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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A Nation in Mourning

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HM Bhumipol Adulyadej, King Rama IX

It has been just over one week since the Royal Palace issued the official announcement of the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX. Since then, the entire country has been plunged into deep mourning for this beloved monarch who reigned as king for more than 70 years. He was already king when I arrived in Thailand at the tender age of one. Throughout my life, I have heard stories of the amazing things he has done for this nation and for its people. He was born in the USA while his father was studying at Harvard Medical School. He was raised and educated in Switzerland. He never expected to be king and only ascended to the throne when his older brother’s life was unexpectedly cut short in 1946. A trained engineer, an accomplished musician and a man with a a deep sense of responsibility for this nation, this king has guided this nation through difficult and challenging times, giving it a long period of relative stability and prosperity even as its neighbors in Southeast Asia were struggling.

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HM Bhumipol Adulyadej,   Hard-Working Monarch of the People of Thailand

I was surprised at how hard the news of this king’s death hit me. He had been in poor health for several years and the news of his death did not come as a surprise. But tears flowed freely as I fought thousands of others who were using their cell phones as I tried to contact my brothers and sister in the USA to share the news with them. We all grew up here in Thailand and had (and still have) deep friendships among the Thai people. When the Church of Christ in Thailand – the national ecumenical Protestant church – invited me to return to Thailand in 2011 to serve in ministry here, I came eagerly and with great hope – hope born of a deep respect for this nation, the Thai people and their amazing monarch. As I have traveled extensively throughout Thailand in these past five years, I have inquired, seen, explored and come to know many of the projects and programs that sprang from the mind of this great man and his love for this nation.  The cost of many of these projects and programs was underwritten by the Royal Treasury so as not to place a undue burden on the Thai people. All of them were designed to improve the quality of life for Thai people. The photograph posted here is one of the favorites of the Thai people, for it is the first photograph that shows a reigning Thai monarch perspiring – one measure of his great effort on their behalf.

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Black-Garbed Mourners Outside the Walls of the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Anyone watching television programs or reading the newspaper in recent days can see an untold number of photographs and videos recounting the work of this great king. And it is impossible to walk the streets without seeing the deep respect and love of this people for their late king. It is not just that everyone is wearing black. It is in the subdued way that people are carrying on with their lives. It is in the number of people who have turned out to stand in long lines in the hot sun and pouring rain to pay their respects at the Grand Palace where the late king’s body lies in state.  It is in the tears that flowed freely when more than 300,000 people came to Sanam Luang (the Royal Parade Ground) by the Grand Palace just to sing the Royal Anthem this past Saturday. It is in the glow of thousands of candles that are lighted each evening outside the walls of the Grand Palace. It is in the countless stories about the monarch that are being shared at meals and in gathering places both glamorous and humble across this nation. People have been asked to wear black for 30 days. Many will wear black for a year. People have been asked to reschedule weddings and other celebrations in order to show respect during this 30-day period. Visitors to Thailand will not have access to the Grand Palace or other tourist venues during this time of mourning. I can say that, no matter how long the official time of  mourning will be, the Thai people will mourn the passing of this king for years to come.  I know I will.

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Taking New Friends to Special Places

ELCA YAGM Visitors at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

ELCA YAGM Visitors at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

When friends come to visit, one of the joys of my life is to take them to places where I have been and show them some of the things that have captured my heart.  When a small group of ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) people connected with the YAGM (Young Adults in Global Mission) program visited Thailand in May, I found time to take them to the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Because the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is considered to be the holiest site in Thailand and because the Grand Palace is one of the “must see’s” of Thailand (The top tourist destination by far), it is kept in immaculate order and is always a breathtaking sight (site) to see! But it is always jammed with tourist from all over the world. On this day, we spent three hours all told – one hour traveling to and from the Grand Palace and two hours wandering, looking and taking photographs of the stunning beauty of the place.

