Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Reaching for new heights



Tao and Arm just finished twelfth grade. For some people that may not seem like a huge achievement, but both girls have overcome great adversity to get to this point.

Both girls were born in Karen families in Thailand. Arm was granted Thai citizenship at the age of 13, but Tao has not been able to obtain citizenship despite numerous efforts over the years. At the start of her high school years Tao moved schools and went to live at her new school in the hope that being in the district where most of the Karen people live that her attempt to obtain citizenship would be successful. However, year after year her dreams were crushed and she remains stateless after six years of living away from her mother and father.

Tao

Arm may have Thai citizenship, but as the fourth of seven children she faced much opposition from her family when she wanted to pursue her studies past middle school. None of her three older siblings studied beyond seventh grade and it seemed like she was destined to follow the same path. She dreamt of more and thankfully with the help of some of her friends, a sponsor who helped to cover her school fees, and a pastor who helped to speak to her parents on her behalf, she managed to stay in school each year. 



Arm

How do you stand up and fight for your dreams when everything seems to be against you? Almost everyone that we have met that has overcome adversity of some kind says the same thing – you cannot fight alone. There is always someone who stands with you, someone who believes in you, who helps you not to give up on yourself.  Arm and Tao have each had a number of people like that, people who have stood beside them and encouraged them when it seemed impossible to keep going. Teachers, pastors, friends, sponsors – they are not the ones that reach the dream, but without them the dream is that much harder to reach.

When we meet people like Tao and Arm, we are encouraged because we know that their story is so much bigger than a twelfth grade certificate. It is about community – people standing together cheering on someone else to achieve their dreams, with no motive of anything for themselves in return. 

In our years of connecting sponsors with children who need sponsorships, we have met many selfless people along the way, people willing to be a part of someone’s story without any selfish motives. If that is you reading this, we salute you for your contribution to someone else’s dreams. Thank you, whoever you are, wherever you are – you have made a difference.
Arm and Tao are in fact not finished their journey with us, but rather just beginning a new chapter. They are our newest university students in our sponsorship program, now reaching towards their bachelor’s degrees starting this June.  Tao will be studying a humanities degree majoring in English and Arm will be studying an arts degree majoring in drama and dance. We know from experience that the journey will not be easy – Arm will still have to face the pressure from her family to drop out and contribute to the family finances, Tao must continue to pursue her struggle for citizenship, hopefully finding a way before she graduates. There will be many challenges along the way, but with a community of people standing with them, we believe that they can do it.

This year, with Tao and Arm we will have a total of six university students and around thirty high school students that we assist. We are always looking for new people to partner with us to help us to continue supporting those who receive sponsorships until they reach their dreams of completing their education.

 If you would like to be one of those standing in the wings cheering them on, we would love to hear from you.


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Walking in their shoes


We have discovered in the journey that we have walked with the children that we support to attend school that being given the opportunity to attend school is only one part of the equation. Being able to do it with as much dignity as possible is truly empowering. 

Children need the right equipment to follow their dreams, and in cases where their parents need to rely on sponsorships just to keep their children in school - the additional expenses that come along with being in school are often completely overwhelming. 

One of the primary expenses for school going children every year in Thailand is school uniforms. Part of the uniform that often does not get replaced due to their families limited budgets is the school shoes. We have seen many a child who has completely worn out the soles of their shoes, with their feet literally touching the ground when they walk.

Our wonderful friends at the International Community School  (ICS) in Bangkok recently helped us to start a fund towards purchasing new shoes for the children in two of the Karen villages in Suan Pueng for this coming school year, which begins in May. We would very much like to reach the goal of purchasing a new pair of school shoes for every one of the school going kids in the villages before the new school year begins. 

While 2 villages full of new shoes may seem like a huge goal, one new pair only costs around US$10.     
Join us in the joy of buying a pair of school shoes for someone who really needs them. 

If you would like to have a part in this project, you can donate online here.
(Please make sure to state in the note that it is for the Rice Seeds Shoe project)

Or contact us for more details: ratchaburi@ywamthailand.org


   

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Karen church opening

When we met the people in the Makaam Waan village a few years ago, they spoke to us about the vision that they had to build a new church. Their old bamboo church structure desperately needed replacing. It seemed like a distant dream from the desperately poor state of most of the villagers, but we prayed together with them and encouraged them to continue pursuing the vision.

The journey has been thrilling to be a part of as we have watched God provide little by little until finally on the 31st of December 2015, we were able to participate in the official opening of the long awaited church building.

What does this mean for the village of Makaam Waan other than no more leaking roof during the many a rainy Sunday morning church service and no more fear that visiting honored guests would fall through the many holes in the battered bamboo stage? It means that our Karen brothers and sisters have journeyed together, not only with us and with each other, but with our faithful God - and He has proven Himself faithful no matter the obstacle. It means that their faith has grown as they have been challenged to believe beyond their circumstances in a God that is great enough to fulfill even those things that may seem impossible. It is a testament to God's faithfulness like a rainbow or an alter of remembrance, so that those who were involved in the vision can share of the great things that God did on the way to seeing the church building finished.

