Thursday, February 27, 2020

The View From Here

God Will Make A Way 

Somewhere in that first week of our visit last month, I think it was the Thursday, Suradet and Yupa returned from a meeting with the leader of the village nearby.  This was a meeting where it was deemed better I NOT attend due to the ‘complicating factors’ that sometimes come up when a ‘farang’ is present.  Sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn't.

We knew already what the meeting was about, and I was keen to know what news they were bringing.   Getting out of the car, they were trying to be all nonchalant, but they were smiling so much I thought their faces would fall off.

And finally, Suradet couldn’t keep it in any more, and he said with a shout, in English  “Seven!”

And he slapped down on the table a document.  

That might look like a confusing collection of official squiggles to you, but it represents over four years of patient pursuit of the official documentation that will allow us to being to develop a new property for our kids.

Four years!

For a wide variety of reasons, one being that our current facilities have been 'retrofitted' to house the children, it is becoming more urgent that we relocate from the property owned by the Korean Methodist Church to property and facilities that belong directly to New Family  Foundation.

Everything is legally registered and ready.  We've just needed property.  
And that's been a tricky thing in itself.

The significant population shift in Thailand from the south to the north has driven land prices up disproportionately to normal inflation.  (insert link here).  The reality of trying to 'out-fundraise' the rate of increase in order to purchase property was dim at best.  

Yet God makes a way.

The generosity and support of Yupa's parents has compelled them to 'hold' a parcel of land for our use.  It's about 6 acres (3 rai) and is ideally located between the church where Suradet and Yupa are pastors, and the schools our kids attend.  All good.

Except we have been stalled out for the past for years trying to secure the necessary land deed that would allow us to develop the property for the purpose of a children's home.  Attempt after attempt, some of them coming very close, but then falling through at the last minute, has yeilded nothing but frusrtation and a chance to practice the patience we all say we'd like more of.

Until now.

That night we had cake!!

And we asked for the number 7 to be on it because that's the new number of our address!
Much celebration and delicious messiness.
This is no small deal.

And now?

The real fun begins.

It’s a big project that will ultimately see us with a brand new set of right-sized buildings that will be dorms and a kitchen and a school work room, plus accommodation for staff, in order to house 30 children.

We can begin incrementally with hooking up electricity to the property, drilling a well and getting the water system installed, building a protective (and legally required) fence around the property, and laying down a basic road.  

All these projects are doable in chunks, and we are extending the invitation to other churches and others outside Highview to partner with us.  

To be honest, I can clearly see where we're going, like a mountain in the distance, I can sort of see where we need to go for our very next steps, but the way in between?  Not so much.

At this point in my ministry in Thailand, I am starting to realize that I have a growing sense of two realities within my heart; two realities that are increasing; two realities that sit at opposite ends of this experience.

One a surprisingly significant increase in a sense of weight and responsibility for what I do now.    This new project makes it more obvious, but it's more than just that.  It's the whole weight and ramifications of the beautiful duty and glad obligation of it.  It feels heavy.  Heavier than any responsibility I've felt in my ministry life, or even personal life before.  And I've carried big things before, for sure.  Just, not like this.  

That's the one thing.

The other thing is just as strong, just as real.

I also feel that I have grown so much in that basic element of life with Jesus called faith.  There's just such an increase in the calm reassurance that, even though I can't see the whole way, God's making the way.

I give Suradet and Yupa all the credit for shaping my spiritual formation in this so profoundly.   Their constant example to me, in the face of so much more hardship and opposition and prolonged frustration than I have ever known in my white privileged life thus far, their solid sense that God will come through as we are faithful together....they inspire me to be more full of the faith I've always wanted to know richly.  

So big project. 

I’m just not intimidated by this.  I probably should be, but I’m not.

We will put together the plans and appeals and strategies and all those important human elements of moving forward on a vision.  There’s lots to do, no question.

But the view from here is breath-taking.  
There is no question in my mind that God is going to come through for this.

On Sunday, February 23, 2020 our Team was able to bring a report of our trip in January.  We ended with a strong song that reflects this faith. Way Maker by Leeland.  Can't get it out of my head now.  

"Way Maker, Miracle Worker, Promise Keeper, Light in the Darkness.
That is who You are!!"

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Wait For It

“Let us not become weary in doing good. 
For at the proper time we will reap a harvest,
if we do not give up.” 
Galatians 6:9


I was embarrassed to realize a few years back, that if you had asked me to describe a rice plant I would have been at a loss.  Wheat, corn, common garden vegetables, melons and berries….I knew where all these came from.   But rice?  I actually had no idea.

Not now. 

In glorious green, the rice stocks blanket the flat paddies, their heavy heads bowing low under the intensity of the sun.   There’s something beautiful and orderly in the square-upon-bermed-square that checker the flat fields, with the wild, random mountains keeping watch all around.

I’ve seen the harvesting too.  Strong backs bent to the task under pointed straw hats, that same intense sun, relentless and penetrating and hot, bearing down without mercy!  I drive by in the comfort of an air conditioned car and know without hesitation, I wouldn’t last ten minutes.   Doing this by manual labour is still the most common way rice is gathered.   Tradition, the mush of the wet earth that rice requires, and the lack of access to more modern machinery all play a factor.   The bottom line is that the majority of all the rice that comes to our tables is the result of some brutal work.

Some things are like that.

A lot of things are like that.

Hot, long, hard, brutal work.

Raising a family, building a ‘real’ home, staying true to the vision for the future when the work is long and slow and often at the cost of personal comfort.  Yes, it’s like that too.

Especially the staying true to the vision for the future part.  The part where we need to build, specifically.

To recap just a little.

Our kids need to move.  The rooms and property where we are now has been ‘retrofitted’ to house them, back when all this began and the need was desperate and the basic space available.  Suradet and Yupa opened up their home – a new church plant with a brand new two-story building – to eleven children who were either orphaned or otherwise at-risk due to the penetrating poverty that is prevalent throughout the tribal villages all across Southeast Asia.   In those beginning days, two rooms with dirt floors and cement walls were equipped with thin vinyl flooring and fold-up mats.  Each child’s possessions were kept in a plastic shopping bag on top of their beds.  A few things hung on bamboo poles in the corner of the room.    And all of this was an upgrade from where they had come.

Over the years the generous sponsorship of so many, most, but not all, folks at Highview, has provided for bunk beds and mattresses, wardrobes and safer modes of transportation, plus of course the daily provision of nutritious meals, the chance to go to school, and the gift of being raised in a loving, faith-filled family.   As far as the accommodations go, a newer kitchen recently replaced the earthquake heaved dining shelter, at the expense of the church, and will be useful to the church once we’ve moved.  But the sleeping and bathroom areas are not up to regulations.

We are glad for the regulations.  The 2014 military take over in Thailand brought a next level of accountability to children’s welfare and education.  Children’s Homes such as ours are now required to be on registered, deeded property.  The church property is not.  Nor do we have the required infirmary or even square meter per child capacity.  Because the children were established here before the new rules were put into place, there is an understanding of a grace period.  But the threat remains that, under the current situation, we could be audited and, if found wanting, shut down. 

That’s why we’ve put a plan into place.

It involves family property owned by Yupa’s parents that has been set aside for our use.  With consideration for the property’s worth, and to be fair to other family members who hold a share, a moderate buy out fee, plus four initial projects will get this underway.  And it’s time.

But.  It’s taken time.  Sometimes there have been huge set backs.  Sometimes there have been long stretches of months that turn into years before we see any progress at all.

Watching Suradet and Yupa lead this process has been a study in the biblical patience of trust.  From the first initial conversations with Suradet eight years ago now, where he is tenatively risking to share his heart for a bigger vision, throught the stumbling together over the language thing and the culture thing and the getting to know each other’s ministry values and heart thing, to the organizational politics that were in place at the time.  All of that.  And his amazing, gentle patience with me while I gradually figured it out.  All the way through to their decision to form a foundation of their own, and our heart as a supporting chuch to go there with them.  And then praying, and praying and praying for the land deed, a process that should have taken six months that lasted four years, with hopes raised and dashed on the civic politics front more times now that I can remember. 

