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Outward and Inward Journeys

A Letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

August 2018

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Dear friends,

I’m sitting in the sunlit kitchen of my son, Nathan, looking out over Sinclair Inlet off Puget Sound, enjoying the quiet of the morning and the beauty of the clear sky and sparkling water — feeling blessed to have this time to be with Nathan; his wife, Morgan; and their new baby girl, our new granddaughter, Joy. My husband, Rob, is out on the deck reading the autobiography of Daniel McGilvary, the first missionary to northern Thailand, a wise and loving Presbyterian whom God called and used to start the church there. When McGilvary went to Thailand in the 1860s, it took many months to cross the oceans, and 3 more months to travel by boat upriver from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. In 50 years of ministry in Thailand, McGilvary traveled back to the U.S. only two times. How times have changed — both in missions and travel.

I’m in the U.S. now on my second trip this year, and I’m planning a third trip in October! I came for a week in April for some professional development at a wonderful conference about how the church can become a community of healing, and I’m here again now, mid-July to mid-August, for a Wakeman family reunion; the memorial service for my father, who died a year ago; and to welcome my third grandchild into the world. In October, my nephew is getting married, and the next day, my daughter, Anna Baer, is speaking at the opening of an exhibition of her art at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, and I want to be there to cheer them both on. In March, I also got to cheer Anna on in Germany, when she gave birth to her second son, Siera Pax. I’m traveling a lot — it’s not at all like the McGilvary era.

I’m taking an inward journey these days, too. I’m becoming aware of how much of a workaholic I have been for most of the past 20 years, and I’m in recovery. Over breakfast while reconnecting with a member of a mission group that came to teach in our last English Fun Camp at Payap, Melissa shared her current journey of refreshment, and how she’s hoping to serve out of a place of overflow, rather than being half-empty. That spoke deeply to me. The message was confirmed when I recently saw a long-time missionary friend from Thailand, Joan Eubank, the founder of the Christian Communications Institute (CCI), whose traditional Thai drama and dance many of you have enjoyed. Joan listens regularly for God’s heart, and she encouraged me — “I think God wants you to know your cup overflows, so that you will drink from the saucer!” A bit weird, perhaps. But I was encouraged that God wants me to live and serve with the living waters flowing out of my heart from His Spirit.

I feel like God is weaning me off many responsibilities. Two years ago, my administrative duties at Payap ended; this past January my responsibilities as general secretary of the Association of Christian Universities and Colleges in Asia came to an end; and this month my responsibilities as Chair of the Board of Chiang Mai International School have come to an end. My focus is now solely on teaching, research, and pastoral care and counseling. This is good. But the workaholic part of me gets nervous sometimes. I want to assure my supporters that I’m not a slacker. I’m loving my teaching this year — school started in June, and I’m reinventing my course in pastoral care and counseling, incorporating the “Christian Wholeness Framework,” a brilliant framework for teaching counseling. I’ve rescheduled all the classes I’m missing while I’m in the U.S. so my students don’t miss out. With the internet, I’m able to do some job-related tasks from afar — I’m giving input into things requested of me from Payap and the PC(USA) and working on my research projects in between cuddles with my new granddaughter. I’m able to communicate and encourage my mentees from afar, too. One of them went to Japan to be with her mother, who died of cancer while she was there, and we can communicate long distance. I’m so grateful that changes in technology make it possible to be more flexible in how we work, but I also want to unplug for focused time with family and myself when that is needed.

I’m learning more about how we are made to work — as in Ephesians 2:10 — “for we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” I want to be closely following the leading of God’s Spirit each day, discovering and walking in the things God has planned for me that day. God is a good Shepherd, not a task master. And I am loved not because of what I do, but because I belong to God. Like Jesus, I want to be doing what I see and sense the Father is doing, for this is the only path to real fruitfulness. And this is the good news that I want my life to illustrate. We are made for love, and for working with God in God’s mission, in God’s joyful way.

On the Payap University front, a new acting president has been appointed for one year. Dr. Amnuay Tapingkae, the first president of Payap University, who served for 20 years and got the school off to a great start, has been asked to return to steady the ship and to find a new way into the next leg of the Payap journey. The task he has been given is huge. Please pray for him and his leadership team, that as a school we will discover the mission God has in mind for us now, and that together we will walk in the good works that God has prepared for us.

Thank you for joining me in my journey and for your support through your prayers and gifts for my work at the McGilvary College of Divinity of Payap University in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’m deeply grateful that God led me there and continues to work on me as I seek to work with Him.


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