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Thursday, September 3, 2015

What's Happening in Southeast Asia?

Back to School

It’s that time of year again. I can almost smell the newly sharpened pencils and see the kids sporting their ridiculously crammed backpacks. Or, in my case, the kids walking or riding their bicycles while sporting their school’s required hairstyle and carrying baskets (lunchboxes) full of sticky rice and grilled pork. The new term at the vocational training school has commenced again and I’m happy to reconnect with old students and get to know many new students. I have two very full classes filled with doctors, bankers, farmers, social workers, and college and high-school students ready to learn.

In the past couple of weeks I have been told by several students how grateful they are that they have this educational opportunity available to them in this seemingly insignificant place. Before this school was established there were very few learning opportunities available to the people living in this more remote province. They would have to travel to the capital or to another province to receive any further language or computer skills training which is too costly for most families in this area. Now they have a chance, right here at home, to improve their skills and provide better schooling and job opportunities for themselves and their families. As I was dodging the water buffaloes and chickens on my way to school today (I love this place!), I was thanking the Father that He has made a way to meet the needs of these people and most importantly for His light to shine in this community. No place is insignificant to our Father!

Some of my students in front of the school

One of my youth classes - I love these kids!

Playing games

Sweet Lasay

Vinai and Back

I made cookies for Kobee's birthday

My awesome adult class

Playing games at a school-wide party

Learning a new card game

April and I made the Corn Toss game and the students loved it 

They didn't want to stop playing

Certificate ceremony
Finishing a great term

My adult class this term

My youth class this term

My students surprised me with a cake on my birthday

Youth class selfie :)

Adult class selfie :)

An Unexpected Tragedy

A week before the new school term began I was contacted by one of my students with some devastating news. One of the young girls from my teen class was in a military helicopter accident. Military aircraft will often carry civilians. Due to bad weather, help was unable to reach the crash site. The next few days were filled with unofficial news about the state of the crash and the people involved. It is extremely difficult to get any reliable news in this country. During this time I talked with many of my students who were struggling with the uncertainty of their classmate’s survival.

Eventually we received word that they recovered the bodies from the crash site and all 23 people were confirmed dead. My student’s name was Liza. She was only 15 years old and was traveling with her mother and cousin back home to this province. I’ve been very sad and am still processing this heartbreak. I was very close to Liza. She was such a happy and caring young girl. I miss her. She was so young and, to my knowledge, did not yet know the Father. This is just another reminder of why I’m here doing what I’m doing. Please be asking the Father to give me His comfort and wisdom in talking with my other students. They are all very sad. She was well liked by everyone and such a joy to all. I want His Spirit to speak through me as I communicate with and love these precious young lives. I ask that His good will come from this tragedy and that His concern and love will be seen and felt.

Liza with her cupcake I made for her birthday

Liza is on the far left with her prize for finishing with the highest score in the class


Along with the rainstorms, this summer brought many visitors! The day after our final class of the spring term, April and I began our journey to Bangkok to welcome April’s parents. They spent almost three weeks with us. It was so special showing them our home and community. Her dad did several projects around our house and yard and her mom helped with our garden and made us some delicious home-cooked meals. They were such a huge blessing to us! We enjoyed our time together very much!

Soon after we said goodbye to April’s parents, we said hello to my brother Christian and April’s cousin Lindsey. It was so good to catch up with Christian and hear how his first year of university went. We had fun introducing them to our friends and traveling around the country a bit.  I’m glad Christian was able to share in my life here for a brief moment. It was sad to see them go but I am thankful we had such a special time together.

A couple of weeks ago our dear friends, Susan and Micah also came to see us. They were such an encouragement. The Father has put amazing people in our lives to spur us on and remind us of His purposes. I’m very grateful for Susan and Micah and their friendship! I’m blessed so many people were able to make their way over to this side of the world. It’s really special to share in the presence of family (both earthly and spiritual)!

April's mom and dad with us above our city
Visiting friends in Bangkok

Dinner with our language helper and her family at their home
Welcoming Christian and Lindsey!

Sitting next to a secret tunnel used during the war at the top of 1,000 step climb
Visiting the Plain of Jars
Exploring a cave in our province

Visiting our local market - pigs for sale

A vegetarian's paradise :)

Visiting a town north of us

Longboat ride to the cave of four thousand Buddhas
I think there are more than four thousand now

Of course, a trip to Southeast Asia wouldn't be complete without an elephant ride

Bathing the elephants in the river

Elephant surfing? What!?

Sweet Mae San

Taking a boat ride to see the baby elephants

Visiting the beautiful Kuang Si waterfall

Road trip back to the capital - we were so high on the mountains that we drove through the clouds
Amazing views!

Even the young monks like to visit the tourist attractions

Sand Castle Festival on the banks of the river - hanging with one of our students who was in the capital this summer
Dying scarves with natural dyes

Flying back to Bangkok to say farewell
Asian luggage - I love it!

