Author: Kimberly Wheeler

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.

How Is It Possible?

Our last few weeks since arriving in Thailand have been filled with so much joy.  Multiple times I’ve paused to thank God throughout the day for the joy he has given us.  Some recent moments included watching the kids on our morning walk, each of them such an individual expressing themselves in their own way.  (Spunky riding a bike without holding the handlebars, Giggles dreaming as she gazed at the pineapple fields, Bubba tearing down the road pushing a wheelbarrow full of stuffed animals, and Calico scooting along on her toy car.)  Listening as my husband lovingly guides our family through a devotional on Proverbs each and every morning.  Moments serving Thai-style spaghetti to our family of eight and hearing a child’s sweet mealtime prayer.  Times like this are filled with a wonder that God truly has brought me to a place where “my cup runneth over”.  (Psalm 23:5)  Times like this I wonder, how is this deep, long-lasting feeling of joy possible?

Today I was looking for something specific on Pinterest when a saying caught my eye.

What truth!  And yet it’s so hard to make the time every day.  As a couple of adults who asked Jesus into our hearts as young children and grew up in the church, you’d think we’d have no troubles with this.  Yet it’s a daily laying down of our own desires.  A daily decision to wake up when the alarm goes off and seek that time with our heavenly father.

We feel that not only do things fall into the proper place, but God fills us with joy when we devote the first part of our waking hours to him.  Does this mean that we personally have no troubles?  No, not at all.  In fact, later this week we’ll be sharing about an enormous challenge that we are facing right now.  But we are not overcome by these challenges when we seek his words and wisdom before all else.  We can’t encourage people enough to get in the Word and study as spouses, together.  The trials will still come, but God’s grace and mercy can fill you with joy as you walk through each one.

New Ministry News

This post was originally released on our Wheels Over Asia Facebook page on January 19th.  Sharing it here in case anyone missed it.  🙂

Today is a big moment for our family. God has been doing some amazing things and opening new doors for continuing our ministry in the fight against child sex trafficking. Part of that new ministry includes working with a newly-formed aftercare project in Chiang Mai called Alpha Renew, which will be helping trafficking survivors in their long-term recovery and discipleship.

So today was big because I just transferred our first support payment to this awesome new project. Right now we only have enough to cover the salary for our Thai partner (the founder of Alpha Renew), but it’s a start! We are thankful for the generosity of a Boise supporter who jumped in early to helped us with this. This is a tough transitional time for us and for our partner, but God is so faithful! She will not have to worry about paying her personal bills for the next couple of months at least. This buys us some time to continue working through the registration and startup process.

We are also eternally thankful for all of our family’s faithful supporters, who continue to partner with us through this less-than-perfect time of transition. Because of your faithfulness, we are able to pass on 100% of the donation that came in for Alpha Renew. And even when the future is uncertain, we are confident that the Lord will never fail us. His provision is perfect, and we have no need to worry no matter how little sense it makes sometimes from a human perspective! (Matthew 6:25-34)

There is so much to do and we are honestly a bit overwhelmed at the moment, but we hope to have more detailed information on everything we are doing very soon. In the interim, if anyone wants to know more about Alpha Renew or the direction our family is going right now, please don’t hesitate to PM Kimberly or Ethan, or leave a message on our Wheels Over Asia FB Page.

For anyone who wishes to help support Alpha Renew as we continue to move toward registration and our goal of working with survivors by the first of April, you may use the following link for giving. 100% of what we receive for Alpha Renew’s registration will go directly to the project (minus any unavoidable foreign transaction fees).

