A letter from Esther Wakeman serving in Thailand
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Every year at Payap University, where I work here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the chaplain’s office hosts a welcome event for incoming Christian students. Payap is a part of the PC(USA) partner church here, the Church of Christ in Thailand, and partly because Christianity is such a minority faith here (less than 1 percent of the population in this predominantly 90+ percent Buddhist nation and only about 9 percent of our students are Christian), we want to make sure that our incoming Christian students get to know us and each other and feel welcome and supported. This year our Christian students’ leadership team organized the “Welcome to Payap Party.” They invited not just Christians but also their friends who are interested in knowing more about Jesus. The goal was to worship together, enjoy fellowship, and have a good meal. During the devotional time and small-group discussions two new students prayed to invite Christ into their lives and begin a relationship with Him. That wasn’t in our plans for the event, but we are rejoicing that it was in the Lord’s plans. I’m deeply encouraged that God is at work at Payap and bringing young people to himself beyond what we have asked or expected. May He continue throughout this year. We long for revival.
Our English Fun Camp in July before school started was an excellent experience for our Presbyterian volunteers and our incoming McGilvary College of Divinity students (at Payap University)—everyone learned a lot! The dorm beds were hard, mosquitoes plentiful, and humidity high, but the rewards of getting to know our students and helping them experience the joy of actually communicating in English made it worth the effort and mild discomfort. Our team of five volunteers (from churches in Florida, Michigan, and Kansas) worked together daily to develop activities for about 40 students every afternoon for eight days. They sang songs, did role-plays, practiced conversation, and played games. They also rode elephants and enjoyed a few other tourist adventures and visits to mission work here in Chiang Mai. McGilvary leaders would like to have more volunteers come next year and several of our volunteers want to return with folks from their churches. Our accountancy, finance, and banking faculty wants to have a camp too, so we need more volunteers. If you are interested in such an opportunity, please let me know by December (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This summer our whole family gathered at Lake Joy, Washington, for the wedding of our son, Nathan, to Morgan Wilhem. We were able to have a Collins family reunion before the wedding and a Wakeman family reunion the week following. It was one of the best holidays I’ve ever had. And afterward my nearly-90-year-old father came back with us to Thailand to live. He has visited many times and has interesting things to do and caring people to spend time with here. One example is the recent performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by the Chiang Mai Symphony Orchestra, which has come into being largely through the teachers and alumni of Payap’s College of Music. My father had tears running down his cheeks as he listened. Wonderful music is one of Payap’s blessings to the Chiang Mai community—both Thai and foreign. There are over 30,000 retirees and others from all over the world living in Chiang Mai now—Dad is one of many older folks coming here to live.
I continue to be blessed and enjoy the leadership of our new president, Dr. Sompan Wongdee. She can do hard things, including changing my role from Vice President to University Chaplain. My former responsibilities for student development have been transferred to my wonderful assistant from last year, who was promoted to Assistant to the President for Student Development and is now on the administrative leadership team. This was hard for Dr. Sompan to tell me about, but as soon as she told me, I knew it was a wonderful change. Aj Jim’s gifts can be used much more fully now. He is already making excellent contributions. This change also frees me to focus on where my heart is most fully—the spiritual life of our community. I am still on the administrative leadership team and am welcome to share ideas and input there. I enjoy being able to use my experience and express my gifts at that level. This change has meant some readjustment with the chaplaincy staff that hasn’t been easy at times. But we’ve had good and deep conversations that I’ve taken to heart. I’m enjoying being much more engaged in the day-to-day of the chaplaincy work—and students seem more comfortable talking with me as chaplain rather than as VP—in this land where hierarchy separates people.
Dallas Willard is one of my father’s favorite authors. Dad just finished rereading Renovation of the Heart by Willard for the 10th time or so. It reminds me that as the renovations on our Luce Chapel have been completed and as soon as we get some new carpet and curtains we will begin using it again, I am praying that God will also renew and restore the Christian community at Payap—beginning with me and the chaplaincy staff. We need revival and renovation of our hearts. It is pure wonder that God’s intent is to make us to be like Jesus, but that is his goal. May we grasp this dream from his heart and put our efforts together with his to make it come as true as possible in our lives.
Thank you for your interest, prayers and support, which make it possible for me to be here. I’m grateful for the privilege. The financial situation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continues to be challenging. Your gifts are most appreciated.
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 235
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