Sometimes, Christmas gifts arrive when you least expect them, and you can find joy in the presence of God revealed through the ministries of the Church in this world! Most of you know that I have been working in Thailand since 2011 and inviting volunteers to come to Thailand to share in the work of Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) since 2012. More than 75 people have accepted my invitation and, as I write this, 25 CVT volunteers who have come to Thailand still serve in some capacity with our partner church, the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT).
The gift that I want to share with you today is the story of Ms. Wararat Chaisuk, the Thai woman pictured on the left in the photo. Back in 1987, she was a young student, one of several hundred students who attended Chiangrai Vidayakhome School in Chiangrai, Thailand. Her mother was a teacher at the school, who recently retired after 40 years of service. Ms. Wararat Chaisuk was struggling to learn English, the only foreign language offered at her school. She was not having an easy time of it and did not think she would use it in the future.
That year, Ms. Ellen Harding, came to Chiangrai Vidayakhome School to serve as an English teacher with Christian Volunteers in Thailand. (This was decades before I went to Thailand to serve as Coordinator of Christian Volunteers in Thailand, a partnership ministry now in its 58th year.) Ms. Wararat Chaisuk was one of the students she taught during her tenure there. In addition, Ms. Ellen Harding also helped to lead an English Camp for the students while she was there. Both are pictured in this photo of an English Camp that year.
Ms. Wararat Chaisuk graduated from Chiangrai Vidayakhome School and went on to study at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Ms. Ellen Harding left the school to pursue other work. Later, she met and married Mr. Andrew Collins, who also had ties to Thailand, as his parents were missionaries there. Thirty-one years passed by. On October 5, 2019, Christian Volunteers in Thailand hosted a CVT Reunion Dinner in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Lots of people attended, including both Mrs. Ellen Harding Collins and Ms. Wararat Chaisuk.
There was time set aside during the 2019 CVT Reunion Dinner for everyone to introduce themselves. Early in the process, Mrs. Ellen Harding Collins stood up and introduced herself to the group. Towards the end of the time of introductions, Ms. Wararat Chaisuk stood up and introduced herself to the group. Then, she turned to Mrs. Ellen Harding Collins and said, “You were the CVT teacher at my school when I was a student there. You gave me hope that I could do great things as a woman. You showed me the love of God every day. Still today, you remain an inspiration to me.” Mrs. Ellen Harding Collins’ mouth dropped open in amazement as the room filled with applause. It had been 31 years since they had seen each other, but the impact of one CVT volunteer on this Thai student had not been forgotten.
Today, Ms. Wararat Chaisuk is the Director of Union Language School (ULS), a school that has been teaching the Thai language to missionaries for 65 years. She is pictured here with her staff and me during a fire drill at the school. (What else do you do as you are waiting for the “All clear!” signal?) I have the privilege of serving as the Chair of the Board of Directors at ULS and of working with Ms. Wararat Chaisuk as she leads this organization. We may never know the impact of our work on the life of another person. I was honored to be able to witness one Thai student share the impact of this ministry on her and her life – an early Christmas gift!
You, who are reading this, are a part of this story, for without you, there would be no CVT Program, no volunteers and no lives being changed by their work. It is the time that you take to pray for us. It is the effort you make to send us letters and emails. It is the commitment you make by sending your contribution to Presbyterian World Mission that makes all of this possible. Today, the lives of young Thai men and women are being changed by the CVT volunteers who serve at their schools. Thank you for all that you do to support us in this ministry! I hope that, this Christmas, you receive a Christmas gift as wonderful as the one I have shared with you here, for God is with us, Emanuel!