https://grace.egiving.com/alpha-re…/alpha-renew-registration

The Long Trek Back

This month’s return to Thailand was probably the toughest journey overseas that we’ve had so far. By necessity we always book the least expensive flights we can find, and we’ve been blessed in the past to end up on the EVA Air flight out of Seattle at midnight. Leaving at midnight makes it easy to sleep on the long 13-hour trek to Taipei. No such luck this time. This flight left at 12 noon. Although we had been awake since 5am for our Boise to Seattle flight, we weren’t at all ready for a long rest. EVA tries to help its passengers by turning out the lights at 2pm. We decided to give Bubba an extra boost by giving him his night time medicine once the cabin was dark. He has been experiencing a lot of anxiety lately over germs, and kept asking us over and over if all the germs were away from him. It seemed wise to help him sleep. Unfortunately, the medicine only made him extra tired and agitated over not being able to really sleep. He was in need of constant reassurance and answers to his questions, which made it impossible to rest or even watch the in-flight entertainment, which is usually such an amazing blessing on this trip. It was a very long flight.

For those new to international travel, we would advise never putting anything you care about in the seat pocket in front of you. It’s far too easy to forget it when you’re tired and confused. I did this very thing with my kindle in November, on the flight from Bangkok to Taipei. Luckily EVA Air put the kindle in the Taipei airport lost and found and we were able to track it down. I made arrangements to pick it up during our layover in Taiwan. But of course, Lost & Found is located on the wrong side of Taiwan immigration. We are just transit passengers through Taipei, so we don’t usually have to go through immigration and customs until we reach Thailand. We landed at about 5pm local time (3am Idaho time). Being so exhausted made it much harder to communicate, but I finally convinced the right people to let me through immigration for the sole purpose of going to the airport’s lost and found. It meant going to the shortest line in immigration, which was for Taiwanese nationals, because we didn’t have time to waste during our transfer. I eventually recovered my Kindle and made it back to the gate in plenty of time to sit with the rest of the family in the icy cold boarding area; a strange indoor temperature for that part of the world.

Exhausted in Taipei

After boarding in Taiwan we had a relatively short four hour journey to Bangkok.  We arrived at approximately 1:30am local time and headed toward Thailand’s incredibly long immigration lines. Our ED visas had been rejected by the Thai Embassy in Washington DC before we left, so this time we had to enter as tourists. This meant learning an all-new process, which added some confusion due to the lack of sleep. As it turns out it was extremely easy to enter Thailand with a 30-day pass. But try telling that to a sleep-deprived family of 7. We’ve traditionally thought of Bangkok as our “meltdown airport” because every time we reach there we are all so worn out we can barely function. This time was certainly no different, but since we landed so late there were no flights to Chiang Rai that night, so instead of boarding the last flight home we took a van to a hotel.

The Bangkok Airport — incredibly busy even at 1:30 a.m.

We reached the hotel at 3:30am and at first I worried there had been some mistake.  We piled out of the van into a dead-end alley, with dirty high-rise buildings around us.  Bubba looked around with hope in his eyes and asked if there was a pool.  (There wasn’t.) The manager of the hotel met us outside and took us to a small apartment on the ground level. It was a small 2 bed/2 bath apartment. Nice, except that there are 7 of us. We had reserved a 3-room apartment that would fit everyone all together, at a lower cost than multiple rooms. There was no way we could all sleep in this place. We were told that the room we reserved was unavailable due to flooding (a lie, as it turns out, because the place only had 5 rooms total and the next day we saw that they were all in use). They instead offered a second room all the way on the 5th floor…with no elevator and lots of heavy luggage to haul. We were apprehensive about splitting up our crew so far apart in a place that felt so sketchy. But in our state of exhaustion we felt we had no real options and just wanted to sleep.

I don’t know if it was because we were soft from our last few weeks in America or what, but those were the hardest five flights of stairs I think I’ve ever climbed! I’m sure the 31 hours without rest contributed to our weakness. At any rate, it was good motivation to get back into shape again after too little exercise in Idaho. (Missionaries have to be tough, yo!) The apartments were fine, although a far cry from the advertised pictures. The typical Thai problems were all present – broken faucets, damaged floors and appliances, no water (and you can’t drink from the tap), worthless AC in the lower apartment, etc.

The next day we slept until noon. We needed coffee. So after stumbling out of the room and pushing past all the wet clothing someone had hung directly in front of our door (and we do mean directly…we got a facefull of children’s undies), we found our way to the closest coffee shop, a chain called Amazon Cafe. I had to remember what country we were in and watch my step on the loose and uneven sidewalk tiles, and be careful not to get to close to traffic as we walked along the roadside. We had forgotten the adrenaline rush of feeling a van mirror zoom past your head with mere inches of clearance. Welcome back, Wheelers. Our G was able to reunite with her younger sister, Wit, while we were in Bangkok. She is a lovely girl and we were all so happy to see her.

The problem with traveling so frequently with a large family is you get good at it, and then you get lazy and forget why you were good at it. We definitely were lazy for our last leg to Chiang Rai, and one by one we were called out by security to have our bags checked. A battery pack here, laptop left inside a backpack there, liquids and gels not in the required ziploc baggies, cups of coffee still in hand…we were terribly noncompliant. The best moment though was with Calico, who packed her Nerf gun in her carry-on. Locked and loaded. She received extra attention, as a second security guard come over to help inspect our criminal 7-year-old’s bag for the deadly weapon she had tried to smuggle through security. One of the guards was far more serious than the other, and it was this serious guy who removed the Nerf gun from her bag and began fiddling with it. We almost lost it completely when he inexplicably reached down and pulled the trigger, firing a foam dart into the security lines. The less-serious guard also stifled a laugh, but Mr. Serious Guard was not amused. We politely asked if our child could recover the wayward dart, and less-serious guy nodded with a smile. The weapon was ultimately emptied of ammunition and returned to her bag.

It doesn’t get easier saying goodbye to family and friends in America, but we were so overjoyed to arrive in our Thai home and hug our sweet foster son. He has been sorely missed.

Why We Return

A year ago we had the privilege of working in India.  Facebook reminded me of this fact yesterday with pictures that brought all kinds of emotions, right as I was eating my breakfast and thinking about what fun things we’d do together as a family this weekend.  It’s hard being in America, so far away from the kids all over southeast Asia who are so near to our hearts.  While we love being with family and hugging friends we haven’t seen in so long, these children are always on our minds.  I wanted to share a bit of what Ethan wrote a year ago while we were in Delhi, because it so perfectly describes our calling to return to the mission field.

 

 

Up at 2:00 am to catch a plane to Delhi. Passing elephants and camels on the highway. Breathing in the acrid smoke of the city, and the the longing for the reprieve of smog through the smells of the open sewers and filth of the slums. Seeing one boy squatting naked by the side of the road, another lying on the ground covered in flies and not looking at all alive. The chaos of massively crowded streets and the cacophony of nonstop honking and near-miss accidents, even on a “quiet” holiday. Being told that three young girls we pass are likely already being sold daily for less than a pack of gum. Hearing stories of kidnapping, rape, and torture so common that the population seems nonplussed by the reality in which they live.

And then…

Then there’s our guide. Our partner. The much-loved pastor who works these streets. He introduces us to beautiful, sweet, smiling girls in the slums who are learning to sew professionally, spending their days split between honing their newfound vocation and studying through the first school lessons many of them have ever had. We meet a girl so young, so traumatized that she cannot currently speak, not even to tell us about the baby she carries. But she’s smiling too. There’s a whole room full of girls who insist on singing us song after song, praising the name of Jesus and welcoming us to their shelter home, their eyes betraying not a hint of the abusive terrors that united them as survivors before their faith cemented them as sisters.

I am speechless in the presence of men and women who pour their every heartbeat into children the world has discarded as rubbish, making a fraction of the income they would otherwise earn. Our pastor friend is chief among the dauntless rejoicers who seem invincible to the hopelessness that surrounds them. The problem they fight is too big, too powerful, too completely overwhelming and far, far to evil to warrant even a shred of hope.

