Posts Tagged ‘ Thailand ’

A Look Inside

We love visitors in Thailand! But if you’re not able to come experience the houseful of teens (and bucket showers, poisonous centipedes, surprisingly delicious insects, etc) yourself, check out this video for a glimpse of life and work in rural Thailand.

A huge thanks to the National Community Church family for their support of this project, and to the amazing artists Dave and Erica Baker ( who sacrificed time, talent and treasure to capture the story (not to mention risking themselves and their video equipment in flooded rice paddies.) Grateful for you!


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…



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.



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.  

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 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

1000 Words Aren’t Enough

We easily accept that a picture can be worth a thousand words.  But how often do we stop with the thousand words it speaks?  What about the rest of the story?

I took my camera to Soi Cowboy last week for the first time, trying to get some images for awareness-raising efforts.  And I hated every second of it.  As someone that usually enjoys being behind a lens, this threw me for a loop.

I hated looking through a lens at that place; I would much prefer to look in their eyes and hear the stories of the women we meet rather than “capture” the scenes that can’t possibly come close to telling the real stories of the past or dreams of the future.

I realized going there with a camera was risky.  I was risking looking (and feeling) like I was reducing women to subjects and statistics rather than affirming their worth and value.  Beyond that, I feared what reaction I might get to the photos.  I feared that others might see the photos and pass judgments.  Or even worse, that people might simply react with pity, shake their head and go on their way.

Either way, I realized that I’m terrified to take photos of the hard stuff because I know all too well how easy it is to stop with the “thousand words” and not bother to find out the rest of the story.

As uncomfortable as this makes me, I was reminded by someone I respect that it’s a turmoil we have to face.

I have the privilege of working alongside some incredible people and a handful of ministries that are committed to getting to know both stories of the past and dreams for the future.  Most of these people were moved at some point or another by the reality of the injustices we saw – whether it was through a photograph, a video, or seeing it in person.  “Seeing” it offered an invitation to enter in.

I guess that makes the turmoil worth it.  It’s my hope that any images used from this shoot or any others would not evoke judgment. Or pity. But that they would be an invitation for others to be moved with compassion to come and find out the rest of the story.

Tomorrow we’ll be attending a full day networking event with Thai Christian business leaders and a number of local non-profits. It’s an opportunity for Thai leaders to better understand what God is doing in the country and for ministries like The Well to find committed, local leaders to partner in our efforts.

We would love your prayers for God to move in the hearts of those at the meeting — that they would be compelled to want to learn the stories behind the images.

Whose Daughter?

All About Community

I’m three weeks in to my time here and am starting to feel settled.  I even caught myself saying “I’m heading home” today after spending the day in language classes and meetings downtown, and it didn’t freak me out to realize I was referring to “home” here.  House keys, a few essential pieces of furniture, some “artwork” from my niece on the wall and some comfort food in the fridge have helped make that happen.  But even more than real peanut butter and homemade raspberry jam in the fridge, what makes this home is the community we have here.

Geographically speaking, we live just a short walk from The Well.  For those not familiar with the organization, this is where opportunities are provided for women coming out of difficult situations to learn English, develop vocational skills and most importantly be counseled and discipled.  It also provides a safe and healthy environment for their children.  It’s the bricks and mortar of the organization here, but the heart of it is so much more than bricks and mortar.

One of the greatest blessings of being here so far has been to have my understanding of this ministry transformed and deepened.  I no longer view it as simply an incredible ministry with a sound mission and vision, but it’s an extraordinarily unique family and community that is living out the principles of the Gospel with every breath.  If there’s sickness, the community comes around them.  If there’s mistreatment, the community comes around to teach and correct.  If there’s a relapse, the community continues to love and show support, welcoming them back with open arms if and when they are ready to return.  It’s an environment of continued healing and transformation made possible by relational investment.  It’s not without its messes, but even in the mess it’s beautifully Biblical.

