What a magnificent trip this has been! Please follow this link to see our photo album in progress.
What a magnificent trip this has been! Please follow this link to see our photo album in progress.
Our last day in Korea was one of our busiest. We began at the Korean Church Centennial Memorial Building, built on the site of former mission housing, that is now home to both the PC(USA) Mission office and the Presbyterian Church of Korea General Assembly offices.
General Secretary Rev. Cho Seong-Gi greeted us as his staff gathered around a long conference table and in seats surrounding it for their morning staff meeting. Our time together began with a strong, Scriptural foundation, which Insik shared from Ephesians 4:1-6. I then added a confessional dimension by speaking of our common belief in the Nicene Creed, that we are "one holy catholic and apostolic church." That statement informs us as both the church in Korea and the church in the United States, as together we seek to make disciples, reach younger people, be faithful in mission, and maintain prophetic voices in our respective cultures.
Meeting with Rev. Cho and his senior staff, we heard him strongly emphasize that the seeds of the Presbyterian Church in Korea (PCK) were planted by missionaries from the United States 120 years ago. The PCK, which now has 2.7 million members in 7,800 congregations, also affirms a bold goal to double again by 2012. Rev. Cho helpfully suggested a consultation between their mission program leaders and ours, in order to learn from each other in areas such as evangelism, church development, Christian education, world mission and multicultural and migrant ministries. The latter is of particular importance, as Korea now has over a million migrants. He also urged that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) continue to support reunification efforts – a theme we heard many places.
Our next visit - after negotiating very heavy Seoul traffic - was the Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary, which has a fascinating and rich history. In 1901, Samuel Moffett, a Presbyterian missionary, began teaching two students at his home in Pyongyang. In 1903, the Presbyterian Council decided to start theological education. On the wall of the large conference room in which we first met hangs a picture of the McCormick Theological Seminary graduating class of 1888, with Samuel Moffett, William Baird and D. Gifford, all of whom served and made a lasting impact in Korea.
Like the mustard seed in Jesus' well-known parable, PCTS, which began as the "smallest of all," has grown large by faith, and is now a gleaming campus of multiple buildings, with 3,000 students and faculty, including 1,000 in the seminary graduate school. The 2,500- seat chapel provides students a worship space akin to where many will serve in large Korean congregations. Generations of Korean leaders of the church and other institutions were educated at PCTS. Nurturing not only scholarship, but spiritual development as well, PCTS has a Spiritual Formation Center in a woodland setting that is attended by all of the seminary students early in their studies. Committed also to ecumenical formation and participation, PCTS has sisterhood relationships with 30 other seminaries in 12 countries, including several PC(USA) seminaries.
PC(USA) support has been critical to PCTS, including in recent years, scholarships for rural students, and the Presbyterian Women Birthday Offering, which helped the creation of the new Center for World Mission. “After 100 years of receiving support, it’s our turn to share our gifts with the world,” explained President Joong-Eun Kim, PhD. The mission of the Center for World Mission is to provide masters and doctoral level education for overseas students, particularly from developing countries.
From PCTS, we drove to another modern, impressive campus, Soongsil University. Soongsil was founded by Presbyterian missionary, William Baird, a hundred years ago, and now has some 13,000 students. We met in Baird Hall and a museum on the campus displays a large banner with his picture and words. President Hyo-Gye Lee is an impressive leader with tremendous charisma, who after a warm welcome, expressed deep gratitude for the institution's founding a century ago by Presbyterians and for the continued support that they receive from the PC(USA).
Insik estimates that over 100,000 students are currently enrolled in colleges, universities and seminaries founded - and supported over the years - by Presbyterians from the U.S. Soongsil University is Insik Kim’s alma mater, and both PCTS and Soongsil University (as well as other Presbyterian educational institutions) are the alma maters of many pastors who have served or are serving congregations in the PC(USA).
The profound impact of 36 years of Japanese Occupation of Korea, followed by the Korean War, was very much in the consciousness of the Koreans whom we met. U.S. Presbyterians have been important to Korea from the turn of the 20th century, through the bleakest of times into this new era of growth and prosperity. Great is God's faithfulness, and the faithful witness of the Korean people.
Traversing the city once more, we arrived at the offices of the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea (PROK) and were greeted by Rev. Yoon Kil Soo, General Secretary. PROK is a denomination of 337,000 members in 1,600 congregations that also counts 82,000 seekers. The PROK works and advocates for the reunification of North and South Korea, peace, gender equality and the reaching out to youth; they are concerned about democratization struggles in Southeast Asia. One initiative is a peace education curriculum being developed by Northeast Asian churches. PROK, like the larger PCK, has been a partner of the PC(USA).
