Noi: good things come in small packages

Her parents would never have known that their short diminutive daughter, Noi (“little”), would one day make an significant impact for Christ by serving the needs of the elderly poor in the slums of Bangkok.

Noi: short in stature, great in faith

Noi had a painful childhood marked by shame, insults, and mockery about her height. She grew to believe that the only way she would be able to gain the acceptance, respect and love of others would be for her to study hard, get a good job, and earn a good income. After all, she grew up in a very large rice-farming family in Roiet, from the poorer north-east region of Thailand. Mum had tried to abort her but failed.  God spared her life for a purpose, but her short stature was the result of the failed abortion attempts. The rest of her siblings are all of average height.

Noi was a diligent student and entered a university in Bangkok and studied to be an accountant. There she came to know the Lord. Though her parents objected to her faith in Christ, her influential brother who was working in Bangkok and supported the family back home backed her, “She is old enough to make her decision”.

She joined a small Presbyterian church that knew little about missions. She graduated from university and worked hard for a few years to earn money to gain respect and acceptance. However, she was stopped in her tracks when her father passed away without knowing Christ, and she saw the brevity of life and futility of pursuing money, and how important it is for people to know the Lord. It was a difficult period of grieving and repentance for her but the Lord was close to her and one day she heard the Lord said to her “Now is the time to work for God’s kingdom!” She did not know what the kingdom was. She asked her pastor. The pastor said that the kingdom of God is about winning people to Christ and bringing them under his rule. That stirred her soul.

Her pastor told her that YWAM Thailand needed an accountant. She went for the interview. They liked her. She was willing to join them. As she walked out she realised they did not talk about financial compensation. She went back in and got a shock. Zero salary. That is how the whole organization runs from top to bottom – nobody is paid. Everyone raises their own support. She said, “Maybe No. Let me think about this and come back to you”. One week of prayer later she gave her answer, “Yes”. That year she lived out of her savings. One year led to another till she had been with YWAM for three years as accountant! The Lord provided.

Then she signed up for Discipleship Training School (DTS)-  a six months training course. She became a good friend of a Korean. One day, the Korean lady felt led of the Lord to give a notable sum to Noi. She told her, “No need. I have enough money”. But the Lord knew better for soon after she heard her mum got ill and was hospitalised. As it turned out, the money the Korean sister had given was a God-send used to pay for Noi’s mum’s hospitalisation. After DTS she stayed on as an interpreter for DTS because her English was good. Then she attended School of Frontier Missions (SOFM) in the Philippines after which she came back and was involved in ministry to children and in auditing. Little did she know that a new chapter awaited her when the Lord gave her a dream.

One of the elderly poor Noi worked with

She had a dream of an elderly grandmother sitting forlorn with no one to talk to and looking miserable. She simple sat in one spot. Still. Quiet. Alone. The Lord gave her a scripture: “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13). The phrase, “the old” resonated with Noi. She felt the Lord was stirring her heart to reach out to the elderly in the slums.

She shared here vision with Project LIFE and the leader was affirmative about this great need that no other Christian organization was serving. So in 2008, with one other Thai volunteer they started to walk the slums, get to know them and serve the elderly with primary health care and financial assistance. The beginning was a very trying period. For three months, she cried daily. She found herself on the edge of quitting. She found the cross cultural adjustments too challenging. The slums were dirty, smelly, and she was scared of the roaming dogs. The people were quarrelsome, vulgar and selfish and she did not like the vices among them: smoking, drinking and gambling. The people had so many problems and so much needs and she felt powerless to be of much help to them. She became discouraged and wanted to quit, until she realised that this was all part of spiritual warfare. Satan was guarding his territory.

Steve with his son Evans
Mill and Mon

That was years ago. Now the ministry called Ruth Center is more developed. Jarlon, Mill and Mon are on staff and regularly make visits to the elderly in eight slum communities. Toi works with grandmothers in the craft project. Steve Webb leads the building projects that help improve the physical environment of the slums, like building common areas for them, and making improvements to safety in the homes of the elderly poor that they minister to. They also open Ruth Center for the elderly to come for interaction, fun and rest. For those interested to study the Bible, a weekly fellowship. Annually they developed  a simple curriculum for knowing Jesus through discussion on Bible passages in  small groups that meet periodically in the slums.

A church team from WRPF worked with Noi in a construction project
L to R: Kenny, Xavier, Simeon, Jenny, Noi, Steve, Jacob, Evans, Austin, Heather, Martha, Zach (mission leader), Tiffany, Steven, Simon at celebration dinner

Does she feel lonely as a single person aged 41? She said, “Not really. Very busy with work as Director of Ruth Center, coordinator of YWAM Bangkok, church ministry for students, and involvement in church ministry to students”.

