It is always hard to explain The Well, or what Judy and I do, in a short time. So this month I have decided to write 31 short posts that each feature an individual, or in some cases a family, with whom I have contact on a regular basis. A few are at The Well now, some are alumni; some I have known since children. For those who have time to read them, I hope they are able to put together a reasonable picture of why we are here and what we do.
Today I'm going to show you most of a letter I just sent to a young woman, 25, in prison for two years. She had a hard life before we met her; when she was in sixth grade her mother died. With her father already in prison, she was on her own. But like everyone else, she learned to survive. Intelligent and confident, she was a leader in some pretty bad stuff; in fact when we first met her we considered her too big of a risk for The Well. But as we stayed in touch and saw a desire for change, we agreed to give her a chance. Indeed there were rocky spots, but she began to warm and change; and we saw even more of her potential. As so often happens, old thinking patterns snuck in, and she got arrested not long after leaving The Well. I consider it God's mercy.
I am drawn to tough cases. I view wild and hard young people as wonderful challenges, because inevitably if and when you can build trust, you find a vulnerable heart that was forced into self-protection. Provide safety and affirmation, and the diamond begins to ... Read More
Twelve days into this project it's starting to weigh on me. I don't feel like I write well naturally–I have to work at it, so these posts are certainly not the best writing I have ever done. To make things easier on myself, and for a bit of a change, I'm going to post a conversation I had today with an alumni who contacts me from time to time via online chat. She has been at The Well a few times, at first as a 15 year-old about a dozen years ago. Since then it has been, well, a journey. But she's settled down now, with a good husband and a son.
Mention to almost anyone that you like to work with difficult teens and you'll get an eye roll. But I really do. I don't recommend it for those who need to see quick results. But I guarantee this: anything we do that shows troubled kids that they are precious is not forgotten. It may not look like it at the time, but any Word of God that we say and back up with unconditional love will stick, take root and grow.... Read More
Yesterday I wrote about learning to wait on the often long healing process that people need to go through. Today I'm going to look at the time it takes to reach our ultimate goal of building a transformational leader.
Call me an old fuddy-duddy or a slow learner, but the older I get the more I am convinced that in general, we start people in Christian ministry before they're ready, and retire them in their prime. Judy and I have been at this business together for 39 years–we first started in 1979, visiting people in a run-down Chicago neighborhood, and teaching Bible to chronic mentally ill folks. And while admittedly we have focused on the harder side of life, we feel we still have so much to learn.
With the folks we work with, there are extra obstacles. Very few come to us with a high-school education. Many have finished sixth grade or even less. Many also work to support children, and sometimes other family, so finding time to learn is difficult. Then there is the sad reality that reading for self-improvement is simply not a valued habit among the lower class. The Thai Bible ... Read More
We have loved living and working in Thailand for over 14 years, and are very grateful to God for moving us here. But one of our biggest disappointments, that has required the most adjustments, is the time factor. In our reach-teach-send mission of The Well, the teach-send part has taken far longer than we had hoped.
One of the hardest lessons for anyone working with hurting people is dealing with the self-destructiveness, in the form or addictions, that can result from multiple traumas. This was especially hard for me early on here, seeing how hurt and vulnerable were the women we were meeting. Their stories of being terribly mistreated only lit a fire in me to save them from such horrible unfairness.
And indeed they need salvation. But it if only it were so simple as leading them to safety. As someone working with trafficking rescue in Cambodia told me, "When you open the door of a closed brothel, the girls don't come running out."
The heavily traumatized mind has been taught to think wrong. It knows nothing of living for meaning and connection with others. Getting through another day is success enough, ... Read More
In 2004 I came with a small team to visit Bangkok, a few months before we moved here. On our first night visiting one of the Western-oriented sex tourist spots, we met Prang. She was standing in front of an agogo bar, wearing hot pants and tall boots. "Do you like working here?" Kate Wagner (now Kate Allen) asked. "No," was Prang's emphatic response. We paid the bar fee for Prang and her cousin to spend time with us, and a few nights after that. By the end of our 2-week trip, Prang had given herself to Jesus.
Over the past 14 years Prang has grown immensely in following the Lord and serving others, hanging in there, mostly in her small home town in the Buriram province. All while raising a son and daughter as a single mom. Prang came back to work with us in Bangkok in 2015, but earlier this year returned home.
Prang has an immense servant heart. I have never known her to say no to a request to help someone in need, even when it means going out of her way. She regularly tells me about someone ... Read More
When Judy and I were first getting to know bar girls, we often heard women say, "I got pregnant and dropped out of school. He was good for two years, then...."
A key cause of the sex industry is a cultural milieu, at least among the lower working class, of quick, fragile sexual relationships, starting in the teen years. The vast majority completely follow their feelings into informal marriages, that then fall apart when feelings change. Of course often by that time there is a child, sometimes still on the way.
So we spend a good bit of time trying to help repair these young families before they break apart. Few couples that we meet are legally married, but we have chosen to view them as common-law while we try to help those that can more towards a legal union. Some really have no chance, simply because either or both is also involved with someone else. Others have ended with a multi-year prison sentence for drugs. But we have to try.
I chat frequently with "Da", 23, whom we have known for several years. Da was always a bright girl, full of potential, ... Read More