In Thailand at the 2013 Global Ministries Summit

The Global Ministries Summit was held January 20-24 in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Persons serving fulltime with Global Ministries or as nontraditional staff were invited, and all of their expenses were covered. Altogether, 28 persons, eight of them children, attended.

  • Jeff Bleijerveld, director of Global Ministries.
  • Donna Hollopeter, associate director of Global Ministries.
  • Frank Y, associate director of Global Ministries.
  • Brian and Lynette Magnus, from Guelph, Ontario.
  • David and Melissa Kline, and three children, from Macau
  • Jeff and April Dice, and three children, nontraditional staff serving part of the year in Nicaragua.
  • Galen and Maritta Fiedler, and two children, nontraditional staff serving in Germany.
  • Jennifer Blandin, from Macau.
  • Bryan and Emily Gerlach, appointed to begin a new ministry in Thailand later in 2013.
  • Jessica Hollopeter, serving with One Mission Society in Indiana.
  • Miriam, Jana, Anne, and Jenaya, serving in undisclosed locations.
  • Rev. Yiu, superintendent of Hong Kong Conference.
  • Carol Chan, the missions director from Hong Kong Conference.

They all met at the Phowaldol Resort on the outskirts of Chiang Rai, a city of 200,000 people in northern Thailand on the border with Myanmar.

The speaker was Brian Magnus, bishop of the United Brethren Church in Canada. Brian also chairs the International Executive Committee, and presides at sessions of the international General Conference. He spoke five times to the group in Thailand. Since everyone spoke English, no translating was needed.

Jeff Bleijerveld, director of Global Ministries, and associate director Donna Hollopeter sat down a few days after returning to talk about the event, beginning with the question, “Why Thailand?”

Jeff Bleijerveld: Much of our staff is already located in Asia, so it served well as the gathering point. It also kept expenses low. We stayed at this very nice hotel for about $35 per night, per person. It was a wonderful resort with individual cottages, so even families with children had a two-floor cottage. It was very comfortable.

Frank was the organizer and did a lot of the planning. A lot of credit also goes to Peggy Sell, our administrative assistant at the time, who handled a lot of the logistical work. We originally planned that Peggy would join us. It’s always a challenge with people coming from different places, and arranging transportation to from the airport.

For some of our staff, being treated to a vacation in Thailand was different, and some even felt uncomfortable explaining it to supporters. But most were very grateful for the opportunity to meet each other, to step away from ministry, and to be refreshed spiritually.

Donna Hollopeter: Most everybody arrived by Saturday night. The Dice family didn’t arrive until Sunday, so they missed the visit to the mountain churches on Sunday, as did the Fiedlers.

Jeff: The Fiedlers were delayed two full days because of a variety of things—ice storms in Germany which shut down the autobahns, bad weather at Heathrow airport in London, and then a minor strike with Thai Airways. But they made it for two days of the meetings.

Of all of the Global Ministries families, the Fiedlers have probably been under the most pressure and stress. Maritta’s father has been fighting cancer for many years. He had just come home from the hospital; after they returned to Germany, he went back into the hospital and is now in a coma. They really appreciated the event. They did plan to stay two additional days to relax and spend time as a family.

Sessions with Brian

Donna: Brian Magnus did a phenomenal job. He took five characters from the Old Testament and talked about their lives, their character qualities—good and bad—and the impact that they had on the lives of other people. Then he asked us to consider how our lives and character qualities impact others positively or negatively, and how we reflect Christ.

Jeff: We deliberated beforehand whether this was a time for building up and encouragement and spiritual challenge, or a time to talk shop and strategize for the future. We decided we couldn’t do both well, so we would focus on missionary care. Brian and Lynette Magnus are both natural encouragers.

Everybody seemed very eager to get to know each other. They stayed up and played card games together. There was no sense of cliques.

Donna: We began each session with devotions, and with praise and worship. They all commented on how much they enjoyed worshiping together. During the sessions, they were very careful to mix up who they sat with, so they could have conversations with people they didn’t necessarily know well.

Jeff: Brian and Lynette celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary last June, so they built into the trip an additional week. They went to Chiang Mai, a larger city about two-and-a-half hours to the southwest. It’s known for its zoo with panda bears, and its ancient waterway built into the city. They wanted to take some time to enjoy and relax before going back.

Donna: They were trying to decide how to get to Chiang Mai, and decided to take a bus. There were three levels of ticketing. Brian thought, “This is special, so I’ll take the most expensive ticket.” Which was equal to $10.

Jeff: Again and again, as you run through the numbers, you realize, this is really affordable.

The Children at the Summit

Donna: Three families brought children. David and Melissa Kline have three young children, Jeff and April Dice brought their four children, and Galen and Maritta Fiedler (from Germany) brought their two children.

The kids were very good. Even though they hadn’t met before, the younger kids very quickly developed relationships with each other. You’d see them walking down the pathways, arm in arm. It was neat to see.

Jeff: The hotel staff were fabulous. They even provided childcare. The lady in charge of childcare remarked how well behaved our children were, that they weren’t “naughty,” as she put it. She got one day a week off, and it fell on the day we left. Yet she came to the hotel all day just to say goodbye to the children.

