‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’
I began writing this newsletter more than a month ago as we were visiting our neighbour and dear friend Bah Noi in hospital. End stage liver disease with the added complication of TB meant there was not much that the doctors could do… but we had seen her defy death before! I wrote optimistically, full of hopes for when she came home.
Shortly after writing, Bah Noi’s condition deteriorated rapidly. We received a confused phone call at night and the next day found her tied to the bed. The nurses were not unkind but they just didn’t know how to cope with her. When we found that she was no longer able to feed herself we took it in shifts to try and be there with her. She was so afraid, seeing strange shapes in the room. Our fiercely independent Aunty was slipping away from us.
On the day she died, she asked Jon to pray to Jesus for her. He had only spoken a few words when she took over, a long fervent prayer which was incoherent to Jon but clearly came right from her heart. When we returned together that evening we found her slumped over and struggling to breath. She was rushed to ITU and we fetched her estranged family members to say goodbye. It was agonising to watch her struggle.
Funeral plans began the next morning. A Thai funeral begins the same day and, depending on the status of the deceased person, can last for many days. The temple will perform a one-day ceremony and cremation for free. This is what the very poorest families can expect. Bah Noi’s greatest fear was of being forgotten; she had voiced to us many times that she feared dying alone and her body not being found. This was our opportunity to demonstrate to the community in their own cultural language that her life was valued. Way out of our depth, we began organising a four day funeral at the local temple.
Seeing how Bah Noi was disregarded in our community, we were astounded by the number of people from other areas of her life that showed up to grieve. While the immediate community she had grown up with were unable to see past her violent, drug addicted past, it seemed that she had touched the lives of many other people in her final few years. All the monks at the temple knew her as she went to do their washing in her free time! Whether or not she knew it, she was certainly known and loved! We saw this as evidence of God’s transformative work in her life.
Amidst the darkness of death and the emptiness of ritual, the care of our house-church, to which Bah Noi belonged, shone out brightly. Along with staff from the UNOH projects they came to cook for guests at the funeral and support each other through loss. Our usual meeting that Friday night was dedicated to remembering Bah Noi. One person spoke of how they had been afraid of her at first, she had been a notorious figure and they didn’t believe she would ever be ‘one of us’. This same person was now in tears at the thought that Bah Noi would not be joining us on the camp she had been so excited about. This group of faithful Jesus followers was able to show love and acceptance because they have experienced it themselves.
I don’t want to remember Bah Noi for her illness or for her reputation or for her body lying pale and swollen in a coffin. I choose to remember the woman who called our rabbit ‘child’ and spent her meagre earnings buying crazy amounts of fresh veg! I choose to remember the time that she hammered on our door for 10 minutes to alert us of fire rather than rescuing her own possessions. I will always remember how we teased her for getting cold at the mere mention of air-conditioning, for how she developed a taste for expensive British chocolate and for how she made up the words to worship songs because she couldn’t read! I remember her coming home black from head to toe but a huge grin on her face because she had been paid for working in an oil tank all day. Determination!
No rose-tinted spectacles could make me forget how annoying she could be at times; she could argue all night when she disagreed with us and got us into regular scrapes by association! But she taught us to love. More than anyone else, she led us into her world where we met systemic injustice face on while snatching hold of every opportunity to celebrate life. Her favourite bible character was David, the least in his family but chosen for great things by God. Any future impact of our presence here in Khlong Toey will undoubtably be shaped by the experience of knowing and loving Bah Noi.
This picture shows Elliot and Sam standing on the start of a new pathway leading towards our house. The tall white house is the one we have always completed the process of buying and the white house on the right is the one we live in now. To the left of where the boys are standing are about 40 new houses. Soon the swampland to the right of the path will be full of houses again! There is the sense of a new beginning for lots of long-term residents here.
There are also new families moving in! Our front door will open on to a little square of houses opening up new opportunity for relationships. Excitingly, our good friend Buey and her five daughters (Boon, Bin, Boom, Bam and BunBun) have moved from their home in another part of the slum into the house next door to us! Having a Thai Christian living close by will add a new dimension to our witness in the neighbourhood. Please pray that they integrate well, these first few weeks will be important in a community that regards outsiders with suspicion.
We are increasingly aware that the parts of our community that didn’t burn down are not benefitting from any improvements. Escaping the fire was a mixed blessing for some; the very poorest households were probably least affected by the fire and the contrast is now even more stark. We are fighting for path upgrading to extend further into the neighbourhood but finding the process a bit of a nightmare. Please pray that we will be able to get permissions from the right people and navigate the cultural protocols well. Please pray for unity in our small neighbourhood of ‘Rim Khlong Wat Saphan’, that mercy and compassion will take root and grow deep and strong.
