A letter from Sharon Bryant in Thailand
I am back in Thailand again after spending several months in the U.S.A., traveling to churches around the country and sharing stories of the ministry of Christian Volunteers in Thailand. In October we will welcome nine new CVT volunteers to Thailand. I covet your prayers for their safe arrival and look forward to sharing stories of their journey with you in the coming months.
I want to share the joy of my many weeks in the U.S.A. and the warm welcome I received from congregations across the country. I want to share the wonder of places I have never been to before and hope to return to many times in the future. Many have asked whether I work in Thailand because I love that land more than my native land. Having just spent more than four months in a journey that took me through 23 states and driving over 10,000 miles of highway, meeting strangers who became friends in an evening and renewing old friendships from decades past, I can say without reservation that I love my native land, with all of its beauty and strangeness, and would not trade my passport for any other in my lifetime. If I am in Thailand, it is because I believe that God has called me to this ministry.
Out of this journey of 10,000 miles came a hundred new stories that can be told—of a high school student “pen pal” in Florida who introduced me to a congregation full of mission-minded people, of a pastor in Colorado who took in two “homeless” women on the same night and made two new friends, of a generous pastor in Texas who offered me the use of a car for a week of Texas visits, of two lively young ladies in Nevada who stayed up late to entertain a missionary when I stayed overnight with their parents, of a California pastor who helped me drive a Penske truck with all of my worldly possessions from Texas into storage in San Diego, and of family and friends who followed my travel on Glympse and checked in with me by phone when I stopped to break my journey. From all of these stories, I choose three to share with you now.
The first comes from the tiny congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Green Valley, Illinois—a church that my older brother, Ken, served as pastor in the 1980s. Now too small to support a full-time pastor, members were eager to hear stories of my ministry in Thailand. I was warmly welcomed by Melinda Snyder and Martha Dunham, who took me to dinner and, over a wonderful meal, we exchanged stories of all that had happened in the 30 years since we last saw each other. The next morning I set up a table full of Thai artifacts in the Fellowship Hall. During an interactive sermon in which everyone participated in thinking about how the church is one in Christ despite differences of culture and custom around the world (John 17:20-21a), we used jigsaw puzzle pieces to illustrate different points. The discussion and the laughter continued through the awesome potluck meal that followed worship. There I shared stories of my ministry and invited everyone to participate in it, through prayer, financial support, volunteering, and/or sharing stories with others. The congregation joined in prayer for this ministry and took a “Love Offering” in support. As I was leaving, Melinda pressed an envelope into my hands. Many hours later, when I had the opportunity to open the envelope, I was astounded at the incredible generosity of this tiny congregation. In keeping with my promise, Charoenrasdr School and Padoongrasdra School, two of our Christian schools in Thailand, now have Rosetta Stone software to support their English-language learning program.
Another surprise awaited me in Florence, South Carolina. My host for the weekend was Julia Krebs, a professor at Francis Marion University, and her husband, Roger. As we sat in their kitchen preparing for the evening meal, Julia shared that her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor, had migrated south out of Minnesota to Illinois and settled in the tiny town of Greenville, where he served as pastor of the Presbyterian church there for many years. How amazed she was to learn that my brother has served as pastor of that same church in that same small town for the past 20 years! It was a story that had to be repeated many, many times over the weekend. The next day the students in John Calvin Presbyterian Church’s Vacation Bible School gave me three cartons of children’s books they had collected for the students of Saha Christian School. I loaded those books in my car and, two weeks later, they were shipped from California to Thailand. They have now found their way into the library of the school and into the hands of Thai boys and girls who are studying there.
In closing, I want to mention the congregation of Steffin Hill Presbyterian Church in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. At the close of my time with them all those who were present gathered around to lay hands on me and Rev. Judy Angleberger prayed for my itineration journey and the ministry here in Thailand. I was moved to tears by the touch of their hands and the love they shared.
I wish I had the space to share more, for there are many, many more stories of love, of sharing, of laughter, of giving and receiving blessing. Beyond prayers and financial support, there are also those who want to come to Thailand to participate in the work that I am doing. I can’t wait for them to get here! As you prepare budgets for 2014, please remember the work we are doing here. Keep us always in your prayers!