Finally I received my MTh(Ed) from AGST Alliance in a folder over registered mail. I have graduated. It was an enjoyable, enlightening and enriching journey.
It was fun to meet fellow servants of God from pastors, lay leaders to lecturers of Bible Schools who want to pursue further equipping and increase of knowledge and skills on a part-time basis, while still in their respective job responsibilities or ministries. When you are together in class, and over meals and breaks, over several courses, or even travel together, you are sure to build friendships and acquaintances.
My classmates are mostly from Malaysia and Singapore but there are also those from Australia and USA. They are from different denominations, Bible Schools and missions. This makes our interactions and fellowship times interesting and exciting.
I learned a lot from the course modules which included spiritual formation and Christian education. Each module comprised a five day 9am to 5pm lecture phase, preceded by reading assignments, and followed by research assignments. The lecturers were helpful and facilitated our learning and treated us with graciousness and thoughtfulness. They knew the kind of struggles and challenges people in ministry faced in trying to juggle assignments and work.
The whole package created a learning environment that befits the degree we pursued. To be a good practitioner would require that I patiently and diligently seek what I learned to what I am doing. It comes from reflection-action-reflection in the journey of change. But the burden and speed of ministry means you do not have the time to reflect sufficiently to design something that is customised. It is always easier to find a package and use it. Besides having time, I only wished I was able to apply the insights gained with a coach’s or mentor’s help.
I must confess that towards the end I struggled a great deal with studying part-time. My grades were above average most of the time. But the tougher assignments at the tail end took a toll on me. I needed to dig deep, ask my friends for prayer support, and cry out to God for grace and wisdom and motivation to get over the line. By the grace of God, I finished the course, and graduated. It gave me a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it makes me think twice and pray thrice about taking out any further courses.
Her parents would never have known that their short diminutive daughter, Noi (“little”), would one day make an significant impact for Christ by serving the needs of the elderly poor in the slums of Bangkok.
Noi had a painful childhood marked by shame, insults, and mockery about her height. She grew to believe that the only way she would be able to gain the acceptance, respect and love of others would be for her to study hard, get a good job, and earn a good income. After all, she grew up in a very large rice-farming family in Roiet, from the poorer north-east region of Thailand. Mum had tried to abort her but failed. God spared her life for a purpose, but her short stature was the result of the failed abortion attempts. The rest of her siblings are all of average height.
Noi was a diligent student and entered a university in Bangkok and studied to be an accountant. There she came to know the Lord. Though her parents objected to her faith in Christ, her influential brother who was working in Bangkok and supported the family back home backed her, “She is old enough to make her decision”.
She joined a small Presbyterian church that knew little about missions. She graduated from university and worked hard for a few years to earn money to gain respect and acceptance. However, she was stopped in her tracks when her father passed away without knowing Christ, and she saw the brevity of life and futility of pursuing money, and how important it is for people to know the Lord. It was a difficult period of grieving and repentance for her but the Lord was close to her and one day she heard the Lord said to her “Now is the time to work for God’s kingdom!” She did not know what the kingdom was. She asked her pastor. The pastor said that the kingdom of God is about winning people to Christ and bringing them under his rule. That stirred her soul.
Her pastor told her that YWAM Thailand needed an accountant. She went for the interview. They liked her. She was willing to join them. As she walked out she realised they did not talk about financial compensation. She went back in and got a shock. Zero salary. That is how the whole organization runs from top to bottom – nobody is paid. Everyone raises their own support. She said, “Maybe No. Let me think about this and come back to you”. One week of prayer later she gave her answer, “Yes”. That year she lived out of her savings. One year led to another till she had been with YWAM for three years as accountant! The Lord provided.
Then she signed up for Discipleship Training School (DTS)- a six months training course. She became a good friend of a Korean. One day, the Korean lady felt led of the Lord to give a notable sum to Noi. She told her, “No need. I have enough money”. But the Lord knew better for soon after she heard her mum got ill and was hospitalised. As it turned out, the money the Korean sister had given was a God-send used to pay for Noi’s mum’s hospitalisation. After DTS she stayed on as an interpreter for DTS because her English was good. Then she attended School of Frontier Missions (SOFM) in the Philippines after which she came back and was involved in ministry to children and in auditing. Little did she know that a new chapter awaited her when the Lord gave her a dream.
