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  • Susan Brown

Goodbye Thailand! The Last Busy Week.

The city of Chiang Mai is spread out in all its glory below our 21st story window.  It’s quite a view, with sparkling new hotels and condos side by side with grimy old buildings and with golden spires of alters to Buddha sprinkled among them. A haze of smoke hangs over it all because the people in the mountains are (illegally) burning the jungle undergrowth.

It’s our last day here in Thailand. We leave tonight at about midnight to head back to the U.S.  It looks like about 29 hours of travel, counting layovers.

It’s hard to believe our three months here are already over.  This last week, particularly has flown by with lots of stress, angst, and blessings.  It was so busy that I realized I haven’t filled my long-distance friends in on all that has happened these last few days.

The week of high intensity activities started last Saturday with the ceremony ending the school year.  Each of the students received a certificate of attendance and they all said a few sentences in English.  And, of course, they sang — a lot.  Bro. Lee, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Grenada, Mississippi, (the church who sponsors the mission) had arrived the day before and spoke at the ceremony.  It was particularly poignant because it was the last time for the Camps to come to Thailand.  They have faithfully served for 12 years, coming here to stay for several months at a time to teach the pastors.  The love the people have for them was so very evident!

Sunday we went to the Na Hui church for services and then the Ladies’ Conference kicked off on Sunday night.  I was touched, but nevertheless dismayed, when Ma Ta brought me her La Hu uniform to wear for the opening ceremony. The heavy, black overdress with its long sleeves and several pounds of decorations was not what I would choose to wear in 100 degree heat.  But the other ladies were dressed in their finest, so I put it on.

The big tent — composed mainly of bamboo poles and scaffolding  covered by tarps and by banners from past years — had been erected the week before on the soccer field.  It was decorated with banners and flowers, and a pink ribbon was stretched across the entryway.  The women gathered n the courtyard. My Bible study group was the committee for organizing the conference, and they were at the front of the line, dressed in their snazziest native dress. About 100 ladies from the churches lined up behind them.

After about an hour’s delay, which was not outside of normal, Bro. Anond  arrived.  He shepherded all the ladies into a line and handed me the mike.  I said, “Ya nyi, ga mo da ve, nga ha le jah!  (I’m happy to see you here today) as Ja Law, our La Hu teacher, had practiced with me.

Then I cut the ribbon and we marched in.  It was an odd feeling to be at the front of the parade!  We marched down and I led my Bible study group up on the stage.  We sang the song we had practiced (I moved my lips but kept it low) and the conference was on its way.

When it was my turn to speak (after several choir specials) I climbed the steep, ladder-like steps to the high platform above the one where the singing was done. Not too easy in a long, heavy, bundle-some dress!  Sunday night I only had a few minutes to give an intro to the series I would be speaking on — Romans 8:28-29.  It’s a good thing, because I was melting in that dress.  There was a light bulb directly over my head and bugs dive-bombed my hair the whole time I was trying to speak.  It would have been a challenge, even if the mike hadn’t had a horrible echo so that it was difficult to keep focused.  We lived through it, though. More songs and we were done for the night.

Monday morning we began again, only this time I had an hour and a half to speak.  When you deduct the time it took for Anond to translate into La Hu and Thai, it was not that much time. It was difficult to tell how it went because everyone was only listening to one sentence out of three, so they were not riveted to me as I spoke. I talked about the way God is making each of us into a diamond — using even the pressures and sorrows of life to make us like Jesus.

Monday night was fast, because we had to leave early to take the Camps to the airport, and, as usual, we started late.  I was wearing the hot La Hu dress again, so I didn’t object.

Then came Tuesday morning — the last time to speak. I had thought I had four sessions and I basically only had two, so I was revising and improvising the whole time.  I spoke on Tuesday about God’s forgiveness school.  Forgiving others for wronging us is like elementary school for a Christian, I told them.  It’s one of the first things we learn.  Then we pass into high school when we must learn to forgive the people who hurt the ones we love, like our husbands.  Then comes the university — when someone hurts our children.  The purpose of His forgiveness school is to teach us to be like Jesus, who is so loving and forgiving.  I guess I went overboard on my attempts to keep their attention.  Bro. Anond finally laughed and said, “Sister, I can tell them what you said, but I can’t act like that.”

