Monday, May 26, 2014

Martial Law and Moving Forward

The Thai military declared Martial Law early this week and later upgraded to a coup. So far it has been mostly good as it has calmed down the rival groups and disbanded the demonstrators. Many of the political leaders and news commentators have been detained. Not sure how to read that. Schools were ordered to close on Friday, but they are back in session today. It is interesting that now we are totally under the military law. We as US citizens have some rights but the Thais don’t even have their constitution any more. Missionaries for the first few days of the coup were told by the mission to be home by 8 PM and not do inviting. Those precautions were lifted today.

The young elders received a death threat by an ex-boyfriend of a recent convert--well, sort of. The boyfriend was mad about the girl breaking up with him, so he said he would “get" the elders. The man called the elders for an appointment to learn about the church. He did not say who he was but the phone number was that of the ex-friend. The missionaries called him back--and called his bluff. He agreed to keep the appointment and the elders subtly told him there would be many members at the church happy to meet him. The man never showed.

We were looking forward for the youth from LopBuri (north of us an hour drive) coming Saturday for a combined activity. But they had to cancel last minute due to the political situation. We still held our youth activity, and our youth and leaders had a great time designing plates and playing "Steal the Bacon.”

Joan taught a music theory class on Friday. Ten attended. Eight were her piano students. We will have lesson two next week.

The city finally filled in the “sink” holes they dug for drainage pipes that were around the church drive-in area. It is much safer now to park in front of the church. (two cars had driven into the holes before filled)

On Sunday I (Elder Sowards) spoke in church – officially. I sometimes give short talks when the assigned speakers do not fill the time. This time we had 2 speakers before me and together they took about 8 minutes. I was able to take the remained of the time. I spoke about what we must do to prepare to become a stake and to have a temple. Not a fire and brimstone talk, but I did speak about sacrificing, including paying tithing. I spent much of the time after Sunday meetings counseling with people needing welfare assistance. I try to help them
Ayutthaya in bloom
and to help them see they need to pay their tithing to be blessed.

We fed the elders German pancakes Sunday night. With the political situation they couldn’t go out inviting and had to be home by 8 PM. They were happy to eat everything we served. We found canned peaches at our local grocery store and served them, too. The elders ate heartily.

We are excited that on Sunday in Cambodia, they organized the first two stakes in that country. What a blessing for them. The reality of having a temple in this region of Asia is getting even closer!

Hotel receptionist on duty

Grandson Baptized!

Our oldest grandson, Dillon, received baptism on Saturday in Arizona, baptized by his father. Missing family events such as this is part of serving a mission. But we are so grateful for modern technology. We received this picture immediately and were able to FaceTime with Dillon after the service. We are happy for his decision to be baptized and become a member of the Church, and take upon himself the name of Jesus Christ.

Congratulations, Dillon! You are an amazing boy, talented and smart. We are proud to be your grandparents.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Seniors' Conference

We attended a senior couples conference at the beautiful Thames Valley resort that opened a few months ago. We drove through Khao Yai, the largest national park in Thailand, on our way. While we did not see any wild elephants, we did see evidence where the elephants had crossed the road. I did wonder,  “Why does the elephant cross the road?”
Thailand senior missionaries ready to embark
to our conference at Khao Yay

At the conference, we heard reports from the couples serving in Myanmar and Laos. This past year they have helped with several hundred projects such as digging fresh water wells in villages. In Laos they gave out much food when a flood destroyed the rice crops a few months ago, and coats and blankets to many children in northern Laos where it snows. The first full time young missionaries opened Myanmar in February (besides our welfare couples already there) and since have had 12 baptisms.

One of the main quotes at the senior conference was by Elder Richard G. Scott: 

"In order to achieve things we have never done before, 
we need to do things we have never done before.” 

Our missionaries are baptizing like never before and it is because they are teaching the gospel in different ways. They have already had more baptisms than all of last year. They boldly challenge people to be baptized when they first meet them, before even teaching anything. This is different than I did as a young missionary, but they are finding people who want to be cleansed from sin. This new approach is now being
Beautiful 3" spider at Khao Yay.
copied in the Philippines, Taiwan and even Poland. It may not work everywhere but is working here.

The BYU Young Ambassadors gave six performances in Thailand over the past two weeks. One concert helped a charity raise enough money to buy 2 dialysis machines. They had hoped for one; a second is a real bonus.

We did Facetime with Jim Duthie during our English class. The lesson theme was weather so he forecasted the weather for Ayutthaya. The students were to listen for the words they were learning. He did great talking with them and wishing Joan a Happy Birthday. He forecasted hot and rainy. Every weatherman loves to forecast weather in Thailand – it is easy – hot to hotter and wet to wetter. As we were starting the class a great windstorm hit our area. It was like the dust storms in Mesa, so talking about the weather was timely.

A strong rainstorm hit Sunday just as church ended. It turned the roads around our church into mudslides. Driving a car through deep mud is challenging enough. Most of our members, including the sisters, drive motor-scooters, mud and rain are no fun on a scooter. One sister got stuck in it and had to push her scooter through the mud, ruining her nice shoes. Our car made it out, barely.

