The villagers start to come in the door at 7.30am on a Sunday, one at a time and then some more. They wake before the sun, with the sound of crickets and roosters and so 7.30am is a good hour to arrive at church. They’re cautious of a group of ‘farang’ (foreigners) who wait for them inside this living room, turned bedroom, turned church, but they’re curious and so they keep on coming until they crowd out the door.
Ying Vit welcomes them all. He’s round and small and he’s always smiling. He’s like a cross-cultural missionary, who has been living in this village with a people not his own for 13 years now. These are the Koren people, he is from the Mong tribe, and though both from Thailand, they are languages, cultures and lifestyles apart. Yet, step by step he’s earned their trust and slowly but surely he’s helping to develop this community, and as a result the community has taken ownership over its development.
(Picture by Matthew Tinker)
The men used to drink cheap whiskey at night for the sake of getting drunk, and return home to vulnerable wives and children. Bamboo walls don’t hide much at all. So Ying Vit introduced them to coffee. Now in the late afternoon when the sun is already weak, the men gather to drink coffee together. Ying Vit also built the town’s first toilet. Not a western-style throne, but a thai-style squatty, and so introduced hygiene into this dirt town. As for water, it didn’t have a drop before he arrived. The town was dependent on the rains, and with the changing climate due to Asia’s rapid development, these didn’t come as regularly as they should have. Miraculously, a spring of water was discovered at the top of the village on the tallest point of the mountain and Ying Vit helped the town build a piping system so that the water flowed down into each and every hut. Another thing Ying Vit does is teach mathematics. In his tiny hut, on a tiny whiteboard, Ying Vit teaches the people how to add and subtract and multiply. Most people have never received an education past grade six, and so when they go down to the city to sell their crops they are often taken for a pretty ride, returning home none the richer.
An older woman, dressed in traditional garb and her face lined with hard labour, grabs my hand and holds it in hers. She is sharing her village with me, but more, she is sharing her faith with me as she looks and smiles at me every few moments, her eyes scrunching, her blackened teeth showing.