The Stranger on The Road

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight.They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

LukE 24: 30-32

No trip to London would be complete without a trip to the National Gallery. And if there is one painting that will keep me returning it is this one – Caravaggio’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ – pictured above with additional Elliot!

Last month, Having dropped two of our number at Heathrow (the moment that we had been dreading,) Elliot, Bow and I travelled on to stay with relatives in London. For a week we allowed ourselves to get lost in the crowd; we walked and walked until our feet hurt and we dropped into bed exhausted each night having seen all the sights. As intended, it was the most wonderful distraction from being apart. 

Returning depleted to our quiet house in Shrewsbury meant stopping for long enough to begin processing the twists and turns of the last few months. I know that Jon experienced the same on returning to our not-so-quiet home in Khlong Toey.

Leaving Thailand behind in July was emotionally heavy but compounded by illness that disrupted goodbyes, and by visa/passport issues that almost kept us from travelling. A lot of doubts crept in. When we eventually arrived in Shrewsbury, it was on the back of a pickup truck and events continued in this vein… there were bailiffs letters through the letterbox before we had even moved into our house. Then there was the pressure to make the most of family time while it lasted… and you can probably imagine how that went!

Only on stopping to acknowledge and name some of the disappointment and loss do I recognise the Stranger on the Road. I see him in the visa officer who marked our application ‘compassionate’, I see him in the provision of the stamp in Bow’s passport that was in our hands only hours before our flight, I see him in the teammates who blessed us to leave and the family who welcomed us in our messy state of return, I see him in new neighbours and old friendships rekindled, I see him in our London hosts whose kindness was specific and perfectly timed. The Stranger on the Road is no stranger to my experience because he has been a constant companion.

Could every road that we tread be an invitation to meet Jesus in a new guise, in a new capacity? The shocked state of recognition, so well encapsulated by Caravaggio’s painting, is not unfamiliar to me and I find myself at that table again and again. To recognise the face of Jesus is not a one time event but a regular occurrence as we walk and talk and stop to rest along the Road. It is not simply that we forget his face but that our spiritual sight is stretched to recognise him in the unexpected as well as the familiar places. May every encounter with the Stranger on the Road be as sacred as our first.

*If you have five minutes…. read this fascinating article on the subversive Christian invitation hidden in ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ painting! It is literally hidden in my photo as Elliot is blocking the most significant detail from view!

bangkok

Jon and Sam hit the ground running with their return to work and school which didn’t leave much time to recover from the usual jet-lag. Sam is absolutely loving being back with his pets and his skateboard (basically another pet!) and is taking year 8 in his stride. Jon is juggling lots of commitments as he picks up his UNOH and ACT roles but he has returned with new energy and is enjoying settling into new work patterns. 

The death of yet another relatively young neighbour has cast a shadow over the last few weeks but Jon was able to attend the funeral and join the community in grieving. Jon and Sam have also started going along to a student church that meets in a cafe near one of the big Thai universities. It’s a new environment for them but hopefully will provide mutual encouragement. The cafe has also given ongoing work to the young woman from the local community who is just completing her apprenticeship year with UNOH. Please pray for her as she transitions; she has not worked outside the community before and self-doubt is still a big hurdle.

Doing just the one school-run each morning and afternoon has been a revelation for Jon, there are so many more hours available in the day… although they have been very wet school runs with heavier than usual monsoon rains; the wettest September in 30 years and still half of the month to go! This has necessitated the purchase of full waterproof suits to stay dry on the motorbike – the usual ponchos have not been up to the job!

These rains have caused extensive flooding in Bangkok and have proved too much for some of our walls. One wall is very damp and is letting in rain where it drains off a neighbour’s roof. Other internal walls between the bedrooms have become very damp and mouldy. Our house is relatively well constructed so it is not hard to imagine the damage sustained in other Khlong Toey homes. People have been helping each other out with buckets and tarpaulins.

