September 2018

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He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away

Revelation 21:4

This aerial photo shows the Khlong Toey area almost fifty years ago. The road layout and many of the big buildings are the same but everything else has changed. On first glance I was struck by the large areas of water which are now flats and warehouses with a huge express-way crossing overhead. I thought that it looked less densely populated back then but, comparing it to today’s google maps, I saw that there are now far fewer pockets of slum housing despite the slum population rising. It is only from this perspective that I see quite how ‘squeezed in’ the lives of our neighbours are.

From the ground looking up, nothing feels insignificant. Lying awake at 4am listening to an argument that I don’t understand, I realise that tears are a language we share. This month I’ve sat more often than usual with a friend who drifts in and out of our lives periodically. Her boyfriend recently died next to her in bed and she both misses him terribly and is terrified of his ghost. This is the same man who hospitalized her with a stab wound a few months back. Her tears are raw and desperate and confused. She has ‘tried praying’ but it still hurts.

More eloquent still are the tears of two girls that we are teaching to swim. They don’t want to cry and the older one covers her face with her long hair as we sit on the floor of the red truck that takes us to the pool. The younger one can’t cover her face as her hair has been cut off to treat a nit problem.  They were hit this morning and called all kinds of names that nobody should hear from their mum. Their mum is probably crying now in the mess of their home. These kids are hardier than me; within 30 minutes they are running around with wild abandon and they will not let tears define them.

The pace of change is faster than usual here as the physical environment is constantly shifting and changing. We moved here exactly four years ago this week and have seen so much change in our surroundings and in ourselves. I notice how older neighbours are sentimental about old structures and landmarks within the slum that have survived floods and fires. It seems like they hang on to signs that their existence is not disposable. One neighbour can remember when her current house was surrounded by trees and swampland on all sides! There is definately identity found in having grown up here and reminiscing over the times when fish lived in the water and it was clean enough to swim.

It must be disorientating to have experienced so much change and to feel at the mercy of development on all sides. The forces at work to keep the poor downtrodden here are significant. When a whole house can disappear into the swamp within a year and a community be wiped out by bulldozers in just days, its easy to feel that tears go unnoticed. The bible gives us a different aerial view that is crucial to staying afloat in the here and now. This ‘old order of things’ is not ok and it is not how things will always be. God knows the pain intimately and is bringing about a good future where nobody is ‘squeezed in’ and there is no crying in the night.

 

The Neighbourhood

It was great to get back to kid’s club after the long school break and to re-connect with our fabulous group! There are some very sad family situations faced by these kids and the short time we get with them outside the slum is precious. We have an exciting term ahead! Please be praying for these kids.

We currently need wisdom to know how to support neighbours who are in debt to local lenders and face threats of violence. In several cases we have given interest free loans to tide people over and the relationships have become complicated when they don’t pay it back. There are no easy answers and sometimes all the best principles in the world aren’t enough! We want to respond with love and generosity but are more aware than ever that money complicates relationships. Please pray that we will use money wisely and understand the cultural implications in each case.

 

Family

Elliot and Sam are rocking their new caps and generally being too cool for school! Having said that, school is going well and they both have ‘food’ projects on the go which involve researching, sourcing and cooking recipes from their chosen countries. We are thankful for creative teaching that captures their imaginations! Elliot is making a speech to apply for head boy this week and taking it quite seriously. Pray that his heart will cope with either outcome! Sam is really coming into his own at school and is part of ‘eco-club’ where they are using the rubbish disposal problem in his community as a case study.

RoyRak

RoyRak had the amazing privilege last weekend of a trip to stay at the eco-hotel run by the charity that my sister-in -law works with in Northern Thailand. It was a world away from Bangkok and a real adventure to be staying in the jungle with elephants for neighbours! We did bamboo rafting, visited a waterfall with a hidden cave and washed elephants in the river. Our stay was beautifully hosted by the Karen staff in the training project.

At times the group were very much out of their comfort zone and struggled to try new things. The camp was really significant for taking us into a liminal space where we could find new perspective and understand each other better. I was struck afresh by the huge contrast between rural and urban poverty.

For Prayer

  • Thank God for a social worker who really cares and is working hard on our behalf! We are encouraged that she has received permission to take both our case and the child’s case to the same meeting (this cuts out one step). Our case is ready to go but there are delays with preparing the child’s case that are mostly due to inefficiencies in the system. Please continue to pray for progress and for favour with officials.
  • Pray for the RoyRak team as we enter a busy season of sales and events. Pray that in all the selling and talking with customers, God’s heart for the people and place of Khlong Toey will shine through.
  • Pray for the individuals that I wrote about in the reflection above; that when they call out through their tears they will be met by Love. Pray for the two children living in this less than ideal circumstance. Pray for the protection and affirmation that they need to come to them in physical and supernatural ways.

 

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August 2018 Update

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You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

– Thomas Merton

Leaving our community for any extended period is unsettling as established rhythms are interrupted and relationships paused. Knowing that we would be away for the best part of two months we wanted to do something to celebrate our house move (albeit two doors away!) and communicate that we are invested in the future of this little corner of Klong Toey!

When Buddhist families move to a new home it is common to have a house-blessing ceremony and we’ve taken part in enough of these to know that the main components are praying and food; two of the best things in life! So we followed this model but invited a Thai pastor to lead it. Since many of our neighbours fear ghosts and spirits, we prayed for Jesus to demonstrate his authority and to make our home a place of welcome for all. We sang together in Thai ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never changes’ and more people were drawn to the singing.

More significant than the words spoken was the underlying sense of hope and togetherness as people from all layers of our divided community gathered in the lanes around our house. A respected elderly teacher sat alongside a young mother who lives a chaotic drug-addicted life trying to make ends meet. Upright Catholic neighbours tolerated the presence of local mafia and rubbish-collectors who arrived just in time for the food! Then there were friends and work colleagues who came from different communities to help cater and to give their support.

In four years of learning incarnational ministry here, I think this day was one of the clearest realisations of our vision for community! Much of the time, believing in a better future requires a lot of faith, a long-term perspective and the capacity to hold difficult tensions. As we consider ways of loving and serving this community our heart is to see the most vulnerable and oppressed members of our community provided for and included and this hope is still a long way off. This day was a wonderful glimpse of what God is building here. He is risen and he is at work!

 

UK Trip

 

Our five weeks in the UK was both exhausting and hugely encouraging. We loved re-connecting with friends and supporters all around the country and meeting new people along the way! We had great opportunities to share stories of hope as well as some of our struggles on the theme of recognising the image of God in others. The way that we saw churches engaging with issues of poverty in a local context gave us fresh vision and reminded us that we are not alone! Thankyou to everyone who hosted us, listened and encouraged us.

Having our Thai friends Nut and Oui with us representing RoyRak brought a richness to the trip as two areas of our lives overlapped for a while! It was worth them coming just to share new experiences together but we were super proud of the way they stepped up and represented their communities. They spoke passionately about their experiences and their dreams. Most importantly their posh English accents are now truly perfected!

We made a good start at reaching our fundraising target for the next year with nine new regular givers coming on board and some extremely generous one-off gifts. Thankyou friends! We are still praying for a further 900 pounds a month to cover prospective costs for ministry and adoption; a slightly daunting figure. If you would like to hear more about these needs or feel able to join our support team, please contact us directly at jonandelise@icloud.com or follow this link to our giving page.

