I returned from a three-month sojourn in the USA just in time to welcome a new group of volunteers into our program. Beginning October 4 with the arrival of Caren Martin, a total of eight new volunteers joined the three already in service in Thailand. Ms. Chonchineepan Ajarayangkun went to Suvarnabhumi International Airport with me at midnight to meet Caren, whose flight was on time. A short time later, Lucas Peters arrived. His flight was an hour early – and we were grateful, because it gave us a little more time to sleep before getting up to return to the airport to meet Judith Moore, who arrived at 8 AM.
With the remaining volunteers, we had some problems with visas and holidays, resulting in our four ladies from the Nagaland Missions Movement in India (Vinokali Chophi, Piketoli Kinimi, Susanna Sheim and Kahoni Sohe) arriving the following Tuesday morning and our last volunteer, Lindsey Monroe, arriving two weeks later. However, we had a full orientation class, with Bovito Sema (working with the Thailand Karen Baptist Church) and Adam Royston (working with the Christian Conference of Asia) filling out the rest of the class. One of the first things we did during orientation was meet the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the Church of Christ in Thailand, our partner church who has invited all of us to work with them in ministry in Thailand.
The first week of orientation was held in Bangkok. While some of the time was spent allowing volunteers to recover from jet lag, the rest of the time was packed with activities and learning events. We worshiped at a historic Anglican church in English and a Chinese-Thai church offering worship services in three languages simultaneously. We visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most revered, most famous, and most visited sites in Thailand. We reviewed the basic “Do’s and Don’ts” of Thai culture. We discussed the importance of staying in touch with people back home, learning how to email, Skype and blog to help family, friends and supporting churches understand a little of our journey and our ministry. We visited stores showcasing the best of Thai exports, including gems and Thai silk. We visited ministries of the church, including the Far East Broadcasting Company, recording some shows for future broadcasts. We learned how to use the skytrain for transportation and everyone was able to find a mobile phone to use while in Thailand. We also tasted several typical Thai dishes and learned their names so that we could order those dishes in the future. The group also began reading the book “Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah Lanier.
At the end of the first week, the entire group boarded a bus and traveled to Chiang Mai to continue their orientation there. Buses are a common and inexpensive mode of transportation for volunteers during their service in Thailand. Normally, we take the train, but there are no trains to Northern Thailand as the State Railway is making major repairs to the tracks. Once in Chiang Mai, we attended worship at one of the oldest Thai churches in Thailand and had lunch at one of the favorite American food restaurants in the city. After a week of rice, rice, noodles, noodles and more rice, it was a real treat!
The second week of orientation was packed with new learning activities. We learned about the Child Protection policies of the CCT from Mr. Jeerapat Junawat. We learned about the special handicrafts of the Thai and which areas of the country produce which products. We visited the Umbrella Village and Bo Sang. The group spent 20 contact hours learning basic Thai conversation: how to say hello, get basic directions, the numbers, the colors, basic courtesies, how to purchase things and how to get around town by songtaew or tuk-tuk. We did some activities in understanding cross-cultural dynamics with Dr. Esther Wakeman. We saw Christian art created in classic Thai style from artist Sawai Chinnawong. We learned about the history of Christian Mission in Thailand from Dr. Prasit Pongudom. Senior CVT volunteers arrived for their fall seminar and joined the newcomers to discuss the reality of living and working in Thailand. We also did some teambuilding activities together to create a strong bond among and between the volunteers.
As the second week of orientation drew to a close, the Senior CVT volunteers returned to their schools. The third week of orientation began with attendance at worship at Chiang Mai Community Church. That was followed by a trip to the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar to see the wide variety of handicrafts produced in Thailand and to do a little shopping. There was a discussion of the importance of managing expectations in the schools. Learning activities continued with an exploration of the book, “More Than a Native Speaker” by Don Snow. There was a trip to Baan Tawai to see the incredible variety of products made from wood. There was a visit to Prince Royal’s College and to McKean Rehabilitation Institute. Meals included trips to local restaurants and the challenge of ordering food using the Thai language. On another day, the group was challenged to make their own way to Wororot Market and purchase an item using the Thai language. Each volunteer learned how to write their own name in Thai from Ms. Chonchineepan Ajarayangun.
During the three weeks of orientation, each morning before the work day began, the group joined in morning devotions using “The Upper Room” devotional book. We explored ways of leading worship and combining worship with a simple English lesson, by using hymns that could be found in both Thai and English language hymnals. Each evening, the group gathered again for a brief devotional time. In one of these, I shared the text of Isaiah 43:1-4 and reflected on our call to ministry and God’s love for us. Each volunteer received a pin with the words “We are called” written on it. One final treat on the last day of orientation was a lesson on the importance of bananas in the Thai culture and how no part of the banana plant is ever wasted. As these new volunteers leave Chiang Mai to begin their ministry here in Thailand, I reflected on humankind and God’s purpose for us. No part of us is wasted either. In life and in death, we serve a risen Savior! By the end of our three weeks together, we had moved from being strangers thrown together in a strange place to being partners in ministry, using the gifts that God has given us to serve God in this place. All praise to God from whom all good things come!
More Photos from Orientation: