Wednesday Nights - Middle School and High School Girls
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I and my mom, Liz, have been meeting with nine middle and high school girls since September on Wednesday nights. We eat dinner, talk, laugh, and discuss what it means to follow Jesus. I’m constantly amazed at the questions the girls have, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to share with them what I have learned. We are currently going through a series called the New City Catechism. It’s a video series from The Gospel Coalition founded by Tim Keller. It has 52 videos that are 2-4 minutes long of various pastors explaining foundational truths of the Christian faith. We’ve been able to use those videos as a jump off point for discussions. Sometimes we end up far away from where we started, but we always have a good conversation full of questions and laughter.
At the end of March, we’ll be going to a youth conference that is put on by Life Promotions, the group that puts on LiFest. I’m excited to see how God works through the conference and our time together to bring even more unity to the group and a deepening of our faith. Please be praying for us, both for Liz and me that we would patience, energy, and grace, and for the girls that they would hear God’s word, grow in faith, and be blessed beyond measure.
I am blessed to be a part of a church family that seeks to reach those who feel like they don’t belong, and I pray that we would continue to grow in being a light to our community.
A great big thank you to everyone at Zion who supported the team of three who went to Thailand from January 1st to the 18th on mission. Our team was led by Mike Mieritz, a retired pharmacist who attends the 9:30 Sunday service. He has been going on mission to Thailand for more than twenty years. Ayak Deng, a twenty-year old college student who is the daughter of a Church Council member, also came along. She had the time of her life. So did I. So did we all. Here are some highlights, from a diary I kept.
Day #1 in Thailand. We arrived! It’s five in the morning at the Coconut Resort in Tha Wang Pha in the province of Nan. I’m in the open air at a table on a veranda. The still tropical air is kissing my face. It is dark and beautiful. The tilapia are jumping in the pond below.
It was quite the trip to get to Thailand. We began by leaving before dawn on New Year’s Day from Wisconsin to get to O’Hare, just in case snow and ice slowed our progress. It’s a good thing, too. The road was clear, but in Milwaukee we got a flat tire. It took Mike and I a full hour to change it. We did so without cussing but only because the two of us worked together, grunting and laughing all the way. Ayak, wise beyond her years, stayed warm in the truck, waiting patiently.
It helps to follow the advice of a man named Paul who knew every variety of hardship: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice!”
Day #3. What have we learned so far? That faith in the one who died on a cross, whose felt presence is strong and mysterious to those who walk by that faith, instantly unites people who speak different languages and inhabit different cultures. And so we pray and act with a common purpose, Hmong and non-Hmong alike. We are here at the invitation of a Hmong pastor and a missionary couple from India who have spent much of their life in Thailand. We are working side by side with a team of Aussie Christians who are of European, Singaporean, Thai, and Hmong heritage. The diversity gives our team strength and depth.
Day #4. We are a few days into our mission trip in the northernmost tip of Thailand. What are we up to? We are teaching one another by sharing stories of faith under fire. We break bread together and fellowship with one another. A shared meal - that's soul food for real.
We organize games for the children and teach new songs. The women of our group teach the women of the local church a baking recipe. Last year's recipe was good enough to become a treat sold in the villages roundabout, a source of income.
Most of all, we encourage one another. Our presence – whether we hail from Australia or the United States, whether we speak Hmoob or Thai or not – builds hope into the lives of our hosts.
It goes both ways. The choices they have made – the children are making the transition from remote village life to an education which makes them trilingual, able to navigate a new life in a provincial capital and beyond; they are the first in their families to do so, and it is their newfound faith that is pulling them through; the adults have made a deeply counter-cultural choice to adhere to a faith at odds with that of their ancestors – builds hope into ours.
Day #5. Yesterday evening I spied a parade of children and adults in the alley way near our base of operations, House of Hope, the intentional Christian community that provides room and board for Hmong children 10-19 years of age from neighboring mountain villages who are attending middle school or high school in the lowlands.
My gaze was met with smiles and gestures. Come along! They know me from breaking bread together. The word is out that I am a pastor. That means I better be ready to be a living symbol of everything that unites them.
In celebration of the Hmong New Year, they were going house to house with their pastor, blessing each family with a word of promise from the Bible specific to each household.
Not just the pastor but a lay leader gave a short message. The head of the household, the father or mother, would also make a short address, responding with words of gratitude. The pride and joy on the faces of all was breathtaking. When it was time to pray we all prayed loudly for the Almighty’s blessings on the family.
Even if I don’t speak a word of Hmoob (Hmong), at a deep level it doesn’t matter. I do what I can to speak with my eyes. I know how to slap hands with a kid.
What does it take? The knowledge that we are here for a purpose, to be salt and light in a world with plenty of darkness. Shine on others, as God shines on us.
Days #6-8. Wherever you are, a great question to ask is, "How can I help?" A team of Aussies - this year, three Americans also - have been coming to ThaWangPha in Thailand for years. The question was asked to and through the right people, “How can we help?”
The answer we received is that one way English speakers might help is to offer an English camp for high school students. Teachers and students here are pumped about teaching and learning the language which more than any other connects them with the rest of the world.
An English camp is exactly what we are providing, from 9 am to 3 pm for three days. The classroom experience is intense. I slept like a baby after the first day of class.
The high school in Tha Wang Pha prepares its students well for a future in the global economy. The language of instruction is Thai but you can take courses in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or English. English is a required course, year in and year out.
I fell in love very quickly with all the students and all the teachers at ThaWangPa Pittayokom school. This is a great place to serve. A great big thank you to ThaWangPha Pittayakhom School in Thailand, to its teachers and students, for inviting the House of Hope team to teach English through dialogues, skits, songs, and exercises. We talked a lot about friendship. We were treated like family.
It’s a small, small world, smaller than you think.
Day #9. Today we gathered at a waterfall a half hour away from Tha Wang Pha in Thailand for the baptism of four high school students. A very big deal. All the students and staff of House of Hope came out for the occasion. House of Hope's pastor led the service. It was an honor for an Aussie Hmong pastor and an American pastor (that would be me) to do the dunking.
The inner strength and outward confidence of the students we baptized was a glory to behold. It is rare for baptisms to be celebrated in the presence of brothers and sisters from multiple continents.
It is rare to go under and be kissed by tropical air and embraced by cool water. It is rare to be baptized beneath a shimmering waterfall, with a shoal of fish swimming a few feet away. It is rare, and wonderful.
Pastor John Hobbins
Youth and Family Ministries
400 N Sawyer St, Oshkosh, WI 54902