He is Our Strength, Our Song
The pickup rounded the corner onto our property – and what I saw in the back almost made me cry with joy. It was jam-packed with children coming to our Sunday School!
We’ve wanted to start a Sunday School and church services ever since we’ve been in Mae Ai, but we faced several difficulties. We travel on most Sunday mornings to the villages, for one thing. How could we be in two places at once? Where there is a will (and God’s blessing) there is a way! We started church services on Sunday evenings. That way we could travel to the villages and still get back in time to have services later in the day. That worked, and God has blessed. Nearly every Sunday we have had visitors.
Driving on winding mountain roads and the double-duty preaching have been hard on Paul, but he does it without complaint. It’s been particularly challenging during the Thanksgiving season. We have to travel farther and more often on Sunday, as well as usually on Saturday and often during the week. It has been a blessing, though, and we rejoice in the special opportunities to meet with and encourage these precious people we have come to serve. The season is about over now. We have one to attend next Saturday, but it is close by so travel shouldn’t be difficult.
We decided to move our Sunday school to Saturday so that more kids can attend. A village not far from us wanted their kids to come but couldn’t manage Sunday, so we changed the time. The group from the village of San Tah drove up in a pickup on Saturday with the back full of kids. We had 19 children the first Sunday, then 27 the next Saturday.
For such a large group and with such varied ages, they did very well – especially since the teens who were supposed to help me had to be gone. Nora and I managed them fine by ourselves. They eagerly learned the English words that would be in the songs and story and sang out energetically during song time. How I wish I could carry a tune! Moses, Molly, and Jay usually help with singing. We made up in volume, though, what we lacked in melody.
They sat quietly and listened as I told the story of Adam and Eve while Nora interpreted for me in Thai. I realized as the story unfolded that I would have to do a lot of amplifying. So many things I could just refer to while teaching American kids were complete mysteries to most of these Thai kids who had never heard anything about Jesus. Please pray for me as I try to make Bible truths clear to these sweet children!
After the songs, story, refreshments and coloring pages – with teaching in English thrown in all along the way – the kids ran outside to play. Our own kids seldom jump on our trampoline now, but to these kids it was an amazing privilege. Occasionally someone will set up a trampoline in town and charge 30 baht (about a dollar) for a few minutes jump time. The children couldn’t believe they could jump here all they wanted for free!
Another group raced out to our soccer field and started a game. It was amazing to see some of the tiniest kids play soccer with obvious ability. One little one couldn’t have been more than four. His face still had baby roundness and he was tiny. To see him run up, steal the ball, and then kick it down the field was unbelievable!
A third group organized impromptu races and ran up and down the road. The shouts and laughter might have sounded better to the Lord than our off-key singing!
Every year Paul and I give special gifts to our kids at New Years’. We give each one small gifts like a shirt or warm pajamas. Then we buy a large gift for the group. One year it was the trampoline. One year it was the soccer goals. This year we hope to set up a volleyball/badminton court. We know that it will be a blessing, not just to these teens who are quickly growing up, but to the neighborhood kids we want to reach. If anyone would like to share our joy in giving to this project, you can donate through Paypal (firstname.lastname@example.org) or through our sending church, Central Baptist in Grenada. Please be sure to make a note that it if for New Years’ gift. With so many younger kids flocking to us, we may see about building some playground equipment. Eventually, we would like to have a basketball court, too.
The Learning Center and English classes are going well. The full-time students are flourishing with the ACE program. It is a good fit, with individualized instruction, and a question and answer format that is familiar to them from Thai school.
The adult class is doing well, also. We meet twice a week. On Tuesdays I teach English conversation and on Thursday night we do reading and writing in English. Although I planned it for adults, we have some young teens and preteens who show up, too. As long as they behave and participate, I don't mind. So far, so good.
Our new dorm building is coming along quickly. We are soooo thankful for our mission building and our land. It has made such a difference to have a settled home. We can start ministries and carry them on, knowing we are here to stay. We have a presence in our community now and people are quickly getting to know us. We are praying for God’s blessings on those who have given generously to make our ministry buildings happen!
Already our dorm is filling up, even before it is finished. We can take five kids under 18 without applying for a children’s home license. We will be down to one under 18 soon. We already have four applications for those four spots and no doubt more will come pouring in soon. Please pray that we will have wisdom in choosing the right kids. Two are pretty sure. One is a 16-year-old who had to drop out in second grade to take care of his two younger siblings and his mother, who has some sort of mental problem. His pastor arranged for his siblings to go into a children's home and a married sister agreed to take over the care of their mother if we can take this boy. Otherwise, he will continue to be stuck with no opportunities for education and no way out of poverty.
The second boy has parents but no job or way of getting more education in his remote village. He is also 16. His mother is worried because he has nothing to do and no way to move forward. She worries that he will get into trouble from frustration and boredom, and I fear she is right. Both of these boys are the type of students we are set up to help.
A third application came by way of a friend of a friend of someone in Nora’s village. Please pray for us as we make decisions. Although we would love to take as many as we can squeeze into the program, we don’t want to take more than we can look after and adequately teach. We need God’s wisdom! The school year starts in May, and I hope to have an introductory English class to get the new kids started in April, so decisions are coming up.
Also coming up is our big building dedication. We thought we would have it earlier, but decided to wait until the dorm building is finished and the bathrooms completed. We have a very superior outhouse! Six toilets (eastern style “squatty potties,” of course) with running water to bucket-flush, several urinals, and two shower rooms. With the two bathrooms in the dorm and three others downstairs in the ministry building, we should be able to handle our biggest crowds. We expect somewhere between 500 and 1,000 people for our dedication. We will be equipped also for yearly Bible conferences and other big celebrations. Our dedication time will be a major outreach to our town as well as to the hill tribe villages. Prayers for this big project will be greatly appreciated!
We also appreciate your prayers for Jay. The Lord is answering and he is recovering well from his wounds from the motorcycle wreck. So far he seems to be doing okay psychologically with the amputation of his toes and part of his foot. It may be harder for him when the bandages are off for good later this month. No doubt he will want to wear closed-toe shoes instead of sandals. However, it is considered rude (not to mention disgusting) to wear shoes in the house or inside most other buildings. He can wear house shoes at home, but I’m not sure how he will manage in other places. We will see.
As for the rest of us -- we are all well and happy to be busy serving the Lord. He is truly good to us!
Bro. Joshua Johnson and his Lisu girls Moses helped with medicine.
family helped prepare the bags
of medicine at a recent Thanks-