Category: Uncategorized

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!

 

Rings of Hope

 

“Don’t worry, I still have my ring to sell…”

 

 


Twelve rescued girls face the streets without our help; a certain path back to the brothels. Most of these girls are younger than my daughters.

And so we began our work – without resources and long-range plans. But with the heart of the Father who leaves the flock to rescue the one.

That was 3 1/2 months ago.

Yesterday, our project manager sold her husband’s wedding ring to make up a shortfall in her finances.


 

Many are called, but few are chosen

What does it mean to be fully dedicated to God’s calling?

I’ve been so blessed to have worked alongside some pretty amazing people. Back in Boise I watched my ministry leaders navigate one difficult situation after another, never being perfect but always remaining focused on Christ.

Moving overseas intensified that experience; we were suddenly surrounded by an army of saints who had “dropped their nets” to follow God’s leading into certain difficulty and sacrifice.

But it’s not just the western Christians that inspire us to humility and passion for reaching the lost.

I’ve met Filipino missionaries who came to Thailand to plant churches and show the love of Jesus to a population caught in a very strong current of Buddhism.

I met a man elsewhere in Asia who lost his son to illness, nearly lost his wife, navigated severe illness with his daughter, and was somehow still able to endure incredible hardships and poverty and stay the course God laid before him.

I met a woman born into the religious caste in her country, who met Jesus and literally “…left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields…” (Matthew 19:29) for His sake. She was ostracized, completely alone and despised by everyone she had known growing up. After more than 30 years she is the most scripturally grounded and knowledgeable person I’ve ever known. Her love for Jesus and her passion for reaching the lost have driven her to reach hundreds each year.

I could go on for days about the giants of the faith I’ve met in the past three years.

But there’s something special about seeing someone very close to you making the daily decision to choose trust in God over the temptation of easier worldly provision.

Our project manager in Chiang Mai is a stunning example of that right now.

Starting a new ministry is hard. We are usually at our most vulnerable; doubt and fear threaten to overcome our confidence in the leap of faith God has requested of us. But there is power in first steps.

 

Life without a safety net

In the States most of us have multiple safety nets to keep us alive and well, even if trouble might mean temporary discomfort. Lose your job and chances are you can get another one before things get too crazy. Or if not, you might have savings. Or assets you can sell.  Or unemployment checks coming in, or a retirement fund to raid. Or maybe you have friends, family, or people in your church or neighborhood or on FaceBook that are willing to step in and lend a hand. Maybe someone starts a GoFundMe account for you.

And if all that fails? We still have thousands of churches and charities ready to help.  Still some fall through the cracks and end up on the streets, but mostly our nation experiences a very different reality than most of the people on our planet.

In SE Asia, many people do not have even basic safety nets. Thailand boasts low unemployment, but jobs can be very hard to find and most do not pay well.

 

A world apart

We’ve seen this in our own home as Gunya recently searched for a job with her new degree in hospitality services. She’s a very hard worker, intelligent, speaks multiple languages, and rarely needs direction to be effective. With all that, the best she’s found so far is a job working seven  days a week, 14 hours per day, for 8,000 baht per month (about $260, roughly 60 cents an hour).

Yes, most stuff is cheaper here. The US cost of living index is 72.96 and Thailand’s is 48.91. A big difference, to be sure. But don’t be fooled into thinking you can live comfortably here for mere pennies on the dollar. You can’t.

You can survive, but not live in a way Americans would consider “comfortable”.

There’s real poverty here. In the context of American expectations, the poverty all around us is extreme. There are rats and cockroaches, trash, pervasive sewer smells. Large portions of the population live in grass-roofed huts, the most common family transportation is a $300 scooter, they eat rice at every meal. There are naked kids in the streets, everyone has chickens … you get the idea.

The poverty we see every day stings. It creates desperation and breeds vulnerability. And there’s no way out – no safety net to soothe the fall. Loan sharks offer quick cash and then come calling for big paybacks. There really is no way out. Ever.

This is how many children end up in brothels.

 

Into the unknown

I think it’s scarier to step out in faith as a Thai than as an American. If you crash and burn, there’s no safety net. It may seem that Thais have less to lose initially, but financial holes are infinitely harder and often impossible to climb out of.

