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  • Susan Brown

Happy 13th (or 14th) Birthday to Jay

“No, no – you are supposed to be wearing your new shirt. Go put it on – now!”

Family pictures – they are always a challenge. When you have eight kids, six of whom are boys who do NOT want to have their picture taken, it is an especially big one.

At least this year I wised up enough to escape one major headache. Instead of taking them all to buy new clothes for the pictures, I just went shopping without them. I had to make a second trip to exchange a couple of items that I had guessed wrong about the size, but even that was easier than trying to corral so many kids and get them to agree on matching shirts.

Picture day arrived in torrents of rain. We took inside pics, which was a painful process. At last we were finished and I downloaded them to the computer. Every one of them was fuzzy. Experiments with the camera showed that there is a malfunction somewhere. The camera needs to go to the shop.

So, my freshly scrubbed and pressed kids traveled to the village of Long Khoad in their new clothes. They looked nice, even if no one particularly cared.

Long Khoad is a fairly short drive away and we arrived in about an hour. The rainy season downpour had filled every pond and turned the trickling creeks into small white-water rivers. As we neared the village, the road began to get dicey. We heard shouts as we edged along the  pond that had overfilled and encroached onto the road.

One of the men from the village came running toward us, waving his arms. Lek stopped the truck and waited for him. He had been watching for us to tell us there is a big hole in the road up ahead. The village folks were afraid the weight of the truck would make the road collapse and we would slide into the water. We backed the way we came, up the slick dirt road. At last we were able to turn around and head to the place they had borrowed to hold the services.

It was a nice building belonging to a nearby martial arts camp. We had a good service there and then walked down a slippery hill, across a footbridge barely above the rushing rivulets of water, and across the field to the village for lunch. We arrived a little muddy, but intact.   After lunch we trekked back and did medicine.

When we arrived back home the rain had stopped. I decided to take one last stab at a picture. We were no longer fresh and pressed, and we looked like we had been slogging around in the mud, but I was desperate. We took the picture with my iPad and hoped for the best.

Then it was party time. Jay turned 13 – or 14. We thought all along he was

12, almost 13, but he insisted he would be 14 on his birthday. We had a similar argument with Bang, who we thought was 12 when he insisted he was 11. A check of his ID card showed Bang was right, so we checked Jay’s age on his card. It says he turned 13 on his birthday. He’s a tiny guy and we thought 13 hard enough to believe, let alone 14, but he remained adamant. Fourteen. His older sister who had raised him came to his party. She backed him up. He was 14. It’s entirely possible a mistake was made on his card, so we will never know exactly how old he is.

We have run into that before. People in the villages often don’t register births until later and many don’t know their birthdate. When they fill out the paperwork for their ID cards, they just pick a date and guess on their age. We had Danny for many months before we were able to track down his birthday and age.

It’s become a family tradition to have pizza and then birthday cake in honor of the birthday people. We expected all our staff and their families, so we ordered plenty of pizza. It turned out that seven of our guests couldn’t make it, so we had lots of pizza left over. Not a problem. I knew the kids would demolish the rest at breakfast. I was right. Not a single pepperoni went to waste. All these young teens are growing like the jungle in rainy season and keeping them fed is no easy task.

I need to be more careful with my penmanship when I order a cake.  They wrote “Happy Birthday Say” instead of “Happy Birthday Jay.”

I had the family picture printed the next day. It won’t win any photography prizes and Preston would not smile for any of the pics. 

 It’s a cultural thing here. People don’t smile for pictures. We tried to explain that the pictures were for the people in America who would think a somber face meant something was wrong. No good. No smile.

However, we decided to be content with nine out of ten smiling faces. The one we chose was better than the others, anyway. It was really tough to get all the people looking at the camera at the same time.


We plan to include them in the Thanksgiving cards the kids and I made for our supporting churches. Please let us know if your church does not get one. Last year many were lost in the mail and several came back. Some of them didn’t arrive until after the new year. We are trying to avoid that problem by sending them all in a package to America. Our pastor volunteered to mail them out from Mississippi. Of course, if the box gets lost, that means no one gets a card, but that thought is too dreadful to dwell on. The kids and I spent days on the cards. Losing them all would be catastrophic.

Paul is in Mae Ai this week with a good group of men from Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. We managed okay while he has been gone, but are looking forward to his return tomorrow. Every time he leaves, something breaks or falls apart. So far our only trouble has been a water leak in the girls’ bathroom. Not a big problem. I just have to keep mopping.

It’s time now for our nightly evening class. The kids have picked up a lot of English simply by listening to us. They were forced to learn to talk in order to let us know what they wanted. Since we have been studying every night together they have really advanced, though. I’ve started teaching them to read English as well as speak it and I’m encouraged by their progress.

But if they are to keep progressing, I better get busy and teach them! As always, we are happy to be serving the Lord by serving these precious people in Southeast Asia.

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