“God always gets there before us… thus there is a genuine sense in which we must engage in mission in reverse because the Spirit is present in each and every situation before we get there’ Les Henson
Many of you lovely people reading this have journeyed with our family for the four years that we’ve been slum-blogging! You’ve glimpsed some of our joys and frustrations and encountered other faces along the way. One significant relationship that I wrote about within our first six months here was my birthday twin Preaw! As we clumsily supported her out of a domestic abuse situation, for a time she became our live-in guide for learning the complexities of Thai language and culture.
We’ve since been to some dark places with Preaw and felt her hostility towards us when she is high on drugs. We lose track of where she is living and only hear afterwards when she has been in prison or hospital. However, an unlikely friendship persists and she always seems to pop up at significant times (usually with stuff she wants us to buy!)
After six weeks of sabbatical we had really mixed feelings about being back in Klong Toey. While coming back into the neighbourhood and reconnecting with neighbours and colleagues was wonderful, we quickly felt burdened by some of the tensions of life here and remembered why we had been so ready for the break. A few nights in, just as reluctance was getting the better of us, God sent Preaw to our door to remind us to trust Him and that He got here first!
After convincing me to buy a strapless jumpsuit at least four sizes too small (any takers?!), Preaw began to talk about her hopes and fears for the year. The conversation turned to Buddhism – her efforts to make merit and her concern for us not making enough merit. We always seek to listen and understand our neighbours’ world-views whilst being prepared to answer questions about our own. It takes time to earn trust and listening brings out fascinating stuff! Preaw knows that we follow Jesus and, on this occasion, was responding to a heart-cry to find out more about Him!
She had heard how our previously notorious neighbour Ba’Noi had changed so much in the last year of her life and wanted to know more. She wanted the freedom from fear and striving that she has recognised in us (a timely reminder for us to embrace this) and above all she wanted to learn how to pray! She left late that night excited to try talking to God using her own words and determined to read our Thai version ‘Jesus Storybook Bible’ from cover to cover before going to sleep.
Who knows what this will lead to in Preaw’s life… we may not see her again for a few months and we can only place it all in the hands of the God who was here before us and who goes ahead of us. The Good News was not something for Preaw to attain to but the truth that she is already enough! Similarly, we sensed a renewed invitation to choose the discomfort and the tensions of slum life and ministry, to participate willingly knowing that nothing depends on us; God is always a step ahead of the chaos.
Good in the Hood
The one year anniversary of the fire that destroyed so many homes in our neighbourhood has just passed. Today we joined in a house blessing in the home of the Catholic family who lived with us in the weeks immediately following the fire. It was a joyful occasion and we reflected on how much has changed in one year. The rebuilding project is not yet complete but most of the structures are up and access is much improved.
The period leading up to Christmas was fun with lots of kids activities and special times with neighbours. Our new team member Dianne has moved into her own home in the slum and is such a blessing to us and to her neighbours. Our immediate neighbour P’Oui is currently very unwell and Jon is attending lots of hospital appointments with her to advocate for good care. The fact that she is drug addicted means that she is often dismissed by medical professionals and therefore avoids treatment.
Since coming back from sabbatical we’ve been working hard to get renovations on our new house underway. Pictured below left is the beginnings of a new raised concrete pathway that will enable the five households in our ‘corner’ to get home without wading through swamp water! The rubbish collecting situation on the plot next to our house is completely out of control (below right). For those who recycle for a living this is not merely rubbish but it is getting dangerous; a can of paint recently exploded in the middle of the pile and gave us all a fright! We’ve negotiated with these neighbours that we will employ a team of local men to help sort and dispose of it in the coming month so we can start work on the house. We don’t know how deep the plastic goes but will let you know when we find out!
Christmas sales were encouraging and stressful in equal measure! Last year saw a lot of progress and, although we made an overall loss, we are excited by the direction the business is heading.
The staff had a two week break over New Year but then were back to work in earnest; I was so proud to come back from sabbatical to find that they were already completing a full range of new designs to which each person had contributed! This confidence to put forward ideas is wonderful to see and is such a credit to the hard-work of Nut, our RoyRak manager. We’ll get the new designs onto royrak.net so spread the word!
We loved being back in England! It was a time of snow and babies and pork-pies! We feel so lucky to be at home in two continents. We re-adjusted to heat and time-zones with two weeks travel in Cambodia. We spent a lot of time on buses but it was worth it for exploring Angkor Wat, swimming in crystal clear sea, sampling fried tarantula and uninterrupted family time!
The boys have settled happily back into school and are excited for getting two new baby rabbits from the market as soon as they can persuade us to take them! It is not too long a separation from family as we will be back in the UK from late July to late August 2018 visiting supporting churches and individuals. We’ll start planning our itinerary soon so please get in touch if you would like us to come and speak at a service or event, we are really hoping for some new connections and are happy to travel!
- We have some big decisions coming up as God continues to reveal pieces of the ‘why are we here’ and ‘what next’ jigsaw. Please pray for wisdom and courage as we approach new challenges.
- We are meeting with a local couple to carry out some debt counselling and help them with issues of budgeting etc. This is something we are passionate about and would love to do more of as we see so many families crippled by high-interest loans. Please pray for good relationship and a good outcome for this couple who are in a desperate place.
- Our team is a little depleted on the ground with the MacCartney family on sabbatical after 10 years serving here and Camille on a support-raising trip. We feel the strain on our time and resources but continue to pray that our Thai staff will be empowered.
- Jon has just taken on the role of local team leader and will be using his pastoral and organisational skills to serve us. Please pray that he will be well supported and equipped even when he feels inadequate.
- Please pray for a spirit of mercy in our neighbourhood towards ‘the least and the lost’.