Real Life

A Letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

October 2019

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Dear friends,

I got to “pinch-hit” a sermon on short notice for a friend when his father-in-law’s medical condition got in the way of his preaching duties. This letter contains excerpts from the sermon which was based on I Timothy 6:17-19 and Luke 16:19-31 (the rich man and Lazarus).

There is a miracle happening in Chiang Mai, Thailand. An 84-year old man has returned to Payap University as acting president—Dr Amnuay Tapingkae, the first president of Payap, has begun the huge challenge of leading Payap back into contention as a Thai university. Our enrollment 20 years ago was 10,000 students, now we are under 3,000! Why? Because family planning has reduced the number of high school grads significantly over the past 30 years, and at the same time, the number of universities has increased significantly; so more supply with decreased demand means Thai universities are competing tooth and nail for every student.

AND higher education is changing significantly all over the world—computers and the internet are profoundly changing how we do most things in life—including how we educate. At Payap we have not yet changed our game to fit the new realities. So some have wondered whether bringing an 84 year-old into this scenario is the best choice. I don’t know the answer to that, but as I watch Dr. Amnuay, I am beginning to better understand the meaning of BARAMEE—a Thai word that refers to the most esteemed aspect of leadership in Thailand. Baramee refers to moral strength—and it grows in leaders who interact with their followers through unconditional kindness—doing what is good and right, not for what they will receive, but because it will benefit their community. Dr. Amnuay has tremendous baramee.

Dr. Amnuay has agreed to work this year without a salary, to try to save the university he helped start 45 years ago. The weight of this responsibility is huge. And we are praying that his health will not be harmed. Dr Amnuay is providing an example of leadership that works for good from the heart, not for money—in the way the writer of I Timothy is encouraging his community to live, and in the way Jesus challenged his community to live when he told the story of the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus.

Jesus told the story in response to the religious leaders around him who trusted more in money than in God, and cared more about how they looked to people rather than God. They thought Jesus was a fool—that he didn’t understand how the real world works. Jesus came proclaiming the good news that God is in charge—that the best way to live is in God’s ways—because they are the ways of real life.

Jesus’ story challenged the wealthy in his audience that day, revealing their arrogance and hardness of heart—and it challenges us deeply to consider how we are living our lives.

We may not consider ourselves rich, but in the context of world economics, we are. As Presbyterians we are in the top two wealthiest denominations per capita. Are we focused on money, and more concerned with looking good for people rather than caring how God sees us? Or do we truly believe that God’s rule in this world is real and God’s mission in the world is worth investing our lives in? Who are the Lazaruses at our gate, and how are we responding to them? With his story Jesus pulled back the curtain so we could see the reality that we who have much can easily ignore those around us to whom we, as participants in God’s community, have an obligation of care: to obey the law to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to use the gifts God has given us—financial and otherwise—to participate in God’s mission of justice, reconciliation, and healing. And Jesus’ motivation is not to make us miserable, but to welcome us into the joy of real life lived in partnership with him. Our actions have real and lasting consequences for ourselves and others.

Dr Amnuay offers us an encouraging example of someone who is investing his life in God’s mission in the world, and even in his 80s is willing to expend huge energy to do the hard things that need to be done to renovate Payap University from top to bottom. A miracle has begun. Hope has been renewed. People are offering support.

My MDiv students from this past semester are also great examples of those investing in God’s mission. Each of them has a story of how Jesus has brought them into relationship with himself, and led them to pursue further theological education. As we studied pastoral care and counseling, they reflected on their lives, the strengths they have developed, and the wounds they have received. One student offered to be the recipient of prayer ministry in a demonstration for the class of inviting Jesus into the counseling experience. As she sensed Jesus’ presence and affirmation in a place of hurt, she was able to receive relief from that old hurt and received strength to move forward in an important relationship. I read their final papers, describing their vision for ministry and their plans for their own growth which they need to fulfill the vision. As I read, I was encouraged to learn how eager they are to continue to grow and to bring the understandings and skills they are developing into their future ministries with women, with children at risk, in parish ministry, youth ministry, and counseling. None of them is into ministry for the money. They want to participate in God’s mission and miracles. They are eager to serve the Lazaruses at their gates. And to “take hold of the life that really is life.”

Thank you for sharing in God’s mission at Payap University by your support through prayer and financial contributions. I’m most grateful and hope you will continue!!


Please read this important message from Sara Lisherness, interim director of Presbyterian World Mission

Dear friend of Presbyterian Mission,

Greetings in Christ! As the interim director of Presbyterian World Mission, I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank you for your continued support of PC(USA) mission co-workers.

The enclosed newsletter bears witness to some of the many ways in which God is at work in the world through long-standing relationships between global partners and the PC(USA). These partnerships are nurtured and strengthened by the presence of mission co-workers in over 40 countries; you are an important part of this partnership too, as you learn about and share how our church is involved in global ministry; as you pray for our partners and mission co-workers; and as you take action to work with others for God’s justice, peace and healing.

I write to invite you to continue joining us in partnership in three ways. First, your prayers are always needed. Please pray that God will continue guiding the shared work of the PC(USA) and global partners as we engage together in service around the world. Pray, too, for mission co-workers, that they may feel encouraged in the work they are doing under the leadership of global partners.

Second, please consider making a year-end gift for the sending and support of at least one mission co-worker. There is a remittance form at the end of this letter and an enclosed envelope so that you can send in a special year-end gift.

Finally, I encourage you to ask your session to include one or more mission co-workers in your congregation’s mission budget for 2020 and beyond. PC(USA) mission co-workers’ sending and support costs are funded by the designated gifts of individuals and congregations like yours; your gifts allow Presbyterian World Mission to fulfill global partners’ requests for mission personnel.

Faithfully in Christ,

Sara Pottschmidt Lisherness
Director, Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry
Interim Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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