Diving Into The Past: An Unexpected, Delightful Trip to Payap University’s Christian Archives

 |  March 27, 2019

I accompanied fellow Citylife Intern Will to Payap in search of archives on Christian missionaries in Thailand for an article he was putting together. Payap University sits on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, a good 20 minute drive away from the heart of the city. The buildings boast beautiful traditional architecture spread across the campus, just a few minutes’ walk from quaint cafes and a quiet shopping area.

After briefly getting lost and going to the wrong library, we tracked down the university’s library and were welcomed in from the heat by a friendly receptionist. We were swiped in with a smile and invited to peruse the quiet hallways, heavy with the serious, invigorating air of academia.

An elevator took us up to the third floor where, to the left of at least twenty rows of library stacks, sat a small glass-in room with a few tables and shelves of its own. The sign at the door read ‘Archives, Payap University, The Foundation of the Church of Christ in Thailand’.

We were greeted by two older women who peered over their glasses while helping Will sift through relevant materials that they had clearly taken extensive hours to familiarise themselves with. They opened each book with an infectious energy, taking us on a paper journey through decades of missionary history in Thailand. Documents and accounts, records and files on microfilm awaited Will’s eager eyes.

I tried to pay attention, but was quickly distracted by the contents of the shelves across the room from me. I reached for the oldest looking books I could set my hands on. The browning pages crinkled between my fingers, were delicate to the touch, and gave off a sweet smell each time I opened the covers. I spent that hour or so diving deep into an early twentieth century edition study bible’s First Corinthians section, marvelling at each crease and dog-eared page. I also opened an old, rebound travel account to find an early map of Thailand, with details so tightly drawn that it was hard to tell where the borders between the countries were. It was beautiful.

There’s something magical about archives. It’s hard not to hold a book in your hand that’s older than you are and not wonder who first acquired it and absorbed its author’s wisdom. The accessibility of this small room, and the warmth of the women who led us around was both humbling and encouraging.

If you’re looking for a place to do research, or even a quiet place to focus, taking the time to seek out lesser known nooks, like these archives, might be worth your while. The calming energy is a little less distracting than a coffee shop, and a little more motivating than your living room – it’s the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon.

Have your own study hideout? Tell us about it!

The archives are open til 4:30pm and the library til 6pm everyday. Anyone with an ID can enter. The library opens at 8am Mondays through Fridays, and 10am on Saturdays and Sundays.