Sixteen people with ties to Hillsboro through either Tabor College, Parkview Mennonite Brethren Church, or both, traveled to Thailand to participate in MB Mission?s ACTION program this summer.
ACTION provides short-term mission opportunities in cross-cultural settings. The program involves one week of orientation, four weeks on assignment and one week of debrief. Team members raised funds for the trip, which lasted from June 24 to July 15.
The 16 participants were divided among four teams?one group of six from Parkview MB co-led by Zac and Leah Remboldt, and three basketball teams.
Activities ranged from teaching English, facilitating Vacation Bible School, painting, interacting with children at the Abundant Life Home, and playing basketball.
While activities and ministry varied among the teams, all were united in purpose?to present the Gospel in a predominantly Buddhist culture where less than 1 percent claim Christianity.
The six members of the Remboldts? Parkview church ACTION team traveled to Chonburi, Thailand.
In addition to the Remboldts, team members included Peyton Loewen, Emilio Martinez, Amy Tippin and Erin Winter.
While in Thailand, they taught English, facilitated Vacation Bible School, painted a mural and spent time with HIV/AIDS children at the Abundant Life Home orphanage.
Throughout the trip, participants sensed a theme of God?s provision above and beyond anything they could have imagined, Leah said. She added that God provided more than enough funds for each team member and prepared a way for them to teach English in a school that had previously been unreceptive.
?Our team was the first team to go in there and teach English,? Leah said. ?When we learned of that opportunity, we just felt like it was something really precious. We knew God was up to something bigger because (the missionaries) had been praying for it for two years. It could?ve been any team, but we were the ones that got to do that.?
In the morning, the team taught two English classes at the school. Classes were comprised of three grades and had between 40 and 60 kids.
In the evening, the team did Vacation Bible School.
?One of my highlights from the trip was being able to interact with the kids through game time while teaching English and during VBS,? Tippin said. ?Even with the language barrier, we were still able to have fun with each other and communicate on a different level. Just to see their smiles and how much fun they had was really fulfilling to me.?
Over the course of the trip, team members used their unique gifts and abilities.
Zac, a graphic designer, used his artistic talent.
?I spent a whole week painting a mural at the ALH orphanage,? he said. ?They want to take the front area of the orphanage, there?s a playground there, and turn it into a community center.?
Others taught children at the orphanage how to swim.
?Peyton, Amy and I?had the opportunity to take some kids to the pool to give them a swimming lesson,? Winter said. ?This is something that Amy and I have done at home.?It was exciting to see how much the kids?enjoyed being in the water and how they helped each other learn.?
Martinez used his photography skills to take a photo of each child at the orphanage, a personal highlight of the trip, he said.
?He got to take portraits of all the kids, and that?s special because they don?t have pictures of their childhood,? Leah said. ?So he?s giving them a picture of their childhood.?
Teaching English affirmed Loewen?s desire to teach overseas.
?She really thrived in that and was confirmed in her calling to be a teacher,? Leah said. ?God gave her so much joy in that.?
?It feels like God hand-picked our team,? Zac added. ?We each had very different gifts, but, like the different parts of the body, we got to see how our different gifts were needed for different things that came up during the trip.?
?I could see that God was with us every step of the way,? she said. ?We had so many people back home praying for us, and I could definitely feel those prayers throughout the trip. I also saw God work through our team. Each and every one of us was vital on the trip, and we all were able to work together and share God?s love with the Thai people.?
The trip made an impact on participants.
?I see this trip as a refresher for my relationship with Christ,? Tippin said. ?Before, I had been struggling to make time for God throughout my day and I just needed a boost to get back on track.?
The experience had a similar impact on Martinez.
?It has definitely changed me,? he said. ?I now spend more time with God on a daily basis when I work on my life journal.?
Winter learned about compassion.
?Something that God helped me?work?on while I was there was trying to somehow love everyone that I came into contact with,? she said. ?I could see how God used this to brighten people’s day even just a little bit. I want to?continue?to allow God to encourage others through?me.?
The Remboldts, who had previously been to Thailand on an MB Mission TREK team, were also impacted.
