“We are in the midst of a highly teachable moment. There’s no doubt that this period will be referred to for the rest of our lives. We have a chance to go deep… depth is being forced on us by great suffering, which as I like to say, always leads to great love.”RiChard Rohr, Center for action and contemplation
With a second wave of Covid cases in the City, air pollution reaching hazardous levels most days and seawater contaminating the water supply, staying physically healthy in our slum home has felt like a minefield in recent months! The added mental health challenges of home schooling, managing a small business under financial strain and seeing others around us suffer will be relatable for many. Fight, flight or freeze; my response under stress is definitely ‘flight’ and I would usually have a couple of escape plans already up my sleeve (some more practical than others!) The difference now is that there is nowhere worth running.
Accepting the specific risks associated with living here was very different when our options were open and home was only an expensive plane ride away. In this time of worldwide uncertainty, God has been challenging our family to make the final steps towards making Bangkok our home. Switching to buying school shoes, deodorant and teabags here was a small outward sign that something is shifting! The prolonged presence enabled by ‘staying put’ has been a surprising gift to us and to the depth of our relationships in community. Our neighbours have never had the option of taking flight when things get difficult so we enter more deeply into their experience.
In a time that could easily have been defined by homesickness and loss, God has provided exactly the right people to journey with and dream alongside. There has been a fresh burst of creativity and new life that has kept us moving forwards. Seeing the shared space outside our home bloom into a green haven under the care of a new neighbour P’Oo has been a daily picture of the hope growing in us. There is even a grape vine! He shows us the fruit of kindness, gentleness and patience as he relates with integrity to people we find hard to love. The more we read theory about Community Development, the more we find that the answers are already close to home.
It has been a hard decision not to attempt planning travel to the UK in 2021. With the issues of obtaining a visa for Bow and no longer being entitled to NHS care, it doesn’t seem wise with an underlying medical condition to think about. Plus we are not sure we could cope with the disappointment of a last minute cancellation like last year! We are optimistic that some family members will make it out to Thailand towards the end of the year. We are due a sabbatical this year which is a little ironic since we can’t travel! But a sabbatical from home will allow us to focus on some of the projects that get lost in the responsibilities of normal life.
Three years is obviously a long time not to connect face to face with friends and supporting churches in the UK. For this reason we are planning a Virtual Supporters Trip through June. We’ll be using the wonders of zoom and pre-recorded content to give you all a taste of what God is working in, through and around us! We’ll be in touch with more details soon but please let us know if you are not currently on our email list and would like to be.
In the Hood
There have been some things to celebrate such as the approval of a grant that will see our UNOH Thailand apprenticeship programme get under way. We are at the recruiting stage and are actively looking for three young women from the Khlong Toey Community who will benefit from this scheme which is all about growing aspirations. Interviews are planned for the end of March so please be praying that some great candidates come forward! The apprentices will be sponsored through completing their studies part time and will gain qualifications with us in hospitality, small business management and general life skills. We are super excited about kicking off this scheme after the Thai new year/ Easter.
There have also been some things to mourn such as the death of our close friend’s Aunty who raised her in childhood. We attended the two days funeral and helped to navigate the complex emotions surrounding this loss. We’ve also been unable to restart our kids club due to covid regulations and we are very aware that the kids in our neighbourhood are more vulnerable than ever spending long days unsupervised. Classes have been allowed to restart so long as children are in groups of less than 25. For children in Thai government schools this has meant attending on alternate days. We have heard of a few local children being taken off to ‘boarding schools’ that are really nothing more than orphanages. Our hearts break that there is not more done to support families before they reach breaking point and ask for your prayers of protection.
In January we said goodbye to Nut who has managed RoyRak since it began six years ago. She achieved so much with the business and with the people employed by the business that it is quite daunting to imagine a future without her. Most of the jewellery designs can be attributed to Nut! She never takes the easy option and wants to stretch herself beyond work in the local community. We recently waved her off to stay with friends in the UK but have high hopes for her future.
We are getting back into the swing of things with a special RoyRak campaign for International Women’s Day! Beginning the 8th March we will be sharing photos and bios of our amazing local creators to #challenge stereotypes about beauty and femininity. They have been super enthusiastic about this project and we are reminded how much awesomeness the RoyRak team has! When dealing with everyday selling stress it can be easy to lose sight of the important things but we hope lots of customers will get behind this campaign. There are also some new designs launching that use recycled vinyl beads… watch this space!
The long Christmas holidays ran straight into 5 weeks of home schooling which was not popular with any of us! Having said that, the boys managed their time brilliantly and somehow produced really creative work from their bedrooms. Bow did not approve of her new teachers and was very relieved when they returned to being just parents! Anyone who spends more than 30 minutes a week teaching our daughter number value is now automatically our hero! It was good to see where she was up to though and mark the progress. Bow’s language proficiency has recently been assessed and she has jumped ahead 2.5 years in the space of one year.
It was challenging to find ways to get out and exercise when the city was shutdown. On the rare days where the air quality was ok we drove our motorbikes to different areas to walk and explore. Jon began documenting each day in short videos and it helped us to be more present and aware. We ended up getting two folding walking pads so the kids could run off some energy between zoom classes! A new highlight of the week that has lived on past lockdown is the Friday bar hang, hear me out! The kids have to hang from a pull-up bar for as long as they can…. the number of seconds is added to their pocket money in baht! It’s been cool for us all to see how our bodies can respond to training. Elliot started at 3 seconds and is now at 30 seconds! Sam is approaching two minutes!
School went back for two weeks before an unfortunately timed half term. The thought of being back in our tiny house was not appealing so we contacted friends who work part of their time in Khao Lak on the South West Coast of Thailand (where the Tsunami hit worst). We drove 10 hours to stay with them which was totally worth it for the company and the deserted beaches! In a funny way we have begun the year more connected as a family than we have been for a long time and we are super thankful for this. We are excited to be meeting Monday evenings with a group of like-minded people to journey through Lent together.
Pray with us
- Pray for three suitable Apprentices to really benefit from the year long programme with UNOH Thailand. Pray that the programme will not be met with suspicion but will meet the need of families in Khlong Toey. Please pray for P’Pui, (second from the left in the picture above) as she mentors the young women and guides them through the syllabus. Pray that she will not be overwhelmed by responsibility and will be confident in her God-given abilities.
- Pray that the RoyRak Team will adjust to working without Nut’s strong leadership. Pray especially for Kaew, (far right in the picture above) as she takes on a role as workshop manager and implements new systems for setting and checking work. Pray that she will have courage and compassion to do this job thoroughly. Please pray also for Nut considering what direction her future may take and that in the meantime she gets some deep rest. Pray for the business, that sales will pick up enough and the team be encouraged.
- Pray for our Virtual Supporters Trip coming up, specifically that we will make meaningful connection with new and existing churches and individuals on the journey with us. Pray for our team as we work together to get a broad reach in promoting the work of UNOH Thailand Foundation and attempting to fill some of our large funding gaps.
- Pray for continued family peace and togetherness. Pray that we will not unlearn the lessons of lockdown but protect our home environment and our time-off together.