Praying with the Prais
by Leoncia Macalanda
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We arrived at New Blessing Foundation Center at exactly 12 midnight last night after four hours of pleasant zigzag joyride from Nan City. Thailand has excellent roads even on the mountains except a one-km rough road near Nam Chang where there is a recent landslide and is now being fixed. Two times also that a herd of sleeping cattle block our way. It reminded me of the Psalm. The Lord owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
So here I am at Paradise Under Restoration Nam Chang!
How can I begin to describe the pristine beauty of this jungle! When I woke up this morning, I looked out the window and began praising God. Mountain ranges as far as the eye could see. Foggy mountaintops, other bluish mountains yonder. Trees, trees everywhere. Two thousand one hundred meters above sea level.
I went out of our room and met a Thai mom preparing breakfast in the kitchen. She was quick to greet me Sawadika with the characteristic Thai gesture (wai) and a smile. I also said Sawadika, imitating her gesture. Then I put to the test the three Thai sentences that I learned from my seatmate at the bus. Dichan che Lyo. Chan sa mat put pasa-Thai dai nit noi.. Nam Chang chuey mak mak! Translation: My name is Lyo. I can speak a little bit of Thai.. Nam Chang is very beautiful! I earned a wide-wide smile and a real thumbs-up for that! I was bursting with pride for that little accomplishment, but I know I need to eat kilos upon kilos more ofhot chili before my tongue could speak the sing-song phasa-Thai which sounds like the ascents and descents of the mountains that we crossed last night.
The young mom introduced herself as Piang. She can also speak a little English, emphasizing the little bit nit noi with her finger.
After that brief intro, I went out of the building to do further sight seeing.
If it was a sip a while ago at the window, this time I was drowned with the absolute awesomeness of it all. The loveliness just takes the breath away. It's just mountains upon mountains upon mountains, but it's so beautiful I wish I could put my arms around it. I cried quiet exultations to the Creator who is also my dear Lord and friend, who, in his infinite goodness has given me the chance to reach this place.
I walked around the small compound along the bamboo fence, down the children's playground then to the back of Atchan Tim's house. I took my fill of the distant vista of seemingly endless ranges of mountains. Toward the south and east side are still higher mountains. Paradise Restored gives me more appreciation of the significance of mountains in Biblical symbology.
Then I transferred my focus to the more important aspect of Nam Chang - the village itself.
Surrounding the mission center is a cluster of a hundred or so medium-sized houses. The roofs are made of g.i. sheets, others of cogon grass. The wooden floors elevated about 4-5 ft from the ground. The wooden walls have few and small windows.
Within the mission compound are patches of veggies and herbs like onion, mustard, cabbage and others that I cannot recognize. Along the fence are jackfruit trees in their fruit-bearing years, which gives a hint of the length of time the mission has been established. From where I'm sitting right now, I can see a lychee tree with bunches of its red-orange fruit proudly hanging on the twigs. There is also a row of small somfu (rose apple) trees, the fruits are so many, the thin branches are bent low.
After my initial recon, I went inside our room. My companions, Ate Tess and Angie were already up. Then Atchan Grace, our lovely Korean host knocked. She briefed us of our task for the day: breakfast in their house at seven and maybe a meeting in the afternoon to talk about our English camp. The rest of the day, she said, we can just rest and wait.
At seven we were summoned to their nice and warm abode just a few steps away from our quarters. She was saying all apologies for the breakfast she prepared. It consists of pancake (spread with butter and honey), yoghurt, scrambled egg, som (pomelo) and tea. It's a feast. I wonder what constitutes a breakfast with no apologies.
Mercifully, this couple can speak English very well so we had a great fellowship together. At length, they told us about this wonderful mission the Lord has entrusted to them, of which I have the privilege of taking a nit noi part and telling about it to you now.
This is Nam Chang (literally means Water Elephant or Elephant Creek), home of the Prai tribe. The missionary couple Atchan Tim and Grace have been here for eleven years. They used to be connected with New Tribes Mission. During their first five years, there was no electricity in the village and the road going here was rough and narrow. They built a small house that was later eaten down by termites. I cannot imagine the extremely difficult pioneering work they've done. They're now reaping some harvests of their hard work. They now have about a hundred regular worshippers. The mission is receiving support from Japan and Korea that enables them to function in their various ministries including the education of some some ten children down at Nan.
The Prai people, unlike most Thais, are animists. They have their own dialect, tradition, values and belief system, different from the rest of Buddhist Thailand. They are very poor, subsisting only on slash and burn farming. They also hunt. "They're a clever people," Atchan Tim pointed out. "They were able to survive in this jungle for generations. They hunt for birds, wild animals. They kill tigers." Tigers! My eyes widened. "Yes, until now," Atchan continued. "They usually catch tigers once or twice a year!" Whoaah!! It didn't occur to me just a while ago that yes, indeed, in the midst of this beauty are wild animals. Lurking behind the thick forest are paws ready to pounce and fangs waiting to devour.
About fifty families are now worshipping with them, and it is still increasing. So they are expanding the worship center. Nam Chang is very near the Laos border and there are some people from beyond the border who walk six hours going here to worship the Lord with their beloved brethren. The story goes like this. Some time ago, this territory is part of Laos. So these Prai people have some influence and experience of oppression from the communist government of Laos. There came a point when the demarcation line between the two countries became clear. The Prai people were divided. Some were absorbed by Thailand and were given Thai citizenship while some of their relatives became part of Laos. Atchan Tim says helping those Prai people from Laos is now one of their problems.
Largely due to the painstaking efforts of this mission, the people have opened their eyes to civilization. But this poses another problem. Atchan Tim says its difficult now to win the rest of the community to Christ. The youth and children think that being a Thai (like the lowlanders), is the best way to live. So upon opening the window to civilization, the missionaries have invited a competing worldview. It's better to become a Buddhist Thai than a Christian Prai? However, they are not very much sold out to Buddhism either. One good thing about Nam Chang is that, because majority of the people are Christians, and because of the prevailing presence of this mission center, there is no Buddhist temple in the village. The rule in Thailand is at least one temple and a monk in a village. But monks are not welcome in Nam Chang because monks are to be fed and given alms while the Christian mission gives them medicines and education for their children.
So we are still on the winning side. Our Good Shepherd will keep His flock safe within the fold and will continue to call for others to enter.
As I am finishing this letter, lightnings flash and thunders roll. And then the rain falls. With my Bible with me, I remember reading the last chapters of the book of Job (ch 38, 39). Fitting words to meditate in kind of surroundings. Read it for yourself and marvel and feel tiny before such a big awesome God.
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