Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Annual Recap, Movie Style

I put together a short 8 minute video of my experiences in Thailand from the pictures I’ve taken.
I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Abandoned Babies

How a mother could look at this face and say, "I think I'll just sell him to someone in Bangkok," is beyond me. That was the response of this little boy's mother as we were encouraging her to keep her baby, at which point we were happy to take him. He was 5 days old. He is Burmese, and the same ethnic group as one of our staff members, so we asked her to name him. He has a traditional Wa name: Mong Doon, or just "Doon" for short.

He has no other family that we're aware of, so we realize that we're in this for the long haul. We have enough involvement in the community to know that this need may be presented to us again in the future, and we want to be ready to respond. We're also aware that mothers occasionally leave their babies at the clinic after giving birth, and that the Burma Children Medical Fund could use help caring for babies while a parent is receiving medical treatment. All of this has pointed to us opening a new "Infant Home". We have already rented a house, and are currently working on hiring the staff for it. Until then, Doon is staying with a wonderful family who has just joined us from California. He's now a month old, he sleeps well (most nights!), he loves being held, and he's getting bigger every day.

Su Su will also join our new baby home when it's ready. She is about three months old, and she's an absolute miracle. She was born with Harlequin Syndrome, an incredibly rare skin condition that is almost always fatal at birth. She fought through infections and seizures, shed her layer of thick, red scales, and is growing stronger and stronger. She was born with her eyes swollen shut, and her fingers and toes were black and webbed together. Her mother left at the first sight of her.

Because we have a good relationship with Mae Tao Clinic, we became aware of Su Su's situation. We took her to Chiang Mai to get her as much medical attention as we could, and we visited her daily in the hospital to hold her and feed her. She finally became well enough to go home, so she went home with our staff member who has a background in nursing. Su Su requires a lot of treatment to keep her skin from hardening, and she needs to be loved like any other child. We have dreams of her being able to grow and play with other little girls, to wear dresses and feel beautiful, and to have a future.

You can read more of baby Su Su's story HERE.

It's amazing to me how much emotion can be had for such a small person. Maybe it's the way they're created into being, how they enter the world so ready to love and be loved, and how there is so much possibility surrounding their new life. I'm so thankful that I can be part of these lives unfolding.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I've made a huge mistake.

I've gone through a lot of physical and emotional adjustments while living on the Thai-Burma border, and I've allowed myself to take credit for making it to this place of peace and overall fullness of life. Compasio's training program is entering the third and final month, and has included guest speakers from all over to talk with us about a range of topics. The focus this week is worship, and I'm reminded that it's not an hour of singing, but a lifestyle... an attitude of praise and thanksgiving. I don't want to pretend that I have held everything together anymore, or that I have the future under control, and I'd like to give credit where it is due.

First, I'm so thankful for the people in Minnesota, Idaho, California and Germany who have been a huge source of support and encouragement for me. Through emails, Skype, and even Facebook, I have been included in your lives when it could've been so easy to become disconnected. You have allowed me to process difficult things with you and to share meaningful experiences. Thank you to everyone who has prayed for me, for Compasio, and for the people at risk here.

My mom and dad are amazing...
and I love Skype dates with my nieces and nephew... they're getting so big!

I do not receive any pay from Compasio, and have been fully supported by family and friends to be here. I can't thank you enough for this. This was my greatest source of anxiety before coming here, but I have always had enough to support myself and enough to give. I have been able to feed the street kids on many occasions - and sometimes spoil them - and have not had to worry about whether or not I could afford it. Not that I have taken this for granted, but quite the contrary. Being dependent on others is very humbling, and is teaching me what it really means to be a good steward of the resources that are provided for me. As I continue to live and work here, I will continue to trust God to "give me my daily bread" through the generosity of others. I hope you all know how much your gift is appreciated, and what a large role you play in the good things that are happening here. Thank you.

A great afternoon of soccer with kids from the Muslim Community!
Ali is one of the street kids, and the highlight of any day I get to see him

I'm also in awe of the wonderful friendships I've been blessed with here. I have a few close friends that I can (and do) share everything with, and many more that make up the community of friends I "do life with" here. We can spend time having coffee, praying with each other, studying Thai, watching movies, crying, exploring, making music, laughing, and enjoying nature. We learn together how to take heart when we feel broken over all of the suffering and injustice we see, how to be independent but not hardened, and how to be family to each other when ours are on the other side of the world. For these people, I am so utterly grateful.

