The 'Smooth as Silk' Coup d'etat

Let's be a Canadian when you wake up to the news that your host country's government has fallen to a coup you think the worst. Certainly, I was worried at first. We heard the reports of the army in control of the country, of tanks in the street, but could get no news on the local TV--only patriotic songs interrupted by a recorded statement by someone--who knows who--introducing the new sheriff in town. But then something happened--well actually nothing happened, but that nothing was something. The streets were quiet, no one protesting, no one complaining--in fact a sense of universal relief that the government had been finally replaced without anyone getting hurt.

Western reports decried the coup, but you're hard pressed to find anyone in Thailand who thinks it was a bad idea. The reaction to the coup sheds some more light on Thailand and the thinking here. But let's back up a bit. Many wonder why would we need a coup? Well the democratically elected government was acting undemocratic. A collection of poor decisions, corruption scandels, arrogance, and abuse of power had driven mostly urbanites to their limits of patience--and the Thai are very patient. Now government ineptitude may seem like a familiar story for those of us in Canada and the US, but here authority plays out differently. We think ultimate authority resides with the people, but in Thailand ultimate authority resides with the monarchy and the role of the armed forces is to defend the integrity of the monarchy and the nation. So when the elected government by their policy appeared to jeopardize the integrity of the nation and, indeed the reputation of the monarchy, the armed forces decided to step in.

So we live under martial law, but really little has changed. We have armed soldiers in front of government buildings and tanks here and there, but since about 86% of the population favours the coup, there is little threat to the new order. They tell us this is all temporary, and I suspect that to be the case. Beyond the one day holiday, nothing is different.

But as you can imagine powerful people are affected by the coup, and usually powerful people like to find ways to preserve their power, so this story has yet to be concluded. The initial euphoria following the coup masks the reality of significant divisons in the country. And so as you pray for Thailand consider the words of David in Psalm 65

You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Saviour,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
[You} who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.


Benjamin Peter's first day!

At 9:12am September 5, 2006 Benjamin Peter Dove came into our world weighing in at 4.47 kilos (or 9.85 lbs), 55 cm (or 21.65 inches). Cavelle went into labour at 4:14 am and delivered 9:12am. Like Matthew, Benjamin was delivered in the water. Benjamin and Cavelle are doing well. Matthew is also getting to know his brother and so far has been very gracious and gentle with him. Tuesday
was a beautiful, clear day in Bangkok and will be remembered by us forever. The following our a few pictures. From the top: Does this woman look like she's in labour? Cavelle in-between contractions; just after birth; back in the room; you think it was winter here!; with a nurse; Matthew meets his brother.


What Makes Thailand different?

Many visitors coming to Thailand see the huge malls, the flashy cars, and the modern fashion and conclude that Thailand is not much different from home. However, under that modern exterior you will discover a very unique culture. Here are a couple of examples that recently came to the surface. The first one is a picture from a thai newspaper of university medical students showing their respect to the king during his recuperation from surgery recently. Try to imagine this scene in Canada or the US.

The second is an excerpt from an English speaking paper. This article surveys the multitude of ways Thais prayed for the king during his surgery. You make think Thailand is a Buddhist nation, and that you understand what that means. Read on and see if you are a little surprised.

"A wave of joy rippled through Siriraj Hospital last night after the Royal Household Bureau announced that the spine operation on His Majesty the King was a success. ''Doctors were satisfied with the operation. The outcome was successful and satisfactory. After a period of observation, there were no complications,'' the announcement said.

Thousands had turned out at the hospital to wish His Majesty well before doctors began microsurgery on the lumbar region of his back yesterday afternoon.

In the provinces, people rose early to give alms to monks so the King would benefit from the merit. Then they went their separate ways to perform ceremonies they believed would help speed his recovery.

In Si Sa Ket, people were ecstatic when an ancient stone statue could be lifted three times, believing it to be a prophecy that the King would recover from his illness.

In Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nan and Tak people meditated and performed rituals believed to lengthen life.

''I don't know why I cry when I see him,'' said Panitcha Chandrapanichkul, a third-year medical student at Mahidol University, wiping tears from her cheeks.

''Seeing him (before surgery) is the happiest moment in my life. He stopped to look at us for just a few seconds, but that is enough for me. I want him to recover soon and stay with us forever,'' she said.

Many people flocked to the statue of Prince of Songkhla, the King's father, and uttered in one voice their wish for the King's recovery. They also sang several times the song, Sadudee Maha Raja, in praise of the monarch.

''I cried because the King looked very thin. I don't know how to help him. I just ask the sacred Three Gems to bring good health to him,'' said Niyom Lertsawang, a Bangkok resident.

Across the country, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians met for prayers at 5pm, about an hour after surgery began, to wish the King well.

Several religious gatherings marked the day. In Tak province, more than 200 Muslims congregated to ask blessings for the King. In Yala, another 1,000 Muslims congregated, as did many others in Songkhla. The Chularajmontri called on masjids to organise well-wishing books and prayers. The Catholic Council of Thailand said the King was in all Catholics' prayers.

In Phitsanulok, more than 500 people meditated, asking in particular for the spirit of King Naresuan to protect the King and speed his recovery.