Until just last month, when the whole Team was still there, and Suradet and Yupa came back from a meeting with the village leader, bearing the document in hand!  What?  Yes!!! Now we can build!  We can move forward!

New energy.  New momentum.  Dreaming good dreams again.

But.  It’s taken time.

I watch them persist in life and ministry with a gentle, gritty tenacity I hope to emulate in my own life.  They live a Galatians 6:9 life; not complacent, doing their homework, seeking out creative solutions, but waiting with confidence until God makes it clear. 

If we do not give up.

I’m home less than 48 hours as I write this.  I miss rice (something I once thought I’d never say, but that’s another story).  

And I’m ever so grateful for and inspired by the harvesters

who don’t give up.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

An Unlikely Likely Friend

The face is stern and the beard perhaps imposing.  But it's not these features that bring me here this day.

The gate is close but unlocked, which is a good thing, because there's actually no bell despite what the sign instructs.

There's no caretaker in sight either, although a simple house does sit just inside the wall.  We have to call out and walk all the way to the back of the building before we see a woman hanging out her wash to dry in the sun on bamboo poles in the yard.  "Chai.  Chai.  Poochai farang tee nee," she assures us. "Yes, Yes. That white man is here."  And smiling, she gestures vaguely in a general direction, leaving us to search him out for ourselves.

It won't be a problem.  The cemetery is small, simply kept but not unattended.  The sparse grass is short, and the grounds are free of litter and leaves.   Some headstones are quite new with shiny plaques and recent dates.  One grave is a brown mound of just-buried.

But it's the older markers that have our attention.

Yupa finds him first.

Founder of Christian Missions 
in North Siam.
Born in North Carolina, U.S.A. May 14, 1828
Died in Chiengmai, August 22, 1911

I approach to get a picture, then stand again.  And quite suddenly I am overcome.

This man!

Half A Century Among the Siamese and the Lao was something of a last minute reading selection for my current course of study on 'Paul the Missionary Pastor'.  When considering the weight limits for all I needed to pack for school, it truly was only because I'd purchased a kindle version that the book even came along.   I wasn't sure an autobiography would yield as much academically as the assignment required, and it was after all, printed in 1912.  Hardly cutting edge.  

Except.  No.

Not satisfied to have made the one hundred day journey from America to Bangkok (Lord forgive my complaints about my 24 hours of air travel!), he and his wife got in a boat and navigated no end of dangers, not the least was the river itself, to end up in Chiang Mai.  They were the first Christians ever to do so.  From there, despite isolation, primitive living conditions, sickness and even at one point the threat of execution, Daniel McGilvary would travel by elephant, literally hacking his way through the jungle (hardly cutting edge?), to reach the outlying regions of Chiang Rai, Wiang Pa Pao and other places I've been.  [On a personal note, it's interesting how often he refers to these as "regions beyond", since this was the phrase we adopted at Highview very soon after my return from that first trip here, now twelve years ago.]

A skilled Christian theologian, his respect for all people, and particularly for the Buddhist mind, is stunning, and no doubt factored heavily into why he was so well received by royalty and village folk alike.  He learned their language and taught them to read it.  He became knowledgeable in basic medicine to alleviate the unnecessary suffering he encountered almost everywhere.  He was a favoured guest in royal Siamese palaces.  He was a favourite of the children.   Noticing that boys were educated in the Buddhist monasteries, but girls were not, he and his wife began a Girls School that evolved eventually into a sought after university.  It's hard not to find some hospital, school or church in old downtown Chiang Mai that doesn't have some connection with the McGilvaries and the Presbyterian mission they represented.

As I immerse myself in his nineteenth century prosaic style, writing with all the statesmanship of a Princeton Seminarian, even with all that and about 170 years between us, I shyly find myself making a new friend.  I recognize place names.  His descriptions of culture and climate I completely understand.  And the matter of fact way he propels himself forward in courage and faith, I find inspire me onward too.

He loved my people.  My people were his people.  More accurately, his people have become my people. 