Last but absolutely not least, I am so thankful for my God who has been my Father, my love, and my best friend. I struggled a lot with loneliness in the beginning, and have at one time or another felt insecure, hurt, depressed, or violently ill. He has urged me on, saying, "Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me" (Song of Solomon 2.13). He has shown me that he has never taken his eyes off of me, that he loves me more deeply than I can comprehend, and that he is good. He is so good. He has invited me into a deeper relationship with himself, and through that has given me more abundant life than I would've thought to ask for.
Psalm 139 is pretty fantastic:

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.
You hem me in - behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me
your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful
I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.

When I awake, I am still with you...
...Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Okay, so there you have it. Thanks to you all for being part of this adventure with me.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

there's something about the baby house...

I was not in the mood for my "shift" at the Baby House. I was tired, had some important emails to respond to, and was concerned that a whole evening of taking care of the kids would wear me out too much. The Baby House is where kids who had been living in prison with their moms could receive a healthy home environment in which to grow and go to school. We also welcome in the moms when they are released, give them time to reunite with their child, and help them regain an independent lifestyle. All good stuff, yes, but like I said, I wasn’t in the mood for it.

Chat and Nee are the house parents, and they stuck around all night, even though it was their day off. I somehow forgot how I always feel like family when I’m there, and how warm they welcome me into their home. I spent about an hour watching the kids play together outside, and could see Saw Min Oo, the newest boy to the home, laughing hysterically as he was being chased by Simomo. After that, Bobo noticed my Thai dictionary and wanted to practice saying the characters of the alphabet. At four years old, I was impressed with her ambition. We sat there for an entire hour while she repeated the alphabet, learning from her mistakes and moving on to the vowels. As Chat walked by, she said (in Thai), “Look dad, I can read the alphabet!” He gave her a smile that warmed my soul, a thumbs up, and said, “Alright! Great job!” as enthusiastically as possible. He was so proud of her, and she knew it.

We broke for dinner, and I realized that the best was yet to come. After goofing around with the kids and making some videos (Nee and one of the kids’ mom’s got in on the action, too), Chat gathered the kids together for some worship time. Did I mention it was his day off? This was not something he had to do, nor was it something the kids had to do. They were so excited. They gathered in front of him, ready to sing and dance their little hearts out. In between each song, Chat asked them what they thought God was like and got these responses: good, kind, and “I feel happy around Him”.

He asked me if I had anything to say to the children, and I thought it would be neat to ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Bobo, who is usually very quiet, said she wanted to be a doctor without any hesitation. While the boys wanted to be pilots or truck drivers, Simala, a 14 year old girl who has already endured a lifetime of suffering, had the most thoughtful response. She said she’d like to work at the Baby House, to help Chat and Nee, and that she would like to work with people who have broken hearts. This kind of wisdom and heart is rare in anyone, let alone a young girl with plenty of her own pain. It’s beautiful to see God’s healing and restoration at work.

Chat told the kids that they all have dreams, and that they have futures where anything can happen. He told them that they can ask God for anything, and that God will help them. We prayed for the kids, for their futures, and for their precious little hearts.

I left because I felt like if I stayed any longer I would be keeping them up, and not because I wanted to or had to. I left feeling whole and alive, without a care in the world about the emails in my inbox. It was not a distraction or an obligation, but an absolute privilege to be welcomed into their lives, and to experience the community of family that takes place in this home.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

hope and a future

Chico is a handsome young man from Burma, who has been spending some time in Mae Sot trying to earn money for his family. He is too old to beg (depending on the day, he says he is either 13 or 19), so he has had a tough time here. He visits our Drop-In Center on Wednesdays, and never wants to leave. You can see the ache for safety and affection on his face. He has really connected with my friend Katie, and she has a special heart for him.

Last week, he showed up at our office with his friend Ali. They wanted to return to Burma that day, and wanted us to give them money. We stood at our gate and delivered our standard, "I'm sorry, we can't give you money" response. Looking miserable and defeated, they started to turn away. We asked if they were thirsty, and invited them to sit at the table in front of our office. They gulped down some water, and Katie went to a restaurant next door to order some food for them. Enjoying our unexpected visitors, Katie began speaking with Chico in Burmese, and I talked to Ali in Thai. We engaged with them separately in different languages, periodically stopping to tell the other what we were hearing.

Ali explained that he lost his vision when he was eight years old. He comes from Burma, and has no mother or father. He cannot work because he's blind, and he is lucky to have a friend like Chico who will hold his hand around town. They are currently staying in one of the poorest neighborhoods, and they face challenges every day just to survive. They don't know when or how they're going to get food, if they'll be safe, and now, how they'll get back home to Burma. As I watched Ali speak with such desperation, words weighted with the suffering he feels every minute, I came quite close to bursting into tears.

