A letter from Esther Wakeman serving in Thailand
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Thank you so much for your prayers and support! I just received the great news that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will not need to prematurely end the work of any mission co-workers for at least the next couple of years (if giving continues at the same level or increases). I am so grateful to be able to continue to serve here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at Payap University, helping to connect the body of Christ here with you where you live.
Sometimes God ambushes us so we can get the help we need. I was walking to a meeting recently and one of our teachers was heading to her car, right in my path. I asked her how she was doing and she shook her head sadly. She had not intended to ask for help, but within a moment she was weeping in my arms. God ambushed her, by putting me in her way, and we’ve been able to meet a few times for prayer and counsel, and she’s got some hope back and a path toward healing. I love getting to be a part of folks’ journeys with Jesus.
Every year we celebrate our graduating students’ academic accomplishments with a baccalaureate service in which they receive a small pin with a Bunnag flower (Payap’s flower) on it. This year Dr. Satanun Boonyakiat, Dean of McGilvary College of Divinity, gave a wonderful sermon from one of Paul’s letters to Timothy. It is not easy to get the attention of young people today, but the students were most attentive. He gave them a clear picture of God’s love and care along with their responsibility to do their best in life. I’m so grateful that we have these opportunities to share our faith and encourage our students on their way. Representatives of our students also have a chance to express their gratitude and make suggestions to Payap University administration. A young pharmacy student suggested that Payap make more scholarships available for worthy needy students. He said he had benefited from such help. We have increased our scholarships a lot, and I hope we will take his advice, and increase scholarship assistance even further.
You may have heard of the annual nationwide water fights in Thailand. It can be fun, but it is also dangerous at times—the deaths from road accidents this year were up from last year—because drinking, driving motorcycles, and splashing water all at the same time is not very safe. But this festival comes from a more serious root—the Thai New Year (celebrated April 13-15). It is a time when water is used to bless and be blessed, and especially to honor our elders and ask forgiveness for anything we may have done that was not good in the previous year. People usually dress up in traditional clothing, and bring gifts of food, flowers, and symbols of respect, along with a bit of water for their elders to bless them with.
At Chiang Mai International School (CMIS), where I serve as chair of the Board, this year’s ceremony gave us the opportunity to honor our elders and honor our local culture. Our director, Mrs. Manoonvatana, who served as director of one of the big Thai Christian schools in Chiang Mai for many years, is strengthening CMIS in both its Thai language and culture teaching and in its Christian identity. Please pray that this wonderful school will continue to nurture strong academic work and loving character, and that our students will have the opportunity to come to know the source of our joy in community.
In my last letter I shared about the lovely Good Friday service we had at Payap University. That service included a large cross with a crown of thorns on it. Three weeks after Easter, when we returned from our Thai New Year break, after I finished leading our morning devotional, I noticed that the crown of thorns was sprouting roots and little branch buds!! This wretched symbol of suffering and death was sprouting new life. Many plants in Thailand are similar to this. The most gorgeous flowers come out on the trees this time of year even though we haven’t had rain for months and the temperatures are soaring. What a great picture of Resurrection in a land without winter and spring. The flowers and budding thorns become such signs of joy and hope.
This year we have endured the longest heat wave in over 65 years—temps over 100 for four weeks straight. The heat began not long after my husband, Rob, was bitten seriously by a dog while riding his bicycle. After recuperating at home, the bite became infected and he was hospitalized for almost two weeks. The silver lining was that we could enjoy the air-conditioning in the hospital that we don’t have at home. I’m glad to report that Rob is healing nicely now, and should be able to accompany me on my upcoming U.S.A. trip.
As noted in my last newsletter, I will be in the U.S. for two months from May 20 to July 18 visiting most of my supporting churches and having some good family time as well. I look forward to thanking many of you in person for your faithful and generous support and sharing more stories of how God is growing his kingdom of love in Chiang Mai. Please continue to pray for this work and consider beginning or increasing your financial support.
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