Posts Tagged ‘ Youth ’

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!

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“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!


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!