What kind of future does Ali have? Will this incredible spark in Chico's eyes last much longer?

Where will these young men end up?

Just as it was all feeling too heavy for us to stand, Chico casually mentioned that he speaks English. When we asked him if he actually does, he just said, "yeah!"... like it was no big deal. We quickly calculated what we had already said to each other in English, and realized he understood us saying how cute he was. Oh well.

Ali told me all his troubles, with every bit of misery apparent, but then told me that he felt good sitting there with us. He asked if he could come back every day, and I had to say no. I explained it was our office and that they couldn't come every day, but that we really liked spending time with them and would meet them over the weekend. He said, "Really? You'll come see me?", and I replied, "Really, we will!" (it sounds so much cooler in Thai)

So we did. We took two of our male Interns to visit the community where they were staying, and found Chico in a small house with almost 30 other people. I had never been to this street before, and was overwhelmed by the poverty. I have seen poverty here, and let me tell you... I was overwhelmed. The dead-end road was lined with a long apartment-like structure on each side, and each little home was spilling over with people, laundry and garbage. We sat on the concrete floor in the living room with old men and women sitting against the walls, babies and little kids crawling all over (of course with no pants), young women lying down and watching TV, the men talking and watching it all, and another 15 people standing outside and crowding the windows to peer in. Ali was apparently staying at the mosque, but we got to see Chico and let him know that he was worth visiting. He smiled the whole time. So did we.

I pray for the futures of these kids, and for their hearts to be protected from all the trouble around them. Some of the kids have seemingly resigned to life on the streets, but I can see that Chico wants more. He has dreams, and I cling to hope that he can someday be all he wants to be.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jer 29.11

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Burma has stolen my heart.Add Image

I came here because I knew there were social justice issues on the Thai-Burma border, but I was not prepared for what I would see and feel.

Issues can get to you… I cried my eyes out as I learned about sex trafficking, and my blood has boiled over other types of injustice.

But people… people can forever change you. When it’s no longer an issue, but a face – and then, not just a face, but a heart and a soul – all bets are off. I doubt that I’ll live in or near Burma for the rest of my life, but I will never forget these amazing people or the suffering they endure.

Let me start with a little background. The military junta has been in power for the last 50 years, and it has been an era marked by cruelty and tragedy. The country is closed, no photos are allowed and no news is supposed to travel in or out, and the military is constantly watching the people. They are always on the move, terrorizing whatever villages they come across. The people of Burma are subject to the rapes and killings that so frequently take place, and families are often separated. Because the military has planted so many landmines all over the country and doesn’t want to cross paths with them, they will take men, women and children from their homes to be human minesweepers for them. Or, they might be forced to be porters, carrying heavy loads for impossible hours until they are either killed or escape. If the people are so bold as to resist, there are bloody battles and the military’s control will only tighten. The Karen State in Burma has stood their ground, and currently has armies fighting Burma’s military, which is ironically called the SPDC – State Peace and Development Council. There has recently been activity on the border, with an attempted assassination, gunfire and bombs near Myawaddy (just across the bridge).

There have been two major uprisings – one in 1988 and one in 2007. Citizens came together to march for freedom, and were shot in the streets. The monks joined the protest in 2007, and their temples were raided, ending in abductions, beatings and killings. It is striking and saddening to see how the people’s hope has been strangled. After living under oppression for so long, hope was born in beauty as they saw the possibility of a better future. And it ended when that door was closed and the tyranny worsened.

I witnessed this in their faces when I spent the day in Myawaddy last month. While it was just a short walk across the Friendship Bridge, something changed when I entered Burma. I could see the military presence as soldiers marched around with their rifles. I saw the poverty, the children and disabled men and women begging on the streets. I saw the fear in their eyes and the absence of hope.

Can you imagine a life like this?

For many, their best option is to escape to a neighboring country like Thailand. While they may be escaping some immediate danger, they are entering a life as being an “illegal” person. They will have no documentation, no chance to work at a fair wage, to own a home or a vehicle, or to have health insurance. They still must live in fear of being caught and sent back to Burma, and they are unable to leave the city because they would not make it through the many security checkpoints.

I met a man who had gotten a full scholarship to a university in Sweden, but he couldn’t go because he did not have a passport. His plan was to traffic himself to another country, where he would then try to get the paperwork he would need to travel. I have not talked to him since he left.

