Archive for the ‘ Thailand ’ Category

Fields of Green

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There’s something beautiful and mysterious about seasonal rhythms of cultivating, sowing, fertilizing, waiting, believing and reaping.  But like a piece of art, a description of its beauty and mystery can’t do justice to entering into the rhythms yourself.

Though laboring over a crop in extreme temperatures may not be particularly enjoyable to most (as I’ve often been reminded by our resident teens and a few adults), the process as a whole is irreplaceable.

Rice harvest is fast approaching; November will mark our second year harvesting a crop.  Last year we harvested with seven teens; this year there’ll be closer to a dozen putting their hands to the sickle, not counting us “big kids” that can’t seem to finagle our way out of the hard labor ourselves.  Having spent the last year eating the fruits of their labor (literally… the rice we harvested ourselves fed our household of 20 for about eight months), the girls have been diligently monitoring this year’s rice crop and praying for its increase.

Rice 2013

We also tackled a slightly more intense project earlier this year by planting a couple acres of sugarcane.  It was a far more laborious process than the rice, and a great deal of blood, sweat and tears went into the ground prep, planting, fertilizing, irrigating and weeding processes.  But now as the sugarcane stalks tower far over our heads, the girls are proud and amazed that their labor could turn into something this great.  We’ll cut the first round early in 2014 and the proceeds will go toward a scholarship savings program for our teen girls.  More photos here.

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I confess there have been times I’ve doubted this strategy.  None of us are experts in rice or sugarcane, and I’m pretty sure we’ve provided some comedic relief to our neighbors (who pity us and pitch in to help).  But the process of diving in together has been priceless.    Though the girls complain a good deal through the process, I’ve heard more than one add with a thoughtful tilt of the head… “but it’s fun as long as we get to work together.  And I like seeing it grow.”

Together we grow.

For more frequent updates, check out our new Breakthrough Thailand page on Facebook!

In a Year

It’s both crazy and amazing to look back over the last 12 months.  From my previous blog post where I asked questions like… “can we really be adequate interim foster parents of two Thai teens?” …to now, the journey seems almost surreal.

A few highlights from then to now:

  1. I became “aunt” to two, and then six, Thai teen girls.  In January 2012 Jub and I agreed to temporarily take in two teenagers in a tough spot.  Three more precious girls joined us in March and, after learning their stories, made that “temporary” decision seem a little less temporary (…see #2).  The sixth came to join us in October.
  2. In May, our small team officially relocated from Bangkok to a small village in Khon Kaen province in the Northeast (Isaan) region with a vision for community development.  The five teen girls voluntarily joined us, courageously entering a rural leadership development program for at-risk teens that didn’t yet exist.
  3. Our gracious village neighbors offered up their storehouses and gardens with rice, mangoes, papayas, veggies and herbs helping to feed our full house.  We even snuck some sugarcane out of the neighbors fields.  Now we have gardens going, and a friendly (and sympathetic) woman at the market that provides us with cheap produce.
  4. Between 60-80 kids and teens filled the house during after-school tutoring programs last term, so the village leaders got together and built us an outdoor classroom.
  5. Jub’s mom allowed us to take over one of her rice plots, so together we planted, weeded and harvested (all by hand), yielding enough rice to feed the house for the better part of the year.
  6. Investments in a ping pong table, a checkers board, an extra practice guitar and a growing library unwittingly solidified our status as the community hangout for kids of all ages.
  7. Three local schools offered open invitations to visit and teach; we’ve become known as “permanent guest” teachers as we hang out and teach English, character/values and drugs/migration awareness courses.  Our first long-term volunteer, Michenzie Motl, is now here and has taken a full-time teaching position at the secondary school.
  8. We were blessed with the support and partnership of Step Ahead Integrated Community Development to launch our first official economic development project in the village.  Starting with weaving sticky rice baskets, we’ll work our way up to producing woven purses and leather bags marketed under the Itsera brand.
  9. The walls in our current house are bursting with life — currently housing the teenagers, several staff, and equipment for economic development, while also doubling as community center.  We’ve begun circling a new piece of ground in the village as a build site for a new teen/community center to relieve some of the “traffic congestion” and are believing that God will bring it to be this year.
  10. And lastly…. we finally settled on a new name for our crazy and growing family here in Khon Kaen:  Breakthrough.    More to come on that front soon.

 

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I wish I was able to share the stories within each of these stories.  Like our headstrong 16-year-old teen girl that ran away for a month, came back and has since completely transformed into a bright, humble leader of the house.  Or our other 16-year-old that discovered that her friend from Buriram is now working at a bar in Bangkok and wants to help her by inviting her here with us.  Or our work-study student that couldn’t seem to escape the influence of his meth circles in Bangkok but is flourishing in a rural context, including beginning to mentor other at-risk young men.

But…. I’ll leave you with these highlights and updates from the past 12 months, and a commitment to blog more often over the next 12!

 

A Little Crazy Goes a Long Way

A little (crazy) prayer goes a long way.

I asked several “Will God…?” questions in my last post.  Some won’t be answered for months or years, but for others I feel like we can start counting the promise of “immeasurably more” right now.

Can I really be an adequate interim parent for two teenagers abandoned by their mom until God provides more permanent foster parents?   It’ll take a lot longer than a week to tell that.  But in the meantime, God is blessing Jub and I and our volunteer house with two precious teenage girls that need a lot of love (and eat a lot of pancakes) and stretch our faith every day.  We continue to circle these girls in prayer and plead for God to provide foster parents in the next few months, but I’m wondering if God might have something else in store…  Immeasurably more.

Will God heal a faithful and faith-filled couple that just discovered they are HIV positive, and protect their unborn baby from the disease?   We’re still circling.  But in the meantime, she’s rising up in worship with a deep faith and divine strength that gives me goosebumps.  And she’s crying out to God not for herself or her own recovery, but for the lives of those around her as she continues to fight for and love on her neighbors that continue their work as women of the night.  Crazy awesome.  Immeasurably more.

Will my friend reach his goal of staying clean from meth for an entire year and grow as a committed husband and father?   Time will tell and we’ll keep circling.  But in the meantime, he’s challenging me back with this goal saying he doesn’t want to just stay clean for a year, but he wants to stay clean for good.  Silly me.  Immeasurably more. 

Will God build a movement to create real change in rural communities to stop this cycle of family and community brokenness that so often leads to participation in the sex industry?

Now we’re getting REALLY crazy.  But I’m beginning to realize a little crazy goes a long way when you’re talking Kingdom crazy.  Here’s a preview:

This photo was taken last week after our first ad hoc community meeting in a small, rural village in Khon Kaen province.  The heart of Isaan.  The heart of Thailand.

After being unsure whether or not we’d have any attendees and being even less sure what direction the discussion would take, we were overwhelmed with the result.

The community is awake.  Without prompting, they answered every question we had with flying colors.  They want change.  They want us to be a part, but they want to take responsibility for change.  In fact, they want to start before we even get there.

We laid out our best made plans and prayers and God is already doing…. Immeasurably more. 

More soon…

 

Circling ‘Immeasurably More’

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we could ask or imagine, according to His power at work within us, to Him be the Glory …”  (Ephesians 3:20)

One of those verses that never gets old.  Unless you let it.

It’s a forward-looking promise to hang on when I’m out of my element, out of ideas or out of options.  And that happens often here.

Can I really be an adequate interim parent for two teenagers abandoned by their mom until God provides more permanent foster parents?

Will God heal a faithful and faith-filled couple that just discovered they are HIV positive, and protect their unborn baby from the disease?

Will my friend reach his goal of staying clean from meth for an entire year and grow as a committed husband and father?

Will God build a movement to create real change in rural communities to stop this cycle of family and community brokenness that so often leads to participation in the sex industry?

