In the Middle of Mae Sot
I received a phone call in the middle of September from Kelly, our Foursquare supervising missionary from Bangkok. In his typically subtle way, he asked me "So, are you guys interested in taking a little break?" Knowing that there was a much larger backstory to this question, I asked Kelly what he meant and he shared the following story: The Gilberts, Foursquare missionaries to Mae Sot, have been in America since August visiting churches and fundraising. Mason and Virgene Hughes were overseeing the ministry, but Mason had some health problems that required them to return to America. Now there was a home, two dogs, and some ministry activities that needed some bodies to fill in for about a month.
I began telling Kelly all the reasons we couldn't make it, going down my list of activities and opportunities that would make it impossible for us to be away for that long. However, every word I spoke felt like it was more and more incorrect. Soon I found myself stopping mid-excuse and saying to Kelly, "You know what, let me talk to Lori and I'll call you back."
Immediately after explaining the story to Lori, she confirmed the check in my spirit, saying "We're supposed to do this."
A week later (after hosting Sarah Smith - a short-term Foursquare missionary serving for the summer at Our Home Study Center in Bangkok), we were packed up and on the road (a 7-hour drive) moving to Mae Sot.
Our time in Mae Sot has been interesting. There are many Aid organizations working in the region, including the Mae Tao clinic - an incredible medical facility we were able to visit and exchange information with that "provides medical services for Burmese migrants in Thailand and for the thousands who come from Burma each year seeking medical help". They have suggested that they might be able to partner with us by sending doctors our way to do mobile clinics along the border in the north, and might also have training options available for us and for nationals who are serving their villages as "barefoot doctors".
The Foursquare church in Thailand also has a significant presence in Mae Sot. The National Leaders of Foursquare Thailand, John & Sarah Srivichai, pastor the church here and there is also a children's home, an elementary school, a coffee shop / english school and village churches. We are especially excited to have learned that there is an Akha village about 48 kilometers (30 minutes) from town, and plan on visiting it later this month.
But, as we have found in Thailand and understand to be true in most of Asia, you just can't pick up and start ministering immediately in a new area. Relationships are slow and history is important. So, although we've been to the church, the coffee shop, the children's home - we are still strangers and visitors, not active parts of the community. We've been able to work with the ex-pat community, and Lori has taught some English classes, but for the most part we're just house-sitting, dog-sitting and sitting around.
This has been difficult, as we've been going non-stop for so long that we don't know what to do with ourselves. Lori and Esther are especially stir-crazy coping with the minutia of daily life and with the culture-shock of a new region and new food options.
However, despite the difficulties, we have found that "just being" and "physically being" here we can still be used as tools for God's Kingdom. Here are some quick examples:
Sang: Sang is a Jingpo, or Kachin, woman from Burma. Neil and Diana have helped her get paperwork to live and work in Thailand and she has been caring for their home daily as her full time job. Her husband, however, has recently been hospitalized and is very sick as he battles progressed stage-3 stomach cancer. In the last week he has been unable to eat solid foods and has been put on IV nutrition. Sang was running herself ragged trying to care for the dogs here, her husband at the hospital, and her children at home. Since we arrived she has been able to pay much more attention to her husband and family, and is only coming over here for a few hours each afternoon. Esther has also been able to really minister sympathy to her as the two of them sit and share with one another in Burmese.
Paul, Lori & Esther: we're probably doing the worst of everyone on this list, but we're trying to just be. To be with God, to be with family, to be with ourselves. We rarely get opportunities like this, and are really blessed to have them (just pray that we appreciate this time for what it is, rather than wishing we could be somewhere else!) Attending church here has been restful. Esther has been fed by great Thai worship and sermons, and we have appreciated attending a church as visitors without any additional responsibilities.
Abigail: this has been a great time for Abi and for us to focus on her. We drag her all over the globe (she flew on 33 different airplanes before she turned 2!) and she is a sweet, precious little girl. This time has been good for us as a family to set a good schedule for her naps and nighttime sleep and we have finally weaned her at night (again!). She is a two-year old with a huge personality and a very strong will, so this has also been a great time for us to set good boundaries with her and gently correct her when her will turns into a tantrum.
We're leaving Mae Sot tomorrow for about 10 days, and are planning on returning here on the 19th or 20th of October for the remainder of the month. We will be going up to Mae Salong to reconnect with our church and village this weekend. Then Paul will be going to Singapore to attend a seminar taught by Beth Barone while Lori, Esther and Abi will be attending the annual interdenominational Akha Christian Youth camp next week.
Pray for us as in our travels and as our family is separated that we would stay safe and open to what God has for us in this strange season of our lives.
Thanks for following our Journey Notes online!