Author: Kimberly Wheeler

Being Home

Repatriation

/rēˌpātrēˈāSH(ə)n,rēˌpatrēˈāSH(ə)n/

noun

the return of someone to their own country

 

Photo by Luke Stackpoole

 

One hundred seventy-four days. Our family has been on American soil again for one hundred seventy-four days. Emotions I fully thought would hit back in July are coming in waves. Grief, guilt and more. As much as I wish I could push through this stage clearly and bounce right back, I’ve learned that this is a normal and expected part of returning to your passport country.

Grief happens when you say goodbye to those you love. We loved hard in Thailand. Despite my desire to stay disconnected, knowing we’d be back home in two years (or so I originally thought,) it was impossible to not fall in love with our beneficiaries. Their shy smiles, their teasing of our language attempts, the simple gifts they gave to us that meant so much.

One of our girls made this and said it was me! Too cute.

Grief happens when you leave friends who have the same heart-calling as you. The ones who have sold everything they own to move their families to an unknown place, like you. The ones you laugh with and cry with and who become family.

During Songkran, the three-day New Year’s/waterfight celebration.

And the guilt. While we spent many months in prayer, seeking to do God’s will, I still doubt that we did the right thing sometimes. Even though we were having increasing struggles with our visas, I wonder. Even though we know our presence in the United States is vital in supporting our girls in Chiang Mai, I wonder.  And I believe this is normal feelings of guilt that happen to anyone coming off the mission field. We feel guilt over the fact that we are here and our foster son isn’t. As much as we have tried to overcome the obstacles and bring him here to be with us, it hasn’t happened and we’re not sure it ever can.

Saying goodbye to our boy at the airport. The smile on my face is not a true reflection of my feelings!

Returning to the States also brought about a feeling I wasn’t sure how to describe, but for lack of better words the fear of “selling out” and becoming the same person I used to be before. Wrapped up in my own world, not cognizant of the deep needs of those around me. Maybe thinking that luxuries are normal and expected, rather than good gifts we don’t deserve by our gracious father in heaven. I pray I don’t slip into complacency.

We have much to be thankful for, including new friendships and God’s blessing in ministry. And we’re doing well considering all the emotions. But we’re learning that transitions take a loooong time. When asked about our time overseas, we remember both the good and the bad and it can be overwhelming to talk about. But we do need to talk about it sometimes, because it’s part of the process of coming home.

So thank you to those friends who ask us how we’re adjusting to life here. It means more than we can express to hear that you care. Thanks to those of you who give us permission to just do what we are able to do today, knowing this has been a huge period of transition. Thanks to our supporters who are so faithful; because of you we can “keep on keeping on” with this fight against child sex trafficking! We are so grateful to all of you.

 

Driving Across the US: Part 2

After leaving our dear friends in Minnesota, it was back to the road and through Wisconsin. We stopped at a campground that night that turned out to offer the least amount of sleep we’d had so far, thanks to an extremely loud train roaring past once an hour all through the night.  It was also the campground with the nastiest outhouses. But on the bright side, we arrived early enough for the musicians to get out their guitars and get some worship on.

Monday evening we arrived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to see some more dear friends whom we had served with in Thailand. There’s something about working as missionaries together, stuck in a foreign land with no one else, that strengthens relationships quickly. The Oyers were our adopted little brother and sister on the field! It was neat to spend time with them and we conquered the most difficult cargo trailer-parking moment so far when we arrived at their home.

 

While in Fort Wayne we were fortunate to be able to catch up with many friends we had served with overseas in addition to the Oyers, and even caught up with friends from many years ago from the Boise area.

After leaving Indiana, we passed through Ohio, where we had the hardest moments in our trip by far. While driving along an Ohio freeway our cargo trailer was hit from behind. It was all Ethan could do to safely bring us off the freeway, with the SUV swinging wildly back and forth after it was thrown violently forward. Ethan got out of the vehicle to find out what happened and all the kids were in tears. There was some screaming as well, and unfortunately Bubba thought the accident had been his fault so he was melting down. (We had discussed on the trip the importance of good behavior in the car to keep everyone safe, and he wrongly thought he caused a bad thing to happen.) Ethan discovered the other driver, a commuter who had fallen asleep at the wheel behind us.

 

The damage to the cargo trailer was extensive and three of us went to the hospital to be checked out for injuries. Thankfully we were able to leave that evening but it was far too late to make it to our planned campsite so we stayed in a hotel just down from the hospital. Evidence of God’s great goodness: within a couple hours of the accident there were multiple offers from friends for some kind of assistance. One of those couples were Eric and Sheila Ross, who we attended church with many years ago before they moved to Ohio. These sweet people got up at the crack of dawn the next day, bought donuts, and drove two hours to pick us up at the hotel and help us get our trailer back to their place. At their home we were able to rest a bit, let the kids swim, and thoroughly check out the trailer to see if we could continue driving with it. We were so blessed by these friends and their kindness!

