Saturday, August 6, 2011

Goodbye Bangkok!

Our time in Bangkok is done! here is a quick recap of what we've done so far:
  • · (In Korea) Learn about “abba” prayer, based on Romans 8:26. We ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us and focus on God, not necessarily on our prayer requests…but in the process miracles happen!
  • · Take a 10 hour van ride to visit an IDP (internally displaced people) camp in Maesot, a city on the border of Thailand and Burma, to bring gifts and hear the stories of refugee orphans who had to travel through the jungle for three days to escape Burmese soldiers. One girl shared that she doesn’t know her birthday, but she guessed that she was around 12 years old. Even though she only just finished second grade, she was so grateful to be getting an education at the camp.
  • · Visit the slum community with Brenda and James Strombeck, where they go every week to provide dinner, play games, and do crafts with the children. Afterwards, we got to sit in on an English class they provide for free for the community. There have been churches that helped out this community before, but it was very conditional; if the community accepted Christ, then the church will help. Because of these scars, Brenda and James go simply to love the kids and have gained trust with them in the past few years.
  • · Travel up north to visit and learn about the Isan Fish Farm in Udon Thani, a part of SDRF (Sustainable Development Research Foundation).
  • · Visit The Well, a leadership and equipping ministry who reach women working in the bars to teach jewelry-making and other goods. Kiana, Rebekah, and I have been involved with outreach, where we go to the bars to develop relationships with the women involved in the sex industry.
  • · Participate in NS BKK verges (services), staff meetings, and help remodel the space and cafĂ©.
  • · Take a short trip to the island Koh Samet with our team along with some friends for team building and reflection.
  • · In the midst of it all, live out communitas; invite people to our home (or go to other people’s homes), eat together, listen to their stories, and encourage them with prayer. See how God is already moving in Bangkok!
Thanks to all our supporters and friends who've been praying for us. See u soon :D

Heart of the Father

In the parable of the prodigal son, the younger son goes off and wastes his inheritance on bad things and the older son stays behind, thinking that's what he was supposed to do. While most can relate to one of the sons, it's interesting to think that we should be striving to be more like the father. Upon the return of the younger son, the father not only embraces him but celebrates that which was once lost.

Three important points I took away from this story and trip:

- The heart of the father is to bless. Not to cast judgment or love someone any less because of mistakes that were made. Even when the son returned, he embraced him with love. This is something I've come to embrace after being in an unfamiliar area for over a month. To love unconditionally and continuing to bless, love and embrace no matter what...that's what we're all about.

- The father takes the initiative. In this story along with the parable of the lost sheep and coin, the image of the father is always seen as an initiator. He pursues with a love that's so unique and all he wants is for us to return to him. And even if it's just one small coin, after finding it, joy fills the place. Newsong is so good at this idea of going after the lost and the broken and in Bangkok I had the privilege to be apart of it. Our agenda is not to convert, but to love first and allow God's spirit to intervene in their lives.

- The Father offers a unique kind of love. God's love is so great and unique. It's a love that cannot force, constrain, push or pull, but instead, a love that needs to be freely received just as it's freely given.

Striving to be like the father isn't easy but it's a great mindset to have. The heart of the father is to bless, nothing more and nothing more and nothing less.

Praise on,

Michael Fukuda

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Potter's Hand

Last week, we had the privilege of meeting a man named Claude and his wife Sandra. Our team was invited to eat dinner with them and share experiences. Before arriving, we knew very little other than Claude being a potter, but for me, that was enough to raise excitement. I've never met a potter, nor have I had the chance to even see the process in action, so I let my imagination run wild as to what I would see. I knew that there would be a lot of strong biblical references, but nothing prepared me for what I would learn on this night. Here are some highlights:

The Food
When we arrived, it was around 7, so naturally...I was starving. We walked in and the first thing you see is a table with cups and other dishware, all different shapes, sizes and colors. I noticed that these cups and such were made by Claude and I examined them with care...until my nose caught a sniff of something delightful. I look in the small kitchen to my right and saw some delicious chicken wings that were prepared for our meal. I immediately thought, "Just like the pottery, the food was cooked to perfection." Later on, we got to taste it along with an indian dish. So. Good.

