I stopped, breathless, on the nearly perpendicular mountain path to the church. One more rutted and steep section of road and I would be at the church building at the summit. William ran past me – a typical teenager showing off his physical strength a bit for us. Paul took off running up the hill right behind him. Maybe it’s just a guy thing….
People packed the little cement block church in the dusty mountain village of PaSak 2. Wriggly children sat on a mat on the cement floor as they do when all the blue plastic chairs are filled. The people listened attentively, dark eyes alight, as Paul preached and Lek interpreted.
Sundays have taken a different turn for us now. We’ve been having services at our place in San Sai. Paul has felt burdened, though, to travel on Sundays to the mountain villages to encourage the churches there, but could not leave the people we were ministering to here. How do you know when something is the Lord’s will? Sometimes He makes it plain by circumstances. Suddenly our good group in San Sai fell off. Some regular people moved away. Others stopped coming. We were free to go – so we went.
We packed into our trusty pickup and headed up the twisty mountain roads. Eve, who had never been to a Lahu village before, became miserably carsick – a common complaint here. After a couple of hours of travel we arrived in the village and were welcomed by pastor Guido. He beat on the car wheel they use as a church bell and church members climbed up the steep path to the church building.
Afterwards we did medicine in the community pavilion – which consists of a roof and a few stray boards. Far more people lined up for medicine than the little church building could have held. The strings around the wrists gave it away. They were animists. The strings are there to show they are bound to the spirits and under their control.
Ministering in love by giving medicine and helping their needs is one way of reaching out to these folks. Perhaps that little bag of Tylenol or that bar of soap for “itchy” will open a door to share the Gospel some day also.
I handed out antibiotic cream for infected insect bites, antacids for stomachaches, and diclofenac pills and cream for painful joints. And lots of carbon for diarrhea. When several of the people come with complaints of diarrhea, as they did on Sunday, I suspect that tainted water is the culprit. I gave them activated charcoal capsules and rehydration powder.
A tiny boy wearing tattered red shorts and a faded t-shirt sat reluctantly in the “patient” chair. I didn’t need an otoscope to see his problem. Smelly fluid drained from his ear and his face was flushed with fever.
“He has an ear infection,” I told his mother. “You need to take him to a doctor.”
Something about her shrug and look of hopelessness convinced me that it wouldn’t happen. I reluctantly took out the antibiotic powder, mixed it with water, and gave him the first of the three doses.
I’m not a doctor and have only minimal medical training, so I try to stick to over-the-counter remedies. When situations arise when more is needed I have to weigh the situation in the balance. Does the risk of being treated by someone who is not a doctor outweigh the risk of going untreated? On Sunday it was a “yes.”
The remote village of Canaan was represented at church by a good group. It’s difficult for them to get down their mountain at any time and almost impossible in the rainy season. It’s dry now, and they came to worship with us at PaSak 2, as they have no pastor for their village. I loaded a box of medicines I had left over and gave it to one of the women who came. She took the box of simple over-the-counter meds with joy. Now the village will have some medicines on hand when someone falls ill.
As always, we were asked the heart-rending question. “Will you take our children?”
The schools in the mountains are not good, if they have schools at all. The children of Canaan don’t have one to attend. The parents know there is no future for their children if they don’t get an education. They will be doomed to grueling manual labor in the rice fields or tea farms and a life of poverty. For the girls the situation is even more heart-rending. They marry young. William’s 13-year-old sister married recently. A life of hard work and many babies age them quickly.
Even worse, a lack of education makes the people a prey to those like A. who take advantage of them.
But we don’t have the facilities or the workers to handle more than the five children we are raising. Besides, Paul feels compassion for this situation but knows his calling here is to preach the Gospel and to train preachers. He can’t be distracted from that with another ministry that would be hugely time and energy consuming.
I did make a discovery recently that will make it easier for someone who feels the call from God to do this job. The government provides free “informal school” for kids 14 and older. There is a boarding school here in San Sai which runs a Christian school using the ACE School of Tomorrow curriculum. One day a week they attend the informal school to get their required Thai subjects and work toward a certificate which will enable them to get higher pay and/or go on to the university. The other days they learn English with the ACE English-as-a-second-language curriculum and then go on to their other subjects in Paces, or workbooks, at their own speed. A very few workers can teach a number of children of different levels by this plan. They go home on weekends so they are not cut off from their families in the mountains. They become fluent in English, get a good education, learn of the Lord, and have a future. More schools like this could break these precious people out of the bondage of poverty and hopelessness. Please pray with us about this need and this opportunity.
And pray for us as we have big plans for March! A group, which includes our daughter Becky and her family, are coming to do medical and dental mission work in the villages. At the same time we will also be having VBS – called “English camp” here. We’ve arranged to have two-day sessions in three different villages.
And thank you for your financial help and prayers. It was your gifts that provided the means for us to visit and encourage the people of PaSak 2 and Canaan. Your donation bought the antibiotics for the little guy with the ear infection and the medicines for the others. Our ministry is possible because of you, and we are grateful.