Ruth Center has embarked on a major project of assisted living for the elderly. They have been praying about this for five years and have recently started raising funds to purchase a piece of land about three hours drive from Bangkok. Its about 24.7 acres (62 rai by Thai count). 1 rai of land will costs US$2,500. The vision is to house about 100 elderly residents who have no support from families, and need care because of poverty, sickness or disabilities. Many elderly in Bangkok are vulnerable. Ruth Center caters to 410 elderly over 60 years of age. 16% of these have no support. They are single again, or have no children and are given 600 thb a month by the government. This however can hardly pay for the monthly utilities. They hope to create a sustainable community through farming on the land. For more information about the assisted living project of Ruth Center click HERE. If you wish to make a donation to www.ywamthai.org/donate/

 

 

Building for a witness to Christ in Bangkok slums

Happy grandpa
Side wall before rebuild
Side wall and window after rebuild

Everybody was happy today. Everybody was smiling today. Grandpa and grandma were smiling broadly. Today was the fourth day of work. A team finished the window trimmings at the front and the alternate window panels of the side wall. Another team under the able leadership of Steve finished the sidewalk.

There were a few steps to doing the sidewalk:

1. Remove the whole unsafe wooden sidewalk portion by portion.

2. Remove as much of the rubbish below water level as possible so that the concrete beam can hit dirt. This was dirty work, unpleasant work and required perseverance. We saw tons of rubbish, mainly garbage bags and drink plastic bottles. The water was murky black and smelt rotten.

3, Insert the beam and pile drive it into the ground under the brackish water. A few heavy guys would jump in unison on a contraption and that would pile the concrete beam down.

4, If it could go no deeper, then the extra height of the beam had to be cut off.

5. The final step was to put concrete slabs across two sets of piledriven beams, and two larger longer slabs over them.

The shaky wooden sidewalk
The concrete beam
Positioning and piling in the beam
Using human weight and rhythm to drive beam down
New beams and old
Concrete slabs over concrete slabs
Sidewalk rebuilt and stable with concrete slabs

Thank God we were able to finish the whole sidewalk of about ten feet by the late afternoon. We were happy to conclude our work with a photo in front of the restored house and sidewalk, and we prayed a blessing for grandpa and grandma.

It was a most satisfying day, indeed a most satisfying project. While we were working the last four days, neighbours in the community were watching, observing and asking questions. They knew how old and unsafe and dilapidated grandpa and grandma’s house was, and how they could not afford to do anything about it. They knew we are Christians from Singapore. They knew it was done for them as an act of love and humble service. Everytime they pass the house, or see grandpa and grandma, they will  give credit to the God that we worship and serve. The house testifies of the glory of God’s undeserved blessing on the poor. Even after we have gone, the house acts as an advertisement to God’s goodness and care for the poor. We pray the slum people will have a greater openness to Christ.

The joy of completion is evident

The team members were filled with joy. Not all can preach or testify or conduct Bible studies. This project was another way of preaching, of witnessing to Christ. Only that it uses a different set of skills. This is a great ministry avenue that would involve a greater variety of people with practical skills to glorify God in missions.

Sad and hopeful slum stories

This Wednesday morning, Alvin and I were relieved of our duties on-site in order to help Noi  bring an elderly male amputee, Won Sum, a diabetic patient of about 70 years old, from his slum home to the hospital. As the staff were all women, we were asked to help carry him to the car. It turned out to be quite a forbidding experience. Zach the church team leader wisely felt the task would be more suitably accomplished by us. After all, a medic and a storyteller, would not be missed much by the other skilled team members.

We were driven to another part of the slum and walked a hundred metres of narrow walkway with some steps to the home of the amputee. Outside there was a damaged sofa, a rusty, old wheelchair, a few pails of water, and smelly poop. I thought it was dog poo. Soon we discovered the amputee who lived alone virtually lived just inside his door. His food, water, medicines, were all inside his home within an eight feet radius from the door. Our task was to carry him to the car so that Noi could bring him to the hospital to clean his wounds on his left foot.

We washed away the poo outside and cleared the area so we could bring the wheelchair in and lift him up on it. That itself was not easy. He was heavy (and we were not strong). He smelled. His pants kept slipping. Finally by two of us using one hand on his thigh and one below his armpit and the Ruth Center staff pushing the wheelchair under him, we finally managed to move him out of his home to the waiting car.

The next big problem was carrying him from the wheelchair into the front passenger seat. He had little arm strength and he was too heavy for both of us to lift in that cramped car space. Only after several tries did we finally manage to get him into the car.

The floorboards were replaced and screwed down and walls strengthened
The floorboards before the rebuild
Rotted side wall replaced with better composite material
The front wall before rebuild
The front wall after rebuild

We then went back to the construction site and there the team was making good progress in drilling screws into the floorboards, and wall boards. There were also rotted beams that had to be replaced, and the divider wall between kitchen and living area to be reinforced. It looked as though we would need another day and a half to finish the sidewalk.

Has our previous project become a dumping site

Last year, we had a church camp with a missions component and we built a concrete sidewalk so that the people living around there could have a community space to gather and chat. We passed by the sidewalk on the first day and found that it had a ladder and some junk on it. I felt disappointed that what we intended had degenerated into another dumping ground or storage area. However this was not to be so. I went to check the place at about lunch time and I saw some women eating and some of them socialising around a game of cards. Later in the afternoon, I checked again. This time another group comprising young mothers and their children were chatting. It felt gratifying that the original intention of the space was attained. I must report this to the church. They will be encouraged by this development.

Lunchtime bonding
Later in the afternoon