In July 2014, we packed up our home in Old Woking and set out for Chiang Mai to begin a new chapter of our lives. Many circumstances had led us to the conclusion that God was calling us to live and work in support of missionaries in Chiang Mai. We envisioned spending 3-5 years here. We have nearly completed 4. In August we begin year 5.
Highlights have included: teaching some amazing students and seeing some come to faith in Christ, some great times in House Church including outreach events, some awesome Christmas holidays on the coast, a couple of treks I have done in China and India, the kids adapting and flourishing within an American system and enjoying the sports program here, Ann helping to set up and run the Uniform Shop, designing new PE kits and caring for a young Thai girl who entered our lives early on, and a thousand kilometer bike ride to raise money for the school.
Conversely, living with the constant uncertainty of where we should be next year takes its toll. The American education system here is so different to the British that we worry about our kids’ re-integration. Sam will return alone to the UK in three weeks time in order to sit his iGSCE Maths, English and Economics exams. He is still only 14 years old so will take these exams 12 months earlier than most GCSE students. However, Sam is looking forward to some time on his own in the UK. Lois regards Thailand as her home and wants to stay here. Isaac has spent over half his life in Thailand!
We have had some wonderful times in Chiang Mai, yet each year has got harder in some ways. After two years, the school was forced to leave the neighborhood (World Club Land) in which we live, and re-locate. This means more commuting and much more expense. Just this last week, the school sold the soccer fields it owned in our neighbourhood which means even more commuting for our sport loving family next year. Ann, particularly, has spent a lot of time in the car recently ferrying the kids to tennis, soccer, kick boxing, climbing and drama club. School is always busy but in June 2019 the school must relocate again! This time we move 20 minutes further south. Moving a whole school with its 570 students and 100 administrative, Thai and foreign teaching staff, is a serious undertaking!
Despite many obstacles and battles, the school did very well in its accreditation year (2017-2018), receiving great praise from the Thai Ministry of Education and an American accreditation team.
In my role as head of the Religious Studies Department, I have been helping to train a potential new teacher for next year and we have interviewed and appointed a teacher for middle school. Neither have taught before, so next year may require a lot of work in supervising and supporting. The school has a list of vacancies and slowly they are being filled. This again is a miracle, since all staff must raise all their financial support from home to provide for living in an increasingly expensive and expansive city.
In the last few weeks, Chiang Mai has been the refuge sought by missionaries fleeing the recent persecution in China where foreigners have been expelled on a days notice and around 1 million Uighur people have been brutalized in re-education camps in Xinjiang province. So far, this has gone totally unnoticed by the world.
Upheaval and transition, some unexpected and some planned, is often characteristic of the month of May here. Lots of teachers are leaving and transitioning to new ministries and jobs. Students take exams, potential teachers are interviewed over Skype and the social calendar is filled with leaving dinners, car boot (yard) sales and end of year parties. We will all be heading back to the UK in June to reconnect with people, preach a few times, take a rest and watch the world cup on TV!
I am looking forward to fresh air (the pollution season seemed longer than ever this year) and to running my first half marathon in Swansea plus some family time, spiritual nourishment in Keswick and maybe some cricket, if I can fit it in. My Grandma will be 99 not out on 30 June!
It is our intention that the school year 2018-2019 will be our last year in Chiang Mai but we continue to need the Lord to lead and guide us for the future. I don’t know if I should seek to return to pastoral ministry or stay with teaching missionary kids.
This old hymn is our prayer at this time:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal;
Chart and compass came from Thee:
Jesus, Savior, pilot me
As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild;
Boist’rous waves obey Thy will
When Thou say’st to them, “Be still!”
Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea,
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.