Last November, faculty and students at William Jewell College and Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo., made a commitment to “Get Stronger” by strengthening their global presence. Through this collaborative effort, they realized a need in Thailand and Myanmar to aid immigrants and refugees in southeast Asia. In January, five members of Second Baptist and two William Jewell students traveled to Thailand to take the next step.
The team of seven men learned about the services of the Upland Holistic Development Project and visited three Hill Tribe villages. Founded in 1996 by Rick Burnett, the foundation of UHDP is based upon a Christian perspective of “Creation Care,” employing a church-based outreach to the Hill Tribe Villages. This approach includes three areas:
1. Environmental Emphasis — crop rotation, soil management, limited pesticides or herbicides, seed banks, agroforestry
2. Human Rights — advocates for citizenship matters, fair trade growers
3. Economic — holistic family-based income diversity, financial management workshops, food security
A connection to UHDP came from Second Baptist Senior Pastor Jason Edwards and his wife, Christy, who served in Thailand several years ago as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Edwards traveled with the team in January, along with Mike Lassiter, associate pastor of community care and missions at Second Baptist.
“Our church likes to partner locally,” Lassiter said. “We are building a relationship with a Karen congregation that meets at Grace Baptist Church in Gladstone. The Karen are a large ethnic group that has emigrated to northern Thailand and to the U.S. out of Myanmar in recent years due to religious persecution and human rights issues. William Jewell provides a ‘Journey Grant’ to students for experiential learning trips.”
Jeff Buscher, chaplain at William Jewell and a member of the January team, spoke of the impact on students who were part of that team.
“Biology majors Daniel Bittel and Christian Wyatt expressed the value of being immersed in another culture,” says Buscher. “They were inspired by the work being done by our partners at UHDP and also by the tenacity and the resourcefulness of the Hill Tribe people we were able to visit. They affirmed the importance of engaging other cultures in ways that are empowering to the people with whom we partner.”
Prior to the trip, physics students completed projects related to solar lighting and solar resources for the village. These were donated to the UHDP campus for use in rural settings. Blane Baker, professor of physics at William Jewell, led Bittel, Wyatt and other students to build an aquaponics system at a Village Partner school in Urban Kansas City. This experience provided the skills needed to construct the system for the UHDP center in Thailand.
According to Baker, the villager’s main priorities are sanitation, water resources and food. The village of Toong Kwang Tong is located on land that was originally rice paddles. With sand filtration, water is accessible for washing clothes and bathing. However, further testing is needed to ensure that safe drinking water is available.
William Jewell and Second Baptist plan to return to continue partnering with UHDP.
“Our church plans a longtime partnership with the college that includes a focus on women and needs of the Thailand people,” Lassiter said. “Other exploration trips are in the works also.”
Carolyn Tomlin is co-author of “The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister” and teaches the Boot Camp for Christian Writers.