Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.Isaiah 40: 4-5
Back in April of this year, the British government memorably described Covid-19 as ‘the great leveller’ and much debate unfolded! With the information and the first-hand experience we each have standing at the end of 2020, it is clear that so much about the pandemic has served to exacerbate the issues of social inequality. So where this year have we each seen glimpses of the promised levelling that Isaiah wrote of?
It was just this stark social inequality that originally drew our hearts to Thailand; the gaping gap between rich and poor is laid uncomfortably bare for all to see. It is a gap that exists everywhere but there is nothing subtle about it’s expression here.
Six years ago we felt God was asking us to settle in the gap as bridge builders. The bias of our background was significant so we needed to swing far the other way to learn the lessons of poverty. However the goal has always been to develop relationships and speak out for justice on each side of the divide. The gap is an uncomfortable place when we are so primed for segregation. In truth, we spend a fair bit of time clinging to one side or the other or plotting an escape!
When we get a chance to build bridges it is cause for celebration! This can take the form of sharing stories, perspectives, resources etc but sometimes it is more literal. We love to connect people who would never meet or have the opportunity to learn from each other in the course of normal life.
Recently we have had three final year students from an International School volunteering with UNOH Thailand for a service project a few hours a week. They are polite, highly educated Thai girls who are in the process of applying for medical school. They arrive in smart chauffeur driven cars that stand out a mile. Despite having grown up in Bangkok, they had never visited a slum community and were seeing a different world. We wanted the experience to be transformative for them and also valuable for our community.
We asked them to collect data for the apprenticeship scheme we are launching in April. We needed statistics about teenage pregnancy rates in Khlong Toey but also anecdotal accounts of what it is like raising a child as a young mum with little support and what the other options might have been.
We introduced these students to three local girls of the same age who have had children before completing their education. They were interviewed about their choices, their beliefs and their hopes for the future. Our role was only to facilitate. Whilst the content of the interviews was interesting, something much more meaningful was going on as the teenagers sat and talked in the gap.
I was struck that each of the girls could be individual role models for our own daughter, yet the combined strength in the room was huge. I felt genuine pride in seeing the young mothers from our community speaking truthfully but with so much wisdom to the International school students who were bravely facing their stereotypes head on. Those with power and privilege were learning from those without and they were amazed at what they were hearing!
The discomfort of hearing alternative narratives firsthand can lead to deep rooted change that shouldn’t be underestimated. Hopefully this knowledge will keep our family grounded in the place that God has asked us to be! Wherever we are, may we each participate this coming year in the great levelling that is God’s Kingdom coming on Earth.
It’s been a hectic but fun end to the year! It’s been all-go for UNOH Thailand and our amazingly hardworking team since mid October when RoyRak sale season got underway. We hosted lots of visiting groups during these months and the RoyRak staff did a brilliant job of representing their communities in a positive light. We closed up operations for two weeks so that everyone could get a well earned break either at home or away.
In our area of Rong Moo we celebrated Christmas early with neighbours who enjoy an annual roast dinner as much as we do (with plenty of spicy sauce)! The kids made a gingerbread house and almost 100 cookies which they distributed locally!
With the kids off school, we drove the ten hours up to Chiang Mai to spend a week with Jon’s sister and her family. The mountains, cooler air and baby time were great therapy! A highlight was visiting a Hmong village to learn more about Bow’s culture. There was lots of Christmas fun and excitement mixed in as well!
Then we took another epic road trip in the direction of the beach where we have five nights over New Year in ‘our’ wooden beach hut with the waves crashing right up to the steps! The chance to slow down and reflect at the start of the year is appreciated by all of us.
a few worries…
We’ve been very sheltered from the primary affects of covid here in Thailand, with no locally transmitted cases for around six months. Just as we left for holiday, the first news of a local outbreak was coming in and we have watched the news each day as infections have spread to many provinces. It is likely that another lockdown may be needed and the idea of schools being closed again fills us with trepidation. The outbreak here is worse than it was back in March, perhaps because it is cool season.
The risk to the crowded slum community feels very real this time round and we would appreciate your prayers for safety for the most vulnerable. Getting RoyRak through the last year without laying off work at a time when sales were very low felt like a huge achievement that it will be hard to replicate. Please pray for peace and for wisdom in decision making.
On a personal note, family dynamics have been difficult in this season with our three children having very different needs. In brief, Elliot is a high achieving teenager prone to going off the rails without enough of the right attention (first school suspension this term), Sam is a very sensitive but competitive boy who needs a lot of physical space, and Bow’s learning needs and social needs are obviously huge! It feels like a losing battle sometimes, which a lot of our friends can probably relate to! We are just realising how much of a burden we have been carrying without the support of family close by. We’d appreciate your prayers for grace for each other and for practical ways to prioritise family relationships.
A lot of hopes…
There is a lot to look forward to in 2021! We anticipate our speaking tour in the UK going ahead this year (even if it needs to be virtual!). We plan to see family in one continent or the other!
Elliot has the school production of Aladdin to rehearse for, Sam is off on a residential with friends to learn about WW2 history and visit Hell Fire Pass, and Bow is beginning K-pop dance classes!
Jon is developing a passion for exploring care options for children in Thailand who lack adequate parenting. With orphanages full and adoption very rare, friends of ours with great experience in this field have been asked to propose new government policies on alternative care. It is exciting for Jon to be asked to advise from a medical viewpoint on implementing change that will potentially see more children in foster homes or adoptive families in the future.
We are both excited to see the apprenticeship scheme we have been planning for actually realised! Some younger people in the mix at work and the opportunity for existing staff to pass on skills and encouragement is hopefully going to regenerate vision. Please pray that we will find the right three young people to employ and that the year will bear great fruit in their lives.
It feels like 2020 has been this tremendous struggle in the darkness and all our vulnerabilities, wherever we are in the world, have become obvious. But the human spirit of togetherness, mutual care, and resilience have also shone through with such blinding clarity that we have every reason to be hopeful into 2021. We as a family are deeply grateful for your support through this last year. We hope we will be able to see some of you in person this year. And hug each other!
Finally, our end of year appeal this year was to raise funding for the continued employment of our incredible UNOH Thailand Foundation admin worker P’Noi, as well as funding special schooling for her twelve year old son Bart. You can hear their moving story in the video below: