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.

DONATE TO OUR MATCHING FUND

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

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.”

A Day in the Life of a Mom at The Well

The typical “human trafficking” tale is simple: a villain lures a girl with promises of a good job, but she ends up trapped and sold. We’ve all heard some version of that story – but we’ve never heard it from a woman at The Well.

The real-life stories are never simple. Instead of being tricked by a trafficker, girls meet tricksters like peer pressure, teenage romance, or illicit drugs. They’re often trapped by abuse, economic hardship, or a mental illness.

Most women at The Well are young single moms who ended up working “at night” to support their kids. These women are a key reason we focus on holistic family recovery, from keeping nursing babies next to mom to offering parenting classes and support.

We want you to understand what we do and why, so we’re dedicating our next few articles to our single moms. This first essay is a fictionalized day in the life of a young mother who is new to The Well.


Kay wakes with her daughter Noy asleep next to her, tangled hair all over her face.

“Baby, wake up!” She nudges Noy half-heartedly, then considers rolling over for more sleep. Then she remembers her attendance contract.

“I can’t be late.” she thinks. She’s tired of failing. This time, she’s going to make it – she will get up early and she will not party on weeknights.

“You can do this,” she whispers.

“Wake up.” Now her voice is stern, with an edge that Noy knows well. The little girl drags her feet to the shower. Her school uniform, ironed and ready, waits on a chair.

They arrive at school and Noy realizes she was supposed to wear her scouting uniform today. She begins to cry, and they run the half-block home for the right uniform. Noy makes it back on time, but Kay is late to work.

She signs in with a tight feeling in her shoulders and goes to Bible study. Someone reads the verses as little breezes move the curtains. A sparrow walks across the tile, and her spirit begins to settle. She looks up shyly at the other women.

Her second hour is a mom’s class. Ann, a volunteer at The Well, talks about teaching manners to your children. Kay already teaches Noy to be polite, just as her grandma taught her, so it’s easy to let her mind wander. She worries over money problems.

At lunch time, her grandma calls. She takes care of Kay’s 9-year-old son back home, and Kay is due to send money. Grandma knows she won’t get paid until Friday, but she still yells about the delay. She tells Kay she is no good, and that she needs to get a job like her cousin has. Her family is building a new house with all the money she sends.

“Grandma, I will send you money on Friday, I promise,” Kay says. Her grandma ends the call without a goodbye.

“I’m trying so hard and she doesn’t believe me. Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I should just go get drunk with the money,” Kay thinks. She pushes the rice across her plate.

The afternoon is slow. Women upstairs are making peanut butter to sell, and the smell makes her hungry. She wishes she’d eaten her lunch. Downstairs, The Well is rebuilding a cafe. She sees the construction workers in their long-sleeved T-shirts and it reminds her of husband. His eyes used to light up when he saw her.

She wishes she could go back to life before he left her. She sighs and remembers how it was – just show up at job sites for work and party any night; no need to keep a schedule or plan the right school uniform. She could run away and do that again.

But she sighs again. She doesn’t want to run. She wants to take care of her daughter and send money home for her son. She wants things to be better for herself and for them. That’s why she is here.

“Kay, focus!” Pi Bee’s voice brings her back. The earrings she is making are complicated and she doesn’t quite have it right.

“You can do this,” she whispers. She writes her name carefully on the tag as she finishes the set: “Kay, 25 years old.”

At the end of the day, she picks Noy up at the Center’s aftercare program, and they stop for noodle soup on the way home. Noy’s eyes droop as she does her homework, and Kay double-checks that the right school uniform for tomorrow is ironed.

“You can do this,” she says to herself as flicks off the light and lies down next to Noy. “You can.”


Would you like to hear more?

Over the next few weeks we’ll explore the social and economic realities women like Kay deal with every day, and how we believe we can bring about real transformation for these women and their families. Subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when we post the next one.

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Your Brain on Trauma

A few months ago, a pickup truck turned in front of a motor scooter just 50 feet ahead of me on my own bike. The rider braked but slammed into the truck at maybe 5 to 10 miles an hour. He appeared a bit dazed but stayed on his feet, bystanders quickly coming to help.

Afterwards I noted that while it was only a minor accident, a picture was now indelibly painted into my memory: the rider, wearing a lime-green shirt, arms flying up to catch the impact, slamming into the white truck. Twenty years from now I will most likely not remember typing this article, but I will retain that image.

