I had meant to ask her for months but it never seemed quite the right time. Now, sitting together on the floor of her home, I asked her what happened to the baby.
P’Prim is in her late thirties and has lived in this community all her life. We take her two girls (aged 12 and 9) swimming at the weekends and have quickly grown to love them. We know that home-life is far from easy and these girls are remarkable survivors. The younger sister, Nong Mem, is gentle and has the brightest smile I know! She has just had her head shaved because the nits got out of control but you could never mistake her for a boy, she still looks stunning. The older sister, Nong Deng, is witty and playful, unless there are boys around and then she switches into teenage mode! Last year they stopped going to school. Now, as a last resort, we pay their school fees. We celebrate them and worry about them in equal measure.
We were concerned when we heard that P’Prim was expecting another baby. She was very unwell. The family lives in one lean-to room and the kids are often hungry. However, unlike some of the homes I visit, there is enough love to go round there and I had looked forward to knowing this baby.
The baby never appeared. I assumed that it hadn’t survived. But when I finally asked her, P’Prim told me calmly that she couldn’t look after the baby (another girl), she had been sent immediately to live with a distant relative somewhere in the countryside. I asked if she had a photo… she didn’t, but she had a picture of her first daughter, taken 21 years ago and not seen since. It turned out that the baby was one of seven children. Her boys are in jail.
I share this story because it is on my mind and because my heart is so changeable in its response. I am as eager as anybody to judge but this story just doesn’t fit the boxes I spent years constructing. Who is the victim here and why can’t I see the villains?
I’ve been reminded recently of the impact our ‘cultural glasses’ or worldview have on the way we approach situations. There is all sorts of bias and assumption at play in every cross-cultural interaction. Sometimes it feels like we will never gain deeper understanding of culture and other times the Spirit surprises us with clarity! It is a humbling experience to be reminded on a daily basis that others see the world so differently. It has caused us to examine our own ‘cultural glasses’ and be more discerning of our dualistic principles.
Richard Rohr writes about the need for ‘forgiving reality for being what it is‘ and this phrase pretty much summarises 2017 for us! We are learning the impossible third way – somehow both ‘letting it go’ and fiercely desiring a better way forward! Rohr continues ‘I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul.’ It’s a mystery but God is at work in the mess.
In The Community
It’s been a very wet beginning to the dry season! But there’s been lots of fun to brighten things up! Relationships with new families have been slowly developing as a few more kids have joined our Saturday kids club. Last weekend we went to a school fair and the highlight was pony rides… not an everyday opportunity in Bangkok!
Steps towards moving to the new house are frustratingly slow. We trust that God has the timescale sorted and for now prioritise smoothness of relationships. Jon has had opportunity to get to know one of the local builders quite well and help him consider coming off drugs. The drug taking scene around our home is a source of sadness and somewhere we feel very helpless.
We are loving having new neighbours next door and seeing them extend love to others in the community. There are some new faces at house-church and this is a joy!
The run-up to Christmas is super busy with up to 4 local sales per week as well as overseas sales to coordinate! We’re grateful for the busy-ness (and also for our beds at the end of the day!)
After months of preparation it is always nerve-wracking at this time of year to see if we will cover all our costs and be free to continue the same level of employment for all our RoyRak creative team. My dream is that we might sell so well that we can offer more jobs and more input next year!
Lots of you have already placed orders at royrak.net and we hope you are pleased with your products! Anyone thinking of placing an order can be assured that the money makes a direct difference to real people who you can read about on the website.
I’ve been in two minds about participating in ‘Black Friday’ sales but have concluded that gift-giving is a great thing and shopping with RoyRak provides a great alternative to big businesses for people wanting to get organised for Christmas! We’ll be launching a 24 hour sale on Christmas ranges for 24th November. Please come and have a look!
Another tragic pet story for the collection; our poor rabbit ‘Flea’ was pulled halfway out of her cage by a snake and heroically rescued by our teenage babysitters! Unfortunately she never recovered from the shock.
On a happier note, we had a lovely long visit from Jon’s parents who were put to work on our office renovations where we’ve been developing a 5th floor communal space for project staff and house church. It was great to share elements of our everyday life with them! They were with us over Loy Kratong, a big Thai festival which we celebrated with neighbours at a nearby park.
Its always hard saying goodbye to friends and family but this time we don’t have to wait long to see them! Our sabbatical (pushed back a few months) begins the second week of December. We will be flying back to the UK for four weeks and staying with family. Elliot and Sam have already reached fever-pitched excitement and we are not sure they can keep it up till Christmas! They are particularly excited about wearing onesies! The main purpose of the visit is to rest but we really hope to see lots of Shrewsbury folk!
We have a ‘work’ trip to the UK planned for next summer (mid July – mid August) where we hope to catch up with Supporting Churches and individuals. In the New Year we’d love to start planning speaking engagements if you know anywhere that would have us! It would be great to make new connections as well as reinforcing existing ones!
- Our wonderful UNOH team is going to be scattered for a while! Some of us are headed off for sabbatical while others are away for shorter lengths of time. The MacCartney family who have worked here for over ten years will be taking a well-earned break until August next year and we will all miss them terribly! Please pray that their health will be restored as they rest in Grace. Please pray that all those they work with locally will adjust well and relationships be preserved.
- We have a new team-mate! Dianne has been learning Thai for a year outside Bangkok and is now with us on the ground. She has been beautifully intentional as she has explored neighbourhoods and found a house to settle in within just weeks. We are so thankful for God’s provision of her and for her at this time. We don’t envy the upheaval of settling here and know that the learning curve is very sharp in the first year. Please hold her in your prayers.
- We have one neighbour that is placing heavy demands on us and we are finding it hard to love her. She is grasping and needy only because of her circumstances and we are, at least in theory, determined to draw out beauty in her! Please pray for wisdom and patience.
- It is a very early Christmas party for 50 or so of our UNOH employees next week. Pray that it will be fun and everyone will have a chance to reflect on the year and see God’s goodness afresh. Pray for increasing openness and unity across different groups.
- We’d value prayers that we will be able to tie things up well as we leave the community for 6 weeks and not be leaving extra work for people or leaving relationships un-affirmed. We’d also love you to pray with us for Rong Muu neighbourhood during the time we are away; God doesn’t leave just because we do!
‘Nondual consciousness is about receiving and being present to the moment, to the now, without judgment, analysis, or critique, without your ego deciding whether you like it or not. Reality does not need you to like it in order to be reality. This is a much more holistic knowing, where your mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment just as it is, which allows you to love things in themselves and as themselves. You learn not to divide the field of the moment or eliminate anything that threatens your ego, but to hold everything—both the attractive and the unpleasant—together in one accepting gaze.’
Richard Rohr, ‘A Spring Within Us’