Archive for January, 2011


Brynn’s First Ballet Recital



We had the joy of watching Brynn’s first ballet recital a couple of nights ago. She did such a great job. We were especially proud because she was the youngest in her group. She loved dressing up and all the attention that came with it. She enjoyed the dance so much, a few minutes afterward she asked if she could do it again. She could have stayed on the stage on night long. (She’s like her dad in that way.) She even loved it so much that she gave a solo, encore performance for everyone at church on Sunday. She was a hit once more. We love watching her grow up and experience new things. Enjoy the show!

Brynn and her ballet teacher Lily

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Coffee and Religious Dialogue


I met Tha the second week we were in Phayao. I saw a sign for a coffee shop (and, as you know, finding coffee shops was priority #1 in those first few weeks), so I stopped in to check things out. Immediately I knew I would be frequenting this establishment quite a bit because of the huge air conditioning unit I saw above the front door. (At the time, it was one of two coffee shops in Phayao that had A/C. There are now four. We’re moving up in the world.) I also noticed something else very unique about this shop. High up on the main wall inside was a large picture of the Dalai Lama. This is not normal in Thailand. (The majority of Thai Buddhists belongs to the branch of Buddhism called Theravada, thus Thais don’t typically honor him in this way.) I then scanned the multitude of books displayed on the other wall. These were not your typical books. I could tell from the titles that the subjects ranged from Buddhist philosophy, to environmentalism, to the legacy of Gandhi. I knew I was going to like this place.

This particular coffee shop is run by a nice woman and her son Tha. After a few more visits, I asked them about the books and the other interesting displays around the shop (there are lots of pictures and references to Tibet throughout the shop). I found out that Tha got a Masters in Buddhist philosophy in India, emphasizing Tibetan Buddhism. He had then worked for a Christian NGO in Laos under the leadership of a Quaker woman. In other words, he is not your typical Phayao resident. And over the next several months we had periodical conversations about various topics, including religion and politics.

So, when we reached the point in our research that we wanted to focus more explicitly on religious themes, we decided to ask Tha to help us understand Buddhism at a deeper level, particularly the specific contours of Buddhism in Thailand. He agreed, as long as it was more of a dialogue than a monologue, which is exactly what we were wanting. He continually insisted that he was no expert in the area, but we soon learned differently.

He invited us to meet in his home. We met on Tuesday mornings for five or six consecutive weeks, about three hours each time. For two of the discussions, he had prepared powerpoint presentations. He spent some time on foundational Buddhist concepts and ideas. Though I had a decent awareness of Buddhism already, the learning curve was steep because it was the first time any of us studied Buddhism in Thai, which is primarily borrowed Pali words. Our brains were fried, but it was extremely helpful. He also described the differences between the various branches within Buddhism, along with portions of his own journey within Buddhism. I wish we could have recorded all of it.

For me, though, the most insightful and fascinating portion was the section on the development of Buddhism in Thailand’s history. He traced how Buddhism developed alongside Animism and Hinduism, with a deep influence from Indian culture. And the most intriguing part was how he illustrated the strong interrelatedness between politics and religion.

I could say so much about what he taught, but I am not sure many of you would find it so fascinating. However, there is one thing that caught my ear that I think others might find interesting. He stated that, historically, Theravada Buddhism does not ordain nor recognize female monks. Yet, there are female monks in Sri Lanka, which is also predominantly Theravada. A few years ago the first female Thai monk was ordained into the monkhood (though she had to do it in Sri Lanka). The majority of the monkhood in Thailand still does not recognize her nor the practice of ordaining females. But, she continually speaks out (she is a respected professor at the most prestigious university in Bangkok) for the inclusion of women in the monkhood. Soon after she was ordained, she was asked why she was doing this. She explained that it was true to the Buddha’s teachings and that she was following her call. But, she also gave this little statement (my paraphrase):

There are approximately 200,000 male monks in Thailand. (Each one of them receives an education, paid for by the state, a place to live and food to eat. Thus, a vast majority of monks come from a fairly poor background because it is a way out.) Interestingly, there are approximately 200,000 prostitutes in Thailand.

That will give you a lot to think about.

Those few weeks listening and talking with Tha were so insightful. I feel like I understand Buddhism better. But, more importantly, I feel like I understand my neighbors and friends in Phayao better.


Holiday Visitors


We’ve been blessed by some special visitors over the last few months. First to come, around Thanksgiving, were Ben and Kelly Edmiston, Haley’s brother and sister-in-law. Along with great goodies, they brought a lot of energy and fun that made the holiday season brighter. They kept all of our kids one night so all of us could have a date night—everything from dinner for the kids to a fantastic scavenger hunt for them. They also got to be at our house to put up and decorate our Christmas tree. They are an amazing couple and were such a blessing to our team with their love, encouragement, and energy.  Our girls LOVED having Ben and Kelly read to them and play silly games with them. They are still asking when we can go to Ben and Kelly’s house in Texas!