Except…

Except that their hope has nothing to do with humanity or the lack thereof. It has everything do with the complete, perfect love of Jesus. They would tell you, every single one would tell you, that they are the most blessed among God’s beloved. Because every single day they see firsthand the restoring power of our Savior. Oh, to witness this change day after day, as an unending parade of brokenness transforms through the blood of Jesus into towering champions hidden behind childish facades.

Today I am humbled. I am reminded of the smallness of my life and of what I once considered sacrifice. Through God alone am I made a useful cog in His perfect machine. To be honored and entrusted with a miniscule role to play in this fight is a blessing I could never explain.

Visas, Jet Lag and Holidays; Oh My!

Maintaining legal immigration status in Thailand has become increasingly difficult over the past few years. Sometimes it feels like we’re totally consumed by the process of obtaining and keeping our visas. We were able to extend the last visa for three more months, but we knew we’d have to leave the country in November to reapply for legal status.

However, leaving meant we’d have a chance to spend the holidays with our family! Can you believe, the last time we were in the States for Christmas was 2014? We arrived super early in the morning last Friday and are starting to sync with daytime and night time here in Idaho.

This trip home started off a little differently. We wanted to bring Greta with us and there are no airlines that will fly from Chiang Rai to Bangkok with a dog. But as it turns out, we were able to charter a van to Bangkok for the same cost as plane tickets! It’s a thirteen hour drive but Thailand has a long, smooth “Super Highway” all the way to to Bangkok. We figured we’d be able to sleep most of the way, so we started at 7:00 pm in the evening and drove through the night. The best-laid plans. Our driver found a shortcut through the mountains that resembled a bombed-out airstrip from WWII. So many potholes. So, so many potholes. Sleep happened in precious small snippets between bone-rattling jolts and frequent rest stops, where everyone completely woke up and piled out to use the magnificent Thai rest stop toilets, which were almost always squatty potties. By the time we reached Bangkok we were already exhausted and bleary-eyed.

The next step was going to the Thai Ministry of Agriculture to clear Greta for international travel. Since we’d last been through Bangkok, the offices had moved into a different building.  It was too far to walk but there was a free bus ride.  Since it would be extremely difficult to bring the luggage, Ethan and I split up to take care of different tasks.  Giggles and I headed off to the bus with Greta, which dropped us off ten minutes later.  We found that we had a ten-minute walk on top of that to get to the Ministry of Agriculture offices.

Last time we came through with Greta, it was approximately fifteen minutes to show all of the paperwork and get her through.  This time, well . . . it was five hours.  We’d planned ahead to have about eight hours in the airport in case anything went wrong with clearing her for travel, but didn’t expect the office would take so long.  Thankfully, we were able to finish up and get back to check in for our flight just in time.

A little glimpse of what it’s like to travel in Asia with Greta. She is seriously a celebrity.

Our next step was the flight leg to Taipei, which is four hours.

Bubba found a new love in the Taipei airport; a giant animated M’n M!

After a couple of hours layover, it was time for the big trans-Pacific flight.  We boarded the giant Seattle-bound plane and settled in for some rest.  As parents we like the 12-hour flight best of all because we don’t have to worry about gathering luggage, airport transfers, or anything else for a while.

After arriving in Seattle and clearing customs, there was only one flight left to Boise.  We arrived and felt the shock to our systems as we walked from the tarmac into the airport — Idaho is COLD!  It had been 43 hours of travel.

Friday was a chance to re-unite with some of the family.  The kids especially loved seeing their little cousins and how much they’ve grown.  We all loved eating good American food!

We are so thrilled to be able to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.  While our time home will be busy enough with speaking commitments, meetings, and visa paperwork, we plan to make it a special time of remembering our holiday traditions as well.