 

We headed out that afternoon to make it to our next stop, which ended up being in West Virginia. What a beautiful place! We found a campsite off the beaten path and it ended up being a wonderful place to connect with new friends. (Shout out to John & Jessi, if you read this!)

Back on the road again meant eating our one millionth peanut butter sandwich, or so it seemed. 🙂 But as we drew closer to our new home no one seemed to mind.

What an amazing moment it was to cross that state line from Virginia to North Carolina! We camped for several days in Mount Airy, the town that The Andy Griffith Show was based on.

Everyone loved seeing the historic downtown and especially the candy shop!

 

After we stayed as long as we were able to stay in Mount Airy, we moved closer to our final destination and stayed in a state park. During this time we really felt the heat of a southern summer, but it only made getting into a home all the more sweet.

 

While it took quite a while to get into a home, we were blessed by the time spent growing closer as a family. It’s safe to say no one is eager to see the inside of an airport or drive across the US again anytime in the near future. It’s good to be home.

Driving Across the US: Part 1

It’s the completion of our first week on the road. I’m surrounded by the forest and breathing in the smells of campfire. We are somewhere in Wisconsin near a train, which is bringing all kinds of joy to Bubba.  

This trip wasn’t destined to start on time, or so we believed up until the last minute. A week ago we were standing on the street in front of Ethan’s parents’ house, feeling defeated while looking at the inside of our cargo trailer. It was the fifth time we’d packed it and we were still overweight. Somehow, in the next few hours, we were ready.

Monday morning we hit the road. We were blessed to have my dad in a second vehicle, as he was going as far as Jackson, Wyoming for a conference the same day. It gave us the welcome opportunity to stretch out a bit and take turns spending time with Grandpa. 🙂

Driving to Jackson was rough, with various transportation problems cropping up along the way. We pulled into a very full campsite that night and prayed there would still be a spot open. Thankfully there was and we started our first official evening setting up in the dark. We had Tex Mex Chicken for dinner. (Recipe here.)

We were all pretty exhausted the next morning and it took a while to get back on the road. As a result, we arrived at Yellowstone a bit later than planned, and were honestly all so tired we really didn’t appreciate the short amount of time we had there. We were motivated to get back on the road so we wouldn’t have to set up camp again in the dark.

Bubba sleeping on Greta through Yellowstone

Tuesday evening we pulled off in another part of Wyoming, at a quiet little campground with sites incredibly far away from the parking area. Feeling thankful that Bubba insisted on bringing his little blue wagon, we used that to haul all the things to the camp site. During one of the hauls, Bubba brought out his favorite sauce of all time; (Frank’s Red Hot) with the cap untwisted, leaving a trail of sauce in his wake. We laughed about leading the grizzly bears straight to us, which seemed much more funny during daylight. (During the night when I got up to the the bathroom it was kind of terrifying.)

Trail of hot sauce through the woods

Wednesday dawned with everyone feeling much more alive. It was a long day of driving through Wyoming and into South Dakota. The campgrounds in South Dakota were peaceful, with a chatty and kind camp host who was interested in hearing all about our ministry.

 

 

 

Thursday was Mount Rushmore Day! What had inspired the designer to create in that state, I wondered? As we grew closer to the site it was obvious by the huge rock cliffs surrounding us. Even the untouched parts looked like they had the potential to become faces, if that makes sense. It was incredibly awesome to see in person. After Mount Rushmore we needed some coffee. Of course we brought some with us for camping, but had a tip that there was a coffee shop in nearby Rapid City that imported beans from Doi Chang. Excited doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt about it, as this was the coffee plantation from our little town of Chiang Rai! The owner has been to Thailand and we have mutual friends in ministry there. It was a great stop!

 

Thursday night we finally stayed in a campground with showers! Let me tell ya, it was time. Seven people and a 130 lb. dog packed into an SUV for so long, well, you can imagine. There was also a playground. It was heaven.

 

We planned to make a rest stop for the weekend with our long-time friends, the Fischers, in New Prague, Minnesota. Along the way there *just so happened* to be a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove. The girls and I were thrilled. For those familiar with the books, it’s the same town where their family lived in “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” If you are ever in the area I would highly recommend the museum; it’s well worth the price of a ticket. We attempted to see the dugout where the family lived but it was way back on a road and we weren’t totally sure there would be room to turn a trailer around.

  • Yes, the museum stop was totally planned weeks ago. I confess. 😉

 

Arriving in New Prague and seeing my friend Amber almost made me cry. Years ago in church, when I was a pre-teen, I prayed HARD for a friend. We had a small congretation and I just knew God had a friend out there for me. Amber’s dad moved their family  to Oregon to pastor the church and that prayer was answered! It’s hard to believe so many years had passed since we had seen them. It was fun to let the kids hang out together and catch up on everything. We also had the opportunity to share about The Phoenix Alliance and our work with their church Sunday morning. It was a much-needed time of rest before hitting the road again.

New friends

 

We’re now in Wisconsin. The hot dogs have been roasted and the s’mores are being devoured. It’s Sunday night, and the first week is down!

 

 

Preparing to Leave

I apologize ahead of time to anyone reading this blog post, as it’s more of a brain dump than anything else. But if you are curious to know what’s up in our corner of the world, read on!

The Phoenix Alliance. We’ve found that starting a foundation from the ground up is such a learning experience. We work late into the night after tucking the kids into bed, then upon falling asleep dream about things like ethical storytelling and beneficiaries needing a home and graphic design and everything else. When we wake up there always seems to be more work than the day before. Thankfully we have had several awesome people join our volunteer team lately and that has already helped significantly!

Homeschooling. We’re in the final stretch of our school year, and about to promote a ninth-grader, seventh-grader, fifth-grader, and second-grader. The last few weeks are always challenging, but through God’s grace we were able to get ahead in our studies this year and will not have to carry into the summer! The kids have all become passionate about languages thanks to living overseas, and between the three girls they are all working on improving their Thai and learning Lahu, Norwegian, Japanese, and Latin.

Packing. Oh the packing! It’s interesting what you find inside suitcases that have been sitting in the corner for a couple of years. Every single one had to be thoroughly cleaned from dust, spiderwebs, and gecko poop. We found THE most fantastic way to pack and move stuff overseas three years ago, with Walmart rolling storage crates. They are $20 each, and pretty much the maximum size “suitcase” that the airlines will allow. Some of them have been back and forth to the States a couple times and are still in pretty great condition. I can’t recommend them enough for travel.

Selling. If it’s too big to pack or not extremely necessary, it’s getting sold. There are days when I’d just like to put everything by the side of the road and let people help themselves! Not even kidding, in the last couple of weeks I’ve had people ask if I would deliver a 20 baht item to the other side of town, sell things for less than half of what we’re asking, mail 50 baht items to them, and more. We’re so thankful for the wonderful people who understand how busy you are when you are moving and come to us!

Our foster son. While I’ve wanted to give updates on our pursuit of bringing him home, it has been a long journey filled with discouragement. We are being helped by a local ministry that works with the Lahu tribe as we navigate the many requirements. He has a wonderful family to stay with while we continue to pursue every last option from the States. Please continue to pray for God to work in this situation.

Visa requirements. Our last visa was an education visa, and required me to take language classes several times a week. After our first year abroad several well-meaning friends asked, “So, you’re probably fluent now, right?” My only response to that was to laugh, probably  a bit hysterically. We’ve met plenty of people who have lived here for over ten years and still don’t speak the language. The Thai language is hard, people!

 

All the goodbyes. Ugh, goodbyes are the worst. And Thai people are so wonderful. It has been hard saying goodbye to so many who have touched our lives so much in the past three years. The picture below is with our mechanic. (It says a lot about the state of your car when you’re that close to your mechanic, am I right?) But it has seriously been like this with all of our Thai acquaintances and friends. Even the friend chicken ladies down the street cried. (Possibly because they’re losing a big portion of their income now that our gargantuan family is moving away, but we’ll pretend it’s for other reasons.) 😉

 

Tomorrow we will be down to two weeks left in our adopted country. We will try to do another update soon!

 

Twelve Books About Trafficking

*This post contains affiliate links, which can benefit our family if used to purchase anything on Amazon.

Our lives right now are all about setting kids free from the worst kind of pain imaginable. Sometimes it’s tough to make ourselves sit down and read more about what we deal with regularly, but we feel it’s important to continue to educate (and occasionally inspire) ourselves. Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime and we should all  learn more. So without further ado:

Nonfiction Reads

Only 13: The True Story of Lon

This heartbreaking memoir follows young Lon, who was sold into trafficking at the tender age of thirteen. This is a tough one to read and I feel it doesn’t offer much hope. While Lon eventually finds partial freedom, by the end of the book she still struggles to get out from under the massive weight on her heart and soul. If anything, this book demonstrates the importance of a relationship with Christ and continued discipleship for victims.

God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue

If you’ve ever desired to hear more behind the scenes of brothels from an undercover investigator, this book is for you.  The author is painstakingly honest about his own faults, and you see how he eventually crumbles under the pressure of his position. It does read more of a story from his own life rather than a large look at sex trafficking, but warns of the danger of not setting good parameters when working in this field.

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

What I love about this book is the author’s great sense of humor! On a whim, it seems, he goes to Nepal to volunteer at an orphanage. He does it for the wrong reasons, but the kids steal his heart. Along the way, he discovers that these children are not actually orphans, but victims of a trafficking scheme. An inspirational and thought-provoking read.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

While reading this comprehensive book I wanted to say yes, exactly! So much of the material in this book lines up with the situations we have seen while traveling in India, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand, and Laos.  The true stories are interwoven with information about how victimization happens, successful efforts in changing lives, and more. It can be a bit overwhelming to read and take in the enormity of the problem.  Regardless, it should be on the list of every person who wants to understand more about the desperate plight of women all over the world.

