Dear Friends, (from Rich)
We continue to be grateful to be in Thailand, even though Covid is surging throughout the region. We mourn with our many new friends and partners here as they endure harsh lockdowns, or in some cases contract Covid or have friends or family members who are sick. It is not an easy time to be here, and our hopes that Malaysia’s borders might open up to us during the 90 days of our Thailand tourist visa are obviously not materializing. (See below for our tentative plans in light of that.) But being here has allowed us to participate in many St. Paul’s Theological College (SPTC) staff meetings and Zoom calls, and to teach in various countries at much saner hours. I am teaching in China, India, and Eastern Europe. Let me share one of the most rewarding and inspiring groups I have the privilege of teaching.
Last week I began to teach a new group, pictured above. These women are Muslim background believers who have been trained to serve almost as social workers for their communities, helping very poor people connect to social services. One hole in India’s safety net is that the poorest people are eligible for aid and assistance from the Indian government but because they are uneducated they don’t know how to access these services. These women have become believers in Issa (Jesus) and as they reach out with the good news about help from the government, they also share about the good news of Jesus. Many of the women they serve have become believers, and the women gathered in this room lead “Jamaats,” gatherings where the women gather to pray and learn about Jesus.
It has been very touching for me to have the privilege to teach them leadership principles from the scripture. The church planter who is translating for me is Ravi, whom I met on my trip to India 12 years ago. His movement of women who are doing this work is growing rapidly, and he has felt a growing need to teach Biblical leadership to these women, so that they in turn could lead other Jamaat leaders. He has been eager to use the Sketches of Leadership materials and has a team working at their translation. We began our leadership Bible study last week looking at Psalm 23 and John 10, the image of God as a shepherd. It was a very lively time, after a bit of a slow start due to technical issues, and I received this letter, lightly excerpted, from Ravi afterwards:
Dear Bro.Richard, Salaam in Jesus name.
I take this privilege to share our first experience with the Sketches studies with the women house church leaders. I am very glad to share that the women are encouraged to participate in the discussion by following the guideline from the Sketch…
It was a great excitement for all of us yesterday with you studying the first Sketch. I was experiencing how the Urdu and Hindi translation is working. Women in the beginning were a little nervous, but as time went by they enjoyed the subject and greatly appreciated connecting with you; Feeling great within, all women are interested to continue with the zoom class again. …
Yesterday, there were 12 women where 3 are Hindi and 9 are Urdu speaking church leaders.
Shalom in Isa, Ravi
We met last week on Monday, and then again on Thursday. As we discussed biblical teaching on shepherding, I asked about “wolves” that come into the group not to learn but to feed on the sheep, seeking money and abusing the trust of group members. I asked if anyone had experienced this in their groups. One woman responded, “We all have had such “wolves.” She then went on to tell the story of a woman who was seeking money, and when she heard from the leader that that wasn’t what the group was about, she stopped coming. But after a while, this leader visited her again, and invited her to come back to the group. She did come back and has been growing as a believer. I reminded them that “wolves” can also be sheep, and our shepherding extends even to them, though we must also protect the flock. It was such an encouraging story.
But the most touching story was about a woman who had been in the group for a little while until the leader found at that this woman had been borrowing money from group members. The total, she reported, was about 500 rupees. When the woman was confronted and asked to repay her debt, she left the group and was not seen again. The group decided to make those women in the group who had been cheated whole, by the others contributing to repay that debt, which she said took several weeks to do. Now, 500 rupees is a bit less than $7.
I am very moved to hear the stories of these women and to partner with Ravi in his teaching and training. My real focus, of course, is Ravi, as he teaches with me the materials he has already translated into Urdu. I will teach this course once, but it will be an investment in Ravi who hopes to use these materials again with other groups of leaders after we have gone through them together. Ravi and his wife are precious leaders, and their grown children are all involved in their wholistic evangelistic ministry to Muslims in and around Bhopal, involving dozens of women leading hundreds of women, and working with men as well who are establishing communities of Jesus followers in this largely Muslim population.
Updates on Our Plans
We have now spent about seven weeks in Thailand and have another 6 weeks on our 90-day visa. Lisa has begun teaching regularly for St. Paul’s Theological College in Kuala Lumpur, though because Malaysia in the middle of its worst ever COVID case numbers, all teaching is still being done via the internet, either through videoed lectures or via Zoom. We just ended three days of Zoom teaching where we were able to be partners for her class on preaching and teaching. She led the class in some exercises aimed to help them be more confident in impromptu speaking, such as sharing “a word” when you don’t have much time to prepare, and I led Bible studies on how to lead Bible studies. The students had fun and did very well with the short impromptu exercises, and we had lively discussions about passages that illustrate good Bible study, beginning with a look at Mark’s telling of the Parable of the Sower.
Lisa has been knit into the staff meetings, WhatsApp chats, and ad hoc meetings, let alone chapels and classes, in ways that weren’t possible before. It really does feel like she has joined the team. And yet, uncertainty remains, including questions about how long we will stay in Thailand. Our plan is to head to Chiang Mai next week, where we’ll stay in the home of a missionary on furlough through July 15. We are ready for a break from the density and bustle of Bangkok.
I have been invited to teach in person at the national gathering of IFES staff in Ukraine in early August. We could not easily go there and return to Thailand (we’d need another expensive two-week hotel quarantine), so our thought has been to simply stay in Ukraine, where we can much more easily enter for 90 days. It is a challenge to find flights since there are so many fewer flights in the SE Asia region.
So, you see that our lives are marked by some uncertainty. I had also been invited to teach in Sri Lanka in person in early September, but that is now moved online. Lisa will teach a homiletics course for students in Nepal starting mid-July, and she has changed the time for the students, on the theory we’ll be in Ukraine. As we try to say yes to invitations in the midst of uncertainty, we are inspired by the faithful women of Bhopal, who daily say yes to Jesus’ invitation to serve others, despite the much greater challenges of daily living that they face. It’s a privilege to learn alongside them what it looks like to follow Jesus in challenging times.
Specific Prayer Requests:
WIth our friend Leo, an MA student at St. Paul’s living in Bangkok.
(Photo Credit to Sunitha, Leo’s wife and fellow student in the program.)
Rich and Lisa Lamb