Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Collusions and Collisions of the Remarkable Kind

Ken and Bill "After All These Years"

With the fog of jet lag and general recovery from the trip, it's always a trick to figure out what day it is in the first week here.  Tuesday?  Yes, I think so. 

It's been a big day, too.  Our long time friends, Bill and Celine Hamade have been on their own wild adventure through Asia, and we made it happen that a stop over in Thailand would overlap Ken's time here this month.  And we're making the best of it by taking some out trips.  Today we stopped in for the Elephant Show at the Measa Camp, and then went on up the mountain to a spectacular garden with a worth-the-crazy-drive view.  Between the two, we ate lunch by a small cascading river, on a bamboo platform with a very low table; very Thai style.

Ken mentioned how 'worlds colliding' it is to be all the way here in Thailand with Bill.  These two guys have been friends since kindergarten.  Not kidding.  (That's 57 years...do the math!)  Lots of times at school, in each other's homes, at the cottage.....but a first for Thailand.

Both Bill and Celine have been incredibly supportive of the work being done with the children here at Hot Springs, sponsoring a child, and Bill having visited once before in January 2018.  That they would make a point of staying here with us these days means so much.  Their generosity and humour encourage Suradet and Yupa in ways hard to explain.

Catching the rainbow after a spray
While the purpose of this posting today is mostly just to share with you some shots of our first few days (and also to shameless show off some of the shots I was able to get with my new-to-me camera), it's also been a moment to once again marvel at the 'long story' of God who writes fascinating chapters into our lives.  No way these two guys, first hanging out at the sand station and having recess snacks together, could ever have imagined a life time of friendship that would have them hanging out with the elephants and enjoying Thai shrimp all these years later.

It's so cool when Sponsors get to visit, always.  This one just has that extra level of goodness to it.




Girls choosing their books

Celine is a natural.

A picture can't possibly...

So many flowers!

A quick run around the hoped-for property before the storm hits.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Where's My Key? And Other Humiliating Figures of Speech



There are two things you need to know before I get to the punch line of this post.

One is that I carry nothing when I visit Hot Springs.

Just ask anyone who's visited.  As a gesture of love and respect, there's always a scramble between the children as to who gets to carry our stuff - bags, Bibles, computers, anything - back to our rooms.  Sometimes I can lose track of who took what.  Remember this.

The other thing you need to know is that despite my valiant and persistent efforts over the past eleven years, I experience a fair degree of despair at ever reallmy being able to master the Thai language.  I make a good go of it.  I seem to be understanding more, and it seems that I am understood more each time I go.  And likely, if you don't know Thai and were to listen in on my conversations, you might even be slightly impressed.  Maybe.

But the real truth is, most of the time, I talk like I'm two. Being with my grandson Jayden, who is two, makes me realize, with a sigh, what I must sound like when I speak Thai.   "Me did it!"  "Kalking (talking) about?"  "Cow book, Gramma!"  Like that.

I can more or less make myself understood.  I can "read" a little bit.  And if I practice long and hard and have tons of help, I can actually preach a sermon from notes.  But it's stumbling and grammatically clumsy, and tonally incorrect a lot of the time,.  Often as not I struggle with basic vocabulary.  When this happens, I might say all the words in a sentence in Thai, but just insert the English word where I don't know the Thai word, and hope that someone will catch it in context.  Works pretty well a lot of the time.  But I still struggle.

To be fair, I only got started in Thai when I was 51.  Who attempts a new language, a tonal language, a language with a completely different script at the age of 51?  Younger people who have come with me and spent far less time submerged in the language can rattle off sentences like nobody's business.  But I speak baby talk most of the time.  And sometimes I make embarrassing mistakes.

During a time when we needed to stay at the guest house next door, I always kept my key in the same little pocket of the backpack that I used to carry things back and forth.  On this particular night, I had sort of lost track of who exactly had my backpack.  That's why, when the truck pulled up to the little porch in front of my little room, I did not have my key.

That day we had been to a market.  Plus, the evening's Bible lesson had required quite a few props and such.  So, as well as my backpack, there were my purchases, and my purse, and the bag of teaching supplies.  I had been eagerly relieved of every one of these, back in the meeting room.  And, just because it's fun, all the kids had climbed into the back of the truck for the two minute ride down the road and up the driveway to the guest house.

