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Evelyn Adamson*

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Sea Gypsies in Thailand relish Wasana Moonsiti’s weekly visits

KOH PAYAM, Thailand (BP) -- Wasana Moonsiti closes her eyes and leans back, fighting seasickness as the boat rolls through the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea toward the island of Koh Payam, Thailand. There a small group of Moken people await her arrival, as they do every weekend.

The Moken, or Sea Gypsies as they are commonly known, are semi-nomadic sea dwellers whose primary sources of income are fishing and gathering shells. Coasting into the dock, the boat slows to a stop. Moonsiti's traveling companion, International Mission Board worker Alyssa Branding*, climbs down the steep, steel stairs to ready packages for the final leg of the journey to the Moken village. Friends since 2004, Branding and Moonsiti find their lives and ministries often intersect. "Wasana stays at the Moken village every weekend, I usually help her ministry on Saturdays," Branding said. Tasked with her own ministry among migrant factory workers in the seaside town of Ranong, Thailand, Branding believes it is vital to support believers in the pursuit of their calling. "We may not have the same calling, but it is still important, as a believer, to help Wasana reach those she is called to share with," Branding said as she stacked packages. Moonsiti slides her feet across the wobbly wooden plank to carry packages to dockworkers, who form an assembly line to help unload the cargo. Boxes filled with snacks, food, medical equipment and Bible stories are catalysts Moonsiti uses in sharing the Gospel among the Moken. Today, Moonsiti taxis across the island, but normally she prefers to save money and walk, saying, "If I can walk, I save money to buy more things for the children." Branding and Moonsiti use motorcycle taxis to zip over hills and through the tropical trees to a small beach on the southern end of the island. Dropping their bags at a hotel, they begin the final leg of the trip down the beach. The women pause to remove their shoes and roll up their pant legs. Moonsiti's eyes sparkle and a smile tugs at her lips while she updates Branding on recent village events. Reaching the canal crossing, Moonsiti wades straight through, greeting the jumping, waving and swimming children awaiting her arrival. Moonsiti is fortunate the tide is still low. "If the big tide is in, it gets quite rough," Moonsiti said as water sloshed around her feet. "I cannot [go through] then, so I wait, sometimes two hours, [before crossing]."