Donna: The families with children banded together to buy gifts for the childcare providers, who said that had never happened before—nobody else had thanked them or given them gifts for taking care of their children.

Miriam said she had forgotten some of the issues families deal with on a regular basis, like trying to coordinate naps for kids along with all the activities planned. She kept remembering how it was when their boys were younger. With a family, there are a whole lot of other dynamics that single missionaries don’t have to deal with, whether you are on the field or at a rest-and-relaxation place like this.

Sunday on the Mountain

Donna: On Sunday, we went up to the mountain churches, where we have two churches and one church plant. It was about a two-and-a-half hour drive in a van, with very steep and narrow roads, one curve after another. We left about 6:45 for the 10:30 service.

Jeff: At one point, we stopped and looked directly across the border into Myanmar. Even where the church is located, you’re within a mile of the border with Myanmar. It’s quite a porous border, which is a concern for the Thai authorities. They have the drug traffic fairly well controlled, and have tried to stamp it out. But some of the other countries don’t have the same capabilities.

Donna: The Thai churches all combined in one location for that Sunday morning service. We had a very good worship experience. Jeff spoke. Interestingly, his words went through three translators who were on the platform with him. He spoke in English, the next person translated into Mandarin, the next person translated from Mandarin to Thai, and the last person translated from Thai into Akha, the language spoken by the people in that village. So you have four different people up there saying the same thing (we hope)

Jeff: I have no idea what the Akha people heard me say. I tried to stay with a simple narrative—Jesus and the disciples and the storm on the Sea of Galilee, and how God is greater than the waves.

Donna: People came to church in their traditional tribal dress. They were very welcoming and gracious, and invited all of the guests to come up front. The women had made bracelets for every person attending. Some got two. Each bracelet had the words, “I love you.”

The people were intrigued with the Kline children, because the weren’t used to seeing three blond-headed kids. The kids came away with a lot of loot. They made a purse for Mia Kline, bracelets, and a necklace. The people kept rubbing their hair, because they were intrigued by how wavy and curly it was.

The church sits on a hillside. After the service, we went down the hill to a vacant lot where they played their own version of soccer—a little bit different than the soccer we know. Brandt and Mia Kline played soccer with the Akha kids.

Jeff: In the mountains, when you kick a ball out of bounds, it goes way out of bounds. The Thai kids were careful to keep it in bounds.

Donna: After that, we were invited back to the home of one of the pastors for tea and fruit. Then we went to see the other church building. Finally, before we left, we went to Pastor Lee’s home for lunch.

At the Elephant Farm

Donna: Our last day together, we took a sampan—a long narrow canoe with a huge motor on back—up the river to an elephant farm, where there were many, many elephants. We all rode elephants for an hour—up the hillside, down the hillside, into the river. For a little bit of money, 20 baht, you could buy a bag of food—green bananas and sugar cane—to feed your elephant.

Two people rode at a time. They would bring the elephant to a tower, and you would climb onto a two-seater bench. And off you’d go, with a Thai man riding on the neck of the elephant. The route included going into the river. Then you went onto the bank to another tower, where you got off the elephant.

Even with the Thai rider and a set route, the elephants all seemed to follow their own mind about what they would do. Any time they came near foliage, they came to a total stop to break off big chunks of plants and snarf it down. We were supposed to be following this path, but four elephants decided to cut across a field instead. The riders kept saying something to the elephants to get them back on track. Then there were some that, instead of going partway into the river, decided they wanted to cross the river to get something to eat on the other side.

Jeff: If you think it’s difficult matching yourself to the rhythm of a horse, you should try riding on an elephant. It’s a total core workout. You can’t match it’s movements. There is no going with the flow.

Donna: After that, they escorted us to a village where they had huge snakes—pythons and boas. You could have a photo taken with a snake wrapped around you, but the only person who did that was Camden Dice. He had a big yellow boa constrictor, probably 14 feet long, wrapped around him. While photos were being taken, he stood there trying to look enthused, and saying, “Why did I do this?”

After that, we did some shopping with some of the village vendors, and got back to the resort, had lunch, and then took off again for the Golden Triangle area.

At the Opium Museum

Jeff: We went through the House of Opium, a museum which tells the story of the opium trade and how it impacted not only Thailand but much of Asia during colonial times.

Donna: There was a lot of reading, along with videos. There were amazing facts about how even the CIA and the British East India Company were involved in the opium trade.

Jeff: It helped us understand why missionaries who entered China with opium traders were called White Devils. For a Westerner, there were may humbling moments.

The museum is located on the Mekong River at the conjunction of three countries–
Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. The Thai royal family personally paid to develop the museum, which is truly world class.

Donna: Thailand used to be an absolute monarchy, but now it’s a constitutional monarchy. Their king is 85 years old, and the queen is 80. They are dearly loved, even revered. He has been on the throne for 60-some years. Both of them are in ill health. They no longer live in the palace, but have taken over a floor of a hospital in Bangkok.

Jeff: As soon as you arrive in the country, you begin noticing photos of the King of Thailand. The Thai people think very highly of the royal family. As an outsider, if you make a comment perceived as negative to the government, it is not appreciated.

Donna: One of their largest celebrations each year is on the birthday of the King, December 5. All industry closes down, and they have an official day of celebration.

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