A letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand
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For the past 17 years, I thoroughly enjoyed the honor of having an administrative role at Payap University (in Chiang Mai, Thailand) in the Office of Spiritual Life — as Assistant to the President, then Vice-President for many years, and in the end as University Chaplain. I often felt overwhelmed and under-skilled, but I believed I was called, and did my best to depend on God for the grace and wisdom I needed for each day. I made plenty of mistakes, but I made some deep friendships and had input into important decisions. And I helped develop Payap’s core ethical principles and a training program in those principles for our students and staff that I hope is giving us a sense of God’s good ways of doing life together. Since August 1, I am FREE of administrative responsibilities and meetings, meetings, meetings, and I still get to do all the best parts of the job I’ve loved for almost two decades — teaching, counseling, mentoring/discipling, and prayer counseling. I’m grateful that my life includes much less pressure, more margin — space for quiet and for interruptions, and more availability to be deeply present. I’ve longed for this change for a while now.
However, the first few months of this new season were still busier than I’d hoped. I had to do lots of preparation for my teaching responsibilities — I’m now teaching Pastoral Care and Counseling in Thai — a big change from teaching in our international program which I’d been doing for about 10 years. Teaching in Thai required preparing lots of lectures. But I have a wonderful teaching assistant, Ms. Kulying Kanjanamas, who is helping me with translating lecture outlines for my students and grading — what a gift. She’s also teaching the parts of the class I enjoy less, and she’s teaching them well. I’m hoping we’ll be able to write a book for the course for next year — that’s a big prayer request.
I also completely rewrote the ethics chapter for one of our general education courses that all Payap students must take — another big change. My new boss, Dr. Satanun Boonyakiat (Dr. Golf — chaplain of Payap and continuing as Dean of McGilvary College of Divinity) translated my English draft of the chapter into Thai, and helped make it even better than the original. I got to teach five of the seven sections of the course, teaching five sessions for each section in three weeks — so that was a busy, but very good and satisfying, experience. One of the other teachers who taught is not a Christian, and I felt some concern about this — because the material is quite Jesus-oriented. But in one of our meetings to prepare the lessons, about half way through the chapter, she told us that she had encouraged her students who were interested in understanding more about the Christian faith to contact the Office of Spiritual Life. I don’t think we could ask for better support. I felt so grateful for her and a bit ashamed of myself. No students have come forward from that course as far as I know, but during one of our ethics training classes a student did approach me asking about the meaning of Christian baptism! He also wanted to know whether it was all right to ask Christians about their faith!! I assured him we would love to discuss any of his questions. He has some friends who have become Christians, and he is impressed by their lives. I pray that he is continuing his conversations with them, and being drawn closer to the Lord.
As the teaching responsibilities wound down, preparations for a conference of the Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia (ACUCA) held at Payap from October 19–22 wound up. Every two years, the secretariat of this organization moves to one of its member schools. Payap University is the current secretariat, and I was appointed General Secretary by our former president, Dr. Sompan Wongdee. Payap’s new president, Dr. Rux Prompalit, has asked me to continue in the role. The ACUCA was founded 40 years ago by the presidents of a number of Christian higher education schools in Asia to encourage and strengthen each other in our Christian identity and mission, in academics, and in service to our communities and countries.
The conference included a significant change from past conferences, which typically have two keynote speakers who are highly academic. Our first keynote speaker was an academic — one of Payap’s outstanding teachers — but he shared his journey as a Muslim in Thailand almost as a testimony. From being a rather rough young man, to being mentored by peace-loving Muslim professors in university, to spending most of his academic career at Payap University — a Christian university — where he has been respected and appreciated greatly. His highly personal contribution to our conversation on the theme “Exploring the Relationship of Religion, Culture, and Peace in Christian Higher Education” was greatly appreciated.
The second “keynote” was a presentation by the CCI (the Christian Communications Institute of Payap University) of its traditional Thai drama interpretation of “The Prodigal Daughter.” The conference participants were so impressed by the creative interpretation of the Christian message in such a wonderful Thai way. It sparked much conversation, and made for a highly stimulating conference.
Just prior to the conference, the CCI had helped us once again with our Spiritual Renewal week — and this year’s songs and plays were some of the best they have ever done. The theme was “Let’s Change.” The CCI urged us not to go along with the crowd and be conformed to destructive ways of living, but to depend on our loving and caring God who strengthens us to live in the loving ways that are so right and good for all of us. Let us be changed by God’s loving presence with us — becoming the people he made us to be — being salt and light in a needy world. This message is needed more than ever in Thailand, with the big change happening as a result of the passing of His Majesty King Rama IX — who reigned for 70 years in Thailand. After a year of mourning, his funeral ceremony has brought home the final reality of his death. It highlights the peace that Thai Christians have — knowing that God is alive and well and caring for us. We can know deep security in the face of the biggest changes around us.
I’m grateful for the changes happening in my life. And I’m grateful for your support through friendship, prayer, and finances. I’m blessed with so many who share generously in this ministry and thank God for you all. And I invite you to prayerfully consider increasing your partnership.
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