Peder Madsen Jorgensen, who has been more closely involved with the lives of the poor rural people of Thailand than any other living Dane today, celebrates on Sunday 27 September the 80th birthday of his adventurous life.
Peder Jorgensen and his wife Ruth Eleanor Jorgensen – born Leed – lived altogether 22 years in Thailand as missionaries; first 1962-71 in Central Thailand and then in North East Thailand from 1983 to 1995.
The couple has since several times revisited the country on shorter travels.
Son of a farmer, Peder grew up in Bøvl Mark near Sønder Omme in Denmark. This hands-on knowledge of farming and the mentality of farmers became useful during his stay among farmers in the North East of Thailand.
Peder Jorgensen was educated deacon from Filadelfia in Dianalund in Soroe and had worked at Kirkens Korshaers Nicolai Tjeneste in Copenhagen. Ruth was educated a midwife. When they left for their first period in Thailand, the couple had already two children, a three year old daughter Kirsten, who had been accompanying her parents on a language training course in England, and the only five month old son Thorkild. Later they had one more daughter, Anne-Marie during their stay in Thailand.
In her book published a few years ago, “Fra Limfjorden til Mekhong” http://www.blissart.
During their first period in Thailand, from 1962 to 1972, Peder and Ruth were on an assignment for OMF – Overseas Missionary Fellowship. While Ruth worked as a midwife, it was Peder’s task to work with people with leprosy in Nongbua in Nakornsawan and Manorom in Chainat in the western part of Central Thailand. Leprosy was at that time still quite wide spread. It was an uphill task to teach the population about new medicines that could cure the disease and help the ones already disabled by it. Most of them lived as professional beggars. Among his achievements during his work in Nongbua was the creation of a hospital and leprosy rehabilitation center for OMF. The patients were here surrounded by a farming area of 80 hectare of land which could sustain up to 100 families. At the time this was built, 1966, the Thai population was only 32 million people.
For Peder Jorgensen, bringing Christ to people is only one side of being a missionary. But the living proof of Christ is to work to alleviate the poverty of the people around him. When someone took to his good example and wanted to be baptized, he always asked a local Thai priest to baptize the newly converted Christian.
In 1972, the couple returned to Denmark after nine years – interrupted by a few breaks – in Thailand and settled in Karup in Jutland. The main reason was the consideration for the school education of their three children. Ruth became mid-wife for the region and Peder found employment with the local municipality until a few years later he became secretary general for the Santalmissionen.
But in 1984 Peder and Ruth returned to Thailand again, this time to Phibun Mangsahan north of Ubon Ratchathani in the Northeast of Thailand on a mission for the Norwegian Missionary Society. It was during this period, that Peder and Ruth Jorgensen started the project of building a home for bright children of poor people who this way would get the chance to take a higher education. This home, Ban Immanuel, became the crown of their work in Thailand. It made it possible for for hundreds of young people in the area to move up in the Thai society and achieve positions they would otherwise never have been able to.
Another achievement was in 1994 to built a Church in Phibun Mangsahan. The unique octagonal building is designed by the Danish architect Henrik Chr. Thomsen. The bell tower next to the church received the bell from Hjortshoej Church near Aarhus in Denmark. The building and the Church bell are still there, but under the influence of Thai lack of understanding of maintenance, the Danish legacy is slowly falling apart.
Peder Jorgensen has always been fascinated by the old skills of the rural Thai people and the tools of their skills. He found it genius how the managed to use simple materials available in their natural surroundings to produce tools to exist in harmony with nature. He started early on collecting rarities simply out of curiosity. As his collection grew he soon became more systematic and over more than fifty years he has diligently built up the number of specimens and value of this collection. Often these items were simply daily household tools that he was keenly aware would soon no longer exist.
For many years, the collection was the pride of his large study in his home near Ikast in Denmark, but over the past few years, the majority of the artifacts have been cataloged and transferred to the Thailand collection at Moesgaard Museum’s near Arhus in Denmark where they will be preserved for the future.
For Moesgaard Musuem, the collection is unique because many of the old skills, production methods and trades no longer exits.
In 2001, when it was decided to establish a major exhibition in Bangkok during the upcoming State Visit to Thailand of H.M. Queen Margrethe of Denmark, Peder Jorgensen was called upon to establish this together with Sigurd Rambusch of the National Danish Archive and then curator at Moesgaard Museum, Professor Jesper Trier.
H.M. the Queen opened the exhibition on 8 February at the National Museum of Thailand in Bangkok. It presented examples of the long and close relationship and cooperation between Denmark and Thailand including the archaeological work of Dr. Pensak Howitz, wife of the former Danish ambassador to Thailand.
Peder Jorgensen had shortly before this event published a book by Major Erik Seidenfaden entitled “The Royal Siamese Provincial Gendarmerie” in which Major Seidenfaden had served for a number of years. Peder Jorgensen noticed when going through material at the National Archives in Copenhagen that it said that Major Seidenfaden had written a book, but it had never been published. Curious, Peder Jorgensen found the manuscript in Bangkok and with the help of benevolent foundations he managed to have it published. The book is today only available as second hand.
Friend of Thailand
Peder Jorgensens love for Thailand and the Thais have also led him to undertake numerous trips as a guide to Thailand for Danish travel agents and readers of a range of Danish local papers.
In 2010 he received official recognition for his dedication to introducing Thailand to the many groups he had been leading around the country when the Tourism Authority of Thailand awarded him the Friends of Thailand award.
The year after, in 2011, Peter Jorgensen and Ruth visited Thailand and Phibun Mangsahan for the last time so far. The visit was to inaugurate a new building at the Immanuel home which Peder Jorgensen had worked tirelessly to collect 600.000 Danish kroner – over 2 Million Thai Baht – for the construction of. The new building increased the capacity of the home with another 16 boys and 16 girls to a total of 60 students. The existing building that Peder and Ruth erected during their time in Thailand was at the same time given a thorough maintenance check-up.
Peder Jorgensen’s 80 year birthday will be celebrated with his wife Ruth, who over the recent years has suffered from a number of rheumatic and other illnesses, as well as with the couple’s three children.
It has been this writer’s privilege over the years to write several articles about Peder Jorgensen. Here are links to some of them: