“So, you’ve finished your work in Surin?” the lady asked me.
“No, we haven’t,” I replied.
She tilted her head, her brow wrinkled with concern and curiosity. “Then why are you leaving? Are you guys okay?” No doubt she had followed the stories of enough missionaries to know that mission life isn’t easy. Had we been overcome by hardships?
“We’re fine,” I replied. “But we’ve learned something in the last 11 years of mission life in Thailand: If we’re going to finish the job before another 11 years goes by, we need to share the load with a larger team!”
Many readers may recall that when we began the Northern Khmer Project, we were teamed up with the Mitchell family, and student missionary Kelli Biggs (now Doss). With their help, we were able to complete a Northern Khmer culture study in only nine months.
Then the Mitchells returned to the States, and we had no long-term teammates for several years. We had some great short-term help from student missionaries. Amanda Jones and Bridgette Matthews helped us establish our radio station ministry. Sam Friere and Eric Fiedler helped lead our church’s youth group activities. And of course, we had the local Thai minister, Pastor Wanlop, and his wife Tongmii whom we assisted in doing various kinds of ministry for the Surin church members—small group outreach, a couple attempted church plants in the countryside, visitation and personal Bible studies, evangelistic meetings, and more. By God’s grace, the church has grown and attracts a number of visitors. We have between 50 and 60 people on an average Sabbath. But in the last several years, it seems like we hit a membership ceiling. What is it going to take to move the church to the next level? I believe the solution is to develop more leaders from among our members who are on fire and trained for outreach. We need to create materials they can use, like contextualized small group Bible studies, CDs and DVDs, books and songs for worship. But creating such materials has been very difficult for us over the last several years because we have been spread too thin to really focus on it.
When Robbie and Kelli Doss joined us, they were a tremendous blessing as they picked up much of the general ministry load, like accompanying Pastor Tim for church member visitation and preaching and teaching on Sabbaths. That freed up my Thai helper Teng and me to focus on editing the Thai translation of the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe. We also wrote a rough draft and field tested a new Bible Study series that we describe as the Gospel in its smallest package. And yet, as a two-family team, we see that there is still such a huge amount of work to be done, and we long for an even larger team.
That’s where AFM’s Central Thai team comes in. Several months ago, Ricardo Palacios, the Central Thai team leader, called me and shared a vision of working closely together to develop music, Bible studies and a discipleship track that would benefit not only the Northern Khmer and Central Thai, but all the Thai-speaking people of Thailand. Robbie and Kelli and Shannon and I carefully and prayerfully considered the proposal over several months, and we decided we felt that merging the two teams was God’s will. So we are now in Khon Kaen, Thailand looking for a house. Once we have found one that suits our family, we will return to Surin to move our things.
As I wrote in my last article, we have mixed emotions about leaving Surin. We are leaving behind so many amazing memories and wonderful people. But I am encouraged knowing that we will be only a four-hour drive away, so we can visit periodically. Of course, as we develop materials in Khon Kaen, we will share them with Surin as soon as possible. The collaboration and partnership the Dosses and we will have with the Palacios, Tumberg, and K. team will be wonderful for the development of materials and music that will, by God’s grace, be a great blessing to the whole country of Thailand.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support! It’s exciting to think that in merging the Northern Khmer and Central Thai teams, we are also merging our teams of supporters and prayer warriors! Thank you all for the important part you play!