The Fire
I enjoyed this night partially because I got to ask a lot of questions that kept popping up in my mind. Everything was really amazing and I was intrigued by his abilities and equipment. For instance, he used an old barrel and turned it into something he can heat up to 1000 degrees (kind of acted like an oven for his pottery). As we were talking, he told me to come closer to see what it looks like from the inside. From my angle, it looked like he was sticking his head over the flames coming out the top...I thought he was joking. I've heard horror stories about people losing eyebrows and stuff from something as small as a burner in chemistry. I like my eyebrows, so obviously I was a little worried. When I took a little peak inside, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I don't think I've seen anything quite like it. Even though the flames burst out from the top of the barrel, the flames inside were moving as if in slow motion, revolving inside with a majestic glow. I thought it was a good example of how we should feel about God. Inside we're burning hot, because we know God's love and his enduring promises, but it gets to a point where we just cannot contain it any longer.

The Potter
After dinner, we got to see a demonstration of the beginning process where Claude turns a blob of clay into something beautiful. While he gave us a demo of what he does, I kept thinking, "that looks pretty simple." Never should have thought that. HAHA We had the option of trying to make something using the techniques he showed us. The first thing you have to do is center the clay as the wheel spins. When it was my turn, I felt like the clay had full control over my body; my arms were shaking and I had no control, but with Claude's help, I got things under control. As I continued to make something out of nothing, I got to see how even the slightest movements will affect everything. So much thought and detail has to be put into his process. It's cool to think of a design in your head and trying to create it. We all just made bowls, but we all got a little taste of what God does for everyone; he's the potter and puts so much thought and love into each and everyone of us. And just like me upon completion, he looks upon his creation with a huge smile and thinking "that looks amazing!" The things we make with our own hands provides us with so much joy, I can't even begin to fathom how God must feel about all of us.

Claude and Sandra
They are an amazing couple. They seem to have so much fun together and love to poke fun at each other. They truly love each other and it's a refreshing sight to see. They were so nice and hospitable. They treated us as if we were the first guests they've ever had. What really struck me was when Sandra kept thanking us for joining them and she looked like she was about to cry. In that moment I felt so loved and cared for.

Claude and Sandra are both incredible in their own ways. Claude's passion for pottery goes far beyond just a simple hobby, but rather an outlet for creativity. His excitement in what he does and the beauty in everything he makes is so obvious...he got all of us super excited too. You can tell that nothing will ever stop him from pursuing this with all that he has. Sandra is an outstanding supporter. Not only does she just like what he does, but she loves it just as much as Claude does. She would say comments like "Claude, look at that! Isn't that beautiful?!" Even while he was explaining how he does everything, her eyes were fixated on him and the things he was saying, agreeing with everything with such confidence. Overall, in every aspect of this night, it was full of blessings and real life examples. We were so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet with them. Our prayers go out to them as they get the word out about his pottery. God has blessed him so much with this unique ability. I praise God for giving us the chance to experience being the potter and the joy in gazing upon our own creation. I'm constantly remind that he delights in me and loves me just the way I am.

Praise on,

Michael Fukuda

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just flow with the Holy Spirit

Today I got to take a picture with the chef at that nearby restaurant. He’s the one who has heart problems. Since Ki-Lang wasn’t there, I told him in all the Thai words and various hand motions that I thought he was a great chef, and that I would be praying to God (“Prajow”) for his heart! Yay! :) That might have been the last time our team would get to eat there since we are leaving soon :(

Also, Mike, Josh, Kiana, and I went out with Ki-Lang for the night. When we were coming back to our apartment, we got into a taxi cab with a nice man who was willing to turn on the meter. Then he broke the ice by playing music and letting Ki-Lang sing/dance to it. This opened up a huge conversation between all of us and the taxi driver could speak English! He told us how he used to work with ISUZU and had travelled half the world. He had been to Japan, Germany, Australia, Singapore, etc.

Then he said that “If you have enough money, you should help others.” Ki-Lang followed that by telling him that he really liked what the taxi driver said because in the Bible, Jesus says that if you are rich, but your soul is dead, then there is no meaning.

We told him how we were here to help with a church, and we invited him to come to the church party this Saturday at Newsong. Ki-Lang got his phone number, called his phone, in which caused the taxi driver to say “Listen to my ringtone!!” Hahah it was great.

