Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas in Thailand

My first Christmas in Thailand is over. It was definitely an experience I won't soon forget! Christmas isn't a holiday that is widely celebrated in Thailand, but for the Thai Christians, it is. Every year, a different village hosts a Christmas Convention. This year it was held in the village Nafu in Chiang Dao province. It was about a 2 hour drive - not too bad. Stephen, Mary, John, & I left on Friday, the 23rd. The Convention runs from Friday through Monday, the 26th, but we just stayed through lunch on Sunday. I'll tell you about my experience through the pictures below.

This is the house where we stayed - it is the home of Mary's cousin, Mali.

This is where we slept.

On Friday, there was one church service in the evening. There were three services on Saturday & three on Sunday. I'm not sure how many services there were going to be on Monday. Each service consisted of singing hymns, then each village that came would have a group sing a song, then a different preacher would preach the sermon at each service. Each service lasted anywhere between 2-3 hours.

This is the stage of the convention - it was a platform built off the side of the church.
They go all out with decorations!

This is about a quarter of the seating area for church services.

This is the group from Nafu singing, who were also some of the cooks for the Convention.

Stephen preaching on Saturday.

The services were done in the Lisu language, so I never knew what was being said, sang, or preached. I asked Stephen after the services what the sermon was about. Friday night a preacher from Burma gave the message. Stephen said about 6 or 7 of the points in his sermon were Biblically wrong. After Saturday morning's sermon, Stephen said he didn't really know what the message was - the man was just talking & talking. Mary heard many people discussing that they didn't know who or what to believe because everyone was saying something so different. This led to a discussion among the three of us about the direction of the Thai church. It is growing in numbers, but the people have a very shallow knowledge-base, even the elders & leaders of the churches. This is something that Stephen is trying to help through the Asia International Seminary that he has started here, but it is something that is going to take a lot more resources than what he currently has for AIS. Please join us in praying that God would provide the direction & resources (financial, materials, teachers, etc.) to help the Thai church grow spiritually, more than just in numbers.

I'm not sure of the exact number of people that were there, but I think it was in the thousands. It took A LOT of work to feed that many people three meals a day!
This is the prep area where they cut & prepared the food to be cooked.

This is where the servers would refill their pots to serve each table.

On the left (the silver rectangles) is rice being steamed & the garbage cans on the right is cooked rice.

The ladies washing dishes.

Tables where each meal was served.

Mary, her sister, & friends in Lisu dress.

Mary in formal Lisu dress.

Me & Mary waiting for a service to start.

Throughout the area where the Convention took place, there were many booths set up selling food, toys, clothes, & games for kids to play. It was a lot like the atmosphere of a carnival. There was also a dance every night after the last service until almost midnight. This led to another discussion about why the people come to the Christmas Convention - is it to worship & learn & praise God, remembering the birth of his Son, or is it to get together with friends & family & have a good time? Another thing to be praying about - that this Convention wouldn't continue down the direction it's headed, but become once again focused on Christ.

Overall, this was an experience I'm glad I had the opportunity to have. I was able to learn more about the state of the Thai church, areas it needs help, & the needs it has that I can be praying for & ask others to pray for. 

This experience also put into perspective for me how I normally celebrate Christmas. It made me think - Are my priorities in order? Do I spend enough time & focus on celebrating the Reason for Christmas? Do I get so wrapped up in the feeling of Christmas & family & traditions & running around & making sure everything's done just right & in time that I get worn out & just wish for it all to be over?  These are just some of the questions that I've been wrestling with this week.

I hope that I never forget this experience & the lessons I learned & am reminded of it every year as the Christmas season comes around.

Serving Him,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Party

Last Sunday, December 18th, we had a Christmas party for English class. The previous class, I told the kids that there was going to be a surprise & I guess they told their friends because instead of the usual 8-10 kids, there were 16!

We normally have class on Saturday, but many of the kids were going on a field trip during the week & wouldn't be able to come on Saturday. They asked if we could change the day because they wanted to come. That made me feel like I'm doing a little something right! So, we set class time for 4:00pm on Sunday.

When we got home from church a little after 1:00pm, all of the kids were sitting outside already! So, I quickly set up everything & we started class around 1:20. I began by telling the kids we were going to learn about a holiday that is celebrated in America & many other places. (There are a few decorations here, so I know that some people know a little about Christmas, but not much.)

When we start with new material, I always start with vocabulary words. So, for this week's new words, I printed out the shapes of the words & the kids colored them in & wrote each word. I also made a power point slide show with real-life pictures of each word. I think they like this way of learning & it helps them to remember each word.

All 16 kids getting ready to learn about Christmas

Vocabulary shapes worksheet

After the kids learned the new words, I had them decorate a little Christmas tree. Everything that we used was a vocabulary word, so the first person that yelled the correct word helped me put that item on the tree. Then, they each got an ornament to hang. They really enjoyed that!

The finished tree!
After decorating the tree, the kids played Christmas Bingo. A few had played before, but most had not, so it took a bit of time to explain it in a way they would understand. They had a good time playing & shouting out "BINGO"!

After Bingo, we moved to the outdoor classroom for a snack & story. They had butter cookies, no-bake cookies, & chocolate milk. I had explained to them that some of the words that we had learned earlier would be in the story. I also explained that while some of the characters we learned about earlier were made up in the stories that were written about them, the story that I was going to tell them was a true story, something that really happened. I read to them a kids' version of the Christmas story out of Matthew & Luke. While I read, Becky translated, & Johnny held up pictures for each part of the story. It didn't start out too well as the kids were really excited about the snack & didn't want to stop talking & pay attention, but after a few minutes they quieted down & were really paying attention. After I finished reading, I explained to them that this is the reason I celebrate Christmas.