 

The Trials of Doi Hang

I never imagined that an innocent, pleasant afternoon like this one would make me see the world in such a different way. I gazed up at the gorgeous turquoise sky; the scent of fresh cut grass around me brought memories of summer days I’d forgotten. Walking bicycles out of a long rocky driveway with my tenacious and determined older sister, we set off into the wilderness, and began, an unanticipated adventure into a rice farming village that had recently become our home. At first, we effortlessly peddled our faithful bicycles along a quiet stretch of road. While we were not at home, we took the chance to admire fruit trees and overgrowth of pure jungle. Our destination? A Buddhist temple on a mountain. Not necessarily being my idea to go, I was confused as to why my sister would want to go to a Buddhist temple. A thought shot through my brain, “Gunya is a Christian, because she loves Jesus with all her heart. She may have followed the Buddhist practices two years ago, but certainly not now.” I thought. “So, why in the world does she want to go hike a mountain just to see that?” In short- I was very confused. You see, Gunya is Thai. Raised in a tribal village where she worked for her meals, she experienced things people never imagined possible. So when she saw that slope shooting up into the distance, standing right up in front of us, she had absolutely no intention of slowing down.

The idea, in my head, of a calm afternoon bike ride, quickly charged downhill. Or should I say, uphill. Neither Gunya nor I could force our tired limbs to pedal further, so we continued on by walking our bikes up the hill; with heaving breaths we trudged up. The peak was just ahead, with one last overly dramatic war cry we reached the top, air forced itself into my lungs, I helplessly looked at my sister, she had a fiery determination in her eyes, and all my hopes of turning around at this point, shattered into millions of pieces. Then like lightning, we skidded down the other side of the hill. As I unwillingly took on more of these monstrous slopes, I found myself completely in awe at my sisters never ending perseverance, no matter what we faced she fought as hard as she could to keep going, I took a look at myself and realized, if I was here on my own, I would have given up back at the first hill. “I should really do things like this more often.”  I said to myself.

Our next trial—the ‘death hill’

We screeched to a stop, my hair was blown in all directions from the previous monsoons of wind and tsunami sized hills– no exaggeration at all. We were waved over by some local Thais, out of pure exhaustion; we dropped our bicycles flat on the muddy ground and drug our feet to the confused, but smiling faces. The air now felt humid and harsh, the sky was turning to a cloudy grey. Rain? Would it even matter, my skin already feels like I ran through a football field full of sprinklers. YUCK.

We approached the kind-hearted locals for directions, which they cheerfully provided, sending us on our way refreshed by their kindness I stepped around facing one of the biggest  mountains, and biggest challenge yet. My eyes practically jumped out of their sockets when they saw the narrow, dark road shooting straight up to who knows where. Again, I reluctantly looked to my sister. That fiery eye determination thing was getting annoying. My legs started to feel like two wet noodles attempting to knock out a water bottle…or a rock, a rock. That sounds more courageous. With a mouse’s war cry, I hesitantly followed Gunya up the mountain. Luckily, the kind new friends had offered us to leave our weary bikes by a banana tree. Unluckily however, that meant we had to walk the dangerously steep slopes. We admired the terrifying drop off on one side of the road, plummeting down and leading to certain death. “Great.”  I thought sarcastically.

After an hour, we reached our destination. Red faced and exhausted, I took a breath of the fresh, cool mountain air. Every part of me hurt. I heard Gunya squeal with delight, looking at my surroundings; my heart beat faster as I noticed, we didn’t come all this way for a temple. I gasped in awe of the simply breathtaking creation in front of my eyes, every ounce of effort, and every forceful step, led to this. And in that moment, I regretted nothing. A gorgeous sunset stretched across the horizon; the sky was a soft orange with wisps of fiery red. The lushes green hills and tiny lime colored rice fields. An indescribable feeling of joy and God’s love for us washed over me, and all I could think was, beautiful. If my sister had never been so completely determined, and pushed both me and her past our limits, we never would have experienced this amazing creation of God. Never before have I seen God so clearly, and understood just why, he called the earth, ‘good.’ A quiet but powerful surge of peace and His never ending love exploded in my heart. And all I wanted to do was share it.

I admire my sister’s patience, her perseverance, and amazing faith. I learned that you have to work hard and stay strong to reach your goals, even if you don’t quite know what they are. God has beautiful plans for each and every one of us; sometimes it just takes a difficult challenge to get there.

