Monthly Archives: December 2009

Our bach is now for Sale

Please excuse one post not directly related to our travels, but a big “event” for us while we’ve been away has been that our son Thomas and his wife Melissa have been hard at work preparing the family bach for sale. They have finished and it is on the market.

Part of the view from the deck

The whole family is sad, but we need to sell it to pay for a new home outside Tauranga. Thomas and Melissa have done a superb job of renovating, so that it not only looks smart, but is also much more convenient and comfortable.

From the convenient new kitchen to the living and dining area.

They have repaired and replaced to give almost new kitchen and bathroom, as well as fresh all wool carpet and new paint.

We almost wish we could buy it ourselves 😉

One of four Bedrooms.

So, if you know someone who would like to buy a beach home with superb views that simply cannot be built out as it is right on the waterfront and most of the nearer view is the Awhitu Regional Park. Just 1hr 15mins (or less depending on traffic and speed) from Central Auckland and less from the motorway, within an easy coastal walk from the beautiful beaches of the Awhitu regional park, just point them to us (!


Akha Hill House: near Chiang Rai

The Akha Hill House ute descends the hill from the guesthouse

Chiang Rai is the largest town in Thailand’s most northerly province. This borders Burma and Laos, while China is only some 200Kms further north. As such a multiple border area the “Golden Triangle” has a chequered history, filled with wars and migrations, and in recent times was a major centre of opium Poppy cultivation. These poppies and the opium, heroin and other drugs they produce were a major source of income for the “hill tribes” until a concerted governmental policy enabled them to earn a living in other ways.

Tea gardens below the Hill House

The hill tribe people remain among the poorest, and their home areas the least developed, in Thailand. The Akha are one of the smaller groups, though around Chiang Rai (because of the multiple frontiers) there are several small people groups.

Lower down the falls

Part of the beautiful waterfall between the Akha Hill House and the tea gardens

The Akha Hill House ute takes visitors from the city into the hills at (about) 4:30pm each day, and returns them to Chiang Rai at 9am. After following the made-up main road for a while, the road into the hills is a dirt track that climbs steeply. Barbara and I as elders, the oldest of the foreigners, and only outranked by the energetic Mr.Apae Amor’s father in the front seat, rode in the rear of the cab, while the rest of the new visitors had better views but a much rougher ride 😉 in the back. (The ute is a working vehicle, hauling supplies during the day, so not equipped with padded benches like a Songthaw.)

The rosy fingers of dawn stealing across the sky

After several Kms of dirt road we pass through first a Lahu village, and then tea fields, before the final sharp ascent to the Akha village and the Hill House. A pair of main buildings are separated by the road, one has a kitchen and sleeping rooms and the other an open dining/resting area, with a welcome fire in the evening. Most of the guest accommodation is in small bungalows scattered around and below the main building. These are a nice mixture of local style and some Western convenience.

At last the sun rises!

In ours the sleeping room is of local board construction, with a bamboo veranda jutting over the drop, but it has concrete tiles on the roof ensuring that it will be dry even in the rainy season. The bathroom (with a warm shower but a local-style toilet) has concrete and mud walls, but a grass thatched roof (dryness is less important than privacy in a bathroom 😉

Between here and the tea gardens and Lahu village there is a beautiful waterfall. It can also be reached by a higher walking path direct frm the Hill House. The Hill house backs onto a steep jungle covered hillside, so offers beautiful but different views to each side.

Our bungalow, from across the stream/gorge (ours is in the centre and has plastic chairs)

Food is cooked to order from a menu (between 7am and 9pm) by a team of Akha women, and a fridge holds cold water and drinks for which we list our usage in a book. We have three blankets, as it gets really cool at night. This morning Barbara and I woke early and got up, wrapped in thermals and blankets, and sat on our deck to wait for the dawn. At first we enjoyed the stars, then gradually as they vanished the mist shrouded valley became clear, as rosy-fingered dawn stole the sky. Finally the sun rose above the hills, and we were warm 🙂 Soon it became too hot to sit and read in the sun, and I came up to the dining shelter to write this, back up the photos and enjoy a different view.