Kids listening to the Christmas story
After reading the story, I passed out gifts to all of the kids. They were really excited! The looks on their faces were priceless! They stayed until around 5:30 playing with their gifts with each other.

Waiting in line to get another snack - loti, an Indian pastry
Overall, I think the kids had a great time! This was the first time that I really introduced Jesus & any part of the gospel to them. Most of them have never heard of Him, so it was a great opportunity to share some of my culture while at the same time introducing them to the Savior of the world as a baby!

As I was watching the kids play, I was overwhelmed with love for each one of them. It breaks my heart to know that they had never had an opportunity to know of Christ & His love for them. I am so humbled & immensely grateful that He chose to use me to reach these kids for Him! As they left one-by-one, I silently prayed for each child that they would personally come to know Him & grow in Him. I can plant the seed, but only God working in them will bring about the harvest.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!

Serving Him,

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Breakthrough of sorts...

This past Saturday's English class was the first class that:
  • all ten kids attended at the same time!
  • the kids opened up & yelled the words they were learning & seemed to be having fun!
  • I felt like I actually did something right & that the kids left knowing more English than when they came in!  
This has definitely been an area where I've grown personally. Jumping in to this area of ministry right away has forced me to fully depend on God. As I've mentioned before, it's the area that I'm the least prepared for & the most apprehensive about. Besides the fact that I can't communicate with these kids without someone to interpret, I don't know what English they already know, & their ages range from 4 to 11, which makes it difficult to keep everyone on track.

In the first 4 classes, we covered ABC's, numbers & counting, greeting, colors, and food. We started the 5th class this past Saturday with a review of everything. I think it helped because everyone had missed one class or another.

After reviewing, we took a break & the kids played a game. It was like duck, duck, goose, but with a towel.

After their game was finished, it was back to studying. We learned the names for different family members. This was really confusing for them, but I think was straightened out a little bit when we made family trees. This was the first time that I could find a hands-on activity and all of the materials for it to help learn the material we covered. I think it really helped, so I'm going to try to be a lot more creative with each class. (Prayers for creativity & materials would be much appreciated! :) )

(I'm also trying really hard to learn everyone's names. I wasn't very good with learning American names, so Thai names has been a struggle! I wrote them all down this week, phonetically, as I heard them.)

Aditep, Thun, Chaiwan, Vichai

Somboon, Waypahn, Kampahn

Hom Nuan, Suay

Everyone with their (mostly) finished Family Tree!
Next weekend, class will be on Sunday evening. It's normally on Saturday mornings, but the students are on a field trip all week & wanted to be able to come, so they asked if we could change class time. We're having a Christmas party! Please pray that it will be a fun time, but more importantly that the true meaning of Christmas will be well received.

Serving Him,


Sorry that it's been awhile since I've posted. There hasn't been much new to tell you about, just the same routine every week - Thai language class on Monday, Wednesday, & Friday afternoons and teaching English class on Saturday mornings.

I thought you might find it interesting to see how I've traveled to class some days. Most of the time, Stephen drives me to class, which takes about 40 minutes to get there. On a few occassions that he hasn't been able to drive me, I've traveled three different ways.

The first time, I went with Nuan (the girl that lives here with the family & helps with everything from cooking to cleaning). A motorcycle taxi came to the house & picked us up to take us to the taxi stop. The type of taxi we use is a truck with a topper on it. In Thai, it is called a "song theew." (I just learned this in class last week :) ) We took two different song theews to get to Kad Suan Keew, or Central, a mall close to my school. From the mall, we walked a short distance, about 5 minutes, to my school. Traveling this way is pretty cheap, around 120 baht, or about $4, round trip.

Below are pictures of the motorcycle taxi & the green song theew we took:

I also traveled this way another day when Mary wanted to go with me. Once I figured it out, it was pretty fun!

Another way I got to school one day was with a lady who uses her personal car to drive people around. This was easier than the taxis, but quite a bit more expensive (300 baht or around $10 round trip). And she was a bit of a crazy driver, driving down the middle of the road & honking at everyone. It was pretty funny! She talked a lot, but only in Thai, so after we knew each other's names, there wasn't much else I understood that she was saying. I just smiled & nodded & she laughed. :)

Yesterday, this is how I traveled to school:

Simeon took me! (For those who don't know, Simeon drove the mission team around in February.) He is a motorcycle taxi driver. The idea of riding a motorcycle all the way to class on the super highway in all of the traffic sounded really exciting at first...until he arrived to pick me up, then I got a bit nervous. But, I knew I was in God's hands & in good hands with Simeon driving. The ride went well & was really fun as long as I didn't look ahead of us :) It gave me some confidence that, as I get more comfortable riding my motorcycle in the traffic, that I will be able (hopefully sooner rather than later) to ride my own motorcycle to school. And this wasn't as expensive as riding with the lady - only 200 baht or around $7.

(If you know me, you know I'm not that daring, so this is going to take a lot of getting used to! My Mom even laughed at me when I told her about the first time I rode to the small store near here & I went 40 kph. I thought for sure that was pretty fast, but when I looked up the conversion it was only around 25 mph!)

So, that's how I travel around Chiang Mai! Much thanks for your prayers for safety - God is definitely hearing them & answering! :)

Serving Him,