 

With that bit of perspective, consider this …

Our project manager for The Phoenix Alliance in Chiang Mai told us from the start that she was willing to sacrifice in order to minister to young girls in their recovery from sex trafficking. After all, her father was a pastor, and she grew up with all the financial uncertainty that accompanies a life of service. She was prepared.

We knew this commitment would be put to the test sooner rather than later.

Right off the bat we had to make a hard choice: Do we forge ahead with our ministry in order to care for the girls that we knew needed help immediately – or do we encourage our project manager to take another job and start slowly with our ministry through The Phoenix Alliance?

Tough choice with really big consequences.

 

Anything worth doing

On the surface, this answer is easy:  You start slowly and do things the right way. Deliberately. Intelligently. Thoughtfully. And possibly with an abundance of detail. This is my comfort zone. I hate diving into things without a solid foundation. I hate risk, and I hate being unprepared.

But wait, that approach would have forced us to abandon a dozen young girls who were struggling hard with their recovery. We were out of options for these girls. Their next step was living on the street which would inevitably see them forced back into the brothels. A cycle that seems endless without long-term intervention.

Most of these girls are younger than my daughters.

Our family motto (“Do the next right thing”) failed to yield a clear answer here. Because the next right thing for our new ministry was to hit the brakes and pursue our registration, funding, detailed operational planning, etc. But the next right thing for the girls was to rescue them from certain darkness. Right now.

Uh oh.

It’s not so easy to look a child in the eye and tell them they’ll have to go ahead and go back to work in a brothel because we haven’t had time to develop our business plan just yet.

 

An American Approach

Almost from the conception of The Phoenix Alliance, we received a lot of questions about our long-term plans. Fair enough. Valid questions. I tried to communicate those plans … our vision … as best I could. But we had hit the ground running and the Planner was developing the plans as we went.

Somehow it didn’t feel right for me to force plans that God hadn’t fully revealed to us yet.

Perhaps it came across as though we were unprepared and ill-equipped for the things we shared. I can’t argue with that. But our faith was firmly in the Planner, rooted and grounded in His heart to heal the rescued. And for now that was enough for us, even if it didn’t satisfy everyone around us.

When we returned to Thailand in January with roughly half our family’s support discontinued, we weren’t angry with anyone. We really didn’t make it easy on our supporters, did we? But we didn’t worry, because we knew God was walking right next to us. That’s a pretty confidence-inspiring realization.

This experience led me to ponder how our American approach to ministry looks a lot like our  approach to business. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing because Americans are typically really good at running effective businesses. But does that leave space for God to do things His way?

 

A spiritual reality check

We like to put conditions on things, in a way that I imagine makes God scratch His head sometimes. Those conditions are born from education and experience, but also almost always stem from a perspective of self-reliance.

I imagine God saying … Didn’t you read my book? I gave you just one simple formula to follow:

 

Love Me + know Me + know my Word + trust Me + follow Me + love My creation = Effective Ministry

Or the scripture reference version:

Matt 22:47 + Col 1:9 + Psalm 119:11 + Prov 3:5 + Matt 4:19 + Mark 12:31 = Matt 25:21

 

So are we meant to plan and use the brains and gifts He gave us? Of course!

I just don’t think He meant for us to use those gifts as an excuse to cut Him out or to delay our actions until we feel comfortable with our own designs on sustainability.  Our designs. By our own power and clever marketing. Yikes. Dangerous concept.

This calls for a kind of balance that ultimately points back to the true condition of our hearts. Do we really … I mean REALLY love and trust God? As my own situational storm was raging and our boat threatened to sink, I remembered that God only expects us to do the things He has equipped us to do.

He will do the rest, just as Jesus calmed that storm on the boat. And by the way, why was I worried? Didn’t I trust God?

This was and is convicting to me as we try to shelter our rescued girls from the savage fate that awaits them without intervention.

 

His way is perfect

In a nutshell, this is how we’ve ended up on our knees for the past several months, praying for God’s continued direction and faithful provision. We were all united in the decision to move forward in faith, “doing the next right thing” by standing in the gap for the girls and allowing God to provide in His way.

And He has. In HIS way.

His way is not our way. You’ve heard that before, right? Well, what does that even mean?

