I have a dark secret that I've been harboring for years and it's time to come clean. I like musicals. There, I said it. Some of you will like me even less after this one, but I also really liked the Aladdin remake that Disney released this past summer. I felt like they did justice to one of my favorite songs:
Sorry to be so controversial so early in this update (you usually have to read a bit for the controversial parts), but we really have entered "a whole new world" as we have stepped into our new roles as mom and dad. In fact, I'm officially re-branding these mission updates as "Family Updates" in honor of Mary Ella's grand entrance into our family. Here's what's going on with our family, and ways you can be a part of the mission.
Let's get the obvious out of the way first. On December 18th, our lives were radically changed forever in the best way possible. Out of all the things that can go wrong in a pregnancy and delivery, God blessed us with a healthy, happy baby our first time trying. I don't take this lightly. We have friends and have heard countless heartbreaking stories of miscarriages, complications during labor, and babies being born with life-altering medical conditions. We are no more worthy of having a healthy baby than anyone else. It is nothing but God's unmerited grace that got Mary Ella into our arms safely, and He deserves all the credit and praise for it.
We both love being parents. Most people don't know this, but the desire to be parents and have lots of kids was one of the biggest things Liz and I bonded over before we started dating, and made us realize that God might just be leading us to marriage. It's been almost a full decade since those conversations on the campus of Union University, but the day has finally come that we get to enjoy this beautiful gift.
Mary Ella is over one month already and we can already see her personality shining through. I have prayed since before she was born that she would be like her great-grandmother, for whom she was named after, and that she would have a servant's heart and a desire to bless others. Even at 7 weeks, she is already doing that; she is good with strangers, and she likes to smile when people speak to her, whether it's English or Thai. I pray that never changes.
Work and Finances
A lot of people reading this update probably saw my Facebook post about how Liz has decided to stay home with Mary Ella instead of signing another contract to teach full-time next school year. As Mary Ella gets a little more independent, Liz still wants to teach privately or online to help bring in a little extra income, but since her paycheck was more than mine, our finances have still taken a big hit.
We serve in a global megacity of 10 million people, and even though prices aren't as high as cities like New York or LA, they also aren't as cheap as when we lived in a small city nestled in the mountains up north (or even my hometown in Tennessee). We are praying that as we continue to dedicate ourselves to the mission here, we would have people who would come alongside us to partner with us financially.
Some have already given one-time gifts, especially when they heard about what happened at my job that I just resigned from (long story, but I was the 4th person to resign in the first semester because of misconduct that I didn't feel comfortable participating in). For those who have given generously over the years that we have been in Thailand--thank you. Your generosity doesn't just help us monetarily; it gives us confidence that there are others who have a desire to see Thailand and Southeast Asia impacted with the gospel, and it gives us confidence that we are where God wants us to be in this season of life.
I am working on ways that you can donate, but for now, we can accept donations through the link here on this website. There is no tax benefit as we are not registered with any nonprofit right now, but hopefully we will be able to receive through an organization in the future that will help in that process.
Missiology in Thailand
If there is any one thing I have struggled with constantly since we have moved to Bangkok, it's the question of how to effectively share the gospel with Thai people living in the nation's capital city. There are so many complicated variables that are amplified by life here, and it can be discouraging because it feels like class-ism (elitism) is so rampant in the church.
Just as it can be difficult to make American Christians see certain issues in their own context (the unwillingness to call out the sin of certain political candidates comes to mind), it can be very hard, for example, to make Thai Christians see how the flaunting of their English skills, money, or western friends, can make other Thai people feel unwelcomed, creating unnecessary barriers to sharing the gospel. The truth is that Jesus came for the "least of these" and Christianity has always moved quickly to the poor and marginilized in society. We live in a very strange context here in Bangkok, where almost the exact opposite is true. It seems like the elite have been a bit more open to accepting the gospel, but because of western and Chinese missionares who didn't care to understand Thai context, they didn't train those upper class Thai people to serve "the least of these" among us, and so the work of the gospel among the working class has been slowed. This frustration can be amplified for us because as Anglo Americans, we are often thrusted automatically into the "upper class" category and it can feel like a constant battle to make people realize that we want to speak Thai and we want to connect with and serve the "average Thai" too, which means working class, non-English-speaking people.
What I am talking about here is the missiology of Thailand, and one reason why Thailand still needs missionaries is to help with this work of understanding the context and helping train Christians to do the work of evangelism and discipleship in an effective way as they live their lives in this very complex society. The truth is, if every Thai Christian understood these things, there would be enough local workers that the very idea of missionaries would seem silly, but that's just not how people work. Yes, we have areas in Thailand where 5%-7% of the population are Christians, which is more than some cities in New England, but most of the Christians aren't even trying to reach people outside of their own minority group. That is why as missionaries, we can't be content with simply sharing a translated version of a gospel presentation from English, but we have to do the hard work of understanding the culture, so that we can help motivate others to go to the people that are harder to reach, or are being neglected altogether.
Recently, our church here in Bangkok hosted another session of a marriage seminar that we've participated in before in the past, called "Grace Marriage." It's always great to have a facilitated time to ask each other questions that we might not normally ask on our own, and be reminded of the importance of health in our marriage. Thank you to everyone at Lifepoint Bangkok who helped host this.
I preached recently at Lifepoint from 1 Peter 2:9, a passage in which Peter is encouraging Christians who are suffering under persecution by reminding them of their calling. The sermon is English translated to Thai.
Some of our friends and family in the U.S. might have been following the news about the Corona virus that started in China and has been spreading. Thailand gets a lot of tourists from China and has the second highest amount of cases already outside of China.
We are taking precautions, but we are not worried. The number of cases is still low here, and even lower are the number of people dying from the disease. The fact is, we tried to not take Mary Ella out much these past few weeks anyway, because the pollution here has been so bad. Overall, we aren't worried, and do think you should be either.
I am passionate about seeing ministry done in Thailand. So, I want to start adding a section to these updates where I want to highlight one ministry that you can pray for. I'll start with an easy one, as this ministry is the one that brought us to Thailand, and that is Baan Athitaan Church in Chiang Rai. I want to encourage you to read the latest update from my father-in-law about the work happening there by clicking here. They are currently in a building project, and you can see a recent video update about that project below.