The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Theives, Blood Farmers, and Child Traffickers

As indicated in the title, this book is about more than just human trafficking.  It’s brutal yet eye-opening to read about body parts that are sold in markets world-wide. The author explores everything from the above-board sales of human hair to the darker sales of body parts from kidnapped people.  This is a market that we don’t really think or talk about.  For an audio preview, there is also a podcast by Radiolab that mentions this book.

The Least of These: One Man’s Remarkable Journey in the Fight Against Child Trafficking

This inspiring story is about a man who was deeply burdened by the plight of children in many third-world countries.  He chose to go into some of the darkest places in Asia in order to help free women and children from their pain. I like the ideas the author gives for ways to join in the fight again trafficking.

 

Fiction Reads

The Earth Is Full (Child of Deliverance Series Book 1)

The Heavens Are Telling (Child of Deliverance Series) (Volume 2)

My sweet friend Bethany wrote these books, but the funny thing is I didn’t even know we were living in the same town and going to the same church until after I read the first one! (These books are published under B.D. Riehl, which was part of the reason I didn’t realize it sooner.) The first book follows the story of a young girl sold into sex slavery in Thailand, and a middle-aged mom and teen girl from America.  This inspiring story shows us God’s love and faithfulness.  The second book continues with characters we met in the first book as well as new characters.  I liked how much you could relate to the characters in each of these books.

Deliver Me from Evil (Freedom Series)

While it has been a while since I’ve read this, I still remember not being sure I would be able to handle the gritty story.  It follows Mara, a girl sold by her parents in Mexico into a life of sex slavery. A chance meeting with a Christian man takes both of their lives in directions they could never have imagined.  It’s hard as far as the subject matter, but has a good ending.

Stolen Woman (Stolen Series)

While I’m really not a fan of romance novels of any sort, this book had an interesting premise. Asha, an American adopted as a baby from India, goes back as an adult to the home of her birth to help at an orphanage, and meets her love interest there. She also meets a young girl trapped in slavery and decides to go against the warnings of the missionaries to save the girl. The storyline is compelling, yet I feel the part about a short-term volunteer not heeding the advice of seasoned missionaries is unrealistic. (Especially in India; you just don’t mess around as a woman there.)

SOLD

This is a story about a young Nepalese girl who is sold by her family into prostitution.  She believes she will be working for a wealthy woman as a maid until she arrives at the “Happiness House” in India.  Trapped by her family’s debt, she feels she can never escape. Her determined spirit throughout her struggles is inspiring.

What I’m Reading Next

The Slave Across the Street

In this powerful true story, Theresa L. Flores shares how her life as an All-American, blonde-haired 15-year-old teenager who could have been your neighbor was enslaved into the dangerous world of sex trafficking while living in an upper-middle class suburb of Detroit. Her story peels the cover off of this horrific criminal activity and gives dedicated activists as well as casual bystanders a glimpse into the underbelly of trafficking. — excerpt from Amazon.com 

The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking

The White Umbrella tells stories of survivors as well as those who came alongside to help them to recovery. It describes the pain and the strength of these young women and those who held the “white umbrella” of protection and purity over them on the road to restoration.

This book offers principles and guidance to anyone with a heart for these hurting young women and a desire to help. It is an ideal resource for individuals or organizations seeking to learn what they can do to assist these victims in becoming whole again.  — excerpt from Amazon.com

 

Have you read any of these books? Tell us what you think!

 

News, Finally!

Nine days. That’s how long it takes to get biopsy results in Thailand. It could be the same elsewhere; I don’t know. But it has been a long nine days.

I knew right away when they said my appointment was between 1:00 and 3:00 today that I was most likely in for a long wait. We were shocked the first time we tried to go to a doctor here and realized it’s common to show up and be seen in the order you have arrived. Two hours waits are not unusual. With that in mind, I showed up at the hospital at 1:00 on the dot.  I started to feel hopeful when I saw no one else in the waiting area. After a quick blood pressure check I had to go sit back down in the waiting room, and waited, and waited some more. After a while a nurse came out and I thought This is it!  But no, she was only coming to ask me if I wanted to go home and come back in an hour. Yes, seriously. I couldn’t believe it. I told her we live too far away from the hospital to do that, and I’d just wait. She looked properly horrified by this, and told me that the doctor was eating lunch and would be gone for a long time.

Thankfully, within about fifteen minutes the nurses seemed to collectively take pity on the foreigner and one of them came over to me. With great trepidation I watched as she pulled the results out of an envelope and pointed to the three little words: no malignancy seen. It was a grand moment, one that definitely should have been celebrated with balloons and streamers and hamburgers (our biggest western-food craving most days). But instead I smiled at the nurse, texted our people, and gathered up my things to go.

We’re thankful for the prayers of everyone and especially just knowing that we weren’t alone, although we are physically thousands of miles away from home. I realize women everywhere go through this, but there was just something about it happening in a foreign country that made it more disturbing.  We’re thankful that God is always in control, he gives peace in all situations when we ask for it, and for good health!

Unexpected Biopsy in Thailand

We’ve been dealing with a fairly significant issue here behind the scenes in Northern Thailand. For the last several months I’ve had some concerning symptoms that I’ve been trying to ignore. But it finally got bad enough that I knew I had to address it, so I booked an appointment with a local doctor.  That appointment was last night.

Although I considered going into the appointment alone, Ethan came with me. I’m so glad he did. After the preliminary exam the doctor decided to do an ultrasound, and I started to get nervous as the ultrasound dragged on and she started printing out pictures.  Back in her office following the exam she told us she had found a tumor. She was sure this was the cause of the symptoms I had been experiencing and that removing it would alleviate those symptoms. But she also insisted on testing the tissue for cancer. The operation needed to happen quickly and was scheduled for early this morning, just 14 hours after the initial exam. Though the doctor speaks some English, her accent, limited vocabulary and general lack of fluency makes for a difficult and confusing conversation. In addition to language, there are some cutural tendencies with Thais that are endearing, until they aren’t. One such tendency is to answer “yes” to almost everything, even if “yes” is not the actual answer. Ultimately we gathered that she was concerned the tumor could be cancerous. These conversations go something like this:

Doc – You have tumoh(r) little big that cause problem now. And two very small. I want remove fix problem and leave other one and tes(t) for cancer.

Us – So there’s one tumor?

Doc – Yes

Us – But you mentioned something else?

Doc – Yes

Us – So…is there more than one tumor?

Doc – Yes (smiling and nodding now)

Us – Ah, ok. Where are they? The other ones?

Doc – Yes, the others very small not problem. We take big one and test, if ok then maybe ok. We remove small ones but maybe cannot because in wrong place for procedure. Take out different way but maybe not need.

Us – Okay…so we remove the bigger tumor now, and leave the others?

Doc – Yes.

Us – Yes, we leave the other two?

Doc – Yes because maybe cancer not normal.

Us – Not normal?

Doc – Yes, maybe not normal okay.

Us – Oh! Do you mean those type are not normally cancerous?

Doc – Yes

Us – But the other one sometimes is?

Doc – Yes

We left, minds reeling with an early surgery appointment suddenly scheduled for our Saturday morning. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet and it was late, so after leaving the hospital we stopped by a friend’s restaurant to eat before going home. I felt so disoriented and disconnected. It was hard to enjoy the food or the celebratory Friday night atmosphere, which included an amazingly talented 16-year-old local boy playing solo acoustic guitar. We texted both sets of parents and messaged our confidential prayer group during dinner to ask them all to pray for peace for the next morning.

This morning I packed everything I thought I might want for a hospital visit, including a blanket. From my visit the night before I had a feeling creature comforts wouldn’t be high on the list of patient needs. We’ve noticed in the past that much of the medical care in our part of Thailand tends to feel like it’s from the 1980’s, but had high hopes that going to the most popular hospital for expats in town would help.

After arriving at the hospital we did all the check-in procedures. Surgery was set to take two hours, during which time I’d be unconscious and Ethan would be missing breakfast. I encouraged him to find something to eat at a nearby cafe. So when I was called back into an exam room and it appeared I was all set for surgery, he left. You can imagine our surprise when the nurse asked for me to call my husband back fifteen minutes later. We were confused and at first thought they wanted him to push my wheelchair into the operating room. But no. Apparently they just didn’t want a crazy, doped-up foreign girl loose in the hospital without a responsible adult to keep an eye on her! They commanded Ethan to sit in a specific chair in the waiting area and insisted that he not move.

We went back to surgery and I quickly realized NO ONE back there spoke English. They tried to ask some questions but since I’ve not studied much medical terminology in Thai, I was pretty lost. They then left me sprawled out on the operating table, alone, for about twenty minutes. I texted Ethan, wondering if he knew what was going on, and he told me he had just seen my doctor from the night before shuffle-running through the hospital. It appeared she was late, or possibly forgot she had a patient waiting in surgery.

After reading about my specific surgery online, I had expected a lot of pain during the procedure. But there are some benefits of getting treated in a different country. The only real pain that happened was from the IV, and then they put me to sleep!

After the surgery I woke up in a huge room. There was nobody close by, but I was done with being in the hospital and ready to finally eat breakfast. I sat up slowly and the room started swimming, but still managed to call out “excuse me?” in Thai repeatedly until I got someone’s attention. While I couldn’t quite focus on the person’s face, I told them in Thai that I was hungry and ready to go home and eat rice. (This is the easiest way to convey you want to eat — to say you want to eat rice.) I think the person was amused at the crazy foreigner trying to get up and leave, but had mercy on me and took me out to Ethan.

