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Missionary visits local church that supports her work in Thailand

For four years, Ruth Fox and her husband, Chuck have heard about First Baptist Church in Ironton, but they could never put faces with those names that, over the years became familiar ones to them.

The Foxes are missionaries to Thailand with the American Baptist Association. The Ironton church is one of the congregations that support them in their work.

Last week, Ruth Fox got to shake the hands that have folded in prayer for her so often during the last four years. Fox visited during the church's annual homecoming week celebration.

"This is my first trip to Ironton," Fox said with a smile. "I didn't even know Ironton existed until I saw the name on missionary reports. It's great to make a personal connection. I feel like I have made friends here, and it's good for them to see who it is that they're supporting and hear about what kind of things we're doing."

Fox and her husband, and their children, Rachel, 14, Rebecca, 13 and Kenny, 10 ,live and work with the Akha people in the Chiang Rai province of Northern Thailand. The Akha are a hill country tribe that originated in China, but migrated to Laos and Northern Thailand in the 1900s, with most arriving in the last 30 years. The Akha are traditionally animist, spirit-worshipping people. They began converting to Christianity approximately 40 years ago.

"They are considered the lowest of the low," Fox said. "They suffer from illiteracy, low income; they have one of the highest incidences of AIDS; there is prostitution, drugs. It's a real challenge. There are many needs, and sometimes, it's a bit overwhelming. Everywhere we turn, we see poverty and difficulty. These people struggle with issues such as land ownership and citizenship."

Fox said in addition to sharing the gospel, their missionary work includes a shelter for women and children who need to get out of critical situations. The Foxes also teach English and music and provide women's ministry programs. Chuck Fox works to train local pastors and teachers Bible classes.

Fox said she is continuing a work started by one of her predecessors on the mission field, and promoting Akha Craft, the marketing of Akha hand-made goods in the larger Thai cities.

"Chuck and I are into things that will enable them to not be dependent on money hand-outs but will help them in their own lives to be self-sufficient," Fox explained.

For the rest of this year, the Fox family is stateside, speaking at churches and sharing stories of how American churches are helping spread the message of Christ and helping change lives a world away in Thailand.

"I feel blessed to be involved in an exciting ministry," Fox said. "We're just the hands and feet of the people here supporting us. I feel like we're there to serve God. We're just the instruments, and we are able to be because of churches like First Baptist in Ironton."