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  • Susan Brown

Back to Work with Joyful Hearts

The blinding rain fell in heavy sheets of water. It's like standing beneath a waterfall, I thought as I slogged through the mud to the truck.

After having insufficient water for weeks during the dry season, though, we weren’t inclined to complain about the drenching rain. I wasn’t unhappy to be out in it, either. At long last the Covid-19 shutdown is drawing to a close and we are able to be out and serving. Being able to start our Learning Center and other ministries up again is cause for rejoicing, no matter what the weather.

Many have asked how the virus has affected us here in Thailand.

The people on this side of the world have gotten a handle on the virus and have had a comparatively low death rate, in spite of the nearness to China and the difference in the standard of medical care from the West. There have been no new cases of the virus in Thailand for six weeks or so. The people fear it as a deadly plague and take the steps to contain it without complaint. There has been none of the dissension or complaints that I see on American Facebook, even though the loss of income during the shutdown here meant actual hunger for many. We are thankful for friends in America who gave generously so we could provide groceries for hundreds of those hungry people.

We have not had the virus ourselves, and no one living anywhere near us has had it. We’ve had some disappointments caused by the shutdown, but nothing too serious.

For me the hardest thing involved our Learning Center. This was to be the landmark year – the year we opened to local village teens, not just to our own kids. I spent months teaching a group of ten teenagers (and a few adults) each evening as well as teaching our kids during the day. I taught my “prep class,” as I called them, to speak English and to read and write so they could do the curriculum from Accelerated Christian Education (ACE). We have found it to be a great fit for our English language learners. We have high hopes for helping the teens who dropped out because of the lack of educational opportunities in the villages. Of the ten, I had four ready and eager to start. Two planned to come later – maybe next year. A few fell by the wayside. But four was a good number. Added to our own four, we would have all Moses and I could handle.

But then came the shutdown. We had to delay our opening and cancel evening classes. And two more fell by the wayside during the long break. One 17-year-old boy got married and our one village girl decided not to come for some reason I’m not clear about. So we started with six students, only two from the villages. One of those, discouraged because he had forgotten so much English in the interval, dropped out.

Now we have five. Only one from the village. That one, Shawn, is a good one, though. He’s a 15-year-old sixth-grade dropout, but a bright kid and and a good student. He was the most promising of my evening prep class. He has been faithfully coming and working hard in this first month of our Learning Center. His nervous, withdrawn look has been replaced by smiles and he is obviously feeling more at home with us. His English is tentative still, but we are progressing. Please pray for Shawn. He attends church, but I don’t know the state of his soul. Moses is interpreting the devotions and the Bible class into Lahu for his benefit. We are asking the Lord to use this one lone village student in a great way. Please pray with us that his success would encourage others to come and to keep making the effort when it gets difficult.

Above: Our temporary Learning Center.

The other way the shutdown has affected us is with our building. We were supposed to be in it by the end of April. Each month the builder has assured us that we would be in by the end of that month. July is another disappointment. Now it will be August “for sure.” But she is doing her best. She can’t help that her work crew was limited to nine. Naturally the work is going slowly. Now she can have more workers, but the torrential rains tend to slow things down. In July and August we see the heaviest deluges of rainy season.

We let the girls pick the colors for their rooms. As you can see, they like bright colors!

We are planning our building dedication while we wait. Those ceremonies are big deals among the Thai. We want to use the opportunity as an outreach to the community as well as to the hill tribes villages. Please pray with us about the many aspects of the service and food, games, etc. And that God would open doors with the local Thai people.

Preachers’ training has been postponed until we are in the building, so that will likely be in August, too. The borders are still closed, so the Burmese preachers can’t attend here and Paul can’t cross the border to teach there. He has an additional problem because he lost his passport. It fell out of his pack while he was riding by motorcycle to Chiang Mai from here in Mae Ai. Finally, the American Consulate reopened and he was able to get a temporary passport, but it only has one page. If he uses that going out of the country, he will be in trouble. He needs to use it to go to America where he can get another passport with sufficient pages. His temporary one is only good for one year, so we hope the virus ends in America soon! We’ve given up hope on our trip home this fall.

God gave me an unexpected avenue of service during the shutdown. Many churches had online services, but I didn’t see any Sunday Schools for the kids online, at least at first. I started making videos of Bible stories each week and was overwhelmed by the number of viewers. If even one or two children saw the lessons weekly from each hit, I had hundreds in every “class.” I’m working at getting those videos up here on our Grace to Thailand Web site. Perhaps they will be a blessing to families who attend churches without Sunday classes for the children. Maybe even some small churches without teachers for the kids will find it helpful for me to teach via video. They have been a joy to make, even with my lack of technical abilities. I hope they have been a blessing to those watching. If you haven’t seen them, please feel free to check them out. Just click on "children's pages" at the top of the home screen.

Paul has had his share of health problems during this time. He had a sting from a poisonous caterpillar that caused a painful wound on his left leg. It developed into cellulitis and looked really nasty before antibiotics got it under control. Then, just as it was getting well, an accident with a kettle of boiling water severely burned his right foot. After a couple of days, he finally heeded my pleas to see a doctor. The one in Chiang Mai is a particularly good one. She is a surgeon and a wound specialist.

She told Paul he wasn’t like a “farang” (white westerner). He didn’t scream when she did the debridement treatment and cut off the dead skin. It has healed well. He has a Neapolitan-looking foot – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry-colored -- but it is covered in new skin now.

I keep telling him that he’s done enough! No more injuries, please. He agreed.

We’ve enjoyed having the Villandrys living close by here in Mae Ai. They have been busy settling in while homeschooling their kids and keeping up with their online Thai classes. They still found time, though, to get better acquainted with our kids and to share the workload with Paul. Matt and Paul have taken it in turns to preach in our services at home and in the villages, now that the shutdown is ending. We had a wonderful time at Plang Hok church last Sunday. Bro. Matt preached a good message and then we “did medicine.”

I’m particularly glad Bro. Matt is taking care of the medicine now. I take the patients with simple complaints – stomachache, painful joints, etc. All the difficult things like strange rashes and odd complaints (“an insect peed in my eye” is a recent example) I send over to Bro. Matt’s line. Seeing the knowledge he has as well as his love for the people gladdens my heart! Also, just keeping up with organizing the medicine and making sure enough is ordered and on hand is a big job. I was happy to do it, but I’m relieved it isn’t on my chore list anymore.

Today was an unexpected day off for me as the kids had a project day at the Thai informal school. They usually go once a week on Fridays, but occasionally will have a special day without warning. I found out this morning an hour before our Learning Center began that today is one of those days. How to use a golden, unexpected free day? By writing a blog for friends who are no doubt wondering what happened to us, of course!

The rain has stopped and the sun is shining now. Maybe I’ll take a walk. I read that some spas are putting treadmills in saunas, because exercising in the moist heat is particularly effective. I will take advantage of the free sauna-like atmosphere outside and walk out to our property to see how the building is progressing.

Thank you for your prayers and support! God is always good to us, through shut-in, restful times and busy times of service. What a joy to serve Him here in Thailand!

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