One of the least anticipated legacies that volunteer programs produce is the legacy of relationships that extend beyond the program itself. Having served as Coordinator of Christian Volunteers in Thailand for eight years now, I have been able to catch a glimpse of some of these unanticipated relationships and how they are changing lives beyond the parameters of the CVT Program itself. What I want to share with you in this letter is three special relationships that began when three individuals dared to come to Thailand to serve with the CVT Program.
Rev. James Riggins was the first volunteer I recruited during my tenure here. James was in his mid-30’s and at a point in his life when the way ahead was not clear to him. When he consulted with Don Dawson at Pittsburgh Seminary, Don connected him to me. James was not sure that he wanted to teach English, but he believed that God called him through the CVT Program to come to Thailand. He arrived in the fall of 2012. After three years of service in Padoongrasdra School, while ministering to a small group of English-speaking ex-pat worshipers every Sunday afternoon, the Thai church chartered a new international church in Phitsanulok and called James as its first pastor. It was while James was serving as pastor, he met a vibrant young Filipina Christian who was teaching at a government school in that town. Long story short, they fell in love and James and Goodwill Riggins were married in October of 2016.
But the story did not end there. James continued to serve as pastor of Great Commission International Church for another four years, building up the congregation while starting a doctoral program in intercultural studies through Biola University in Southern California. As his coursework in that program draws to a close, God has reached out again to call James to teach at an international university. He and Goodwill will leave Thailand in August to head to this new assignment. However, they will not be alone in this endeavor, for in April 2019, God gave them a son, James Alex, who will travel with them to establish a new home in another Asian country. In the meantime, I have gained a daughter-in-law and a grandchild through this program who are sharing God’s love with more people and touching lives I will never be able to touch. What a blessing!
James may have been the first, but he was not the only one. Lindsey Monroe was connected to Christian Volunteers in Thailand through Ms. Kathryn McDaniel, a missionary from New Zealand who met Lindsey at the Bangkok Christian Guest House. Lindsey was serving with the US Peace Corps and frustrated that she could not share her faith with the children she was teaching in a temple school in Thailand. When her term of service with the Peace Corps ended, she asked if she could serve with Christian Volunteers in Thailand. Since she already spoke some Thai, I placed her at a very remote school in the small town of Huay Malai near the border with Myanmar. Fast forward a few years and we learn that, while serving as a teacher in Saha Christian Suksa School, she met a wonderful Karen Christian man and fell in love. In April 2017, Lindsey and Pong Wara were married.
As with James, the story did not end there. Lindsey and Pong have bought some land near Huay Malai and have settled into life in a rural Thai setting, planting rice and raising goats. Lindsey continues to teach at Saha Christian School and her home is filled with the laughter of children and the smell of great food. Within a year of their marriage, God blessed them with the birth of a little boy, Benjamin, who delights his parents, school children and a whole village of “aunts and uncles.” Last October, Lindsey and her family joined us at the CVT Reunion Dinner and Celebration in Bangkok. Here she is pictured at that celebration (on the left) with her son, Benjamin, and James’ wife, Goodwill, already pregnant with their first child.
And the beat goes on… In May, 2019, I was invited to South Korea to share in the joy of the wedding of yet another former Christian Volunteer in Thailand. Esther I-Re Kim arrived in Thailand in 2015, having completed her seminary education in South Korea and needing to complete an internship before being ordained in the Presbyterian Church of the Republic of Korea (PROK). She was interested in mission service, in music, and in teaching children and adults, so she came to Thailand and spent three years teaching at Chiangrai Vidhayakhome School. On one of her many trips back to Korea, she met a wonderful young Korean Christian man who was living in Australia. It was love at first sight. Esther and Sangkyu Choi were married in May and, after a honeymoon here in Thailand, they have moved to Australia to live, sharing the love of God with their community there. But this story also does not end there: Esther and Sangkyu are expecting a baby in the spring of 2020.
James, Lindsey and Esther all trusted that God was calling them to ministry in Thailand for a purpose. Trusting in God’s call, they came – not knowing what to expect, but willing to take that first step into the unknown. For each of them, God has more than answered their prayers: prayers for guidance in life, prayers for a partner to serve with them, and prayers that their ministry might have fruit. The CVT Program is not just about the lives of Thai children being changed by volunteers, it is also about the lives of volunteers being changed by God.