March 2019 Big News!

 

In the middle of last week we received a call from our social worker alerting us to a problem with our adoption case which needed urgent attention. We dropped everything and drove through traffic for an hour in the blazing sun. We were praying the whole time, trying to trust God but knowing deep down that we couldn’t face another hurdle.

Our social worker was very straight faced and told us that our case had been taken to the board meeting and there was nothing else she could do. She was returning our file and hoped to see us again in the future. Our hearts dropped! I think one of us stuttered something about not giving up… then she asked if we were going to open the file. Halfway down the second paragraph of the covering letter we read the words ‘you have 30 days to accept this child’; our application to adopt six year old Bow had been approved!

Still not sure if it was the best prank or the worst prank ever played on us but it had its desired effect; we were totally shocked and over the moon! As the news has sunk in we have been through a full range of emotions and not really slept! Just the week before, we took part in a difficult process of debriefing and emerged ready for new challenges. There is a sense of rightness about the timing.

We will go to Chiang Mai in two weeks time to spend supervised time with Bow before an official handover. She will come back to Bangkok with us just before we need to report together to a board meeting on 24th April. This is really soon. We have jumped into action preparing practical details for her arrival (order a pink motorbike helmet, a blood glucose monitor…),  but the difficult job goes to her carers at the foster home.

As I sat and read the wedge of confronting medical reports in Bow’s background file I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Firstly that she is still alive. But ultimately that she has spent four formative years of her life in a loving and nurturing environment. She has had foster mothers who have fought for her tirelessly in hospital clinics and classrooms, loved her just as she is while insisting that her medical conditions do not define her. She has had precious time to heal and grow and learn. She has a whole extended family of people who will miss her and continue to want the best for her. The story of God’s transforming work in Bow’s life starts well before she met us.

So right now its joyful and messy at the same time – its not all obvious to us how we fit in and Bow will be feeling the same. The concept of a new family will provoke a lot of anxiety. We are confident that this adoption is a good thing even though it will be a hard thing. God is in and above the immediate circumstances of transition. We adore our girl already and have so many hopes for our family moving into this new phase.

Please join us in praying for Bow, for deep-rooted understanding and peace in the face of  big change. Pray for her friends and carers in their grief as they prepare her to move on from the foster home. Please pray for Elliot and Sam who have processed the news really well but need to feel valued and involved by us along the way. Pray for team and colleagues who will need to adjust plans because we will be more useless than usual for a while. And pray that our capacity to love will expand as our family expands!

(The photos in this newsletter bear no relation to the content but give you a glimpse of what else happened this month before our lives got just a little bit turned upside down!)

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Our Feb Update

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For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children 

Romans 8:22-23 NLT

There was tension in the air as we waited for news. The family gathered, like every other night, as food was cooked in front of the house but the usual joking was noticeably absent. We had all expected the baby to be born that day when our young neighbour went into hospital in the early hours of the night before… but the labour didn’t progress as predicted. She was not permitted company for the birth and the nurse on the phone said she was getting too tired; they were considering a Caesarean section.

Thank God for medical intervention. Only it wasn’t as simple as making a decision to keep mother and baby safe. The welfare card allowing almost free hospital care would not cover an operation. The family would have to pay – or at least this is what they were led to understand at the time. There was a panicked discussion about how to get the money. Being the end of the month we could offer some, but not enough. This was an injustice that we had never experienced for ourselves and it was confronting.

To everyone’s great relief, the baby was born naturally within the hour and, 48 hours later, our neighbour brought her beautiful new son to visit us for the first time. The shadow of the birth had already lifted and we just sat and adored him. It was a mountain top moment! It will be an uphill struggle for this young mum but this was a time to focus on the fruit of pain rather than the pain itself. Pain is inevitable but what we build with our pain matters.

Another neighbour has phantom pregnancies. She experiences some of the joy and struggle of growing new life inside her, but the hope is all in her head.  There is no sense of arrival or making it through the pain. As she rants and raves, escaping into a world of drugs to ease her disappointment, I see the labour pains of God’s creation waiting to be renewed. Some people have a rougher ride than others and this is confronting too. I can only trust that their sense of release will be all the greater when this waiting period is over.

As Jon and Elliot train to run up 61 floors for their vertical marathon next Sunday they will (hopefully) endure the pain because they are running for a reason! They want to do something physical to express their commitment to a six year old girl and to an adoption process that keeps knocking us back. The past few months have held patterns of pain on many fronts but we are trying not to channel that pain into higher walls or thicker armer. We want to allow it to break us and soften us, show us when to embrace painful circumstances and when to walk away, and above all lead us into greater reliance on Jesus, our wounded healer.

