A letter from Esther Wakeman in Thailand
Dear friends and supporters,
Siriprakai (or P’Kai, as we call her) was a secretary for over 25 years at Payap University, here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, mostly at our McGilvary College of Divinity, but for the past 6 years she has served in our office of Spiritual and Community Life. P’Kai wanted to shift gears out of “secretary-ing” and organize activities to reach out to our local community. She’s active in her local church and knows many people in and around the university. So last year she organized a series of training events—Thai massage, yogurt making, ecological dish soap–making, cinnamon rolls (she roped me in as the teacher on that one—I taught 50 people to make cinnamon rolls and together we made about 500, which students relished at our Thanksgiving meal), etc. This year she has put on events such as exercise using traditional northern Thai dance movements and how to make herbal healing poultices.
We didn’t really think of these as evangelistic events, but P'Kai started them off with singing a hymn and a brief prayer. Some of them concluded with a short reflection on the activity. After one of the sessions, held in our small chapel, one of the participants asked P'Kai if she could have a Bible to take home and read. She wanted to understand more about why we were offering these classes to the community.
This past week P'Kai’s event took us to an elder care center for a morning of visiting, exercise, singing, games, and a delicious lunch. We mentioned that we were celebrating Christmas at Payap that day. Twenty of the folks decided they wanted to join us for Christmas worship and dinner, and so they did. With the rest of us they witnessed a musical presentation by our dorm staff and students (most of whom are not Christian!) of the Christmas story, and then feasted with the crowds on tons of great food provided by the different offices and schools of Payap. They could join in the joy we feel at Christmas and perhaps come to understand a bit more of its true meaning.
God is using P’Kai and her warm heart, her networks, and her organizational skills to share God’s love in gentle and tangible ways with folks in and around Payap University. Pray that as these activities continue, some of these folks may come to know Jesus personally.
The week before Payap’s Christmas I finally got the chance to visit Myanmar (or Burma as it was formerly known), which I’ve wanted to do for years. Myanmar shares a long border with Thailand and had one of the most oppressive military juntas in the world in charge for decades. Most people we spoke with expressed hope that recent reforms are making way for real change and much greater opportunity and freedom. I’d taught and worked with many students from Myanmar who studied business or linguistics or Teaching English as a Second Language. When the terrible cyclone Nargis hit several years ago and the junta was not allowing outside aid in, I met our student, LB, who led efforts to raise money and gather clothes to take in to the worst hit area. LB is tiny, but full of courage and strength and love. She and her friend Purity traveled in small boats past dead bodies of animals and people to deliver help to villages. They followed up later with providing chickens and scholarship help in those same villages.
When the Payap leadership team was invited recently to assist the Thai embassy in Yangon (the capital of Myanmar) with its celebrations of Thai National Day and the Thai king’s 85th birthday by sending some of our students to do traditional Thai dance and to play jazz (which the king loves), I grabbed the chance to go along and meet with many of our alumni. My eyes teared up when I was finally able to meet LB in her own country. She eagerly showed me her classrooms, students, and library. Her passion for helping her people and country is palpable. She’s not impressed by people who enrich themselves at the expense of others. She is one who chose to return to a minimal salary to serve Christ and his church.
Ko Moe Naing told us that Payap University changed the direction of his life. He really knew only pop music (he played piano) until he was given a scholarship to our College of Music and discovered classical music and developed his skills. He returned to Yangon and started a music school, which is flourishing as older students teach the newer ones. We enjoyed a mini concert including classical, pop, and traditional Burmese music. It is deeply gratifying to know that Payap University is contributing to the renewal of Myanmar society through our alumni. We hope to increase our impact there through providing more scholarships for students from Myanmar to study with us and by providing short courses in country.
I’m grateful for all the prayer and financial support that allows me to be a part of what God is doing through many wonderful staff, students, and alumni of Payap University. If you are not currently involved, please prayerfully consider joining more closely in this work through prayer, participation, and financial support. If you are currently a part of this work, please consider increasing your support or involvement.
Christmas is a time to remember and reflect on Immanuel, God with us. My prayer this Christmas and for the new year is that I will more consistently welcome Christ into every moment and every cranny of my life; he’s actually already there, but I want to be aware of and responsive to his presence. May your Christmas and New Year also be full of the perceived presence of Christ in you; Christ in us is truly our only hope.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 183
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 195
Read more about Esther Wakeman's ministry