Through Compasio’s engagement at Mae Sot’s garbage dump, we met a man and woman from Burma who shared their story with us. They had eight children in Burma, and after every child died, they came to Thailand looking for a better life. They had been living at the garbage dump for the last twelve years, along with about 200 more people with similar stories.

My friend works at Mae Tao Clinic, a non-profit clinic that serves mainly Burmese people. Many will save their money for years just to make it across the border, and will often sell everything they have to get there. The clinic sees some extreme cases of illness and injury, and they created the Burma Children Medical Fund to expand the care they’re able to provide. My friend has interviewed wounded soldiers, and she has shown me the prosthetic lab where 20-40 people who lost a limb from a landmine will receive a new arm or leg each month.

I have a friend who cannot return to Burma because of his suspected political involvement, and he has not had any contact with his family in over ten years. He spent four years in a refugee camp before coming to Mae Sot, and now his future is so uncertain.

I have sometimes felt guilty that I happened to be born in America, and I have never understood the value of having a US Passport until now. I can go anywhere I want to. I could go to school in Europe, get a job in Asia, go on vacation in South America, and return home at any time. Apologizing for that doesn’t get one anywhere, but it has both humbled me and angered me.

The Bible says that the enemy comes to kill and destroy. I’m pretty sure he’s living in Burma.

But I also know that the Lord loves justice, and that he calls us to love and care for the poor and oppressed. I’m not about to march into Burma and start demanding freedom, but I am praying. And I’m asking you to pray. If you feel something for these people, if you want them to have hope and a future, and if you are wondering what you can do, this is the answer: Pray. God hears, and he is always working. Let’s have faith that we will see great things here.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

… For I, the Lord, love justice. Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Food, Shoes & Games: 500 Baht. An Afternoon with the Street Kids: Priceless.

A couple weeks ago, I was drinking coffee and studying for my Thai lesson outside a popular restaurant in Mae Sot. I watched as a frail, dirty boy walked up to the man at the table next to me, begging for money. The man ignored him, as most people do when they want beggars to go away, so he came to my table next. I'm familiar with many of the street kids from everything Compasio does, but I didn't recognize this one. He held out his hands and succeeded in giving me a very desperate plea for money. We don't give money, but we will give food... and we will always give our attention. I am unfortunately not able to communicate with most street kids, because I'm learning Thai and they speak Burmese. This little boy said something to me in Thai, so I asked him if he spoke. He did, so I found out that he was six years old, his name was Ali, and he walked the few miles into Mae Sot from Burma every day. I asked if he was hungry, so we walked down the street to get some food. I grabbed his hand before we ventured into the busy street, and that was the first time I got to see his smile. It was pure joy.

This afternoon, I stopped by Tesco Lotus to pick up some groceries before heading home. When Ali ran up to me to say hello, I realized that even if I had plans for the evening, they would take a distant second to what was now in front of me. We want the kids to know that we're not just here to buy them stuff, but that we also offer our love and friendship, and I certainly don't agree with spoiling the kids. However... sometimes kids should be spoiled. There are times I tell them no, times we'll just sit on the sidewalk, but today I wanted to let this six year old boy be a kid. I asked him if he wanted food, but more than that he pointed to a small train ride on the side of the building. He climbed into his little car and started playing with the steering wheel, and proceeded to wave at me every 50 times he went around the small loop. It melted my heart to see his unrestrained glee, and I felt so proud of him. I asked him what he wanted to do next, so we went and got some fruit. After that, he started looking at toy cars and trains, but I saw some shoes at the next stand. I looked at his tiny bare feet and thought of the long walk home he had that night, so I thought that might be a better purchase. He picked out a pair (quite cool, if I might say so!), and then we headed in to Tesco Lotus to the 3rd floor - the arcade. While I was watching him crash into the wall in a racing game, another boy plowed into us.

Koko is about 12 years old, and he's one of the first street kids I met. He has hung around our office the last couple Tuesdays around the time of our staff meeting, including today, and we've taken him next door for lunch with us both weeks. The two boys ran off to play together, and then we walked back outside. Koko noticed that Ali was wearing shoes, so that was of course our next stop. After that, Ali and I sat on the sidewalk while Koko ordered some food, and I realized that Ali hadn't stopped beaming and practically jumping up and down the whole time. After dinner, they got some ice cream and accompanied me into the store for the errand I had come to do an hour and a half ago. Ali wanted to hold my hand all the way back to my motorbike, and I tried say that I hoped to see him again soon.

It's these experiences I love. They are the ones that keep me here. I enjoy living here and have made some great friends, but nothing compares to seeing this kind of light in someone's eyes. To see hope and joy in the face of a child on the street or a kid at the garbage dump has an incredible kind of power.

I drove home feeling like I had just accomplished more than any amount of office work I could've done, like there's nowhere else I would rather have been, and like I loved these kids as if they were my own. I thought of a teenage boy that was just killed last week and of four street kids that recently went missing, and was struck with fear for the safety of these boys. I prayed for their protection, for their futures, and for their spirits to remain intact through whatever darkness may lie ahead of them.

No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more;
the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. -Isaiah 60:18-20

Sunday, May 23, 2010

40 People in 40 Days

I was happy to make a new friend who doesn’t work for Compasio, so I have some contact with the outside world in Mae Sot :) Her name is Katie, she’s from Australia, and she works at Mae Tao Clinic.

Mae Tao Clinic is a non-profit clinic providing medical care to people who can’t afford it. They see many people who walk across the border from Burma, and we’ve taken people from the garbage dump there to receive treatment. Katie gave me a tour of the clinic recently, and I was amazed what a large campus it was. The buildings sprawled across a huge piece of land, and there was a separate building for each department of medicine or patient type. What I saw was astounding.

There was a room for abandoned babies, because it wasn’t uncommon for a mother to give birth and take off without her baby. There was an area for people who were terminally ill or highly contagious, and they lay on mats across the bare cement floor. We saw people recovering from surgery in the 100+ degree heat, and rooms filled with rows of beds, just like you’d see in war movies. Katie pointed out a man who now lives at the clinic, because he has nowhere else to go. People in his town threw acid on him, and he now had trouble with his vision and with using his arms.

We also visited the prosthetic workshop for all the amputee patients. As we watched a couple men molding and altering legs and feet, a man waited with one leg on a bench and another man walked by on crutches to try out his new leg. I noticed the white board behind us, and saw that it tracked the patient activity and gave a description of each recent case. The two boards covering the wall were full, so I was shocked to see the dates next to the names. The chart only went back 40 days, and there were already 40 names on it. Each name had a designation of “leg” or “foot” next to it, along with a diagnosis. A couple said, “disease”, but the overwhelming verdict was “landmine”. These men had come across landmines in Burma, planted by the military, and had lost a limb. Sometimes it’s an accident, because there are landmines are all over, and other times it’s because they’ve been coerced into the position of “human minesweeper”. Because the military doesn’t know for certain what areas are treated with landmines, they’ll take men, women and children from their villages – from their families – and will make them walk ahead to trigger any landmines in their path.

The injustice is sickening.

But, I couldn’t help but notice how there was an order to the chaos, people were being treated, and people were healing. It made me thankful that Compasio has a place like this to take the people we care for from the street or from the garbage dump, and that we have relationships with workers and nurses there.

I grow more and more firm in this every day: “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” -Psalm 27:13

Saturday, May 1, 2010

After 1,200 Curves on Death Highway...

The day started with a lizard falling on me from the ceiling as I was turning on my light at 5:30am. A co-worker picked me up at 6am with two other women from different NGO's in town, and we began our journey. Travelling the 3 hour stretch of road on "Death Highway" through the mountains was both breathtaking and physically painful. South of Mae Sot and right on the border of Burma, we arrived in Umphang. My vomit tally was up to 5: four on the road and once in the car.

Our first stop in Umphang was to see Nana, an incredible Karen woman around 50 years old. For years, she operated a clinic inside the border of Burma until the Burmese military soldiers raided it in October 2008. She had four nearly grown children at the time, and decided she could take in more. She opened her home to kids from Burma who would now get a safe home and a better education. She currently hash 40 kids. Her house is large, and it's surrounded by pigs, chickens and catfish. Her family recently received a micro-loan to start a large farming project, and we took a trek down the road to see the progress. Out of only a handful of farmers, two of them are missing a foot. One was blown off by playing with a shotgun as a child, and the other was the victim of a landmine in Burma.

Next was a visit to the H2O orphanage to visit a family who needed our help. We were invited into their small hut on stilts, and I wondered if the floor made of woven bamboo could hold all of us. ToeToe held TuTu, his 15 year old daughter. in his lap as he explained how they need help caring for her disability. She suffered brain damage following complications from meningitis as a baby, and the mother had been home with her every day since. There are no wheelchairs or handicap access in their remote village, they also have a 6 year old daughter (WaWa) to care for, the father worked nearly around the clock to support his family, and the strain was increasing. Traces of a lively spirit still flickered in his eyes, but despair was taking over. He spoke with such concern for his daughter and her quality of life, and wanted to receive training from a physical therapist on how he could best care for her. We had already decided to employ him if he wanted to move to Mae Sot, but they didn't want to move WaWa from the new school she loved. We told him we could provide food and housing for him to come to Mae Sot with TuTu for a week or two, and that we could arrange for them to meet with a good doctor. We are also exploring what long-term engagement in their lives could look like, which has led to some very exciting ideas. My co-worker said to ToeToe before we left regarding our effort on their behalf, "I can't promise you anything", and he responded, "Can you promise a little?" The thought of being there when we share how we can work with them, and to see some hope restored, is almost enough to make me brave the intensely sickening drive again.

I took a tablet of dramomine and thankfully slept for most of the drive back. After a shower and a brief nap, I was off to a going-away/birthday party for someone from another NGO. I met a guy there who completed the package of this impactful day. He is 20 years old, and escaped to Thailand from Burma a few years ago. He went to school, and then lived in the Umphiam refugee camp with his parents for one year. We actually drove by it earlier that day, so I had the image of hundreds of tiny huts lining the hills along the highway fresh in my mind. He currently works for an NGO, and he just received a scholarship to attend university in Sweden. But, he has no passport or documentation to be in Thailand, so he's unable to leave the country. He said it's easier to get paperwork in Malaysia, and would like to give that a try. Without realizing how silly this question was, I asked if he'd go ahead and buy a ticket to go to Malaysia. He laughed. "No, I can't buy a ticket. I would have to be trafficked". He has contacts in his refugee camp who can assist him in trafficking himself, which would put him at all manner of risk. It struck me how different out lives are, and how extreme the challenges are that he'll face. I realized the value of a US passport and the ability to freely go anywhere in the world. To not be "illegal" and to not have allow myself to be trafficked in order to have opportunities for education and work. I asked him if he ever wanted to go to America, and he gave an emphatic "no". I was taken aback by his response, but he explained, "I will never be able to go to America. I can't even think about that".

I went to bed with a healing stomach, a full head, and a racing heart.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Heartbreak & Hope, continued...

Mae Sot is a treasure chest of people, and a place in the midst of incredible suffering. As I've tried to find words to express my thoughts on having hope in all of this, I found that I could do it best in a video.
This song was actually written in Thailand, at a brothel in Pattaya.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Right to be Hungry?

In Mae Sot, many children must walk the streets every day, begging for money. For some, their parents will beat them if they don't make enough. For all of them, they are subjected to abuse on the street and are robbed of their childhood. I have seen the marks on their little bodies and can't deny that they've been through hell.

We spend time with these kids when they come to our drop-in center to be loved and fed, and to be a kid for a few hours. We also see them on the street, where they're hot, hungry, and barefoot. We don't give the kids money, but we will feed them. This upsets and irritates a lot of people. Last week, at about 8pm, another staff member and I ran into a couple young boys who told us they were hungry. We took them to a nearby restaurant and bought them dinner. They weren't kidding - they inhaled their food like they hadn't eaten in days. While we watched them with affection and sadness, we noticed that everyone in the room and walking by on the street kept stopping to glare at us, as if we were having dinner with monsters. They were disgusted.

Either independently or out as a group, we have seen and fed these boys about six times since then. I was sitting at a computer with my iced coffee in an air-conditioned coffee shop when I spotted one of the boys getting change from someone in the parking lot. (By the way, his face and the boyishness in his eyes has a striking resemblance to my little brother's at that age). He saw me through the window and ran over to wave. He knew he wasn't welcome inside, so he stood on the other side of the window, smiling. I walked outside and asked him if he was hungry. We both knew just a little Thai as our only common language, so it took a moment to communicate. An American girl walked by, rolled her eyes, and said, "don't do it", as if she was warning me not to do something foolish, like I should've known better. I left with him to get him some food, and when we stepped back out onto the sidewalk afterwards, a shop owner scolded him harshly to go away. I could see his face fall as he obeyed, so I followed him and we walked for awhile. He pointed at his bare feet and at some shoes in a shop, and I was conflicted over what my response should be. True, he might just sell them, but I was also looking at a little boy who didn't have any shoes. When I saw that the shoes were the same price as the iced coffee I was holding in my hand, I couldn't say no. I knew that shop owner, and was so happy that she smiled at the boy and helped him find a pair that fit. And when I saw him just a couple days ago, he was still wearing them!