I returned from our visit to the U.S. with a lot of questions and very few clear answers.  But what I did gain was a fresh sense of anticipation that God both CAN move and WANTS TO move in these situations and many others.

But here’s the catch:  He also wants US to move.  He wants us to move first in the form of prayer.

Thanks to NCC Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book The Circle Maker, our team has a new vernacular for prayer.   We’re dreaming bigger. We’re praying harder. We’re thinking longer.

We’re praying circles around the promise that God is able and will do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine in each of these situations and many others.   Will you commit to pray with us?

 

Sacrifice

As I traveled through the States over the holidays I had the chance to reconnect with friends and family and be reminded of the beauty of the American world.

On a minor scale, it’s being reminded how tasty homemade Christmas cookies are. Or how my friends at Ebenezers Coffeehouse in DC know how to make my ridiculously complicated coffee drink just right, at which point I can enjoy it over life-giving conversations with friends from my home church.  It’s hugging my nieces and nephews, siblings, parents and grandparents and realizing how much of our individual strength has come from the collective strength of our family.

Yes, the world on the other side of the world is a pretty sweet one.  But here’s the catch.

Those cookies wouldn’t have tasted so good had I not been without them (or an oven for that matter) for a year.  The coffee wouldn’t have tasted so good had it not been shared with a friend as we visited about what God had been doing over the last year in each of our lives.  Those hugs with my family would not have been as sweet if I hadn’t just spent a year surrounded by people living in extreme hardship stemming largely from broken families, and realized just how preciously rare a strong, healthy family unit is.

When people tell me that they are inspired by the sacrifice of leaving a comfortable world behind, I have to correct them.

I made no sacrifice.

Rather, by not leaving, I would have remained trapped in my own sense of pride and drive for accomplishment and sacrificed the beauty of being humbled by those that live with so little and yet live with so much.

I would have sacrificed learning the depth and richness of love, community, compassion and restoration and recognizing each of them more fully in my life.

No, I made no sacrifice.

 

Submerged

A few of us took a trek through one of the flooded neighborhoods of Bangkok yesterday in hopes of checking on and helping out a friend and her family.  She fussed about us making the trek… In typical Thai fashion, she was worried about her ability to be hospitable from a flooded house.

The water still hasn’t reached our neighborhood, though it continues to move through the city.  Check out satellite imagery of the flood’s slow daily descent on Bangkok here.

Here’s a quick tour through one of the flood zones, at least as far as we were brave enough to venture.

High clearance vehicles work overtime to move people in and out of flood zones.

Sign reads "Out" ...

Still a popular place for lunch?

Hard to believe so much of the country is under water until you see it with your own eyes.  We get to see more than just water, however.  The resilience and creativity of the Thai people comes out in force, as does their strong spirit of generosity in times of need.  Though many are submerged, they’re still smiling in the Land of Smiles.

If you’re interested in best ways to help out with the flood, shoot me an email or comment and I’d be happy to offer some ideas.  

Let it Rain

I realize I haven’t said much to offer peace of mind that we’ve stayed above the crocodile-infested floodwaters rumored to have consumed Bangkok.  So…  here you go.  After weeks of warnings that we may be submerged any day, our neighborhood is still dry and is expected to stay that way.

The water situation here truly has been a national disaster worthy of those sensational headlines circling the globe, but there’s always more to the story.

Sandbags near the Chao Phraya river after the tides subsided on Sunday.

Many districts in the north of the city and along the river remain under water and will likely stay that way for some time.   Floodwalls constructed on the outskirts of the city kept the water from drenching the economic center of Bangkok, but required the folks on the other side of the wall to endure more than their fair share of the water.

The impact on those of us that stayed dry has been limited to bare grocery store shelves and the threat of limited supplies of drinking water due to disrupted supply chains.  And, of course, all those that prepared protective concrete walls and piles of sandbags (some even with an inflatable raft out front ready for escape) look a little awkward in light of the current sunny weather and no signs of water.

