Monday, March 29, 2010

Coming Home

Yes, it was so clear not much over a year ago. We were raising funds to go to China. I had felt the Father’s call on my life for years to go with ELIC to serve in a university. And Bethany, sensing the same general calling on her life, stood by me hand in hand.

Then the Father focused our plans even more. Our denominational sending agency asked us to go to Laos with ELIC to begin a new work there. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. And Bethany and I were humbled by the invitation. We were honored that people would entrust such a big task to us.

We quickly received financial support and encouragement from friends and family. The outpouring was almost overwhelming. And all along, we knew that we would soon be leaving those same precious people to begin something new in Laos.

Our charge was to be here for four years. We would learn the language and make contacts our first year, assess the possibility to conduct business in Laos our second year, and hopefully, establish a work our third and fourth year.

But sometimes our plans simply are not His. We intending on Him to accomplish great things through us, while He intended on accomplishing great things in us. And we know that just as He has called us to this place, He is asking us to return.

This year has been filled with the hardship of being in a foreign culture. That hardship has driven us to His Word. It has made us thirsty for constant communion with Him. It has shown us that the strength of the Body is found on it’s knees. It has strengthened our marriage. And it has given us a longing to share His love with others in a forward yet gentle and compassionate way.

We plan to return to our home in Nashville, Tennessee in mid-June. Bethany would like to return to teaching elementary school, and I would like to return to the work of fundraising. Some things in our future seem unclear, but one thing is clear. Bethany and I are changed. The Father so graciously and lovingly has taken the time to show us His heart. And we cannot wait to share that with you.


Monday, March 22, 2010

This Day I Will Never Forget

Last Friday afternoon before class, Bethany and I were told that the father of one of my students, Chansomai, had died in a motorbike accident the night before. Bethany and I were both saddened. Chansomai is one of the students that has taken us in since we first arrived. He carted me around wherever I wanted to go whether it was class or the market. He had also just begun being my Lao language tutor. Chansomai is just easy to like, and we like him very much.

So when I heard the news, I new that I wanted to return the same generosity he has shown us. I asked one of his friends if they were going to visit Chansomai in his village. There were five other students going to see him this past weekend, and I wanted to go.

At 5:20 a.m. on Sunday morning, the sun was not yet out but I was up and ready to go. Chansomai’s village is 100 kilometers from where I live, and we wanted to get there before the heat set in for the day. (It’s mostly been over 100 degrees every day.) The trip there was enjoyable. It wasn’t too hot, and we were going fairly fast. So it only took about an hour and a half.

Chansomai was so glad to see us and honored that I, his teacher, would come all that way to be with him at a time like this. His mother was crying as she kept bowing her head and kissing my hand. After the greetings, we sat a while to talk before being served breakfast. I was a little nervous. Eating “real” Lao food can be quite hazardous for people from the West. I quite often encounter blood and fermented fish oil in the food here in Laos. Obviously, I cannot eat that, and I always amaze myself with the creative ways I get out of eating such cuisine. I just stuck to grilled meat and rice that day.

After breakfast, Chansomai wanted to take us to a farm of one of the other students in his class at the university. It was a watermelon farm off the side of the main dirt road. It was such a good time. The guys and I sat back, ate watermelon, spit the seeds, and joked around for a while. It was good for all of us. And it was nice to feel like I was spending the day with friends. I don’t get that much.

The guys were eager to show off their foreign teacher, so I got carted around a lot. The next place we went was a close friend of another one of my students. Of course this family lived in traditional Lao house built on stilts. After a little chit-chat, the guys decided we needed a nap, and we did. So we laid back on the raised wooden platforms and slept for a couple of hours, three of us on one and three on the other. It would have been quite the sight for some of you. There were ducks under one of the platforms, chickens roaming everywhere, and the sounds of a good size pig a few feet away. I’m still amazed at some of the things I do.

That afternoon, we went back to see Chansomai and attend his father’s funeral. There was some what of a processional. People were packed in the back of trucks, in vans, and on motorbikes. The service would take place at the site of the cremation in the “forest” as Chansomai called it. And it was nothing less. The whole processional began off-roading into the woods. Not in a straight line or anything, mind you.

We arrived at the site where wood was gathered for the fire. We waited about 20 minutes for the monks to come from the temple. Then the casket was taken off the truck and the ceremony began. It wasn’t anything unusual. Words about his father were shared. Some people were very sad. Some people were indifferent.

