A letter from Esther Wakeman serving in Thailand
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It’s not a typical summer mission trip—it’s halfway around the world, and focuses on relationship and conversation—14 American Presbyterians helping 200 Thai students get a bit more comfortable using English. The volunteers from three churches (First Pres, Salem, Ore., First Pres, Green Cove Springs, Fla., and Knox Pres, Overland Park, Kan.—which has partnered with Payap Church, our campus congregation for about seven years) staffed our 2016 English Fun Camp for two weeks in July at Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I serve as University Chaplain.
I’m going to let the summer mission team write this letter –
“From the time we left [home] this experience has differed greatly from my expectations. The [flights] were far better than expected. Chiang Mai is bigger and more complex than I had expected. I knew that I would like the Thais that I met, but I had no idea how much. I had expected more reserved people, very polite but slow to accept strangers. Instead, I was deeply touched by how open and welcoming everyone has been. This was especially surprising with the students. I was nearly overwhelmed by the care and consideration I was given by the students when we were touring the markets.”
“These two weeks were a fun-filled, busy, rewarding experience that adds a whole new level for fun in travelling. I got a lot more than I gave in meeting my fellow teachers who are a diverse group in their beliefs and commitment. Mostly, though, I had an exposure to a culture, the Thais’, that I’ve never gotten in my many ‘tourist’ type trips.”
“My experience on this trip was very eye-opening. I had never been abroad nor done any kind of ‘relationship’ mission trip. I was more used to manual labor. This trip interested me for the English teaching mainly… Overall, this whole trip has been a learning experience that has helped me grow in my beliefs.”
Here are some things listed as highlights:
- “I really enjoyed the elephant park! Massages! Seeing the progress the students made in three days was the most satisfying.”
- “The joy I felt when a student at the camp and I could create a friendship because they knew enough English to talk to me was absolutely delightful.”
- “Having the students begin to open up about their thoughts, likes, dreams … as they became more comfortable with the volunteers.”
- “Spending time with the students in the markets—experiencing them team together to communicate to us and show off their culture.”
- “I loved that it allowed for a wide age range to participate fostering inter-generational community.”
- “Worshipping at Payap Church”
- “Singing and games [with the Payap Church team] before and after classes helped the students and volunteers interact with lots of fun.”
- “Watching CCI [The Christian Communications Institute—which uses Thai dance and drama to share the gospel] perform ‘The Prodigal Daughter’—Rob said it would be a tear-jerker and he was right. Placing the importance of Jesus as the core of the message we seem to have forgotten—that combined with the gentle Thai culture made the story come alive.”
They had a few more thoughts about the long-term impact—
- “I hope it will help our church relate better to mission, and it gives a much better idea of what it means to be a missionary—so much more hands-on.”
- “My experience these last two weeks has been full of new experiences, friendships, and interests. I have seen and learned a lot of new things and began to understand a new culture. Also, I have been able to deepen old friendships and begin new ones… I have also realized how privileged I am and the importance of hospitality, no matter your culture. These experiences will leave an impression on my life and help guide me where God is calling me.”
- “So happy to have had this opportunity, and hope to return many times.”
- “I’m hoping that other members of our church can have the same experience in the future.”
One participant wrote a prayer in her evaluation: “Creative God, you wow me every day with the diversity you’ve given the world. Visiting Thailand, peeking into the lives of people halfway around the world, somehow confirms our unity in You. Thank you for this opportunity to serve, to learn, to love.”
As for Payap participants? Students told me they had lots of fun—and that is the definitive issue for any worthwhile activity in Thailand. The teachers who helped felt the camp achieved its purpose to help students be more comfortable around native English speakers. They want to do another camp next year. When I asked the volunteers if they would recommend others come, everyone said yes, but some warned that people who come need to be flexible and ready for anything.
I was blessed by the volunteers who were fully engaged—ready to both receive and give—they served competently and joyfully, exhibiting lots of patience and flexibility when needed. Our teachers and students could feel the love of Christ through them, even if they might not know that’s what it was!
Camp started the morning after I arrived from the U.S.A. after two months of great visits with family and supporters in Washington, Oregon, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, topped off with a wonderful week in Kentucky with other PC(USA) mission co-workers—sharing what God is doing all over the world through us, and being refreshed together as we reflected on our lives as God’s Beloved (a la Henri Nouwen). God is so good. Payap’s new school year has begun and our chaplaincy team has some good plans in place for the year. I’m excited. Another English Camp is likely to happen.
Thank you for your support through prayer and/or finances; I hope you will consider increasing your investment in God’s mission here in Thailand—if that might include joining us for next year’s English camp, let me know.
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