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.

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 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.

The Secret to Successful Ministry

Visitors to The Well often give compliments, such as “This is a tremendous ministry!” or “You’ve really accomplished a lot.”  We’re indeed grateful for “success stories” and a growing base of change-agent leaders, but we are also quick to point out that we take no credit. We’re just muddling along, really, and have only done one thing well: we haven’t quit.

img_1193Anyone in ministry among broken people (and since we’re all broken, that’s really all of us) knows how messy it is. We also know how completely incapable we can be. I asked God many times over the last nine years why He couldn’t have picked someone better to lead this thing. Packing up and leaving has indeed come to mind a few times.

We can only imagine the plethora of obstacles and discouragements over some years that prompted Paul to write to his Galatian friends, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If we don’t give up. That’s the only ‘if’. For Paul the worst had to be not the beatings and jail (as if those weren’t so bad), but the unrelenting opposition from his own people. Imagine Paul’s chagrin each time he found a new synagogue, hoping, “Maybe this time,” only to be rebuffed once more. Then even when confident in his call to all nations, Paul found his own brothers wanting to squash that as well, prompting the Galatian letter. How many times do you think he asked, “Lord, what now?” And we all know that sometimes those “What now?” times can last a while.

The good news is that when we push through those times, however long we have to wait, we do find encouragement. In our case, runaway women came back, ready to change and grow. Some stuck in old habits finally began to break free. We saw children starting to grow up healthy. People unable to grasp the sin-grace dichotomy of salvation finally got it.

But more importantly, we have changed. Yes, we’ve made mistakes enough times to finally learn from them. We’ve also read books and received training on needed topics, from organizational management to brain science. But mostly we’ve learned to slow down, major on basics like praying and loving each other, and wait for God to do His work.

Many of you have stood by us since the beginning, giving faithfully to this work, trusting God along with us for an eventual great harvest. We are humbly grateful for your entrusting us with this ministry, and always do our best to spend wisely and carefully. We especially pray that our work can be an encouragement to you, that you will remain faithful and confident in His perfect plan for you and the work He has entrusted to you, in spite of obstacles and discouragements you face. Don’t quit. You will reap.