This panic-ridden season, though, has caused many of us to consider the state of affairs in Bangkok and the rest of the country and let our mind wander to a myriad of flood-related analogies.

In the words of Jim Larson, our fearless leader at The Well, “…when will the flood of teens and tweens into the sex trade subside, and when will God flood this city with Heaven. Let it rain.”

The needs generated by the flood disaster aren’t going away anytime soon as the impact goes far deeper than just the water levels.  Many families remain displaced from their homes and over 350,000 have lost jobs due to factory disruptions. In addition to the millions of individuals affected – many of them in low-income brackets  – the widespread economic disruption will take some time to turn around.

I shudder to think of how few economic options are left for these individuals already living at the margins and now pushed even further. I know all too well what one of the options is.

I can only hope and pray that this nation will come together at every level with a commitment to provide creative and healthy roads to recovery, especially for those at the margins.

What’ll it take?  Well, at the very least it’ll take a lot of folks in government, the private sector and the non-profit sector putting their heads together and figuring out how to put the needs of others first.

Powerful presence, direction and intervention from the One who taught us best how to love our neighbors would certainly help…  Let it rain.

 

The More the Merrier

Growing up as the youngest of five kids in an extroverted family with constant visitors, I’m no stranger to full houses.  Thailand, however, raises the bar on hospitality.  “The more the merrier” seems to be an unspoken cultural mantra in this country.

October is a funky month in Thailand as schools close for a month between terms, meaning our family at The Well explodes with some new energy for a month as kids and teens from our extended community are around all day, every day.  A new twist on the usual October fun and youth programs… six teenagers and three Thai interns are camping out with us at the volunteer house for the month.  That brings our house occupancy to 13, usually expanding from there as friends and neighbors join in on the commotion as well.

Every night’s a party!

Love the life and joyful noise the kids bring to the house.  Meals turn into parties and bedtime turns into a circus.   There’s something about having teenagers around that brings good perspective and optimism for the future.

Sure – a houseful of rambunctious teenagers isn’t all fun and games; it’s easy to get caught up in the never ending cycle of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, with a side of complaints about house rules on cell phone use.  (Gaining respect for parents everywhere!)  And yet the frequent sounds of laughter, worship music jam sessions and ‘heart-to-hearts’ more than make up for the minor inconveniences of a houseful.

The kids are getting exposed to a different type of community and family than they’ve known in the past.  And… us ‘big kids’ get a unique window into what God’s doing in their hearts and lives every day.  What a blessing and a privilege!

A couple reasons I’m writing this.

One, so you can pray with us.  For all the kids that are preparing to head back to school in the next couple weeks and, in some cases, back to far less safe family and community environments.  We want these youth to have access to consistent, healthy community and are praying for God to make a way for that to happen.  We dream of these rural kids being the cycle breakers — the ones to break the trends of brokenness in their families and communities.  With that dream, we’re continuing to pray about a possible rural youth center (think Boys & Girls Club meets 4-H) but we’re still a ways off from launching.  Let me know if this piques your interest and I’ll loop you in.

And two, so you might think about your own roof.  Who’s under it?  Who are you inviting into your community?   Are you seeking out and inviting in community not only as a means of being a blessing to others, but as a means of allowing God to stretch you, teach you, encourage you and remind you just how precious and beautiful His family is?

If you’re not, you’re missing out.  After all, the more the merrier!

24 Hours

Saturday morning alarm set for 5 AM I wish I could say it was done with a joyful heart, but I’d be lying.  It had been a long week; I was tired and grumpy.  Nothing seemed to be going as planned.  Expended energy seemed to be yielding little fruit. But we knew we had to go.  Motivated by the fear of regret, we went.

