Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Greetings friends,

I am sitting in Taipei at the moment waiting for my plane to LAX so I thought I would take some time to summarize my last ten days in Thailand:

Hostel

After my time in Ma Oh Jo village, my friend Paul and I spent the night at a hostel a few hours north of Chiang Mai which ITDP is involved with. It houses around 80 students who are primarily from the Lahu Hill-tribes. They live at this hostel for 10 months of every year while they attend school because there are not adequate education opportunities in their villages.
When we arrived we had the opportunity to worship with the students and speak to them about our purpose for being in Thailand. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and I was impressed by the dedication of the staff (there are only 3) and the happiness of the children. The leaders relayed their desire for people to come work with the students and it was tempting to accept their offer right then and there. What a service these people are doing by providing a Christ-exalting home where the students can be loved even though they are away from family and at the same time grow in their faith.

Mae Long Thai

On the 3rd we traveled to a region called Mae Long Thai (also Karen villages) which is ITDP's new area for development. It is being funded by the Christian Credit Union in California and will be modeled after the work which has been done in Ma Oh Jo (water, school, clinic, outreach, etc.). I can honestly say that this journey was one of the most important times in my Christian walk and I am unsure how to properly express the needs I saw there, yet at the same time the the glimpses of the future glories we will enjoy in Heaven...

Adventure
(Mae Long Thai Village)

Mae Long Thai is quite literally in the middle of nowhere. It is about a 5 hour drive from Chiang Mai on normal roads, and another 3-4 hours on a small, mostly dirt road. We had to drive across bridges made of logs and sticks and even drive through the river as well as smaller streams. We saw what we think was King Cobra crossing the road, heard an elephant shriek like it was out of a Jurassic Park movie, found out there are tigers in the region, and met two people who had extremely swollen arms because they had been bitten by poisonous green vipers. Beyond that we enjoyed eating items like monitor lizard, wild boar, and mountain rice. The villages are all located next to a river that flows through the mountains and all around there are steep jungle covered peaks and cliffs which made for some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen in Thailand.

Work

We went to the village with only one ITDP missionary, named Pi Yut (he is Karen). He is managing the new project and we were all more than a little impressed with his vision and ability to organize. He is currently trying to gather all the information needed for the website, future school, etc. We aided him in this by traveling to some of the villages to take profile pictures as well as fill out demographic studies on the families. This was a great opportunity to meet the villagers and for them to see our intentions are good as there are very few foreigners that go to the region.
Another part of the work that was done while we were in Mae Long Thai was meeting with all of the village leaders (there are four villages) to discuss the work and continue to explain the coming projects, answer questions, foster good relationships, and make sure they are on board with everything that will be happening. This is not as easy as it sounds since most of them had no formal education and were being exposed to entirely new concepts and ideas. However, Pi Yut did a wonderful job conducting these meetings and I learned so much about how he interacted with the people and allowed them to process through everything, yet at the same time guide them in their understanding.

Hardship

These are the poorest people I have ever met. When we were filling out the surveys I would sit in their small huts and learn facts about their lives: Most of them made less than $30 per year per family...many of them made $0 per year and lived entirely off of the land. Almost all had several children who had died and the lack of sanitation in the villages was more than apparent as many of the people had some sort cold, fever, illness, etc.
I believe that every person I surveyed only spoke Karen and was illiterate. Even if a person can actually make it to a hospital in the city (remember the 60 KM trek along/through the river and how much money they make every year?) they are often discriminated against because they are from the Hill-tribes and receive poor medical treatment.


Religion
Most of the people are Buddhist/Animist in the region. However, the greatest surprise of my journey was to discover a thriving church (about 60 people attend the church) in a village called Kotah. We had the privilege of sleeping in the Pastor's hut during our stay there. The Christians in the region showed us a kindness and honor that was far beyond what we had ever earned or deserved and really left an impression on my soul. They had me give the Sunday morning message in which I spoke from Psalm 73. It was a great opportunity to encourage them to continue to pursue Christ and tell them stories of faithful people who had been through extreme hardships like my good friend Pastor William from Burma (now Pastoring a church in the US after coming here as a refugee). They also gave us Karen shirts and presented us with Karen bags during the service which their women's group had made.
At 3pm there was another service for the youth (though adults came as well) and my friends and I gave short testimonies and allowed the villagers to ask questions. After that service we walked over to another hut for singing and prayer. During the week there was also another Bible study.

The Church looks like a big wooden hut and the people sit on the floor throughout the service. There are a few different Pastors, none of which have any formal Bible education that I know of. The people tithe both money and rice and donate it to the church to give to those in need. They also sell some of the bags when enough rice is collected in order to assist people financially. They pray constantly and have a real desire to serve Christ and see others come to know Him. Singing songs like "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed" with them is something that I will cherish for years to come.