Sometimes, God waits until the 11th hour to come to our aid, which gives us an opportunity to fearlessly trust Him right up to the edge of the cliff. Sometimes He will have us lay out a 20-step plan before we take the first step out the door.

Sometimes He asks us to walk in faith, alone. This means not having the answers that we feel we so desperately need from the start.

And so we must ask: Am I sure this is God’s leading? Yes. OK then, go. Just go. Do your best to sort things out quickly, but go.

If God called you to a ministry 10 years ago, are you still “waiting on His timing” today? Are you 100% sure that you are waiting on Him and not the other way around?

If I’m making you uncomfortable, I know how you feel. Sorry not sorry. I love you though. Enough to embolden you on … to your own high calling.

 

Right off the cliff, no ‘chute

In the beginning, we raised enough to cover the most basic expenses in Chiang Mai for 2 1/2 months. Not a terrible start, and God was faithful, and no one lacked for anything.

When that ran out and we were unable to secure more funding from the States, our family diverted support funding to cover the second half of that third month. Again God was faithful and no one lacked for anything. Kids ate food; everyone slept under cover.  No worries.

Now as we start month four, we have $50. Total. Our project manager has a family to provide for, and $50 isn’t going to make much of a dent. But still, God is faithful and no one will lack. The month has only just begun, but there’s no panic.

 

Lord of the rings

Yesterday our project manager sold her husband’s wedding ring to help bridge their financial gap. I was shocked to hear this. How could you sell such a meaningful piece of jewelry?

Because let’s be honest, it’s just a shiny circle of metal. A symbol. And it was worth enough to be a legitimate (if temporary) safety net. Her marriage will be unaffected by this. But the girls she can now continue to serve will be affected for eternity. How’s that for perspective?

The ring seemed to concern me more than it concerned her. I apologized for not having enough to keep them afloat this month. Did she have a plan for surviving the rest of the month?

Her answer:

“Don’t worry, I still have my ring to sell.”

As I write this, my eyes begin to tear at the beauty of that statement, “Don’t worry”. Once again God has provided. Once again we will not lack for anything we need. My family, my extended family, her family, the 12 girls in our project care, ALL will be taken care of. And none of us feel like we’ve given up anything to get here.

She’s fine. We’re fine. Better than fine.

We’re excited to be chosen as vessels of hope to some precious young women who are desperate for a Savior. How cool is that?

I committed to diverting as much funding as possible to help this month. My first priority is to my family, which includes the 8 extra souls currently under our roof. But surely we can spare more? Sacrifice more? We’ve got this.

I could not be more inspired right now. Man, I need an “amen”! Can I get an “amen”???

 

Time for Colossians 3:23

It’s hard for us to know sometimes how to approach ministry needs. On the one hand, we DO trust that God will provide. And He does, as evidenced above.

On the other hand, it would be foolish to sit back and do nothing but wait for miracles to happen.

This is not what we’re taught to do through examples in scripture. Abraham had to climb the mountain without an alternate sacrifice for Isaac. Moses had to keep that staff raised before God parted the sea. Running from Saul was probably David’s best option to avoid being murdered. Noah must have had a million splinters from building that ridiculous boat. None of these examples is lacking personal action tied to trusting God.

We do our part in faith and God handles the heavy lifting. Always.

 

Breaking the chains of control

But … I’m not seeing much in the way of long-term planning in those examples. Maybe Moses was thinking, ok, we get through this water obstacle and tomorrow we’ll need a plan. You think before Noah boarded the ark, he had AutoCad drawings on the homestead he would build once the water retreated? Just in writing this, I’ve thought of a dozen more examples in scripture that echo this concept of trusting God in all things, from provision to planning, accompanied by the use of our gifts, talents, and abilities and 100% action.

At the risk of belaboring a point: PLANS ARE NOT BAD. Quite the opposite. We’re told that whatever we do, we are to work at it with all our heart as unto the Lord. That includes looking ahead and planning for success.

Plans just need to be used in the right context in ministry – as a tool and not as a substitute for trusting God. Consider David’s actions in 1 Chronicles 21, when he quit trusting God and instead focused on his own military prowess and plans. That one cost the lives of 70,000 men. (It’s a good read if you need a refresher.)

God seems to be quite intentional about the intricacies of this point. We plan from a position of trust, not as an alternative. And despite how we justify our control in our own reasoning, God knows the difference.

