When you first walk through one of the slum areas in Chiangmai, you realize you’re within walking distance of one of the most popular malls in the modern capital of Chiangmai where you can pick up groceries or diamonds; your call. It makes the experience more surreal, like you’ve dropped off of an unseen border into another country.
Stagnant, green water full of floating trash and human waste lie unmoved beneath bamboo slats put together for make-do dwellings. My first thought is to not to gag (how rude would that be?). Outside on the street, weary women grill chicken guts, spice them up and sell them. Do I want some some? I decline. I remind myself not to touch anything, not to breathe too deeply. I say a little inside prayer that eventually turns into an unspoken chant: Dear God don’t let me get sick.
But then, there they are:, old women with tired smiles, teen-agers, coughing with colds or flu ( or worse?) adorable kids, darting in and out of the nasty dirt walk-way. There’s nothing else to do here; I have to love, hug, climb up on the stilts and sit inside with them awhile. Ask questions. Offer hope. Pray.
People change everything. Turns out they are not statistics or a news show. Eternal people can only be understood through eternal vision.
I learned that lesson when I moved to Thailand as a teen-ager with a brand new marriage (three-months-old) and a dream that maybe I could plant my life in Thai-land’s soil and make a difference in its future.
I started with a question I still use today when I want to do the impossible: “What if?”
Say, what if we could build the first Girl’s Home in North Thailand? Now of course, there are girl’s home popping up all over the world and for good reason, thank God. But then, the concept was so new that some called it, “Mary’s brothel”. The government refused to acknowledged the nation had a problem with young girls being sold. Other’s said it was a foreigner’s fantasy and would never last.
Not so. Baan Mai (New Home) took in hundreds of girls over the years: beautiful, young and at –risk of being sold ( by poor parents in remote villages).Other were at risk of staying uneducated and poor, and others just needed a home while they went to school or college.
One of these girls, Rattanaporn, got her start at Baan Mai and later, while in Bible College, found the man of her dreams, who became a pastor.
Now, I am in the slums, ministering with them, part of their team. I see their lives first hand: compassionate, resourceful, sacrificial. I am breathlessly proud of this daughter-of-the-faith and her husband, in awe of the results of the crop of dreams I planted in my twenties.
Here she is, leading me into a dark world of addicts and abuse; poverty and pain. They introduce me by name to children of Laos who are without passport, stable identity or hope of a successful life. Many of their parents are serious drug addicts and prostitutes. Most of them go to sleep alone and wake up in unbelievable poverty and infested-disease-ridden filth.
Still, both Rattana and her husband are brimming with hope and possibility. I get this. This is my faith-daughter and she has vision, sees eternal futures changing. She knows pain first hand and never succumbed to being a victim. She is planting her life in the same Thai soil I started my dream in: the same city, the same faith and using the same vision process: mix hope with possibility and draw a new future with long strokes of faith.
What if Rattana and I can produce a “grandchild crop” and multiply her kind in another generation: compassionate, faithful, successful?
What if, together, we changed the future of hundreds of these kids?
What if we started by buying the land to build on?
What if we built a home called Grace Place to raise orphans and displaced children?
We will. In 2016 we bought the land and staked our claim for the orphans and children of the slums. This year we will build.
I invite you to be part of the miracle of creating an eternal future for these slum children. I recommend starting with a question: What if in 2017 you were a part of planting a new crop that will change the landscape of Thailand and build a future for Laos?