Now that we were unloading, I wasn't sure where my key was.  That's when I asked a most inappropriate question.

"Chan [key] you-tee nai?"  That's 'Where's my key?" with the English word inserted.

The happy chatter hushed.  Eyes grew wide with a degree of shock and confusion.   It was one of those 'uh oh' moments when you're in a different culture, and you know something's wrong, but you can't quite figure out what.

"Katort, ka" I said, excusing myself.  Whatever I had just said, it probably wouldn't hurt to apologize.

And then, all in English, "I don't know where my key is."  And I mimed turning a key in a lock.

Oh!  Yupa understood with a big grin.  She explained, ever so politely, that in Thai the word "key" said in a low tone, as I had done, is a rather rude word for, well, poop.   So basically what I had asked, in quite a coarse kind of way was,  "Where's my s**t?"  And if you're slightly uncomfortable with me writing it out like that, just think of how uncomfortable I was realizing what I had said!!

I put my hand over my mouth and apologized again.  And again.  (You can't be too polite in Thailand.)  And I would have kept on apologizing except Yupa started laughing and all the kids joined in and we all had a good laugh at Ahjahn Ruth's unfortunate mistake. Gringjai (keep the harmony) and all that.

As a language learning moment, it was effective.  I have no problem since then remembering that the word for 'key' is "koon-je".   And I'm even careful how I say the English word "key" when it comes up in conversation.  Believe me.

And believe me when I say that for all the fascination I have with linguistics, and the little advancements I see from time to time, and even with all the grace shown to me as I learn and sometimes make rude mistakes, it sometimes frustrates me.  No.  It humiliates me.  Learning another language, when I have to work at it as hard as I do, makes me feel stupid, foolish.  I have self-doubt.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm just fooling myself, thinking I can do this.  Why am I working so hard at something I will likely never master?

And then I come across a very simple sentence, buried in the reading I'm doing for my current course of study.  I'm exploring Paul's dual role as missionary-pastor, and in a book recommended by my supervising professor, there's this.

"There are few more humbling, affirming, submissive, and loving gestures than to learn another's vernacular speech."  (1).

Ah yes.  There's that. 

I'm reminded of a conversation with Philip, a talented young Thai with a good grasp of English.  He said that when Western people (farangs) come to Thailand for work or longer term ministry, and make no effort to learn Thai, it communicates a sense of superiority.  Here he opened his hands palms down and held one hand over the other.  He thanked me for making the effort and thereby demonstrating that the Thai language, and by default then, Thai people, are worthy of that effort; that we are equals.   And here he held his hands side by side. 

Of course, this communication of equality goes far beyond language learning.  It even goes beyond learning the culture, as important as that is as well.  It's more about an attitude, a genuine understanding of and engagement in the kind of reciprocity that, come to think of it, makes for all my best relationships.

So I guess I will continue to press my now 62 year old brain into this.  Let the younger ones outstrip me.  I'll put aside my ego and keep plugging.  I will do a little bit every day.  I will memorize what Scripture verses I can.  I will learn the songs and practice the tones and write out the vocab in my little pink book.

And I will remember that this is all done in the name of an utterly astonishing God who, in loving affirmation, at one point in history, humbled Himself enough, and submitted Himself to actually become a two year old learning the human vernacular of speech.   Did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:6).

Maybe one day I'll get a handle of Thai syntax. 
But this. 
This I will never understand. 

Except that in some way, it becomes a mysterious motivation for my own incarnational life-work. 

(1) From Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, chapter 11 "The Pastor as Lead Missionary" by William H. Willimond, quoting missiologist Lamin Sanneh.


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Garage Sale Study Plan

Saturday, September 14, 8 am to 1 pm

My house is a travesty.   

For someone who thrives in order and organization, much of my house right now reflects anything but.  Bins and bags, labelled and priced.  Larger items propped up against the walls and furniture.  Most of it is in the front room where it more or less smacks you in the face as you walk in the door. 



