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

Making progress patiently

Steven, Simon, Jacob, Kenneth, Simeon

We were hopeful of completing the new floor and wall for the slum home of a poor elderly couple. But it was not to be. The amount of work exceeded our estimation. It could have been completed if we had better skills and tools. We had no lack of hands. We lacked skills and confidence. Nevertheless the team learned quickly by observing how Steve did things. He was amazing to watch. In fact it was fun to see how he handled different challenges and problems in the course of construction.

The floor boards were made of some kind of composite of concrete and fibre. They were heavy and even five of us urbanites could not lift them. However two of their locals easily lifted and carried all of them for us to the house.

I was not of much help to the construction, and sort of fell into the role of “unofficial” photographer and storyteller. So today I focused on taking good photos and on telling the story. I became more serious about camera angles, and interviewed the initiator and leader of the Ruth Center. I spent an hour talking to Noi the diminutive “giant” who ministered among the elderly poor. This story will require a post in itself.

So at the end of the day, we finished 90% of the floor and 70% of the walls and decided to call it a day as it was over 5pm. Then we had to give away “Cold Storage” school bags to the poor school children of the slums.

By the time we were in the van, it was 6pm. This was risky. And our anxiety was proven true for we got stuck in the Bangkok peak traffic jam at Sukhumvit. The van was stationary for close to 10 minutes. Nothing moved. So when we saw the Rembrandt Hotel through the van window, we decided unanimously to take a walk. We reached the hotel in 15minutes! I think by the time we entered the hotel, the van might have moved a mere 100 metres.

We were learning when to be patient and when to be decisive.