Submerged

A few of us took a trek through one of the flooded neighborhoods of Bangkok yesterday in hopes of checking on and helping out a friend and her family.  She fussed about us making the trek… In typical Thai fashion, she was worried about her ability to be hospitable from a flooded house.

The water still hasn’t reached our neighborhood, though it continues to move through the city.  Check out satellite imagery of the flood’s slow daily descent on Bangkok here.

Here’s a quick tour through one of the flood zones, at least as far as we were brave enough to venture.

High clearance vehicles work overtime to move people in and out of flood zones.

Sign reads "Out" …

Still a popular place for lunch?

Hard to believe so much of the country is under water until you see it with your own eyes.  We get to see more than just water, however.  The resilience and creativity of the Thai people comes out in force, as does their strong spirit of generosity in times of need.  Though many are submerged, they’re still smiling in the Land of Smiles.

If you’re interested in best ways to help out with the flood, shoot me an email or comment and I’d be happy to offer some ideas.  

The More the Merrier

Growing up as the youngest of five kids in an extroverted family with constant visitors, I’m no stranger to full houses.  Thailand, however, raises the bar on hospitality.  ”The more the merrier” seems to be an unspoken cultural mantra in this country.

October is a funky month in Thailand as schools close for a month between terms, meaning our family at The Well explodes with some new energy for a month as kids and teens from our extended community are around all day, every day.  A new twist on the usual October fun and youth programs… six teenagers and three Thai interns are camping out with us at the volunteer house for the month.  That brings our house occupancy to 13, usually expanding from there as friends and neighbors join in on the commotion as well.

Every night’s a party!

Love the life and joyful noise the kids bring to the house.  Meals turn into parties and bedtime turns into a circus.   There’s something about having teenagers around that brings good perspective and optimism for the future.

Sure – a houseful of rambunctious teenagers isn’t all fun and games; it’s easy to get caught up in the never ending cycle of grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, with a side of complaints about house rules on cell phone use.  (Gaining respect for parents everywhere!)  And yet the frequent sounds of laughter, worship music jam sessions and ‘heart-to-hearts’ more than make up for the minor inconveniences of a houseful.

The kids are getting exposed to a different type of community and family than they’ve known in the past.  And… us ‘big kids’ get a unique window into what God’s doing in their hearts and lives every day.  What a blessing and a privilege!

A couple reasons I’m writing this.

One, so you can pray with us.  For all the kids that are preparing to head back to school in the next couple weeks and, in some cases, back to far less safe family and community environments.  We want these youth to have access to consistent, healthy community and are praying for God to make a way for that to happen.  We dream of these rural kids being the cycle breakers – the ones to break the trends of brokenness in their families and communities.  With that dream, we’re continuing to pray about a possible rural youth center (think Boys & Girls Club meets 4-H) but we’re still a ways off from launching.  Let me know if this piques your interest and I’ll loop you in.

And two, so you might think about your own roof.  Who’s under it?  Who are you inviting into your community?   Are you seeking out and inviting in community not only as a means of being a blessing to others, but as a means of allowing God to stretch you, teach you, encourage you and remind you just how precious and beautiful His family is?

If you’re not, you’re missing out.  After all, the more the merrier!

How Much Do You Think You Are Worth

This week has seen the passing of Steve Jobs, the creative mastermind behind Apple. Tributes have been flowing in from around the world, focusing on his business acumen, his innovation, his team ethic, his value to humankind. Observers have been surprised at how many people have Facebooked, Tweeted, blogged and e-mailed, quoting Mr Jobs at length as if his very words held the key to life itself.

This very same week, another man who had inspired an outflowing of musical creativity also died. Bert Jansch, a folk guitarist whose unique style influenced the likes of Paul Simon, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and many others, passed away. His passing was marked without fanfare, without presidential comment, without television specials interviewing anyone who knew him to glean the detailed trivia that feeds the insatiable appetite of the doting public. But which man had most worth?

Before we rush to answer,we should check our hearts. How much have we bought into the cult of celebrity, the concept of “value added” that defines a man by his productivity, his popularity or his bank balance? How much do we play by the same rules, judging each other by what we can or can’t do, or what we have or have not achieved, even within the community of followers of Jesus?

