A World Ends!


by Patricia DeWitPatinSwiss

 

Every once in a while the world ends. Resistance is usually futile. Oh, people have tried to resist, mourning the good ol’ days, crying over the loss of the way it was, stubbornly remaining phone-less, car-less, facebook-less. But in the end, they couldn’t prevail against what had become a new normal.

 

On August 17th we celebrate 25 years as PAOC Global Workers. We may have seen the end of the world a few times, having to adapt to many new normals. Some of these were just in our own world; some were shared universally. Each has formed us. Looking back it’s easy to see them as road markers, yet at the time, they were huge steps of faith, where we found ourselves in unfamiliar places, leaning desperately on God, squinting to see His face, shushing all other voices in order to hear His voice.

 

So from… twenty-two years in Bangkok with our first military coup in 1992, numerous states of emergency, the Tsunami, 9-11, strict curfews, adopting a daughter, giving birth to a second daughter, the world wide web, the creation of social media, national floods in Thailand, to… a transition to Europe that started with brain surgery, a year in Germany, then a move to France, Charlie Hebdo, The November 13 terrorism, Bastille Day terror, there have been many times where we woke up to a new normal.

 

The thing about new normals is that they can create a powerful space for the Gospel to emerge. That’s the crux of Global Work; not so much to create new normals, but to recognize and not be afraid of the new, to navigate the hard parts and create space where others can follow and cross over on dry land, always prayerfully in response to God’s love and reflecting God’s Kingdom.

 

In 2008, something that looked a lot like civil war started to divide Thailand. As a church we found ourselves caught between the Redshirts and the Yellow-shirts. Each side believed they had a right to hate the other. These colours seeped into the church, and where we would have hoped for orange, we just found Christian Red-shirts against Christian Yellow-shirts, each so determined to ‘have things our way no matter what’, each praying ‘Oh God, let us win!’ So while killings and protests hit the news headlines, our Newsong Bangkok church family knew we couldn’t rejoice in those ‘victories’, and set out to navigate this new normal so that once it was all over, Red-shirts and Yellow-shirts could come home to community and communion.

 

When the world ends we are forced to trust. Or die from worry. Seriously. It shows us that God is God and I am not. I remember a day in June 1995, and we were living in Nong Khai. We had guests, but I was starting to get a headache and stayed home while everyone went out. The headache had become so bad, and no amount of Tylenol helped. There was a fever, and out of body hallucinations. Peter took me to the hospital and the doctors told me I was suffering from full-blown HIV, and to put on a mask, go home, that there was nothing they could do for me.

 

Trust.

 

We had to get to Bangkok. FAST. So once our friends arrived to stay with the boys, another friend drove us to the airport an hour away, then a quick flight, and then a zigzag taxi ride to the most advanced private hospital in the city at that time. I was extremely ill.

 

“They told us she has final stage HIV, but that can’t be true.” Said Peter upon meeting the doctor. Peter was correct. A battery of tests proved this. But they could not find the cause of this illness. Not until the next month when we returned to Toronto for our first ‘furlough’ and Doctor Gamble at the missionary health institute discovered that I had suffered from Japanese encephalitis.

 

Most of all, what I have learned is that the end of the world does not kill us. Go back and read that again. The end of one world and the ensuing new normal does require us to take on this vulnerable posture of laying down our lives, dying to our idea of what things ‘should be’ but then there is that glorious coming out of the restrictive deathtomb and walking through the garden in a resurrection body. The new normal! God is there.

 

In every new normal GOD IS THERE. We may not recognize him in that foreign place, and we become frightened, like that time we were 5 and lost sight of Mom at the Kmart. Just as Jesus’ friends didn’t recognize him in the garden, it’s hard to recognize God after the tsunami, after the suicide of a child, after the diagnosis, after the terrorism. It’s hard.

 

But

God

Is

There.

 

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, I can’t help but express gratitude for dear friends along the way who have been by our side faithfully through all the times we came to the end of the world, and who prayed us through our new normals.

 

Thank-you friend

For crying with us without judgment

Bangkok2009For celebrating with us generously

For putting wise words into our hands, words that have nudged us into a better Gospel story, a better trust, a better recognising.

 

Thank-you God

For Your great always-ness

For Your solid rock-ness

For waiting for us at the end of the world

And for meeting us in the new normal. Amen.

A Quarter of a Century!


_MG_0413Today We Celebrate 25 Years of Global Ministry!

I still look back from time to time to that moment sitting on a picnic table in Montmagny, Quebec.  I knew well on that cold damp day that my life and my family would change forever. We had just received news of our overseas appointment. Thailand would soon be home. Though we had no idea what life in Asia was like, I was still making promises to God. My youthful fervour had me promising to God that I would give it my all and for as long as he wanted.