For Prayer

  • We are so thankful for parents who take the time to visit and share our lives – Elise’s parents this past month and Jon’s parents next month.
  • Please pray for the little girl that we are waiting to adopt. Pray for miracles in the approval process if this is the best timing for her. Praise God that she is well loved in her current care setting and for the relative peace of mind this allows us as we love her from a distance.
  • Praise God that Elliot and Sam are both in a great space. Sam is loving play rehearsals at school and perfecting a fab French accent! He is very proud have won a short story competition this week. Elliot is playing guitar in a rock band and is currently away on an adventure filled school camp. We are so grateful for school!
  • We begin a new season of weekend kids club activities through hot season. It kicks off with swimming at the boys school on Sunday. Pray that we will give our small group of kids the time and attention that they deserve and that relationships with their families will deepen.
  • We have a group of 14 students arriving from Australia this week for a two week mission exposure programme. Pray for deep connection with the issues as they face new experiences. Pray for fun and health and energy for all those involved, especially our teammate Lish who will be leading.
  • Pray for RoyRak as we look at new selling pathways to be able to offer greater job security to our staff. Pray for each of the women who work so hard to support their families, that God will meet them in the everyday busyness and that they will know their own worth and extend worth to others.
  • Pray for our elderly neighbour in prison that she will never feel forgotten. And for the health of her partner as he is getting frailer and needing more hospital stays.
  • Jon and I will go away for 4 days of debriefing later this month in order to process some traumatic stuff before we embark on new challenges. Pray for healing and hope for the future. And for our teammate Dianne who will be taking care of our kids!
  • Please pray for the General Election approaching fast – March 24th. As we move a step closer towards democracy pray for a peaceful and non-corrupt vote day. Pray for those seeking power to remember the poor and to act justly.
  • Donate to Jon and Eliot’s hearing aid fundraiser here!

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Happy New Year!

 

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One of my favourite moments from Christmas was surprising a neighbour with a parcel of plus sized bras brought over from the UK! Stay with me a moment…

Bright and cheeky, she is exactly the Aunty figure that everybody needs. When I see her coming on her fluoro scooter I know that I will be late to wherever I am heading but I don’t care! I have been amazed by her positivity again and again this year. Her circumstances could so easily have created a bitter and self absorbed personality but everything about her is just the opposite.

From what I understand, her son, who is a similar age to us, suffered brain damage from a bike accident in his late teens. Home-bound, she cares for him every day in their one room (which is also a haven for all the stray cats of the community). As the sole earner, this determined Aunty works night shifts as a street sweeper while her son sleeps. We often pass her returning home in her overalls as we head out to school in the mornings.

I don’t think she wants pity; she has a close community around her and a strong Catholic faith. She knows that one day she will be free from suffering and, in the meantime, finds joy in the simple things. She is surprisingly optimistic about the slum relocation scheme which, within 5 years, will see our neighbourhood condensed into blocks of 25 storey flats being built nearby; the source of much local angst and questionable intentions from the authorities.

I have only ever heard her complain about one thing and it became a running joke between us – in Thailand you can only buy small bras! So she literally owned none and was getting a bad back. It was a no-brainer to use some of our donated funds to order her bras that would fit… but what a privilege to be placed where we could not only hear but respond to that need. We get to engage with residents of these slum communities not as numbers on a page or issues to be solved but as whole people to be known.

While we might not be affecting change at a systemic level our call for the time being is clear; practicing Presence is about engaging with the mundane.

 

Our News

It was such a treat to have all the Fletcher siblings together over Christmas and to spend time both at the beach and in the mountains. We were definitely ready to crash after a season of sales, celebrations and end of term school madness! It was good to have time to read and explore and enjoy the cool air outside the city. We spent Christmas day itself at home with neighbours which was pretty special as it was the first time we have cooked Christmas dinner in Thailand! Then we spent Christmas night on the sleeper train to Chiang Mai. I think we were the only ones on the train eating Christmas cake!

In Chiang Mai we were able to visit the social worker representing our prospective adoptive child. The frustration of waiting on paperwork has been quite overwhelming in recent months so we hope that we were able to make a good impression and move things along a little. Since we are not able to share much information about the adoption process in this context, we are planning to create an email prayer group which we will be keeping updated over the next few months. If you feel that you could offer prayer for us in this specific area pease let us know and we’d love to add you to the group.

 

For Prayer

  • Please pray for the UNOH team here in Thailand as we navigate more change. Our Commissioner Darryl Gardiner will be spending time with us later this month as we discern what organisational structure best serves our work here. Please pray for bold and creative thinking!
  • Longstanding workers Chris and Jodie MacCartney who run Second Chance have returned to Khlong Toey after a period of leave but will not be rejoining UNOH. We will miss having them on team but are grateful to have them as neighbours. Pray for their family as they readjust and for God’s blessing on their future ministry.
  • Colleagues Camille and Derek have headed off on three months of sabbatical. Pray that they will be filled and refreshed and receive clear vision.
  • Uncertainty has been exhausting this last year and there are still so many threads in our lives that feel unresolved. Please pray for increasing peace and the faith we need to keep in step with the Spirit.
  • Please continue to pray for our next-door Aunty who is in prison. Pray that her health will improve while she is there and that she will encounter kindness.
  • As the slum relocation plans become more concrete, pray that the voices of the weakest will be heard. Please pray that those in power will be merciful and that our communities will be united in making sure nobody gets overlooked. Pray that God will open ways for us to use our influence well.
  • Air pollution in Bangkok is dangerously high at the moment, with smog settled over the whole City and forecast to stay for a month. The children are not able to play outside at school and by the end of the day we have sore throats and eyes. Please pray for protection of our lungs, especially as we try to get back into an exercise routine!