Yeah I really hope he comes to church on Saturday! :D


out of the city

A few weeks ago our team got to visit an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp. Well, the 8 hour trip to the town of Maesot was amazing and we got to stay at the IDP for a few hours. The camp is hidden from the road and you have to walk down a steep pathway to get to the buildings that are made out of cement, bamboo, and dried leaves. We got to witness the community of teachers and adults who cared for 25+ children. Many of the children were orphans and had trekked through the jungle from Burma to arrive at this safe haven. It was a privilege to play with the kids, sing and dance to “Father Abraham”, and eat with them. Personally, this trip to Maesot was really eye-opening for me because I got to hear the stories of some of the children. One of the 18-year old girls told us how she had traveled 3 days through the jungle. Also, her father had passed away of sickness trying to hide in the jungle. She wants to learn and study and is currently learning the equivalent of 6th grade schooling. Another girl was 12 years old and is learning the equivalent of kindergarten schooling. She had traveled one day to get there and her father died from a landmine. It was a scary reality for me to hear these young children’s’ experiences. No child should ever have to experience that trauma and pain. Saying goodbye was hard even though I had only gotten to play with them for a few hours. Some of their faces were so happy and I loved seeing the smiles on their faces. It’s crazy that we had to leave the camp in the early afternoon because if we left too late, we would face the risk of robbers and marauders on the street! So ridiculous.

Another trip we made outside of Bangkok was to the city of Udon-Thani. We travelled and spent the whole day there, meeting the staff of SDRF (Sustainable Development Research Foundation). We got to tour the fish farms that SDRF has been creating. They breed tilapia and sell it to local and global markets. All the workers there were Thai and SDRF had helped them create a sustainable business. That trip was also cool because the SDRF staff was truly inspiring. We talked with them for hours and got to gain from their wisdom.

Two friends from home, Nancy and Emma, came to visit us in Bangkok. They came to Thailand for vacation and rest, but our team got to spend time with them. I am really grateful for the conversations that I got to have with them because they both helped me in the place that I am at. I definitely learned a lot from them both and also got to become better friends and sisters in Christ with them both. ☺