We have pages and pages of plans, budgets, policies, fundraising ideas, ministry focus, new project development strategies and the like for The Phoenix Alliance. But there’s not a single plan that isn’t kept on the altar, ready to sacrifice in order to stay focused on God’s purposes and not our own.

And if some people read that and think … “I could never support a ministry like this”, I have two things for you:

  1. I love you. I really do.
  2. I don’t need your money. And neither does God.

God is our provider, period. He might choose to provide through you, but if He does it’ll be because He wants to do something in YOUR life. He wants to continue to build His trust relationship with you. He wants you to experience a life fully dependent on Him and not on your own strength or understanding. He wants you to sacrifice.

 

True worship is sacrificial

I genuinely believe that God calls all of us to sacrifice in a way that isn’t comfortable. Wherever you send your hard-earned money or spend your valuable time, it should cost you something. Something real, something you notice. Something that makes you change plans you had previously made for yourself.

The amount is irrelevant. It was two mites for the widow (Luke 21:1-4). And yet, her faith brought her to a place in her relationship with the Lord that the rich who gave on that day would likely never experience. Trust. Real trust in the goodness of God’s perfect plan.

But we’re trying to run a non-profit ministry here. Is this really how I should be approaching things?

You know what? Yeah. It is. For us, it is.

I want to trust God in all things. I want our provision to forever be in His hands. I want to work really, really hard for His purposes. And I never want to worry about whether or not my family or my ministry will be taken care of. I want to be like our project manager, selling wedding rings without fear of the future.

I’m setting the stage for an adventure in faith. I’m trusting God with our Chiang Mai project manager. I’m trusting Him with our 12 rescue girls. I’m trusting Him with my family. And I’m inviting you all to hold me accountable to this.

If God chooses to bless us with a safety net of our own, I pray that we will continue to look toward His purposes alone and never be caught up in our  own goals or ambitions.

 

Meanwhile, in Thailand…

We would be remiss if we didn’t take action and let you know that we are praying for increased support for our Chiang Mai project. No, we don’t have everything wrapped up in a nice, neat marketing package right now.  But we have a long-term vision and we serve a great God who knows where this is headed. I’m good with that.

I don’t want you to be “sold” on the ministry of The Phoenix Alliance. I want you to take God’s hand and ask if this is a place where He would have you apply your personal, sacrificial worship. The answer to that question is entirely between you and the Lord, and it has zero impact on your relationship with us or our ministry.

I never want you to do something that God isn’t leading you to do. But I always want you to whatever God IS leading you to do.

 

Meanwhile, in America…

We have a growing team of incredibly skilled and Godly men and women spooling up to help with everything we’re doing right now. We have a dream-team board of directors that makes my head spin with possibilities. We have another dozen or so volunteers helping with various tasks. But so far we don’t have one single regular monthly supporter backing the ministry of The Phoenix Alliance. Not one.

I’m undeterred by that because today’s reality has zero bearing on God’s purposes. That said, it’s probably time for us to open the doors and see who might want to come in.

 

Behind Door Number One…

Over the coming weeks and months, you’ll start to see more from us with regard to our work in Chiang Mai and the many ways you might get involved.

Today, our greatest need is financial. If this is a ministry area you feel God has called you to serve, please pray about supporting our work in Chiang Mai. We need monthly supporters to keep the project going as well as one-time support to cover startup costs, the bulk of which are government-required expenses.

If you are one who knows us well enough to trust the process without the polish, we invite you to join the team immediately. For those who need more, great! You are a good steward of the resources God has given you! Your time will come soon enough, and we’ll be happy to have you on board if and when you join us.

The link below will take you to a dedicated giving page for our Chiang Mai project. Donations are tax-deductible and we are transferring 100% of what comes in directly to Chiang Mai expenses … no overhead/admin costs.

Donate Here

 

Don’t stop believing

The point of this blog post was not to build up to a big financial ask for Chiang Mai. But it’s true that it’s important part of what we’re doing, and as I said we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about our need there.

But that’s not why I wrote this.

I desperately want to encourage you to take your faith to the next level. Somewhere that will make even some of your Christian friends think you’ve gone a bit wacky.

