We get up early with butterflies in our stomachs and prayers upon our lips. All putting on our matching apparel of YWAM team shirt, jeans and closed-toed shoes we gather around the truck, check that everyone has their passport and then pile in the back, what exactly is about to happen, we're not sure. This morning we go the the Chiang Mai men's prison to speak.
We arrive at the prison with Pastor Ed, to see about a hundred families waiting in line with bags of food, gifts and somber faces. Waiting for the chance to see and deliver their Christmas gifts to fathers, husbands, sons, grandfathers, and brothers. We go sit in a quiet bench area and wait for paper work to be processed and clearance to enter the prison. After about 20 minutes the man in charge finally reports that it is time and we enter through a series of gates to the first security stop. Here we get our "number tags," are checked for any carried items, and then proceed through bars to another security point where we go through metal detectors. After this we are rushed through the prison courtyard, up a flight of stairs and into what would be the library, but is now seating over 100 Thai men - all awaiting our presentation.
This Christmas was one to remember for the rest of my life.
The time spent speaking at the prison was such a sweet and special time of blessing many brothers in Christ on the eve of our Savior's birth! With Pastor Ed translating the men gathered started with prayer, then onto worshiping our Lord, and then each one of our team got up to share a brief testimony of God in our lives. It was amazing and the only thing unaccounted for was the fact that Pastor Ed had invited 9 women to speak. By the time it reached myself, going second to last- he looked at me to say, "It's short right? You and Ivy only have 10 mins between the two of you." Luckily for him my testimony was quick to tell the grace of His blessings upon my life and Ivy following to wrap up what we all had said with a few short words and we finished "on time" - at least for Pastor Ed. As he closed it all out we needed no translator to understand what he said as all the men began to laugh, Pastor Ed motioning towards us - you ask women to share "briefly" and you better expect to be there overtime. Something that was so cool about this time of sharing was that when we started there were ten rows of ten men but as we shared men would walk by and then sit down, adding to rows and making more, so that by the time we were finished there was hardly any space left!
Upon leaving we learned that of the original one-hundred gathered, only thirty of them were non-believers and that they had chosen to come and listen! In the past 4 years that Pastor Ed has been doing ministry in this prison he said the numbers have gone from 30 to around 600 Christians! Wow! In a country were under 1% of the 67,089,50o people in Thailand are Christian, the rest being majority Buddhist, this is an incredible number change! (population statistics from the CIA world fact book)
After the prison we went to the mall for lunch and then returned to Abba House to join the NewLife guys in a time of sharing favorite Bible verses and what they meant to us. It was so cool to hear the passion for God from these men after spending several hours where many of them had spent several years! Instead of breaking up for English class we combined to teach a few Christmas carols such as Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and the first verse of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer for laughs. Then everyone went home to prepare to gather later that evening to go caroling through Chiang Mai, Thailand!
(our SongTao carried about 20 people: 10 inside the bed, 3 on the back, 2-3 on top and 4 in the cabin)
The experience was incredible as I learned so much about the hospitality of Thai Christians! There were almost 50 of us all together. 10 YWAMers, 11 NewLife guys, 21 AHF kids, 5 ABH staff and another family of 3 who joined us. The concept of caroling here in Thailand is carried out much differently than back in the states. Here is how it is done Thai style- you sneak up to the house and then everyone yells, "Merry Christmas!" Francis and Tom start playing their guitars and we sing a couple carols - in Thai. The lights of the house still off and not a sound or move coming from within - when we finish singing Pastor Ed says a prayer of blessing and we together everyone closes, "AMEN and Merry Christmas!" At which point the lights fly on, doors open, kids run out and families joyfully welcome you into their home where they give refreshments and sweet treats. But because there are so few Christmas celebrating people here we had to go to the houses where we knew the believers, so we spent quite a bit of time in the trucks being farried all through the different districts within Chiang Mai, repeating the caroling ritual at each location.
We arrived at the last home ten after midnight -the caroling ritual plays out again and then we are welcomed in by Nid's parents! (Francis' wife, and staff here at Abba House) Her parents were amazing and had a small warm meal prepared for us and we shared many stories, blessings and an invitation for my team to return for dinner in the future
Finally arriving home to Abba House at 1am we all were exhausted, but so full of God's love and blessings, and thinking about His incredible gift to us. This night was worth every ounce of energy, of singing, of joyful laughter, of standing in the cold, of praying for the families who welcomed us in, so worth holding the sleepy-eyed 8 year old named Sophia as we sang "christmas pen we la" - All for the Glory of the God who made me, sent His only son to Save me from separation from Him- though I turned my eyes from His, and For Him who has Loved me the same since the first moment He thought me into existence. Gloria, in Excelsis Deo! Amen!