Every year I like to reflect some on the Feast and my (admittedly subjective) impressions on it. This year is no different, so I would like to do so now that I have gotten back to “home,” so to speak and had a good night’s sleep. This year I have a slightly different perspective on the Feast given my large amount of activity in helping to make it work, including helping to plan the schedule, deal with various logistical matters, and speak often.
First, though, let me talk about the location and the audience for the Feast of Tabernacles. The location for the entire 2011 Feast of Tabernacles for me was Khun Yuam, Thailand, a slow-paced but very beautiful mountain town in the Mae Hong Son province of Thailand roughly halfway between Mae Sariang to the south and Mae Hong Son to the north. The town has historical appeal, given the fact that it was a base for the Japanese during World War II (when Thailand was an ally of Japan), and is an immensely beautiful valley town, millennial even, even though few Westerners seem to travel there. The hillside views in and near town are stunning, and well worth the visit to any nature watchers. Once the Japanese War Memorial is finished the trip will reward historians of the Second World War as well (who are now limited to seeing a rusted truck outside of the airfield that has been converted to a soccer field).
The audience for this year’s feast was mixed in an unusual way. We had 8 students, one spouse, and one adorable little baby come from our Legacy school for the whole Feast of Tabernacles in Khun Yuam. Two additional students, as well as an employee (who is married to the leader of the Mae Surin Refugee camp church group and has a very large family of her own) and a Burmese deacon and his wife and younger son, spent the middle part of the Feast in Khun Yuam and the remainder of the Feast in Chiang Mai. Despite the fact that the majority of the students are not from Sabbath-keeping backgrounds, they seemed to enjoy themselves (we played a lot of games to help us get to know each other), and attended and helped out at the daily services and Bible studies very thoughtfully. Additionally, we had a father and his two sons come from the Mae Rama Luang refugee camp near Mae Sariang (the mother was unable to come because she does not have a Thai ID), and we had ten refugees, most of whom came from the family of Saw Say Htoo and his wife Naw Mya (our Karen cleaning lady) and their four children, along with some friends and other relatives, who all came from the Mae Surin refugee camp (which is not too far away from the beautiful waterfall that I fearlessly and foolishly climbed up during the Feast). Additionally, we had three couples from the United States, of whom I knew a little beforehand—the Grinnells—who visited Khun Yuam for part of the Feast as well. Beside that there were the Sextons, my fellow Legacy Instructor Erika, and myself.
I had cause to remember this feast that it has been a long time since I had a feast off. I suppose most people go to the Feast and have a relaxing time of fine dining, but somehow or another I always find myself serving at the feast in some capacity. I suppose I can’t bear to let something go undone if I know I am capable of doing it, and so I have spent many feasts singing, serving as an usher, translating, and this year I added a very heavy speaking schedule to that (the opening service, two offertories, five sermons, and three bible studies) besides a couple days of songleading. Planning and organizing a feast site takes a lot of work, and in addition to my public duties I had a fair amount of behind the scenes work, including discipline, scheduling, and helping to serve the needs of refugee families who needed transportation to and from their camps as well as extra food to supplement their meager rations, as well as planning room assignments and dealing with bus transportation, lunch, and pickup on our way back. Thankfully I had plenty of help in that regard. I cannot say that I am skilled at logistics, but at least I have an interest in it, which helps. Most feasts will seem relaxing and easy in comparison to the work that I had to do for this feast, that is for certain, even by my exacting standards.
The social atmosphere of the Feast was lovely—we had a small group (never exceeding 50 people), the hotel staff at the Mithkhunyuam (Friendly Khun Yuam) hotel was very accommodating and gracious—and we all ate together and did most of our activities together, which was nice. Some of the refugee kids were more bold than others (Julius Ceasar Htoo and Sun Nay Htoo—not related—stand out in this regard) and we all had a good time. It was not a feast for romance or relationships, at least not for me, and though not all feasts are notable in that regard (especially mine), it would be nice for a future feast to fill this regard, given my past few feasts have been terribly uneven as far as romance is concerned.
I would normally comment on the feast messages, but the fact that I gave more than half of them means that my comments must be somewhat limited in this regard, as there is little that I could say about my own messages that would not come across as either bragging or false modesty. I was most pleased with the short Bible Study of Mr. MyuZaw of Burma. Though his message was short, his theme of Christianity not being limited to one ethnicity came across well even in translation. Likewise, it was obvious that Mr. Grinnell has skill in translating his personal experiences into deep spiritual meaning. I tend to avoid personal stories in my own messages, except in oblique comments. Mr. Sexton re-used a sermon from Legacy that he had given on Armageddon and had a different approach as well. I thought the mixture of speakers and the difference in our approaches made for a more balanced presentation, though I’m not sure how much the refugees understood because of the weakness of our translation effort from English into Karen and the complexity of my messages.
For the most part, the food was alright, but not great, though the ice cream appears to have been a big hit around the board. As can be imagined, I was most fond of strawberry ice cream and strawberry and orange popcicles. As a whole, the Feast was a very good one. I’m not sure I would consider it my best feast, but it certainly has a place in the upper division, below those feasts that were obviously great (1996 in Esquipulas, Guatemala, 1998 in Jekyll Island, 2000 in Maitencillo, Chile, and 2008 in Mendoza, Argentina spring to mind) and somewhere around the next tier of solidly good feasts like 1989 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, 1991 in Spokane, 1999 in Lihue, 2004 in Anessy, France, 2006 in Turkey, and 2007 in Jordan/Israel. In short, this was a very good feast, if a very busy one, and certainly an enjoyable one. I hope it was as worthwhile and enjoyable to everyone else there, and I hope I helped make it so for others.