Over the past three years I have learned so much about what it means to follow Jesus completely. And I still have a long, long way to go. My eyes have been opened to the amazing possibilities that exist when we just let go of our expectations and fully open our hearts to God’s leading.

Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I am passionate about sharing the things I love with others. And I love growing my relationship with my Lord.

I’ve spent most of my life doing “good things”. Serving in the church, worship ministry, leading small groups, etc. All very good things. But at least for me personally, I was never genuinely open to the big, scary, life-changing “best things” that God had in store for me. I had my career, by stuff, my very comfortable life. And I loved that life.

When we decided to start praying about the possibility of leaving all of that behind to serve overseas, I had a few concerns. It took me 20 years to get where I was with my career. Leaving could set me back a decade at least. We finally got ourselves out of debt and had (shock) positive net worth. Leaving could be financially devastating, erasing all that hard-earned stability.

I am thankful beyond words for the opportunity God gave us to trust him in a different kind of life. If Bill Gates offered to put me back where I was three years ago with 10 times the net worth I had then, there’s zero chance I would accept. Zero. I would never choose to walk away from the ministry God has called me to. Because it’s a better and more fulfilling life than I ever could have created on my own. And it has absolutely nothing to do with stuff or net worth or personal accomplishments, but everything to do with my relationship with my Creator.

That, dear friends, is the point of this blog post. I want to encourage you to follow your Savior into the scary places. The decisions that seem nutty to your friends and family. The ones that God places on your heart.

He will never force you to love Him or choose to trust Him with your life. But He does ask. Every one of us is asked, every one of us has the opportunity to walk into the unknown by saying “yes” to the seemingly illogical things God lays before us.

If you have never done anything that makes you nervous about losing the things you have built, I have a challenge for you:

 

Ask God to bless you with an opportunity to know Him on that level.

I promise you there is nothing, absolutely nothing in this world that compares with a life of total dependence on Him.

Walk off the cliff.

Trust God completely.

Sell the ring.

 

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!

Second Rescues

*names have been changed to protect privacy

 

Twenty-five hours. That’s how long our family sat on buses and vans to get from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Chiang Rai, Thailand. We had been in Cambodia’s capital city visiting the Thai Embassy there, hoping and praying that we’d be granted new visas. We were, thankfully. In an effort to save money on the return trip we decided to forgo the two short plane rides in favor of motion sickness and insomnia. We no longer favor motion sickness and insomnia, but we do enjoy saving money. So there’s that.

We walked through the door of our home at around 6:30am Saturday morning and promptly passed out on our respective beds. A rare silence covered the house for nearly four hours. We awoke to a series of frantic messages from Nan* a former rescue girl who was married just last year and now has a beautiful newborn girl.

Nan is very special to our family. We have helped her young family in the past and she considers us second parents. A true honor from this sweet girl. Nan has been an example of quiet strength and faith to me since we first arrived in Thailand. We’ve even joked that her baby was, in a way, like our first grandchild. She is a great example of what can be achieved through rescue and loving aftercare. In fact, she has been living independently for some time now. We hadn’t seen her since we drove her to her remote village a few days after the baby was born.

Kimberly responded via text message, and we enlisted additional help from a close Thai friend and confidant of Nan’s in order to understand exactly what was happening. It turns out that Nan’s stepfather had taken drugs the night before during the Chinese New Year celebration. At some point he became angry and started fighting with Nan and her mother. Before the dust settled he had physically beaten them both.

Nan was devastated. This was supposed to be her safe place. We still remember her excitement over her new life at the wedding and her beautiful smile as we waved goodbye to her in front of their one-room grass hut just seven months ago. In one night, it all came crashing down. No safety, no peace. Only more pain and memories of a life she left behind years ago.

Her husband has been working in another city to provide enough income for his young family, and thus he wasn’t there to protect his wife and mother-in-law. He’s a good young man, doing the right thing by his family and working hard to provide for them. I can’t imagine how he must feel, knowing that he wasn’t there to stop the violence that night.

Nan needed to leave, and quickly. It had to be that same day, as the New Year celebration was to continue and there would no doubt be more drinking and more drugs. Such a brave girl, to take a stand as she did. We needed to get to her, and we knew it wouldn’t be easy.

We had a problem. Our decrepit old car had no hope of climbing the steep, unpaved trails leading to her village.