(Pastor Soy Jo and his daughter, sharing the word and praying with some of the leaders about the project)
The believers there are desperate to learn more. They know that there understanding is limited and that they need to continue to search the depths of God and His word...they just have no access to more education...yet. Some of the younger people are going to informal Bible Schools to learn more since the adults are too old...but they are also praying for outside teachers. I was amazed by their humility and willingness to ask for help in teaching and it showed the sincerity of their desire to grow in grace and truth.

Conclusion
(Passage Pastor Soy Jo spoke on in our hut our last night)

I will be back to Mae Long Thai one day, Lord willing. I saw too much there to ignore and I am excited about what God is already doing there. I already know that I have failed pitifully to relay the height and depth of what I experienced. One day I pray that I will be able to talk to every person reading this blog face-to-face about my time in Thailand. But if there is one thing I can leave you with it is this: There is a group of believers in the middle of nowhere that is praying for us right now. Praying that God would bless our church and families, and wondering if we will do the same. There are so many ways we can help these people and if you want to more know, please just ask.
(Pastor's daughter)
I am so thankful to God, and to you all for your support this summer, not only financially, but in your prayers. What a privilege we have to participate in God's global mission. From the bottom of my heart, and the Karen in Thailand, "Thank you, and God bless you."

-Dan

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Village

I am back in Chiang Mai and I had an amazing one day trip (which I will write about later) in which I was blessed beyond measure. I feel like God has broken me down in so many areas but has really used the last month to build my faith and strengthen my sense of His love for me giving me a desire to see the rest of the world know this love.

I know many of you are anxious to hear how the team did in the village and what the projects look like so here is a summary that is sure to fall short of relaying the depth of God's goodness this past month:

Water Project
The first few days of our stay were spent working on the new water source for the school and medical clinic. As the school grows and the agriculture projects expand so does the demand for water. Thus, we had to pipe in a new water supply. The source we used was at least a few miles from the school which meant we had to trench and carry/lay pipe the same distance. We had to clear a path straight through the thick of the jungle and climb/balance on the side of the mountains while we worked. The distance was too far to walk home for lunch so we would have a "picnic" in the jungle with the villagers...good times. A large number of villagers turned out to help us which was more than helpful. Many of them were not Christians and it afforded the team a great opportunity to build relationships.
After a few days the pipe was laid and the tanks had more than enough water. In fact, there will be so much water that a cement fish pond was constructed as well as a reservoir for the agriculture projects. This part of the trip was by far the most difficult but God provided strength and really helped bring the team together through it. I was able to learn a lot about the building of a water system and was grateful for the experience I gained.


School Eating Area
The school is now providing an education for grades k-4 at the villagers' request. In fact, they have asked Mike and ITDP to continue to add a grade each year. This means that the school will need to be expanded. One need was a place for the students to eat lunch that would keep them out of the rain, so an outdoor cafeteria is being constructed to accommodate them all. This area will also serve as classroom space.

The building is innovative and designed specifically for the region: The roof is made out of a lightweight steal and foam composite that reflects heat and is quieter in the rain than other roofing materials. Beyond that there is a kitchen with outdoor sinks for cleanup, and the entire building is without floor-to-ceiling walls which will help keep it cool and easy to maintain.
When we started work most of the foundation was complete. The majority of our job consisted of trenching a deep gutter system around the school, grading back the hillsides and transferring the dirt into the building in order to level it out before the final slab is poured...I feel like we are dirt experts now and my hand is permanently in the shape of a hoe handle.

Part of pouring cement is gathering the sand and rock for the mix...all of this has to be done by hand in the river. Mike sent me with a group of twenty villagers one day to help keep things in order and it was one of the more memorable times in the village for me. I knew most of them from my previous trips and we had a great time working and fellowshipping together. They are such hard workers and really challenge my work ethic...I need that. We ate lunch in the jungle, snacked on berries and leaves, and drank water from a fresh water spring...what an adventure. God answered small prayers throughout the day and reminded me of the value of praying without ceasing...which I so rarely do.

Medical Clinic

No work was done on the medical clinic building on this trip. It is complete and simply needs furniture/supplies (which will be brought up after the rainy season) and landscaping on the outside of the building. The grand opening will be sometime in October we hope.
The clinic and the school now have electricity (and a phone line) which is sourced by a hydroelectric generator that has been installed on a waterfall near the village. I got to spend a little time working on it and was impressed by the entire system and the ingenuity behind it.

Outreach
This trip gave us some great opportunities to personally share the Gospel with both students and parents:

The girls taught Bible lessons through translators at the school and did projects that coincided with the theme. The students were overall very attentive and seemed to remember the stories that were taught.