The district and stake had a joint sports day on Tuesday this past week in Bangkok. It was a Thai holiday so people were able to participate. We took eleven members plus four young missionaries. They played volleyball, ping-pong and badminton plus some games we had not heard of before. Mostly indoor games as it was very hot that day. There are some serious badminton and ping-pong players here. The whole day was fun for the members and many family members came to cheer everyone on. Since it was Joan’s birthday we left to go eat lunch at a Sizzler – what a treat.

The special music number during our Sacrament meeting was a 13 year-old sister playing her violin and another young woman playing the piano. The mother of the violinist had told us the song would be "Love One Another.” But the youth had practiced to play another song. When they saw the printed program they switched to play the announced song not thinking they could change it. They had not practiced it but did well.

Our missionaries now have permission to use Facebook as a proselyting tool. They create a page as a missionary and can only use it to share gospel messages. They can only have friends in the areas they serve. It will be interesting to see how they use it.

We saw the Hobbs from Mesa AZ Maricopa Stake at the Senior Couples’ conference. They have been  humanitarian missionaries in Myanmar and are almost finish their mission next month. They are a fun couple. This is their 2nd mission. The other was in Africa. They have a problem. The couple that came out a month ago to help take over their projects for another couple that finished their mission, decided to go home. There have been two couples serving there. A couple has not been called to replace the Hobbs either. So when the Hobbs go home who will manage the over $700,000 in projects they have contracted to do with the Myanmar government? There are two young elders there but they are not trained to manage projects such as wells or showers for schools. We'll see what happens.
Elder Sowards enjoying the beauty of Khao Yay.

President Uchtdorf said, 

“There is a way for everyone …to participate in this great work, we can each find a way to use our own particular talents and interests in support of the great work of filling the world with light and truth.” 

Do consider what you can do with your talents to help hasten the work.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

More Adventures

We took pictures to the city highway department of the construction holes around the entrance to the church. They were dug over three weeks ago and then left. Two cars have slid a tire off into the hole. The people at the city office said they would work on fixing the problem. So Sunday they started, adding to the challenge of members entering the church. Always opposition.

Our Brother who has been in the hospital for months is now home and improving. At home, he smiled for the first time, shook our hands and attempted to speak. So wonderful to see his progress!

Brother and his devoted sister. His brother and sister have been
very devoted to his care since his accident.
 This was the first time in months that we had no members in the hospital. It lasted only one day though; a sister is now in with major abdomen problems, and a brother had an emergency appendectomy.

Saturday, the Elders Quorum President and I had a leadership meeting in Bangkok with Area authority E. Woo. It was an interesting meeting with lots of instruction. We returned about 8:30 PM to find that Joan had taken a tuk tuk (small truck taxi) to the hospital to see the sister I mentioned above. The sister is doing better.

On Sunday, I baptized a young woman who told me I was like a father to her. I have counseled her a few times and her own father passed away many years ago. Afterwards, a van from the Thailand Quality Award (TQA) program took Sister Sowards and I to Sir James Lodge about an hour away. TQA was holding a week-long training for examiners. They had us stay the night, as I was to teach an hour presentation on Lean at 7:30 am Monday morning. It was a beautiful place and our room had a spectacular view of the valley, but immediately after the presentation we had to return home, so we didn’t get a chance to enjoy it longer.

The ride back was interesting as the one other rider was an MD officer with the Chulalongkorn Hospital and medical school in Bangkok, the most prestigious med school in Thailand.  He had studied in the US and spoke very good English. We talked about everything from the Word of Wisdom to how to get doctors to change their attitude toward change. Even though our assignment is to work with members, we enjoy sharing the gospel with whomever we meet.

I renewed my Thai driver’s license today. It took a long time waiting, just like the AZ MVD. But this was in a non A/C room – hot, hot, hot. It is now good for 5 years.

Monday, we held our monthly YSA family home evening. It was lightly attended due to the Thai holiday, only two came, but we still had a fun evening. As we were about to end and eat the chocolate chips cookies Joan had made, about 10 other members and two missionaries came to wish Joan a happy birthday. They gave her a bouquet of roses and sang Happy Birthday in English. They enjoyed the cookies as Joan baked several more trays so everyone could have their fill.

We took our youth group to the tourist center museum and met this schoolclass who sang several songs to us in English and then wanted their photo with us. Their teacher is very dedicated to teaching them English and giving them a good education. It is fun to be a foreigner in Thailand.

Everyday brings new surprises. It is always an adventure in Thailand!

View from room at Sir James Lodge

Monday, May 5, 2014

Entertaining Week

One of the sisters baptized last week asked me to confirm her. I consider it a privilege and appreciate that I was asked on Saturday and had time to prepare since doing it in Thai is always a challenge, especially the names.

Wednesday, Joan and I went to Bangkok to see the BYU Young Ambassadors perform. The princess was in attendance, too-- (first wife of the prince and mother of the oldest grandchild). To our surprise Baily Brinkerhoff from Westwood/Maricopa Stake was one of the performers. They gave a super concert singing and dancing, representing BYU, the church and the USA well. 

Young Ambassadors in Bangkok

Friday Elder Mageno was transfer. We will miss him, he has served well. We gained Elder Martin who came out the same time we did. He is the district leader. Elder Kittavong is now my second counselor in the bishopric. Elder Kittavong is from Laos and this will be an opportunity for him to learn more about church organization. He will probably need to apply it soon after he returns home the end of October.

We attended a welcome home party for