Outreaching amongst freelancers in Bangkok’s Chinatown area earlier this week, my wife met a woman, six months pregnant, who was touting for customers. She gets one customer a day if she is lucky, and picks up 400 baht, 100 of which goes to the owner of the seedy hotel where she rents the room. How much do you think she is worth? A girl we are helping is dealing with the trauma of having had three abortions, the last one at seven months. How much were the lives of her unborn children worth? And how much is she worth? Last year, 2,000 fetuses were found in a Thai temple, the victims of backstreet abortions- they were worth $16 each to the woman who took them from the illegal clinics to the temple,and were a small part of the estimated 300,000 illegal abortions carried out in a year in Thailand; but how much were they really worth? And what is the worth of the lonely, frightened girls who feel they must resort to such desperate measures? And of the “doctors” performing the abortions?

Again, before quickly answering, we need to pause and reflect.We all know the stock Sunday School answer- in God’s eyes, all people are equally precious, loved by Him, redeemed by the blood of His Son- but in our everyday lives, how do we flesh out that belief? Do we play the fame game as much as the next man? How much does our use of time, of our money, our attention reflect the value that God has placed on every sinful, broken, marred and damaged person? How much do we see the image of God despite the external packaging? And how can we break free from the pandering to the values of this twisted, broken world in which we live, that perverts worship to idolatry of the successful, the talented, the powerful, the beautiful and the rich?

And we need to answer the hardest question: When we use the standards of this world to define the worth of people, what worth are we really attributing to Jesus, the one who:-

“..grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field.There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried— our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.” ?

May we be continually renewed in the ways we attribute value and worth to others, transformed and not conformed, equipped to live a life that truly sees people as Jesus sees them, as we gaze upon the face of Jesus in worship!

Harvest

Harvest is wrapping up on the Idaho home front. My cousin sent a report a while back that one of our fields registered a record-breaking 133 bushels per acre.

I got that report during a particularly rough week in Bangkok during which I was struggling to hang on to hope of a fruitful harvest with a few cases here.  A series of drug relapses were causing downward spirals among a few students.  These added to several health crises and a myriad of other issues in our community, not to mention a few more heartbreaking nights of outreach where we realize just how much it’s going to take to break these cycles of broken rural families sending broken women to work in broken bar districts frequented by broken foreign men… Taken together, it tipped the scale enough to trigger questions and emotions that I didn’t particularly want to face.

I sat reading this bright email from home, 8000 miles away, and feeling much further even than that from a bountiful harvest.

And then I remembered.

I was around eight years old. We had a bumper crop in the fields; just waiting for another week of sun to ripen it and ready it for harvest.  We came home from church, shared our Sunday family dinner, and sat on the porch to watch a storm roll in.  But this one wasn’t an ordinary storm.  It carried enough hailstones to destroy that bumper crop in a matter of minutes.

I wasn’t very old, but I knew enough to know the consequences of those hailstones.  Completely out of our control.  Completely devastating.  But oddly, I don’t remember the devastation as much as I remember the reaction of my dad.

We watched in silence as the storm came and went.  He calmly got up, smiled, and said “There’s always next year.”

Dad illustrated a lesson for me that year that I’ve revisited many times since: We have the responsibility to plant and tend, but ultimately we’re asked to hold loosely to the work of OUR hands and instead trust in the work of GOD’s.

Put differently, harvest doesn’t always look the way we’d like it to look.  It doesn’t always fit into nice spreadsheets or “win” columns.  For me, that year of a destroyed crop provided more fruit than a bumper crop would have. It gave me a picture of faith, and of faithfulness.

It’s a picture that reminds me that success doesn’t always mean seeing the fruit of our labor in the near term.  Success means faithfulness over the long term.  It means faithfulness to the calling you’ve received, and more importantly, to the One who called.

“…if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday…”  – Isaiah 58:10


How ’bout Eggs?

I mentioned in the last blog post more details on some of our Buriram projects… and then I promptly fell off the face of the planet.  A quick follow-up to that.

My Father’s House is a children’s home for abandoned children and orphans in Buriram province.  The home is led by Pastor Narin Torbprakon and his wife, Kraneung, who have a heart to help at-risk boys and girls further their education in order to increase employment options outside of prostitution.  Pastor Narin and his wife have a compelling story and emulate creativity and innovation in how they run the home and desire to move toward self-sufficiency.