In my previous entry, I mentioned the remarkable Korean Presbyterian Women, who capped off our trip and our evening.
As I reflect on our whirlwind tour of 3 countries in essentially 8 days on the ground, I am awed by the evidence of God’s work in this region. A few themes emerge:
o Each of these countries has had history in the 20th century that challenged the very existence of the church and has shaped its vitality and local leadership today.
- Missionaries were expelled from Thailand during World War II, and societal pressure against Christianity caused many to abandon the church. Schools and hospitals were seized and churches closed. Worship continued in secret, and after the Japanese surrender, a new chapter began. Missionaries returned, but the war years gave the Thais confidence to lead and our relationships developed into partnerships.
- “The church stopped for a while in China, but God kept working,” said Rev. De-Ci Su of East China Theological Seminary. Churches were closed during the Cultural Revolution, and Christians, especially highly educated ones and ones with contacts with the West were severely treated. Rev. Su himself spent 27 years working in a factory. Once the churches reopened in the 1980s after the Cultural Revolution, the church has grown explosively, from an estimated 700,000 members in the 1980s to over 15 million or more today. Rev. Su, like others we spoke to, now puts the Cultural Revolution in historical perspective, as a 10-year dark period of history that is behind them now. He confirmed my sense that 15 or so years ago there was more anger and preoccupation among the Chinese about the Cultural Revolution; people we spoke with for the most part have put that behind them now and are focused instead on the needs of the church today and into the future. The Chinese are now firm about their call to lead the church; no longer is it a foreign religion. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement - self propagation, self support and self governance - expresses that. A “Resurrection Story” is how we heard it described.
- Korea as a nation has been shaped by first 37 years of Japanese Occupation that ended in 1939, and then the Korean War and separation of North and South. These events are very much in the current consciousness of the Koreans with whom we met, as they described both political events and the work of the Holy Spirit in breathing life into the nation and the church in Korea. Foreign missionaries, including especially Presbyterian missionaries, gave the church its beginnings. Faith carried many people through dark and desperate times. The church is now very much led by Koreans, and we are blessed to be partners with them.
o Leadership development is high on the priorities of the churches in each of these countries. Thailand seeks to develop lay leaders for churches that cannot afford pastors. In China, lay leaders are critical to meeting the needs of the growing church, especially in rural areas. “Heresy” is a great concern to church leaders, as house churches and movements form without trained or educated leaders, making them susceptible to charismatic, even cult-like influences. Many of the church leaders trained in the '50s are retiring or dying, and the gap created by the Cultural Revolution has left a gap in trained leaders at the same time as the church is experiencing fast growth. Korea, too, sees a need for leaders; Korean Presbyterians have led now only the fast growing church but society and institutions as well.
o Presbyterians have been founders and supporters of many of the leading educational and health institutions in these countries.
“It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” Mark 4: 31-32.
o Again and again, we heard requests and desires for greater partnership. “How can we get more missionaries like Carol and Leith Fujii?” “We need 30 more English teachers,” “We want more partnerships with your presbyteries,” we heard in Thailand. “We want Young Adult Volunteers to teach,” “Pray for us,” “We want Americans to know that the Bible is spreading in China,” “We value our mutual exchanges and understanding” our partners said in China. The Korean General Assembly and leaders have suggested that we establish communication to learn from each other in ministries such as world mission, Christian education and services; and they ask for our prayers and solidarity for reconciliation and peace on the Korean peninsula.
Truly in these amazing days here my eyes have been newly opened to the great breadth of our church and its international witness. Praise be to God who makes all things new! Praise be to God who is still at work in the world!
