Sunday February 15, 2009
Late in the hot sticky afternoon sat right above exhaust of a song-taow for the 6km ride north along river to Amphawa (pron. ahm-pah-wah), the most popular destination in this little touristed province. It’s small town with fascinating and important history. First in line of current royal dynasty was born here mid-19th cent. and lived here until anointed king. Near the great river, most of town stretches about a half mile astride a tidal canal all along banks of which are trinket shops, food stalls, coffee shops, bars separated from canal banks by narrow footpaths which on weekends are thronged by Thai tourists. Canal banks quite tall and sidewalks without guardrails so if one’s not careful to watch where one’s going… We intentionally went late in day to avoid crowds; how silly that thought proved. One could hardly walk because bodies were packed so densely. Didn’t stay long.

Monday February 16, 2009
Took a little oven, oops, I mean bus, to Bangkonthi (pron. bahng-cone-tee), 6km beyond Amphawa. Town is on the river, and is seat of one of the three districts of this province, the other two being Amphawa and Maekhlong the provincial capital where we are.

Tuesday February 17, 2009
Took oven/bus north toward Damnoen Saduak, 20km north and just over border in Ratchaburi the next province. Midway along highway got down in the middle of nowhere to visit Pinsuwan Bencharong. Bus driver had claimed to know just where P. Ben. is, and, true, he did let us off at a little shop selling Bencharong, but it wasn’t Pinsuwan. However, the people at that competitor of Pinsuwan proved very nice, and even offered to transport us on back of their motorcycles to Pinsuwan. One of us two demurred. So off we trudged the ½ mile or so, using map they had kindly drawn for us, arriving Pinsuwan just in time for their lunch break during which they close up tight. No problem. We were so fagged and soaking wet from ride in oven and and walk in furnace that a little sitdown in the shade of leafy palms was just the thing, only to discover we were resting beneath the early 20th century home of business’s founder. Gorgeous large traditional Thai style home built all of polished teak, completely open underneath among the pilings on which constructed, with all enclosed areas on second storey. Some time back it was taken apart, piece by piece, transported from famous historic city Ayudhya (ah-yoot-ee-ah) to this lovely spot, and reassembled. Now used as display hall for benefit of visitors, displaying family memorabilia and historical artifacts. Bencharong is a uniquely Thai multicolor painted glazed pottery, ranging in quality from cheap, heavy, ordinary, to thin, light, fine china. Pinsuwan is most definitely the latter; in fact the first Mr. Pinsuwan created the art and tradition which have been handed down from generation to generation. For his lifetime achievements he was honored by the king. The gorgeous table and display ware is prized by many of the more affluent (it’s not cheap) as decorative art in their homes and as gifts for important occasions. One can tour the factory here in which 40-50 skilled artisans paint onto the china the beautiful designs of very fine quality. A very telling sign of the times: we were treated to a very American car dealer like high pressure hard sell in the display and sales room. This is very unlike the Thais who are normally very reserved, quiet, dignified, so it’s plain that the worldwide econ disaster is being felt in quarters here. We successfully resisted the “closing� with kindness and lack of giving offense, we hope.