I feel grateful to be part of these kids' lives, and intensely unsettled by the attitudes I have seen. Another girl had a similar experience this week when she shared some of her chicken with one of the boys. An American man pulled over as he was driving by to say, "you fell for it, huh?" Fell for what, exactly? Is it so hard to believe that a young kid without anyone to look after him, who works on the street in the hot sun for 12+ hours every day, might be hungry? Or is the problem that he's hungry every day, and sometimes maybe even more than once per day? Yes, the kids are good at getting money from people. They have to be. Maybe after seeing them do this day after day and week after week, I'd start to see them differently.

But I sincerely pray I don't.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I'm Not Even Mad, I'm Impressed.

I like a challenge just as much as the next guy, and learning the Thai language is certainly that.

There are five tones: middle, low, high, rising, and falling. The tone distinguishes a word, so for example, "mai" has five different meanings depending on what tone you use. There are tone marks in the Thai script, but the marks are read differently depending on the specific character it appears with, and the combination of consonants and vowels.

There are 44 sounds total in the English sound-box, and there are 44 consonants in the Thai alphabet. There are almost 30 vowel sounds, which are either short or long, and simple or complex. Vowels are either a character or a combination of characters before, after, above, or below the consonant.

Speaking Thai is awkward (and incredibly fun), and learning to read Thai is like cracking a secret code. So, Thai language: I'm not even mad, I'm impressed!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Heartbreak & Hope

After a five hour drive through the hills and jungle of Thailand, I arrived in Mae Sot on Monday night. Chiang Mai was an amazing experience, and with all the night markets and things to do, it felt a lot like vacation. Mae Sot is a whole different world. Only a couple miles from the border of Burma, it's a developing city with many issues. Someone described it as "Burma meets the Wild West", and so far that feels pretty accurate! In the busiest part, the streets are busy with motorbike and car traffic, shops and food stands. As you get away from the city, you feel like you're on a safari with all the green, palm trees and hills.

It's been a busy week, and I'm still processing everything I've seen and experienced. I have spent time with the children in Compasio's safehouse, the home for babies born in prison, and the drop-in center for the street kids. Even though there's a language barrier with these kids (they speak either Thai or Burmese), they are so eager to play or just to be held. It's impossible to not instantly fall in love with every one of them, which makes it even more difficult to see the street kids you fed and played with at the drop-in center out on the street late at night. I've gone from low to lower maintenance here, as personal comforts and luxuries take a distant backseat to the need here. I've seen people eating out of the garbage, young girls caring for babies and a crippled man reaching out to me. In the split moment of decision to either walk by or to engage with him, I was pierced by fear and ignored him. I forgot who was protecting me and what I was here for, and I pray it won't happen again.

Then there was the dump. I was told two things before going there on Thursday: wear sturdy shoes and prepare your heart. I wore shoes and socks, but there's no way I could've braced my heart for what it was about to encounter. As our land rover pulled up to the dump, the people who call it home rushed over, happy to see us. We spread out a couple rugs, gave the children coloring books and crayons, and we played with balloons. There were about 40 kids, covered in a thick sticky layer of black dirt. One little boy played in a mound of garbage like it was a pile of leaves, jumping around and making "snow angels" in it. I observed from a distance because I didn't know what to do with myself, and if I'm being completely honest, I didn't really want to get dirty. The smiling babies and playful children quickly brought me to my senses, and I joined them on the ground. I held them, played with them, wiped their noses, and I got filthy. It was worth every piece of dirt to be part of their lives for that brief part of time. Just as I was beginning to forget where we were, the garbage truck came. About 20 of the adults lined up with their bags in eager anticipation for what it would bring. Their need for the garbage, and their excitement for it, is what tore my heart out. Just as it was breaking, a little boy I had been playing with earlier ran up to me and hugged my legs. I picked him up, and he put his arms around my neck and his head on my shoulder. I was told to walk up the mountain of trash to see their homes on the other side, so I did. I almost vomited from the smell and from the blanket of flies, and I saw a small village of shacks built out of wood, metal and rugs on top of the garbage. I cried, and I prayed. I felt like God said he sees these people. We are at war with injustice and despair, but Jesus Christ will win. We'll continue to go to the dump every week, build relationship with these people, and bring them food and water. There's a small dirty lake next to the dump, so we're also looking into options for a water filtration system.

Every day my heart breaks and my hope is challenged, but I know God is at work here. There are many NGO's in Mae Sot, and it's encouraging that so many other people have seen a need and are working to bring hope to this needy and desparate place.

Thank you all for your support, without which I wouldn't be able to be here!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 2 in Thailand: So Far So Good!

After months of planning, praying, preparing, good-byes, and 30 hours of flying, I'm finally here! It was difficult to leave a lot of things - a lot of people - but leaving my mom & dad at the airport definitely wins the award for the most painful. I'm so thankful that they're so supportive of this new adventure!

