Five years ago today our family of four left our home town of
Shrewsbury and stepped into a future that felt very unknown. There was a sense of calling and a sense of adventure that held us. Today we celebrate that neither of these things have left (or when they do they always come back!)!
It is also a time to reflect on how experience has matched up to expectation. On arriving in Khlong Toey, I remember being bewildered by the noise and the smells and the overwhelming newness of my environment. Different language, different food, different transport, different values…every new experience was a reminder of my foreignness and I longed for familiarity far more than I could’ve anticipated. The feeling didn’t go away quickly. I sat in the discomfort and God worked a slow transformation, teaching me to open myself to brokenness and to embrace difference.
As a child my favourite storybook was The Tiger who came to Tea. We now have a framed illustration on our wall! The implied risk of inviting a hungry tiger into a family home, combined with the extravagance of lavishing this tiger with cakes and sandwiches (and the entire contents of the store cupboard) thrilled me and epitomised my life values! This was radical hospitality in practice! More recently I have aspired to be like the mother in this story but, more often than not, my tendency has been self-preservation, a scarcity response that I recognise all around me. Only the welcome and love that I have received in the role of foreigner has begun to change that. I had to be the Tiger before I could begin to be the radical host! In the places that are unfamiliar, uncomfortable and strange, the light of Jesus shines brightly.
The journey has been different for each of us but just about everything has changed in five years. The things that were novel then are part of normal life now! We were very idealistic although we professed to be clued up! Nothing we could read in a book (even deep stuff like The Tiger who came to Tea!) could really prepare us for living in a culture so different from our own. We knew a lot of mission theory but when it rubbed up against our new reality we struggled to back down. God has been faithful in this extended time of listening and learning and being formed for service in Thailand. Here is a concise summary!
The biggest lessons:
- Forgive reality for what it is, embrace the mess.
- Hope in any form is very powerful.
- Wounded people need wounded healers.
- Presence alone communicates worth.
- How we tell stories and present our neighbourhood matters – words create worlds.
- Don’t lose the sting of injustice; be broken as many times as it takes to stay soft.
- Think Trinity – when something isn’t black and white there is usually a third way.
- Sacrificing family and denying our own needs doesn’t model kingdom values.
- Make plans but expect the interruptions to be the real work.
- God really does provide for our needs in extraordinary ways.
The high points:
- Gaining a new girl Fletcher!
- Building deep friendships that have survived stress and crisis.
- Getting to dream and be creative alongside others – UNOH and RoyRak projects.
- Seeing the few we invest in the most grow over time.
- Reciprocal generosity, being blessed by people who supposedly have nothing.
- Listening to people’s stories, being invited into joy and pain and being trusted to advocate for them.
- Getting to feel at home/connected in our small part of the vast city
- Learning the value of our support network in the UK and elsewhere.
The low points:
- Depression, disappointment, longing, comparison and self-doubt.
- Mourning the loss of our closest neighbour and friend.
- Hospital stays with Sam and Bow mostly involving ears.
- Navigating the bureaucracy, corruption, injustice inherent in parts of the culture.
We are not sure if we will still be in Bangkok in five years time. We are not even sure if our community will still be standing in five years time or whether a new shopping mall will stand in its place. We look to the future with confidence that we will see God do good things in our lives and the lives of our neighbours. May his Kingdom come here!
It has been a big adventure for all of us to adjust to life with Bow wearing her cochlear implant. She hasn’t had any of the reticence that some children have and can actually hear most sounds! Every week she goes to the hospital to have the settings adjusted and increase the volume a little. It hasn’t been an overnight transformation and we are beginning to understand that just because she can hear a sound doesn’t mean that her brain can make sense of it. There are words that she can confidently lipread and even use herself, that she can’t understand by listening alone. It is fascinating! She is learning to distinguish between different speech sounds and to rely less on visual stimuli.
Because communication was so important in ensuring good attachment, we have used a lot of signing/miming to make sure that we understand each other since becoming family. It is hard for all of us and especially Bow to rely less on this. However it is a vital part of re-training her brain to listen. Thankfully, she has settled in brilliantly at school where teachers follow the AVT method of intensive listening activities. She is much more cooperative for them, which we can understand! On her own terms she has been attempting conversation with us from different rooms or without looking up from what she is doing! She gets about 50% of what we say in both languages which is so exciting!
We are well into term time and all three kids are exhausted with their busy school routines. Elliot has taken up Rugby at his school and, hilariously, had a skills session at Shrewsbury School Bangkok! He is attending his first Model United Nations conference on Sunday and officially knows more about International relations than we do! Sam is teaching himself guitar and we have lost him to reading the Chronicles of Narnia! He isn’t loving the teaching style of his year 5 teacher but we are proud of how he is coping and rising to the high expectations. He is the Eco-team rep for his class, something that he has aspired to for years!
We just had a long weekend away at the beach to reconnect as family – we feel more like taxi drivers than parents some days! Life is settling into new routine and we are picking up some of the team and neighbourhood responsibilities that we had set aside. Things are hectic but hopeful. Thankyou for your prayers and support.