 

Back Home

 

We were welcomed back to the community with side-hugs from the ‘gatekeeper’ which, hilariously, feels like a milestone! There are new babies and new puppies and even our plants are still alive! Kids club starts back on Saturday and the excitement is real!

One long term dream became reality this week as we saw our hard-working neighbour Jee begin her small business selling food from her house. We have worked closely with Jee to consider options to supplement her income and make life more manageable. She was able to access a start-up grant from one of our projects and receive support in budgeting and making a business plan. Her food is delicious and there is not much competition in the direct area so we are hopeful it will be a success. It’s encouraging to see this becoming a gathering place, even though it means the noise levels outside our house have rocketed!

Jon continues to focus on relational ministry with individuals in our community. He is easily approachable and loves sitting and hearing people’s stories. That is probably why his Thai is better than mine! We wrestle daily with the tension between generosity in the moment and empowering people to make long term changes. We have identified that we need to improve our knowledge of the resources that exist locally so that we have more creative options for helping. But listening will always remain our starting point.

Family

 

 

In the past week Elliot and Sam have settled happily into year 6 and year 4 respectively. They never fail to impress us with their courage and adaptability as they rise to new challenges! It was a joy to see them bond with their two tiny cousins while we were in the UK. They also loved making the most of safe outdoor space to explore and run off energy. Now they are back to 5am school swim training twice a week to keep healthy! The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Harry Potter studios on our final day; a reward for joining in more church services than they would have chosen!

The slow process of adopting Bow came to a bit of a halt while we were in the UK as a police check went missing in the post and there were delays with social workers collating her case in Chiang Mai. The ball is rolling again now and our case will be taken to the first of two board meetings at the end of this month. We all long for this approval stage to go quickly but we are very aware that it could drag on indefinitely and it may take numerous miracles along the way. We bought some little girl clothes in the UK and Sammy finds any excuse to go into Bow’s room and look at them – he even offered to dust the other day! Please see below for ways to pray.

RoyRak

 

Taking the project leaders to the UK was slightly risky but an opportunity to see how the other women in the RoyRak team would cope. They could easily have shifted gears and taken it easy while we were away! However, we were extremely proud that they not only completed all the work we had set but also surprised us by designing our range of 2018 Christmas decorations completely independently! This is huge and shows great progress in confidence and responsibility, something we only dreamed of a year ago.

Next month we have a weekend camp planned for our team. We are strengthening a partnership with a project in the north of Thailand called Daughters Rising which works with women from ethnic minorities to empower those most at risk to end trafficking. They have invited us to stay at their eco-lodge, a training initiative in the jungle outside of Chiang Mai. We are super excited, both for the opportunity to give our team some rest and also to see what this partnership could lead to!

We are preparing for Christmas sales already and would love to hear from anyone who could host a sale between now and December, either in Thailand or overseas. You can also support us by purchasing via our website royrak.org and encouraging your friends to do the same. Until the end of October you can use the code ONLINE20 to receive a 20% discount!

For Prayer

 

There are lots of things you can join us in praying for this month, we’ve been saving it up! Your prayers make a huge difference!

  • Please pray for strong and consistent friendships for Elliot and Sam this school year as well as opportunities for them to grow in love and care for others. Pray for confidence and release from anxiety as they settle into the school year.Â
  • Our 17 year old babysitter is pregnant and has dropped out of both study and work. Pray for God’s hand over her future and for her to experience his love aside from the disapproval of family.
  • The local builder who led the work on our house has had a heart attack at a young age and has just had surgery. Pray for him as he rests and recovers and for Jon as he tries to support him as a friend.
  • Pray for UNOH International as we are scattered across different locations and yet commit to the same things. We gathered for meetings in July which were full of hope for new growth. Please pray that we will keep up momentum in moving forwards and that the Spirit will lead us in unity.
  • Pray for our local team, many of whom have big decisions looming. Pray for peace and for ways forward that honour each person.
  • Please pray for good and open communication with our office and project staff as we look at ways to improve and simplify the systems in our UNOH Thailand Foundation. Pray for clear thinking and and an openness to change.
  • Please pray that the board considering our application to be an adoptive family will decide in our favour. Pray for clarity and understanding for them on the specific issues of our finances and our vocation. Pray that our social worker will present our case well.
  • Pray that social workers in Chiang Mai will work quickly and effectively to collate the information for Bow’s file. Please pray for individuals within the system to show real concern for Bow and her needs and be willing to go above requirements to do what is best for her.
  • Pray that we will use the waiting time well to prepare our hearts and our home for receiving Bow. That we will be well informed about the issues we are likely to face and receive answers to prayer about schooling at the appropriate time. Also pray that we will be able to live in the present and see what God has for us now without rushing ahead!
  • Pray for Bow and her current carers. We are so thankful that she is safe and loved. Please pray for her continued good health, healing of past trauma and for breakthroughs with her speech and hearing.
  • One of our RoyRak staff gave birth almost four months ago to a beautiful baby girl. She has come to the end of her paid maternity leave (we encourage new mums to bring their babies into the workshop with them) but she has disappeared and not been in contact with any of the team. We are afraid that she may be running from violence relating to an unpaid debt. Please pray for protection for her and her two daughters.
  • Pray that churches and individuals we connected with in the UK will consider partnering with us and that we will be able to trust our budget shortfall to God.

 

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May News

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The view from one of our windows reminds us why we are here

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

 — Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader

We arrived at the Government Adoption Training feeling flat and disillusioned. In the month that had just passed we had rushed from thing to thing succumbing to pressure from all directions and barely giving a thought to this process of Adoption progressing noiselessly in the background. Our hearts were full of other worries about money, about capacity, about the future, and this was just one more hoop to jump through; two nine hour days of compulsorary lectures!

Yet God used these days to re-open our eyes to his bigger picture! As we met thirty other couples and individuals all waiting to adopt children we laughed and cried together and allowed ourselves to dream. There will always be more pressing needs in front of us and, in our setting, we could choose to be crushed each day by the weight of expectations – but for now our job is to make space for new life. 

In the almost four years we have lived here, Thailand, and more specifically the slum community, has both given us life and thoroughly drained us of life! We periodically lose sight of why we are here. Our guilt-driven desire to feel worthy often leads to frenzied action rather than reflecting on the Spirit’s leading. I believe the title ‘World’s Worst Missionary’ has already been taken (search blog by the same title for a great read!), but otherwise this would be a good description of how I feel at the moment!

As we are stirred to re-visit some of our passions, the things that bring us alive and which once drove us to a slum far from home, we are realising that God never lost sight of these things. In asking us to make space for a child with very specific needs, he is re-focusing us on family and asking us to get creative. What a gift! Incarnational relocation and mission is a prophetic act and stunningly simple at its core; for all our rushing around being helpful, we may be neglecting the foundations of our witness here.

We want to take the opportunity to thank all of you who journey with us as supporters for your genuine care for our family. We have felt ‘held’ through ongoing personal transformation and the need to rush ahead and have something amazing to show has been mostly internal! Your encouragements have often come at critical times and we are always inspired to hear how God’s kingdom is coming in your own settings and vocations. We feel privileged to have supporters who always encourage us to be ‘us’!

