A letter from Esther Wakeman in Thailand
October 23, 2012
Taw and Hod are a young couple Rob and I have been mentoring for almost a decade. Taw works as a secretary at the seminary and Hod is evangelism pastor at First Church of Chiang Mai. They have a gorgeous daughter, Mina, who is 4 years old. They recently came over for a delicious dinner of sticky rice and northern Thai dishes. Hod told us about a new class that First Church started just a few months back for people who want to learn more about following Jesus. Some people have been coming to the church with family or friends for years. They’ve absorbed much of the Christian faith but never responded personally. In just the few months since the class began more than 20 people have made conscious decisions to begin following Jesus and to be baptized and join the church. A simple initiative to provide a more personal space for these folks to have their questions answered and learn more deeply what it means to follow Jesus has resulted in significant fruit. And this is happening at the oldest church in Chiang Mai—alive and well and bearing fruit.
Ed and Mike work with us in the Office of Spiritual and Community Life. They are fantastic group activity leaders—they lead songs, games, and activities energetically, joyfully, and hilariously. Our office is responsible for an annual workshop for all 830 Payap staff to learn Payap’s core values and build community together. We call it our MP3 project (eM-Powering Payap Peaceleaders). During the planning phase one committee member proposed that we turn to Payap’s experts in human resources or psychology to do some of the teaching, suggesting they might have more credibility than our team of Mike and Ed. That proposal was worth considering, but I was delighted when several days later Mike and Ed came to me and said they really wanted to lead the activity and had come up with an idea. Their idea was great; their leadership at the workshop was outstanding, and I am excited that Ed and Mike are growing in their confidence and engagement in this significant role we play in the Payap family.
The MP3 workshop was particularly timely and significant this year because Payap University is in the midst of administrative reorganizing—always a huge challenge as turfs and teams are renegotiated. Having a full day of refocusing on our core values and having lots of fun together was good ballast for this time of transition. We also got a great reminder of the changes and challenges we’ve passed through in our almost 40-year history and encouragement that we can use our current “crisis” as a fantastic opportunity.
Payap’s top administrators had met the week before, discussing options for restructuring our academic units, and they are meeting now to restructure academic support units (including my office). We are facing significant financial challenges and deep change is needed. After our first day of meetings our interim president, Dr. Penpilai, felt we were at a dead end; she saw no way through. But the next morning during her devotions the Scripture for the day was about King Asa facing an enemy of a million with an army of half as many soldiers. The king prayed. She also read a story of an 80-year-old woman stuck in an elevator for four days with only a bottle of water and a granola bar. When asked about her predicament by the press after being rescued, the woman said, “In that kind of situation you can either panic or pray.” Dr. Penpilai said to us: “It is time for us to pray and to pray from the heart. At Payap we pray at the beginning and the end of our meetings, but sometimes it becomes just a ritual.” She proceeded to pray from the heart and with tears. It was the most moving meeting I have attended in 12 years at Payap. The following day’s meeting also began with prayer with more tears and was another amazing meeting.
We need your prayers. Payap is at a significant historical juncture. The temptation is to play it safe. We need the courage to follow God’s dreams for us and the discipline and integrity to use our resources wisely and creatively. We also need the right president to lead us into God’s future for us. The board is seeking that person now.
I’m deeply grateful for the privilege to play and work and pray with my brothers and sisters in Christ here in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Thank you for your gifts and prayers that make it possible.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 183