Tuesday night was another big kick-off — for the main conference, which is an exceedingly big deal here. Everyone comes. Tents, most of them makeshift shelters of tarps on bamboo poles, dotted the orchard. Several groups camped out in the Bible school room and our porch was the favorite hang-out.  Kids did their best to see in our windows to check out what we were doing.  They also parked themselves outside the door to get a glimpse when we came in or out.  I would have just asked them in, but I had everything dragged out to pack.  Besides, I saw several of them sitting on the porch picking lice out of each other’s hair.  I didn’t want any vermin to come home with me!

I thought often of the folks at Sherwood who make arrangements for our conferences.  We rent a block of motel rooms and cook like crazy to feed everyone.  (Well, not me.  I’m more trouble than I’m worth in the kitchen.)  Maybe we should just let everyone camp out on the grounds.  We could cook rice and stir-fry veggies and bits of pork out by the pond and just have the adults line up with their bowls to carry the food back to their family camping spot.  As for clean-up, here they wash their own dishes and put them upside down on the hedge to dry.  Think of how much money we would save!  We wouldn’t even have to go to Sam’s for paper plates.

It all looked easy, but it did make life more complicated for Paul and me.  In addition to the lack of privacy, we had a problem with water.  There was enough in the morning and late evening, but all these people using the well made the water trickle down to nothing  during the afternoon.  It was hot — 100 degrees or more in our room. Somehow not having water made it seem hotter.  Also difficult to be so hot and sweaty and have to get dressed in dress-up clothes without a shower.  Ma Ta brought me her dress again to wear for the main conference. I thanked her but absolutely declined the offer!

Bro. Bill Lee came to our rescue and got us a room at the Centara Hotel for the duration.  It helped so much to get away and have a cool, restful night’s sleep before heading back out to the work.  And a shower!  Perhaps Ann Hasseltine Judson would have lasted longer if she had nice breaks like the Lord has provided for me.  (If you haven’t read “To the Golden Shore” about Adoniram and Ann Judson, you should.  You will be blessed.)

Besides the arrangements, how is a conference in Thailand different?  Well, for one thing there are about 10 specials or more before the message, not including several congregational songs, and eight or ten afterwards.  Between the speakers we have more specials.  All the churches have choirs which sing, and then there are the solos, duets and trios.  The services invariably start late and last a long time.

Then there is no bother about a nursery.  The kids stay in the service. When they get restless, they go outside and play.  No one watches them, which made me nervous. The tent is right by the pig pen and the sewer lagoon.  They walked the wall by the pig pen, often falling in and making the pigs squeal.  They also stood on the steep bank by the lagoon and threw rocks in the water.  More than once someone went over the edge, but as far as I could tell, they came back up without hitting the (revolting) water.

Mothers who were nursing their babies just carried them up to the platform for a choir song and kept nursing while they sang.  Not a problem!  No nursery list needed.

The services were a blessing, with the theme of John 14:6. Paul and Bro. Lee preached in the morning.  Evenings were harder because it was hotter, and because Bro. Anond preached.  It was in Thai and La Hu, so we only had a vague idea of what the message was about. I’m sure it was good, though, and a blessing to the people, which was the main point, anyway.

Last night we missed the last service, because it traditionally lasts until midnight.  We didn’t think we could handle it!  It would have been 2 a.m. before we got back to the hotel and to bed.  Today will be busy and we leave at midnight.  A good night’s sleep was a necessity.

I’m not looking forward to the day before me, I’m afraid.  We go back to the mission to finish packing and cleaning and to say goodbye to the children. It was hard to say goodbye to the ladies who cried and clung to me. It will be so much harder to part with these kids who have come to depend on me for hugs and daily doses of attention.

This will be my last post from Thailand — at least this trip.  I’ll be turning in my pokey, but functioning, air card and will be out of communication until we land in Chicago.

Thank you to all who kept up with my blog and who faithfully prayed for us!  Please keep it up for a little longer — until we are through with this difficult day and the long trip home.

Gui sha a bon a pi!

Blessings from Thailand,

Susan

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