In Ubon Ratchatani, more than 100 people dressed in white in a gesture of sacrifice. Monks chanted all 15 chapters of the Chinna Banchorn prayers so the King may triumph over the odds nine times. In Ayutthaya, at least 20,000 people are expected to converge at the town hall today to light candles and ask the 33 kings of the Ayutthaya period to help speed the King's recovery."


Burmese Refugee Camp

Cavelle recently travelled to Mae Sot to visit a Burmese refugee camp there. Our last blog explained a little of the situation. Much could be said about the visit, but one event in particular stands out.

Over the course of her time in Mae Sot Cavelle had the opportunity to meet with a group of high level pro-democracy leaders. They had all journeyed for days to make the appointment and risked their lives to do so. This was not, however, the first time these people had encountered danger. All of them have spent many years in jail simply because they believe the country deserves better than a un-elected, brutal military junta. One gentleman's story was particularly impactful. He had endured prison for 15 years. He had been starved and tortured and yet when given the opportunity to choose between freedom and give up his fight for democracy, he chose to remain true to the cause. The government offered him freedom if he would only agree to stop his work advocating for a free Burma. He refused and was promptly returned to prison for another four years. Since his release he has continued with his work. He has little to personally gain for his efforts. He willingly offers his adult life, his security and safety because he believes in the rightness of his convictions.

The temptation is to use his example as only a personal challenge. Certainly, it's worth asking if we would do the same for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and you can be sure we have done some personal soul-searching. But, if we only use this story for personal reflection--as worthy as that is--we may forget him. And I don't want to forget him, nor the hundreds of others who tonight sleep in a cold cell, or stand guard in a jungle outpost, or the hundreds of thousands who remain hungry because those who have been entrusted to care for the security and well-being of a nation, can do little more terrorize their own people.

The question has been asked what can we do? We are gathering information to better answer that question. We believe the our government would value seeing more support from Canadians in any effort they make to deal with this issue. We will confirm what avenues are best for those who wish to support the people of Burma. We realize there are many needs in our world, and this is only one--but for us, it is one need that keeps on coming back into our lap. So we pray and look for realistic ways to show our neighbours that they are not forgotten.


Pictures: Top refugee camp main street; school; school children; mother and child




Who is My Neighbour?

Today Cavelle, along with Melissa two of our Thai staff and a Canadian Embassy official travel to Mae Sot in Thailand. They will visit a refugee camp on Monday, and spend considerable time with individuals and agencies helping Burmese suffering under the militray government in Burma (also known as Myanmar). Burma is Thailand's neighbour, and the relative prosperity here makes it easy to forget about the atrocities happening next door. But unspeakable things do happen and deserve to be spoken. The consequence of the situtation in Burma means in Thailand close to 1 million Burmese live here legally and illegally trying to escape the hell of their home. Hundreds of thousands of these people live in refugee camps on Thailands borders. They have been there for over 20 years now with no hope of going home. Burma is not the only needy country in our broken world, but for us it is our neighbour and the situation there often weighs heavily on our heart. We have included and excerpt from a recent Op/ed piece in the Bangkok Post by Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Peter Gabrial to give you a little insight into what is happening today in Burma.

"Today, the world finds itself at odds with another brutal military junta in the Southeast Asian country of Burma, which continues to incarcerate Aung San Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

Suu Kyi's "crime" is being loved by the people of Burma. Her political party won 82 per cent of the seats in parliament in Burma's last democratic election, only to have the results annulled by the ruling military junta. She has remained locked up for 10 of the past 17 years. Many people of Burma fare much worse, suffering the most severe forms of torture.

The situation for ethnic minorities in the country is even worse. The military regime rules by brute force, oppressing and relocating hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities who stand in opposition to its rule. Two thousand eight hundred villages have been burned down or otherwise destroyed in eastern Burma alone, some repeatedly, to force ethnic minorities to move to military-controlled areas. As a result, there are over one million Burmese refugees, and over half a million internally displaced people (IDPs). The situation for both groups is dire. For example, refugees like Naanh Hla (not her real name), a Shan woman, who was 16 years old and seven months pregnant when 10 Burmese soldiers kidnapped and killed her husband and gang-raped her to the point that she gave birth prematurely alone in the jungle, or Naw Paw Paw, who recounted to Burma Issues - a group working with the human-rights organisation WITNESS - how she lost four of her six children, two on the same day, over the course of many years fleeing through the jungle.

In the past four months, the worst attacks in a decade have displaced almost 20,000 people. Yet the junta continues to cut off international access to areas of ongoing conflict, which has precluded aid to IDPs, a violation of international humanitarian law. Even in Sudan, humanitarian agencies are permitted access; not so in eastern Burma.

If caught by the military, IDPs are often either killed on the spot or forced to become porters or labourers with little or no pay. Female porters are often systematically raped at night by officers and soldiers. Forced labourers are often required to build roads for the military, making it near impossible for them to grow their own crops.

The junta military also targets children. According to Human Rights Watch, there are up to 70,000 children conscripted into the army, more than any other country in the world. Some conscripted "soldiers" are as young as eleven." Please remember Cavelle and her team over the weekend, and please remember Burma.