Building homes in Thailand has become a passion for Tim — and for many members of his church family at First Presbyterian of Berkeley.
In 2007, I went to Lampang, Thailand for the first time with Habitat for Humanity. My friend, Bob, had led several Habitat teams. I joined Bob’s team in 2007, not because of any heavy-handed recruiting on his part, but because he spoke glowingly about his Thai friends. Bob did not oversell the trip; he was honest about the heat and physical work required to build houses in Thailand. He also emphasized the need to “pace ourselves,” follow the instructions of our host and skilled workers, and not yield to the American need to control.
I’ve made nine trips to Lampang with my church, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, and served as Team Leader the last five trips, beginning in 2013. First Pres Berkeley has sent more than 150 people to Lampang (many have made multiple trips). Our teams have built more than 15 homes and we’ve built relationships with our Thai friends. Since the early 2000s First Pres Berkeley teams have worshiped at the Thai Lampang Church, where Pastor Ben and his wife, Tee, have overwhelmed us with their love, hospitality, and care for us.
After seven Thailand trips with Habitat, my first Fuller Center build in Lampang was in January 2018. Our hosts were Bootsaba (“Boots”) and Ramsay Walker. Lampang is Boots’ hometown. In 2015, Boots and Ramsay started a Fuller Center covenant partner in Lampang. They have also built in at least eight other countries. While in Lampang in early 2019, Ramsay suffered a major stroke and complications led to his death in May 2019: https://fullercenter.org/ramsay-walker-will-be-remembered-around-the-world-for-helping-many-families-have-decent-places-to-live/
When First Pres Berkeley sends teams to Northern Thailand, we also visit our missionary partners in nearby Chiang Mai: International Justice Mission (IJM), Free Burma Rangers, and New Life Center Foundation (NLCF). NLCF serves at-risk girls and young women from ethnic hill tribes, which includes a residential program, therapeutic care, education, and life skills.
First Pres Berkeley Thailand teams have varied in size from 8 to 29. The duration of these trips is 16-18 days. We build for 7-8 days and visit our missionary partners before or after the Lampang build. In my early trips, we spent 3 days in Bangkok at the end of the trip. In 2014, we replaced the Bangkok visit with 2 days at the beginning to visit the northern city of Chiang Rai. In Northern Thailand we enjoy sightseeing and cultural activities, visit the Golden Triangle and walk across a bridge into Burma. In 2012 we took a team of 20 University of California, Berkeley students (total team size was 29). We split that team into three smaller teams and built three homes.
Since the 2012 University trip, each of our teams have included 2-5 university students. The trips occur over the university’s Winter Break, allowing students to join us. January is the coolest month of the year in Thailand. Our 2020 team included 19 people, ages 20 to 80. Each of my nine trips has been a multi-generational experience.
Boots is a wonderful host. The past two trips she introduced us to Lampang restaurants, cultural activities, and a national park with hot springs. We enjoy the cultural activities, which give us a greater appreciation for our Thai friends. In addition to the Thai Lampang Church, we have relationships with three other local churches, who invite us for dinner each year.
The 2020 trip was special for several reasons. Shortly after our January 2018 build, Boots told me that Pastor Ben and Tee were applying for a Fuller house. My friends and I at First Pres Berkeley were thrilled to learn this news and I asked Boots if we could build Ben and Tee’s house when we returned in January 2020. We were very blessed to build with and for our friends, Pastor Ben, Tee, and their sons, Power, and Mighty. This family has loved and served us for over 15 years. Every other time we’ve built in Lampang, Ben, Tee, and their university students have assisted us in our building. They are a wonderful witness for the Gospel. Ben and Tee have mentored their students well, modeling a servant heart.
Additionally, Tee was an accountant with Habitat for almost 20 years. In March 2020, she lost her job as Habitat prepared to exit Thailand. We were thrilled to learn that our missionary partner, New Life Center Foundation, hired her as their accountant and she started working in June! The close connections and friends that First Pres Berkeley has made in northern Thailand are very intertwined.
We have enjoyed the university students at the Thai Lampang Church on each of our trips. Many of them speak English very well. Ben and Tee have led their students on short-term mission trips to India, Singapore, Myanmar, Laos, Philippines, Malaysia, and Korea. This year, we were blessed to spend even more time with the students. They relate very well to our multi-generational teams. It’s particularly special to watch the Thai and American university students interact with each other.
In 2014, our Missions Pastor, Mary Ellen, was on our team. On the first day of our build, Pastor Ben asked me if Pastor Mary Ellen could preach in a couple days. Mary Ellen agreed and she did a wonderful job with our Habitat host as translator. Mary Ellen started a tradition: on each of our three subsequent trips, a woman pastor from our church has preached in Pastor Ben’s pulpit. In 2018 and 2020, a Thai university student, Helen, translated for our pastors. I believe our women pastors (2 of the 4 were Asian) these past four trips have served as role models for the young university women in the Thai Lampang Church, who have been discipled very well by Tee and Ben.
These trips have had an impact on team members, young and old. Three of the students who were part of the 2012 University team were also on the 2014 team. Two of those students moved to Chiang Mai to teach English for an entire year. The university students on the 2012 team had an impact on me. As we were returning from Thailand, the University Pastor asked me if I would serve as a student mentor. After spending 18 days with those students, it was very easy to say yes. I’ve been involved in University Ministries since that 2012 trip, including short-term mission trips with students to the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Mexico.
My wife, Sandy, made her first trip to Thailand as part of the 2016 team. She was also on the 2018 and 2020 teams. She has also made many Thai friends. She assisted me as co-leader for the 2020 team, which was particularly helpful because of the size (19) of that team. I was very grateful for her partnership as the team prepared and met monthly. My oldest son, Joel, was on the 2012 University team. He was more than three years out of undergraduate school and knew none of the students. However, he was quickly welcomed by the team members and made friendships that continue to this day. My youngest son, Peter, was on the 2016 team with his mother. It has been a real joy to share these experiences with family members.
I plan to lead another team to Lampang in January 2022. In the meantime, I am participating in the Global Home Challenge in order to raise funds and provide housing for people in this country that I love, when we are unable to send teams.
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