After almost a year in Thailand, we returned to the U.S. for a short furlough. While there, we had an opportunity to tell about our first experiences for a Mission TV Report with Natalie Wood (at Jesus For Asia's studio in TN). Here is that report. Thank-you for watching!
Some of you have written back asking what life is like in Thailand. One part of daily life is the Thai holidays and other celebrations and ceremonies. I will try to describe those, so you can have an idea what it is like here.
The first Thai holiday we saw was the Queen of Thailand's birthday. It is celebrated a lot like Mother's Day, with giving flowers, cards, and other gestures of appreciation to one's mother. So, they have these flower arrangements, but really, I have seen nothing like it in the US. The closest comparison for the flower arrangements intricate details is the Rose Bowl Parade, but on a smaller scale and more ornate.
The King of Thailand's birthday is coming up in December, and we have heard it is a lot like Father's Day. I'm looking forward to seeing what it is like.
A few weeks ago, we went on a field trip with our Thai language teacher, to Chiang Mai to visit the famous Warorot Market. That day we saw a lot of Thai people burning incense and offering food at the spirit house shrines they have on their properties. Our teacher, Khruu Oiy, said it was the last day of a three-month-long Buddhist holiday.
The most recent holiday was Loi Krathong, which was just a few days ago. The words Loi Krathong mean “to float”, so the day is characterized by floating flower arrangements that are shaped like a lotus flower on the water. The flowers are thought to thank the water goddess. We didn't see much of that, since we don't live near the water.
But, we did see festivities from the northern holiday called Yi Peng. Our neighbors set off fireworks, and they also floated paper lanterns into the sky from the Wat (temple) in our village. We could see the lanterns floating up into the sky from our house. They believe that sending up the paper lanterns builds merit. The flowers, lanterns, and fireworks are beautiful, but it makes me a bit sad, since I heard they are trying to gain merit. In contrast, the Bible promises forgiveness and peace is a free gift to all who will come to Jesus in faith.
One final thought that comes to mind, seeing the beauty in the Thai festivals. I love the high value that the Thai's place upon beauty. It reminds me of the Bible verse that says, "He hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end." (Ecclesiastes 3:11 ASV)
The desire for beauty is just a small glimpse of what eternity holds for us. I pray that many people from this area of the world will be able to gain that glory that God has prepared for all of His children in eternity.
Recently we got the chance to visit a few of the royal projects in Chiang Mai region (Chiang Mai is the major city just an hour's drive south of us). One of the projects was a farm up in the mountains near us, and the others were workshops in Chiang Mai city. One workshop was for traditional Thai wood carving and the other was for making Saa paper and traditional parasols. The royal family has sponsored the workshops to preserve the traditional crafts, and the farm to help the people learn to produce foods that are high in essential nutrients.
We went with a tour group, whose leader was friends of Daniel's family. The tour leader said he had worked as an ambassador, going with the King of Thailand as he worked on establishing some of the royal projects. He had a lot of stories to tell about the King and Queen. It was nice to hear about how they would visit the people, and when they saw someone unhappy in the crowd, they would try to find out what they could do to help that person. They worked hard on the projects, and the tour leader said they would work late and be quite tired but still working hard.
Those things made me think of the Bible text, “a nation is exalted by righteousness.” Proverbs 14:34. The God of heaven cares about all the people of the world. He has a standard of righteousness, and He oversees the whole world. I understand the above text to mean He does not discriminate, as humans often do, for color of skin and other such things, but rewards nations for doing right. Of course, His grace also allows “rain on the just and on the unjust” Matthew 5:45. That means that He cares so much for the populace, that He often sends blessings even when we make mistakes—which, in turn, draws us to Him.
I was so happy to hear such beautiful stories from someone who knew the King and Queen of Thailand personally. And I have been thankful to be here in Thailand, which is one of the most stable countries in this area of the world. I pray that He will continue to send blessings for Thailand and it's royal family.
Just before we came to Thailand, I was asked to be girl's dean for the Education Opportunity Foundation (which you can read more about in the Bairs September Update in the Newsletter Archives). This month I have been starting training for that position.
It's a new role, and as most new roles are, it includes a steep learning curve. So, I have been thinking about two seemingly opposite ideas, that co-exist in this mission, and probably exist with any missionary endeavor). The two ideas are: past experiences are preparation for the job, and nothing really prepares you other than prayer.
As far as the first one goes, I'm thankful for the following past experiences.
...All these life experiences seem to be useful in being a dean.
However, as the language barrier continually reminds me, these “qualifications” are not enough to get the job done. I'm praying for miracles. Since I can't talk much it makes me think more about my actions, since many times it is the missionary's character that needs no translation. God has to do it through me, and I feel quite helpless sometimes.
However, I have concluded that this tension—between using the skills I have and realizing that I can't do it of my own power—is a good thing. Using my talents is required by the Giver (see Matthew 25:14-30), but so is realizing my need to depend on Him for everything. Even Jesus, speaking from the humanity that He took upon Himself, said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30), so surely I also need constant help from God.
“Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:30-31
We have begun one of the most important tasks of missionary work: learning the local language! We are so excited to be starting Thai classes! Actually, there are several local languages, of which we would like to learn two, Thai and Karen. We are taking Thai language classes from a private teacher, who is coming to our place to teach us. We chose to start Thai because it is the main language, and so most interactions, like shopping, will be in Thai.
Since we have been here, the most difficult thing is not understanding everyone. I guess I didn't realize how much of my adult identity was wrapped up in reading, writing, and speaking. I feel so helpless when I listen to the people around me, even kids, and it just sounds like gibberish.
Our first lessons have a few phrases, like “sawatdee” (“hello”) and “pay nay kha (“where are you going?”)?” But the focus is on the main phonetic sounds of Thai. To be precise, we are learning to babble in Thai!
Learning to babble is actually more necessary than it would seem. Thai has several sounds that English does not. They have one vowel, for example, that is approximately in between a short “i” sound the short “u” sound. Working on that vowel has, unbelievably, made my tongue muscle sore. Then there's the “ng” sound, which we have in “-ing” words, but unlike English, “ng” can start a word. Thai not only has a “d” and a “t” sound, but also has an in between sound where your tongue hits the back of your teeth (it's also described as a non-aspirated “t”). In our lessons, our English “t” is spelled “th” and the non-aspirated sound is spelled “t”. Oh, and they don't have either of the English sounds for “th” in their language at all. Confusing, don't you think? Our Thai teacher says not to worry, just keep practicing and listening.
After we master the basic phonetic sounds, we will start to learn a few words at a time, and a few phrases at a time. Already, I get excited when I hear one word that I know from our phrases. Who knows what the Thai person is really talking about, but at least I recognized one word they said.
I feel like a baby, or toddler, trying to learn how to talk all over again. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) In this case, it seems that I need to become as a little child to help others, of Thailand, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. On the other hand, the humility needed for learning a new language seems to be part of Jesus continued work in changing me to be like Him.
They say that first impressions tend to be lasting impressions. But since I also realize I'm dealing with culture shock, I'm trying to explore all aspects of this problem, so I don't stay negative about it. The problem? It's the ants. It's a bit complicated to explain, so please be patient with all the background information.
First, I must mention I am so thankful that we have been provided an appartment for a "mission house"! It's actually the EOP Girl's Dean's house adjacent to the Girl's Dorm. It is big enough for our small family, especially since our children small. (In fact, I am thinking a bigger house would not be enjoyable right now, due to the ants.)
We were told that the students cleaned the house before we got here, and I can see evidence of that. However, I'm learning that it does not take long for a house in Thailand to get messy. Daily sweeping is a necessity, as well as daily washing of countertops.
Houses everywhere have dust to clean, and dirt to sweep back out of the house. Our cement floors don't hide the dust and dirt. However, that also means they are easy to clean and mop.
But then there are the bugs. I guess since it is a moist environment, it seems that we have a higher insect population than I am used to. I am thankful for intact screens in nearly every location of our house. Only the kitchen screen door has holes in it. At evening time, we keep that door shut, so the mosquitos and moths don't come in too much. Crickets sometimes sneek in, maybe when we open the doors, and occasionally I see a cockroach (usually dead). But, of course, we can't keep all the bugs out, espcially the ants, which enter through almost invisible holes. Dead bugs are found in corners of the house almost daily.
We have geckos in our house, who live in the attic, but come in through space between the ceiling and the wall. They eat up a lot of bugs, and make cute sounds; I consider them friends since they help eat moths, mosquitos, and other insect pests. I do have to clean up their tiny dung, but I can deal with that.
But the main reason to clean so fastidiously is because there are ants that eat dead bugs, food scraps, juice or milk splotches, medicine drips, and even gecko dung. Perhaps I wouldn't mind the ants if they didn't also bite us! Some of the species have a mean bite too, maybe not as bad as fire ants, but almost that bad.
The ants around the sink bite, and the ones at the computer desk do too. I squish them whenever I see them, or sweep them out of the house, but they still come every day. It seems that keeping the house clean reduces the number of ants, so if I clean a lot, we don't get bitten so much.
I recall a Bible verse about ants. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."
(Proverbs 6:5-7) Although it's not very pleasant to think of myself as a lazy person, I appreciate that this proverb urges me to compare my work habits to those of the ants, and study how to improve. The ants come daily to eat, faithfully. I'm not used to sweeping daily, or washing dishes immediately (yes, the ants like to eat off of the dirty dishes, too); and although I am used to putting food away and washing counters after meals, in the States I could wait half an hour before getting to that if I wanted to.
So, even though part of me just hates the ants (due to their biting habit), I think the ants will be a good motivation to learn more dilgence. I'm choosing to be thankful that God gave me the "ant problem"--I know He loves me, and will make me a more diligent worker for Him through these tiny teachers.