A letter from Sharon Bryant in Thailand
When I completed my first year in Thailand, I wondered to myself (and to God) what I had taken on, and whether either of us was in our right minds when the decision to come to Thailand was made. (Yes, even missionaries question God’s sanity at times!) But when I took our new group of volunteers to the Grand Palace to begin to introduce them to Thai culture and customs, I saw a wonderful cadre of committed Christians, all eager to begin the adventure that God had called them to in this land. They are young, educated, loving, caring, scared and determined. Three of our new Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT) come from the United States of America, one from Great Britain, and four from Nagaland in India. Two are trained teachers. The rest are willing to serve as teachers for the next two years, in order to help young Thai children practice using the English language that they have learned in the classroom. But before they dive in and begin doing that, I spend three weeks with them in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai, reviewing some critical information that might make the difference between whether they survive or thrive in this foreign land.
So, what do we discuss during our orientation? One large chunk of orientation has to do with volunteers understanding their new environment. This includes reviewing the “do’s and don’ts” of Thai culture, an introduction to the food, fruits, beverages, desserts and spices commonly found in Thai homes, an understanding of the hierarchy in church and society, an introduction to the history of Christian mission in Thailand, visiting a few places of interest and some ministries of the church, and twenty hours of training in the Thai language as a starter. The goal here is to ensure that our volunteers know how to dress, how to survive, and how to appropriately engage the culture in some of the many different situations they may encounter during their stay. One always fascinating, though brief, part of orientation is learning how important bananas are in this land, and how every single part of the banana plant is used – whether to feed people, feed livestock, make rope, wrap food, make soup, make toys for children or make beautiful decorations for home, church and temple.
A second large chunk of orientation has to do with building relationships across barriers of nation, race, culture, and even faith. Thailand is a land where relationships are far more important than tasks. For any kind of ministry to happen in such a culture, means taking the time and making the effort to be a friend first. In addition, we want our volunteers to learn to rely on each other, as well as the “CVT Care Team” at their schools, when things get tough and they begin to miss family and friends who are so far away. So, we spend a lot of time investigating differences of perspective in various cultures, using books, discussion, case studies, and activities that may reveal hidden biases or cultural divides. We also engage in teambuilding activities with our senior CVT volunteers (those who have been in Thailand for more than six months). What we discover is that we all have different lenses through which we view the world and make decisions about our lives and our actions. We learn how to ask questions, rather than judge, and how to build bridges, rather than walls.
A third critical component is our faith. Each day of orientation begins and ends with scripture and prayer. All too soon, we scatter to the four winds, each volunteer heading off to his/her school to begin living and working with our partners in Christ. As I send them off, we read Isaiah 43:1-4 together. I remind them that they are loved by God, and that it is God who has called them to this place. There will be times when they will become discouraged and wonder why they have come to this place, when nights are long and lonely, and when those they love seem far away. Those are times when they need to remember that God is with them, and that it is God who has called them to be here. Each volunteer receives a lapel pin engraved with the words “We are called.” Please pray for our volunteers as they work to share the love of God with Thai children. On a map of Thailand, locate each town where our volunteers will be working and pray that they might feel the presence of God in that place. Keep them in your prayers as they celebrate Christmas in a strange land, where snow never falls and Christmas customs are different than the ones they have known. And please remember the work of our Christian Volunteers in Thailand as you consider your financial gifts at Christmastime.
- Vinokali Chophi is serving at Vijjanari School in Lampang.
- Ben Ewert is serving at Udon Christian Suksa School in Udonthani.
- Trinh Hagedorn is serving at Sawang Vittaya School in Nakhon Pathom.
- Piketoli Kinimi is serving at Nan Christian School in Nan.
- Caren Martin is serving at Trang Christian School in Trang.
- Lindsey Monroe is serving at Saha Christian School in Sangklaburi.
- Judith Moore is serving at Prince Royal’s College in Chiang Mai.
- Lucas Peters is serving at Udon Christian Wittaya School in Udonthani.
- James Riggins is serving at Padoongrasdra School in Phitsanulok.
- Susanna Sheim is serving at Koonchae Christian School in Chonburi.
- Kahoni Sohe is serving at Charoenrasdr School in Prae.
As always, this letter comes wrapped with thanksgiving to God and deep gratitude for all that you have given to me through your prayers, your financial support, your cards and letters, and your willingness to share these stories with others who might be inspired to share in this ministry. I ask that you will continue on this journey with me, as it is what you do that gives me the courage and the stamina to do what I do. In all things, may God’s name be praised!
With joy in God’s work,
Mission Co-Worker, Thailand