Every Sunday morning, the beautiful Karen voices of Makaam Waan village will ring out in unison in a ballad of praise to Him who is most worthy. Our prayer is that He will be known intimately by them.











Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Lord's Tents Camping #7

On the 12th-14th of October we hosted the Lord's Tent's camping #7. 

So many tents! 60 children and 20 adults on our camp this year.
The Lord's Tent's Camping started as a project a couple of years ago with a small group of Burmese kids that we were ministering to. We had realised in the time that we had spent with the children that because of the circumstances in which they grew up, they did not dream big dreams for their future. Most knew that they would never make it past primary school and that their life would be in construction. There were walls stopping their dreams, and we wanted those walls to be broken down.

We had the kids each think up a small short term dream. Something that they had never done but wanted to do. They each wrote them down on a piece of paper and together we picked one out of a hat. It belonged to a little boy - he had never been camping and his dream was to camp in a tent and sleep in a sleeping bag. Together we prayed with the kids, raised funds and the dream of the Lord's Tent's Camping was born.

Now 7 years later, most of that first small group of Burmese kids are all grown up. Two of the girls are in second year university - this year, they played a role in helping us lead the camp. But now there are not just a small group of children. One little boys dream of camping in a tent and sleeping bag now is a tool that inspires other children like him to dream beyond his community. 

Approximately 60 children attended this year - some refugees, some the children of Burmese migrants, some Thai children - but each with a story, and each with the potential to dream of something bigger for their lives. We hope that they were inspired this week, not so much by us, but by each other - that they will see freedom to dream in the eyes of a friend, and have the courage to take down those walls in their own heart. 

Words of encouragement written by the kids

Cooking their own food

Cooking in bamboo over a fire

Evening activities


Monday, 9 March 2015

Mam's house



Mongkhon is our dear staff member with a heart as wide as the ocean - he gives literally everything that he has away, filled with compassion for anyone in need and hardly ever thinking about himself. Anyone that has met Mongkhon can testify to his kind heart. He is always looking for a way to help someone in need with what little he has himself.

Mongkhon has a very dear sister whose name is Mam. Mam is in her 50's and lives in the family house that was built, rather poorly, many years ago. Mam is often not well and lives alone in the house, cooking and selling food to make just enough to get by on her own.

Mam's house was built as many are in the slums without proper foundations. It has a wooden floor and is built over an area of water, which causes serious flooding in the rainy season from water seeping through the floor.

The greatest concern that we have for Mam right now is that the floor of her house has begun to sink. The sinking floor is causing the wall to pull away from the roof, which could fall in on Mam at any time. If the house is still standing in June, when the monsoon season begins she will practically be living in water.
The wooden floor through which the water seeps


Mam looking at the floor that has sunk and pulled away from the wall

The growing gap between the wall and the roof

Now to most people reading this story, evacuating Mam from the house that could collapse at any moment seems like the simplest solution. However, Mam does not want to leave the house and she is the last family member living in the house that holds the house certificate (an essential document in Thailand) for the whole family

Mongkhon wants to help his sister to strengthen the structure of the house, lift the floor and add some pillars to help the house to be more stable. He wants to repair the ceiling and do what little he can to make the house a safer place for his sister, who doesn't want to move out of the house that she has lived much of her life in.

He estimates that it will cost around US$1000 to do the bare minimum in fixing the house. If you have met Mongkhon while serving with us and been touched by his huge heart for others, would you consider giving in some way towards something that is so close to his heart?

If you would like to make a donation towards this project, please contact us and we will let you know how it can be done.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Building the church

There was a morning in the little Karen church in Suan Pueng a few years ago that I finally came to a deeper understanding of the plight of the refugee. A few of the youth were standing in front of the church singing a Thai worship song, and the words cut deeply into my heart. Not for myself, but for the girls that were singing it.

The song was a prayer, asking God to 'heal our land', and it was then that I began to think about what it must feel like to not have a land to call your own. Not a piece of land, that's your own, purchased with money that can be worked for, but a land that accepts you as it's citizens and gives you the rights that should be granted to citizens of every country. The Karen are not citizens anywhere and many that live in this particular village come out of the refugee camp nearby, some having lived there for more than 10 years before finally coming out and living in Thailand.


We have known the people of this particular Karen congregation for around 4 years now. They are our brothers and sisters. We love their children as our own. Everyone that visits them is blessed by just being with them. They are a beautiful people, with hearts that reflect more of the heart of Jesus in their hospitality than can be explained in words - but anyone that has been there knows what I am talking about, because it is an experience that blows you away and changes your own heart forever.

