My phone calendar tells me it's Zebedee's third birthday. I skip the shower in favour of stoking up with a good breakfast, and John and Mary are already there. Butch ambles in: I've given him enough money to settle his bill and get his final Manila to Cibu flight, which isn't included on his international ticket. He's given me a fistful of receipts to pass to Daniel.
Mar Yen can't leave our side, and Thomas's younger sister, Ruby, is full of questions. John draws me to one side: the hotel have rung to say that Butch left without paying. Fortunately I'm carrying enough dollars for him to travel over and sort it out. Next stop is Lai Baptist Church. There's a local choir competition featured during the 10.00am service, and the IMCP students are among the four contestants. The place is packed. I count 480+ fixed seating places, and there are random other people downstairs and on the stage. There's a balcony supporting about 70 seats cantilevered out from the back wall, with no balustrade or handrail on the access staircase. Sit well back you guys; check that out, mums with kids.
The wooden pews are solid, like the hotel beds, and the four of us spread out where five should fit in. There's not a word in English, except that I catch one phrase when visitors are welcomed: "especially foreigners". We do a traditional congregational hymn, and you could be in a Welsh chapel for the vocal harmonies. The PA allows one note in four to surge forth from the piano before cutting out. It creates a curious effect of being kept in key rather than being accompanied. In turn, the choirs perform the identical test piece. Ahh, I get that time for reflection. In the sermon, after two offertories, I identify 'reformation', 'Luther' and 'holistic approach'. Steve got 'transformation', too: I won't argue.
At 12.30, we finish, and shuffle to the staircase. The downstairs crush hall was previously scattered with 200 drying umbrellas. Now, with smooth efficiency, servers are giving everybody a white takeaway box containing a chunk of banana cake, and there's tea on offer. Sheffield congregation, thou shouldest have seen this hour. You won't, because at this moment my phone camera decided to die, and Ruby whisks us away promptly.
Back at Thomas's family home, we're reunited with our baggage, which went with Mary in a second taxi. Across the street is the dormitory house for the Bible College girls. John takes us off to our first shopping mall for a bite of lunch. It turns out to be a dutiful affair. His and Steve's tummies are playing up, and I don't like Sunday lunch. Back at Thomas's, we have three hours to employ before Steve and I head for the airport. The conversation grows deeper.
John shows us photos of his missionaries' work in Ka-chin state, both near Lake Inle and along the border with China. He's just stated an orphanage for 8- to 10- year-olds whose parents were snatched and used a 'cannon fodder' by the military. They had fled to the jungle, and their only hope of survival would be to grow opium. Now they've found Jesus and are able to testify in villages where 'imported' missionaries would be treated with suspicion (or worse). To encourage the saints, John has to walk three days through the forests and sleep under the stars two nights. Two year ago he was arrested seven times in one month for holding unofficial church meetings. The congregation may paddle two hours to the Sunday service, held at remote gathering points to avoid intrusion. John has just been able to hold a weekend workers' retreat, after three years of seeking the funds and a place of safety. We relate some incidents of bureaucratic and media persecution in our UK experience, and he feels strengthened to be of the same heart.
Thai Air must take the prize for the busiest cabin crew of the to-date eight flights. In just over an hour's journey they offer us newspapers, a drink, a meal, another drink, and duty free. All smoothly and courteously executed. But we have to stack for fifteen minutes as heavy rain storms are hitting the city, and flights are affected. "They'll be a signal and free wifi," I encourage Steve. We haven't spoken to anyone at home for over a week.
At the transfer counters it's 10.00pm - six hours ahead of UK - and the seats are all occupied by sleeping bodies. I ring Mary, who gives me an update on the Arena meetings to advance community and mission in Sheffield. She sounds well. Then I catch Nathan, who gives me a colourful account of their arrival in Cuttack in the middle of a Hindu festival. Huw's next, then Kelly, and I hope they'll get the one photo I managed to email onto the screen at Heart. I thank Gav for responding every time I've sent something, and leave a "happy birthday Zebedee" on Kat's answerphone. Then I plonk myself down in the one remaining free seat, and Sunday drifts into Monday as I doze off.