Changchai – missionary with fire in the heart

Our path is continuing in Thailand. From Vientiane, we took a bus across the border to the border town of Nong Khai in Thailand, and from there we took a night sleeping train to Bangkok.

They say that you did not experience all of Thailand if you did not take a night train from north to south or vice versa. The ride is cheap and surprisingly comfortable.

The lounger is also large enough for the westerner, the climate cools, and the monotony of a train ride  rapidly takes you to sleep. At eight o’clock, the train set off from the station, at six in the morning we woke up in Bangkok.

Walking ATM

After a busy three months of travel, work and living in the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, we needed some break. We thought we’d be back in Bangkok, but that wasn’t the case.

Khaosan road
The pulse of the main tourist point in Thailand – Khaosan Road

Although I was already in Khaosan Road, I strongly underestimated the street noise and annoying street vendors who stop at each step, attract attention and trying to persuade you to buy things.

When a man walks through these streets, he can actually meet people from all over the world. Khaosan Road is a spot that you do not avoid once you are in Bangkok.

Although it’s all interesting, lively and dynamic, you cannot shake off the feeling that you are just a two-legged ATM machine – at least the vendors on the streets consider you that way. Prices are relatively low, but you still have to pay attention to the budget, because you can quickly run out of money.

Jesuits help

Anyway, we wanted to have a break, but Bangkok, with its fast pace, made us even more tired.

That’s why we were so happy when we contacted the Jesuits in Bangkok and a missionary fr. Chanchai Temarunrung, a diocesan priest who works on the outskirts of Mae Sot (between Bangkok and Changmai), only a few kilometers away from the border with Burma.

Since we started travelling through Asia the Jesuits have become our reference point when we are looking for a mission to serve in a new country. Thank God for their openness, readiness and missionary spirit!

We said goodbye to noisy Bangkok with a relief and opened a new chapter with the MEPA mission.

The missionary as one should be

As soon as we met at the bus station, we knew that we would get along well with Patter Changchai.

A simple, calm and good-natured Thai missionary who had served for many years on the mission in Chang Mai in the north of Thailand and two years ago, the bishop invited him to Mae Sot.

Misijon Mae Sot MEPA
Missionary fr. Chanchai – with a spark in his eyes in front of his project board

The town of Mae Sot is a new city, and the Thai government invests a lot in its infrastructure, as it wants to inhabit the population as soon as possible. There have been about 700,000 here in three years time.

There are as many refugees as people in a little Slovenian town

The city is best known for its border crossing with Burma, where it is customary for foreigners to prolong their visa or cross the border to Myanmar.

It is also known for the great flow of refugees and migrants from Burma, mostly for political reasons. On the border, the Thai government built a large refugee camp, where there are currently more than 20,000 refugees, many of themare families, children and the elderly.

The missionaries here, in addition to their work in their mission, also serve the weak and help everyone who needs help in the camp.

A priest from the tribe of Karen

The refugee camp is not the main reason for the bishop’s invitation. Changchai is one of the few priests who originates from the tribe of Karen, one of the seventeen tribes in Thailand (a large percentage of the Thai population lives in tribal communities).

In the neighborhood of Mae Sot, especially in remote villages, there are mostly Karenes, many of them Catholics. In order to get closer to these people and understand them in their culture, language, habits and mentality, the bishop gives them ‘their’ priests.

On the herritage of the commune

Father Changchai came to the place which was an overcrowded, useless and abandoned complex of the former Italian drug addict commune two years ago, Incontro. There were five built buildings, where members of the community had lived on the two hectares of a big estate.

Misijon Mae Sot MEPA
One of the houses on the mission area

With the help of his friends, the missionary rearranged the property, modernized the houses, and made all the necessary arrangements to begin receiving poor Karen youngsters from the surrounding villages, who were eager to study and learn.

The project made by father Changchai is similar to the one which the sister of the congregation ‘The Lovers of the Cross’ led in Laos where we spent the previous month.

Here students have a guaranteed stay, food and study, or elementary school, depending on the age of the child. There are currently 29 children aged nine to eighteen on the mission.

Diligent hands

Each of them has his own work responsibilities; In the morning before going to school and after returning from school. Some work in gardens, others care for animals (goats, pigs, heifers, chickens, ducks and goats), others care for cleanliness and neat surroundings, the fourth cook. In short, the youngsters take care and maintain a mission which looks amazingly beautiful.

Reaching goals with enthusiasm

When we asked the missionary about plans and vision, he could not hide enthusiasm. He stepped to the ‘project’ board with sparkles in eyes and showed us the ten goals that he would like to achieve in this and the following year:

‘The first five points refer to agriculture. I want to set up bigger stables for pigs, goats, geese and ducks,’ he begins to tell.’We have three ponds, but no fish, because we had to clean it. Now we need to buy at least 2,000 new fish, but unfortunately we do not have any money for them yet. ‘

Misijon Mae Sot MEPA
Father Changchai explains the goals and plans of his mission in the next two years

Father Changchai wants to organize a large farm in the mission, as he says, there is no other opportunity to learn about such kind of a living and working. Once the farm has come to life, those young people who do not live here will also come to the mission to practice.

‘The sixth point is the cultivation of vegetables and fruits in a natural way. I want to teach young people how to grow bio-food without the use of chemicals. And of course, our own fruits and vegetables are also important for our self-sufficiency.’

Education and social development

When me and Silva are walking over the estate, we can see large areas that are not yet mowed and planted with fruit trees, although he has already managed to grow some  bananas and other fruits.

Misijon Mae Sot MEPA
The surface overgrown with grass that needs to be mowed.

‘Money is again the problem.’ Changchai said. ‘Not the money for seedlings, but for  a powerful laser lawnmower, because the grass is already so high that it would not be easy to do it with these hand sickles, even if we had the strongest will.’ he points at three small sickles that are actually too small for maintaining such a large area.

‘The seventh step is the cultivation of corn,’ continues the father. ‘This will be necessary for the feeding of livestock, the number of which will grow. The eighth step is a general renewal of the mission. It is necessary to lay asphalt on the road and to build a church, which is now only half built. The ninth ste is: ‘I want to help the village in its social development and provide people with food. Last but not least, I want to provide the villagers with education, new practical skills, books and a study space.

Let’s start working…

When we listened to his goals and were astonished by the enthusiasm with which he interpreted them, we both strongly wanted to help him with this, even if only for the time we were supposed to live on the mission.

Misijon Mae Sot MEPA
An empty pond needs to be filled with fish.

He asked us to help him build a website to try to attract potential donors. Because we have experience in this area, this will not be a problem. We’ll do it with pleasure!

We will also help him to prepare formal documentation in English, with which he will ask  the government for the acquisition of funds. And finally, we will help young people in the mission to learn English, just as we did in Vietnam and Laos.

We told father Changchai that whenever we visit the community, we open a donation account in Operando and with the help of our readers and sponsors we collect funds for various mission projects.

Misijon Mae Sot Tajska
Father Chagchai: ‘We will not succeed with such a sickle. We need a lawnmower!’

Changchai said it this way:

‘I’ve been looking for mowers for some time now. I would need 2,000 fish to fill three ponds on the estate and finally, I would like our girls to buy looms, which will help us to weave cloth, make bags and other similar products.

Operando – God works!

Nace Volčič

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