Auf Wiedersehen

Final CVT Logo 2012How can I cram into one tiny blog post all the things that I want to share with you in this moment? How can I show you how much you have meant to me in my journey over the last ten years? Without you, none of this would have happened… and every memory that I carry with me has a piece of you in it. The time has come for me to tell you that I have accepted the Voluntary Severance Package that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has offered. November 30, 2020 will be my last day of employment with Presbyterian World Mission. It was not an easy decision, but it is one that is guided by my conviction that God is calling me to something new. I keep Isaiah 43:18-19 in my heart. As I say goodbye to my colleagues in Louisville and around the world, as well as my Thai co-workers and my global ecumenical partners, I do so knowing that we are still a part of one holy catholic and apostolic church and, thus, we are not truly separated from each other, but remain one in Christ and in God’s work in this world.

A173C191-8CE8-4AC2-8339-69B0414680BF_1_201_aAs you know, the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted our lives this year. With the borders closed in Thailand since March, the Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) program has been unable to receive any new volunteers. The volunteers who have completed their terms of service have gone on to new adventures and the last two volunteers will complete their program this month. Andy Moore will return to the USA. Tou Dao Herr and his wife and new baby boy will remain in Thailand, as Dao has accepted the offer of full-time employment at Nan Christian School. (In the photo, I am holding Joshua Chayanan Herr.) Without a vaccine and with the borders still closed indefinitely, the CVT program will shut down temporarily. Both Presbyterian World Mission and its partner church in Thailand look forward to the day when it might be possible for volunteers to return to Thailand

2016 Itineration Journey MapI sit here wondering how I can share with you what these last ten years have meant to me. How many people can say that they were paid to do what they love to do and what they believe God called them and equipped them to do? Not many. It has been a joy, an honor and a privilege for me to do this work. There is no part of it that I do not love with a passion that is indescribable. I love to recruit volunteers, to watch them come to Thailand with stars in their eyes, to walk with them through their painful adjustment to a strange country and culture, to see them try new things, to stumble and fall, to help them stand again, and then, to rejoice with them when they find their own footing and walk with confidence with their colleagues, laughing, singing, learning and praying together. I love sharing stories of this ministry with you who so faithfully support this work, struggling to help you understand the challenges, the trials and the triumphs of each volunteer in his or her unique setting. I love driving the miles across the USA (The map above records my 2016 travels in the USA.) and seeing parts of our beautiful country that very few people get to see, staying in your homes, eating with you and your families, learning about your cities and towns, and sharing your joys and sorrows. I will miss all of that.

Presbyterian World Mission would like to invite you to participate in an online celebration of my work as I conclude my tenure with them and enter a new chapter of life and service to God. This celebration, on Wednesday, November 18 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) will be via Zoom meeting. I will share highlights of my ministry. You will also be invited to share remembrances of my ministry, if you wish to do so. And we will join together in a short service of prayer and thanksgiving for all that God has done through me in these years.  To RSVP for this online celebration, please register at:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Zoom meeting.

DDBDF8FB-63D4-4567-AB39-6F1EB3920290_1_201_aIt is hard to pick one or two stories that capture all the emotion of the past ten years without leaving so much out. But I will try. Perhaps, stories of one of the shortest- and one of the longest-serving volunteers are the bookends for that time. I live to find volunteers like Patricia Pearce, who came to Thailand in her 70’s to teach, because it fulfilled a lifelong dream of hers. She was only here with us for six months before returning to Connecticut. And, six months later, she died unexpectedly. But she fulfilled her dream and she touched the lives of so many with the joy that she shared in her brief time with us. There is nothing she was afraid to try. She danced and sang as she taught English to the Thai students in Phrae. She was fully engaged in every activity on our retreats and all of us will remember her laughter for a long, long time.

2E7C9896-D604-4886-AD2C-23C3D97E76DE_1_201_aThey say that you never forget your first and I will never forget the first volunteer who came to Thailand at my invitation: Rev. James Riggins. James survived all the mistakes I made in my first two years in this ministry and kept smiling. In turn, I watched him grow from ignorant tourist to competent professional as a teacher and manager of teachers. Then, I watched him do what God called him to Thailand to do: Be the founding pastor of Great Commission International Church in Phitsanulok, the first congregation for non-Thai established by our Thai church partner. James met his wife during those years, married her, and now they have an energetic two-year-old. He left Thailand in 2019 to teach at a Chinese university, but we remain close friends, having shared a lot of trials and triumphs together in his seven years of service here.