This past weekend we celebrated all the August birthdays.  All the families, staff and other Well volunteers joined together for an evening of games, music and food.  All were equals; all were celebrating what God has done in our lives, our families and in our community.  I can’t describe the joy that overflowed that place and felt so privileged to see it, and even more to know that I have been given the opportunity to become a part.  To walk alongside our neighbors as God works on all of us together.

That’s the macro community.  I love it.  I want more of it.  I can’t wait to see God continue to grow and transform it as He continues to touch and transform lives.

On the micro side, I’d also like to take a minute to give you a glimpse into our immediate family/community at the Volunteer House.  (We’ve also been coined “the Love Shack” but that sounds misleadingly scandalous…)

I live with three other amazing people.  First, Brooke.  The HOH.  The boss. Our friend and counselor.  She’s from North Carolina and is another long term volunteer with an incredible heart for and gift of counseling.  She coordinates the short term volunteers coming through and is being instrumental in putting together a more intentional counseling process for the women and their families.  She also “counsels” me often and has been a great friend.

Then there’s Jup. She’s stinkin’ fabulous.  She’s on staff with The Well, takes seminary classes at a local university and has about eleventy billion other responsibilities.  She brings great joy and laughter to this place and makes sure we speak Thai often. I get to have guitar jam sessions with her on demand – I love it.

Frank is also pretty stinkin’ fantastic.  (There’s a theme here… have you noticed?)  Originally from North Philly, he has an incredibly genuine, generous, passionate heart that is driven to chase Jesus and see the Kingdom advanced with no regard for personal safety or gain.  He’s playing a vital role here at the Well as a strong, devoted man of God in an environment in which male role models are hard to come by. He’s been in Thailand for a couple of years; his Thai is ridiculously phenomenal and he has been a lifesaver in helping us transition into life, culture and language here.  We’ve also dubbed him our personal bodyguard.

Beyond the blessing of the macro community, these three have been an extraordinary blessing as we face what can be daunting daily challenges in life and ministry here.  Together.

Talk about an answer to prayer for this little extroverted farm girl…  Community is a beautiful thing.

The three stooges, amigos, whatever...

Wondering what monsoon season looks like in Thailand?  This:

Very soaked but very happy housemates

Looking ahead….

Beyond the day-to-day activities and projects at The Well, I’ve started an intensive Thai language course and am starting to make some connections in the agriculture community here in Bangkok.  I’m also starting to dive into my Master’s thesis process with the goal of landing on a research topic that will lay the groundwork to address some of the deeply rooted socioeconomic issues of Thailand’s rural provinces which are “home” to many of the women we meet in the bars. It’s a crazy, daunting idea and I’ll need some significant divine intervention (and some time….) to pull it off, but I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Future posts on that front, but prayers are appreciated in the meantime!

PS….. As I write about community here, I can’t help but give a shout out to YOU reading this, wherever you might be.  Though I have entered into a new community here in Thailand, I feel doubly blessed not to have lost my community at my “other” home.  Your continued support, notes of encouragement, investment of prayer, (and the simple fact that you care enough to read my crazy posts) mean the world to me!   THANK YOU!  I couldn’t be doing this without you.

Dreams of Transformation

There are no simple issues here, nor are there simple answers or solutions.  I haven’t even been here two weeks and have already been floored by the complexity of the needs, the depth of the challenges facing the people of this nation, and the amount of time and energy it will take to see any sort of real, measurable progress by which we westerners measure “success”.

I’ve realized how much I have left to learn.

Thanks to Wikipedia you can quickly read statistics on the scope of Thailand’s deeply-rooted sex tourism industry.  The NY Times recently did a piece on the complex issues facing Thailand’s rural countryside, highlighting growing issues with drugs and violence facing the youth, added to a lack of economic opportunity, particularly for women.  Books are written about sex trafficking or sexual exploitation; causes spring up on Facebook; magazines are published to highlight the issues.

Each time I read a new article or see a new statistic I realize there are about a dozen underlying issues that are unimaginably more complex.  I’m overwhelmed enough just reading about it; seeing it firsthand and hearing the stories of individuals that are living it is exponentially more heartbreaking.

