Archive for the ‘ Thailand ’ Category

The Sweetest Melody

Bar outreach in Bangkok is a key part of our work here, but not one that I write of often.  A good friend of mine that visited this last week wrote the piece below and offered to share it as a glimpse into the world of outreach.  Thanks to Erin for joining our community here and for sharing her reflections.

The Sweetest Melody

by Erin Manfredi

You’re all out of options; this is the last resort.  You show up and sign over your name.  They give you a number and you pin it on.  It’s your new identity.  They make you stand out front so everyone can have a look; they look and they think evil thoughts about you.  The nights are long and there is so much pressure.  You have to meet your quotas or you will pay.  All they care about are numbers.  How many men, how many drinks, how many dollars.  And that’s all you are to them.  Another number.  You feel it from your family, too.  They’re all counting on you.  So you keep going.  Night after night, you continue to count.  The days turn into weeks and the weeks turn into months.  This is your life.

Tonight is just another night.  No one has come to take you away yet.  You are standing there hoping they’ll like what they see so that you can do what you have been trained to do.  Then you will walk away with a large number in your pocket.  They live for your number and you live for theirs.  It isn’t even a fair exchange.  But it’s enough for you to get by.

All of a sudden you hear your name called out over all the noise.  It sounds sweet like a melody.  It startles you.  It’s been a while since someone has called you by name.  Who could be asking for you like this?  You turn to see.  Her eyes shine from the inside out and her smile is overwhelming.  She walks towards you.  Her arms are wide open and she wraps you up in a hug.  She takes your breath away.  She says your name again and all you can do is smile.  You repeat it in your head.  It’s a beautiful name.  You feel like a person again.

She tells you she has a place for you; a place where you can leave your number behind.  You won’t need it there.  At this place, they call each other by name.  She asks about your family and about your life.  You take a seat and lift your tired feet. You wish you could go away with her.

Then your boss comes out; he’s looking at you.  You stand up and your smile disappears.  With that one glance, you remember your number.  You’re just a number.  You go back to your spot.  A man comes to you.  He buys you a drink.  You see the girl smile at you and bow her head.  One day you will go.  One day you will join her.  You watch as she waves goodbye.

You don’t know but she prays for you.  At 6am she wakes.  She writes your name in her book and she calls you out to her Father.  She reminds him constantly about you.  He looks down on her and smiles.  He smiles because he knows; He knows you by name.

He also uses numbers but not like the others; his are different.  He counts the hairs on your head.  He counts the times you sit and the times you stand.  He counts your thoughts and he counts your tears.  He counts because he loves.  He also has a place for you and he is waiting to welcome you in.  One day you will overhear him calling your name.  It will be the sweetest melody you’ve ever heard because it is written just for you.  Yes, one day you will join Him.

How ’bout Eggs?

I mentioned in the last blog post more details on some of our Buriram projects… and then I promptly fell off the face of the planet.  A quick follow-up to that.

My Father’s House is a children’s home for abandoned children and orphans in Buriram province.  The home is led by Pastor Narin Torbprakon and his wife, Kraneung, who have a heart to help at-risk boys and girls further their education in order to increase employment options outside of prostitution.  Pastor Narin and his wife have a compelling story and emulate creativity and innovation in how they run the home and desire to move toward self-sufficiency.

I spend a fair amount of my time in Buriram learning from and partnering with Pastor Narin and his family.  He’s a key partner in putting together a replicable model of self-sufficiency agriculture and spiritual formation that can be used in other villages and, hopefully, other provinces.

Our first formal partnership was in the building of an egg-laying chicken house.  (Add it to the growing list of innovative projects he has in the works, including aquaculture, hogs, vegetables, specialty rice, frogs, meat-chickens and I’m sure I’m forgetting more.  Not to mention starting the district’s only church.)  Thanks to the financial support of so many donors, I was able to partner in up-front capital costs for the chickens and start-up feed while they covered the cost of the building and materials.  The result?  Check it out.


A group of youth from the children’s home will manage the new chicken house, developing skills and responsibility and also helping move the home toward self-sufficiency as they consume and sell eggs.