None of this would have happened without you. I thank you for all that you have done to support me, and I hope that you will continue to support my colleagues in Presbyterian World Mission and those who may come after me to work with Christian Volunteers in Thailand. Your prayers, your emails, and your contributions to World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have made all of this possible. Thank you.

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An Update from Thailand

467738E5-669F-43AC-A5C6-E40677855629It has been interesting to live in Bangkok for the past few weeks. There have been some protests against the government here, but in recent days, there have also been large gatherings in support of the monarchy.  To learn how it has affected me, to be introduced to our newest CVT, and to learn the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Christian Volunteers in Thailand, please click on this link:

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P. S.

17A924BD-5B53-43AC-80B6-5C91C03B01B8So, there is a Post Script to the previous story.  It has been a month since the Thai Airways Catering  opened its doors to make something apparently delicious every morning.  Things are still going gangbusters!  The line now trails down the sidewalk on the other side of the block so as not to interfere with businesses that were previously having difficulty with the mass of humanity interested in the goodies being offered.

A5049AEB-6F86-4686-B8B4-6AE5A2D5BE4AAnd, there is more. Some individuals are no longer willing to stand in this long line and they have discovered that they can get these goodies delivered. So, now there are Grab Delivery and Panda Food motorcyclists who have parked their bikes and are also standing in line to buy for others and deliver them to home or to work for their convenience.  I have no idea how much they charge for standing in line and delivering the goods. On this particular morning, I counted 23 motorcycles parked on the curb (on both sides of the Tourist Information booth) waiting for their riders to return with the goodies. I walk by between 6 AM and 6:30 AM every day and that is  when I take my photos. By 9 AM, the business is done for the day and the cooks and salesclerks have cleared out and gone!

9D9D136D-C578-4BE1-B3DD-D3FE7E7A102AI am not the only one who is noticing how successful this business is!  At the end of the line, there was a local news crew capturing a human interest story for their daily broadcast.  It is amazing to watch this story unfold day by day.

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Overnight Success

It isn’t often when we are privileged to see real overnight success. But it CAN happen.

94e083e5-1cc4-423e-a233-6955530d1475-1I walk at dawn every morning for exercise (and for the only really healthy thing that I do all day long). I walk in a circuit around my neighborhood – and the scenery doesn’t change much. In some ways, it is reassuring that the sidewalk stays the same and the traffic lights work in the same ways every day. The sun comes up at the same time and the only real debate is whether or not it will rain during the hour I am walking. Most days, I carry my umbrella, because it is the rainy season and I have found it difficult to predict what might happen during my walk – either by the forecast offered by my Apple watch or by the looks of the cloud cover overhead.

84ad8f3b-0902-437a-a1c4-83f37b46ce45After months of taking the same route each morning, I have now gone beyond “Hello” to some light conversation with some of the street vendors who are setting up to hawk their wares to commuters who are walking to their offices. Two of the vendors that I have the greatest joy encountering each day are these two women (and the boyfriend of one of them sometimes). They will tease me on mornings when I show up late and encourage me on mornings that are overcast and drizzly and I do the same for them. There are days that I walk just because I want to see them. They make me smile!

9D2E2400-FCB0-4F63-9BA4-516B25BF016ALast week, something new happened. After months of no international air travel and no tourists, Thai Airways International has struggled to find its way in the new economy. This Thai flagship carrier filed for bankruptcy and presented a new plan to the courts. One problem it had to overcome was what to do with the plethora of ticket offices that exist, particularly in high-tourist areas of the city. On my walk this past week, I noticed that Thai Airways International has converted the ticket office near my house to a catering venue.  I wondered how that would go over.

4B5A430D-810C-4449-BF0B-CAE5C426A073I need not have worried, apparently.  They have a great marketing plan.  Let me explain: On Wednesday morning, when they first opened for business, I came by in the morning and was able to observe what they were doing to prepare for their first customers. The food was in plain view and five people were working hard to cook and bag delicious fried (of course) doughnuts and other treats. There was not a customer in sight.

