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31 October 2017

From Light through Darkness into Hope

Synopsis:

A true story based on the journey of faith of a Thai woman who believed in Jesus after getting treated for leprosy at Manorom hospital.

5 Angie Chang
Angie Chang

Angie Chang is undergoing theological training. She served in rural and metropolitan Thailand for the past two years with OMF.

From Light through Darkness into Hope

Mission Round Table Vol. 11 no. 2: 27-29

The woman’s screams pierced the dark night. The antiseptic smells of the hospital accentuated the patients’ fear of pain and death. Assigned to a bed in the corridor because the ward was overcrowded, Prajuap felt more lonely and scared than she’d ever felt in all her twenty-four years. It was more frightening than the time she kicked her alcoholic husband out of the house and was left with their two young sons.

She did not ask the woman why she was screaming as it did not make sense. Being a leprosy patient, the nerves in her arms and legs were so damaged that she could not possibly feel that much pain. Nonetheless, she screamed night after night. Prajuap found it physically and emotionally draining.

First light at Manorom

Trying to block out the screaming, Prajuap turned her thoughts to her early days of treatment. She had gone to Manorom Hospital in Chainat province upon being diagnosed with leprosy. After leaving her young children with their grandparents, she’d set out with her second brother on that long journey into the unknown. He had barely left the hospital when tears started rolling down her cheeks. Surrounded by a sea of strangers, Prajuap felt utterly alone and missed her children terribly.

Days at the hospital felt unbearably long. There was no farming or chores to be done in Manorom. Since she stopped schooling at the tender age of nine, she had helped her parents in their rice fields in the province of Angthong—“Golden Basin”—so named because of its agricultural importance to the country. Prajuap had harboured hopes of studying for a few more years, but was not allowed to do so since she was a girl. Still, she was glad that she had learnt to read.

As the days dragged on, Prajuap started flipping through the leaflets left around the wards. The leaflets and the book they called the Bible were not exciting to read, unlike some of the Thai novels with heroes and heroines who engaged in thrilling adventures. Nonetheless, she read the leaflets since reading helped to distract her, to keep her from thinking about her children.

The literature on the foreigners’ religion talked about a man called Jesus whom they considered to be God! She had heard about Jesus in her hometown in the Wiset district. The white man, Doctor Albert, talked about Jesus and she listened out of politeness—after all, Christianity was a white man’s religion.

Time passed a little more quickly after she befriended some patients in the ward. One of the ladies soon started inviting her to the Christian meetings held after the doctors’ morning rounds. Day after day, that lady would come and ask, “Shall we go to the meeting today?” Prajuap was not keen to go, but felt embarrassed after the repeated invitations and finally rationalised that she had nothing to lose by going to the meetings. It turned out that the meetings enabled her to better understand the Christian literature she had read.

The more she listened, the more she understood what the foreigners’ God was like. She was surprised that he was a loving, personal God who helped sinful people, and unknowingly, she was drawn to him. She found she did not need any persuasion to continue attending the morning meetings. Treatment and these meetings marked her days until the screaming began to fill the night. Sleepless nights then became the norm.

Challenge in the dark

That particular night, the woman’s shrieks sounded louder. Prajuap could not sleep. Everybody was kept awake by the sounds of her screams and also by the fear of death that her screams evoked. Unable to bear another sleepless night, Prajuap wondered if the foreigners’ God could help her. They said that ordinary people could communicate directly with this God through prayer. She prayed in desperation and challenged God to prove himself real by giving her one night of peaceful sleep.

When Prajuap woke up the next morning, the other patients expressed their amazement that she had slept soundly through the night. They asked, “Did you not hear anything at all?” For the woman in the room had kept everybody awake—her screams were terrifying—right up to the moment she died. It was clear to Prajuap that the foreigners’ God was real. It was an undeniable answer to her prayer. She believed.

Battle with darkness

Life in the hospital meant being with friends, going to the morning Christian gatherings, and reading the Bible and books. About six months later, Prajuap was allowed to go home. Now, she could go home and be with her children—how she looked forward to that.

The problem was, the reception she received at home was not what she’d expected. Her parents cried in shock when they saw her, saying that it looked like she had been roasted over fire. Otherwise, how could her skin be darkened to such an extent? Even though being dark was not considered beautiful in the sight of Thais, Prajuap was thankful for the B63 medicine. Though it caused the darkening, it also gradually rid her body of the dreadful disease.

But darker clouds were soon to descend. One day, while her elder son was playing by the pier after school, he fell into the water and drowned. Burying this child deepened Prajuap’s sense of loss as it restored the painful memory of burying her second child, a baby girl, seven days after birth.

The family arranged for a Buddhist funeral. Prajuap allowed her sister to perform the Buddhist rites in her stead. She was the mother, but she was also a child of God and felt it wasn’t right for her, as a believer, to take part in the ceremonies. None of the Christians had said anything to her, but she did not want the village community to see her being involved in Buddhist rites. But deep down, questions swirled in her head. Why did this happen? Why didn’t God help her child who was only nine? Didn’t he have the power to protect the child? Prajuap blamed God and became resentful.