In the Hood

We finally moved house! In fact we moved a few days early to escape a night-time rat attack! We can’t explain quite how much of a relief it is to have a bit more living space and above all to have an indoor kitchen area! Cooking will be a novelty, at least for a while! It turns out that moving next-door is not a totally foolproof escape from rats and, being two storey, the house sways precariously every time a truck goes past, but these pale into significance when I get to say to a grumpy son ‘go to your room!’

Moving house meant a trail of little helpers and for a few days we set up ‘lego club’ on the doorstep as a distraction! Back to school has been a bit ad-hoc for some of the younger kids in the neighbourhood but we’ve tried hard to encourage them to stick with it. We are constantly frustrated with the social pressure to send children to school with ‘snack money’; even when school fees and lunches are paid, parents will keep children home because they don’t have money for snacks. Too sad.

Last weekend we enjoyed taking local kids to swim and play games at Elliot and Sam’s school and the weekend before we went on a road trip to the beach with our next-door neighbours. Getting out of the crowded home environment benefits all of us and always moves us forward in relationships. We did a house-blessing with team mates before moving in but will do a proper ceremony with neighbours later this month. There is much fear of spirits, especially when a building has a turbulent past like this one. We hope that people will really engage with our prayers for this home and this community.

RoyRak

33744661_1927590593931363_857593948401565696_nIf you haven’t already checked out our new designs on royrak.net then please take time to have a look. I know that lots of you will be waiting to make purchases when we visit the UK this summer but we’d love to see more orders coming in from overseas! We truly believe that these are great products making a big difference to our awesome staff. Here’s some of our team (left) giving a bracelet making workshop for customers in Bkk.

Family Life

Elliot and Sam are shooting up and generally doing great! Even positive change can be stressful so they’ve needed a lot of attention during this period of moving house, but we’re glad they still feel able to talk about how they are feeling. Sam is studying Egyptians and this is basically his frame of reference for everything in life! He has a theory he shares widely about how the Pharaoh of Moses’ era was probably Father to TutanKhamun. Elliot has taken big-brother pleasure in disproving this! However they did work well together on a Science project titled ‘Why do Bangkok streets flood?’  that they presented at the school science fair.

Jon took part in his first Spartan race and seems totally hooked on the whole muddy experience. He got a great time especially considering the midday heat! We all enjoy time with our Poppy dog who has just adopted a neighbourhood pup and is taking motherhood very seriously!

We are looking forward to catching up with UK family and friends during July and August and also showing our friends Nut and Oui the places that we love! There is some pressure to raise funds as we currently operate at a significant shortfall so we worry that this may be a shadow over the trip. Please visit the ‘Partner with us’ page on this blog to find out more. We will be at Shrewsbury Baptist Church Central on the evening of Tues 24th July for our main supporters event that everyone is welcome to attend! We’ll be in lots of other places too so do contact us if you would like to meet up!

Join us in Prayer

  • One of the RoyRak staff, Jiw, is scheduled for a caesarean birth of her second child this week. Please pray that she will receive good hospital care and the baby will get a good start in life. Pray that RoyRak will have the resources to be able to support the women in their personal lives.
  • Pray for our house-blessing on the 23rd June, that people will come and that Jesus will be glorified. Pray for our friend Pastor ‘Life’ as he leads the ceremony drawing on both Christian and Thai traditions.
  • Pray for our teammates Camille and Derek as they prepare to get married in less than a month. Planning a wedding overseas and away from family is no easy task and they are doing a great job. Pray for good health in the run-up and a wonderful celebration on 1st July.
  • Please pray for us as we have a home inspection from our social worker in the next few weeks. She will also interview Elliot and Sam. Please pray that she will see our home and community in a positive light. You could also pray that our Thai police checks will not be delayed so that the first stage of the process can go to the Adoption board in July.
  • We will be hosting UNOH workers from Australia and New Zealand for meetings at the start of July. Please pray for a time of filling and refreshment as well as receiving clear vision and boldness in decision making.
  • Pray for our family as we try to prepare for 5 weeks speaking trip in the UK, that we will prepare everything we can to help the trip go well whilst also trusting it to God. The trip provokes a lot of anxiety for this family of introverts but we know from experience that it will be worth it!

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April Update!

 

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The best encounters with neighbours are often incidental. We park our motorbikes away from our house and pass the same people each day as we come and go. This short walk in and out of our neighbourhood is a small time-commitment but we value it highly and try (most days!) to give it the energy it deserves.

Most people are welcoming and we exchange greetings or stop to chat. But sometimes there are people that we don’t want to bump into. At the entrance to our lane-way a young woman paces agitatedly, high on drugs. Her eyes glaze over into a scowl when she sees us coming and she either ignores us or becomes aggressive. She once followed us home yelling because the boys wouldn’t give her a hug. Since then she has snarled and spat after me on several occasions and I had begun to avoid her, driven by fear.

One evening when I left the neighbourhood I could hear her sobbing and she was still sobbing when I got back. I walked on with a heavy heart but in that moment God showed me something of His heart for her. I felt hopeful that God was going to bring our paths together in some way. A few days later I saw that she was sat in the usual place but reading a book. I was so surprised that I stopped to ask what she was reading… and she answered me clearly in English! There was clearly more to this woman than I had paid attention to!

The first time we talked she was cautious but over months she has begun to open up about her life; the stray puppies she is caring for, the children relinquished to live with different relatives, her fear that drugs have badly damaged her brain, her experience of being a sex-worker and how it has coloured her opinion of Westerners, her love of reading and interest in world religions.

If I live here and claim to be a compassionate neighbour, yet my sight failed me so drastically for so long, how must others view my neighbours? Who else am I still not really ‘seeing’. It takes time and real intention to look past the drugs or the fixed scowl and search out the image of God in each person. I’m reminded that we ‘walk by faith and not by sight’ (2 Cor 5:7), trusting that there is a Kingdom narrative beyond the visible reality that tries to take all our attention. May we long to see as God sees!

In the Neighbourhood

Thai schools have been closed for what feels like months through the steamy hot season! The kids in our neighbourhood have been so desperate to go swimming and were counting down the days until last Saturday when we could take them. We woke to a dramatic grey sky and while we were in the open-backed truck the downpour began! We were not allowed in the pool but played in the rain instead, getting soaked to the skin and enjoying the forgotten feeling of being cool!

The rain has barely let up all week which is very unseasonal. It has been a great relief to have some cooler air as we paint and fit out our new house with the help of Jon’s parents who have been working tirelessly! We are so excited to see this long-awaited home coming together and be able to envision family life being a bit less chaotic! We hope to move in by the end of May and to have a house blessing that we can invite our community to join in.

Jon attended a community meeting this week regarding the Port Authority plans to reclaim the land on which Khlong Toey slum communities are built. The efforts have stepped up in intensity over the last year and it is thought that we could be evicted in as little as five years. For people who have lived here all their lives and don’t often go outside the area this is hugely unsettling. The plan is that all registered home-owning families will get re-housed in high rises… but many families here are renting or living in informal dwellings. It is as though they don’t even exist.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out and what our role might be in navigating this daunting prospect. We are learning that the life we’ve signed up to is very turbulent and prone to changes of plan!