View from the dining area

Beautiful views, nice food and interesting walks for when it gets cooler in the afternoon make this a great place for R & R. Did I say, our room
with ensuite and stupendous views is just 500Baht (NZ$25) per night.

Christmas and Missionaries, Language and Lifestyle

We spent a lovely Christmas with the Baldwin family, Andrew and Roanna are students at Carey (Andrew is doing a summer placement at the International Church in Chiang Mai). We were glad not to miss seeing kids opening and enjoying presents, and after the service at the International Church (all in English for a Christmas treat) we had a lovely lunch with Doug and Claire (Partners), the Baldwins, some Kiwi and American short-termers and several Shan women who where about to return home after training. This was so like our Christmas lunches with the Kilpatrick tribe and others that we felt right at home 🙂

Over the Christmas period several experiences and conversations had me thinking about Missionaries, language and lifestyle.

Missionaries and Language
In and around Chiang Mai there seem to be a number of missionaries (some probably excusing themselves because they are short-term, though not those we met who had made great progress in short times) who seem to make little effort to learn either the language of their host country or that of the people they claim to serve. (I’d better add that they are a minority, lest I get heaps of angry mail from Missios fluent in Thai, Karen, Shan…, but they DO exist.)

Now, you can get the job done without the local language. But real mission is not so much about getting a job done as building relationships, and so building people up in Christ.

You can get the job done without the local language, I’ve watched a visiting pastor, speaking in his language and translated into English by a teenager from his culture, then translated again into the local language, convert crowds. I know they were converted because they (almost) all went forward at his appeal. Of course, good Bible School students (his audience that night) know what to do when a pastor’s voice gets just that tone, and the music plays softly in the background, however bad the Chinese whispers translation may have been. But getting the job done, even when measured by quantifiable KPIs*, is not real mission 😉

Some people are gifted at langauges, they are the ones who infuriatingly can chat almost like a native after only a few months of learning. Some people aren’t, we had great friends in Kinshasa who fell in that group. Despite a year or two of effort, even our cloth ears cringed to hear them mangle Lingala and French. BUT they tried, they practiced their mangled vowels and Anglicised consonants at every opportunity, and people responded to their gestures and laughing as much as to the words, and they formed relationships quickly. Learning the language (or at least one of them) is essential, being proficient is not. mission is about building people up in Christ, not KPIs!

Missionary Lifestyle

Shirley's room at klee Thoo Kloo

In Chiang Mai (and doubtless around the globe) there are some missionaries who live (almost) as the locals do. They live in local homes, eat local food (except for the occasional treat when they relish a taste of home) and often travel on Bus, Songthaw, or even foot. There are also missionaries who live in comfortable, airconditioned, homes, and eat (mainly) Western-style.

Again, as with language, it is not so simple as praising one group and condemning another. Both have access to opportunities and resources the locals don’t. What matters is how they use this access. If the Flashhomes (the missios in the comfortable home with supermarket food) use their home to provide a bed for local pastors passing through, share their food with people who happen by, and generally act in an open and welcoming manner that indicates their respect for their national colleagues, that’s great, their home and food need not be a barrier. But, if they keep these luxuries to themselves, then they will act as a barrier to the very people they seek to serve…

* KPI jargon TLA for Key Performance Indicator a quantifiable (= countable), and so meaningless measure used to convince people that progress really has been made, these are especially necessary if other real measures of success (like personal testimony) are not available.[RETURN]

Mae La and Mae Sariang (Work begins, and “real” holiday also)

KKBBSC across the gardens, this is NOT a typical view of the camp, but does show the industrious nature of Karen refugees

From Klee Thoo Klo we were dropped at Tee Toh’s home in Mae Sot. Tee Toh is the Dean at KKBBSC, so we needed to discuss what (and exactly when) we could teach on this trip. He is also one of the Karen with KKBBSC diplomas who would like to upgrade but finds current possibilities difficult, so in both roles he is a key person in developing possible postgraduate opportunities on the border.

