New Students and Retiring Teachers

A Letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

June 2019

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Dear friends,

The new semester at Payap University starts in June. This year we are welcoming the smallest first-year class we have had in the last 20 years — about 500 students. When I started full time at Payap 19 years ago, we had close to 2,500 new students each year. Our total enrollment is now under 3000 students. When I started, it was 10,000. What’s behind this huge disparity? Over the past twenty years, the number of children born each year in Thailand has decreased, and the number of universities has increased. And in this already highly competitive market, it is even harder for us to compete with higher status government schools that are subsidized so have much lower tuition than ours. This is the bad news of this letter. It is a challenge we must deal with — your prayers are appreciated.

The good news is that our student ministry staff person who began working with us early last year, Tui Nui, has done a great job building up our Christian students’ club called Romthamm, which means “in the shade of the dharma — the path to truth.” At orientation events this week, the club recruited 45 Christian and not-yet-Christian students for the club from the incoming students! That’s almost 10% of our new students! Payap also is receiving help from a student ministry in Bangkok called the Student Christian Center, a dorm for college students in Bangkok started by Presbyterian mission co-workers about 60 years ago. Payap has asked Rev. Niran, who has worked at the center in Bangkok for several years, to come and strengthen our residential life program. He and his wife live in the dorms and are developing student leadership there. Rev. Niran is known by Thai pastors and church leaders. He told me that about 20 sets of Christian parents approached him this week as they brought their children to move into the dorms and asked him to keep an eye on them and encourage them in their faith journeys. He is working closely with Tui Nui to gather and nurture our Christian students. They had their first Romthamm Club meeting this week, and almost 40 students showed up. That is a record. A retreat is being planned for early in the semester. We anticipate that not all the students will continue with regular participation, but this is the best beginning to the school year we have had in over 10 years. This is a huge encouragement to all of us, and very good news.

As the past school year came to a close, we had our annual worship service to bless and honor staff who are retiring from Payap. One of our retirees is Ms. Tassaneeya Wongchant. Retirees were given the opportunity to share their best memories of Payap in a short video clip, and Tassaneeya shared that what she is most grateful for from her 30+ years at Payap is that she came to faith in Jesus Christ and was able to lead her sister and brother to Christ as well. She also noted that one never retires from serving the Lord. She is a founding member and bulwark of Payap Church, a church on campus that was born out of the work of the chaplain’s office. She will definitely continue serving Jesus through her contributions to that church family. Over the years, there has been a steady trickle of staff and students who have come to know Jesus through learning about him at Payap. Please pray with us that this year as we serve and strengthen our Christian students and with more solid Christian mentoring in the dorms, our student ministry will be more fruitful than ever, even though student enrollment is down.

This year will be the first time in many years that I will have no administrative responsibilities of any kind. I will continue teaching our required chapel workshops to all our students and try to develop a team of teachers to assist in that. I will also be providing pastoral care and counseling for our international staff and students. And I will continue teaching pastoral care and counseling to our seminary students, at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels. I’m so looking forward to focusing on teaching and doing what I teach at the same time. Recently, while on an errand at school, I encountered one of our international teachers who was deeply discouraged about some things happening in his family, and I was glad to be able to listen, validate his anger and hurt, and pray for him and his family. Being led by our Good Shepherd into these kinds of unexpected and unplanned opportunities makes life rich and meaningful — the best kind of adventure. Trying to stay aware of Jesus’ presence and attempting to follow his leading is a great joy.

Thank you for your prayers and support through friendship and funding. I’m grateful for the honor of being part of the Payap University story — even during these difficult and challenging days. Please pray for wise and courageous leadership, and pray that I will be faithful to my part of this story.

Blessings,

Esther


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