Family

Songkran, the Thai New Year, is celebrated in April with water throwing and a mass exodus to the beach! We drove 11 hours South to stay with friends whose community development charity has a base in Khao Lak (the area most affected by the 2004 Tsunami), as well as Bangkok. We were just 5 minutes from an amazing stretch of beach with great waves and incredible sunsets! These friends are currently fostering four Pakistani refugee children whose parents are held in the immigration detention centre. All the kids had fun exploring the beach together and it was an honour to hear parts of their story in such a special setting.

The adoption process keeps us guessing a lot of the time but we have encountered God’s grace at every stage. Our Thai social worker is very professional and questions us to the point where we are not sure if she approves of us… but we just found out that she is a Christian and totally ‘gets’ our unconventional situation and why we are willing to fight for this particular child! We have two days of compulsory government training on adoption at the end of this month closely followed by a home inspection, gulp! Please keep praying into this process with us. Waiting is hard!

 

RoyRak

Today these hardworking women are enjoying a well-earned break for International Workers Day. The work they do is intricate and repetitive, it requires a ton of concentration and commitment for which I deeply respect them. A few weeks back we gave a presentation to parents at an International school and then led a bracelet making workshop. It was a joy to see the RoyRak staff demonstrating their skills to awed customers!

Finances are currently a headache but we are counting on making good sales in the UK and from launching a new range online this month, watch this space, or even better watch royrak.org! Our UK itinerary is filling up but if you live in or near Shrewsbury and would be willing to host a jewellery sale in your home or workplace we still have some time availability!

For Prayer

  • Please pray that the final stages of house renovating will go well. Pray that the move itself, which is bound to attract loads of attention, will honour God even though we will find it difficult. Pray that the house blessing and party that we are intending will be a great opportunity for our neighbours to hear about Jesus and the life that he brings within the structure of their own culture (house blessings are very important)..
  • Pray for Sammy as he celebrates his 8th Birthday next week that he will continue to thrive here and have good health. Pray that his wonderfully simple faith will grow deep roots.
  • Pray for Elliot who, at 10, is so mature and yet so fragile. Pray that his inquiring nature and need for deep connection will be satisfied in fullness by God.
  • Please pray for the adoption process to be progressing in the background and not be slowed unnecessarily by paperwork or miscommunication. Pray that we can raise the monthly increase of support to be able to prove to the Board that the adoption is financially viable.
  • Pray that peace will reign in our neighbourhood and people will see further than their own interests as they consider the prospect of future eviction. Please pray ahead for safety from fire, a fast and effective eviction method.
  • Pray that we won’t get jaded here but continue to seek out the image of God in each person and affirm their God-given worth. Pray that we will see lives truly transformed by personal encounters with the living God.

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Happy Easter!

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is in you.”  L.R.Knost

Today there is a buzz of hope in the community. We woke to the sound of drumming and the loudspeaker is still blaring three hours later! No, not a sunrise service or Easter celebrations but I can’t help myself making a comparison! On the first of April, our adjoining community (affectionately known as ‘the big houses’ but its official name can be translated ‘Stability Houses’) celebrates it’s anniversary; a remnant of residents who were rehoused after a huge slum clearance 15 years ago – unlikely survivors emerging from violent demolition.

This is a victory worth celebrating; so often when eviction looms, slum residents are crippled by fear and accept tiny payouts to move out of their homes. Often families have lived here for generations, their great-grandparents most likely labourers encouraged to settle here on the floodplains of the river when the Port was built 70 years ago. Now considered prime land, Bangkok rejects its ‘builders’ and forces slum dwellers into smaller and smaller spaces.

Often our team here speculates on the impact that our neighbours would have if they pulled together in protest of poor treatment. We imagine what it would look like if the culture of one-upmanship, of the drive to divide and conquer, was replaced with seeking the common good. What could non-violent resitance in the face of oppression achieve here in Khlong Toey? What if fear did not get the final word?

I wish I had been there 15 years ago to see the persistence of my now-neighbours rewarded with adequate housing and a new chance to build community. Their story tells of a spirit that I don’t see much around here but must still be alive in individual homes and hearts. Hope.

We will be celebrating recent history with our neighbours today and it seems a great way to mark Easter. The most turbulent of times; hate, betrayal, torture, death opening a way for Life in all its fullness. We won’t hear the name of Jesus spoken over the loudspeakers today, a reminder that these celebrations are broken and incomplete. But we fully trust in His risen presence here as He makes all things new!

Good In The Hood

 

Its super exciting to see the house coming on quickly, we plan to be in within the next few months! The couple who were squatting in the house have successfully built in the adjacent plot and seem relieved to have their own home. We are working together to plan planting once the building work is finished.

We took our kids club to the yearly ‘Festival of Friendship’ at a big International school and, for the third year in a row, took home the football tournament trophy as well the girls benchball trophy! We love hanging out with these kids in a structured way and giving them a break from some of the stresses of neighbourhood life.

It was an honour to attend the graduation from high school of a 16 year old lad who has grown up through our kids club and managed to stay in school despite all of his friends dropping out at 14. He is a young man that we really admire for his ability to persevere while not rejecting his friends who have made different choices. A very emotional day, we look forward to seeing what the future holds for him!

RoyRak

 

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What a busy month it has been for RoyRak! We’ve been working on commissions for another jewellery business who are outsourcing production. This is great because it gives us guaranteed sales and we’ve been able to build good working relationships maintaining our fair-trade values. We are now hurrying to build up our own stock with a busy period of sales and workshops coming up! We still don’t quite break even with sales but we have high hopes for this year and value the support of friends and family!

Nut and Oui are getting very excited about coming back to the UK with us and we have secured lots of opportunities to sell and promote RoyRak products! It is not too late to get in touch if you would like to host RoyRak for an event of any description, especially if you live in or near Shrewsbury!

Family Life

March has seen lots of extra-curricular activities for Elliot and Sam. We seem to have spent many hours sat next top swimming pools and in school auditoriums (one of these is definitely preferable in the heat of hot season!). We got baby rabbits… but they died. Maybe they were just too cute!

The adoption process has also taken a lot of time this month. We now have all our documents prepared (a miracle as we were told to expect that it may take 6 months to acquire all of them!) and will present them to our social worker on Wednesday 4th April. God has provided exactly the right people at the right times for references and advice. Lots of our worries have proved unfounded and we feel confident that we’ve done everything in our power to enable the adoption.

I guess once the papers are handed in the waiting period will start and we will feel pretty powerless. Please pray for our hearts! We’ve started some reading on therapeutic parenting and also attended some training on the affect of trauma on brain development and behaviour. This is daunting stuff and its easy to feel overwhelmed with everyday stuff when something big like this is pre-occupying our thoughts.

UNOH Team

Our beautiful teammate Camille got engaged earlier this month! We are delighted for her  and Derek and look forward to a wedding in just three months! Please pray for them as they discern where God is directing them for the future. There is a fair bit of change as Alisha also heads off on three months of sabbatical marking the completion of 7 years here. Please pray for her and her foster son Tan that the time will be meaningful and refreshing.

We enjoyed having this years Catalyst team here from Australia for 10 days to explore issues of self and of poverty. While they were here we took two coaches of project staff and neighbours to the ‘Ancient City’, actually more like a scaled down version of Thailand, a great way to travel! Then we went to the pier at Bangphu to feed thousands of seagulls – terrifying! All in all a great relationship building time!