  • written by Spunky, age 14

So Much More

A few nights ago three of the kids and I were in the downtown area of Chiang Rai, planning to head home and play some family games. Our plans changed unexpectedly when I got a call from G, saying that a girl she knew needed an urgent ride to the hospital.  G was over by her college, so we hopped in our sometimes-trusty missionary-mobile and headed that direction. Unfortunately the Saturday night market was in full swing and many of the roads were closed to cars, which meant we had to zigzag our way across town while not knowing just how serious the problem might be. When we finally made it to G, she quickly jumped in the front of the car to direct me to her friend’s place.

We drove down the dark, crowded streets in that area, until G grabbed my arm and said, “Turn here!” I couldn’t turn unless I wanted to hit a night market roadblock, so I parked the car illegally and turned on the emergency lights. We dashed down the street on foot while motorbikes swerved around us (no sidewalks).

We were nearly to the end of the street before we took a sudden left down an even darker alley and then walked into a small parking area for motorbikes. A few items of clothing dangling off a line were the only indication that this was actually a residence. I followed G through a cramped dirty hallway until she reached a door and started knocking. When there was no reply, she opened the door and we went in to see a young girl lying on the only piece of furniture in the small room, a bed. Her skin was pale and it was obvious that she had been crying from the pain.  She couldn’t walk, so I watched as G bent over and lifted the girl onto her back. We exited the building headed back the way we came, G bent over with the weight of the girl on her back and me forging a path through honking motorbike drivers. When we made it to the car and carefully slid the girl in the back seat, she cried out in tremendous pain.

We dropped the Thai girls at the hospital and headed home, as we couldn’t help further with our limited language skills and we had no useful background information on her. We later found out that the girl, Mint, had a large tumor on her abdomen. She had been incapacitated for four days, stuck on her bed in pain and with no one to care for her. Mint is only sixteen years old, living on her own. She’s barely scraping by while attending trade college in the city.

This, again, is an example of what so many kids here are up against. There are no government social programs and very, very few churches around to look out for kids like this. In most cases the parents, if they are even in the picture, do not have the resources to help. So at just 16, Mint is left alone to make adult decisions and take care of adult problems. And if she can’t do it, that’s it. She is left to succumb to a medical issue or tempted into a life of exploitation to survive. She couldn’t afford to call for an ambulance (they are all run privately and are quite expensive), and we were the very first connection she had to a car!

Our hearts broke for this young girl, and it was a reminder to me of how badly missionaries are needed here. Ultimately we want to see people restored to Christ by becoming disciples. But to do that, often we first have to meet a desperate physical or emotional need. Mint is not a runaway, hiding from her parents or hooked on drugs. She is just a normal Thai girl, trying her best to learn a trade and get a certificate so she can earn a meager living.

Someone interested in serving on the mission field recently asked me if our work basically took place between 9-5. I laughed at how “our work” has such a broad definition sometimes that we could never really quantify it that easily. Partly because “our work” is really God’s work. Sometimes that means writing emails and attending planning meetings, and sometimes it means just being available to love the people God puts in our path. Whether it’s driving a new mother to her family’s village or rushing a young girl to the hospital, acting as surrogate parents or providing a bed for a few nights, helping enroll someone in classes or providing some pedal bikes for safe travel to work, or whatever else might come up. It’s all “our work” here. And while we’re never really off work, we do have our downtime. We know that to be effective we need to rest when we are able. This is what it means for us to be the hands and feet of God.

As for Mint, we are happy to share that someone was able to get up into her village to alert her parents, and her mom is now helping to take care of her. Please pray with us for her continued healing.

Someone interested in serving on the mission field recently asked me if our work basically took place between 9-5.  I laughed and thought of how it resembled that in the beginning, but has since morphed into what it is now.  We have our downtime, and know that to be effective we need that, but we are often called into helping someone.  Whether it’s to move a girl back to her village, or take someone to the bus station, or be surrogate parents, there is always something going on outside of “work hours”.

