|Chapter 22||WE'RE THE TEAM|
That's what missionary work is all about. I have already shared with you how God in His great mercy and love saved Elmer and me and called us into His service and eventually to Thailand. Our testimonies, parts of which you read here, confirm the Scripture which says that we are laborers together with God. We were not alone in Thailand. God was there. We felt His presence.
We saw the results of His power and intervention. More and more we realize what a privilege it was to be partners with Him in His worldwide missionary program. But the teamwork reached into other areas as well. During our 35 years of ministry as husband and wife, Elmer and I always saw ourselves as a team.
35 Years of Ministry
I wrote to my mother:
I must get used to having a lot of company. We have people staying with us every week for overnight or longer. Missionaries travel through or we keep special speakers for meetings in the city. I suppose I'll adjust to all this, but it is a strange new lifestyle for me after being alone so many years. I must also be careful to never express a strong opinion. I am supposed to take a middle view and see both sides of any issue or problem.
I tried as a member of the team to please everyone and be the "perfect" chairman's wife. But I soon learned that I could not please everyone. God used an article in a magazine to show me the futility of wearing myself to a frazzle trying to impress or be accepted by people. I finally came to realize that God knows, forgives, loves and accepts me as I am. I began to relax and enjoy my role. Although Elmer held the chairman's position for several different periods during our years in Thailand, I learned to fit into the demands of the position and not to be frustrated by them.
Team work? Oh, yes. Elmer and I were a team. God had led us together as husband and wife and called us to serve Him together. We were God's team.
Our teamwork also involved us with the refugees who were fleeing into Thailand from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. That ministry involved teamwork with Thai officials and United Nations representatives who met monthly to coordinate refugee projects. We visited the first make shift refugee camp that was set up on the Cambodian border when the military situation in Southeast Asia deteriorated. John and Jean Ellison worked at that camp. As the Ellisons translated for us, former army officers told how they had escaped from Pol Pot's regime, sometimes hiding for days in rice fields and jungles on their way to the border. Many told stories of the mass killing of the educated class. In their desperation, these people (teachers, nurses, doctors, army personnel) often pretended to be peasant farmers in order to escape the murderous rampage.
CAMA Services (the relief arm of The Christian and Missionary Alliance whose motto is "Turning Relief into Belief") eventually arrived to take over our work in the refugee camps. CAMA Services continues to this day to provide the basic necessities for life and living to refugees throughout Southeast Asia and other parts of the world. I'll never forget the day when Wayne and Minnie Persons took us to an early Sunday morning worship service at a camp in Loei. Nine hundred people were seated on low, wooden, backless benches in a long, dirt-floored shelter. The grass roof was held up by bamboo poles. A second meeting later that morning saw another 900 or more gather to hear God's Word preached.
Team work? Oh, yes. It took a team to minister to those thousands of displaced persons. And God honored that effort.
The Sahlberg team, as you already know, eventually numbered four others with the same last name. We always included the children in our team. They helped to open doors of opportunity, especially in Nongkai province during our first years in Thailand. Many Vietnamese refugees had fled there during the Indochina War. The refugees blamed the Americans for helping the French government in that conflict. Only when the children were with me did I feel any friendliness on the part of the Vietnamese. Being part of the Sahlberg team meant a different lifestyle for our children. In Thailand, David and Dale often traveled with Elmer to the villages. They sang, played the guitar and helped to set up the tent.
Furlough time had its own set of adjustments. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all strangers to the children. They not only had to adjust to new relatives, but they had to make new friends as well. The one constant in all the newness was that our team of six was together. That was important. As we traveled, the children took part in missionary meetings by helping in the skits, dressing in Thai clothes and singing in the Thai language. It was difficult for the children to stay in many different homes and live out of suitcases for weeks at a time.
They also had to adjust to calling many different places home. Because of Elmer's responsibilities, we moved 12 times in Thailand, not to mention the various homes we had while on furlough. Dale once asked, "Where is home?" It seemed we were forever packing. We even helped other missionaries pack and called ourselves "The Sahlberg Packing Company."
Team work? Oh, yes. The Sahlberg family was a team.
Other key players on our team were the people who worked for us - the servants we called helpers. Coming from a land (America) where servants are a luxury, we sometimes felt uncomfortable with hired help. But we soon came to realize that they could free up our time for God's work. The low wages made it possible.
There were many ways our Thai helpers assisted us. In the early days, all the cooking was done on charcoal stoves. Later, with kerosene stoves, I was always nervous (with good reason) because of their unpredictability. Even our refrigerator ran on kerosene. In addition, water had to be drawn in buckets from a well on the property. It was many years before we got city water and over 20 years before we got hot water heaters. During our years in Nongkai, clothes were scrubbed by hand on a little wooden platform in the back yard. They were ironed with charcoal irons. Our clothes often had little burn holes caused by sparks from the charcoal. Having Thai helpers taught me that teamwork sometimes requires a lot of patience and effort. Teaching a Thai girl or boy to prepare food American-style demanded much time and energy. My instructions were not always clearly understood. It was often frustrating. After I had taught one girl how to make a coffee cake (or thought I had), I asked her to prepare one for some guests. The cake looked lovely as it came out of the oven. I cut a small corner piece and popped it into my mouth. Something was wrong. It had a strange, bitter taste. "What did you put in the batter?" I asked the girl. "Well," she said, "I ran out of flour, so I put in three-fourths cup of powdered coffee. You told me to make a coffee cake!" No one could eat the cake. Even the dog refused!
In 1952, I wrote in my journal:
I once thought it would be so nice to have hired help but now sometimes I think it would be easier to do things myself. So many of my good things have been ruined. I must learn not to place such value on material things - even favorite American treasures. And I need much more patience to live out here. We have to check to see that our dishes are properly washed and that our drinking water is boiled. If I had some modern conveniences, it would be easier to do the work myself. But it would be too much for me to go to the early morning market. We cannot afford canned goods, so daily trips to the local fresh food stalls must be made. And I would never keep up with the dust from the unpaved streets that blow in through our glassless windows.
It was very annoying when trained members of our team left us for the higher wages offered by American soldiers or wealthy business people. As missionaries we could not match those salaries. Just when I had finally been able to get someone to cook the way we liked, she or he left and I had to start all over.
We had many wonderful helpers during our years in Thailand. They were truly helpers - not servants. They were part of our team. The ones who were Christians felt they were assisting us to do God's work. Some left us to enter full-time Christian ministry. Some were with us for over 10 years.
Team work? Oh, yes. Without our Thai helpers, we could not have accomplished what God wanted us to do in Thailand.
Elmer and I also worked in partnership with The Christian and Missionary Alliance national churches, called The Gospel Church of Thailand. Local churches invited us for ministry and we went at their request. We often teamed up with students from the Central Bible School in Khon Kaen who sang at our special meetings and tent campaigns. Christian teachers helped us in day ministries, along with Thai pastors and evangelists. Adjun (teacher) Khum Jun, a Thai evangelist, often traveled with us or rode his motorcycle to meet us for special meetings in village churches. The three of us took turns speaking during the all day and evening meetings. This faithful servant of God devoted his full time to evangelism, trusting Him to supply the needs of his family.
Team work? Oh, yes. Adjun Khum Jun and many others like him were part of our team.
A most necessary member of our team, we soon found out, was the Thai government, for we needed the visas and work permits that they could provide. As foreigners, we were very aware of how government regulations affected our lives. A constant companion everywhere we went was a little book called a police book (dong dao). That book was proof that we possessed a quota number. A quota number is a permanent visa - a difficult document to obtain. It is valid as long as a person does not leave Thailand for longer than one year. Foreigners without a quota number must enter Thailand on a non-immigrant visa and then apply for an extended visa. Such a person, with non-immigrant status, could be summoned at any moment to appear within 48 hours at the immigration office in Bangkok. If he or she did not appear, or if the application was refused, that person would have to leave Thailand for brief periods once or even twice a year. As you can imagine, much time and expense could be involved if one was unfortunate enough to be found in that situation. So, having a quota number was a top priority for us. .
Because three of our children were born in Thailand and were therefore considered to be Thai citizens, they did not get a quota number. Instead, they carried American passports. That meant that they sometimes had to leave the country and re-enter to obtain visa extensions.
On January 26, 1965, I wrote my mother:
I have really been on the go. I had to take Esther out of the country (to Laos) because of a mix up in her visa. David went along with us. Elmer stayed home with Dale. It took me two days to rest up after one week of traveling from one end of Thailand to the other by train, bus, ferry, station wagon and taxi. First, I had to go to the immigration department in Bangkok from our home in Korat, five hours on the train. Then, from Bangkok, another train ride up to the border. Thirteen hours on that train. We crossed the Mekong River to Laos on a ferry and enjoyed a brief visit with some missionaries and returned to Nongkai to ride the train back to Korat. Then back to Bangkok once again to the immigration office, with proof of our having exited the country.
Elmer, David and I got our permanent quota numbers in 1950. In 1973, when a problem caused me to stay in America over the one year limit, I lost my number. So, from 1973 on, I never knew when I would be asked to leave the country. It was difficult to plan meetings and classes (or anything else for that matter) with the 48 hour notice regulation hanging over my head. Corrine For two and a half long years I kept applying for one of the 100 quota numbers that were allocated to Americans. What a happy day it was when it finally arrived. Could you guess what number it was? It was number 99.
The visa situation changed for the better when the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand, composed of many evangelical missions, including our own, received official recognition by the Thai government. Amidst the often prolonged frustrations of bureaucratic rules and regulations, once in a while a little serendipity relieved the tension. One day Elmer went to the Department of Education to see if the Alliance could set up the Dalat missionary school in Bangkok. The department's director general was not in, so Elmer asked to see his assistant. What a pleasant surprise to find out that the assistant was the woman who had taught me Thai in Korat many years earlier! She provided valuable information about how to organize the school and she became an important link in dealing with the complex government regulations.
Team work? Oh, yes. Sometimes working with government officials and adapting ourselves to their rules and regulations was frustrating and unpredictable. But it was teamwork nonetheless.
