Greetings to you from your ELCIC missionary in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand! Warm thanks to so many of you for your prayers and support, which sustain me in my work here.
Kelvin Krieger, Program Coordinator, ELCIC Mission in the World, joined me here from September 15 to 19, 2003. Four years ago, he visited me and our mission partners in Bangkok. But this was Kelvin's first taste of Payap University, the CCT (the Church of Christ in Thailand, the national church of Thailand), and life in the north at Chiang Mai.
What better way to be part of Payap and the church community than to live in the guest accommodation of the seminary dorm? That's just what Kelvin did, and we are grateful to the seminary for that hospitality.
Our days were few but full! In that fullness: Talks and "getting to know you sessions" with Dr Boonthong Poocharoen, President of Payap University, with the Rev Bill Yoder, Dean of Payap's McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary, and with other administrators. Discussions and conversation with my faculty classes from this year and last at the university's main campus and at the seminary. Meeting CCT leaders and members, and worshipping with them at special services of celebration. Sightseeing around this small city, once the separate "Lanna Kingdom", and today Thailand's "second city". Socializing with Payap colleagues and friends. And, a hearty enjoyment of good, northern Thai food!
The high point was this: Payap University has invited the ELCIC to renew my appointment to the university for an additional two years. (See Missionary Sponsorship Appeal: Lori Endress.) We pray that with your help we can honour that invitation!
ELCIC missionary to El Salvador, Brian Rude, was here in Chiang Mai for 12 days over Christmas and the New Year. Chiang Mai church life and the Christian community of Payap University are vibrant at this time of year with events and socializing.
On Christmas Eve, we attended the 8 pm candlelight service at Thammaprateep Church, where the musicians were from Payap University. At 11 pm, there was the traditional candlelight Christmas Eve service at First Thai Church, followed by an open house at the seminary dean's for ham sandwiches and Thai rice soup. On Christmas Day, Thammaprateep Church had a 4.30 pm Christmas service with a Thai buffet afterwards.
So we did much worshipping, talking—and eating. It was a worship-filled, people-filled celebration of Christmas and the New Year!
Ajahn (Teacher) Chananporn, a young professor in my faculty class at Payap's McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary, was married Saturday, January 17 three hours north of Chiang Mai in Chiang Rai. My ELCA colleagues, Lennart and Carin Persson, and I drove up together a day early for the event, which gave us a chance to tour a bit, even up to the Golden Triangle, which I had not seen before.
The marriage was a lovely event, warmly supported by family, friends, and the congregation. Chananporn's father is the pastor of First Thai Church there. Her new husband, a classmate from her student years at the seminary, has been serving as youth pastor at this church. Following the ceremony and speeches inside the church, there was a reception outside, with program, music, and food—for 800 people!
The official celebration of Payap University's 30th Anniversary took place Monday, Feb 16. On that day in 1974, Payap was founded by the Church and became Thailand's first private university. To festively mark 30 Years, we began with a worship service of celebration, two hours of praise and prayer and gratitude in word and song. Some of those who helped found the university were present and spoke to us of those early years. A combined choir of students from Payap's music program and from the seminary sang richly and joyously. And, Payap's new string orchestra wowed us, too.
But that was not all! A buffet dinner (many wonderful Thai dishes) followed outside. And then it was time for the beautiful two-hour concert back in the chapel—a program of Thai and western classical music performed by the very fine musicians of Payap University.
Many of you have written to enquire about the bird flu situation here. Thank you for your concern. At the time the disease was first reported in Southeast Asia, Canada's Ambassador to Thailand, Andrew McAlister, based at the embassy in Bangkok, e-mailed a letter to Canadians here with links to the embassy health advisories. Like the Bangkok Post, this advised that we eat chicken and eggs only if they have been thoroughly cooked.
As the number of cases increased in the region, and though several cases were identified within Thailand, there was no panic. But people started to eat less chicken, then no chicken, then for a short while no chicken or eggs at all. It is the farmers who are really hard hit by the gigantic cull, and those living amongst the animals have been at greatest risk of the illness.
My morning faculty class helped me understand why the few casualties have been very young children. "The children sympathize with the sick chicken," explained Ajahn Peerapat. "They want to hold the chicken to make it feel better." So that is what many did. And on some border-lying farms, where the disease has been most active, some 6-year-olds became ill. Then a few of them died.
Thailand has worked hard to contain the spread of the disease. Chicken has started to reappear in the markets and supermarkets. At the seminary dormitory, Mae (Mother) Somsri, the housemother, had chicken back on the menu last week—which really means it is safe now. I am glad I ate there that day!
This past September, just as planned, Payap University opened its new International BA program (language of instruction is English). To everyone's great amazement, the program was launched with an enrollment of 35 students from 16 different countries (including Thailand). Now in the second semester, there are a total of 40 students in the program!
Students choose one of the following four majors: International Business Management (the most popular), Computer Information Systems (also popular), English Communication, and International Hospitality Management.
Who are the faculty teaching these programs, you ask? There are some native English speakers, but most are Thai faculty of Payap who have been participants of our unit's "Faculty Development Programs". These programs have been preparing faculty for their international teaching by boosting their competence and confidence in English. One of the great pleasures of my work at Payap has been curriculum development for these programs—and the teaching of them!
