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:
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.
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.
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.
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."