It’s been this way for weeks.  In fact, much of this ‘stuff’ provided a similar sense of chaos and disorder as it was packed up and piled up at the cottage, getting ready for its final destination.

The Garage Sale.

Yes!  In less than a week now this stuff will be outahere!  I’ll have my front room back, lots cleared out from our ‘other’ cottage property, and the house will sort of sigh and relax into a more free way of being for a while. 

I don’t like the chaos, but I do like the futures it affects. 

Love it when we can connect the dots like that.  From chaos to futures changed forever.  Because all this ‘stuff’ is heading to a Garage Sale that will help buy books, tuition and computers for under resourced students in Northern Thailand who would never, never have had a chance for a higher education.

New Family Foundation exists to come alongside orphan and at-risk children born in poverty and uncertainty in the mountain villages surrounding Chiang Mai, helping to change the trajectory of their lives.  Being welcomed into a family, given proper nutrition and medical care, our kids live in a family together in elementary and high school years.  Then, like here at home, they are launched and unleashed to the post secondary school education that best suits their abilities and aspirations.




Somchai graduated a year ago from his small engines mechanics and repair program.  He came to Hot Springs when he was 10 years old, dreaming even then of being able to support his single Mother one day.  Now he is working his trade, caring for his Mom, and excited to start a new chapter in his life with his new bride.  Somchai’s winning smile tells the story of a future changed forever in a country where child poverty normally paints a very different picture. 

So ‘stuff’ piled up is okay by me right now.   I’m looking forward to spending Saturday with other impassioned volunteers, greeting members of the community surrounding Highview Community Church, and sharing the joy with every shopper who drops by to make a difference.

If you’re in town and can drop by, we’d be happy to see if we can connect you with an item to take home, that connects you with a student half way around the world. 

If you’re not in town but want to contribute to the NFF University Students’ Fund  you can visit us on line at https://hcckw.churchcenter.com/giving and follow the prompts from there.  Any questions, you can email me directly at rabreithaupt@hcckw.ca.

And thanks!  To everyone who has donated goods, to all our volunteers, to FaithLife Financial for including us in your Action Teams program, and to everyone who comes to shop or donate.

It’s a Garage Sale Study Plan that makes all the difference in the world.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Where Honour Is Due And Ken's Second Trip to Thailand



A rare and sensational wonder will be happening this October.

Ken, my husband and life partner, superhero of support and generosity, silly ‘GrandBob’ to our four here- at-home, and honourary ‘Paw Ken’ to our family in Thailand, THAT Ken, is traveling with me to Hot Springs! 

I know, right?!!!

It’s rare because Ken is the ‘man the fort’ dude in this ministry partnership we’ve got going right now.  That partnership where I get to do all the traveling and he gets to stay put and eat normal food.  I say it that way because I’d like to clear up what sometimes comes back to us as two misunderstandings.

One is that Ken is sadly left behind while I get to have all the adventures.  Ken does not feel this way.  He’s glad to stay home and eat normal food and wake up in his own bed and go to work doing work he’s really good at and really enjoys.  He’s glad to stay back and do the grunt work of the numbers and help me figure out travel arrangements and stay on the phone for almost an hour at a time with the people booking our ‘free’ flight on frequent flyer points.  He’s glad to be in Canada while I’m in Thailand, contending with scorpions and the heat, while emailing back and forth about on-th- ground kinds of things, so we can make good decisions together with our Thai ministry partners.  And did I mention the part about eating normal food?  Yes, he’s genuinely glad about that.   So, let’s just be clear on this point.

And the second misunderstanding is that, since this is only his second visit to Hot Springs, it indicates somehow that Ken is not as invested or interested in what’s happening in Thailand as I am.  This is also not the case.  Not at all, as only partly demonstrated by what I’ve just described in the paragraph above.  

And to further make this point, if you want to, if you get the chance, just ask Ken to tell you about his personal study on the subject of what makes God happy.  I dare you.  You’ll see very quickly -  in his telling of the story of being ambushed by a very strong ‘aha’ moment directly connected to the faces of our children at Hot Springs - just how tightly this thing we do together is wrapped around his heart.  This thing we do.  These kids we now have in our extended circle of grandchildren.