At the end of the day on Friday, after meeting Bishop K. H. Ting, we visited the Amity Foundation, of which he is Honorary Chairperson. Amity Foundation is a Christian ministry of compassion, promoting education, social services, health and rural development throughout China. Amity's work is extensive - in scope, scale and geography. In receiving a recent award, it was cited for its "clear aims, pioneering spirit, high-quality corporate governance, professionalism, good reputation and the strong impact of its work." That this is an accurate description is evident from the articulate, dedicated staff. We heard how they have trained over 16,000 "barefoot doctors" - doctors who work in rural areas; how their special education of blind pre-schoolers resulted not only in young, blind children being able to participate in school in critical developmental years, but also elicited compassion from their classmates, who learned to guide, assist, and play with their peers. Amity works with experts around the world on blindness prevention, special education and programs for the disabled, that have become models adopted in public education. HIV/AIDS is a growing concern in China, as it is in so many parts of the world; and Amity is bringing awareness, care and support of people living with HIV/AIDS - and orphaned by it - to places of greatest risk. English education, microfinance, church-run community development, volunteer service, inter-cultural learning and social exposure, clean water, environmental protection and more - they are modeling Christian compassion and service to people of all faiths and no faith under the leadership of Qui Zhonghui. Helen Zhao, Deputy Director for the Integrated Development Division, was a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) peacemaker recently. (To read more, see the link at left.)
On Saturday morning, we traveled to Seoul, our third time passing through in the airport. This time, we got out. We were met by Simon Park and Haejung Shin Park, both PC(USA) mission workers. The Parks first served in the Congo, worked in the United States, and are now based in Korea. Haejung is a chaplain at Hannam University, and Simon works in many parts of Asia and the world, including some important current projects for us in the United States and Pakistan. They now live on the campus of Hannam University, in the Talmadge house, named after the first Presbyterian missionaries who resided there. Grateful for the accommodations provided to them, they in turn open their home to visiting pastors and scholars, serving as "innkeepers" (an image drawn from the innkeeper in the story of the Good Samaritan).
We were hosted for dinner by Lee Sang Yoon, President of Hannam University and Choe Young-Keun, Vice President. Hannam University was started 50 years ago by Presbyterians, beginning with a student body of a couple of hundred. Today, 13,000 students study in numerous departments as undergraduates and graduate students. Avowedly a Christian school, the student body is about one third Christian. All students are required to contribute 72 hours of community service. When asked what he envisions for the future, President Lee didn't hesitate. "To be the best university in Asia," he quickly replied. Hannam has joined the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities, our association of PC(USA) affiliated schools. Again and again, President Lee expressed his deep and genuine appreciation for the founding by - and longstanding relationship and support of - the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
We arrived in Nanjing last night on a train that ran at 200 km/hour from Shanghai. Clean. Smooth. Impressive.
Leadership, leadership, leadership. That's a challenge we hear about over and over again, from the national offices of the China Christian Council, the East China Theological Seminary in Shanghai, and today from the the Chairman of the the Three-Self Patriotic Movement of the Protestant churches in Jiangsu Province (where Nanjing is located), and leaders of the Nanjing Seminary. As Christianity grows, training elders for leadership as well as pastors is a top priority, both in terms of numbers and quality. Last week, before embarking on this trip, we had a consultation with Princeton Theological Seminary at which we discussed the subject of commissioned lay pastors as a response, in part, to leadership needs in places where our U.S. congregations do not have ordained ministers of the Word and Sacrament. China, too, looks to trained elders for leadership in rural areas and where ordained ministers are not available.
Twice we passed the Mu Chou Lu church, which means the "Don't Worry" church. I'm glad to know that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) contributed to this church. I only wish we'd had time to stop in and take in that message, "Don't worry." It calls to mind Paul's words in Philippians, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
I love factory tours. I've been to semiconductor, cell phone, pager, paper, automobile, spaghetti, and knitting factories, to name a few. I would stop and watch with my kids when Mr. Rogers took us on a television tour of the graham cracker factory and the crayon factory. Amity Bible Printing Company, Ltd., is by far one of the most impressive, and certainly the most meaningful, among all of the tours that I have personally experienced.
Established in 1986 as a joint venture of the Amity Foundation (the Christian education, social service, health, and rural development agency) and United Bible Societies, the Amity Publishing Company was the inspiration of Bishop K. H. Ting, one of China's leading scholars and church leaders. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was a founding contributor. As a side note, when Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, visited China last fall, he described Bishop Ting as "a living ecumenical ancestor." I will say more about this remarkable man later.
Over 50 million Bibles have been printed and distributed from this factory, and construction is well under way for a new factory to replace it that will open in 2008, with the capacity to print 1 million books a day. The first ones produced used the New Revised Standard Version, and those versions now sell for about $1.80 a copy. Many of the Bibles are in Chinese and English - written side by side - and are used not only for worship and Bible study, but to teach English as well. (Knowledge of English is required for university entrance.) One has in side-by-side columns Greek, four different Chinese versions and English. This printing press now produces Bibles in other languages for other countries, and medical reference books used in connection with ministries of health services.
