The best encounters with neighbours are often incidental. We park our motorbikes away from our house and pass the same people each day as we come and go. This short walk in and out of our neighbourhood is a small time-commitment but we value it highly and try (most days!) to give it the energy it deserves.
Most people are welcoming and we exchange greetings or stop to chat. But sometimes there are people that we don’t want to bump into. At the entrance to our lane-way a young woman paces agitatedly, high on drugs. Her eyes glaze over into a scowl when she sees us coming and she either ignores us or becomes aggressive. She once followed us home yelling because the boys wouldn’t give her a hug. Since then she has snarled and spat after me on several occasions and I had begun to avoid her, driven by fear.
One evening when I left the neighbourhood I could hear her sobbing and she was still sobbing when I got back. I walked on with a heavy heart but in that moment God showed me something of His heart for her. I felt hopeful that God was going to bring our paths together in some way. A few days later I saw that she was sat in the usual place but reading a book. I was so surprised that I stopped to ask what she was reading… and she answered me clearly in English! There was clearly more to this woman than I had paid attention to!
The first time we talked she was cautious but over months she has begun to open up about her life; the stray puppies she is caring for, the children relinquished to live with different relatives, her fear that drugs have badly damaged her brain, her experience of being a sex-worker and how it has coloured her opinion of Westerners, her love of reading and interest in world religions.
If I live here and claim to be a compassionate neighbour, yet my sight failed me so drastically for so long, how must others view my neighbours? Who else am I still not really ‘seeing’. It takes time and real intention to look past the drugs or the fixed scowl and search out the image of God in each person. I’m reminded that we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’ (2 Cor 5:7), trusting that there is a Kingdom narrative beyond the visible reality that tries to take all our attention. May we long to see as God sees!
In the Neighbourhood
Thai schools have been closed for what feels like months through the steamy hot season! The kids in our neighbourhood have been so desperate to go swimming and were counting down the days until last Saturday when we could take them. We woke to a dramatic grey sky and while we were in the open-backed truck the downpour began! We were not allowed in the pool but played in the rain instead, getting soaked to the skin and enjoying the forgotten feeling of being cool!
The rain has barely let up all week which is very unseasonal. It has been a great relief to have some cooler air as we paint and fit out our new house with the help of Jon’s parents who have been working tirelessly! We are so excited to see this long-awaited home coming together and be able to envision family life being a bit less chaotic! We hope to move in by the end of May and to have a house blessing that we can invite our community to join in.
Jon attended a community meeting this week regarding the Port Authority plans to reclaim the land on which Khlong Toey slum communities are built. The efforts have stepped up in intensity over the last year and it is thought that we could be evicted in as little as five years. For people who have lived here all their lives and don’t often go outside the area this is hugely unsettling. The plan is that all registered home-owning families will get re-housed in high rises… but many families here are renting or living in informal dwellings. It is as though they don’t even exist.
It will be interesting to see how this pans out and what our role might be in navigating this daunting prospect. We are learning that the life we’ve signed up to is very turbulent and prone to changes of plan!
Songkran, the Thai New Year, is celebrated in April with water throwing and a mass exodus to the beach! We drove 11 hours South to stay with friends whose community development charity has a base in Khao Lak (the area most affected by the 2004 Tsunami), as well as Bangkok. We were just 5 minutes from an amazing stretch of beach with great waves and incredible sunsets! These friends are currently fostering four Pakistani refugee children whose parents are held in the immigration detention centre. All the kids had fun exploring the beach together and it was an honour to hear parts of their story in such a special setting.
The adoption process keeps us guessing a lot of the time but we have encountered God’s grace at every stage. Our Thai social worker is very professional and questions us to the point where we are not sure if she approves of us… but we just found out that she is a Christian and totally ‘gets’ our unconventional situation and why we are willing to fight for this particular child! We have two days of compulsory government training on adoption at the end of this month closely followed by a home inspection, gulp! Please keep praying into this process with us. Waiting is hard!
Today these hardworking women are enjoying a well-earned break for International Workers Day. The work they do is intricate and repetitive, it requires a ton of concentration and commitment for which I deeply respect them. A few weeks back we gave a presentation to parents at an International school and then led a bracelet making workshop. It was a joy to see the RoyRak staff demonstrating their skills to awed customers!
Finances are currently a headache but we are counting on making good sales in the UK and from launching a new range online this month, watch this space, or even better watch royrak.org! Our UK itinerary is filling up but if you live in or near Shrewsbury and would be willing to host a jewellery sale in your home or workplace we still have some time availability!
- Please pray that the final stages of house renovating will go well. Pray that the move itself, which is bound to attract loads of attention, will honour God even though we will find it difficult. Pray that the house blessing and party that we are intending will be a great opportunity for our neighbours to hear about Jesus and the life that he brings within the structure of their own culture (house blessings are very important)..
- Pray for Sammy as he celebrates his 8th Birthday next week that he will continue to thrive here and have good health. Pray that his wonderfully simple faith will grow deep roots.
- Pray for Elliot who, at 10, is so mature and yet so fragile. Pray that his inquiring nature and need for deep connection will be satisfied in fullness by God.
- Please pray for the adoption process to be progressing in the background and not be slowed unnecessarily by paperwork or miscommunication. Pray that we can raise the monthly increase of support to be able to prove to the Board that the adoption is financially viable.
- Pray that peace will reign in our neighbourhood and people will see further than their own interests as they consider the prospect of future eviction. Please pray ahead for safety from fire, a fast and effective eviction method.
- Pray that we won’t get jaded here but continue to seek out the image of God in each person and affirm their God-given worth. Pray that we will see lives truly transformed by personal encounters with the living God.