A Wealth of Opportunity for Service

Map of Nagaland - Encyclopedia Britannica

Map of India showing Nagaland in the Northeast

It has been four years since the last time I visited India and the state of Nagaland. I have longed to go, for so many of the CVT Mission Workers who work with me, or have worked with me, come from that state and have set the bar high for the rest of us with regard to their knowledge of the Bible, their ability to articulate their faith, and their strong commitment to their work and their ministry here in Thailand. American Baptist missionaries went to Nagaland in the 1800’s to share the gospel with the sixteen headhunting tribes living in that region. Today, Nagaland is 95% Christian with a strong commitment to mission service. So, it was with great joy that I received an invitation from Rev. Dr. Kowepe Kanuo to travel to Pfutsero to speak to several different groups. Using his letter, I asked for and received permission to travel to Nagaland from the officers of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). At 2:05 AM on April 25, 2019, my Indigo flight departed from Bangkok and barely 2.5 hours later, landed in Kolkata, India.

IMG_5880

The hills of Nagaland at sunset

Having acquired an Indian Tourist visa online, it should have been easy to breeze through Immigration, but I had forgotten to request the name and address of the place where I would be staying while I was in India. It was impossible to connect to WiFi in the airport in Kolkata at 3 AM, so I eventually settled with using my host’s name and the name of the church in Pfutsero as my response and was allowed to enter the country. I had a seven-hour layover in Kolkata – time enough to wander the entire airport and browse the many shops there. My flight to Dimapur took off on time and I was surprised to find one of the Mission Workers from Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) on board that flight. Ms. Rebecca Phom and I arrived in Dimapur at midday to be greeted by my host, Rev. Dr. Kowepe Kanuo. I have been to India several times in my life, but never to the town of Pfutsero, high up in the steep hills that make up the state of Nagaland. It was seven hours of navigating dusty, winding roads through the majestic mountains of Nagaland before we arrived at our destination. The twinkling lights of the town of Pfutsero, clinging to the side of a mountain, welcomed us in the dusk just after sunset.

fullsizeoutput_6d54

The Chakhesang Baptist Church Council Guest House where I stayed

While I was not able to see much of it that night, my host took me to the Guest House of the Chakhesang Baptist Church Council (CBCC). The room I was given was spacious and comfortable. I had a few minutes to unpack before we met for dinner. Exhausted after almost 40 hours of work and travel with no rest, I headed off to bed right afterward. The next morning, I was able to see all of the beautiful flowers that were blooming around the facility. Dawn came early and, with it, hot milk tea, maize and fruit for a delicious breakfast. Over breakfast, I met my host’s wife, Mrs. Vechüloü Kanuo, who was leading a two-day conference for about 300 women representing the Chakhesang Women’s Welfare Society.  The primary purpose of the organization is to encourage and support women, particularly in entrepreneurial ventures that would improve the economic stability of women and families of the Chakhesang tribe. Several of the women who were planting crops or raising livestock independently for the first time in their lives gave testimony to the work of the Society.

fullsizeoutput_71bb

The Women of the Chakhesang Women’s Welfare Society at their meeting in April 2019

Later that same day, I took the podium and spoke to the women about exiles, using a passage from Jeremiah 29. I wanted to encourage the women to think about those who live among them who might feel isolated and far from home and to begin to formulate a way that the organization might respond to such a need. I gave each woman a piece of a jigsaw puzzle and asked how they might feel if their puzzle piece ended up in the wrong box, among pieces that did not look like their piece and did not fit together well. As I shared brochures about the CVT Program, I also talked about mission workers existing in exile – even if it is a state they have chosen – in order to do God’s work. For many at the conference, it was the first time they considered the state of exile or the plight of exiles apart from that of the children of Israel in scripture. Before the conference ended for the day, we all went outside to have a group photo taken. Most of the women were dressed in the beautiful textiles and handwoven shawls characteristic of their local tribal groups. They gifted me with a beautiful shawl as a memento of my visit.

fullsizeoutput_6f91

Community leaders in Pfutsero

The next morning, after breakfast, I met with eleven community leaders, including principals of church-run schools, members of the Chakhesang Mission Society, and pastors of local churches. Church-run schools in Nagaland exist alongside government schools and private schools and often struggle to find their unique niche. The group was curious about the schools of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT) and whether they faced similar problems and, yes, I shared that there are similar challenges. Education through the 9th grade is compulsory in Thailand. Government schools are free. Private schools and church-run schools charge tuition. There is a curriculum authorized by the Thai Ministry of Education that all schools use.  The CCT also has an Office of Education Ministry that serves to coordinate activities between and among the church-run schools, as well as to source and share professional development opportunities for administrators and teachers. The group discussed the possibility of learning more about the CCT schools, their organizational structure, and perhaps, introducing some ideas into the church-run schools in Nagaland. It was a great learning opportunity for all of us.

