I went out to McKean Rehabilitation Institute yesterday to look at some houses that they have available to rent. I met Ajarn Achara, the Director of McKean – a friend who was a another student of my father many years ago – and she drove me over to the North Village. McKean Rehabilitation Institute was built as an asylum for lepers on an island in the river more than 100 years ago when lepers were still outcasts in Thai society. The land was given to the Christians because it was thought to be inhabited by evil spirits and a rogue elephant and no one else wanted to live there. It is a spacious island with acres of land that contain a hospital, an assisted living facility for the elderly, tiny houses for the leprosy patients to live in, two chapels, and housing for the staff.
McKean was once a huge operation that was a world leader in the treatment of leprosy. It has fallen onto hard times since sulfa drugs have made leprosy controllable and patients have returned to their home. The only ones who remain are the elderly who have no home or family to return to or those who have lived here for so long (some for over 50 years) that all their friends are in the community at McKean. The administration is working to create a new vision for the facility that will address current problems and allow the facility to regenerate and, once again, be a leader in the field of health care. The logical transition seems to be a transition into care for the elderly, as the facility has housing, a hospital, and an assisted living facility. What McKean needs is a new partnership – a partnership or partnerships with organizations that are interested in gerontology or in doing research among the elderly.
Our reason for going to the North Village yesterday (before looking at housing options) was to join with the patients and staff in their Christmas party – complete with worship service, gift exchange, and food. Yes, it was the fifth of January, but I was glad to see that those who are often forgotten had not been totally forgotten. They had to wait a little longer, but they were not forgotten. Those who came to help with this Christmas celebration came from the CCT’s (Church of Christ in Thailand’s) main office building in Chiang Mai, giving up their own Saturday to bring a little Christmas cheer to those living at McKean. They came with smiles, a word of comfort and cheer, music, gifts, food and much more.
The worship service began at 10:30 AM with a reading from Isaiah and singing “Joy to the World” (in Thai, of course). Ajarn Prawate, the Director of Policy for the CCT and an elder in the church, was the preacher. He also serves as the Interim Financial Manager for McKean Rehabilitation Institute. His message, taken from Psalm 118:8, was to challenge all of us to have greater faith in God in the coming year. Immediately following the worship service, gifts were given to every person – simple gifts like a new pillow and warm blanket for the cool months of January and February.
The giving of gifts was MC’ed by a wonderful young man who asked the name of every elderly person and announced the names to the rest of us as each person received his/her gift. The gift giving was followed by a huge lunch of rice, barbecued chicken, chicken curry, vegetables, and ice cream for dessert. The elderly patients were served where they sat, with young people from the CCT running to fetch food and water for each person. Each person also received a small basket of mandarin oranges to take home with them. It was a warm and friendly time, filled with Christmas cheer. When it was over, Ajarn Achara took me to see the three buildings they have for rent. Most are very old and need some work, but she assured me that she would fix them up, if I was interested in living on the island. (My son, Julian, thinks it is too far away from the “action” in Chiang Mai, but it might just be the peaceful, quiet refuge that I seek at the end of a busy work day or work week. To be sure, it is a topic for prayer, so please pray with me that God will lead me in the way that is his will for my life.