Prayer Requests

  • Please pray that the adoption paperwork will be accepted as complete on Wednesday and our social worker will continue to be favourable to our application.  Pray that the little girl we are applying to adopt will be safe and secure and that her needs will be put first as professionals decide her future
  • Also, we’d love prayers for our family as we prepare space in our home and hearts to welcome her without any certainty or sense of timeframe. We are sure that God has work to do in us first and we want to remain soft and open through the process.
  • We are needing to raise a significant amount of money to be able to continue living and ministering here. Support levels have dropped significantly since we re-commited for a further four years and we are aware that we need to broaden our network of supporters. We struggle with expressing our needs but know that finances need to be in place before adopting. Pray that we will have wisdom and faith as go about this.
  • Please pray for members of our house church, that they will continue to grow in love for each-other and for God. Pray for new faces to be welcomed and for those who have been attending for a long time to step up in confidence and ownership.

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January News

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“God always gets there before us… thus there is a genuine sense in which we must engage in mission in reverse because the Spirit is present in each and every situation before we get there’ Les Henson

Many of you lovely people reading this have journeyed with our family for the four years that we’ve been slum-blogging! You’ve glimpsed some of our joys and frustrations and encountered other faces along the way. One significant relationship that I wrote about within our first six months here was my birthday twin Preaw! As we clumsily supported her out of a domestic abuse situation, for a time she became our live-in guide for learning the complexities of Thai language and culture.

We’ve since been to some dark places with Preaw and felt her hostility towards us when she is high on drugs. We lose track of where she is living and only hear afterwards when she has been in prison or hospital. However, an unlikely friendship persists and she always seems to pop up at significant times (usually with stuff she wants us to buy!)

After six weeks of sabbatical we had really mixed feelings about being back in Klong Toey. While coming back into the neighbourhood and reconnecting with neighbours and colleagues was wonderful, we quickly felt burdened by some of the tensions of life here and remembered why we had been so ready for the break. A few nights in, just as reluctance was getting the better of us, God sent Preaw to our door to remind us to trust Him and that He got here first!

After convincing me to buy a strapless jumpsuit at least four sizes too small (any takers?!), Preaw began to talk about her hopes and fears for the year. The conversation turned to Buddhism – her efforts to make merit and her concern for us not making enough merit. We always seek to listen and understand our neighbours’ world-views whilst being prepared to answer questions about our own. It takes time to earn trust and listening brings out fascinating stuff! Preaw knows that we follow Jesus and, on this occasion, was responding to a heart-cry to find out more about Him!

She had heard how our previously notorious neighbour Ba’Noi had changed so much in the last year of her life and wanted to know more. She wanted the freedom from fear and striving that she has recognised in us (a timely reminder for us to embrace this) and above all she wanted to learn how to pray! She left late that night excited to try talking to God using her own words and determined to read our Thai version ‘Jesus Storybook Bible’ from cover to cover before going to sleep.

Who knows what this will lead to in Preaw’s life… we may not see her again for a few months and we can only place it all in the hands of the God who was here before us and who goes ahead of us. The Good News was not something for Preaw to attain to but the truth that she is already enough! Similarly, we sensed a renewed invitation to choose the discomfort and the tensions of slum life and ministry, to participate willingly knowing that nothing depends on us; God is always a step ahead of the chaos.

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Good in the Hood

The one year anniversary of the fire that destroyed so many homes in our neighbourhood has just passed. Today we joined in a house blessing in the home of the Catholic family who lived with us in the weeks immediately following the fire. It was a joyful occasion and we reflected on how much has changed in one year. The rebuilding project is not yet complete but most of the structures are up and access is much improved.

The period leading up to Christmas was fun with lots of kids activities and special times with neighbours. Our new team member Dianne has moved into her own home in the slum and is such a blessing to us and to her neighbours. Our immediate neighbour P’Oui is currently very unwell and Jon is attending lots of hospital appointments with her to advocate for good care. The fact that she is drug addicted means that she is often dismissed by medical professionals and therefore avoids treatment.

Since coming back from sabbatical we’ve been working hard to get renovations on our new house underway. Pictured below left is the beginnings of a new raised concrete pathway that will enable the five households in our ‘corner’ to get home without wading through swamp water! The rubbish collecting situation on the plot next to our house is completely out of control (below right). For those who recycle for a living this is not merely rubbish but it is getting dangerous; a can of paint recently exploded in the middle of the pile and gave us all a fright! We’ve negotiated with these neighbours that we will employ a team of local men to help sort and dispose of it in the coming month so we can start work on the house. We don’t know how deep the plastic goes but will let you know when we find out!

RoyRak

Christmas sales were encouraging and stressful in equal measure! Last year saw a lot of progress and, although we made an overall loss, we are excited by the direction the business is heading.

The staff had a two week break over New Year but then were back to work in earnest; I was so proud to come back from sabbatical to find that they were already completing a full range of new designs to which each person had contributed! This confidence to put forward ideas is wonderful to see and is such a credit to the hard-work of Nut, our RoyRak manager. We’ll get the new designs onto royrak.net so spread the word!

Family Stuff

We loved being back in England! It was a time of snow and babies and pork-pies! We feel so lucky to be at home in two continents. We re-adjusted to heat and time-zones with two weeks travel in Cambodia. We spent a lot of time on buses but it was worth it for exploring Angkor Wat, swimming in crystal clear sea, sampling fried tarantula and uninterrupted family time!

The boys have settled happily back into school and are excited for getting two new baby rabbits from the market as soon as they can persuade us to take them! It is not too long a separation from family as we will be back in the UK from late July to late August 2018 visiting supporting churches and individuals. We’ll start planning our itinerary soon so please get in touch if you would like us to come and speak at a service or event, we are really hoping for some new connections and are happy to travel!

Prayer Requests

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  • We have some big decisions coming up as God continues to reveal pieces of the ‘why are we here’ and ‘what next’ jigsaw. Please pray for wisdom and courage as we approach new challenges.
  • We are meeting with a local couple to carry out some debt counselling and help them with issues of budgeting etc. This is something we are passionate about and would love to do more of as we see so many families crippled by high-interest loans. Please pray for good relationship and a good outcome for this couple who are in a desperate place.
  • Our team is a little depleted on the ground with the MacCartney family on sabbatical after 10 years serving here and Camille on a support-raising trip. We feel the strain on our time and resources but continue to pray that our Thai staff will be empowered.
  • Jon has just taken on the role of local team leader and will be using his pastoral and organisational skills to serve us. Please pray that he will be well supported and equipped even when he feels inadequate.
  • Please pray for a spirit of mercy in our neighbourhood towards ‘the least and the lost’.

 

 

 

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November News

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I had meant to ask her for months but it never seemed quite the right time. Now, sitting together on the floor of her home, I asked her what happened to the baby.

P’Prim is in her late thirties and has lived in this community all her life. We take her two girls (aged 12 and 9) swimming at the weekends and have quickly grown to love them. We know that home-life is far from easy and these girls are remarkable survivors. The younger sister, Nong Mem, is gentle and has the brightest smile I know! She has just had her head shaved because the nits got out of control but you could never mistake her for a boy, she still looks stunning. The older sister, Nong Deng, is witty and playful, unless there are boys around and then she switches into teenage mode! Last year they stopped going to school. Now, as a last resort, we pay their school fees. We celebrate them and worry about them in equal measure.

