Back at the elephant shelter, we dismounted and walked across the road to a café and print shop where we purchased an official photo of us two old men on top of this conquered beast☺ We were then asked to go with a local man in his pickup truck. Tim was not sure what our next destination would be, but within a few minutes, we went through the village and descended down to the bank of the river that ran through this valley. By this time we guessed that they were taking us on a rafting trip down the river, because Tim had done this before during a previous visit. I have gone rafting before in Jamaica, but the construction of these rafts was not quite the same as the ones I had ridden before, being narrower and the seat was just two pieces of bamboo with no back. In my mind, this posed a slight problem, but I figured the trip would be short and I could endure with a little perseverance. We climbed down the bank and onto the raft and were off with a very young pole man as our guide.
It was a perfectly gorgeous day! For the locals, it was cool, but for us it could not have been better. As we made our way down the river, over gentle rapids, around turns in the river, Tim remarked that we were going on a much longer trip than he had before. Passing under several suspension bridges, some hardly fit to hold up anyone, we noticed that the river was getting narrower and the rapids more challenging. The gates between large rocks made passage a challenge in some cases. At one point, we were asked to get off the raft and walk a few hundred feet down the river while the pole man maneuvered the raft around the rocks and down a large rapid. Getting back on the raft, we continued down the river, passing through several other narrow gates and rapids.
The thought had not occurred to me until this point that we had not left our cameras or phones or hiking boots back at the elephant farm or placed them in a waterproof bag because we had no idea what was ahead……then it happened! We headed into a rapid that was narrow and dropped several feet. Unable to control the raft which hit a boulder on the left side, I felt the raft begin to tip to the right (the side I am on). I immediately threw my weight to the left hoping to compensate the force of water that was turning us over. It happened so quickly! Because I cannot swim (particularly in tense moments), I threw out my arms hoping to grab onto something since I did not know how deep the water was. I grabbed Tim, who was my life raft and he assured me that all was well! By this time, I grabbed the raft again and found footing on the river bed. Need I say that everything was soaked—clothes, boots, camera, phone and ipod!
I did not want to get back on that raft, but we were not at the end of this journey. We proceeded down the river again and soon reached the end of this “exciting” experience! The person who had taken us down to the raft launch was there to pick us up, and the look on her face was worth a picture as she saw our wet condition, but she ended up laughing with us at the unplanned event. Looking back we truly can laugh, and we both tease each other that we are now baptized brothers. Jumping forward a few days, I can say that our pictures have survived on the camera card, even though our equipment hasn’t. Though I have never experienced something as dramatic as this, I continually thank the Lord for preserving our lives for a much greater purpose and these times are to remind us of His overflowing grace.
Back at the elephant farm café, I stood in the sun as much as possible and tried to dry out. Tim says that I am still all wet, and that is OK, so long as it is the water of the Holy Spirit continually washing over me with His cleansing, purifying and empowering presence. Before heading back to Chiang Mai, they wanted to take us to a local waterfall which was set in the hillside of this valley. “A’s” father put us with a tour group that had come to the farm from Chiang Mai that morning, so we could ride with them in a van back to the Chiang Mai YMCA. It felt so good to take a shower and get dry clothes on. For many in our family and circle of friends, this event will never be forgotten. I can accept your teasing! Attending church versus elephant rides and river rafting? I will let you judge by grace or law!!
Jan. 19-22, 2015. Tim and I spent some time praying for each other as he was leaving for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where he and Terry will have the opportunity to launch GPHC with two groups and follow-up with two other groups that I had introduced the manual to last year. I will insert parts of Terry’s notes here so you get a sense of how God is continuing to work in this country.
Tim’s comment – “After almost 15 years, I am amazed how well he (Terry) jumped right back into the material...great teaching Terry!”
Terry – “The second day of training was packed full, not only of people - several new ones - but also with teaching GPHC. I taught chapter 2 of the manual and was a bit apprehensive because I haven't taught this material in a long time and with an interpreter. Tim said it flowed well. Tim taught next, and that took us to lunch. What a treat (again!).
After lunch I presented chapter 5 which dealt with using the letters of Paul to strengthen churches. I was even more apprehensive about teaching this chapter because I really had to summarize rather than go into much depth, but the participants seemed to catch on and understand. After a break, class participants presented their homework that looked at the various roles and responsibilities of the different people that make up households and the church, the household of God.
One of the new participants was a man who once fought for N. Vietnam against the US. What a testimony! After the war he developed an alcohol problem that badly affected his liver. He eventually moved to Canada and came to know the Lord. Now he has returned to N. Vietnam where he started several churches. There was great rejoicing as we pointed out the changed lives of both Tim and this man through the gospel. What reconciliation the cross produces!
We also met a lady (sister in the Lord) whose husband is not saved. She has a rough life and abuse from her husband and who is not sympathetic at all to her faith in Christ. Tim prayed for her which seemed to encourage her.
