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Archive for February, 2009

Bangkok + NightLight

We finally returned to Bangkok after spending the last couple of weeks in the northern regions of Thailand. We spent a few days here running errands at embassies preparing for our next leg to Cambodia. Bangkok is pretty different from the rural areas we were in before. It’s pretty urban here and feels a little like New York with nice shopping, subways, street food, and… well except the elephants.
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Next thing we know it was Ash Wednesday and we decided it would be a good time to get everyone in the apartment together for a little meeting. It was pretty cool to have seven friends (Kevin, Y, Chad, Christy, Anthony, Downy, and me) living in the same apartment talking about special moments we’ve had on the trip. It totally felt like The Real World. And some deeeeeeeeep stuff came out and we all encouraged one another and apologized for stuff that usually happens when friends live together. Then we all took communion with bread and wine and gave thanks.

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Later that day we went to visit an organization in Bangkok called NightLight. Their purpose is to fight the sex trade by ministering to women and children working in the red-light district bars. We wanted to serve them and also learn from their organization.

When we arrived we met Annie Dieselberg, the founder of the organization. Annie led us upstairs where we set up for eye exams and also a room for make-up make overs. This is the point where I talk about how awesome Downy is again. But for me it never gets old seeing her transform into professional Dr. Downy and speaking Thai to these women. My job then becomes the guy who makes everyone laugh and slows down the entire process. Every business needs one of those.

But it was cool watching more than fifty women and staff waiting for exams. And since a lot of the women now earn a living making jewelry through NightLight… their vision is real important.

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And in the other room, all the women waiting for Downy received a makeup make-over from Y (our makeup artist). It was cool to see her whip out her arsenal of cosmetics and go to town. Not only can she make you look good, she can also be your 20 minute counselor as she’s really good at connecting with people while working her brush. Big props to both chicas on this day

Liem

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Baan Emmanuel

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Baan Emmanuel literally translates to “House of Jesus”. It’s the orphanage we visited in N. Thailand. 120 kids in 2 different sites, it’s so amazing to see these kids playing. Their ages range from 2 1/2 to 18+. They are happy, well behaved, kids. They do their chores, their homework, and play games. They are literally the most well adjusted kids I’ve ever met. These kids come from various unfortunate backgrounds which involved loss of parents in some form… but we got a chance to play with them, dine with them, and of course, give them eye exams!

I can see why they are so happy. They are sold out for God. The head of the orphanage, Ron, is on fire for God. He is such an inspirational servant of the Lord. It was so heartwarming to see these kids just be kids… with a fishing pond, badminton, football (soccer) court, ping pong table, and no tv!

Eye exams here? My pleasure.

And seeing these kids off to school on the last morning we spent at the orphanage, so heartwarming to see these kids in school, getting an education. It’s hope for the future.

I am humbled by how much life there is here.

Downy

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The Garden of Hope

After a brief training session (and security check), we were encouraged to play with the kids in the drop in center. Many of these kids are considered “at risk”: often they are called flower children, and as soon as they can walk, they carry flowers from bar to bar and sell them to bar patrons. This makes them an easy target for pedophiles. This also exposes them to a more raw form of evil: the interaction between a john and a prostitute.

The kids come after school and have play time up to 2 hours. They are fed dinner, then either do their homework, and learn English until 8pm every night. I was reminded that playing games, doing crafts, etc with children enables social and mental growth. Simply spending time with them in a positive way equips them to overcome any trauma they may have experienced in the past. Playing with the kids was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve had. By the end of playtime, I had little girls climb all over me wanting hugs. Then there was worship. Kids singing in Thai. And such awesome sight to see a 3 year-old boy with no front teeth squeezing his eyes shut and reciting from the book of Matthew. As I looked around the room, my heart was broken in a million pieces at the thought of anyone doing anything bad to this sweet bunch of kids. It just makes me so angry! And what impact can I make in the 4 days we are here?? I felt God telling me that if I am here today playing with the kids, then that’s one less day they are out selling flowers.

In all the flurry of activity, I gave eye exams to all the children in the drop-in center. The youngest patient was 2 ½ and the oldest was 44 (staff member) Out of almost 50, 10 will get brand new glasses in the mail in a few weeks…. I give eye exams every day, but the delight and thankfulness they show is rewarding on an entirely new level. I am extra proud when I tell them that these glasses are a gift, donated by some amazing friends in the U.S.

