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:

The church reaching the lower class must be local. The working class work long hours and live with stress. They need church that is convenient and nearby.

The church must have a flexible schedule, with multiple options for people to gather. Young adults are a strategic group for starting a church, but most work in retail. They don’t have predictable days off.

The church must be interactive. Many working-class Thais are functionally illiterate and have minimal general knowledge. To them, the Bible has strange vocabulary and concepts. The traditional sermon is ineffective.

Ultimately, church for busy people in an urban environment must to be more about relationships than organization. We had to meet the strong Thai need for community—relational connection and shared life.

We began imagining a space people could visit whenever, staffed with Christians able to share Jesus. A cafe might become a neighborhood hub and generate enough revenue to sustain itself. We slowly developed two venues: a storefront on a main avenue, Connect Center, and a house on a quieter street, Connect Garden.

More importantly, people who came into The Well long ago have matured, and we have a small but healthy community with Thai leaders. Some are working together on a church at Connect. Leading the effort are Sorn and Gik, former drug users who now have M.Div. degrees. Miaw cares for kids in her slum community. Bow talks about introducing Jesus to friends who worked in bars with her. Supporting them are Tracy and Shonna Shipp, along with Shonna’s mother, Gwen. We have the beginnings of this shared community life at The Well; now we’re ready to take it into the neighborhood.

Connect Center had a major remodel last year and is now open weekdays. We hope to operate every day by January. Connect Garden is being landscaped and should also open in January.

Both places will host small cafes and planned activities. Activities will include music, English, children’s events, games, and support groups—as well as worship, Bible study and info seminars about Christianity. Our hope is to foster an understanding of “church” not as a meeting to attend, but as a network of people sharing life together.

We could still use a few items to get everything working:

Sound system – $300
Television – $700
Garden lighting – $200

You can help by donating to the Connect Community Center fund.

John begins his letter exclaiming about the awesome privilege of experiencing the Son of God firsthand. Jesus’ main message, John says, is this: live and grow together in love and truth. “When we walk in the light, as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” This is the picture of church that we are praying for and working towards.

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.

As we learned more about the problems in this society that created a perfect storm for the sex industry – broken families, limited economic opportunities, and substance abuse, just to name a few – we began to see how this cultural system hurts boys and men, too. There is little incentive for them to be faithful, brave men with integrity. We wanted to see this change, but lacked a devoted group with a vision to take on the social problems of working-class men in Thailand.

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

Enriching Children (June 2018 Update)

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!

Debby Wong, a volunteer who took on the bulk of the work for this program, wrote:

“All the amazing teachers and volunteers, along with P’Dao’s children, have been making a good team to work with. They work hard and have been willing to stay with it. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve and love the kids. 😊 l see God working in their lives, even though I am beyond tired! All for His glory.”

Debby lives nearby and has a dear heart for God’s work. She handled the administration and communicated with staff and parents. She also worked with children who have special needs and needed some extra interventions, including two preschoolers who had significant trouble getting along with other children and another four-year-old boy who is new to Bangkok and needed support. His dad is working with our men on the Faithful Men construction crew, and we provided assistance for the family and a safe, structured program for the boy while he adjusted to life with his dad in a big city.

Becky Brittain, another volunteer at The Well, taught children and coached leaders. I asked what she enjoyed about the program and she responded:

“I loved watching all of the kids interact with the helpers during English class: children reading sight words to Keyla, others reading stories to Grandma Gwen, and others learning how to sound out words with Yean. I could tell that both the children and the helpers enjoyed it, and that made me enjoy it too.”

Yean was our main man. He is Dao’s oldest son; he’s been part of The Well family for 14 years and is finishing high school. He worked full-time during his school break. Grandma Gwen is a missionary in her second year at The Well. Keyla is an intern from Brazil and was also a faithful servant.

