I just returned from a month-long teaching experience in Bangkok, Thailand. As I write this, I still have so much to process and sometimes still have trouble putting my experience into words. To share about my experience though, I must first start with how Thailand came to be such a huge part of my life.
The first time I went to the Santisuk Center was in 2002. I was a junior at Bethel and was fulfilling a requirement of my major by traveling practically across the world to teach English. We were leaving on New Year’s Eve and, needless to say, I was not excited to go. But, by the time I had been in Bangkok for not even two full days, the country had my heart. It was so different than any other culture I had ever experienced. New food, smells, language, way of life, culture, everything was different…and I loved it. I left Thailand after that month feeling like I was leaving behind a piece of my heart. Just over a year later, I was on a plane to Thailand again. This time, I was traveling to Chiang Mai to fulfill part of my student teaching requirement for my education major. I was able to stay for two months this time and continued to fall in love with the country and the people. I came back to the States and graduated from Bethel, found a job, and began teaching. It was not long though before I felt God’s call to go and serve at an international school in Chiang Mai, Thailand. From September through December of that year (2003), I fought that call. I wanted to go to South Korea to teach, because schools there paid their teachers VERY well. I did not want to have to raise support, and I did not want to have to go through a missions organization. All of that changed when I went to the Urbana Missions Conference. God used a variety of circumstances to show me that His plan for me was to go to Thailand and to go through Wycliffe Bible Translators. I no longer fought it and began the process of applying. By April of 2004 I was accepted to Wycliffe, and by August I was on a plane with 100% of my support raised! I thought I was going to teach for two years in Thailand, but that two years soon turned into five. When God called me back to Minnesota in 2009 to pursue Seminary, I again left Thailand not knowing when I would return.
Fast forward nine years!!! During that time, I graduated from seminary, got married, had a family and began teaching in Minnesota. Our family began attending Central five years ago when my husband, Justin, was hired as the Children’s Pastor. One of the first things that really stuck out to me about Central when we first started attending was the amount of missionaries the church supported. I remember being so surprised and excited when I realized that Central supported Steve and Nopaluck Cable, the couple that helped to start the Santisuk Center. Throughout our five years, many times missionaries would come and share with the church about their work. Each time I sat there listening, I remembered thinking, how can I still be involved in missions as a wife and a mom? I did not know how God was planning to use that in my life, but I knew that I still had a heart for missions, and especially for Thailand. When more and more people began to serve at Santisuk, I really felt God start prompting me towards that same decision but again I fought against it. Slowly though, my heart started to open to the idea and all of a sudden I had a passport and a plane ticket!
So what does it mean to serve at Santisuk? At the Santisuk English Center, there are a variety of leveled English classes offered to potential students. These classes range from pre-Level 1 (no knowledge of English at all) to Level 6 (Advanced Conversation). Students who come for the first time are given a pre-test to determine which level of class would be the best fit for them. The staff who work at the Santisuk Center are excellent! They work with each student to ensure that registration goes smoothly, they feel welcomed, and know what to expect during their class. Santisuk also provides all of the curriculum and materials for every class! You are responsible for planning out each day and determining how you want to cover the material for each day, but that is it. Everything is laid out for you and they also have a very clear attendance and grading policy. No extra materials are needed at all! As long as you are a confident English speaker, there is no need to be worried or nervous about teaching! Class sizes range from about 5 to 12 students per class. These students range from university students (around 20 years old), young adults, and career adults. Each day, you will teach two classes, both two hours long. Classes begin at 7am and the last class of the day is offered at 7pm. The classrooms have long tables and chairs for the students to sit at. There is a large whiteboard, and a small table for any teaching materials. There is also a clock and an air-conditioner!! The entire center is air-conditioned as well, so don’t worry too much about being hot all the time! One of the things I love so much about the Santisuk Center is the relational approach to student evangelism. They believe very strongly that relationships are built outside of the classroom; class time is using for teaching the material, not preaching! Teachers are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outside of class with their students. This could mean eating a meal together before or after class, hanging out at the Mall Bangkapi, playing card/board games in the lobby of the Santisuk Center, traveling with them around Bangkok, etc.! Students LOVE hanging out with their teachers! This provides opportunities for them not only to practice their English, but also ask questions they may have about God, their life, and most importantly, why in the world you came all the way to Thailand for a whole entire month!
Throughout the month that I spent teaching at the Santisuk Center, God lovingly revealed Himself to me in a couple of ways that I wanted to share. Many people have asked me how I would summarize my entire month into a word or phrase. The answer that is the most true for me is rest. Even though my days were busy with teaching, planning, grading, hanging out with students, and meeting new people, I felt a sense of peace, calm and relaxation throughout each moment. I felt so rested during my time there and honestly felt like I was resting in my Father’s arms. I had gone through some difficult years leading up to this trip, and some of those experiences stripped me of my trust and faith in God. I had been slowly building my faith back up during this past year, but it was a very lackluster attempt on my part. When I began to deal with severe anxiety, I had nowhere to turn but back to Jesus. I am so grateful that the month of June was so difficult, because being in the position of feeling completely helpless made me realize how much I wanted and needed to trust in Jesus. Going to Thailand was a huge step for me because it had become a big part of my anxiety. I almost backed out several times but Jesus continued to ask me to trust Him. During my time at Santisuk, there were many times that I thought about the fact that I almost didn’t go and was so thankful that God did not allow me to give in to my fear. The month that I spent in Thailand was a month of experiencing God’s love for me in new ways, and in turn I was able to show that love each day to my students. I returned from Thailand feeling lighter, more true to myself and honestly, rested, even after all of the flights!
All in all, Santisuk is a wonderful place to serve for a month, or longer, depending on the time you have to give! Students are waiting for YOU to come and teach them. Please prayerfully consider if God is calling you to come to Santisuk and be a light to the Thai people. I would love to share details with anyone who is interested! Let me know if you are interested in getting a cup of coffee and talking about Thailand!