“Mama, that lady has a hurt foot. We need to pray for her,” my three-year-old declared matter-of-factly one evening as she pointed towards a woman sitting on the street with a bandaged foot. We were walking home from eating a street-side dinner of Pad Seaw and my husband Iven had paused to “say hello” to a deaf woman we knew, who was also homeless, just a few feet away. This was how we met Ap – Izayla, our three-year-old daughter, essentially introduced us, and our family began visiting her on her corner regularly, often on our way to or from dinner.
Our teammate, Pat, (who met Ap at about the same time during one of the regularly scheduled ECB feeding the homeless ministry nights) got to know Ap much better than us, and both Ap and Sunshine (the deaf woman who shared the corner) became the recipients of much love and energy from Pat.
Elian, our one and a half year old son, did his part too – for whatever reason he clung to the notion of visiting Ap every single time we left our house. He would point to her corner a few blocks away and call out, “Ap, Ap!” – Pat, who is the darling of our three year old was a teeny bit annoyed that Elian learned to say Ap before he could say Pat.
Our job is a strange one – as the leaders of Rak Teh (a mission partner of ECB) we live and work in the Sanam Luang area – in the middle of a neighborhood that wears it’s pain and hardships more visibly than most.
Many of our neighbors are homeless, and/or involved in prostitution and we see our job as simply pursuing the two greatest commandments in the place God has planted us, namely to love Him with all of our hearts (this is often expressed through active prayer) and to Love our neighbor as ourselves (usually through building intentional relationships and looking for opportunities to extend tangible care to those around us).
Pat helped Ap to get a government ID card, and along with others from our team also helped her get to the doctor regularly, as she had some complex and serious health problems, including the very bad abscess on her foot which Izayla had first noticed. Pat shared some of God’s story with Ap, and she was a bit interested – it was one of the many things they talked about together. Ap’s health seemed to be getting much better, as she began regularly taking TB medication that was having some success with the rare TB meningitis strain that was in her brain and causing horrible headaches.
Ap was the first neighbor on our streets that Izayla asked to pray for. Hers was the first name Elian learned, and proceeded to repeat all the time. Pat was working with her to move forward in many practical ways. I felt like God’s hand must be in this – it seemed like there was a promise over her life.
About three months ago (This past Songran) Ap disappeared from her corner for a few weeks (people are always coming and going from our streets), reappeared briefly and then disappeared again. Pat was out of town at the time and when she came back and began asking around, discovered that Ap had collapsed and been taken to a hospital over a week earlier. When she finally found her Ap had been in a coma for almost two weeks, had received no visitors, and the doctors expected her to not recover. Less than a week later she died.
This is not a naturally hopeful story. Usually faith stories shared here at ECB, and rightly so, are stories of encouragement and testify clearly to God’s goodness and sovereignty. I don’t seem to be doing that right now. The truth is, there has been a lot of death on our streets in this season. This is just one of many stories we could tell of walking alongside of neighbors as their life comes to a close, for those of you who know some of our neighbors through Feeding the Homeless and haven’t heard, Sunshine passed away just a few weeks after Ap.
This may seem like a depressing story, but I don’t’ think we need to hear it that way. It is a true story – death is everywhere – on our streets more than on most, perhaps, but there is also life and God’s activity. When Ap died, I felt confused, because I was pretty sure I had heard God whisper to me promises of redemption and healing in her life, in large part through my children. Elian continued to tell me “Ap Sick” for weeks after her death, and it has been hard to figure out how to explain to them why we don’t pray for her any more, or at least not in the same way.
But I do believe that God is in fact faithful, good and sovereign, even when we can’t see it. Could it be that He led my children to become champions of and friends of Ap because He knew her life was almost over, and He wanted to do a work to love her and show Himself to her through our team, even if we never got to see her receive him?
A few months ago, another friend from the streets, who our family was very close with, passed away. The morning that Iven received the phone call from the hospital telling him that Wa had died, he felt prompted in his spirit to look up Psalm 103:4. I will read out verses 1-4 for you.
1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
This is our God. He is in the business of redemption and renewal – sometimes that is visible and we can tell flashy stories and celebrate together. Sometimes we just need to rest in quiet trust that it is true. Our job is to declare that truth on our streets and with our neighbors.
I am not sure what each of your jobs are, but I know there is an invitation from our Lord for you to be involved in his redeeming work in your own communities and streets as well. I don’t know how Pat and our family’s relationship with Ap affected her in her last months and days here on earth, but I trust that God used that, even as He led us to love her. Our streets are full of others whose hearts are empty. Each of us are called to give what we have when God prompts us with an invitation – for Izayla it was a prayer, for Elian it was jubilitation at the sight of seeing a friend, and for Pat…well, it’s usually everything! I encourage you to respond to God’s invitation to get involved in what He is doing – maybe on your own streets, or maybe on ours, as he prompts you! : )
ECB has a regular monthly ministry time down in the Sanam Luang Area called feeding the homeless in partnership with the YWAM ministry, RAK TEH – which means authentic love. Usually it is on the 3rd Saturday of the month at 4:00pm. All are welcome! For more information please check out the ECB Website.