The Ramp for the Garuda

The Ramp for the Garuda Image

One of the sights that is rarely seen during a tour of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace is the effort to restore parts of these magnificent building as they age. Months ago, I noticed that they were changing the roof tiles on one of the buildings at the Grand Palace.  To do so, they had to remove a large Garuda image that hung from the corner of the roof.  In two subsequent visits, even though the roof tiles had been replaced, I noticed that the Garuda image was still missing. However, during this visit in May, I saw that the wonderfully restored Garuda image was being prepared to be lifted back into place.  To understand the challenge of that, please refer to the photograph to the right. In this case, the picture is definitely worth a thousand words.

Bangkok Morning Traffic the Day After the Coup

Bangkok Traffic the Day After the Coup

A trip to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace is not an easy undertaking. Getting to the Grand Palace is a challenge because Bangkok traffic is always horrendous. During the hot season when temperatures easily top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, there are no air-conditioned areas to enter to escape the heat.  The only hope is for a slight breeze or a spot with some shade.  I always encourage people to bring an umbrella – not for the rain, but to escape the glare of the sun – and a bottle of water to restore the liquid that your body loses naturally on a hot, humid day. During the rainy season, there are precious few places to escape Thailand’s tropical rain, which pours down in sheets.  That umbrella, once again, becomes a life saver. The cool season – October to February – seems to be the best time, but several million other people have also figured that out and the two places are jammed with tourists all looking for the same view. With this group of new friends, I discovered that the day after a coup d’état is the best day of all. The streets in Bangkok were virtually empty and so was the Grand Palace.  Of course, planning that might be a little difficult!

More photos:

At the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Detail of the Wall of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Detail of the Wall of the Temple

The Balcony of the Grand Palace

The Balcony of the Grand Palace

Looking across the front lawn of the Grand Palace

Looking across the Grand Palace

The Royal Guest House at the Grand Palace

Royal Guest House at the Grand Palace

The Emerald Buddha

The Emerald Buddha

Seen in a Bangkok Skytrain Station

Seen in a Bangkok Skytrain Station

 

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Getting Away to Rest and to Learn – Part II

Walking the Labyrinth at the Senior CVT Retreat

Ben, Caren, Trinh and Lou Walking the Labyrinth at the Senior CVT Retreat

The book chosen as the theme for our Senior CVT Spring Retreat was Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World”, which was highly recommended by International Site Coordinators at our meeting in March.  Most CVTs purchased the book through Amazon and read it on their Kindles. Then, we took turns sharing what we had learned in the various chapters we read and guiding the group through activities suggested by the reading.  Some were interesting.  Some were hilarious. Some were outrageous. And some were contemplative.  If you have read the book, you can probably figure out which chapters fit into which categories.  Everyone enjoyed the book.

Making Welcoming Houses

James, Ben and Sarah Making a Welcoming House

In addition to discussing the book, our Senior CVTs spent time getting to know our new volunteers and sharing ‘words of wisdom’ from their experiences in Thailand. They also share in some team-building experiences. One team-building activity they shared was the process of creating ‘welcoming houses’ out of styrofoam, crepe paper, toothpicks, popsicle sticks and glue. It was interesting to observe what special talent emerged during this process. It was also interesting to watch how decisions were made and objectives realized.

Sarah Cullen Shares Where She Is From

Sarah Shares Where She Is From While Sandra Listens In

Each new CVT volunteer is asked to write a poem based upon a template provided in their orientation packet.  The poem is called “Where I’m From” and it takes includes special people, special places, special foods and other important things from a person’s life to tell the story of what made them who they are today.  A special time during our orientation is when our new CVT volunteers share their poems with the Senior CVTs. It is always amazing to hear the diversity of experiences and backgrounds among our new volunteers, as well as the depth of understanding that can be gained through what they choose to share through their poetry. It was a special time for all of us once again.  Our next time together is in August and plans are already being made. A special word of thanks goes out to our friends at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They have given the Christian Volunteers in Thailand program a special grant of $5,000 to support these retreat programs that are so important to our volunteers.  THANK YOU!!