RoyRak; Beading Love
Christmas has come early in the RoyRak room! This year our decorations are pom-pom themed and the scene that greets me when I walk in is even more colourful than usual! The garlands and wreaths hanging on all the walls have transformed the outward appearance of the room in a way that reflects the beauty of relationship I see blossom in this space. There is some really heavy stuff in the lives of these women; a sister dying of cancer, a husband expecting a child with a second wife, a boyfriend addicted to drugs. As they work they talk, and I picture the healing threads of shared joy and sorrow knotted seamlessly into the products they create.
I also have an exciting new plan! A sample set of all the jewellery available on the RoyRak website (including the new kids range and some promotional material) has been dispatched to the UK and its first port of call is… Shrewsbury (of course!)! Knowing how hard it is to buy jewellery without trying it on, customers may like to see the products before ordering them online. The kit is available to be passed around for jewellery parties (think tupperware party but 100% more fun!). The concept is a kind of virtual sale – would you be willing to display the products, perhaps even show our RoyRak video and then be responsible for placing and distributing an order? Please get in touch, wherever you live!
Back to school day couldn’t come too soon! Elliot and Sam were super keen to see their friends and get back to lessons after almost two months off. Unfortunately we got called to the hospital just three hours into the first day! Elliot sprained his ankle ligament playing that dangerous game known as… tag, and was in a cast for most of August. We’re thankful that it seems to have healed well. Having won the music award for his year group last year, we had been worrying about how to fund music lessons to encourage Elliot’s interest. We’re thrilled that he has got in to a free electric guitar club this term… watch this space!
Sammy spent the summer months painting, our walls are now an art gallery! He is excited to be on the basketball team at school but is struggling to re-adjust to early starts. He took part in his first inter-school swim competition yesterday and surprised himself and us with his confidence! He gets lots of joy from playing with Poppy the puppy who is always waiting when he gets home from school! It was a very sad time losing our second puppy Patch (with the black patches over his eyes) recently. Both dogs contracted blood parasites from tics passed on by their mother and Patch just couldn’t fight it. He is missed!
There was much excitement from Elliot and Sam on meeting their first ever cousin Jude last week! He is totally gorgeous at eight months and took the strange new place in his stride. The boys can’t wait to spend quality time with him and with their new cousin Caty at Christmas. Please be praying for an especially busy couple of months in the meantime. Jon is about to do a week of intensive study on contextualising the Gospel for Thai hearers before running a big family camp next weekend. Elise is entering a busy period with jewellery sales and also hosting ‘mission exposure’ groups. Pray that we can take care of each other as a family and for good physical and spiritual health too.
We are so very thankful for the regular gifts from churches and individuals that quite literally keep us here.
Since moving to Thailand exactly three years ago today (!!!) the exchange rate has dropped by 20%. Our support has consequently reduced in value by one fifth and we have gradually eaten into our reserves. Our living costs remain the same but our ministry costs are increasing just around the time that funds are running short.
We thought it would be helpful to clarify how support raising works with UNOH. Each worker is responsible for fundraising to cover all their own costs. Any money donated to us is handled by admin staff who pay a set living allowance (based on the Henderson poverty line) into our Thai bank account each month. This is comparatively small but enough for us to eat, travel, pay rent and utilities and still be generous to those around us. Other costs associated with living overseas such as health insurance, language learning, children’s school fees (half-price missionary rate but still expensive) and visa/work permit fees are further claimable. Any remaining funds are considered ‘ministry funds’ and, with approval from our team, can be used creatively to bless our neighbours.
Our ministry in the community is presence-based and generally costs us our time and energy rather than money; we believe this sets us apart from the many other organisations working here. When asked for money our protocol is to invite people to eat with us, accompany them to hospital appointments, help them dream big dreams etc. The past few years have been primarily about investing in relationships and we subsequently find ourselves deeply embedded in the life of the neighbourhood.
With increasing knowledge of our context we are now taking on some commitments that cost us money. Some examples are taking teenagers to activities outside the slum, funding schooling for the very poorest children in our kids club, providing medications for neighbours with chronic conditions, supplying water and electricity to the few homes that can’t afford it, building bathrooms and improving access pathways. While we won’t always get it right, we trust God’s Spirit to lead us in these judgements as we seek to redistribute wealth in a way that reflects the Kingdom.
We know that this also requires your trust as supporters. We seek to be open with you about how your gifts are used and see you as direct partners in loving those God has placed in our lives. We have experienced a God who provides for our needs as they arise!
If you are a regular reader of this blog would you consider setting up a small monthly donation? Are you part of a church or small-group that would consider supporting a mission partner? Could you do a one-off fundraiser towards a specific cause that has been mentioned? We would love to hear from you! More information about giving through Stewardship is available on the ‘Partner with us’ page at the top of this Slumblog.
With our love,
Jon, Elise, Elliot and Sam