|Chapter 16||ON THE ROAD AGAIN|
Last night we slept on the floor. Right underneath us were two pigs who grunted most of the night. Cows and buffalo also mooed around down there and bumped the posts holding up the house. Quite a place! That was our second night here. I am afraid of the owner's dogs. Thai Home
As soon as our last child went away to boarding school, I too became a "village missionary" and was no longer "the widow with a husband." I had waited about 18 years to be able to go with Elmer to the villages. Now we were both involved in extended teaching ministries, five day evangelistic campaigns, 10 day Bible conferences and church growth seminars. We were often gone three weeks at a time. After a few days at home we would be off again.
The "village missionary" life took considerable adjustment on my part. In the villages I used the Thai country style long skirts. Our notes had warned: Ladies, special attention should be paid to safe skirt lengths and styles appropriate for ladder climbing and sitting on the floor in Thai homes. It is better not to use slacks and pedal pushers in public. Don't wear shower slippers when teaching a class and don't dress too casually. Custom, not climate, is the criterion. SWEEPING TIME
Finding appropriate sleeping arrangements was also a major problem. Even in the larger towns we sometimes had difficulty finding a suitable place to sleep. Although we liked to stay in old Chinese inns or small motels, there were not many alternatives. We had to take whatever we could find and most of the time that wasn't much.
In one large town, we stayed in three different hotels. I had names for each of them. "Knock on the Door Hotel" turned out to be an establishment that prostitutes frequented. After the first knock on our door, we decided to find another hotel. Hotel
"Broken Toilet Hotel" on our first visit looked new, but over the years repairs were never made and the place rapidly deteriorated.
The "No Water Hotel" was a new, delightful, three-story hotel. However, we soon found out that the water did not reach the third floor! Buckets were carried up by the workers for our entire week there.
Most of our travels were to very small villages, so we slept with any Thai family that would invite us. It was disconcerting wondering day after day where our "home" would be that night. We took along sleeping bags, thin foam rubber mattresses, pillows and always mosquito nets. MOSQUITO NET
Many of the Thai homes were simple thatched-roof houses with no furniture. "I wonder where I'll sleep tonight" became my theme song.
I will always remember one experience I had in a small village. A Thai woman took us over to her newly built large wooden house. I thought, This looks great! We climbed the wooden stairs leading to the family's living quarters. Most Thai homes in the villages were built on huge posts supporting the house, with the chickens and pigs living in the open space underneath. Buffalos and cows also shared that space at night. The woman took us to an open area in the center of the house - a room sized hallway with doors all around leading into other rooms. She pointed to the floor in the hallway area and said, "Here is where you can sleep." I tried not to show my disappointment. I knew that the family members would have to pass through that area and I dreaded the lack of privacy. I wondered where we would hang our clothes and put our teaching materials. Elmer asked our hostess if there wasn't a room somewhere else in the house that we could use. She said, "Yes I have a small storeroom where we keep the rice sacks but the room is not clean." I was so happy to have some privacy that I gladly swept out the cobwebs and dirt. Our hostess could not understand why these foreigners would choose a small room with one little window instead of a big open hallway with breezes!
One day, looking through an American magazine, I saw a picture of an A-frame folding travel trailer. What a blessing that would be in the villages, I thought. On furlough, in 1967, we took the opportunity to look for such a trailer. We soon discovered that they were not easy to find. We had almost given up the search when I heard of an RV dealer only 10 miles from home. What a pleasant surprise to find that he had a folding trailer just like the one I had seen in the magazine! We knew it would be perfect for traveling in the villages.
"We'll be back," we told the dealer. "We want to take this to Thailand." The salesman didn't know that we didn't have the money for the trailer, but we knew that if God wanted us to have it, He would provide the funds. We determined not to make any public appeals for this project, either by speaking or letter. Wanting to be sure this was God's will for us, I put out a fleece, asking Him for $500 to come in from a source outside of The Christian and Missionary Alliance. I will never forget the day this prayer was answered. A pastor friend of ours from an independent church came to visit. We were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when, without any mention of the trailer, he said, "How would you like $500 for something special for yourselves? It is not to go for any mission project. It must be for a personal need. "
I almost fell off my chair! As we told him about the trailer and the fleece, we rejoiced together, knowing that God would send in the rest of the needed amount. He did. We received not only sufficient funds for the trailer itself, but enough to cover the shipping and import duty. Trailer
Back on the field, I wrote to my mother:
We have our trailer now and we sleep so much better. We even have a little privacy during the day. It stays snug and dry in heavy rainstorms and trails along so well behind our pickup even on the rough roads. You ought to see the faces of the people when we start cranking it up. The Thais say, "You are like the Apostle Paul - you bring your own tent." They also say, "You have no trouble now!"
