Friends who are friends
I thought I’d start by taking some time to write about a couple of our friends that we work here with, and tell a little of their stories. I will withhold or change names to preserve anonymity.
One of our newest friends is an older Thai man who comes for lessons at the BEC three times each week. He responded to an advert which runs weekly in the Chiang Mai news. He is extremely generous and brought Anna and I gifts after his trip abroad, and insisted on giving Anna a lift to the airport when we said she was going to Australia for a week. He is a genuine pleasure to work with, and finishes each lesson by saying, “This is all so good, very good!”
One friend is very hard working young man who loves ‘deep’ study. His request for a subject to study one Sunday afternoon? “How about the beasts in Revelation and 666…” Ok then – not the most straightforward topic! He thinks long and hard, but is also quick to share a joke. He asks questions about baptism and is making careful progress towards joining God’s family.
We also teach 2 brothers who are from Myanmar (Burma). The older brother left Myanmar on his own, looking to improve his education, making his way through different refugee camps until he was told about the migrant school he now attends in Chiang Mai. He and his brother have to be careful not to attract attention from authorities, as are many of the other immigrants in the area. He is Seventh Day Adventist by background, and always pursues challenging discussion about paid ministry, about whether what we eat is important and more. He has a good Bible knowledge and also thinks very carefully about what we talk about. His brother too is gaining some excellent understanding and improving his English.
We teach a mother and son, who have a very challenging situation. They are not well off, and the son has epilepsy. This is difficult to deal with and though they are often worried about money they have been coming to learn at the BEC for over a year. The mother always has very kind words to say about what she has learnt here. “Before we come to BEC,” she says, “we didn’t know the word of God, but now, we understand.” This is gratifying to hear, and is a testament to the other fieldworkers who have been here – they have been given a message of hope they did not know before.
I can honestly say that every one of the friends we have made here has been a joy to meet and to teach and to work with. They are enthusiastic and keen, hospitable and kind. It has been a pleasure to be able to get to know them all.
Over the last month, we’ve been visited by some friends from the UK. It was lovely to be able to introduce them to our friends here and the city of Chiang Mai itself. It made us realise how amazing the city is all over again by seeing it through their eyes! An exciting event that happened while some of them were here was the ‘Songkran’ festival. For about 6 days, the country ensues in a giant water fight. This is a Buddhist Festival where the washing by water represents the cleaning of sin, so very interesting and exciting to witness. The moat which surrounds the old city has a one-way road on either side, and this moat becomes lined with thousands of people, each one with buckets and water pistols, including drums full of ice water, which are casually thrown at anyone and everyone who passes by.
It is without doubt the most strange and wonderful experience, to see a whole city degenerate into throwing water at each other. It was also interesting to note that people were very respectful and tended to avoid throwing water in faces. It was appropriate to thank people who had poured water over you! Many of the local Thai and Burmese Christians tend to avoid the festival as it is Buddhist and the interest and excitement wears off after years of living in heavily Buddhist countries.
A trip to Mae Sariang
May started fairly quietly, but with most of the usual students coming regularly for classes. Anna took a trip across to Australia for a few days to visit friends, and once she was back, I spend a couple of days in Mae Sariang visiting some of our contacts. La Moo has family in Mae Sariang, and so fieldworkers make occasional 3 or 4 hour trips to continue teaching and getting to know the people in this area. The town itself is surrounded by beautiful mountains covered in forest, along with many fields and Karen villages.
This trip I made specifically to speak to two groups of people. Firstly La Moo’s relatives, and secondly a small church with whom we have been in contact before. When I arrived and had found the guesthouse I had booked, I called Raymond, one of the contacts, who picked me up and took me to his house. I was made very welcome by his family.
We talked about the family’s past, how they had come to Thailand and how their lives had progressed. Sadly,
Raymond’s wife was in a very bad car accident, which left her unable to speak for four years. This was clearly a very distressing thing for Raymond to talk about, but he shared it with me, and was amazingly strong in faith. His sentences were littered with references to how God was caring for them and how they trusted that they would be cared for. I felt very humbled to have the opportunity to talk with them. Despite difficulties, the family was full of joy and happiness, with many children and lots of noise! I was presented with the youngest boy who I was told could recite many verses from the Bible in Karen – however I was only able to confirm this once he had stopped pretending to be Spiderman (he also did this in all the photographs I took).
As the day progressed, it appeared that the two groups I was going to see had been talking to each other – because there would only be a few in each group, it was suggested that we all joined together for our study. I agreed to this, and so later that evening after spending an hour or so looking around Mae Sariang and grabbing a bite to eat, Raymond picked me up again and I was taken to the church where we would study.
I was made very welcome by the people there and talked with around 30 people about the effect being a Christian should have on our lives, looking at our responsibility and relationship to God and to each other. The following morning, after an evening punctuated by power-cuts, I returned to Chiang Mai, happy to have met and shared time with those in Mae Sariang.
As the final few weeks drew to a close, we were invited to visit the house of one of our regular contacts for dinner after her lesson. She lives about half an hour outside of Chiang Mai, so we rode the motorbike out and met her there. We studied together, and then she cooked Tom Yam soup for us, which was beautiful. She is very quick to smile and laugh, and I have enjoyed studying with her a lot.
We also had a meal with our students at the BEC to thank them for the time we had shared and to bid them all farewell.
It has been a real experience to spend time immersed in a culture so foreign to our own,and many thanks go to WCF for making this possible. At every turn we have been met with smiles, welcomed and made to feel at home – both in Chiang Mai, and during the time we spent in Cambodia. This has been is a wonderful place to live and work. There is definitely the need for more fieldworkers to come and support these people, to continue helping them in their understanding.
Simon and Anna James