10 Feb 2006

Full of Surprises – Feb. ’06

Boy, was I wrong. We got back

10 Feb 2006

Boy, was I wrong. We got back one week ago from southern Thailand where I thought we would be ministering to a totally isolated people group on an lone island. While the fact remains true that we were there ministering to a group of people that was catastophically impacted by the tsunami of last year, the nature of the people, the circumstances that they found themselves in, the nature of the work that we were doing – pretty much everything else – was far different from what I expected.

Going in, I thought that I, alongiside of a small group of the Thailand Campus Crusade National Staff and a few Americans on a week-long mission trip, were going to an island that was cut off from the rest of the country because it was far from the mainland, that we would be ministering to a group of people that were “”on their own”” simply because of geography. There proved to be a far different story. As our boat full of about 15 Thai CCC staff, 6 Texans, and one lone Arkansan pulled close to shore, I was shocked not to find complete darkness and rudimentary huts, but fully-lighted bungalows, and several restaraunts – a full-blown resort! What in the world was going on? Where were the “”natives”” that I expected? Was this some sort of joke that my Thai friends pulled on me? Was this the wrong island?

No joke. Right island. So what’s up?

Well, it turns out that the only thing “”worse”” than being a people that time forgot is being a people that everybody knows about, and couldn’t care less about.

Just a couple of miles away from these island-paradise bungalows, only accessible by boat, certainly not able to be seen from the view of the bungalows, hidden from everyone’s sight except our Lord’s, was the home of these “”sea gypsies,”” or “”chao leh,”” as they’re called, who we had come to find. I quickly learned that these people were isolated not because no one knows about them, but because they are despised by everyone else and basically viewed as less than human by many. They have a been a nomadic people throughout their existence as a people group – moving from island to island, spending most of their lives lving on tiny boats. When the tsunami hit, this particular village lost half of its men, and many of its boats. Most Thais look down on the chao leh as the lowest possible level of society. The government doesn’t recognize them as citizens of Thailand, and thus they are cut off from all government services. That can’t go to a government hospital when they’re sick, because they’re not citizens. We heard a story of one mother who just before the tsunami was nearing the time to give birth to her first child. She was having complications as the time came, but simply didn’t have any way to get help. The child died within hours of birth. Of course there are private hospitals, but you must have money to visit those. What are they to do? Trade the fish they catch for medical services and go hungry instead? They can’t get treated when they’re sick, their children can’t get an education – throughout the years they have been a people without a country and a people with no one to care for them.

Enter God.

Since the tsunami, God has done an incredible work in this small group of people. The local church leaders heard about their plight soon after the tsunami hit and began to seek God on how best to help them. A local church leader contacted Campus Crusade for Christ for additional help and things got into motion. CCC and the local church joined together and brought manpower and finances together to buy a small bit of land on a previously unwanted piece of Payaam Island to give these people a permanent home. Boats were purchased to restore these people with their only known way to sustain themselves. CCC staff and volunteers came from Thailand, America, and other parts of the world to build houses for each family. And through their witnessing God’s love in a tangible way, about half of the people in the village who previously worshipped spirits in the trees, sand, and sea have become our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus!

Our work was far different from what I expected – we spent our 10 days there building additional houses – (2-room stilt-huts to you and me – but about three times bigger than what these people had before the tsunami) – for this people group. All of the chao leh from this particular village have homes already, but another village of chao leh heard about what amazing things “”the Great God”” had done for this village – and they want to move their entire village to join with this village! All because of what God has done!

And how great was it to get to attend to church services and get to praise and worship with this new group of believers! No set time for worship services either – random praise singing was heard several different nights and Sunday morning services started with the village kids running around shouting to each hut – “”It’s time to worship God!”” An open-air church building with a roof and a room full of guys wearing the same clothes they have had on all week and fresh in from a morning of fishing, women much the same, and several kids not wearing any clothes at all was the setting for a service with no scent or taint of cultured-Christianity – just a small group of people knowing nothing about what a church service was “”supposed to be like”” – only there to praise the God who had so abundantly provided for them and to seek to know Him more.

How very much we, as Americans, a people who have had the gospel throughout our existence, could learn from these new believers in the middle of the Adnaman Sea who have know Christ for less than a year?

{yoogallery src=[/images/2006/Koh Payaam/]}

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