‘Peace has to do with the fullness of things, with lion and lamb lying down together, not a world without lions…’ Wendy M. Wright
The decorations box has been retrieved from behind the washing machine and there is relief that no rats got in this year! The tree is up and the smell of Christmas cake is bringing people to the door to see what’s cooking. Four hours of oven time has raised the temperature of our house to almost unbearable but for once nobody is complaining. Outside it is a bracing 19 degrees and our week-long winter has truly arrived! We hold traditions that reach back to our own childhoods and traditions that have been formed more recently to suit a tropical Christmas. Today we are all thankful for home and a new excitable family member to share this season with. We are anticipating school holidays, end of year parties, Netflix in the daytime and the packet of stuffing mix we have been saving all year!
Advent, the time of getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus, is increasingly important to our family. We make the effort to slow down, light candles, gather together, tell the Story. There is a deep pull towards goodness as we have experienced it in many forms over many years. Yet, if we are honest to ourselves, it grates deeply. It takes all our effort to lift our eyes from the hurt and brokenness that sits heavily inside us and all around. A fatal shooting last night in our community, a row over a parking spot that escalated; the pain is real and close. It feels frivolous to spend a Saturday afternoon making a wreath when the swamp water is rising outside the door and the makeshift home of our elderly neighbour is visible through the window.
In the past week we have learnt that a neighbour with many disabilities and a fifty year history of struggle and abuse, has now been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. When she rubbed her tummy frantically last month we gave her food but missed the pain. Still, she collects rubbish each day which she sells to support an elderly mother and drug addicted sibling while she waits for an operation. ‘It’s good that she doesn’t understand what is happening’ someone tells us. But it is not good. There is nothing good about her current situation however much we want to see it. We take her some more food but she can’t eat it. The pain is real and close.
In the past week our daughter went to have her hearing tested and cochlear implant adjusted at the hospital. She was shy and unsure in the waiting room, sensing the stress and busyness of everyone around her. She performed poorly, unable to repeat the sounds that she is mastering like a pro at home and school. Without the kindness and encouragement she needed, Bow eventually froze and couldn’t speak another word; her well-worn trauma response. The nurse lost patience and shouted at her for wasting time. The words cut deeply and Bow burst into tears that didn’t stop flowing until she sobbed herself to sleep on the motorbike. The pain is real and close.
Observing Advent is an act of defiance. It is a season for those of us who refuse to believe that this is all there is. We choose to look past the immediate and honour the subplot, the counter melody, the rhetorical question, the still small voice of Hope. If we need to cut snowflakes to connect us with a story that runs deeper than pain, then we will cut snowflakes! We will lift our eyes to seek out the King who came to us as quietly as snow falling. And when we listen, really listen, it is so loud and clear; God knows the pain, God came into the pain, God remains with us in the pain and God is transforming this pain. Pain and injustice will not get the final word.
These experiences of grief and longing and glaring holes in the narrative are essential for catching the vision God has for this world. We will forget this and then we will remember it again. We will build rhythms of remembering to ensure we never entirely forget the truth that nobody is forgotten. We will share food and share tears and put out a nativity scene over the rubbish of the swamp which will seem ridiculously hopeful because that is exactly what it is! God with us Immanuel is the only Hope that begins to make sense of a hurting world that needs to be held. Peace is already here.
It’s been a whirlwind few months but full of encouragements. It was a joy to have our good friends Mark and Emma visit from our home church; we enjoyed some adventures exploring Bangkok together and they ran an event for our kids club. We also made our first trip back to Chiang Mai since Bow moved to live with us and she did really well visiting her precious friends and carers at Hope Home. It was really important to us that she knew they were all well and life continued in her absence.
Sam gave another super performance in this year’s school play and has been loving all things Aztec. He has been more settled at school this half-term with the topic work really catching his imagination! He had a minor crisis a few months back when he came to the end of almost two years reading Harry Potter with Daddy at bedtime! However, he pulled himself together and began reading the Narnia Chronicles himself. He is aiming to finish before the end of 2019! Any recommendations for what next?
Elliot came home from school yesterday with a trumpet and performed a passable rendition of jingle bells. Nobody had any idea he was learning the trumpet but not much surprises us any more! He seems to have an endless capacity for trying new things and the school certainly provides him with the opportunities he needs. He just got back from a team building camp and is also enjoying attending a youth group at one of the big English speaking churches.
