Wayland students, staff join forces for holiday break mission work in Thailand 

Release Date: January 20, 2009    

PLAINVIEW, TEXAS – While most students from Wayland Baptist University spent their four-week winter break from school at home relaxing, working and celebrating Christmas with their families, a few opted to trade home for a mission trip overseas.

Matt Anderson, a senior from Anchorage, Alaska, and Corey Jones, a senior from Rio Rancho, N.M., joined Matt’s home church in Alaska – University Baptist Church – the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center and Wayland’s campus in Anchorage for a mission trip over ten days to Burmese refugees from Myanmar living in Thailand.

The team arrived in Phuket on Sunday, Dec. 28 and met a local missionary with whom they would be working for the duration of the stay. After checking into the hotels and dinner at a local restaurant, the team enjoyed a night’s rest before hitting the ground running Monday morning. They met first at a beach in Phuket near a memorial to those killed in the 2004 tsunami and got instructions on some of the cultural norms in terms of greetings and respect. After devotional time and singing, the group of about 25 traveled three hours to Ranong, where the majority of their work took place.

While in Thailand, the group was divided into smaller units for specific mission projects. One group conducted a three-day medical clinic in one of the local churches, with help from a physician in a neighboring country. They also installed water purification units for the Thai and Burmese populations in Ranong, which is near many of the areas hit hardest by the tsunami. Another group conducted carnivals for children in local schools, presenting Bible stories, singing songs and playing games in booths.

The team was well received, with more than 80 patients seen that first day at the clinic and 100 students returning to the school, despite it being a school holiday, to attend the carnival put on by the American visitors. Anderson said the carnival was a hit for the children, who particularly enjoyed throwing wet sponges at the mission team who had their faces through a cardboard drawing of a gorilla.

“One thing I noticed is that every kid there was having a good time. They were all happy and smiling and all seemed healthy,” said Anderson, whose mother B.J. – a 1979 Wayland graduate and a medical lab tech in Anchorage – organized the trip and was part of the medical team. “Even walking down the street, they were friendly and respectful to us. Respect is a big thing in their culture, and I thought that was neat.”

Anderson and Jones, both music majors at Wayland, took musical instruments on the trip to aid in worship and singing during at various times on the trip. Recent WBU graduate Hayley Cox, a Plainview native who works for the Plainview Daily Herald and is pursuing her master’s degree, went along as well, documenting the trip in photographs and keeping an online blog about the group’s activities while helping with the children’s ministry team.

On the third and final day, the clinic had had served about 300 people in the area plagued by malaria, dengue fever, cholera and infected teeth and diabetes, many conditions associated with poor nutrition. They provided treatment and consultation for primarily gastrointestinal, skin and joint pain issues, along with spiritual guidance and prayer, leaving them all with vitamins and goody bags. They left the remainder of their medical supplies with the hospital in Ranong. 

The team successfully installed three water purification units, a unique system that creates chlorine from table salt to disinfect the water and make it safe for drinking. The simple, lightweight and cost-effective unit is designed for use in harsh environmental conditions and minimal resources. The children’s team shared songs, Bible stories, crafts and the love of God with many school children, and they traveled one day to an island village where they ministered to the Mochan tribe while the water team installed a purification unit there. They found the Thai and Burmese overall to be very receptive to Christianity, since the country is open to mission work.

The entire mission team spent New Year’s Day with the Burmese, enjoying a day at a Ranong park with worship, eating, swimming in the lake and even diving off cliffs. Other park visitors joined the group, curious about the white people.

“In Thailand, lighter skin is looked on as higher class and more respectable, so they really enjoy the Americans and treat them well,” Anderson said.

The group worshipped at a Burmese church and was able to spend the last two days of their time in Thailand in the Similan Islands, a beach resort where they swam, snorkeled and relaxed a bit after a long week of work. They returned to America Jan. 9.

Anderson said he enjoyed the trip and was glad to trade his normal time in Alaska for the chance to experience another culture, see the world and minister to others. Since his parents were on the trip as well – his father, Dr. Jeff Anderson, is a professor of religion at the Anchorage Campus and a 1979 WBU grad – it was still an enjoyable time with family.

For Cox, the trip left a definite impression.

“I think I can safely say that interacting with the Thai and Burmese was the best part of the trip. It’s so uplifting to find that despite the language barrier, the culture differences and the distinction between our physical features, we are all the same people underneath,” she said. “It’s so amazing to travel to the other side of the world and see a reflection of yourself in someone else. God had touched our lives in an awesome way.”

Others with Wayland ties on the trip included Maricella Noriega, an alum of the Anchorage campus; Steve Million, an alum and employee of the campus; Marcia Million, an employee; and Randy and Joy Thompson, parents of Plainview campus alum Chancey Thompson.