A typical Thai hill tribe village, with skinny single track paths between the huts.

And with her carrying a newborn baby and a basket of clothes, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to pick her up on our motorbikes.

So we set out to procure something a bit more potent. Fortunately, I’ve become friends with the local motorbike rental shop owner, Brian. After a bit of pleading and telling him the purpose of our journey, he agreed to loan us his very powerful Toyota truck. We paid him just $30, less than half what it would have cost from any other rental agency in town.

Our next problem was navigation. We had technically been to this village once before, following Nan’s husband.

Google always knows the way, right?

But I’m terrible with directions and there are so many twists and turns and unmarked roads weaving through villages and over mountains, there’s no way I’d find it without help. Help came in the form of our superhero Thai daughter, G. She left her own New Year celebration to ride shotgun, frequently rolling down the window to ask for directions from the locals, and occasionally we found a patch of cell coverage from which to call Nan for added guidance.

 

We eventually came within a half mile of her home, where we found her standing on the side of the road, waiting. I slammed the truck into ‘Park’ and jumped out and ran to her. She squeezed me tightly and cried in my arms as I kissed her head and told her that everything was going to be alright. She was safe now. Kimberly embraced her too, and we all took a minute to let our emotions subside before driving over the final few hills.

As the truck slowed to a stop in front of her hut, I felt my gut tighten and my blood began to boil.

I was angry.

Very, very angry.

There he was, the man who hurt this sweet girl. This was a moment I had been imagining as the hours ticked away on the drive.I had prayed for wisdom, patience and control. And for a moment I wasn’t sure I’d have the strength to show restraint. My size advantage over him is roughly the same as his size advantage over Nan. Seems like poetic justice for me to show him what it’s like to be on the receiving end of an unfair fight. But it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be God’s justice.

Knowing it wouldn’t be right is one thing. Accepting that knowledge is another thing entirely. I felt every breath. I tensed every muscle. I willed my face to smile at the little children who quickly began gathering around to see the foreigners in their village. I stared him down, once. Then regained control and slowly began to let it all go. Taking action would be easy. It would be incredibly gratifying. But it would very likely result in far worse consequences for his wife and others after I left. So I promised myself I’d deal with him later, and we focused on helping Nan load a few things into the truck.

Nan’s mother was heartbroken to see her daughter and baby granddaughter leaving. Before I got back into the truck, I gave her a deep wai – a sign of respect in Thai culture. She approached me and gently took my hand, tears in her eyes, and thanked both Kimberly and me for coming to the rescue. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to her after we left. I wanted to stay. I wanted to put her in the truck with us. I thought again about wrapping my hands around stepdad’s neck and screaming threats in his face until he feared me more than he desired the drugs. But nothing else I could do in that moment would have helped the situation.

It wasn’t until later that night during a conversation with a friend that we discovered a connection to the government official in charge of domestic abuse cases in hill tribe villages. We now have the option of bringing this case to his attention and hopefully having the weight of the Thai legal system on our side. Had I taken things into my own hands, it would have been pretty difficult to enlist this resource without being charged with assault myself. Which means that to keep myself out of Thai prison, we wouldn’t be able to actively pursue legal action without raising questions that would lead right back to me.

This weekend we were reminded that rescue is not something that happens just once. What good would the fire department be if they pulled you from a flaming car wreck and later let your house burn to the ground? Rescue is something we do when someone needs to be rescued. Whether it’s their first time in peril or their 50th makes no difference. Christ came to rescue us from our sin, and His rescue covers not just one sin but all – past, present and future. Only Jesus could act once to rescue us forever. We are called by Christ to honor the greatest commandment of all – To love God and love people.

We were reminded again through this situation of the mission to which God has called our family. Not to simply be a one-time catalyst for change but to empower girls to live strong and independent lives, with the knowledge that if things go horribly wrong, we’ll still be there for them. Even when they’re married and have become mothers. Even when they are working hard in safe occupations and saving to build a house. It’s not about money. Nan asked for nothing but our presence and a ride into town. She could have taken a bus. But she wanted us. And we wanted to be there for her. Puak rao rak deg phu ying khon nee loog sao jing jing. (We love this girl like our own daughter.)