Next, Greg and Cynthia Powell, from Highland Church of Christ in Abilene (our supporting church), got to come spend some time with us. Greg and Cynthia serve on the Missions Committee and have blessed us through their friendship from the very beginning of our partnership with Highland.  We got to show them around Phayao, took them to Chiang Rai for pizza and the annual flower festival, saw several different Buddhist temples, and rode elephants in Chiang Mai, just to name a few of the fun things we got to do together.  They helped set up, serve, bake, and clean up for Meg’s birthday party.  They watched our girls while we got things done, prayed with us, encouraged and affirmed us, and were a blessing to have in our home. Brynn and Meg also LOVED having the Powells here. From the time they woke up until the time they went to bed, the girls loved having the attention showered on them through reading books, learning new songs, having extra hands to push them on the swings, playing with play-doh…and so much more! Thank you Greg and Cynthia for coming to visit us and for blessing our family in such wonderful ways.  It continues to be such a blessing to be part of a church that is so supportive of us and our work here.

And most recently, Ryan’s parents, Beth and Clay Binkley have come for a visit. Obviously they are here to see their grandson, but they came bearing gifts and love for all of our children as well! Beth taught the kids’ Bible Class at church last Sunday, and the kids LOVED every minute of it. She even helped them act out the story of Naaman, with Corban (“Naaman”) really dunking in the Jordan River (a tub full of water in the front yard).  The kids enjoyed their time with Beth and Clay very much, and it is always a joy watching our children be loved on by so many.

As you can see, our girls LOVE having visitors come, and so do we. God has a way of using so many that have connections to our team to be great gifts of His love and support in their visits here.

Here are some more pictures from our time showing the Powells around.


Brynn the Performer


Brynn is four and a half and seems to have changed overnight. The fits of her three-year-old days have passed, and she has grown up a lot over the last few months. She loved being in Texas with friends, cousins, and Chick-Fil-A. She was an excellent traveler and carried her little backpack the entire trip like a little pro. She didn’t complain a bit over the long flight (probably because we each had our own TVs–and when else are her parents going to let her watch movies for almost 24 hours? J).  It was hard on her to be back in Phayao for the first few weeks. She cried about going to school again and shared frustration about not knowing the language. However, the last several weeks she is back in full swing and loving school. In fact, I asked her the other day what she liked most about living in Thailand and the first thing she said was school, followed quickly by the swimming pool!

Brynn in her P.E. day uniform (a little Sue Sylvester, don’t you think Glee fans?)

She had an end of the year/Happy New Year show at school a couple of weeks ago, and she got to perform in two song/dance numbers. She got to wear a bright pink dress and have a flower in her hair—which I think was her favorite part of the whole experience! She was absolutely precious up there on stage singing her little heart out in a new language and dancing to her heart’s content.

The emcee came up and asked her a few questions in Thai and she answered all of them IN THAI. We were so proud of her! I didn’t know how she would respond in front of all of those people and talking into a microphone, but she handled it so well and it made me so thankful for how God has been faithful to her in helping her learn Thai and developing her confidence in speaking it.

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She is full of joy, loves to have fun, and loves people. She has a beautiful little heart. The other day we were out around town and a man came up and helped me with Meg’s stroller as I was trying to go up some stairs. Brynn said, “That was a nice man, he was a good neighbor to us. He shared peace with us.” I asked her where she learned the “sharing peace” line because I’ve never said that to her. She said “I just thought it”, and I had to smile at seeing how she is learning to view people around her. I told her that Mommy would have to remember that and that it was a beautiful way of describing when others help us. This little girl is teaching me a lot these days!


Meg Turns 3


Watch out everyone, there’s another 3-year-old in the house! Meg Hayden turned three on Jan 7th, and we had a fun Hello Kitty party last week. Greg and Cynthia Powell brought from the States streamers, plates, napkins, a tablecloth and gifts from family to make Meg’s party extra special. Meg wanted green icing (her favorite color these days) and a Hello Kitty on her cake. Cynthia did a great job making the cake and letting Meg “help” her along the way (which Meg LOVED!). We played “Find that Kitty” in the trees around our neighbors’ yard, and we had a “Cat Walk” game where everyone got prizes. Meg opened presents and got everything from a light-up wand to toy cars to a Minnie Mouse purse—she loves all of those things, so she was one happy camper!