The third adjustment I had to make to the itinerant lifestyle was eating Thai food at every meal. Thai food is very peppery hot and spicy and although Elmer always enjoyed hot food, I did not fare so well. The village people ate rice and fish two or three times a day. Sometimes a curry or soup with vegetables was also served. STICKY RICE
I never did get used to eating fish at breakfast time! I always took only a small portion of the hot food and diluted it with a lot of rice. The trailer proved a blessing here too - we could at least have an American breakfast.
Another sometimes traumatic adjustment I had to make was to the pot-holed, dirt roads. Many hours were spent bouncing in and over such roads. We rode in Land Rovers until 1973 when we purchased a Toyota lightweight pickup truck. The Mission doctor had warned us to be careful of what he called "Land Rover back," a common ailment among missionaries.
My journals contain many descriptions of these trips:
The roads are full of deep holes. I felt all battered when we arrived and still do. Because of heavy rains, one road was extremely slippery. I was ready to get out as a truck approached us sliding all over the road. We managed to stay on the road and avoid the truck, but we saw trouble ahead. A huge lumber truck, stuck fast in deep mud, was blocking five or six buses that didn't have enough room to go around. There was barely enough room on the narrow road for our small pickup to get around them all. Another hour and we would never have made it through the mud. Bridges
I had the most difficult times coping with the numerous dilapidated or unfinished bridges we had to cross, especially in remote areas. Many times I told Elmer, "Let me out - I am walking across!"
One time, because we had guests, I refrained from my usual line. When we arrived at the meeting place, the leader told us, "You should not have gone on that bridge. I had planned to meet you there before you arrived." That really bolstered my confidence! On the return trip, even though the bridge was supposedly fixed, everyone except Elmer got out and walked across. A young Thai guided Elmer and the vehicle over the bridge because most of the new planks were not yet nailed down.
Click to hear the unique sound of the Land Rover: Land Rover
Another time, heavy rains had caused the approach to a long bridge to be washed out. A makeshift wooden bridge had been built starting at the bottom of the one bank and reaching to the other side. As we approached the bridge, I became very nervous. We started across. Thinking that at any moment we could slide right off into the river, my hand was on the door handle, ready to open it and jump into the swirling muddy river. We made it across, but the Land Rover could not get up the slippery bank. I got out and climbed up to the highway. Elmer hired 10 Thai men to help him push the vehicle up the bank to the main road.
I wrote about the incident for our field newsletter:
"On this last trip, I wish you could have seen the Sahlberg Land Rover slither, slide, spin and skid, slowly snaking up that slippery, slushy, soggy slope."
Traveling to the Thai villages wasn't all bad bridges and rough roads. In remote villages especially, there was a rather unique thing we had to get used to - being stared at.
I remember particularly the first village I visited. Some older Thai women were not paying attention to the preacher, but were edging closer and closer to where I stood at the edge of the crowd. One old woman finally reached out her hand and touched my ankle. Then she shouted some words in Thai. Later, I found out what she said: "Look at her skin. It stretches!" That was the last time I wore stockings in the villages!
For six years Elmer and I traveled together all over northeast Thailand. Often as many as 1,000 people attended the tent campaigns. In most areas the majority of the people had never heard about Jesus or knew Him only as an historical figure. We gave out thousands of tracts to help people understand the message. Approximately 95 percent of the Thai people are Buddhist. We made it a practice never to speak against their national religion and warned our Thai Christians not to do so either.
During one meeting, however, a Thai preacher started to denounce Buddhism. We shuddered as a man from the congregation strode up to the front of the tent. He grabbed the microphone and shouted angrily, "You are a traitor to your country!" The crowd agreed with him. Elmer, sensing potential for possible violence, quickly dismissed the meeting. Our trailer was parked by the side of the tent. I was very nervous that night, expecting any time to have rocks hit our roof or the trailer to be pushed over on its side. Thankfully, nothing happened. The next day Elmer went to the local authorities to explain our position. God intervened and we were allowed to continue with the services.
God intervened in a most unusual way on another occasion. One windy night in a Korat City campaign, the tent collapsed. We continued the meeting outdoors and prayed that the rains would hold off until it ended. Later on, we learned that it had rained in other parts of the city which circled our location. God had answered our prayers.
When Elmer became chairman of the Thailand Mission, we could not spend long periods of time in the villages. In as much as clean and comfortable new motels and hotels were springing up in many areas, we decided that it was time to sell our little blue "home." There was also another reason for selling the trailer: we no longer felt safe in it because of increased communist activity and the growing crime rate. The villagers were also concerned for our safety and even posted an all night guard around us one night. That was the last time I ever slept in the trailer. Throughout all our years of ministry in the villages, God kept His hand upon us. We were very happy in spite of the many unusual and primitive conditions under which we lived and ministered. We knew we were doing God's will.
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