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Working from Home

A letter from Esther Wakeman, serving in Thailand

May 2020

Write to Esther Wakeman

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Dear friends,

I had hoped to be with many of you during May and June, and now perhaps I can be with many more of you virtually, which is the main way most of us have been getting together anyway. It doesn’t seem unusual now, but it is still much less satisfying than embodied face-to-face contact!!

‘Working from home’ is what I’m doing, and it’s also the title of a sermon I recorded for First Pres. Santa Barbara, which they used in their worship on Mother’s Day. They invited me to watch the service at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, which is midnight in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I live. I took a nap from 8:30–11:30 p.m. so I could get up and watch with them. I even stayed up for their Zoom after church fellowship until 1:45 a.m. I was blessed by the worship—music, kids’ time, pastoral prayer, Mother’s Day celebration—and impressed by their love for one another shining brightly even through the limitations of Zoom!

If you want to check out my sermon, here’s a link. If you click on the link, you will also get a tour of my home and garden, and I suggest the possibility that Jesus is inviting us to work from another kind of home. Check it out! It is about 20 minutes long. If you need an extra sermon for your worship services, feel free to use it.

I also gave an interview on Zoom to a pastor from another West Coast church. He wanted to share the interview with his congregation. I appreciated his questions. Here are his questions and my answers:

Briefly describe the role you are currently serving in.

I work at Payap University in Chiang Mai Thailand, in the chaplain’s office, and as a teacher of pastoral care and counseling in McGilvary College of Divinity – our seminary.

How are you and your loved ones doing these days?

I’m sheltering in place (mostly) with my husband of 40 years, Rob Collins, who is 81 years old. One of my primary goals is to keep us both healthy. He rides his bike about 20 miles most days and is enjoying reading good books. We mostly enjoy being together, and I’m cooking like never before. Three of our six children live here in Chiang Mai, along with two of our nine grandchildren. After several weeks of strict lockdown, we resumed our Sunday night family pizza meals, but now we eat outside and physically distance. Two of our children are on the West Coast, and one is in Germany. Everyone is employed and healthy—a great gift.

How has the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic impacted the work you are doing?

I have two main roles – teaching and providing pastoral care and counseling.

As a teacher—Thailand’s summer was beginning as the pandemic began, and I had no summer classes. I was going to visit churches in the U.S.—Staying in Thailand has given me more time to learn how to teach online and get my courses switched to the online platform. This is a great opportunity and a big challenge for me.

As a pastoral counselor—my counseling has increased—the stress of the pandemic brings up issues that people want to work on. While virtual meetings aren’t ideal, God’s Spirit can still work wonderfully, and I love being able to demonstrate God’s care and concern and help people hear their own hearts. I’m also continuing a weekly prayer meeting with international staff and students that encourages all of us.

What has God revealed or is revealing as you navigate this unique time in your life in our world today?

I’m grateful for this question because it reminded me of my life calling—to grow as a loving, joyful, and obedient disciple of Jesus, and to help others grow as loving, joyful, and obedient disciples of Jesus. Frankly, I think this is the most important thing we can do—especially in times of such great uncertainty. Only God knows where all this is going, and God has plans for each of us—to bring good out of this crisis. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship created for good works that God has prepared for us from the beginning. Our job is to get to know Jesus in an interactive relationship— to learn to listen and hear his heart for us, our neighbors, and the world—and to follow wherever he leads us.

One of the most “fun” ways this is unfolding in my life and in our family is through a new adventure in permaculture. I read about a family in Pasadena, CA, that grew 7,000 pounds of veggies in one year on 1/5 of an acre through permaculture. I’ve been looking for this wisdom for years. We live in a house owned by the university with a huge yard — and I’ve always wanted to garden but never had the time. I still don’t have the time. But I have a son who was out of work, whose fiancée was also out of work, and when we offered to hire them for one full-time job at a salary that he had been making in a Thai business, they agreed. They love it. Our time together (still keeping our distance!) is doing a deep and needed healing work in our relationships. And raised beds made of bamboo are “growing up,” some veggies have been planted, a new pump for our well is on the way, and we’re learning a lot together. I’ve been dreaming too, with the dean of our seminary, about teaching permaculture to our seminarians and giving them these wonderful creation care tools for use in their future ministries.

I hope that you are finding your bearings in this strangest of times. I’m grateful that I get to be here in Thailand and continue serving at Payap University. You may remember that we were already a university in crisis due to falling enrollments. This week, we had good news that our parent foundation, The Church of Christ in Thailand, will provide support for two years on the condition that we downsize and restructure. This is precisely what is needed. Please pray for wisdom and courage for the leadership. I believe God still has work for this school to do here in northern Thailand. Pray that we will accomplish God’s good purposes here. I’m praying for you.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support. I’m deeply grateful.


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