Last week, seven of us set out from Chiang Mai, headed to a couple of villages in the mountains. Our task was to help provide shelter for a pair of Karen widows. We traveled in one truck – crammed full with people, tools, and backpacks. The seven included Nathan, a friend and fellow leader at EMA, three engineering technology students, myself, and my two teenage sons. As our truck was ferried across a lake set in a beautiful valley surrounded by green mountains, I thought that it has been too long since I’d ventured out of the city. A few hours of rough 4-wheel driving later, and Nathan quips, ” Why do they live so far away?” I think it is a rhetorical question. We check on the guys in the back of the truck and there is only one minor head injury from the rough driving.
We arrived at a small village on Doi Tao, a mountain near Hot, Thailand. This is an animist village where the people worship spirits, and are bound by superstitions that are common with this kind of belief system. We were invited by a pastor from the Karen for Christ foundation. This pastor is sharing the love of Christ with these dear mountain people. That night, a small congregation gathered inside the church. The congregation has grown from one person to seven families. About thirty people sat in a circle on the floor – women on one side, and men on the other side. We all worshiped and prayed together. The peace of God filled that room. The next day, our task was to complete the construction of a small wooden house for a widow.
Legal wood is scarce in these villages because the government has tried to halt the clear cutting of forests. When I wondered aloud about the source of the lumber for the house, I received this response: There was a sick man. As is their custom, the sick man went to the local animist leader for healing. The sick man was told that he would die unless he moved out of the house, so he left the house. These ghost houses or spirit houses are left empty because of fear – fear of the evil spirits, fear of sickness and death. Typically, these people do not have money or resources to build a new wood house. They have few alternatives.
Our resourceful pastor purchased the ghost house from the sick man using funds provided by EMA donors. . The house was torn down, the wood was saved and moved to a new building site. Here, the wood was used to build a new house for a widow. She did not have a house of her own. I love that God takes situations that are intended for evil and makes good out of them. By the time that we arrived in the village, local church members had finished the floor and the roof, but there were no walls and no entry.
Our group helped finish the house by siding it and building a porch. I tried to direct the work while my three young engineering technology students worked hard and, as usual, were quick to smile and laugh. In fact, I wish my engineer father was here – he would have loved the students’ enthusiasm and hard work. We quickly sided the walls of the small wood house, and built an entry porch. That night, as I lay under mosquito netting on a hard floor beside my two sons, I was glad that they could be here to experience this with me. The next day we went to another village and replaced the roof on another house for a different widow. Once finished, as we started the bouncy trek back to civilization, Nathan wondered aloud again, “Why do people live so far away?”
Footnote: About 4 years ago, my family memorized a little verse in James: “Religion that our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this – to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 4:27). The funny thing is that, at the time, I didn’t really know any true orphans or widows personally. I talked to my boys about “spiritual” orphans or widows, or more broadly people that need help. But the seeds were planted, and, four years later, I laugh because now our family is involved with both orphans and widows. I smile with the knowledge that God’s Word can change our lives forever. My life. Your life. Everyone’s.
Dan heads up the Engineering Technology program at EMA. He’s an engineer who doesn’t like to maintain things. An administrator who doesn’t want to be put in a box. He prefers to teach about interesting things rather than follow a strict lesson plan. He says he likes chaos, but finds he secretly wants things organized. He says he’s full, but wants to know what’s for dessert. He is always busy working but would rather hang out with his kids and wife.