- Susan Brown
Reaching Out from Home
The smoke hangs in the air like a heavy fog, hiding the sun and making it difficult to breathe. The slash and burn agriculture at this time of year is always a nuisance. The dust from the months without rain in dry season mixes with smoke, making the air even thicker. With the threat of a deadly virus in the offing, it has become a real danger. The virus survives and is carried to others more easily on polluted air. Exposure to pollution compromises the lungs and makes them more susceptible to the virus.
The picture above was taken in early afternoon at our new building site. The weather report says "clear skies." Those aren't clouds in the photo. It is smoke darkening the sky.
So far, we are well and there have been no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in our small town of Mae Ai in northern Thailand, although we have heard someone visited here and then tested positive the next day. The number of cases in Chiang Mai continues to grow, possibly in part because there the smoke is mixed with pollution from cars, making the situation even more serious.
What are we doing in semi-isolation? It’s break time with the kids going home to their mountain villages. It’s the time we usually try to get away for a few days. We aren’t going anywhere, but we are enjoying a few days at home with no pressures. I have to say I personally needed this time. With my heavy teaching schedule, I was feeling the beginning hints of burnout. I am passionate about what I do and I love these people and this ministry. I don’t want to become dulled to it and less effective.
For the first few days I did almost nothing – just reading and sleeping. Now I’m beginning to start on projects like writing and crocheting that I haven’t had time to do for these last months. Maybe I’ll even get out my scrapbooking stuff later. Paul and I have been enjoying spending unhurried time together. If I have to stay in, I'm happy that I'm shut in with my favorite person in all the world!
We are breathing more easily now, thanks to the loan of an air purifier. (Thank you Bro. Matt and Brittany!) We are staying at home, with only short trips out to look at the progress of the building.
The workers are still hard at work and the building is progressing rapidly. We discovered that the builders weren’t wearing masks because there is a shortage of them here, just like the rest of the world. The smoke alone makes masks necessary, so we worried about the guys. A faint memory of seeing masks somewhere kept nudging me. Finally, I had it. We have some dental supplies in storage from a short-term dental mission a few years ago. I saw some boxes of masks there. Paul dragged everything out and found them. We took one box to the building site and the workers were happy to get them. We will keep the others handy and give them out as we see a need.
Below is a picture of the upstairs where we will live with our two girls. This big room will be our living area with a kitchenette, dining table and tv and couch. On the left facing the window, is an apartment for Paul and me. The girls' rooms and a huge guest room are on the right. We won't know what to do with all the space after a year in our two-room apartment.
Paul has stayed busy with preparations for his next meetings and classes. The government has forbidden gatherings of groups of ten or more, so he will probably have to postpone the next preachers’ training. We can see the wisdom in this. Some of the men have connections in Myanmar and even in China. With the cultural difference in hygiene practices, it would be deadly easy to spread the virus to other preachers and from there to whole villages. The people in the villages often don’t have access to health care and we see lots of people with compromised health. We love these folks and don’t want to put them in danger. The Myanmar preachers’ training will also be on hold temporarily as the Thailand/Myanmar border is now closed
Some of my evening students stopped by to see me yesterday. They came into town from their village to enroll in the Thai informal school. They will study with our kids in the learning center four days a week and go with them to the informal school one day a week to get their certificates. All four of the teenagers are bright, promising young people. They are all sixth-grade dropouts.
I feel such joy at seeing a long-held dream beginning to happen at last. We so wanted to give hope and a chance to the teenagers in the villages. With no education they are doomed to a life of hard manual labor and poverty. We’ve been teaching the kids we are raising for the last three years, adding them to our class at home as they complete the sixth grade and get their certificates. The last two finished this year and will join the others when school begins in late May or June, depending on the completion of the building.
Of the eleven evening students I started with, four are planning to continue with me full time when school starts, which is the number I was hoping to have. Two dropped out, two weren’t able to master reading, and two are adults who came with the kids. One is going to continue in Thai school for one more year since he is close to getting his ninth-grade certificate. Two teens and the two adults will be continuing on in the evenings. The teens will possibly come full-time the next school year.
The picture below was taken before the break. I wish I had thought to take a picture when they were here to visit me.
There are numerous Lahu, Lisu, and Akha villages around us. I could easily have a hundred kids if I had the staff and space to handle them. We are starting small with a group we can handle – which we feel is a good deal better than doing nothing at all. Eight full-time students, six of whom are emerging readers, will keep Moses and me busy!
I had hoped to continue with my prep class, as I call them, through the break, but had to discontinue since my helpers are all at home in their villages and had better stay there. To help make sure they don’t forget what they learned, I checked out books to the new readers from our school “library.” The library consists of a couple of shelves of beginning readers and a few more shelves of books for when they are more advanced. What a joy to see the kids look through the books with enthusiasm! There are no libraries here and no books to borrow in either Thai or English, so they were excited to get to take books home with them to read. They are on the “Hop on Pop” and “Cat in the Hat” level now, but it’s a start. A love of reading will be a life-long blessing to them. Thank you, by the way, to the churches who heard me mention my desire for a library and sent me boxes of books. They are being used and are a blessing. I made arrangements to meet the kids at the big house next week to change their books for them.
And, though I was glad to see them, I didn’t hug the kids or get close. We are being prudent. It was a shock at first to realize that Paul and I are in the at-risk group. We had been thinking of what we could do to help if the virus comes to our neck of the woods and were concerned about the elderly. We totally forgot that we are part of that older group! We will still carry on the ministry as we can without risking the health of others or of ourselves. After all, we won’t be of much use to the kingdom if we aren’t alive to keep serving
We’ve been keeping up with friends in the States by Facebook and are enjoying the remote services online. Remote teaching and remote church services won’t work here, unfortunately. Some of the preachers have smart phones, but some villages don’t have electricity, let alone internet access.
Seeing the many offerings of online learning and options for keeping kids busy while stuck at home gave me idea. I recorded a Sunday School lesson for kids, which I posted on Facebook and also on a separate page of this blog. You can find it at the top of our home page.
We are praying for our countries – both our home country and our adopted one. Whichever way the pandemic goes, even if contained quickly, we know there are far-reaching economic consequences ahead. Here in Thailand, small shops and restaurants which depend on tourists are closing their doors. The markets and tourist attractions, which were already hit by the pollution problems of recent years during this season, have been closed by the government. Hotels are closing for lack of business. Many are out of work. Since we are not in a tourist area, our small town has not had significant closures, but the country as a whole is suffering. Please pray for Thailand, and for us as we do all we can to reach out and help these folks as we can. We are praying for you at home! We are thankful that our God is sovereign and in control. He is good!