On Sundays students were asked to give their testimonies in church in order to encourage the believers and perhaps witness to non-believers. This went well and we had the opportunity to hear Apichat (the Karen evangelist that was hired last year) preach. He did an excellent job and seems to be becoming more and more comfortable in the Ma Oh Jo region.
(Apichat and family)

Perhaps the greatest opportunity to share the gospel came on the opening day of school (Thai semesters have a different schedule than US schools). It was a big event and parents from all over the region came out for it. The team did a drama that displayed Christ taking our sins and dying on the cross, and I was asked to introduce and conclude the skit. I was able to spend time explaining God, creation, and the gospel. The Scripture reference I used was Isaiah 53:4-7. Many of the people there were non-believers so please continue to pray for them. Praise God for the power of His gospel.

"Remember us"...
There are so many special moments I want to share with you all but cannot...I would explain in detail the conversations I had with the various villagers, missionaries, and team members. I would try to describe to you the depth of sadness that was in the team members' and the villagers' hearts as we left the village the final day. I would tell you about the numerous prayers that were answered so specifically or how the gospel is spreading in the region...but I have time for only one important story here:

The last night in the village I went to Jo La's house to deliver a Child Sponsorship gift from a family in my church. Jo La has a wife and four small children and they are a strong Christian family in Ma Oh Jo village. We all sat in a circle on the floor and I presented them with the gift, telling them that the American family hopes they are doing well and prays for them. The children were excited and so were the parents.
(Jo La and children)

The mom began to thank me on behalf of their family and explained to me that they had been unable to buy new clothes for the kids because they were short on money. In fact, they wanted to send a hand-sewn bag back to the sponsors but could not even afford that. One of their sons had to be taken to a clinic far away because he became very ill ( he is fine now) and it cost them roughly $60...the average income for the region was around $75 when the demographic studies were done...

When she said this I began to realize that I had seen the kids wearing the same outfits most of my time in the village. Beyond that the hut they live in is small, empty, and dark, and smelled like urine. They were worse off than I had thought before we spoke. She told me that they would have liked to have team members stay in their hut, but they are embarrassed to because their hut is small and not very comfortable.

In all of our discussion I did not sense one complaint or plea for help...it was just the opposite. They were thankful. Most of what they said was praise to God for sending ITDP and the teams that built the water systems, the school, the medical clinic, etc. They explained that their lives had improved because of these things and they rejoiced over this. She told me that they pray for us always and never forget us...she and her husband both kept requesting one thing though...that we not forget them. I assured them that God would not allow that in my life, that they were too important to me to forget...I pray that continues to be true.

My point in writing this story is not to make anyone feel bad for this poor family in Thailand or to get you to send money to the mission. If anything I want to thank you all for your support on behalf of the villagers in Thailand. Their lives have dramatically changed for good both physically and spiritually and this I have seen with my own eyes. To be sure though, it will be difficult for me to return home to America and complain to a waiter at a restaurant that my chicken is overdone when I think about that night in Jo La's hut...but the most important thing I think is that we fervently pray for believers (and unbelievers!) like Jo La all over the world in need. After all, he and his family are praying for us...
(Jo La's son)

"Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me."
-Matthew 25:34-40

Monday, May 31, 2010

We are back!


Greetings friends,

This will be extremely short as I am about to leave Chiang Mai for the night and head to a town about 3 hours away. We will be going to a hostel for Lahu children run by ITDP. This will be a great opportunity to see how to run a home for children and guide me personally as I am very interested in orphanage work.

As far as the trip to the village goes...it was wonderful! God answered so many prayer requests and we were able to get the water project completed, a fish pond built, work on the new eating area, provide VBS for the children, and clearly present the gospel on the opening day of school. Thank you all for your prayers and I will be posting more pictures and a full report sometime tomorrow night. God bless you all!

Dan
(new eating area and fish pond pictured above)






















Greetings friends,

This will be extremely short as I am about to leave Chiang Mai for the night and head to a town about 3 hours away. We will be going to a hostel for Lahu children run by ITDP. This will be a great opportunity to see how to run a home for children and guide me personally as I am very interested in orphanage work.

As far as the trip to the village goes...it was wonderful! God answered so many prayer requests and we were able to get the water project completed, a fish pond built, work on the new eating area, provide VBS for the children, and clearly present the gospel on the opening day of school. Thank you all for your prayers and I will be posting more pictures and a full report sometime tomorrow night. God bless you all!

Dan

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off to the Village!



Greetings all,

This will be a quick post as we are preparing to head out to the village...

The team just arrived and is looking healthy and anxious to start working. In two hours we will head out and make it to a half way point where will stay the night. The following morning we will travel the final stretch to the village and arrive around noon, giving the team time to settle in and get organized.

