A letter from Esther Wakeman serving in Thailand
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After our once-a-semester all faculty and staff meetings this week I asked a friend from Canada who has been teaching at Payap University (Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I work) how she felt about the faculty meeting. She said without hesitation, “It’s the best one I’ve been to in all my time at Payap” (about seven years). “What made it so?” I asked. She thought for a moment, and then said, “The president is so open and so real.” We human beings can deeply sense “REAL” or the lack thereof, and our new president, Dr. Sompan Wongdee, is wonderfully genuine. She had made sure we left lots of time in both meetings for questions, comments, and suggestions. She had already shared with the community some of the wonderful things we’ve accomplished together in the past six months and the huge challenges we face to recruit more students and become a better functioning organization. She didn’t mince words when she invited people who do nothing but complain to please find work elsewhere, where they can be happy. We need to reduce our staff and faculty numbers significantly and we need solutions to problems and people ready to work hard together toward those solutions.
Many of us felt that this week was one of the most enjoyable weeks ever at Payap. We started with an excellent workshop on the current generation of students and their learning styles and needs and the huge challenge that presents most of our teachers who are of earlier generations. We began working toward clarifying the outcomes we want to work toward. And we talked some about how to integrate academic work with our student development/character development work, which I’m responsible for. We’ve begun a crucial conversation, and I need prayers to help shape our work to touch the hearts and form the habits of our students significantly.
Our second annual sports day for all faculty and staff began on Monday and Tuesday after work with petanque (like marbles with metal balls), chairball (basketball with a real basket held and moved to catch the ball), and futsal (soccer on a basketball court) tournaments. Wednesday was dedicated to the championship games, a karaoke contest during lunch (Dr. Pisamai, VP for Academic Affairs, has a fantastic voice so many came out on the floor and danced together as she sang), funny relays (including a Superman relay where participants layer underwear, socks, tank top and cape over clothes, then top off with a helmet and sunglasses), and the ever-popular tug of war. Sports days in Thailand always begin with a parade and include cheerleaders and coordinated cheers by everyone on the team—you have seen nothing like it in America. This year the purple team won the cheerleading contest—two handsome young McGilvary College of Divinity teachers (Aoum and Taen) were the key in their purple silk bow ties and cummerbunds. Dr. Chananporn, Assistant to the Dean of McGilvary (Academic Affairs) also added her beauty and style to the purple cheerleader group. Thai people know how to play and have a great time together. Each of the four teams won a trophy by the end of the day, and President Dr. Sompan proclaimed next year’s event would be even bigger and better than this year’s!
On Friday, the last day before our two-week Christmas and New Year break (I think we are the only university in Thailand that takes a Christmas break), we celebrated Christmas. I love our Christmas celebrations, but this one touched me the most. The chapel staff planned to go around campus caroling in the offices and President Dr. Sompan said she would like to go along—and she brought the rest of the top admin team along. We rode around in one of our extended golf carts and handed out gifts and sang carols for the teachers and staff we met. By 10 a.m. the chapel was filled to brimming with people decked out in beautiful green and red outfits. And then CCI (the Christian Communications Institute) performed one of their traditional Thai dramas—a likay—about slaves set free. Likay is full of humor and the team had everyone in tears, they were laughing so hard. How I wish I could have transported you all to witness it, and inserted knowledge of Thai language and culture in your brains so you could have appreciated it. The combination of their brilliant acting and hilarity and the gentle invitation of CCI’s chaplain in the closing devotion to open our lives to Jesus, who was born at Christmas and came to set us free from the things that enslave us, was one of the most effective gifts of the gospel I’ve ever witnessed at Payap University.
Combined with Dr. Sompan’s realness—her living life as Christ meant it to be lived, with humility, truth, competence, and passion—Payap’s staff and teachers tasted what life in God’s realm is about. Please pray for a powerful outpouring of God’s Spirit upon us and real revival. Thailand needs truth and needs the grace and love of Jesus. Payap University is destined to be a place where God is felt and known more and more.
Thank you for your interest in this ministry. I’m grateful for each of you who support it with your prayers and monetary gifts. If you would like to commit to praying for me in some regular way, please email me to let me know (email@example.com). I also invite your continued financial gifts, correspondence and desire for learning more about God’s mission in Thailand
Hope your Christmas and New Year were wonderful, too. May you grow in grace and in deeper experiences of God’s great affection for you.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 235
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