 While medical expenses are quite a bit less here than it would have been in America, it still shocked us how quickly we were able to burn through baht. It’s the same adjustment we’ve been making for years now…things cost less, but you also have less to spend, and somehow in our heads we think “less” is just a little more than “free”, which is most certainly not the case. In the end we were thankful for that universally understood English phrase: You take Visa? We will find out the results of the biopsy in just over a week. It’s tempting to worry about this, not knowing the medical results or how deep the cost might extend from here. But I’m determined to keep my eyes on Jesus and the hope we have in him. He continues to give us new opportunities to trust in His provision, and we know that He will be no less faithful this time. Thanks for praying with us!

Full House, Full Hearts

Do you ever feel that other people are gifted in an area you will never grasp?  I certainly have. Hospitality is a topic I’ve always ignored at women’s retreats, figuring it wasn’t my forte. My friends who enjoy arranging flowers and have multiple sets of matching china can rule over that domain. My giftings? Well, I have no idea. But I know it’s not hospitality….right?

God uses a variety of circumstances to shape our character. Despite my feelings about hosting people, I had to get over my discomfort years ago when Bubba required a therapist to spend hours each day working with him in our home. In the beginning it wasn’t someone we chose, and the program required that she take notes on his behavior and our handling of said behavior. Although the goal of the program was to help families learn better strategies for raising their special needs children, it was incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. I already felt laid bare by the fact that someone was seeing how clean (or not clean) I kept the house, but then to add behavior assessment to a mom of four young children…it was a refining time to say the least.

As Bubba grew older, we had more than one therapist come to work with him.  I gradually became more comfortable having non-family in the home. So comfortable that we didn’t mind at all taking on a live-in volunteer nanny/school helper when we first moved to Thailand! Our home at that time had five regular bedrooms and two rooms designated as “maid’s quarters,” so there was plenty of room for the seven of us.

After G came to live with us it was yet a further stretching, as we became accustomed to a new culture in our home. I don’t wash dishes the Thai way, and there was a bit of tiptoeing around each other as we navigated what we each preferred. Such as the doors being left open constantly, letting all the outside things become inside things. We assumed this was from growing up in huts that didn’t have doors. When her brother joined us, we adjusted further by working to use more Thai language, keeping in mind that they were also adjusting to an entirely different culture.

We moved to a new home last summer, with just three bedrooms.  It was yet another adjustment but the village we are in now is very peaceful.

The recent development with our sweet friend, whom we have referred to as Nan, has led to not just her and her little one moving in, but her husband as well. They are both working extremely hard to afford their own home in the village. They are not seeking what you might expect from a young married couple in a first-world country. They are saving to build one-room hut. With the average Thai salary being 13,500 baht per month (about $430) and young workers earning closer to 6,000 baht (less than $200), it takes a long time to save for even the simplest of grass huts. Our hope is that we can help them save money more quickly by sharing our home.

Oh, we do look back on that seven room house and laugh at home much room we had compared to the three rooms we have now!  In case you are new to the blog, you can read here about our reasons for moving.

Just last week Ethan and I were talking with Nan, and she mentioned that her 16 year old little brother was graduating from high school. (Thai schools offer early graduation at 16, followed by vocational college, or regular graduation at 18 followed by University). She then mentioned that he is a ladyboy. Ladyboy culture is glorified here in Thailand, with a seemingly endless stream of young men dressing and acting as women and saving for gender reassignment hormones and surgeries. Ethan and I casually talked about what we’d do if Nan asked us if her brother could stay with us. Would we allow a ladyboy into our home? This would take “hosting” to yet another new level. But we realized that it would be an incredible opportunity to share Christ’s love and minister to this young man, and we both agreed that we’d say ‘yes’ if the situation ever came up.

Almost immediately after that, and I suppose not surprisingly, Nan asked us if her brother could stay with us for a little while. We had to laugh as we said yes, knowing that God has softened our hearts and prepared us in advance, opening our eyes to the ministry he has in mind for us. Mai bpen rai.

I’ve been reflecting lately on how God has worked in our lives in so many ways over the years. I would never have thought I’d become so comfortable hosting people, let alone people so very different from what I am familiar with. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned. I hope this will encourage someone.

It can be awkward, but that stage passes quickly.  

Where do we start? From everyone’s laundry hanging out in full view constantly, to trying to be polite when your houseguests are cooking with smelly fish paste, we are challenged daily. But as time passes, we find that the little things don’t really matter. Only when we hold onto our own ideas of what we think life should look like do we feel disappointed by our present reality. Letting go is incredibly freeing and joyful.

You don’t have to be rich to be generous.

We are certainly not rich. In fact, our finances sometimes make no sense at all and we just trust God to be the faithful provider He always is. We are so incredibly grateful for that provision! When God has proven Himself so ultimately trustworthy, who are we to hold onto what we are given and limit who can be blessed by it?

Being hospitable doesn’t mean that I have to be perfect.

