The outsider

“But what if our doubts are actually like medicine, like nourishment, and we need them, and so does our world?” 

brian mclaren, faith after doubt

I headed back to Thailand with some trepidation and doubt – after being away eight months, (save our one week visa run,) would my language be sufficient, would I be able to pick up relationships where I left off? Would two months be long enough to get stuck in and did I really have anything meaningful to offer? Would I cope with the rats?!

More than this, I had found myself floundering in the UK, unsure of my fit after a long absence. If the same was going to be true in Thailand then that would make me a double outsider and I wasn’t sure I was up to it!

My fears were mostly unfounded. I remembered all the things that I love about our slum home and, after the initial shock, have slept better with the 24 hour noise of chickens, motorbikes and construction than I do in the silence of my street in Shrewsbury! I can definitely appreciate both worlds!

I’ve noticed more than ever the economy of kindness that makes life work here – I share our water supply with my neighbour and she keeps our plants watered – our dog does not need feeding because she has the run of all the nearby houses in return for night-time guard duty! Plates and cutlery are in constant circulation.

At the same time, I am more acutely aware of the injustice around me. Leaving and returning has sharpened that focus. I see that kids in our community are set up to fail, that the cycle of borrowing and debt keeps people in their place, that local resources are not tapped into, that religion often equates to fear, that much of the ‘help’ from outside is serving the giver more than the recipient.

For those born and bred in Khlong Toey this is just the way things are. For an outsider this insight is the key to imagining and enacting a different way together.

Recently our UNOH Thailand Foundation was inspected by ten rather intimidating district officials. We were given an hour’s notice and then grilled in great depth about our involvement in the local community. We are accustomed to being misunderstood but this group listened to the testimonies of our Thai staff and were clearly moved. They inspect five Foundations a day but saw something different in our model of being responsive neighbours, not imposing charity but slowly catalysing change.

Uncomfortable as it is, I am becoming convinced that much of what we have to offer is in our role as outsiders. This is a hard realisation because the experience of being an insider is definitely preferable! But it is helpful to validate the different perspective gained by not fully belonging, by being on the edge – the outside of the inside. We are well positioned to ask the difficult questions of ourselves, of others and of our faith.

So as I head back to the UK this week (with the prospect of our family being there together for a full year from July,) I take with me the intention to be an effective outsider! Just because an arrangement is temporary it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have work for us in our families, our neighbourhood and our church communities. Feelings of displacement should turn my heart in one direction alone…

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

St augustine, confessions

Pray with us

  • The end is in sight! We’ll be having two weeks together in Shrewsbury over Easter and then it’s the last term of being apart. Jon, Sam and the cats will relocate to the UK at the end of July. Please pray for Jon in particular as he has a lot of work to fit in for his UNOH leadership and Alternative Care Thailand roles. He has (like me) struggled to engage as fully as he had hoped from the UK (though he is attending a board meeting via Zoom at 3.30am tomorrow!) Please pray for us as our year of Sabbatical, Study and Support-raising takes shape. We are investigating lots of options in the hope that it will be really fruitful for our future work in Thailand.

  • Please pray particularly for Sam who will be applying for a school place and is nervous. He has never studied in the UK school system as we moved to Thailand in the year that he started school. Pray that a space becomes available in our local Secondary school and that God’s hand will be on the class placement, friendships etc.

  • Bow has been assessed for an Education Health and Care Plan and it has been granted! This will mean that much more support is available to her at school for her final year of Primary. The school are being fantastic in working together to identify the areas she is lacking. They also think she is brilliant and pull out all the stops! We are quite overwhelmed by the services available to Bow in the UK. She popped into audiology last week to have her ears cleaned and came out with a brand new hearing aid! Having said that we are struggling to find a pharmacy that will reliably supply her medications and managing the appointment load is currently a part-time job for one of us. Praise God that she is getting the attention needed.

  • Our UNOH teammates Derek and Camille and their family have just relocated because their slum community was evicted. It has been an important part of their journey to stay with their neighbours until the day the bulldozers came. Please pray for them as they mourn the loss of people and place and as they make new connections in a new community.

  • My mum continues to heal beyond medical expectation from her cancer. A few days ago marked two years since she was first rushed into hospital. A lot has changed since then! We are thankful that the symptoms from her treatment are manageable (not to minimise them) and that she is regaining strength gradually. Please pray for ongoing healing and for fullness of life.

  • Please pray for our RoyRak colleagues and the admin staff at the Foundation. Their workload is full and they represent the UNOH values faithfully even when we are away. Pray that they will grow in confidence and self-worth and that this will have a knock-on effect in their families and neighbourhoods.

  • Pray for our young friend Pin who will be coming to stay in the UK with me for seven weeks during May and June. Pray that it will be a space for her to grow and learn and rest. Please pray especially that her air travel will be smooth since she is nervous about this.

  • Finally, please pray for peace over the uncertainty about future arrangements. Visas, health, school, accommodation, funding, how we best express out vocation… all feel a little up in the air right now. We find that our precious family time can get swallowed up in talking about the big stuff. Pray that we can trust this to God and to the process of the next year, knowing that a good way will become clear. Pray that we can enjoy each other and have some fun over Easter!

Thanks for reading this friends and wishing you all a Happy Easter!


Elise, Jon, Elliot, Sam and Bow xxxxx

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