A letter from Esther Wakeman serving in Thailand
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Here at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, like many colleges and universities around the world, our greatest challenge is recruiting students. Fifteen years ago we had 9,000 students. Now we have 4,500. School starts in August and we are working hard hoping to recruit 1,200 new students. Competition is fierce. Payap’s president, Dr. Sompan Wongdee, tries to come to our morning staff worship at least once a week. She often plays the piano for our opening hymn. Probably not something most university presidents do. One morning she arrived at worship before anyone else (she values being on time, which is a bit unusual around here), and she opened the Bible randomly. She began reading from Ezekiel 36:8-11:
But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to my people Israel, for they will soon come home. For behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
Shortly after her appointment as president a year ago, Sompan had a dream that laid out a five-year vision for Payap to become an ideal community for work and study—to regain our former strength and honor. Sompan felt that God was encouraging her that we will be filled with students once again. She felt that the scripture she read that morning was not so random after all. She said, “God speaks to us every day.” She was deeply encouraged that God was promising to accomplish the vision he gave her a year ago. Please pray with us that students he wants to join us will come, and they will come to know his love and care for them.
We received a grant of $100,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation this year to repair our chapel, which the Luce Foundation helped us build 30 years ago. This renovation has been on my wish list for several years, and I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this year the Luce Foundation asked us to resubmit a request for the grant. Repairs have begun, and we’re looking forward to repaired windows in the steeple, new parquet flooring, refinished pews, and restored walkways and doors. We will probably be able to add LCD projectors and screens, and some better sound equipment too. Not sure we’ll have enough for my dream of stained glass windows, but I won’t be surprised if God provides for those in the next four years! I interpret this physical restoration of the chapel as a symbolic or prophetic picture of what God is also doing in the relational and spiritual life of Payap University under Sompan’s excellent leadership.
The Church of Christ in Thailand is the partner church of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) here. A new leadership team was elected at its General Assembly last October and began serving in January. In their four-year strategic plan they are emphasizing more cooperation among the churches, schools, and hospitals of this big national church—something we’ve been doing at Payap for a long time. The chaplain’s office at Payap gave birth to our campus church, called Payap Church, about 20 years ago. We work together closely and it was my great joy to pray a blessing on three students who were baptized and joined the church recently. One of them comes from a family deeply involved in spirit worship and he rejoices in the freedom from fear he has in Christ. Another comes from a Christian family without much real faith. These students have been loved into God’s family through young people who work with Campus Crusade for Christ, which also partners with us and with Payap Church. This is the way of God’s body—being knit together in love working in partnership for God’s reign.
A while back I emailed many supporters asking who might be able to come and assist us and our McGilvary College of Divinity with a Fun English Camp as part of their Freshman Preparation Camp this July during the two weeks before school starts. I’m excited that we have seven volunteers coming from the U.S. to share in this fun time to help our 20+ new theology students to get over some of their fear about using English before they start school. Two of the volunteers are from Knox Pres in Overland Park, Kansas, which has enjoyed a partnership with Payap Church for almost a decade. I’m so looking forward to sharing my joy in being a part of this amazing community with all these friends from the U.S. Please pray that the camp will be a wonderful blessing for everyone.
In April mission co-workers were informed that fund-raising goals for PC(USA) mission had not been met and that during the next couple years as many as 45 co-workers may not be reassigned. This was sobering news. The weekend after I received this news I attended a Mission Weekend sponsored by the Church of Christ in Thailand held at First Church of Chiang Mai. My heart was encouraged on Sunday morning as I watched a big group of young people come before the church indicating their desire to serve God in full-time ministry wherever the Lord will have them go. God is at work in his church throughout the world, and the church belongs to the Lord Jesus. May we all seek to follow him, love and serve him faithfully where we are, knowing that he is at work in and through us to grow us into his likeness and image and to expand his kingdom on the earth.
I am grateful for your interest, prayers, and support for my ministry here in Thailand. I hope you will continue and even consider increasing your support in prayer or finances. Feel free to write me with your joys and needs. I love hearing about what God is up to in your neck of the woods and being able to pray with you.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 235
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