The work for this trip will include digging a trench for the pipe/laying and gluing pipe from the water source to the water tank, working on the dining area for the school, VBS, light medical care, and hopefully some team outreaches.

The roads are looking good as there is no rain...the downside is the heat...the good side is everyone should get really tan...so that's two goods for one bad!

Thank you all for your prayers. I will update this blog in about two weeks...we will be in the jungle until the 29th or so. God bless!

In Christ,
Dan

Friday, May 7, 2010

I just returned from the village last night and can’t sleep right now, so I thought I would give you all an update:

We left Chiang Mai around 8 am and travelled allllll day until we arrived at the village around 8 pm. It was so wonderful to see everyone again and they all seemed to be in good health and spirits. I had the opportunity to see the medical clinic which is finished and just waiting for furniture to be put in. It looks wonderful and is much nicer than any building I’ve ever seen in the jungle!

I was so tired from the day of travel, as well as the time change, that I fell asleep without dinner. I woke up early the next morning feeling refreshed and ready for a day of work…and it was a good thing because it was one of the most laborious work days I have ever experienced.

We had to carry all of the pipe to the water source and lay it out along the trail…only problem was that it’s a 5 kilometer hike through the jungle and over a couple of mountains in the ridiculous heat. There has not been a lot of rain which has kept it extremely hot.

The rest of the day was spent gluing and pounding the pipe together. We were to far from the village to walk back for lunch, so we brought some bags of rice and pork, and canned fish. We all sat on the ground and ate together which was a lot of fun. Me being a rather large American, I drank all of my water by lunch time, so the missionaries found a fresh water source in the jungle that they said was clean…so far so good!

We finished our work mid-afternoon and started the trek home. That evening I had the opportunity to fellowship with some of the villagers, and an 18 year old villager named Wan Jon translated for me. It was such a blessing.



The next morning we started our trek back to the city. The roads were still in good shape and we made it back by 4pm.

This week I will be working around the ITDP Office helping however I can, as well as trying to learn more about the water systems. I am thinking about going to stay and hotel/hostel where I know a lot of English speaking foreigners go through…I figure it might bring some evangelism opportunities, please pray for that.

God has already taught me so much since I have been here: I was talking to one of the ITDP missionaries named Koh Win. He is an engineer, and has been on staff for almost a year. He was explaining to me how he gets lonely out in the village sometimes…even though he loves it. He told me that a lot of people discourage him from working with the hill tribes because he has a degree, and could be making a lot more money. But in the end, he knows that this is God’s work and that is what matters most. He is even considering going to seminary so that he can better teach the villagers about the gospel. I am thankful for unknown servants like Koh Win…please keep them in prayer.

Because of what Christ has done, is doing, and will do,

Dan

Look below and you will see a video link!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

..............Thailand May 6th, 2010.............

It is 4:34 AM right now as I type, I am wide awake, it's humid outside, and I can hear lizards running around all over the place...I most certainly am in Thailand!

I arrived in Chiang Mai around 2pm on the 4th (Thai time) and was taken straight to the ITDP (Integrated Tribal Development Program) office. I decided to just sleep here tonight because I am leaving in the morning to head to Ma Oh Jo Village. This was a surprise (a good one!) and meant I would need to finish some homework (Seminary finals are this week for me) before I left in the morning...so I have been up most of the night working on that.















Here is what my schedule is looking like:

In a few hours I will head out with the indigenous missionaries to drive to the village. No rain is expected today so the dirt roads should be passable. While in the village, we will be working on the new water source which will feed into the already existing storage tank, and fixing the waterfall generator which powers the Medical Clinic and School. Hopefully, I will be able to see the new underground water source they found, and learn as much as I can about the surveying process. Beyond that, the villagers will have started trenching the 4 kilometer distance from the source to the filtration tank, so I may help with that. We will come back on Friday, pick up some supplies, and then go back for a few more days. After that, the team from San Diego comes and I will be with them in Ma Oh Jo for 14 more days.










(Some of the ITDP Trucks )
I am feeling healthy and in good spirits right now. I am beyond excited to get out of the city and spend some time driving with the missionaries, and ultimately see my friends in the village. It has been a year since I last saw them all, and I am so grateful that God is allowing me to serve in this place once again. Do pray that God will work in the hearts of the unbelievers through the indigenous missionaries, and that I can be a demonstration of Christ's love in all that I do and say. Thank you all for your prayers and support!

In Christ,
Dan Lamm

Prayer Requests:

1) For the souls of the villagers
2) For the remaining $3,000 to come in, in order to fund the new water system
3) For traveling mercies
4) That we would be living examples of a people saved by the grace of God in Christ