8C57CAC8-7A07-42E9-9BC9-0A4653FC315FOn Thursday morning, I came by again.  In contrast to the day before, there were now fifteen to twenty customers lined up to purchase the goodies and the line blocked the front of the bank and the Western Union office that occupy the same block as the Thai Airways ticket office. But everyone was served swiftly and what little time was spent in line was spent on cellphones, checking email or playing games.

B3058DCC-D0C3-488F-B22E-577DAC73F52BOn Friday morning, I was blown away. The line of people waiting to be served now snakes all the way down the block and around the corner and into the next block. You cannot even see the Thai Airways office/catering venue from the end of the line and you cannot see the end of the line from the catering venue. Not only that: People in line got very nervous when I walked by them towards the front of the line to get the next photo.

A315300B-F6F8-4CE4-82EB-4F4125025ABDLet’s just say that I think that Thai Airways has a very talented social media person in charge of this account!  Everyone (those in line and those serving) were delighted that I was just there for a photo and not doing the “Ugly American” thing of cutting to the front of the line – because, from the looks of the empty food bins and the long line, Thai Airways is having trouble keeping up with the demand for their new venture!

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The Sky Changes

6F1EF833-9F29-4264-9C96-8DC718A1482A_1_201_aEvery year at this time, the sky in Bangkok changes as the Hot Season (March to June) changes to the Rainy Season (July to October). Clouds appear – first on the horizon and then overhead – as the seasonal change moves closer and closer to reality. Then, there is the first day when clouds appear… the first cloudy day… the first raindrop… the first sprinkling… the first downpour… until we finally break out the umbrella and begin carrying it with us everywhere we go.

I love the Rainy Season… though it is disruptive of my outdoor exercise schedule. I love it because the sky changes every day.  After months of clear skies, fluffy white clouds appear and my heart rejoices. I have hope that both the oppressive heat and the dusty, smog-laden skies that amplify the Hot Season in the city will begin a slow march toward the cooler temperatures and clean skies of the Rainy Season. But the main reason why I love the rainy season is that the sky is never the same as cloud patterns shift by the day and by the hour, giving a new backdrop to all of the buildings that populate the city.

4F564F33-D31F-4B0E-A4F8-16BC189A3E0AI particularly love the color patterns that sunset, accompanied by clouds, provides for our enjoyment. Since the clouds seem to congregate in late afternoon, after a steamy, muggy day, sunsets are far more beautiful than sunrises in the city. Sunsets are also a challenge for me, as an amateur photographer, because I have learned that the difference of a few seconds can change the beauty of a photograph from stunning to just average. I often see a beautiful scene, but in rushing to acquire a better position, I lose the light that was present when I first saw it. I am convinced that, apart from the time when the sun stopped in the middle of the sky (Joshua 10), no sun has waited for anyone to capture the scene and many lovely photographs have been lost.

ABE1A526-59F1-45B0-9009-D90B1FF73B8F_1_201_aAnother reason that I love the Rainy Season is that the cloud patterns that dominate the skies diminish the size of even the largest skyscrapers. As storm clouds gather on the horizon, the size of the super cells and the majestic height of the clouds dwarf all of the buildings in Bangkok and a city whose buildings once overwhelmed and suffocated me is restored to its proper balance the the world. And finally, From the time I was a child in this country to the present day, there is no sound that is more soothing to me than the sound of rain, particularly if I am still wrapped up in the safe cocoon that is my own bed. From the sound of the individual raindrops that signal the start of a rainstorm to the thunderous sound of a monsoon downpour, all of it is a delight.  Bring it on!


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Opening To A New “Normal”?

3D2E1EBB-F64A-463F-AA5F-EABD39288937_1_201_aFor the past six weeks, we’ve seen a lot of vinyl banners like this one, telling us that the establishment – in this case, a beautiful Hindu temple on Silom Road – is not open for worship or religious ceremonies in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  They closed their gates on March 23 and the banner does not specify when they will reopen.

A09CFDED-AE92-4FD4-B449-272EE5C0C2E4_1_201_aThis temple is actually quite small, taking up just a couple of city lots on the south side of the street. I have never been inside the temple itself, but have often peered through the gate to see what I can. What I have seen is that the courtyard inside is quite crowded, filled with colorful and very intricate religious artifacts, stupas, and pillars, which would make navigation tricky for anyone who is new. I can see how it would be impossible for worshipers to do any kind of physical distancing. Not an issue as, for the past six weeks, the gate has been locked tight.