I am so very excited to be travelling together with this incredible man next month!  But even more exciting, amazing, and sensational is that I have had the honour of doing life with him for over 41 years! It’s cliché, but absolutely true that I could not be doing what I do without his support and generosity.  And how perfect is it that we are so differently gifted and impassioned and yet it fits so well together to serve in God’s kingdom like this?  That it’s not ‘his ministry’ or ‘her ministry’ but truly ‘our ministry’, hand in glove, together. 

So, honour where honour is due.  “Paw Ken” is a man of high esteem in my books, and he’s made the world of difference to a whole lot of kids who would not have had a chance otherwise.  Which, we’re pretty convinced, makes God very happy indeed.

September will be a month of anticipation and packing and getting Ken caught up on his travel vaccinations!  (Sorry Honey.)

Can’t wait to be posting the pictures from THIS trip!!!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Competencies that Count


Clay figures by Eak
This is day seven in a twelve day jet lag recovery.  (Estimates are one day of recovery for each hour time difference.)  This is the second summer where I have had the good gift of retreating to the cottage for this inevitable process of adjustment, something that does not seem to get any easier with frequency, but is unquestionably easier when done in unscheduled seclusion.

As usual, these days are full of processing.  Even more so when I’ve traveled with a Team and haven’t really had the head space to do any of it ‘on the ground in real time’.   It was a great trip with a great Team, and that means we were busy.  Day trips to see the surrounding culture, outings with the kids, reading and reading and reading, and of course the ESL and Bible lessons every evening.   We had just a touch of a common traveller’s sickness, but had medicine on hand and the flexibility of schedule to make that a small thing in comparison to all that was gained by our time there.

So by the time I’m back, processing and thinking and making lists for ‘next time’, I’m doing my usual personal assessment of the give and take of each trip.  What did we gain?  What did we leave behind?

It’s the second question that has preoccupied me in these first seven days back.  As a Team, and more pointedly, myself as this missionary-pastor person I am now - how did we do?  How did we serve?  Were our contributions meaningful?  How competent were we, was I, in the ways we hoped to minister to the children, to Pastors Suradet and Yupa, to the dear members at Hot Springs Church?  

It’s a fair question.  With five people coming for a visit, there is a significant disruption factor in the day to day lives of our hosts.  Extra work, extra planning, extra driving, extra energy.  Did we make it worthwhile?

It’s a fair question.  But it’s a question I ask very differently now than I did that first trip in February 2008.  Back then, ministry competency, having maximum impact through our combined skill set, (read: MY skill set) was all that mattered to me as the leader of a seven person Team out on a MISSIONS TRIP!!!  How important that sounded then (especially with the echo effect).

By now, the harsh lessons of soul-deconstruction so mercifully pounded into me eleven years ago, have redirected my assessment dramatically.  Now I’m asking a different question.

How did we love?
How did I love?

It’s the better question of ministry effectiveness.  Because love is, after all, the main thing.

So in the essence of that better question, it seemed perhaps a helpful exercise to take some liberty and paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13 according to how love might be made the priority in Thai culture and our interaction there.  

For any Team member, of this most recent trip or any in the past, or for anyone considering joining in on the future, I offer this with the humility of having ‘first preached it to myself’ and with the promise to work through all that the Spirit painfully revealed to me through this exercise.   If it prompts any response in your own heart, my prayer is that this will be only enriching and helpful, even if something pinches.  Not necessarily my intention, but I know that the Holy Spirit often works that way, so I'll cover myself with the disclaimer :).

Here goes.  1 Corinthians 13 Thai style.

If I speak Thai fluently without even the hint of an accent, and all my Thai friends understand me perfectly and praise my linguistic accomplishment, and I impress all my other Team members, but I am more focused on showing off than listening to and loving the people I’m in conversation with, then I’m nothing more than a hollow bell or mournful temple gong. 

If I have the gift of a Western education and can teach or sing or play an instrument with impressive technical precision, and I am invited to participate in every service and time of worship, but this ends up making me feel and act superior, and by default my Thai friends feel inferior, and I fail to communicate my love and appreciation for all that these people can teach me and how they serve me, then no one really gains anything and so what do my credentials even count for?