I will be covering subjects that Wah Doh (who has travel documents and is making a fraternal visit to Karen in Australia during January) would have covered:

  • Understanding the Bible: this course was begun last semester, so I’ll be giving the students guided practice at studying and interpreting sample passages – this is the easy one to teach and prepare, especially having prepared and taught Understanding and Interpreting the Bible at Carey last semester 🙂
  • Ecclesiology: this course starts this semester, so I need to lay foundations, so I’ll deal with biblical resources for being and understanding church – this one will be harder as it does not relate directly to any of my teaching experience so far!
  • Philosophy: also starting this semester, this course will later on include sections on “Nietzche and the Nihilists” and other groups that were dead trendy in the 60s 😉 Since I have never formally studied philosophy this might have been the biggest challenge to my academic integrity, till I had the bright idea of teaching Ecclesiastes as a biblical foundation to Philosophy. This may broaden to include other elements of a biblical foundation to Philosophy, with a special focus on Old Testament. Since we only have three weeks that should enable me to do something useful that is also academically respectable and more important something I can actually do well 😉

Barbara will teach:

  • Introduction to Counselling: which she will enjoy and find easy 🙂
  • English Grammar: for which there is a textbook!

    Borderland hills north of Mae La

Term starts in “the second week in January” which actually means on the 4th or 5th January, so we are traveling north enjoying ourselves as tourists, planning to return to Mae Sot early in January to be ready when term actually starts.

But before this tourist phase started we were collected by Dr Simon Htoo who had things to do in Mae Sot, and taken to the camp. Although on the journey he was somewhat withdrawn and distant like in 2008, there were glimpses of his more cheerful self . However, once we were at the camp and fed, we had a really useful and lengthy chat. Perhaps he had more time with the students all away on mission trips (many “on the other side” = in Burma), or perhaps as with others the “second term” effect has cut in.Hills on the road from to Mae Sariang

[In Kinshasa we noticed that most of our African colleagues became noticeably more friendly and cooperative almost instantly when we returned after our first furlough – we call this the “second term effect”. People naturally have more trust in and respect for someone they perceive as offering a long term relationship.]

Compared with younger Karen (or Rev Newton, who is like an enthusiastic teenager with an elder’s wisdom, experience and mana) he was more aware of the difficulties (that’s twenty years experience talking, so really useful to listen to) and perhaps less inclined to consider starting with small achievable goals (here I am less sure how far we should agree, on the one hand institutional donors prefer big showy projects, on the other big plans are less likely to achieve anything, small is fast as well as beautiful 😉

The entrance to the river (border) crossing

We had a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep, the camp was tranquil with fewer people in the Bible School area, and no big jamboree in view, but we were not prepared either for the cold (we’d left our warm clothes with Shirley to have less to carry on our travels) or for cockerels (every house seems to have at least one) who took it in turns to compete with each other in relays crowing from midnight till dawn.

We were invited to share in a wedding anniversary celebration starting at 7am, the couple’s home was the other side of the river up the lower slopes of the cliff-like hill. We really enjoyed the walk and seeing more of the camp.

Crossing the Moei

I was again invited to speak a “word of encouragement” so gave them the word hesed (faithfulness/loving kindness/loyalty) like that of Ruth or God as the biblical secret for strong marriages and families.

The couple had been married 27 years, and provided a magnificent spread, including a delicious cauliflower and egg dish as well as fish with peanut and soya which was so savoury I ate it instead of the traditional pork and chicken 🙂

Boats at the crossing

Then Dr Simon (who had a pastor to drop at a river crossing and a load of stuff to deliver) took us on the road north. The river crossing was fascinating, totally unauthorised with no border posts visible, but a fleet of “long tailed” boats ferrying people and goods across the border. We drove through the most beautiful hills which stretch here for miles in every direction, jungle interspersed with occasional villages and their surrounding gardens and fields.