PS… because I’m an agriculture geek I have to share.  In case you’re wondering why the chicken house is built over the pond?  (I’m sure you were wondering…)  The feed boxes are situated in a way that the chicken feed that naturally drops from the boxes during feeding will fall into the fish pond below and help reduce the feed costs associated with the fish operation.  Cool, eh?   

Looking forward to reporting back after the next visit how the chickens (and kids!) are faring!

Trendy

“My older sister finished school, but I can do even better.  I want to quit school, move to the city and find a foreign husband.”

This is a common attitude among Buriram girls starting in their early teens.  Many rural youth will study until the age of 11 or 12 and drop out.  Many because they’re pregnant.  Many with plans to move to the city to find work with older siblings, relatives or friends.  Some will make it to 9th grade, but are susceptible to a similar fate as those that quit three years sooner.  Even those that finish primary school with dreams of further study face a tough future as money is short for university, jobs are hard to come by close to home and the return on the few available jobs simply can’t compete with the jobs in the city.

It rattles me to see the economic situation in Buriram, to talk to community members aware of the issues, to see the blank faces on a few young girls lacking hope for a future different than that of their mom or sisters….  And then to come back to Bangkok, head out to the bars for outreach and sit down with a new friend.  Hear her story.  Hear her say she quit school and moved to Bangkok when she was twelve.  She worked in a food shop for a few years and now is working in the same bar as her older sister.  Where from?  Buriram province.  Prakonchai, to be exact.  Funny – yet not funny at all – that Prakonchai neighbors Prang’s village and is home to my oft-frequented bus stop in Buriram.

I wrestle a lot with this picture; the urban migration patterns are obvious to the naked eye.  Bus stops in Buriram populated with men and women making their way to Bangkok for work.  The men most often in construction.  The women in small food stalls, restaurants, or often in one of Bangkok or Pattaya’s abundant entertainment establishments (read: sex tourism industry).

Packed buses leaving broken villages.  One or both parents leave kids to be raised by grandparents while they seek work in the city.  Kids grow up with little or no parenting and little motivation for education.  Abuse.  Neglect.  Poverty.  Brokenness.  This is often all they know.

Except they see that their neighbor or relative or sister or friend went to the city and sent home a wad of cash from her work there.  Another came back with a foreign boyfriend and she now has a big house and money.  She might not love him, and he might not stay around long, but at least she has money and something going on.

And now this young pre-teen girl wants to have something going on too.  She decides that’s her goal.  She’s going to go find a foreign husband.  The best way to do that is to move into the city and find a job, the location of which is a detail often omitted from stories back at home.  As my Thai counterpart tells me, “this is Thai trend, Cori.” 

Oh, how I wish Thai teenage trends were as simple as boy bands and bracelets.

What can compete with these trends?  What can break the cycle of parents going to the city for work, and daughters and sons following suit?  What can restore hope and pride in these rural villages?   These are questions too complicated for a blog post, but they’re what rattle me at night and get me up in the morning.  They’re the focus of my prayers, and an invitation for you to join in prayer as well.

On a happy note, because I would prefer to end on happy thoughts:  There are some powerful things happening in Buriram right now.  I spent a couple weeks there this month, doing some research prep and helping with a two-week community-wide music camp hosted by a local agriculture-based orphanage and church.

Teaching guitar lessons and pouring concrete for a new chicken house made my heart happy.  So did the thought of God redefining what’s trendy in Buriram.  I’ll save more on that for a later post…

Youth, Beach and Bieber

Three days at a secluded Thai beach sounds like heaven doesn’t it?  It was for us last week, but not like you might expect.

A little background first…. Last year The Well started ramping up efforts to serve the youth in our community, driven by the recognition that the children of students in our program were craving discipleship as much as their moms were.  Though the kids aren’t with us year round (most spend the majority of the school year out in the provinces with extended family – usually grandparents) they venture in to Bangkok during their long school breaks a couple times per year.

The youth activities have quickly expanded in a crazy, organic fashion to our neighbors in Bangkok and our extended family of kids in Buriram this spring.  We have a rock-star team of Thai leaders – spearheaded by the fearless Jup – and have seen some awesome growth in these kids in the short time they’re with us.