Recently I asked “Nan”, 25 and with a left forearm completely scarred from years of self-cutting, what some of her worst memories were. Nan had started out very guarded and to some, threatening: her income sources had been drug dealing and pimping other girls. But having spent a few years working to slowly earn Nan’s trust, I knew I could ask. “So many!” she exclaimed.

“Tell me a couple,” I pressed.

“I was raped at 15,” Nan began, then added, “When I was 13 I watched about 30 guys rape my friend.” To our team, reports like these are sadly and disturbingly common.

Brain science has come a long way since my B.A. in psychology in 1979. We now have a pretty good understanding of what happens when the brain goes through a traumatic experience. “Write this one down!” our amygdala, there to protect us, shouts not only to the brain but to nerves connected throughout our bodies. The greater the fear, the more permanent the paint recording all five senses.

Most of the time and in healthy people, this works like an immune system. We become more careful. But when one experiences severe and/or repeated trauma, a number of unhealthy things start to happen that don’t just go away. Any one of the five senses can trigger a fear response, often without our full awareness. We may feel anxious, angry, or apathetic, but not know why.

The worst of all is repeated trauma, involving helplessness, that occurs randomly to a child. Brain and body lock into a perpetual state of fear. Life becomes survival from constant threat. She lashes out or withdraws, with growing shame over her irrational behavior. She will try anything to feel better, or feeling numb, may hurt herself to feel something. It only gets worse.

Arousal hormones such as adrenaline tear at healthy cells and the immune system derails. Many women at The Well get sick at least monthly. One of our dear long-term addicted women passed away just last week from infectious disease.

There are answers, and a growing understanding of trauma-based disorders has been incredibly helpful at The Well. It fits very well with the Good News of grace, making Scripture wonderfully alive. However in a real sense we are only just getting started.

We will explain more in our next edition. For now I’d like to introduce our main staff counselor, Siri, an amazing, grace-filled woman who comes out of a traumatic background herself, including addiction and sex trafficking. Siri is encouraging several younger women to follow her in psychology and counseling studies. Please take three minutes to watch her story then prayerfully consider the possibilities below.

Thank you again for praying for and supporting The Well.

Ways to Help

Sponsor a future professional.

This coming school year, ten students from Servantworks Thailand ministries will be in university. Most have goals to work helping others in professions such as teaching and counseling (one is the daughter of the woman who just passed away). In addition, one married couple is working on M.Div. degrees at a Bangkok seminary. Perhaps you would like to help support one of these wonderful young leaders.

Provide training and consultation.

We are inviting mental health professionals, or others with experience in addressing trauma, to teach and coach. While a visit to Thailand is most helpful, online video chat can work very well.

Help build healthy places.

Because rampant addiction and other severe dysfunction make for very unsafe communities among the Thai lower class, we have two complementary dreams: 1) “Connect”, growing a healthy church-without-walls network in our community, based around a coffeeshop; 2) a short-term residential recovery center, where women with high dysfunction can receive safe, intensive help. Connect needs about $6000 in building repair, and we would like to begin a capital fund for land and improvements for the recovery center.

“I saw light!” God’s Work in Bringing People to Freedom

I walked into the jewelry room the other day to find only a few working–others were away at classes. Right away “Nan*”, a gregarious 18 year-old, with beautiful skin tone and features from her African-American father, said she wanted to be baptized. She pronounced the unfamiliar Thai word slowly, “baptisma”. I looked at her quizzically. Nan has a lovely personality to complement her gorgeous smile, but has never shown more than a casual interest in matters of faith.

We are very clear with everyone that our love for them and the benefits of The Well are in no way dependent on their changing to Christianity. The Thai desire to serve and please is such that many will gladly change to for our sakes-obviously not what we want.

Bam, a bright 20 year-old who has risen to manager status, changed the subject. “Dad, you need to take us to the beach!” she ordered. “My daughter hasn’t seen the ocean yet, and I want to take her.”

“Sure, that would be great!” I said, seeing an opportunity for Bam to step up in leadership. “Why don’t you work on putting something together with a cost per person, and the ministry perhaps could help some?”

silhouette 2“I saw light,” Nan interrupted. I looked at her again, confused, wondering if I had heard correctly. “I saw light!” she repeated.

Two weeks ago Saun had handed out instructions on how to become a Christian. Saun, who met Jesus at The Well 6 years ago, along with his wife Gik, teaches a class for newer women on basic Christianity. “You can do this on your own if you want to,” Saun had instructed. “It’s completely up to you.”