God's Light in the Red Light District

The biggest thing I want to share with you is our involvement and experiences with the Red Light Districts. On July 21st, Annette, Kiana, and I joined a sister from Newsong named Sophia and went to the Red Light District in Nana (an area in Bangkok). Sophia has been doing ministry with the bar girls for years now and she agreed to let us join her in her ministry. Our team had gone to the Pat Pong red light district twice before and had walked around to see with our own eyes and hearts the reality of sex-trafficking and the sex-slave industry.
Sophia brought the three of us into a bar in the Nana red light district. I walked through the curtained door. Top-less girls, ages ranging from 13 to 45 or I don’t know. I sat down with Sophia at a table while Annette and Kiana sat at the table a little way down from us.
Sophia instantly greeted one of the girls that was dancing on the right stage. The girl smiled, waved, and definitely seemed overjoyed that Sophia was there. Sophia ordered water and I ordered a Coke because you are required to buy a drink when you enter those bars.
Finally the girl could step down from the stage and ran to Sophia. They hugged and Sophia introduced me. Due to security reasons, I will not say the girl’s real name and will call this girl Katie. Sophia told me that since she has been doing ministry for a while now, she has known Katie for a few months and has visited her consistently. Sophia introduced me to Katie and shared that Katie is 30 and has two kids (ages 4 and 2). Katie asked us if we could buy her a drink, and I gladly told her yes, of course!
So here is the deal. These girls cannot come and talk to any “customers” unless the customer buys them a drink. The girls have to keep dancing and dancing on stage and work from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. Most of the girls cannot read or write in Thai and it is difficult for them to get a good-paying job. At this bar, they get paid approximately $300 per month, but they have to work every single day, only have 2 sick days per month, and must get bought out 7 nights out of the whole month. For each drink that a customer buys for a girl, that girl only receives $1 towards her salary. It costs about $23 for a customer to buy a girl for the night, and the customer can do whatever he or she wants with the girl for the entire night.
I learned that for Katie, she works because she needs to send money back to her mother and brother who are taking care of her children. She told me that she doesn’t want to work in the bar, but she can’t get a job anywhere else and jobs such as being a waitress do not pay enough and many places do not want her because she is not educated.
Well, I asked Katie if she wanted to come to our Newsong Sunday service that weekend, and to my surprise, she said yes! She also told me that she wanted to share her story with us, but it was really painful and would probably take hours and hours. The thing I loved about Katie was that she was happy and joyful the entire time she was talking, but you could still see the pain and tears in her eyes. Anyway, the night was ridiculously eye-opening, and the new experience led me to meet a sister that I knew God just wanted us to love on her and lead her back to Him.
Well, we left the bar after an hour there because Sophia said it starts getting crazier as the night gets later because there are more customers. To finish the night, Sophia brought us to a nearby hotel and told us that we could see women being sex-trafficked there. Inside, there was a normal-looking restaurant, but inside there were about 10 women who were there waiting to be bought for the night. None of the women were Thai, and it was scary knowing that the issue of human sex-trafficking is a global issue.
Sunday rolled around and I was really anxious at church to see if Katie would show up at church. It sucked though because that whole weekend I had food poisoning. Kiana prayed for me at church that my stomach wouldn’t hurt the entire day so I could enjoy the time at church and with the girls from the bar. Lo and behold, my stomach was fine for the rest of the day and for the rest of the trip! Praise God!
Anyway, Sophia walked into Newsong with Katie along with 2 other girls from the bar!! I was SO HAPPY. I recognized one of the other girls (we’ll call her Lucy) because I saw her at the bar. Lucy has 4 children, 2 of them from relations with customers from the bar. She also shared with our team that the father of the other two Thai children had passed away in the tsunami of 2004. The third girl from the bar (we’ll name her Daisy) was 21 years old and was a waitress at the bar. She gets paid only $100 per month, must work every day of the month, and customers are also allowed to buy her out for the night as well.
Well, they told us that they really enjoyed service and felt safe at Newsong. Lucy had gone to church once before, but she told us that she wasn’t welcomed there. I guess it was a new experience for them because they felt welcomed since so many people wanted to talk with them and get to know them.
After church, we went to a food court and got to hear more about Lucy. Abe and Annette really spoke truth to her in response to her sharing, and it was just an overall good time. Then, we all went BOWLING! ☺ It was such an amazing time taking the girls out bowling because you could tell they hadn’t gone bowling in a really long time. Also, being able to cheer them on and celebrate with them when they got strikes, spares, or any pins was amazing. They had huge smiles on their faces and it was such a blessed time. It was crazy too because they still had to work that night, but were willing to go a little late, which they get docked off $1 per minute that they are late. I told them that we would hopefully see them again on Thursday when we went to visit the bar again with Sophia.
The Thursday after, July 28, Annette, Kiana and I joined Sophia again to go to the same bar. This time, we bought a drink for Katie, Lucy, Daisy, and two other girls that Annette and Kiana were talking to. Every 15 minutes, the bar girls would have to rotate shifts for dancing on the stage, even if a customer has bought them a drink. So I talked with Katie and Lucy whenever they were able to sit with us. Sophia noticed that Katie didn’t have her usual happy persona and asked her what was wrong. Katie said that her family had been calling her all week telling her that she wasn’t making enough money and needed to sent more money to them to pay for her children’s schooling. You could tell she was really stressed out. Lucy also told us that her son was in the hospital because he had gone frog hunting at a river, stepped on a glass bottle which cut his foot, and his foot got infected. We told her that we would be praying for her son. Then, I felt like God was pressing on my heart to share something about Him, maybe a Bible story, I had no idea. I ended up telling her about my experience in Mexico last year when I prayed for someone, and God healed his back. I didn’t really know why I shared that, but I continued to tell her a little more about our God. Lucy can’t read Thai, so we decided to try to find her a talking Bible or audio version of the Word. I also shared with Lucy about my own experiences with losing loved ones. I guess the whole night was good being able to see the girls again and talk with them. I asked if they were coming to church again on Sunday and they said yes! ☺
So Sunday, July 31st, Katie and Lucy came to church again. Dave Gibbons was speaking and he also got to meet them. The girls had only 2 hours of sleep, and I was surprised they still came to church. We got lunch and went karaokeing. The girls seemed really tired, but they would sing occasionally.
That night, all of us had dinner with Newsong staff. Katie and Lucy came, and there were a lot of people there, including Dave, Mrs. Lee, Newsong Bangkok Staff, and Dan Park. After eating, Dave asked if Katie and Lucy could share a bit about themselves. They shared about their families and Lucy also explained how she felt that whenever Sophia comes into the bar, she brings God into their lives. That was really encouraging because Sophia said that was the first time Lucy ever said the word “God.” Katie began to share her story as well, and then she said, “Wait, I want to hear all of YOUR stories!”
Thus began the long hour of sharing, going all around the table, each person sharing their name, maybe how they became a Christian, their pains and their joys. It was a crazy time of intentional sharing, and when it came to my turn, I felt the Holy Spirit pressing on my heart so I shared my biggest temptations and some of my deepest pains. It was really scary because more than half of the people sitting at the table had never heard my story and Dave Gibbons was sitting 2 seats away from me!! But after, Shannon and Dave came up to me and thanked me for being vulnerable and for opening my heart. The night was such a great time because it was true community and it was cool to open up the community to the two girls too.
It was also super crazy because the girls had actually bought themselves out for the night, which is around $23, just so they could spend time with us!! Later, Mrs. Lee gave them money to cover the cost for buying themselves out for the night. I’m glad that everyone was so quick to serve and love them, and they definitely seem to want to keep coming to church! ☺ God is soooo good!!!
I think this has definitely been one of the greatest experiences from this trip. Seeing the inner beauty of the girls even in a place that may seem dark and forsaken. God is definitely just crying out for these girls to come back to him. Most of the girls definitely do not want to be in this business, but they are trapped. What God has done in these past few weeks has been amazing and please keep praying for all of these girls. Sophia told us that she would stay connected with us, so that if we want to send messages to the girls, she can relay it to them. God is so good!!!
I hope this encourages you! If you have any questions about this, ask me when I come home in 4 days!! I should be at Newsong Irvine this Sunday (second service)!

