Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain…Isaiah 40: 4
Areas of Bangkok that would usually be bustling with tourists are currently super quiet. We’ve taken the opportunity to explore parts of the City that are new to us and tried to keep our eyes and our hearts open as we walk.
One Sunday, Sam asked if we could try to explore what is known locally as the ‘ghost tower’, a luxury apartment block on prime land near the riverside that has stood unfinished since the contractors went bankrupt several decades ago. It has always caught his imagination! We walked around the base, which was fenced off with corrugated iron and barbed wire. No getting inside of course but enough to see some impressive graffiti and feel like we had tried!
The ghost tower is an icon that features in guidebooks and yet it represents nothing but emptiness. Nobody ever lived there and the money invested had no return. Exactly what ‘ghosts’ it’s name refers to is unclear!
We continued our walk in this area and, a few turns later, stumbled upon a slum demolition site (pictured above and not featured in any guidebooks!). Wedged between shophouses and high-rise hotels, the footprint of the area was probably smaller than that of the ‘ghost tower’ and yet we are familiar with just how many homes can exist in this kind of space. In amongst the remaining structures were pieces of furniture, clothing and toys representing human life in all its beauty and complexity. We wondered if there had been much of a fight about the eviction notice and where the inhabitants are now?
It is just one small chapter of a story being played out across our City; the lives of the poorest being compressed into ever tighter spaces to make way for the luxury and excess of a few. With hotels standing empty at this time, the unjust use of space is particularly apparent. Later we see that the Marriot has lit up the windows of it’s empty rooms to show a smily face. It’s a fun idea but it doesn’t reflect the story on the streets where people are struggling more than ever to pay the rent on slum housing.
Our exploring has shown us that Bangkok looks very different depending on where you are standing. The higher you go, the more space there is to breath and the more secure your housing rights. For his birthday, Sam requested a trip to the viewing platform at the top of the Mahanakhorn tower, the highest in Bangkok. That boy does love a good tower! We went up for sunset and drank in the stunning views, we could see mountains in the distance and the Chaophraya river running as far as the sea! It was a privileged perspective on a city where inequality is stark.
In a world of extremes, we would be happy with half that view if it could be shared by our neighbours. But we hold the responsibility of sharing our hope – that the highest places and positions will mean nothing when God’s kingdom of liberation comes to full completion.
… And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all humanity together will see it.isaiah 40: 5
Elliot and Sam went back to school for two weeks (alternate days to limit the number of students and wearing masks of course) but then it was the end of term; we are feeling less keen than usual about the prospect of the two month break! The school has been wonderful through this season, offering great online learning and now four weeks of free sports activities which is keeping us all sane! Our outward UK flight is still scheduled for Monday but we won’t be getting on it. We are gutted. The prospect of three weeks in a beach hut is not such a bad alternative though! We will head away for some family holiday in the last week of July.
Sam said goodbye to a best friend returning to live in the UK, but shows a lot of resilience. He identifies Thailand as his home country more than any of us and continues to excel at Thai language and cultural studies. It’s hard to believe that he will be starting year 6 in August! Elliot is in the grey space between child and teenager and generally driving us all up the wall – not an easy time for him. He is becoming more aware of differences in lifestyle from school friends and we are looking for ways to offer him more freedom. He was surprised to receive the school award for academic excellence in music (never having had lessons hasn’t stopped him being able to play any instrument he picks up!)
We have brilliant news to share with you… after a long application process, Bow has just been offered a place in year 3 at the same International school as the boys (at the discounted rate we already receive)! We are all delighted and think she will thrive amongst children her own age of many nationalities. The learning gap is still significant but she is progressing fast. She often doubts her own abilities but will receive learning support at school. Its been especially wonderful to watch her grow to love books and reading – definitely a Fletcher! Thankyou for your prayers as we have pursued this school place.
Bow has had a great month health-wise. She is seeing an eye specialist at the hospital next week. At her most recent hospital visit she shocked herself by calmly watching while the nurse took blood (this is usually her biggest fear!) Practicing on her teddies the day before seemed to pay off!
unoh thailand foundation
The past few months have seen a lot of birthday celebrations amongst our staff team as well as two fabulous ‘Zoom’ weddings! We’ve enjoyed connecting around some training and planning events too. Team life isn’t always easy but this has been a period of really investing in each other and seeking direction for the future work of our Foundation.
We are super excited for the launch of our rebranded RoyRak website on the 19th August! It has been a real boost to the hardworking team who create the jewellery, especially as we talk about making the brand more sustainable (after almost being bankrupted by the Covid crisis) and offering jobs to more young women in the Khlong Toey communities. The women are looking forward to a 9 day break in early August to visit family and re-charge ready for orders flooding in after the big launch!
Postage to the UK and most of Europe is now back to normal and we are hoping that postage to America, Australia and New Zealand will be possible soon. There will be some great ‘launch offers’ next month but in the meantime we will be selling off stock from our current website at bargain prices! You can use the promotional code: RoyRakForever to make the most of our buy three get one free offer across all remaining stock (including sale)!
pray with us
- I (Elise) have had some nerve pain in my neck and back (I blame the motorbike!) and went to see a spinal specialist who has recommended intensive physio. We are still waiting to hear if our insurance will cover the physio. Please pray for signs of improvement and access to the right care.
- Children in our neighbourhood have returned to school but with the threat of no breaks or activities for the next 10 months to ‘make up’ for the time lost. We already know kids who are struggling with the amount of homework and will drop out under this unhealthy pressure. Please pray for wisdom for teachers and those making decisions about education in Thailand. Pray for the health of kids in our community.
- We are praying particularly for two girls aged 10 and 15 who have attended our kids clubs for many years and been the source of much concern. A Catholic group who also work in our neighbourhood have supported the family well over the years and have now taken the girls to a ‘live in’ school in the country. They seemed keen to go and this is one of the very rare cases where the children may potentially do better away from their home. Of course we are also really concerned to be losing contact and would value your prayers for their protection and growth.
- Please pray for the future of RoyRak which is at a turning point as take a new approach with sales. Pray that the seven current employees will continue to thrive in their responsibilities and take on some of the values that we try to model. Pray for expansion of sales so that we are able to extend this fair wage employment to others in the near future.
- Our UK trip was intended to be a tour of supporting churches and a chance to connect with new supporters. The focus was to be finding funding for the work of our UNOH Foundation which formalises our presence here (visas etc) and provides employment for many local people but is operating at a shortfall. Postponing our travel to next year leaves us in a daunting financial situation! We were due to be sharing about our planned Apprenticeship scheme and other plans for engaging local neighbourhoods. A video update is underway and will be made available to any groups or individuals who would like to show it!
- Our personal support has dropped off significantly in the past few months which we entirely understand. We are praying for five more individuals or families who feel able to support us with a small financial gift each month.
- Please pray that our family holiday will be restful for each of us and that we will love each other and take the time to connect well.