By Karynthia A. G. Phillips
The pilgrimage to Thailand with the Women’s Leadership Initiative team from Central Tennessee was for me a demonstrative portrait of God’s creative work. The various organizations we visited presented an orientation to missions, social entrepreneurship and educational opportunities with an interfaith focus. Each organization revealed the importance of utilizing natural resources, gifts and talents to nurture and elevate those suffering various forms of oppression.
The overall experience confirms the great need for laborers in local and foreign soils to return to the mission of God . . . the bottom line is there is work to be done. I observed many issues of parallelism and some that can be contrasted during this cultural emersion such as the oppression of women and many ethnic minority groups.
Amidst the oppression it was refreshing to observe during Sunday worship that the pianist has a doctorate and the oral translator an M.Div. Yes, both females. Women also addressed the congregation from the pulpit. The pilgrimage further disclosed how effective seminary trained women can be in leadership positions globally. Their preparation for leadership via life and seminary enabled unique strategies and utilization of resources to create change.
For example, Annie Dieselberg founder and CEO of NightLight International went with her husband (the missionary) and she was expected to teach Sunday school per the missionary board, but she saw greater needs on the streets of Bangkok. She chose to serve as an advocate to decrease prostitution, human trafficking, and the demise of young girls and women. Working in an interfaith environment she creatively chose to be an example of a compassionate presence.
Dieselberg opened a coffee house over 10 years ago that serves more than coffee. There street women find compassion and rest. On the floors above the coffee shop is a weekly “Beauty Shop” where women can receive facials, manicures, and a listening ear. She continues practicing evangelism and discipleship with a flavor of social entrepreneurship as she trains the indigenous women to see their own value and to take control of their lives using skills to bake and decorate wedding cakes, design jewelry, screen print t-shirts, and sell other goods to make a living.
Taking the lead can appear frightening when you see the need outweighing resources financially. I thought about the elephant show we attended and how the elephants are trained in three years to paint a portrait with their trunks. Who would have thought it was possible? Thinking out loud I said “if elephants can be trained to paint in three years, Central can train the WLI team to do ministry!” It was funny, but it has extinguished my fear and encouraged me to continue pursuing learning new skills, to engage in interfaith dialogue, and to effectively communicate the gospel anywhere I am found serving humanity.
The elephants received a standing ovation. Who should have been praised? Max Lucado said, “a leader is not great because they have power but because of their ability to empower others.” The young men who trained those elephants required patience, passion for their career, and insight that the elephant would learn. Similar to leaders at Central, it is not their position of power that make them great leaders but their ability to empower students to become effective in ministerial leadership.
The pilgrimage to Thailand disclosed God gracing ordinary people to achieve what appeared impossible proving little becomes much when you place human limitations into the hands of God. The fortitude seen in the innovation to sustain and reproduce life naturally was vivid at each facility visited.
This trip reinforced the idea that mentorship and leadership requires more than influence to empower others to change. It requires creating a sense of trust with consistency of presence to build confidence through relationship with those who observe you to determine if they will follow.
All I can say is, “W.O.W”! I aspire to be a “Woman Of Worth” creating change as modeled by the women of Thailand.