I spend a fair amount of my time in Buriram learning from and partnering with Pastor Narin and his family.  He’s a key partner in putting together a replicable model of self-sufficiency agriculture and spiritual formation that can be used in other villages and, hopefully, other provinces.

Our first formal partnership was in the building of an egg-laying chicken house.  (Add it to the growing list of innovative projects he has in the works, including aquaculture, hogs, vegetables, specialty rice, frogs, meat-chickens and I’m sure I’m forgetting more.  Not to mention starting the district’s only church.)  Thanks to the financial support of so many donors, I was able to partner in up-front capital costs for the chickens and start-up feed while they covered the cost of the building and materials.  The result?  Check it out.


A group of youth from the children’s home will manage the new chicken house, developing skills and responsibility and also helping move the home toward self-sufficiency as they consume and sell eggs.

PS… because I’m an agriculture geek I have to share.  In case you’re wondering why the chicken house is built over the pond?  (I’m sure you were wondering…)  The feed boxes are situated in a way that the chicken feed that naturally drops from the boxes during feeding will fall into the fish pond below and help reduce the feed costs associated with the fish operation.  Cool, eh?   

Looking forward to reporting back after the next visit how the chickens (and kids!) are faring!

Trendy: How Can We Compete with Cash?

“My older sister finished school, but I can do even better.  I want to quit school, move to the city and find a foreign husband.”

This is a common attitude among Buriram girls starting in their early teens.  Many rural youth will study until the age of 11 or 12 and drop out.  Many because they’re pregnant.  Many with plans to move to the city to find work with older siblings, relatives or friends.  Some will make it to 9th grade, but are susceptible to a similar fate as those that quit three years sooner.  Even those that finish primary school with dreams of further study face a tough future as money is short for university, jobs are hard to come by close to home and the return on the few available jobs simply can’t compete with the jobs in the city.

It rattles me to see the economic situation in Buriram, to talk to community members aware of the issues, to see the blank faces on a few young girls lacking hope for a future different than that of their mom or sisters….  And then to come back to Bangkok, head out to the bars for outreach and sit down with a new friend.  Hear her story.  Hear her say she quit school and moved to Bangkok when she was twelve.  She worked in a food shop for a few years and now is working in the same bar as her older sister.  Where from?  Buriram province.  Prakonchai, to be exact.  Funny – yet not funny at all – that Prakonchai neighbors Prang’s village and is home to my oft-frequented bus stop in Buriram.

I wrestle a lot with this picture; the urban migration patterns are obvious to the naked eye.  Bus stops in Buriram populated with men and women making their way to Bangkok for work.  The men most often in construction.  The women in small food stalls, restaurants, or often in one of Bangkok or Pattaya’s abundant entertainment establishments (read: sex tourism industry).

Packed buses leaving broken villages.  One or both parents leave kids to be raised by grandparents while they seek work in the city.  Kids grow up with little or no parenting and little motivation for education.  Abuse.  Neglect.  Poverty.  Brokenness.  This is often all they know.

Except they see that their neighbor or relative or sister or friend went to the city and sent home a wad of cash from her work there.  Another came back with a foreign boyfriend and she now has a big house and money.  She might not love him, and he might not stay around long, but at least she has money and something going on.

And now this young pre-teen girl wants to have something going on too.  She decides that’s her goal.  She’s going to go find a foreign husband.  The best way to do that is to move into the city and find a job, the location of which is a detail often omitted from stories back at home.  As my Thai counterpart tells me, “this is Thai trend, Cori.” 

Oh, how I wish Thai teenage trends were as simple as boy bands and bracelets.

What can compete with these trends?  What can break the cycle of parents going to the city for work, and daughters and sons following suit?  What can restore hope and pride in these rural villages?   These are questions too complicated for a blog post, but they’re what rattle me at night and get me up in the morning.  They’re the focus of my prayers, and an invitation for you to join in prayer as well.

On a happy note, because I would prefer to end on happy thoughts:  There are some powerful things happening in Buriram right now.  I spent a couple weeks there this month, doing some research prep and helping with a two-week community-wide music camp hosted by a local agriculture-based orphanage and church.

Teaching guitar lessons and pouring concrete for a new chicken house made my heart happy.  So did the thought of God redefining what’s trendy in Buriram.  I’ll save more on that for a later post…