Wednesday February 18, 2009
“It All Started With A Simple Wave of the Hand�
An earlier message recounted how we first met the fish farm family. Today that culminated in our visiting Khun Somkidt’s family, home, and family business on the great river. The crowning moment was when the old man sat down and did something Thais, especially those older, almost never do. Stimulated by a question or two from us, he spun out his life story. Photos of him so doing are/will be available on site. He was born at beginning of the Pacific War at which time the Japanese Army did not exactly conquer Thailand but did assume suzerainty over Thailand with not infrequent occasional brutality. For example, right here in Maekhlong where he grew up, if any lights at all were left on at night in/near their home the Japanese shot at or bombed anything near the lights. His family was as poor as could be without actually starving to death. He was able to go to school very little, but when he did, he rowed himself in a tiny boat some considerable distance to school. His father and other able bodied family members earned their meager living by plunging into the sea and collecting shellfish, probably some sort of mussels, from pilings near the village Don Hoi Lot which we’ve visited. ASA he could he helped his father in this occupation which spelled the end of school, and he did this to age 20. The fam lived day-to-day, hand to mouth, each days shellfish sale in market realized just enough for that days food, no more. At age 20 went to work on uncles large fishing boat, at Bt300/month as deckhand. Then stepped all the way up to Bt 400 when he took on the extra risk as a diver working off the boat on whatever needed to be done under water. Tiny pay, yes, but by choice he lived on nothing; saved 80% of his earnings and advanced eventually to point at which his uncle gave him a share of each catch. This increased his savings. Uncle sold the boat largely due to too many of his employees stealing part of the catch to sell themselves, and uncle grew unwilling to fight that battle any longer, setting up some business ashore instead. So at age 35 Somkidt married and started fish farm of 10 pens with his meager but sufficient savings. Over years of having three children, setting up household, all the usual stuff that we Americans do to consume all our earnings, and too often more, he worked the fish farm, worked extremely hard, gave all his earnings to his wife, she managed a happy family life while spending only a tiny portion of the modest earnings, reinvesting everything in the business. They now have very valuable piece of waterfront property, 40 pens, 1,000 fingerlings per pen ranging to 300 fully mature 4kg Pla-kapong per pen, @ Bt140/kg market price when reach 4kg ideal selling weight. Takes 2 yrs to reach mkt size. Huge house, work building, guest rooms, and 4 lg fishing boats, 2 at Phuket fishing Andaman Sea, and 2 at Sattahip fishing Gulf outward to S. China Sea. When acquired his boats, their cost if new was Bt2MM each, while their replacement cost today is Bt10MM ea. Bt 35 per US$1.00. He has 2 sons helping PT + 3-4 hired FT workers for fish farm + 3-4 deck hands on ea. of four boats. Say a 20 person operation now. As nearly as I could ascertain, he has never borrowed a penny. How America today should wish she had done similarly. Absolute rags to riches story. Horatio Alger. 67 yrs. Wiry. Sunburnt. Gruff. Hospitable. Working very hard every day. He said to us, “I work; she saves�. He obviously adores, admires, and is most proud of his wife who scrimped and saved all their married lives to bring them to this point. Elder son skippers on fishing vessel. #2 son went to college and works in family business. Daughter is grad student in public health at one of top universities. All education paid for by parents who themselves had no schooling really to speak of. After thorough two hour tour of business and home, see photos, he hosted us to lunch at cousin Sakara’s “Coffee and Steak� nearby. See pix. Furthermore he proudly showed us the guesthouse under construction right on the riverside and offered it to us free of charge when/if we return, plus the use of his motorcycle. He does not know how to drive a car, nor does she. They own no car. Their sons each own pickups. He strongly insisted we return for another visit soon, and they want to escort us to a fish sauce factory at Don Hoi Lot with which they have some connection. They will certainly receive tracts, as long as the Lord wills and gives us strength.

Thursday February 19, 2009
The joy doesn’t seem to stop. Rose 5:30am go Bangkok on bus for 10am meeting of pastors, evangelists, other workers, with various levels and types of interest in “home church� as they call it. Nine men who are regular participants were there in addition to four visitors including ourselves. Much prayer. Sharing. Mutual encouragement. Singing. Common meal. Finished about 1pm. Delightful. All in Thai. Understood little. But in spirit and heart we were one with them. Believe you’d love these brothers from depth your heart. Seem to us: Unpretentious. God fearing. God loving. Joyful. Eager to serve the Lord. Taken to visit home in church premises of one young brother to see his 8 day old baby, third child, and his wife, baby’s mother. He was sent out by 100 year old and very conservative church which we remember from our days in Bangkok to plant their first ever daughter congregation with strong financial support from mother church. But mother ch. very conservative in their ways so from day one he and the members refused rich mother’s financial support and trusted the Lord for daily bread so that the new church could pursue more active evangelism and less clergy centered and facilities centered ways. So he’s very poor. The Lord has done wonderful works using them as His tools. Another brother in the group works without pay on a much needed revision of Thai Bible Society translation of God’s Word. Another travels length and breadth of the land as evangelist without pay. One dear brother and his wife drove us back the 60 miles to Maekhlong and we talked with them till 6pm in peaceful hospital pavilion on river, sanctuary from great heat and humidity that have appeared in just past few days. Changed shirts and showered twice today. The couple who brought us back, Artit and Mee-ow (that’s right, her name is just like a cat’s sound) have real passion for Christ Jesus and His Body, especially those pursuing “church meeting in simplicity.� Artit said that until about four years ago all the churches here were heavy with institutionalism and very antagonistic toward any who espoused “home church,� but then the book The Heavenly Man became widely read resulting in many changing their minds in favor of meeting in a more simple manner. The power of the written word can be stunning, especially in the hands of Almighty God. Joy inexpressible and full of glory are the only words that come to mind. He’s a life insurance agent who used to be a realtor.