And this I will never forget. It is customary for everyone attending to move the wood around the casket for burning. As I gathered some wood and put it on the fire, Chansomai watched very closely. He knew that I would not have come all this way and honor him by participating in his father’s funeral unless I cared very deeply for him. And that’s exactly what I wanted to communicate because I care about him very much.

As they lit the fire, Chansomai could no longer hold back the tears. I put my hand on his shoulder and stood by him as we watched the cremation. There weren’t any words exchanged, but he knew my heart was hurting for him. And I knew he was grateful for my presence.

May the Father use this for His glory.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Results

La wanted me to take her picture in the city as proof to all her friends that she went to Ubon.

So, we’ve been back from Thailand for about a week and La’s countenance has completely changed. We received good news from the doctor there. Everything is normal and the pain she is experiencing post-surgery is normal.

There were several obstacles that we were going to have to overcome in order to get to Thailand. First, La has no ID card or passport, so we weren’t even sure if she would be able to cross the border. Secondly, they wouldn’t let us buy her a bus ticket because she didn’t have a border pass, so that means we would have to taxi to the border and from the border. Next, we were told it could take hours for her to get a border pass once we got to the border. We didn’t mind waiting, except for the heat. (It has already been in the 100’s here.) Lastly, we didn’t know if she would actually get to see the doctor since the doctor doesn’t take appointments and it’s a first come, first serve basis.

Well, La did get a border pass, it took about 20 minutes to get it from the border officials (I think we might have paid him off a little. Not on purpose. He just smiled and didn’t give us our change back.). And we did get into see the doctor. We waited in an open air doctor’s office, only fans mind you, for about 2 hours before La was able to see the doctor.

We didn’t see the doctor until later in the evening and during the day we did some shopping at some of the stores that are kind of like Wal-Mart. She was like a kid in a candy shop, but at the same time, we had been in Thailand for about an hour and she said, “Sister, I’m ready to go home.”

With La’s mind at ease now, she is a much happier person. She’s not as worried as she was before about her health. This however, has allowed me to share with her that I am glad we got her checked out by the doctor and she’s all right physically, but to also let her know that I am worried about her spiritual well-being. It has lead to some great conversations this week. So, keep asking Dad to give us opportunities and for us to see them and take them.

I want to thank you for all your “askings.” I know that this is what is getting us through this with her and I have let her know that I have shared her story with you and that you all are interceding on her behalf. Thanks. It’s working.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Latest...

Dear Friends,

I know it has been over a month since we’ve let you know what’s going on, but a lot has gone on!

First, we went to Chiang Mai, Thailand for our mid-year conference. We were there for about two weeks with little internet access. We had a marvelous time there! It was a wonderful time for renewal, relaxation, and meeting new friends from all over Asia.

After that, we came back to Pakse with our dear friend, Amanda Fretter. She is currently teaching in China and has had about two and half months off from teaching. She stayed with us for two weeks and we thoroughly enjoyed her company. She was a real encouragement to us both. Funny story about Amanda: we get to the border of Laos and Thailand. You have to apply for a visa at the border. She did. While we were there, we got acquainted with some Lao people who have lived in California for the past 30 years and are now US citizens. In the midst of all the chit-chat, the Lao couple left with Amanda’s passport. It was quite an interesting ordeal. The Lao people don’t want to lose face, so the border officials wouldn’t actually tell us that they didn’t have Amanda’s passport. In short, an officer got in a van with us to drive from the border to Pakse. We exchanged the correct passport with the Lao couple. It was somewhat tense there for a while, but it was resolved. So Amanda was happy that she didn’t lose all her stamps in her passport, which is what she was really worried about.

On top of that, our other wonderful friend, Rachel Dennis has come to live and teach in Pakse with us and we could not be more excited! She has already made some wonderful connections in her short time here. She has also been a wonderful encouragement to us.

Then, as soon as we arrived back from Chiang Mai, we started classes. Actually, classes started without us and we missed the first two weeks of school. Now we have completed three weeks of school, which is already hard to believe.

Lastly, we are going to make a trip to Ubon, Thailand this weekend. It’s about a 3 hour bus ride from Pakse. Our Lao friend, La, had surgery in December as most of you are aware of. We are taking her with us to go to a Thai hospital where they can determine if her procedure was done correctly. She is still experiencing pain and other side effects. Please lift her up and us and we travel and visit the doctor.

