Today I went with a team of pastors and elders to visit a remarkable gentleman. Pastor Paul Smith is a retired missionary who used to hold the position I have recently been assigned to. Yes, my duties have just now changed. I am now beginning to work as a bi-lingual pastor in a Thai church. One of this congregation’s ministries is a Sunday morning worship service in English. Such a thing is not so uncommon in Bangkok, but it’s a little unusual when most of those attending, and almost all of those ministering, are actually Thai by birth. Some westerners also attend the English service, as well as people from other Asian countries—last week there were around 20 Korean university students visiting from a Korean-speaking church in the area, and they came with a Korean missionary couple whom I already knew through connections with the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT), which is Global Ministries’ partner organization here. There are well-off people and people who have almost nothing.
I have been a visiting preacher at this particular English-language service a number of times in the past year, but in two more days I will be leading the service as a member of the pastoral team of Wattana Church Bangkok, in the 6th District of the CCT. Because of that, it was a special privilege to visit Pastor Paul in his home. A year ago, Pastor Paul had a major stroke, which put him in the hospital for many months. After that came rehab placement in the same hospital for more months. It has been only two weeks since Pastor Paul has been able to be back in his own home, with his wife and daughter. He is now able to eat real food, to speak and understand both Thai and English (with a little difficulty in finding and pronouncing words), and to walk with assistance.
None of these abilities were even considered possible a year ago. In the beginning, all Pastor Paul had was one little finger that he could tap in response to questions—and he didn’t even have that at first. The first sentence he spoke, after a good length of time not speaking, was something he said to one of the junior doctors on his care team: “Thank you for your faithfulness.” No simple words to begin with! That young man was flabbergasted, and right then he pronounced him to have gone “From Zero to Hero.”
As our team of one Thai pastor, one Thai elder, one Naga missionary from India, and me, visited with Pastor Paul and his Thai/American family, I began to see that I was in the presence of genius. There was a small acrylic painting on the sideboard, of snowy mountains and evergreens, and I learned that he had painted it only two weeks ago, with his one working hand. Then I saw several paintings he had done before his stroke—lovely woodland scenes. I asked him whether he was right-handed or left-handed, as I could see that he is not (yet) using his right hand. He answered, “Both. I’ve been using both hands since childhood.” I wondered if that might account for the remarkable recovery of his brain, and he and his daughter both thought it was possible. She said that his doctors have never before seen this kind of recovery after so much brain damage.
We had a short prayer service, singing hymns in Thai and English, accompanied on the piano by the senior pastor. Then there was prayer in more than one language, and Pastor Smith asked that I be given his hymnal and prayer book. I was a little taken aback, afraid that I was supposed to go off with someone’s heirlooms, until I saw that the hymnal was a published collection that he had written and composed himself, and the prayer book likewise.
I’ve wondered if and how the Church can be revitalized in this world—my world, anyway, which for me, has been lived in the two countries of Thailand and the United States. In both places, at least in the large cities, I’ve seen a Church that is struggling to serve faithfully in a society that shows little interest. In both places, people are preoccupied with financial progress—or just financial survival, and everyone seems to be in a hurry.
Both societies seem to be in mourning: the United States for an imagined past where neighbor could trust neighbor, or at least live in hope of that possibility; and Thailand, where almost everyone in the country has been wearing black for four months now, in sorrow for the death of His Majesty King Bhumiphol Adulyadej the Great, who departed this past October. His Majesty had reigned as a constitutional monarch, and force for unity, for 70 years.
Today, back in one of Bangkok’s narrow lanes, I found hope in the family of a man of great faith, a man who, late in life, has not counted a brain attack as the end of anything for him. This is a man who has fought his way back quietly for a year now, like a field of flowers growing up through a layer of asphalt. I was asked to pray for him, in English, and I sensed the presence of the Spirit of God—the Spirit of creativity, hope, and resurrection. They that wait upon God’s mercy will renew their strength. They may go from Zero to Hero.
Anne Gregory serves as an Ecumenical Officer with the Church of Christ in Thailand. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.