The Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) Program is a specific, short-term ministry that is a partnership ministry between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT). After more than 50 years of bringing volunteers to serve in ministry in Thailand, the CVT Program has successfully placed hundreds of volunteers in Thai Christian schools and CCT ministries and supported them throughout their term of service. It does this by working in close partnership with the many ministries of the CCT and its leaders. The CVT Program staff works to bridge the chasm between the environment, customs and culture of the volunteers’ native countries and the environment, customs and culture of Thailand – by translating each for the other to improve mutual understanding and negotiate working relationships for strong partnership ministries.
The CVT Program requires that each CVT attend four week-long retreats during each year of their service in Thailand. Experience has demonstrated that volunteers who have never attempted to live and work in a foreign country experience difficulties adjusting to their new environment unless they have an opportunity to process their challenges and emotions at least once every three months. The CVT retreats allow CVTs to not only process their responses to this new ministry, but also learn more about the country in which they are serving. Those completing two full years of service will attend eight retreats. Every effort is made to schedule these retreats to have the smallest impact on the ministries being served. These primary objectives of these retreats are:
- To seek to deepen the volunteer’s knowledge of Thai customs and culture and to introduce advanced concepts of working cross-culturally in Thailand,
- To incorporate spiritual practices and faith development activities to strengthen the spiritual practices and faith development of individual CVTs,
- To introduce volunteers working in one part of the country to places and ministries in other parts of the country,
- To strengthen the bonds of friendship and support among and between CVTs and the staff of the CVT Program, and, finally,
- To allow CVTs to speak of issues, concerns, problems and obstacles encountered in their ministry so that remedies might be found.
The Retreat Venue
The retreat venue varies from retreat to retreat, but the staff of the CVT Program uses certain guidelines in the selection of the venue. These guidelines include:
- A comfortable environment that allows CVTs to dress informally and be relaxed,
- Reasonably-priced accommodations (CVTs sharing a double room with a roommate),
- Meeting rooms that are reasonably priced and large enough for group activities,
- A swimming pool (or ocean) for free time,
- The availability of reasonably-priced transportation for all activities, and finally,
- Easy access to places of historical or cultural interest.
In order to accomplish all these objectives while keeping the costs reasonable for the schools hosting CVTs and saving funds for the Church of Christ in Thailand, the CVT Program has often asked for assistance and support from CCT schools in providing transportation or meeting rooms. The CVT Program has also utilized grant money received from various mission agencies to accomplish its mission. This has allowed the CVT Program to offer retreats in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Petchaburi, Trang, Udonthani, Sangklaburi and Nakorn Sri Thammarat.
The topics chosen for CVT retreats alternate between subjects designed to improve knowledge and skills for ministry and subjects designed to improve spiritual practices and faith development. Retreats with topics of spiritual practices and faith development are paired with orientation programs and are held in May and October of each year. Retreats designed to improve knowledge and skills for ministry are stand-alone retreats that happen in January and July of each year. While there is some flexibility in planning retreats, there are some topics that are included in every two-year cycle. Those that are repeated every two years include:
Topic Pre-Read Material
- Spiritual Practice “An Altar in the World” by Barbara Brown Taylor
- Workplace Relations “Working with the Thais” by Henry Holmes and Suchada Tangtongtavy
- Ecumenical Relations Articles published by the World Council of Churches
- Classroom Instruction “The Heart of a Teacher” by Parker Palmer
- Christian Witness “The Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne
- Interfaith Relations “Getting to the Heart of Interfaith” by Rev. Don Mackenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon and Sheikh Jamal Rahman
- Practice of Presence “Who Cares?” By Marcy Heidish
Since research has shown that learners differ in their preferred learning styles and that classroom learning is not always the best approach, each retreat uses a variety of teaching methods and practical experience to accomplish its objectives. Each retreat utilizes formal presentations as well as field trips, small group discussions as well as structured simulations, outdoor activities as well as indoor activities. Each retreat includes time to visit a local school or ministry of the Church of Christ in Thailand. Each retreat includes visits to sites of historic or cultural importance to the Thai people. Each retreat offers a variety of menu choices, including both Asian and Western foods. Each retreat also offers private time, play time and ample time for rest and renewal.
If the goal of the retreat is to improve skills in ministry, then time is built into the retreat for participants to practice new skills in ministry. If the goal of the retreat is to explore new spiritual practices, then time is built into the retreat to practice new avenues of spirituality. In addition, one day of the retreat is set aside to explore new places in Thailand and that exploration may include visits to royal palaces, famous temples, cultural museums, handicraft production, as well as CCT schools and ministries in the area. CVTs are expected to participate fully in all activities of the retreat outside of “free time” that is given for their own personal relaxation. In support of this, child care is provided for families with young children.
The CVT Program also reaches out to those with with knowledge and experience and invites them to share their expertise on topics related to the topic of the retreat itself. These experts often come from the ranks of employees of the CCT or missionaries affiliated with the CCT. Examples of such speakers include:
- Rev. Sayam Muangsak speaking on the topic of working relations with Thai people.
- Rev. Ann Gregory speaking on the topic of technology and its impact on relationships.
- Caren Martin speaking on the topic of classroom management, motivation and discipline.
Finally, time is set aside during retreats for a variety of team building activities to strengthen relationships among and between CVTs in order to provide additional support for them in between retreats. Also, time is built into every retreat so that each CVT has time to share with the CVT Program staff concerns that they might have regarding their placement site, their relationship with their placement supervisor, the work that they are doing in their ministry, their living situation, personal health or stress problems, or anything else that might be on their minds. CVT staff follow up on these concerns in their school visits in between retreats and orientation programs.
The CVT Program compresses rest, renewal, learning skills for life and ministry, exploring spiritual growth and development, and strengthening the CVT network relationships into barely 50 contact hours every three months. Every aspect each retreat is deliberately designed to help individual CVTs relax, strengthen interpersonal relationships, learn more about Thailand and focus on the topic of the retreat. The CVT Retreat Program takes CVTs out of their daily routine, provides them with opportunities to examine what is going on both inside and outside of them, strengthens knowledge and skills of ministry and faith, and then re-inserts them back into their ministry environment as stronger, healthier, and more knowledgeable persons. In turn, it provides the staff of the CVT Program with invaluable knowledge of how to improve their support of both CVTs and the schools and ministries where they serve. The attached schedule is shared as an example of the opportunities and methods used to help all CVTs improve their ability to live and work in full-time ministry for the Church of Christ in Thailand.