This is why my heart is now all caught up in my throat, standing here beside his grave.  Just to be this close to this brilliant, passionate, hard core servant of God ---

I ask if we could stop for a prayer so we do.  And midst the sound of the softly murmured prayers of my Thai beloveds, and the background noise of a city so different than what first met the McGilvarys, it occurs to me that likely I would not be here and Suradet and Yupa would not be here and Hot Springs Church and the many beautiful Thai Christians in the north would not be here had it not been for this man and his brave-beyond-imagining wife who came and lived out their best lives to the end, in the name of Jesus.  

So now I'm just crying. 

Thank You Jesus for bringing this incredible couple here more than a century ago.
Thank You Jesus for bringing me here now.
Thank You for taking the faithfulness of Your servants and turning it into something beyond what any of us can hope or imagine.

It's time to go.  But as we do I try to imagine the procession coming through the gate on the day Daniel McGilvary was laid to rest.  It is described by Arthur J. Brown, friend and co-labourer, in the forward of the book.

"The Lao country had never seen such a funereal as that which marked the close of this memorable life.  Princes, Governors, and High Commissioners of State sorrowed with multitudes of common people.  The business of  Chiengmai was suspended, offices were closed, and flags hung at half-mast as the silent form of the great missionary was borne to its last resting place in the land to which he was the first bringer of enlightenment, and whose history can never be truly written without large recognition of his achievements."

Of all his words, this one quote stands out to reveal his heart.

"How near of kin is all the world."  
Daniel McGilvary

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Every-Other Days

I'm tempted to call this series of pictures "Spicy Food Faces".  
However, it's more the need for antics than antacids that prompts these crazy shots.

We are gone for most of the morning, searching for more reading prizes, snacks and gifts for friends back home.  For this we arrive at what I call 'the indoor market down by the river'.  A great sprawling of booths under tin and cement all smelling of fish and incense, packed with people.  The small pouches I purchase to encourage some of the older readers are the first sale of the day for the pleased women who takes my baht.  I know this because she takes my bills and touches everything else she has for sale as a means of bringing luck.  On our way home we stop at Central Festival, an impressive five story mall, all decked out in Chinese New Year finery, to book our tickets for Saturday's movie outing with the kids (thanks everyone who bought gift certificates at Christmas).  I marvel again at the contrasts of this place.  Smelly fish to ultra modern.  

We are having a 'home day'.  Turns out to be a day that Megan and Esther test their millennial computer skills, with the help of Ethan from home  My new computer is apparently not getting along with the internet connection here.  I spend the first part of the morning trying not to have a white-privilege freak out while my friends laugh and problem solve their way in and out of depths of my computer's programming with confidence.  Success!!!  I reclaim some time and quiet head space while Norma, Megan and Esther take a walk down to Café U-Noka.  Laying low now, in the warm afternoon, prepping for Bible lessons and Sunday's service, waiting for the kids to come home from school.

This every-other-day thing is intentional.  Our hosts work hard, and when we're here, let's face it, we're extra work.  So keeping things balanced is helpful, good, healthy.  And...drum roll please.... we've finally managed to elbow our way into the kitchen to do dishes!  Only took 11 years!

These are good, solid days.  Restful in the midst of working/serving.  Loving and being loved.  Knowing and being known.  

Friday, January 17, 2020

The First Few Flurry

It's always interesting how the first few days can just sort of happen in a quiet, upside down, turned around sort of way. We're never sure what time it is, what day it is, and if we're hungry or not.   Where are those labels I 'll need for tonight's lesson?  I was sure I packed those!

That sort of thing.

Despite the discovery of a 'spider of unusual size' in Megan's bathroom, all of us have slept well these first two nights, still recovering from the journey itself.   There seems lots to do, with unpacking and settling in, sorting out all the teaching supplies (where are those labels?) and reading prizes, and....just being here.  Having time and space for the kids...which I'm hoping happens at some point today, it being Saturday and a great day for reading.

Today Esther will join us, fresh back from her YWAM graduation (which we were able to attend last night) and ending six months away from Canada, pressed deeply into the kind of learning six months of intensive discipleship training does to a soul.

