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  • Susan Brown

Grace in Troublesome Times

“The spider I saw in the kitchen was as big as the palm of my hand!” I exclaimed.

Molly wasn’t impressed. “Lahu people like to eat them,” she said.

“I would have to be really hungry to eat one of those,” I said with a shudder.

“That’s why they eat them,” she replied.

Sometimes we forget that poor people get actually hungry. It’s not just that they feel like eating something. Not that they feel a bit empty. Starving. Hungry enough to eat a big hairy spider.

With the restraints on the people during the Coronavirus pandemic, we are afraid there will be a lot of hunger. The small villages have quarantined themselves. They know that if the virus comes into the village, they are in trouble. With the poor sanitation there, the sickness will sweep through with deadly force. The government has also banned groups larger than ten people and have shut down all but essential services. That means that the people who work for a daily wage doing manual labor are out of work. No job = no money = hunger.

Our people don’t fear poverty. They live in poverty all the time. They are facing starvation.

We’ve already had a call from one village called Pa Gluai. The people were out of food and desperate. The pastor called us, and, of course, we sent them money. In just a few hours we received pictures of church members clutching bags of groceries. Unless things change, we are likely to hear from many more of the churches we work with. We will help as long as our funds hold out.

Paul and I are staying in as much as possible and doing all the outreach we can by means of social media and telephone. He stays in contact with the men he teaches to advise and encourage them. I’ve been doing Sunday School videos for kids and writing Linkee stories for them. You can see those by clicking on the “Children’s Page” and “Linkee” links on the menu bar at the top of the home page.

Except for Molly, our kids are in their villages on their regular summer break. The Thai schools will be closed until July 1, but we aren’t required to follow their schedule. I’m considering starting earlier with staggered teaching times so we have fewer than ten students at a time in the building. The kids are eager to come back and to get on with their studies. I don’t want them to lose what they have already learned, especially the new students who are just learning to read and write and speak English. I’m praying for wisdom about this, for the safety of everyone involved. I also have to admit that my heavy teaching schedule last year brought me to the brink of burnout. I want to be totally rested and ready before jumping in again.

We had hoped to be moved into our new building when we started the learning center again. It doesn’t look like that will happen, unless we do wait until July. The ban against large groups affected our builder. She can only have nine workers and was forced to send the rest home. The work is going on, but more slowly with half the workers gone. Still, each day when we visit, we see progress. The exterior and interior block walls are up and plastered over with cement. The roof is on and the framing for the ceilings has been started. We will soon be ready for the electrician.

Above is a picture of our builder, Tui, and a worker in the dining area.

Getting supplies delivered is a problem with travel between provinces banned. Our bathtub is stuck in Bangkok. (Another one of those sentences I never imagined I would be writing!) We bought the floor tile locally, though, and it has been delivered. There is a lot to be done yet, but it is happening, slowly but surely.

Paul hasn’t felt well for a lot of the time we have been sheltering at home. I’m afraid it was my fault. One of our kids had hookworm. I dosed Paul and myself with parasite medicine since the worms spread easily. No problem for me, but we think it gave Paul the month-long stomachache that has been troubling him. After a couple of weeks on stomach meds, he is finally better.

Parasites are a problem and we just discussed with Brother Matt Villandry how we need to keep them in check at home and with our people in the villages. Paul responded by saying that he would rather have the parasites than the cure!

The poor guy is also out of his supplements that have kept his overactive immune system in line. He has had a return of the arthritic symptoms that have troubled him in the past. However, we can’t get what he needs in the mail. Supplements are one of the categories of goods not allowed to be shipped into Thailand. Evidently, they want to make sure no one sells them in competition with Thai businesses. Usually we have visiting friends bring them to us in their suitcases, but with the travel ban we can’t get them at all. Prayers for Paul’s health would be greatly appreciated!

He keeps going and is using the extra time to study Thai. We have both started taking lessons again with Kruu Maam, our tutor in Chiang Mai. She had already started with online classes before the shut-down, so we have been able to continue with no problem. Are you wondering why we are still trying to learn Thai after six years? It’s a HARD language! We also have never had time before to focus on learning it. We plunged into an active ministry feet-first and haven’t stopped – until the virus stopped us.

I’ve also been doing my writing projects that have languished for years. I’m doing a re-write and final edit of the stories I’ve written over the last 40 years or so for Sunday School. I hope to be able to finish them up and get them published, at least in eBook format. I started the project for my grandchildren, but their childhood is slipping away and I’m afraid they will be grown before I get the book finished. Perhaps they will be teachers and able to use the stories in Sunday School and for devotions for my great-grandchildren someday.

We’ve had some additional challenges during our sheltering at home time. It is the end of the dry season now and until a few days ago we haven’t had significant rain in five months or so. The city ran out of water, which made life a good deal more complicated. We spent months last year without water when the well went dry and we were waiting to get on city water. But at that time, we were able to haul water from our other rent house. This time they had no water there, either. We filled up barrels from the well at our property, but the water system isn’t finished yet. It doesn’t have a filter, and the water was murky with dirt. We had bottled water for drinking which we used sparingly for bathing and washing dishes. We used the dirty water for flushing the toilet. There was no point in mopping the floor, though, since the water was dirtier than the floor! No water for the washing machine either, and no laundromats nearby.

After four days with zero water from the faucets, we had a rainstorm. It was quite a storm, with high wind that blew down our sala – a bamboo shelter of poles and roof. The workers on our house take their breaks there. We heard that some of the bamboo houses in the villages blew down, too, which was more than just an inconvenience. After the rain came, the water returned for a few hours during the day. It has gradually been staying on longer, and now is only off during the night and early morning hours. We no longer take it for granted!

Air is another gift we don’t ignore. The farmers burn during this season to clear the forests. The air quality has been in the unhealthy to hazardous range for weeks. The sky is brown instead of blue and the mountains have disappeared into the smoke. We are staying inside with our borrowed air purifier and have been okay. The rain brought the air quality index down a bit but we need more rain to put out the fires and clean the air.

Though we have had adjustments to make, we have been fine and have enjoyed the extra time in our schedules as a needed gift from the Lord. It is only the concern we have for our precious brethren in the hill tribe villages that trouble us. If any of our friends would like to help with this specific need, you can find how to donate under the "contact us” tab on the menu bar of our home page. If you mark your gift as “food for the churches” we will make sure that every penny goes for groceries and nothing else.

And we appreciate your prayers for us as we also pray for the churches and brethren in the US! We are counting on Him to see us all through this difficult time. He is good!

Below are more pictures showing the work on our new building. Clockwise from left, the learning center and office, guys applying the cement plaster to our bedroom wall upstairs, another shot of our bedroom, the building exterior view.

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