IMG_5964

The Youth Director

On the evening of that second day, I spoke to the youth from eight different Baptist churches in Pfutsero at Pfutsero Town Baptist Church. About 400 youth between the ages of 15 and 25 gathered to hear me speak. I focused on the passage from Jeremiah 18 that spoke of the prophet’s visit to the potter’s house. I shared pieces of PlayDoh with them and encouraged them to shape and re-shape the PlayDoh as I spoke to fully understand how God can reshape us into vessels that are suitable for ministry. I shared some stories of how I had been reshaped by God for my ministry in Thailand and I shared the stories of Rev. James Riggins and Ms. Daisy Yeptho and how they have been molded into people suitable for their ministries in Thailand, as well. I encouraged the youth to think about their own future and to consider whether working in the ministry of the church in Thailand might be part of that future. My host was the Youth Director of Pfutsero Town Baptist Church, pictured here with me.

fullsizeoutput_6f98

The Pastor and his Wife

The next morning, after breakfast, the pastor of Pfutsero Town Baptist Church and his wife welcomed me with open arms to share from my heart with the congregation. When it was my time to speak, I shared another jigsaw puzzle – this one with 1,000 pieces, one for each member of the congregation – and asked my listeners questions about where their pieces of the puzzle fit in God’s larger picture of God’s Kingdom on Earth. I used Isaiah 43 as my source text and shared with them my confidence that God loved each one of them and has called them each by name, that God has reserved a special place in God’s Kingdom for each of them in the same way that each piece of the jigsaw puzzle is unique and has its own place. I also asked them to consider what would happen to the completed picture if they chose not to participate in God’s plan – how the empty space in the picture serves to destroy both the completeness and beauty of the entire picture – and invited all of them to join me in being a part of God’s vision for this world. After I spoke, I presented the pastor with the gift of a carved wooden cross from McKean Rehabilitation Center and the congregation, in turn, presented me with a beautiful necklace. After worship, I shared a meal with the leaders of the congregation before leaving Pfutsero to head back down to Dimapur with Rev. Dr. Kowepe Kanuo.

fullsizeoutput_6fa4

In Kohima on my way to Dimapur

It was another long journey down winding mountain roads, but this time, we broke the journey in Kohima to rest and to share a meal at the home of a private home. Our host had invited several people to meet with us, including the youth leaders of his congregation in Kohima. Our conversation revealed that there are many who are interested in serving as mission workers, but there seem to be three major obstacles for those who wish to come to Thailand. The first obstacle is the regulation of visas by Thai Immigration authorities. Individuals wanting to work in Thailand need a degree (in any subject) from a university that is recognized by the Thai government. There is only one such university in Nagaland and that is Nagaland University. The second obstacle is the requirement by Nagaland church leaders that mission workers must complete coursework at a Bible college or seminary before mission service. However, through the centuries, many missionaries have come from the ranks of teachers, administrators, managers, health care workers and other fields of service. The third obstacle seems to be the length of the process for vetting mission workers. There seemed to be a sense that some work on these three obstacles would provide avenues for many more mission workers to come to Thailand. During my visit, my host’s wife gave me a beautiful shawl from her tribe as a gift.

fullsizeoutput_6fac

Staff of Nagaland Mission Movement

We arrived in Dimapur late on Sunday night and, as I was not feeling well, I bid my host farewell so I could crawl into bed. Before he left, Rev. Dr. Kowepe Kanuo gave me a small package for coming to Nagaland. (I later learned it was a gift of cash which we will use in our ministry in Thailand.) The next day, I was picked up at the Guest House by my host for the day, Rev. Andrew Semp, Director of the Nagaland Mission Movement. After a time of scripture and prayer, I met with Rev. Andrew Semp and his staff to discuss our partnership and, fortunately, the concerns we voiced independently seemed to have easy solutions.

IMG_5897

New CVT Program Brochure

Rev. Andrew Semp voiced two concerns. The first concern was that all mission workers from Nagaland seemed to be channeled into the CCT schools. I explained that this was because the Naga mission workers did not have command of the Thai language. The lack of knowledge of the Thai language places a burden on the Thai church ministry to provide someone to translate for the mission worker, which takes Thai staff away from their own work. Placing Naga mission worker in the schools to teach English does not require knowledge of the Thai language, provides a critical service to CCT schools, and provides time for the mission worker to learn the language in order to transition to another ministry. For those who do not wish to teach, I suggested that a six-month program through Union Language School would give every Naga mission worker the language skills they would need to be productive in other church ministries. The CVT Program would be able to place them in other ministries, provided that ministry had the budget to support them. Rev. Andrew Semp assured me that future Naga mission workers would be supported by their own churches, reducing the need for CCT ministries to provide financial support. Rev. Andrew Semp’s second concern dealt with visas for future Naga mission workers. I told him that I shared his concern that there were no longer any open slots in the CCT quota for Naga mission workers to receive a Religious Affairs (Non-RA) visa.  However, any prospective mission worker who had a university degree from a university recognized by the Thai government could receive a regular work visa (Non-B), for which there is no quota. This opened up two opportunities for Naga mission workers: 1) sending more mission workers with secular degrees and 2) guiding Naga youth into university studies before seminary to ensure that future mission workers could meet that requirement.

