The entire Bungklung trip can be summarized as follows:
“Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.”
~ Captain Jack Sparrow, Dead Man’s Chest
Complications of feeling woefully inadequate as 70 children stare at you expectantly; or feeling like a fish out of water having to sit on the floor and eat rice for the 12th time this week; or just feeling unprepared (“hey I didn’t bring enough underwear”). Yet, Bung Klung village is 100% adventure. Getting there, teaching kids, staying there and returning…everything had a lesson or adventure in it.
The first night we arrived we settled in along the Thailand-Burma border in the teak house of Pastor Samuel, the Karen pastor in Bung Klung village. The next day we awoke to chickens and dogs heralding the morning. From 9-12pm, Charlie, Felicity, Sinte and I had a half-day camp for kids right there in Bungklung. It was a “dry run” of what we planned on doing Tuesday-Thursday at Kui Lah daw Village.
In Bung Klung, about 15 kids came ranging in age from 5-13. We were a bit disappointed in the lack of turnout, but it was a holiday and many kids were away. Sinte led us in a song in Burmese and we all enjoyed it. Then we shared a Bible story about Joseph. Since not all the kids spoke Burmese, we tried further translation. Two key Karen people were there: a Karen woman named, Pa Lay and Somsak a newly appointed pastor and recent graduate of McGilvary Seminary where Austin is teaching
Like the old game of telephone, we translated from English to Burmese then Burmese to Karen. This made me wonder, ‘what are we going to do at Kui Lah Daw this week? Will there be translators for us? Gulp.’ After sharing a story we had a coloring activity. Around 1200 pm Somsak, came up the hill carrying a large pot of noodle soup and served everyone. That lunch—a bowl of ramen soup and an egg—was made possible by funds from Compassion a Christian Organization.
Without organizations like Farthest Corners or others, these kids do not have hot meals. That was sobering to learn and see. I can fritter away $2 easily, but for those kids, that $2 could be the difference between an empty belly and a fuller one.
In the evening we were mingling with people near the house. And lo and behold a young Karen woman, Kwee Lah Paw and started talking to me in perfect English. She attends a Bible school in Maesot and was up in Bungklung visiting her younger brother who stays at a hostel led by Pastor Samuel. We told her about the conference the next day and she agreed to come. Matthew 6:28-32 came to mind:
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or [‘Who’s gonna translate ?!?’] For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”
Kui Lah Daw Village or Bust!
Tuesday through Thursday generally had the same routine:
- Breakfast at around 7:00 am
- Leave the house in Bung Klung about 8:30 am
- Drive to Kui Lah Daw Village
- 9:00 am – 12:00 pm Kids Camp
- 12:00 pm -1:00 pm lunch together with villagers in Kui Lah Daw
- 1:00 – 4:00 pm Kids Camp
- 4:00 -5:00 pm dinner together with villagers in Kui Lah Daw
- 5:30 head home
It’s important to note just what these things entailed:
“Breakfast at 7am” was by headlamp. We only had electricity for 2 hours each evening, so our morning bread—literally hot dog buns filled with some kind of butther substance—was by headlamp. We were able to get some boiled water in the morning to make coffee too.
“Leaving the house about 08:30,” means you never quite know what’s going on. When you step into missions of any capacity in another country, it often entails following blindly as others lead you in a tongue you can’t understand. This is humbling. In the USA we’re all about knowing the details and getting everything accomplished on our ‘to do’ list. But in rural Thailand you show up and plug in as needed.
“Drive to Kui Lah Daw Village” is code for a super bumpy 30-minutes. A Thai pickup truck has two sections: business-class and coach. Business class is 5 seats inside the front with seat belts and air-conditioning. Coach is two long bench-seats in the back climate-controlled by the great outdoors. Here we would cram about 10 adults/kids along with 2 trunks of materials each day. We used smiles to communicate since we spoke different languages. There was not much conversation also because the ride in coach is a little like being a rag doll in a dryer: you can barely get out ‘ride ‘em cowboy’ if you tried, before grasping the nearest shoulder or vehicle side. These rides made me realize how helpful Farthest Corners is with the funds they get. They don’t just provide meals for kids, but also to buy shocks for the truck. Those rides made me think of people in the USA and Australia who ‘ show up and plug in as needed’ through their donations. What a blessing! Buying good shocks and having sturdy benches is very strategic here.
Kui Lah Daw Village was the hub where Karen and other people were gathering for this 3-day conference. Upon arrival each morning, we westerners were treated to a feast of rice, stir-fried vegetables and some kind of pork or fish. Many Karen families only eat two times a day but they showed their kindness and care for us by giving us an extra morning meal. It’s amazing how being used to eating 3 meals a day in the US predispositions one to assume others do, too. The first night, for example, when we arrived in Bungklung, the ladies brought in heaping plates of stir-fried pork and vegetables. “Is this what they also ate for dinner?” I asked. Austin explained no and shared that they usually just eat plain rice [with a little bit of some vegetables and maybe some fish paste]. That main dish was just for us. And same with this breakfast. For most Karen people the first meal is around noon.
The first day at Kui Lah Daw 47 kids showed up. The second day we had 60 and the third day there were 72 kids! We met in one room of the local school, which consisted of a thatched roof, a cement floor and a blackboard (the old school kind with chalk).
Charlie Coe, Felicity Coe and I got right to work doing our best to tell a Bible story and sing a song. There were about 3-4 Karen men and women—including Bah Lay—who helped us. It was still difficult because people would come and go—including Kwee Lah Paw—in order to help with the women’s conference or other things. We westerners never knew who or what we’d have with us.
