Learning, Thinking, Growing, and Healing

group of people gathered around two graduates, smiling

Once, *Bam, a woman in our program at The Well, complained to me about having to learn English. She was too old to learn a new language; what was the point? I explained that even if she never used it, learning English would help her focus, improve her memory, and strengthen her brain. She didn’t learn English but she kept coming to class and she grew healthier. I know using her brain to learn something new was part of that. (She went on to work in a ministry that includes many foreign, English-speaking volunteers; funny how that works!)

At The Well, we know that the heart, body, gut, mind, and all the other parts of us are working together, all the time. We aim to be holistic in our approach, so we provide everyone with opportunities to learn, from in-house classes to university support.

Education breaks cycles—all kinds: addiction, poverty, trauma and generational cycles. Education teaches that our lives can be different. It can increase resources and enable freedom. When we talk, think, read, and talk some more, our behaviors, emotions and thoughts can change. Learning new information and skills affects our brains, increasing neuron growth and even changing brain patterns that have been altered by trauma.

Beyond the classes we provide at The Well, like Bam’s English class, we support women studying for their secondary equivalency tests (similar to the American GED). Many of the girls and women we meet are at risk because they lack a diploma; many drop out after 9th grade. This has its challenges, but there is a government equivalency program, and some universities with a dual-credit option.

Some students, or their children, go on to study at universities (or even further) and we support them holistically there, too. We do ask our students to apply for government loans, which are good and fair, and then we may also help with a stipend for expenses, along with social and emotional support.

Children of students at The Well are participating in our school break enrichment program.
(This one dressed up as Elsa for the occasion.)

This school year, we need to raise about $5,000 for our scholarships and educational stipends for our secondary and university learners. Our recipients include:

  • One young woman in her last year of university, a daughter of a woman from The Well.
  • A young man in University studying electronic engineering who has been part of The Well since he was a preschooler!
  • A high school student who struggled in public school, but is thriving in a private one.
  • A high school student in a vocational High School (auto mechanics). 
  • We are also considering several women who might be a good fit for dual credit option would require, since these are all moms who need to work. Jim and I are looking into this; still need to crunch some numbers.

These individuals are hard-working, deserving, and are real learners who are ready to break cycles—which is why we call this giving fund our “Future Leaders” fund. If you’d like to set up a recurring or one-time gift to the Future Leaders fund to help us support them, click here.

Whether it’s a university class or a small English lesson, learning means growing. I’m learning how to work in a team, how to teach, or how to navigate Thai culture. Right now, I am also in the art class my daughter teaches at The Well, and I’m learning about the elements of art. Now, I am seeing lines, hues, tints, tones, space, and texture, and I am learning how all these elements of art work together. Sometimes learning new things can take one’s breath away.

Will you join us in this learning-growing-healing work?

Pray with us for our October children’s program. Every year we run a children’s day program during the October school break here in Thailand. This year we have some wonderful Thai leaders and 12 children. Pray for healing for children and their families as we have this chance to build relationships and enrich their time off school.

If you’re lead, make a donation to the Future Leaders fund, or set up a regular gift to provide consistent support. Any amount is helpful, of course, and a gift between $30-100 every month will provide for one student. (This varies based on the student’s needs – let us know if you have questions!)

Talk to us. We know we’re not the only people who are trying to help people break cycles through education. We’d like to learn and share, even have a network.

Youth Ministry

Judy standing with three teenage girls, faces obscured, whom we've recently been getting to know at The Well in Bangkok.

I have a soft spot for the tough cases. The wild troublemakers that other folks tend to avoid I see as precious challenges. In particular, I love the possibility of getting through to a love-starved teen; cigarette in one hand, smartphone in the other.

We have a few new ones at The Well, ages 15 and 16. I’m cautiously optimistic: it has been a long road getting them to this point, but there is obviously much, much farther to go. 

“Jo” has reminded Judy and I multiple times of her sixteenth birthday coming up on Monday. We first met Jo a year ago, along with a couple of friends selling themselves to local guys under a nearby bridge. She caught the attention of both Judy and I for no apparent reason, so we thought it was perhaps God’s nudging. But we did not see her again until a couple months ago, where we found her hanging out in front of a small internet shop managed by a woman we strongly suspect of pimping teen girls. We connected on Facebook, and soon after she started asking for money for food.

Childhood trauma robs kids of their need for connection. More accurately, it stuffs that need down inside shells of learned mistrust. Survival becomes life’s first objective, followed by finding sources of happiness to replace hurt and rejection. They discover happiness-producing risky behaviors together with other needy kids, but their relationships with each other are tenuous and conditional. The cardinal rule: don’t rat.

We usually do help with a little money or food the first time or two someone asks, simply to make a connection. We know it means that we will be asked again, which we address one step at a time. The survival mind sees us simply as a new resource, not a caring adult, but that’s ok.

We then look for opportunity to explain our purpose. In Jo’s case, she asked for help looking for work. I invited her to interview at The Well, but she didn’t come, because a friend that we had tried to help a couple years ago told her it was “boring.” One day she told me she as at the internet shop, so I sent Cream, one of our assistant leaders, to pick her up.

Sitting by my desk, Jo told me the typical sad story: parents split up when she was 5, and from then on she had been shifted to different places. Currently she lives with her grandmother and aunt. She had repeated eighth grade after being kicked out, then got kicked out again.

I asked Jo what possible careers or dreams she was interested in. “It’s probably not possible,” she said.

“Go ahead, tell me and we’ll see,” I said.

“I’d like to be doctor.”

This answer, along with “I want to be a teacher,” is not uncommon for poor kids with minimal exposure. They have all met teachers and doctors, not lawyers, engineers or pilots. But the details are not important, because any level of ambition sets up our next step.