Bow is generally loving life. She has learnt to swim and is soaking up language at an astonishing rate! We changed over to speaking primarily English at home which she didn’t love at first but is getting results. Yesterday she went to call Sam downstairs for dinner – he didn’t respond so she kept trying different phrases: ‘Food is ready’, ‘time to eat’,’family wait long time already’,’come on Sam, quick quick!’ It was one of those rare ‘wow’ moments where progress was so clear!
The commitment and hardwork of the RoyRak team during the Christmas period has been staggering! Our festive designs have been selling as fast as they are made and we’ve lost count of the number of 5am starts required to get across Bangkok to sales and workshops! A few years ago I would never have predicted the level of professionalism, initiative and ownership shown by the full time staff. They are truly awesome to work with!
We have big hopes for RoyRak in the next year. The dream is to have the core of the business functioning reliably enough to move the focus towards a training scheme for young mothers transitioning into work. If we can keep our jewellery sales up during the year then the prospects for serving the Khlong Toey community are super exciting!
You can help RoyRak to achieve the stable income needed by subscribing to their ‘Live to Give’ monthly gift boxes! These have been a long time in the planning stage and are finally ready to launch! For sixteen pounds a month you can receive two items of RoyRak Fair-trade jewellery, either special edition or current collection. The price includes International postage and fun recyclable packaging to match the season or the style (prototypes pictured below). We keep the focus on giving by including a fabric bag so you have the option of gifting one of the items and spreading the love!
You can begin and end your subscription at any time (but we do think it makes a fab Christmas present!). The RoyRak website guides you to set up a direct debit through PayPal where you can set up a delivery address. RoyRak will then contact you with a printable certificate which can be useful if you are giving the subscription to a friend. If you are looking for a way to give gifts that make a measurable difference to the producers then please consider finding out more!
Pray with us
- Bow’s teachers feel that she is ready to transition into mainstream school. Listening skills have come quickly and she really needs to be in an environment where the other children are more verbal. Please pray as we meet with teachers at Sam’s International school to discuss learning provision for Bow. Pray that her capabilities will be assessed accurately and that the two schools will work together to help her through yet another transition.
- Our next door Aunty comes out of prison on the 21st January! Jon was able to visit her a few days ago. She is well but it is the prospect of freedom getting her through. Freedom probably means a lower standard of living than she gets in prison so we need wisdom for how to support her in making a fresh start when she comes out.
- Our UNOH team Housechurch has reached a stage where we have decided we will be more effective decentralising and having different expressions of church community in our various neighbourhoods that will support each other. This is daunting but something that we are very excited to pursue. Please be praying for our area of Rong Moo, that we will know who is key to partner with and where to begin! Pray that we will see the people and the place afresh as Jesus does.
- The early stages of redeveloping the Khlong Toey area to be a shopping and business district are slowly unfolding. It looks like a new expressway will begin being built over the area of slum we live in next year. We are not in an area to be evicted yet but some of our immediate neighbours have been informed that concrete piles will be planted on their properties. Our office building is facing similar uncertainty. Pray for those residents who are far more vulnerable than us and that God will show us our role in the whole situation.
We want to thank all of our financial supporters who enable us to be here and help fund the ministries that we are a part of.
We had a significant number of regular givers through Stewardship drop off in the last few months. We suspect that when people went through the process of setting up a monthly transfer, an end date was required and many people opted for five years (which felt like a very long way off!). We now feel that we are entering a new stage of ministry and are committed to serving here for the foreseeable future. Could we ask that our financial supporters check whether their standing order has timed out? If this is intentional then we want to say ‘Thankyou for your generosity standing with us through our initial period in Thailand, we are super grateful!’ If it has timed out unintentionally and you are still able to support us then please consider re-starting! If you would like to know more about current needs then do get in touch! Fundraising is our least favourite part of of this work but a significant part of our day to day life. Thanks for your understanding!
If we are to have hearts capable of the peace of Christ, which does indeed pass all understanding, we must have hearts capable of embracing the joy and the sorrow, the sacredness and the sin of the world. We must have hearts like Christ, in which all the terrible and disparage truths of human existence are held together in a searing, and ultimately, creative crucible. To have a heart of peace means knowing that we are not strangers to anything human, that we have within our selves the seeds of malice, violence, and death. Yet we also carry the seeds of joy, healing, and life. Those latter seeds will sprout when we have allowed our hearts to become places of ripening, places where can be realised a love so vast and courageous it transforms death into life..
The Vigil, Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming – Wendy M. Wright