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.