Our team will be complete.  Norma, Megan, Esther and me, here together for the first two weeks.

It's cool over night, about 17 C, making for fresh mornings and a day-long welcome absence of humidity.  Anyone who sent a hat for their Sponsored was keeping a little head warm this morning for worship, as were fleece blankets, scarves and gloves.  Even us Canadians are admitting that it's a bit chilly (compared to the 32 C of yesterday afternoon), and we've got our jackets and slippers with us as we welcome the day in the circle of this family.

With no extra staff here currently, we will be participating more in daily chores.  At least that's our hope.  So far we've been shooed away from the kitchen sink or any other kind of work so that we can still recover from our trip.  I'm hoping, however, that we will wear them down and be in there up to our elbows very soon.

And so goes the first few days of unhurried flurry.

Such a place of contrasts this.

I'm reading the autobiography of a pioneer missionary to Thailand, Daniel McGilvary.  It's fascinating to read of some of his own impressions, some 100 years ago, that seem familiar to me as well.  Other than the comment "our quick passage of only one hundred days took our friends by surprise" (so I won't complain any more than it takes more than 24 hours to get here), there are some things that don't change.

He writes:  "The first work of a new missionary is to acquire the language of the country.  His constant wish is, Oh for the gift of tongues to speak to the people!"

I've prayed the same prayer.

"The syntax of the language is easy; but the 'tones,' the 'aspirates,' and 'inaspirates,' are perplexing beyond belief.  You try to say "fowl." No, that is "egg".  You mean to say "rice," but you actually say "mountain".

Yup.  Pretty much.

But perhaps the quote I'm relating to most so far.  "I felt very small for the great work so solemnly committed to me."

Yup.  Pretty much.

As these cool, fresh days unfold, I am open, curious, eager.  
And still looking for the labels I was sure I had with me!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Back and There Again

None of us are newbies, so we know what we're in for.  And it's all good.  Even here at almost midnight, we're feeling the excitement in these pre-boarding minutes.

Norma, Megan and me.  And once we get there we'll meet up with Esther who's been away for six months now.  What an experienced team we are!'s

For this second trip back Norma says she's going back to see her sponsored child Praweet, for sure.  But also, and here she pauses for emphasis, just to be there.  I get it.  Most of us who've been get it.  There's something truly healing and joyful about the place, the people, the way life is slower and simpler.  And there's so much love.

This will be Megan's fifth trip.  She's looking forward to seeing all the faces that she's missed.  She's also looking forward to some of the cooler evening temperatures and lack of humidity this time of year, compared to the record-breaking 'cooker' trips we've shared in the past.

I've lost count.  Honestly.  I'd have to go back and figure it out.  But I'm heading over with the same excitement, anticipation, longing as I do every time.  Can't wait.  Just....can't wait.

There are fun times ahead with planned out Bible lessons in the book of Exodus, a whole slew of new games from Esther's outreach experience, outings, singing, reading, and - like Norma says - just being.  At least that's what's more or less planned.  Then there's all the adventures we don't know about yet.  The ones waiting for us.

In our commissioning on Sunday Erin Ogilvie-Fisher prayed that we would be "safe but not comfortable".   Such a wise prayer.  That's what we'll press into.  Those places that challenge and change us, mess us up in all the good ways such adventures do.

Boarding soon.

Stay tuned for more.
Much more.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Mistletoe and Mosquitoes and All Things Weirdly Christmas

A Christmas meme scrolled past my social media the other day.  It showed a picture of a rather hapazardly-strewn Christmas tree decked with assorted school project manifestations.  The caption read: "I didn't know I was OCD until I told my kids they could decorate the tree however they wanted." 

I laughed because, well, that's me.

I know you're supposed to adore all the home-made things your kids make for Christmas, and in our time, our tree did indeed reflect that sort of stick-figure family charm.  I do hope we made memories that made sense out of the traditions of our love.  I think we might have, because some of those traditions are now carried on.  And I am so, so glad for those years.

But I must confess that when a new era dawned and the kids were decorating trees of their own in their own grown up homes, I was so happy to release the semi-Victorian, cherub-faced, gold and ivory, evenly-spaced energies I'd held back for so long.

