My wife and I left for Southeast Asia February 23. After flying to Los Angeles, we flew China Air first to Taipei, then to Chiang Mai, Thailand. We arrived safely, but our luggage did not. China Air found it safely on the ground in Los Angeles so it took three days for it to arrive in Chiang Mai where we could pick it up. The airline provided us with $100 which permitted us to buy some clothing and personal hygiene products. Our friends in Thailand were more than happy about that as endured the daytime heat.
We were originally scheduled to work in a Leadership Seminar in the village of Phomadang and I was to speak at Lanna Christian College in the city. It is not unusual for schedule changes to occur and so we were prepared (sort of) for the inevitable changes. My wife ended up with little to do, but I left with Bob Kuest, our team leader, and Ahtapa Sinlee, our Thai host, for Nong Khai on the Mekong River in northeastern Thailand. A Christian from the Hmong tribe arranged for a seminar with Laotian Christian leaders. About 36 wonderful Laotian Christians braved the threats of persecution and difficulties of travel to meet with us at a Catholic vocational school outside Nong Khai. More tried to make it to our seminar, but the Laotian and Thai governments turned them away at the border. From these committed Christians, we learned that most came to faith by listening to the radio and had little or no face-to-face instruction from anyone. Bob Kuest taught leadership lessons from the book of Philippians and I did what I could to ground them in theology. I was only able to teach 7 lessons in the time available. The governments permitted these people only two nights stay in Thailand. While we were with them, we heard stories of oppression and persecution. Two men told how they left Vietnam for Laos since there was "more freedom there" but they find it difficult to make a living. In spite of their own poverty, they collected money to buy Hmong language Bibles to take back to their people in Vietnam since the government confiscated all Hmong Bibles a few years ago.
The trip to Nong Khai took us about 12 hours. We traveled over mountains on fairly good roads. The scenery was wonderful in places. Since this is the dry season in Thailand, much of the bush was brown. There were rice paddies in some locations giving a lush green contrast to the brown.
After we returned to Phomadang, we flew out to Bangkok and then to Yangon, Myanmar. In past years, we stayed at Ruby Inn, a family operated inn near the airport. The owners, although Buddhist, were friendly to Christians and they were always hospitable, open, and helpful. They sold the inn to Koreans and they are not as friendly to Christian guests so we had to reside elsewhere this year. Our "home away from home" turned out to be the Yangon YMCA. Located downtown, it was not nearly as welcoming or comfortable as Ruby Inn. The Y had 12 hours of electricity per day so we could count on the electricity going out at about 6 am every day. That meant trekking down six flights of stairs and up three for an egg sandwich, banana, and coffee each morning. The rooms were air conditioned (when there was electricity) so we could sleep at night in the Yangon heat and humidity.
There were several on our team in Myanmar. Duane and Kathy Crumb, workers with New Missions Systems, taught HIV Awareness and Office Procedures. Truman Whittaker, who is also with NMSI, taught a class on Ephesians 6. Ryan Russell, also with NMSI, taught Youth Ministries. Delores taught "Teaching Children According to Age". I taught Theology. Bob Kuest taught his leadership class and his wife Peggy taught a class in "Followership." Louie Marsh and Rick Parker from Parker, AZ, led sessions on Celebrate Recovery. Kim Barrerra, from NMSI, came to help our hosts with their computer problems. We all got along and had a great time.
On Tuesday, Bob, Peggy, and Truman flew to Myitkyina (pronounced Mitch-in-a) in the Kachin State. This is the first time the government permitted us to teach anywhere but in Yangon. This made it possible for more pastors and church leaders to attend our conferences. This year there were 87 in Yangon and about 73 in Myitkyina. The team returned to Yangon on Sunday and Delores, Louie, and I traveled with James Khong to Myitkyina on Sunday. We stayed four days. Louie and I taught at a hotel while Delores was in one of the churches. Government officials came by to see what was going on, but all in all things went well. Instead of teaching theology proper, I taught Romans. I felt that sin, salvation, and so on could be covered in that and I could get through it.
We returned to Yangon in time for closing ceremonies at the Y. Then we got things packed and prepared to leave the next morning. On Friday morning 10 of us flew to Bangkok where we stayed overnight. Then we left Bangkok for Taipei the next morning. Flying time home was 14 hours from Bangkok. We arrived in Los Angeles and made the connection back to Phoenix in good shape ... and our luggage arrived with us.
About next year ... well, we don't know yet and it isn't fair to make a decision now. Both Delores and I are tired and we remember the heat and humidity of Yangon. At the same time, we reflect on the people and the impact they're making in Myanmar and Thailand. So who knows? We'll just wait and see how God leads for 2007.