If I have faith enough to travel to mountains on the other side of the world, and I’m brave enough to take risks and face the specific kinds of dangers of this strange exotic place, but I’m motivated by trying to impress everyone, or by self-fulfillment, or self-actualization, or anything at all self-related instead of self-denying love, then I’m nothing.

If I give until it hurts, sharing from my abundant resources to help alleviate the suffering of the poor, and even go so far as to put myself in harm’s way, sacrificing my physical health, but I don’t do any of this out of an actual compassion for people in need, then nobody wins.  

Love is patient enough to wait to be acknowledged in the room, or stay engaged in a bilingual conversation until understanding is achieved and consensus is found, or to be served last, or wait to be offered something rather than ask for it, or go back to that government office for the seventh completely unnecessary time.

Love is kind enough to notice the subtle signs of sadness on a Thai (or ‘farang’ face), or to make sure photos are inclusive, or to sincerely thank those who have been in any way inconvenienced on one’s behalf, or to walk at the pace of the slowest person in the group, or to refrain from spending too much at the markets even with such cheap prices, knowing that our hosts have so little disposable income.
Love does not envy the attention others may receive or the ‘place in the story’ others may have in a culture that values family narrative. 

It does not talk so much about oneself, in fact, doesn’t talk too much at all, and certainly doesn’t presume a special status with special treatment (especially being white, even though that’s a thing).
It is careful to honour those older than and in authority over oneself, even when ‘at home’ this would seem unnecessary and even a little ‘over the top.’

It does not participate in behaviours meant to gain attention, does not insist that one’s own needs be met, always looking instead for ways to meet the practical and emotional needs of others.  

Love does not find humour in anything that demeans or insults others, is not sarcastic, is careful not to use ‘inside jokes’ to the exclusion of others. 

It does not demonstrate anger in public, but in the spirit of ‘gingjai’ maintains composure and grace always.  

It is willing to overlook small annoyances of living together in close quarters in a different culture and climate, aware that grace is a needed component of serving God together in any circumstance.

Love does not let fear, arrogance, personal agendas or one’s ‘shadow-mission’, factor into the cross-cultural experience, but instead seeks to be open, selfless, honest, and Spirit-led.

It always protects the most vulnerable, always trusts God’s plans and purposes, always hopes for shalom in the face of suffering, always perseveres with tenacity in this joy-work we are privileged to do with these incredible people.

Love never fails to make our time there a profoundly meaningful way to serve.

Love is the only ‘competency’ that counts.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Half Way Already? - Week One Team Report

Norma





"I've only been here a week and already I am undone.  Once the children warm up to you, their smiles, their hugs, their eagerness to serve you in so many ways, and their contagious laugh, just melt your heart.   Praweet is the little guy I sponsor (with Colin).  He is feisty and mischievous.   He'll offer his hand to shake, but as you move towards him he pulls it back to slick down his hair (which is funny because he hardly has any).   He is eager to learn English and I am delighted that he wants to read with me so much.  I am so glad that so many supporters helped me make this life-altering trip.  Thank you.  Sawat dee, ka.


Sheldon


I am a traveling photographer, a foodie, and and a person that simply loves to explore all the wonders of this world.  I feel incredibly blessed to be experiencing such a truly ancient land and culture in its truest forms. From the grand vista views of mist that flows over the lush green mountains like an avalanche of molasses, to the small things like bartering for sweet dried mango at the local markets in a language you can't understand with people that have the grace to listen and help. I had no doubt in my mind that I'd enjoy the magic that Thailand is clearly blessed with. That includes but is not limited to the food, rich and full of flavour, spicy concoctions passed down through generations and improved upon by men and women with a zeal to bring joy to others. All these are just some of the wonderful blessings Hot Springs/ New Family Foundation have bestowed on us the whole time we have been here. Not once have they faltered to care for a need that we had. Not once have we gone unprayed for. The children are full of joy and laughter from the blessings they received from back home and the love of Pastor Suradet and Yupa, and they are not shy to reciprocate.