This was not the nicest environment to return to after spending the summer making our house in the UK comfortable with relative ease! The furniture against the downstairs wall is damaged and the damp is also attracting wildlife (three snakes at Sam’s last count! Not dangerous for humans but bad news for the cats.) Jon has had a local builder quote £1500 for cladding the external wall with corrugated metal and replacing an internal wall upstairs. We simply don’t have this money at the moment. It is a challenging time to be living by faith. If anybody would like to give specifically for this purpose, please get in touch or visit our Stewardship page.

shrewsbury

Life has been less eventful here but we are gradually making new routines and feeling healthier all round. It has felt like a relief to be near to mum and dad and enjoy some of the normal family things without the pressure of travel. Mum is tiring easily but we’ve had some good trips out in the lovely weather this summer. It is almost too easy to forget about the cancer and your prayers for continued remission are appreciated.

Elliot and Bow have settled well into their respective schools. Bow and I have a beautiful walk/scoot along the river to get to her school each day. It is a very small and caring school with lots of nationalities represented. We were amazed that a teacher for the deaf was there to meet Bow on her first day and will come twice a week to check her hearing aids and ensure that the school is meeting her needs. It feels amazing to have someone else pushing for the things we care about.

We have been less fortunate with NHS referrals and Bow is currently not able to see a paediatrician until Feb 2023. The prospect of Bow’s first winter without her being known to a specialist genetics team is absurd. It is hard knowing that it may take an emergency hospital admission to get the ball rolling… I guess we know that she will always be able to access good emergency care. Bow turned 10 in August and has adjusted to the new lifestyle remarkably well. It seems to be just me pining for Thailand!

Elliot has to be up very early to cycle across town and catch a bus to his school. He has made friends quickly and thrown himself into all the extra-curricular stuff which means the house is very quiet! Elliot’s summer job was removing the varnish from a hardwood table and chairs that we picked up for twenty quid! We have since paid more than that in paint stripper, sanding pads and oil… not to mention wages! He did a brilliant job and we now have a lovely set of garden furniture ready for next summer!

I am working from home to support RoyRak as best I can. This week I have been setting up sales with some of our partnerships in Bangkok and creating a production plan with manager Pui. I love that technology means I can stay involved day to day! There is also work trickling my way from UNOH International and it looks like I’ll be helping to revamp the website and helping to deliver some of the two year formation course for new workers. I’m finding this to be a great opportunity for me to revisit some of the study from my own formation time and be reminded of core missional values – why we do what we do – why it’s worth having the family live apart this year!

pray with us

  • We need to travel to Thailand sooner than expected to renew our year-long volunteer Visa. Since we all follow on Jon’s visa we are all required to attend the appointment. This visa is increasingly difficult to get so we ask for your prayers that our work is recognised and it is granted willingly. We hope to apply for permanent residency in a few years so the consecutive visas are very important. UNOH will cover the costs of flights at the end of October and we can’t wait to be reunited!
  • Jon is finding that major changes in the government Department for Youth and Children are destabilising the work of the pilot project he is committed to with ACT – it feels a lot like politics getting in the way of working for positive change that actually benefits children. He has another visit to participating orphanages in Khon Kaen on the horizon so the work continues. Please pray for effective teamwork, unity and a long term view for all those involved across different levels. Pray that God’s Kingdom come, his will be done in reforming the care system in Thailand.
  • Your prayers are appreciated for financial provision! We are still living on support as Urban Missionaries under the organisation Urban Neighbours of Hope. Jon continues to work on the ground in Khlong Toey slum community and Elise temporarily takes a background role working remotely. Our financial support is dropping off and we understand that the cost of living crisis in the UK is a significant factor. However, If anybody is weighing up whether to continue (or indeed to begin) supporting our family financially, we would love the opportunity to talk with you in more detail about our work. What we can share in this blog is increasingly limited as we try to protect the autonomy of those we serve and respect the strict terms of our visa. We are always delighted to explain more in person.
  • Some of our closest friendships in Thailand are family friendships and it is not the same when some of us are missing. Please pray that we can find ways to stay connected from a distance and pray for kids and teens (ours and theirs!) going through big transitions.

Thanks for keeping up with our news and please be in touch, we love hearing from you and hopefully seeing many of you in the coming year!

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