This was a big misunderstanding for me for so long. It’s human nature to want to look our best around people. But God doesn’t ask for that; in fact I believe that people feel more welcome when they see our imperfections shining through. Yes, my hair can look crazy in the morning. Sometimes our trash overflows, and sometimes there are smells that take concerted effort to identify and eradicate. Sometimes we don’t have the perfect attitude, or say and do the perfect things. But that’s real life, and it’s okay.

God may have a different idea of who we are are to open our hearts to than we do.

It’s no secret that our family is passionate about adoption. For years we’ve dreamed of filling our home with little ones who need a family. Emphasis on “little”, as we had decided (ha ha) to not adopt anyone older than our youngest child. However, God has brought some little and some not-so-little ones to our door. I’ve learned that hospitality is not just for the attractive and desirable; it is for those who need hospitality.

 

Though we are far from being model hosts, I hope that this will encourage anyone who has ever struggled with this area of ministry.  May God bless you as you step out… and let others in.

 

Not Glamorous

Let’s see if I can put today into words…so today started at 3:20 a.m. when we woke up to get ready to board the van from Phnom Penh to Bangkok.  I walked in the bathroom and immediately slipped on the wet floor, under a spot where the people in the hotel room above us had apparently had a bathtub overflow.  (Huge wet spot and massive dripping.)  Nearly did the splits, but was saved by my left knee hitting the wall and taking the brunt of the fall.  The good news is, the ensuing scream woke up the kids, who needed to get up anyway.  We grabbed a tuk-tuk and headed down to the station, only to arrive to a pitch black street.  Our awesome driver offered to call the company, and roused someone who opened up the waiting area for us.  At this point it was 4:30, and we were supposed to depart at 5:00.

When 5:00 came and went we went to the desk to ask where our van was, and the attendant called the driver.  After handing the phone over, we discovered the driver had decided to leave an hour later, at 6:00.  We had no choice but to wait, but it was okay because we were entertained by the *multiple* giant rats racing through the station.  Yes, rats.  They seemed to be right at home in the filthy and foul-smelling place.

Upon boarding the van at 6:00, we all thought we’d be getting to sleep, but the road was so insanely bumpy that there was no way to rest your head for long without risk of it bouncing off the surface and resulting in a concussion.  The van stopped approximately once an hour until we arrived at the Cambodia/Thailand border, where we grabbed all of our luggage and got tags to use to get back on another van after we walked to the other side of the border.  

Crossing the border consisted of walking in blistering heat for what felt like a mile, filling out departure cards for six people and arrival cards for six people, getting our pictures taken and passports examined carefully, and finally stepping back onto Thai soil!

After this we had another four hours of driving on much smoother roads.  Bubba and I were told to sit up front with the driver, where he was enthralled with the freeway scenes flashing before us.  “It’s so beautiful, Mommy!”  When we were roughly an hour outside of Bangkok he started saying his feet were hurting badly, which always means his juvenile arthritis is flaring up.  We weren’t able to give him medicine until we arrived in Bangkok, and he hurt the whole way to the hotel.  We were able to ride the sky train for a little bit and then walked several blocks.

The hotel.  First of all, when we finally reached it we weren’t even sure we were in the right place.  There was no signage inside the lobby and no one at the receptionist desk.  Ethan called the phone number for the hotel and it was finally picked up.  He spoke with someone , first in English, then in Thai, before being hung up on.  Thankfully a young Indian man came in shortly thereafter and told us to wait ten minutes and someone would help us.  

Lo and behold, that someone ended up being an 84-year-old Indian man.  He moved…well, like an 84-year-old man as he took us up to see the room.  This room would not win any awards for cleanliness and I’m glad I don’t own a blacklight.  I don’t want to know.  The girls are afraid to open the closet doors for fear that they may find a dead body, but they’re teenagers so this kind of dramatic talk is normal to us.  It has enough beds for everyone to share, though, and for this we are grateful.  While he was showing us the room the manager told us to avoid the doors that open to the balcony; the lock doesn’t work properly and he’s had to make his own because someone “has broken in here before”.  (Note: we’re on the seventh floor!)

It’s now 8:45 p.m.  We are hungry and hoping there is something to eat within walking distance.  But mostly we are so happy to be heading home, visas in hand.  Missionary travel may not be glamorous, but at least it’s interesting!

Into the Darkness

Two weeks ago, a tip came in that several young hill tribe girls were working in karaoke bars in Chiang Mai. Even though rescue is not the core mission of Alpha Foundation, we needed to act quickly and our project leader was ready to go. I was in town at the time and had the opportunity to go along on my first rescue operation. All together we were four women, three Thais and me.

We started by driving out and away from the tourist areas. It’s rare to see underage girls working openly where western eyes are most likely to find them these days. As we drove I prayed that I would be able to connect in some way with any young girls we might encounter that night.

At our first stop we pulled into the parking area of a run-down building. We found our way to a table in the noisy, dark bar and began scanning the room for any girl who appeared to be underage.

