Teachers Connect operates professional teachers' conferences in Thailand
When Suzi Peters and her husband, Fritz, returned to the U.S. five years ago after serving with MBMS International in Thailand, she thought her connection with the people she loves would fade away. Instead, Peters has found her mission expanding as she connects teachers from the U.S. with teachers in Thailand. “God just kept the doors open,” she says.
“Teachers Connect,” operating under the mission board at Reedley (Calif.) MB Church where Peters and her family attend, takes teams of Christian teachers to Thailand each year to run a professional teachers’ conference. The Teachers Connect story begins a decade ago in northern Thailand, when Peters looked for a school for her daughters to attend in the city of Chiang Mai. She found Varee Chiang Mai School and began to work with the Christian director of the school. “God just put me as her right hand,” Peters says.
The school began to win awards for academic excellence and quickly grew from a small preschool/kindergarten to a K-12 school with 3,000 students and a staff of 200. Because of its exemplary performance, the school is one of three in the nation allowed to operate as a “Christian” school, meaning only that they are not required to teach Buddhism.
After Peters returned to the U.S., she took up the challenge of one of the Thai teachers to “send people to us.” Peters knew that the Thai Board of Education would open the door for a professional teachers’ conference, so she began to explore the possibility.
She brought her idea to the newly-formed mission board at Reedley MB Church, which had a vision for sending every church member on a short-term mission trip. The church sent retired educator Stan Huebert to Thailand with Peters to explore the possibility, “and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Huebert says.
For three years now, the team has put on a teachers’ conference at Chiang Mai of the highest professional level. Keynote speakers focus on a theme—the focus this year was on math and science—and team members present workshops, lead chapel times, model classroom teaching and shadow Thai teachers to give one-on-one help. Because the Thai education system requires English competency, language poses little barrier. The conference and workshops are conducted on a strictly professional level, with no discussion of spiritual matters, as required by the Thai Board of Education.
Reedley MB Church supports the teams with generous finances, intentional prayer and innumerable “little things,” like donating gifts for the team to give to male teachers. Marlin Hiett, pastor of discipleship and equipping, says Teachers Connect has become a “natural fit” for the congregation—“something we are glad to be part of.”
Peters says she wasn’t sure what to expect on this third trip, June 16-27. With some of the initial kinks worked out with Thai and American authorities, the team was busier than ever before. Team members were invited into homes and barraged with professional questions. They had so many meal invitations that they never ate out. They were invited into so many classrooms that they didn’t have time to visit them all. When the team was finally able to catch their breath, Peters came to a sweet realization. “We had made a new step,” she says. “We weren’t outsiders anymore. We had been given a very privileged opening into their lives.”
Which, of course, is the point. “We’re going for the purpose of building relationships with these teachers professionally in hopes of having opportunities personally to touch their lives,” Peters says.
Outside of the conference parameters, team members are free to share their faith. Huebert tells of one opportunity he had on this most recent trip: During an informal discussion with several students about the symbols on the school pin, he was able to tell them what the cross and dove mean to him as a Christian. The students’ Thai teacher, a Christian, will follow up.
Peters says they try to identify fellow Christians, which is not always easy since “the price is high to be a Christian there,” and find ways to help and encourage. The first year, she says, they were able to identify only three Christians, including the director of the school, among the staff of about 200. This year, they were able to connect with a dozen “dynamic” Christians among the staff, two of whom are involved in church plants.
Peters says that once the team identifies fellow Christians, they offer whatever help they can. They visit churches and lend a listening ear. They share and encourage. Often, they pray together—a precious thing in a predominately Buddhist culture. “We just try to come alongside with them and help them do what they do best, which is reach their people,” Peters says.
To further encourage relationships between teachers, two teachers from the Chiang Mai School come to Reedley each October. They stay in homes and spend time with team members in local schools. “Our schools are beginning to connect nicely and there is beginning to be a flow on a professional level, but also on a Christian level and a friendship level,” Peters says.
This year, following the official Teachers Connect conference, Peters, Huebert and another team member went on to visit Khmu villages in northern Thailand, where Peters is also working with school development among the Khmu people. Peters’ passion is unmistakable as she talks about her dreams for schools in both the Khmu villages and Chiang Mai, and Teachers Connect team members seem to have caught her passion. Most plan to go again and again. Only two members of this year’s eight-member team were first-timers. Only three from former teams have not returned. Even those who cannot go every year are active team supporters, helping prepare and plan. Peters says many of the team members express joy in being able to use their talents for mission. “They’re taking the gifts God has given them and being a missionary.”
Huebert has been on all three Teachers Connect trips. When asked if he plans to go next year as well, his answer is a quick and sure, “Yes.” Before he has even recovered from jet lag, he is talking about the system for teacher evaluations that he plans to establish next year. Thai teachers have asked Huebert why Teachers Connect keeps coming back and have expressed amazement that, rather than being paid, team members pay their own way. He tells them, “We come back because we love the people. We have a Lord and Savior that we love and he has called us to do this and we just love to come back and do this. That’s why we do it.”