A letter from Sharon Bryant in Thailand
One year ago I was pastor of a small church in Stephenville, Texas, and this year I am halfway around the world in a country that is at once very familiar and very different, wondering what God is asking of me in this strange and wonderful place. At this time I am only certain of two things: (1) Our Christian schools desperately need the volunteers that I am to find for them and (2) I would be unable to do this work without the incredibly generous support of people like you who give to the mission of the church through your tithes, offerings and special gifts.
After orientation in January, I left the United States in April and spent the month of May looking for a house to rent in Chiangmai, Thailand. My intensive study of the Thai language began in June. I am slated to take the National Thai Competency Exam on Saturday, December 3, in Bangkok. The exam has four parts: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. My Thai teacher, Khru Paylin, drills me in each of these areas four hours every day, five days a week. There are days when I feel I am making no headway at all, and then there are days like yesterday when I was speaking to someone in English and came to a point in the sentence when all I could think of was a Thai word that said exactly what I wanted to say and I could not, for the life of me, think of the English word at all.
But the real joy has come in the last two months, when I have had the opportunity to visit some of our Christian schools. So far I have visited 12 schools. We have 26 schools with over 60,000 students enrolled. More than half of these students are not Christian. They are attracted to our schools because we have an excellent reputation for providing a basic education and superior ability to teach English. Why is this so important? If non-Christian Thai families choose to send their children to our schools for their education, we have 12 years to teach these children about a God who loves them and a Savior who died for them, 12 years to witness to them through the lives of our Christian teachers and other Christian families, 12 years to sow the seed that God will tend and water. It has been a strategy for Presbyterian mission and evangelism that has worked for hundreds of years.
As I prepare to take the Thai Competency Exam—having already coped with a dog bite, rabies vaccine, and floods (see my blog at www.thailandtales.wordpress.com)—I am also working with my Thai co-workers to recruit the volunteers we need. I am meeting with school personnel to learn about the obstacles they face. I am talking to prospective volunteers about the work they can do to help. I am building a website specifically designed to recruit volunteers and support them in their work here. I am assisting administrators with crafting messages to parents and students about the critical nature of our work—not just the teaching of English, but sharing the good news of the gospel with our students and our community. Would you like to help? I need a few volunteers…
What are some particular moments of joy from this year that bring a smile to my face?
The joy of having my mother living with me
The joy of meeting Beth Roadarmel (a fellow Presbyterian who was my roommate in boarding school years ago) and learning of her work at McKean Rehabilitation Center
The joy of meeting so many leaders in the Thai church who have introduced themselves to me by saying, “I was a student of your father…”
The joy of knowing—and this is difficult for this rebellious daughter of the church to say—that it was only by subjecting myself to God’s Lordship in my life that I have found true happiness and contentment in where I am and what I am doing
What are some of the things I pray for each evening?
- That God will continue to open minds, open hearts and open doors, providing wisdom, strength, support, resources and people to help me with this task
- That God will supply the volunteers we need to provide assistance to the schools
- That my 91-year-old mother will continue to enjoy good health and good friends
As we approach that amazing time of year when God tiptoed into a sleepy little town in Galilee to leave a gift so wonderful that it still takes my breath away, I wonder how I can share that gift with others here… in this place… in this time. I believe our children are the key and our schools give us the opportunity to tell the story to a new generation. May God fill your heart with joy as you relive the precious story of our Savior’s birth in word and in song this Christmas!
With joy in God’s work,
Sharon L. Bryant
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 183