She walked to us unsteadily in her high heels like a little girl trying on her mama’s shoes. I stared at her vivid blue dress and wondered distractedly about how a simple color can represent the freedom of the sky and the sea, while that same color can also hide the chains of duty, family expectations and pressures that would hold one so young in a place like this.

While we talked with her I caught irritated glances out of the corner of my eye from the man who had previously paid to sit with her. A practice that allows such men to touch these girls however he might please. By paying for a girl’s drink and later tipping the girls 50 to 100 baht (a dollar or two), this is his “right”. We were an unwelcome distraction; four women conspicuously out of place in this seedy bar filled with only male customers. I’m sure there was little doubt that our intentions differed from the rest of the clientele.  

Mari asked about her family, and we learned that she is from the same city I live in. More importantly, she’s from the Lahu tribe. I showed her pictures of our foster kids, also Lahu, and watched as a connection beginning to form. I remembered that I’m part of a uniquely small group that has the distinction of never really being a threat to young girls like this: I am a woman, and I am a westerner. These girls have no trust for men of any ethnicity or origin, because men are the primary customers. And Thai women often play the role of mamasans, forcing the girls into situations they sometimes initially resist and constantly coaching and pressuring them to “perform” for the men. She shared her name and more about her family, and asked questions about why this crazy foreign family would willingly take in poor village kids to love.

There were other young girls there, busy with other customers. Some looking very much like children, even those who were likely adults in the eyes of the law. I hurt for these kids, and as we stayed later and bought food we heard more stories. It became increasingly apparent the only reason they were in this place was because they had no choice. When the girls sat down with the male customers, there was a fake “party girl” persona put on. They did their jobs as expected, playing their part in this great lie and convincing the men that they were there to have a good time. But when they talked with us, there was no need for pretense. We were just a group of girls talking and forming new friendships.

We left that evening with promises to return; names and faces of girls who will not leave our minds. After months of being “the rescuer’s wife” I finally understood more of what my husband has been through. The kind of pain that’s hard to put into words, the frustration of not being able to snap fingers and immediately fix desperate situations. Just walking out the door without a resolution is incredibly hard. I felt the urgency to share what I saw and be a voice for these children who don’t know Christ; the kids who have no moms and dads to fight for them.   

We read a book about Mahatma Gandhi recently and a quote of his has been in my mind ever since:

 

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  

 

How true this is! I saw the gentle love of the ladies I was ministering with that night, a love that is coupled with determination to find a place to bring these children for ministry and healing. There are many more of these kids out there than we’d like to think. And now I’ve seen it for myself.

Please pray for the young girls Alpha Renew is working with that are still in this bar. Please pray as we help them to find a safe place to work with these kids as well as the ones who are already in shelter homes without counseling and the specialized services they so desperately need to recover and thrive. Please pray for our family as we continue to love the children in our home as well as the multitude we wish we could bring into our home!

 

A Husband’s Perspective…

So you might be wondering at this point why in the world I would let my wife go into a Thai karaoke bar on rescue. Fair question, and it wasn’t something we did haphazardly. The idea of using women on rescue teams is something we’ve thought about for a very long time. There are good and bad points to this concept.

As a man, I need to enter the bar undercover, posing as a customer. If it becomes obvious that I’m there to “steal” the merchandise, the other men and security really have no reason to hold back. Fights would be inevitable. Women, on the other hand, would never be mistaken for regular customers. Not in these bars anyway (different story in the tourist bars, of course). In all my time on rescue, not once did I see a female in any KTV who wasn’t working. I’m sure it happens, but it’s gotta be pretty rare.

So if there’s no way for women to hide true intentions, doesn’t that put them at increased danger? Well…possibly, yes. However, it’s far less likely that women would be assaulted in a place like that. They could be asked to leave and not come back, maybe even dragged out, but very unlikely that there would be violence. That said, as a concerned husband I tracked the group using active GPS all night and was within a few minutes of their location at all times.

The first obstacle that we men have to overcome on rescue is the trust issue. When we walk through the door, we are “bad guys” like every other customer. It’s not until we sit and talk with the girls that we can begin the process of convincing them we are different. Women do not have the same level of mistrust to overcome. The girls sit down knowing this is something different. There is still the possibility that they are being recruited for similar work, but again, it’s a lower level of mistrust to start with.

So what are we saying? Is it better to use women on rescue? I don’t think there’s a single answer to that one. There are places where it would be wholly inappropriate to send women, particularly ones who have no serious self-defense training. It’s also possible that a group of women would never see the youngest girls working, because savvy mamasans will not let them work in the open when there’s a “threat” in the bar. I’ve seen this first-hand when police have entered a bar. Any underage girl is called into the back and they don’t come out until it’s clear. This would often be the case when women go on rescue. So I think there’s room for more than one strategy, and we’ll continue to do whatever it takes to bring freedom to these precious kids.