks to introduce Thai customs and culture to those who plan to stay in Thailand and serve in the Church of Christ in Thailand through one of its many ministries. It also seeks to build survival skills for those who have never been abroad or attempted to live in a culture vastly different from their own.  Since research has shown that learners differ in their preferred learning styles and that classroom learning is not always the best approach, this orientation uses a variety of teaching methods and practical experience to accomplish its goals. We don’t just talk about it: We do it! By the conclusion of the program, the volunteers know who, what, when, where, why and how to do it themselves.

The Country of Thailand

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Volunteers at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The orientation of CVTs always includes a variety of activities that help new CVTs understand the history of Thailand, its monarchy, its current political climate, its climate, its food, its natural resources, its economic strengths, and important things to remember.  This includes such things as:

  • Religion (percentage of the population that is Buddhist, major beliefs in Buddhism, a visit to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – appropriate dress, respect for those worshipping, appropriate behavior around Buddhist monks, the relationship between Christians and Buddhists in Thailand, religious freedom in Thailand, and so on)
  • Monarchy and Politics (a brief history of the Chakri Dynasty, a visit to the Rattanakosin Museum, the royal family, the Thai lèse majesté law, the current political realities, a warning about social media, and so on)
  • Imports and Exports (domination of Thai rice exports, sugar cane exports, fruits, gem stones, a visit to BH Jewelry, Thai silk, a visit to Anita Silk and Jim Thompson House, a visit to MBK Mall, Thai textiles, a visit to the Queen Sirikit Gallery, Bo Sang, Umbrella Village, Thai cotton, and so on.
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    State Railway train arriving in Chiang Mai

    Climate (an introduction to the seasons and how they differ in various parts of Thailand, temperature, humidity, appropriate dress, survival hints and so on.)

  • Food (staples of the Thai diet, utensils used to eat Thai food, family-style service, an introduction to basic foods available, how to order food and beverages, specialty foods in various parts of Thailand, and so on)
  • Transportation (an introduction to various modes of transportation, including the Bangkok Skytrain, taxis, river taxis, red songtaews, the State Railway, domestic airlines, etc., maps of Chiang Mai and Bangkok and how to use them, Thai money, ATMs and how to purchase tickets, and so on)

 The Church of Christ in Thailand

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New CVT Volunteers at the CCT Headquarters Building

Since every Christian Volunteer in Thailand (CVT) will serve in a ministry of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), it is important that all CVTs understand the history of Christian mission in Thailand, the establishment of the CCT, its structure, its offices, ministries and partnerships, current leadership, expectations of supervisors, co-workers and others affiliated with the CCT.  This includes such things as:

  • History of Christian Mission (the arrival of Roman Catholics, the arrival of Protestants, early mission work, the establishment of the Church of Christ in Thailand, indigenous leadership, ecumenical relations, a visit to the headquarters, a tour of the building and the history room, and so on.)
  • Structure of the CCT (the structure of the CCT, the General Assembly, Constitution and By-Laws, ministries and CVT placement sites, a CCT school and hospital, and so on)

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    New CVTs with the Officers of the Church of Christ in Thailand

  • Current Leadership (meeting the current leaders, photo opportunity with the officers, respecting CCT partnerships and MOUs, standards of ethical conduct, and so on.)
  • Placement Sites (what they are, where they are located, what type of ministries sponsored by the CCT, placement site supervisors, resources of CVTs, personnel and telephone numbers, expectations of behavior, entering into the community, and so on.)
  • Worship in CCT Churches (experiencing Sunday morning worship in English in Bangkok, Sunday morning worship in Thai outside of Bangkok, worship in three languages, International Churches, entering into the Christian community, expectations for worship and so on.)

 

Basic Language Skills

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The Thai Alphabet

The orientation of new CVTs always includes 20 hours of basic Thai language.  The focus of this learning is on helping the volunteers to adapt, survive and navigate through basic conversation. Normally, this is divided into five days of four-hour language study sessions given in the second week of orientation. The instructor is someone who has familiarity in working with foreigners and understands the difficulty foreigners have when first learning Thai. Since most CVTs will be placed in schools of the Education Ministry of the Church of Christ in Thailand, one day is devoted to classroom management vocabulary. This includes such things as:

  • Introductions (how to greet Thai people, how to introduce oneself, how to ‘wai,’ how to show respect to others in conversation, respect for the elderly, and so on.)
  • Shopping (Thai numbers, asking the price, bartering politely, giving money and receiving change, how to order food and beverages, drinking water, and 7-11 shopping, and so on.)
  • Directions (Asking for directions, clarifying responses, giving directions, asking for assistance, asking for translation, and so on.)
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    A CVT Teaching English

    Clothing (items of clothing, an introduction to colors, length and style, appropriateness for the occasion, colors of the days of the week, uniforms used in CCT schools, and so on)

  • Classroom Management (instructions to use with students, such as sit, stand, get out your notebook, open your book to page, please listen, pay close attention, please sit quietly, come to the front of the classroom, and so on)

The CVT Program

Experience has demonstrated that volunteers with strong personal faith and spiritual disciplines, excellent interpersonal relationships in their placement sites, and close relationships with other volunteers serving in Thailand have greater resilience throughout their tenure in Thailand. CVT Program staff works to strengthen relationships among and

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The Spiritual Practice of Washing Each Other’s Feet

between themselves and the volunteers in the program, to introduce resources for faith development and spiritual practice, as well as to visit CVT placement sites for the purpose of orienting Placement Site Supervisors and Care Teams, and mediating challenges volunteers face in their assignments. During orientation, the CVTs learn such things as:

  • Spiritual Growth (worship and devotional resources and practices, worship leadership, study of a variety of Christian authors and speakers, journaling, meditation and so on.)
  • Team Building (small group discussions, team building exercises, paired dialog, reports and presentations, free time for interpersonal relationship development and activities, field trips, and structured interaction between new CVTs and Senior CVTs and so on.)
  • Cross-Cultural Understanding (“Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier, “More Than a Native Speaker” by Don Snow, Cultural Case Studies and discussions, “Where I’m From” exercise, and presentations by a variety of Thai and foreign presenters and so on.)
  • Managing Expectations (expectations of the Church of Christ in Thailand, of its schools and other ministries, Standards of Ethical Conduct discussion, social media, blogging and other “public” spaces, attendance at retreats and Sunday worship, and so on.)

 Conclusion

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CVTs at Singh Park in Chiangrai

The CVT Program compresses a wealth of knowledge of Thailand, its people, culture and religion, into barely 100 contact hours with new CVT volunteers. Every aspect of orientation, from the places that are visited, the wisdom that is shared, the time that is spent on each topic, the transportation that is used and the food that is eaten, is deliberately designed to teach those who are unfamiliar with Thailand about its fundamental beliefs, its way of life, its people and the various ministry environments of the CCT.

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