“Ok,” I said to Jo. “Being a doctor requires a lot of work, and we’d have to get to know you and see if you have what it takes to pull it off. But I can guarantee that if you do, we’ll do anything and everything we can to help you get there.”

This type of exchange sets up our next step. We will help, but with conditions. We won’t help you with a couple of dollars to support a purposeless life, but we are ready to support you through university.

Jo wasn’t quite ready for turn things around at that point, but we’ve learned not to rush or try to rescue, even when we know unhealthy stuff is going on. I messaged her most days, and since she usually told me she was in a different part of town, we suspected prostitution.

“Dad, please send money. I don’t have enough to get home,” Jo messaged one day. She was in a Bangkok suburb.

“Dear daughter, remember what I told you. I’ll help you get through medical school if you work there, but I won’t help you to just run around with no purpose.”

“Ok, I understand. So can you help me?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t think you’re getting it.” I repeated the whole speech. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, I get it. Dad, please send money.”

For weeks, were really only saw incorrigibility in Jo, not an openness for change. Shockingly bad manners are common with streetwise kids. As all parents know, simple habits like speaking politely and showing consideration or gratitude usually need to be taught. Uneducated grandparents handed kids by wayward young adults often don’t become conscientious caregivers. Once, Jo and a friend came over. First they invited themselves on a self-guided tour of our apartment, then requested chocolate smoothies and showers. After lunch they went into the bathroom, and a minute later the smell of cigarette smoke came wafting out under the door.

At the same time, something kept us holding onto her. Perhaps it was just a small hint that she did want a relationship, if only in her own, survival-driven way. Finally, three weeks ago she agreed again to come visit The Well and apply. She brought a friend, a classmate who had also been expelled, and Ann, a our Thai worker who handles case management, thought they would be worth a try. A couple days later, Jo brought another friend from the same group, also kicked out of school, whom we accepted on a trial basis as well.

To our pleasant surprise, Jo and friends have been showing up every day on time and responding dramatically to firm love in our Recovery Center. Onn, the center manager, has taken to them like a mother hen. Jo has already had a few not-unexpected rude outbursts, but she has actually responded to correction. Every day I message her, and every day she tells me she is happy and having fun.

On Thursday, Ann went with Jo to meet her grandmother, who spent the entire time complaining about Jo’s behavior in front of Jo. Ironically, Jo had only recently described to me the process that led to her decline from an A student to a delinquent. Looking for attention as a 13-year-old, she got into trouble, and the resulting pushback from authorities drove her away. It’s an “If they don’t believe I can be good, I might as well just be bad” syndrome, and we see it in the lives of many neglected kids.

In these short two-plus weeks, Jo has responded to heartfelt affirmation. Indeed a fun, lovable personality has been peeping out from under the shell. But we also know that this is a honeymoon phase. There will be a long rough road ahead, that may include Jo leaving The Well at some point for one more more wrong reasons.

I’m not being pessimistic or cynical. Experience has taught us to be okay with the two-forward-three-steps-back paths of traumatized people. As with most of the stories we tell, this one does not have an ending, but rather, “To be continued.”

Yesterday I stopped into the Recovery Center to take Judy a latte. Seeing the women sitting on the floor in the next room making jewelry, I stopped into say hi. Jo was near the door with her back turned, so I knelt down to get her attention. She returned a shy smile.

Jo reminded me again of her birthday coming up on Monday. When I stood to leave, she called, “See you!” in English and grinned proudly.

When “Sundays at 10 AM” doesn’t work.

The beginning vision of The Well was to reach many, starting with women at risk. We remembered Jesus’ words that the Kingdom of God is like yeast in dough, small but with incredible transformative potential. Disciples of Jesus come together to serve in ways that ultimately change societies, so we knew starting churches was a goal.

We started small gatherings immediately, but these groups weren’t impactful. Thai poverty culture strongly discourages people from going against the crowd; an underestimated obstacle. New believers who visited old friends relapsed into unhealthy activities. We once took a couple former bar girls on outreach, and I watched approvingly from a distance as one talked at length to a mamasan, thinking they were discussing her new life in Christ. Later she confessed she was asking about working there.

We were discouraged, but felt the Lord say to stay faithful. Yeast takes time. Practical challenges also forced us to seek creative answers over the years …

Continue reading “When “Sundays at 10 AM” doesn’t work.”

Faithfulness, Butterflies, and a Few Good Men

Our ministry to women has always included men. Once during our first year in Bangkok, Jim and I met three young ladies at a park, to get to know them outside of their work in bars, and they brought two men with them – a boyfriend and a brother. The guys were as curious as the girls about what we were doing. Ever since, we’ve had many men at the edge of The Well. Some hope to work, to learn guitar, and to make friends. Some have hung around trying to sell drugs or stay in unhealthy relationships. But all of them, probably unbeknownst to them, bring a deep desire to find grace and love.  

We sometimes hear from Thai women we meet in the bars that they are looking for a foreign husband because “Thai men are no good” – they made bad husbands and bad fathers. In America, we use the word “players”; in Thai, they’re called “butterflies.” They flit from woman to woman – and never stay long.

Continue reading “Faithfulness, Butterflies, and a Few Good Men”

Enriching Children

March, April and May are the hottest season in Thailand. School takes a long “summer break” and our moms need reliable childcare, so we provide a holistic enrichment program for the children of The Well including science, art, and a lot of fun.

We thought you might like to get to know some of the volunteers, students, and teenagers who created a great summer program. Read on to get to know their names and faces – and thank you for supporting them with your gifts and prayers!

Continue reading “Enriching Children”