Conquering the Mountain

It’s been a year since I’ve arrived in Thailand. But I still have some giant mountains to conquer. With one more year to go, I’ve got to take my Thai to the next level. Now I need to be able to minister effectively in Thai. Bringing someone to Christ, leading a bible study, and finally preaching in Thai. That’s like jumping from my teenager level Thai to near university level. I say to myself, this is absolutely impossible. Not even my Chinese ever reached that level.

People always ask me how Thai’s react when they hear my Thai. So I will share another update. It really depends on the context. The majority case will be a guessing game of whether I am Japanese Thai or Chinese Thai. That is to say, I am half Thai and some other nationality, otherwise how else did I learn Thai so well they would say. They are always shocked to find out I come from Canada. Even more shocking is when they see I have interest in speaking all the other dialects in Thailand. But whether they are friendly or hostile can totally be random. Sometimes, they are having a bad day and don’t want to talk. Other people are very welcoming and love to chat about life. Other times there’s a middle ground, they are friendly at first but then discover I am a Pastor or don’t have anything to benefit them then they tend to back off Thai style. It takes some intuition to figure out the latter.

Overall though, people here are quite amazed at my progress so far. Locals, classmates, and missionaries alike. I tell them it just takes hard work. 10 hours a day – talk, eat, sleep, and even dream in Thai. And truthfully I’m still not satisfied with my progress. I think my Thai should be way better had I been more studious. I still strive to work toward that one goal. That one day, I would be able to share the love of Christ as clearly as possible to the Thai people. That they would hear me as not some strange foreigner, but as a Thai as though one of their own. That there would be no language barriers for them to receiving Christ.

There are many fears I thought could never be overcome, but the Lord has proved me wrong. I never thought that all four language areas – speaking (quickly), listening (comprehensively), reading (quickly), writing (accurately) could be achieved at an advanced to near native level. I’m no where near native, I think that would take at least another 3 years. But a functional level to where a Thai can understand me and I can serve is definitely possible in 2 years. I think around my 6 month mark was when I noticed my speaking and speed was able to match that of a Thai. Then around 8 months like a lightbulb went off and I could understand regular conversation. I’d say around 10 months was when I could read + pronounce at the speed of a Thai in church, as all Thai’s read roadrunner fast for some odd reason. Finally about now the one year mark is when I can handle dictation and write down what is being said by sound, and some vocabulary spelling memorized. Writing beautiful and correctly is the hardest skill to acquire in Thai because of their 60+ alphabet, never-ending rules and exceptions.

So what’s left? For ministry purposes, it’s memorizing about another 1000 vocabulary “royal” words and learning how to ‘do’ church Thai style. Because God is King on high, the Thai’s have a special set of vocabulary used just for talking to God – akin to our King James Version of “thee’s, thou’s, and begotten”. While archaic in our culture, one must understand that in Thailand there is still a ruling Monarchy today. Therefore its very natural for Thai’s to address God as Lord and King rather than simply friend. I can pray sort of in Thai, and explain my testimony using Thai, but there’s so much I need to climb. I need to increase my vocabulary to the point I can understand any sermon 90% rather than the 30-50% I am at now, and also be able to minister using Thai as a Pastor. Really it’s all about learning the vocabulary then the rest easily will follow.

My days now are now a mix of ministry learning and school, since I still have to go to language school and eventually take the government exam at the end of the year. It’s tough to have my attention divided like that. But it’s due to a whole variety of factors that put me in this spot. I really wish I had more time to just do church stuff without having to read through Thai textbooks all day. Lord willing, it should get better by beginning of next year.

Though I am still focused on speaking excellent Thai and nothing less, I still think about you. The supporters. I think about how by Faith you invest in me, and that I want to be a good steward of your investment. I think of the widow that put two mites in the offering plate. Some people really give sacrificially like her. I never want to treat my stay in Thailand lightly. I will always be a guest here, no matter how awesome my Thai is. Who knows how long us missionaries can continue ministering here. We sometimes fail to realize what a blessing it is to share our faith openly unlike in other countries. So I want to treat every day as though it was my last, as though Jesus may come any time soon.

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