The culmination of this current school break for the kids was a three-day camp in ChaAm just a few ours out of Bangkok.

A few highlights:

  • Consequences of losing Thai games seem far more severe than in America.  Think red-food-coloring-mud-baths, corn starch and embarrassing dances.
  • It’s easier to get kids to concentrate on lessons when the ocean is infested with jellyfish.  Kids running out of the water screaming “I itch all over!!!!” was not uncommon.
  • Thai teenage girls are as obsessed with Justin Bieber as our NCC youth (or at least their fearless leader Jenilee Joy!) 😉

On a serious note, the kids were exposed to a series of lessons on what it means to “see Jesus” — looking at Him not as some foreigner teacher, but as a personal Savior, friend, and God of all nations and people.

One of my most precious times was a walk on the beach – careful to avoid the jellyfish mines – with a couple of our teenage girls that I’ve come to adore. (Not that I have favorites, but if I were to have them…..)  Switching gears abruptly from the all-important “Does Justin Bieber live in America or Canada?” question, one of the girls looked at me and asked if all foreigners were Christian.

She said she was curious because her teacher said that Jesus is for foreigners, not for Thai people.  I chatted with her in my broken Thai, giving her some different ideas to ponder – that Jesus came for everyone and not just for white skinned Westerners, and just because someone is a foreigner doesn’t mean they have decided to follow Jesus.  We chatted a bit more before the conversation migrated off to some more silly teenage talk.

Later I spent some time thinking about the context of her question.  She lives in a country where Christianity represents less than one percent of the population. Her dad is Muslim but she was raised by her single, hard-working mom that ended up working at a bar as a last resort to make sure her daughters would get a better education than she was able to get. Her only personal exposure to the concept of Christianity was that it’s a religion of foreigners and of no real consequence to Thai people.  I’m not entirely sure what foreigners she had been exposed to prior to the handful of us at The Well (and Bieber, of course) but I have my guesses.  I wonder what sort of impression other foreigners lave left on her idea of Christianity if she had been taught to believe that their white skin made them Christian regardless of their actions.

But here’s the good news:  She and a handful of other teens with similar stories have been drawn into a community where they are being loved and discipled by some rock star Thai leaders that not only believe in Jesus but that have “consequential faith.”  Each is living out a radical faith in light of Christ’s work in their lives.

My little mini-sermon in broken Thai can only go so far, but it’s the faith modeled by their Thai brothers and sisters that is turning their concept of Christianity upside down and right side up again.

I love our Thai leaders.  We need more of them!


Happy New Year, Round 2

Three months and some change after celebrating the Gregorian New Year with it’s fireworks and resolutions, Thailand shuts down for three solid days of Songkran, the country’s traditional New Year celebrated with massive water- and powder-fights.

It’s sort of like having a second breakfast.

I have to confess to loving second breakfasts.  (Who could turn down a second heaping mound of dad’s famous pancakes or, in the case of my previous two days, a second heaping mound of mango sticky rice?)

Second helpings of new year celebrations (or third, if you count the Chinese New Year in February) are equally welcome in my life.  A little change of pace from the craziness of the schedule for some even crazier fun and a little time to reflect on the “new year” ahead.  And maybe I can start over on those New Year’s resolutions that didn’t make it to February, let alone April.

As for Songkran-specific celebrations… it’ll take some time to recover from the unexpected full-day workout I underwent by violently throwing water at cars, trucks and motorcycle gangs driving by on crowded Bangkok streets.  Not sure it was enough to work off the sin of mango sticky rice consumed in large portions, but it sure left me with a sore arm.  And that was just day one.

Thai people like to call Songkran the world’s largest and longest waterfight. Granted we’re now only two days into the three day event, but I would have to agree with that claim to fame.

Here’s a small taste of the fun; photos taken at great risk to life and lens…

Happy New Year!

Country Bumpkin

The first of a series on Buriram…

As much as I love our activities in Bangkok, the biggest area on my heart here in Thailand is the vast expanse of rice fields that make up Thailand’s rural Isaan region — a region known for it’s extreme poverty and as “home” to the vast majority of the women we meet and serve in Bangkok.  My biggest hope here is to somehow grasp the root factors leading to the migration of women from the rice fields to the red light districts and, God-willing, invest in some areas that will help break the cycle on a holistic and sustainable basis.