fullsizeoutput_6fb7

New CVT Volunteer

Towards the end of my visit with NMM, I met Ms. Vepfutalü Tunyi, who is in the final stages of preparation to come to Thailand to teach at Khoonchae Christian School in Chonburi. We had a brief visit before she left and Rev. Andrew Semp took me to lunch and then back to the Guest House to rest. During my visit with the staff of NMM, I was given another handwoven shawl – this time, one that Rev. Andrew Semp said was representative of all of the tribes of Nagaland – and another necklace and matching pair of earrings.

fullsizeoutput_6fc2

My Host on my Final Night

I spent my final evening in Nagaland with Rev. Khevihe Yeptho and his family. Rev. Khevihe Yeptho was the first Naga missionary to the Karen Baptists in Thailand. His daughter, Daisy Yeptho, is one of the many teachers in the CVT Program. She teaches at Suriyawongse School in Ratchaburi. It was fun to meet her parents and her siblings and to have time to relax and talk to them. Daisy will be heading back to Thailand for the beginning of the school year and will complete two years of service at the school. Daisy is only one of a long list of Naga mission workers who have come to Thailand during my tenure. That list also includes Vinokali Chophi, Piketoli Kinimi, Kahoni Sohe, Susanna Sheim, Otoli Tuccu, Avinoli Chishi, Chulei Phom, Onentiba Jamir, Sentienla Longchar, Christy Yinglong, Mesetshou Losou, Lochumi Ezung, Rebecca Phom, and, most recently, Motan Konyak and Hangeang Konyak. Of this list of sixteen, twelve are still serving in Thailand.

Conclusion

fullsizeoutput_6fc6

My Host in Nagaland

I was deeply encouraged by my visit to Nagaland. Rev. Dr. Kowepe Kanuo shared with me his concern that the church in Nagaland is facing the same challenge as the church everywhere when the “newness” of conversion fades into the “routine” of life: People are not actively involved in worship and ministry. The young people are not attending church and/or participating in church ministries. One avenue of revitalizing church members is to increase involvement in mission activities. I saw that with the work of the Chakhesang Women’s Welfare Society. Several times during my visit, church leaders spoke of the commitment made in 1977 to send 10,000 missionaries out from the Naga churches to other nations. Thailand is an obvious destination, since the need to share the gospel in Thailand is still critical, given the small percentage of the population that professes Christianity. Finding ways to open avenues of service in Thailand would be an answer to prayer and possible renewed commitment of Christians in Nagaland.

IMG_5919

A Hilltop Church in Nagaland 

My time in Nagaland was also a time of renewal for me. Each evening, as I returned to my sleeping quarters, I could see the lights burning in the churches I passed and hear the sound of people singing hymns in the distance. It was a blessing to be surrounded by those whose commitment to serve was greater than their desire for personal gain – but I have always seen that in the mission workers that the Nagaland Mission Movement has sent to the CVT Program. In each meeting that was held during my time in Nagaland, we renewed our commitment to the MOU that was signed between the Nagaland Baptist Church Council and the Church of Christ in Thailand, vowing to work together to be more effective partners in ministry. I cannot wait to see what unfolds in the weeks and months to come!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

It Left Me Wanting More…

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

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

Rev. Margaret Mayman (left in photo)

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

Town Hall in Sydney

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

fullsizeoutput_6cc3-1

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

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Opportunity Awaits!

fullsizeoutput_6cdb

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

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

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

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

fullsizeoutput_6cc9

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

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

fullsizeoutput_6cd4

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

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

Version 2

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

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

fullsizeoutput_6cc7

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

fullsizeoutput_5dff

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.

fullsizeoutput_23e2

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Ageless Beauty

IMG_4242.JPG

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. 

IMG_2991

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Grand Send-Off

IMG_1653

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.

fullsizeoutput_5610

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.

IMG_1658

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:

fullsizeoutput_5612.jpeg  IMG_1613  fullsizeoutput_561a.jpeg  fullsizeoutput_5100.jpeg  fullsizeoutput_5624.jpeg  fullsizeoutput_5622.jpeg

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

IMG_1236

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.

IMG_1041

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:

IMG_1089.JPGIMG_1043IMG_0770

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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.

fullsizeoutput_4ac0

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

img_1126

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.

img_0317

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!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Workers in God’s Vineyard

fullsizeoutput_45ea

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.

students-doing-activity-in-the-class

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.

img20161116103823

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.

img_0526

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment