How 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.
As 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
I 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.
It 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.
They 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.