I admit to having many assumptions about those root factors before I came here.  Assumptions about poverty.  Assumptions about needs, resources, values, desires of communities to change and assumptions of what I might be able to do to “help.”

Some much brighter minds than mine warn of these assumptions and accompanying attitudes with respect to how to tackle poverty.  Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in the book “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…And Yourself” gave me some paradigm shifting food for thought last fall which shaped my approach to Buriram:

One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god-complexes- and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame.

I had to chew on that one for a while, I admit.

The alternative to entering a situation with a god-complex (or the attitude that I’m less poor and therefore have come to “help” people out of their helpless state) is entering a situation with humility and the primary objective to learn.  Rather than documenting the number of ways that they could or should be better off (read: more like us), it’s seeking their unique value and worth.

Corbett and Fikkert characterize it this way: “By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our sense of pride.”

So, I spent the last several trips trying to rid myself of my western pride, attitudes and assumptions by simply being a part of the community and not really trying to change, or do, anything.  I hoped simply to build relationships. As a result, I was able to see that there are many people in Buriram far less poor than I am in many ways and I have a great deal to learn from them.

One thing working against me… Many in the region are used to white people coming in and throwing down money to “fix things.”  Sadly, many of the nicer things in the area came as a result of an influx of foreign money, often through a foreign husband.  Sometimes those foreign husbands are still around, some visit every few years, but most are out of the picture.  I could write another blog post on this, or perhaps a thesis (which I should be working on right now instead of blogging, by the way…) but I’ll refrain for now.  I’ll simply observe that the allure of foreign wealth is a significant contributing factor to young women migrating to the city — and to the red light districts — to find a husband.

It leaves me with the uphill battle convincing the community that I’m different than the white people they’re used to; that I’m not a source of quick wealth.

I just have to convince them I’m not a foreigner at all.

Fast forward to now.  My time just hanging out and being one of the family members has paid some dividends.  When someone calls me a foreigner, the kids quickly and protectively shout back before I ever get the chance:  “mai chai farang – khao bpen khon thai leeo”.   She’s not a foreigner – she’s Thai!   It’s a running joke now; I still stick out like a sore thumb, but those words bring me great joy.

How did that happen?  Pretty sure a gracious God had something to do with it.

Some say I earned those stripes by eating (and loving) their local specialties of fermented-fish-flavored spicy food (nothing earns you more rapport with Thais than eating their food in mass quantities).  Snacking on bugs generally turns some heads; they’re not used to foreigners eating them other than for a possible photo-op. I think the scale tipped when I broke a flip flop but instead of tossing it, I fixed it with a piece of rope and kept wearing it until someone sneakily tossed them while I was asleep.  (I’m still a little bitter about that one.)

I think it’s starting to stick that, despite my white skin and my incessant questions, I’m just another Buriram sister, cousin, aunt or niece.  In many ways, more country bumpkin than they are.

Thankful for the chance to be welcomed into their community and looking forward to what this next season has in store.

Next up — putting the hand to the plow…

Approaching 6 Months

Finding it hard to believe the six-month mark is approaching.

Lots of highs and lows over the last few weeks since I returned from Christmas in the States.  I know that’s fairly typical of life overseas, but the extremes lately have been, well, extreme.  Chalk it up to having a different perspective on things now that I’m here on a one-way ticket, the initial glamourous luster of missions having somewhat faded, and my Thai language progressing to the point that I can no longer feign ignorance as to what’s going on around me.

But there are plenty of positive extremes to celebrate.

We kicked off a “version 2.0” education and job training program for women at The Well mid-January and, in less than a month, have seen some amazing things happen. The women learning metal-smithing technique from Chelsey are creating absolutely phenomenal jewelry pieces and are having lots of fun doing it. The student leaders now running the jewelry floor with minimal supervision are taking the business to a new level. The sewing team is mixing up their product lines with new stuff like laptop sleeves (putting Etsy vendors to shame…)  Students interested in music are accelerating after their guitar or keyboard lessons sometimes faster than the teachers can teach. Women are excitedly checking in with Skye, our resident nurse teaching health class, when they carry around a water bottle instead of their usual red sugar-water.

There’s nothing like fresh starts to infuse some excitement and new energy into life and ministry here.

I spend my time changing hats between teacher (media/communications class), auntie (working in The Well’s children’s center), friend (bar outreach), photographer (for the jewelry business and awareness raising/communications functions), house mom (running the volunteer house), student (plugging away at Thai language and working on my thesis), and trying to squeeze in some street basketball or soccer with neighborhood kids if we can handle the heat and polluted air.

On the other hand, the reality of living far from home in a culture I often find hard to understand (and sometimes hard to appreciate) is starting to wear on me. That coupled with facing some extremely difficult, complex ministry situations has left me at or near the end of my rope on more than one occasion.

But amidst the struggles and chaos, I also get to sit back and let the little life-giving and joy-bringing things soak in.

Such as… the football-team worth of little tacklers running, jumping, clinging to me and nuzzling their snotty noses into my shoulder upon arrival to the children’s center… a scene set to “repeat” for about four hours twice a week.

Such as….  when I pitched the idea of my media/communications class publishing a monthly newsletter, I had one of my students step boldly into the position of Editor-in-Chief, citing maybe she could be a real editor someday.

Such as… cooking Thai meals with Jup and realizing we can have serious conversations in Thai. Though our conversations are rarely serious and generally involve more laughter than decipherable words.

Such as… sitting down with visiting pastors, authors and missionaries and discussing new and innovative ways to challenge cultural paradigms, create healthy community, train up disciples and, well, just try to live like Jesus.

And so the list continues.  I might be missing out on a lot at home, but I can’t imagine missing out on THIS.


A Boy Named Solomon

I met a precious family on a concrete overpass over one of Bangkok’s busiest thoroughfares the other night.

A 32-year-old mother with two little girls – ages 4 and nearly 1. Her son joined us a little while later.  When we asked how old he was, he asked his mom whether he should tell his real age or the age he uses when he’s asking for food or money. She told him he could tell us the truth. 11. But he gets more money and food if he tells people he is only 6, and he could certainly pass for that age based on his small size.

But what he lacks in size he makes up for in personality and wit.  As much as I fell in love with the mom and her sweet daughters, I was fascinated by the little boy.

I call him Solomon.

They’ve been in Thailand for some time, having migrated across the border from Cambodia after her husband left her for another woman and sold their house, leaving her with nothing except her sweet children. Cambodia had nothing for them – not even food. They’re able to at least find food in Thailand, though that doesn’t mean it’s easy. One of the many dangers, she’s left to fend off a Japanese man who approaches her on a daily basis offering her 100,000 baht (~3,300 USD) to buy her beautiful little 1-year-old daughter.

Jup and I had a blast playing with the kids, singing Thai kid songs with them and listening to Mom sing an old Christian hymn in her native tongue, all the while getting weird looks from passers by, both foreign and Thai.  Some looked on with pity.  Others looked somewhere between perplexed and disgusted as we sat on the dirty ground sharing food and laughs in the “home” of this homeless family.

At lot about this particular night left me unsettled.  The thought of people lurking waiting to purchase and traffic homeless kids. Juxtaposing the kindness of the poor street vendors that had purchased a mat for this family so they didn’t have to sleep on the ground with the ambivalent wealthy folks passing by in their rush to the next entertainment stop. The list goes on.

But I was distracted from the injustices of the situation by the sheer potential I saw in little Solomon.

When we asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he said he wanted to be a soldier because “I want to protect Thailand. I love Thailand. Thai people have good hearts.” Hungry for knowledge, he wants to be able to speak good Thai and English…and he threw in Chinese for good measure too.

We took him and his sister to the 7-Eleven nearby to buy some milk and food and a couple simple art supplies. Solomon’s sister wanted an expensive art set, but he quickly told her that he found one that was just as good but much less expensive.

We then went to the milk aisle and asked Solomon which kind he likes to drink.  Of the two options, he pointed to the first one and matter-of-factly stated that, though this one would make him healthy, the second one would make him clever.

He chose clever.

Precious.