Love, Rebekah

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Love Love Love

I just got back from our second week at the bars with Sophia. Annette, Rebekah, and I have started to develop relationships with some of the dancers at a bar in one of Bangkok’s red light districts. Three of the girls actually came out to Newsong on Sunday and were so blessed to take them to lunch and bowling. I think its been great to just give these girls, an opportunity to just have fun and to know that we see them as people, beautiful and worthy. I think someone already wrote about Lak’s story on the blog. It was the first time she got to tell her story. I can’t imagine going through so much pain in her life, and still having to raise four kids on her own. Even if she wanted to get out of the bar, she needs the money, and there doesn’t seem to be any other options. So many dilemmas like this have started to haunt me. I know we are leaving in a week, and can’t promise these girls that we can save them from their situations. Most of them work two jobs, have multiple kids to feed; Lak says she only gets 2-3 hours of sleep every night. I want more than anything to rescue them from this life. Tonight I felt so overwhelmed knowing the industry is spreading to other streets in Bangkok. More demand means more supply, which means more trafficking. There is so much to be done.

It’s kind of a slow process, but this entire trip I’ve been learning to seriously just lean into God and quiet all my worried thoughts, and just try to bless people by loving them. In short, I have to focus on my heart and make sure its right with God in order to love all these beautiful people we meet. Tonight Annette and I were talking to a girl named Noi. It was our second week calling her over to our table. She was sick this week. It was kind of awkward to pray in the bar, but I prayed for her throat. After I gave her the flower clip that was in my hair. She always wears hair accessories. It looked so appropriate on her. Annette told her that she was beautiful on the outside (pointing to her face) and “in here” pointing to her heart. I know she felt something in that moment. Something about her is just so sweet and innocent, even in the occupation she works. In that bar, trying to just take in the situation before us with a humble posture, it’s so much easier to see how much God loves her. I feel like that was all God wanted from us--- to just tell her that. I think we will probably see her Sunday.

Yesterday we went with the Strombecks to the largest slum in Bangkok. They go to the slums every Wednesday night, feed and play with the kids, and teach English to the adults. Brenda and James were explaining that one of the boys used to be one of their greatest challenges. He used to trample over all the crafts and interrupt all the lessons. One week James decided to set aside Thai mores and hug and encourage him. On Wednesday he was part of a group of boys working on b-boy moves. I think I saw this boy do 3 back-hand springs in a row, in his shoes, on the concrete of the temple. All he needed was someone to believe in him, and something to strive for (in this case break-dancing), and now, he’s more or less thriving. We only have one more week here. I know I’m going to be heartbroken to leave. Pray that God teaches us so much does a lot with us and with the people around us in this last week. See you guys soon!