4E719E88-668C-4D62-A0AA-6EE09736046D_1_201_aAccording to the Wikipedia article on Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, it is the oldest and most important temple of its kind in Thailand. Back in 1858, when India became a British colony, many people from the southern state of Tamil Nadu preferred to leave India rather than live under colonial rule. One group of Indians, primarily made up of gemstone dealers and cattle ranchers, came to Bangkok. One leader of this group of Indians was Vaithi Padayatchi, who built this temple on Silom Road about a decade after the group arrived in Thailand. There is a little lane off of Silom Road that is named after him.

E069ED3B-AECB-4D90-AFCB-198E645F469A_1_201_aI usually take a morning walk just after dawn and this temple is on my regular route. It has been a walk on empty streets for the past six weeks, though the fresh market on the opposite side of the road is usually busy. Imagine my surprise this morning when I found the doors to the temple not only unlocked, but wide open.  I took a photo from outside the temple, as the orange sign to the left says that no photos are allowed inside. The yellow sign on the right says: 1. Everyone is to wear face masks. 2. Everyone is to have their temperature taken by an employee. 3. Everyone is to use the sanitizing gel provided. 4. Everyone is to follow the instructions given by the temple employees while they are inside the temple.

898D7E11-BA6E-4C8F-ACC4-05557942E8C0_1_201_aWhat? How? When? Those seem to be the questions that most people are asking regarding the effort to reduce restrictions that have been in place for the past six weeks.  While Christian churches are still providing virtual worship for their members, it seems that this space is now welcoming worshipers again.  Of course, today there was no one there. I will see how that changes over the days to come.

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Update on Thailand During COVID-19

0DC6052A-D148-42B3-923B-78E6AF20E7EAI recorded a short video today about Christian Volunteers in Thailand and the impact of COVID-19 on our ministry and on Thailand.  It includes prayer concerns. It’s only four minutes in length and in posted on YouTube.  I invite you take the time to enjoy it at this link:

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Rabbi, I Want to See!

75CCE46F-42E0-48E4-A3AA-74094964037C_1_201_aToday, I went out at dawn to look for my Lord.  Alone.  Searching for meaning on this Easter Sunday morning that is so different from other Easter mornings. I wondered whether Mary felt some of the same feelings on that Easter morning so long ago.  How to make sense of the present.  How to put it in context with all I know and have known. How to share a word of comfort… a word of meaning… a word of hope for those who look to me for leadership.

I walked much slower than I usually do – as I usually walk for exercise at a rather brisk pace.  This time, I searched familiar sights for something new… or something I could see in a new light. The prayer on my heart simply repeated itself in a mantra that matched the slow march of my feet over the pavement.  I almost missed it.  I stopped and went back… and took this photograph to share with you.

They are eggs… Easter eggs, if you will, since I saw them on Easter Sunday.  But inside the shells (which are not brightly colored this year), there are no yolks… no whites… no fluffy baby chicks.  Instead, they have been filled with dark, rich dirt and seeds that are now germinating… emerging from the soil with their tiny little leaves reaching for the sunlight. I never expected to see tiny plants emerging from egg shells… and that is the message of hope I want to share with you.

18 Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

We are living in a time that demands that the way in which you and I have always worshiped God must change. But we are not the first to live in such a time.  Think back to when the Jews worshiped God in the Temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem.  That Temple was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E. The Jews were forced to find new ways to worship God… in exile… in captivity. While the Temple was later rebuilt, it was destroyed again in 70 C.E. by the Romans, and the Jews and early Christians were scattered by religious persecution. Again, they needed to find new ways to worship God that were not tied to a place built by human hands.

There are two other significant groups I want to mention who had to find new ways to worship (and I sure there are many more). The Christians pilgrims, who traveled to the New World to escape religious persecution in their motherland, did not arrive to find houses of worship ready and waiting for them. They had to build their own and, while many were fashioned after houses of worship they had known, they used means and materials available to them in this new setting… this wilderness… much as the children of Israel did in their forty years of wandering in the desert. In the same way, missionaries, who have traveled to foreign lands to share the Gospel message and the news of God’s great love with others, have adapted the way they worshiped to new and strange realities.