We were concerned when we heard that P’Prim was expecting another baby. She was very unwell. The family lives in one lean-to room and the kids are often hungry. However, unlike some of the homes I visit, there is enough love to go round there and I had looked forward to knowing this baby.

The baby never appeared. I assumed that it hadn’t survived. But when I finally asked her, P’Prim told me calmly that she couldn’t look after the baby (another girl), she had been sent immediately to live with a distant relative somewhere in the countryside. I asked if she had a photo… she didn’t, but she had a picture of her first daughter, taken 21 years ago and not seen since. It turned out that the baby was one of seven children. Her boys are in jail.

I share this story because it is on my mind and because my heart is so changeable in its response. I am as eager as anybody to judge but this story just doesn’t fit the boxes I spent years constructing. Who is the victim here and why can’t I see the villains?

I’ve been reminded recently of the impact our ‘cultural glasses’ or worldview have on the way we approach situations. There is all sorts of bias and assumption at play in every cross-cultural interaction. Sometimes it feels like we will never gain deeper understanding of culture and other times the Spirit surprises us with clarity! It is a humbling experience to be reminded on a daily basis that others see the world so differently. It has caused us to examine our own ‘cultural glasses’ and be more discerning of our dualistic principles.

Richard Rohr writes about the need for ‘forgiving reality for being what it is‘ and this phrase pretty much summarises 2017 for us! We are learning the impossible third way – somehow both ‘letting it go’ and fiercely desiring a better way forward! Rohr continues ‘I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul.’ It’s a mystery but God is at work in the mess.

 

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In The Community

It’s been a very wet beginning to the dry season! But there’s been lots of fun to brighten things up! Relationships with new families have been slowly developing as a few more kids have joined our Saturday kids club. Last weekend we went to a school fair and the highlight was pony rides… not an everyday opportunity in Bangkok!

Steps towards moving to the new house are frustratingly slow. We trust that God has the timescale sorted and for now prioritise smoothness of relationships. Jon has had opportunity to get to know one of the local builders quite well and help him consider  coming off drugs. The drug taking scene around our home is a source of sadness and somewhere we feel very helpless.

We are loving having new neighbours next door and seeing them extend love to others in the community. There are some new faces at house-church and this is a joy!

RoyRak

The run-up to Christmas is super busy with up to 4 local sales per week as well as overseas sales to coordinate! We’re grateful for the busy-ness (and also for our beds at the end of the day!)

After months of preparation it is always nerve-wracking at this time of year to see if we will cover all our costs and be free to continue the same level of employment for all our RoyRak creative team. My dream is that we might sell so well that we can offer more jobs and more input next year!

Lots of you have already placed orders at royrak.net and we hope you are pleased with your products! Anyone thinking of placing an order can be assured that the money makes a direct difference to real people who you can read about on the website.

I’ve been in two minds about participating in ‘Black Friday’ sales but have concluded that gift-giving is a great thing and shopping with RoyRak provides a great alternative to big businesses for people wanting to get organised for Christmas! We’ll be launching a 24 hour sale on Christmas ranges for 24th November. Please come and have a look!

Family News

Another tragic pet story for the collection; our poor rabbit ‘Flea’ was pulled halfway out of her cage by a snake and heroically rescued by our teenage babysitters! Unfortunately she never recovered from the shock.

On a happier note, we had a lovely long visit from Jon’s parents who were put to work on our office renovations where we’ve been developing a 5th floor communal space for project staff and house church. It was great to share elements of our everyday life with them! They were with us over Loy Kratong, a big Thai festival which we celebrated with neighbours at a nearby park.

Its always hard saying goodbye to friends and family but this time we don’t have to wait long to see them! Our sabbatical (pushed back a few months) begins the second week of December. We will be flying back to the UK for four weeks and staying with family. Elliot and Sam have already reached fever-pitched excitement and we are not sure they can keep it up till Christmas! They are particularly excited about wearing onesies! The main purpose of the visit is to rest but we really hope to see lots of Shrewsbury folk!

We have a ‘work’ trip to the UK planned for next summer (mid July – mid August) where we hope to catch up with Supporting Churches and individuals. In the New Year we’d love to start planning speaking engagements if you know anywhere that would have us! It would be great to make new connections as well as reinforcing existing ones!

For Prayer

  • Our wonderful UNOH team is going to be scattered for a while! Some of us are headed off for sabbatical while others are away for shorter lengths of time. The MacCartney family who have worked here for over ten years will be taking a well-earned break until August next year and we will all miss them terribly! Please pray that their health will be restored as they rest in Grace. Please pray that all those they work with locally will adjust well and relationships be preserved.
  • We have a new team-mate! Dianne has been learning Thai for a year outside Bangkok and is now with us on the ground. She has been beautifully intentional as she has explored neighbourhoods and found a house to settle in within just weeks. We are so thankful for God’s provision of her and for her at this time. We don’t envy the upheaval of settling here and know that the learning curve is very sharp in the first year. Please hold her in your prayers.
  • We have one neighbour that is placing heavy demands on us and we are finding it hard to love her. She is grasping and needy only because of her circumstances and we are, at least in theory, determined to draw out beauty in her! Please pray for wisdom and patience.
  • It is a very early Christmas party for 50 or so of our UNOH employees next week. Pray that it will be fun and everyone will have a chance to reflect on the year and see God’s goodness afresh. Pray for increasing openness and unity across different groups.
  • We’d value prayers that we will be able to tie things up well as we leave the community for 6 weeks and not be leaving extra work for people or leaving relationships un-affirmed. We’d also love you to pray with us for Rong Muu neighbourhood during the time we are away; God doesn’t leave just because we do!

 

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‘Nondual consciousness is about receiving and being present to the moment, to the now, without judgment, analysis, or critique, without your ego deciding whether you like it or not. Reality does not need you to like it in order to be reality. This is a much more holistic knowing, where your mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment just as it is, which allows you to love things in themselves and as themselves. You learn not to divide the field of the moment or eliminate anything that threatens your ego, but to hold everything—both the attractive and the unpleasant—together in one accepting gaze.’

Richard Rohr, ‘A Spring Within Us’

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September News

 

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’          

 John 1:5

21369199_10154951140362643_8287074565310606491_nI began writing this newsletter more than a month ago as we were visiting our neighbour and dear friend Bah Noi in hospital. End stage liver disease with the added complication of TB meant there was not much that the doctors could do… but we had seen her defy death before! I wrote optimistically, full of hopes for when she came home.

Shortly after writing, Bah Noi’s condition deteriorated rapidly. We received a confused phone call at night and the next day found her tied to the bed. The nurses were not unkind but they just didn’t know how to cope with her. When we found that she was no longer able to feed herself we took it in shifts to try and be there with her. She was so afraid, seeing strange shapes in the room. Our fiercely independent Aunty was slipping away from us.

On the day she died, she asked Jon to pray to Jesus for her. He had only spoken a few words when she took over, a long fervent prayer which was incoherent to Jon but clearly came right from her heart. When we returned together that evening we found her slumped over and struggling to breath. She was rushed to ITU and we fetched her estranged family members to say goodbye. It was agonising to watch her struggle.

