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:
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...
(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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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."