Three sisters, part of our family at The Well, had a family crisis.  And when one in our family has a family crisis, we go.  A child was in the hospital in critical condition, and we hadn’t seen two of the sisters in some time.  We wanted to give hugs, prayers and encouragement. To do so would require an eight hour bus ride upcountry followed by unknown local transport to their rural village.  A few hours into the trip, a phone call informed us that both sisters had been called away to work and wouldn’t be able to meet us after all, and the child in critical condition had been taken away by his dad to a different hospital.

My first reaction?  Resentment.  Not a glamorous missionary reaction, right?  5 AM wake-up followed by an 8-hour bus ride on a rare, open weekend and nobody would be there. Seriously?  Isn’t my time more important than a wild goose chase literally across the country?

Jub smiled at my clear disgruntledness and settled in to her bus seat to catch some sleep on the way. Her calm attitude convicted me.

Almost to our destination, we called the girls’ mom directly since she was likely the only one still home. She had gotten very sick and asked us to meet her at the hospital.  We met her at the local clinic where they had given her a shot of morphine and sent her on her way.  (Thai health care at its finest.)   We followed her home, sat with her, visited, and played with the sweet one-year-old that had spent his first six months of life at The Well before going back to live with his grandma.

Mom’s signs of sickness worsened and we helped her get to a more legitimate hospital for better medical attention.  Off she went, and that was it.  Jub and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and started looking for a creative transportation mode to start our trek back to Bangkok.

We walked in the door at home almost exactly 24 hours after we had left.  Over 20 hours in a moving vehicle of various shapes and sizes, less than 4 hours of visiting, and nowhere close to fulfilling our originally intended purpose.  And yet, it seemed God knew more than we did.

Mom got the hospital attention she needed. Sisters felt cared for.  Jub got some sleep on the bus.  And I got my weekly dose of humble pie-in-the-face.

Wild goose chase?  Perhaps.  A weird way to spend a weekend?  Yep.  Thankful that God takes extraordinary measures to remind me that He’s not only in charge, but actually knows what He’s doing?  Absolutely.

Harvest

Harvest is wrapping up on the Idaho home front. My cousin sent a report a while back that one of our fields registered a record-breaking 133 bushels per acre.

I got that report during a particularly rough week in Bangkok during which I was struggling to hang on to hope of a fruitful harvest with a few cases here.  A series of drug relapses were causing downward spirals among a few students.  These added to several health crises and a myriad of other issues in our community, not to mention a few more heartbreaking nights of outreach where we realize just how much it’s going to take to break these cycles of broken rural families sending broken women to work in broken bar districts frequented by broken foreign men… Taken together, it tipped the scale enough to trigger questions and emotions that I didn’t particularly want to face.

I sat reading this bright email from home, 8000 miles away, and feeling much further even than that from a bountiful harvest.

And then I remembered.

I was around eight years old. We had a bumper crop in the fields; just waiting for another week of sun to ripen it and ready it for harvest.  We came home from church, shared our Sunday family dinner, and sat on the porch to watch a storm roll in.  But this one wasn’t an ordinary storm.  It carried enough hailstones to destroy that bumper crop in a matter of minutes.

I wasn’t very old, but I knew enough to know the consequences of those hailstones.  Completely out of our control.  Completely devastating.  But oddly, I don’t remember the devastation as much as I remember the reaction of my dad.

We watched in silence as the storm came and went.  He calmly got up, smiled, and said “There’s always next year.”

Dad illustrated a lesson for me that year that I’ve revisited many times since: We have the responsibility to plant and tend, but ultimately we’re asked to hold loosely to the work of OUR hands and instead trust in the work of GOD’s.

Put differently, harvest doesn’t always look the way we’d like it to look.  It doesn’t always fit into nice spreadsheets or “win” columns.  For me, that year of a destroyed crop provided more fruit than a bumper crop would have. It gave me a picture of faith, and of faithfulness.

It’s a picture that reminds me that success doesn’t always mean seeing the fruit of our labor in the near term.  Success means faithfulness over the long term.  It means faithfulness to the calling you’ve received, and more importantly, to the One who called.

“…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday…”  — Isaiah 58:10