I just got back to Bangkok after spending a few days out in Buriram province – a province located in the Isan region which is known as Thailand’s poorest region.  Agriculture is the main economic driver there, but the area isn’t as productive as other parts of Thailand due to the socio-economic conditions and a hotter, drier climate.  It is a region from which a large number of men come to Bangkok to find work or women come to work in the bars.

Being there for a few days provided only a small taste of the countryside, but a taste that got my wheels spinning and my heart pumping nonetheless.

What did I see?

  • Beautiful scenery – bright green rice fields with some sugarcane, cassava and eucalyptus peppering the countryside. But it’s also peppered with small, rural communities that are clearly hurting.
  • Absent men – either physically absent as they’ve had to move to Bangkok to find work, or effectively absent as they’re caught in a vicious cycle of drinking, drugs and gambling.
  • Beautiful women and children – This truly is the “land of smiles” but behind many of those smiles is an environment where there is a severe lack of hope or opportunity for so many women.
  • Potential….. I saw a handful of Thai men and women with hearts and potential to invest in transformation.  Men mentoring young men.  Women popping up as leaders, willing to host educational seminars for family and neighbors.  I saw a few innovative economic ideas popping up with potential, spearheaded by a couple of motivated Thai families.

One of the current economic generators for women is silk-making.  It’s a tedious process but one that provides a unique opportunity for women to be able to stay home to care for their children, make some beautiful products and generate some income if they have some help marketing their products.  It’s not a panacea, but it’s one thing that can be (and is being) done now.

Women grow the worms, extract the silk, spin and dye it, and make gorgeous silk weavings.



Despite the glimpses of potential I’m seeing, it would easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenges here.  It’s overwhelming for this western mind that wants to identify a problem, come up with a solution and fix it “yesterday.”  Or at least set up a plan where it can be solved and I can report back to donors and supporters and say “Look!  Check out your return on investment.”

But I’m afraid that might not be realistic.  It’s hard for me to comprehend just how long it might take before we see real change here in Thailand.  Waiting around for results is a hard thing for me to do, but I’m going to have to be ok with it. And I’m praying that those supporting my time here will understand and be ok with that.  Even more than that, I hope that we all will realize that it’s actually a good thing in the long term.  That this is a long term investment from which we may or may not be able to see the tangible fruit in the near term, but that this is what God meant when He told us to “preach the Gospel” and “make disciples”.  It’s to invest in transformational change, understanding that transformational change takes time.

It takes time to build relationships.  To understand cultural nuance.  To understand root causes rather than surface symptoms.  To wait for God to reveal His intention in changing people and building character, which is the only way that lasting change will happen.

That said, I’m going to have to get out of my accomplishment-oriented, results-based mindset and settle in for the long haul.  And I’m going to have to ask you not to hold your breath for riveting stories about the issues going away overnight.

However, what I do hope to be able to share is stories of the road to transformation.  The cultivation of character, and how that cultivation of character will lead to changed lives and families and, eventually, communities and countries.

What does that look like?  It’s my dream to see men invested in as leaders of strong character – regaining economic opportunity and a drive to produce and care for their family.  Women experiencing healing and restoration, along with economic opportunity that enables them to stay home and care for their families as they wish to do; not requiring them to move to the city and work in the bars in order to pay to fix a leaking roof.  Children with educational opportunities and strong male and female role models, raised as the next generation of Thai leaders that wish to invest in continued development and transformation of Thailand’s rural areas.

There are a lot of people that have been here a lot longer than me and that learned these lessons long before I did. They’ve been making this investment and dreaming this dream for a long time.  The folks at The Well and the other long-term volunteers I’m working with here are an encouragement and an inspiration and I feel privileged to be able to come alongside and learn from them.

It may be discouraging to face the depth and complexity of the issues here, but our encouragement comes from knowing it’s not up to us to fix everything.  It comes from knowing that God’s heart is all about transformation and He’s the one moving here.  We’re just along for the ride.

We just have to be ok with the fact that it could be a really long ride.

All Things New

New things can be scary.  New sights, people, language, culture, climate, smells, foods, routines.  And that’s just the short list.  Add to that new lessons, new paradigms, new worldviews… These are the things I’m absorbing on a daily basis.  I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that it’s downright terrifying at times.

