There is something about putting in time, talent and treasure that moves your affection towards something. Here we were, six men who wanted to help renovate a home for the elderly poor in Uthai Thani, four hours drive north of Bangkok, in a rural area so rustic there is no shopping mall or cinema. We landed at Bangkok’s international airport at about 9am and were straightaway driven to a rural province that is full of farms. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at Texas Chicken, and after that the towns got smaller and more rural and quiet.
Before we knew it we were moving our luggage from the van into individual colourful chalets in a neat row. SGD$10 per night per person. At this hotel rate, there was nothing to complain about. Outside all around are corn or “jagong” farms. Very serene, very quiet. The only staff a lady, whose husband and young child, stays in a makeshift hut without walls near the entrance. She is the receptionist, the housekeeper, the chambermaid, the concierge, the security guard.
After thirty minutes to settle we boarded the Volkswagen and headed to the home for the elderly poor which was about fifteen minutes drive away. Steve the highly skilled and committed YWAM worker from the US, who was in charge of the construction and renovation projects of Ruth Center, showed us the scope of the renovation project and introduced us to the elderly poor who were already settled into the home.
One building, a former temple had already been renovated and fitted for use for the current elderly folk. Another huge building, formerly a barn or storage building, was partially renovated into a kitchen, dining and activity or recreation space with a TV set. Our job was to paint, and set up the metal framework upon which to affix the wall partitions made of prefabricated mental panels and door frames. At the end, we possibly could make 4-6 bedrooms each accommodating about 2 men in each room. But this goal proved to be too ambitious.
On the next day, a Saturday we started the renovation and we left our chalet at 7am in the morning and returned back each night at about 8pm. We had all our meals at the home. And we went straight to the airport on Tuesday after breakfast, saying goodbye and thank you and photo-taking. It was straight to the airport, no shopping, no reception, almost like a special forces mission haha!!
Every one was tired but feeling grateful and satisfied and joyful after the mission ended. We felt our heart was with Ruth Center and its vision We could not see the project to completion and we felt like coming back to finish it, but it was not possible. Someone else or Steve with some assistants would have to complete the rest of the work. I find myself feeling fulfilled, since the Lord had been putting in my heart to be more incarnational in my service, to be practical and concrete in showing love, to not remain in the safety and comfort zone of pastoral work. I felt good that I had taken some baby steps in this direction and this is one of the platforms where I have been learning to obey the Lord.
I further believe such works of service are a great platform for believers who have gifts and skills of practical service to serve God in missions.
Here is a video of what we did (video will be uploaded when completed):
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 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.
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.
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.
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/