While with them at 6pm I “woke up� to our being late for 5:30 English tutoring appointment with “our student�. Called her to apologize, only to be invited to dinner hosted by her father who with her elder brother had returned home for one of their infrequent visits from their work 300km away, beyond Kanchanaburi where is The Bridge On The River Kwai for those of you who remember that fabulous David Lean film of long ago and far away. Just now returned from a “dream evening�. Lovely open air restaurant on large canal. Eleven people including we two, the rest being family and one friend. Two unhurried hours of sheer bliss. Dish after dish of the best seafood imaginable, in wide variety of species and preparation method, some mild, some super hot, much of which I would have guessed we might not like and all of which proved beyond delicious. Very expensive by local standards. Lavish, even. And the most pleasant company with people whose language we barely speak but who were so gracious to us and so tolerant and patient with us as we fumbled and stumbled in Thai. We learned, inter alia, that “our student’s� father and brother own/operate a resort set in a functional rubber plantation on the Burma border, in or close to a national park. Found their website today, all in Thai, but main photo made place look gorgeous. Their guests are all Thais, no foreigners, and we were given firm invitation to go there next month as their “true� guests, meaning non-paying. Can hardly wait. The list of people with whom we have formed something more than a simple greeting relationship and to whom we will give a variety of four Thai language Gospel tracts we’ve selected from many available now stretches in the 50-100 zone, I haven’t counted in a while. We keep careful record on computer of their names and what we’ve learned about their lives. The four tracts are variegated so each addresses a different deadly aspect of the human condition for which Christ Jesus is the One and Only antidote.

Saturday February 21, 2009
At breakfast on river were greeted by pleasant young Filipino man and his lovely Thai girlfriend. Fabian is English tchr in govt elementary school, asked our religion because he saw us praying, asked if we were Catholic, we said “Christian�, he said he is too, said he is Catholic and that Catholic and Christian are same, said he goes every Sun to Catholic church, asked where we go to church, appeared surprised to hear that there were any other church in town, and asked to accompany us tomorrow. The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform. You might like to thank Him with us.

While interneting at church office today the leaders kindly gave us an English translation of tomorrow’s songs (this required much extra work on their part) among which is one long popular in U.S. in which Christians sing a psalm that was God’s Word to the psalmist and the OT brethren, but when sung by Christians post-Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension, sung as if we were appropriating the words, denies the finished work of Christ. When we showed them this from the Scriptures the pastor and other leaders conferred, and within half hour came back with a revised list, having excised and replaced the song. Their willingness to pray, consider God’s Word, change their minds, and act accordingly is a source of great joy, a fine example for leadership elsewhere.

Tuesday February 24
Another tutorial session this eve with dear young “Paht� who had her first two of four full days of university admissions exams this past Saturday and Sunday, the final two following next weekend. It’s really a “make or break� issue in lives of many young Thais. Graduation from Chulalongkorn Univ, the Harvard/Stanford/MIT of Thailand rolled into one, just about guarantees a lifetime of position and prosperity as long as one makes no egregious mistakes during rest of one’s career. But places for new students are limited, so competition is stiff to the max. The English language sections of the exams are the most difficult for most students. They may breeze through abstruse calculus, physics, history, and biology, but crater on English, so the depth of gratitude shown us by her family for our poor attempts at tutorials is deeply gratifying. And, so far, they have not objected to our using the living Word of the living God as our teaching text. We simply have her read a chapter at a time, which she does quite well, carefully sounding out the longer more difficult words, then we ask her to explain to us in English what she understands of what she’s read. Because the Thai translation is in another column side by side with English she is given a big boost in understanding and her main hurdle is translating that into English we can understand. To watch her sweet face and hear her soft voice reading of Jesus the Savior and King, while we are all the while praying that God will imprint the words onto a new heart for her, causes joy inexpressible and full of glory to well up within our hearts.

Wednesday February 25
Just arrived Lamphu House, Bangkok (search web for their site) on our way to Chiangmai Friday. Will be hosted this eve by a Christian couple (he’s a retired pastor) who are local staff of Thailand subgroup of Harvest Missions Intl headquartered in U.S. Tomorrow evening will have dinner with dear brother and wife who are passionate advocates and pursuers of “home church� or “church meeting in simplicity� here in Thailand. By 8am today it was hot and sticky; a “four shower day�.

Chuck & Judy Hazen
chuck_h@olypen.com
hazen@olypen.com