Photos:

More Work on Welcoming Houses

Caren and Trinh Work on Their Welcoming House

Nicole and Lindsey Enjoying Their Work on a Welcoming House

Nicole and Lindsey Enjoying Their Work on a Welcoming House

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Getting Away to Rest and to Learn – Part I

Nicole Betteridge Arrives in Thailand

Nicole Betteridge Arrives – Minus her Suitcase which Arrived Later

The month of May brought new volunteers to Thailand to join the twelve who are already here.  We welcomed Nicole Betteridge (seen here at the airport when she arrived) from the USA, Sarah Cullen from England and Otoli Tuccu from India. We were delighted to be able to spend two weeks with them, getting to know them and teaching them a little about Thailand before they went off to their placement sites to begin their ministry in Thailand. In addition to welcoming new volunteers to Thailand, the CVT Orientation program also welcomes back our Senior CVTs who join us for one week. During that week, they have the opportunity to get to know the new volunteers and to begin to build that strong network of support that our new volunteers need in those first months as they adjust to living and working in Thailand. The Senior CVTs serve as counselors, mentors, and even spiritual guides to keep the new volunteers as eager and excited about their ministry as they are when they first arrive.

Senior CVTs at a Oil Well in Fang

Senior CVTs at an Oil Well in Fang

But life is not all work and drudgery for our Senior CVTs! They have their own time to recharge their batteries, to share their experiences and solve problems together, and to do something special together that is not open to the new volunteers. This time, we traveled north to Fang together as a group to explore a place in Thailand where the Senior CVTs have never been.  First stop: The Oil Fields of Fang.  Who would believe that Fang has 25 or more oil wells – or that there are more oil fields scattered throughout Thailand that provide a significant portion of the petroleum needs of Thailand? Well, there – in the middle of a rice paddy – we found an oil well and several more, pumping oil for Thailand’s use.

Senior CVTs Testing a Hinoki Bed and Mattress

Senior CVTs Testing a Hinoki Bed and Mattress

Next stop: Hinoki House. A wealthy Thai man of Chinese extraction who lived in Japan for 19 years has built a beautiful mansion of cedar and teak in the city of Fang. This man made his fortune making and selling products made from cedar, including cedar oil, cosmetics, cedar chip pillows and mattresses, furniture and so on. The house is amazing – filled with art and all the comforts money can buy, including a large Jacuzzi and sauna. The Senior CVTs had to test one of the beds and mattresses (with permission, of course).

Senior CVTs Boiling Eggs at the Fang Hot Springs

Senior CVTs Boiling Eggs at the Fang Hot Springs

Next stop: Fang Hot Springs.  Yes, Fang has hot springs and even a geyser that shots a stream of hot water into the air every fifteen minutes or so.  Unfortunately, the geyser was not shooting any water on the day that we visited because they were doing some construction work in the area.  But we still got to enjoy the hot springs. On the way to the hot springs, we picked up some birds’ eggs and were able to boil the eggs in the hot water provided by the springs. It did not take more than five minutes for those eggs to be hard-boiled. From there, we went to an area where private pools could be rented so that those who were interested could sit in the warm water. Yes, our Senior CVTs were interested and they spent some time together (men in one pool and women in another) enjoying the warm water from the hot springs. (See photo below) While it was a crazy busy day, it was a special day and one with a lot of memories captured on film.

CVT Ladies Enjoying the Hot Springs

CVT Ladies Enjoying the Hot Springs

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Postscript

My brother, Ken, and his wife Susie with my sister Carol and I.

My brother, Ken, and his wife, Susie, with my sister Carol and me on Easter Sunday.