IMG_4580Funeral plans began the next morning. A Thai funeral begins the same day and, depending on the status of the deceased person, can last for many days. The temple will perform a one-day ceremony and cremation for free. This is what the very poorest families can expect. Bah Noi’s greatest fear was of being forgotten; she had voiced to us many times that she feared dying alone and her body not being found. This was our opportunity to demonstrate to the community in their own cultural language that her life was valued. Way out of our depth, we began organising a four day funeral at the local temple.

Seeing how Bah Noi was disregarded in our community, we were astounded by the number of people from other areas of her life that showed up to grieve. While the immediate community she had grown up with were unable to see past her violent, drug addicted past, it seemed that she had touched the lives of many other people in her final few years. All the monks at the temple knew her as she went to do their washing in her free time! Whether or not she knew it, she was certainly known and loved! We saw this as evidence of God’s transformative work in her life.

IMG_4404Amidst the darkness of death and the emptiness of ritual, the care of our house-church, to which Bah Noi belonged, shone out brightly. Along with staff from the UNOH projects they came to cook for guests at the funeral and support each other  through loss. Our usual meeting that Friday night was dedicated to remembering Bah Noi. One person spoke of how they had been afraid of her at first, she had been a notorious figure and they didn’t believe she would ever be ‘one of us’. This same person was now in tears at the thought that Bah Noi would not be joining us on the camp she had been so excited about. This group of faithful Jesus followers was able to show love and acceptance because they have experienced it themselves.

I don’t want to remember Bah Noi for her illness or for her reputation or for her body lying pale and swollen in a coffin. I choose to remember the woman who called our rabbit ‘child’ and spent her meagre earnings buying crazy amounts of fresh veg! I choose to remember the time that she hammered on our door for 10 minutes to alert us of fire rather than rescuing her own possessions. I will always remember how we teased her for getting cold at the mere mention of air-conditioning, for how she developed a taste for expensive British chocolate and for how she made up the words to worship songs because she couldn’t read! I remember her coming home black from head to toe but a huge grin on her face because she had been paid for working in an oil tank all day. Determination!

No rose-tinted spectacles could make me forget how annoying she could be at times;  she could argue all night when she disagreed with us and got us into regular scrapes by association! But she taught us to love. More than anyone else, she led us into her world where we met systemic injustice face on while snatching hold of every opportunity to celebrate life. Her favourite bible character was David, the least in his family but chosen for great things by God.  Any future impact of our presence here in Khlong Toey will undoubtably be shaped by the experience of knowing and loving Bah Noi.

 

 

Neighbourhood News

 

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This picture shows Elliot and Sam standing on the start of a new pathway leading towards our house. The tall white house is the one we have always completed the process of buying and the white house on the right is the one we live in now. To the left of where the boys are standing are about 40 new houses. Soon the swampland to the right of the path will be full of houses again! There is the sense of a new beginning for lots of long-term residents here.

There are also new families moving in! Our front door will open on to a little square of  houses opening up new opportunity for relationships. Excitingly, our good friend Buey and her five daughters (Boon, Bin, Boom, Bam and BunBun) have moved from their home in another part of the slum into the house next door to us! Having a Thai Christian living close by will add a new dimension to our witness in the neighbourhood. Please pray that they integrate well, these first few weeks will be important in a community that regards outsiders with suspicion.

We are increasingly aware that the parts of our community that didn’t burn down are not benefitting from any improvements. Escaping the fire was a mixed blessing for some; the very poorest households were probably least affected by the fire and the contrast is now even more stark. We are fighting for path upgrading to extend further into the neighbourhood but finding the process a bit of a nightmare.  Please pray that we will be able to get permissions from the right people and navigate the cultural protocols well. Please pray for unity in our small neighbourhood of ‘Rim Khlong Wat Saphan’, that mercy and compassion will take root and grow deep and strong.

RoyRak; Beading Love

 

Christmas has come early in the RoyRak room! This year our decorations are pom-pom themed and the scene that greets me when I walk in is even more colourful than usual! The garlands and wreaths hanging on all the walls have transformed the outward appearance of the room in a way that reflects the beauty of relationship I see blossom in this space. There is some really heavy stuff in the lives of these women; a sister dying of cancer, a husband expecting a child with a second wife, a boyfriend addicted to drugs. As they work they talk, and I picture the healing threads of shared joy and sorrow knotted seamlessly into the products they create.

I also have an exciting new plan! A sample set of all the jewellery available on the RoyRak website (including the new kids range and some promotional material) has been dispatched to the UK and its first port of call is… Shrewsbury (of course!)! Knowing how hard it is to buy jewellery without trying it on, customers may like to see the products before ordering them online. The kit is available to be passed around for jewellery parties (think tupperware party but 100% more fun!). The concept is a kind of virtual sale – would you be willing to display the products, perhaps even show our RoyRak video and then be responsible for placing and distributing an order? Please get in touch, wherever you live!

Family News

 

Back to school day couldn’t come too soon! Elliot and Sam were super keen to see their friends and get back to lessons after almost two months off. Unfortunately we got called to the hospital just three hours into the first day! Elliot sprained his ankle ligament playing that dangerous game known as… tag, and was in a cast for most of August. We’re thankful that it seems to have healed well. Having won the music award for his year group last year, we had been worrying about how to fund music lessons to encourage Elliot’s interest. We’re thrilled that he has got in to a free electric guitar club this term… watch this space!

Sammy spent the summer months painting, our walls are now an art gallery! He is excited to be on the basketball team at school but is struggling to re-adjust to early starts. He took part in his first inter-school swim competition yesterday and surprised himself and us with his confidence! He gets lots of joy from playing with Poppy the puppy who is always waiting when he gets home from school! It was a very sad time losing our second puppy Patch (with the black patches over his eyes) recently. Both dogs contracted blood parasites from tics passed on by their mother and Patch just couldn’t fight it. He is missed!

There was much excitement from Elliot and Sam on meeting their first ever cousin Jude last week! He is totally gorgeous at eight months and took the strange new place in his stride. The boys can’t wait to spend quality time with him and with their new cousin Caty at Christmas.  Please be praying for an especially busy couple of months in the meantime. Jon is about to do a week of intensive study on contextualising the Gospel for Thai hearers before running a big family camp next weekend. Elise is entering a busy period with jewellery sales and also hosting ‘mission exposure’ groups. Pray that we can take care of each other as a family and for good physical and spiritual health too.

 

Urgent Request

We are so very thankful for the regular gifts from churches and individuals that quite literally keep us here.

Since moving to Thailand exactly three years ago today (!!!) the exchange rate has dropped by 20%. Our support has consequently reduced in value by one fifth and we have gradually eaten into our reserves. Our living costs remain the same but our ministry costs are increasing just around the time that funds are running short.

We thought it would be helpful to clarify how support raising works with UNOH. Each worker is responsible for fundraising to cover all their own costs. Any money donated to us is handled by admin staff who pay a set living allowance (based on the Henderson poverty line) into our Thai bank account each month. This is comparatively small but enough for us to eat, travel, pay rent and utilities and still be generous to those around us. Other costs associated with living overseas such as health insurance, language learning, children’s school fees (half-price missionary rate but still expensive)  and visa/work permit fees are further claimable. Any remaining funds are considered ‘ministry funds’ and, with approval from our team, can be used creatively to bless our neighbours.

