Serving with Joy
Air heavy with heat and smoke bore down on us in the dusty mountain village. It made our lungs work a little harder, but didn’t seem to affect the grubby but excited kids at all.
Our long-awaited Bible and English camp had begun. We had planned these camps and clinics for months. Just the week before the team from the US arrived. Our daughter Becky with her dentist-husband Andrew and their three boys flew in a week ahead of the mission time. It was so good to see them! They generously treated Paul and me to a vacation in Southern Thailand for a few days. It was the first one we’ve taken since we’ve been here, and we certainly enjoyed it! I had never been further south than Chiang Mai, so it was fun to see other parts of the country.
Then back home and preparing for the next two weeks. Soon afterwards the Smith family arrived. Diane Smith is a dental assistant and volunteered to come to help Andrew. Her husband, Cy, is a handyman and came ready to help where needed. Their son Casey is also a handyman. He helped his dad and also helped in the English camps. Daughter Jessica took charge of the games for our camps. Our grandsons and our Thai kids and staff all took part in making the camps and clinics successful.
We visited the village of Long Khoad on the first Sunday the team was in Thailand. The church members don’t have a pastor or a building, so they were in need of encouragement. Paul preached and we did medicine there in a borrowed building.
On Monday we traveled to Pasaak 2. A tarp over some poles provided shade and a place for our Bible camp. Andrew set up his mobile dental clinic in the church building up the steep hill. Some of the patients were doubtful at first, as most had never been treated by a dentist. The distance, cost, and language barrier make it nearly impossible for them to get dental care – and their poor teeth show it.
The first patient came out all smiles, assuring the others that it didn’t hurt and that it was over very soon. They decided to stay after all. After that, the schedule was full and Andrew and Diane stayed busy. Lek translated and Becky and Cy sterilized the instruments in a pressure cooker over a portable stove – no light task in 100+ degree heat.
Meanwhile, back at the tent, my crew and I began the English lessons and Bible lesson. We had a large group of kids – about 35, I think. Pann, our secretary, translated for me in class and in the medical clinic afterwards since Lek was translating for Andrew and his patients.
A weight-bearing beam in the church building was rotted out with termite damage, putting the whole building in danger of falling in. Cy and Casey replaced the beam, with a little help from friends. We had no ladders, so some of us were chair-holders as the guys positioned the new beam into place.
The camp lasted for two days, and then we took a day off for Andrew’s back to recover. The heavy workload and the low height of his portable dentist chair are physically taxing, so we planned rest days in between clinics.
On Thursday and Friday we had camp and clinic #2 at Hoe La Bong. This time our tent was a tarp on bamboo poles in front of the bright pink church building.
At least this way we could corral any of our students who wandered off to watch the dental proceedings! We found that the children here were still in school, so we had a very young group of kids. They took part and listened, though. They picked up the English part even better than the older kids, although I had to modify the Bible story for younger listeners.
Cy and Casey built a tree swing for the kids. They also fixed the doors on the new outhouses. We were certainly happy to see those outhouses. They had only one before, and it had only three sides. The fourth side fell down, and the other three were propped up with bamboo poles. Pieces of plastic and boards covered some of the gaping holes. The new ones are cement block (hurrah!). However, the doors fell off before the week was over. We were delighted to have our guys handy to put them back – correctly, so they will stay.
On Sunday we journeyed to the remote village of Hoe Dua. That’s the village with the scary bridges. Turns out that the scariest one was replaced, so it wasn’t bad at all. They have no pastor there and were overjoyed to see us. They crowded into the dilapidated bamboo building and took exuberant part in the services. Some of the children were a bit too exuberant, making it a rather distracting service, but the Lord blessed, anyway. Afterwards we did medicine again.
It’s a long and tiring journey to Hoe Dua and back in one day, especially for those riding crammed together in the rented van or in the covered back of our pickup. We planned Monday as another rest and sight-seeing day, then were off to the third and final camp and clinic in Pa Tong Eh.
Another tarp over poles, this time on the side of the church building. This group was young, too, but for a heart-breaking reason. Last year we had lots of young teenagers at our camp at this church. This year the girls came – bringing their babies with them. All those young teens – 13 and 14 years old – are married now with families. Their young husbands were in the fields working . No school or training for anything better for them. Another generation of young people were thrust into adulthood too soon with no chance of rising out of poverty and illiteracy.
My heart is so burdened to start a school for young teens. We believe we have figured out a way to teach them legally and well. We just need the facilities to do it and workers to come and help us. If there was something for the kids, some hope for a future, I believe we could make a difference in many lives. We need to be raising up Lahu doctors and lawyers and teachers to help their people! By our example, we could also help pave the way for other mission groups to do the same. Please pray with us about this future project. Nothing must distract us from our main calling, training and encouraging the preachers here to spread the Gospel, but we can’t help but see the needs of these people and reach out to help them.
We did the lesson, story and games with the young moms looking on. Meanwhile, the dental team worked on in the stifling heat, running the instruments with a generator because the church had no electricity.
Paul helped Cy and Casey fix the pews in this village. I dread the kill-the-back plastic chairs, but those wobbly pews were the worst! The heaps of boards at the back of the church that were obviously former pews tended to make you nervous when you sat in the shaky ones. All are sturdy now. Thanks Cy and Casey!
And suddenly it was over! Thursday was the last sight-seeing day for the Smiths before they flew back to the US. We spent it at the elephant camp watching the elephants do their stuff – painting pictures, playing soccer, etc. They were booked for the day, so we couldn’t get rides on them. Some of the guests were more disappointed than others! They did get to feed the elephants and get close to them. Really close!
We also went to the Elephant Poo-poo Paper Park. The kids were fascinated to see how they recycle elephant dung to make paper. They even got to stir the dung in the cleaning process and help make paper when it was farther along. The gift shop had lots of cool stuff, mostly embellished with humorous saying of the sort that appealed to middle-school aged kids like our grandsons. (“We are #1 in #2”, Think “Poo-sitive,” etc.)
Before we knew it, the Walls had to leave. It was hard to say goodbye! We are thankful they could come, though. All the team made a huge impact in the short time they were here. We appreciate them so much! We also appreciate the gifts and support of their church which helped defray a lot of their expenses and bought a lot of their supplies.
And we appreciate the prayers of the folks who faithfully prayed that there would be no snags in customs. They were the last ones to get their baggage and go through the customs line – and most of their bags weren’t even x-rayed. No problem at all. We were all ready with documents and both Pann and Lek were there for the midnight arrival to help if needed, but they floated right through. God is good! No trouble on the way home, either. Andrew has a lot invested in the equipment, which is designed for primitive situations so we are thankful.
Our Thai kids left to spend time with their families during the school break and most of our staff are away, too. Joshua is hoping to pastor and I am going to take care of the kids in his place. Eve has another job and Asa and I’ka moved into their own house. It’s hard to believe that Paul and I will have an empty nest for a while. But it will be a different nest. God has blessed us with an amazing new place – for half the rent of our current house. More about that gift in the next blog!