The pain lingered. But even as she pondered about her little one’s death, Prajuap was reminded about what she had heard at Manorom Hospital—about God the Creator who made everything and how everything belongs to him. Her wrestling stopped when she acknowledged that he had the right to give and take away everything, including her son. She gave thanks that she still had her youngest son, Panpan, and vowed to bring him up in the way of the Lord. Her submission and trust in the supreme Creator God anchored her faith in the Lord.

Provisions most unexpected

After her son’s death, Prajuap was in and out of Manorom Hospital for a number of years. Gradually, the hospital and the Christian community of patients and medical staff, including members of the nearby Manorom Church, became an integral part of her life—her family away from home.

Manorom Church Building drawn by E Frey (1962)

It was during this time that she met Chart, a fellow leprosy patient. His hands and feet were deformed by the dreaded disease, but he had a heart of gold and loved God deeply. God’s provision of a family for Prajuap at Manorom went beyond all that she could have imagined. Later, when Chart met her father and brother to ask for her hand in marriage, they were so concerned that Chart would not be able to take care of her that they asked if she could do without the marriage. Still, they respected her decision to go ahead with the marriage and they came to appreciate Chart and his quiet and unassuming ways. Years later, even Panpan told her that she had chosen the right man.

The provision and care that God showered on Prajuap were seen in not only the big things in life, but also the ordinary day-to-day concerns. During her treatment at Manorom, Prajuap would lend her hand in small chores around the hospital. Through these, God sometimes provided for her. Though small in amount—sometimes five or eight Baht—these unexpected sums and other gifts from unknown sources were lessons in prayer, teaching her that she did not need to chase after money or request for help from others. Through these personal experiences of provision, Prajuap saw the love of God and his faithfulness in keeping his promises to look after the poor, like herself.

Sunset in Wiset

In time, Prajuap took on a job helping in the Operating Theatre at Manorom Hospital. The years flew by. Upon retirement she returned to her hometown in Wiset. Her family had fields and her second brother, who was a military man, enlisted her to help in his chicken business.

A young pastor called Sakchay came, hoping to start a church in the district. Housing was not to be found easily, so Prajuap offered him a room in her house with Chart and took care of him like a son. She also hoped he could plant a church in Wiset. Sakchay got married and, after about two years, returned to Nan province because the handful of believers in Wiset could not support him and his growing family.

After Sakchay left, another Thai pastor from the provincial city occasionally visited the Christians in Wiset and encouraged them to join the church in the city. Prajuap discussed this proposal with the small band of believers—leprosy patients from Manorom who had moved to Wiset—and they decided not to join the city church even if it meant they would have no pastor. Going would mean waiting in the hot sun for a rickety ride on the bus and then walking a few kilometres to the church. This was a challenge too great for this group of retirees.

Other missionaries came to visit them as well. Pastor Robert, who was stationed in the neighbouring province, took them to church now and again. Sometime later, another missionary was also sent to Wiset. A single white lady, Miss Jean brought along a Thai female co-worker. They rented a unit in the Wiset market, hoping to reach the community and plant a church in the district. Alas, malicious rumours were spread even before they arrived and, despite living in the heart of the community, the women were unable to make many friends and they, sadly, left. They later started a successful ministry in another province.

Amidst the coming and going of these pastors and missionaries and the accompanying hopes and disappointments, remaining steadfast would have been difficult had Prajuap not had a few faithful ones with whom she could journey. Besides Chart, Prajuap had a faithful friend, Young, who lived in the adjoining district and came to join the Christian meetings held regularly at Prajuap’s home. Living within shouting distance, Meng and her husband completed this small faithful band that met regularly to read the Bible and to pray. Meng had met her husband whilst receiving treatment at Manorom, and had moved to Wiset as Prajuap’s tenant after their retirement.

Holding on in hope

The group of five shrank after Chart and Meng’s husband passed on. Looking back at the seventy-six years of her life, Prajuap is grateful. Even so, there is an ache in her heart. The two whom she loves the most—Panpan and his daughter, whom Prajuap had cared for since infancy—still do not know the Lord. Panpan loves the attractions of the world too much. And though she tried to bring her teenage grand-daughter to church, the young girl’s heart seemed unmoved.

“When, O Lord, will you bring them into your Kingdom?” As she gazes into the fields, Prajuap wonders if she will see the day when her family comes to faith in Jesus. Hope returned to her heart as Prajuap recalled how the Lord Jesus has proven himself real in the more than half a century that she has known him. He had been there in her pain at Manorom Hospital. He had healed her deep, invisible wounds after the death of her elder son. He had brought her love and joy with a new family and friends. He had fed her spiritually through the years in the Christian community at Manorom and with the small, faithful band in Wiset. She had seen the power of prayer, and she knows that answers come not by human might. Since God goes with her, she will look to him to work everything according to his will and in his good time.

Editor’s note:

This story is based on an interview that Angie carried out with a lady in central Thailand who has been a believer for many years. Names have been changed in the story.

The interview is part of a research project intended for all of the OMF Fields which seeks to learn from long-time believers. The questions cover various stages of the believer’s journey: the journey to faith, the journey through the ups and downs of life, and the interaction of one’s faith with local culture. The research specifically targets people who have been Christians for more than twenty years, have been faithful in their walk, but are not pastors or employed as Christian workers. We hope to learn lessons from these believers that will help in the discipleship of others from that culture and to discern common issues faced across the region where OMF works. If you are interested in taking part in this research, please contact Claire McConnell at claire.mcconnell@omfmail.com.