This is a picture of my best Christmas gift in 2012: my son, Julian, arriving from the USA via Japan to spend Christmas with me. Julian was a little 8 lb. 12 oz. gift that God gave to me a little over 35 years ago. He now works as an iPhone app developer and lives in San Diego. He drops in to check on me from time to time (usually once or twice a year) and I am thrilled that he continues to do this even though I am half a world away. This year, he arrived in late November, after spending two weeks in Japan helping with “Start-Up Weekends” in two Japanese cities. I was disappointed that I was ill for most of the first two weeks of his visit. Then, when he returned to Japan just before Christmas to do another “Start-Up Weekend” he was ill, so neither of us got as much accomplished during our holiday as we had hoped. But it was still a great time of catching up on our lives and debating the ills of the world – Not that we were able to solve any of those major world issues in the few days we had to work on them! (P.S. – I did talk him into leaving his iPad Mini behind when he returned to the USA! :))
Several weeks before Christmas, when I was asked whether I would help to represent our office at the annual CCT Office Christmas Party, I said that I would be happy to do so – not realizing what I was getting myself into. Our CCT Office Christmas Parties always begin with a full worship service at 3:30 PM on the Wednesday before Christmas. The worship service is followed by an exchange of Christmas gifts – either personal gifts exchanged individually or office gifts which are selected by randomly drawing a number from a basket. After that, we move outside where there is usually some kind of brief Christmas pageant and live Christmas music performed by various choirs. Then, there is a courtyard full of food which is consumed in record time.
It turns out that I had volunteered to be in the Christmas pageant. I went to the first meeting and then missed all the others because of my illness. No matter. I was welcomed back with open arms and, on the night of the great event, I joined my co-workers on stage, dancing a special Thai dance, having never rehearsed it with my partner. Needless to say, we were not the smoothest couple on the stage. (The second photo shows my partner dancing back to find me, after we got separated somehow in the dance – a fact that the audience noted and snapped photos of (photo above) with great enjoyment!)
One of the gifts that I purchased for the office was a new sign for our door. For a year, we have just a a piece of paper posted on the wall with the three letters “CVT” on it. However, there is a small village close to Chiang Mai (Baan Tawai) where they do wood carving. On one of my trips there to purchase Christmas gifts, I ordered a sign for the office. It is a wooden sign, stained dark with raised letters that are painted with gold paint, that simply says “Christian Volunteers in Thailand * Welcome.” Through the window of our office door, you can see the large map of Thailand that hangs on our office wall with each of the 26 private Christian schools of the CCT labeled. It helps us explain the reach of the program to those who are visiting the Education Ministry. In ten days, I will be leaving to visit several schools, including the one farthest to the south in the city of Trang. In Trang, I will be providing a one-day training event to help teachers with English vocabulary, English songs and games, and an understanding of learning styles and lesson plans.
Just a few days before Christmas, I flew to the Northeast and provided this same training program to 110 teachers in Udonthani who came from two of the CCT schools. Called “Winter Wonderland,” this one-day event focuses on pronunciation of difficult English vocabulary associated with winter (blizzard, snowball, gloves, weather and so on) and creating stories in English using these winter words (an activity they can share with their students). We also discussed Christmas traditions around the world and learned some songs, like “Winter Wonderland” as sung by Amy Grant, and a poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Videos of both were available on YouTube. At lunch, we served snow cones and talked about snowballs. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive.
There is one more story I would like to share: James Riggins, a CVT volunteer who is serving in a school a few hours south of Chiang Mai, caught a bus on Christmas Eve to come spend Christmas with me and Julian. On the day after Christmas, all the buses returning to Pitsanuloke were full, so I drove him back to his school. A good friend and missionary, Kathryn McDaniel, rode with me on the journey (four hours each way). Kathryn does prison ministry at many different prisons, working with foreigners who have been incarcerated here in Thailand. There was a man from Singapore who had been in the prison in Chiang Mai who had been moved to Pitsanuloke. After dropping James off at his school, we drove out to the prison to see if we could find this man. Well, we learned that he was there, but that visiting days for people in his cell block were Tuesday and Thursday – we came on Wednesday. To our amazement and joy, God softened the heart of the officer in the reception area and he went out of his way to make sure that Kathryn got in to see the prisoner and had about 30 minutes to talk to him. Kathryn said that I should have seen the look of amazement and joy of the face of the man she came to visit. He never expected to see her in Pitsanuloke. Isn’t it great how God can move mountains!