It's Day 3 in Thailand and I couldn't be more enchanted by Chiang Mai. It's hot in the 80's-90's, jungly with a view of a mountain range, the pace feels slow despite the chaotic traffic (mostly motorbikes), the people are great and the food is amazing. I feel very safe, too. The most dangerous thing here is just trying to cross the street! Here's a picture of the street from my walk today:

I walked through a market yesterday and saw all kinds of food, including a table full of beetles, worms and other insects. I tried a bamboo worm, and it actually wasn't too bad until pieces of it got stuck on my tongue! Seeing the night market last night was a huge treat. Colorful lights hang everywhere, music is in the air, and there are endless numbers of things for sale. Going to and from on the back of a motorbike definitely added to the excitement!

I have the weekend to enjoy Chiang Mai, and I will get a ride to Mae Sot on Monday. I'll be there for the next few months doing ministry part time and language learning full time. It's a great place to be and I have a lot to learn. Like anything worth doing, it'll be hard but it'll be good.

More when I get to Mae Sot. Much love!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Language Plan & A Mountain Lion

Tomorrow is already the last day of PILAT! I’ve been in Colorado for the last two weeks at MTI's Principles in Language Acquisition Training program, and it's been amazing. The last week has been very busy with class, drills and spending time with new friends. I’ve had homework and papers to write, and yesterday I presented a plan for how I'll use PILAT's principles and methods to learn the language. I’m aware of the great task ahead of me to learn Thai (and Burmese!), but this training has given me the tools and determination I need to do it. Here's where the magic happens, and then me with the teachers:

In my free time, I’ve already been learning what I can in Thai, like common phrases, counting and writing their script. I haven’t memorized the alphabet yet, but I can pick out certain characters and sound out some words. Even if my reading is at a kindergaten level for now, I'll take it! They say that you take on a different personality in a new culture, and that speaking another language is like having a second soul. Time will tell what kind of Thai I’ll be!

I’ve made a point to get outside every day and enjoy the Colorado air, and I’ve enjoyed hiking with friends on a trail near the mountains. When I get extremely winded walking up the hills, I just blame it on the elevation :) I did have quite a scare a few days ago, when my friend and I saw a mountain lion cross the path about 20 feet ahead of us. We froze as we processed the image of the cougar-like figure, and reminded ourselves of the survival tips we had heard. Unfortunately, it involved not running, but trying to intimidate the animal and to fight it if needed. So, we started looking for sticks or any possible weapon, and slowly continued walking when we couldn’t find anything. At that point we thought to pray, and we can thank God that we didn’t see the mountain lion again! Nonetheless, it was a long walk home. Here's a picture from a less eventful hiking excursion after class:

Things will happen very fast from here. I’ll be back in Duluth on Saturday, and my flight to Thailand is on Tuesday. After my 30 hour flight and a +13 hour time difference, I’ll be in Chiang Mai by this time next week! Until then...

Love & Blessings!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Language Training in Colorado

I'm at Mission Training International (MTI) in Palmer Lake, Colorado, and I just completed Day 3 of a two week Language Acquisition training program called PILAT. I'm not here to learn Thai, but to learn how to learn a new language. There are about 30 of us here with destinations all over the world, and we're learning phonetics, the anatomy of our mouths, and how to break out of our 44-sound box. I have already made sounds I've never been able to make, like trilling my R, as well as sounds I never knew existed. My ear is sharpening up as I listen to other languages, so I'm able to repeat words more accurately. We've done exercises on how to build language comprehension, and today I was speaking and following instructions in Mandarin Chinese! I am convinced that this training will help me learn Thai faster and speak it better. The other reason I'm here, is that I'll implement this program as soon as I arrive in Thailand for other staff and volunteers as they learn Thai and/or Burmese. It's exciting - and terribly intimidating - to take on this project!

With perfect timing, the President of MTI spoke to us about fear yesterday morning. Minutes after I admitted to myself and God that I was overwhelmed and terrified of everything that lies ahead in the very near future - health, safety, finances, and especially failure - Steve Sweatman shared that "Do not be afraid" is the command that appears most often in the Bible. His study showed that there's always a strong presenting emotion with fear (I can attest to that), and that God will always always meet someone in the middle of it. He offers a way out ("For I am with you and will rescue you"), and usually adds something like Joshua 1:9: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go". Steve challenged us to jump into these scriptures when we feel afraid, and to let God speak personally to us through them. It has certainly gotten me through the last couple days, and has made more room for my absolute excitement for this new adventure!