Timeout  for a quick example?  “Ordering” lunch (read: pointing and grunting) from a street vendor and having NO idea what I just received.  I found out later it was noodle soup with pig’s blood. Quite good, actually.  So good that I ordered it on purpose today.

The thought of not knowing how quickly or slowly I might absorb the language and culture here and regain my independence is unsettling.  The thought of not really knowing what my time here will look like or what I may or may not be able to contribute or “accomplish” is awkward and uncomfortable.  The thought of not using a western-style bathroom or a normal shower for an unspecified amount of time is….well….frightening.

Above all, the thought of being here in a new place, facing the immensity of the issue of sexual exploitation and the magnitude of the hurt and brokenness that results from it, with seemingly little to offer other than an available heart and willing hands is downright terrifying.

But I confess I can’t help but find joy in the “new”.  I’m sitting here wondering where this inexplicable peace – this comfort in the uncomfortable – is coming from.

The Revelation passage that speaks of God making all things new has been ringing through my head these last few “first days” in Bangkok where everything is new.  In the process, I’ve seen a different side of this verse.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said,

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:4-5 (ESV)

In reading this passage, I’ve always simply absorbed the imagery of  God taking away all the “bad things” and replacing them with “good things” in His time, and I’ve found great joy in anticipating that day when all things are new. It can’t seem to get here soon enough, particularly when I’m exposed to sides of this life that are far from what I would consider “good” like the devastating issues of poverty, hurt and brokenness.

But I’ve always put this passage in a box.  I’ve only ever thought of it in the context of the end of time.  No more tears.  No more death.  No more “bad things.”  It’s going to be one big, happy party.  But we have to wait around for it. It’s not in our nature, I don’t think, to seek the “all things new” that God might have for us in the meantime.

We tend to think new in the here and now is scary.  It’s usually challenging and sometimes highly uncomfortable.  Sure, we all know and generally like the thought that God can make us “new creations”  (2 Corinthians 5:17) but we don’t generally like it when we’re thrown into a situation where we actually have to be new.  Or seek something new.

The little box that I’ve put this passage in is getting thrown wide open. And I’m sure my first week or so in Bangkok is only the beginning.

What I’ve learned so far:  I’ve learned it is indeed the nature of God to call us to “all things new” in the here and now.  Of course it won’t be truly finished for a while, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t chase it now.

Don’t get freaked out by this.  I’m not saying everyone should move to Bangkok.  (Although I would LOVE it if you did….)  That new can look different to everyone.  For me, it was being thrown into a new culture with a new commissioning, in order to see a new side of God’s character as He changes the lives of those around me. For many of the women I’m meeting, it’s God calling them to a new environment where they are cared for, invested in and challenged as they experience healing and restoration.  I have no idea what it might look like for you.  Maybe healing. Maybe re-commissioning.  Maybe a change of heart or a restored relationship.  Maybe something totally different.

But I’m convinced that God doesn’t call us to homeostasis.  He calls us to allow Him to make “all things new.”

We just can’t be surprised when the way it happens isn’t comfortable.  Healing and restoration aren’t comfortable.  Restored relationships aren’t comfortable, whether it’s to God, ourselves or each other.  The process of discovering and pursuing passions and callings isn’t comfortable. Being repurposed or re-commissioned isn’t comfortable.  Moving across the world – or even across town, if that’s what you’re called to do – isn’t usually comfortable.

Pretty much everything outside of complete homeostasis is uncomfortable.  On the cover, it doesn’t look like a “good thing”; in fact, we tend to equate uncomfortable with bad.  And that incorrect equation robs us of greater, “new” things that might be in store.

So, my conclusion.  Finally.  It’s the anticipation of what this “new” actually represents that’s causing this inexplicable peace and joy.  This is God’s way of yanking me out of homeostasis and re-commissioning me to live with, learn from and learn to serve these beautiful people halfway around the world.

Thailand is my “all things new” right now.  And it’s not comfortable, particularly.  But it’s good.

What’s yours?