Do Like Me

For most of my life I missed a key part of Jesus’ “Upper Room Discourse” in John 13-16. The scene take place shortly before Jesus is arrested and, the next day, crucified. The writer, whom we can reasonably guess is indeed John, Jesus’ disciple, has let us know that Jesus clearly knew what was about to happen.

Looking back now it seems silly, but for years it never really occurred to me to think about how one might feel looking ahead to an excruciatingly torturous death the next day. It would kind of weigh on the mood. John’s portrayal also suggests that for all the injury that Jesus knew he would endure, the insult would hurt even worse.

As I write this at 8:30pm, Mook and her older cousin Sai are trying to visit a young teen in an apartment complex we know well. The teen and her friend came to church on Sunday, and connected with Mook. Then that night she was in a fight with “Daeng”, a seventeen-year-old that we have tried to work with for a few years, an abandoned girl who has learned the toughness of the streets and has resisted all of our attempts to help. Someone took a video, and it got sent to me. Daeng easily overpowered the younger girl. I’m told it was over a boy.

In the video the young teen got up right away, but today she said she was vomiting all day, so Mook was concerned. She requested my permission to close the coffee shop a little early to go check.

Mook, 20, knows the ways of the street as well. She grew up in Bangkok’s largest slum, abandoned by her mother. We first met Mook at the beginning of 2018, when a friend brought her to The Well, and she spent a few months in our program. She had been involved in a lot of risky behavior and had a baby son. But Mook showed the spark of a good and teachable heart. She left The Well in good standing, getting a job running a small coffee shop near where her son lived with his father’s family.

Judy and I visited the coffee shop and were impressed with Mook’s work. Seeing a possible fit, I began talking with Mook about a deal: she wanted to finish high school equivalency and university, and we needed someone with barista expertise to help get our community center off the ground. We could provide the schedule flexibility and adequate pay to support her son. Mook did rejoin us in February, and began her first college classes last month.

We also got a bonus. I have a particular burden for tough, hopeless cases, and especially teens. However I am obviously limited in what I can personally do. Here, when people see an older man talking to a much younger woman, they think one thing. I am well-known in that neighborhood as “Pa Jim”, and I am extra careful to safeguard a clean reputation.

A few women have gotten involved a bit, but all have either been limited by family responsibilities or busy caring for other types of needs, of which of there are many. Mook is the first one who is actually stepping out on her own with teen girls, for which I am beyond grateful. Sai only recently came to us at Mook’s invitation, and amazed by the transformation she sees in Mook, has joined right in.

I overlooked Jesus’ mood in that upper room simply because the tone of his speaking was in no way dark or depressing. Instead John shows us someone who, about to lay down his life for dearly loved friends, was overcome with the meaning of it all. “Having loved his own who were in the world,” John writes, “he loved them to the end.” Jesus didn’t wash their feet merely to teach them a final lesson in humility. He was in awe, honored at the privilege of serving and yes, dying for these men.

This scene was the story ending that was the beginning. From waking up helpless in a manger to this, it all made sense now. I can imagine Jesus wrestling with his Father at times: “Why did you pick these goofheads?” For years he had been preparing them to do just like him, faithful, and full of faith. It wasn’t pretty, with impending treason and a best friend’s denial, but he knew they were going to come through. This was joy that could lift a heart even so heavy.

I happily do not have a torturous death before me, but I get it. Judy and I aren’t looking to retire, but it is beyond reassuring to know that we now could, and the way and work of Jesus will continue. The blessing of giving is incomparable to the joy of seeing people follow our example, as we follow Christ’s. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does everything becomes worthwhile.

Mook, whose name aptly means “pearl”, is reaching out on her own now, empathically caring for these lost younger ones. She just messaged me that this girl’s last period was in August. So it’s probably not a head injury–she is pregnant, at age 13.