Hello to all of my wonderful friends and supporters!!
This is the first of many updates regarding the work that God is doing here in Bangkok, and particularly in my work here. If you're not interested in receiving these updates, just let me know and I will remove you from the list right away.
God is very good, and there is much work to be done in furthering His kingdom here in Thailand! I thank all of you for your prayers and support. And I praise God that my transition back to life and mission work here in Bangkok has been smooth and seamless.
After stepping off the plane very early in the morning on Saturday, August 3, it was like I was returning home. I found myself wearing a perpetual smile despite the haze from the pollution pollution and the noise and the slight disorganization. Everything was just as I had remembered it. And it has been wonderful spending the last week getting reacquainted with the Thai pace and way of life, and the language!
Upon my arrival, I learned that my official duties as teacher do not begin until the new term starts on September 2. However, there are three new volunteer teachers who arrive later this week around the 16th. Once they arrive, I will be responsible for helping them become acquainted with how to survive and get along on a daily basis, as well as help them ease into the teaching process.
Given the timeline of all of this, it has been wonderful to have the past week or so to spend with old friends and students. I was amazed that my first day back, the phone just kept ringing. Whether it was a fellow missionary checking to make sure that I was doing all right, a friend calling to say welcome back, or a student checking to see when she can study with me again, I knew that this was most certainly where I was supposed to be!
This first week has been an important time for me, simply because I have had a lot of time. I have kept busy getting my apartment in order. (I am staying in the same apartment as I had the previous year-- so I really was coming home :) I've also had time to spend with friends.
And today, Monday, was mother's day here in Thailand. Some quick Thailand trivia-- Mother's Day is always Her Majesty the Queen's birthday (August 12) and Father's Day is always His Majesty the King's birthday (December 5). So it was a long weekend for everyone. This was wonderful as it afforded me the opportunity to spend the weekend with my friend at her parent's house in the country. This was something that we had always tried to plan while I was here last time, but the timing just never worked out for either of us. Her parents live in a small town about 2 hours drive (125 miles) outside of Bangkok. It is true Thai countryside out there. You are surrounded by rice paddies and fields of corn. Early in the year, these same corn fields are filled with sunflowers and people come from around the countryside to see the beautiful fields.
Their home is built in the traditional Thai style. This means that it is built up on tall beams. Usually the families will park their cars or motorcycles under the home (if they have them), or they use this shady area to hang a hammock. The house itself is one story, and there are windows all around. These are kept open all the time, and the house stays amazingly cool despite the heat and humidity. There is an open porch area (usually in the middle) where the family spends much of it's time eating and relaxing.
So it was in this oasis that I spent the weekend. A few highlights were the bike ride at sunrise through the rice paddies (there are small dirt paths which separate the fields), Sunday worship in the small church where my friend and her mother became Christian, and a Buddhist funeral service for a friend of the family. Quite a lot of excitement for one weekend...
I also wanted to share a little more about the Buddhist funeral, as it was something that was very different and foreign. We actually only attended the cremation ceremony which is the last part of the funeral process. The entire ceremony was filled with Buddhist tradition and symbolism, much of which I do not completely understand. It begins with the casket being carried out of the temple and placed on the cremation altar. As the casket is carried out, the immediate family members walk ahead and the other family members walk behind. There are several Buddhist monks who also walk directly in front of the casket. This entire procession is led by a band (trumpet, saxophone, trombone, and bass drum) which plays very loudly. Before being placed on the altar, the group (band, family, monks, and casket) walks around the altar 3 times. Then the casket is placed on the altar and there is a brief service. The family is recognized and a leader gives a eulogy, talking about the deceased. Then distinguished friends and acquaintances are called up to the altar where they each present a monk with a new robe. Finally, the chairman of the ceremony (in this case my friend's father) lights a bouquet of paper flowers on fire and places them under the casket. Everyone in attendance then places a single paper flower under the caket, but the actual cremation occurs later.
I was trying to take everything in at the service. And I'm unsure of the significance or origins of many of the details of the ceremony. What I do know is that I was surrounded by hundreds of people who had never heard or understood the Good News and salvation to be found in Jesus Christ. And it really reinforced the urgency and need for what I do as a Christian missionary here in Thailand. This is a country where over 95% of the population is Buddhist, 4% are Muslim, and only a fraction of one percent is Christian. There is much to be done here!
And as I look back at this particular update, it appears that I have been vacationing much more than working... I just want to assure everyone that these relationships with friends and students here are the cornerstone of my mission work. For it is through these friendships that I am able to provide a Christian example and witness. These relationships often provide many a catalyst for sharing the Good News and what it can mean for them. And I'm very thankful that I've had this extra time without a lot of official commitments to really reconnect with everyone here.
Again, I just want to thank all of you so very much for your prayers and petitions on my behalf. God is very good and He is certainly with me here in Thailand.
Some specific prayer requests for the coming weeks would include...
** pray for the three new teachers who arrive in the next week, that they may adjust well to life in this very foreign place.
** pray for my continued language acquisition. Praise God that I am very functional and conversational!! May he continue to bless me as I move forward in the language learning process.
** pray for the relationships that everyone here on the mission team has with Thai people, that they may bear much fruit.
May God richly bless you in all that you do to further His kingdom wherever He has placed you!!!