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  • Susan Brown

Surprises at Canaan

The truck shuddered and slipped sideways on the slick clay. With a bang it slammed into the side of the mountain. We all gasped and clung tighter to our handholds that kept us from bouncing around as we jolted over the ruts. No harm done. If we had slid the other way…. I glanced down the steep cliff to the valley far below and averted my eyes.

We were on our way to a thanksgiving – the third one this harvest season. After the first one, Paul and I had spent a marvelously restful time at a quiet beach. Other than our hectic trips to America and a memorable three-day trip our daughter and son-in-law treated us to, this was our first real get-away in our five years here. The off-season rates were unbelievably reasonable and the resort free of crowds. We spent a lot of time on the beach and in the ocean and came back refreshed.

We arrived home about 10 o’clock Monday night. At 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday we set out for the second thanksgiving service of the year, held in Bon Saw. It’s about a five-hour drive through the mountains and is one of the largest of the thanksgivings.

We would have been in trouble without the help of Pann and Denise. The first of the thanksgivings, immediately before we left on our trip, had been unexpectedly large and had depleted my supply of medicines and hats. Pann took my list to the pharmacy while we were gone and Denise bagged up the medicine into individual portions to hand out. We didn’t have enough hats, so we left the few remaining ones at home, but we gave out eleven bags to mothers with small babies. The baby bags each contained a blanket, socks or booties, hat, baby outfit, and a few diapers. With the seven we had already given out at Hoe La Bong, our supply was gone.

Now we were on our way to thanksgiving number three at the remote village of Canaan – pronounced Ca-nah-ah. We were surprised to receive the call from Asa Saturday saying the celebration was on. Rainy season is winding down, but we had a wet week in Chiang Mai and knew it had been rainy in the mountains, too. It’s far too dangerous to take our truck on the road when it is wet, so we didn’t expect to go.

But Asa had spent the night in the village and assured Paul that it hadn’t rained, so we loaded up and headed out.

Maybe it hadn’t rained in the village on the mountaintop, but obviously rain had fallen on the twisty, steep, and very dangerous road across the top of a mountain range leading to it. But the truck sustained no damage from the close encounter with the mountain, and we made it to the village unscathed.

We were surprised at the large crowd at the block and bamboo church building. We also noted that the traditional decorations of vegetables and rice were missing from the front of the church, although flowers decked the doors and the pulpit. The music started, and we settled down for the usual long service, consisting of a dozen special songs or more before the preaching.

But after just one song, everyone stood up. We looked around, trying to figure out what was happening, and saw a young girl, accompanied by her little sister, walking up the aisle between the rough benches that served as pews. She walked to the front, joining a young man and his father who stood before the pulpit.

We weren’t at a thanksgiving at all. We were at a wedding! Somehow we hadn’t gotten the message.

Paul was prepared to preach a thanksgiving message with William interpreting – not a wedding. After speaking a few words, he turned the ceremony over to Asa and to Yacob, who pastors in another village. They both are familiar with Lahu wedding ceremonies, which Paul is not. He wanted to make sure they were adequately married!

Paul has preached dozens of weddings in his years as pastor, but I believe this is the first one that took him by surprise.

The bride and groom sat nervously in the plastic chairs at the front of the church as Asa gave the wedding sermon. I don’t know what he said, but it was punctuated by lots of laughter. Only the young bride didn’t smile. She looked terrified!

The papers were signed and the couple left the building. Lunch – not the traditional thanksgiving meal we expected – was served to us in the church building while the others ate outside, squatting on their haunches, Lahu fashion. To our surprise, the bride herself carried our food to the building to us. While some things are the same the world over, this wedding turned out to be a very different affair.

After lunch we got out the medicine and William and I went to work. We had lots of sick children at this gathering. They had running sores on their legs, fevers, and colds. And lice. And worms.

A mother asked me to come to her home to look at her son. He has been sick for two weeks, she said, and could not walk. We climbed the ladder-like steps to the bamboo house and saw a thin, obviously ill, boy scoot crabwise on the floor from the partitioned-off bedroom. No wonder he can’t walk. His ankle was pitifully swollen. He kept up a dry, hacking cough without stopping the whole time we were there.

He had developed a sore throat and swollen glands in his neck two weeks ago. The doctor gave him medicine and sent him home. The swelling went to his ankle and his throat and his cough were no better. They took him back and returned with more medicine.

I asked to see the meds, and they handed me a plastic bag full of assorted pills. I went through them seeing a laxative, a pain reliever, and various other pills to treat symptoms. It startled me to realize that I recognized all the medicine and knew what they were for. Five years of being the “doctor” has taught me a few things, I guess.

I impressed on them the importance of taking the antibiotics, which were the only pills that might actually address his problem. I’m worried about him, though. Please pray for this boy. His name is Luka.

If the tribal people have an ID, they can go to the hospital or a clinic, if one is within reach. The language is a problem, as many are not fluent in Thai and a Lahu speaker on staff at a hospital would be rare. At these small hospitals, they don’t have the facilities for testing to discover what is causing the problem. The result is the patient being sent home with a bag of medicine to address the symptoms. I’m sure they do the best they can, but that often seems inadequate.

We started down the road, which had dried out somewhat by then. We came home exhausted, but glad we went. The people were so happy that we came to the wedding, and the medicine was much needed. We also gave out the rest of the hats, which were ecstatically received and proudly worn, even though the afternoon was warm.

The children will be home from their fall break this week and soon school will start again – both here at home and at the Thai school. We are looking forward to the arrival of Matt and Brittany Villandry and their older two children on Thursday and Bro. Bill and Ricky Cash on Friday. Kimmy will return to us the week after. Lots of ministry opportunities are ahead – and more than likely, a few more surprises. Life here is not always easy, but is always interesting! God is good!

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