A couple of weeks ago a surprise walked into our life in the form of a shy fourteen-year-old boy. We got a call from G one evening asking if it would be alright if her little brother stayed with us for a few days. The story that followed made me immensely sad.
In the same way that it’s common for girls from villages to be sent to the city to provide for their parents, it’s common for young boys to be sent off to become Buddhist monks. And that’s how this story began. But G’s brother really did not want to become a monk. When he “dropped out” of monk training after a very short attempt, his parents felt dishonored and kicked him out of the home. So at the age of 14, this boy literally had nothing but the clothes on his back. That, and a loving big sister who wasn’t about to see him abandoned.
We welcomed him into our home, where he stayed in his sister’s room that first night. The next day began the first of a series of discussions and prayer over how we might best support him. Perhaps he could be placed in a trafficking prevention home, or another shelter in the area. The idea of having a teenage boy in our nearly all-girl house seemed awkward and foreign to us. But as one night turned into a day, and a day turned into a week, we began to seriously think about the possibility of bringing him into our family long term. We continued to speak with contacts in the area about several local programs for boys in his situation, only to find that they were all full to overflowing. While we weren’t to the point of being stumped, we did begin to feel that God was leading us toward a very unexpected and unplanned conclusion. We have always felt it’s best if siblings can stay together. G is such an amazing big sister, and she is passionate about sharing Christ with her family. So and after much prayer we agreed that if he wanted to stay, we would welcome him into our family.
We spoke with G privately to see what her thoughts were. She was afraid we wouldn’t want him; that we’d be too concerned about the cost of another mouth to feed. She timidly mentioned that she was his age (14) when she was sent to work in Bangkok, and maybe he could work in Bangkok.
I think it’s important to explain that this suggestion is not as unkind as it might sound. This is very much a cultural norm. She never imagined that we would actually want him. After all, what benefit could he possibly bring to our family? This is an unfortunate and common view here.
The part of this that is still hard for us to wrap our heads around is that kids are sent to “take care of themselves” or “support the family” every day. They have nothing. This young man was kicked out of his home without so much as a toothbrush or a fresh pair of underwear. He can read a little Thai, but he is from a hill tribe with its own unique language. Men from the village are farmers and fishermen. School is far from the the highest priority for these kids. We have no doubt that if he were to go to Bangkok for work, he would end up exploited in some way or another.
We convinced G that we would, in fact, very much like to help her brother. We reminded her that God would provide for his needs just as he does for us all every day. A sweet mentor of mine once said, “God never gives a gift he doesn’t provide for.” And that’s what this boy is; a gift. Just like his big sister. It’s hard to keep ones practical side in check. Part of me was thinking We’ve bought the toothbrush, but what about clothes? But of course, the very next morning we had an unexpected gift come in from friends who had not previously supported us financially. We hadn’t even spoken to anyone yet about the situation! We were able to take him to the market for a few shirts, shorts, and underclothes.
Feeding a baby goat at The Little Farm Thailand
Once we had him settled with the basic necessities, G reminded us that he was legally required to at least attend school. If he did not go to a school in town, he would have to return to his village and attend school there, without a place to live. Our sweet (and overly-confident-in-my-abilities) daughters suggested I homeschool him. Hilarious suggestion, considering this is the extent of the Thai language I’ve used so far with him:
Are you hungry? Would you like some more? Did you have a good day? Do you like pancakes?
Basically most of our conversation involves food. He is a growing teenage boy after all!
Again we spoke with G and asked her to translate for us so that we could know what his preferences were. We didn’t want to assume anything, and it was important to us that he understand he has a choice in his future. There is a Christian Thai schools in the area, so we secretly hoped he would chose to stay and attend school there. He sheepishly smiled and nodded his head, indicating that he would like to go to school there and continue to stay with all of us.
During this time we were also working with a short-term missions team from Grand Canyon University. When their Destiny Rescue staff leader had an unfortunate accident on the way to Chiang Mai from Cambodia, Ethan and I made a late-night three-hour scooter ride (in a pouring rainstorm) down to help the team so the leader could rest. We ended up spending quite a bit of time with them in Chiang Mai and later that week in Chiang Rai. During the course of our conversations, we shared about our recent family addition and the decisions we were in the process of making. Then during a visit to the Destiny Rescue prevention home, the team was able to meet G’s brother. They all fell in love with his smile.
Touched by his story, this amazing team of college students scraped together what little money they had to help provide for his first semester at the Christian Thai school! They wanted to be a part of his story. And they forever will be. David, one of the student leaders who had previously connected with G’s brother while playing soccer, even gave him the backpack, shoes, and most of the clothes he brought for himself to Thailand for this trip.
G’s brother with David, after playing some “futbol”.
As always, we stand in amazement at God’s goodness and faithfulness. Here is a boy who was on the path to become a Buddhist monk, who was kicked out of his home and faced the possibility of labor trafficking or worse in Bangkok, now living with a missionary family and attending a Christian school, with dozens of new Christian brothers and sisters praying for him, supporting him and loving him just for being the great person God made him to be.
It is so humbling to be a small part of this story. Ethan and I have fantasized over the possibilities that lay before him now. The “what ifs”. What if he comes to know Christ and is forever changed? What if he leads the rest of his family to the Lord with his big sister? What if he dedicates his life to Jesus and becomes a preacher who plants a church that begins a revival unlike anything Thailand has ever known? What if? The truth is that we have no expectations for him, just love. Whatever he becomes, whatever choices he makes in life, we will be there for him. God’s purposes are so much bigger and more intertwined than anything we can understand. But fantasizing about those possibilities reminds us why it’s so important to always do the next right thing. You never know what God might do with a “yes”.
For those who may be wondering what has become of Dee, G’s little sister; she is currently in the village but is planning to spend time in our home whenever she’s on school breaks. Dee is the last of four children still living in the family home, and we’re assured that she is currently being treated well as she cares for her mother and helps around the house. We just love her and miss seeing her sweet smile. G doesn’t believe she is in danger right now but we are staying in close communication with her and she knows she has a home to come to anytime.
What we jokingly call the “14-year-old twins,” playing Uno while the rain comes down.
The “twelve-year-old twins” playing with make-up.
We don’t understand the full picture of what God is doing with the precious children, but we are learning to take it one step at a time. And do the next right thing.