A little sleep does indeed work wonders. As the familiar hymn says, sleep makes me more vigorous in my service to God when I awake!
I continue now with my entry of October 15.
Outside of the Bangkok airport, now well after 1:00 a.m., we were greeted by Banchong Chompoowong, Vice Moderator of the Church of Christ in Thailand, our partner church. Banchong was cheerful, upbeat and energetic, even though he, by now, had been waiting for us for over an hour. We quickly learned on our ride into town several things.
Banchong is extremely grateful to his friend and mentor, Bill Yoder, a longtime PC(USA) mission worker in Thailand. Banchong is one of a few dozen students that Bill mentored, encouraged, and supported throughout his education from high school through university at Kent State through a PhD program at Vanderbilt University. Banchong continues to value Bill's friendship and encouragement as Banchong has found his calling working in the church. (Several people in the course of the day spoke with reverence and appreciation for Bill Yoder and his generosity, especially to Thai students, whom he has mentored and supported.)
Banchong is a man of great faith. He loves the church and is also grateful for the Presbyterian Church (USA) - "our mother church," he calls it. He and Chris share boy scouting - Banchong is an Elephant Scout and Chris an Eagle, the U.S. equivalent - a lifelong honor and instant source of camaraderie. And he and his wife - like Chris and me - are in our 24th year of marriage; their anniversary was today. (We covered a lot of ground at 1:30 a.m.!)
The King - the beloved King - is in the hospital, and so Banchong would join us later in the morning, after going to the hospital - as thousands of people from all over the city and the country would do - to sign one of the many books of honor, memory, well wishes and prayer. The King is beloved for his love of his people, his humor and warmth, and programs on behalf of the poor.
And yes, the King's color is yellow, and we would expect to see many people in yellow once the sun came up.
After a few hours of sleep in the guest house of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), we met Carol Fujii, PC(USA) mission co-worker, at breakfast. Her husband, Leith, was in Chiang Mai at a youth camp, returning tonight as we flew overhead on our way there.
Carol greeted us with a Chicago connection, saying that before they came to Thailand 9 years ago, they attended the Church of Christ in Chicago, a congregation that had its origins during World War II, when the pastor of Fourth Church at that time boldly and prophetically welcomed in Japanese worshipers.
Carol described some of the work and ministry that she and Leith are engaged in, largely through Bangkok Institute of Theology. She also spoke of a ministry with "bar girls" [see a related article by Jerry Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service], reaching out, inviting them in for Bible study, giving them training in handicrafts and alternative, healthy means to earning a living, and sharing Christ's love with them.
Starting in the breakfast room and the lobby of the guest house, we began noticing yellow shirts. As promised, Banchong met us after stopping to pay respects at the hospital where the King is.
We stopped briefly at the campus of Bangkok Christian College, actually an elementary through high school started by Presbyterians in 1852. The student body is now 5,000 boys ("very tricky, all those boys!" said Banchong), and continues our traditions of education and Christian witness now in the midst of a modern, high-rise neighborhood. Wattana Wittaya Academy was also started long ago by Presbyterians and continues as a girls' school today.
Arriving at the impressive, new multistory offices of the Church of Christ in Thailand, we gathered in a meeting room with the Moderator, the Rev. Virat Koydul, and a host of other leaders of schools, hospitals, and congregations in the CCT. Koydul also serves as the chief executive, and began his 4-year term in January. He began by referring to the Presbyterian Church (USA) as our "parent church, and we are your children." When it was my turn, I said if we are your parents, we are proud parents, although we consider ourselves your sisters and brothers.
The CCT is growing. It has vibrant ministries in health and education. The Moderator's experience is in church growth and evangelism, and he cites as a focus church planting and expansion. "God has blessed us, we are growing and bearing fruit," he said. Like in the United States, one challenge is churches that cannot afford full time pastors; as a result, in many places elders are playing even more significant leadership roles.
We watched a fascinating and informative DVD tracing the history of the church in Thailand, whose roots are in Presbyterian and other denominations' mission work. The church has withstood wars, political oppression by local leaders (but religious tolerance by kings), societal pressure and the expulsion of missionaries during World War II, and emerged after the war with confidence to conduct work with Thai oversight, now as full partners.
After hearing from our brothers and sisters of their desire for more partnerships with us, Insik, my PC(USA) colleague, mentioned many of the connections that the PC(USA) does enjoy with the CCT, including Thai students who recently attended the Youth Triennium, women who attended the Presbyterian Women's Gathering last summer, and the fairly new Thai Mission Network. Even so, the call for greater connection was heard by us.
That call was repeated at lunch, when in the midst of our conversation, one of the church leaders asked, "How can we get more people like Carol and Leith to come to Thailand?" "It doesn't surprise me that you would ask that, but tell me, what is it that they do that is so valuable," I asked. "They are great teachers. They are helpful everywhere, in church, in school. They help organize, teach English and just fit right in. We missed them when they were back in the United States last year, and we prayed for their return," was his effusive reply.
I sat next to Dr. Janjira Wongkomthong, President of Christian University of Thailand. A nursing professor who lived in the United States while studying and working before returning to Thailand, she expressed eagerness to connect the Association of Christian Colleges and Universities in Asia with our U.S. colleges and universities. Yet another expression of the hunger for greater connections with us, as we strive together to witness to the one body which is the Church and to the unity of God's people.
We had a wonderful and lively conversation over courses of Thai food, then Banchong was eager to move us along for what turned out to be a fascinating tour of the splendorous, embellished Royal Palace.
At the airport, we had time for a light supper and more conversation with Banchong and Carol about serious issues that we face in the Church today. That dialogue was interspersed with a good bit of joking and teasing.
18 hours in Bangkok, and we felt like we had good friends.