It was a bright, sunny early afternoon in this small country in Southeast Asia. The day, January 31, 2019, was fairly warm in the low 90s. Several young people buzzed around like busy bees going about final preparations for the big event the next day—the dedication of the newly completed two-story Agricultural Research and Training Center located in the middle of a 12-acre farm in a remote village. Young ladies happily arranged pretty flowers in seven three-foot-high stands made from local materials. Nearby, some young men were putting up a bamboo food stand. The rooms smelled of fresh paint. Beautiful curtains, bought cheap, adorned the rooms. I could feel the joy and excitement in the air.
Soon “Vanida,” who went grocery shopping early that morning for tomorrow’s event, arrived at the Center. It was mid-afternoon. She gave the women instructions regarding the groceries. I watched her, my admiration for her surging. Sweet, hardworking, dedicated, and focused, she has been an excellent help-meet to her husband, Kham. They have this huge vision of taking the gospel to all the 149 tribes and people groups in their country of seven million people.
Then she and I met in one of the rooms for a conversation. This is her story.
Toward a different life
Vanida was born in a Christian family. She’s in her mid-40s now. Her mother, 92, is a strong Christian in their village. Vanida grew up desiring to grow in her faith and in her love for the Lord. Though discipleship opportunities were very limited where her family lived, she committed herself to prayer and became very active in church.
Her parents’ marriage was far from ideal. Her father, a native of Thailand, became a Christian only because the woman he wanted to marry was a Christian. Soon after the wedding, Vanida’s father stopped following Jesus. He had a drinking problem that caused so much hardship for her mother. Growing up, she saw how miserable her mother’s life was. She dreaded the thought of having the kind of marriage her parents had, so she vowed not to marry a non-Christian. Several young men in their community had showed a keen interest in her, but in her heart she strongly desired to marry a pastor. She loved the Lord and wanted her life to count for him.
The young man Kham lived in the same town and went to the same church Vanida attended. His family had a good relationship with Vanida’s family. His father, who was responsible for the cooperatives in their sub-district, had helped her family with some land problems they encountered when the government changed hands.
Kham courted Vanida in an unorthodox way. He did not talk about love or feelings. Instead, with great passion, he talked with her about his vision and God’s mission. She didn’t mind this kind of conversation, for she considered Kham to be a brother in the Lord. What she saw gradually drew her to him—a Christian man who served God well. She found a spiritual connection with Kham that transcended human emotions. She bought into his vision. It was exciting! They talked about how they could serve God as single individuals and also after marriage. Their unconventional courtship went on for three years and culminated in their wedding on December 31, 1995.
Vanida and Kham have a daughter and two sons. But even before their first-born came, they had taken in and cared for children in their home. These were children of new believers who lived far from the school. So they took them in and raised them like their own children. Vanida’s love for children springs from her heart of kindness and mercy. Her tender heart goes out to poor and needy children, and she wants to help them and care for them.
Compelled by love to risk everything
At the height of the severe government persecution of Christians in 1999–2000, many pastors Vanida and Kham knew were killed. Others were arrested and jailed. Several friends urged Vanida and Kham to move away and possibly even relocate to the U.S. They talked and prayed through it, seeking God’s direction. In the end, their love for their native land compelled them to stay—they wanted their countrymen to know the Lord.
They did decide, though, to seek some relief from the government hostilities and violent persecution that was particularly severe in the southern region where they lived. Vanida, Kham, and their three young children (the youngest only a year old) moved closer to the capital in the central part of the country. It was a difficult journey. They traveled for two days and two nights, with only a small, modified plowing tractor as transport, until they reached a small village farm near the capital—their new home.
Life went on in their new place. The couple resolutely pursued their vision—claiming their country for Christ. They needed co-workers, though, for such an ambitious vision. God showed them one thing they could do: adopt children from tribes around the country, nurture and disciple them in their home, and later on send them back to their villages as missionaries.
Presently, Vanida and Kham have 22 children from seven different tribes staying with them. Of the children they had adopted over the years, six have grown up, been discipled, and moved on. Most of them have followed the example set by Vanida and Kham. They also love children and have taken in some into their homes, raising them to become missionaries as well.
Vanida finds her greatest joy in taking care of children. It is her way of somehow giving back to the Lord in return for all he has done. She makes it a point to impress upon the children the importance of serving God in whatever way possible.
Managing a household with 25 children
I wondered how Vanida managed a family with three children of their own and 22 others coming from different backgrounds and ethnicities. She told me, “I train the children to help one another, to serve each other. I use God’s word in encouraging them and teaching them. I tell them not to forget that God sees everything we do.”
She does not believe in assigning specific duties to her children. “If I assign them a specific thing to do, maybe they will do it because they feel obligated,” she explained. Then she added, “They will do the work because it’s their duty and not do it from their heart.” She never asks them to do things for her, like wash her clothes. “I respect them, then they respect me.”
The children get along well with one another. They help around the house without being told or supervised. They know what to do, and they do it with joy in their hearts. Some of them tend to the kitchen, others care for the garden and animals, and others help with farm chores. The boys have even helped their father with several building projects: a simple house for Kham’s parents, a house for the boys, a house for the girls, and, recently, a separate small house for Vanida and Kham.
At the end of our conversation, a teary-eyed Vanida said, “Thank you! Because God has blessed you, you blessed us. We don’t know each other but because of the love of God, he sent you to come and bless us, and I really thank the Lord for it. We cannot see Jesus our Lord. But we see him through people. We saw the love of God through people and it greatly encourages us. Sometimes we pray with tears, not out of sadness but because of joy.”
Only Jesus can do it
Referring to the Agricultural Research and Training Center to be dedicated the following day, she remarked, “We are very thankful to the Lord. Only Jesus can do it! The building is from him. This is beyond our ability to have this. On our own, we can’t have this. This is really a gift from the Lord.”
The Center, a long-time dream of Vanida and her husband Kham, will equip people, especially the young, with farming skills to make them useful and productive members of their communities as their land is primarily agricultural. In the evenings they will be taught the Bible and missions. The Center will produce both agricultural harvesters and harvesters of souls.
Names and places were altered to protect these precious believers and those they work with. Photos by Marlou Barredo/ANM (2019).