Journeys

A Letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

June 2018

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In January 2017, my grandson, Vigo, took his time journeying from his mom’s womb into the world, delaying my return to Thailand from Germany, where I had the joy of being present at his birth, by a week. I was grateful for a few extra days of unexpected vacation, and a bit of time to welcome him into our family. In June 2018, my father, Albert Wakeman, timed his journey from this world into Jesus’ presence perfectly, delaying my return to Thailand from the USA, where I had the privilege of being present at his death, by a week. As I write this, I’m on a plane for the long journey home, reflecting on my dad’s life journey and his contributions to mine, and on my amazing journey of the past two months visiting many of you who receive these letters. My heart is full.

I count it a special grace of God that even though I live in Thailand, I was able to be with my mother at her death in 2011, and also with my father this week. I shared with many of you that the most difficult aspect of living in Thailand was being so far away from my aging father. Now the Lord has taken care of that, and I feel great peace. All my siblings were also present for both of our parents’ journeys, and these experiences have deepened our bonds of love. My father donated his body to a medical school — he was a teacher in life, and continues to teach in death! We are planning his memorial service for next summer — as part of our first Wakeman family reunion without either of our parents.

Psalm 103 was my father’s favorite — “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” We were introduced to God’s love through our father. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.” Even 92 long and full years of life are brief in the overall scheme of things. “But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” Al Wakeman’s children and grandchildren have experienced God’s goodness and love through him, and want to continue passing it on to future generations — even though we live a bit spread out around the world.

The timing of Dad’s passing was also perfect in that all my speaking commitments had just been completed without interruption, and only 20 hours before I was to get on a plane back to Thailand, my sister let me know I needed to reroute back to Ohio to be with my father instead. AND I will be back in Thailand just in time for an important meeting to plan the Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia (ACUCA) conference on “The Internet’s Impact on Identity and Character Development of Students in Asian Christian Higher Education: Issues and Solutions” being planned for October. I’m eager to see my new friend, Rev. Dr. Wichitra Akraphichayatorn, whom I told many of you about, and continue developing plans to bring neurotheologian Rev. James Wilder, Ph.D., who integrates brain science and the Bible, to share his important message to presidents, teachers, and students of the 60 church-related schools across eight nations in Asia that are part of this important organization. Jim will share The Life Model, which is a model of how God’s people are meant to be a healing community that is skilled in developing genuine spiritual and emotional maturity — not just knowing the right theology (whether that is conservative or liberal or something else altogether). This is at the heart of God’s mission in the world — that we live life as it was intended from the beginning in a real interactive relationship with God, deeply loving each other, and caring for the earth — bringing God’s purposes into being.

I’m thankful for all of you whom I met or visited during my journey of the past two months, from Ohio and Pennsylvania to Florida, Colorado, California, and Washington. Thank you for listening to my stories and sharing yours. Many of the churches I visited have been on a difficult journey for the past few years — losing long-time members and wondering what the future holds. As I listened and learned about your histories and neighborhoods, I grew more sure than ever that God has amazing plans for new life and ministry, but those plans require changes in how we do church. The fundamental issue is whether we want to journey with Jesus in his way of self-giving love, and be healed and changed to the core, OR prefer to try to stay comfortable and try to keep church the way we’ve always known it. Thankfully, that second option is disappearing as our members do.

As I shared with some of you, one of the strengths of The Life Model is its understanding of the stages of maturity. The primary task of the elder stage of maturity is to “parent the community,” which includes ensuring that those without family are cared for in real relationships by the family of God. Our churches are full of “elders” who are older but may not understand their role, and may not be fulfilling it. Many of our neighborhoods are filled with children who need the real love of “spiritual grandparents” who are willing to be challenged and changed in their depths as God’s Spirit knits them together in deep bonds of love with those lonely children.

Through these joyful and challenging bonds, God conforms us more and more into the image of Christ — the one who taught us to welcome the children and not hinder them. I wonder if this is the kind of deep journeying into which Jesus is inviting our churches these days. Books like Canoeing Over the Mountains, Simple Church, and Slow Church offer some real wisdom for the journey.

Thank you for journeying with me through the years, and welcome to those of you who just met me during the past few weeks. Please pray for me as I teach during the school year that has just begun, work on the conference, and seek to be a loving, joyful, and obedient disciple of Jesus who helps others grow as loving, joyful, and obedient disciples — especially the international staff and students of Payap University. Thank you for your generous support of my recent journey in the US. All my travel expenses were covered, and I was able to make a good donation to my support through the PC(USA) with all the remaining funds. Thank you for your ongoing support through prayer, friendship, and finances. Further gifts can be made may be made by clicking here.

If you prefer to send a check, please designate E200327 on the memo line and use the enclosed envelope, or mail it to the address listed in the gray box below.

Blessings for your journey,

Esther


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