I sincerely hope this isn’t the end of the story. We’re exploring ways to help this family, but the list of complications is long.

What will it take to give clever little Solomon some hope for his future?

I can’t help but think that if Solomon and his family are given some hope for their future, it might help give Thailand and Cambodia some hope for theirs.

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Christmas All Over the World

90 degrees notwithstanding, it’s Christmas-time in Bangkok.

Caroling over the weekend in and around our neighborhood ushered in the Christmas spirit in style.  For the record, I’m a fan of caroling Thai-style…. shorts, flip flops, piled in the back of a songtaew (converted pickup truck with benches in the back) and each stop generally results in being invited in for food in mass quantities.  Ice cream might replace hot cocoa and “kha haai mii kwaam suk nai wan Christmas le suk san wan bpii maai” takes the place of “we wish you a Merry Christmas”, but degrees of Christmas joy certainly aren’t contingent on language, climate or any other tradition that we hold so dear for Christmas in America.  My personal favorite part of the caroling evening was a random stop at our local open-air market (adjacent our oft-frequented 7-Eleven) for a few songs, much to the embarrassment of half the singing crew as they felt overly exposed in our Santa hats and reindeer antlers amongst n0t-quite-strangers-but-not-yet-friends.

An evening of Christmas songs in Thai and English laced with laughter made for good soul food, and the nine stops with meals/food at each one ensured I won’t actually need another meal until Christmas.

Caroling was just the start, though.  Tonight kicked off a series of Christmas parties of varying shapes and sizes, hosted by a number of ministries in Bangkok with hearts for men and women in the sex industry.

A group of us from The Well spent the evening in Chinatown sharing gifts with women with whom we have relationships and meeting some new friends.  We find some of the hardest of the hard stuff in our trips to Chinatown; stuff that’s not comfortable or particularly fun to share.  A picture: One woman with two young boys, ages 9 and 11…  They sleep in a storefront on one of the main streets where the girls work and the boys suffer from major skin problems due to mosquito bites from sleeping in the open air.  The 11-year-old brother recently “ran away” for a while, which we later found out consisted of leaving with some foreign customers; he was back tonight.  We went to see them earlier this week to bring them to The Well (at their request) but an abnormal cool/dry season rainfall foiled our plans and they didn’t show.  After spending some time with them tonight, they said they will come check out The Well tomorrow.  We’re hoping  and praying they actually will.  Please pray for this precious family and the many others with whom we’re developing friendships in Chinatown.

Tomorrow night Jup and I will be joining a group of volunteers from the “Home of New Beginnings” ministry as they host a Christmas party for women working in Soi Cowboy and Nana, two of Bangkok’s main red light districts.  Between 400-600 women are expected to join in the festivities over the course of two evenings.  These parties provide a beautiful opportunity for women to experience a gift of love and hear about the true meaning of Christmas; for many it will be the first time they hear the story of Jesus.   Praying that those that attend will experience a love beyond anything they’ve known and be given real, tangible hope for new beginnings.

We’ll be hosting a “smaller” gathering here at our house over the weekend for the women with whom we’ve developed closer friendships — just an evening of food, fun and an opportunity for some of the women at The Well to share their victorious stories with women who face what they too once faced.  Spaghetti’s on the menu at the request of a few of our girls — not exactly a traditional Christmas dinner, but their wish is my command!  (Green curry will also be on the menu since Thai people rarely truly enjoy Western food even if they request it…) Praying that it will be an evening that blesses the girls this Christmas and gives them yet another glimpse of love and hope for freedom.

A good friend that has begun a ministry (called dton naam ministries) specifically reaching out to ladyboys will be hosting a Christmas gathering next week as well at their coffee shop which is nearing completion.  I’m a huge fan of this ministry and heart to provide opportunities for ladyboys to leave prostitution and gain legitimate job skills while receiving healing physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Please keep Celeste, her staff and this unique and very important ministry in your prayers this next week and heading into the new year!

Parties, gift giving, preparing to pour out joy and messages of hope … it’s all very “Christmas-y” and yet not at all like any Christmas I’ve experienced.   My prayers are much different than they used to be; I find myself unsure what even to pray.  It seems trite to pray for ‘peace and joy” for women, men and families that have endured so much and have so little to look forward to.  I can pray that they experience the love of Christ and a message of hope, but even that seems…well… tired, for lack of a better word.