We took Christian and Lindsey to visit our friends at our fellowship in Bangkok

I miss these girls!

It was encouraging seeing our old friends and sharing in the Word - Christian even played the piano for service

One of our many subway rides

We took Micah and Susan to one of our favorite lookouts - the Father surprised us with a beautiful double rainbow

The weather was absolutely perfect that evening
Sometimes I forget how beautiful this place truly is
So thankful for these two!


Life and Language

Daily life has been a little different here than in T-land. My electricity goes out quite regularly, our well dried up during the dry season so we were without water, and the Internet connection is unstable and often goes out without warning (last time it was out for a week). I am much more isolated in this location so getting what I consider to be “staples” can be challenging. These are just a few things apart from language and cultural issues that I’ve had to adjust to over the last year. This has really allowed me to experience the Father’s faithfulness in a whole new way. Our Father is incredibly gracious!  I’ve been learning, more slowly than I’d like, what it means to trust Him in this season of my life. He supplies all that I need, even if I often think I “need” more than I do.

I’m still working hard at learning this language. Language is such an intrinsic part of our lives as human beings. And human language is unique in being a symbolic communication system that is learned instead of biologically inherited. I was watching a mother speak with her child the other day and along with her basic spoken vocabulary she was using hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. I thought to myself, “I am that child!” Not only do I often look like that mother when I’m speaking (to adults!) but people have to act like that mother when speaking to me. This stage of language learning is often frustrating but at the same time remarkable. A year ago I could not speak using full sentences but slowly, like a child, I learned how to form basic words, string them together, and use them correctly. Our brains are amazing!

The Father has provided amazing language helpers who are incredibly patient and encouraging through this process. We just started Stage Two which means we’re learning to communicate more fluently about daily life, family, work, everyday activities, etc. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to grasp for every word but when the language flows more freely. In the meantime, I keep plowing away and ask for His diligence as He teaches me more about Himself in the process.

Our awesome language helper Sing - she's a senior in high-school this year
Practicing my writing
Studying with our language helper Champa. She is likeminded and refers to us as her daughters. So thankful for her!

Learning vocabulary about rice planting and harvesting - very much a part of daily life here
Rice planting time around our home

People that work in town will go to their family's farm on the weekend to help with the planting

It's amazing how quickly they can plant a field

Visiting our language helper's home and farm

They raise pigs, and they have a lot!

When we walked by this pig popped up to say hello

Isn't he cute?

Last term I taught a beginning Taekwon-do class in my home

They did great and it was a lot of fun

Our garden full of corn - it felt like home :)

Weddings, weddings, weddings! I've been to six weddings this past year.

The colors of this wedding were bright pink, red, and orange.

Some pics from around town

Village gas station

Future Opportunity 

Over the last year my co-worker April and I have been pursuing an opportunity to move up north with two of our other co-workers. The northernmost province is home to many minority ethnic groups and is currently one of the least reached places in this country. Presently, there are no other westerners living in the main town and job opportunities for foreigners are extremely limited. The only way for us to be able to get a visa and live in this area would be to start a business and get that approved by the local authorities, but we had no idea what business would be both acceptable to them and also viable long term.

Our co-workers made several trips to this province to talk with local business people and meet with different government departments.  During one of these visits we were invited to lease and operate a hotel. The hotel owner will arrange work visas and residence permits for us and our two co-workers.  This hotel is in the provincial capital, which has a population of about 10,000 people. Villages of different minority ethnic groups surround the town, each with their own language. The town itself has a mixture of people who speak the national language, various ethnic languages, and Chinese. So we will be well positioned to build relationships among those different people groups and get a good foothold in that community and region.
The government would like to see tourism grow in this region and having a decent place for tourists to stay is a significant part in seeing this happen. Tourists mainly come for trekking, as the area is very rugged and mountainous as well as to see the villages of the local ethnic groups. There is also a 400 year-old tea plantation located just outside the town that attracts visitors. The hotel needs significant refurbishing to bring it to a standard that is comfortable for western tourists but we are excited about the challenge and opportunity that lies before us. We would love for you to be a part of this as well. I’ll share more information in the months ahead on ways you can be involved. 
We just finished the final stages of contract revisions and the contract is officially signed! After living in this country for the past year we realize that nothing is a sure thing until those visas stickers are in our passports. We appreciate your continued thoughts that the remainder of the paperwork and approvals go smoothly. If all goes as planned we should be living and working in our desired location this time next year. April and I have one more year on contract at the vocational school and will be finishing up at the end of next May. Then we will be free to move up north and begin investing in that community. As far as we know, there are no likeminded people in the town and very few in the entire province. Please be talking with the Father about the many people who need Him in that region.

The road up to the town

View from the hotel rooftop

Another view from the roof
The cobblestone streets in the older part of the town

The local market