When we met the people of this village, we had no idea that they had in fact just been through a very traumatic situation. Many months later, they shared this experience with us, and our hearts broke for them. The church that they worship in is a bamboo structure typical of the Karen people. However, bamboo structures are usually supposed to be replaced every 2-3 years and theirs has been around for almost 8 years and they have never been able to afford to replace it. The roof leaks, the benches are falling apart, there are holes in the stage - and most importantly, the church was built on borrowed land. When we met them, they had almost saved enough money to finally purchase a piece of land to be able to build a new, more permanent, more stable church building. The week before we arrived in their village for the first time, someone ran off with the money, never to be seen again.


It has been a long journey since then as we have walked alongside them through this situation. We challenged them to raise the money themselves as a congregation for the land again - through tithes and offerings from the minimal wages that they receive working in construction. We rejoiced with them when they were able to purchase the land last year. We came together in faith with them and found sponsors for the church toilets - the very first thing that was built on the land just a few months ago.


Late last year we were approached by a school in Bangkok that wanted to get involved in a construction project and we suggested this one. We will be starting the foundations with them next week and building some of the wall surrounding the church property.

This is so exciting for us and we know that even though they are not citizens in this land, or any land - having their own permanent church structure, on their own land that they as a church have purchased, is something very special indeed. They themselves are the church, and it is not any building or structure or government that can dictate their worship of God. Yet, we long to worship together with them in their new church building when it is finished :to rejoice in the faithfulness of the God who has brought us together as one family, across borders and cultures and regardless of language barriers and financial difficulty and lack of citizenship.

We will begin the foundations in faith, but we need partners to come alongside us and help us to join with our Karen brothers and sisters in this vision. They together as a church have raised a lot of money from their small salaries to purchase the land and begin the building. In order to finish the entire church building, we, together with the church will need to raise up to 850,000 Baht ($26,000).


Would you consider being a partner of something so special? If you have visited this village and would like to give something back to them as a community, this is your chance.
If you have never visited them, we challenge you to give towards this church as a step in faith that maybe, just maybe one day you may make it here to meet these beautiful people. 


Every amount will help us to make this a reality. If you would like to give towards this project, you can do so here, (please make sure to specify in the note that the amount needs to go to the 'Karen church' and notify us by email so that we can correctly allocate the donation)

Alternatively donations can be made to:
please send checks payable to "YWAM Montana" to: 
"YWAM Montana, 501 Blacktail Rd., Lakeside, MT 59922, U.S.A.".
Please don't write anything else on the check and include a separate note indicating that your donation is for "Project 3551, YWAM Ratchaburi".
 (if you donate via YWAM Montana, please send us a note when you have made the donation so that we can allocate it to the church building).



(Photo credit: Karina Palamarchuk)

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The joy of a shared marble

'What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others...' Nelson Mandela

For most people who are not born into poverty it may be difficult to understand that people who have little are often more generous with the little that they have than those that have much.

My children have many friends from many different walks of life. They are missionary kids, growing up between worlds, even though they have Thai passports by birth. They have Thai friends who speak Thai, Thai friends who have been raised in English, friends from Australia, America, Canada and New Zealand. They are friends with the Burmese children in our area. However the children that they love to play with the most of all, are the Karen children who live in a small make-shift village on the border of Thailand and Burma.

Why do they like to play with those children the most? Their lives are so uncluttered. I would like to use the word uncomplicated but with the complex issues that they face growing up in extreme poverty and without citizenship in any country,  that simply isn't true. What I mean by uncluttered is that they have so little 'stuff'. There are few possessions to be had, and what they have, they share without a second thought. No parents have to come and intervene to make them share. It is their natural inclination.

This is not something that is behavior that has been taught, but rather an attitude that has been learned from the way that they see their parents interact with others. Everything is shared. As poor as they are and as little access as they have to whatever it is that they may need, they are always thinking of others. Just last weekend when we were in the village, a friend from Bangkok brought some second hand clothes for the villagers. The response of one of the leaders in the village was: "Next time you come, don't forget to bring more winter clothes. We know some people who live on the Burmese side of the border who live in the forest. It is very cold in the winter and they have nothing to wear." I had to ask myself, if I struggled to get by every day, would my attitude have been to think about someone else in need?

In the past few months we have spent a lot of time out at the Karen village with teams of volunteers. In all that we have given, and all that the teams have done, I am never convinced that we are the givers and not in fact the receivers in this relationship. For all that we teach and all that we do, I think each one of our volunteers, including our own family, learns and receives one hundred times more. I know that for my children, countless life lessons have been learned playing in the dust and climbing the trees together with their Karen friends. Probably one of the greatest is this:

One marble shared among many friends can bring more joy than a room full of toys kept to oneself.

My Karen friends have made a difference in my life. How much money you have is not the limiting factor on the difference that you can make to the world. Share what you have been given and the joy will be shared.