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I just came from a bar in Chiang Mai. We did outreach for The Garden of Hope. Basically we go in pairs and befriend bar girls. We want to see how they are doing and establish a relationship with them. The idea is that the girls feel like there is someone and somewhere they can turn to if they want to leave the job situation they are in. Another important aim is that we are not looking down on them for their profession. We care for them unconditionally. If they ask, we can give them information about different and better job opportunities and training programs. I was hesitant about how much I could do in a few hours, but I befriended a girl, we’ll call her “Bee”. She was 22, had a toddler at home, and wanted to go back to school, but was cutting class a lot because of the bar schedule and being a single parent, etc. By the end of the night, we were shooting pool and laughing and giving out high fives. The wage was that every game I beat her at pool, is another day she must go to class. Since she didn’t know I was 2nd place in a women’s billiard tournament in college. Let’s just say she has to go to school 3 days this week. I have to say it was quite a memorable experience

Downy

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Re-Energize.

Chiang Mai has been a very interesting place for me. The first day we arrived I got sick with a fever, abdominal pain and wasn’t able to keep any food down for a couple of days. The situation did not improve so I checked into a hospital. I thought all I needed was an iv tube and some antibiotics… but that wasn’t the case. The doctors examined my abdomen and thought the problem could be my appendix, at which point a surgeon came in and investigated further. They were speaking Thai and I couldn’t understand but I knew there was now a possibility they were going to cut me open. I freaked out a little in my mind. So, I let the The Blind Project team know and they prayed for me. Later that day, the ultra-sound did not confirm appendicitis but showed signs of a severely inflamed large intestine. No need for surgery – YES! But they would have to keep me in the hospital for a few days for treatment.

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Being in the hospital sucked. I missed a few key service opportunities. One of the more difficult things was that most of the team was heading into Burma and Downy and I had to stay back. That said, I think every thing happens for a reason. Christie had an amazing experience in Burma connecting with the girls from the safe-house and teaching them makeup skills and hopefully we’ll hear more from her about that.

I had a lot of time to think in the hospital. One of the first things was that “man, maybe God doesn’t want me to be in Thailand” and then I started to think about my family. There’s a big part of me that wants to be close to my parents because you never know what’s going to happen. But most of my thoughts was how appreciative I am for Downy. With her medical background she went into straight up nurse mode and every question I had, she had a very precise and detailed explanation on a medical sense. She is my numero uno nurse.

When I left the hospital, it was already time for us to move North again to the mountain-region of Chiang Rai. We are staying at an orphanage here where we are with children from all different ages. All the kids live here on the grounds, go to school, play and are discipled to. It’s been great seeing new faces as well as seeing some familiar ones from the previous trip. Some of the kids remember me and they’ve gotten a little taller now.

Yesterday was awesome as it was my first time to really help Downy give eye exams. We examined over 60 people, which included the kids and staff members. It was great seeing everyone from the team get into action and help. There were times when I had to step back and admire what was going on (hence, the photos below). I looked over at Downy and realize something special was happening. She is such an asset here. She is a Thai-American doctor who is Christian in a 99% Buddhist country and is able to connect with the people here on a very tangible way. Many people from organizations have noticed this about her and how rare that is. You either have an American worker or a Thai worker… never someone who straddles both lines. So I’ve just been in awe of watching her break through barriers. And fixin’ a few eyes too.

Liem

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Northbound to Chiang Mai

The day before we left Bangkok, we had a prayer meeting, to refuel, refocus and give praise. I’ve been a little emotional these days… Reading about sexual exploitation is hard enough for me. To step into a country that is my heritage and hear first hand accounts from the non-profits who help these women and children can be… sometimes overwhelming.

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For less than $25 U.S. each, we took an overnight train with air conditioning and bunk beds from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. An amazing way to see Thai countryside (in the morning light)

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On the first few days in Chiang Mai, Y, Anthony, Paul (a friend of Anthony’s) and I were able to give eye exams to about 50 students and staff at Eternal Grace Foundation. About 10 of them will be receiving glasses in the mail in a few weeks. Eric & Huong, a married couple with small children, Sam& Joy, another married couple with a small child, and Megan, a delightful young person, have all been in Chiang Mai for a year teaching English at Eternal Grace.