I noticed that celebrating her birthday for the second time around in Thailand was much more peaceful for me. Last year I spent a lot of time on both of the girls’ birthdays, missing family and wishing cousins and grandparents could be there. This year, of course, that sentiment was still there, but it didn’t overtake me like it did last year. This year we had neighborhood friends come, and I knew more of what to prepare for the party, what it would be like, etc. We had a great time celebrating little Meg, and she loved every sugary minute of it. Seriously, I saw her with a cupcake, Pocky (a favorite snack), a lollipop, and a Sprite—she took full advantage of the special occasion to get whatever she wanted!

We celebrated her party a few days before her actual birthday, so on her real birthday she got to ride elephants! This was her second time, and she loved riding “the big Daddy elephant” and the elephant show in Chiang Mai.

Meg is full of energy and keeps us laughing daily with her funny facial expressions and ways of saying things. She loves to wear shorts (no pink skirts like sister!) and usually a shirt that doesn’t match (which drives me crazy—but I’m trying to let that go J). She loves to sing, be tickled, swing, anything green, and has an opinion about almost everything. She is still the center of attention everywhere she goes with her blond hair and big blue eyes—and she takes it all in stride. She is so loving and sweet. She and Brynn love sharing life together as sisters. They have a blast together, and we sure love having two little girls—and a VERY Hello Kitty house!


Suki Santa


Suki Santa is now a holiday tradition for our team.  The Fikes’ landlord offered to cook food (for those who haven’t had the privilege, suki is an awesome Thai soup) for another Christmas celebration this year. She is a great cook! We accepted her offer and started inviting our neighbors and friends. This year we wanted to do something besides just eat together, so the idea of doing a play about Jesus’ birth came up. We invited the kids in each of our team members’ neighborhoods to be a part of the play as well.  The kids were really excited to be in the play and asked repeatedly when play practice and show time would be. Altogether there were fifteen kids that performed. Each of them took home the story to read before play practice, and when they came for the play practice they were excited to pick their parts. After the practice was over we asked some of the children if they had ever heard the story before and none of them ever had. So the day of the party we prepared tables and chairs and fixed the stage. That evening friends of each of our families gathered around suki pots and kids ran around and played.  It was a great time!

The highlight of the evening was definitely the play.  Before the play started Chris gathered everyone’s attention and explained what we were going to do.  He told everyone how the true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ and that Jesus was a gift to humanity from God.  The kids acted out the story of our Lord’s birth, and we even had a real baby Jesus, complete with a Santa hat.  Instead of sheep and cows that you usually see in the stable there was a rabbit instead.  It was precious to see these sweet children act out the real story of Christmas, God coming into the world in human form.  After the play Ryan shared how thankful we were that each of them came and that we had a special gift for each family.  We then handed each family a New Testament Bible in Thai. Overall it was a wonderful evening celebrating with our friends, and we ask that you pray for our neighbors and for opportunities to be part of their lives more and more. Please enjoy the video of the play below.


Celebrating Christmas


There is no doubt that one of the hardest times of the year to be away from family and friends is Christmas. And this Christmas was no different. However, we are learning how to develop new traditions for celebrating Christmas as we spend time with our church family and friends here. And for that we are grateful.

One thing that has changed since our two years in Chiang Mai is the presence of Christmas decor, music, etc., in stores and public places. Thai people are now aware of the Christmas holiday. A few days before Christmas, Haley utilized that awareness and invited a number of friends and neighbors to a Christmas party at her house. She figured this would be a great opportunity to have fun and spend time together, and it would also be a way to share the significance of Christmas to those who primarily connect it with Santa and Christmas trees. She did a great job hosting by providing Christmas snacks, singing carols, playing  games and giving the children Christmas crafts to work on. She also read a children’s book (and Ning translated into Thai) about the birth of Jesus so that everyone would know why we celebrate Christmas. Everyone had a great time.

On Christmas Eve our team decided to share a Christmas feast together and exchange gifts. We divvied up responsibilities and ended up with quite a spread, including turkey, ham, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and much more. It was an especially significant event for Ann and me because we were in charge of preparing the turkey. It was the first time either of us have had that responsibility (I miss the days of playing football in the street and coming in to an already prepared turkey feast. This growing up thing has its cons.) Though it took over 5 hours to cook the turkey because of our small oven, I will have to say that it was one of the best turkeys I’ve ever eaten (and I’m not biased at all). The entire meal was delicious, and we had enough leftovers for our team to eat 3 more meals during the following days! It was a fun night of eating, playing games (Ann led us in Christmas carol charades and “Find That Candy Cane” hide-and-seek.), and opening presents.

Finally, the four of us had a great Christmas morning at home. The girls had so much fun opening presents from us and from loved ones who had sent gifts from the States. We spent the entire morning playing with new toys and games. And the cool part was that Santa made his way into our house (we know this because the cookies and milk were gone) even though we don’t have a chimney and there are bars on the windows. He’s good.