The lined face of the Lahu man was somber and his dark eyes looked into Paul’s blue ones with intensity.
“If we follow you, will you promise to never leave us?” he asked.
It was an important moment of decision…..
After a big Sunday of traveling and ministering the week before, this week looked to be a bit flat. The police advised us not to travel yet because our adversary caused such trouble over our last trip. It wasn’t safe for us or for the people we visited. Our friends from Hope for the Family children’s home couldn’t make it to our service, so it looked like it would be a small group.
Hope for the Family is a home run by missionaries from Mexico. Instead of learning English, like our kids are doing, their girls speak Spanish as their second language. It was unexpected to be able to communicate with guests in Spanish rather than in my halting Thai!
Saturday night brought a larger-than-usual crowd of Lahu folks, though. The evening, as usual, was filled with laughter and singing. We gave up before they did and went to bed and to sleep with the sound of Lahu hymns in our ears. I had made up the beds on mattresses on the floor and left them to take care of themselves. They are quite at home here by now.
Morning brought another crowd of guests. We had just polished off breakfast when they arrived, so Joshua had to make a run to the market to buy reinforcements. There are little food stands along all the main roads, and even in many side streets. Most Thai people eat out rather than cook. In fact, we looked at one house that didn’t even have a kitchen. (I was strongly in favor of that one!) It’s cheap and you don’t have to do the cooking and cleaning up. Joshua came home with fried chicken and rice and our second wave of guests enjoyed their breakfast.
Unfortunately, I had just set up for Sunday School, so had to pack my stuff back off the dining room table. They finished in time for me to drag it all back out in time to teach, though. There are a few disadvantages to having church in your house!
More guests arrived in time for church and we had a great service and time of fellowship together. Eeka, our weekend cook and cleaner, served lunch for the crowd and, once again, we had just finished when another group showed up. (And Joshua made another trip for more food.) The kids and I hurriedly washed plates and spoons to accommodate them. (Must buy more.) They came straight from their own service in their village. They have been threatened and oppressed and came to talk to Paul.
The older man, the leader of the group, spoke for the others. “If we follow you, will you stay with us?” he asked. “Will you never go away and leave us alone?”
What a commitment! Paul answered readily, though. “You must follow the Lord — not me,” He said. “But unless the Lord takes my life I plan to be here for you,” That was enough, and they agreed to stand against the one who has been troubling them.
And that is a good picture of why this evil man has been allowed to rule in this corner of the world for so long. It is part of the Thai culture to not get involved in fights that don’t directly affect you. People who are uneducated and have no social standing and no rights find it hard to stand alone. They believe his lies that he has the ear of important people and can have them arrested because they don’t have ID cards. They believe that he is the only one that can protect them and speak for them to the authorities. They don’t like the way he treats them and know of his sin and cruelty, but they are afraid. It’s hard to trust a “farang” (foreigner) who might decide to go back home and leave them in the lurch. It took great courage for these people to take this step.
And so we continue to fight, legally through the courts, for their freedom. Another group came to us this week in great anxiety. A man showed up in the village and announced that he had purchased the church property. They have three months to get out of their homes. The people have no money and no place to go. It’s their worst nightmare and what they all continually fear. We have proof that churches in the U.S. bought the property for the people, regardless of the name on the deed, and we will continue on with another avenue of the fight.
Legal expenses are nowhere near the size they would be in America, but they are still crippling to a missionary budget. We would much rather be spending time and money and energy on the ministry, but what can we do? We can’t leave these brethren at the mercy of a blasphemer and tyrant. We have to help them protect their churches and their families.
And as we do it, we forge on — learning the language, raising the children we have living with us, and ministering however we can while we plan for the future. There are so many opportunities here. Please pray with us that we can get to them soon!
For the court case before the judge on September 29.
For a place for us to live. We need a place with room for the preachers’ training school Paul plans to start in January. There are also many kids who need a home, but we have to wait until we are more settled to take them.
For direction for the kids’ education.
For wisdom and patience as we continue on this tiring and lengthy fight. But it is the Lord’s battle — so we have confidence in the outcome!
Blessings from Thailand,