Isaiah 25:5 leapt from the pages this last week:  “You subdue the noise of the foreigners; as heat by the shade of a cloud so the song of the ruthless is put down…  God will wipe away tears from all faces… let us rejoice and be glad!

Amazing how God gives new pictures and fresh perspectives at just the right time to remind us what to hope for and how to pray.

I’m praying this week that “the noise of the foreigners” and the “songs of the ruthless” would be subdued completely.  Those noisy voices of customers that tell women they’re worth nothing more than $10-20 per night.  Those songs that tell them their destiny was written when they were born into their respective social class or economic situation. That they’re “used goods” that have no worth or value.  That their situation of poverty and/or exploitation is hopeless.

I’m now envisioning — and trusting — that God will use these opportunities over the next week to turn down the volume knob of that noise.  That it would be silenced if even for a moment to allow room for messages of truth, love and hope to seep in.  And that these moments would lay the foundation for a more permanent silencing of those voices; for tears to be replaced with rejoicing and for many ‘new beginnings’ as we head into a new year.

We would love your prayers as we continue through what is a big week for many ministries here in Bangkok.

Bring on the Christmas cheer!

Commercial Break: What is “The Well”?

After getting a number of questions about what all goes on here, I decided it’s time for a brief commercial break to highlight what this “well” is actually about.

The Well consists of a small group of Christians focused on bringing change to Thailand through personal, family and social transformation.  Their “Reach, Teach, Send” strategy is based on John 4 where Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman resulted in a changed life and that one changed life resulted in a transformed community.

The organization looks for innovative ways to help women in the sex industry, or at risk of entering it, find healing and a new start.  We believe that these women, like the woman at the well, can experience personal healing and transformation as well as be powerful agents of change in their families and communities.

That all sounds great, right?  But you’re probably still wondering what we actually do.

Reach

You may have heard me talk (or write) about our nights spent in Thailand’s red light districts developing relationships with women in the sex industry.  We seek simply to build friendships and speak love and hope into their lives in the process.  If they express an interest in finding alternative income sources or further education, we try to offer ways for them to do that.

Teach

The “Teach” component is multi-faceted and ever-evolving.  The organization looks to address physical needs (by providing a place for the women to come and stay), emotional needs (crisis intervention and counseling), spiritual needs (discipleship) as well as provide opportunities for education and skill development.  Workshops on health, parenting, business/entrepreneurship, emotional healing, etc. supplement courses in English and other core subjects.  In addition to the scheduled education programs, the women are also offered the opportunity to earn income by taking part in “The Well Products” business, consisting of training in sewing, jewelry making and paper products.  A children’s center on site offers child care while the women study and work.

Jewelry party in Bangkok this last weekend featuring The Well Products

The hope is to reform the education modules in the future to move toward designing clear career paths for the women that enter The Well programs. We’re also on the lookout for ideas and partners in finding new, innovative ways to provide employment opportunities for single mothers.

Send

The Well seeks to love and disciple women as long as they need it, with the goal of equipping them to at some point go out and be leaders of their families and communities.

I’m heading out of Bangkok tonight to spend a week with one of these women that has been “sent”.  She has a story that will break your heart but a passion for hope and growth and progress for her community and country that will both humble and inspire you.  She has returned to her rural community and is investing in teaching, discipling and creating business and employment opportunities for women there.

She’s what The Well is all about.

I’m going to visit her first and foremost to learn from her.  And her neighbors.  And their neighbors… and a few others that are involved in fascinating development-minded projects in the area that have been gracious enough to let me hear their stories.

Because the economy of the region is heavily reliant on agriculture, we’re looking for ways to possibly engage in agricultural education and/or innovation that can help provide income for families in a way that would avoid the need for urban migration.  That is, we’re looking for ways to spark longer-term change in families and communities that will keep young girls or young mothers from migrating to the city (and too often the bars) for economic reasons.

But first, I’m going simply to listen and learn.   Looking forward to sharing stories after the trip!