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  • Susan Brown

Slipping Around the Language Barriers

“What is she saying?” I asked. Usually I’m pretty good at reading gestures, but this lady had me guessing.

“She say she have cyst. Hurt she back and shoulder, neck,” Joshua translated.

“I don’t have anything to help her with a cyst,” I said. “She needs to go to a doctor.”

She and Joshua both gave me puzzled looks as I gave her paracetamol for pain and motioned to the next person.

That person had a cyst causing trouble, too. Too much of a coincidence. Further investigation revealed he was saying “sick” not “cyst.” She had a sick in her back that made her shoulder and neck hurt. We called the first lady back, and gave her anti-inflammatories for her back. No wonder she had looked puzzled. About a third of the meds I give out are for back and joint aches. The people work in the rice fields or on the steep slopes of the tea farms, so their backs receive a lot of wear and tear.

Such is the challenge of treating patients when you aren’t a doctor and can’t speak to your patients!


Usually Lek is on hand to translate for me, but he had to miss this Thanksgiving celebration. It was parent day at William’s school and someone needed to be there to meet his teachers and get an update on his progress. Since Lek is the only one who can actually talk to the teachers, and since we were expected at this Thanksgiving, we split up for the day.

Joshua valiantly, and Molly rather reluctantly, helped me do medicine. Since I refuse to give out medicine that can cause harm if wrongly prescribed (no blood pressure meds, etc.) I am confident no one was hurt, even if some might not have actually been helped.

Paul couldn’t preach without an interpreter, but he has been working hard on learning Lahu. He wrote out a short message and translated it with the help of a Lahu Bible and a dictionary. He practiced it all week with Lek,, and spoke for about five minutes at the Thanksgiving service. He did a great job, and the people were so happy to hear him speaking in Lahu! It meant a lot to them that he is learning their language.

After the service we had the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of pork balls, soup and rice. Then we did medicine and gave out baby clothes, hats, and baby blankets.




I haven’t figured out yet how to do the distribution in the most orderly way, but a new friend came along and helped, which made things much easier. We enjoyed having Ryan Taylor with us. She was a blessing – especially to the children. She hit it off with them right away.   She is studying to be a nurse and wanted to see the needs of the villages. I think she saw what we are up against!


Afterwards we packed back into the truck and bounced along the steep, rutted road toward home. Meanwhile, Lek learned that William has done very well, indeed, in his first semester at the vo-tech. He made a 4.0 average and is at the top of his class. We are proud of his hard work – and the fact that he is self-motivated. Both of the older boys know the importance of schooling and are diligent in their studies. No need for nagging. (I can save my nagging energy for the younger ones, who are not quite so motivated!)

Language study makes up a large part of his course in tourism and hotel management. He is doing well, and even translated for church for the first time on Sunday. Lek was at school again, this time for parent day for the younger kids. We had a guest speaker, John Sumatra, a pastor from the Philippines. His parents are missionaries here and attend our services with us.

Brother Sumatra wasn’t used to preaching with an interpreter, and this was Williams first attempt, so it was a challenge for both of them. We all hung on every word, though, and gave suggestions if William got stuck on a word and Brother John couldn’t think of a substitute.

“We think of some sins as despicable,” John said. “Terrible,” Paul suggested. “Horrible,” I said. “Very bad,” someone else contributed.

Rather a thesaurus-type service, but it worked and we were blessed.

Lek found that the children, for the most part, did well. Molly is at the top of her class, Bang is doing much better this year, and Andy has had a turn-around. His grades are still lower than they should be, but he had an attitude adjustment midway through the semester and has started to pull them up. Danny – needs work. It’s difficult when we can’t determine whether he is not trying or if he has some kind of learning difficulty. He is very quick in Sunday school – memorizing verses and answering questions from past lessons. He is much older and bigger than the other kids in his class because he was held back so often. I think that has something to do with it. In one subject all the kids made “A’s” — English.

We are enjoying a visit from Bro. Bill Majors, a missionary to Korea, this week. He attended our Christian school in America way back in the 1970s. He and Paul are on the road today. Paul will meet with pastors from Laos to set up training sessions near the border, since they can’t travel into Thailand as far as the pastors’ training center in Mae Ai.

Meanwhile, I am cleaning house and preparing for the next Thanksgiving service on Friday and a second one on Saturday.

Please pray for us as we minister to these people who have become so precious to us. And we need prayer about ability to learn the languages. I am working on Thai and Paul on Lahu. If we could just speak and understand, life would be so much easier! But we serve Him the best we can with what we have. God is good and it is our privilege to serve Him here, challenges and all.

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