Thanks for your prayers and help. Recently the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), held an Abundant Life Festival in Chiang Mai. Leading up to the festival I met with a friend named Eleanor who said, "It would be great if some refugees could come to the event."
"Great idea," I said. "It would take a miracle, but we will pray and try."
The next day Pastor Simon, the founder and leader of Mae La Refugee Camp Bible School, was in Chiang Mai. He had received a special pass to get out of the refugee camp to attend a church meeting there. I asked him to come to my house and told him about the Festival and asked him to come. "Why not have the choir come too?" My wife Karen asked. This had never been done before.
"Wow, that will take a big miracle, but let's pray and try."
I called Derek of BGEA right away and we prayed together on the phone. He said, "Usually we plan these events well in advance, but let's try. Achan Buacab, the Thai person in charge of all the local groups who will be performing, will need to agree, but if she does we will do it."
"Yes, I know her, she is a good friend." I called Achan Buacab and asked her about the choir and prayed with her.
"Yes, we have a slot that just came open," she said.
I told Pastor Simon the good news. He thanked God with me and said he would need a letter from the BGEA to try to get permission for some of his choir to come. The BGEA team and local Thai church leaders, lead by Dr. Kiat, prepared the document. I left the day after that for a relief mission and asked Hosannah on our team to help coordinate the next steps.
A few days before the event was to start I heard that the permission was not yet granted. In the camp where we were training, we all joined in prayer each night for God to open the way for the choir to go to Chaing Mai and attend the festival.
With only three days before the event, I asked Hosi to ask mom and dad (they have been missionaries here for over 50 years), to help. They contacted a Thai general friend who has helped us before for prostheses for landmine victims. He immediately contacted the local and regional authorities who gave the initial permission needed but there were still other steps to take.
Rev. Kiat recalls the day before the event being awakened at midnight to pray for the choir to make it. Then friends in Bangkok made a special effort to get permission all the way through. It worked and at midnight, the start of the first day of the festival, the choir, all 130 of them, arrived at our house. We thanked God for all who helped get them there and for the generosity and care of the Thai authorities at every level.
We came back off the mission for this, arriving home just before the refugee choir. Hosi, Kit, Micah and the staff helped them fill every bit of our home, the bunk house, Laurie's house and all the space in between. Also at our house was the ACTs team, a 20-person church group led by Jeff Sutton from the US. They immediately volunteered to help us feed and take of the refugee choir and served the first meal at 2 am. Later on the Esh family made a special spaghetti dinner for all.
The festival started the next day and went on for three days. Thousands of people give their lives to Jesus and the refugee choir was amazing. "Who are they?" the BGEA producers asked. "Where did they come from, they are world class," many people said.
The Karen choir sang with great power and beauty and lifted all of us up closer to the Lord. It was beautiful and I thanked God. Later one of the of the Thai generals who helped us said, "I am grateful that God used me to do something good. It was a privilege to be part of God's actions. It is wonderful the choir made it here."
The festival itself was a powerful time of God's love and presence and I saw thousands come forward to receive Christ. In all our years in Thailand we have never seen any response of this scale. The morning of the last day, the ACTS group from the US, performed a three-minute silent play for the choir at our home. It was about how we people can look for love and belonging in the wrong places and be disappointed and how people can turn on us and betray us, how Jesus comes to help, allows Himself to be abused and killed, yet rises from the grave, scatters the darkness and saves us.
I was deeply moved by the play and prayed with Karen that somehow, even at this late hour, we could have the group perform this play at the festival this last night.
Later that day, Bob, from Decision magazine, came out to interview the choir and helped me connect with JW, who was running the festival production. I asked him about adding the play and he said, "Yes, let's go for it, as long as our Thai partners are ok with the last minute change."
I called Achan Buacab again, we discussed this and prayed and she said, "Yes we will find a way!" Later that night I watched as thousands cheered the performance of both choir and play.
On this last night Franklin spoke the simple, clear and powerful gospel message of our need for forgiveness and how Jesus wants to forgive us, that God sent Jesus to save us and help us be the people we were made to be. At the time of invitation, I felt stirred to pray against the powers of darkness and for Franklin's message and God's Spirit to penetrate to all hearts here.
I looked up and at first saw only a few people coming forward. Then one by one, two by two, then more and more started walking forward. Some were crying, some were smiling, all came with the look of purpose on their faces. Soon more than a thousand people had come forward to give themselves to Jesus. Counselors were with them up front to pray and it was a full and happy throng. By the end of the festival, over 4,000 people had made a commitment to Jesus.
Later that night Derek and the BGEA staff gave us all the funds needed for the transport and feeding of the refugees.
The next day after the 10 van load of refugees left our home to return to their camp, I was grateful for God's power, timing and His love. "Good bye, thank you, thank you, God bless you!" the choir called out as they smiled, waved and disappeared around the bend. I am grateful for the choir, to all who enabled them to get to the festival, to the Thai authorities, to the church leaders of Thailand, to the BGEA and to God who cares for us all.
Love, Dave and family