Feeding the Five Thousand in Thailand

Elaine Esser served with OMF from 1971 to 1988, nursing at Nongbua Christian Hospital and Manorom Christian Hospital in Thailand. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:10, NIV).


What was your home and family life like growing up?  

I was an only child born in the small town of Hanover, Ontario, which is noted for its fine furniture and having a church on every corner. There were about five furniture factories in the town when I was growing up. It was also famous for the musical abilities of its inhabitants. The rhythm of home life consisted of church on Sundays, school during the week, musical events on the weekends, along with caring for the grandparents on my mother’s side of the family. My other grandmother lived in Australia so I learned to write letters at an early age.

As a teenager, I thought I was “Christian” simply because I lived in a Christian country and went to church. A counsellor at an InterVarsity camp explained that I needed to ask Jesus into my life. In high school, I was blessed with many Christian teachers. One of these, the overseer of InterVarsity, introduced me to scripture and daily Bible study. I had no trouble believing that the Bible was God’s word but I still didn’t open it up and read it. 

What inspired you to serve overseas?

After attending the Urbana Missionary conference I knew that the Lord was calling me to be a missionary and a nurse. The nursing part was easy. The missions part took some convincing. I didn’t consider myself the missionary type. After nursing school, I attended Toronto Bible College, which is now Tyndale Seminary, and worked at the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids). I also attended Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto which became my spiritual home for many years.

What was your actual role with OMF? And were there any unusual events during your ministry?

My work with OMF included nursing and teaching. The nursing experience I had gained at Sick Kids was very helpful on numerous occasions. One particular example comes to mind when I was working at the Manorom Christian Hospital. 

I had been assigned to supervise nursing on the third floor of the hospital which is where the intensive care unit was located. I tried to switch the assignment with another nurse who was supervising at the pediatric department on the second floor. When she stubbornly refused, I went to see what was happening in the intensive care unit and discovered a boy of about eleven years old with severe meningitis. The doctor on her round stated that the child’s temperature was not to be allowed to go above 99º F. There was no air conditioning in the unit and central Thailand is very hot!

I learned at Sick Kids to use a fan over ice to keep a temperature down. The next problem was the ice. The nursing assistants told me how to ask for a block of ice in Thai and then the father ran out to get it! He returned with the ice and we were able to keep the child’s temperature from going above 99º F. The other nurse would probably not have known this trick as her area of expertise was cardiac care. 

The child recovered with no brain damage. The family was not only extremely relieved, they also became believers! 

Another example of God’s providence occurred when I was helping to organize a Christmas party for the Sunday school, which was held at the Manorom Church. One of the teachers put together a plan for the party and estimated how many children they could expect. We then purchased the snacks and gifts as well as plastic cups. 

On the day of the party, I was required to work at the hospital and the teachers forgot that all the plastic cups and supplies were left at my house. Somehow, these problems were overcome and the party went ahead as planned. One of the teachers later told me how the party had turned out. She was full of joy! They had 72 children and there was enough food for all of them, with half a cup of juice left over. She likened it to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand! Every teacher grew in faith that day.  

Some of these Sunday school teachers returned to North Thailand after finishing their course at Manorom and started to teach Sunday school in the refugee camps for the Hmong who were fleeing from Laos.

What did you do when you returned to Canada?

When my father had a stroke, I knew it was time for me to return to Canada to care for my parents. My ministry in Canada was similar to my overseas work: nursing in an intensive care nursery at Grey Bruce Regional Health Centre, helping with Sunday school and other children’s ministries, and caring for my parents. 

Now my main ministry is one of prayer for God’s work and workers. I conclude with Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT): “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”   

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