Sorrow may last for the night, but rejoicing comes with the morning
The 21st of January; a date we had been looking forward to for months! The party was all planned with Bah Miaw’s favourite people and favourite foods in place. First thing in the morning Jon wheeled her increasingly frail husband to the car in a borrowed wheelchair, reminding people along the way that today was the day! There were mixed responses as everybody seems to have an opinion about our friend.
At the prison she wasn’t waiting at the gates as we had often seen others waiting to be reunited with family. It wasn’t a visiting day so the forecourt was deserted. The administrative staff were apparently not allowed to share information about release dates so we only ever had Bah Miaw’s word to go on. When we visited last month and talked with her through the glass screen, she had been adamant that we come on this date ‘and get here early!’
Nothing. Eventually Jon was taken off to an office and given the heartbreaking news that the correct release date was 21st January 2021. Bah Miaw had misunderstood. She would remain in prison for another whole year.
The disappointment was a big blow to us and to others that care for her. Had our excitement been self-serving? What must she be feeling now? Did she realise the mistake in advance or only on the day? Like many others her age she is illiterate and has never had much need for times and dates; why had the system failed her at this basic level of making sure she understood?
We so desperately wanted to begin the year celebrating freedom… for freedom to be the flavour of 2020! Our dream of bringing likeminded neighbours together to get Bah Miaw off to a good start and then continue supporting each other was now frustrated at step one. The chains of injustice, addiction, greed and self-doubt seemed more overwhelming than ever as we were drawn into one neighbourhood crisis after another. It dawned on us afresh that the environment outside the prison could offer only a very superficial freedom to any of us.
We will visit Bah Miaw next week. We want to find anger and tears but we are quite sure that we will find only resignation. Our prayer is that she experiences freedom in a much deeper sense as she sees herself through the eyes of an all-loving God. Our prayer is that her expectations for this life rocket as she finds herself defended by an all-powerful God.
For us it’s a reminder that living from a position of freedom is a choice; sometimes a hard choice. Circumstances are unlikely to conspire to provide a clear path for the things we dream of. We will encounter internal and external chains that we have to tackle face-on with the certainty of Jesus’ resurrection power to make progress. There is still hope that this can be a year flavoured by freedom – we are going to work and pray and fight our way towards reasons to rejoice. Hopefully there will be other chances to party before January 21st 2021!
We had a fantastic Christmas break! We celebrated at home with team and neighbours and then travelled to the beach with our friend Helen who visited over New Year. After a fun and hectic season of RoyRak sales and special events, it was perfect to spend a week doing very little at all! It was hard to be away from family when Jon’s Grandfather died earlier this month. We’ve been missing him and the extended family even more than usual.
While we were on holiday there was a fault with Bow’s cochlear implant processor and there were a couple of days where she couldn’t use it at all. This was frustrating as there is only one place we can get it fixed and we were away from home. However, it was fascinating to see the extent to which she has learnt to rely on hearing sound. There were a lot of meltdowns (which are becoming a lot rarer now) and she was clearly delighted when the problem resolved itself and she could hear again. Her language is progressing quickly and we have begun the process of transitioning her into mainstream school. Please pray that Bow will have peace and feel secure through yet another change. Pray that we will be able to work well with the school to ensure that her needs are well met.
Sam is currently on a school camp and will get home very tired later today. Elliot has begun rehearsing for his secondary school production of Aladdin. Both boys are growing at a crazy rate and making us feel old! The hazardous pollution levels in Bangkok this month have meant staying inside at school and wearing masks on the motorbike which isn’t much fun. They are looking forward to our summer speaking trip to the UK where they will get to meet more baby cousins and breath fresh air!
We kicked off the year with a very encouraging family camp for staff and neighbours; a really valuable time of laughing and learning together. It was the first trip outside of Bangkok for one woman in her 50s and a privilege to share it with her. There were lots of little kids who enjoyed open outdoor space and bigger kids who enjoyed banana boating! We invited a wonderful couple from Step Ahead Foundation to lead the session content on the theme of family strengthening. They shared insights from the journey of God’s big family the Israelites who found strength in having a shared destination. It was good to be vulnerable with each other, set goals and open up topics that can get overlooked in daily life.
We are excited for some potential developments in our UNOH Thailand Foundation! The Foundation is basically our registered charity, it enables us to have work permits and visas and formalises aspects of our work in the community. While our team members live in different neighbourhoods, we have a Foundation building that has a central location in Khlong Toey. It is where our office and the RoyRak workshop are based and it also has accommodation and multi-purpose space for kids work, training and other events.
Sometimes the task of running a foundation feels overwhelming for our small team and we have high staffing costs in order to sustain the existing work let alone the things we dream of! I (Elise) have been running the RoyRak social enterprise but operating outside of my skill-zone a lot of the time! There is huge potential for the business to grow in scale and impact but we need expertise! We are advertising for an intern with training in marketing to join us for a year. Accommodation, insurance and visa costs are included as well as a small living allowance. It would be perfect for someone looking to gain experience and travel in Thailand! The most important thing will be finding someone who really grasps RoyRak’s context and values to be able to represent us. Please have a think if you know anyone who might fit the bill and ask us for details!
This year we will be in the UK from the 13th July to 17th August (at which point Elise and the kids will fly back for the start of school term and Jon will be joined by another UNOH worker until 8th September). We will be contacting existing church links to find a time to come and catch up with and update you! As we look for new ways to fund the UNOH Thailand Foundation in particular, we are really hoping to connect with a number of new churches or supportive groups/individuals. We will be putting together an itinerary in the next few weeks so please get in touch if you can invite us to speak!
Finally, would you like to come and find out more about what we do here? We are running a Mission Exposure course from 7th – 14th March this year and still have a few places left! Mission Exposure is not a short term mission trip – participants of all ages come to learn, to allow their eyes to be opened to the realities of urban poverty in God’s world, and to experience some of UNOH’s creative responses to neighbourhood strengths and problems. Please get in touch if you would like to know more or would be interested in a future course!