It seemed strange — the church was so different from the ones we have been visiting for these past weeks. This one didn’t meet in a cement block and bamboo building, but in a rented house in Chiang Mai. The people wore mostly casual Western dress instead of the traditional La Hu clothes. Strangest of all, the men and women sat together instead of on opposite sides of the room.
The reason? This church isn’t La Hu, but Karen, the largest tribe in Thailand. Pastor Sam came to the Pastor’s School for the first time this year. We aren’t sure how he heard about it, but we were happy to include him. He came from another denominational background, but listened eagerly and apparently accepted the Baptist doctrines taught at the school. He invited us to his services, and we went there Sunday. Bro. Camp preached and they all listened attentively.Another difference — this service was only in Thai. The majority of the church are Karen, but there were several Thai people there and a couple of La Hu. We noticed several university students, too. Evidently everyone spoke Thai.
After the service we headed right out because there was a church building dedication ceremony scheduled at Bethany that afternoon. We went through the drive-through at McDonalds (first time we’ve been THERE in a while!) and traveled on. We stopped at the mission to pick up a group of people from our area who wanted to attend the dedication and went on to Bethany with the folks crowded into the back of the pickup.
At Bethany the new building sat brushed and polished in all it’s splendor. It looked like a simple block and bamboo building to others, but to these folks it represented months of sacrifice and labor. It also represented a major step up from the rickety bamboo building they have used for years. We noticed a ribbon stretched across the front.
The La Hu folks like ceremonies and will make an occasion at the slightest excuse, so this dedication service was of great importance! Bro. Anond organized the proceedings. First Bro. Camp would pray, then cut the ribbon with the specially decorated scissors. The people would file in a particular order. Anond and the missionaries would go first, then the visiting pastors, then the church members. We all lined up and the program began. Bro. Camp did his part admirably, and we went into the building with more pomp than you could imagine from a group of barefoot folks marching into a tiny building.
What next? Why special music, of course! Several churches sent delegations, and each group sang a song. The Bethany folks had several numbers prepared, too with choir, duets, etc. Pastor Ja Hay spoke at length, mentioning by name all who donated to the new building. Many of the other churches had given money for the building, as well as several individuals.
They still have ways to go, he said. They don’t have electricity yet, for example. They are thankful, though, that it is complete enough for them to use the building. Paul spoke and gave them some encouraging teaching about how the church is more than a building, but the people. The fine new building won’t last forever, but the souls of the people will. More songs and prayers and the service was over.The long-suffering visitors climbed into the back of the hot truck again and we went back to the mission.
Another Sunday in Thailand over. There are just two more for us here. It’s hard to believe our three-month stay is almost over. Please pray for us that the remaining time will be profitable. It will certainly be busy. We have one more week of the school after this one. Then we have the big graduation ceremony and move right into the Bible conference. The ladies will have a special conference on Monday and Tuesday. I am the featured — and only — speaker and will teach for several hours each day. I won’t say I’m a little nervous. I’ll say I’m terrified! Please pray that the Lord will use me to reach and encourage these precious women in spite of the inadequacy I so feel right now.
On Wednesday the main Bible conference will start. Preparations are going on now like crazy. The children are out of school and are kept busy most of the day working on the grounds. They are weeding along the road this morning. Hundreds of people come to the conference and camp out in tents in the orchard and fields. Bro. Anond has hired a cook to feed the people for the week and is getting decorations and banners ready. Services will be in the morning and evenings. During the afternoons sports tournaments and singing contests are scheduled.
After the last service is over, we will go to the airport and fly home. Please pray that these last weeks will be profitable for eternity — and that the Lord will direct clearly for the future of the work here.
Gui sha aw bon a pi. (God bless you.)
Blessings from Thailand,