We promise to keep you informed about our trip.

Love you all,


Monday, January 18, 2010

Travels to Savannakhet

The dirt road to La’s house.

La’s House

Align Center

Us with La after her ceremony.

La, Ked, and La’s sister at the temple.

The Temple in La’s village.

This weekend Russell and I visited my language tutor in her hometown of Savannakhet. It’s about 155 miles from where we live in Pakse. Okay. I know that many of you have questions, so I’m going to attempt to think of them all and answer them as best as I can. If I leave one out, just post a comment and I’ll do my best to get back to you.

The reason for going? They were having a special ceremony for my tutor because she has recovered from a major surgery. She wanted so badly for us to be there. I’m pretty sure we were the first foreigners to ever have visited their village. We were quite the spectacle. You would have thought we were famous!

The mode of transportation? Well, we could have taken a bus to get there, but there was no telling how long it would take and it was quite probable that we would have been dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere in Laos to wait for a different bus to take us to Savannakhet. If you know Russell and me at all, you know that this is definitely not appealing to us. At all. We have heard stories that it could take up to 8 hours to get there. You might be saying at this point, “But you’re only going 155 miles!” Yes, well, my friends, we’re in Laos. Not in America. So, I say all of that to say that instead of taking the “iffy” mode of transportation, we asked some good friends of ours in town if we could borrow their very old SUV. So, that is what we did. Russell drove the Hyundai Galloper all the way to Savannakhet, dodging cows, goats, chickens, motorbikes, bicycles, and random people walking on the road.

The amount of time it took? Okay, I know in the states to go 155 miles it should only take about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. It took us at least four hours. So, not too bad. (Well, I can say that because I wasn’t the one driving!)

Where did we spend the night? We stayed at a guesthouse in the downtown area of Savannakhet. It’s probably just a big as Pakse, maybe a little bit bigger. Our room was complete with bed, one side table, and chair. Yep, that’s it. Oh, did I mention that the bed was concave and as flat as a flitter? At least we had our own private bathroom. That was nice, except for the many, many mosquitoes. I am thankful it was cool outside, though. We left the windows open and slept with a fan all night.

How was the village? The village was about 10 miles off the main road on a very, bumpy, dirt road. It took us a half hour just to get to her village. We drove for a while on the dirt road and didn’t see anything. Then all of a sudden, we come across a village. Wrong one. So, we keep going. Thirty minutes later, we come to La’s house. It was actually a quaint, quiet little village. It was amazing of how many houses and temples are in the middle of nowhere! La took us to two temples in her village. It was heartbreaking to see her and her sister bowing down before the stupa.

What did you have to eat? Good question. Actually, La’s family was in Pakse about 3 weeks ago because of her surgery and stayed at our teammates’ house so, they watched carefully how they cooked things. They tried to recreate things that we had fixed! It was such a sweet gesture and we honestly didn’t have to eat anything icky.

How was the ceremony? To be quite honest, we had told La that we could not come or participate in the ceremony because of our beliefs, so we didn’t actually see the ceremony take place. Nonetheless, she was very excited to see us. I think she likes Russell the most, because she went straight for him as soon as we pulled up. She loves her “brother.” That’s what she calls him and she calls me “sister.” It’s Lao culture to call those close to you “brother” and “sister.”

I hope this answers all your questions. It was very tiring, but a very rewarding trip. Again, we are the Father’s hands extended to these people.

Until next time,


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Video, Pics, and a Note from Bethany

Okay, so I know it’s been a little while, but it’s been a little crazy in the Cooper household in Laos. As you all know, my parents were here to visit during the Christmas season and we’re kind of getting back in the swing of things...or out of the swing of things, rather.

For starters, final exams were supposed to be at the end of this month. No problem, right? Well, on Christmas eve, we were told that exams were the week of January 4 and we had, indeed, taught our last classes without having known it. So, our thoughts were, “All right. How do we write an exam without having prepared our students for it?” Somehow, someway, we did just that. We have been scrambling around writing our exams and helping give exams last week and this week. On the upside, we get about a three week break that we weren’t expecting. The downside? Who knows when the second semester will begin. But when in Laos, do as the Lao. “Where they don’t ___ and they don’t even want to.” This has been our motto through it all.

