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.

  • Enjoying traveling a lot--which includes appreciating the life-skill of flexibility.
  • Playing musical instruments, including taking violin and guitar lessons (although I sure wish I had more lessons under my belt).
  • Working as a teacher's assistant, honing the love of young people and teaching skills.
  • Working as a registered nurse, which taught me scheduling and how to juggle caring for many people.
  • Being a mom and learning to nurture.

...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

Written on September 28th, 2012 , Mission Field

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.

Written on August 26th, 2012 , Mission Field

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.

Written on July 24th, 2012 , Mission Field

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