Becca


It has been a beautiful experience watching and interacting with these children here at Hot Springs. I have never witnessed children that are so caring and generous. You know the saying, “What’s mine is yours”? That’s how they live. Every present they get and everything they buy, they share with one another. They treat each other like sisters and brothers here.  It is also so inspiring and exciting to watch their eagerness to connect with myself and the other new team members as well as their eagerness to learn English.  Some of these children did not come from good homes and it is so uplifting to watch them care so much and love so fiercely. 

Ahajan Suradet and Yupa, the two pastirs at Hot Springs and the people who opened up their home to these children, have been so generous and such amazing hosts. They have cared for us so much and I can’t help but mention how good their food is!! I am so grateful for this opportunity and feel so lucky to experience so much hospitality and love.


Esther






Hello Everyone!
This first week back at Hot Springs has been wonderful in so many ways. There are 3 things that stand out to me about this trip so far. First, the joy and humor of Suradet. For some time, this side of him had disappeared as he was going through a period of grieving. But now, the king of dad jokes is back in action, making the kids laugh and bringing smiles to all. Suradet and Yupa take care of their family with so much love and we are beyond lucky to be included in that. Since my trip is longer this time, both of them have expressed very clearly to me that I am like a daughter to them and if I ever need anything while I am here, I can call them and they will help. How amazing it is to be loved by two families on different sides of the world!
The second thing is the inclusion here at Hot Springs, especially with the 5 new children. Jabez, Min, A-ton, Een, and Meena have only been here for around 3 months and they are already deeply engaged in worship and finding good groups of friends. One of the coolest things to see is how the younger kids transition into the “older sibling” role. During the church service on Sunday, it was raining really hard and all the fans were on, meaning that there was a little bit of a chill in the air. The Highview Team was grateful for said breeze, but tiny little Meena (who, although being 7 years old, has the body of a girl who is 5), was absolutely frozen. And with so much love, May, who used to be the smallest child here, took off her sweater and gave it to her sister. Wow. It is not only Suradet and Yupa who take care of these children, but everyone is involved in the process of caring for and loving on these little ones.
Finally, the biggest difference for me is the knowledge that after the first few weeks here are done, I don’t have to go home. I’m feeling this amazing sense of peace that I don’t have to rush anything. I don’t have to worry about not fitting everything in, or making sure I get photos of every cool thing that I see, because I have 6 months to soak it all in. How relaxing it is to know that I get to be here in Thailand for this long and that my time is going to be spent focusing on my relationship with God and what He wants for my life. I am ready to submit every part of myself to Him and make the most of my 6 months here with the hope that when I return, I will be a stronger disciple for God and more in tune with the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Already, I can feel myself learning and healing from the interactions with my Hot Springs family, and YWAM hasn’t even begun! How happy my heart is here. As All Son’s and Daughter’s so perfectly said “How perfectly how hearts were made for love”.

Ruth Anne



And that's a glimpse into this amazing Team I get to be here with on this trip.  It's been great to see us gel together, not in spite of but because of our inter-generational dynamic.  And to have a growing list of our own 'trip stories', "Sheldon quotes" and other inside jokes. 

Hard to believe our time is almost half over already.  It's going so very fast with all our outings, reading to the kids, yesterday's worship service, and today's preparation of small packets (teddy bears, soap and candy) to deliver to a nearby, under-resourced school.  The rain, while making everything lush and green, is dampening some of our plans (couldn't do Chiang Mai Walking Market last night for example), but not our spirits, as we immerse ourselves in this community of love and gentleness. 

Even with the busy schedule, I am overwhelmed with all the 'moments'.  Watching the fun as Team members read to the kids, hearing little voices sound out the words in the new books, jumping and dancing to all the fun songs, Suradet reading from the Bible given to him by Jen, Sheldon's word of testimony at service on Sunday, and oh...the depth of the worship in praising God in this stunning language.

This is a short visit for me, for sure.  I'm now completely spoiled for the one month visit where I can fully dig down into the rhythm of Thai culture and the way life flows daily here at Hot Springs.  But I am also aware that in a very short amount of time, six weeks to be exact, I'll be here again.  And yes, that will be for the month of October. 

How did I get this life?