David with the children - they LOVE him!
So fun getting to know these children better!
The children of Sukkasem Sunday school
Water fun on a hot afternoon
Learning the parables of Jesus
Rahyay has grown so much in her understanding
David teaching the children their memory verse
Singing at church
Strengthening Families and Communities
As we prepared to return to Thailand in January after an 8-month home assignment, I was searching for an answer from God as to the nature of my role here for this, our 5th term on the field. I was open to a change, particularly because the second grade teacher position I had held for the previous 2 years at CRICS was now being filled by a new IM Volunteer. I intended to continue in my role as Director of Resource Development and walking alongside the Akha ministries we are connected to, but it seemed like it was time for something more—something different.
Within 10 days of our returning to Thailand, the 2nd grade teacher received difficult family news that made it critical for her to return to the US, leaving the 2nd grade teaching position once again open. Soon I was asked to step in and, before I knew it, I was standing in front of 9 little ones, looking to me to provide security and stability as they said “good-bye” to their teacher. I have to admit that I was challenged for a few weeks…challenged to receive this as God’s answer. One morning in week 5, I remember waking up and saying to Chuck, “I’m happy.”
One reason for my contentment was perhaps that I was given the opportunity to work on another project, and this was in our Akha village of Sukkasem. We have been involved with Sukkasem since 2001 when we first arrived in Chiang Rai. As we visited the church when we first came back, we were startled to see how few people were in the 10:30 service and the fact that there were NO children at all. What had happened? The pastor shared that most of the children and youth, if they come, come to the 7:00 a.m. service, specifically led by the youth, but that then they either stayed home and watched t.v., played video games, or left the village for the day. We also noticed that the group of young people who were of the ages of 15-18 were not really coming at all. They did not go to the youth retreat or go to church. What had happened to this tight-knit community of faith? These youth have gotten involved in the activities of the “world” and are honestly not interested in pursuing God right now. They will even admit that.
As I observed this phenomenon, it became clear to me that the next generation of youth would likely go the same way unless something was done to connect with them. The pastor and I agreed that I would commit 6 months to coming every week and developing a simple Sunday School program that would hopefully engage them and encourage them in their walk with Christ. During that time, it would be our goal to discover someone from the village who had the gifting and desire to mentor these children on an ongoing basis as Sunday School teacher and friend.
The premise was very simple. I would help prepare resources that included Bible stories, coloring pages and crayons. Each week, I printed the scripture in Thai (the children all are learning to read and write in Thai in the schools), and we began with the life of Jesus. We shared prayer requests and prayed, learned Bible verses, sang songs, listened to the Bible story and talked about it, colored pictures related to the story, played a game or two, and went home. Simple, right? And effective. The first week, 9 children showed up, including 2 of nursery school age. Today we have 18-20 every week, ranging in age from 4 – 13 (up into 7th grade now). This basically constitutes ALL the children of this age group currently living in Sukkasem. One of the draws has been an activity to spend time together and build relationships by going out to do “something fun” every 6 weeks or so. If they come regularly, they may participate in this activity as well. We have gone to waterfalls, water parks, soccer games, the movie “Jungle Book,” and out to eat.
But what has been the real success? The pastor’s brother, David, who is 27 years old and living and working with his parents, caught the vision and became the Sunday School teacher! Not only that—he has involved 3 or 4 of the 15-year-olds to be his helpers. He has involved them in leading worship at church with 2 other young men. After the children and youth lead worship, sing, say their Bible memory verse and give their tithe, they all come down to the community center (small one-room mud earth building) from about 11:00 – 12:30.
Word is getting around that this is working! I heard from someone the other day about “the Sunday school program” I started and how we needed this in more villages. The concept is so very simple, but it requires prayer, consistency and commitment to relationship building. One of the biggest hurdles is convincing Akha adults, who may not have much formal education, they have the ability to teach in a program like this. It also requires supporting them with the resources, at least initially, until they see that it doesn’t have to cost much or require many books, etc.
It is our hope that through programs like this, and working hand in hand with the local church, the bonds of family and community can be strengthened while also helping the children have a stronger relationship with God. Please pray for us as we work with our Akha partners to determine the best way to develop more community- and church-based programs that will help encourage healthy relationships within families and the village, while also pointing people towards God.