Posts Tagged ‘ The Well ’

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.


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!

Malaysia and the Mountains

Playing catch-up after a quick trip to Malaysia to renew my visa directly followed by five days out in Thailand’s hill country near the Myanmar border with a crew of rambunctious youth.   Will try to capture a few of the highlights…

Malaysia was great; overall a successful visa run with a little time allotted to play tourist over the weekend before heading back to Bangkok.  I was hosted by a couple of good friends in Kuala Lumpur while I went through the visa process and was able to spend a day visiting the outskirts of town.  The gorgeous limestone formations at Batu Caves (272 stairs leading up to a Hindu shrine in a cave with 100-meter-high ceilings) made me wish I had thrown in my rock climbing gear, and a visit to the forested paradise of the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia made me remember just how much I prefer trees to concrete.  I then hopped up to Penang Island to get a little more taste of Malaysia’s diversity.  I was fascinated to constantly look around and see a mix of Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures;  I left there not quite sure what Malay culture actually was, other than a mix of everything else.

Just days after I got back to Bangkok from Malaysia we turned around and hopped on an early bus headed to Sangkhlaburi in Thailand’s hill country for a five day youth camp.  We took a few handfuls of youth with whom we have relationships either through their parents participating in The Well programs or through other means.

It brought me great joy to see these kids getting a chance to trade in the internet, movies and the concrete jungle of Bangkok for a few days in hill country with fun community, games, music, mountains, rivers and challenging messages.  For some it was the first time entering into community of this sort, sharing their lives with others their age and being challenged with messages about what it means to follow Jesus as a teenager today.

So many beautiful moments (and many, many hilarious episodes) throughout the camp, all culminating in a powerful final evening where we saw kids take hold of the message of the Gospel in amazing ways.  I wish I could capture and share all the sights, sounds and smiles that transpired over the weekend.

On a personal level, I realized how challenging it is to connect with youth when you can’t speak their language.  Having been a youth leader in the States for however many years, I found myself frustrated to not be able to connect with them more and feel like I could really enter in their lives and hearts.  But… I remembered how much my youth at home liked to tease me about being so hopelessly out of touch with anything “cool” — be it music, fashion, slang.  So, it turns out it’s just as fun to make fun of me for my lack of language.  One of my favorite memories from the weekend was staying up late with the girls and listening to them laugh hysterically at my attempts to copy their boy-crazy, teenage Thai slang.

Beyond that, I had a sweet little 10-year-old from the village attach herself to me and take it upon herself to correct my Thai (often) and make sure I didn’t get lost.  And one of the teenagers paid special attention to make sure that I understood the rules to the games (and then did the embarrassing dances with me if I lost the game… which happened often…)

Talk about lessons in humility; I had a healthy dose over the weekend.  And it was good.

Aside from the fun and games, I loved seeing the responses from the teens as they were challenged to process through what it means to follow Jesus in their teenage years.  It got me excited to see so much potential in a pretty amazing group of teens, most of whom have already experienced some pretty hard stuff in their lives.

Though my role at The Well isn’t focused in on the teenagers, I’m appreciative of the window I got into their lives over this weekend as we all pitched in to make the camp happen.  I loved seeing so many seeds planted and have great hopes that God will supply the increase as they continue to be invested in by the leaders here at The Well.

I’m back to Bangkok now with a full plate of projects and a healthy dose of excitement for God continuing to stir things up and move things forward in our lives and community.   And I’m sure many more lessons in humility await!