She had a dream of an elderly grandmother sitting forlorn with no one to talk to and looking miserable. She simple sat in one spot. Still. Quiet. Alone. The Lord gave her a scripture: “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow“. (Jeremiah 31:13). The phrase, “the old” resonated with Noi. She felt the Lord was stirring her heart to reach out to the elderly in the slums.
She shared here vision with Project LIFE and the leader was affirmative about this great need that no other Christian organization was serving. So in 2008, with one other Thai volunteer they started to walk the slums, get to know them and serve the elderly with primary health care and financial assistance. The beginning was a very trying period. For three months, she cried daily. She found herself on the edge of quitting. She found the cross cultural adjustments too challenging. The slums were dirty, smelly, and she was scared of the roaming dogs. The people were quarrelsome, vulgar and selfish and she did not like the vices among them: smoking, drinking and gambling. The people had so many problems and so much needs and she felt powerless to be of much help to them. She became discouraged and wanted to quit, until she realised that this was all part of spiritual warfare. Satan was guarding his territory.
That was years ago. Now the ministry called Ruth Center is more developed. Jarlon, Mill and Mon are on staff and regularly make visits to the elderly in eight slum communities. Toi works with grandmothers in the craft project. Steve Webb leads the building projects that help improve the physical environment of the slums, like building common areas for them, and making improvements to safety in the homes of the elderly poor that they minister to. They also open Ruth Center for the elderly to come for interaction, fun and rest. For those interested to study the Bible, a weekly fellowship. Annually they developed a simple curriculum for knowing Jesus through discussion on Bible passages in small groups that meet periodically in the slums.
Does she feel lonely as a single person aged 41? She said, “Not really. Very busy with work as Director of Ruth Center, coordinator of YWAM Bangkok, church ministry for students, and involvement in church ministry to students”.
Ruth Center has embarked on a major project of assisted living for the elderly. They have been praying about this for five years and have recently started raising funds to purchase a piece of land about three hours drive from Bangkok. Its about 24.7 acres (62 rai by Thai count). 1 rai of land will costs US$2,500. The vision is to house about 100 elderly residents who have no support from families, and need care because of poverty, sickness or disabilities. Many elderly in Bangkok are vulnerable. Ruth Center caters to 410 elderly over 60 years of age. 16% of these have no support. They are single again, or have no children and are given 600 thb a month by the government. This however can hardly pay for the monthly utilities. They hope to create a sustainable community through farming on the land. For more information about the assisted living project of Ruth Center click HERE.If you wish to make a donation to www.ywamthai.org/donate/
Everybody was happy today. Everybody was smiling today. Grandpa and grandma were smiling broadly. Today was the fourth day of work. A team finished the window trimmings at the front and the alternate window panels of the side wall. Another team under the able leadership of Steve finished the sidewalk.
There were a few steps to doing the sidewalk:
1. Remove the whole unsafe wooden sidewalk portion by portion.
2. Remove as much of the rubbish below water level as possible so that the concrete beam can hit dirt. This was dirty work, unpleasant work and required perseverance. We saw tons of rubbish, mainly garbage bags and drink plastic bottles. The water was murky black and smelt rotten.
3, Insert the beam and pile drive it into the ground under the brackish water. A few heavy guys would jump in unison on a contraption and that would pile the concrete beam down.
4, If it could go no deeper, then the extra height of the beam had to be cut off.
5. The final step was to put concrete slabs across two sets of piledriven beams, and two larger longer slabs over them.
Thank God we were able to finish the whole sidewalk of about ten feet by the late afternoon. We were happy to conclude our work with a photo in front of the restored house and sidewalk, and we prayed a blessing for grandpa and grandma.
It was a most satisfying day, indeed a most satisfying project. While we were working the last four days, neighbours in the community were watching, observing and asking questions. They knew how old and unsafe and dilapidated grandpa and grandma’s house was, and how they could not afford to do anything about it. They knew we are Christians from Singapore. They knew it was done for them as an act of love and humble service. Everytime they pass the house, or see grandpa and grandma, they will give credit to the God that we worship and serve. The house testifies of the glory of God’s undeserved blessing on the poor. Even after we have gone, the house acts as an advertisement to God’s goodness and care for the poor. We pray the slum people will have a greater openness to Christ.
The team members were filled with joy. Not all can preach or testify or conduct Bible studies. This project was another way of preaching, of witnessing to Christ. Only that it uses a different set of skills. This is a great ministry avenue that would involve a greater variety of people with practical skills to glorify God in missions.