Afterwards our hosts took us for supper at....... Are you ready? Drum roll, please! Pizza Hut!
I got up around 2:30 this morning. Still adjusting to the jet lag, I guess. I can't thank everyone enough for your prayers. Please continue! We finish with this group tomorrow and meet with a new group on Saturday.
We finished day three training for group 1. This involved first reviewing the first 5 chapters of the manual and then covering chapter 6, Developing Ordered Churches. Tim focused a lot on developing our own personal relationship with Christ as the key to everything else we talked about. This resonated with a lot of the participants. After lunch we finished with chapter 7 that deals with developing a personal ministry strategy for planting or renewing churches. The group got bogged down here when it came to putting into action what they learned. I think this revealed a universal problem: it's easier to talk, study and learn about something than it is to put it into practice. But we ended by sharing things they could take home with them such as "Go" preach the gospel - do it! One sister learned the importance of developing her marriage and family. Another sister appreciated how clear the lessons are and how she will be able to study them on her own. These Vietnamese brothers and sisters are so precious and friendly and face some of the same issues we do. They need encouragement just like we do. Tim ended the meeting by sharing from 2 Timothy 4 on Paul's final words before his martyrdom: "I have fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith" and challenged us to be able to say that at the end of our lives. This particular devotional really resonated with the interpreter.
In a half hour our host will pick us up for the evening meal at his home. Can't wait to see what we have to eat. All the food has been delicious. These people really are very hospitable and taking good care of us. We ended the evening praying for the mother's husband who is not a believer - yet! The sad thing is that years ago he made a profession of faith in Jesus but walked away from the church. You see, he's the oldest son in his Buddhist family and is expected to carry on the family tradition and religion. We prayed for him to believe in Jesus so he could become an adopted son of God. Yes, they deal with the same issues that we do with people walking away from their earlier confessions of faith.
Tomorrow we meet with group two. There are supposed to be 26 people meeting in our host's home. This is a brand new group. Please pray. We sense God working through your prayers. Thanks again for your prayers!”
Remember that it is through your prayers and support that we now have the manual in Vietnamese and approved for printing by the government! This is a miracle of God’s grace!
Now I (Sherman) will recount this week with the Karen Baptist Bible School students who are graduating next month. Our dear brother “T” was my interpreter and will also be with me next week when we meet with Karen leaders and pastors. Having the manual in their own language is a huge way to accelerate the training, thanks to so many of you who have generously helped cover the printing costs.
All nine students were together for the week except for two who were sick for one day. We quickly bonded as the material was presented. I intended that “T” do most of the teaching, but he still feels a lack of confidence in what he has learned. I can honestly say that I have never been with a group that was more studious and focused on what they were learning. We covered chapters one and two on Monday. By the afternoon, one young man (married, with a little daughter) began asking questions that were prompted by our study of God’s plan and purpose for the church and the early expansion that took place in the early church. It was interesting how he questioned the disparity between the biblical model and what he sees in his own denomination. His questions prompted questions from others during the days that followed.
I was very excited that our progress through the manual was in no way hindered by their frequent questions and healthy discussions. On day two, we finished lesson three and four, day three completed most of lesson five, and day four and five were used to do most of the lessons in chapter six and the project in chapter seven. In fact, I saw their eagerness grow through our five days together so that we completed almost all of the lessons and most of the projects. Homework in the evening for them was not a problem. Each day, I had them review what we covered the previous day(s) and without hesitation, they worked together to make sure each person remembered the complete picture. When it came to chapter five and Paul’s method of strengthening the church by using his letters, they went beyond what we normally expect by listing all of his letters Paul wrote in the order they were written and labeling them with their purpose. Several times they said that this had never been taught them in their four years of Bible School and it made such a difference in how they looked at these as tools for establishing and strengthening the church.
One of the most striking questions asked was, “what will happen if I stand by what I have learned and our pastors/leaders don’t agree or understand what we are learning”? In one way, this is a difficult question! Care must be taken not to criticize any denomination, leaders or persons. The focus must be on God’s Word and His truth, not man and his organization. I took them to Ephesians 4 where Paul insists on maintaining the unity of the Spirit and at the same time promoting spiritual maturity in Christ; “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). In this section, Paul also insists that we speak the truth in love (4:15) which is often difficult, but absolutely necessary so that we appreciate God’s work in others and yet seek the mature understanding of God’s plan and purpose. I spent some time hoping to build their confidence in the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit who will faithfully lead them through many challenges like this. The fruit of these conversations came through in their final project (chapter 7) which they presented Friday afternoon.
WOW! WHAT A WEEK!!
For me (Sherman), Saturday and Sunday will be for rest and catching up with my journal. There are many other ministry responsibilities in the U.S, that I am seeking to keep on track as well, so your fervent prayers are the fuel in my engine and the tool that keeps the enemy in his place (Eph. 6:10-20).
Thank you for those prayers!
Continuing to press on,