Down here on the peninsula of Thailand you live rather close to various creatures. Yesterday afternoon I saw my first monkey up high in a tree; when returning to my room, I met a charming three-inch long gekko who had taken up residence with me. Where the Thai Missionary Baptist Fellowship used to hold its annual retreat was much more...shall we say rustic... than where we are presently. In the old camp, open wooden slats allowed close communion with all sorts of animals, and sleeping under mosquito nets was a necessity. We are a bit more pampered than that; however, open air eating ensures that birds and bugs are well fed, also.
Yesterday's teaching session included reflection on certain spiritual practices that assist us in growing to "the full maturity of Christ" as Ephesians puts it. One of the practices is simply attending--paying attention and being receptive to the ways God will speak to us. One of the participants observed that he had real trouble not being preoccupied with what needed doing next. Being silent and waiting did not come easily to him, he noted. I was reminded of Thomas Merton's great metaphor of the challenges of contemplation. He suggested that sometimes our minds are like a tree full of monkeys, all screeching and shaking about. Yet with practice, he contended, we can calm even the most distracted mental state and pay attention to God. The monkey I saw was sedate; perhaps she had found a way to rest in God, too.
The rhythms of these days are constructed to include worship, teaching, recreation, time for community building, and quiet reflection. There is also opportunity for personal consultations surrounding various concerns. Thankfully my teaching responsibility is concluded by noon, so I have been able to be available as a sounding board for some of these missionary colleagues--quite a privilege. Michael Welker, German theologian, suggests that we open up the presence of the Spirit with one another, i.e., we learn the ways of the Spirit as we ponder together what "living in the Spirit" means in a culture fearful of the "spirit world." As we live in the "wide space" the Spirit creates, we learn more how all things cohere in God's great missio Dei through Christ.
Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Thawesak Mahacharavaroj, a member of the President's Circle at Central, drove down from Bangkok for a vist with John Gravley and me. He was delighted to learn of the progress on our library and chapel and, God willing, will come next April for the dedication service. How blessed we are to have friends in Southeast Asia who care about our mission. By our coming to serve the TMBF, we are able to make a constructive contribution to ministries here. We pray that there will be many more opportunities for students and faculty to participate with fellow laborers here.