Mae Sariang from our guesthouse

Mae Sariang is a small town set on a beautiful river surrounded by more distant hills. We stayed at the fairly comfortable middling priced Riverside Guest House lashing out on a room with access to the roof top terraceand are enjoying a lazy morning drinking in the views 🙂 We have been eating at a neat restaurant a few doors down which also has superb river views, Internet and makes delicious Northeastern Thai dishes (last night I had fragrant Green Papaya Salad with sticky rice – I think I prefer the Karen style cooked inside a bamboo stalk to that prepared in a hygenic plastic bag, the bamboo adds to the flavour) as well as real bacon and coffee for breakfast. I’m getting a taste for the Hill Tribes’ coffee with its smokey flavour, but it is an acquired taste and Barbara would still prefer the cleaner sharper taste of the PNG based roasts we get in NZ.

This afternoon we catch the 1st class minibus to Chang Mai – we are really on holiday now 🙂

Update on our travels: Bangkok to Klee Thoo Klo

We left Bangkok on the night bus as scheduled, and since this time we travelled VIP arrived on time at 5am in the morning, got a Tuktuk to the Green Guest House hoping for a shower and a rest. It was understandably shut up for the night, so we sat down in the cool early morning to wait. After 15mins or so a guy arrived in a Ute, and was dropped off. He asked about the guesthouse and about others, we took him for a fellow future guest, though he looked very smart and had highly polished shoes. We should have booked ahead, about 5.30 someone woke and the guy asked and was told (in Thai) that the guest house was fully booked 😦 We settled down to wait for the day to start to get a Tuktuk to another place, our mysterious friend received a phone call, and a few minutes later another Ute arrived to pick him up. He offered us a lift and we were taken to the DKK Hotel, one expected to be fairly basic and fairly cheap, but comfortable.

Hills round Klee Thoo Klo

After a shower and a doze we TXTed Shirley to say we’d arrived, hoping to go to Rev Newton’s village the next day after a nice quiet day relaxing in Mae Sot. After buying flip flops/jandels and tooth paste for me we stopped at the Canadian Cafe for Coffee (real beans and hot water coffee, well made) and breakfast with bacon 🙂

Shirley phoned to say she would be in to pick us up soon, so we scurried back to DKK and checked out (our shortest ever residence in a hotel 😉 I just hope our friend with the shiny shoes was not a security man (Mae Sot as a border town neighbouring an active war zone is a hotbed of espionage and stuff like that) or that he did not check up on us at DKK later on…

Karen Farmland

Rev Newton is a 70ish man who trains fine choirs and has an infectious smile and a nice sense of humour (can I say a “wicked” one of a thoroughly pastoral pastor?), his wife Bu Po is the pastor of the village church as Rev Newton is something like a district superintendent, she is a charming and lively lady who also enjoys life to the full. Together they must be quite a handful for the KKBC (Kawthoulei Karen Baptist Convention) but a real tonic for the churches in the area. Their village, Klee Thoo Klo, is mixed Baptist, Animist and Buddhist and surrounded by active farmland, though many residents work in Mae Sot or elsewhere. It is also surrounded by the most lovely gentle hills, made more lovely because we are not far into the dry season, the plants are green but the ground is firm and dry.

We were not the only tired people by the Church Christmas Concert

Hospitality is a key virtue among Karen, so we really enjoyed the tasty food and meeting all the people who popped in or came to stay. It was Karen New Year, though on Karen New Year’s Day we went to Pho Pra (not far away) Pastor Peacefully’s village with the dormitories and schools for IDP children. They were hosting a big youth event, Border Connection 500, and there were more than 500 Karen young people there from up and down the border. Praise and worship, food, seeing the projects again (while the young people played sport with more enthusiasm than the heat might suggest), more food, and a final rally before we set off back to Klee Thoo Klo arriving around midnight.