Rescue is what all you moms out there do when your adult daughter calls for advice on a job decision. It’s what you dads do when their brakes need to be replaced. It’s what we all do as parents to support the long, slow march toward full independence. We rescue again and again, and we don’t stop. The girls we work with are very strong and very independent. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still need a lifeline from time to time. It boils down to a very small investment on our part to prevent them from a potential major setback.

I know we say it a lot, but we mean it: Thank you! Thank you for making it possible for us to be here for our precious girls. Thank you for the prayers, words of support, financial help, Facebook likes, etc. All the things you do to invest in us as we invest in them. We pray that God will lead you all to opportunities to rescue someone in your path, whether it’s your own child or family member or a complete stranger. Love God, love people. Follow this commandment and you might just accomplish God’s purposes without even knowing it. Go forth and rescue. Again.

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!

The Immigration Dance

We’ve been doing the immigration visa dance in Thailand for the better part of three years now, going back to early 2015 when we began applying for the first of what would be countless documents making it legal for us to live abroad. While it may be easy to fly in for a visit, staying here more than a couple of months has become quite difficult, as the junta government cracks down on long-term foreign residents. Intentions are good. Protecting Thai jobs and keeping the country secure, as well as protecting the unique Thai culture. But for those looking to minister in Thailand, it can be tricky at best and impossible at worst.

The easiest solution for many has been Education visas. ED visas require you to attend a heavy class load, and you have to prove that you are learning to read, write and speak Thai, but it does provide a legal means for staying in-country.

At least in theory. We applied for our ED visas while in the States over the holidays and were denied. An expensive and demoralizing hit. But as we already had return tickets booked, we left for Thailand and entered the country as tourists for 30 days, knowing that we’d have to leave Thailand again one way or another in early February.

February is now upon us, and we are booked to the cheapest non-Thailand destination we could find: Phnom Penh, Cambodia. We’ve paid for new paperwork to be drafted by our Thai school, obtained the necessary papers from the US Consulate in Chiang Mai, and we’re ready to head out on the 8th.

As a family, we have witnessed God providing time and time again against all human odds. We developed the family motto “Do the next right thing” to remind us to never make excuses when deciding whether or not to walk through the doors God opens. And we’re committed to that still. But I won’t lie, it’s hard at times. When we’re so buried in paperwork that we feel ineffective in our primary ministry, and when finances look bleak, it can be so discouraging. And right now it looks bleak. Once again we’re looking at budget spreadsheets that make no sense, with negative balance projections.

In my head, I know that God will come through again as He always has. And maybe it’s not the proper “missionary response” to admit when we doubt. But if I’m honest, I have times of doubt and fear. I justify these feelings by pointing to the hard figures, or noting the fact that we have a family to feed and care for. But the reality is that my faith is too small sometimes. I forget that I am a son of the wealthiest king the word has ever known. My king has asked me to accomplish a task, and he has promised to take care of me and my family as we obey. But my king has a peculiar way of providing for me, and it makes me nervous. He doesn’t send a paycheck. Instead he directs his other subjects to serve him by providing our support.

It’s uncomfortable because I have no control over it. No one owes me anything, as they would if I were an employee covered by labor laws. It’s this lack of control that feels unnatural to me. But it’s a tool that God uses to remind us of His faithfulness. And at the end of the day, I am thankful for that. But I’m also reminded of my human smallness when I doubt. And maybe that’s a good thing too. It’s a great reminder to those who say “we couldn’t do what you’re doing”. Of course you could, if God called you to it. You feel inadequate to serve Him with your whole life? Join the club! It is a daily journey for me to continue growing my faith, trust and love of the Lord.

Please pray for us as we navigate the next few weeks. Pray for favor with Thai immigration, that we’ll be approved for our visas. Pray for God to once again provide for our needs as we trust Him to know what those needs are. Pray for patience as we wait in long lines and drag our crew in and out of the hot, muggy Immigration offices for hours on end, because we all have to be present. Pray for our provision. And as always, if financial support is something God is laying on your heart we certainly welcome it: https://grace.egiving.com/thailand-mission/wheels-over-asia

God has blessed us with joy in the work He has called us to. So if it sounds like we’re complaining, please excuse our moment of weakness. We are truly blessed to be trusted with this work. Thank you all for your prayers and loving support. We love you all!