BOOK REVIEW: FEET ON THE MOUNTAIN
Dick has provided a valuable resource for those who already are or will be interested in what happened between 1950 and 2000 to bring ethnic minority groups into full participation in Thailand’s national development and then citizenship. Feet on the Mountain is a memoir, not an autobiography or history, but it has elements of both of those. Dick tells what he became involved with, and in that way augments narrations from an eye-witness perspective about a number of controversial topics. They include Air America’s method of operation, how the King and Queen of Thailand went about their work, the success of the crop substitution program to replace opium production with other cash crops – especially coffee and fruit, the Thai “War on Drugs,” and the impact of modernization through road construction and Thai-ization through education. At the same time Dick preserves the names of key Karen pastors and village leaders who might not make it into other accounts.
In the process of writing missionary memoirs one tendency, which Dick certainly avoids, is to minimalize the role of non-Christian agents. Official government accounts also tend to downplay Christian contributions to national processes. Dick gives full credit to those with and for whom he worked. His main employer was the mission boards of the American Baptist Churches USA (aka “Northern Baptists”). Dick and Marlene were missionaries. Then for 20 years out of 55 in Thailand, Dick was seconded to the United Nations. This brought him into government, international, and Thai Royal circles in a unique way. I know of no other post-World War II missionary couple with such extensive royal connections.
For those of us concerned about historical data, Dick provides a trove of statistics and descriptions. He talks about the Center for the Uplift of Hill Tribes; Baw Gaow, Babaekee, Musakee, and Mae Sariang; agricultural mission work; and the troubled transition from isolation to inclusion for the people of the hill villages. His impelling description of the Thai Tribal Narcotics Detoxification and Rehabilitation Project (and the Center) is first-hand and important.
It is impressive how literal Dick’s “feet on the mountain” were. A substantial amount of his 450 pages is taken with descriptions of his many days-long hikes with Boy Scouts, with missionaries, with a prince, with Karen Christians, and one memorable time by himself (not counting the forest demon who tried to kill him).
Consequential to all these tales is the conclusion that missionaries will not be hiking through the mountains of North Thailand like that anymore because all those places are now accessible by roads. Dick’s generation of missionaries produced children who continue in service in Thailand. But this next generation’s stories might better be called “Wheels on the Mountains.”
[Richard S. Mann. Feet on the Mountain. Pittsburgh: Dorrance, 2020. Forward by Denis D Gray, former chief of bureau, Associated Press. 450 pages including pictures and charts. List price $30. Dorrance is a publishing service (formerly called a vanity press).]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.