The White Temple of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand is an awesomely beautiful Buddhist temple. We visited it last weekend on a trip to the Golden Triangle where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand come together. Wat Rong Khun is unique from other temples in that it has been constructed entirely in a radiant white color. Brilliant sparkling reflections of the bright sunshine radiate from mirrored glass mosaics embedded in the white plaster. The temple is the work of Mr. Chalermchai Kositpipat, one of Thailand’s most renowned artists, who wanted to build a temple all in white to signify the purity of Lord Buddha. There are multiple buildings in this template complex, all of them white except the golden toilet building (not sure of the symbolism there) and a bright red shrine warning about whisky. As the picture above shows, the entrance to the temple is a long concrete ramp which bridges a moat. Out of the mire of the moat, extend hundreds of skeletal and phantasmagoric hands (and a few feet), some holding skulls and some holding bowls. All seem to be pleading. Some worshipers have placed money in these bowls. One internet commentary states that these are the hands of those in hell, there because of “bad karma”. To me, it was eerily reminiscent of the hundreds of stacked skulls with bullet holes in the Rwandan genocide museum. It engendered the same sense of horror in my heart. They did not stimulate me to worry about my own karma but dramatically brought to my attention that the fields are white unto harvest and that so many are dying and going to hell (including Buddhists)because they do not understand that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the Truth and the Life. I wondered if I would worship differently each Sunday if, as I came into my church, I had full awareness of the great need in this world and then made greater effort to tell others of the salvation available to them.
While on this trip, we also visited one of the villages of the Karen-Padaung people. Refugees from political unrest in Myanmar (Burma), they are known to others as the “Long Necks”. The Karen people are still fighting for their independence in central Burma. The Padaung are a sub-group of Karen (Bwe Group) living in Kayah state of eastern Burma on the Thailand border. They number less than 40,000 people in total. The Padaung call themselves "Lae Kur" or "Kayan". They have their own language which belongs to the Kenmic group in the Tibeto-Burman language family. The Karen themseves are not one homogeneous group but rather a loose confederation of heterogeneous and closely related tribes. Among the smallest of the Karen tribes in Thailand are the Karen Padaung.
By the way, their necks are not truly elongated but rather the rings distort the vertebrae, upper ribs and collar bone in such a way that it makes their neck just appear longer. They wear up to 20 on their necks and many more on the legs and forearms, often distorting those joints as well.
Many have referred to these villages as “human zoos” and we were certainly very reluctant to snap pictures without their permission. We would only take pictures of those from whom we had purchased samples of their weaving and with their permission. I won’t defend this whole voyeuristic tourism but it is true that from a very practical viewpoint, they are now making a good living and otherwise would face crushing poverty. Certainly, it made us uncomfortable and we admit there must be other ways for them to have a dignified way to live acceptably well.
CMDE Conference Comes to a Close: We left Wednesday night and were not able to attend the last day of the conference. One of the highlights for us every year is the communion service and we were much honored to be able to participate before we left for the airport Wednesday night. This is officially my last year as a Commission Member but I will stay on the Commission in my role as Financial Officer. We are very pleased at being offered the chance to continue our service to the missionaries around the world. This year, the conference served 288 physicians, 21 dentists and 44 other medical personnel who received CME credits. Seventy-five spouses attended and 115 children were cared for by an excellent childcare program staffed by 29 volunteer children’s ministry workers. We had 85 faculty members giving the lectures and a total of 535 people were here from 35 countries.
Because of the 12 hour time difference between Chiang Mai and Fayetteville, we left at midnight and arrived home at 8:00 PM the same day – but we still felt every one of the 30 hours of travel despite the calendar. This morning, we are just dragging as we start to get settled back into life at home. Definitely a rough trip down from the mountaintop.
Praise and Prayers:
- Please pray for the upcoming lecture I am giving to the Loma Linda University annual alumni conference. I am the plenary speaker on Friday morning, March 4. My topic is “Surgical Practice in the Developing World: What the Future Holds.” Please pray that God’s will is done and my words are His.
- Please continue to pray for Dr. Stephanie Hail and Dr. Haileyesus Tesfaye in Ethiopia as we seek to solve the medical licensure issues. This also threatens to undo PAACS’ entire accreditation in Ethiopia and can only be solved by God’s intervention.
- Pray for all the missionaries who are returning home. Pray that they will be refreshed and ready to go again in a sometimes very difficult environment.
Bruce with Micky and Sean
PS: Look over www.owm.org and http://prayercast.com/ for some great free music and prayer videos.