The week before Christmas 2013, the doctors discovered a tumor in my brother’s brain that had, in three days, destroyed his ability to use his right arm and his right leg, and had taken away his speech.  As pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, Illinois, he was unable to preach the Christmas sermon or participate in many Christmas activities at the church.  The week after Christmas, the doctors in St. Louis operated and removed the tumor. Since then, he has been on an aggressive treatment plan with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to destroy any residual cancer and physical therapy to restore his ability to use his arm, his leg and his speech.

Rev. Kenneth R. Bryant Delivers the Resurrection Message on Easter Sunday

Rev. Kenneth R. Bryant Delivers the Resurrection Message on Easter Sunday

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My last day in the USA this year was Easter Sunday. My sister and I flew to Greenville and spent two days with my brother and his wife. On Easter Sunday morning, we rejoiced to see and hear him deliver the resurrection message to his congregation. Oh, God is so good!

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Finding Ways to Praise God

Ferncliff Campground in the Spring

Ferncliff Campground in the Spring of 2014

I flew back to the United States in March to attend the International Site Coordinators Meeting of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) Program of the Presbyterian Church (USA) at Ferncliff Campground outside Little Rock, Arkansas. Perhaps, it was trying to schedule things too tightly together or, perhaps, it was my body telling me it was time to rest, but I came down with acute bronchitis during the YAV Site Coordinators Meeting – with a deep chest cough, fever and chills. My trip to an Urgent Care Center in Little Rock resulted in a prescription for Augmentin. Augmentin contains a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanate potassium. I have never had a bad reaction to penicillin or amoxicillin before, but I developed dizziness, severe diarrhea, weakness and loss of appetite on top of the fever, chills and cough of my bronchitis. Long story short: I was in no condition to interview YAV candidates for Thailand that week and, as a consequence, we lost the opportunity to open the YAV site in Thailand this year. I was devastated.

Beautiful Sunny Seattle

Beautiful Sunny Seattle

I had a lot of questions for God that next week as I stayed in my sister’s home in Seattle, recovering from my illness and the side effects of the medication. Why this? Why now? Why the loss of an entire year because I was ill for a few days? I spend some long, beautiful, sunny (rare for Seattle) days, sitting in the living room of my sister’s house, looking out over Puget Sound toward the Olympic Mountains wondering what it all meant – for me, for the YAV Program in Thailand, for our relationship with our Thai church partner. I spent quiet time alone in prayer, time reading over the objectives of the YAV Program, time thinking about our Thai church partner, and time wondering what God had in mind – for this ministry, for the young people who apply to be YAVs, and for the relationship between the PC(USA) and the church in Thailand.

Julian and Beau Playing Together

Julian and Beau Playing Together

There was no blinding insight that came from this time of quiet reflection, but there was a wonderful peace and calm that took the sharp sense of disappointment away.  In that next week, my son flew up from San Diego and spent a few days with me, sharing news of what was new in his life and talking about his plans for the future. It was a real joy to see him and be with him – and to watch him playing with my sister’s dog, Beau. Beau loves to chase lime-green tennis balls down the hill and bring them back to be thrown again. Julian obliged him during those times when he wasn’t tied to his computer fixing code problems with the mobile applications that he designs. Somehow, in this day and age, our work follows us wherever we go, despite our own desires for time apart and a time of Sabbath rest.  It was still good to see his face and hear a little about his busy life as a code slinger.

Seattle Rainbow

Seattle Rainbow

On Julian’s final day in Seattle, God gave us both a gift – a sign of his presence and his promises for our lives. Through the mist of a gentle rain, this brilliant and lovely arching rainbow appeared and stayed for the longest time.  Not only did we see this section of it as we gazed out of the windows, but a perfect reflection of it appeared in the window opposite.  It was like we were covered by the arc of the rainbow – covered by God’s love and grace.  The peace that filled me in that moment was indescribable.  I knew – once again – that God was in charge and that all would be as God has willed.  I am God’s servant and I wait to see what God will do in my life, in my son’s life, in the ministry here in Thailand, and for all of the young people who will come to Thailand through the YAV Program in the years to come.  God is good!

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