The day our  Old World ended was August 17th 1991 at 14:50hrs. Imagine what three tired little boys, a wife and her man might have looked like as they pushed their trolleys filled with 10 over-stuffed suitcases after over thirty hours of travel and finally entering a strange New World. Anticipation. Once we got out of the immigration lines of Bangkok’s old Don Muang Airport we were greeted by two Canadian families waiting to put fragrant Jasmin garlands around our necks and we were stuffed into two old vehicles for our first look at the snarled Bangkok traffic, eyes wide-open and sweating buckets.

That first week we all slept together at Ray and Betty’s, one room for all of us, the air-conditioning working at maximum. Nothing felt familiar, not taking a shower with lukewarm water as the ants marched one-by-one on the shower wall. Even going to Kentucky Fried Chicken witnessing Thais all dressed up and cutting their finger-licking chicken with their forks and knives! This was indeed a New World.

The next month was spent figuring out how to buy furniture, groceries, and a second-hand car. We had to adjust to torrential rains and humidity. Our laneway was continually full of swamp and rain water and we hired a man to pump out the water to prevent flooding our driveway. We had to learn how to relate to a Thai house-helper who quit after a few months, the first of many! Then there were the instant noodles my kids loved and I hated, and a son’s hatred of rice, which I loved! I remember the fear of driving manual on the wrong side of the road, but for them it was the right side. In our wooden home on stilts we learned to aim the fans for maximum human coverage. Each morning it was pitch black as we prepared to go to language school before 6am to beat the traffic jams. Honestly, we easily spent the first couple of years living in and out of culture shock.FamilyThailand earlyyears1991

Oddly enough those days don’t seem all that long ago, yet it is exactly 25 years ago to this very day. Not many people work with the same organisation for that long these days. I think many people within my organisation know a bit how we have lived in this exotic New World. Some upon meeting us ask how we decided upon Thailand, but I usually don’t get around telling the whole story, of how I became interested in cultures and languages and people groups. Or of the day I cried so hard for war-torn Cambodia that I thought my heart would burst. Maybe some day I will write about my Dutch-Reformed spiritual roots and how the Pentecostal message changed our Spiritual World. I’d love to tell how a teenaged boy was already drawn to an atypical life by reading books like ‘Peace Child’ and ‘Lords of the Earth’. Those stories of another continent (Indonesia) opened an Avatar-like world that I never knew existed. Something was kindled in me that would flame into service in cultures and contexts not my own.

Beginnings are usually the hardest anytime, they demand the most of us. Though Patricia and I looked forward to the challenge of proficiency in the Thai language it took hours, days, and months, and yes, even years learning to speak Thailand’s tonal language. Not easy, especially with a family. In my first Christmas message I spoke a tone wrong and inadvertently changed the angel’s message to the shepherds to, “Behold we bring you Good Rice.” That was indeed good news that day in our context! Though I loved how Thais would always encourage us and say, ‘Wow, your Thai pronunciation is so good!’ I knew better! It took courage every time to teach and preach in this strange-sounding language and I begged God to helped me more times than I can count.

Being a white family in the early nineties in Thailand also carried a novelty factor with the Thais, especially in villages outside of Bangkok. One time I was in a far flung village and a little boy saw me as he was riding his bike. He lost his balance and fell off. As I walked toward him, he got back on and sped away, fast! Another time in Nong Khai, where we planted our first Thai church, I borrowed a rickshaw. I put my three boys in the back and drove them through town. If only I had a camera to film the faces of those who caught this rare sight of a slender white man and his boys. They gave thumbs up as they called out to their friends to see this strange westerner pretending to do the most humble job on the social ladder.

Maybe it was this curiosity and willingness to try new things, go to new places that helped me to not return to ‘normal’ Canadian life. If you saw some of what I have eaten or where I have slept at times you might think us strange. We did it for the gospel. All of it. We have sweat enough water over the years to fill a pool and can tell you of the long weeks suffering from what the Thais called running stomach! After our first four years in Thailand we were skinnier than when we were married and that was already skinny! But I was happy, I was fulfilling the promise I made on that picnic bench, to give it our all even when it was extremely uncomfortable or embarrassing or lacking the immediate results that we felt God deserved.

About halfway through our 25 years I experienced a desire for God to do something new in me, to open new doors of influence. As I began to study the life of Joshua I took note of the correlation between ‘the courage of one’ and ‘the benefit of many’. If Joshua could not find the courage to act, to overcome his self-doubt and Moses’ long leadership shadow, the result would be many people losing out on opportunities to see or feel God in new ways. Stepping into the swirling waters of the Jordan without Moses’ miracle stick would be his biggest step of faith. Without Joshua’s courage many would lose out on a preferred destiny!

Thaiyouth prayHow impacting Joshua’s life would be on my own. Twenty-five years ago we took the  risk of working with Thai Youth,  a role I was uncomfortable with, yet it resulted in hundreds maybe thousands of youth encouraged to give their all to God’s way. We never thought we would host teams, develop a child sponsorship program, chair a board for a ministry among children born with HIV or bring leadership training to other countries. Yet we stepped out of our comfort zone and gave of ourselves. None of this would be part of our story without the courage to step out into the unknown. Even today I’ll meet someone who will say, “I was at that camp you spoke at and I gave my life to Christ!”