Kelli Johnson has volunteered her services to our summer break program for several years. She has also taught classes to women at The Well, and now partners with our weekly outreach to freelance sex workers. She writes:

“Hot season has lots of disadvantages, but there are good things about it, too. The mango is ah-may-zing! And I get to help teach science and Bible to the kids at The Well! One of the highlights of each week for me is hearing cries of “P’Kelli!!!!” and being bear-hugged in turn by each pair of little arms in the room. It’s really nice to be loved. 😊 Today we got to have fun with Skittles and learn about prayer. And I love how attentive they were to the Bible story. These guys are the best!”

This year I taught art with some tips I learned from Dani’s art class. It was amazing to watch kids see differently. My co-teacher Cream has been at The Well for four years, since she was 17. I asked her to write what we learned together, and she wrote:

  • Learn about patterns
  • God creates the world with patterns
  • We can see patterns everywhere
  • Color awareness
  • Important to play when you are doing art
  • We can fix mistakes
  • To listen
  • Think first

I can imagine how Cream’s list could become a promotional brochure for an art class in this community. We’ll see if God has something planned in this direction.

Our summer program focused on adding quality to children’s lives; to give them love and memories. Providing quality not only enriches their minds, but also brings safety and healing to children who desperately need rich hearts, too. I would love to see that happen throughout our neighborhood.

Ways to Support Children at The Well

Pray for them

  • Pray for the new school year, especially for the teachers. Many of the schools in our area have large class sizes and students with poor home lives.
  • Pray for healing for children and their families. Trauma and stress make it difficult to parent well and keep a family together and stable.

Donate to The Well 

We provide a stipend to women in our program to help them keep their family together and ease the financial stress. $52 a month will help a mother keep her school-age child with her in Bangkok instead of sending them to live with relatives.

You can make a one-time gift or set up a regular donation right here.

Training Leaders (May 2018 Update)

Back in December, we wrote about the new stage we’re beginning at The Well — one with a greater outward focus, closer to our hope of sending transformational leaders into our community here in Bangkok and beyond. Here’s an update on a few things we’ve been focusing on so far in 2018.

Our Day Program

Every week, a small group of volunteer and staff visit an area of Bangkok where women are working on the streets and reach out to them. It’s a desperate area, and the women have had very rough lives. There are several women waiting to join our day program at this time, women who need a safe, stable environment to rebuild.

For many years, The Well has functioned as a day program for women and their families. We provide services for them in a sort of “contained community,” including counseling for trauma and addictions, vocational opportunities, training in life skills and continuing education. Every woman at The Well has a personal schedule and plan for healing and growth, addressing her unique needs and goals. Over the time a lot has changed, but it’s clear that a consistent program which addresses the whole person is important. Our staff teams have been busy and productive as we continue to find ways to bring wholeness and opportunity to our students.

We’ve realized that we can find more opportunities for them by strengthening our connections outside of our little community, so this year we’ve begun to broaden our focus and look outward. We hope to connect women with organizations, businesses, and people outside The Well to help them grow and lead. We also feel called to reach into our immediate community, the On Nut (Ohn Noot) neighborhood in Bangkok, at the same time.

Leadership & Staff Development Update

Some of our direction for becoming more outward focused happened at the end of 2017. In preparation for a new year, our staff spent a day focused on goal setting both as individuals and as a team. Some of the individual goals included networking, connecting better to our community, finding resources in Thailand, and providing services to women and families who are transitioning out of our day program. We shared our individual goals, then worked on turning them into a unified plan that included an outward focus.

In January, our Program Director, Gik, left her role at The Well to take a position at the Thai Bible Society.  Many of you have heard us speak of Gik; she was a good fit and we were sad for her to go, but we are excited to see how God will use her in this new direction. We have not yet found someone to take that position and will continue to keep our number of students low to fit our present staff size. We intend to focus on developing staff and make good plans for moving forward during this season.

We invited another Thai organization to come in and teach us about Thai child protection laws.

