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Using his talents to serve the church is a dream come true

Daniel Pappas creates videos to recruit English teachers for Christian Volunteers in Thailand

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Daniel Pappas shoots video at a Church of Christ in Thailand school. (Photo by Kathy Melvin)

BANGKOK — In late January, Daniel Pappas was riding in a van with his video equipment traveling toward the border of Burma (Myanmar). Most people don’t get that kind of opportunity, but to him it’s just another happy step on a path he didn’t know he was taking.

A native of Dallas, Pappas was born into Eastminster Presbyterian Church. Some 25 years later he is making videos for mission co-worker the Rev. Sharon Bryant to recruit English teachers for the program she supervises, Christian Volunteers in Thailand (CVT). Both Bryant and Pappas are connected with Grace Presbytery in Texas and when a delegation from Grace visited Thailand, Bryant was so impressed with the video work Pappas did, she invited him back to create recruitment videos.

The video project is being funded by The Presbyterian Church of Red Bluff in California from a bequest made by Gordon Todd, who died at 99 and wanted Red Bluff’s special funds committee to use the money to support mission projects. Todd’s sister was a missionary in China and he was so enthralled with her stories, he wanted to honor her work. Three brief videos will be available in April for congregations and presbyteries who want to learn more about teaching English to children in Thailand.

Mission co-worker Sharon Bryant greets Daniel Pappas at the Bangkok airport. (Contributed photo)

Pappas spent a month in Thailand with Bryant and crisscrossed the country, talking to volunteers, alumni and school administrators. The goal, according to Bryant, is to look for people who “have a desire to share the love of God with the Thai people.” The program is under the direction of the Church of Christ in Thailand, a longtime PC(USA) global partner. The CVT program celebrated its 55th anniversary last year.

Although potential volunteers must have a college degree, no teaching experience is required — only fluency in English without a strong accent. The cost to support one CVT volunteer is about $8,000 US. The volunteer receives housing which includes a private bedroom and bathroom and a fan or air-conditioning for the hot summer months. There’s also a small food allowance, which includes meals eaten at school and a cash stipend to cover other living expenses. CVT helps the volunteer with required legal documents including a work permit and a one-year visa. Volunteers receive an orientation to the culture and customs of Thailand and an introduction to the Thai language and the policies of the CCT. The CVT program offers four professional development retreats a year in various locations throughout Thailand. Currently CVT volunteers range in age from 21-77.

By expanding English offerings, the CCT hopes to strengthen the church’s witness and give Thai students an important tool for success in academia and international commerce.

Thailand has been an active member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for almost 50 years. In the past decade, the country has been moving toward integrating itself more closely with its Asian neighbors to form a community of nations similar to the European Union with close diplomatic and economic ties. Opening national borders and reducing trade restrictions is creating an increasing demand for the use of the English language — the only language the ASEAN nations have in common.

CCT was founded 1934 as the Church in Siam with the intent of forming a single ecumenical denomination to include all Protestant churches in Thailand. Other than a small number of American Baptist and British Churches of Christ congregations, most of the original member churches were Presbyterian congregations, many of which were started by missionaries from the American Presbyterian Mission Board.

‘A heart to serve’

Pappas said there were common themes in the interviews he conducted. Almost everyone said the children captured their hearts and they would stay in Thailand as long as they could. One volunteer had agreed to stay for one year and after three her husband and son were coming to make sure she actually came home this time. “Everyone I talked with said they would recommend the program to anyone who felt called by God to serve,” he said. “If you have a heart to serve, the CVT program is the place for you.”

After completing high school in Dallas, Pappas attended Southern Methodist University to study film. Both his parents did their undergraduate degrees there and his father graduated from SMU’s law school. Pappas said he applied to SMU to appease his parents. Nine colleges accepted him, but he felt SMU offered the best opportunities.

During his senior year in college, Pappas was thinking, as most seniors do, about what’s next. His sister suggested he look at the Young Adult Volunteer Program (YAV).  She had served in New Orleans the year after she graduated. “You’re my older sister. I would never follow in your footsteps,” he told her. He spent his 2015-16 YAV year in Peru shooting and editing video interviews with native tribes, documenting their stories of forceful land evictions, unlawful water pollution and their collective resistance. He also recorded teen-led workshops about human trafficking prevention and learned, and then taught, Spanish sign language at a clinic for deaf children in the area.

After completing his YAV year, Pappas returned to Dallas and began working in communications for Grace Presbytery, which had initiated the contact with Bryant. He is currently forming his own freelance video company and hopes to specialize in generating content for nonprofits. He said that working for his church is truly an honor.

Anyone interested in sharing the videos about Christian Volunteers in Thailand should contact mission co-worker Sharon Bryant at sharon.bryant@pcusa.org.


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