It was a year I will never forget! 1988 would see my family move back to the States after spending eight of the most rewarding years of our lives in the mission field of Thailand. Our departure was more sudden than we had anticipated, as there were problems in our home congregation and the money just was not there. Paula and I prayed for wisdom, and the answer came loud and clear. Yet, we had made so many friends; and it was difficult to pack up eight years into shipping crates and footlockers, get on a train which would take us to an airplane, and just leave!
But we did!
However, before we left, we spent several weeks traveling all over the country saying good bye to those we loved so much. It was a difficult assignment, but God provided the grace we all needed.
I remember one particular good bye that will stay with me forever, or I hope it does. His name was Paw Phim. Paw in the Thai language is a term of respect and endearment for older men. It is equivalent to our "Father."
Paw Phim had become like a second father to me, for it was in his village that I preached my first sermon in Thai. On that particular day, I knew no one understood, but Paw Phim took my hand after the sermon and told me it was one of the finest sermons he had ever heard.
Years later I would ask Paw Phim if he really understood what I said, and he told me, "Of course not, but what your face and heart said on that day spoke much louder than what came out of your mouth. I knew then that you loved the Thai people, and it was then I became to love you like a son."
WOW! Aren't I a lucky man?
Paw Phim was the last stop on my circuit of "good byes." It was the most difficult. I didn't usually bring food when I went to visit him because it offended him. But I was tired of seeing him get up at 4:00 in the morning and walk over a mile on those swollen, beaten up knees, to go to a small pond to seine a few little fish for me to have in my soup and rice for breakfast. I was tired of seeing his family do without so I could have a little meat with my rice and vegetables at the evening meal. For my last visit, I brought two chickens and a bag full of vegetables and fruit. He didn't like it one bit and accepted it begrudgingly.
However, I was not to outdo Paw Phim! At our last meal, we had roasted beef along with a host of other delicacies. It was unbelievable! We never had beef — there just wasn't any to be had — water buffalo, yes, but not real beef from a cow! Yet there it was.
I gently rebuked him and offered to give him money to buy another cow. It was then that these words poured out of his weather-beaten face, "Joe, I didn't give my cow to you, I gave it to God. Do you think I would do that for you?"
Again, WOW! How does God make people like this? I don't know, but everyone should have a Paw Phim in his or her life!
This story came to its powerful conclusion three years later. I went back to visit my second home in Thailand. Of course I went to see Paw Phim. His health was bad, but his mind and heart were the same. He asked me if I remembered that cow he had slaughtered, and I said that I had. He then took my hand and led me to the back of his house. Standing there were three beautiful cows!
I asked Paw Phim where he got them, and his answer? "Where do you think I got them, Joe? God delivered them to me three weeks after you left!" No, I didn't buy those cows, but someone did! How God provided those three cows I'll never know, but I don't need to know!
The point of this story is not about the cows, but about the faith and trust of a Thai Christian named Paw Phim who lives on the other side of the world, yet still teaches us that faith and trust will always win the day! Thank you Paw Phim! I'll see you soon.
Now I want to tell you, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done for the churches in Macedonia. Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, their wonderful joy and deep poverty have overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the gracious privilege of sharing ... (2 Corinthians 8:1-4)