The four faculty participants in our intensive program pilot "Special Faculty Development Program" last year have begun their new life and responsibilities as Department Heads of the International BA: Ajahn Rutchirat (International Business Management), Ajahn Panomtham (Computer Information Systems), Ajahn Cholladda (English Communication), and Ajahn Sunisa (International Hospitality Management). Their great strides with the English language, their leadership ability, and their commitment to their work and students are truly inspiring! Please pray for these good leaders in their new and demanding roles.
While the goal of the Special Faculty Development Program (SFDP) in 2002-2003 was to prepare Payap faculty members to assume positions as department heads of the new International BA program, the goal of SFDP in 2003-2004 is to prepare faculty to be lead teachers in that program.
Faculty chosen for this training, which is a full-year academic program and includes summer session, are released for one full year from their normal teaching duties. A main focus of my work as English Teacher at Payap has been to develop a curriculum for this training and to teach the Proficiency English course. SFDP program courses are: Proficiency English, Academic Writing, Curriculum Development, Teaching Methodology in an International Context, and Computer Skills Upgrading and Accessing On-line Information relevant to faculty members' respective disciplines. Each course offered within the curriculum places special emphasis on upgrading English language skills.
In addition, participants meet weekly with a mentor. Relationship with a mentor gives each participant opportunity for regular and frequent one-on-one conversations in English. Participants practise general English as well as English specific to their individual academic disciplines, and they are able to discuss with their advisors/mentors their on-going SFDP progress and concerns.
Please pray for Ajahn Cheewaporn (Accounting), Ajahn Warut (Finance), Ajahn Juree (Accounting), and Ajahn Peerapat (Computer Science / Payap Administration) as they come to the final leg of this intensive program from March till May. Keep Ajahn Peerapat in prayer as he seeks acceptance to a doctoral program which will equip him for greater leadership at Payap.
Another pleasure has been working with the curriculum and teaching of the regular "Faculty Development Program (FDP)", now being offered to over 50 Payap faculty members—while they proceed with their regular teaching loads! The overall program consists of two levels designed to equip faculty with the necessary skills required for teaching within an international context and according to international standards. Another goal is to help faculty participate more fully in English-speaking conferences within Southeast Asia.
Faculty members participating in this program are recommended by their deans, and attend 2-hour English classes twice a week. FDP Level I is an English language upgrading program. Emphasis is given to skill development in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and there is a contextual grammar focus. Level II focuses on teaching methodology in an international context and cross-cultural sensitivity. The duration of the program for each level is one year.
In teaching this program, I have worked with faculty of mixed disciplines at the main campus, and since last June, with faculty at McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary. Each faculty group has been a great blessing!
Being taken into the "seminary family" has especially warmed my heart. As with my other groups, it has been exciting to experience the progress of the theology faculty participants. At the outset, like most, they were shy, reluctant, and unsure. But, as with our other faculty learners, a delightful metamorphosis has gradually been taking place. Their confidence and communication have improved significantly, marked by better English language fluency, vocabulary, structure, and pronunciation. That "childlike" feeling of trying to express themselves in another language has now given way to their own Thai identities, comfortably communicated in English!
Please pray for Ajahn Sasitorn (Head of Theology), Ajahn Prasit (Head of Philosophy), Rev Manit, and Ajahn Chananporn, members of my seminary faculty class, who have worked very hard to come to these accomplishments. Keep Rev Manit in your prayers as he continues to work on his English with a view to acceptance to a doctoral program, which will equip him for greater leadership at Payap's McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary.
Payap University has invited the ELCIC to renew my appointment to the university for an additional two years. We pray that with the help of ELCIC congregations and individuals we can honour that invitation! (See Missionary Sponsorship Appeal: Lori Endress.)
The focus of my renewed appointment would be to serve the English language needs of the students and faculty at Payap's McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary. My work with my faculty class there would continue. Upgrading their confidence and communication in English will prepare them to teach in Payap's international programs, including the new Master of Divinity program (taught in English) that McGilvary will launch this September. As well, they will better be able to read theological texts in English, to participate more fully in international theological conferences in Asia and abroad, and to be successful candidates for doctoral studies.
My work would also serve incoming students from Thailand and Southeast Asia to the international MDiv program taught in English. These students will need to work on upgrading their English as much as possible to be able to understand lectures, read theological texts, participate fully in class, and write academic papers. And other groups—senior theology students and pastors in theological upgrading programs at McGilvary require more English for the same reasons.
At this time, McGilvary is pressing to prepare faculty for leadership positions and former students for teaching positions in the face of numerous retirements there in the next few years. It is also pressing to prepare more pastors as much as possible to meet the critical need for filling large numbers of congregational vacancies in the Church. In Chiang Mai province alone, where many congregations number 300 people or more, the number of churches in need of a pastor is considerable.
Please pray for the work of the Church in the world, including Thailand. Pray that the faculty and students of McGilvary Faculty of Theology and Seminary continue to be led by God's Word and encouraged by God's people. Let us give thanks that they and others we have served at Payap University have been part of our lives over these past two years and have blessed us so richly. May God continue to lead us forward in service.