Not far from the Amity Publishing Company is another impressive facility - the new campus of Nanjing Seminary, currently under construction on a 23 acre site. The campus includes a large library, separate administration building, four dormitories, gym and sports field, and a very large church of soaring, stunning architecture, with a 1,000-seat sanctuary and smaller chapel. When the seminary moves there next year, they will be able to increase the student body from the current number of approximately 160 to 500.
We met some of the outstanding faculty members of Nanjing Seminary (another leading institution with Presbyterian origins) and spoke of their challenges, visions for the future, and "reconstruction of Christianity," a movement among scholars to interpret Christianity in the context of China. Key principles of this theological reconstruction are: Understanding Christ's work among all people by Chinese Christians, who are a minority in China; traditional values and understandings of community and relationships; a sense of the nation as large community; and pervasive concepts of unity and harmony. The China Christian Council churches adopt the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed, but not others. Another current topic among some church leaders and scholars is whether they could - or should - develop a confession or statement of faith. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has helped to support the education of several of the impressive, scholarly faculty members, whom we met, and they contribute to the worldwide church as scholars and colleagues - another important, ongoing connection between us.
Again and again, we have seen legacies of Presbyterian mission and engagement. Many of the leading educational and hospital institutions had Presbyterians as founders. These institutions are now under Chinese leadership, but they continue to feel connection and partnership with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In many cases, we have continued to provide financial support at important times, as above.
After Nanjing Seminary, we had the great privilege and honor to meet Bishop K. H. Ting, a "living ecumenical ancestor." A longtime and great friend of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), scholar and author of many books, 93-year old Bishop Ting is a legend in China, and is now the Chair of Nanjing Seminary and honorary Chair of the Amity Foundation. Today is a day in China that elders are honored; we were the ones honored to visit with Bishop Ting in his home.
In this profoundly life-transforming journey, I truly sense our collective call to live out the charge to honor all people, and to love and serve the Lord.
The last time I was in Shanghai was in 1979, when everyone was wearing blue workers jackets and pants, there were no high-rise buildings, virtually nothing to buy in stores, and everywhere my tall, light-eyed father, my mother, and I walked, a crowd surrounded us, staring curiously. We felt like celebrities. No more. On Wednesday, we walked in the old Yu Yuan district of buildings hundreds of years old that has been restored to a shopping and restaurant district. Merchandise galore, Chinese people walking alongside people of all nationalities and appearances, crowding the walks and courtyards. We didn't attract the least bit of attention as we wandered, Starbucks coffee in hand, drinking in the sights and sounds and vibrancy of it all. I like it better this way.
Among the other colleagues who joined in our meeting with Rev. Dr. Cao Sheng-jie at the headquarters of the China Christian Council was Presbyter Ji Jianhong, Chairman of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Chinese Protestant Churches, and several members of their staffs.
A bit of the history and state of the church in China as related by Rev. Cao and Presbyter Ji:
Presbyterians and other missionaries were active in starting and leading the church from the 1800s, and it became associated as a foreign church. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement means (1) self propagation - the church need not depend on outsiders for preaching and worship leadership; (2) self supporting - the church need not rely on financial support from foreign sources; and (3) self governance. The Cultural Revolution closed down the church, although in their hearts they whispered the 23rd Psalm,
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me."
In one of the two DVDs that our partners showed to us - one was on the history and current activities of the Protestant churches in China, and one was on the Bible Ministries Exhibition in the U.S. referenced in my previous entry - Jimmy Carter says that he spoke to Deng Xiaoping, asking that there be (1) freedom of religion; (2) Bibles freely available; and (3) foreign missionaries allowed back in. The next morning, Deng replied yes to 1 and 2, but no to 3.
Churches were reopened in 1980, with the Three-Self principles. The China Christian Council (CCC) was formed. Nanjing Seminary reopened. The Protestant churches are described as "post-denominational," in which many different styles and traditions are practiced, but they are united in worship, having "unity but not uniformity." Christianity is growing fast.
"The church stopped for a while during the Cultural Revolution, but God kept working" - "A resurrection story" - are descriptions that we heard.
Thanks be to God.
Arriving in Shanghai – which is a remarkable city – I was immediately struck by the burgeoning educational landscape. A commitment to learning and to training church leaders – a hallmark of our Reformed tradition – is very much in evidence here. I spent most of the day today at East China Theological Seminary in Shanghai, which is one of five regional seminaries that provide a 4-year B.A.-level program to students from several provinces in the same region. Tomorrow, I will be visiting with faculty and students at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, which is the only national seminary in China. For additional background on the seminary, read the September 2006 letter from mission workers Don and Kate Lindsay.
