Catching Up from Thailand!
I told the students here that the English always talk about the weather first, so let me begin by saying that the weather here in Northern Thailand has been “just lovely”. Sunny, bright, warm (not too hot), simply perfect.
This first week we have been assisting on a training programme called The Barefoot Doctors. These workers come from various parts of Myanmar (Burma) to receive training that will support them in their ministries in isolated communities there. Medical skills are part of this training, but there is a strong spiritual emphasis, too. So Simon has been teaching Mark’s gospel, Ian is giving an overview of the Bible, while a third pastor, Rich Peterson from Denver, is talking about servant leadership. We feel it is a tremendous privilege to be able to give some input into their lives and ministries – and we are enjoying their singing, too!
These students are a group of people who are deeply committed to the Lord, many coming from difficult situations and it is a privilege to be involved with them in their training. One man told about being caught up in a firefight between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels after a landmine hidden in the road in front of his house exploded under an army patrol. Another woman talked of walking two weeks from northern Burma, then travelling through part of China on a rather perilous motorbike journey, to get to the training. We need to pray for the Lord’s protection over them at all times.
A trip to the back of beyond
For our second week we travelled to a Karen village in the mountains in the north-west corner of Thailand, not far from the Myanmar border. The Karen have experienced persecution at times in Myanmar, so some came across the border decades ago to live in relative isolation in the mountains of Thailand. They are a predominantly Christian tribe, but have little experience of strong Bible teaching, so one of PTI’s aims has been to encourage pastors and preachers. The journey to get there was a five hour drive from Chiang Mai, the last 17km of which took about an hour because the road was so rough and steep at times. As we were being thrown around in the back of the car it occurred to me that people pay good money for off-road driving experiences, and here we were getting it for free! What it demonstrated, however, was just how isolated the village – going by the name of Teemuley – actually was. It is still without electricity, although some have solar panels and batteries, and mains electricity is due to arrive next month! So it was cold showers only!
Pastors’ conference at Teemuley
We had to condense everything into three days, but we still managed the same subjects as last week (abbreviated versions of preaching through Mark and an overview of the Bible), as well as a couple of sessions on ‘What is a Christian?’ and extra time for questions. These questions revealed that there is still a danger of people being attracted by the prosperity gospel, and also showed that they do not read an entire passage of the Bible when thinking about difficult questions. They need help to learn to read more than isolated verses and hear what God is saying from the wider context. There were about 50 pastors present – some retired – and probably 40 women also. It was hard to gauge what role many took in their churches because it is quite likely that some folk from the village turned up, too. Those who had travelled from other villages were being put up in the village by church members, while there was a team of church folk providing food for the visitors each day (in a very basic outdoor “kitchen”).