Today, worship does not look like it did just a few weeks ago. It is something new… something different… not what we expect. But, in all of the harsh and dramatic ways that the worship of God has changed, what has not changed is the message of Holy Week and Easter!  Our God loves us with a love that is beyond our comprehension, and THAT love cannot be defeated by death. In all of the disasters… persecutions… plagues… that have come upon God’s people in the past, nothing has been able to stop this amazing message from reaching people and transforming them. And, even though this new plague threatens to completely change the way in which we worship and do ministry in the future, nothing will stop this message from continuing to reach and transform people in the future.

So, what do we do now? On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus met a blind beggar. He asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “Rabbi, I want to see!”  I, too, want to see… with new eyes. And I pray that, this Easter, God will give all of us new sight – a way of seeing that is given by God. For, despite all the challenges of this day, the message remains the same: Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.

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Staying Connected in Troubled Times


Rev. Dr. Sharon L. Bryant leads a Zoom meeting with CVTs from Thailand, China and Australia.

Our greatest achievement in Holy Week 2020 was the first Zoom meeting with Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT). Esther I Re Kim, a CVT from South Korea who served as a teacher at Chiangrai Vidhayakhome School in North Thailand for three years and is now living with her husband and son in Australia, joined the meeting and provided the one photo we have to remember this historic event. It was the first of what we hope will be regular weekly opportunities to connect with each other during these challenging times.

Only a handful of CVTs joined the call, but we on the staff of the CVT Program are convinced that the invitation ended up in the spam folder of many who may not have seen it and believed that they were excluded. In an effort to overcome that, we have sent the notice for future meetings out in groups of five or six – a total of 45-50 invitations in all. Not that this number represents those currently active in the program. It is all of those who have been involved since I came to Thailand – at least, all who wish to continue to stay connected.

What did we learn in this first virtual gathering of CVT volunteers? Most are sheltering in place wherever they are. (We had participants from Thailand, Australia and China in this call.) Some are simply enjoying time with their families – as schools are closed for the Hot Season or summer in Thailand. Many are struggling to work from home, with varying degrees of success, as their home environment was never intended to be the way in which work is accomplished. Many are isolated and lonely.  Some are fearful of what the future may hold. The beginning of the new school year in Thailand has been pushed from mid-May to July 1, in the hopes that everything will be back to “normal” by then. The stress of adapting to an online teaching methodology, particularly in schools in poor and remote rural areas is taking its toll.

One of the things that I shared with our volunteers is that, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, I would not be traveling to the USA to share stories of this ministry with churches there. Instead, what I have sent to them is this brief video which updates the news from Thailand:  One piece of joyful news that we received from Ms. Mesetshou Losou is word that she has received a scholarship to Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, that will cover the full cost of her studies there. It is an answer to prayer. Now, we wait to see how that will be fulfilled, given the challenges of this current time.

Please pray for all of our Christian Volunteers in Thailand as they wait to hear what changes the future will bring to their ministry here (or wherever they now call home). Also, pray for those who have lost their employment or exist on the margins of the global economic system and are struggling for survival in these days. May God bless you.

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We Are Not Alone

87FB6564-4309-422A-99D8-BB9700797FD1_1_201_aIn every generation, there are events that challenge our relationships, our beliefs, and our very existence on this planet. COVID-19 is one of those. Humanity has survived many of these historic events through the centuries. Knowing how we survive and how we thrive in the face of adversity is the key to understanding what we need to do to survive this one.

Belief in a God who loves us and cares for each one of us. Throughout the centuries, our faith has been a key to our ability to survive. It is this belief that helps us to cope with an unknown future and the stress of present challenges. We draw our strength from what the Apostle Paul told us (Romans 8:38-39): 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Love for others and an understanding that our lives are bound together. Just as we cannot survive without help from others, they cannot survive without us. We are called to be one family, demonstrating our love for others in what we do each day. In John 15:12-13, we hear Jesus tell his disciples: 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

COVID-19 is NOT a “normal flu” – it is very deadly.  And it threatens to overwhelm any country’s ability to deal with it. Remember that we will not show symptoms of this disease until it has incubated within us for 14 days or more. All of that time, we can spread the disease to others without knowing it. If we act wisely now, we may be able to control the spread of this disease. But we need to take it seriously NOW.  You may be young and healthy, but those around you may not be. Please act as if you might be infected until this has passed. Yes, it is inconvenient, but these are unusual times. Finally, in all that you do, wherever you are, take comfort in what Jesus told his disciples when he spoke to them in Galilee (Matthew 28:20): “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is the significance of Easter!

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