What I found to be most inspiring about today is that the 5 people mentioned above left the comforts of home (Texas), uprooted their families, quit their jobs, and spent time in a foreign country teaching English and assessing the spiritual needs of this country. They hope to possibly plant a church forlocal people in Chiang Mai. Amazing.

Downy

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Connections.

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We spent the last couple of days preparing for meetings with ministries in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which is an 8 hour drive to the northern region of Thailand. We just found out that we will be traveling into Burma as well, to help a ministry out there. So we got passport photos done and headed to the Burmese Embassy in Thailand. The wait took 2+ hours and the place was extremely unorganized. But, hopefully, everything follows through and we’ll be able to get our visas into Burma. Below is a snap of our visa photos, me, downy, christie, anthony and chad.

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Christie (Y) on our team is a makeup stylist and wanted to use her skills on this trip so we connected with an organization in Bangkok called Rahab Ministries. They are located in the center of Patpong, which is the notorious red-light district neighborhood for sex tourism in Thailand.

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During the daytime this city block is seemingly quiet, but it quickly transforms at night with bright neon lights, loud music, brothels, and massage parlors. It is an estimated 4,000 prostitutes work this street every night. Many of the girls come from impoverished areas from the country-side and are brought to the large city of Bangkok in hopes of finding a well-paying job so they can support their families back home. Many are tricked into prostitution and are trapped here because it is too shameful  to reveal to their parents what they actually do. 

 

In Thai culture, if something is not nice then it simply doesn’t exist. That said, many people don’t speak about sex tourism, and prositution does not exist in the public eye.

 

But  Rahab Ministries aims to shed light on this dark issue and offer hope to the women working in Patpong. We met with the founder, prayed together and he explained in detail what they do exactly. They have a Salon, Jewelry-making, and Discipleship program. They will outreach to various bargirls and prostitutes and seek to make friendships. Through that friendship, they are often directed to Rahab’s salon, where hairdressers will get to know these girls on a personal level. Bar girls and prostitutes are invited to leave their jobs and seek employment through Rahab ministries. It is there where they are able to learn English and experience God’s love through the discipleship program. 

 

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Because Christie has been a make-up artist for various tv shows and commercials, they invited her to teach the girls in the salon to do makeup. So when we return from Northern Thailand, Christie will gather her makeup kit and begin teaching these girls her skills. Rahab Ministries also invited Christe and Downy to come to their safehouse where they provide housing for many of their sexually exploited women. The founder suggested it would be a good to get to know those girls on a personal level and have a movie night with food. We heard so many amazing testimonies and stories about these young girls through their ministry. And as for myself, I will help them with various graphic design and marketing their organization while I am here. 

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We then headed off to visit some local markets to get some food. The photo above is Hainese Chicken Rice with Soup. It looks simple, but it is actually really delicious. And the best part is it only costs $1 US Dollar, as all food in Thailand is cheap. The photo below is of a fruit here called a durian. You can google it, but it is known as the stinkiest food in the world… the smell is so pungent that you will get fined if you eat it on trains or hotels. But I like it because it actually tastes really good.

 

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Today, we will hop on an overnight train that will take us to the Northern region where we’ll be helping out with an organiztion that helps trafficked victims. That is our first stop in providing eye-exams. Below is a photo of the main train station here in Bangkok, it’s equivalent to Grand Central Station in NY.

 

Stay in touch,

 

Liem.

 

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Arriving in Bangkok

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In the first days here in Thailand, we are adjusting to the new climate, new time zone, and at least 4 new roommates. We are planning and preparing for our volunteer opportunities next week. Lots of errands. Lots of meetings.
How do I feel about being in Thailand? I feel like I am supposed to be right here, right now. I feel at home. The city is mysterious and familiar at the same time.

I haven’t been back in almost 10 years and when I came with my family, I was sheltered from everything. I remember having a driver take us everywhere. I remember not being able to go out past dinnertime. I remember my mother being overly cautious and protective. Sheltered from anything that might corrupt my mind or put me in danger.
This time is different. I am finding my own way around. I am going to places I wasn’t allowed. Talking about things that I wasn’t allowed to talk about. Figuring out how to be part of a solution to a problem that deeply wounds my heart.

And discovering just how far a pair of glasses will go…

Downy

 

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