They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.Isaiah 65:21-22
Here at UNOH Thailand we have started a long journey through Matthew’s gospel in our common devotional times. (This is testing out a series for a new UNOH book coming out next year.. more on that another time!)
From the outset it is clear that the Exile frames the mindset of Matthew’s original readers. The genealogy contours the peaks and troughs of Jewish history and the arrival of Jesus comes with the question being asked: “are we still in Exile?”
Matthew’s readers were very likely in Antioch, economic refugees after being dispossessed of their land, or having fled the horrors of the Jewish War of 66-70AD. They were re-living the experience of being a displaced people, living in a land not their own. But even while living in their own land the experience had been one of continued Exile, a succession of foreign powers subjugating and oppressing the people. Had there really been a return from Exile? Even the original re-settlers, on return to Jerusalem, could say:
Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they have power also over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.”Nehemiah 9: 36-37
As our little group considered these texts we drew immediate parallels with the situation facing our teammates Derek and Camille Porter. The Porters live just over the river in a small slum community called Pae Jiab. They have made a home there, had 2 beautiful children there, built friendships with neighbours there, and intentionally lived as good neighbours to build hope as a community. A few weeks ago the community heard the final news that the land has been sold from under them and they have a formal eviction date in March 2023.
Where there had been rumour and worry, there was now a certain future eviction and they are powerless to do anything about it. The ‘rich yield’ of the community life on that land ‘goes to the kings’ who will build something fancy for much financial profit. They are in ‘great distress’. Derek and Camille stand with them in the great distress, experiencing it in their own home and family, and feeling deeply for those with less resources to start all over again.
As we considered the parallel, and as we looked from the viewpoint of our neighbours who often carry the weight of insecure land rights, we began to see this state of Exile as something that so many people around the world are facing. Most of the world works and builds and plants and harvests to sustain those at the very top; resources and energies spent for the gain of someone else. The interest on the mortgage goes to be paid as interest to those with healthy bank balances. The rent received allows the landlord to buy yet another house. The education costs meaning that only the wealthy can ensure that their own children are educated for the top jobs. These systems keep the poor poor and the rich, rich.
So what hope, then, comes with the arrival of Jesus, Immanuel, God with us? It is more than the individual hope of sins forgiven, it is the hope of return from Exile; that things will be put right. That there will be a way to live as a loving community in this world, free from oppression, fair distribution, always enough.
In the minds of the Jewish people awaiting the Christ, in the minds of Matthew’s readers oppressed in Antioch, in the minds of Derek and Camille and their neighbours – the hope of the arrival of the Christ is a hope that God is finally going to put everything right. Clearly that has not yet happened fully but, as Isaiah assures us, it is coming.
Considering exile, we will cling to hope.
celebrating growth in UNOH
Our first apprentice in our 1 year Apprenticeship Scheme for local youngsters has completed the programme so we threw a Graduation party! Onanong has learned the planning, accounting, marketing and managing that goes into running a small business, improved her English language proficiency dramatically, learned barista skills and, her personal passion, become a star baker. When she makes and markets a new brownie recipe they ..um.. sell like hot cakes!
Her internship at a local coffee shop has led to an offer of full-time employment and we are delighted for her! From a very difficult background, she has grown as a person through the year and we all feel very proud of her.
alternative care thailand
This end of the year is busy with reporting on projects and planning for how to go forward. The Steering Committee have just met and there is fresh progress. In particular, Jon has joined a Reference Group for a piece of research recording the experiences of Care-Leavers – adults who grew up in institutional care, and Elise has an opportunity to partner with the government Child Adoption Centre to create a high quality web resource for Thai and foreign families interested in adoption. This resource needs to be complete before a national media campaign for Thais adopting Thais next year.
The annual eye tests are done, new glasses purchased, and Christmas stock is being produced at a good rate! We have launched a series of new colours in some of our popular designs that are now available to purchase at Royrak.org. Our new video telling some of the the vision and story behind the project is ready to share this week, marking the culmination of lots of hard work!
Please keep the RoyRak team in your prayers as they head into the busy holiday season with lots of sales to attend. It is always hard to predict the demand and get stock levels right so the pressure increases at this time of year.
Thanks to a few very generous gifts, we have been able to begin the repairs needed on our house. With heavy rains continuing we are so thankful that the house now stands a better chance of staying dry! The photo on the left shows the dividing wall between Sam’s and Bow’s rooms in the process of being replaced. The photo on the right is before… with added Stranger Things themed artwork by Sam!
It is humbling to realise that we are some of the few people in the neighbourhood who can call on others for help with funding home repairs. It will always be makeshift in nature as these structures are just not built to last against the elements. We have been able to pass on the blessing by helping others to patch up holes but we’d love to have a fund to assist neighbours more significantly in times of flood or fire.
Elise, Elliot and Bow are enjoying Autumn with fresh eyes and taking every opportunity to be outdoors while there is still sunshine! Bow has taken a lot of pleasure in collecting conkers and Elliot has taken on the job of re-seeding the lawn. Elise can’t believe how thoroughly she has de-climatised to the cold and is teased mercilessly by her children!
We are delighted that Bow has got a paediatrics appointment at our local hospital – from there it will be a further referral to the genetics team at Birmingham. It’s good to have the ball rolling!
There hasn’t been much opportunity to feel lonely, especially with family around the corner. The kids have settled into new friendship groups and Elise is finding new neighbours that she connects with. It’s never easy returning somewhere when life has continued in our absence but there is plenty of time for listening and catching up.
We travel to Thailand to renew our visas in half term. The time has flown by, though we don’t suppose this will be the case every time as the newness wears off. It will be good to be together as a family. This leaves our Shrewsbury home empty for two weeks. If anybody is looking for a half term bolt hole we’d be delighted to lend it! We are just 15 minutes walk into town and the house is not yet too cluttered – I can’t promise the same by the time we next travel!
Please pray that the time we are together in Thailand will be refreshing and unpressured, that we will enjoy the time for what it is and not be anxious about travel. Please continue to pray that the yearlong volunteer visa will be granted without encountering problems in the process. Thai bureaucracy is a minefield and we have to tread carefully. There are quite a lot of work demands on the second half of our time that we pray will be lifegiving and productive. Please pray for God’s hand over all the relationships that we return to, acknowledging that dynamics have changed. Please pray that travel will not be unsettling for the kids adapting to their routines.