“I did what Saun said,” Nan reported. “I prayed to God, and confessed my sins. And I saw light. Jesus was in the room with me. I kept hearing him say, ‘Welcome! Welcome! Come in!'”

Now Nan was glowing. “I keep thinking over and over about that woman, you know, the one who was being punished and Jesus let her go? I keep seeing her in my mind and thinking, ‘I am that woman! I am that woman!'” This girl who had so far only shown casual interest was now totally in love with Jesus.

Living in a religiously free, highly evangelized but barely reached culture has taught us to work solely from a perspective of God’s work in people. The traditional ways of reaching folks that bore fruit in the West don’t work here. And with no quick answers, the sheer numbers of desperate people are overwhelming and discouraging. Instead we have learned to let God lead us to people, and then to let God grow them, one by one.

On the crowded block known as Soi Cowboy, where some 2000 scantily dressed women and ladyboys entertain Western and Japanese men, we don’t think about passing out tracts or preaching on the corner. Neither when we visit Circle 22, where hundreds more come to solicit on the street. We pray, “Lord, we don’t know what we’re doing. If you have someone for us to meet, would you lead her (or him) to us?”

Judy and Jessica Mangiameli met Nan that way, at a Soi Cowboy coyote bar last year. Nan was then 17, and about to enter 12th grade, but was wavering. She never knew her father, and her mother has lived in Europe for years. Nan said at the time that she needed to quit school in order to take care of her grandmother. Judy and Jessica’s best efforts failed to convince her. Around last December, Nan became pregnant, and agreed to join The Well.

When someone joins The Well, we explain that we will teach her about Jesus as the example that we follow-the reason we came to Thailand, the reason that people give financially etc. We do not compare religions. We do teach the Bible to show God’s heart and principles for living, but most importantly, we love and pray.

We can now tell multiple stories of men and women becoming all-in followers of Jesus through this approach. After some time God, in His own way, breaks through their natural barriers of self-centeredness. They walk out of that prison of self, understand sin and grace, and are able to love as they are loved. It’s great fun when it happens. After that point we see very little relapse into old ways.

hug cu bwOf course there are many, both current students and alumni of The Well, who are still very much in process, some after many years. But we see progress often enough to remind us that God doesn’t quit. Alumni contact us regularly, and every year some return.

It is completely freeing. We don’t have to worry so much about doing just the right thing in order to bring someone to wholeness in Jesus. The best we can do is enjoy them-care for them not because we are supposed to, but because they are precious. We plant and water. God does the growing.

We wish you all could enjoy the opportunity we have here in an unreached culture, to introduce Jesus to people completely fresh, not having to wade through misconceptions or baggage of previous bad experiences with Christianity. But we believe the same approach is right for the West as well.

The time has largely passed when leading someone through the plan of salvation and referring him or her to a church is adequate. By all means that is not to say we should not look for such opportunities. But when we listen to what folks are saying to us in the U.S., it appears that there is a need to grow in learning to love people to Jesus, in that order.

Here are some suggested steps to try. They are not original by any means.

1. Pray.

  • for people in your life, for God to draw each one to Himself. Always think Ephesians 2:10. It’s not your job to make things happen.
  • for God to bring new people into your life that have a need you can meet. If your relationships are mostly Christians, look for new ways to meet others.
  • for God to prepare your own heart, that you will truly have His love for folks.

2. Love. Find God’s glorious image in each person. When you see it, you will naturally love out of enjoyment, not out of duty or obligation. See Paul’s example in I Thessalonians 1-2.

3. Explain when asked, cf. I Peter 3:15. Simply tell your story-why you follow Jesus, why you love the Bible, etc. Don’t expect others to see what you do. Especially important in the current age: don’t be afraid to mention the highest standard of morality and sacrifice that Jesus taught and embodied, along with grace for sinners. When we truly love, people will let us bring up this point, even welcome.

4. Wait. Don’t think that someone has to change within weeks or even months. Don’t be discouraged at 3 steps forward, 3.9 back. That’s normal. Keep going, don’t give up, cf. Galatians 6:9.

Of course Nan has a long ways to go. Her private, subjective experience must be confirmed and relearned in daily life; her new childlike faith must be tested and stretched. But indeed that is happening. She talks now of getting answers to prayer, but more importantly, of realizing God’s presence daily, including in stressful situations. We are confident that God is the one who is working in her, and that He will complete His work in His time and His way. Our job is to watch, enjoy, and praise His Name.

*By policy, we usually use pseudonyms.