Meeting yesterday at the headquarters of the China Christian Council was a special privilege. The Rev. Dr. Cao Sheng-jie, its president, is a remarkable woman with boundless energy and optimism. The China Christian Council was responsible for a very successful Bible Ministries Exhibition in the U.S. in 2006. Insik Kim, my colleague, was one of the organizers of this unique opportunity to have a firsthand encounter with the rich history of Christianity and the Bible in China. I learned that the U.S. tour of the exhibition was launched in Atlanta by former President Jimmy Carter, who was a patron of the exhibition along with Billy Graham. Rick Warren was also involved in the planning and execution of what surely must have been an incredible experience.
Our partners shared with us that the church in China today is "post-denominational," that is, there are many different Christian practices with no adherence to denominations. The church in China is growing at an amazing rate, from an estimated 700,000 in the 1980s to some 15-30 million today. The challenges that are presently being addressed are in the areas of leadership training and development, to keep up with the rapid growth of the church; the growing number of cult-like groups in the name of Christianity; the relatively low education level of many believers; and interpreting theology for a Chinese context.
In all of these encounters, I continue to be refreshed in my faith and renewed in my commitment to work hand-in-hand with the great, global community of believers which is Christ’s Church.
Truly God has embraced me through the arms of the Thai people. Every step of the way, God is with me. And the journey continues.
We had barely landed on Monday night in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and were driving in the dark to the International Guest House at Payap University when the subject of Burma came up. Chiang Mai is within 100 miles of the border. Rob Collins, a long-term mission worker, now retired but still working full time with the Christian Communications Institute (CCI), spoke of the humanitarian efforts going on in the face of oppression, including work by a group called the Free Burma Rangers, whose activities were recently described by Newsweek. This group trains medical and aid teams, who are working with compassion and at considerable personal risk with the Karen people in Burma. I learned that more than 1 million Karens are classified as internally displaced people. After their villages were burned, and villagers were forcibly removed, many Karens fled to Thailand, where they are now in refugee camps. A 2004 estimate put the number at 142,000 in 8 camps for Karen and Karenni refugees. The number is now expected to be higher.
Later in the day we met a seminary student, who has been involved in humanitarian work for the Karens. "Pray for them," he asked. "That's what they ask for most." This young man had come to Thailand several years ago as a volunteer, found a calling here, and is now enrolled at the McGilvary College of Divinity. He describes the richness of being in classes with students of many different Southeast Asian minority groups and nationalities.
Rob Collins, like several other missionaries we met or had heard of, came to Thailand for a short time that has unfolded into a several decades' long life of service here. Rob came to Thailand in the early '60s, first on a 4-year assignment out of college. He returned to the United States, to Pittsburgh Seminary, then returned, and has lived in Thailand ever since. We didn't meet Rob's wife, Esther Wakefield, because she is one of the PC(USA) mission workers who are currently itinerating in the U.S. as part of Mission Challenge '07. Rob did share with us some of the work that they do together with marvelous drama and dance groups who tell ethical and Christian stories with traditional Thai performing arts.
How did this start, we asked. Rob described how, some 30 years ago, a bus accident occurred outside of a Presbyterian church. Longtime mission worker with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Alan Eubank, went outside of the church and found a young woman had been injured, with a shard of glass in her eye. Eubank and others saw that she was taken to the hospital and given medical care. She lost the sight in her eye, but came to Christian faith. Eventually, her whole family became Christians. They were performers of Likey dramas - traditional melodramas performed by actors in extravagant costumes. Thirty years later, this is a ministry that is flourishing. Over 30,000 students in high schools - 90% of whom are not Christian - see these dramas every year. The group travels, including in the United States. They were last here in April, and have plans to come next spring. For information about performances, contact Rob through his homepage on Mission Connections.
Presbyterians have a long history in Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest - and a fast-growing - city. In 1889, McGilvary Seminary was begun by missionaries. In the 1920s, Mrs. Cyrus McCormick of Chicago provided funding for the establishment of what is now McCormick Hospital, and a nursing school. The seminary and the nursing school were the foundation for Payap University, that began in 1974. An elementary through high school, Prince Royal's College now has 6,437 students, 89% of whom are Buddhist, 9% Christian, 1% Muslim. All of these institutions are highly regarded, a living legacy to faith and mission and a vibrant Christian witness in Thailand and the region.