 

 

 

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November 2018

‘She won’t be needing those, she’s gone’; with these words another neighbor swooped in to claim the plastic bottles that we always leave out for Ba’Saa who earns her meagre living from recycling and sorting rubbish. We look out for her, and fight her cause when others want the rubbish out of sight. She is quiet and unassuming, an easy target.

‘Gone?’ Apparently the police had picked her up for possession of methamphetamine the evening before. A small-time drug user struggling to get through each day at a time, people like Ba’Saa are targeted for arrest whilst those at the top of the supply chain buy their protection and walk free. By the time we got to the police cells, visiting hour was over but we could call through the bars from the doorway. 56 year old Ba’Saa looked small and scared.

Her partner was not informed which prison she was moved to and after an anxious two weeks of waiting for a letter to arrive we decided to track her down ourselves. We set off early and waited six hours outdoors in a queue to visit her.  I couldn’t imagine myself in her position, alone with nobody to speak up for her even in court. I was nervous about what state we would find her in.

Behind the glass screen, we were met with the biggest grin.

We were reassured. She is ok. She is getting on with the other 10 or so women in her room. She is awaiting sentencing. She is a survivor. We pray the judge will show mercy.

Our only physical weapon against corruption and systemic injustice is Presence. It holds no guarantee of results but the only cost to us is time and the emotional space to put ourselves in difficult places. Presence stands in witnessof injustice, stands with the oppressed and stands up to speak truth to power. When Jesus announced his Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4 we see what he had come to do – his mission statement, the intention for his incarnation:

IMG_0876The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

This is so rich in meaning at so many levels, but the simplest for us right now, is to follow Jesus’ way and be present to proclaim the Lord’s favour to those that need favour.

The pictures above are from our celebration of the Thai festival of Loy Kratong with our Housechurch. We took a picnic to the park and lit our Kratongs together and let them out onto the water, watching them burn brightly and float away. This festival has themes of saying sorry, and then letting go – allowing the past to float away. The park was crowded with thousands of people. Everyone needs this. Everyone needs the Lord’s favour. For us, a timely reminder of the need to seek forgiveness and of the true Light that shines in the darkness of our hearts and our communities. Hope does not burn out even when we do! As we transition expectantly into Advent may each of us be transformed by the Presence of Jesus and be renewed to walk closely with Him.

In The Neighbourhood

Puppies, puppies and more puppies. 14 in just a few months, and we now need to spend time intentionally socialising them so that they don’t turn into a vicious pack that we will need to sneak past every day on the way to school! Dogs here are mostly managed with violence, so our approach of friendliness is counter-cultural for our neighbours.. but also for the dogs – many are not used to human kindness, so it is great to see them respond with wagging tales to our approach, rather than the usual barking or cowering.

Weekend kids activities continue to be well received and offer a great point of connection with families.

Family

During October half term we were able to get some time away in the North of Thailand. We enjoyed re-connecting with nature and finding some stunning scenery that we had not experienced here in Thailand before. During our time in Chiang Mai we had a precious few hours visiting Bow, the girl we are in the process of adopting.

Elliot was recently chosen to be head boy at school – we think staff and pupils made a great choice! However, the responsibility is bigger than any of us expected and takes up a lot of his time. Both boys are ready for a break! They have been overhearing a lot of violence in the evenings as tensions boil over in the relentless heat. Pray for our children as they process this and indeed children who are at the receiving of domestic violence.

RoyRak

It is a busy time of  Christmas sales and fairs for the RoyRak team. We have been selling well but have been hit hard by our PayPal account being ‘under investigation’ during the busiest season for internet sales! You can still view products on the website and then email us with an order that takes around to weeks to ship!

An exciting development has been the launch of our new ‘Stories of Hope’ programme; a day of workshops and community exposure designed to showcase some of the great things happening in Khlong Toey! Expat guests have had their eyes open to the realities of slum life and been very supportive. Staff from RoyRak and other social enterprise projects have been wonderful hosts and risen to the challenge of sharing local knowledge, skills and stories.

Prayer requests

  • Learning to allow for the incidental and unplanned elements of life in community is hard. It means saying no to other things to keep ourselves available and attentive to the Spirit. It means drawing deeply from the Source to resist getting overburdened. As we plan for the future please pray that we will know our capacity and stay true to our calling.
  • We are tired. Teammates are ill. Cool season isn’t cool. There is so much work to do! Please pray that God will sustain us and heal us. Pray that we will find rest as we holiday with family over Christmas.
  • Pray that the adoption happens, sooner rather than later.

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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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