Every furlough we formed another team - a partnership with the Christians and churches in America. It was a significant and important relationship for many reasons, not the least of which being that every four years we had to cope with the problem of finding a house to rent. On our 1961 furlough, Elmer and I searched day after long day for a place to live. The answer was always, "Sorry, no children and no pets." Besides, the rents were higher than we could afford to pay. Every day we returned to my mother's overpopulated little house wondering if we would ever get settled. Finally, after days of rejection and discouragement, we were able to find a new, three bedroom house at the right price. It provided an enjoyable place to call home for a year.
As our next furlough (1967) drew near, hoping to avoid the house hunting trauma of the previous furlough, we wrote to the pastor of the Largo (Florida) Alliance Church to seek his help. What an encouraging response we received from Pastor Arnold Johnson, his wife Mary and their entire congregation. They found and rented a lovely house for us in an area close to schools, stores, the church and even to the beach. The women of the church cleaned the house until it sparkled. The congregation furnished it under a plan called "Loaned for a Year." There was even a piano for our daughter and a beautiful stone fireplace complete with a one year's supply of wood. I'll never forget how happy I felt as I stepped into that lovingly prepared, beautiful home. Those people, from the Largo Alliance Church, knew what teamwork meant.
It wasn't until 1972 (after 22 years of missionary service) that we knew for the first time where we would live during furlough. Through the generosity of my mother, we were able to purchase some land and place a repossessed mobile home on it. Our Own Home Finally It was a wonderful feeling to finally have roots!
Finding good schools for the children took second place only to finding a home. Then, with the children enrolled in their respective schools, there was the matter of notifying relatives, friends and business offices of our new address. Finding a doctor and dentist was the next priority. We all had to have complete physicals. Within weeks of arriving home, Elmer would begin to prepare for the fall missionary tour which usually lasted about 10 weeks. In The Christian and Missionary Alliance, wives are not asked to serve on a regular tour until the children have completed high school. We had four children born almost four years apart. That meant I had one child at home until I was almost ready to retire! It was not until 1983 that I was finally able to accept a tour assignment.
Preparing for tour meant writing a biographical sketch, getting a new photograph and preparing an assortment of messages and slide presentations. And, of course, there was the furlough ministries seminar, sponsored by the national office, which hopefully got the missionaries in step with the cultural and religious scene in America before sending them out to minister in the churches. Home with the children, I had to start planning for the next five (and later four) year term. In the early days, suitable clothing, shoes and linens were not available in Thailand. That meant that I had to estimate sizes for four children for five years! It was no easy task.
Sahlberg Family We also had to provide towels, sheets, pillowcases and blankets for each child to take to boarding school. I spent hours and hours shopping for all these items. But buying them was only the beginning. After that, every towel, sheet, pillowcase, blanket and sock (for four years for four children!) had to have name tags sewed on! My mother was always amazed at the piles of clothes, linens and small kitchen articles that accumulated in the garage every furlough. Before being packed into steel drums, each item was listed and priced for customs purposes. In Thailand, those drums in our storage room became my Five and Dime Store. As I periodically removed various articles, I thought of the women of the Women's Missionary Prayer Fellowships in the United States who were working together with us by supplying those necessities. Each trip to the barrels was a reminder of their love and dedication.
Team work? Oh, yes. One missionary family home on furlough and hundreds of loving Christian people bountifully providing our needs. What a blessing and what a team!
Probably the most important team was the prayer team. As we ministered in Thailand, we counted on our prayer team at home. I remember writing to one prayer partner: "Sometimes we feel prayer as a cloak around us. It helps to know you are standing with us in prayer." People have told me that they prayed for us every day. Whenever we faced some dangerous situation or some difficult experience such as some I have shared with you, I would recall the names and faces of individuals who had assured me of their daily prayers for us. Elmer wrote an article for the Alliance Witness of August, 1973: "A measure of success for our ministry has always been coupled with the prayer backing of people who are specific in their petitions for us." Only God knows what influence each person had through prayer in our ministry in Thailand."
One furlough, I noticed that a television channel in Florida began their evening news with a picture of four people exclaiming, "We're the team!" Then each one, the news reporter, the photographer, the sports announcer and the weatherman, were introduced to the audience. The next picture once again showed them, shoulder to shoulder, shouting, "We're the team!"
We, too, have been part of a team for 35 years. TASK article
Hundreds of people have stood shoulder to shoulder. with us: professors and pastors and a host of believers at home and abroad, fellow missionaries, national Christians, teachers and staff at our missionary school, fellow workers in literature, radio and evangelism ministries and many others too numerous to mention.
If you were part of that team, we thank you.
If you were not, it is not too late to join the team. According to a May 1991 report, The Christian and Missionary Alliance have 1,246 licensed personnel serving in 38 countries of the world. Alliance related ministries are carried on in an additional 16 countries, making a total of 54 countries in which The Christian and Missionary Alliance is represented.
Even though Elmer and I are retired, we are part of their team.
You can be part of their team, too.
We together are the team!
Print Book Chapters