I muse on that every year while I trim our tree, humming Joy to the Word and smiling in a vaguely OCD kind of way.

I'm musing and humming because..... there was that one weird Christmas.

In the fall of 2015 I had the exceptional opportunity to spend three months in Thailand, a time that began in September and dipped into the first two weeks of December.  At that point I had never experienced a Thai Christmas, and my Thai family was happy to help me engage in everything the season meant for them.

Christians in Thailand celebrate Christmas in something of a cultural vacuum.  It surprised me to learn that Christmas Day isn't a stat holiday, and on December 25th, people go to work and children go to school as if it was any other day.  There's a nod to the season in the retail world, more in the bigger malls, but not much larger than a three meter square display of Christmas wrap in any other supermarket.  Nothing in the villages.

In Christian churches, and certainly at Hot Springs, the emphasis is more on the Nativity story, and sharing a special lunch after service on the Sunday before Christmas.

That other parts of the world haven't plunged into the dark depths of Christmas consumerism is something to be glad about, for sure.  And I found, as we moved through the month together, all that was specifically Christian about Christmas was that much more accentuated.  Even before it got weird.

Of course, at Hot Springs, everything's simpler when it comes to all those extra trappings of Christmas; things like, say, gifts.  Not minimalistic in a pure sense, but, we do have twenty kids, all of whom have come here because they badly needed food and a home and a place to be safe.  So we're careful.  And we don't expect much.  Not just at Christmas.  But at Christmas, how much can you really do on such a tight budget? 

You can put up a Christmas tree.  Which we did together one afternoon.

We put it up outside.  That was the first weird thing.   But hey, why not?  Temperatures are 'plunging' to 18C overnight, but otherwise we're talking anything around 35 to 40 during the day.  We'll be sitting outside much of the time, so...that's where we'll put the tree.

So we're outside, humming Joy to the World, and it's getting hot, and nothing about this seems to me like it's right to be putting up a Christmas tree.  And I'm sensing this gradually-getting-stronger 'colliding worlds' thing, that crescendos into something of a mini existential crisis, realizing how much of my Christmas might actually be a conditioned response to a multitude of things that have nothing to do with the Incarnation, which is kind of a really big deal to recognize since I say my whole entire life is built on the centrality of this story, and not on how or where or in what temperature a Christmas tree is decorated, said Christmas tree, by the way, not showing up anywhere in the Bible, which is, ya know, only the truth source I say I want to live by.  And all this is sort of unrolling in my head like some annoying run-on sentence of disorientation when -- Hey What? -- the mosquitoes start going at it!  And then it really feels like things are all messed up now!

Yes.  I know.  Bit of an over-the-top reaction to mosquitoes, me thinks.  But in all fairness, this sheltered Southwestern Ontario girl hasn't ever been sweating and swatting while decorating a tree and singing Joy to the World before.  Ever.  It's like suddenly the whole of Christmas has been decorated by oblivious children, haphazard and strewn, happily stripping away all that's OCD in me and leaving me with -- well, nothing but Mary nursing God. 

And the God-Child isn't white. 

And everything's rather chaotic and organic and earthy.  Real.  Anything but evenly spaced.  And the angels aren't sweet cherubs but a host (army) that's freaking the shepherds right out of their minds.  And very soon the Holy Family will be wretchedly running for their lives, refugees seeking safety, fleeing the wrath of someone else's quarrel, desperate.

And there it is.  The weirdness making sense.

I didn't realize I was OCD until....

This doesn't end with me deciding against decorating for Christmas.  For me, that would be missing the point, ironically still focusing on the wrong thing, only in something of a reactionist-oppositional kind of way.   No, there's still a gold and ivory tree in our family room, and it's lovely.

But it's got a sister, half way around the world, outside, dealing with mosquitoes and declaring joy for some tenaciously amazing children who are more like the Infant Christ than anyone else I've met in my own entire life.

"Inasmuch as you've done this to the least of these......"

If Christmas is all weird for you this year, you're not alone.