We have a weekly staff training time built into our schedule this year. One high priority for staff development is training that will ensure The Well is a safe space for people who have experienced trauma. Last year we studied trauma recovery and re-committed ourselves to doing everything we can to create a safe space for healing. Our Thai staff have participated in a six-week weekly group training on non-violent communication. We also invited another Thai organization to come in and train our staff about the Thai Child Protection Laws. We are putting a Child Protection Plan in place. Other training this year has focused on leadership, teamwork and management. Staff are learning how to organize their work and be efficient, and how to be godly leaders. It’s been encouraging to watch people develop management skills, own their work and understand their call. We are also committed to prayer and hope to develop a stronger prayer walk together.

Other News

We are also working on a building a new board of directors for our Thai-based foundation. We have found some new Thai board members committed to pray and develop vision for The Well, so please pray with us as we transition new members in and develop the foundation, which is a Thai non-profit. We have begun some new relationships and are excited about having new people on board with us.

This Month, Help Support Staff at The Well

  • Pray for our staff – all of us need wisdom and grace. Names and photos of our team are available here. If you’d like to know some specific things to pray for, email Judy Larson.
  • Donate to The Well to help with the daily needs of our program, including staff training and development. Click here to donate online.
  • We would love to raise additional funds for a staff retreat in 2018. If you’d like to help us make that a reality, please email Judy Larson.

Becoming the Moms We’re Called to Be

We believe in whole families here at The Well. Over the last six months, we’ve been doing some serious work on parenting education and support. We have classes for groups of mothers and one-on-one coaching. I’ve heard wonderful stories, but even with this focused approach, I still hear discouraging reports. A staff member pulled me aside to tell me of a mom hitting her 4-year-old. Another woman told me she hits her child with a hanger because he will only obey if he is afraid.

Improper parenting does not seem natural to me. None of us are born perfect parents, of course, but I believe people learn neglect and abuse from the generations before them. In parent education, we contend with automatic responses that come from memories of abuse and neglect. We invite women to end generational patterns, which isn’t something they can do quickly or easily. Our goal is to help them do very difficult work.

At the end of our recent module, I asked my class how they’ve practiced what they’ve learned. They shared how they’ve praised their children and hugged them. They’ve redirected and predicted behaviors. They’ve set up new rules and family structures. They’ve taught their children to talk about their feelings, even their trauma stories.

Next, I asked them where they still struggle. Many shared about poor self-control. They try so hard to do the right stuff and end up sorry for what they do—or don’t do. They talked about how hard it is to stay “on” at the end of the day, when they’re tired and slip into old habits.

I have compassion for that feeling. Just this week I said some things I shouldn’t have to my family. It’s hard for me sometimes, even with all my resources and experience, and I know they are in much more desperate situations. But I had to push them, because we are all called to the same high standard of being the parents our children need. Any child, regardless of where they come from, needs to be safe, connected and cared for in order to be a healthy person.

Breaks from parenting are few and far between, especially for a single mom in a one-room apartment. God knows, though. He knows where we come from and He knows what we need. I told them the story of Susanna Wesley, who had 19 children and put her apron over her head to pray. We talked about ways to find space and call out to God for strength to keep on working on these parenting skills—to be the moms we are called to be.

The module just ended, but we are far from finished. This week, another ministry is coming to teach our staff Thai laws and procedure for child safety. We will keep our standards high and keep children safe. We will continue with our holistic approach so moms can be healthy enough to do this difficult work and be the parents God calls them to be. We’re confident that breaking cycles of abuse will help their families be safe, connected, and cared-for—which is good for children, and good for their parents, too.

A New Stage at The Well

We hope you are enjoying a marvelous season celebrating Jesus. That God not only came to walk alongside broken people but became weak and broken Himself will amaze us for eternity. May we all move closer to that example in 2018.

We are having an exciting time at The Well. Since 2004, our mission has been to send out transformational leaders, and that vision is finally coming closer to fruition. A few key developments:

  • Faang, 27, who used to handle Narimon stock and shipping, is praying hard with her husband Dton about moving to her home town to start ministry.
  • Gik and Sorn, former addicts but now seminary grads, are part of a project team with the Thailand Bible Society, working on an easy-to-read study Bible. 
  • If you have been following us over the years you know about Dao and Bpop and their faithful, loving outreach to hurting people. Their neighbor became so impressed by their example that she recently opened her heart to trust Jesus.
  • Two men who have struggled with addiction for years are changing dramatically, as part of Faithful Men, our new men’s program, led by Bpop.
  • One couple, separated by alcoholism, has reunited and opened a small restaurant with the help of a businessman in their church.
  • Tanya, 19 and in university, spent three weeks interning at a new partner ministry in a town along the Malaysian border notorious for forced sex trafficking. Among many successful efforts during that time was a Christmas party for trafficked Lao girls.

It has been a long haul. We began 13 years ago without fully understanding the extent and depth of the obstacles that people were facing. We naively thought that the “reach-teach-send” cycle would happen more quickly than it has. Not only was it slow going, but significant setbacks in our first few years had us wondering if our mission was even possible. Thanks be to God, it was.

How We Got Here

Looking back, The Well has gone through three distinct stages in development:

Even though the ministry grew quickly in its first stage from 2005-2009, we learned many lessons about the ways “hurt people hurt people.” A large number of traumatized women and teen girls, along with under-trained workers, caused stress and conflict.

Thankfully, God provided grace for us to hang on. The second stage in 2010-2015 was a time of slowing things down to allow time for people to heal and develop. We focused on building better structure for The Well’s programs. We also grew in understanding of many issues, from complex trauma disorder to Thai family culture.

During our third stage in 2016-2017, non-Thai missionaries began moving into support roles, with Thai leaders fully in charge at The Well. Every Thai leader on our current team comes out of a difficult background.

The Next Stage

In 2018, we look forward to a fourth stage: “Out” – out to the local community, out to other organizations, and out to “alumni” of The Well.

Out to the Local Community

We intentionally based The Well in a local community rather than in a downtown bar area, knowing that we needed to reach families and communities. Now that our structure and understanding are better developed, we can put more effort into encouraging and helping people to reach out to neighbors and friends.

Another key strategy we have been building towards for some time is Connect Community Center, a place where people come for classes, food and activities, all geared towards sharing Jesus and making disciples. Renovations have been in progress for much of 2017, and we hope to officially open our doors in the next few months.

Out to Alumni

Social media enables us to keep contact with dozens of former members of The Well, all scattered around Thailand. Most routinely tell us they miss the love that they experienced at The Well, including worship and learning God’s Word. It is clear that there is still a lot of potential for these “Women of The Well” to introduce Jesus to others. We are hoping to be able to shift more resources toward this need, connecting both online and via home visits.

Out to Other Organizations

Generally we find strong interest in the kind of work we do among Thai leaders and professionals in churches, government, business and other non-profits. But few have even a basic understanding of the complexity and depth of the social and psychological issues related to addictions and the sex industry. (Click here for a mindmap overview.)

We have already begun working to build partnerships with the goal of ultimately being able to impact many more women and families, and will put more effort into those starting right away in 2018. We will also soon begin conducting seminars for equipping people to help those with addictions or other kinds of brokenness. The key presenters will be transformed men and women reached through the ministry of The Well.

We are incredibly grateful for you who have stuck with us, faithfully supporting this work, believing in this mission, and praying for precious ones in the ministry. Thank you again, in Jesus’ Name.

Year-End Matching Donations

We hope you will consider The Well in your end-of-year giving plans. Some of our board of directors have decided to match year-end gifts up to $16,000, doubling the impact of your donation. You can make a secure donation online today right here.


As always, we’re grateful for your partnership. Thank you for your generous support and encouragement.