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  • Susan Brown

New Year -- New Blessings

“HOW many people are coming?” I asked in disbelief.

“They said 100,” Nora answered.

We had heard that some people from a nearby village would be dropping by on Wednesday morning. We have formed some ties of friendship there. My prep class of teens are from the village. Some of the children and adults come to my other classes and the pastor and one of the men come to preachers’ training. We expected a few parents to stop by.

Instead, we learned that 100 people were coming for a hand-washing celebration. We scurried around to do a quick clean-up and rearranging of our back yard. We sent Nora off to buy refreshments and just got things together when they arrived.

They came in traditional Lahu dress, beating drums and gongs. We watched as they performed a tribal dance for us, the silver decorations on the black clothing glinting in the sunlight and swaying as they danced. I wondered how many hundreds of years this dance had been performed exactly this same way.

Afterwards, they lined up, carrying Coke bottles full of water. I’m pretty sure that part is a newer innovation! Probably they used coconut shells or some sort of vessel made of bamboo originally.

The first dozen or so people came through the line and, one by one, poured water over our hands. The next few dried our hands with towels. The rest followed, shaking our hands and saying, “Thank you,” or “God Bless You,” or “Happy New Year” in a mix of Thai, Lahu and English. The children from my class beamed as they came through the line. The teens smiled shyly and hurried past.

They brought us rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. These are wads of sticky rice welded into rock-like lumps. When heated up or sliced and fried, they are a treat. We reciprocated with cookies and soft drinks.

After they left we made a half-hearted attempt to get back into our learning center routine. While our schedule was disrupted, our hearts were lifted. It was a beautiful ceremony, and it meant a lot that the people appreciate our service to them.

Hand washing is just one of the important New Year celebrations. It’s a time for parties and gift-giving. We had our family party early this year so the kids could travel to their home villages to celebrate with family. That night the smell of sizzling meat and the sound of laughter filled the air. Platters of bacon, shrimp, and other delicacies jostled against the bowls of mushrooms, greens, and other vegetables on the long table under our carport. The special moo gra taa grills were ablaze and the Thai cookout had begun.

For moo gra taa, everyone cooks their own food on one of the little charcoal-heated or electric grills. The grills have a raised area for cooking meat and a trough for broth in which to cook the veggies. Afterwards we had desserts and then presents. We had small gifts – ping pong paddles – for all of the kids. And then we had a gift exchange. Lots of fun and laughter.

This New Year’s party was special because it was the first year to have the Villandrys with us. They have been a blessing already as they have joined us for the Thanksgiving celebrations and church services. We look forward to the time they move up here in the north, probably about the time our new building is finished.

The builder assures us that the ministry building will be ready for us by April. That’s just one of the huge milestones we are looking forward to in 2020. Here are some others:

*Moses will get his diploma from the Thai informal school and will be on staff with our learning center when the new school year starts in May. He will continue to study with me, but is well able to help listen to the new students read their beginning PACEs.

*Bang and Danny will earn their sixth-grade certificates from Thai public school and join us in the learning center next school year.

*The Villandry’s will move here from Chiang Mai and be a daily part of the work. (Hurrah!)

*Nora will start at the local technical college (like Vo-tech) to study accounting.

*Mali and Jay will start studying to get their American GED, which will enable them to be automatically accepted in any university in Thailand. They have two years to get ready, so we are going to work hard to prepare!

*William will finish his second year at the university and begin his third. Preston will finish up his first post-graduate year and start his second.

*We have a couple of groups coming to visit and they have offered to help any way they are needed. We are planning some English Camps (like VBS) in the nearby villages. (It’s dangerous to tell us that you want to help. We will put you to work!)

*The ACE International Student Convention will be held in Chiang Mai this year in May. We hope to give the kids the experience of connecting with Christian kids from all over the world and competing in events of all kinds.

*A vision turned into reality – my first prep class of village teens will begin studying full time in our learning center in May. The curriculum and the daily teaching of God’s Word has borne fruit with our own kids. Now to others!

*Paul has been asked to teach in Myanmar on a regular basis. This is a super exciting open door!

And some maybes:

*We are making plans for a house for Paul and me and a dorm for the boys. Maybe 2020 will also see us in our own home.

*M-a-y-b-e we will get to make a trip back to the US this year. This is in the “iffy” category, but might be possible in October or November. We haven’t seen our family since 2018, so we would really like to make this happen.

And what we would like to see:

*We would like to reach out to the neighboring villages which are without a Gospel outreach. Perhaps we could start with VBS for the kids and connect with the parents from there. Please pray with us for this open door.

*We hope to start a church in our new building with regular services. We haven’t been able to accomplish this so far, because we have to travel so much to other villages. You can’t invite people to church when you don’t know if the preacher will be able to be there or not! With the Villandrys here, we will double our man-power and be able to do both church services and travel to encourage the village churches.

*We want to expand our education ministry, possibly with another prep class. That depends on helpers, though. Right now the Villandry’s are tied up with language studies and Brittany has her young children to homeschool, although both have offered to help however they can.

*We would also like to welcome another temporary helper. We could do so much more with our learning center and outreach if we had another person to help. We are praying for someone who is able and willing to come and serve for a year. We can take care of their room and board and transportation. They would only need to get here and to have money for incidentals. It could be a young person between high school and college or college and work. It could be a retired person without responsibilities to tie them down. Or someone in-between. If God calls and you have a heart to serve, we would love to have you!

We saw so many things accomplished in 2019 and so many more things pending in 2020. We are thankful to God for what He has done in the past and excited about what is coming up in the future.

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