Then the Christmas celebrations started over the next three days (in Thailand Karen celebrate Christmas on the weekend before 25th as children in Thai Schools or people with Thai employers will be working on the 25th itself). Choir practices and a concert for all the people (and especially children, young people and grannies of the village on Friday). A service and Christian concert on Saturday night, after sports all afternoon. We skived off the sports and visited Sonia, the Partners person in Mae Sot, as well as fascinating conversation I got to play with her baby for hours 🙂

The girls' dormitory many of you helped roof

Sunday, being Christmas day we were woken by carols, Newton had arranged On Sunday as well as several Christmas services at one of which I preached, was also a baptism shared with local Seventh Day Adventists in the new baptistry, and the installation of Newton and Bu Po’s eldest son as assistant pastor. I was invited to speak a short word of encouragement. At this service. Barbara had relayed the invitation as “short”, Shirley (whom all, except Bu Po obey) re-iterated both invitation and instruction, and then Rev Newton himself invited me and also said “short” – recounting this triple instruction to be “short” was much appreciated by the congregation, as were my illustrations for God sometimes saying “wait” (Pastor Peacefully has composed a well-known and somewhat tongue in cheek song in which he reminds Jesus that he promised to prepare us a place and asks him for a skyscraper in Kawthoulei (a free Karen State) or even saying “no” when Rev Newton or I ask for an eighth day in the week. The punch line of the talk was that there is one thing we can ask God for that he always supplies, his Holy Spirit for those times when we are at our wits end, and cannot cope.

[I’ll deal with Monday and today in another post.]

Our plans

We have not really posted here about our plans for this trip (apart from a rest after an unusually busy and stressful year). We had been hoping, and almost sorted the administrative details, that Tim could teach a postgraduate course that would count towards a recognised qualification for at least Peacefully and Wah Doh but perhaps also others. This will not be possible on this occasion.

[At least we hope it won’t as those two primary people are hoping to make a fraternal visit to Karen churches in Australia over most of the period of our visit. They do not yet have visas, but we hope last minute dramas (last night a key document was found…) may still enable that trip.]

What we are hoping is that we can talk face to face with some of the key people this end, with a view to exploring how to make post-KKBBSC theological education more available to people for whom travel is difficult (usually through lack of suitable identity papers).

So at present we don’t have any teaching actually scheduled. KKBBSC students are on mission, but the Bible School here in Newton’s village (sorry as yet both the Karen and Thai names are beyond me) is operating and we may help out here.

Relatively “fixed” points are that we want to visit Chang Mai (among other reasons to visit the Baldwins) and Chang Rai (simply as tourists) and at some stage around the middle of January we will need to cross a border to renew our visas.

In short at present our plans are “extremely flexible” – we are not quite sure what we are doing today, let alone tomorrow, but expect the Lord has interesting possibilities in mind 😉

Arrived Mae Sot, and beyond

View from Shirley's window

Peaceful villiage view from Shirley's window

We did indeed get the night bus, indeed VIP and very comfortable and no surprises. Neither of us slept much, jetlag I guess 😦 but we got a couple of hours in Mae Sot, where we thought we were staying the night, we will actually spend the next few days at Pastor Newton’s village and home as Shirley swiftly arranged everything. We get to chat more with Peaqcefully and Wah Doh and others once the big youth congress is over (Thursday). Meanwhile this is the view from Shirley’s office, not the absolute best view in the village, which boasts superb scenes of nearby hills, but suggestive of the rural peace we will enjoy for a few days here 🙂

It is quieter already since I took the photo, as the pig has been fed, so is busy not excited. We’ll be fed soon, and dinners smells excellent 🙂