We tried to teach them ‘Jesus Loves Me’ in English with some success, but to hear them sing it to us in Karen was way better. Sharing our faith in this way helped me see the diversity of the body of Christ. I now have faces to go with Revelations 5:9b-10a: “because you were slain,and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God…”
The Karen team did their best to help translate the songs, stories and games, but it was a chaotic day. If you’ve ever worked a Bible camp with kids, you know that willing hearts + chaos is the core formula. We sure felt the value of a translator like Kwee Lah Pah who could go straight from English to Karen. But again, God triumphed and used ‘the lowly’—that is, those of us westerners and Karen who only spoke 1-3 languages—to minister. Whoever was there did their best and great things happened. Like kids erupting into joy at playing Red Light, Green Light, or hearing the story of Noah told by a kind westerner who remembers them. Finally the chaos subsided and at about 12pm, we broke for lunch.
Lunch every day was held at a house near the school. The kids were fed downstairs while the adults ate upstairs. After kicking off their flip-flops by the stairs, about 20 adults would sit in a big oval upstairs on the floor. (There was no furniture in this house so that was easy to do.) From a one-room kitchen, steaming hot bowls of pork, stir-fried vegetables and rice would appear. (We westerners were amazed that one cook with a little fire could cook so many dishes!) We’d say grace in Karen and then eat. Everyone had their bowl of rice in front of them and could add the meat and vegetables from common bowls in the middle to their own plate. The amazing part was that after we ate, we realized we were just the first seating! A second seating of adults came in and sat down in an oval and did the same thing. The bowls were refilled again and again as there was a third seating as well. Each day about 70 adults ate lunch in this way.
The Karen are a hospitable people offering their homes to us. They are linguistic geniuses, speaking some combination of Burmese, Karen, Thai and English. They are also musically gifted. After lunch we’d sit on the deck enjoying the breeze while others ate. It was here that the Karen would showcase their singing and guitar-playing talents. When translated, the words from their songs are about God’s goodness and His provision in difficulties. And if there was ever a group of people who know difficulties it’s the Karen.
Many live in refugee camps—there is one near Bungklung called ‘Noh Poe.’ One day we stopped there and visited two of Austin and Sinte’s friends. That couple has been in Noh Poh for four years now, and still have not seen any progress on attaining status. Getting a status cards from the U.N. is the first step in achieving asylum/assistance in relocation. This process—just to get a status card—can last up to 10 years. Basically this couple is waiting indefinitely while hoping.
And yet, in the meantime, they teach kids about the Bible and English. The Karen are singing to God thanking Him. They are teaching their young people about Jesus and training for ministry. Another woman who displays this resilient faith is Bah Lay. Bah Lay teaches kids regularly in the village and helped us every day at the kids’ camp. This must be hard for her because in 2008 she lost everything to Cycle Nargis. That storm hit an unprepared Burma and claimed the life of her husband, two kids, her father, her mother and some of her siblings; one of her sisters now lives with her in Bung Klung. Can you imagine the trauma she has faced? Yet she continues to serve the Christian God. Pray for Bah Lah and others like her, that God would heal and prosper them all the days of their lives.
In the afternoon, the kids’ camp continued. It was very hot during the day so that cement school-room was our haven. Periodically we got to give cookies and candy to the kids for snacks. These things, along with the food that fed all the conference attendees, were made possible by Farthest Corners.’ The villagers were so happy to have fellowship and nourishing food thanks to them. About 4pm each day, we adults were fed dinner in the same style as lunch. After that we’d pile back into the truck and return to Bung Klung village. The evenings were always interesting. We never quite knew when the daily two hours of electricity would end, so we quickly learned: “keep a headlamp with you at all times…even in the shower.”
At night, Felicity, Charlie and I would review the events of the day and prepare for the next. It became abundantly clear in working the kids’ camp in Bung Klung village, that each person was needed. Together we were like a well-oiled machine. If we didn’t have Felicity, we would have seriously suffered. The same is true were it Charlie or me! We learned that week to trust God for what He will do. The kids had a blast and were nourished with Bible stories, activities and fun. We would catch up with Sinte on the women’s conference and help with the Ewing and Eliana. About 9:00 pm we’d crawl into our mosquito nets for to bed. It was then, in the darkness and quiet of the village night, that I’d talk with God about the people and events of the day:
“Lord, bless these people.” The Kwee Lah Paws and Bah Lays of this world. Who have little and yet are so rich. Remember those in Noh Poe and other refugee camps who have little and yet are making the most of their situation.
Meeting these Christians made me realize how much I take for granted in my own life such as: having freedom to move about as I please; worshiping Christ from a position of luxury—literally: sitting on padded seats in an air-conditioned church unlikely to be destroyed by my government; having enough money to eat regular meals each day with a variety of food. How would I respond to God if all these trappings (or necessities as I too often erroneously think), were taken away from me? Would I, like these Karen Christians, still praise God joyfully? The Karen have few trappings. They rely on the core elements of faith in God and perseverance. For this reason, they are rich. In just five short days, they educated us wealthy westerners in what it looks like to serve the Lord no matter what we have or don’t have.
“And, Lord, thanks for the way you work.” We’ve all heard of Murphy’s Law. It says, ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’ Well, ‘God’s Law’ goes something like this: ‘just show up and God will use you and your weakness for good.’Working and visiting with Christians in the Bung Klung Village was a brief experience of Christ triumphant over Satan, and getting to participate with Him in encouraging our fellow brothers and Christians. You, too, were there with us, with your prayers and financial support. Thank you journeying with us in this way! May you experience His riches now and always.
(Editor’s Note: This blog post was written by Sarah Rosenbaum, who has become a great friend of our family in Thailand. Please continue to pray for Sarah as the Lord leads her into many new adventures for our His glory!)