Secondly, we wanted to have a Christmas party for our students, but with having to go back to the States at the beginning of December and with my parents here, things did not go as planned. So, we decided that we would have a New Year’s Party for our students. We invited all three of our classes, which, if they are all in class is about 150 students. We only advertised our party the day before, so we knew that not many would come, but we had a good turn out and we were very pleased. We had about 17 students in all, which was plenty for our little house. Our teammates also came over, so in all we had about 25 people. I think the students had a wonderful time. We had a game of Spoons going on in one corner (which they love, by the way), a game of Uno (which they call “You-no”, hilarious!), and a game of Scrabble that I altered a little bit for their level. All in all, everyone had a good time. We made some good “American” food, like brownies, peanut butter cookies, popcorn, caramel dip and apples, carrots and cucumbers, and their new favorite food, deviled eggs. All the food was gone! That was another indication that the students had a good time. Before the students left, they all gathered around in circle and sang their New Year song for us in Lao. It was a wonderful end to an eventful evening.

This is a video of our students singing their Lao New Year song!

These are all our wonderful students who came to our party!

Next, my language tutor has had a rather major surgery. Russell and I were at the hospital as much as we could be and then she came home to our teammates’ house to recover before going to her hometown. We have all been trying to do our part to show her the Father’s love. She is so close. She is now back in her hometown for the rest of her recovery and we are all going to visit her this weekend for a special ceremony that her family is having for her. This should definitely be interesting and I’m sure we’ll tell you all about it. We have not visited many villages or been in any Lao homes for that matter, so this will be an eye-opening experience.

We love and think of you all often.


This is my family with my language tutor and her mother.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Both Happy and Sad

These past few weeks have been like none other. On Friday morning, December 4, Bethany and I learned that her grandmother passed away. It was her Mom’s mother and last living grandparent. Bethany’s family is very small and very close. Although Bethany’s family was unsure that we should make the journey to the States for the funeral, I knew that Bethany would only regret if we didn’t go.

It’s hard to explain how we felt the moment we learned we would be going home. Home has been on our hearts the moment we left. And the Father knew that we needed to be refreshed. I hope I’m not being too candid, but to be honest, we knew that the return to Laos would be one of the hardest circumstances we’ve ever faced.

The journey wasn’t easy. It took 51 hours from door to door, Pakse to Nashville. It was also very emotional. Bethany and I we’re nervous as we stepped off the plane in Nashville. I’m not exactly sure why. I can only speculate that since we’ve been trying to fit into another culture for several months, we weren’t sure how well we would readjust to our own culture. Of course we were tired but didn’t have time to recuperate. The visitation and funeral were the following day and a graveside service was held the following morning.

To tell you that it was good to see family and friends would be a gross understatement. It had been a long time since that much love was tangible for us. In Laos, we have a team for which we are very grateful. But the joys and the trials we’ve experienced with our Nashville family through the years have created bonds that are strong. The support we felt in the short days we were there c

annot be adequately described.

And thus, it was difficult to return to Laos. The evening before we left was filled with many tears, as were the days to follow. I think despair would be a good word to describe how we felt last week. We felt helpless and wanted nothing more than to return to th

e States. But last week might have been our time of greatest growth in the Father and as a couple. Bethany and I know that we need each other now more than ever and that we can count on one another.

I also want you to know that the Father is using us to make an impact. Some affects we can see and some we cannot. But it is good to know that this sacrifice is not in vain. He is using us.

At the Thailand border.

Steve and I in a very small mode of transportation. We didn’t fit!

Now the happy part of the story. Bethany’s parents have come for Christmas! They will be here a total of 10 days. We picked them up on Thailand on Sunday. And it has been a joy for them to be with us. We took them to the market on their first day in Laos, and Bev was wide-eyed the whole time. And of course, we put up a Christmas tree that very day. Bethany did a beautiful job, if I do say so myself.

Our Christmas tree in Laos!

The Tree

The Topper

We haven’t been very active though. We’ve just been at the house enjoying each other’s company and eating good food. Steve is going to class with Bethany tomorrow. And they are both coming to class with us on Thursday. The students will love them!

Steve and Bev brought bags of goodies for us from their fellowship in Pleasant View, Tennessee. Bethany and I feel so loved and our bellies will be full for many weeks and months to come because of their generosity.

All of our goodies from Goodsprings FWB Fellowship!

And now for what you’ve all been waiting for. This is a video of Bethany and Beverly on our motorbike. They are a sight!