A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.Isaiah 42: 3-4
I (Jon), read recently that political engagement polarises in two ways;
- At the top of the pile you can be totally disengaged from politics. This is only possible if you have the privilege of belonging to the dominant group and benefitting from the current system.
- At the bottom of the pile you can also be disengaged from politics. Who has the time to watch the debates, read the manifestos and investigate the falsities if you are a single mum, or working 2 jobs, or poverty makes life so chaotic that you are just holding on day-to-day?
So those of us that can engage need to use our voices and our votes on behalf of those at the bottom, because the system is already benefitting those at the top!
That’s what is happening in Thailand at the moment.
Thailand’s political history is spattered with violent oppression of uprisings and military coups in the name of keeping the peace. But oppressive silencing of dissident voices isn’t keeping the peace, it is maintaining the status quo – a status quo which has been so effective at benefitting the rich and keeping down the poor that, two years ago, Thailand became the world’s most UNEQUAL country in terms of wealth gap between rich and poor. All of this has been presided over by a never-before questioned monarchy with demi-god status and unbelievable wealth and power.
But now students are protesting.
To be honest, most students come from privilege and are doing well enough for themselves to ‘make it’ in the current system, to benefit from keeping quiet and maintaining the status quo. So it is quite remarkable that tens of thousands are speaking out. Maybe the privilege of education opens their eyes to how things really are and they receive the gift of a conscience, a drive for justice? Whatever the causes, they are using their voices on behalf of those at the bottom. Committed to peaceful protest, they are boldly challenging longstanding injustices despite the possibility of punishment (£1000 fine for a selfie at a protest!) and many arrests. The protestors are showing mutual care, respect for emergency services and so much creativity – adopting the three finger salute from the Hunger Games films, using performance art, word play and songs.
Early on the police and royalist supporters reacted violently towards protesters, but the protesters remained peacefully determined and we are just beginning to see signs of possible change.
I’ve been reflecting on our place in all of this. We love Thailand and love the Thai people. We give honour and respect where it is due and in culturally appropriate ways. There are things to be grateful to the monarchy for, and even, maybe, the military government. But underneath it all, the system is so obviously skewed towards those at the top… and that goes against the deeply rooted principles of the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus came to usher in. Something feels very exciting about this current season, seeing Thai people speak up about injustice.
The shock for me has been the almost complete disengagement from all of this by my neighbours, those probably most affected by the outcomes. Slum residents are perhaps some of the most vulnerable to these political inequalities. Decisions made at the top are causing so much pain at the bottom. Surely my neighbours have strong opinions about this stuff?! But then I saw it – they are the ones working all hours, struggling with their own lives, burdened with the chaos of everyday; they are the bruised reeds and smouldering wicks that Isaiah speaks of – oppressed to the point of disengagement, unable to imagine a better future. The students on the streets need to speak for themselves and for my neighbours who are so tenderly and fiercely prioritised by our God.
It has made me think about the Jesus we follow, the great non-violent Prince of Peace who didn’t keep quiet to maintain an unjust status-quo, but who consistently challenged the religio-political system of his culture, to ‘proclaim good news for the poor.. to set the oppressed free’ (Luke 4). Often by refusing to participate in the system – holding a common purse, travelling through the margins, picking fishermen disciples, honouring women, not keeping ridiculous purity laws. Sometimes by direct action – turning the tables, rebuking pharisees. His words and action eventually led to his murder by the very system that he stood against – an ultimate revelation of the futility of scapegoating – the innocent victim. I see signs of the spirit of Jesus in the current protests by the commitment to work towards real peace, shalom, and not the peace and quiet of ingrained oppression.
Pray for Thailand at the moment, for justice to flow like a river, for the government to stay away from violent reprisals, to honour the right to peaceful protest, and to listen to the people, for the Prince of Peace to make himself known in the middle of all of this.
How could you use your voice for the sake of those at the bottom?
In the Hood
It is busy and noisy on our little corner! The last few weeks have been very confronting as we have adjusted to having new neighbours (not pictured) who are extremely unpredictable and chaotic. The situation of the family is very sad and, along with others, we are trying to navigate how to show acceptance without condoning violence and neglect. These are exactly the people that slip through all the public services and are not tolerated in any place for very long. They are exactly the people we are here to love but it is stretching us. Pray that we draw from Jesus, the abundant source of love and wisdom.
Against this backdrop, our longstanding neighbour Bah Jit was released from prison early with no warning. We have not been permitted visits during Covid and were expecting her back next January! It is wonderful to see her looking really well. During the 18 months spent in prison, her elderly husband (by name but not in practice) became very weak and was taken to live with relatives to live in the countryside. Since she is alone we are especially keen to support her well and help her stay clear of drugs. Please be praying that Bah Jit finds work and for positive relationships in the community.
It’s the start of our usual busy season but we are needing to be increasingly creative with our selling! This year we are hosting two festive weekends of shopping and craft to encourage local customers to come to us. There are less physical sales to attend but online sales will hopefully make up for this! Staff are staying positive despite the uncertain economic climate and have really pushed themselves with new techniques for creating the Christmas collection.
If you are looking for Christmas shopping options that don’t involve leaving the house and that make a big difference to the lives of producers… bring your custom to Royrak.org! Our personal favourite is the charm gift box (pictured above, middle, $24.99) which comes with a bracelet and a necklace and 24 interchangeable charms! We will be using it as an advent calendar for Bow and giving her one charm a day (guessing the boys would rather have chocolate!)
Please pray for the future of RoyRak as we come to the end of the donations we received during lockdown. Pray that a bold and far-reaching marketing plan will set up the project for years to come. Pray that we find the right young staff to take part in the apprenticeship scheme we are planning next year. Pray that there will always be time for relationships and the bigger underlying goals of empowerment and encountering Jesus.
The kids are growing fast. In two weeks we will become parents of a teenager! Sometimes we feel ready and other times we feel out of our depth. Life with Elliot is an emotional rollercoaster; he is often ready to smother us with hugs while we are still reeling from the last argument! This doesn’t seem to carry over into school life where he is as enthusiastic as ever. He attends a church youth group and is an avid follower of current affairs. If something its happening in the world, we hear it from him! Please be praying for Elliot in this formative year of his life
Sam is having a great experience in year 6 and is much more keen to go to school this year! Having said that, he especially loves school breaks and the chance to get out of the city. We had a wonderful week in the mountains with Jon’s sister Fran and her family. Sam had a tick-list of things to do that included hot springs, motorbikes and a Chinese tea village. He got his fix of wide open space and has now retreated into the world of books! Sam is playing electric guitar in the school rock band and quickly overtaking his brother in proficiency!
Bow is changing so fast and we are increasingly grateful for the ‘baby’ time we had with her as she adjusted and learnt new skills. Transition into year 3 has been painless and Bow throws herself into all aspects of school. There is just the right level of challenge and freedom to explore at her own pace. We had another visit to her previous care home which she loved and was able to express some grief directly afterwards. Her hospital checkup last week revealed normal lactate levels for the first time ever! Go Bow Bow!
We are so grateful for the support of friends near and far. Please stay in touch!
Jon, Elise, Elliot, Sam and Bow