Day 3: Meth Epidemic

We accepted a new applicant today. “Pear”, 26, has a bachelor’s degree in food service management, but struggles with severe depression. Like other women we have had at The Well, she grew up with an unhealthy mother.

Pear has a 1-year-old son who has asthma, which she believes came from second-hand smoke: the family of three shares a single room with 5 others, including a smoking grandmother. Pear’s 35 year-old husband is addicted to meth-based drugs. She said he started while in his teens.

A common entry-level drug here for many years was yaba, literally “crazy drug”, a caffeine-methamphetamine mix. A dozen years ago a dose sold for about $8, but it has since fallen to about $3. Now more people are choosing the stronger crystal meth, or “ice”. Drugs are now as common among the lower class as water or oxygen. Just about the only people under 40 not using or selling, it seems, are in prison. It’s something we have to watch for constantly with folks we work with, and when we notice someone with money problems and frequent irritability we get suspicious. Thankfully we are near a government clinic that offers free testing.

It comes up regularly. Today “Pom”, Dtang’s mother made a surprise visit (see yesterday’s post). Pom said she is now legally married to a Christian man from her home town and living in a Bangkok suburb, but prior to that she had been virtually slaving away to support her four children, working wherever she could seven days a week. To keep herself going she had used meth, paying for her own drugs by doing deliveries for her dealer. Finally with the help of this new husband Pom left it all behind, literally. She said she has been clean only four months. She asked me to help her find a nearby church.

Last week in worship at The Well, I asked people to share thanks to God. “I’m thankful that I just turned down an invitation to sell drugs,” one shared. She had spent two years in prison not long ago.

Two men recently returned to our small “Faithful Men” program after a few months of drug relapse. We’re used to these cycles, but knowing that recovery often requires many attempts, always encourage all no matter whether they’re heading up or down. This morning I showed our Recovery group “The truth will set you free” from John 8, and taught them the corollary, “Our secrets make us sick.” Indeed we do see victory. One member of of the Recovery program celebrated a drug-free year a month ago. A new member, freshly detoxed and fully in love with Jesus, is learning the wonderful freedom of forgiveness through the cross. We know there is a strong chance at some point that she will relapse at least once, but that’s ok. She’s clean today, and heading the right direction.

Day 2: Teens with Trauma

We’re not really sure what all happened with “Dtang”, 18. She is the oldest of four, but with a different father from her younger three siblings. Her mom was at The Well a couple of times over a few years, and did fairly well, always hard-working and teachable. For a while Dtang’s stepfather lived with the family, and although alcoholic and edgy–often sporting a Che Guevara t-shirt, sometimes showed willingness to change. At one point Dtang made an accusation against him, but she later changed her story.

All we knew was that as a young teen Dtang was wild and disobedient, and exasperated her mother, who would sometimes hit her, even in the presence of other adults.

We tried sending Dtang to the Breakthrough ministry that Cori and Jub were doing in the Northeast, but she failed to thrive there as well, getting into fights and sneaking off at night. Finally her mom split from her stepdad, and returned with all four children to their home town. At 15, Dtang “married” another teen boy, and they have been mostly together since, living in her home town.

The biggest problem with childhood trauma is its compounding effect. Trauma makes a child feel unsafe, and without ability to understand or explain herself, she switches priority from attachment to survival. Her behavior then fustrates caregivers, creating additional trauma. The brain’s fear center overdevelops and interferes with rational learning, so school performance is poor. She also then has little if any ability to articulate past harmful events, so getting clear history, especially during the pubescent years when Dtang was with us, can be difficult. Elevated adrenaline and cortisol attack the immune system, causing health problems, and in many cases, eventual autoimmune disease.  Dtang has lupus. The body’s attempts to compensate the overbalance of stress hormones by drug and sexual addiction. It’s not good.

I keep in touch with Dtang on a regular basis, just to keep letting her know I consider her precious.  Sometimes she asks for money, which I limit to putting a couple dollars on her prepaid phone. A couple years ago we made an emergency trip to pray for her when her autoimmune disease was acute, and she has been doing better since, although still very much affected. At 18 Dtang is still extremely underdeveloped emotionally and at high risk for additional trauma. Currently she is with her husband on a construction crew in Pattaya., a place where a lot of bad things happen.

No happy ending yet for this one. While we would love to have interventions that can help turn these precious prodigals around, there seems to be no real cure at that age. We just pray, send our love when we can, and wait.

Day at the office

A former member of The Well messaged me today. Here is the translation:

“Hey Dad, I need your advice on something. Can you help me?

“Hello my daughter. What can I help you with?”

“I’m going to mortgage some land, Dad. But they’re giving me a really low price.”

“Why do you have to mortgage?”

“I had it appraised at the land office. They assessed it at ฿196,000. I need it for my younger sibling’s wedding. My parents are old. They don’t have the means. So I have to take the deed and mortgage it. I’m really stressed, Dad. Tell me something.”

Thai pronouns are not always gender specific. My first assumption was that she was talking about a younger sister.

“How much do you have to pay?”

“130000. I have to take care of my younger sib’s. The girl’s parents are asking for a lot. If not he has to go to jail.”

Ah, it’s a younger brother, so obviously either a date rape situation or a minor.

“That’s a lot.”

“I took it to finance, but they gave me very little.”

“Why do you owe this?”

“Give it to their daughter, Dad. Dad, what should I do? Maybe I’ll have to sell the land. It’s so much money.”

“Speaking directly, I am not 100% Thai. By my culture I’d let him go to jail.”

“It’s not like that here. Mom and Dad don’t abandon their children.”

“I understand that well. But it makes it difficult for me to give you advice.”

“Yes Dad. I think I will sell [the land]. It will be very good.”

“It looks like your brother did something not good at all, right?”

“Oh no. It’s tradition. He had sex with the woman. We have to set the wedding date.”

“How old is the woman?”

“12.”

“And how old is your brother?”

“21.”

Thai culture/law lets families handle things like this between themselves, and it is often solved with a direct payment, family to family. 

“Ow. Is she pregnant?”

“No.”

“Normally I wouldn’t trust a man who had sex with a kid. If my own son did like that I would have him go to prison, really. Sorry for speaking straight. I love you, daughter.”

Men’s Program Coordinator

Help develop an outreach and discipleship program for young Thai men with a similar purpose and vision as The Well, our women’s ministry: train leaders, reach families and change society.  The men’s program would emphasize outreach to young men from poor, working-class backgrounds, particularly from northeast Thailand, and would include strong educational and job-training components.  This job requires a long-term commitment.