If it is true, and I think it is, that life shrinks or expands according to the measure of courage, then each courageous step into the unknown carries great promise. Today we find ourselves again needing courage to minister in a new way and in a new culture and context; Europe! We came to Paris knowing no one, just the two of us with a dream and no team. We did a lot of walking asking God thaPetersharest each step would be guided to bring His love wherever we found ourselves. We knew that this step of obedience risked much, that we could be misunderstood by many, and we were. It resulted in the stretching of our faith and finances. And yet we heard an inner voice saying, “Have courage, don’t be afraid… as I was with you in Thailand I am with you in Paris!”

When I look back, I see so much of God in my steps, 25 years of ordered steps, I cannot doubt that He has us here and now for such a time as this. I cannot say how long we’ll be in this Once Again New World. My promise to God, however,is the same I made on that cold and damp day in Quebec, I will give it my all as long as you provide the strength and the resources. And we are seeing lives, French lives, drawn closer to their creator, and we believe there is much more to come.

 

 

 

Les Premiers Pas de Pierre and Patricia à Paris


These days we are adjusting to life in Paris.That’s right, Paris! It’s been a long time coming, but we made it! We are living in temporary Airbnb quarters in the area called “Little Africa” which has stretched us. The noise level is high, there are lots of street arguments, garbage fills the streets until the garbage guys come and clean up, police presence is common and a crazy lady comes everyday to yell at the other vendors and passers-by! One of the surprising gifts to us are a group of Thai workers just below us. Each day we chat in Thai as we go out and about into the city. They say we are living in the Khlong Toei of Paris. That means the ‘poor’ section of Paris.

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Patricia paints our street.

So far we have walked a lot and been on the metro everyday. It is strange to not own a car. It is strange to go underground everyday. It is strange to smell urine so often! Funny too how my wife Patricia loves the challenge. She goes around with her nose in the map book and revels in the fact she can navigate us. Maybe she’s got her nose in the map book to keep away from other smells!

I miss a car! I mean driving a car. The exercise is good I know! Now we shop each day for groceries a few blocks away at the Carrefour Market and then take them home in our little cart and bags. Its great exercise, like I said, especially the five floor climb up the spiral stairs. There is no elevator in this old building. Three weeks of this and we still are puffing by the time we get to our door.

And then there were the protests in the streets by Palestinian sympathizers. Not once but twice. They shouted loudly in unison, “Let’s resist and Jihad.” So much craziness, The second time the planned protest was banned but it was not heeded and so the police shot tear gas next to our neighborhood as we were returning home. It was crazy! Today a third protest is planned and again it was banned here.

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Our stairwell, a natural exercise machine.

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Paris has beaches! But no swimming here!

Our hope these days is to find some permanent place to hang our hat real soon!!! We have visited some places already and we have some more to visit this coming week. These apartments are smaller, much smaller than anything we have ever lived in! Think ‘shoe box’ was what one french friend advised. Then at the end of the coming week we need to look closely at our options and budget! The budget decides the size of the shoe box! Pray for some special happenings this coming week

We’ve been blessed by four visits already. Simon Brewer from the UK,  Michael and Erin Hoyt from Morocco, Michael Lew from Huntington Beach and Sonya Ourlin fro everywhere! And we were able to get to Chantilly, not far from here, to hang out with our friends there Marie-Caroline de Felices-Jaouenand Will! We’ve had a chance to hang out with Daniel Roach and Cassidy Roach who are sadly leaving France after about two years here. So, though we don’t have a team yet, we are blessed to have friends along the way. And I am sure there will be more to come.

Thanks for following our posts and praying too.

Prayer points

1. Trip to Frankfurt to pick up our one-year visa.
2. A conclusion to the apartment hunt.
3. Our girls return to school in Germany at the end of August.
4. My mother’s health. She begins chemo on Monday.
5. Wisdom and peace!

VERBS: Sew, Water, Grow, Harvest


I met this girl, Aem, almost 18 years ago in Nong Khai, where we helped plant a church along with our Thai friends, Manit and Deng, and our Canadian friends, Sam and Noella Winsor. Aem has been studying the Bible here in Bangkok now. I never knew, until now, that she was one of the kids that sudied English with us way back then. She never did become a Christian then. But a seed is eternal and has the powerful ability to grow.

We’ve had many partners with us over the last 20 years. This is a thank-you to our faithful friends, team-mates and supporters from all over the world; to all the churches, womens’ groups, youth groups and Sunday School classes as well as specific individuals.

You may never have come to Thailand yourself, but your offerings and prayers have come here!

Now enjoy this story of the Harvest.