On Saturday, May 21st, Mom and I were invited to the home of Kuhn Sritong for an ‘evening with the family.’ Mom knew Kuhn Sritong from years ago – her husband, Dr. Boonchohm, had been a physician and she had been a music teacher in the ‘good old days.’ Now a widow, Kuhn Sritong had extended the invitation to this ‘family gathering’ to us. Since we were not strictly ‘family’ and wanted to be polite, we both put on dresses for this evening. Jack and Nutda Neale drove us to Kuhn Sritong’s home as they had also been invited. As it turned out, Kuhn Sritong’s home was simply the designated place for the ‘family gathering’ this month and the dress was casual. The ‘family’ was a group of members from First Church Chiangmai. They get together in someone’s home once a month – usually the last Saturday evening of the month – and have a potluck dinner, a program of some sort, a time of worship and a time of prayer. We had some fabulous Thai food – some of it designated as “too spicy” for us to eat – and sat in small groups chatting away as more and more people arrived during the first hour. In the end, more than 50 people crowded into the house and feasted together. Some of these were folks we had not seen in decades, like Peter Downs.
After dessert was served, as many people as possible moved into the front room to sit in front of the screen, while others crammed into the hallway and the room beyond, sitting on plastic stacking chairs. Children and grandchildren of members were also present. Our Master of Ceremonies introduced the speaker, who was an elder from First Church. He showed PowerPoint slides of a mission trip that some members of the church took up into the hills north of Chiangmai to visit a small church and teach Bible to youth. It was like a ‘VBS-on-Wheels’ experience. (Remember, the Thai version of ‘summer’ is just ending now and the new school year is beginning.) The mission group traveled on mud roads alongside rain-swollen rivers in 4-wheel-drive trucks to get to this little church. It was inspiring to hear their stories and to see the youth who had come from all around to attend the Bible camp.
When the slide show was over, songbooks were passed around and we sang several hymns, accompanied by our host’s daughter on the piano. By now, the air-conditioning was not keeping up with the body heat of so many bodies, so fans were handed out to several people. and electric fans were brought out, but no one left the meeting. After the hymn sing, our MC made some announcements and asked if there were prayer concerns. The pastor, Rev. Boonyawat (who was also the pastor in 2008, when I preached at the church), made some announcements and shared some prayer concerns. Then, our MC divided the prayer concerns among three different members who were present and those three took turns praying (NOT the pastor).
When the prayers ended, our MC asked if Bill Yoder, a Presbyterian Mission Co-Worker, would give the benediction. Bill Yoder, an ordained minister, came to Thailand in his late 20’s and recently celebrated his 70th birthday. He is now officially ‘retired,’ but still serves as Regional Liaison for mission co-workers in Thailand and sits on the board of directors of several church institutions. The group will be meeting at his home next month. I must say that I envied his command of the Thai language as he gave the benediction. As the evening ended and folks headed home, we touched base with a few and agreed to get together sometime soon. Then, we collected our things and headed out the door to go home with Nutda and Jack Neale. As I reflected on the evening, I smiled to think that this church, which was established by mission workers itself, is now sending mission workers to other places. And so the legacy continues.