We stared at the large poster in disbelief. Most of it was in Thai and Lahu, but the English words gave the message succinctly. GET OUT. It was a ten most not-wanted list, and Paul and I were number 2 and 3. In case there was any doubt, there were photos blazoned across the bottom. That was my picture. I leaned closer and peered at the fuzzy image. In fact, I was wearing the same outfit in the picture that I was currently wearing. My favorite skirt and blouse. I considered it thoughtfully. Not very flattering. Maybe I need a new favorite outfit. But, I digress. I shouldn’t be worried about clothes while we were being warned to stay out of the church.
The journey to the little mountain village of Ban Pang Tong Eh had been a joyful one. Paul had traveled to some of the villages, but it had been weeks since I had been out of the city. The mountains were a vibrant green with vines and banana plants and tall trees. We have never been here in rainy season, so I wasn’t expecting this lush beauty brought on by the rain.
Why haven’t I gone anywhere lately? We have a court case going on against a man who has been controlling the village churches by a combination of coertion, threats, and bribes. (We won’t mention any names so we won’t get into any legal trouble.) It’s a long story, but we keep on discovering more and more wicked and perverted stuff this evil man has done. We had to lay low for a while because of threats of violence. The attorney warned us to stay away from places where we could be framed or be injured. We also didn’t want the village people to be endangered.
But things have turned around. More and more villages have come to believe that his threats are empty ones. Many people he banned because they refused to go along with him, gained the courage to stand up against him and take back their church buildings.
Ban Pang Tong Eh was one such village. They haven’t held services there for months and have been without a pastor for an even longer time. They asked Paul to come and preach. We went.
We arrived at the village and saw the printed banner tacked to the building. Get out. Nope. Not going to happen. We saw another banner right beside the first one. This one featured the general who is newly in charge of the province of Chiang Mai. He had been invited by this unscrupulous guy to a meeting with hill tribes people at the children’s home. This is an old trick of his. He gets his picture made with important people. Then he tells everyone that he has these important friends and can influence their decisions. He produces the pictures to “prove” it. This one certainly gave the idea that the general was his friend and supported his demand to have us thrown out of the village.
Paul and Lek, however, had heard of the meeting and had already met with the general. He confirmed that the church buildings do not belong to this man, but to the whole village. Use it whenever you want, he said.
We went into the dusty, unused building and began to clear up. When the people saw we were there and staying to hold a service, they began to trickle in. We ended up having ten adults and numerous children besides the group which came with us.
We saw he had posted the banner of his “mission” on the inside. “Can we take that down?” one of the men asked.
“This is your building,” Paul told him. “The people in America bought this land and helped you build it for you to use. It doesn’t belong to us and it doesn’t belong to ____,” he said. “You can take it down if you want.”
The people have lived in fear of this man for a long time, so had not made up their minds to risk it when we left. We traveled on to Pa Sak 2, another mountain village.
We stopped on the way to buy chicken. The people there planned to fix rice, but we said we would bring the meat so we wouldn’t be a burden to them. It took a long time to find a place to buy chicken. We bought water buffalo meat, too. (Tasted okay, but not terrific.) Then we drove through pouring rain to Pa Sak 2.
God’s timing is perfect. We got there just as the rain stopped. We received a call that our enemy had arrived earlier at the church in Pa Sak 2. He had brought a number of Chinese men with him. Evidently, he is fearful and has hired this contingent of bodyguards. Let me hasten to say that he knows he doesn’t need to fear harm from us. We are fighting him legally, and that only to free the people. He has made many enemies through fraud so that he is afraid to travel without these men.
We learned that the heavy rain and the slick-as-glass mud prevented them from going up to the church building. He and his paid companions huddled beneath a shelter in the lower village and everyone there studiously avoided him.
By the time we had lunch and made our way up to the church building, (without problem) they had gone. Our group rejoiced that God had seen fit not to allow him in to threaten and intimidate this church.
The pastor and the people welcomed us, as did the headman of the village. The little church was packed and we had a wonderful service. The only danger came when I slid down the slippery, steep slope as if I was skiing. I managed to keep my balance and William grabbed me before I did any fancy ski jumps – or falls.
A good day. A day of freedom. We aren’t staying away from the villages now that we have permission to be there from the head of the army for the province. We’ll be there often to support and encourage the people.
And we look at that silly poster as a badge of honor. If the devil and his minions don’t want us at church – we must be doing something right!
Blessings from Thailand