We were joined at lunch by Presbyterian mission co-workers Scott Satterfield, Annette George, and newly-arrived Brett and Shelly Faucett. The faith, dedication and witness of each of these missionaries is inspiring. Scott and Annette have been here for many years, and are obviously highly respected by the Thais with whom they work. Brett and Shelly have some harrowing stories about their first weeks here, but are unwavering in their sense of call, and optimistic and positive about their life and work. I'm glad to report that Annapurna, their adorable, unstoppable, blue-eyed, curly-headed four-year old has not only recovered from a frightening dog bite, but was eager to join my husband, Chris (who has an unstoppable fondness for children) petting a rather lazy, mangy dog outside Payap University. Shelly was nervous. To see why, read the Faucetts' letter of September 26, 2007.
Rev. Dr. Pradit Takerngrangsarit, President of Payap University, has dreams that he is bringing to reality in new buildings, institutes, programs and initiatives at Payap University. One is the Institute of Religion and Culture, to which he added "Peace," whose mission is to foster mutual appreciation and cooperation and understanding among the world's different religious communities and to contribute to peace building and reconciliation efforts in Thailand and throughout the world. Presbyterian missionary, John Butt, is a founder and senior advisor to this most important endeavor.
Dr. Pradit proudly showed us the extensive new library, an impressive new law school building complete with wood-paneled moot court room, and the newly-opened International Guest House, all the while emphasizing the importance of the Christian identity and holistic mission of nurturing the body, mind, and spirit of its students.
Even as I vow to come back to Thailand, we now find ourselves traveling on to Shanghai. We thank you for remembering us - and all of our brothers and sisters in Asia - in your prayers.
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.
We arrived at the gleaming, soaring, glass airport of Bangkok shortly after midnight, and after well more than 24 hours in transit from Louisville to Chicago to Seoul and now here.
A small mishap with our luggage meant that the first hour on the ground in Thailand was watching seemingly hundreds of people claim luggage, wrestle it into carts and disappear past Customs and through the door. Actually, it was quite entertaining because I observed a fashion of young Korean couples - dozens of them - which is to wear matching shirts and sometimes whole outfits.
There were couples in preppy striped shirts, logo-laden black ones, bright pink, slogans, patterns, the gamut. And yellow. As we sat, Insik Kim, our PC(USA) area coordinator for Asia (who by this tidbit confirmed my impression that the extent and depth of his knowledge of the region is extraordinary) explained that each day of the week in Thailand has a color in which people dress, and that Monday is yellow, the color of the King, because the King was born on Monday. (I added to Insik's cultural observation by pointing out this couples' dressing thing, something neither he nor our other travel companion, my husband, Chris, had noticed, until it was pointed out to them.)
Outside, we are greeted by Banchong Chompoowong, Vice Moderator of the Church of Christ in Thailand.
Since it is now 11:30 p.m., I will continue this entry tomorrow. We had a wonderful and inspiring day meeting church leaders, hearing of our historic connections and desires for more, learning of ministries of health, education, and church planting, and making new friends. The day was long, sleep was short. More tomorrow.
Going on a mission trip, meeting people face to face who live in circumstances so very different than our own can be transforming. I know, because it has happened to me.
And it’s about to happen to me again.
I am about to set out on an Asian journey with my trusted friend and PC(USA) colleague, Insik Kim, to experience firsthand the vibrant congregations and the vital witness of our brothers and sisters in Thailand, China, and Korea. It will be a time of tremendous learning, in which I know my knowledge and my faith will be greatly increased.
I invite you to share in my journey with me by visiting my new blog for this trip. It’s true. I have launched a blog. Upon the encouragement of many of my colleagues across the PC(USA), I have gladly taken on the challenge of this new medium in order that you might travel virtually with me. I look forward to receiving your comments and feedback.
For personal reasons, I am especially looking forward to my travels in Korea. My interest comes not only from my relationships with Korean Presbyterians but is greatly enhanced by a recent addition to our family. This past July, my nephew Jacob married Yeunbee Jeanette, who came to the United States from Korea as a young girl. This was the first of my children's generation to be married, and we have been very close to Jacob all of his life. Part of the celebration was a traditional Korean ceremony -- what a delight it was for us to share in that celebration.
And so my new niece, Yeunbee Jeanette Park, is sending me off not only with her blessings, but also with a directive to eat gam-ja-tang, a spicy stew of pork ribs and potatoes. In any case, I know I shall enjoy the whole of the feast that God is about to spread before me!