Christmas ornaments change lives in Thailand - Word&Way

Christmas ornaments change lives in Thailand

BANGKLA, Thailand (BP)—Ponpit Sayom uses a silver pen to sketch miniature figures of the wise men from the Christmas story and then cuts out the velvet ornaments that will hang on trees in countless American homes during the holidays.

Thai Country Trim employs dozens of rural Thai women who work from their home to make Christmas ornaments, enabling them to make an income as they care for their children.

However, Christmas isn't celebrated in her home in Thailand. To her unbelieving family, Jesus is just another man. On Christmas Day, Sayom simply goes alone to church to celebrate her Savior's birth.

Food must still be earned, and her grandchildren need tending to. Sayom is the main breadwinner for her family of eight, especially since her husband's work has suffered setbacks from heavy rain and flooding. She prays one day her family will listen to the story represented in the ornaments she makes.

Sayom earns her wages by making hand-stitched Christmas ornaments for Thai Country Trim, a 25-year-old ministry that provides livelihood for rural Thai women.

Thai Country Trim employs 22 full-time workers at the ministry center — all Christians who lead Bible studies and small groups. The ministry also employs dozens of women who work from home, which allows them to make an income as they care for their children.

Thai Country Trim was the first artisan group in the Woman's Missionary Union WorldCrafts program that began in 1996 and now has national artisans in 33 countries.

WMU's support and promotion allows Thai Country Trim to employ more workers, director Cheryl Derbyshire said.

Derbyshire finds great joy in watching lives change as the 22 full-time workers share the gospel with the women who work from home who aren't Christians. Sayom, who has worked for Thai Country Trim for 20 years, is one of the full-time workers.

Sayom seems like the type of woman who'd spend her time in a rocking chair, sipping tea while rocking a grandchild to sleep.

But Sayom rarely has an idle moment. She spends her days and nights meticulously checking the stitching on Christmas ornaments. If a stitch is out of place, the entire ornament must be scrapped.

She rises at 5 a.m. to get her grandchildren ready for school. Then she heads to the Thai Country Trim center and draws and cuts out the figures of Christmas characters.

After working from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she returns home to cook for her family, feed and bathe her grandchildren and tend to her aging father who has Alzheimer's.

After others are in bed, she sits cross-legged on her linoleum floor and sews angel ornaments by the light of a fluorescent bulb until midnight to earn extra income.

To pass the time as she sews and decorates ornaments, Sayom sings praise songs and whispers prayers for her family. She's caring for three generations, her father, her children and her grandchildren.

A friend introduced Sayom to Thai Country Trim and helped her get a position making ornaments. She never had love before, she explains as tears form behind her silver glasses — tears of hurt, heartache and healing. Her father was always mean to her, she said, and her mom died when she was 7. Sayom said she grew up lonely and longing for love.

"When he's old, I don't want to take care of him," Sayom once told her brother.

But things changed when Sayom started working at Thai Country Trim. She learned she had value. She received praise for her handiwork and began taking pride in her work.

In weekly Bible studies that are a part of the workday at the ministry center, Sayom heard God is like a father and loves her unconditionally. She saw his love in her coworkers' lives.

"My Christian friends loved me," Sayom says. The love the Christian workers showed her stirred her to believe in Christ.

Because of Christ's love, she says she's able to love her father. After a major surgery, her father needed to live with one of his children. He asked if he could live with her.

"I didn't want to," she admits. "But thanks to God, because when I came to know God, God changed my mind to love my dad."

God is changing her father's heart too. Although still not a Christian, he treats Sayom with more respect now.

Derbyshire has watched Sayom's transformation. As her self-esteem rose, she began to reach out to others. Sayom started working at home and has now moved to a full-time position working at the center. She helps lead weekly Bible studies with women who haven't believed yet.

Because of Thai Country Trim, Sayom is able to support herself and her family. She has a Christian community who supports her and nurtures her.

Life is still hard for Sayom. Her family has yet to believe. As mother to both her children and to her four grandchildren, she must continue to provide for them financially.

But, "God's greater," Sayom said, smiling.