AN INTERVIEW WITH LAMPAI SIHAVONG, BY JULIA O’CAREY
On a recent, cool, summer evening, I sat down with Pi Lampai and ASAP Associate Director Pr. Saeng Saengthip (who helped translate) to reflect on our recent mission trip adventures to Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Through laughter, tears, and a mixture of Thai, Laotian, and English (sometimes even in one sentence), stories and experiences unfolded. I noticed the sun started setting but sensed there was much more yet to share. May this shortened interview with Pi (Thai for “sister”) Lampai inspire a deeper passion in your heart for serving others as it did in mine.
J: What was it that motivated you to come with ASAP on the training trip in March?
L: I feel that ASAP is my organization. Mother Judy and MaryAnn McNeilus invited me to go with them every year to Asia. Unfortunately, I never could, because my daughters were having babies or something else always came up. When I went to Judy’s funeral this past December, my heart was deeply moved. When my husband died, I didn’t cry because I knew I would see him again. But when Judy died, I wept. I wept not because she passed away, but because I deeply regretted not taking the time to work alongside her when I had the opportunity to. I cried during the whole service but especially during the song, “Go Light Your World”. I held up my candle and promised the Lord at that moment I would go and I asked him to take care of all my responsibilities, my elderly mother and my two special needs grandchildren I take care of, etc. Yesterday is gone, today is here with an opportunity, tomorrow is uncertain. I resolved to go.
J: Was this trip what you expected?
L: It exceeded my expectations! Before I went I didn’t know what I would be able to do or how I could help. I thought maybe I could serve water to the team when they got thirsty. I stayed busy doing all sorts of things, cooking for the team, teaching exercises to the workers, and helping with the children’s programs.
J: Did going to a refugee camp trigger any memories of when you were in a Thailand refugee camp in the 1980’s?
L: Yes, it brought back so many memories. When I saw the r in the refugees in the Mae La camp, I felt so sorry for them. They can’t go back and can’t go forward. I wondered what I would do in that situation. The only thing to do is pray for God to come back soon. They live in fear that their little homes will burn down because of how they are made with bamboo and leaves and they are so close together. They don’t have good medical care or anything, but at least they have God. When I was in the refugee camp, I didn’t have money and had five kids to take care of, but that is where I found God so it makes it all worth it. I see how God is using the difficult situation now for these refugees to draw their hearts closer to Him[JO1] .
I will never forget Chan Thavy and my students I taught in my three Bible classes in the camp. When I first met Chan, she was not my student yet but a friend of my student, Tdem Kham. Tdem asked me to pray for her. I had the opportunity to visit Chan and she opened up. She shared how her husband went back to Laos a year before and tragically died in a boat accident on the Mekong River. This left her a widow, trying to care for two young children alone. The food the UN gave to her was not enough so she went to the market to buy some fish to make fish paste for her children. After fifteen minutes of eating it, her children started to throw up. They rushed to the clinic and sadly did not make it in time and both children died. Her neighbor accusingly said, “How dare you feed your children poisonous puffer fish.” This plagued Chan with guilt and sadness. A dark hopelessness flooded over her as she planned how she too would end her life. She only had ten baht to her name, (which was about forty cents). She tucked it in her pocket, along with a long towel which she would use to hang herself on a big tree at the back of the camp. She bought her “last meal” of fried bananas and sat down alone to eat. The paper that wrapped the bananas was torn from a Bible and the words from John 15 jumped out at her. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” When she read those words, a whole new world seemed to open up to her. Before that she couldn’t see or hear anybody. She sensed she was surrounded by a warmth and light. She came back to her room instead of hanging herself. The next day she showed me the wrapping and asked me about the words. I told her this is God’s special words from the Bible. She said, “No wonder when I read it something touched my heart.” The next day was Sabbath and she started coming regularly. Even though it is so hard to be a refugee, this is how we can find God.
J: I discovered that even though there was a language barrier when you went to Myanmar, it did not hinder you from reaching the people. Because of the love you have for others, you were able to connect with their hearts. What was a highlight during your visit to Myanmar?
L: I felt really sorry for the students in Myanmar. Some have broken families and some don’t know where their parents are. I spent time teaching them every day. During prayer request time, one boy prayed that his dad (who was paralyzed) could afford to get him a uniform. My heart was touched. I found that one uniform costs 18,000 kyats ($11). I gave him 50,000 kyats ($30) and he said that’s too much. He promptly gave me some back. I told him, take the rest to help put food on the table. The next day he broke down in tears when he said, “My dad told me to tell you thank you.” I will always remember the honesty, gratitude, and sincere faith in this young boy.
J: You have been back to Laos a number of times. How was this trip different?
L: This trip was different because I went purely for missions. With this mindset, I found I was interacting and share Jesus with so many more people. It moved my heart to help the poor with ASAP. I shared Jesus with everyone I met. Even the taxi drivers heard about Jesus from me. One of our van drivers asked, “Why do you have so many suitcases?” This opened up an opportunity to share about our missionary activities and to tell him about God. I shared how urgent I feel it is to be here to share with people who do not know Jesus because He is coming soon. He asked, “Who is Jesus?” I shared with him the redemption story and creation. The taxi driver said at the end of the trip, I heard the Gospel before but I didn’t understand it and I was too busy trying to make a living. But now I really understand.
Traveling with Lisa Isensee and her children was so much fun because I saw Asia through new eyes. At our rest stops, they wanted to try different new fruit and snacks. It was a joy to introduce them to tastes, textures, and phrases so familiar to me but novel to them.
I am so happy I learned united prayer from Martin and Liana Kim. I really love that way of praying. I feel I gained more of the Holy Spirit on this trip.
J: You shared a lot of pictures and videos with your friends. How did this impact them?
L: They loved every bit of it! My sister, brother, daughter, and friends all want to come with me next time.
J: The advice you gave to our ASAP team at the end of the trip was very meaningful to me. Can you share it with our extended ASAP family?
L: I shared how Mom Judy met a real need of mine during Christmas time many years ago in a refugee camp. She provided blankets for my children who were shivering at night. She also smiled sweetly at me and asked me, “Where is your home?” I pointed it out and after a long day of work, she showed up to pray with me. That personal touch impacted me greatly and I want us to remember to do the same. Also I observed how hard she worked with limited resources. Now we have a talented mission team serving together. She was the first tsunami wave and now we are the second. She was the first one in the relay race. We now need to run in place and then grab the baton. Jesus will use us too, to finish the work before He comes.