We pray to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever he leads us.  It’s tiring sometimes but ultimately so rewarding to help those who need it so much.

As for Mint?  We are happy to share that someone was able to get up into her village to alert her parents, and her mom is now helping to take care of her.  Please pray for her continued healing.

 

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

As a way to celebrate our two-year anniversary of serving in Thailand, I thought I would share some of our favorite things we’ve enjoyed in the last twenty-four months.  This post contains affiliate links, which means if you use our links to purchase from Amazon we receive a bit of money!

So drumroll, please . . .

 

GAMES.  We are a family who loves games.  Before moving to our house in the village we didn’t have a kitchen.  We’d often visit a local restaurant with amazingly low prices, but long waits.  So we took up the tradition of playing games while waiting for dinner.  Here are a few favorites:

Anomia We were first introduced to this game in a board game cafe in Bangkok, and the kids begged for us to get it.  Anomia works well because we all have random information swimming around in our heads; the trick is to remember it more quickly than your opponents!

Wits & Wagers Family  A gift from grandparents last year, Wits and Wagers is a low-pressure numbers guessing game to play with friends or family, or both!

Tenzi  This one is perfect as an icebreaker and can be played when there’s a bit of a language barrier since it’s a simple dice game.  Up to ten people can play as well, making it great for large gatherings.

No Stress Chess We finally decided to take the dive into learning chess for the character and critical thinking lessons it would offer.  We haven’t been disappointed, but a little surprised that the kids kicked our butts after a few short games.  It’s ideal for people who haven’t played before and want to learn.

 

BOOKS.  There are way to many too list between family read-alouds and personal choices, but some stand-outs from the last two years would include the following:

God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue by Daniel Walker.  This eye-opening book is hard to read, but so good to understand the difficulties involved in rescuing victims.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  We read this while we were stuck on Bangkok’s freeways, paying tolls, ironically.  It’s hilarious, and perfect for families with kids of differing ages.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn.  I’d love to own a copy of this someday.  I’d never read a cooking technique book that had some many interesting stories in it.  Maybe it’s a new genre?  (Or I’m woefully behind.)  Either way, it’s so good.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome.  When I asked the kids what books stood out to them from our school readings, they thought this one deserved to be on the list.  Written in the 1930’s, the book tells of the kids in a family and their wild adventures in their neighborhood.

Redwall by Brian Jacques.  This book was assigned reading for an online class Spunky took last year, but she loved it so much we decided to read it as a family.  Little did we know that we’d fall in love with the book characters and make plans to read the entire series!  Spunky even put on a feast based on the book for her class project.

Church Behind the Wire: A Story of Faith in the Killing Fields by Barnabas Mam.  Being geographically close to Cambodia, as well as working within the borders of the country has sparked an interest in their past.  If you’ve never read anything about the Cambodian genocide, this is a good place to start.

 

VIDEOS.  

Timothy Keller on YouTube.  Since a friend introduced me to one of his books last year, I’ve been a huge fan.  His online sermons are great to listen to while watching the sun rise.

The Bible Project, also on YouTube.  We love everything in this series.  It’s not really made for kids but ours liked it so much they’ve requested it again and again.

 

PODCASTS.

The Briefing by Albert Mohler.  Absolutely essential for Christians who care about current events.  I listen to this with Spunky, now fourteen, but don’t think our younger kids are quite ready for some of the subject matter.

The School of Podcasting.  Why I ever started listening to this I don’t know, but I’m immensely glad I did.  This show is interesting and full of information, and we just may have to start a podcast from Asia.  Who’s interested?

The Read-Aloud Revival This one has been around for a while and I’m sure many are familiar with it, but if not it’s a great podcast to listen to if you’re looking for new book ideas for the kids in your life

 

“For pleasure has no relish unless we share it.” — Virginia Woolfe

We hope you’ve enjoyed the list and maybe find something new to enjoy!