Our ministry in the community is presence-based and generally costs us our time and energy rather than money; we believe this sets us apart from the many other organisations working here. When asked for money our protocol is to invite people to eat with us, accompany them to hospital appointments, help them dream big dreams etc. The past few years have been primarily about investing in relationships and we subsequently find ourselves deeply embedded in the life of the neighbourhood.

With increasing knowledge of our context we are now taking on some commitments that cost us money. Some examples are taking teenagers to activities outside the slum, funding schooling for the very poorest children in our kids club, providing medications for neighbours with chronic conditions, supplying water and electricity to the few homes that can’t afford it, building bathrooms and improving access pathways. While we won’t always get it right, we trust God’s Spirit to lead us in these judgements as we seek to redistribute wealth in a way that reflects the Kingdom.

We know that this also requires your trust as supporters. We seek to be open with you about how your gifts are used and see you as direct partners in loving those God has placed in our lives. We have experienced a God who provides for our needs as they arise!

If you are a regular reader of this blog would you consider setting up a small monthly donation? Are you part of a church or small-group that would consider supporting a mission partner? Could you do a one-off fundraiser towards a specific cause that has been mentioned? We would love to hear from you! More information about giving through Stewardship is available on the ‘Partner with us’ page at the top of this Slumblog.

With our love,

Jon, Elise, Elliot and Sam

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July News

 

‘Despair is global. Hope is local.’ – Jonathan Cornford #tearconference2017

A friend passed on these words recently and the more I dwell on them the more they have impressed their truth into my soul. I’m learning that Hope is a precious seed that needs tending with care as it breaks through parched ground. It can’t be hurried or imposed and its growth looks different in every setting. Real Hope does not take root in denial but embraces the suffering of the world while choosing to dream of something better starting right here and now.

Where do we see Hope taking root in our Khlong Toey Community? There is Hope in the brightly painted new homes springing up in the swamp around us; under the ever-present threat of eviction some people are choosing to believe that the future is worth investing in. There is Hope in the noise and bustle of the local school where teachers do their best in hot classrooms, taking jobs with very little pay because they believe in these kids. There is Hope in the glimmer of understanding from a friend who seems at last to ‘get it’ that we share our water supply with drug addicted neighbours even when they cause us hurt. There is Hope when someone who regularly comes asking for food wants to ‘repay’ me with a nail varnish in my favourite colour. Blink and you might miss it but it is here!

A lot of the time it is hard to recognise Hope, and despair creeps in with the fighting and the rumours and the rats. There are shattered dreams; a fifty year old neighbour believing she is pregnant and carrying a doll around, fourteen year old boys willing time away in the gaming room, dulling their disappointment with cheap drugs. There is a choice to look away or to look more closely and tend the small seeds of Hope.

Our family committed to an initial three years serving with UNOH in Khlong Toey slum. As we approach the end of this period we’ve given some time to looking back over the journey and to discerning what God is asking from us in the future. We have a strong sense that God is still calling us to love the same place and the same people. We have more insight into how he has shaped us and how our calling can be outworked here, but essentially nothing has changed. We are excited to recommit for a further four year period.

I doubt that comes as much surprise to anyone! The surprising thing for us is that it has been harder to weigh up the cost second time around. Staying put, we face a lot of uncertainties and, once again, grieve the loss of a more ‘normal life’ (I doubt that really exists but it is still a big pull!). We’d value your prayers as we dream for the future and find ways to sustain our family life in the next phase. We are confident that God is faithful and he will continue to bring Life to us and direct our witness here. Thanks for standing with us in prayer and giving!

In the Neighbourhood

A highlight last month was taking neighbourhood kids to The Festival of Friendship at Harrow school. Once again the boys walked away from the football tournament with the cup!  All the kids had a blast and are eager for International School term to start up again so we can resume swimming trips on Saturdays! Please be praying for these children, some of whom are supported through school by those of you who give to us financially.

We are working with members of our community to improve access in the neighbourhood. Pathways are broken and rotten due to flooding and proved inadequate as escape routes in the January fire. The Port Authority, who own the land and originally allowed labourers to settle here, have taken some responsibility for rehousing victims but they do very little upkeep of the infrastructure. The work is quite extensive and we are seeking funds to make improvements. Alongside this we are hoping to fund toilet facilities for three households who currently have no toilet/water supply. If this is something you would specifically like to support please get in touch.

RoyRak

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Thank you to those of you who supported the RoyRak team by trying out the new website! Sales have been slow but feedback from customers has been positive so I’m hopeful the online brand will catch on! The last month has been spent designing so look out for new products being added soon. If you know of any retailers that might be interested in selling RoyRak products, we also offer wholesale prices.

This month we madDSC_0059e enough sales to be able to take on a new employee from the Rong Moo community. P’Appen is a delight to work with and has some previous jewellery making experience which is a bonus! She lost her job at the local fish canning factory when she had to miss work to care for a dying aunt. She approached me in desperation, little knowing that she was exactly the person RoyRak was looking to recruit!

Puppies and Parents

Poppy and Patch have slotted right in to the family and bring us lots of joy! Caring for them is a community affair as their kennel is outdoors and both doggy parents live right on our doorstep! Trying to convince well meaning neighbours that chocolate milk and fried eggs is not a suitable diet can be hard work especially when the Puppies contradict us! It’s been great to see Elliot and Sam enjoying their new playmates and being happily occupied through the long school holidays!

My parents have just returned to England after spending three weeks with us (including some wonderful beach holiday!) They particularly loved the opportunity to conquer their fear of motorbikes by being our passengers as we wove through Bangkok traffic! It was good to give them an updated taste of our normal lives so they can picture the people and places we talk about. It was also good to get some quality time out of Bangkok as we hadn’t been all together for a full year.

For Your Prayers

  • We’re so excited for UNOH’s Second Chance team to be opening a second shop on the ground floor of our office building! Not only is this a great opportunity for Khlong Toey residents to buy good quality second hand clothes, it will provide a public space where neighbours can come and chat over a coffee during the day. Pray for the Second Chance team as they get this up and running and for great relationships to come about through it.
  • Pray for the health of team members and colleagues which is often under strain. Pray that those who are burdened will know the rest that comes from God and that broken relationships will be healed beyond expectation.
  • Nothing is straightforward, we’ve encountered lots of obstacles in the house-buying process and it’s a big weight at the back of our minds. We are all increasingly frustrated by the current lack of space and by rats in the bedroom. It is hard not to pin our hopes on the two-storey house that came available close-by at the same time as a church approached us with Capital funds. Please pray that we will trust God’s timings and that there will be a way through all the complications even if it is not the outcome we expect.
  • The boys are halfway through school holidays and it has been a blessing to reconnect with them and see them wind down. We have planned in some one-on-one time and pray that it will be fruitful, especially as the boys process what it means to commit to a longer stay in Thailand.
  • Pray for our good friend Buey and her five daughters who are members of house church. Pray that they will know God’s comfort and leading in the upheaval of seeking out suitable new housing and considering moving to live next door to us.
  • Jon and others will be running a Missio Dei discernment course in a few weeks time  to coincide with visitors from the UK. This is open to anyone approaching a time of decision-making or evaluating God’s call on their life. Pray that it will be a really profitable and Spirit-led time.
  • Please continue to pray for safety, especially from people or powers who dislike our presence here. Pray that we can live in freedom from fear.

 

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