?One of our prayer requests (was) that we would fall more in love with the Thai people, and we really felt our hearts expand with a Christ-like love, a love that we didn?t even know we had,? Leah said. ?That changed all of us, for sure.?
Meanwhile, ten others were part of a group of 30 athletes who traveled to Thailand on one of three ACTION basketball teams. All are current or former Tabor College students.
Lance Carter, John Jedneak, David Loewen, Jeff Pritchard and Josh Wiebe joined the men?s team; while Tena Loewen, Sierra Sanchez, Kaleigh Troxell, Kayla Wilgers and Mallory Zuercher were divided between two women?s teams.
After a week of orientation and practices in Fresno, the teams went to Bangkok and Chonburi in central Thailand, where they competed against a variety of opponents, including high schools, universities, and even Thai professional and national teams.
This was David Loewen?s second trip to Thailand, and he said the sport is gaining popularity.
?The teams we played were better than the first time I went four years ago,? he said. ?It is probably about on the level of soccer here in the U.S. in terms of popularity.?
Teams abided by FIBA rules.
?You can touch the ball while it is above the cylinder as long as it hits the rim first, the lane is wider, and the three-point line is a bit further out,? David Loewen said. ?There is a 24-second shot clock, so the pace of the game is a bit faster than some games here. Thai teams often like to run and gun as a result.?
The Thai style of basketball is more about finesse and less about physicality, added Wiebe.
?Thai basketball teams run more of a dribble drive motion offense and rely heavily on shot fakes,? he said. ?They also use the Eurostep frequently. American teams have more set plays, isolation, and other motion offenses.?
In addition to the differences in rules and technique, Troxell observed a difference in mentality among Thai players and coaches.
?In the U.S., sports are often all about winning, but in almost every gym we played at in Thailand, there was some kind of quote along these lines: ?The essential thing in life is not conquering, but fighting well,?? she said. ?Of course the Thai players wanted to win and perform their best, but it was obvious that they had a genuine joy simply because they got to play a game they love.?
For the ACTION teams, basketball became a means to share the Gospel. Players shared testimonies, engaged Thai people in meaningful relationships, and participated in various ministries, such as spending time with children at the ALH orphanage.
?We used basketball as our ministry tool to make connections with the Thai people,? Tena Loewen said. ?Even though basketball was a big part of what we did, it was not a big part of why we did it.?
Putting on basketball camps in Thai schools was a highlight for Wiebe.
?I loved doing the basketball camps at schools,? he said. ?It was a great way to interact with kids and try to teach them basketball as well as introduce them to Christ. It was hard to communicate with them, but it was fun to find ways using hand signals and facial expressions.?
Added Tena: ?Because of our basketball abilities and our American roots, they did not care what we shared with the students. The kids and the decisions they made for Jesus at the camps were some of my favorite memories.?
For participants, the experience was impactful in a number of ways.
?This trip has changed my life in more ways than one,? Jedneak said. ?It was a time that God poured into me like no other time in my life. I will operate in thanks every day. I saw the lost and the poor. It opened my eyes to the great God we have and all he has done for myself and others. I will play basketball and live life glorifying God in all the ways that I can.?
According to Tena Loewen, ?This trip has really encouraged me to be bold in sharing my faith. I also learned a lot about trusting God and being patient in his timing. He knows exactly what he is doing, and all I have to do is obey on a daily basis.
?I am also really excited to be back at Tabor with a group of others who went on this trip. I think God wants to do some big things on campus this year?and I know God wants to use us as a part of it.?
Kayla Wilgers said: ?It was such a neat experience getting to use my passion for basketball as a tool to reach the hearts of the Thai people for Christ. Thailand is such a beautiful country, and it was such a blessing getting to experience new sights and tastes with some of my close friends, as well as getting to meet several new amazing people. God definitely changed my perspective of the world and opened my eyes to seeing just how much this world needs his free gift of salvation.?
Troxell added: ?This trip impacted me because I saw firsthand that God can use absolutely any activity or situation to share his love for other people. He used the game of basketball to give us a platform to share about Jesus with hundreds of kids and students in Thailand.?