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Adapting to the Changing Landscape

A Letter from Sharon Bryant, serving in Thailand

May 2020

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Dear Friends,

Looking back at my last letter to you, I see that the COVID-19 outbreak rated one sentence in a two-page letter. Since then, it has taken over our lives, and everything I write in this letter has been touched by COVID-19 in some way. I pray that God will keep you safe and healthy until we see each other again. I had planned to return to the U.S. in May to visit churches on the East Coast. At this time, we do not know how soon I will be able to do that. I am sheltering in place and working from home here in Bangkok as the virus circles the globe. One thing that I have done during this time is to produce videos updating my ministry for churches in the U.S. They have been shared publicly through Presbyterian World Mission’s social media outreach. Here is a link to the latest video in that series: .

As I write this, there are significant challenges to my work and the ministry here in Thailand. The school year, scheduled to begin on May 1st, has been delayed. Schools will open on July 1st, although no one is certain what form this future classroom instruction will take. Eight volunteers graduated from our program this past year, leaving us with only four active volunteers. The five volunteers who had planned to begin serving with us in late April are still in their home countries, and we do not know when they will be able to join us. At this time, there are no incoming international flights except those bearing Thai citizens returning to their homeland. The capital is quiet, with many people working from home and a curfew from 10 PM to 4 AM. Billboards which used to promote products, now promote messages of unity and solidarity in the face of this pandemic.

Obviously, we have had to adapt our work and ministry in Christian Volunteers in Thailand to the existing circumstances. My assistant, Ms. Atchima Wongkhiao, and I have been calling volunteers and schools to maintain lines of communication and to provide support wherever it is needed. One significant change we have initiated is a weekly “check-in call” for volunteers using Zoom so that we can see everyone’s faces and learn from them about challenges and changes in their many locations.

Since most of our alumni are also sheltering in place and working from home, we have invited them to join our weekly calls, and it has been delightful to see friendships formed when they were serving together being renewed in this way. We have had alumni who are still in Thailand, as well as alumni in the U.S., India, Australia, China, Germany, and England, join our call, and share their stories. Since we cannot gather for retreats, we have also initiated an online book study to continue our professional development.

Since no one knows how long this situation will continue – or whether the Coronavirus may return in the fall and create a new outbreak of cases – those of us who were planning to return to the U.S. to visit churches and share stories of our ministries are now beginning to plan virtual visits using some of the technology that is currently available and being used by churches for online worship and Bible studies. This involves a new learning curve for many of us. Two months ago, I had never used Zoom or participated in an international Zoom call. I had never recorded or edited a video of myself. New applications and software are being developed, and I am certain that I will have the opportunity to learn more in the weeks to come.

Please pray for all our volunteers and alumni as they shelter in place and work from home, many of them in a land where they are not fluent in the local language, and far from family and friends.

Please pray for schools preparing to open for the new school year, as they struggle with issues of access for students, professional development for teachers, and inadequate budgets to meet the challenges of this new world.

Please pray for other mission co-workers and me, as we plan our virtual visits to churches in the U.S., for it involves using new technology or using technology in new ways to share our stories and touch the lives of others.

Please pray for our partner church here in Thailand, for this church, too, struggles with meeting the current needs of many during a time when donations and offerings have vanished as parishioners struggle with lost jobs and income.

I thank you for all you do to support me and my work with Christian Volunteers in Thailand. As all of us watch a new future unfold, it is wonderful to be able to support my Thai partners as they struggle with a landscape that changes daily. Your prayers, letters, and emails, your care packages, and contributions to World Mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) make all of this possible. And those things are needed as never before. Thank you.

May God keep you safe until we meet again,

Sharon L. Bryant

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