Jim Larson: 31 Posts in December

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

A while ago a short statement of Jesus hit me in a new way: "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." (Luke 19:10) It's a familiar statement to anyone who grew up in Sunday School singing, "Zacchaeus was a wee little man...." Clearly he had reached a point in life where the money and benefits of his tax-collector profession weren't working for him anymore. He was ready to be found. That idea, and Jesus' statement, sums up the heart of the missionary. We don't go to other places looking to "spread our religion". Instead, I like to think of it as, "Excuse me, may I love you?" We go looking for hurting people, knowing they are everywhere, and that perhaps by just showing up, as Jesus did that day in Jericho, a miserable life, resigned to hopelessness, can be turned around. Indeed, in our 14 years here we have seen some pretty amazing turnarounds. We are all works in progress, and these precious lives are no different. But there is progress, where before there was only struggle. Today "Jane" snuck up from behind me in our coffee shop to give me a hug. Last night ... Read More
Despite the difficult topics I have written about in the first five days of this project, the truth is that I always have a great day at The Well. I work with wonderfully precious people, much younger than me, who call me Dad. I remember meeting Junie, then 19, in 2013. She seemed quiet and timid. Indeed Junie had her shy side, and still does, but it soon became clear that there was a lot going on in her 90-pound frame. Like many we work with, Junie's mother worked in the sex industry, and was absent from home. She remembers her father being good to her, but he left to start a new family when Junie was 16. On her own, Junie protected herself with the ways of the street–and a boyfriend. She moved in with a boy, and they were married after she became pregnant. Her husband was irresponsible and abusive, so after a couple of years she fled. When she was 19 a friend introduced Junie to The Well. What Junie lacked in size she made up for with sharp wit and a sharp tongue. She brought these two untamed talents with her to The Well, and ... Read More
So far in this project I've written 4 mostly sad stories in 4 days. One of the reasons I kind of stopped writing the past few years is just because so much happens every day and I just couldn't keep up. Today is Father's Day, so I could write about the dad who has been making progress in recovery but was arrested yesterday with 6 tablets of "ice" in his possession. He'll get 2 1/2 years, we're told. On the positive side, I could write about strides that one woman with a severe trauma background has been making lately in understanding God's love and forgiveness. "I don't feel shame anymore," she told me yesterday. But I'm still kind of teary from a phone call that just came this morning, so I'm going to write about this: Probably a majority of women that we help have unhealthy mothers. We have cared for quite a few daughters of drug addicts, prostitutes and of course, both. A couple of those moms have passed away in the last few years, one while in prison in China for drug trafficking. The call was from "Gade", a pretty and personable 16-year-old we met earlier this year ... Read More
Childhood trauma tends to produce sexually active teen girls. "Som" , now 13, was born to teen parents. She was to be aborted by her 17-year-old mother, her grandmother had decided. Some negotiation by workers saved her life: Som's mother and equally young father would marry and receive assistance in starting a family, and she would be carried to term. Som received lots of love at The Well growing up, and we tried hard to help her mom and dad become a healthy couple. For a while things were looking hopeful, but fell completely apart just after Som turned four. Her dad returned to drug dealing, and her mom, deciding she had had enough, found another man and became alcoholic, following her mother and older siblings. For a while Som stayed with her mother and stepdad, but eventually they sent her to be with her grandmother in a rural village. Her grandmother had a long history of alcoholism as well. Som did well in school, but between her grandmother's continued alcoholism and her limited opportunity in a rural school, she was sent back to Bangkok for junior high. Back in Bangkok, Som felt neglected. Her mom worked two jobs so ... Read More
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 ... Read More
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 ... Read More
Nok Yung, 9, has lovely dark Asian eyes and honey-brown skin, her playful smile revealing a cheerful disposition. When she first came to The Well with her young mom five years ago, for some reason she quickly made a special bond with our family, and gives us no small amount of joy. We consider her a granddaughter. She often spends evenings with us, and sometimes weekends. Later this month I will tell the encouraging story of healing and transformation in Nok Yung's family. Her mother was a young teen when she was born, and Nok Yung showed signs of trauma during her first year with us. But now she is thriving, thanks to her much-improved home life along with a lot of input by caregivers at The Well. She is a bright, eager learner, strong and athletic, and does well at school.  A couple years ago we attended a wedding at a town along the southeast coast, and Nok Yung went a long. After the wedding we stopped at a beach for a couple of hours. A few others from The Well were with us, including a mother and her daughter Mena, older than Nok Yung but small for her age ... Read More

3 Replies to “Jim Larson: 31 Posts in December”

  1. Jim, this effort is SO wonderful. Your efforts will expand ALL of us and our understanding of “what Jim & Judy do”??

    thanks bro.


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