CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 28, 2015 – Eight students from Southeast Missouri State University traveled over 8,000 miles to Khon Kaen, Thailand, this summer where they spent five weeks working with Campus Outreach, an international ministry that encourages college students to focus on Christ and share His word.
Seniors Justin Chaney of Troy, Missouri; Kayla Grimmett of St. Louis, Missouri; Riley James of Monroe City, Missouri; Maddie Lebeter of Morrisonville, Illinois; Morgan Nale of Mt. Zion, Illinois; Nathan Peters of Belleville, Illinois; and Nik Weber of Belleville, Illinois, along with alumnus Cole Criddle of Carbondale, Illinois, traveled together as part of Southeast’s Campus Outreach to work with Thai students.
According to Chaney, the Thais with Campus Outreach Ministry wanted to have a large group participate in hopes of moving the ministry forward. Southeast students helped conduct lessons as well as just hang out and get to know the Thai students. He said he appreciated having other Americans and the English speaking Thai church to help ease the adjustment of being in a different country.
“It takes time, patience and grace from Thai citizens and understanding to get used to the culture,” Chaney said.
A total of 20 Americans, including the Southeast students, went to Thailand to assist with a camp that about 50 Thai college students attended. The first week there, the team trained to teach at the English camp, toured the city and visited a village new to Christianity. The following four weeks were spent working the summer camp.
“Our main purpose for being there was serving the staff, the church, the students and sharing about our savior Jesus Christ,” James said.
The camp consisted mainly of English lessons and baking, photography and fitness workshops during the day, and they would frequently have movie nights and game nights. There was also professional programming to help with skills in mock interviews, public speaking and hearing presentations. James says the leaders were split into four groups, so they could all get closer and invest in each other’s lives.
Both the Thai and American students had to learn to adjust to different cultures.
“It was important to embrace their culture while living there and learning as much of it as possible. They had more respect for you if you learned to live like them instead of trying to bring the American culture to them,” Lebeter said.
In Thai culture, respect among people is extremely important regardless of the relationship and how well people know each other, Lebeter says. She said by being willing and open, it became easier to understand the Thais and their culture.
Criddle says the Thais they worked with were supportive and helpful. He says he liked seeing how much more caring and selfless Thai culture is compared to American culture.
“I think [the trip]is a helpful experience in relating to foreign students on campus and with anyone from a different culture,” Criddle said “The cultural differences took a while to adjust to, and for a while, most social interactions felt unnatural. On the other hand, it was really cool to experience a more collectivist culture.”
Grimmett says the experience helped her realize how blessed she is with everyday items in America because they lived a simpler lifestyle in Thailand without so many luxuries. She enjoyed the opportunity to leave behind distractions and just live with her immediate needs.
“We felt very blessed to have the opportunity to help our friends in Thailand this summer. The Lord used the camp in so many different ways,” Chaney said. “Four students accepted Jesus, and it seems as though we keep receiving news of others getting plugged into Bible studies since we’ve left.”