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A letter from Esther Wakeman and Robert Collins in Thailand

March 2010

Dear friends,

It is a privilege to join the journey of life with staff and students at Payap University, sharing struggles and joys as disciples of Jesus, and sharing his love with those who don't know him yet. Here are a few snapshots along the way:

Photo of young people standing amid rocks and trees.

At the top of Khun Tan with International College seniors at Senior Quest Camp.

On a recent Sunday morning I walked the kilometer from Payap’s cabins on Khun Tan mountain up to the top with 20 seniors in our international programs. We took a group photo and then walked down to the cabins and thought together about our vocation or calling — that place where Frederick Buechner says, our “great gladness and the world’s great hunger meet.” “Ban” was listening intently. Her parents are active in the movement for democracy for Burma and are no longer welcome in their home country. She’s finishing a degree in business and wondering what God is calling her to — direct action in the democracy movement or a business career to make money and support others in their efforts for democracy. She wants to do what’s best for her people. What a privilege we have to serve students like “Ban” with hearts for their people and for peace and justice, and what a joy to give her some time at a retreat in the mountains to consider God’s calling on her life.

Photo of five young women sitting at a tree-stump table.

Pausing for sticky rice in banana leaves along the journey up the mountain with some Nursing faculty for their students’ Senior Quest Camp.

I sat in my office next to the Henry Luce Chapel at Payap University listening with joy as a small group of Christian staff practiced the introit for the worship service celebrating Payap’s 35th anniversary. Their fearless leader is Dr. Sompan Wongdee a musician with a gift for making excellent choirs out of ordinary folks who love God and sing with their hearts. That captures the Payap spirit — our students aren't the academic cream of the crop, but we have the gift of encouraging ordinary students to find their passion, develop skills, and discover that lives of service provide the most joy. Dr. Sompan’s staff choir produced a beautiful choral introduction to a wonderful service of worship and thanksgiving that glorified God amazingly. Of the 18 consuls, university presidents, and church and government representatives who offered congratulatory speeches, at least five who are not even Christian invoked God in asking for blessings on Payap at the end of their speeches. Often a variety of gods is invoked, but these speakers honored our God — I was deeply encouraged.

Kyaw Kyaw and Ellie hosted a delicious spaghetti dinner for our Christian international student leaders. We’ve been thinking together how we might better encourage their sense of community, their growth as disciples of Jesus, and ways they can share their faith during our next school year (starts in June). Charlen from China has been leading a group of about nine Chinese students who are interested in knowing more about Jesus. They are hearing bible stories and they share a journal, taking turns writing about their lives and what they get from meeting together. Some are new believers, and some are homesick and welcome the friendship. LB from Burma leads the Nargis Relief Group, and I handed over the $1000 that our students and staff gived during Christmas worship to give to the villages that her group will visit soon, so that folks can buy pigs and chickens for the ongoing needs after the devastating cyclone in May 2008.

Mai invited Rob and me to enjoy a “Garden Dinner” put on by her Hotel and Tourism Management class in our Bunnag Restaurant (a fully-equipped restaurant for our students to practice in). Each term third year students host fancy set dinners and I'm a frequent “VIP” guest who gets to enjoy the meal and encourage our students with some feedback on their handiwork. Mai’s class did an excellent job! The week before the dinner Mai had played drums in a worship band at the 7th Annual Concert of our Eulogia Music Club, led by Korean missionary, the Rev. Kim Teak Gon who works in partnership with my office. Mai came to know Jesus through this ministry and is a member of the “Love Church” that the Rev. Kim started and which is now part of the 14th district of the Church of Christ in Thailand.

I love being able to journey in the mountains on retreat, in the chapel for worship, over spaghetti for fellowship, and in partnership with other Payap staff and missionaries to share the love and joy of following Jesus. Thanks for your part in our journey through your love, prayers, and gifts.

Esther Wakeman

PS: We desperately need teachers in our International Hospitality Management department (taught in English!) — people with master’s degrees in the Hotel and Tourism field.

PPS: We are also recruiting recent college grads to work as residential life staff and English tutors in our new dorms. Please contact me for further information on these openings.

PPPS: Rob and I will be in the United States from mid-May through mid-June starting in California and going north to Washington, then east to Minnesota, down to Ohio, back west to Missouri and California. We’d love to visit you and/or a mission committee or small group from your church along the way if possible. Let us know if we can stop in and say hi!

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 126


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