Preparing for my retirement has led to reflecting on the last 36 years. One activity I had to do at a transition workshop was to write a timeline of my years in Thailand. This exercise has been a wonderful time to remember and to give thanks for what God has done. I am ever mindful that your partnership both in prayer and finances made every milestone possible, and so trust that this letter can be a time of rejoicing for you as well. Thank you for being involved in my life and the lives of the ethnic minorities and God’s work here!
I arrived in Thailand in September, 1984 for a year of language studies in Bangkok. One year later, I moved to Maesaiang, a small town in the northern part of the country. Besides working at Maesariang Christian Hospital, I also led village health clinics and kept learning about the culture. And it was here that I met Amnuayporn, a Karen minority nurse who became a lifelong friend and colleague. I loved my work and my life, but the mission hospital was going to close, and so in 1993 I moved to Chiang Mai. God had been showing me that He had new plans for me. I had been seeing that there was little understanding of AIDS amongst the ethnic minorities. With Amnuayporn and Christians from four ethnic minority groups, we began a ministry called “The Health Project for Tribal People.”
Health Project for Tribal People (HPTP)….and more!
What a learning curve we were on! We wanted to teach about AIDS to largely illiterate tribal groups, each with unique languages and cultures. So teaching centered on pictures, with our HPTP staff “training the trainers”—village and church leaders who could return to their remote villages and do follow-up as well. In the 20 years the HPTP operated, God did exceedingly abundantly more than I could have ever imagined. We expanded the groups we were reaching from four to eight, and made materials such as flip charts, videos, audio cassettes, posters, calendars and health booklets. We went across borders to China, Laos, Myanmar, and even India. Helping with bigger health issues also became a part of the work of HPTP, and mosquito net distribution and clean water projects were sponsored. We worked with youth in the juvenile detention center, and did workshops at Christian youth camps. But two years stand out in the HPTP’s history. In 1994, our office had HIV-infected women and a child literally on our steps (this was the start of the House of Love.) And in 2000, our staff did a survey of ethnic minority people living in urban areas in Chiang Mai, and people with disabilities in Maesariang. Through this, God led us to start work in three new areas. We opened a youth center for 5 years (the work was then turned over to minority churches). The House of Blessing day care began, and a community-based rehabilitation center (CDPD) was opened.
House of Love (HOL)—from a Hospice to a home
The HOL opened with Da and her mother and we were soon welcoming in other ethnic minority women and children who were HIV-positive. There were 27 deaths in the first 6 years—each person experienced the love of God and many came to know Jesus through our love. With the advent of antiretroviral drugs in 2005, we started having fewer AIDS deaths and a change in ministry began to take place –from hospice to a home for children. We expanded to take in not only HIV-positive children, but also those at risk. We were able to buy land and build our own home in 2009, complete with gardens! Emphasizing education and helping get citizenship cards, our youth have grown up to graduate college, have careers, and even marry. I love this photo of me with Da at her wedding in 2019—our first child at the HOL has married, graduated from Bible school, built her own home, and works as a teacher at our HOB daycare. God’s goodness has been seen over and over again!
House of Blessing Day Care
The House of Blessing Day Care has evolved to serve ethnic minority children from five urban slum communities in Chiang Mai, providing a preschool program that stimulates intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional and physical development of the children in their care. Of the 300 plus HOB graduates, 95% go on to public schools. Seven HOB grads have even attended college and three have graduated! The HOB staff are also able to encourage parental relationships and help community members obtain citizenship. We also do practical helps like distributing rice to families!
Christian Center for Development of People with Disabilities (CDPD)
Since 2001, the CDPD has been serving ethnic minority families in so many ways.
*providing physical and occupational therapy on a regular basis
*making assistive devices for the home
*teaching in a school preparation program
*encouraging advocacy groups
*doing prevocational training program
*developing income generation for mothers
I could show you a photo of the new building we have built, but to me, the thing that will last longer is the smiles of these children who have been impacted by the ministry of the CDPD forever! I have seen dramatic success as parents and community members continue to show more interest in children with disabilities and to recognize that these children have abilities and potential. On a bigger scale, the Thai government is more aware of people with disabilities living in ethnic minority villages and is working to provide better services for them. Children with disabilities are gaining academic, social, vocational and physical skills, are participating in community activities, and are better accessing government services. That is something to smile about!
And two more timeline dates–In 2006, we had a name change, as the Integrated Ministries for Ethnic Minorities Foundation (IMEMF) was established as an umbrella for the work in Chiang Mai. And February 2020 is important too, as missionaries Mark and Alise Juanes and their family moved to Chiang Mai for language and cultural studies in anticipation of working with the ministry of IMEMF. They will work with the ethnic minority Christian staff to continue the work here. I would encourage you to keep giving and to keep praying for them and all of the work in Thailand.
As I look to the future and my return to Columbus OH, there are many unknowns, and I appreciate your prayer. A missionary gave me this verse when I first felt the call to missions—and I know I can trust God for all my days! Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Thank you and God bless you richly!